An Impossible Dream
Great Great Grandfather Matthew
I have been vaguely aware of my great great grandfather Matthew for many years, but really only at the edge of my consciousness. My grandfather Norman Campbell died before my fifth birthday, and my own father was not one to talk of the past, so stories of my ancestral past from the Campbell men were vague at best.
As a relatively young man of just 33 years Matthew left his engineering firm of Campbell, McNab & Co in Greenock, Scotland, to travel to the Colonies, accompanied by his wife and 8 year old son, "taken by gold fever" as recorded in an historical summary in the Ballarat Star from 1888. He arrived in the goldfields in June 1853, only 18 months before the infamous massacre at Eureka on 3rd December 1854. His journey was perhaps not quite to the scale of the adventurous journeys his son James undertook in the 1880s, but a huge step all the same. That brief history from 1888 can be found here.
I was aware of the "family clock" (see story and picture below), but beyond that not much else about Matthew. Some 30 years ago I visited Ballarat to find out a little more about Matthew and James (during that trip I visited the Ballarat Fire Station and their history room), and only three years ago I visited the place of his birth, the still smallish town of Lochwinnoch in the Scottish lowlands.
But not until digging around the treasure trove which is the National Library of Australia's research website did I find out just what he had managed to achieve in his 11 short years living on the Colony of Victoria. Below is a reconstruction of a marvellous presentation made to him at his farewell dinner from the community of Ballarat on Tuesday 1st March 1864.
To MATTHEW CAMPBELL, Esq., J.P., Mayor of Ballarat, in the colony of Victoria.
DEAR Sir, -We, the undersigned residents of Ballarat, understanding that you are about leaving this colony for a time, for the purpose of visiting Europe, feel that we cannot allow this opportunity to pass without expressing our high appreciation of your character.
We have carefully watched your conduct, and are glad to bear our unqualified testimony to your worth as a private gentleman, a man of business, and a public man.
As a councillor, and as mayor of the borough of Ballarat, you have done much to conduce to the material progress of this district.
As a magistrate, you have acted with intelligence and mingled true mercy with strict impartiality.
As a captain of the Fire Brigade, you have been ever foremost in braving danger and in earnest efforts to save life and property.
As a captain of the Ballarat Volunteer Corps, you have been remarkable for your efficiency, regard for discipline, submission to authority, and courtesy to you comrades, particularly to those holding an inferior rank to yourself.
As a member of the Mining Board you have acted with a strict regard to the important trust reposed in you, and the onerous duties you were called upon to discharge, and
As a merchant we have found you honorable in all your dealings.
We beg to assure you that your name will be long associated with the commercial, intellectual and social progress of the district.
Wishing you and Mrs Campbell a safe and pleasant voyage, a speedy return to these shores, and a future of unclouded prosperity, we beg to subscribe ourselves on behalf of the inhabitants of Ballarat,
W. C. SMITH, M.B.C., Chairman.
J. FUSSELL, M.B.E.C.,Vice-Chairman.
W. R. WATSON, Hon. Sec. of Committee.
Mayor, Matthew Campbell JP
Captain Matthew Campbell
Ballarat Volunteer Corps
He never did make "a speedy return to these shores" of Ballarat as both he and his colleagues had wished, dying in his native Scotland only a year later, at the age of just 44.
Matthew's colleagues at both the West Ballarat Fire Brigade and the Borough of Ballarat honoured him with farewell dinners - Complimentary Banquets in the language of the day. Both were extensively reported in the Ballarat Star at the time. His farewell from the West Ballarat Fire Brigade can be read here, and from the Council here.
I'm not quite certain from where I obtained it, but click here to read Matthew's sad and poignant, and yet slightly optimistic, resignation letter of 11th April 1865 to his Ballarat West Fire Brigade colleagues. There are lessons in it that are still relevant today, 160 years later. He died a week after writing it.
From the book Ballaarat Golden City (Reid and Chisholm, Joval Publications, 1989)
Matthew's clock has lived a charmed life. It was obviously first presented in Ballarat in 1857. Beyond the inscription (right) I'm unaware of the circumstances of its presentation to him. I'm also not quite sure when it came into my father's possession, nor where it had been in the approximately 100 years since Matthew returned to Scotland. I do know that it survived Cyclone Tracy in Darwin on Christmas Day 1974, and that it narrowly escaped the family home fire in late 2017. It's seen a lot in its 160 year life. It has been in my possession for only 5 years.
Over time I may get to find out a little more about it.
The inscription on it reads:
Late of Greenoch Scotland by his
mining partners from Cornwall
as a small token of respect
Ballarat May 9th 1857"