I’d like to marry your daughter

Would you let your daughter marry this man?

I’ve written a little about William Henry O’Connor (1861-1900) before.  I’ve since learned a bit more about his life.

Physical description: 5 feet, 6 and a half inches tall, medium build, fresh complexion, dark brown hair, brown eyes, large scar centre forehead, small scar over left eyebrow, first joint small finger left hand missing, twitching in eyes

A somewhat disturbing description.  How did he acquire all those scars and lose part of his finger by the age of 20?

Gaol Entrance Book 1882

Gaol Entrance Book 1882

When he gained John Payne’s permission to marry John’s daughter, Laura Suzette (1871 – ??), he had the following impressive cv:

  • Learned to read and write
  • Trained as a journalist/compositor
  • 1881: charged with aiding a prisoner to escape, further charged with stealing a watch and chain
  • 1882: imprisoned in Grafton Gaol for theft but acquitted of aiding a prisoner to escape
  • 1884: released from prison
  • 1885: working in Narrabri, New South Wales and seeking permission to marry a thirteen-year-old
Some 19th Century Australian prisoners

Some 19th Century Australian prisoners

I don’t know what John Payne was thinking but he gave permission.

Their 1885 marriage entry is the last public record to be found for Laura.  William managed to stay out of jail but seems to have been down on his luck when he died of opium poisoning on the banks of a creek in Moree in 1900.

I’m not sure if this is the same William O’Connor (but I kind of hope it was) who in 1892 was travelling with Samuel Coutts Rinder who was wanted by the police. This O’Connor was described as “a frequenter at billiard rooms and racecourses, and sings comic songs when drunk”.


Perhaps the reason my great-grandfather, Jack Payne, was so strict with his daughters when it came to keeping company with young men, was what had happened to his sister, Katey Ann. In 1884, 16-year-old Katey Ann took strychnine when her parents refused to consent to her marriage to one Henry Tee. Stories passed down through the family indicated that two sisters had committed suicide but I have found no evidence of this.

Payne Family Bible

Payne Family Bible

However I don’t know what became of the next sister in the family, Laura Suzette Payne .  She seemed to vanish from the face of the earth.  In 1885 at the ripe old age of 14, she married William O’Connor.  Perhaps Laura’s parents didn’t want to risk losing another daughter so consented to the marriage. Perhaps Laura was pregnant.  Laura’s mother, Mary Ann Sophia (nee Merrick) died in June 1885, the same year Laura married and the year after Katey Ann died. Laura might have been feeling a bit confused when she agreed to marry William O’Connor.

William O’Connor died of opium poisoning in the Moree hospital in 1900 but I have not managed to find any trace of Laura after her marriage.  The two were obviously not living together at the time of Henry’s death.

Death William O'Connor


There was also a story that Laura may have joined a travelling circus or performing troupe but I have found no evidence of that either.  Family stories can be a bit unreliable.

I’ve disproved at least three passed-down-through-the-generations family stories since I started genealogy research.  I’ve also uncovered a member of parliament, two bigamists and an ancestor who was convicted of conspiracy.  Oh and then there are the seven convicts.