Wednesday, 8 October 2014



‘I came here a free man, under Hugh Glass.’

Those are the distant words of my great, great grandfather, Patrick Bell who arrived in Melbourne after a tragic sea voyage from Ireland.  
Unlike many people coming to this country at the time, he was not a convict but a free settler. He had arrived here under what was called the assisted migration scheme. All you had to do was work off your passage for seven years for an Australian sponsor. In Patrick’s case, that sponsor was Hugh Glass.

Hugh was an interesting character.  He had arrived from Ireland as a poor immigrant in 1840. By the time Patrick stepped ashore, Hugh was one of the largest landowners and best political manipulators in Australia.  As a monument to his wealth, Hugh built Flemington House in Melbourne in the 1850's for 60,000 pounds (now about ten million dollars).  It boasted its own artificial lake, stocked with white swans imported from Ireland. Sadly, he died later, aged only fifty-five and flat broke.

Patrick had left Ireland with his pregnant wife and one child.  Just days out from arriving in Australia his wife went into labor and had a baby boy. The celebration was short lived. Patrick’s wife died from dysentery soon afterwards.
So Patrick was now a widower with two children in a strange land working for Hugh Glass. He wasn’t alone for long.  He soon met an Irish servant girl named Anastasia Grace, got her pregnant and married her. But Patrick couldn’t settle and when he heard of the gold rush in California in 1848, he deserted his expanding family and headed to California. California here I come.

Patrick had an interesting time in California. One night in a saloon, he was playing cards when he noticed that one of the players was cheating. In true Wild West style, he drew his pistol and shot the man in the leg. Violence and death were common on the goldfield. So common, that one in five miners would die from violence, disease and accidents within six months of arrival.

He didn’t get rich but I guess he didn’t die there. He returned to Melbourne and reunited with his wife and family. It didn’t end well as you would have wanted it to. Once, in a drunken rage, he tried to kill Anastasia. The judge ordered him to stay away from Anastasia permanently.  Not long after that, he died from the effects of alcoholism and was buried in an unmarked grave. Patrick was aged only thirty-eight.

His grave is next to the Elvis Presley Memorial; a fitting place to rest for a man who tried to make the big time in America.