The Lesslie Family

Thomas Gordon - Free Settler
Charles Gordon - Mabel’s Maternal Great Grandfather
Hephzibah Gordon - Mabel’s Maternal Grandmother
Captain William Lesslie - Mabel’s Paternal Grandfather
William Charles Lesslie - Mabel’s Father
Jeanie Gillespie– Mabel’s Mother
Rev Samuel Marsden and the brig ‘Active’
The 'Vinsittart'

Thomas Gordon – Free Settler
Thomas Gordon was born in Middlesex England in about 1764 to Thomas and Jane Gordon. He was a shoemaker and married Alice Smith(c. 1770-1806) on the 8th of May 1790 at St Georges Church Hanover Square, London. (Handel was a parishioner at St George’s Church when he wrote Messiah fifty years earlier). There were upheavals in the shoemaking trade in London during the early 19th century, when attempts to form closed shop combinations threatened the livelihood of the smaller shoemakers. This may have propmted Thomas to join to farmer friends, Carlisle and Freeman in writting in 1803 to Lord Hobart for permission to go as free men to New South Wales. By now Thomas and Alice had four children and on the 4th of December 1803, the family set sail aboard the ‘Experiment’ - a ship carring convicts and free settlers bound for New South Wales.

They ran into a violent gale in the Bay of Biscay and sustained considerable damage, springing the bowsprit and carving away the maintop gallant mast. Unable to continue her voyage, the ship limped back to Cowes for repairs. On the 2nd January 1804 she set sail again and had favorable weather until adverse winds prevented her from entering Port Jackson for three days. The passage took 65 days to Rio and 173 days to Port Jackson arriving on the 24th June 1804. Several deaths occurred during the voyage and 21 prisoners were landed sick. A three story vessel of 568 tons, the ‘Experiment’ landed 2 male and 130 female prisoners, a crew of about 54 and 59 other passengers. The colony of New South Wales was just 16 years old.

Thomas Gordon was granted 100 acres on the flood proneLowlands” ’at Malgrove place, Richmond by Governor King on the 16th of July 1804. Presumably the house and other buildings would have been located on the hill near the Francis Street / Bensons Road intersection. Caleb Wilson, William Carlisle and Richard Dalton who, with their families, had been fellow passengers on the ‘Experiment’ were his near neighbours. "Gordon's Farm" seems to have prospered, with the help of Thomas's teenage son , Charles and convict workers. His daughter Mary Ann later marrried neighbour Carlisle's son, William.

In 1806 an illicit still for makeing peach brandy was found on Thomas Gordon’s property along with some grain malted in a tub. Thomas was away at Richmond Hill, where he had ‘a man working for some settler’, at the time. Later when called upon to answer for the still he said it had been brought from Richmond Hill and was made under the sole directions of Pat Sloan. A statement signed S.Marsden & E.A. Stott stated “it appears that Pat Sloan has been the principal in this business and has artfully drawn his master (Thomas) into it.”

In January 1807 a number of citizens including Thomas expressed their gratitude to Rev Samuel Marsden for his many “beneficial and useful acts for the General Good of the colony, and …for your unremitting exertions for the Prosperity and Welfares of this extensive Colony…” in a lengthy written deposition. There is a family tradition that Samuel Marsden was also a passenger on the ‘Experiment’, but this has not been confirmed.

Alice Gordon died in 1806, leaving daughter Mary Anneand her younger sister Alice to maintain the household for their father and brothers Charles and William. In the spring of 1811, Mary An, not quite nineteen , married farmer Wiliam Carlisle, 27, a next dor neighbour and formally a family friend and companion on the voyage out from london. Their daughter Emily was born in 1813, but Mary Ann died two weeks later. William Gordon died in 1814 and his sister Alice died in 1833. By 1828 the farm having been leased out to a tennant, Thomas was living comfortably as "a gentleman" with Charles and his family. Thomas Gordon died in 1851 at Double Bay. [Go to top]

Charles Gordon - Mabel’s Maternal Great Grandfather

Charles Gordon was born in Londoon the 27th of February, 1791 and his birth is regestered at St Georges Church, Hanover Square. He was 13 years old when the family arrived at Port Jackson after six greulling months at sea. He would naturally have helped with the farm at Richmond and become skilled in agricultural practices. In 1816 aged 21, he married 14 year old Maria Lees, the daughter of John Lees, a member of the N.S.W. Corps and convict, Mary Stevens. They were married by bans at the Castlereagh Church of England on the 11th of November by convict chaplian Henry Fulton. Six months after their marriage Charles and Maria Gordon set sail on the brig Active to join the Church Missionary Society’s settlement at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

Samuel Marsden purchased the brig Active (see below) through the sale of some sheep. It was his intention to sell the ship to the Church Missionary Society in whose name he was establishing the New Zealand mission. He wished to "carry the glad tidings to these poor heathens, who I believe are without hope and without God." His approach was based on his theory that "commerce promotes industry, industry civilisation, and civilisation opens up the way for the Gospel."

