The Australian Cobdens                     

Henry Andrews Cobden 1813-1858 and sons

Paternal relatives of Valdis Muriel Skidmore

Henry was the ninth of eleven children of farmers William and Millicent Cobden of Midhurst, Sussex and was born near Midhurst on December 12th 1813. When he was only about 1 year old, due to economic hardship, the family had to sell their farm. They moved to West Meon in nearby Hampshire where they ran a shop and rented property from the Rogers, a family with whom the Cobdens maintained close friendships over the years to come. Henry’s eldest sister Emma married one of the Rogers’ eldest sons John Blyth Rogers, and James Edwin Thorald Rogers was a close friend and supporter of Henry’s brother Richard Cobden. the famous MP and economic reformer.

Henry attended Christ’s Hospital, a charity school, from 1820 to 1828. During this time his mother died at the age of 50. She had contracted typhoid whilst looking after an ill neighbour. This had devastating consequences for the family as Millicent was regarded as the family’s strength, William being poor at business, although a well-liked, pleasant and amiable man. The eldest sons Frederick and Richard became the source of guidance and support for the family. In 1827 the Cobdens moved to Farnham in Surrey where it was felt better economic opportunities could be found than at the much smaller, but much loved West Meon.

800px-Christ's Hospital, engraved by Toms c.1770.

Christ’s Hospital School 1770 a charity school. Henry was sent here from 1820 to 1828. Engraved by E. Toms, from John Stowe’s Survey of London 1755

Employed by his brother

Meanwhile, Henry’s brother Richard was establishing himself as a successful manufacturer of quality printed calicoes. He had three establishments: at Sabden, Manchester and London. After leaving school, Henry was employed by Richard as an apprentice in the Sabden printing works. By 1832 he was working for the Manchester branch of the business and the following year Richard sent him to New York to look for business opportunities for the firm. Apparently Henry was not very successful at this, although he was kept on the payroll until 1839. During these years the Cobdens suffered the loss of their father, as well as illness causing the deaths of three sisters: Emma, Millicent and Jane, and younger brother Miles.

Bull Bridge Sabden. Buildings on the right were part of Henry’s brother Richard Cobden’s calico printing works. Source:                                                                                                        

Contraversial relationship

At the age of 26, Henry met Frances Baddily (also spelled Baddeley), daughter of shopkeepers Thomas and Elizabeth Baddily of Cheshire. The young couple had a son who was baptised on January 2nd 1839 at Stockport, Cheshire, and as they were not married, the child was named Henry Baddily and was to be brought up by Frances’s parents as their son. Later that year on September 10th Henry and Frances married in London at St. Pancras church and then set off for Australia.

Older brother Richard clearly disapproved of this relationship. He wrote in a letter of November 25th 1839 to a close business friend:

'My brother Henry has clandestinely gone to South Australia, and taken a wife with him from a very low and disreputable station - He has committed suicide morally forever – My conscience acquits me of blame, except that I did too much for him, and spent money in vain upon one so unworthy – You formed a true estimate of his character from the beginning – had he been any other man’s brother I should not have been deceived in him.'

Was Richard referring to not only the illegitimate birth, but also perhaps the manner in which the young couple departed England? Was Frances’s 'disreputable station' due to her having an illegitimate child, or some other reason (a biographer, Wendy Hinde, suggested Frances may have been a prostitute)? To what extent the couple deserved this criticism, and how much was the view of 19th century middle-class morality, we can only guess at.

Inn keepers of Molong

By 1840 Henry and Frances had made their way to New South Wales to the small outpost of Molong, 40km northwest of Orange.  It is unknown why they were attracted to this area. Copper was not discovered there until 1845, and gold not until 1851. Probably all that existed when Henry and Frances arrived was a stock stopping-off point and pastoral runs. Henry took a position as clerk and storekeeper for Mr Lawson at Davey’s Plains, a 64,000 acre pastoral run of the area. The couple remained there for about five or six years, and during this time, a son Richard was born on March 14th 1844 and a second son Frederick William in 1846. Their third son Charles Henry was born in 1849. Through the early 1850s Henry and Frances ran their own store in Molong and by 1854 they were granted a licence for the Molong Inn. But Frances died in 1856 and for a short time Henry went to nearby Stony Creek, Stuart Town. He then returned to run the Molong Inn until his death on August 17th 1858. He and Frances were buried in unmarked graves in the old Molong cemetery that was situated on the old Vale Head estate near the Molong Creek. It no longer exists.

