James Shingles Biography

In my seventh unit, Introduction to Family history, my assignment was a 1000 word biography.  I chose to write about our founding father – James Shingles.

Shingles, James (1835-1914)

James Shingles (1835-1914) brick maker and road work contractor, baptised on 4 March 1835 at St Stephen’s Church in Norwich, Norfolk, England1, was the seventh child and third son of Joseph Shingles and his wife, Sarah, nee Carman. Joseph a baker and confectioner and Sarah a laundress along with their three surviving children Thomas, Samuel and James had moved to Middlesex by 18412.

By the age of sixteen, James, for reasons lost in the mists of time, boarded the barque ship ‘Saxon’ in London on 26 February 1849 as an assisted immigrant and docked in Melbourne, Victoria, on 28 June after a voyage of one hundred and fourteen days. James, described as an ‘errand boy’, was listed as ‘gone on shore at own request’ by the time the ‘Saxon’ docked3.

Not only did the voyage of nearly four months relocate James to the Antipodes, but set the scene for his trade and family life. Also on board the ‘Saxon’ was the Price family consisting of John and Helena both thirty three and their three children, Mary Ann eleven, Thomas eight and John six4. Hailing from Staffordshire, John was a brickmaker and had promised employment in Melbourne.  Maybe John took James under his wing or his daughter, Mary Ann, was a fetching lass and immediately caught James eye or possibly both!

Whether James learnt his trade by accompanying John or not, he became one of the pioneer brick makers when he started a brickyard in Sydney Road, Phillipstown, now known as Brunswick, in 1851. He received £14 10s per 1000 for bricks he made for Mr Hugh Glass5, probably for the building of Flemington House which was valued in the 1850’s at £60,000.  Mr Glass was a local speculator, squatter and merchant and was reported to be the richest man in Victoria in 18626.

Four years later, on 25 August 1853 at the Cathedral Church of St James, Melbourne, twenty year old James, a brickmaker, married the now mysteriously seventeen year old Mary Ann Price7. On the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, James recounted the tale of the twenty four hours leading up to the marriage.

When the Dean of St James, realised that James was not legally old enough to marry and had no parents or guardian in the colony, he told James he could not help him.  When pushed for an alternative, the Dean informed James he would have to get permission from the Attorney-General.   Being that marriage had to be celebrated before noon, and having already gone 11 o’clock, James was lucky enough to get permission and made it to the Communion rails of St James in time8.  It was to prove to be a long and fruitful marriage with the couple celebrating both their golden and diamond anniversaries.

James and Mary Ann didn’t have to wait long for children with their first child, Annie Maria, arriving promptly in May 1854.  She was followed by James Thomas in 1856 who only survived 16 months. Frederick James (1858), Arthur (1861), John Thomas (1863) and Amelia Esther (1865) were also born in Phillipstown. The birth in 1868 of their seventh child, Ada Marion, in Sale heralds the family’s move to Gippsland, followed by Alfred Ernest and Albert Edward in 1871 and 1874.  Sadly Albert only survived till just after his first birthday.  By Walter Herbert’s birth in 1876 the family had moved to Maffra where Percival Claude (1878), Ethel Mary (1880), who only survived for 18 months, and lastly Harold Flockhart (1882) were also born9.

It is thought that the Shingles move to the Gippsland region of Victoria, around 1868, was at the suggestion of Mary Ann’s brother, Thomas Price, who had settled in the Sale area and was a brick maker himself.  James began making bricks at Greenhill, Bundalaguah midway between Sale and Maffra. By the early 1870’s he had moved his business to Gibney Street, Maffra.

“The bricks were made from material from the swamp near Cooks Hill.  James and John Shingles made all the bricks by hand.  There was a ‘pug’ mill and the horse pulled the trucks up to rails from the clay hole.  The bricks were made and stacked in long sheds, then put into the kiln to bake.  This process took weeks to complete.  Many brick buildings in Maffra were built with these bricks, including the Macalister Hotel and the churches”10.