On the 27th March 1817 Rev Samuel Marsden wrote “We have engaged a very respectable young man, Charles Gordon, for the term of three years from the first of last January at 60 pounds per annum as superintendent of agriculture; his father came oyt originally as a free settler. We hope by his exertions the settlement [at Rangihoua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand] will soon be rendered independent of this country for supplies of grain.” On the 2nd May 1817 he further wrote “ I have directed Mr. Gordon to apply himself wholly to agriculture till the settlement is independent of this colony for bread, and till they have in their power to give a little bread to a hungry native and to feed the children in the school [at Te Puna, Rangihoua Bay]. When the chiefs come to understand the value of wheat, which they will soon do, the inhabitants will turn from the habits of war to pursuits of agriculture, which will supply all their wants and will check that war-like spirit which they now possess.”[ Maroi pa, Rangihoua; Marsden Cross, 1st missionary settlement, NZ]

Charles was to teach agriculture at the Rangihoua station. Prior to this, in 1815, William Kendall had opened the first school in New Zealand assisted by William Carlile. Kendall had learnt the Maori tongue and made the first attempt to reduce Maori to a written form. The first school at Te Puna, Rangioua Bay, opened in August 1816, with a role of 35 students and the rev Thomas Kendall as headmaster. Within twelve months, Carlisle was sufficiently impressed with the prospects in New Zealand to return to Sydney and persuade his brother in law, Charles Gordon to join him there. So, taking with them six head of cattle (worth about 600 pounds) and fruit trees of various kinds, Charles and Maria sailed from Port Jackson on the 18th November 1817 aboard the brig ‘Active’ accompanied by Charles’ sister Mary and his brother in law, William Carlile.

Times were not easy for the 20 or so european settlers and some took to bartering arms and gun power with the natives. They “ could scarcely procure a good hog or provide for the wants of their families much less procure a sufficient supply to enable them to carry on their respective callings.” Mr. Marsden’s opinion of Charles also took a battering. “Mr Gordon is a pious man but very timid. I think he will return to Port Jackson from mere apprehension of danger,” he wrote.
In August 1819 Rev John Butler was appointed superintendent of the mission, but his leadership was poor and his violence of temper ensured a lack of respect. Charles Gordon complained that Butler set him chores such as filling the ‘dung cart’. William Carlile and Charles Gordon felt humiliated at being seen by the Maoris as common labourers. Charles wrote, ‘”Mr. Marsden… told the natives we were idle who seeing how degraded we were some pity’d us others mocked us and told us we should be hung and that Mr. Marsden would flog us.”

Carlile and Gordon resigned. Both men left New Zealand with their families on the ‘Active’ on the 9th November 1819. Maria became seriously ill and died at the age of 17, two weeks after their return to Sydney. According to a granddaughter her illness (which was related to a pregnancy - ref CG Letter to CMS) was brought on through witnessing the killing of a native girl to whom she was speaking at her door. The murderer then carried the girl’s body off possibly to cannibalise it. Marsden’s venom towards Charles was such that he let it be known in the colony that he considered Maria’s death as a judgment of God upon Charles’ sins. In July 1920 Charles wrote two letters to the Church Missionary Society in London giving his account of events at Rangihoua. Charles and Maria’s daughter, Ann was one of the first two white women born in New Zealand.

Charles returned to farming and in 1820 was a landholder in the Evan district. On the 23rd April 1821 he married a friend of the family, Mary Brown at St Peters Church, Richmond. Mary was born in London in 1778 and her father William Brown was a clerk in the bank of England. She arrived as a free settler in Sydney aboard the ‘Shipley’ to join her sister Sarah Dalton who had come out on the ‘Experiment’ with the Gordons. The Dalton’s land grant was near Thomas Gordon’s holding at Richmond.

In January 1822 Charles purchased a parcel of land in upper Pitt Street (near the corner of Bathurst Street), Sydney for 15 pounds and proceeded to build a horse powered floor mill there. He resided on the premises and in 1832 applied for three convicts to assist him. He also applied for a grant of 50 acres but although he was authorized to “take possession of an acre of land as a special grant for the purpose of erecting a windmill thereon”, he had to wait until 1834 for the actual grant to be issued.