Map showing Molong in New South Wales where Henry and Frances settled in 1839

‘A right-hearted, good-souled man'

From all accounts, and contrary to his brother’s opinion, Henry was highly regarded by his local community. A newspaper obituary in the Moreton Bay Courier of September 18th 1858 states:

'Warm in his friendships, generous in his sympathies,………. his memory will long be cherished as that of a right-hearted, good-souled man, whom Providence had blessed with a capacity fitted for a much higher sphere of action, but whose unambitious disposition preferred rather to lead him quietly and unobtrusively along the humbler walks of life. That he was by no means destitute of failings, we are ready to admit ….. least of all should they be raked up to the gaze of a curious world……'

This last comment is most likely a referral to the scandal created in his family.

A short history of the district written in 1913 by J. C. L. Fitzpatrick, The Good Old Days of Molong entitles a chapter Charles Henry Cobden and Others, erroneously giving Henry his youngest son’s name. It describes Henry as:

 '… a burly man, well-built, possessed of considerable educational attainments, and colloquially termed "a good sort".'

What happened to baby Henry Baddily?

Did the baby Henry Baddily live to adulthood in England? There are two death records for a Henry Baddeley in Stockport Cheshire: one is for the October quarter of 1839, not long after Henry and Frances married and around the time they left England; the other is for the April quarter of 1846. The 1851 census records an Elizabeth Baddeley, a widow, living in Cheadle (a suburb of Stockport, Greater Manchester), with three children, 12-year-old Henry being the middle child. What became of Henry Baddily has yet to be discovered. It could well be that the baby Henry died in infancy and this may have influenced the timing of Henry and Frances’ move to Australia.

‘Somewhat wild’ boys

Of the three Australian born children of Henry and Frances, some information is known about the eldest two. The Good Old Days of Molong says 'they were somewhat wild'. According to this book Frederick went to Queensland and was killed by aborigines. However there are several records of a Frederick William Cobden, carpenter, in the Victorian electoral rolls, another Frederick Cobden, a labourer, who lived in Redfern, Sydney (at least until 1943 so he would have been in his 90s), and a musician aged 60 who died in 1897 in Richmond, Melbourne. More of Frederick later. As for Richard, the book says nothing was ever heard of him. A descendant has recorded that he married Charlotte Peters in the Wesleyan Church in Orange NSW, and they produced 15 children, most surviving to adulthood. Richard is found on the electoral roll of 1930 residing at The Home, Wardry, Condobolin, NSW, occupation: labourer. He died at the age of 90 on 7/9/1934 at Condobolin.

Orphaned sons

After their parents’ deaths, relatives in England enquired about Henry’s boys (Richard was 14, Frederick 12, and Charles was 9) offering to take responsibility for the education of Charles. A letter, undated, to Mr W. H. Cousins of Boomey in Australia, from the boys’ uncle Richard Cobden in England, throws light on how they were taken care of immediately after their father died. Richard Cobden thanks Mr Cousins and his wife for the 'kindness you have shown to my brother’s family’ especially the eldest, Richard and showing 'goodness towards these helpless young ones'  as well as acknowledging the help of a Mrs Brazier and others. He goes on to offer assistance to Richard, by proposing a savings plan:

'He is getting, I understand, a salary of £30 from you. Whatever he saves…. on the first of January next, I will give him the same amount at the end of the year.'

He hopes this will set a good example to 'help his younger brother’. He also impresses the need for the boys to continue their education, offers to send books if needed, and expresses his opinion that Richard needs to practise writing and have his spelling checked.'His younger brother, I suppose, stands more in need of improvement.', referring to Frederick. 

Frederick William Cobden b.1846 

Cattle and Horse Thief

The reputation of being 'somewhat wild' seems to at least fit information I have learned concerning Henry’s son Frederick, and perhaps his waywardness is hinted at in his uncle Richard Cobden’s letter. Firstly, records from Molong provided to me indicate that Frederick fathered two illegitimate daughters: Caroline Charlotte Brazier (aka Sloane), born in 1866, daughter of Mary Elizabeth Brazier who married Maurice Sloane; and Louisa Caroline born in 1867, daughter of Harriet Thompson of Stony Creek.

Secondly, Frederick was charged, convicted and gaoled for horse and cattle stealing. The New South Wales Police Gazettes tell the story of his crimes and punishments between 1866 and 1874. In a report on July 25th 1866, Frederick, age 21, along with 18 year-old Henry Williams, had a warrant out for their arrest for stealing a horse from William Brazier of Aubrygan near Stony Creek, probably a relative of Mary Brazier mentioned above (and Mrs Brazier who helped the orphaned boys?). By October 24th they had been arrested, but discharged on November 7th due to insufficient evidence. Sadly the horse had been found dead, and partially burned.

