Matthew Widdop

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Matthew Widdop[Notes 1] is the creator of a diary and notebook in late 1862 that records, among other things, efforts made by himself and William Beauclerc Otway to extract silver from the ores at St Arnaud, Victoria.[1]



Early life

Rochdale Parish Church, photographed in 2005 by Alexander P Kapp.[7]

"Matthew Widdup" was born in 1827[2]. One online reference gives his birthplace as "Wuerdale".[3] This is probably Wuerdle, a division of the parish of Rochdale, which straddles Lancashire and Yorkshire in England. His parents are recorded as George Widdup, born in 1794 in Rochdale and christened at St Chad's Parish Church in Rochdale, Lancashire, England, and Betty Butterworth, who died in 1840 and was buried in Smallbridge, Lancashire. George and Betty married in 1811, also at St Chad's.

Matthew had an older brother, James, born about 1819. He died in 1881 in Kerang, Victoria, Australia.[4]

The "1841 England, Scotland and Wales census" identifies a Matthew Widdup, 14 years old, living in Lancashire.[5]

The "1851 England, Scotland and Wales census" identifies a Matthew Widdup, 23 years old, working as a servant in England or Wales, but the online reference does not say where. [3]

Marriage and children

Matthew Widdup married Ellen Mills on 25 December 1851 at St Chad's.[2]

Matthew and Ellen had two children prior to leaving England:

  • James Widdup, christened on 9 January 1853, then buried soon after on 6 February 1853 in Smallbridge[6]
  • William Widdup, christened on 25 December 1853 in Smallbridge.

Travel to Australia

It is not certain when Matthew and his family travelled to Australia. However, William's death in 1855 is recorded in the Victoria Pioneers Index, so they probably travelled over in 1854 or 1855.[4] The details in Matthew's death certificate suggest they came over in 1855.


1856-01-21 Widdup notice re wages at Steiglitz.jpg

Their next child, Betty, was born in 1856 in Steiglitz. She died in 1857.[4]

On 21 January 1856, a notice appears in the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer placed there by Matthew Widdup.[7]


Their next child, Mary, was born in 1857 in Ballarat. She died in 1858.[4]


Prior to or during January 1862 "Widdop, M., miner, Camp Hill-street" was living in Clunes.[8]


It appears Widdup's father may have been residing in Melbourne in 1862. Matthew's journey to St Arnaud in September that year commences with a train trip from Melbourne to Ballarat, and on 30 October, while still at St Arnaud, his father "arrived... from Melbourne".[1]

St Arnaud

According to Matthew Widdop's diary and notebook, Otway and Widdop spent three months toward the end of 1862 experimenting with extracting silver and gold from local ores at St Arnaud. It appears that Widdop did not need training, or at least not a great deal of it, prior to commencing work for Otway, however, the notes he made regarding chemistry are very basic, suggesting he may have been a novice.[1] On the other hand, Otway does not appear to have had any formal training, so perhaps this is how practical metallurgy was conducted, by people with only basic theoretical knowledge, working things out as they went along.

When not crushing or amalgamating or cupelling, Widdop spent his time rowing and yabbying on George Chapman's dam, going for long walks, conversing with Otway, spending time with Otway's wife and four-year-old son Willie, and attending church on Sundays. He seems to have been more of an observer than a participant in the Prince of Wales birthday celebrations on 10 November.[1]

His mood at that time seems variable, with descriptions of the weather that are, at times, quite exuberant, or miserable. Only a few hours after his father leaves, he records "I miss father very much." Toward the end of November, Otway seems to be away for some time, leaving Widdop to his own devices. Widdop seems to be at a bit of a loss as to how to spend his days, and toward the end of November he visits the doctor and concludes "I am well but having nothing to do I get moody & fancy myself ill."[1]

<div id="WiddopGetsIll"/> On Tuesday, 14 October, he records:

About 10 oclock I became unable either to talk or understand & whilst walking fell down insensible & remained so for 6 or 7 minutes during which time Doctors Otway & Loch came & looked to me.[1]

He spends the rest of that day and the next in bed, but is back at work on Thursday. Otway has a similar turn nine days later.[1] It is possible both men's episodes were due to acute mercury poisoning:

Symptoms typically include sensory impairment (vision, hearing, speech), disturbed sensation and a lack of coordination.[9]

After a busy day working with mercury in mid-November, Otway is again unwell and Widdop takes a pill.

