Alice Jane GRAY
Name Variations GREY
Father James BROWNE b. m. none d.
Step-father William Henry1 ECKFORD b. 18322 m. 18633 d. 1892
Step-father Henry A. SMITH4 b. unknown m. none d.
Mother Alice THOMPSON formerly ECKFORD née GRAY b. 18435 m. none (2) 1863 d. 19016
Inmate Alice Jane GRAY b. 18617 m. (see below) d. aft. 1878
Half-brother Henry G. ECKFORD b. 18648 m. none - d. 18759
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Step-father William ECKFORD10 25 6' 2" light very stout; about 15 stone
Mother Alice THOMPSON11 27 5' 3¾" black; dark sallow black black stout read and write; Aboriginal half caste12

Alice was seven when she was brought before the Newcastle court on 18 January 1868, by senior-sergeant DONOHUE charged with associating with prostitutes and having no protector.13 The prostitute was her mother. Alice was admitted to the school the same day as she appeared in court. The Entrance Book indicated that she was able to read the alphabet and was a Protestant.14 Alice was recorded on SELWYN's list of Protestant students.15

In May 1871, Alice transferred with the school to Biloela but her discharge details were omitted from LUCAS's 1872 list compiled in April. Alice was discharged as an apprentice to Mr P. N. HOCKINGS, Liverpool,16 for six years on 4 July 1873.17 She was to be paid one shilling a week for the first two years, two shillings a week for the third and fourth years and three shillings a week for the last two years.18 Three years later, on 29 December 1876, these indentures were cancelled and Alice was returned to Biloela.19 There was no further discharge date and no new entry recorded in the Entrance Book but the Biloela Discharge Book indicated that Alice was apprenticed for four months on 2 October 1878, to Mr R. D. GRAHAM of Woodville, Parramatta. The discharge register showed that she had completed this term. Because Alice had almost certainly turned eighteen by this date, she almost certainly didn't return to Biloela.


The Entrance Book recorded that Alice was the illegitimate daughter of Alice THOMPSON who was in gaol at the time of her daughter's admission to Newcastle.20 Court appearances and church records in the HVPRI indicated that Alice had been born at Patrick's Plains, the early name of Singleton, on 12 January 1861. She had been baptized at All Saints’ Church of England, Singleton, on 5 May 1861, by J. BLACKWOOD who noted in the register that Alice was 'base born'. Alice's mother, Alice, was variously recorded as a needlewoman21 or a dressmaker.22

James BROWNE appeared to be rich enough to pay for representation and not to attend court when Alice GRAY attempted to get him to pay for his contribution towards their daughter, Alice.23

There was no indication in either Alice's baptism record or in the Entrance Book, but subsequent court appearances identified that her mother, and therefore herself, was of Aboriginal descent. About a year after her birth, in July 1862, her mother, Alice, took James BROWNE, the man she claimed to be Alice's father, to court for an order for the payment of maintenance for Alice.24 Her application was given a fair hearing in Singleton Court where BROWNE unsuccessfully argued that her father may have been a man named '― SAUNDERS'. Ultimately the court ordered that BROWNE financially support his illegitimate daughter.

Alice's mother was variously identified as Alice GRAY, Alice ECKFORD, Alice THOMPSON and 'Black Alice'.25 The NSW BDM Index, gaol and Police Gazette26 records prove that these appearances were for the same person. Alice had been born in Port Macquarie in about 184227 so was probably from the Birpai nation. The origin of the use of most of these surnames is thought to have been through associations with male partners. Her birth surname is unknown but it was thought to have been GRAY or perhaps THOMPSON. The baptism for Alice GRAY in 184128 cannot be read but occurred in Sydney so it is not considered that this record refers to Alice senior. The identity of her parents should be outlined on her marriage registration to William ECKFORD in 1863.29

Alice senior's court appearances can be followed in various newspaper reports. The earliest report yet identified occurred in Singleton as Alice GRAY in July 1862 when she was a witness into the forgery of a cheque that she had received.30

While no gaol records have been found under the name Alice GRAY, those admissions for ECKFORD and THOMPSON indicated that Alice had been born in Port Macquarie in about 1843. Appearances of Alice GRAY in Singleton for operating disorderly houses can also be identified. As Alice GRAY she married William ECKFORD in Scone in 1863 and from as early as 1864, reports from Singleton31 refer to Alice ECKFORD as a 'half-caste'.32 The marriage appeared to have been short-lived as in December 1866, Alice ECKFORD, charged with vagrancy, was transferred to Maitland Gaol from Singleton Gaol. She had been sentenced to two months hard labour.33

