Charles Alexander John Piesse

Charles Alexander John Piesse

East Perth Cemeteries Records


Charles, born 11 Sept 1812 at St Marylebone, London, was the eldest son of Charles Alexander James Piesse and Harriett Ann Nicholson.

He worked for the Irish Civil Service and was appointed Secretary to the Central Loan Fund Board on 16 December 1840, a position he held until 1850. Charles seems to have approached this position, and all his appointments, with considerable zeal. The following year he wrote a book called “Sketch of Loan Fund System in Ireland, and instruction for the formation of a new society, with Loan Fund Acts and an index thereto.” It was written to help answer the many questions he was asked daily about the Central Loan Fund.

Charles married Emma Harvey Bray in the late 1830’s and had 2 daughters, both born in Dublin. Emma Harvey Nicholson Piesse, born 05 May 1839 and Mary Medora Elizabeth Piesse, born 28 Mar 1841

On 7 Sep 1847 he wrote a most extraordinary Will.

“….I have discarded the wretched woman Emma Harvey Bray who bears my name for a long continuance of the most foul adulteries and treachery ever on record amidst the annals of crime. Believing that I must before long appear at God’s judgement bar I solemnly assert that I have good grounds for knowing she long administers poison to me in small amounts and that she has in conjunction with her last foul paramour the Bricklayer’s labourer McGarry planned my murder when God most Providentially discovered her iniquity to me. Her paramours known to me are Doctor John Birt Davies of Birmingham, a common Police Constable John Connor of the Thurles District, Sir Philip Crampton a Dublin Surgeon who basely availed himself of his professional character as did Birt Davies and one John McGarry of Williamstown near Dublin a common Bricklayers labourer, with respect to all the above I have had absolute proof of her guilt. I have good reason for believing one Comyns a Sub Inspector of Police late Thurles and now of Clara was also connected with her criminally. Doubtless there have been others. For instance I know she proffered herself for prostitution to the then Major Orange now Lt Colonel the 67th Foot and that Orange who is a friend of mine refused to have anything to do with her. I would have obtained a legal Divorce from this infamous woman but for the monstrous state of the Law on the subject which would oblige me to beggar myself for life to obtain ……… justice. I declare with my last breath that I ever entertained towards her anything but ill will until I discovered her iniquity on Xmas Eve 1846 I had some two months before I discovered her iniquity or even suspected it been very reluctantly compelled to cause to the determination of separating from her on account of her total neglect of her domestic and maternal duties and as I clearly saw she was totally unfit to be longer entrusted with the care of the children. I record with my last breath that I know this infamous woman to be a bad daughter and mother infamous in her propensities and capable of any crime even when she is above restrained by the fear of punishment. Notwithstanding that she has wrecked my happiness she renders ……….. even through the best years of my life. I freely forgive her her adulteries and my intended murder praying God to change her heart and send to her sincere repentance. …..”

He further adds:

“…I charge Robert Matheson and my brother Louis and Mr Browning or the survivor of them to explain to these girls in such terms as they seem most fit the horrid iniquity of their mother and to explain to Medora that I have very great suspicion of her legitimacy as my reason for leaving them of whatever little I die possessed of to Emma. Whether Medora is my child or Comyns’s or Connor’s I think extremely doubtful and perhaps the infamous mother herself cannot tell…….”

Towards the end of his Will, Charles indicates how he would like his children brought up.

On the 23 March 1850, The London Gazette announced “the Queen has been pleased to appoint Charles Alexander John Piesse, Esq., to be Colonial Secretary for the territory of Western Australia.” Interestingly, the Governor of WA was neither consulted nor informed of the decision prior to the announcement. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Earl Grey, wrote a month later to the Governor saying “I have further to inform you that I have selected for the vacant situation Mr CAJ Piesse who has been employed for some years under the Irish Government and whose favour I have received very satisfactory testament from the Lord Lieutenant.”

Charles began a long correspondence with the Colonial Office.

Dublin Castle, 10 April 1850

I have the honour to report for the information of Earl Grey that since my return to Dublin Castle I have been actively engaged in closing the affairs of the department entrusted to me here and in making myself complete master of the subject of Convict discipline.
The Board at their last meeting papered a Resolution expressive of their great satisfaction at the manner in which my duties have been performed and requesting the said Lieutenant H. Merivale Esq. to obtain from Earl Grey one monthly time from the 5th inst. to enable me finally to close all accounts and transfer the same to my successor.
I shall be ready to embark in the first vessel sailing for the Swan after that period.
As I find the expense of conveying myself and my family to this distant colony will seriously encroach on my small salary and put me in a very painful position on assuming my duties I must respectfully request you will be good enough to ask Earl Grey that a similar indulgence to that which was granted to the only two gentlemen who have proceeded me in this office should be extended to me. The first was provided with a free passage in a Government vessel, the second was provided with funds to pay his own passage.
Under these circumstances I trust his Lordship will be disposed to order that a sum of £100, being considerably less than half the expense I must really incur, may be granted me to provide a passage.

