Croydon officer remembered in history of New South Wales

The raging bushfires in Australia have caused horror and concern around the world

As the terrible bushfires rage through Australia, some areas affected have strong historical links to Croydon, as DAVID MORGAN, the Minster historian, writes

So many memorials inside the old Croydon Parish Church building and in the churchyard have been lost because of the 1867 fire and the later redesigning of the church precincts. It is, therefore, easy to overlook a short entry in an old Croydon history book.

“Lieut Francis Grose died on 8th May 1814 aged 56.”

Grose was buried in our churchyard, but with just that basic information etched on to his headstone, which was removed when the churchyard was closed, there were no other clues about his life other than his military rank. How Francis Grose ended up in Croydon is but a tiny part of a colourful life which involved thousands of miles of travel to opposite parts of the globe as well as a great deal of controversy.
Grose was born in Middlesex, the eldest of 12 children born to Francis Grose, a well-known antiquary, and his wife Catherine Jordan. From parish records, we can trace the Grose family to Mulberry Cottage on Wandsworth Common in the 1760s.

The death of a sibling, Sally, on December 27, 1764, was recorded in the Wandsworth Parish records. She was buried in the Mount Nod Huguenot Cemetery just off East Hill Wandsworth.

A contemporary etching of Francis Grose

We know nothing more of young Francis until he received a commission into the 52nd Regiment of Foot in 1775. He was promoted to lieutenant later that year.

Francis had connections into the military through his father, who was the adjutant and paymaster of the Hampshire militia before becoming a captain and adjutant in the Surrey militia.

His son saw his first action in the American War of Independence, where he was promoted to captain while he was in North America, being transferred into the 85th regiment.

However, following wounds which he received in the storming of Fort Montgomery and Monmouth Court House, he was sent back to England in 1779 and he spent the next two years as a recruiting officer. As some point after he returned he was promoted to Major and was transferred to the 89th regiment.

While in England, he married Fanny and 1789 saw the birth of their son Francis Devis.

This same year saw a huge turning point in his life. After six years of half-pay, Grose was appointed as Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales and Commandant of the New South Wales Corps, which he was appointed to raise.

The garrison managing that part of Australia, which was being run as a penal colony, was not considered a great place to serve, but nevertheless, the Grose family set off for a new adventure.

They in June 1791, arriving in Port Jackson in February 1792.

Their journey must have been an interesting one, as it was onboard the convict ship, Pitt. As well as the Grose family there were 404 convicts sentenced to transportation. During the eight-month voyage, 20 male prisoners and nine female prisoners died, while five prisoners managed to escape.

In Australia, Major Grose would have first been preoccupied with routine garrison duty. His presence must have been welcomed by the Governor, Arthur Philip, whose patience had been sorely tried by the previous post-holder, the testy and uncooperative Major Robert Ross, a commander of the Marines which Grose’s New South Wales Corps was to replace.

Reports suggest that Grose was unassertive, affable and easy-going and gave Governor Philip little or no cause for concern. For the first time in the history of the colony, there was an amicable relation between the military and the civil leaders. Their only recorded difference of opinion occurred in October 1792 when Grose sanctioned and Philip disapproved the officers chartering the Britannia.

In December 1792, though, events took another turn.

Governor Philip’s health, which had been failing for some time, in part due to a poor diet, deteriorated to the point where he could not carry on with his duties and so he was forced to return to England. This left Grose in charge of the settlement, a position he held for two years.

A contemporary painting of Sydney cove from the 1790s, when Grose was the military governor of the penal colony

It was to be the pinnacle of his career. He quickly set about making his mark.

Upon assuming command he replaced the civil magistrates with military officers. At the Parramatta Gaol, where the convicts were held, Grose gave the senior officer control when he, himself, was not present. Finally, he appointed Lieutenant John Macarthur as Inspector of Public Works. This means, at once, he reduced his own administrative burden as well as positioning his aides more closely with the administration of the settlement.

Some historians suggest that these decisions meant that Grose didn’t have to carry out the majority of his tasks personally and was over-reliant on his fellow officers. He had a difficult job to do but set about it in his own way. At the commencement of his tenure, the European population of the colony was 4,221, of which 3,099 were convicts. It was a tough and alien place.

Back in London, Grose’s management of the prisoners in the colony came in for some questions in Parliament. It was noted that the behaviour of the prisoners was so bad that “to prevent burglarious entry a heavy collar was imposed at night on the shoulders of the worst offenders so as to impede their progress except through open doors”.

These iron collars, ordered by Grose, were made of round bolt iron, formed into a collar for the neck with two projections extending from a foot to 18 inches from the collar and weighing about 15lb each. They were also used to punish “disorderly” women. They were a brutal solution to the problems he faced.

Grose knew the importance of looking after his own troops. This he did in several ways. First, he increased their weekly ration so that they had more to eat than the convicts. Secondly, and on his own initiative, he issued land grants of about 25 acres apiece to serving members of the corps who requested them.

Following Home Office regulations, though, he did provide the officers with farms. However, contrary to the orders, he allowed each officer the use of 10 convicts who were provisioned at government expense. Any civilians were also able to access these same conditions.

At a time when most of continental Australia remained unexplored by the incoming Europeans, with settlements clinging to strips of land near the coast, Grose’s decision was incredibly important in the opening up of the rich Hawkesbury River region, encouraging large numbers to settle there.

The area where the first 20 or so set-up their new farms Grose chose to name Mulgrave Place, after his friend Lord Mulgrave, whose patronage he had enjoyed in England. Today Mulgrave is a suburb of Sydney.

Up to the point of Grose taking command, public farming had still not produced enough food for the state to become self-sufficient. But Grose believed in the enterprise of his many new smallholders and farmers. In the next two years, the spectre of famine in the colony gradually eased, and the area began to show signs of prosperity. The British Government, however, was not impressed by Grose’s methods of bringing prosperity to the area. They thought that the convicts should have produced crops for nothing.

The practice of providing maintenance to the officers for the servant convicts working for them increased the burden on the Treasury when the officials thought that the military should pay for the upkeep themselves. This would see Grose overlooked for other senior appointments.

In December 1794, he left New South Wales to return to England. Grose left the colony much-changed. His Inspector of Works, Macarthur, wrote to his brother that “he now had a farm of some 250 acres”, that he had sold crops to the value of £400 and had “1,800 bushels of corn in his granary”.

HMS Victory towed in Gibraltar harbour after the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. Grose was military commander of Gibraltar at this time

Such changes Grose implemented had brought a much higher standard of living for many, although his laxness in dealing with some trade issues resulted in profiteering, particularly in sales of alcohol. The high incidences of drunken behaviour because of the freely available liquor added another negative against his regime.

The wounds he received in the American campaign continued to trouble him, but Grose wished to continue his military career, though he took no part in the Napoleonic Wars, but was given a promotion to colonel and command over local barracks.

In 1798, he was transferred to the military staff in Ireland as a brigadier-general. In 1805 – the year of the Battle of Trafalgar – he was appointed major-general and staff officer in Gibraltar.

Dogged by ill-health, Grose returned to England in May 1807. During an enforced stay of two years, he twice applied, unsuccessfully, to return to Australia as Governor of New South Wales. In 1808, he attempted to secure the post when it seemed likely that Captain William Bligh – he of HMS Bounty notoriety – would be recalled.

Then, in April 1809, Grose offered his services to replace Brigadier-General Miles Nightingall, who was sick.

Croydon Parish Church, now the Minster, last resting place of Francis and Fanny Grose

Having been turned down twice, Grose went back to Ireland on military duty later in 1809.
By 1813, he held the rank of Lieutenant-General and was living in Croydon, in a house called The Limes on Whitehorse Lane, which ran along the side of Croydon Common. It was here that his wife died on January 12, 1809, aged 46. She was buried at Croydon Parish Church and had a line on the headstone too.

“Behold the bricks and mortar cover
The best of wives, the kindest mother.”

We know that Fanny Grose had been ill about 18 months with what had been described as a most painful illness.

In April 1814, Lieutenant-General Grose married Elizabeth Paterson, the widow of William Paterson, who had died in 1810. Paterson was a soldier and explorer who had served under Grose in the New South Wales Corps and who had been Governor of Tasmania from 1804 to 1808.

Francis Grose’s marriage to Elizabeth lasted but one month, when Grose died in May, to be buried with his first wife in the churchyard of Croydon Parish Church, now the Minster.

Today there is no sign of their grave. But the Grose name lives on, Down Under.

The Grose Valley is a rugged area in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, through which flows the Grose River. What a great memorial it is to have a river and a valley named after you. Francis certainly deserves a place among the colourful characters who are linked with our church.


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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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