Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

Much of what I know about George Mather has come from his rather detailed obituary printed in the South Australian newspaper, The Advertiser. As grateful as I am for such detailed information to be put in print, there are still many questions concerning my Great x 3 Grandfather’s life which I don’t have answers for. When and where was he actually born? Who were his parents? Did he have any siblings? When and where did he marry his wife, Maria Forestall? What occurred during the early years of his life? Is there any truth to the story that he was once stationed in South Africa under Sir George Grey? Why weren’t the births of his three daughters registered in South Australia?

A Publican for most of his life and certainly all of his life in Australia; it is in the newspapers that we obtain vague hints as to his personality, behaviour and business dealings. He was a man who liked to have a drink and was occasionally worse for wear because of it. He was, at times, prone to violent behaviour which was mostly likely a result of the drink. He was very literate and aware of his rights. He often took people to court or was taken to court himself. He appears to have been an avid businessman and at one point even ran for the West Norwood local council.

At times when he’s accused of wrongdoing, George’s reaction is often to defend himself against the attack. Though he may have been right in some instances I can’t help but wonder about this mysterious (still largely unknown) ancestor of mine. Could it have been a case of, where there’s smoke there’s fire?

Though his defence occurs with all manner of things, the denials come thick and fast with relation to the question of whether he is the owner of Boddington’s Row. In order to understand why he often denies ownership, a brief history of Boddington’s Row must be put forward. To put it bluntly, Boddington’s Row was a row of houses in Adelaide in which, at one point in time, prostitutes resided.

The name itself is not one that is official. The houses were simply a row of houses that were said to be owned by a man named Thomas Boddington, hence, Boddington’s Row. They were located on Hindley Street in Adelaide and ran the full length back to Hawdon Street (now Philip Street). In 1935, at the request of residents in the area, Hawdon Street changed its name to Philip Street. This may have been due to the many years of Hawdon Street being associated with Boddington’s Row.* Despite George’s denials, evidence tells a different story.

George left Victoria and arrived in South Australia in late 1864. He immediately set himself up at the Albion Hotel on the corner of Hindley Street and Morphett Street in Adelaide and his first order of business was to give a Grand Opening Ball.

One of the earliest instances of George being connected to a property on Hindley Street was on 13 March 1865. The case involved George charging a man by the name of Thomas Sampion with setting fire to a dwelling house. In the Police Court, George admits that he was the owner of the property and it seems Thomas was simply renting. Though the case was dismissed, it gives us an admittance by George that he was the owner of this property. Could this have been an early reference to Boddington’s Row?

Adding further weight to the fact that George owned Boddington’s Row are his early interactions with Thomas Boddington himself. As George is taken to court on 30 November 1865, a man with the surname ‘Boddington’ gives evidence on George’s behalf. Could this have been Thomas Boddington?

Capture

A year passes and the time comes for George to renew his Publican’s Licence. On 12 March 1866, the first solid evidence that he was in ownership of a bawdy house came before the Bench of Magistrates. George wanted his license for the Albion Hotel renewed but the police objected.

Albion Objection

Despite there being instances that show that he owned the houses on Hindley Street (see above) at this particular time, when it would affect his renewal, he claimed that he didn’t own them. In fact, in another paper, further particulars were stated that “the houses had been given up altogether.”

George’s denial in one Court however would turn into assertions in another Court. This could be seen on 14 June 1866 when he was taken to Court for not paying the Plaintiff for work and action taken in “the erection of five small cottages in the neighborhood of the Albion Hotel.”

Palmer v Mather

Five months later Thomas Boddington is again present in the newspapers when he gives evidence as a witness for a case in the Police Court. His opening line is the one that holds the most interest:

Thomas

Not only was Thomas living on Hindley Street (where Boddington’s Row was located) but he was also frequenting the Albion Hotel where he worked as a musician. By this point however George had relinquished his licence for the Albion to John Lamb and had moved further north to Dry Creek. Could his move have been instigated in order to escape the fact that he owned houses that were let to prostitutes?

Another licencing year rolled around (11 March 1867) and while George had no issue renewing his licence in Dry Creek, poor John Lamb was faced with the stigma that had been created while George was running the Albion Hotel. Detective Brennan gave evidence in support of Mr Lamb but was not very favourable towards George.

Brennan

Prostitutes were prominent in Light Square during this time and three months later the people of West Adelaide had had enough. A special Council meeting was held and residents (who had formed a committee) put forward various resolutions. As they were discussed, a description was given:

There was an entrance to the hotel [Albion Hotel] through Mather’s cottages, and it was impossible for the police to watch the door, back door, and front door. The girls [prostitutes] got to the bar, and it was impossible to prevent them.

What was then known to resident’s in the area as ‘Mather’s Cottages’ would eventually become known as Boddington’s Row.

Throughout the next ten years George continued to distance himself from the cottages on Hindley Street. He took over the licences of various hotels around South Australia and he was nominated as a Councillor for the West Norwood Ward. His public persona was increasing and he was looked upon as a fairly well-respected member of the community. The distance placed between himself and Hindley Street had worked. Whereas in 1867 the cottages were referred to as ‘Mather’s Cottages’ by 1878, they had become known to all in the area as ‘Boddington’s Row’.