Ballarat, again

1868-05-25 Widdop death notice and IOR remembrance notice.jpg

Matthew Widdup died on 23 May 1868. His death certificate records:

  • He died at Ballarat East
  • His occupation as bootmaker
  • His age as 41
  • That he died of eplipsy, and was last seen by the doctor the day before he died
  • The names of his parents, indicating that George was a weaver
  • William Dimsey, "a friend", as the informant. If William was the source of all the information in the death record, he was a good friend – the names of his parents, children and wife as well as other details are all correct.

The death notice in The Star invites friends to attend the funeral procession on 26 May at 3pm, commencing from his residence off Wills Street. Immediately below the death notice is a call by William Dimsey, the secretary of the International Order of Rechabites, for the brethren to join the procession.

A few weeks prior to Matthew's death, James Widdup is listed as a donor to the Geelong Infirmary and Benevolent Asylum. His donation is £1 2s.[10]

After Matthew died in 1868, wife Ellen re-married that year to William Shepherd.[4]

As of August 2015, Matthew Widdup's grave at Ballarat Cemetery was unmarked.[11]


See also

William Beauclerc Otway

Dr Otway's time at St Arnaud


  1. In Matthew Widdop's diary and notebook, he writes his own name only once, spelling his surname with an 'o'. While it is not certain that Matthew 'Widdup' is the same person, there are two aspects of his life that suggest he could be the Matthew Widdop of the diary. Widdup was at Steiglitz at the same time as Otway, and he died of a disease that can be caused by heavy metal poisoning. A weaker link is also suggested by the fact that Widdup was born in England and at one point in the diary, Widdop writes "to England".


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Widdop, Matthew (1862). Notebook and diary.[1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 England Marriages, 1538–1973 . Database, FamilySearch[2] accessed 2 September 2015, Matthew Widdup and Ellen Mills, 25 Dec 1851; citing St. Chad's, Rochdale, Lancashire, England, reference 2:39RQNK3; FHL microfilm 1,484,384.
  3. 3.0 3.1 England and Wales Census, 1851. Database, FamilySearch[3]: accessed 2 September 2015), Matthew Widdup, ; from "1851 England, Scotland and Wales census," database and images, findmypast ( : n.d.); citing PRO HO 107, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Victoria Pioneer Index
  5. England and Wales Census, 1841. Database, FamilySearch[4] accessed 2 September 2015), Matthew Widdup, Ashton Under Lyne, Ashton Under Lyne, Lancashire, England; from "1841 England, Scotland and Wales census," database and images, findmypast ( : n.d.); citing PRO HO 107, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey.
  6. England Deaths & Burials 1538-1991
  7. Advertising. (1856, January 21). Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer (Vic. : 1851 - 1856), p. 3 Edition: DAILY. Retrieved September 2, 2015, from [5]
  8. Ballarat and district directory 1862, accessed at the Australiana Collection, Ballarat City Library. The title page was missing, but the date at the end of the introduction/preface was January, 1862. The Ballarat and district directories for other years had no entries for Widdop or Widdup.
  9. Wikipedia (undated). Mercury poisoning. Retrieved 25 August 2015 from mercury poisoning
  10. Advertising. (1868, May 4). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 - 1926), p. 4. Retrieved September 2, 2015, from [6]
  11. Jeni Eastwood and Neil Huybregts, personal observation

Further Reading

External links

--Neil Huybregts 12:12, 2 August 2015 (AEST)

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