William Crothers was born on 15 November 1863, the seventh and last child of Joseph and Ellen. His eldest surviving brother, John, was 14 at the time, brother Henry about 8, sister Elizabeth 6, and brother Robert 3. Other brothers, James and Joseph, had died young.
When his mother died at the end of May the following year, William was brought up by Edward and Elizabeth Thwaites of Pontville. As Edward and Elizabeth, nee Griffiths, were not married until 22 March 1865, it may be that Edward’s first wife, Emma Smith, was still alive in May 1864 and Elizabeth virtually inherited William.
When his father died in February 1871, William was an orphan at 7. He remained with Thwaites, a bootmaker who had Henry as an apprentice.
William next appears on written records in 1887, when, at the age of 23, he placed an advertisement in the Hobart Mercury on the three days of 14, 15 and 16 March:
John, Robert and Lizzie Crothers, who left Bridgewater, Tasmania, about 13 years ago. Your brother, William Crothers, Duntroon, New Zealand, wants to know your address.
It is possible William was the Crothers named as a saloon passenger on the S.S. Pateena, which sailed from Launceston to Melbourne on 20 November 1884, just 5 days after he reached adulthood. At some stage he travelled to New Zealand. Duntroon is about 45 kilometres northwest of Oamaru on the South Island.
The March 1887 advertisement evidently proved successful as he was back in Tasmania within two months. With Robert, a resident of Melbourne, he petitioned for the release of their shares in their father’s estate. On 13 May, the brothers were in the Hobart office of solicitors Finlay and Watchorn, where they signed a letter authorising payment to their legal representatives. Each received 54 pounds 16 shillings and 2 pence - about $7 230 in 2016 value.
It is likely William travelled to Melbourne, possibly sailing from Dunedin, and re-united with Robert there. Elizabeth, too, was in Melbourne, having married John Garland in Collingwood the previous July. There is no way of knowing if William also saw John, who was in the northeast of Tasmania, tin mining in Derby.
William returned to New Zealand, possibly to Duntroon, certainly to the South Island, where his movements can be traced through Electoral Rolls. The earliest in 1885-1886 shows him, at Selwyn, in the Province of Canterbury, as a farm labourer. By 1890, he was residentially qualified as a voter in Killinchy, just 13 kilometres away.
On 29 April 1892, William married Amy Margaret McLay at Dunback, a small town 14 kilometres northwest of Palmerston, Otago, and 68 kilometres from Dunedin. The marriage certificate shows both were residents of the town but their ages were not recorded. The wedding took place in the home of a Thomas Wright. Amy was the daughter of John McLay and Ellen McLay nee Bray. William named his parents - Joseph as his father but Elizabeth nee Griffiths rather than his birth mother, Ellen.
The married couple first appear in print in the North Otago Times of 16 May 1896. In a ballot for land, part of the Ardgowan Estate, Amy M Crothers, wife of W Crothers, dealer, Oamaru, was successful over 91 other applicants for Section 132. The 37 acres came at a price of 13 shillings per acre, making a cost of just over 24 pounds per annum.
Wise’s Post Office Directory of 1896-97 shows William in Torridge Street, Oamaru. Two years later, he had moved a few kilometres west to Weston, where they remained listed in 1900 and 1902. The 1900 Electoral Roll had them in Ardgowan, just 5 minutes from Weston. They were still there in 1905-1906. Between1911 and 1914 at least, they were 5 kilometres south at Waiareka Junction. William was, from 1900, noted as a farmer.
In 1906, the Otago Land Board approved Amy’s application to have Section 132 transferred to a James Farquharson.
At some stage, the Crothers made a bigger move, to Gore, 65 kilometres north of Invercargill. Their address was the Southland Hotel and William was described as a sheep farmer. They were there from at least 1919 to 1935. It may be that Amy worked in the hotel while William spent plenty of time in the back country.
Their movements indicate that the farming he did was for various landowners rather than on his own property. It can be easily deduced from both their wills that they had no children.
By 1838, William had retired and the Crothers were living in Henry Street, Waikouaiti, a seaside town 40 kilometres north of Dunedin and 72 kilometres south of Oamaru. William died at the age of 76 on 14 March 1940. He was buried two days later in the Waikouaiti Cemetery. The burial register calls him a “farmer from Tasmania”.
On 12 April 1940, probate was granted on his will, in which he left everything to Amy. Probate was granted for 1 625 pounds 5 shillings and 4 pence. The value of that sum in 2016 is about $NZ150 000.
Amy moved to Dunedin by 1946, living at 150 London Street, close to the centre of the city, and was still there in 1949. She died on 26 July 1954, aged 87. Her grave is next to that of William.
She left a number of small bequests to her brothers, Thomas and James, and sister, Elizabeth Grindell, as well as three other people, and to St John’s Anglican Church in Waikouaiti for its upkeep, Dunedin Returned Services Association for the blind ex-servicemen of Otago, the NZ Red Cross Society, St John Ambulance Association and the Dunedin Diocesan Trust Board for the Melanesian Mission. The residue of the estate, worth in total under 1 000 pounds (about NZ$50 000 now), was to go to the Anglican Orphanage at Anderson’s Bay, a suburb of Dunedin.
There is no way of knowing why William went to New Zealand. As far as we can tell, the trip back in 1887 was the only time he renewed contact with at least some of his family. It is possible descendants of his in-laws may have more knowledge of him.
His brother, John, named his second son William. Perhaps William Crothers in New Zealand became aware of the award to his nephew of a Military Medal in 1918.