On 1 February 1878 a fire broke out in the cottages. A Coroner’s Inquest was held to determine the cause and witnesses were called to give evidence. It was this inquest that brought to light the details of the ownership of Boddington’s Row. Thomas Boddington was the first to make a statement.

Evidence 1

From these opening remarks we can deduce (according to Thomas) that George was the owner of Boddington’s Row; it was George who had leased them to Thomas (in 1869) for fourteen years and throughout that time, it was Thomas who was sub-leasing them (for £7 10s per week) to Elizabeth Hillman who was in charge of the prostitutes.

Another newspaper had slightly different wording printed.

Evidence 2

What I find interesting however is the fact that George had given up the licence to the Albion Hotel in mid 1866 and had moved shortly after. If Thomas didn’t take the lease for the cottages until 1869, who were they being let to throughout the three years? Did George lease them to prostitutes? Was the subsequent lease to Thomas (who then sub-leased) a tactic employed so that George’s name wouldn’t arise with respect to the property?

As different newspapers picked up the story of the fire, some parts of the evidence were omitted from the articles while other parts were included. This snippet printed in The South Australian Advertiser is very reminiscent of previous action taken by George when his name is associated with prostitution in the press.

Sold

George never gave evidence in relation to the inquest. He may have been the owner but there was no additional information he could give with respect to the fire. Life continued on and Boddington’s Row continued running as a house (houses) of ill repute.

It’s featured continuously throughout the South Australian newspapers in the 1870s and, most often, in the articles concerning the Police Court. All manner of troublesome behaviour occurred there with the most common theme being prostitution.

In 1879, just over a year after the fire, Thomas came before the Court as a witness against two men who were accused of breaking and entering into the ‘Row’. He made the following statement which indicates that perhaps the fire in 1878 was too close a call for George and his reputation. When George sold (as was reported in the Coroner’s Inquest) it seems as though he sold to Thomas Boddington.

Thomas Owner

George’s name no longer appeared alongside the names Hindley Street and Boddington’s Row and after 1879, Boddington’s Row itself disappears from the papers. He remained in South Australia and continued running various hotels right up until the age of 70. Proud of this fact, he often boasted that he was ‘The Oldest Publican in the State’.

When he died on 14 February 1904 he was 80 years of age. From the details of his Will (written on 17 October 1903 – four months before his death) we can ascertain that he had property on Torrens Road in Brompton, property in Copperhouse in Burra and property on St Luke’s Place in Adelaide. Though the Will does not specifically state how much George’s Estate totalled, a note at the bottom indicates that it exceeded £650. Just to give an indication, £650 in 1904 would be worth nearly $100,000 today. George had been quite a wealthy man.

Despite the considerable amount of information I have on George and his life in South Australia, there is a lot that I don’t have. As well as the original questions relating to his life before he came to Australia, I’m now faced with many more that stem from his dealings with Boddington’s Row and the wealth that he accumulated. Where did he find the money to start at the Albion Hotel? Did he have money before he came to Australia? Was his wealth built from hard work?

As much as I’d like to think of him as an honest businessman who simply worked hard to get where he his, I can’t help but read into the fact that he appears to have owned Boddington’s Row. It is well-known that sex sells and George may have used this fact to his advantage in order to obtain money ‘easily’ and ‘quickly’. If this is true, I by no means condone his actions. He is, on one side, a very transparent character and, on the other side, a bit shady. I find myself pondering two other questions. Did he profit from less fortunate women who had no other option but prostitution? And, did he know what was going on at Boddington’s Row?

Sources:

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2 thoughts on “George Mather and the Notorious Boddington’s Row

  1. Meredith says:

    Thank you for this post about George Mather and Thomas Boddington. I research Thomas Boddington who was, I think, the brother of my great great grandmother. His father, my 3 great grandfather (also called Thomas Boddington) was, so the theory goes, a convict transported to WA in 1852. There is evidence that the family joined him there in 1854. Some time in the mid to late 1860s both Thomas snr and jnr and some of the other (8) siblings appear to have moved to Adelaide, possibly after the death of Thomas snr’s wife Eliza who died in Perth in 1865. Thomas snr died in 1882 and Thomas jnr in 1900 going on newspaper reports. I also read a report which said that the Shamrock Hotel was owned by Mather and leased to Boddington, and another report which said that Mather had come from WA, which is where I think Boddington was before he arrived in Adelaide. To complicate the picture there are references to both Boddington and Mather having connections in Melbourne but I don’t have details of those. I have found no evidence that Boddington and Mather were actually related, but they were obviously connected in business. Would be grateful for any other information you have as I am keen to solve this puzzle.

    1. Jess says:

      You’re most welcome, Meredith. Thank you very much for commenting! Both George Mather and Thomas Boddington are fascinating characters and I’d love to email you to try and ‘nut out’ the puzzle. I’ve got more information on George that hasn’t been written in this blog post that I’d be happy to share with you. Perhaps if we can figure out the connection between them I may be able to finally figure out where George came from!

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