James Watson Rosier (1834-1920)

James Rosier

James Watson Rosier, gunsmith of Kew (Melbourne), came of a line of blacksmiths and clockmakers.

His great-grandfather (the author's great-great-great-great-great-grandfather) was William Rosier (c. 1754 - 30 Nov 1827) of Mendlesham, north-east of Stowmarket, who in 1773 married Sarah Hitcham (c. 1746 - 8 Dec 1819). William was illiterate and apparently a blacksmith. (He appended his 'X' to an Indenture made on 13 June 1812 - see below).

Their eldest son James Rosier was born in Mendlesham 14 May 1788 and "baptized publickly" there on 9 June 1788. He became a blacksmith and married Sarah Hubbard (b. 5 Aug 1789 in Langham, Suffolk, about 15 km north-east of Bury St Edmunds) in Langham on 2 October 1809. This couple were parents to:
  • Elizabeth, born 22 December 1809, privately baptised 28 December, received into the church 8 January 1810 (Langham baptismal register);
  • James, privately baptised (i.e. at home) 29 November 1811 and received into the church on 8 March 1812 (records of Great Ashfield, Suffolk);
  • Henry Hubbard, 18 July 1823 (Langham baptismal register - father James is noted as a blacksmith), later a blacksmith himself, then a farmer in Langham; he married Hannah Capon of Langham and their children were Eva (1860-69), Frank (1861-1922), Kate (b. 1862), Ernest (1864-92), Carlos (1865-91), Minnie (1867-1940), Bertram Elles (1869-88) and Olave (b. 1870); Olave in particular has many descendants in England;
  • David, 7 July 1829 (Langham baptismal register - again father James is noted as a blacksmith): became a master tailor in Tostock, Suffolk; was married twice but doesn't appear to have had any children;
  • George, b. circa 30 July 1837: may have died in infancy.
An Indenture (SRO FB159/G1/48) was made on 13 June 1812 for a James Rosier 'of Ashfield in the County of Suffolk, Blacksmith', 'dwelling near to the said Parish of Mendlesham' to 'bind William Jackaman - a poor boy whose parents are not able to maintain him of the age of about fifteen years, or thereabouts, to be an Apprentice with him ....' One of the people signing the document (albeit with his mark - 'X') is William Rosier; so these must be JWR's grandfather and great-grandfather, during James I's sojourn in Great Ashfield.

In the 1841 census, James Rozier [sic], blacksmith (50) was living in Langham along with wife Sarah (50), Henry (15) and David (12). In the 1851 census, James and Sarah are to be found still living in Langham. She died on 3 July 1858 and he on 4 Nov 1859.

Returning to their second child and eldest son, James Rosier (1811-1852), father of James Watson Rosier: he married Elizabeth Watson (1811-1858), daughter of Wattisfield ceramicist Thomas Watson, on 4 Feb 1834 in Langham. This James Rosier was a clock- and watchmaker, before turning to gunsmithing. (He gave his occupation as "Clock and Watchmaker" at the christening of his eldest son, JWR, on 1 Feb 1835 in Wattisfield.)
As an aside, Ben Thomas reports that the Suffolk Records Office has in its archives a bastardry order for James Rosier, blacksmith of Langham, dated 12 Nov 1832 (FL520/7/39). The original handwritten document reads in part:
"... the said James Rosier agrees to like and maintain Jemima Finter an illegitimate child of the said James Rosier from the date of this agreement, the said payments to be made quarterly - and the said James Rosier agrees to pay the said sum as above mentioned."
The amount in question was one shilling per week, and while James Rosier signed, Edward Finter (presumably Jemima's "father") marked his name with an 'X'.
In November 1832, the younger James Rosier would have been 21, his father 44. If the son also began life as a blacksmith, it could have been a youthful indiscretion of his rather than a transgression of his father's.
In the 1841 census, the younger James Rosier's family is to be found in Church St., Walsham le Willows, Suffolk (52°18'06.04"N, 0°55'53.17"E). (This town whose population in 1841 was over 1200 - not inconsiderable by the standards of the time - is halfway between James's home town of Langham - a mere hamlet, the total population of the parish being under 300 - and Elizabeth's home town of Wattisfield: about 3 km from each). The 29-year-old James Rosier is described as a "Gun Maker" and there is a 16-year-old apprentice living with the family: one Jeremiah Orams, who is probably the son of Edward Orams of Stowmarket, Ironmonger. Orams later made a name for himself as a clockmaker, so Rosier was obviously still carrying on both trades.

