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John Mills (1829-1880) wholesale grocer and governance philanthropist

John Mills was born in 1829 in Tidworth, Wiltshire, to James Mills, a farmer and his wife Charlotte nee Mackrell.[1] John was a cigar manufacturer[2] but was listed as a clerk when he came to the colony of Victoria. He arrived on the Nepaul at Port Philip Bay on 20 October 1852, while on 24 November 1852, Emily Stidolph (20 June 1826-27 June 1887) arrived on the Chalmers. John and Emily were married on 14 January 1853 at the Lonsdale Street Congregational Church[3] and were to have eight children: William Mackrell (1854-1931), Caroline Eliza (1856-1914), Stephen (1857-1948),[4] Emily (1862-1940),[5] Lucie Ellen (1863-1948),[6] Arthur John (1865-1916),[7] Evelyn Clara (1867-1954)[8] and Sylvia Hannah (1869-1927).[9]The Mills soon moved to Sydney and lived firstly at 11 Botany Street and then at 78 Albion Street, Surry Hills, from at least 1862 until 1872 when they moved out of the city to the semi-rural setting of ‘Elston Villa’, Alt Street, Ashfield.[10] In 1879, the impressive ‘Casiphia’ was constructed in Julia Street, Ashfield, and was occupied by the family.[11]

John Mills died in 1880 at the age of 51,[12] leaving Emily with eight sons and daughters aged between 11 and 26 years. He was buried in the cemetery adjacent to the Dobroyde Presbyterian Church.[13] Emily moved from their home ‘Casiphia’[14] in Ashfield to ‘Aurelia’ in Liverpool Road, Croydon, where she died in 1887 aged 61.[15]

The Wholesale Grocer

When and how John came to be employed in Sydney is unknown. He may have placed an advertisement like the one below for it fits him well; he was at that time 24 years old, married, and he did end up working in the grocery business.[16] It is known that he was in Sydney by June 1853[17] but not if he was employed in the grocery trade by that time.

SMH 7 November 1853, 1

The first ‘grocery’ reference to John Mills is in December 1854 in Sydney where he was, as a grocer’s assistant, in the employ of William Terry, Wholesale Grocer. John, along with 34 other grocer’s assistants, had petitioned their employers to rationalize the business hours that they were expected to keep.

Their argument was that

… we need not enumerate the many advantages that would be derived by us, in allowing more time for moral improvement and healthful recreation, and after carefully studying our employers,[sic] interest and making that our great desideratum, we must respectfully submit for their approval the following proposal:

Their proposal was to restrict business hours so ‘That business be closed every night at seven o’clock, except Saturday, on which night close at ten o’clock. To commence January 1st, 1855’.[18]

John worked for William Terrey as his shop man and he was conscientious. One incident in his life as a shopkeeper made the newspaper in 1855. On entering the shop, Mills had noticed a boy leaning over the counter with his hand in the till. As soon as he saw Mills he took off as did his companion cockatoo who was meant to give a warning. Mills gave chase and finally caught them both. The young thief admitted to taking 10 shillings and offered to return it on condition he be let go. This was not agreed to but the 10 shillings was handed over anyway and off to the Police he was taken. On searching him, a florin from the shop was found. As there was not enough evidence to convict the cockatoo he was sent home. The young thief, however, since it was his fifth offence in less than a year, was given three months jail; he was ten years old.[19]


Thomas Bately Rolin (1827-1899) Governance Philanthropist


Thomas Bately Rolin was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England, on 4 September 1827 to Daniel Rolin (a shoemaker) and Ann Bately.[1] He was the youngest son of a family of at least six children. Leaving England in January 1854, he arrived in Melbourne on board the Croesus on 9 April 1854.[2]  He remained in Victoria for eight months and then, in December 1854, he came to Sydney aboard the Governor General.[3]

In Sydney in May 1857, he married Louisa Jones (1835-1872)[4] the London-born third daughter of Thomas Jones (1796-1879)[5] and Elizabeth nee Smith (1798-1861).[6] Thomas, who was the brother of David Jones of David Jones & Co,[7] was a ‘broker’ or ‘commission agent’ and appears to have arrived in the colony of NSW in 1836.[8] Very little is known about Louisa’s parents or herself except that she had six children with Thomas Rolin: Minnie (1858-1899),[9] Tom (1863-1927),[10] Mildred (1865-1888),[11] unnamed male child (1867),[12] Gertrude (1868-1918)[13] and Frederick Lynne (1870-1950).[14] Thomas and Louisa settled in “Forest Lodge” on the corner of Pitt and Redfern Streets, Redfern, living there at least until 1871[15] when they moved to Burwood. It was here that Louisa died[16] in 1872 leaving Thomas, who never remarried, with children aged 14, 9, 7, 4, and 2.  In 1880, Thomas took up residence in Redmyre Road, Strathfield, where he remained until his death on 26 June 1899.[17]

Thomas came to Australia in because of a business partnership he had with his older brother William Salmon Rolin (b 1821). William was a joiner by trade but had an entrepreneurial flair and became a property developer. As such, in 1848 he employed some 35 men on his building of houses and in renovating the Framingham Almshouses.[18] It would appear that he and Thomas formed a partnership as ‘Ship Builders and Shipwrights’ in King’s Lynn.[19] By October 1854, however, the partnership was bankrupt with debts said to be in excess of £20,000 ($1.6 M) with no assets available to offset this sum. William absconded to the United States of America where he took out citizenship,[20] whereas of Thomas, it was said:

About nine months since Mr. T. B. Rolin left England for the purpose of looking after the affairs of the partnership. It was no doubt necessary for him to do so, as the bankrupts were owners of vessels several of which were at Australia … Now the probability was, that Mr. T. B. Rolin knew nothing of the bankruptcy … it was probable that he did not know the firm was insolvent at the time he left England.[21]

In view of this, William Rolin was declared outlawed, but T B Rolin had his examination adjourned ‘sine die’ to allow him the opportunity to communicate with his assignees.[22] T B Rolin, however, never returned to England and the matter was never resumed. Whether Thomas’ absence in the colony was fortuitous or by design is unknown. That it was fortuitous is supported by it being publically stated that Thomas had not planned to remain in the colony of NSW being ‘temporarily in the colony’.[23]  Probably, when he learned of the bankruptcy of Rolin and Rolin shipbuilders, it was a prudent if not an altogether ethical course of action. No doubt he said nothing, for someone who was a known bankrupt and in debt to creditors for such a large sum would find it difficult to build a future. This situation also explains why, later in life, when successful and prosperous, he did not return to England for a visit as so many other colonists had done. Whereas England now offered Thomas only difficulties, Australia was to prove to be an opportunity for advancement and for a second chance to build a successful, respectable and prosperous life. Given that his chosen profession of advancement was the law, being a bankrupt would not be an asset in assisting him to become a qualified solicitor.

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