The Shepherd and Chaffe Families



Edward and Fanny Shepherd (nee Chaffe) emigrated to Australia from England on the sailing ship the STEBONHEATH leaving Plymouth on 7 October 1852 and arriving at Geelong in Victoria on 18 January 1853. The ship’s record shows that Edward was a 38 year-old agricultural labourer, Fanny was 39. Both could read and write. Accompanying them were their six children Mary (17), Anne (15), Edward (12), John (10), William (8) and Robert (5) where the two girls could read and write but the others could not. All were recorded as Anglicans. The list also states that they went to Geelong ‘of their own account’, suggesting that they may have been joining friends or relatives who had earlier emigrated and may even had sponsored their passage out. Click here to read about the family’s lives and times in Australia.

Both Edward and Fanny were from Buckfastleigh a small town located on the edge of the Dartmoor forest in Devon in England. As Sandra Coleman and Helen Harris describe in their monographs ‘Buckfastleigh: A Town in the Making' and ‘The Church on the Hill', Buckfastleigh grew up alongside the older medieval Buckfast Abbey and has long been associated with Britain's wool industry. The Cistercian and other Orders who controlled the Abbey prior to the Restoration grazed sheep on the Dartmoor Plains, made use of spinners and weavers who had set up looms in the town, and established an early version of the Buckfastleigh market (at which the eating of lamb's-tail pies became a tradition). Largely unaffected by the civil war and its divisive politics, the town's cottage industry continued to expand so that by 1838 Buckfastleigh hosted more than 700 looms (around a quarter of the total number in Devon). According to William White's ‘History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Devonshire 1850', the town also produced ‘great quantities' of cider, and (in compensation perhaps) was dominated by a parish church that ‘stands on an eminence ascended by 144 steps' and has a tower that ‘contains six bells'.

As elsewhere in England, Buckfastleigh was eventually affected by the industrial revolution. Its home-based cottage industries were replaced by such large and centralised woollen mills as Town Mill, West Mill and Churchward's Mill (destroyed in a fire in 1906). Artisans like the Chaffes and Shepherds began to produce woollen cloth (or serge) in the town's factories rather than in its homes, they worked in the copper and tin mines that were simultaneously being established, or they laboured in the local limestone quarries that provided the basic building materials for the expanding town and surrounding villages. For as Buckfastleigh's industry expanded so did its population: from around 1500 in 1800 to a peak of close to 2,800 in 1901 (its population today is around 2,000). The number of public houses in the town also increased to no fewer than sixteen by the mid-1850s. Despite (or perhaps because of) these changes the living conditions of many of the workers and their families did not improve. Wages remained low, diseases such as diptheria, tuberculosis and scarlet fever continued to take their deadly toll, and schooling opportunities for children remained limited. Little wonder that many sought a new life in the colonies.

The local parish records show that Edward and Fanny were married at Buckfastleigh on 17 September 1834 and the wedding was witnessed by Fanny’s father or older brother, Thomas Chaff. The 1851 census for Devonshire shows them living at Silver St in Buckfastleigh. The ages of the family members were: Edward (36), Fanny (30), Mary (16), Ann M. (14), Edward (11), John (9), William (7) and Robert (4). Edward and his son Edward were said to be ‘wool combers’, Mary and Ann were ‘bundlers of serges’ and the three youngest sons were all scholars.



Silver Street Buckfastleigh


As shown in his pedigree chart, Edward’s forebears were largely from Buckfastleigh. His parents were Edward Shepherd and Mary Hayman who were married by banns at Buckfastleigh on 11 April 1814. The couple were both locals and the wedding was witnessed by Mary’s father Philip Hayman who had to give his consent to the marriage. Edward signed the certificate with a cross. The record of baptisms for the parish show that Edward, who worked as a labourer, and Mary had two children baptised in the local church: our Edward (baptised on 10 July 1814) and Mary (4 February 1816). The records of burials show that Mary Shepherd, aged 33 years, was buried at Buckfastleigh on 1 Feb 1819 (an infant, Samuel Shepherd, was buried there nine days later). It seems that Edward then married Elizabeth Brooks at Buckfastleigh on 23 January 1823. Although both Edward and Elizabeth were described as ‘sojourners’ the likelihood that this was our Edward is increased by the fact that Edward’s son Edward’s death certificate states that his mother was Elizabeth Shepherd. On 10 August 1823, the couple had a daughter, Elizabeth, who was baptised in the parish. Elizabeth Shepherd died when she was 62 and was buried at Buckfastleigh on 5 May 1851. The 1851 and 1861 censuses show that, following his second wife’s death, Edward senior, who was described as an agricultural labourer, lived at Silver St Buckfastleigh with his daughter and son-in-law Thomas and Elizabeth Churchwardand their family until his death in December 1864.


Fanny Shepherd’s family was also closely connected with Buckfastleigh. Her parents were Thomas Chaffe and Mary Walters who were married in Buckfastleigh on 1 January 1808 and had seven children in addition to Fanny: William (1808-), Thomas (1810-), Richard (1815-1818), Richard (1818-), Mary (1820-), William (1821-1821) and Elizabeth (1823-). Thomas was buried in the Buckfastleigh cemetery in January 1851. His death certificate shows he died of epileptic fits and effusion of the brain in the Totnes Union Workhouse. He was said to be a wool comber and his informant was Elizabeth Pengelley who was present at Thomas’ death and also lived in the workhouse. The 1851 census for Devonshire shows a Mary Chaff (nee Walters), a widow and pauper aged 64, living at Silver Street Buckfastleigh (the same street as Edward and Fanny) where she is said to be the head of the family. Living with her were: 1) her son-in-law and daughter Robert and Mary Lane (aged 31 and 30 respectively where Robert is a wool comber) and their children Robert (8), Mary (5), Susan (2) and Elizabeth (4m). Mary and her children were all born at Buckfastleigh. Robert was born at Dean Prior in Devon; and 2) her daughter Elizabeth Chaff, unmarried, 24 years, born at Buckfastleigh and ‘working at  Roving Head Worstead Spinner’. The 1861 census shows Mary Chaff, 72 and a pauper, born at Buckfastleigh still at 186 Silver St with Robert and Mary Lane (39) and family. The parish records shows that Mary, aged 73, was buried at Buckfastleigh  on 13 August 1861. Her death certificate, which was informed by an Elizabeth Hayman who was present at the death and lived in Higher Town Buckfastleigh, shows that she died of pleuresy while living at Silver Street and that she was the wife of Thomas Chaffe an agricultural labourer. Fanny's paternal grandparents were William Chaffe (1755-1827) and Mary Anne Baker (1756-1818). Her maternal granparents were William Walters and Mary Blackler or Blacklow. All died and were buried in Buckfastleigh.





Buckfastleigh Parish Church and Cemetery