Alfred Biggs (1829 – 1911)

St Peter’s Church, Shipton-Bellinger

Alfred Biggs was born in 1829 in Amport, Hampshire, his father, James, was 28 and his mother, Susannah, was 29. He was the second child to be born to the couple, with my great grandfather, Stephen, his older brother by four years. He was baptised on the 9 January, 1829 in the medieval Church of St Peter’s, Shipton Bellinger.

By the time of the 1841 census, Alfred was living with his parents and older brother at Sarson Lane, Amport. By then the family had increased in size with the addition of two daughters, Ellen born in 1831 and Anna in 1833. His father was the baker in this very pretty little village. Alfred would have attended the church school, founded in 1815 by Sophia Sheppard, a local resident, for the education of local children.

By the 1851 census records show that major changes had occurred within the family. His father, was now a postman, and living in Stockbridge with his wife. All the children had left home, his older brother Stephen to become a solicitors clerk in Gravesend, near London and his sisters, Ellen and Anna to work as servants for a builder who lived in Kensington.  Both sisters married about four years after the census was taken.  Alfred was a little more difficult to track down but it appears that he was working as a waiter at the Clarendon Hotel, in New Bond Street, Mayfair.

Undoubtedly to improve their lot in life both Stephen and Alfred embarked on the ship “The Herder” leaving from Plymouth for Australia on 10 September 1852. After what appears to be an uneventful three month long voyage in steerage they arrived in the bustling seaport of Sydney on 25 December 1852.  Sydney was no longer a rough colony with many hardships. It had grown into a city with residents being able to visit museums and zoos and on Sundays horse drawn omnibuses and ferries took them on trips to the countryside … to Botany, the Cooks River, Manly or Watson’s Bay. People enjoyed strolling in Hyde Park down to the harbour with its sea views and boats and villas on the harbour. It is here that both Alfred and Stephen disappear from formal records for six years.

Woolcott & Clarke’s map of the City of Sydney and environs, 1854.       State Library of NSW

It appears that both brothers had established themselves in their new homeland and on 12 January 1858 an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald shows Alfred  placed an advertisement looking to purchase, a horse and spring cart. “Apply A. BIGGS, butcher, Waverley.”  The Sands Directory also lists him as a butcher at Waverley in 1858.

Along with his properous business, Alfred had also meet a 32 year old widow, Mary Ann Simpson (nee Dickson). She had emigrated in 1852 with her two year old son, Henry, from England following the death of her husband and two children in infancy. They married on 10 October 1861 at the residence of her relative, Joseph Dickson, at Bennett Street, Waverley. A Baptist minister officiated. Alfred’s brother, Stephen was witness at the marriage.

Their first child, Eliza Mary was born in 1862 but died at 13 months of age. An inquest was held with the death being shown as from “natural causes”.  In 1864 their second child was born, also a daughter who they named Lydia. Lydia thrived and was to marry and have a family of her own. A son, Stephen, was the last child to be born to Alfred and Mary in 1866. He also died in infancy in 1867.

biggs butcher shopThere were signs that Alfred was affected deeply by the loss of these two children.

On 23 December 1869, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Alfred Biggs was fined 10s for neglecting to keep his premises clean. Three years later he advertised his business for sale.

He did not retire as intended at this time but turned to a dairy and poultry business. From the mid-19th century to late 1950s the Waverley area was an important milk producing and distributing district, home to large dairy herds and major milk runs. With a ready market for milk and other dairy produce in Sydney, this local industry flourished. At the time that Alfred ran the business there were around 16 dairies in the Waverley area. According to a publication issued by Waverley Council to celebrate the Municipality’s Centenary in 1883 a strip of land, of which Warner’s Avenue forms a part from Old South Head Road towards Mitchell Street, was in the hands of a man named Bigg, (sic) who ran a dairy. It was probably the same person who ran a butchery business at the “Junction” about that time. “The history of the Waverley Municipal District”. Published by the Council of the Municipality of Waverley (New South Wales) Wales) to commemorate its Centenary of Municipal Government (1859-1959).

While his business was flourishing he received another blow in his personal life with the death of his wife in June 1884 from “congestion of the brain” (a stroke). This blow once again triggers the sale of his business and a move into retirement.

His daughter Lydia was unmarried, was still living with her parents and had cared for her mother at home for the three weeks prior to her death. They remained close to his wife’s family, the Dicksons, who lived nearby. In 1888, Lydia married her cousin Joseph Dickson. Shortly after their marriage they moved to Narrabri to farm sheep. The couple provided Alfred with seven grandchildren who all lived to a good age.

Just over two years after his wife’s death he remarried. His second wife, Jane Sarah Crofts, was also a widow, working as a laundress in Woollhara.  The wedding took place on 28 October 1891. Alfred was 62 and his wife 63. Less than two years later his second wife died leaving Alfred alone again.

Seven years later Alfred had moved to Kogarah and once again had charmed a widow. Elizabeth Bone was a widow of private means and they married on 5 December 1901. She appears to have been a remarkable woman, having been widowed twice she decided to immigrate to Australia when she was 70 years old and just two years later met and married Alfred. She continued to live in Kogarah and there is a record of her having her appendix successfully removed at St George Hospital Kogarah at 80 years of age. As she aged she moved to Glen Innes to be with her son from her second marriage. Elizabeth died in Taree in 1925.

As for Alfred he appears in an article in the St George Call (Kogarah, NSW : 1904 – 1957), on Saturday 13 May 1911, page 1, when he had become what could only be described as a colourful local identity: