Henry Gomm, a Cheltenham pioneer. Courtesy Ray Gibb.
In the 1850s there were two distinct Gomm families residing in Cheltenham. Henry, the leader of one line of Gomms, was born at Sherston Magna, Wiltshire , England in 1808. Sherston Magna was a small village about six miles west of Malmesbury on the Avon River near Cheltenham. George, the patriarch of the second line, was born in Oxford in 1812.  As Ray Gibb points out in his history of the Gomms, Sherston Magna in Wiltshire is only a short distance across the county border to Oxford  yet at that time travel by working people from one district to another was not common, making a connection less likely. By 1853 both men had travelled huge distances from Britain to the colony of Victoria, one first having travelled courtesy of the British government via Hobart as a convict, and the other as a bounty migrant on the sailing vessel, Wallace. 
Henry was the convict. He was described as being five feet eleven and a half inches in height with a fresh complexion, large head, long nose, wide mouth, dark brown hair, whiskers and hairy chest.  Henry spent eight months in the prison hulk Ganymede prior to setting out for Van Diemen’s Land. He travelled on the Asia leaving Sheerness on the Thames on 8 November 1835 and arrived in Hobart one hundred and five days later on 21 February 1836. While this was not the first voyage of the Asia conveying convicts to Australia, on this occasion there were 290 convicts drawn from hulks at Woolwich and Chatham. The general health of those from Chatham was good while intermittent fever was present amongst individuals from Woolwich. Nevertheless, despite the long and difficult journey it was reported that 288 convicts landed safely in Hobart. 
Why was Henry Gomm aboard the Asia? What was his crime? He was charged with maliciously stabbing with intent to murder and sentenced to fourteen years transportation by a court in Gloucestershire, England, on 4 March 1835. Court records indicate twenty four men were trespassing on the estate of the Hon Henry Moreton when they were confronted by three game keepers, a gardener and two men who had been working on the road. These six men, according to the court report, were immediately ‘murderously attacked’ by the larger group with gun barrels, violent thrusts and dreadful language. As well as this, the beaten retreating men were pelted with a shower of large stones taken from a wall and a turnpike road. Henry was specifically accused of poaching, as well as stabbing and wounding William Nicholls. Why the twenty four men engaged in this assault is not stated, but certainly they were angry. Of the twenty four, twelve were committed to gaol. Of the twelve, nine were from the village of Sherston Magna, one being Henry Gomm.  Henry’s behaviour in gaol was noted as being bad and he was reported as being indifferent to the sentence the court imposed on him. However, his behaviour when confined on the hulk was assessed as good.
A basket-maker by trade Henry married Hannah Neal in Sherston Magna on 12 May 1830.  Together they had three children born before his transportation: Fanny Matilda 1830, James c1832, and Henry who was born in 1835, two months after his father’s conviction. Hannah, like her husband Henry, was born in Sherston Magna, but in the previous year. Her parents had also been born and married in Sherston Magna.  After permission was gained from the authorities Hannah journeyed to Hobart with her three children to join Henry. They sailed on the Mary Catherine, arriving in the colony on 16 January 1838. While in Hobart, Henry and Hannah had five additions to their family: William 1838, Thomas c1844, Mary Ann 1843, John 1847, and Sarah Louise 1848.
Prior to the arrival of Hannah and the children in Hobart there were several occasions when Henry was in trouble with the authorities. In February 1837 he received 36 lashes for “plucking apples off the fruit trees in the Government Garden.” And in April of that same year he was put in chains and committed to hard labour for three months for possessing a quantity of willow wands which he was accused of “working up for his own advantage and was not able to give a satisfactory account of them.” In August, Lieutenant Governor Denison ordered he was to continue with this ‘duty’. Trouble continued for Henry the following month when he was caught “receiving 3 lbs of soap valued at 1/2d, the property of the King well knowing it to have been stolen.” And on the same day he was charged with disobedience in the Government Gardens. However, in November there was one positive addition to his record when his assistance in controlling a fire at Government House was noted. 
In October 1841 a Memoranda of Pardon was issued for Henry while awaiting “the pleasure of Her Majesty”. On the same day he was granted a Ticket of Leave, entitling him to hire himself out, be self employed and own property.  But his progress to freedom was curtailed on 4 July 4 1842 when he was charged with theft and sentenced to fourteen days hard labour . It was not until four years later that he was once again recommended for a conditional pardon. This was granted on 5 October 1847. A Certificate of Freedom was issued by the Supreme Court on 8 March 1852. 