“A miller of Sydney of the name of Gordon, son of an emigrant settler applied to his Excellency Sir John Darling for a piece of land in the same peninsular to build a mill upon. Portions were given to others who applied at the same time and also subsequently but Gordon never could procure any. He is still seen hovering about the offices of the Surveyor General and Mr. McLeay this being the fourth or fifth year of his laudable perseverance. That his character is unexceptional I need only mention to you, Sir, the fact of his having been employed by Ven. Archdeacon Scott as a schoolmaster, when through the ruinous expense of building a horse mill on his own premises in Sydney, he was compelled to cease his attendances in the public offices and eat bread up country by teaching youth for a session……” According to the Journal of the Historical Society Vol1. p96 (1902), Charles Gordon’s Paddington Mill “stood at the rear of the Paddington Public School [Gordon Street]… It was a wooden [post] mill, revolving on a stone base, with “the owners house and the miller’s cottage” adjacent. There is some doubt as to the mill’s actual location and it may have in fact been in Stewart Street. The mill is said to have been the second last of Sydney’s windmills to operate, continuing to mill grain as late as 1870.[floor bag brand].

In the later part of 1839 the Charles leased the Pitt Street mill and by 1846 the Gordon’s are recorded as living at ‘Maudsonville’ on the Paddington land. Charles also purchased two blocks of land at Double Bay in the first sale of land by the government there. On one of the blocks he built a home, later to be occupied by Hepzibah (the only child of his second marriage), and her husband, Captain William Lesslie. The other was rented to the well-known botanical garden designers, the Guilfoyles. The Guilfoyles were the first importers of many plants into the colony and established several botanical gardens. They conducted a nursery on the Double bay property and were close friends with the Lesslie family Charles Gordon died in 1862 .
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Hephzibah Gordon - Mabel’s Maternal Grandmother

Mabel’s maternal grandmother was Hephzibah Gordon, the second daughter of Charles Molston Gordon and Mary Brown. She was born in Sydney on the 9th of February, 1821. She was brought up with her half sister Ann on their father'ss Upper Pitt street property, adjoining the horse mill. Through her father's activities, she met Captain William Lesslie and they were married at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Sydney on the 25th July 1842. On their weeding day they planted an oak tree and many years latter it was felled and a table and chair made from the timber. During her husbands absences at sea Hepzibah raised five children with support from her relatives including the Daltons, at her residence in Dowling Street, Surry Hills, before moving to the house built by Hepzibah’s father in Double Bay. A portion of this land with its luxuriant tropical growth eventually formed part of the renowned Guilfoyle's Exotic Nursery and the Guilfoye family remained friends with the Leslie children. Hephzibah died on the 25th November 1899 aged 78 and is buried in the Congregation section of Waverly Cemetery (no.3121).[Go to top]

Captain William Lesslie - Mabel’s Paternal Grandfather

Mabel's paternal grandfather was Captain William Lesslie who arrived in Australia as master of the sloop / cutter ‘Vinsittart’ a ship of 80 tons, in 1836. He was a Scotsman and came from a long line of master mariners. His uncle Robert, a whaler, had been master of the brig ‘Active’ in 1812 (see bellow) he was subsequently murdered by natives on the island of Otahete (Tahiti). William’s parents were William Lesslie (b.1771 d. 1800) and Elizabeth Wallace (b.1758, d.1769) of Dunbar, Scotland.

Captain William Lesslie set sail from Cowes London on the 28th February 1836 as master of the ‘Vinsittart’, traveling via Hobart to arrive in Sydney in time to celebrate his 24th birthday on the 30th January 1836. Later that year he carried goods and passengers between Hobart, Spencer Gulf and Nepean Bay [on Kangaroo Island], South Australia's first settlement, prior to the founding of Adelaide in January 1837. He traveled to Port Phillip [now Melbourne] then only one year old and on two voyages he carried J. Gellibrand an associate of John Batman who founded Melbourne. He went on to command a number of other ships and was wrecked in one of them – the ’Falcon’ – in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. In May 1844, he purchased the 29 foot cutter rigged ship “Pedlar’ and traded between Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong until it was wrecked at the southern end of Bondi Beach in 1847 (without loss of life). Poem by Captain William Lesslie. Drawings of ships by Captain William Lesslie No1, No2.

Captain William Lesslie died in 1855 at the early age of 43, leaving his wife, Hepzibah to bring up five young children including William Charles, Mabel Lesslie's father. The family houshold items from the original house at Double Bay were inherited by Hepzibah's daughter Anna Maria who bequeathed them to her married sister, Mary Elizabeth Hardie.
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William Charles Lesslie - Mabel’s Father
William Charles was born on the 15th of February 1847. He attended St Marks School, Darling Point, and entered employment as a mercantile clerk. He was friendly with the family's neighbours and tennats, the Guilfoyles. William was not drawn to the sea as his father and granfather had been. instead he entered the field of commerce, joining a wool brkerage firm before becoming involved with real estate. He married Jeannie Gillespie at Woollahra on the 1st of June 1878.

