Jane Suggate lived her adult life in a street but her childhood was spent, like David Copperfield’s Peggotty, aboard a house built on top of a boat. Saving the cost of construction materials and possibly in an effort to avoid paying land rates, her ferryman father had converted an iron steamer into his own ‘Noah’s Ark’ on the water’s edge at Glebe Point. The Rapid, Sydney’s first double-ender ferry, was brought out in parts from England in 1837 and used on the Sydney – Parramatta run until it ran aground in Johnston’s Bay.  In the early days of the colony, river transport was safer than risking ambush by bushrangers on the roads. 

The Suggate family's 'Noah's Ark', sketched in the 1860s.
The Suggate family’s ‘Noah’s Ark’, sketched in the 1860s.

The third child of Jane and William Suggate, Jane, was born on 5 November 1847 at Glebe.  By 1877 she was living in Campbell Street near its intersection with Norton Street. Here she conducted the Ebenezer night school for fee-paying ‘working boys and girls’. Although she tried to sell the school in 1878, she took her pupils to the Sydney International Exhibition at the Garden Palace two years later and appears to have persevered with the enterprise into the 1890s. By 1895 she had left 68 Campbell Street and was trying a new way to make some money.

In Glebe Police Court in 1898, Jane Suggate was convicted of the neglect of four children she had taken into care: Frank and Harry Woods who had lived with her for five years, seven-year-old Mary Kelly and Sydney Roy Cramp, a baby. Also in the household at 110 Mitchell Street was another child, Arthur Croft. The premises were judged filthy and the children illclothed and undernourished, relying on neighbours for food. At the time of Jane’s death at 97 Mitchell Street, her given occupation was ‘seamstress’. No death notice was published.

Politically, Jane supported John Meeks, MLA for Glebe 1885-7 and a Glebe and City alderman. Meeks was a Methodist, a freetrader and a Freemason. One of her nephews, William Thomas Suggate, became Grand Secretary of the National Independent Order of Oddfellows and on retirement was presented with a cheque and gold watch and a set of cutlery for his wife.

Jane’s parents, William Jackman Suggate (ca 1818-82) and Jane née Goodchild (1819-77), sailed cabin class from London aboard the Clara which docked in Sydney in November 1843. Fellow cabin passengers were William’s sister Jane Smith and her husband. In steerage was William’s brother-in-law James Goodchild who was admitted in 1845 to the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum where he died 28 years later. The Goodchilds were from West Smithfield, London; the Suggates from Beccles in Suffolk. William’s younger brother Edward Pellew Suggate (assistant superintendent Military Store Department) in 1853 lent their sister Sarah and her husband Robert Balls their £10 passage money to Australia. After Sarah’s death in 1859 her widower soon remarried and set up a tailor’s shop in Park Street in the city.

Jane’s paternal grandfather was Henry Ezra Suggate (ca 1780-1858), a surgeon who had joined the Royal Navy in 1800 and who died at Greenwich, the burial place also of his widow Matilda (ca 1793-1860).  The Australian Suggates made much of their English naval heritage.

Jane’s oldest sibling, William George (1844-1923), was baptised in the Pitt Street Congregational Chapel but the family had moved to Glebe by the time Henry Ezra was baptised in February 1847.  The Rapid by now may have been in use as a dwelling: 18-month-old Henry died in January 1848 after falling onto rocks from its deck (the inquest was held at the White Hart Inn on Parramatta Road).  At Glebe Point the Suggates raised goats and their surviving children:  William, Jane, Edward Pellew (ca 1850-83), Matilda Eliza (died 1929), Elizabeth Sarah (died 1938), Randle/ Randall Charles (1856-1924) and Mary Mille (1860-95). Their ‘ark’ was eventually removed by Council so that the sea wall could be completed. In August 1883 Edward, who had set up a separate household at the end of Glebe Road, was pulled unconscious from the Johnston’s Bay shallows by St Johns Road Wesleyan lay preacher George Wells, leaving a widow (Mary née Holmes) and a four-year-old son, Edward Charles. In the 1880s a waterman Richard Suggate, his closest neighbour being George Wells in Bayview, was living between the steam ferry jetty and Whatley’s Wharf, and at the time of the 1901 census there was still a Suggate (W J) whose home was a boatshed at the end of Glebe Point Road.  (This was probably the William Suggate who in 1902 fell 12 feet off a Balmain roof he was repairing.) 

William Jackman, who gave his occupation as ‘waterman’ or ‘boatman’, participated regularly in Anniversary harbour regattas on the round trip race from Sydney Cove to Lavender Bay around Pinchgut and Shark Island. In 1854 his under-13-footer Ariel was unplaced, as was his gig Daisy (‘a long unwieldy boat quite unfit for the contest’) in 1865.  William rowed passengers from Glebe Point across the shark infested bay to Balmain and brought back offal from the Glebe Island abattoirs to sell to Glebe residents. In 1859, after admitting his son sometimes used his boat, he was cautioned for allowing 15-year-old William junior to ply for hire on Johnston’s Bay without a licence. In another brush with the law, 13-yearold Randle was sentenced in 1869 to three days’ gaol or a fine of 1/6d, the value of a bullock’s tongue stolen from Balmain butcher Peter Hancock.

Methodists, the Suggates attached themselves to the owners of Toxteth Park. The Toxteth Park Chapel was the venue for the baptisms of Henry and Jane (by William Binnington Boyce after whom Boyce Street is named) and of Randle in 1856, and the marriage of Matilda in 1885. When William Jackman inherited his father’s gold watch he sought the advice of George Allen on how it should be safely transported from England (in a small box and via P&O, Allen advised).

William occasionally corresponded with relatives back in England, usually when a death had occurred and there was the likelihood of an inheritance. According to him, his wife on her 52nd birthday was ‘short, stout, in good health’ and life at Glebe Point was good: ‘my dear girl and myself are very happy, with our dear ones’. However, William’s sister Jane Smith, who lived in Maitland, painted a different picture in her letters home. She pitied her sister-in-law who ‘flyes to the drink’ when in trouble and whose inheritance was ‘squandered’ away by her husband, a drunkard ‘so violent a terror to his family’. In 1874 Jane Smith stayed at Glebe Point and penned her observations. Willie, a ‘nice genteel young man’, had married and moved to Camperdown; Jane was ‘a very nice godly girl’ and Matilda ‘in service’. But both Edward (he ‘dare not show his face’) and Randle (‘a good scholar’) had been ‘driven from home’ by their father. Whether the pious teetotal George Allen knew of the drinking habits of the local boatman is a matter for conjecture.

British Medical Journal 14 April 1860
NSW births, deaths and marriages registry.
NSW cemetery records.
NSW State Records.
Royal Australian Historical Society Journal Vol. XX1 1935.
Sands directories.
Suffolk Record Office: collections of Lowestoft branch.  Correspondence
Edward Pellew Suggate 1855-66 and Eliza Suggate 1853-77. Mitchell Library/State Library NSW: M2502.
Sydney Morning Herald various issues including 29.1.1838, 14.3.1838, 6.8.1839, 21.10.1842, 15.1.1848, 27.1.1854, 15.8.1855, 19.8.1859, 27.1.1865, 6.10.1865, 23.11.1866, 19.2.1868, 3.4.1869, 18.5.1869, 3.12.1869, 30.9.1873, 17.10.1876, 26.3.1878, 23.4.1878, 13.4.1880, 7.8.1883, 28.2.1885, 27.7.1898, 14.3.1921.
Toxteth Park register of baptisms.
Mitchell Library/State Library NSW: MLMSS477/5.