In December 1849 Henry Gomm took part in the twelfth anniversary regatta in his sixteen ton schooner, Venus. This was an important festive occasion in early Hobart commemorating the discovery of Van Diemen’s Land by Abel Tasman in 1641. According to a local newspaper report His Excellency and Lady Denison were present the whole day taking a lively interest in all the merry proceedings. “There were soldiers, sailors, pickpockets, tumblers, jugglers, - lollypops, cigar and a light for a penny – knock’em downs, skittles, and three sticks a penny, all conglomerated together like the varied patches on my grandmother’s counterpane.” A condition of entry to the race was that the participating craft should have been working upon the Derwent for at least one month prior to the event.  This suggests that Henry was engaged at least for some of his time in fishing.
By the year 1853 Henry, no longer a ticket of leave man, took advantage of the freedom of movement he had gained, left Van Diemen’s Land with his family and took up resident in the parish of Moorabbin. There he, along with one hundred and sixteen other residents, signed a petition to the colonial government requesting a post office be established south of Brighton. Another one of the petitioners was George Gomm, born in Oxford, England, in 1812.
George, a twenty-nine-year-old mason, travelled in 1844 to Port Phillip with his twenty-eight-year-old wife, Ann (Teagle) and four year old son, Henry, as ‘Bounty Immigrants’.  As bounty immigrants the passage of the family to Australia was paid by the colonial government. Under the scheme a reward was paid to recruiting agents in Britain who found suitable skilled labour and shipped them out to the new colony where skilled labour and tradespeople were urgently needed. In the case of George and his wife the amount of money paid was £18-7-6 each and £9-3-9 for son Henry.  Bounties were also paid to the ships’ masters for the safe delivery of their passengers.
On arrival in Melbourne in November 1844 George had no job offer like many other bounty passengers but was left to find work using his own resources. Settling in West Melbourne, Henry the only living child at that time, commenced school at St James to receive his early education. During this period several children were born to George and Ann. Two children named Mary Ann did not survive but the birth of Fanny Ellen in 1849 was registered in Collingwood.  The following year, 1850 George took his family to Cope Cope, between Donald and St Arnaud, where he was given employment on Sutherland’s sheep station. Shortly after, with the discovery of gold at Bendigo, George resolved to try his luck on the gold fields, hoping to make his fortune. After approximately one year he either made some modest finds or he became dispirited as he moved his family to Collingwood. There he bought land and erected houses. 
By 1853 George and his family were living in the Moorabbin district where he bought land and engaged in fishing. He owned land in Charman Road in 1864 and was working land owned by George Beazley. The rate records for 1872 indicate George was occupying fourteen acres of land in Charman Road owned by his son Henry. In addition, it was noted he had a hut occupying crown land on the beach. By 1881, George, now listed as a ‘gentleman’ rather than ‘farmer’, was recorded as owning and occupying fourteen acres in Charman Road, one acre in Balcombe Road and four acres in Patty Street. The Charman Road property included a three room house.  Over the next few years he gradually disposed of his land until by 1883 he only had the one property of fourteen acres which stretched from the corner of Beach Road and Charman Road back to Balcombe Road.  By that time the house was described as having four rooms and the property was valued at £50. In that same year George Gomm sold the freehold to his property and left the district with his wife. On 15 November his household furniture and effects were auctioned on the premises without any reserves being placed upon them. These effects included a heavy draught horse, a Timor pony with saddle and harness, horse, cows and market gardeners’ implements.  At the time George was of 71 years of age.
In 1887 Ann Gomm died at Collingwood aged 73 years and a few months later George remarried at Cheltenham. His second wife was Mary Elizabeth Hoffmann from Middlesex, England. She was a widow, previously wedded to Henry Teagle. They had married at St Dunstan in Stepney, London in 1858. George and Mary had eleven years of married life together before his death at 86 years on 5 October 1898 at 175 Victoria Parade Fitzroy.  He died from an epileptic seizure and was buried in the Cheltenham Pioneers’ Cemetery with his first wife Ann who was buried there on 5 January 1887.  The committal of George’s body was conducted by the local Church of England minister, the Rev Alfred Caffin. 
