George Thomas Gray was born on 23 June 1878 in New Herrington, Durham, England. He was baptised at the Primitive Methodist chapel nearby.
George was the son of Henry Gray (1848-1913) and Jane Ann Brown (1848-1882). He was one of six children born to the couple (Jane, George, Margaret, Andrew, George and Elizabeth). His father Henry married three different Jane’s but these six children were all born to his first wife Jane Brown.
So in the 1881 census, George aged 2 was living at 18 Fenton Terrace, New Herrington with his father Henry, a coal miner and mother Jane and nine year old sister Jane Ann who was listed as a scholar (at school).
George’s mother Jane Ann died in 1882 aged only 34, when George was just 4 years old, possibly from complications after the birth of her daughter Elizabeth who was born 2 months previous.
This left his father Henry to raise the two remaining children (Jane Ann and George), four having died as babies before their mother’s death in 1882. (George, Margaret, Andrew and Elizabeth ).
His father remarried two years later in 1884 to Jane Smith who raised George, until she died when he was 24 years old. Jane was the widow of John Brown and brought her own three children to the household (another Jane, William and Job).
The family were staunch Primitive Methodists belonging to the Alnwick Circuit which also included Amble, Chevington Drift, Stobswood and Ferneybeds chapels.
So in the 1891 census the family are still living at Fenton Terrace, and Henry is with his second wife Jane, and living with them are only three children – 12 year old George and his two step brothers William 15 and Job 11. One wonders how he got on with the two boys?
Ten years later in March 1901, still at Fenton Terrace, 22 year old George is still living with his parents and two stepbrothers William and George, but things must have been a little better financially, as they now have a 16 year old domestic servant Mary Escott helping out in the household. Father Henry, George, William and Job are all working in the coal mine.
So what happened to George’s only remaining full blood sister Jane Ann? By the age of 19 (probably long before) she is out working as a domestic servant in Sunderland, 3 miles away. She was living and working in a German gold jeweller’s household at 4 Nelson Street, Sunderland. His name was Jacob Sallewski.
Jane married coalminer Anthony Smith in 1892 in West Herrington and went on to have five children of her own, living in South Shields, Durham. She died there in 1936.
His two step brothers William (1876-1904) and Job (1880-1907) both died as young men.
On the 9th April 1901 George married Isabella (Isabel) Luke at the Primitive Methodist Church in Morpeth, Durham, England.
Isabel was born on 11 September 1880 in West Herrington, Durham.
Isabel was one of eleven children born to John Luke (1850) and Isobella Ritson (1855-1935).
Isabel and George went on to have five children together, the first three in England –
- 1905 Henry (Harry) b Houghton Le Spring d 1992 Mc Crae, Aus, marr Frances Walsh
- 1907 Lillian Pearl (Lil) b East Chevington, d 1972 Surrey Hills, not married
- 1910 Olive May (Ol) b Chevington, d 1993 Violet Town, married Gordon Mills
- 1913 John Neurick b Wonthaggi, d 2011 Tura Beach, Aus married Marjory Kellam
- 1916 George Edwin (Ed) b Wonthaggi, d 2006 Mt Beauty, Aus marr Marjorie Turner 1940 and Florence Hepple 2003
In 1906 the family were living at 31 Simonside Terrace, Chevington Drift. George’s name appears on an International Correspondence Course student list for this address in that year.
Perhaps he was trying to better himself to leave the life of a coal miner behind.
In 1910 George decided to leave England, and start a new life in Australia. He was promised a good mining engineering job above ground in the Wonthaggi Coal mines. So he left his wife and baby daughter behind and immigrated to Australia to begin a new life in Wonthaggi.
Sadly when he arrived he found there was no job, and he went underground as a coal hewer, working in terrible conditions.
His wife and two young children Lilian and Olive immigrated to Australia the following year in 1911.
In 1912 George appears in the Australian Electoral Roll living in Dudley, in Wonthaggi, occupation miner.
The State Coal Mine, Wonthaggi employment records show that he started work there on 12 March 1913, registered token number 140, and later token number 424. His son John was born three months later in June.
George worked in the coal mine off and on for about 13 long years, living in Dudley on the outskirts of Wonthaggi.
In August 1926 George was working in the Wonthaggi Coal mine when he was crushed by falling stone, breaking both legs and injuring his back severely.
He was so severely incapacitated he could not work for almost ten years, but eventually went back to work at the Wonthaggi Coal Mine, but not below ground again.
In 1931 and 1936, he again appears on the Electoral Roll living at White Road, Wonthaggi, occupation miner. In 1936 living with him is his wife Isabella, home duties, daughter
Olive, assistant secretary, son John, salesman, and Henry (Harry), clerk.
His obituary says that while he could not work he threw himself into Christian service, most especially at the Dudley Methodist church where he was organist for many years. He was superintendent of the Dudley Sunday School and busy in every department of the church. Eventually the mines required the removal of the Dudley church and he and his family attended the Wonthaggi North Methodist church.
In 1937 the family moved to 33 Derby Street, Northcote, and George is listed as a cleaner.
In 1942 the family were living at 117 St George’s Rd, Northcote and in 1951 they moved to 33 Yongala Street in Balwyn and George worked as a cleaner for the National Cash Register Company until his retirement.
George passed away on 21 March 1954 at home in Balwyn, aged 75 from lung cancer, no doubt attributable to all his time in the coal mine.
His obituary describes his last few years as “after a period of intense suffering in which the grace of God sustained him”. He was described as a man of singular purity of heart, and a faithful servant of God.
He was buried in the Springvale Cemetery on 23 March. His headstone plaque can be found in Melaleuca, Garden M13, Bed 3, Rose 10.
Buried with him in the same area are his wife Isabel in 1964, his daughter Lilian in 1972, and his son Henry (Harry) and his wife Frances both in 1993.