On 17 January 1868, the day before Alice Jane’s appearance in court under the Industrial Schools' Act, her mother, identified as Alice THOMPSON, again appeared and was sent to Maitland Gaol charged with 'willfully and obscenely exposing her person in a public street at Newcastle'. Alice senior was further reported to have been 'cohabiting with coloured men'.34 These reports identify Alice as 'ECKFORD or THOMPSON' and again stated that she lived with 'men of color' and described her as a 'half-caste'35 with a child in her arms.'36 This statement confirming that by 1870 another child had been born. This child was a third child as by 1870, two of her children had already been admitted to the Industrial Schools. Further appearances by Alice senior may be found in the Newcastle Chronicle in February 1871,37 and by August 1874 she was once again using the surname ECKFORD.38 There is little doubt that Alice was in Sydney by May 1880 when she appeared in the Water Police Court39 so it is possible that she and her daughter were reunited.

Alice also appeared in both court and gaol records as HECKFORD. The last report involving Alice yet located appeared in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River Advertiser in April 1888, where Alice was a witness at a trial.40 Alice almost certainly died in Newcastle as Alice ECKFORD in 1901. No parents were identified on the registration but her death was registered in Newcastle.

Henry's father, William ECKFORD, had been born in Maitland in 1832.41 He appeared often in gaol records across NSW until 1886.42 He was the man who was described in the Police Gazette in 1855 as the son of Henry ECKFORD of East Maitland43 and his father in 1849 was warning anyone against giving him creditor or harbouring him.44 His baptism appeared on the NSW BDM Index as William H. ECHFORD. It is unknown how long William and Alice remained together.

William was seriously assaulted at Jerry's Plains45 on 24 February 1892,46 and was admitted to Singleton Hospital where he was eventually released.47 He died in Tamworth Gaol48 in May 1892.49 Even though no parents were recorded on the NSW BDM Index his father was Henry and his mother was Elizabeth.

A little over a year after Alice’s admission to Newcastle, Alice THOMPSON again appeared in Newcastle court and was sent to gaol for an assault on her son whose age varied in newspaper reports as being from 2 or 3 to about 5.50 The boy was named in January 1869 as Henry ECKFORD.51 More details of the case may be found in the Newcastle newspapers on 23 January.52 Alice was referred to in the Sydney and Newcastle reports of this case as having the alias of 'Black Alice.' She was described as a 'coloured woman' living in the sandhills in Newcastle in the vicinity of the pilot’s quarters, an area very close to the industrial school. The HVPRI named one of the pilots of Newcastle as William ECKFORD but it has not been proved that he was the man who married Alice GRAY. Alice was sentenced to six months in Maitland Gaol.

Henry G. ECKFORD, who had been born in Patrick’s Plains in 1864, was sent to the Vernon on 22 October 1870,53 after this assault and his admission record stated that:

Alice Eckford otherwise Thompson now in Maitland Gaol under committal for two months as an idle and disorderly person is the mother and has been getting her living by prostitution. The mother states that the father has left the Colony and gone to America. Not able to support. The mother is a half-caste native of the Colony.54

The 1872 list of boys on the Vernon only identified Henry's mother, Alice, and indicated that she was unable to contribute to his upkeep on the ship. The report stated:

Mother a prostitute now in Maitland Gaol; Father a notorious thief whereabouts not known.55

Henry ECKFORD died in Sydney in 1875 at the age of nine. No parents were identified on this death registration suggesting that by this date he was still on the Vernon or had been transferred to another institution.

Where has She Gone?

Alice had completed her indentures by early 1879 when she turned eighteen. She was only seven on her admission to Newcastle and after spending ten years in Newcastle and Biloela it is likely that any chance of her tracing her mother would have been difficult. It is remotely possible but unconfirmed that she returned to Newcastle after her apprenticeship concluded. Letters referring to Alice do exist in the CSIL but it is still unknown whether they were attempts at contact by Alice senior or the younger girl's apprenticeship details. After 1879 no record has yet been confirmed for the younger woman.

Alice was unlikely to be the Alice J. GRAY who married William LITTLE in Uralla as this couple were still having children in 1912 and this would therefore make her over fifty at this time. Alice was also unlikely to have married Patrick BROPHY as this woman was too old. No parents were recorded on either the registration or on the matching church record.

Updated September 2016

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