FOSTER of Launceston, Australia, Chapter 1.

George FOSTERGeorge FOSTER b. 1805
Courtesy: Jill Gooden

The "FOSTER Family" section of this site is divided into 13 chapters and 8 sets of appendices. Please read in sequence by following the links at the bottom of each page or use the "Quick Nav" at top right. If you wish to select individual chapters, please click on the top left link to the Sitemap page. Citation of sources is shown as …ix) referring to the list at the end of this chapter.

Do you have information, opinion or a question relating to either this site’s contents or its copyright? Please use the e-mail link available at the bottom of each page. I look forward to corresponding with you.

This chapter introduces George FOSTER and this site. George’s early records are outlined, his obituary analysed and suggestions are made about the origins of the FOSTER family in Bow and Stepney in London, UK, and from Southwark of Surrey, UK.

George FOSTER is pictured on left. He was born in 1805 in Stepney, London, England and died in 1899 at Launceston, Tasmania.

Image of Low Head Pilot StationEntrance to Low Head Pilot Station
Photo: John & Lorraine Stevens, 2008.

The remainder of this site continues the story of George FOSTER, the longest serving marine pilot of Low Head, Tamar River and Launceston, Tasmania Australia, with 44 years service on the river. George held the position of Senior Pilot at the Low Head Station for 19 years & was a significant historical personality in the region. Details are also given about George’s wife Lucy HAMMOND and her family who came from Farnham, Surrey, UK. Interesting details are given about George and Lucy’s children, and a treasure trove of photos is in the associated photo galleries.

My thanks to my various cousins and friends, who have readily provided information, photos etc. They are acknowledged in the text. Especial thanks to Wayne Shipp for access to documents kept in the Low Head Pilot Station Archives. Douglas Burbury has been most generous in obtaining documents from the Deeds Library of the Titles Registry in Hobart, as well as up-to-date photos of the FOSTER home in Launceston. Recently, the descendants of Annie STEVENS (née FOSTER) (b. 1850) have given me access to Annie’s collection. This comprised historic photos from her album, as well most important newspaper clippings relating to family events in her scrapbook. Some of these clippings contained interesting engravings of Tamar River scenes published in 1879. Thanks to Jill Gooden, Lorna and Murray Barclay who have enabled this great breakthrough. Their photos are included with others in the FOSTER Photo Gallery and in the STEVENS Photo Gallery. Note that the above photo of George FOSTER (courtesy of Jill Gooden) is included with greater detail in the FOSTER photo gallery.

An excerpt from this website has been published in the Launceston "Examiner" in the "Way Back When... People Places Events" series on 10 July 2004, p.30, under the heading of "Pilot survived Tides of tears". This series was subsequently published in book format in 2013.…ix)

Early Records: An Introduction

Early Records & Obituary

George FOSTER was a well known Launceston identity. The Cyclopedia of Tasmania (1900) refers to George in an article about the navigation on the Tamar River:

"In the early thirties there were about five pilots at the Heads, and each had two prisoners as boatmen; there was also a free boat’s crew of six men. Some of the pilots’ names will be familiar to many. There was Joseph Cordell, James Ward, John Thomas, and James Waterland; George FOSTER was assistant harbour master in 1836, was appointed pilot in 1838, and was afterwards for nearly twenty years in charge of Low Head Station. In all he was connected with the river for forty-four years, and only passed away a few weeks ago, at the ripe old age of ninety-six years".…i)

The Cyclopedia had probably used George's obituary published the previous year… see below:

"A very old colonist passed away yesterday, in the person of Mr. George FOSTER, who had reached the ripe old age of 96 years. Born at Bow , Middlesex (England), he arrived in Hobart by the ship ‘Margaret’ of Bristol from London on December 11, 1833 and entered the public service the following year as second mate on board the Government brig ‘Isabella’ . Soon after on June 1, 1836, he was appointed assistant harbourmaster at Launceston, and in 1837 leadsman at Tamar Heads. In 1838 his services led to his appointment as full pilot, and 20 years later, on May 3, 1858, to his being entrusted with the command of the steam tug ‘Tamar’ .

