To understand the circumstances as to why John, Isabella, Joseph, and Abigail Graves were sent to the Orphan School, an outline of the life of their father is necessary. John Woodcock Graves was born in Wigton, Cumberland, England in 1795. Joseph, his father, died when John was only 9 years old. His first wife, Jane Atkinson died about a year after they were married in about 1817. He then wed Abigail Porthouse in 1821 and later moved to Caldbeck where he became a long time friend of John Peel and penned the now famous hunting song “D’ye ken John Peel”. It has been said that two daughters remained in Cumbria when John emigrated from England to Van Dieman’s Land with his wife and 4 children, arriving in 1833 per the Strathfieldsaye. Marie Annie, his eldest daughter had these recollections to say about her father in 1882. “--- my father was a man of very superior mental attainments; of vigorous, constructive and inventive capacity; a geologist, botanist, astronomer, and, in fact, too scientific---”. John was an artist, a lighthouse keeper, travelled extensively in New Zealand and New South Wales, and spent time as an inmate at the Asylum in New Norfolk. Later in his life he lived with both of his sons and died in Hobart in 1886. Despite his headstone in the Queenborough Cemetery stating his age as 100 years, he was actually 91. There is a memorial to John Woodcock Graves in St. David’s Park, Hobart.
Having no means of support, his wife Abigail sought employment and was appointed as a hospital nurse at the Orphan School where her four youngest children, John, Isabella, Joseph and Abigail (Jun) were all enrolled at various times in 1841. Marie Annie was too old for the school, later married and moved to Melbourne.
John Woodcock Graves (Jun) (b) abt 1829, married Jessie Montgomerie and lived on his 42 acre property at “Caldew” now 39 Cavell Street, West Hobart. John became one of the leading solicitors in Hobart and formed a partnership with David Crisp. He was a true friend and benefactor to the aboriginal people. So much so, John named three of his four children with aboriginal names. He died in Hobart in 1876 at the age of 47.
Isabella (b) abt 1831, married Matthew Jefferson in Hobart in 1854 and moved to Victoria soon after. They had 7 children and Isabella died in Victoria in 1897 at the age of 66.
Joseph (b) abt 1832, lived most of his life in the Huon and was recognised as an astute and very successful business man. His main occupation was that of a sawmill proprietor at Southport. He married Esther Jane Maxwilliams in Hobart in 1865 and together they had 12 children, also giving many of them aboriginal names. In his later years, Joseph owned Huon Island and he died there in 1900 at the age of 68.
Abigail (b) abt 1835, was the Graves’ only child to be born in the Colony of Van Dieman’s Land. She was about 6 years old when admitted to the Orphan School in 1841. Abigail, also known as Esther, married John McDonald in Launceston in 1874 and had 1 child. She was 83 when she died in Melbourne in 1918.