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I have known the name of my Great-great-great Grandfather, Joseph Warner, since childhood, but not much more. So when I started researching him about two years ago, it was a total shock when I got his death certificate in the mail.


Portion of Joseph Warner’s death certificate

Not only was I shocked and saddened, but I was also perplexed. His death certificate read
Date & Place of death: 1 May 1876, on the line of the railway between Sydney and Newtown, Municipality of Redfern.
Name & Occupation: Joseph Warner, Draper
Sex & Age: Male, aged 46 years
Cause of Death: Died from the effect of injuries accidentally received by being knocked down by the uprail train on the line of railway between Sydney and Newtown which said train was due at Sydney at 7.10am. Verdict returned at inquest held at Sydney 2nd May 1876. Henry Shiell, Coroner

I needed answers, how had Joseph managed to be struck by a train? To find those answers, I turned to the National Library of Australia’s website TROVE and their digitised newspapers. To my surprise, I was easily able to locate not just one or two articles about Joseph Warner’s death, but fifteen of them covering the circumstances of his death, and just as many covering other aspects of his life. As I read each one, I learnt more about the man than I would have ever been able to glean from certificates and rate books, or from passenger lists and census records. I learnt that this man, a twice married father of six, had already seen tragedy in his life, and that he was well known and well respected at least in his own community.

WarnerJoseph_1876Fatal Railway Accident – Mr. J. Warner Killed. [1]

MR. Joseph WARNER, the well known draper, at the corner of Cleveland-street and Botany Road, was killed on Monday morning by a passing train, midway between Sydney and Newtown. It appears that Mr Warner has been in the habit of taking a constitutional stroll nearly every morning for the benefit of his health, which was in a failing condition. Early this morning he left home, and walked across the paddocks near his residence, and adjoining the railway line. It is surmised that while he was crossing the line, or walking along it, one of the early morning trains must have struck him, knocked him down, and killed him instantaneously.

In many of the reports I read, Joseph was referred to as “the well-known draper”. I have wondered how well known he was, given that reports of his Sydney death appeared in newspapers as far away as Brisbane & Warwick.

So what was the story of Joseph’s life?

Baptised in Stockton, Warwickshire, England in October 1830 aged about 1 year, Joseph grew up with 4 brothers. At some time after the death of his parents, Joseph emigrated to Australia in 1854, following two of his brothers who had come the year before. In February 1859, Joseph, employed as a Draper’s assistant, married Hannah Hardman, the daughter of a soldier. Over the next few years, Joseph & Hannah had three girls together, while Joseph appeared to be able to start his own Draper’s business. Sadly, it wasn’t long before tragedy struck, when in October 1865, his wife Hannah suffered a stroke and died. Now a widower with three girls aged 5, 3 and not yet 2 years, Joseph turned to family for help, namely to his sister-in-law, Sarah Ann Hardman. Business was good for Joseph though, he had his own store, and stocked goods that were desirable among the community. Desirable enough it seems, to be stolen, as it was reported in the New South Wales Police Gazette of 25 April 1866, “Stolen, about 8pm, the 21st instant, from the shop door of Joseph Warner, draper, Cleveland Street and Botany road, – A piece of Magenta and black-striped skirting value, £3 10s“.

A respectable year after Hannah’s death, Joseph and Sarah Ann married in October 1866 and soon added a son to the family. However, in 1868, his second daughter died of Scarlet Fever, aged just 6 years and 6 days. 1869 saw the birth of another son, while 1871 saw the death of Joseph’s brother Thomas to Cholera. 1874 saw both joy and sadness, with the birth and death of Joseph & Sarah’s third son. Joseph’s Drapery business had been going well for some years, but in February 1876, Joseph closed his business and sold off the furnishings and other goods. The reasons for this sale are as yet unclear, although the newspaper report above, indicates that he may have had health problems, but also indicates that he was in the process of building a hotel.

And so, on the morning of 1 May 1876, Joseph proceeded with his usual morning routine, walking a familiar path around his neighbourhood. This morning however, for whatever reason, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was killed by “by the uprail train on the line of railway between Sydney and Newtown“. The coroner’s inquest at the time ruled out suicide due to evidence given by medical professionals. Accident & misfortune appear to have caused Joseph’s death. I believe the location of his death, is not far from where Sydney’s Redfern Railway Station is today.

Joseph died intestate, leaving goods, chattels, credits and effects valued at £300. He was survived by his second wife, Sarah Ann, two daughters from his first marriage now aged 15 & 12, and two sons from his second marriage aged 9 & 7.

Buried at Rookwood, Joseph was later joined by Sarah Ann, a son, and a daughter-in-law. When I managed to locate his grave in June 2013, I was pleased to find that it was in reasonably good condition, and the inscriptions were clear and easily read.

Joseph Warner, 1829-1876, husband, father, draper, well known man of his community, and my great-great-great grandfather.

[1] Fatal Railway Accident—Mr. J. Warner Killed. (1876, May 3). Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954) , p. 3. Retrieved January 18, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136861610