Phoebe Emmerson

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Katholisch Kapelle aus den Gravel Pit Lunis 3u Ballarat Januav 1854 by Eugene von Guerard. State Library of Victoria Collection (H12532)


Phoebe (Watson) was born on 15 December 1832 at Durham, North England the daughter of George Watson and Sarah (Thompson). George Thompson, Sarah’s father, was an underground engineer and also choirmaster and organist at Durham Cathedral. Phoebe married George Emmerson on 25 December 1852 when she was 20 years old. The couple sailed to Australia on the Ben Nevis the day after they had married. [1] [2]

Phoebe Scobie died at Bullarook, near Ballarat, on 19 October 1899, aged 66.[3]

Goldfields Involvement, 1854

Soon after their arrival in Australia, George and Phoebe Emmerson, a newly married couple, travelled to the Ballarat Diggings and opened Emmerson’s Store, a general supplies store on the Eureka Lead. When they opened their store on the Eureka goldfields it was initially quite successful but when George fell ill his wife had to look after the shop. She kept a number of dogs and also kept a loaded gun to “deter any foolishness near her store”.

Phoebe did not support the violent actions threatened by the miners at the time of Eureka but when George Scobie, George Black, and J.B. Humffray sought refuge after the Eureka battle she sheltered them at the store. George Scobie had delivered provisions to the store, and was also the older brother of ‘Scottie’ (James Scobie) who had been killed outside Bentley’s Eureka Hotel two months earlier.

Phoebe said that after the battle when she heard one of her dogs barking, she went out and found Peter Lalor who was hiding in the nearby bushes. At great risk to herself she bound some of his wounds with strips torn from her petticoat, and then George Scobie helped take Peter Lalor to Warrenheip. Phoebe Emerson then went to Father Patrick Smyth and managed to get people to carry Peter Lalor to the St Alipius presbytery where his arm was amputated. On the following day soldiers going past her store found blood-stained rags and quizzed Phoebe about them. She denied knowledge of them and shook until “her head nearly fell off”.

George and Phoebe Emerson had two children: Sarah Ann b. 16 September 1856 (died 11 January 1940 aged 84 years, married 1883 John Nance); and John George b. 1857 Magpie (died in January 1860; buried on 26 January at Ballaarat Old Cemetery). Phoebe’s husband, George Emmerson died on 10 September 1857, aged 28 leaving her with two small children to care for. He was buried on 12 September at Ballaarat Old Cemetery (D 9 11R1) where his occupation was listed in the cemetery register as miner.

Phoebe Emmerson was a storekeeper on the Eureka diggings. During and after the Eureka Stockade battle she hid men in her store, in flour barrels and up chimneys. [4]

Post 1854 Experiences

Soon after George Emmerson’s death Phoebe sold the store and planned to return to England. However she received a letter saying that her brother was heading to Australia to become manager and chief engineer at a deep shaft mine in Ballarat. She decided to remain in Australia and soon found herself falling in love with George Scobie whom she married in 1860.

George Scobie worked as a stonemason and the couple moved around the Ballarat area as they went in search of work. Their first child Phoebe Scobie was born in 1861 at Raglan St, Ballarat West. Six more children followed: Fanny b. 1863 Ballarat (married William Luke Quick in 1888); Mary Jane b. 1865 Newlyn (married Samuel Colwell Frood in 1888); James George Watson Scobie b. 1867 Ballarat (died in 1868 aged 13 months); Margaret Ellen b. 1869 Ballarat (married George Ernest Arthur in 1889, died 1930 aged 61 buried Ballaarat New Cemetery); John b. 1873 Mount Prospect (died aged 7 hours, buried Pootilla); and Barbara Georgina b. 1875 Newlyn (married William Henry Stewart in 1899, died 1958).

George Scobie died in an accident on 13 November 1874. After George’s death Phoebe Scobie, seven months pregnant with her ninth child, and five other daughters to rear, had to leave their home at the Newlyn Reservoir and move into a tiny cottage in the township of Newlyn. There she worked doing dressmaking, crocheting, cleaning other houses, and any other odd jobs she could find to support her children. Her only three sons died in infancy, so the Scobie name was not passed on.

In February 1882 the Scobie family were living at Newlyn, near Creswick, when Phoebe, the oldest child, fell ill and was admitted to Creswick Hospital. She died a fortnight later and was buried on 11 March in the Ballaarat Old Cemetery (CN 15 8). Phoebe Scobie died, aged 66 years, on 19 October 1899. She was interred on 22 October 1899 at the Ballaarat Old Cemetery (Grave CN 15.8) with George Scobie (pictured). [5]; [6]; [7]; [8]

See also

Jane Cumming

George Emmerson

George Scobie

Women of Eureka

Further Reading

Corfield, J., Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.


  1. Dorothy Wickham, Women of the Diggings: Ballarat 1854, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2009
  2. Supplement to the Ballarat Courier, 27 March 1998, p.6.
  3. Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
  4. Supplement to the Ballarat Courier, 27 March 1998, p.6.
  5. Notes and photographs courtesy Pat Alway, 2009
  6. Laurel Johnson, Women of Eureka, pp. 16–18
  7. Creswick Hospital In-Patients Admissions Register 1863–1882
  8. Dorothy Wickham, Women of the Diggings: Ballarat 1854, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2009

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