Early in 1842, the family moved to Bedford. James Watson Rosier (aged 7), son of Elizabeth and James Rosier, Watchmaker, Pilcroft Street, was admitted to Harpur Trust Elementary School, Bedford, on 7 March 1842 and left on 10 March 1845 to be employed by his father. [Beds & Luton RO ref: HT 9/1] So it seems JWR had only three years of formal education.

His brother George Rosier (aged 7), son of Elizabeth and James Rosier, Watchmaker, Castle Lane, was admitted 9 September 1844 to the same school. He left on 13 Sep 1847 to attend commercial school. Their sister Ann Rosier (6), daughter of Elizabeth and James Rosier, gunmaker, Offa Street, was admitted on 3 Sep 1847 and left on 26 September 1849. The family embarked at Gravesend for Australia three weeks later, on 16 October 1849.

Bedford Times advertisement Bedfordshire Clock and Watchmakers, 1852 - 1880: a Bibliographical Dictionary with Selected Documents by Chris Pickford states on page 193:
"James was described in March 1842 as watchmaker, Pilcroft Street [Bedford], and in 1844 as watchmaker, Castle Lane. James Rosier, gunmaker, Offa Street, listed in 1847 directory. Also described as gunsmith, Offa Street, when his daughter Ann was admitted to school in September 1847. On 1 September 1849 James Rosier, gunmaker, Offa Street, placed an advertisement in the Beds. Times stating that he had disposed of his business to Henry Adkin. Adkin, who later moved to the High Street, was a gunmaker."


We do not know precisely what prompted the family's emigration, but we do know that a family friend (a butcher whose shop was also in Offa St.) had migrated two years earlier (see below).

James and Elizabeth had the following offspring:

Born Married Died Notes
James Watson 23 Dec 1834 in Langham, Suffolk Nancy Thomas Richards
(1835-1900) in Heidelberg, Vic., 1856;
10 children (see table below)
30 Jun 1920 in Melbourne The author's great-great-grandparents.
See below.
George 30 Jul 1837 in Langham, Suffolk - 29 Apr 1858 in Diamond Creek, Vic. -
Thomas 1839 in Langham, Suffolk - 1858 in Diamond Creek, Vic. -
Ann 1840 in Suffolk Arthur Joseph Pickering 1896 in Heidelberg, Vic. -
Elizabeth 15 Dec 1842;
baptised Wesleyan Methodist church, Bedford circuit, on 5 Feb 1843
David George Clark in 1863;
5 children
3 Dec 1910 in Eltham, Vic. Family at time of baptism was "of St. Mary's, Bedford" [Beds & Luton RO ref: MB 11]
John William 16 Jul 1846 in Bedford Jane Foster Cumpston (1852-1890) in 1870: 4 children
Ann Easter Hall (nee Cumpston), elder sister of his late wife, in 1890
1934 in East Malvern (Melbourne) Chiropodist and Surgical Bootmaker in Melbourne. He was one of the founders of the friendly society in Melbourne. He was a Freemason, and a Past Master of the King Solomon Lodge.
Harriett Jane 1851 in Collingwood, Vic. John Simpson in 1891;
1 child
1929 in Wandin, Vic. -

Rosier Gun
In James Watson Rosier's obituary published in the Melbourne Argus on 2 July 1920, we read:
An old colonist, Mr James Watson Rosier, died on Wednesday at Altona, Hawksburn Road, South Yarra. Mr Rosier, who was of French descent, was born at Langham, England, on December 23, 1834. After being educated at the Bedford Grammar School, he with his parents left for Australia as passengers in the ship The Brothers, the voyage taking five months. They arrived in Melbourne in the early fifties, and engaged in agricultural pursuits. On the death of his father, Mr Rosier came to Melbourne, and established a gun merchant's business, in which he continued until his retirement four years ago. His wife predeceased him. He leaves a family of nine children.
We have no other evidence of the "French descent", though naturally "rosier" is the French word for "rose-bush". [They may have been Huguenots who escaped religious persecution in France in the seventeenth century.]

