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 Jane 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 Jane was admitted to the nearby school the same day as she had 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 Jane transferred with the school to Biloela and was discharged as an apprentice to Mr P. N. HOCKINGS, Liverpool,16 for six years on 4 July 1873.17 These discharge details were omitted from LUCAS's 1872 list compiled in April. Alice Jane 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 of her apprenticeship with HOCKINGS.18 Three years later, on 29 December 1876, Alice Jane's indentures were cancelled and she was returned to Biloela.19 There was no indication why Alice Jane's apprenticeship had been cancelled. It may have occurred through no fault of her own or it may have been because of some disagreement or misbehaviour. There is no further discharge date for Alice Jane and no new entry recorded in the Entrance Book for her but the Biloela Discharge Book indicated that she had been 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 Jane had almost certainly turned eighteen by this date, it is almost certain that she didn't return to Biloela after this apprenticeship concluded.


The Entrance Book recorded that Alice Jane 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 identified that Alice Jane had been born at Patrick's Plains, now named 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 Jane was 'base born'. Alice Jane's mother, Alice, was variously recorded as a needlewoman21 or a dressmaker.22

There was no indication in either Alice Jane'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 Jane's father, to court for an order for the payment of maintenance.23 Alice's application was given a fair hearing in Singleton Court where BROWNE unsuccessfully argued that the father may have been a man named '― SAUNDERS'. Ultimately the court agreed with Alice THOMPSON and ordered that BROWNE financially support his illegitimate daughter.

Alice Jane's mother was variously identified as Alice GRAY, Alice ECKFORD, Alice THOMPSON and 'Black Alice'.24 The NSW BDM Index, various gaol admissions and NSW Police Gazette25 records prove that these appearances were for the same person. Alice can be followed in various newspaper reports around the Hunter Valley. The origin of the use of most of these surnames is thought to have been through associations with male partners but her birth surname is unknown. It was thought to have been GRAY or perhaps THOMPSON but no proof of either name has yet been located. While no gaol records have been found with the name Alice GRAY, admissions for Alice ECKFORD and Alice THOMPSON indicated that she had been born in Port Macquarie in about 184226 so was probably a member of the Birpai nation. The baptism of Alice GRAY in 184127 cannot be read but occurred in Sydney so it is not considered that this record refers to Alice senior. Legally and ideally, the identity of Alice's parents should have been outlined on her marriage registration to William ECKFORD in 1863.28 This registration has not been viewed. The earliest report yet identified and known to refer to Alice occurred in Singleton in July 1862, as Alice GRAY, when she was a witness at a trial concerning the forgery of a cheque that she had received.29

As Alice GRAY she married William ECKFORD in Scone in 186330 and in 186431 the couple had one son who they named Henry. It is unknown how long William and Alice remained together. William was the son of Henry and Elizabeth ECKFORD. He had been baptised in Maitland in 183232 as William H. ECHFORD. Until his death William was frequently recorded in gaol records across NSW.33 The Police Gazette of 1855 confirmed that he was the son of Henry ECKFORD of East Maitland.34 By 1849 his father was warning anyone against giving him credit or harbouring him.35 William was seriously assaulted at Jerry's Plains36 on 24 February 1892,37 and was admitted to Singleton Hospital where he was eventually released.38 He died in Tamworth Gaol39 in May 1892.40

From as early as 1864, appearances of Alice ECKFORD in Singleton charged with operating disorderly houses can also be identified and further reports from Singleton41 refer to Alice as a 'half-caste'.42 These events suggest that the marriage to ECKFORD was short-lived or that Alice received no support from him. By December 1866, Alice ECKFORD, charged with vagrancy, was transferred to Maitland Gaol from Singleton Gaol. She had been sentenced to two months hard labour.43 By 1868 Alice was in Newcastle as on 17 January, the day before Alice Jane’s appearance in court under the Industrial Schools' Act. A little over a year after Alice Jane’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 5.44 The boy was named in January 1869 as Henry ECKFORD.45 More details of the case may be found in the Newcastle newspapers on 23 January.46

Henry G. ECKFORD, who had been born in Patrick’s Plains in 1864, was sent to the Vernon on 22 October 1870,47 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.48

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.49

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.

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. Alice was sentenced to six months in Maitland Gaol. 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 and it is considered likely that he was an uncle of Alice's husband.

Alice, identified as Alice THOMPSON, again appeared in court where she was sent to Maitland Gaol charged with 'willfully and obscenely exposing her person in a public street at Newcastle'. She was further reported to have been 'cohabiting with coloured men'.50 These reports identified Alice as 'ECKFORD or THOMPSON' and again stated that she lived with 'men of color' and described her as a 'half-caste'51 with a child in her arms.'52 This statement confirmed that by 1870 another child had been born. By this date two of Alice's children were already in the Industrial Schools so this child was another birth to Alice. Further appearances of Alice may be found in the Newcastle Chronicle in February 1871,53 and by August 1874 she was once again using the surname ECKFORD.54 There is little doubt that Alice was in Sydney by May 1880 when she appeared in the Water Police Court55 and this makes a reunion of Alice and Alice Jane possible. She had returned to Newcastle by 1885 when she was recorded as Alice HECKFORD.56 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.57 Alice almost certainly died in Newcastle as Alice ECKFORD in 1901. No parents were identified on the death registration but the death was registered in Newcastle.58 No burial location had yet been confirmed.

Little is known of the man identified by court appearances as Alice Jane's natural father. Newspaper articles suggest that James BROWNE was likely to be rich enough to pay for court representation and to avoid appearing in court when Alice GRAY successfully applied for financial contributions for Alice Jane.59 It is likely that he was living locally.

Where has She Gone?

Alice had completed her indentures by early 1879 when she had turned eighteen. As she was only seven at the time of her admission to Newcastle, and after spending ten years in Newcastle and Biloela, it is considered that there was little chance of her reuniting or tracing her mother. It is remotely possible but unconfirmed that Alice Jane did return 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 Jane 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 Alice Jane over fifty by 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 January 2019

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