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The agony of a mother

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

The first we hear about Louisa Wells is in a family bible where her birth is recorded, alongside those of her brothers and sisters. She was born to Thomas Wells and Charlotte (nee Browne) in Hobart, Tasmania on 14 October, 1821.

Wells family bible. Louisa's birth is recorded second from the bottom on the page.

Thomas had come out to Tasmania on the Sir William Bensley, convicted for embezzlement against his employer. Charlotte and his young family followed soon after. He served the new Tasmanian governor, William Sorrell, as his clerk, received his conditional pardon in 1818 and took up land in New Norfolk by the time Louisa was born. In the year of her birth Thomas received his full pardon and began breeding merinos.

Louisa would have enjoyed and suffered the stigma of her father being a well-to-do ex-convict who became considered a gentleman, living on their property Allenvale in the Macquarie District. Despite suffering bankruptcy and ending up in debtors prison, Thomas managed to keep his family living comfortably.

In 1846 Louisa married John Elley, the district constable in Hamilton, and they had one daughter by the time they took up the licence of the Duke of Wellington tavern in Hobart in February 1851. Sadly business did not go well and by May 1851, John was declared insolvent. He was charged with misdemeanour on two counts when he refused to deliver up possession of the tavern. Although he was found not guilty, the young family were effectively homeless.

This was tragic for the couple, as they had already lost two babies before their daughter, also called Louisa, was born and now they were ejected from their home. A second daughter was born to the couple the following year in November, where John signed the birth certificate.

From there the young father disappears from official records. While there is a record of a John Elley leaving on the Harriet Nathan for the gold fields in Victoria, the date is April 1852, seven months before he signed his daughter's birth certificate. There is no record of John Elley returning to Tasmania.

Despite her husband having left the colony, Louisa had three more children. She wasn't finding it easy to make ends meet and took up what needlework she could, along with financial help from her mother Charlotte.

Grave stone of Louisa's mother, Charlotte Wells. Courtesy Gravesites of Tasmania.

Life became more difficult for Louisa, especially after her mother died in 1862 and no family members had the financial capacity to support her and her five children. She then did the only thing she thought possible and surrendered two of her children, Sarah and William (aged 9 and 6) to the Queen's Orphanage School in Hobart.

Continuing to live in destitute conditions Louisa suffered and died from consumption the following year. Louisa, 13, Caleb, 3 and Richard, 1.5 soon joined their siblings in the orphanage where they were raised until they could leave to find work.

Louisa was buried at St Matthews Anglican Church in New Norfolk, where she and John had married, however, no headstone seems to be erected in her name. Whether she was buried in a pauper's grave or the headstone has crumbled over time, we may never know.


  • 'Death Louisa Elly (Wells), Ancestry, accessed 12th June, 2023,

  • 'St Matthews Church Burial Records', accessed 12 June, 2023,

  • 'Supreme Court, Hobart Town', The Courier, Saturday 26 July, 1851, Page 3

  • 'Application for admission by John Elley and Louisa Wells - October 1862 and Application for admission by John Elley and Louisa Wells - March 1863', Queen's Orphan School, accessed 12th June, 2023,

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