Members of the Tolladay family were Freemen of Sudbury for several generations and, before they were all literate, the spelling of their surname varied depending on who had written it.

There was more than one Tolladay Freeman with the given name Stephen, and this one was the second child, and first son, of George Tolladay, (1827-1858), and his wife Susannah née Eady, (1825-1902), who had been married on 18th April 1846 in Sudbury. George, the son of John Tolladay and Hannah née Sarjeant, (who had been married on 4th January 1827 at St Peter’s Church), had been christened on 16th July 1827 at St Gregory’s Church, and the family lived in School Lane at the time of the 1841 census.

Susannah, the daughter of James and Rebecca Eady, had been christened on 5th May 1825, again at St Gregory’s Church, and the family lived in Gregory Street at the time of the 1841 census. George and Susannah Tolladay were my three times great grandparents: so Stephen was my three times great-uncle.

An image from the Sudbury Photo Archive showing the terrace of weavers’ cottages in Church Walk, demolished in 1959.

By the time of the 1851 census, George (23) and Susannah (26) Tolladay lived in Church Walk and both were hand loom workers making silk. Their children Emma (4) and Stephen (3) were scholars, and little Eliza was 1.

Taken from the 1885 map of Sudbury, this image shows the location of Church Walk/Acton Green where S.H. Tolliday lived as a child. His Grandmother, Hannah, lived in another terrace of weavers’ cottages, on the right-hand side of Acton Green, known as Garden/Gooseberry Row.

Unfortunately, George Tolladay died aged 30 on 16th April 1858 of phthisis (i.e. chronic wasting away or a name for tuberculosis) at his home in Acton Green. George’s death was registered by his mother Hannah Tolladay, (née Sarjeant), who had been present when he died. He was buried on 22nd April in St. Gregory’s churchyard.

St. Gregory’s churchyard, Sudbury, April 2020. A few minutes walk from the Tolladay home.

Stephen was only 10 years old. From then on, he worked hard to help his mother. She had been left to care for the family on her own, with the youngest then only three months old when her husband died. The family consisted of Emma, (born on 7th June 1846 at their home in Gregory Street and christened on 11th February 1847); Stephen Henry, (born on 27th November 1847 and christened on 22nd June 1851); Eliza Caroline, (born in 1850 and christened the same day as Stephen); George, (born in 1852); Mahala, (christened on 8th October 1854); and Emily, (born in 1858). All the christenings were in St Gregory’s Church.

Image of the font at St. Gregory’s Church from the Town Archive.

There had been a seventh child, Walter, who had been christened on 27th July 1856, but he had died, aged 10 months, and was buried on 20th April 1857 in St Gregory’s graveyard. Less than a month after George died, one of his daughters, (Eliza), died of bronchitis on 9th May 1858, aged only 8. Grandmother Hannah was again present at the family home when Eliza died and she registered the death. Eliza was buried on 14th May, again in St Gregory’s graveyard. A truly tragic time for all the family.

After George died, the family then moved to the west side of Gregory Street, where they were living at the time of the 1861 census. This census records Susannah Tolladay (36), Emma (14) and Stephen (13) as velvet weavers, George (9) and Mahala (7) as scholars and Emily as aged 3. Somehow, Susannah managed to keep her family together, although life as a velvet weaver would have been very tough. At this time velvet weaving was done at home and was a highly skilled occupation so that, even after years of practise, most weavers could not weave more than a yard a day. Susannah’s working day would have begun very early and she would have worked the loom for many hours, rocking the baby’s cradle as she twisted the threads. Because of their location, the children, including Stephen, would probably have attended North Street School where they would have stayed until aged 10 or 11 and gained good literacy skills.

This gateway in North Street, Sudbury, is all that remains of the original buildings that made up the St. Gregory and St. Peter Schools.

Stephen was prone to attacks of rheumatic fever and had the first one when he was only 7 years old. He may have developed the condition after a bacterial throat infection, possibly caused by drinking contaminated well water. At that time Sudbury was notorious for the polluted state of its water as wells and communal pumps were often very close to drains and open cesspits. Around the time that Stephen was first ill, Dr. John Snow was researching the connection between contaminated water and disease in Soho London. It was many years before his conclusions led to the provision of a clean water supply in Sudbury.

In the mid-1850’s a child with painful joints from rheumatic fever would not have had access to any of the treatments available today, apart from bed rest. A good diet and a warm, comfortable home would have helped a lot but that depended very much upon the state of the family’s income. Every year there were several months when manufacturers insisted that they could not sell velvets and the weavers were left with no work and no income. Stephen’s family would have been really poor and coping financially would have been a constant struggle.

St. Andrew’s Church, Great Cornard

Later, on 20th September 1868, Stephen married Eliza Symonds at St Andrew’s Parish Church, Great Cornard. The marriage register says he was a bachelor of full age (he was actually just under 21!), a weaver, and Eliza was a 20-year-old spinster whose father was William Symonds, a labourer. She had been born in 1849 in Great Cornard.