In 1860 he was placed in charge of the Low Head station as senior pilot, and retired on a pension in January 1879. Deceased’s splendid services secured him many testimonials, those he valued highest being from Captain E.D. Edgell, of the ship Whirlwind (1855); Commodore W.F. Burnett , of H.M.S. Orphus (sic) (1862); and Captain D. Cruickshank, commanding the s. Investigator— who thanked Mr FOSTER particularly for his valuable assistance in surveying and sounding the best line for laying the shore end of the Tasmanian submarine cable, and asked his acceptance of a timepiece. Last, but not least, his comrades in the service presented him with a highly congratulatory address on his retirement after 44 years in harness, and the Marine Board, of which the late Mr. Alfred Harrap was then Master Warden, passed a resolution expressing appreciation of the zeal and ability displayed by him in the discharge of his duties, and regret at the loss of his services. Deceased was married on August 3, 1839, so quite recently had the unique satisfaction of celebrating the diamond jubilee of the event. The family comprises 3 sons and four daughters. The funeral will leave deceased’s late residence, 41 William-street at 3 p.m. tomorrow, for the Church of England cemetery."…ii)

Please follow the links within the above obituary taking you directly to discussion, documentation, or correction relating to the individual linked section. If you continue reading this chapter, we discuss the obituary and problems relating to George FOSTER’s age at death, his place of birth, immigration, as well as his photo on the ‘Tamar’. Source documents referred to in the obituary are found in the appendix. Now read on…


‘PS Tamar’

PS Tamar‘PS Tamar’ moored at Launceston
Courtesy: State Library of Tasmania …iii)

I had hoped to find a photo of George FOSTER on the deck of his paddle-wheel-driven tug, ‘PS Tamar’.
The obituary said he was given command on May 3, 1858. Unfortunately, photos in the Low Head Archives seem limited to members of the Marine Board and Master Wardens. The image to the right shows the tug ‘PS Tamar’ with its later Master, probably Capt. Begent who was a pilot on the Tamar River from 1869 to 1892. A full sized image with further details of the photo and acknowledgement of its origin can be seen here.



How did George get to Tasmania? The obituary said he arrived in the ‘Margaret’ in 1833. However, the Tasmanian Archives does not have a record of this voyage! On the other hand, Nicholson does mention the ship ‘Margaret’, a 364 ton barque, 4 guns, which left London on 3 July 1834 and arrived at Hobart, 7 Dec 1834 with 55 passengers and crew.…iv)

The Tasmanian Archives passenger list for the 7 Dec 1834 arrival does not show a FOSTER, though he may have been one of the 20 crew, which were not detailed. The Tasmanian Archives does not have a list of discharged seamen. The similarity of the dates of arrival suggests that this was George’s ship? Merchant Seamen records for this ship or for this period were not available from the Public Record Office (PRO) in Kew, UK or from the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK.

Perhaps George did not tell the truth and he actually was a convict? There were only two convicts who arrived in Tasmania with the name George FOSTER with the right age about that period. They were both in the convict system at the time that our George was subsequently appointed Assistant Harbourmaster in Launceston in 1836, and thus can be eliminated from our search.


George's Naval Service

The obituary stated that George became "second mate on board the Government brig ‘Isabella’ in 1834-35". I cannot find any crew records for the ‘Isabella’ for this period, when she was a supply ship for Port Arthur. George may have left the ‘Isabella’ in 1835, since a George FOSTER was listed as a seaman who departed Launceston aboard the ‘Matchless’ on the 24th Nov. 1835. This George FOSTER was a late addition to the crew (this can be ascertained by his position in the list). Normally when a list was compiled, seamen were listed before apprentices… boatswains and sailmakers etc, were listed before seamen, and then the officers before them, and, of course, the master or commander headed the whole list. The ‘Matchless’ was not a regular trader out of Tasmania.


Origins: The FOSTER Family

George FOSTER's obituary said in 1899: "A very old colonist passed away yesterday, in the person of Mr. George FOSTER, who had reached the ripe old age of 96 years. Born at Bow, Middlesex (England) ... " which gave George a date of birth of 1803 in Bow. However, the London Municipal Archives could not find George FOSTER’s baptism in the index to the baptism register 1770-1812 for St Mary’s, Stratford Bow, Poplar. St Mary’s was the only church at Bow at the time. A wider search in the Latter Day Saints site found a most possible George FOSTER whose family had lived in neighbouring suburbs to Bow, London. The naming pattern which our George had used for his children closely matches the parents and siblings of the George FOSTER born on 24 Nov 1805, Spitalfields, London, taking into account the names contributed by his wife's family. Can we feel fairly confident we have a match? Remember, that Amelia / Aemilia / Emily are interchangeable. Have a look at the following table and see if you agree?

