Lake Macquarie History

Wyee Pioneer - Granny Freeman

Soreina Mary Elizabeth Radcliff Smith, 1840-1928

Popularly known as "Granny Freeman" Soreina Smith was a well known and loved pioneer of the Wyee district. After her death in 1928, an obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald highlighted some little known details of her extraordinary family background.

Newcastle Morning Herald, 28th December 1928

The funeral of Mrs Soreina Mary Freeman took place from her late home at Wyee, the interment being made in the Church of England portion of Wyee Cemetery in the presence of a large gathering of relatives and friends. A short service was given at the house by the Rev. F. Woodger, who also officiated at the grave site. The pall-bearers were Roy and Liel Deaves, Will Freeman, and Will Armitage (grandsons). The deceased, who was 88 years of age and seven months, was born in O'Connell-street Sydney, was a daughter of Captain James Smith, and granddaughter of Lieut. Thos. Fennell, R.N. She came to Wyee as a girl, and married the late Mr. J. Freeman in November, 1859, and reared a family of ten. Her husband predeceased her 18 years ago at the age of 75, and one son, Alfred, died 15 months ago, aged 63. There are left four sons-George and Will of Wyee, John (Boolaroo), Arthur, of Craven, and five daughters-Mrs. G. C. Deaves, Wyee, Mrs. S. Lucas, Cardiff Mrs. J. Capper, Crow's Nest, Mrs. J. Armitage, Wyee, and Mrs. R. Jury, Wyee; 39 grandchildren, 47 great grandchildren, and one great great-grandchild, and numerous relatives in Swansea, Wallsend, Dora Creek, Sydney, and Heron's Creek. To the whole of the population of Wyee she was "Granny", and no one enjoyed more personal popularity and respect. The immediate cause of death was pneumonia. The chief mourners were the sons and daughters, sons-in-law and daughter-in-law, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Wreaths were laid on the grave on behalf of-George and Will; Florrie, George, and family; Mary Ann, Syd and family; Jack, Annie and family; Lily, Jim and family; Hetty, Jim and family; Arthur, Muriel and little grandchildren; Tot, Bob, and grandchildren; Nellie, Mary, Annie, and Will; Nellie and great grandchildren; Roy and Lila; Jim and Alice; Allen and Marjorie; Mary and Harry Pobze; Mrs. Farmer and family; Bethshan Holiness Mission; Mr. and Mrs. Harvey and Pete; Mr. and Mrs. Bottomley; Mr. and Mrs. Winterbine; Mr. and Mrs. Anson and Jack; Mrs. C. Bridge and family.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 1st February 1929

NOTABLE PIONEER. Mrs. James Freeman of Wyee. Interesting Family Record

In 1929 Soreina Mary Elizabeth Radcliffe Freeman, descendant of one of the oldest families of England, mother of ten children, with thirty nine grandchildren, forty seven great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild, died at Wyee aged 88 years. She had lived there for 69 years, and in her later days was affectionately known to everybody as "Granny " Refined and gentle, and with a remarkable memory, Mrs. Freeman was a brave woman of the Australian pioneering days. She never boasted of her family connections but to talk to her was to know that she had been reared in a refined family.

A little book in which she recorded the growth of the Radcliffe family tree, with its roots far back into English history and its branches spreading till one of them reached Australia, is a model of brevity and accuracy. She began her record with this statement; "The origin of the Radcliffes is so remote as to be almost unknown, but they were nobles before the Roman Conquest. History records that Sir Nicholas Radclyffe, as the name was then commonly spell, acquired the extensive Derwent Water Estates in Cumberland in 1417 by his marriage with the heiress of Derwentwater.

Sir Francis Radcliffe was created Viscount Radcliffe and Earl of Derwentwater by James 11 in 1688. His eldest son, Edward, married Lady Mary Tudor, a daughter of Charles 11. The third Earl, James Radcliffe, was brought up at the court of the Stewarts in France, as companion to his cousin Prince James Edward, the pretender to the throne. He returned to England in 1710. Married a daughter of Sir John Webb, and subsequently resided with his family at Dilston Hall, his seat in Northumberland He joined the Stewart rising against George Ist, in 1715, and when the rebels, as they were called, capitulated, the Earl was condemned to death. Declaring his devotion to the Roman Catholic faith, and James 111, he was beheaded on Town Hill. His eldest son, was killed accidentally, and his second son died of an illness, leaving his third son, Charles, as the heir, but the estates were confiscated, and Charles condemned to death. He escaped to the continent, and married the Countess of Newburgh. He was captured while on his way to Scotland in 1745 to join Charles Edward, the young pretender, and was beheaded. Charles Radcliffs eldest son, James Bartholomew, became the third Earl of Newburgh in 1755, and he also claimed the Derwentwater title. His only son and successor, Anthony James, died without issue in 1814, when the Derwentwater title became extinct.

It was Soreina Mary Elizabeth Radcliffe, granddaughter of Charles Radcliffe, who brought the family connection to Australia. Born in London in 1795, she added romance to the family history by running away from home to marry Lieutenant Thomas Fennel of the Royal Navy. They reared a family and migrated, arriving at Sydney on March l7th 1839. Their eldest daughter married Captain James Smith, whose eldest daughter Soreina Mary Elizabeth Radclilffe Smith became Mrs. James Freeman of Wyee. Mrs. Freeman was born in O'Council Street Sydney on May 3rd 1840, and was reared by her grandmother, Mrs. Fennel, whose refined upbringing was reflected in the grandchild. In those days James Freeman was a timber contractor at Wyee, and his meetl.lig with Soreina Smith occurred on one of his business trips to Sydney. A betrothal followed and Miss Smith at the age of 19, travel|ed by the ship "Black Swan " to Gosford, (there was no railway then), and rode twenty one miles to Wyee where she was married by special licence on November 29th 1859, There was only one other white women (her mother-in-law) at Wyee. The country was inhabited by aboriginals and there were packs of dingoes and many other animals common to the Australian bush.

Mrs. Freeman reared her family in a typical pioneers home. She had no desire to leave the bush contending that her place was with her husband. Her family was strong and healthy and her sons became expert timber men. Mrs. Freeman was active until a few years ago when her sight failed. Many of the estates of the Radcliffes in Northumberland Cumberland were settled on the Greenwich Hospital, years ago. Mrs. Freeman had news from an aunt in England, that Queen Victoria had, in her lifetime, moved to restore the estates to the descendants of the Radcliffes, and that these descendants were sought by notices in English newspapers. However, the Wyee family was not greatly concerned, their greatest pride was in the memory of their beloved "Granny " who was so proud of her numerous descendants. A few hours before Mrs Freeman died, she had her family assembled at her bedside, and although she could not see them, she took each by the hand, beginninng with the oldest, and blessed them, saying a prayer for each in turn. Her supplications were eloquent and touching. Her husband James had died at Wyee in 1910 at the age of seventy five.