Stephen and Eliza had four children: Ellen born in 1870, Stephen William in 1872, Emma in 1874, and George in 1875.

The effects of the rheumatic fever would have made it difficult for Stephen to spend long hours sitting at a loom, and whilst he was recorded as a velvet weaver on the 1861 census he did not follow the craft into adulthood. He started work for Edgar Mann, who was a soap and candle manufacturer in Priory Walk, Sudbury, when he was about 18, and was a soap boiler there, apart from a short period, until he left Sudbury. Mr. Mann owned a considerable section of land between Church Street and Priory Walk which included some small cottages for his workers, so one of his cottages could well have been where Stephen and his family lived at 18 Church Street: a very small, terraced house opposite All Saints Church and close to Elliots Yard.

Edgar Mann’s cottages, Church Street, Sudbury

The 1871 census shows Stephen (23), Eliza (21) and Ellen (1) living at 18 Church Street, All Saints Parish. Stephen was a labourer at the soap works and there was no occupation given for Eliza. They also had a lodger who was a shoemaker.

The records of the Freemen of Sudbury document that Stephen Henry Tolladay, a labourer, was admitted as a Freeman of Sudbury on 2nd May 1879, the son of George Tolladay, a deceased weaver. George had been admitted on 16th May 1848 as the son of John, a silk weaver. The line of Tolladay Freemen goes back from there, but the line is not clear as there is more than one possible John in the Freemens’ records.

At the time of the 1881 census, Stephen (33) and Eliza (32) and their four children, aged 11, 8, 7 and 5, were still living at 18 Church Street. Stephen was described as a ‘general labourer at soap works’, Eliza was a charwoman and the children were all scholars. A few weeks after that census, daughter Emma died, aged 7, in May 1881. Her cause of death was ‘consumption’, an old term for tuberculosis, and she was buried in Sudbury Cemetery on 28th May with the service conducted by Rev. C.J. Stower, the vicar of All Saints Church. Emma had been given a half-crown, (a lot of money in those days), by someone before she died and Stephen had that coin with him for the rest of his life.

Probably around 1884 Stephen started attending the Friends’ Meeting House in Friars Street; at the time he was very quiet and retiring and it took people there a long time to get to know him. No-one knew why he became a regular attender, but it seemed to them that he was troubled of mind, possibly because Eliza was not a strong woman and had been ill for a long time and he was worried that she would die.

The passageway leading to the Friends’ Meeting House, Sudbury

When a group of men from the Friends started a Bible study group at the home of Stanley Pumphrey, one of the members, Stephen started to attend, and he gradually learnt what it meant to become a true Christian believer. Eliza could not read, so in the evenings he would read her the section of the Bible they had studied, tell her what they had discussed and pray with her. Stephen came to believe in and trust Jesus and found the peace that had been missing in his life. As a result he felt that he should give up beer and tobacco and was able to testify that before he gave them up he often had to go the whole week without money, but since giving up, he had always had at least a shilling in his pocket.

During her time of illness Eliza was often confined to bed and during one such period Stephen himself had another attack of rheumatic fever so that was a time of great difficulty for the whole family, but their faith helped them through it. Stephen looked after Eliza tenderly and patiently throughout her prolonged illness and before she died Eliza had become a Christian too.

She died at their home, 18 Church Street, on 12th November 1885, aged only 36, of phthisis pulmonalis (i.e., consumption of the lungs or pulmonary tuberculosis) and her death was registered by her husband who had been with her when she died. The death was announced in three local newspapers: ‘The Suffolk and Essex Free Press’, ‘The Bury Free Press’ and ‘The Ipswich Journal’. Her burial was on 18th November in Sudbury Cemetery and conducted by the same vicar as at their daughter’s funeral. However, Emma had been buried in consecrated ground but Eliza was not, presumably because Stephen was by then attending the Friends’ meetings and not an Anglican Church. Stephen was now left to care for their three children alone, but in spite of his natural sadness at losing his wife, he talked about how good the Lord was to him in that time of need.

Robert Dearle, who was a foreman for Mr Mann, emigrated to Western Australia and wanted Stephen to go with him, but at the time, it did not seem right for Stephen. After Robert had settled in Fremantle, he wrote to Stephen offering him high wages and steady work. This would have been under what was known as the nomination system, which had almost entirely superseded the granting of free passages to Australia. This system enabled persons already living there to nominate their friends at home, who, if in good health and otherwise qualified, were granted passages at greatly reduced rates. 

Mr. Dearle must have persuaded the company that employed him to invite Stephen to join them by sponsoring his journey, because ‘The West Australian’, (a Perth newspaper), report on 2nd February 1887 says Stephen’s sponsor was ‘S Soap Co Fremantle’ (probably the Swan Soap and Candle Co which later became W H Burford and Sons) and not an individual’s name as was the case for most of the sponsored emigrants.

