The Playfords from Beckley, Sussex

The earliest known records found so far of our Playford forebears relate to Thomas Playford who lived in Tenterden, Kent, about 8 miles by road north of Beckley. Thomas married Catherine Newman on 16 April 1734 at the parish church of St. Mildred, Tenterden. They had several children - John (1735), Thomas (1738), William (1740), James (1743), Henry (1745), Sarah (1748) and Edward (1751). The last child only lived about four days and Catherine dies eight days later on 21 April 1751. Thomas died, aged 78, on 27 May 1768.

Descendants of several of Thomas and Catherine's children were later to migrate to Australia.

The grandson of their second son, also named Thomas, with his wife Hannah Auton (Austin) and three small children sailed on the Palmyra in 1838 with the Sivyer and Thomas Rootes families. Their youngest daughter Mary Ann (1836) died on the voyage. The Thomas Playford family settled in the Hunter River district in New South Wales, Australia where their descendants can be found today. They also moved out to the Liverpool Plains in New South Wales and so to Queensland.

Thomas' cousin James Bryant and wife Ann (Wildman) migrated to Australia on the Alfred in February 1839. James Bryant's mother was Winnifred Playford, a sister of Thomas' father William.


James, the fourth child of Thomas and Catherine, who was a gardener at Rolvenden, Kent, married Elizabeth Medhurst by licence at Ewhurst, Sussex, on 20 June 1765. They settled at Beckley, Sussex, where they raised their family of eleven children, James (1765), William (1767), Ann (1769), Elizabeth (1772), Katherine (1774), Mary (1776), Hannah (1778), Thomas (1780), Sarah (1783), John (1786) and Henry (1790). Mary, their sixth child, became the second wife of Sivyer Rootes and went to live at the nearby village of Northiam where she had a family of five boys and four girls. Three of Mary's sons - Sivyer, James and Thomas - all migrated to Australia in the late 1830s.

John the tenth child of James and Elizabeth, had a son John, who migrated to Australia on the Amelia Thompson in 1838 with his wife Ann (Dengate) and two small daughters. One of the children died at sea while the other died at the quarantine station where she and her mother had been sent after arrival in Sydney.

Henry, the youngest and eleventh child of James and Elizabeth, became a brickmaker and, after his marriage to Sarah Goodsell of Ewhurst on 18 November 1831, also settled in Beckley. Their eldest child, Sarah Elizabeth, was born on 24 November 1823. (This date fits in with the age shown on the shipping records and lines up with the age on her death certificate. It is also the date that appears in the family bible written in Henry's handwriting, however, a record of her baptism is yet to be found). A son, Henry, was baptised on 14 March 1832, but had died before they left England. (No record has been found of this death. On Sarah's death certificate it stated that two children had died in England but no record has been found of this second child either). The next child, William, was born at Beckley 4 October 1834 and baptised the same day, and another daughter, Mary Susanna, was born on 26 December 1836 and baptised 2 January 1837. The baptisms of these last three children are recorded in the registers of All Saints Parish Church, Beckley.
In 1838 Henry, Sarah and their three surviving children, Sarah 15, William 4, and Mary 2, left Sussex to seek better prospects for the family in the colony of New South Wales. They sailed from Gravesend on the River Thames on 20 October 1838 in the 549 ton barque Juliana under the command of Captain Francis Wilkins Lodge. There were 244 migrants on board.

The voyage to Sydney was to prove a most eventful one.

Letters of other migrants on board the Juliana still exist and describe the conditions on board. From these letters it is evident that the they were on board for some days prior to sailing and were given plenty of beef and hard biscuits to eat. They were evidently advised to stock up on work tools for use in their new life. One correspondent bought "a plow and saw, Chissles and gauges, Gimblets, Bradall and files", and bewailed the fact that they had not brought their bed with them. The beds on board were described as being very hard and narrow. Their boxes of clothes were stowed below and they were unable to open them for a month to replenish their supplies.