While living in the Cheltenham district George and his first wife, Ann, added to their family. Sarah Ann was born in 1854 followed by Margaret Jane in 1858 and George in 1860.  During George senior’s time in Cheltenham he became a friend of Joseph Angier who purchased land from Stephen Charman and Josiah Holloway in Charman Road and on the Beaumaris Estate.  George Gomm and William Ruse were executors of Angier’s estate and after his death in 1873 and the granting of probate on 25 February 1874, arranged the sale of his holdings to Margaret Lay.  This occurred in 1888 and the following year Lay sold portions of this land to George’s eldest child, Henry. Henry’s holding then included land on the west side of Charman Road which was part of the original grant to Stephen Charman, and land bordered by Patty, Bourke and Collins streets that was formerly part of the Beaumaris Estate sub divided by Holloway. 
Earlier, in 1858, twenty-year-old Henry, son of George, journeyed to Port Curtis gold diggings in Queensland to try his luck at prospecting. The venture was a disaster so he returned to Cheltenham the next year, married Margaret Monk in St Peter’s Church of England in Melbourne, settled down in Cheltenham, built a house and remained there until 1866.  At that time he moved with his wife and two children to what is now Somerville while retaining an interest in land in Cheltenham.  At the time of his death in 1917 it was reported that in his boyhood he spent much time amongst the aboriginals and could speak their language, as well as being able to throw the boomerang and other weapons.  .
The Rate Records of 1862, at the time of the Moorabbin District Roads Board, note a Henry Gomm as the owner and occupier of a property in Balcombe Road valued at £26. This valuation suggests the property was substantial. But who the Henry Gomm was is not so clear from this record. Henry, the son of George Gomm was living in the Cheltenham district at the time as a young man but the much older Henry, the former convict, was also a resident of the district, at least in 1854. In that year he and his wife Hannah and Jeremiah Pickles were brought before the district court on a charge of assault with robbery. They were neighbours and lived ‘near Brighton’. It appeared they had all been drunk and fighting but as there was no proof of the offence the bench dismissed the case.  Three years later, in 1858, Henry ‘the convict’ and son Henry were members of a seventy strong committee supporting F J Bligh in the St Kilda elections. Committee members were described as being “of the most influential inhabitants of the St Kilda District.”  This information suggests the identity of the Henry of Balcombe Road as listed in the Rate Records of 1862 as being the individual born in Oxford to Ann (Teagle) and George Gomm.
Henry Gomm, born to Hannah (Neal) and Henry Gomm, at Sherston Magna shortly after his father was transported to Van Dieman’s Land was in the news again in 1865 with two of his brothers, James and Thomas. They appeared in the St Kilda Police Court accused of assault intending to do grievous bodily harm by two Chinese fishermen identified in the Argus as “two celestials named Ah Yan and Ah Wy.” At the time James was 33, Henry 30 and Thomas 21. The three brothers disputed the right of the Chinese fishermen to fish in an area which they believed was theirs and were prepared to physically defend it. The bench considered the assaults as unjustifiable, and fined each of the defendants 20 shillings with 20 shillings costs, or the alternative of fourteen days imprisonment. 
Gibb from his research places two of the sons of Henry the convict, Henry and William, in Rosebud working as fishermen.  Later William, married Maria Taylor in 1894 at Hastings and married again in Carlton in 1904. It was at Hastings that William died in 1915. His older brother Henry died the following year at Cheltenham where he was a resident of the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum. He was 82 years old and single when he died on 11 December 1916. He was buried in the Cheltenham Pioneers’ Cemetery. Cause of death was listed as senile decay and heart failure.  His death was preceded by that of his mother, Hannah, who died of dropsy on the 25 June 1864  Henry’s father, referred to as Henry Gomm convict, to distinguish him from all the other Gomms bearing the name Henry, died four years after his wife at Hotham Street, East St Kilda. He died from pneumonia asthenia at sixty years of age and was buried with his wife in the St Kilda Cemetery. His occupation was listed as gardener. 
It would be surprising if the two Gomm family groups, although not directly related and from different counties of England, did not know one another in the 1850s and 1860s. The Cheltenham community, indeed the Moorabbin District, was not heavily populated so, as near neighbours, there would have been opportunities to meet. Later when the children of Henry and George moved down the peninsula there would have been further opportunities to renew acquaintances.
Grave stone of Ann and George Gomm in the Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery. Courtesy Kingston Collection.
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