Reply: 20th April 1850

You can delay your departure for Western Australia until the 5 of next month. In answer, however to your further request that the sum £100 should be granted to you by H.M. Govt to enable you to passage to the Colony. Lord Grey directs me to state there are no special grounds in your case which can be urged for such an indulgence and that as by the rules of the Service you are not entitled to any allowance, his Lordship regrets that it is out of his power to recommend to the Treasury that an exception should be made in your favour.

Dublin Castle, 23 April 1850

I am sorry to find Earl Grey does not feel warranted in complying with my application for aid towards the expenses of my passage to W Aust, as I was in hope his Lordship would consider my case as coming within the Regulation No 11 (p32 of Colonial Regulation Book), my official emolument not exceeding the sum there limited.
Having applied to Mr Felgate the only Broker at present despatching vessels to the Colony, for information as to the first ship likely to sail, he states he “does not expect there will be a vessel sailing for W Australia before the end of June, unless Earl Grey sends a convict ship in which case as you hold a public appointment you may be ordered a passage in her”.
I should feel very much obliged if you would direct me to be informed whether any vessel is likely to be despatched by Government and, if so, whether a cabin could be allowed to me in her.
Regretting to give this trouble
I have the honour to remain your obedient servant
Chas A J Piesse

Reply: 4 May 1850

… a convict ship will be sent to West Aust at end of June or beginning of July and that his Lordship will be happy to allow you the use of a cabin in that vessel if you should wish it. I am at the same time to explain to you that in such cases officers have to pay the ship owner for their own passage and that rates of charges are fixed by the Admiralty at £56 for the officer, two thirds for wife and every child above 16 years, one third for every child above 7 years but not above 16 years, one fourth for every child not above 7 years and further that such officer is not required to pay the Master for the help of a female servant more than 2s6d per diem ….
Paddington, 18 May 1850
I shall feel obliged by an early intimation respecting the ship in which I am to sail, to enable me to arrange as to my heavy baggage which must come round from Dublin.
I take due note that I shall be required to pay the ships owner £56 for my passage.
On receiving intimation from Earl Grey of my appointment to W Australia I of course immediately resigned my office in Ireland and my salary consequently ceased from the 18th of March last. Considering that I have been actually actively employed in the Public Service ever since, and that the delay in my embarkation was for the interest of convenience of the Public Service and not my own, I trust Earl Grey will not consider me exigent in humbly requesting to be put upon half salary from the date of embarkation. As my predecessor ceased to draw his half salary prior to the date in question, the extrusion of his indulgence to me by his Lordship will cause no difference in the Estimates.

Reply: 31 May 1850

…….as soon as the ship is taken up by the Board of Admiralty, you will be informed of her name.
I am to add that your request to be allowed to receive half salary from the date of your appointment to the Office of Colonial Secretary in Western Australia instead of from date of your embarkation for the colony.

Reply: 14 June

….the ship “Hashemy” has now been chartered for the conveyance of convicts to the Colony.
I am therefore to request that you will state, for Earl Grey, information of what number your family is composed, with the ages of your children, if any, and whether you will be accompanied by servants, in order that the necessary directions may be given for providing you with accommodation on board this vessel.

Norwich, 17 June 1850

….on the advice of ex Governor Hutt, to have my daughters at home until their education is further advanced. I shall only require a passage for myself in the Hashemy.

Paddington, 10 July 1850

From enquiry made of my predecessor, I find that no such books as those mentioned in the annexed list are to be found in the Colony of Western Australia and as it appears to me they will be absolutely essential for the use of the Local Government I should feel much obliged by the Colonial Agent being authorised to procure and ship the same (which he told me can readily so, prior to the Hashemy leaving the channel, on receiving proper authority)
As I have also been informed that not a single piece of artillery is to be found in Perth, I beg very respectfully to submit that considering the class and character of the large addition now making to the population it is desirable that at least one howitzer and 3 twelve pounders should be supplied with the necessary ammunition.

