From Miltonian Blacksmith to Mayor of Perth

George Randell was born in Milton village on 5th October 1830. His father James was a shoemaker. His mother Elizabeth originally came from Blandford Forum.

Aerial photo of Milton Village circa 1920 annotated. Milton Heritage Society Collection.

According to the 1841 census in addition to his mother and father the family also included his sister Caroline, aged 25, his brother Samuel aged 13 and his younger brother Alfred aged 7. The early census does not give us an address for the family other than ‘Milton’.

1841 Tithe Map allocation book. Courtesy of Hampshire Records Office

In the 1841 Tithe map and schedule we find that James Randell occupies plot 19, described as a cottage and garden. The Tithe map and schedule were prepared in England and Wales following the Tithe Commutation Act 1836. This act allowed tithes to be paid in cash rather than goods. The map and its accompanying schedule gave the names of all owners and occupiers of land in the parish. It is an invaluable resource for local historians. Using the map we know where the Randell family lived.

1841 Tithe Map of Milton Village. Courtesy of Hampshire Records Office

Their home is located on what is now the Lymington Road behind the Forest Arts Centre. The original cottage was pulled down many years ago and a small block of terrace houses is now situated on the site.

George went to the local National School which was almost next door to his family home.  It was built in 1835 by the Church of England. The land was donated by a kind benefactor, Mr J. Bursey.  It cost £174 to build. This was paid for by two members of the local gentry. It was located to the east of the George Public House in Old Milton. The road around it was the playground for the children.

Milton Village circa 1910. Milton Heritage Society Collection.

The school moved soon after World War One to a hutted complex on Gore Road at the junction with Vincent Road. The old school building was used until 1931 by the council when it was demolished.

After his schooling ended at the age of 14 George became an apprentice to the local blacksmith. The forge and the blacksmith’s house were located between the George and the Wheatsheaf Inns.

George was courting Jane Hyde from Bransgore. She was the same age as him. On the 8th of April 1850 they were married at what has been described as ‘their local Baptist chapel’. It is likely that this is the chapel in Lower Ashley Road, which was located next to the existing Baptist cemetery. This had been built by 1822 and was enlarged in 1845.

Two weeks after they were married George and Jane left England for a new life in Australia accompanied by his older brother Samuel.  George wanted to emigrate because in 1850 he felt that there “did not seem to be the opportunities around for an ambitious young fellow who wanted to make his way in the world”. They sailed from Plymouth on the ship “Sophia” and arrived in Fremantle on 27th of July 1850. In his memoires George said that it was quite a wrench to leave the ship as this was their last link with home.

To put this into historical context the first British settlers landed in 1829 to set up the Swan River Colony creating the new towns of Perth, Fremantle and Guildford. Britain had deported the first convicts to Australia in 1788. The first penal colony was set up in Botany Bay near present day Sydney on the other side of the Australia. However, the first convicts to be transported to the Fremantle area landed on the 1st of June 1850, just a few weeks before George and Jane arrived on the “Sophia”. The couple from Milton village were brave pioneers starting a new life for themselves and helping to create a new country.

George worked in a number of jobs in the early years of their new life in Australia. He became a ‘river peddler’ selling goods up and down the Swan River. He and Jane began a family in 1854 when their first son, George William Randell was born. He was followed by Alfred Henry, Edwin Hyde, Samuel Davis (who died as an infant) and James Milton, who was born the year after his father James, died in Milton Village in 1861. Their youngest son was Samuel Joseph.

Courtesy of the Randell family Collection

After years of hard work and saving their money, George had some capital to invest. He started a boat service on the Swan River transporting goods and passenger and linking Fremantle, Perth and Guildford which at that stage were not connected by roads. The service proved to be a great success and after a few years he was operating a fleet of seven steamboats on the river.

In 1868 Jane passed away at the young age of 38. The following year George married Mary Louisa, the daughter of a close friend. Three children were born in this marriage before Mary passed away in 1874 followed shortly by their infant daughter.

By now George was a wealthy man. He decided to allow his business to be run by a consortium and to put his time and resources into local politics in the city of Perth. He held posts such as the Chairman of the Municipal Council in 1874 and was elected to the Perth Legislative Council.

For health reasons he made a brief visit to England in 1878 returning to Perth in 1880 where he married for the third time in 1881. He resumed his political career and later his river boat business. He became Mayor of Perth in 1884-85. George went on to be a member of the first legislative assembly and later the Colonial Secretary and minister for education, post and telegraphs. Recalling his own, basic education George initiated a teacher training college and was a trustee of the university.

George Randell from Milton village in Hampshire passed away in Perth on the 2nd of June 1915 after a long and successful life.  

Courtesy of the Randell family Collection

This article was first published in the Milton Mail and Barton Bugle magazines in March 2020. The author is extremely grateful to Jeff Randell the great, great grandson of George Randell for supplying information about George’s life in Perth.