Possible FOSTER Origins
  Possible Match in Southwark and Spitalfields Children of our George George's Wife's Family
Father Thomas FOSTER John HAMMOND
Mother Amelia DAVIS Catherine DICKS
Children John Jane Lucy
(in sequence) Thomas Thomas Harriet
Children Samuel George
Children Mary Ann John
Children William Henry William
Children George James Catherine
Children Ann
Children Harriet
Children William
Children Emily
Children Fanny

Subject to further confirmation, then the following descendancy report details George's UK family:

When the baptismal registers are examined for each of the events in the above diagram, Thomas (father) was recorded as a cordwainer in each of the baptisms. We got lucky with the Spitalfields register which was written in a beautiful copperplate hand, and included Thomas' addresses in Stepney as follows: 1794- Lamb Court; 1799- Corbets Court; 1803 and 1805- Bell Lane.…v)- vi) Note that a cordwainer made luxury shoes and boots out of the finest leathers. These streets are still there today. Interestingly ~4.5km E of Thomas FOSTER's locations shown above was the cordwainer Foster & Son Bootmakers which has operated since 1840 close to St James' Palace. See here.…vii) I wonder if there is a link??

Still looking at the above descendancy report… transcriptions of the marriage register for Thomas and Amelia and "our" George's baptism read:

Thomas Foster Batchelor of this Parish & Amelia Davis Spinster of the same were married in this Church by Banns this sixteenth day of Sept in the Year One Thousand seven Hundred and eighty eight By me J. Harmer Curate. This Marriage was solemnised between Us Thomas Foster, Amelia Davis In the Presence of Thos. Wolling, William Foster…v)
Baptism of George James FOSTER of Thomas, Cordwainer, Bell Lane, by Amelia. Born 24 Nov 1805, Baptised 6 July 1806, Christ Church, Spitalfields, Tower Hamlets, Middlesex, England. …viii)

Note that the suggested link to the above Thomas FOSTER and Amelia DAVIS and their children still remains a suggestion. We continue looking for confirmation.

Chapter 1: FOSTER Sources:
(i)   Cyclopedia of Tasmania. An epitome of progress:
business men and commercial interests. Hobart: Maitland & Krone, 1900; 2 : 23.
(ii)   Obituary of George Foster. Launceston Examiner, Launceston. Dec 6, 1899.
(iii)   ‘PS Tamar’ moored at Launceston . State Library of Tasmania.
(iv)   Nicholson, IH. Shipping arrivals and departures, Tasmania, vol. 2, 1834-1842, (Roebuck series, no. 33). Roebuck Canberra ACT; 1985; 2.
(v)   Marriage of Thomas Foster Batchelor of this Parish & Amelia Davis. London Metropolitan Archives, Saint Saviour, Southwark, Register of marriages, P92/SAV, Item 3044.
(vi)   Church of England Parish Registers, 1538-1812. London, England: London Metropolitan Archives.
(vii)   Foster & Son, Bootmakers since 1840, 83 Jermyn St. SW. See here.
(viii)   Baptism of George James FOSTER, Christ Church, Spitalfields, Tower Hamlets, Middlesex, England. Church of England Parish Registers, 1538-1812. London, England: London Metropolitan Archives.
(ix)   Pilot survived tides of tears. Way Back When : people, places and events. Contributed stories about the early days of settlement in northern Tasmania. ed. Anne Bartlett. West Tamar Historical Society Inc., George Town and District Historical Society Inc. and Launceston Historical Society Inc.; 15 Feb 2013. Also in Launceston Examiner 10 Jul 2004: 30 see here.


Further Research

I have been told that of a family tradition that George FOSTER’s father was a Customs Official in London. The "Customs and Excise Officials and Tax Collectors" Domestic Records Information 38, published by the UK National Archives gives a few hints of possible references. There are pay lists and staff lists for Customs officials, arranged by place. However, in general these give little personal detail, although very occasionally details of marriage might be given. Some family details can be found in the Customs pension records, which cover 1803 to 1922. If any member of the FOSTER family is in London, the Customs files could be a good area to research.

The Story Continues