A life displayed in public records

Lucy Bell arrived in Victoria aged 11 with her parents and two sisters aboard the Sir Charles Napier on 20 April 1855. Her family travelled as assisted immigrants, but after arrival they went to Geelong 'on own account'. [1] In 1863 Lucy Bell married John Singer, an immigrant from Switzerland. Their first child, Charles, was born in Buninyong in 1865; Lucy Caroline was born in 1866 and Agatha Katherine in 1872. By this time, John Singer had applied for and was issued licences to occupy two adjoining allotments of land in the parishes of Yarrowee and Lynchfield.

On 16 June 1873 John Singer died, leaving his widow with three children to raise - one a small baby. Matters became complicated for Mrs Singer and her position on the land uncertain, as her husband had died without leaving a will. She applied to the Government to lease the Yarrowee allotment, but as she neither lived on nor cultivated the allotment she failed to comply with the requirements prescribed in the Land Act 1869. The Crown Lands Department recognised that she lived on and cultivated the adjoining Lynchfield allotment, but still delayed the consideration of the lease six months, requesting compliance with the requirements. In her letter to the Department, Lucy Singer begged consideration of her case:

Sir, Will you please to reconsider your decision about the cultivation condition which will ruin me... I beg of you to remember that I am only a woman and I am not able to clear and fence off the land myself nor am I able to employ any other. [2]

The file on the land was forwarded to the Crown Lands Bailiff for him to report on the state of the allotment. The report was in Lucy Singer's favour, as the Yarrowee allotment was deemed unfit for cultivation and the improvements made on the adjoining allotment were considered sufficient. However, the Crown Lands Department required her to produce letters of administration over her late husband's estate in order to obtain a grant. She appears to have misunderstood the directions of the Department, writing:

I thought you understood all the time that I ... [illeg.] applying for the crown grant of one block and the lease of the other and as I have already paid for both 16 pound rent in my own name besides adding other improvements to land I would like to know what I will have to do about it all and if you please to let me know as soon as possible I will be obliged to you. I think I had no right to pay for the lease if you will not give it to me without will or letters of administration. [3]

In reference to a further plea, a minute attached to the land file for the Lynchfield block reads: 'applicant states she is too poor to administer. Can you deal with 31/15159 and 20/2599 attached for Grant and Lease respectively'. The answer:

I should hardly think this will come within the ministerial order "to widows" as she is entitled to a grant for 78.0.29 under section 31 and a lease under section 20 LA 1869 for 80 acres the latter having improvements valued at 164.10.0.

The final minute on the same docket indicates the answer Lucy Singer would receive concerning her plight: 'Inform that letters of administration are indispensable prior to preparation of Grant'. [4]

Despite letters of administration for John Singer's estate being issued to Lucy in 1876, by 1878 she still had not received her lease for the Yarrowee land, nor her grant for the Lynchfield plot. In the meantime the Department observed that 'It would appear that Lucy Singer has changed her name to Lucy Campbell since she applied under Sec. 20 for a lease of her late husband's selection'. [5] Lucy Singer married Peter Campbell, the brother of her sister's husband, in 1874. They had two children; Henry born in 1875, who died in the same year, and Rose Jane born in 1876. Ultimately, Lucy Campbell was able to convert her lease on the Yarrowee allotment to freehold land in 1880.

On 29 January 1885, Lucy went to the nearby waterhole to collect ferns. When her daughter Agatha went to assist her, she found no trace of her mother except for her hat. Peter Campbell gave moving testimony at the magisterial inquiry into his wife's death:

I was informed by my daughter Agatha that she thought her mother was in the water hole as she saw her hat laying there & could not see her mother. I immediately ran to the water hole & jumped in & found her there & with the assistance of Jacob Dilges, Charles Knight & Wm Savage the schoolmaster we recovered the body & at once tried to restore animation but without effect. I was always living on good terms with my wife & she had no reason whatever to commit suicide. I firmly believe she fell accidentally into the water hole while gathering fancy ferns. [6]

The inquiry was undertaken by Mr Frederick Ingle JP, who found that Lucy Sarah Campbell accidentally drowned at Napoleon Lead. After her death, Campbell's son by her first marriage, Charles Leopold Singer, applied for letters of administration of his father's estate and was granted them in 1886.


1.   VPRS 7310, Disposal List of the Sir Charles Napier, Book 12, Page 56   [Return to text]

2.   VPRS 625, Unit 78, land file No. 4127/19.20, letter dated 23 March 1874   [Return to text]

3.   VPRS 625, Unit 78, land file No. 4127/19.20, letter dated 28 December 1874   [Return to text]

4.   VPRS 627, Unit 174, land file No. 15158/31, docket for letter registered 6/10/1875   [Return to text]

5.   VPRS 625, Unit 78, land file No. 4127/19.20, minute dated 17/9/1878   [Return to text]

6.   VPRS 24, Unit 478, Item 145 (1885), statement of Peter Campbell   [Return to text]


VA 538 Department of Crown Lands and Survey

VPRS 625 Selection Files, Sections 19 & 20, Land Act 1869, Unit 78, land file No. 4127/19.20

VPRS 627 Selection Files, Section 31, Land Act 1869, Unit 174, land file No. 15158/31

VA 856 Colonial Secretary's Department

VPRS 7310 Registers of Assisted Immigrants from the United Kingdom, Disposal List of the Sir Charles Napier, Book 12, Page 56

VA 862 Office of the Registrar-General and Office of Titles

VPRS 24 Inquest Deposition Files, Unit 478, Item 145 (1885) Lucy Sarah Campbell

VA 2620 Registrar of Probate, Supreme Court

VPRS 28 Probate and Administration Files, Unit 169, Item 14/493 John Singer

VPRS 28 Probate and Administration Files, Unit 382, Item 31/742 John Singer

Index to Deaths 1852-1980, microfiche 51, p. 148, John Singer

Victorian Pioneer Index 1837-1888, microfiche 18 pp. D5, I1, J1, O3; microfiche 103 pp. L12, N12

See also

Lucy: A private life revealed through public records
a Public Record Office Victoria online exhibition

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