Humphrey Peers In fact, the Rosiers arrived in Melbourne by the Brothers (a Barque of 1,600 tons) on 10 March 1850 from St. Katherine's Dock, Gravesend, London, via Adelaide. James Rosier Sr (father of JWR) bought 265 acres of land out at Diamond Creek (37°40'51.34"S 145° 9'34.92"E) with a friend from back home in Bedford, the butcher Humphrey Peers, who had arrived in the Colony two years earlier. They lived in the town of Little Eltham.

Unfortunately, James père died on 30 March 1852 when JWR was 17. JWR presumably then helped his mother raise his siblings.
Ben Thomas says: It seems Rosier purchased his 265 acres with money lent from Peers, while Peers acquired his block with money from John Blakemore Phipps, also formerly of Bedford, UK. Upon Rosier's death in 1852, he willed his 265 acres to Peers, and Peers subsequently transferred his now larger allotment of Portions 1 and 2, Parish of Nillumbik, to Phipps in 1855, receiving back a smaller block of 50 acres as part of the deal. It's likely this was the intent all along; that Phipps was the behind-the-scenes financier, probably due to limitations on how much land one individual could purchase.

Humphrey Peers died in 1868 and was buried at St Katherine's church in St Helena, near Greensborough, north of the city. His wife Mary lived to quite an age, dying in 1924 and being buried alongside her husband.

At the age of 21 in 1856, James married Nancy Richards at Heidelberg, Vic., and he and his brother John Rosier moved in to Melbourne to start up business - James as a gunsmith, like his father, and John as a renowned chiropodist. (John's son and grandson also followed in this line of work: see photo of these three generations.)

In 1858, JWR's mother Elizabeth and two of his brothers, Thomas and George, died within weeks of each other as an outbreak of TB spread through the area. They are buried in Kangaroo Ground Cemetery at 37°40'55.17"S, 145°14'12.25"E. At this point, JWR disappears from all business directories (he reappears in Melbourne in 1863) and it seems likely that he and Nancy returned to Little Eltham to look after the remaining siblings. It was here that their first child was born in 1858.

Rosier in Bourke Street

The numerous children of James Watson Rosier and Nancy Thomas Richards are listed below. The family home for many years was "Roselea", a nine-room villa at 30 Fitzwilliam Street, between Glenferrie and Edgevale Roads, Kew (a fashionable suburb of Melbourne, located at approx. 37°48'47.17"S, 145° 2'29.75"E). Nancy Richards Rosier was buried in Boroondara Cemetery, Kew (Melbourne) on 19 Apr 1900, in the Rosier family plot. Boroondara Cemetery, and specifically the Rosier family plot, is at 37°48'12.29"S, 145°2'40.80"E.

Born Married Died Notes
James Watson Jr 1858 in Lt Eltham, Vic. 1. Mary Jane Barcham (1856-1887) in 1880;
4 children
2. Eva Mabel Jones (1875-1923) in 1902
1945 in East Hawthorn, Vic. Worked as gunsmith in his father's business. Lived in villa residence "Elwood," Rusden St, Elsternwick, where on 5 June 1908 his brother-in-law Hugh Kyle Dunn was shot to death during an altercation over Dunn's mistreatment of his wife. JWR Jr was arrested for murder but acquitted on 18 June after a finding of "accidental death". One of his sisters had apparently married Dunn in Sydney in 1901.
Elizabeth Anne ("Bessie") 1861 in Eltham, Vic. - Sep 1942, Blackburn Vic. -
Photos [282K]
1863 in Fitzroy, Vic A.B.G. Johnston in 1883;
5 children - click link for story
Kew, Vic. 21 Jul 1929 The author's great-grandparents.
Vara 1865 in Melbourne, Vic 1. Thomas Paterson in 1904;
2. William Thomas Gentles in 1913
1 May 1937 in Armadale Vic. Lived at 20 Cromwell Road, Hawksburn. Physically unable to sign her own will on 27 Apr 1937.
Eda 1866 in Melbourne, Vic - 1866 in Melbourne -
Eda Jane 1867 in Emerald Hill, Vic. John Hudson Keys Langley (1870-1947) in 1893: 1 child
a Mr Rockwell
Feb 1946 in Sydney -
Agnes Mary 1869 in Boroondara, Vic - 8 Jan 1953 in South Camberwell Vic. -
Louisa Adina ("Wissie") 1871 in Kew, Vic John Stanley Wells (1868-1927) in 1903;
2 children
1942 in Malvern Vic. Lived at 42 Belgrave Road, East Malvern
Samuel Horace Richard 1874 in Kew, Vic Rosetta Paul (1882-1961), 1907 in Kew;
2 children
22 Feb 1956 in Albury, NSW -
Ethel Ruby ("Ruby") 1878 in Kew, Vic Alan Clarkson 1952 in Clayton, Vic. -

