Alice Jane GRAY
Name Variations GREY
Father James BROWNE b. m. none d.
Step-father William ECKFORD b. 1830 m. 18631 d.
Step-father Henry A. SMITH2 b. unknown m. none d.
Mother Alice THOMPSON formerly ECKFORD nee GRAY b. 18433 m. none (2) 1863 d. 19014
Inmate Alice Jane GRAY b.18615 m. (see below) d. aft. 1878
Half-brother Henry G. ECKFORD b. 18646 m. none - d. 18757
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Step-father William ECKFORD8 25 6' 2" light very stout; about 15 stone
Mother Alice THOMPSON9 27 5' 3¾" black; dark sallow black black stout read and write; Aboriginal half caste10

Alice was seven when she was brought before the court on 18 January 1868, by senior-sergeant DONOHUE charged with associating with prostitutes and having no protector.11 The prostitute was her mother. Alice was admitted to the school the same day as her court appearance. It was recorded that she was able to read the alphabet and was a Protestant.12 Her name appearred on SELWYN's list of Protestant students.13 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,14 for six years on 4 July 1873.15 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.16 Three years later, on 29 December 1876, these indentures were cancelled and Alice was returned to Biloela.17 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 register recorded that she completed this term and as she had almost certainly turned eighteen by this date, she probably 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.18 Court appearances and church records in the HVPRI indicate that Alice was born in Patrick's Plains, the former name of Singleton on 12 January 1861, and was baptized in 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 recorded as a needlewoman19 or a dressmaker.20

There was no indication in this baptism record or in the Entrance Book but subsequent court appearances for her mother indicate that Alice was of aboriginal descent. About a year after her birth, in July 1862, Alice senior, took James BROWNE, the man she claimed to be Alice's father, to court for a ruling for the payment of maintenance for Alice.21 Her application was given a fair hearing. BROWNE unsuccessfully argued that the father may have been a man named ― SAUNDERS but the Singleton court ordered him to financially support his illegitimate daughter.

As Alice GRAY, Alice ECKFORD, Alice THOMPSON and 'Black Alice,'22 appearances in court can be followed for Alice senior through newspaper reports. The NSW BDM Index, gaol and Police Gazette23 records prove that these appearances are for the same person. While no gaol records have been found under the name Alice GRAY, those for ECKFORD and THOMPSON indicate that Alice was born in Port Macquarie in 1843. Appearances of Alice GRAY in Singleton for operating disorderly houses can be found. Alice GRAY had married William ECKFORD in Scone in 1863 and from as early as 1864, reports from Singleton24 refer to Alice ECKFORD as a 'half-caste.'25 In December 1866, Alice ECKFORD, charged with vagrancy, was transferred to Maitland Gaol from Singleton Gaol. She was sentenced to two months hard labour.26 The day before Alice’s appearance in court under the Industrial Schools' Act, her mother, named as Alice THOMPSON, also 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 as 'cohabiting with coloured men.'27 William ECKFORD was almost certainly the man who was described in the Police Gazette in 1855 as the son of Henry ECKFORD of East Maitland.28 These reports name Alice as 'ECKFORD or THOMPSON', again state that she lived with 'men of color' and describe her as a 'half-caste29 with a child in her arms.'30 This then indicated that a further child had been born as by 1870, two of her children were in Industrial Schools. Further appearances by Alice senior may be found in the Newcastle Chronicle In February 1871,31 and by August 1874 Alice was once again using the surname ECKFORD.32 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.33 The origin of Alice’s use of the surname THOMPSON has not yet been identified but it is very likely that this was the name of a man with whom she associated. Alice almost certainly died in Newcastle as Alice ECKFORD in 1901. No parents were named on the registration but it was made in Newcastle.

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 5.34 The boy was named in January 1869 as Henry ECKFORD.35 More details of the case may be found in the Newcastle newspapers on 23 January.36 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. Henry was sent to the Vernon on 22 October 1870,37 after this assault and his admission record states 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.38

William ECKFORD was born in Maitland in about 1832 and appeared in gaol records across NSW until 1886,39 probably dying in Tamworth in 1892.40 The 1872 list of boys on the Vernon only named 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.41

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

Where has She Gone?

Alice 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 be difficult. Letters do exist in the CSIL but it is unknown as yet whether they were attempts at contact by Alice senior or apprenticeship details. After 1879 no record has been confirmed for the younger Alice. It is remotely possible but unconfirmed that she returned to Newcastle.

She is 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. She is unlikely to have married Patrick BROPHY as this woman was too old. No parents are available from either the registration or the church record.

Updated May 2015

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