For many of the male Shingles it was a rite of passage to work at the brick works with many of James sons, grandsons and even great-grandsons working there at one time or another. The brickworks close down in the 1950’s as the clay had dried up and was being carted in from Traralgon.  It is also thought that the town’s folk were getting feed up with the noise as they blasted the clay out of the ground with explosives! 11

 As well as brick-making, James was also a road works contractor12, sugar beet farmer13 and a shareholder in the Fulton’s Creek Gold Mining Company14.  Being very civic minded, he participated in many town events and was a member of numerous committees including the Maffra Progress Association and Mechanics Institute.

Despite being baptised and married in Anglican churches, somewhere in the intervening years, a rift occurred and James became known as a staunch Methodist. In 1912 he donated the bricks for Maffra’s new Methodist church to replace the small unpretentious wooden building in which both James and Mary Ann had earnestly worked for over 40 years15.


Survived by Mary Ann and ten children, James ‘The Grand Old Man of Maffra’16, died six months after his 81st birthday on the evening of Saturday 1 August 1914 at his residence.  His funeral took place on 3 August at 3pm in the Methodist section of Maffra Cemetery17. James left behind, not only the seeds to future generations and a large contribution to the population of Maffra, but many solid brick monuments to his chosen trade, which still stand proud today, more that 100 years later.


End Notes

1. Family Search, ‘England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975’, Salt Lake City Utah USA, Accessed 25 September 2017

2. Ancestry, ‘1841 England Census’, Provo Utah USA, Accessed 22 September 2017

3. Ancestry, Saxon Passenger List, ‘Victoria, Australia, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists, 1839-1923, Provo Utah USA, Accessed 22 September 2017

4. Ancestry, Saxon Passenger List.

5. Anon, ‘Golden Wedding of Mr and Mrs Jas. Shingles’, Maffra Spectator, 27 August 1903, p. 3.

6. Australian Dictionary of Biography, ‘Glass, Hugh (1817-1871)’, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/glass-hugh-3620, Accessed 26 September 2017

7. Marriage Certificate of James Shingles and Mary Ann Price, married 25 August 1853, Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria, 233/1853

8. Anon, ‘Golden Wedding of Mr and Mrs Jas. Shingles’, Maffra Spectator, 3.

9. Birth and Death Certificates of all Shingles children, Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria.

10. Doris Kemp, Maffra, the history of the shire to 1975, Maffra, Shire Council, 1975, p. 57

11. Malcolm Tilley, face to face discussions with Belinda Payne, Maffra, 25 August 2013

12. James Shingles, ‘Correspondence – To the Editor of The Maffra Spectator’, The Maffra Spectator, 5 August 1895, p. 3.

13. Anon, ‘Extraordinary Meeting of Cultivation Coy’, The Maffra Spectator, 27 April 1899, p.3.

14. Anon, ‘Untitled’, The Maffra Spectator, 21 January 1897, p.3.

15. Anon, ‘Methodist Church Maffra’, The Maffra Spectator, 10 June 1912, p.3.

16. Anon, ‘Diamond Wedding’, The Maffra Spectator, 29 May 1913, p.3.

17. Anon, ‘Death and Funeral Notice’, The Maffra Spectator, 3 August 1914, p.3.

‘1841 England Census’, Provo Utah USA, Ancestry, Accessed 22 September 2017

Australian Dictionary of Biography, ‘Glass, Hugh (1817-1871)’,
http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/glass-hugh-3620, Accessed 26 September 2017

‘England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975’, Salt Lake City Utah USA, Family Search, Accessed 25 September 2017

Hammond, HB, James Shingles, 1913, Leader Newspaper

Kemp, Doris, Maffra, the history of the shire to 1975, Maffra, Shire Council, 1975.

Leader (Melbourne)

Payne, Belinda, Maffra Brick, 2017, Personal collection

Payne, Belinda, Shingles Grave, 2013, Personal collection

Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Victoria

The Maffra Spectator

Unknown, Maffra Brick Works, Personal collection

Unknown, Maffra Methodist Church, Personal collection

‘Victoria, Australia, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists, 1839-1923, Provo Utah USA,
Ancestry, Accessed 22 September 2017

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I have been researching my family history since 2009. I am interested it the family names Shingles, McEwan, Snowdon & Witt around Gippsland and Wodonga areas of Victoria, Australia

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