Notes by Earl Grey for the reply: Mr Piesse is going a little beyond his province in these recommendations. Acknowledge and say that I consider it unnecessary to send either books or the artillery. G

The Hashemy left England on the 22 July and arrived the 25 October 1850 at Fremantle. The newspapers reported the arrival of Charles and added “We regret to hear that the honourable gentleman sustained a severe accident during the passage, and that although now convalescent, he is yet far from being recovered, we have no doubt, however, that his residence on shore will quickly restore him to perfect health.” Charles suffered a stromal hernia on the 08 October and was discharged, for convalescence, on the day the ship arrived.

Four days later, on the 29 October, he took his oath of office. The Art Gallery of WA has a drawing of Charles made at this occasion.

The Government Gazette of the 25 February 1851 shows some of the proclamations were signed by Edward Souper, chief clerk to the Colonial Secretary and on the 4 March, Mr Yule was acting for the Colonial Secretary. On the 7 March the following notice appeared:

“It is with deepest regret His Excellency directs me to announce the decease of the Hon. CAJ Piesse Esq., Colonial Secretary, on the Evening of Thursday, the 6th instant, after a short but painful and distressing illness.
In this lamented gentleman, His Excellency has been deprived of a most able, talented, and zealous assistant, and the colony of an officer whose loss, from his thorough knowledge of official business and a determination to forward on all occasions the best interests of the colony, will be severely felt.”

What was the cause of death? In a letter to the Colonial Office, the Governor wrote:

“It becomes my faithful duty to report to Your Lordship that Mr Piesse the late Colonial Secretary appointed to this Colony was attacked by fits of Epilepsy on Sunday the 16th of February last, though quite well the previous day entertaining some friends at dinner, from this attack which at first deprived Mr Piesse of all consciousness for two or three days, he partially recovered and rallied a little for a week, but Alas , My Lord on the 19th day from his first attack, it pleased Almighty God to remove him from this world of trial and to him of considerable suffering during his illness.”

The Burial Register notes he died of “disease of the kidneys”

Charles died without leaving a Will in Western Australia and the Government seemed keen to finalise the estate. A public sale was arranged for the 27 March. The advertisement mentioned “a large collection of valuable Books, Saddlery, Guns, Pistols, Pictures, Household Furniture, Wearing Apparel, Plate and Plate Ware, &c, &c”. His effects came to £470. Many of these items may have been the same ones mentioned in his English Will, and were to be inherited by daughter Emma, siblings and friends. The 1847 Will was proved 30 August 1851.

Nearly 30 years later, in 1879, a granite monument was erected on his grave at the East Perth Cemetery. The headstone was sent out from England by his brother George Septimus Piesse (analytical chemist and perfume maker of Piesse and Lubin). It bears the simple inscription “In Memory of CAJ Piesse, sometime Colonial Secretary of this territory. He died in office March 6, 1851, aged 39.

Charles Alexander John Piesse, Esq. spent just four and a half months in Western Australia. While this overview leaves many unanswered questions about his life, we do know he embraced the position of Colonial Secretary with enthusiasm and energy.

His family:
I have been unable to trace his wife.

Daughter, Emma, went to Auckland in 1862 and then travelled to Sydney in 1864. She married Irishman Robert Brown in 1865 and a daughter, Emma Piesse Brown was born in 1866. In 1870 the family were living in California and another daughter, Catherine, was born in 1871.

Medora appears on the 1861 and 1871 English census, living with relatives.
On the 1901 census Mary F(sic) Piesse, 50 (really 60), born Dublin, living “on her own means”, with one servant. Medora, now known as Mary, married John Dixon Gibbes on 09 Feb 1905 at St Marylebone, London. John, a former army officer died in 1914 aged 78. Mary died in 1924, aged 65 according to the index but was 83.

Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP): Reel 775, CO 397/9; Reel 776, CO 397/10; Reel 448 CO 18/59 ; Reel 3197, ADM 101/32
London Gazette, 26 March 1850
The Times, 4 July 1850, p8, c3
Sketch of the loan fund system in Ireland etc by CAJ Piesse, 1841 Loan fund system (4.2MB)
The Perth Gazette, 1 Nov 1850; 7 March 1851
WA Government Gazette, 29 October 1850 to 11 March 1851
Anglican Church Records, ACC 6809 A/1-2
WA. State Records Office, CONS 3458, 3/1832-194/1872; CONS 3437/1 Administrations 1/1832-377/1833, p75
Inquirer, 26 Nov 1879; 19 March 1851
Will: PCC 1851 – 672, No 24, p169
USA Census 1880 and 1900
UK Census 1861, 1871, 1901
Correspondence with Piesse family descendants: Rosemary Davidson, Pat Wright

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