Burglaries, Bankruptcy and an Unfortunate Death: The Challenges of the Hamilton Watchmaking Family – Part 2

The Hands of Time February blog is in three parts. The first part tells some of Hobart’s convict watchmaker Thomas Hamilton’s story. Part two is about his second wife, Ann Hamilton.


Widowed for the second time in 1865, Ann Hamilton, wife of watchmaker Thomas Hamilton (senior), continued their watch and clockmaking business in Hobart until 1869. During her first year at the helm, an employee of 21 years,  James Rait, took legal action against her for unpaid wages, with the verdict in Ann’s favour. Ann was familiar with challenges and adversity.

Ann began her life on 10 July 1798 in England, the illegitimate daughter of Reverend Robert Campbell Drought and a girl named Ann (possibly Gray). Robert and Ann (senior) had fallen in love, but because of lies and disapproving parents, both married someone else. The couple briefly reunited after discovering the truth, and baby Ann was born not long before her mother died. Ann (senior) requested the identity of her politician husband be kept secret, and baby Ann grew up as part of the Cross family in London.

Around the time of her marriage to James Giddings on 17 September 1815 in London, Ann reconnected with her biological father. The Reverend’s attentiveness to Ann led to gossip, and an investigation resulted in him leaving his post in Shadwell, London. Financial hardship and ill health followed for the Drought family, and in 1829, Reverend Drought left England to take up a chaplaincy post in Van Diemen’s Land.

James Giddings was convicted of theft in October 1821 and sentenced to seven years transportation. He arrived in New South Wales on the convict ship Eliza in 1822 and, used the surname Gray after serving his sentence. In her husband’s absence, Ann travelled from London to Van Diemen’s Land on the ship Lang in 1829 as Ann Gray, with her two young sons, James and Robert, and her father, Reverend Drought.

They arrived on 2 September 1830, Ann with only £200 and her father with no property, and settled in the Green Ponds District. Ann managed a school, and the Reverend took up his new post. Unfortunately for Ann and her father, the gossip they encountered in Shadwell, England, continued on the voyage out and in Van Diemen’s Land. Was Ann the Reverend’s daughter? Was he living with a woman who wasn’t his wife? Ann’s reunion with her husband, James, who had received a Certificate of Freedom in November 1828, may have put some of the gossip to rest, but the wagging tongues had already damaged reputations.

After enduring illnesses, headaches, and nervous twitches, Reverend Drought died on 27 April 1836. He sought treatment for his ailments in Hobart but died at his accommodation at the Derwent Hotel during the visit. Ann believed her father’s life was prematurely cut short because of the demands and overexertion of his clerical duties – travelling 2500 miles per year, preaching 300 times a year, performing other ceremonies etc, on a salary of only £500 per annum. The Reverend and his family did not receive the customary clergy land grant nor the £320 fund given instead of land, something Ann pursued again after her father died. Still looking out for his daughter, the Reverend’s will stipulated her inheritance must not be liable to control or debts of present or future husbands.

James Gray Giddings died at Green Ponds in May 1850 at 60 years of age. The following year, Ann married watchmaker and jeweller Thomas Hamilton. She continued the business for four years after Thomas died in 1865, winding it up in late 1869, auctioning gold and silver watches, jewellery, iron safes, barrel organs, and fancy goods.

Ann died on 2 November 1875 at her residence, Harrington House in Harrington Street, Hobart, aged 77. Nine months earlier, she held an auction selling part of her late husband’s business stock, including watches and clocks. Ann died a wealthy woman and left her family generously provided for. Beneficiaries included her only surviving son, James, his wife, and children; two daughters of her late husband, Thomas; and her relatives from the Cross family in England.

© Sallie Mulligan, February 2024.

To follow: Part 3, Thomas Alfred Hamilton (junior).

References: https://handsoftime.com.au/listings/hamilton-anne/