432 Bourke St.
Ben Thomas, Melbourne-based Rosier collector and author, has published an article in Caps & Flints, Jan 2008, tracing the business locations and dealings of James Watson Rosier. He reports that JWR had several contracts with the Victorian police: one in the early 1870s to convert some 250 of their Colt '51 Navy revolvers to accept cartridges on the Thuer patent (see 1869 tender) and then later during the Kelly Outbreak to supply them with shotguns. There is a photo of Sergeant Steele (the policeman who felled Ned Kelly with a shotgun hit to the legs) posing with his men at Wangaratta after the Glenrowan Siege; it is quite likely the shotgun he is holding was supplied by Rosier.

There is also an 1873 offer from Rosier (page 1 and page 2) to supply the Police Department with 100 new revolvers, strikes by the suppliers in England permitting. We also have an 1896 example of a Rosier invoice and receipt.

In May 1901, the Melbourne Argus reported JWR had received a letter expressing the satisfaction of HRH the Duke of Cornwall and York with the cartridges supplied for his hunting expedition while in Melbourne.

J. W. Rosier probably started his business in 1856, though he advertised "est. 1850", the year the family arrived in Melbourne. His business addresses (from the Sands & McDougall trade directories) were as follows:
125 Little Collins St. East (1857 - 1858)
140 Brunswick St., Fitzroy (1863)
32 Little Collins St. East (1864 - 1866)
45 Little Collins St. East (1867 - 1870) (37°48'53.56"S, 144°57'53.99"E)
66 Elizabeth St. (1871 - 1888) (37°48'56.45"S, 144°57'50.39"E)
63 Bourke St. West (1888)
432 Bourke St. (1889 - 1916) (37°48'52.98"S 144°57'39.78"E)

[Ben Thomas kindly provided coordinates. The 63 Bourke St. West in 1888 is a little misleading, as it is in fact the same address as 432 Bourke Street. Melbourne streets underwent a renumbering program during 1888-89, and in the process Bourke Streets 'East' and 'West' (with the dividing street being Elizabeth Street) were done away with, and the numbers ran from the central business district's eastern Spring Street consecutively down to Spencer Street at the grid's western side.
Between 1859 and 1863 JWR was perhaps looking after the family following the death of his mother and two brothers in 1858.]

His profession provided Rosier with a certain amount of excitement. The Argus of 21 Aug 1911 reported on the suicide of a customer:



Walking into Mr. J. W. Rosier's gunsmith's shop in Bourke-street on Saturday morning, without a penny in his pocket, Demetrius Hiropedes, a Greek engineer, asked to be shown an automatic pistol that was in the window, and after trying it at a target he placed the barrel in his mouth and shot himself dead.

Mr. Stephen Taylor, who had charge of the workroom where Hiropedes tried the pistol, stated that the customer fired a shot at the target, striking it near the outer line. Walking to the target, he felt the board behind it, evidently wishing to know if the bullet had penetrated it. The employee told him that a bullet from the pistol would go through more than a board an inch thick. Hiropedes fired another shot, and, after fingering the pistol, remarked, "It is no good." The employee said that he was not working it properly, and, placing five cartridges in the magazine, he discharged them rapidly. Hiropedes looked at the target and asked the employee to put five more cartridges in the magazine. That having been done, he fired twice at the target, and, turning his back to the employee, walked a few feet and then shot himself. There was no time to gain posession of the pistol.

The body was removed to the Melbourne Hospital, and then to the Morgue, where it was identified. Little is known of Hiropedes beyond the fact that he was about 40 years of age, and was formerly a contractor at Bangkok, in Siam. An inquest will be held.

Rosier Generations J.W. Rosier sold his business in 1916 (see the auction advertisement published in the Melbourne Argus, Monday, 23 Oct 1916). He moved house several times in his last few years, from one Melbourne suburb to another. From 1871 to 1917 he had lived at "Roselea", 52 Fitzwilliam St., Kew (long since demolished), but moved to Sandringham and then South Yarra in his last two years. (His wife had died in 1900.)

JWR died 30 June 1920 at the age of 85 and is buried in the Church of England section of Kew (Boroondarah) cemetery.