The voyage was rough and dangerous. In the first few days severe storms plagued them and the ship nearly ran on to rocks on the Isle of Wight. They experienced seven days of storms in the Bay of Biscay and were close to being wrecked on the coast of Spain. Another writer said that when he lay down on his bed at night he expected to be drowned before morning as water poured into the sleeping decks. The passenger had to get up and bail out as "20 pails at the time was floating from one side of the ship to the other". Many passengers became extremely ill with fever, including cholera, and there were twelve deaths. The writer of one of the letters spoke highly of the care the doctor gave during his wife and child's illness. The passengers and crew were kept short of rations and this lead to a threatened mutiny which was a most frightening experience for the migrants. Swords and pistols were brandished and the ringleaders were confined to their quarters until they reached Cape Town where the cause of the mutiny was investgated.

The Surgeon Superintendent, Dr Henry Kelsall, had no power to enforce his regulations regarding cleanliness below decks. The method used to get the emigrants to go up on deck to allow a "cleansing by water" to take place was to close the hatches and smoke the people out with fumes of sulphur and cayenne pepper. This rather drastic action was repeated frequently on the voyage to the Cape of Good Hope. As ther were many weak and convalescent emigrants on board, the surgeon instructed the Captain of the Juliana to put in at the Cape.

The ship arrived within sight of Cape Town at five o'clock in the afternoon on 19 January 1839, the Chief Officer, James Davison being in charge of the deck at the time, and a seaman, Henry Wilkins, at the helm. While the passengers were admiring the fine houses, gardens and vines on the shore at Greens Point about a mile from Table Bay, the ship struck some rocks on Mouille Point near the battery. The Chief Mate had difficulty making his orders to the sailors heard over the screams of the confused passengers.



At the investigation into the circumstances of the wrecking of the ship begun on Wednesday 23 January 1839, some of the witnesses said that the Chief Officer was drunk at the time. In the statements of some witnesses including that of George Kilgour, who went on board the ship after it went aground, it was stated that the cause of the grounding was "a bolt having drawn, to which the tiller chain was fast which made them unable to steer the ship". Although the Captain was on deck just before the barque struck the rocks, he apparently made no attempt to countermand the Chief Officer's orders regarding the course set.

Everyone was soon taken by boat to shore, and although the ship was totally wrecked there was no loss of life and all their belongings were restored to them within a day or two. The passengers were adequately housed and fed at Government expense; work was readily available and everyone was very kind to them. The voyage from Gravesend to the Cape of Good Hope had taken ninety days.

In the Cape of Good Hope Government Gazette, dated Friday 25 January 1839, was an advertisment for the sale of the wreck of the Juliana at public auction to be held on 31 January. Another notice, in South African Commercial Advertiser, Wednesday 6 February 1839, stated that all the remaining stores and provisions saved from the wreck of the Juliana would be sold at H.M. Warehouse, Custom House at 2pm on 7 February. The Juliana had been built in Calcutta, India, in 1819.


Henry Playford gained employment as a brickmaker for the four weeks thay had to wait for another ship. Sarah was pregnant and must have been rather anxious for the health of her family as many of the emigrants housed in the Government Barracks suffered from dysentry, resulting in three deaths.

An advertisment placed by Dr henry Kelsall, R.N. in South African Commercial Advertiser on Wednesday, January 30, in the "Wanted" column, called for tenders for the passage of 200 passengers (recently wrecked on the Juliana) to Sydney. He stated that no vessel would be accepted unless she has 5 feet 8 inches clear under the beams in the 'Tween Decks and carried a surgeon. The Government chartered two ships to take the migrants on to their destination - the barque Morayshire and the Mary Hay. The Morayshire, in charge of Captain W. H. Lemotte, had sailed from Rio de Janeiro with a load of coffee and called at Cape of Good Hope on 22 December where she had discharged most of her cargo. She proceeded to Sydney with some of the shipwrecked passengers including the Playford family, leaving Cape Town on 19 February and arriving in Sydney on 20 April 1839. This journey, which was uneventful, had taken 58 days. Only two people died on this stage of the voyage in contrast to twelve on the Juliana and the rest od the passengers were in good health on arrival.

Seven weeks after their arrival in Sydney Sarah's last child, Richard, was born at Newtown.

early sydney harbour

An excerpt from "We Came From Beckley. A Playford Family Story" by Margaret and Rosemary Playford