Their son [William] Wallace was born in 1879 and their first daughter [Jeannie] Mabel followed in 1881. In 1883 the family moved to the emerging suburb of Burwood where William built a substantial house named “Braemar” on a large block of land in Lindsay Street. William's sister Mary and her husband R.V. Hardie were already well established in thier Burwood mansion, Iffercombe.

Three more sons ([Robert] Allan, [Charles] Gordon and Ronald [Bruce] and two more daughters (Linda Clarice and Mary Elizabeth) were born. The Lesslie children all attended Burwood Public School and the family were founding members of St James Presbyterian church in Belmore Street, Burwood and William served on the Committee of Managment.
William died on the 19th of November 1915.
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Jeanie Gillespie – Mabel’s Mother
Jeanie (Jane) Gillespie was born on the 18th of May 1851. Russell Lesslie remembers her as a quiet, gentle lady who instilled a firm sense of belonging in all the members of her extended family. She died on the 7th of July 1932.

Rev Samuel Marsden and the brig ‘Active’
In 1812, the Active sailed into Fredrick Henry bay and at the begining of September had killed 7 or 8 whales. She returned to Port jackson with 60 tons of black whale oil aboard. Rev Samuel Marsden purchased the brig ‘Active’ in 1814, while it was laid up in Sydney after a voyage from India. The ship was said to be about 110 tons and the purchase price was 1400 pounds, which Samuel Marsden paid from his own resources. He planned to use the ship to supply missionaries in New Zealand and to transport produce such as timber, flax and fish from New Zealand. The ‘Active’ made a preliminary voyage to the Bay of Islands in 1814 under the command of Captain Peter Dillon, carrying two missionaries, Thomas Kendall and William Hall. Before making its second voyage, Marsden had the ship inspected and certified for use as a trading and passenger vessel. The certification document is held by the university of Otago and states that the vessel “was well adapted for the purpose of taking missionaries and supplies from Port Jackson to New Zealand and will with occasional repairs, caulking etc, last many years to carry on communication between this place and the proposed settlement in the Bay of Islands” The document was dated 22nd September 1814.

The ‘Active left Port Jackson on the 19th of November 1814 under the command of Thomas Hansen, carrying 35 people and a ‘Noahs Ark’ of animals including horses, cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, cats and dogs all intended for the mission settlement. By Friday 16th December the coast was sighted and on the Saturday the ship lay at anchor off North Cape while Marsden made arrangements to contact the local Maori tribes and obtain fresh supplies for the passengers and animals. They proceeded down the east coast and dropped anchor in the cove opposite Rangihoua at 3.00pm on Thursday 22nd December. The ship was surrounded by native canoes as its great guns fired a salute to Ruatara , the local Moari Chief and his people. Marsden kept the ‘Active’ until 1825

Waimate Mission, 1835 , Keirikeri Store, 1833

Outfit for a Lady, Outfit for a Gentleman (from Handbook for intending Emigrants to the Southern Settlements of New Zealand.) [Go to top]

The ‘Vansittart
The ‘Vansittart’ was sold to the Van Deiman’s Land Government for search and rescue work. In 1842 it was seconded to the ‘Beagle’ (in which Charles Darwin made his famous journey) to be used for surveying Australia’s coastline. An island in Bass Strait, near Tasmania is named after her.[Go to top]

This summary has been compiled from the very extensive research into Charles Gordon and his descendants and the mariner Lesslies descended from Capt. Robert Leslye/Lesly/Lessly and Helen Brokie of Banff Scotland, undertaken by Russell Lesslie.

The Lesslies in Scotland: Capt. Robert Lesslie (b.1722, second son of Capt. Robert Leslye/Lesly/Lessly and Helen Brokie) married Janet Philip in 1757 in Banff. They moved to Dundee where all their children, including Captain William Lesslie (Mabel’s grandfather, b.1771) were born. The family ultimately settled in Dunbar where Captain Robert Lesslie became a Burgess – an office either bought or granted for some service. It conferred on him the ability to come and go from the town at his own freewill and also to vote on the running of the town.
Many relevant documents and photographs have been lodged by Russell with the Mitchell library, Sydney. Lesslie family grave, Dunbar.

Photos: Banff Harbour; Banff Harbour; Old Harbour, Dunbar;Old Harbour, Dunbar; Lesslie Headstone, Dunbar churchyard.


The Family Bible, which contains details births, deaths etc. is held by Dr. W. Thomas Lesslie of Lithgow, N.S.W. Another photo of the Bible.
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