John Cruwys was born in 1816 in the small village of Mariansleigh in North Devon. He was the son of William Cruwys, a husbandman and shoemaker, and Margaret Eastmond. John married Ann Rowe on 26th July 1838 at the Independent Chapel in Chulmleigh, Devon, and they had two children, William, born in 1839, and Mary Ann, born in 1842. John was a shoemaker at the time of the 1841 census but by 1845 he had become a labourer. The so-called Hungry Forties was a time of economic depression. The situation was compounded by the potato blight and famine in 1845-7. Many of the people from North Devon emigrated during this period, with a large contingent (including John's brother William) settling in Prince Edward Island, Canada. John stayed behind in Devon, but one can only imagine that by 1845 his circumstances had become desperate as his wife, by now expecting another baby, decided to have an abortion. Abortion had been made illegal in 1803 but the death penalty was withdrawn in 1837 and consequently the number of abortions rose dramatically in the 1840s. Abortion was widespread and easily accessible, and became a popular form of birth control. Without modern medicine and sanitation the procedure would have been a risky undertaking, which was probably done by a local woman in her own home. Tragically Ann did not survive the operation and she died on 26th February 1845, leaving John to bring up his two young children on his own. The next account of John in the English records is in 1848 when he was committed for trial at the Exeter Assizes for stealing a cow and sentenced to twelve months' hard labour. A transcript of the newspaper report of the trial and the story of John's attempted escape from prison has been published on the Chulmleigh page of Genuki.
No records of John's sojourn in prison have yet been found. It seems likely that he moved to Cornwall soon after his release to start a new life in a place where his history would not have been known. His daughter, Mary Ann, died in the South Molton Union Workhouse on 25th February 1850 at the age of six. John would have been out of prison by this time but had perhaps had been unable to find work and was therefore forced to leave his daughter behind in the workhouse. After the 1851 census the last appearance of John in the English records is that of his marriage to Eliza Warren on 22nd March 1853 at the parish church in Maker, Cornwall. Eliza is believed to be the daughter of William and Annabella Warren. She was baptised on 21st August 1825 in Tavistock, Devon.
The story now continues in Australia. The Victoria passenger indexes show that a John Crews, aged 38, arrived in Australia on the Seringapatam in January 1855. He appears in the index to unassisted passengers so he had somehow managed to save enough money to pay for his fare. A William Crowes, aged 20, arrived in Victoria in November 1858. He is almost certainly John's son, William, from his first marriage to Ann Rowe. The following year Eliza Cruwys joined her husband and stepson, arriving in Victoria in January 1859 on the Annie Wilson.
John and Eliza had two children in Australia. Their eldest son, Francis Thomas, was born in 1860 in the Sandhurst district of Victoria. It is possible that John was trying his hand at gold mining at this time as this area was experiencing a gold rush. Francis died in 1866 at the age of six from an aortic aneurysm. Some time after Francis's death John and Eliza moved to the Deniliquin district of New South Wales just north of the NSW/Victorian border. A second son, Henry J Cruwys, was born in Deniliquin in 1868.
In 1870 John hit a bad patch where he owed £23.11.00 to a sawyer by the name of Simeon Boyle which he could not repay. He decided to become bankrupt rather than face the prospect of prison, which is quite understandable after his stint in gaol in England. In the sequestration papers John says:
During the last six months I have been residing with my son assisting him as far as my years would permit in his trade of a well sinker receiving from him in return for my food & expenses and I further say that I have neither engaged in any commercial transactions of any sort nor have I kept any books or documents whatsoever.John also says he has had sickness and death in his family – this latter would have been a reference to the death of young Francis. He also says:
I am upwards of 55 years of age and therefore have no prospect of being able to earn sufficient to satisfy said judgement debt. I have disposed of no property by sale, assignment, hedge deposit or in any other manner to the amount of ten pounds at any one time during the last sixty days nor in fact during the last four years.John was granted his bankruptcy, but no further references to him can be found after this date. There does not appear to be any record of his death, though it is likely that the record cannot be traced because of a mis-spelling. We know he died before 1901 because this is when his second wife Eliza died at Carrathool near Hay in New South Wales. Eliza left a will and from this we learn that she is a widow with no surviving children. Her second son, Henry J Cruwys, had predeceased her in 1899. His death was registered at Albury, a town which is on the border of NSW and Victoria. In her will Eliza left her money to her brother William Warren of Churston Ferrers in South Devon. The value of her estate was £279.13 10 after debts of £32.4.6 had been deducted.
Although there were no surviving children from John and Eliza's marriage, William Cruwys, John’s eldest son (from his marriage to Ann Rowe) went on to marry and have children. He married Margaret MacKay, the daughter of John MacKay and Sarah Sweeney, in 1874 at St Kilda, Victoria. Margaret was born in 1839 in Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of England. William and Margaret had two children: Mary Ann, born in 1875 in the Hay district of New South Wales, and William John Cruwys, born on 4th July 1878 in St Kilda, Victoria. William served with the Australian Flying Corps in France in World War I. He married Ethel May Grant in 1907 in St Kilda, Victoria, and had two children, Horace Theodore Cruwys and Alvina Rita May Cruwys. There are Cruwyses living in Victoria today who appear to be the descendants of Horace Theodore Cruwys. I am hoping that it will now be possible to make contact with them to share the story.