His luck quickly ran out, because immediately he was re-arrested and charged by the Molong Police with 'stealing a brown mare…. the property of W.C. Chambers of Stony Creek.' On August 14th the following year, the NSW Police Gazette reports Frederick is suspected of another theft and gives a description of his appearance:

The next report is from the last quarter of 1868, where there is a warrant for Frederick’s arrest issued from Molong for stealing, again from William Brazier, a bullock. This time his description includes 'nose rather prominent'. He also has an accomplice, Oliver Sloane (related to his daughter’s step father?) who has already been arrested.

Gaol time

In 1870, Frederick is reported as having several aliases: James Adams, Charles Frost and Jack Jones. In August that year he was arrested again for horse stealing and appeared in the Quarter Sessions at Bathurst where he was sentenced to 12 months hard labour at Bathurst Gaol. After serving this sentence, he was escorted to Molong where he was charged again with cattle stealing. On October 24th 1871 he was convicted of this crime and sentenced to 18 months hard labour at Bathurst Gaol. However, after serving 4 months there, he was transferred to Darlinghurst Gaol, where he served a further 10 months and was released on February 25th 1873 having the last 2 months of his sentence remitted.


Darlinghurst Gaol in 1870, where Frederick served 10 months hard labour in 1872. Source: State Library of NSW                                                                                                                       

Incorrigible ‘Silver Hair'

Unfortunately, Frederick seems not to have mended his ways, for in March 1874 there is a warrant for his arrest on the charge of horse stealing from Elias Cohen of Brewarrina. The report says he is thought to have gone to Cousin’s Station on the Lachlan River, near Condobolin (about 400 kms away, maintaining links with the Cousins family and also his brother Richard lived at Condobolin). The next month, although no warrant was issued, he was suspected of stealing a horse from Alexander Ferguson of Mullengudgery. The report says his alias is 'Silver Hair' and he is said to have gone to Cannonbar (over 700 kms away).

In the police records, Frederick’s occupation is given variously as a bushman, horse-breaker and drover. So is Frederick Cobden, married carpenter of Bendigo, the same person as the horse and cattle thief? Or perhaps the author of the Molong history is closer to the truth when saying he went to Queensland and was killed by aborigines. A death record has not been found.

Richard Cobden 1844-1934

Receiving stolen goods

Frederick’s older brother, Richard, seems to have led a more respectable, but not uneventful life. He and his wife Charlotte had 15 children, with most living to adulthood. He was a well-known selector in the Condobolin district, and two of his sons later had property there also. In December 1892 diphtheria spread through the Condobolin district, and it was reported in the local news that diphtheria had caused the loss of three of the Cobden children within one week. 

Reported in the Police Gazette was what seems to be an out of character incident: In 1891 Richard was charged with receiving stolen goods:

Was this crime connected to his brother Frederick? Whatever the situation, Richard was committed to trial at the Forbes Court. A report in the Australian Town and Country Journal of April 11th states:

'A man named Richard Cobden, a well-known selector on the river, was proceeded against for having in his possession a blood mare (Forest Queen) which had been stolen from her owner some time ago. Cobden explained that he met a man leading the mare, which was dead lame, and, after a conversation with him, agreed to let her stay in his (Cobden’s) paddock, and have her served with the horse, for which he was to receive £3 3s at some future date. He did not know the man’s name, having lost the paper he had written it on………..A great amount of interest attaches to this case, as the man is said to be a nephew of the great Richard Cobden.'

I don’t know the outcome of his trial, but wonder if Richard’s family connections, both famous and infamous, played any part.

‘A generous and far-seeing nature'

Richard lived to the age of 90 and died in 1934. His obituary from the Molong Express and Western District Advertiser of September 15th states:


Richard Cobden, who was much spoken of during “Back to Molong Week” passed away at Condobolin on September 7. The deceased gentleman lived at Vale Head, Molong, for many years, where his father kept the hotel. He had been ailing for the past three weeks and his family were called to is bedside before he passed away. He was 90 years old last March. Members of the family still living are: Mrs McLean (Petersham), Mrs Holmes (Nyngan), Mrs Avery (Kensington), Mrs Lewis (Wagga), Mrs Peters (Mullion Creek), Mrs Dunstan (Condobolin), James (Canowindra) and Fred (Newtown).

The deceased was a prominent figure in the early days of Molong, and was of a generous and far-seeing nature.'

Click here to read about Charles Henry Cobden (1849-1891)