Many in the town were sorry when Stephen decided to take up the offer as this quiet, unassuming man had won the love and respect of all around as he was always ready to lend a helping hand and was faithful in undertaking what he offered to do. In 1886, after some delays, the family received their papers from the Emigration Office and Stephen parted with the family’s furniture, gave up their home and prepared to go. As their voyage was being paid for by the Australian firm, all the family needed was to buy their ship-kit and get to Plymouth. Emma, now aged 16, was particularly upset about leaving Sudbury and her much loved grandmothers and was very fearful about the journey because she had never seen the sea. However, the boys, Stephen and George, were full of excitement, as lads of about 14 and 11 would be.

The family travelled from Sudbury to Plymouth and boarded the ship ‘Kapunda’ for the long journey to Australia. It was a three-mast ship that had been built in 1875 by A McMillan & Son, Dumbarton, Scotland, and was owned by Trinder, Anderson & Co., 110 Fenchurch Street, London and had already made several voyages taking emigrants to Australia. For this journey the ‘Kapunda’ had started from London on 11th December 1886, and it then set sail for Fremantle from Plymouth a week later on the 18th with a crew of 41, four cabin passengers and 268 emigrant steerage passengers.

The ‘Kapunda’, photographed c1880

They had travelled for about a month and were south of Maceio, Brazil, on 20th January 1887 when, at about 03.25am, the barque ‘Ada Melmore’ sailed into the starboard side of the ‘Kapunda’ causing it to sink within 5 minutes. Approximately 300 people, virtually all of the crew and passengers, were drowned including the Captain; many of whom were asleep and trapped in the hull of the ship. Stephen would have been with his sons and they were among those who drowned. Emma was in a separate part of the ship with other single women. They were locked in their accommodation each night for protection so they too all drowned. Thus, Stephen and his family’s dream of a new life in a new country disappeared in an instant.

The ‘Kapunda’ disaster

The ‘Ada Melmore’, which had been built in Glasgow, was owned by W Porter & Sons and registered in Belfast, was en-route from Coquimbo, Chile, to England with a cargo of manganese ore. It managed to rescue just 16 people, but it too had been damaged and was taking on water. On the 26th, they encountered the French barque ‘Ulysses’ and most people were transferred to it and were landed at Bahia, Brazil. Nine men stayed on board the ‘Ada Melmore’, hoping to get the vessel to a port, but it was abandoned on 28th January having transferred everyone to the ship’s lifeboats, which reached Maceio on 31st. The survivors from both ships left Bahia on 9th February to return to England on another ship, the ‘Patagonia’.

Under the Merchant Shipping Acts 1854-1876 a formal investigation into the disaster was held at Session House, Westminster, London, from 21st to 29th March 1887, before H.C. Rothery Esq. Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Captains Methven and Parish, and Vice-Admiral Curme as assessors. The ‘Ada Melmore’ was found to be at fault, (mainly because it had not been displaying the required lights), and its captain, William Millikin, had his master’s certificate suspended for two years.

After the survivors of the disaster had returned to London one of Stephen’s sisters, (probably Mahala), went to the shipping office and spoke to two of the crew from the ‘Kapunda’: the chief mate and an apprentice. The latter told her that Stephen’s family were happy and comfortable on board and that he knew them well. He had highest praise for Stephen who, he said, was one of the best on board, kind to everyone, and always trying to speak a word for his Master Jesus. He went on to say that Stephen was one of the first up in the mornings, looking after his children and keeping them clean, more like a mother than a father. He was like a police constable over all the boys on board, and often went to see Ellen who was in another part of the ship. A wonderful tribute to a gentle, loving man.

The Index of Wills and Administrations at the National Archives shows that on 7th July 1887 ‘Administration of Personal Estate of Stephen Tolladay late of 18 Church-street Sudbury in the County of Suffolk Widower who died on or since 20 January 1887 at Sea was granted at the Principal Registry to Mahala Tolladay of 44 Belize-park Hampstead in the County of Middlesex Spinster the Sister’. The estate was valued at £16; quite a large amount for a poor workman.

This article, as well as telling the story of Stephen and the ‘Kapunda’ tragedy, shows how many people from poor families died young, both adults and children, and how many had chest problems caused by the damp conditions in low quality housing. The Tolladay family was just one of the many families in Sudbury, and other towns, to suffer and struggle in such conditions.

Written by
Margaret L Seager
July 2020


Sources of information
Birth, marriage, and death certificates
Census returns
Personal letters
Suffolk Family History Society Baptism CD ref SFK-BP1-03/P2
‘The Wreck of the Kapunda’ by S. G. Pumphrey
reproduced and published by Allan Berry ISBN 1 899544 03 3
Various websites:
FamilySearch https://www.familysearch.org/en
Findmypast https://www.findmypast.co.uk
Freebmd https://www.freebmd.org.uk
Probate & wills https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk
The Ship List https://mail.theshipslist.com/ships/passengerlists/kapunda.shtml
Trove https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/175124733
Wreck Site https://www.wrecksite.eu