Eric Marston Garsia

Eric Marston Garsia.


Besides the usual official sources providing information about Eric Marston’s life we have access to five others. These are: (1) his own short account of his life up to the time of his marriage to Marjorie Bisdee in 1908[1] (referenced below as EM); (2) in view of the time she spent close to him in the last years of her life Beryl wrote surprisingly little about Eric in her memoirs; (3) some useful comments by Tom Paxton in his account of the family; (4) two additional pages of notes by Tom[2] (referenced as TP without a page number) and (5) some remarks by Margaret Wolferstan his daughter, Christina and  Judith Paxton his granddaughters[3] (referenced as MCJ).

Eric Marston was born the fifth child of Elizabeth and Christopher’s large family in Nelson, N.Z. on 3 December 1882[4]. (BM4). Tom says: ‘[this was] just a day or two before the family’s move from Nelson to Christchurch.’ (TP28). (Eric reckoned that he was two or three years old when the family moved.) Beryl and Tom both provide a few words describing their family life: ‘Clive and I and Eric went together but we fought between each other with the usual quarrels. We had to be obedient but had high spirits, not knowing much about other children and sufficient to ourselves. … When the boys got too out of hand Mother clapped them into stocks and one would see a couple of boys in the stocks grinning and punching each other.’ (BM9). Tom depicts Eric as having ‘a natural tendency to be a loner. When it came to schooling, … It was hard for Eric to compete and he did not try. … So he wagged school and went down to the sale yards instead.’ (TP28). ‘Clive and I, and I think Eric, used to catch Mrs. Baines’ horses and learnt to ride up and down the grassy lane outside their property.’ (BM11).

‘When it became obvious that Eric was not going to be a scholar in the general sense, he was sent to Lincoln Agricultural College. There his stay was not very long and I don’t think he received any qualification from the College.’ (TP29). Eric reports that after college he went as a cadet to Nat Beamish in Hawkes Bay {explain??}. ‘Then I took a shepherd’s job, after which I went down to Canterbury and joined  the 8th New Zealand Contingent for South Africa.  Clive and Haly were already there.  They had come from England.  Haly, who had been studying drawing in London, joined up with the Liverpool Regiment as a private, but on meeting an old friend on arriving at Cape Town he changed into the 2nd New Zealand Contingent and from that was later offered a Commission in the Durham Light Infantry.  Oliver was already an Officer in the Hants Regiment.’ (EM).

He saw no fighting but was involved in a train accident which resulted in some deaths although he escaped unhurt. ‘Another event that stands out in my mind is the only time I ever got drunk in my life.  Going along in a troop train it pulled up for a long time at a station.  The bar only served Officers and as I apparently looked like one, I was commissioned to go to the bar and buy bottles of whisky.  For my trouble I was given a swig from each bottle and by the time I had got all the bottles required, I was quite intoxicated.  Later someone shook me and said your brother wants to speak to you, and it was Haly, then an Officer.  I woke up feeling quite fit and well.  We had a cup of coffee together before the train moved on.’ (EM).

‘From South Africa I managed to be sent to England instead of being sent back to New Zealand.  After staying with Father a short while at Southsea, I went on to an estate called Colston Bassett near Nottingham and had a delightful year there getting a good deal of hunting and shooting.  The squire’s only son had been killed in South Africa and I was allowed to ride his hunter.’ (EM).

‘From Colston Bassett I went to the Argentine and from one of my letters of introduction I got a job on a property named Selmera which was part of a bigger estate called Esleta.  Selmera was managed by a nephew of the head of the firm, Runciman and Company’. While working there Eric had a fall from his horse and hit his head which caused him to be ‘insensible for several hours’. He was nursed back to health by the sister of one of the managers and then moved on to another job at Las Chilcas where he continued to suffer from headaches. These were bad enough for him to decide after a year to go home to England. (EM).

‘Father was then living at Weston-super-Mare and from there I met the girl who became my wife. ‘When I told her Father that I intended to go back to the Argentine, he did not like this idea at all.  He wanted me to go to Tasmania, to his son who was managing his property Sandhill, Jericho’. Eric agreed to do this and sailed for Australia (There is a record of Eric sailing on 11 Aug 1905 from London to Melbourne[5]). about which he has the following story to tell: ‘When I arrived at Gibraltar, a Captain of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry then quartered at Gibraltar came on board to see some friends, and seeing my name in a list of passengers thought I must be Oliver.  He suggested I should pretend to be Oliver and come up to breakfast with the Regiment.  I came and he introduced me as the new Lieutenant.  After this leg pull and a good breakfast I returned to the ship and eventually reached Tasmania and was met by my young charming host Graeme Bisdee [Marjorie’s brother]’ (EM).

Tom Paxton provides some dramatic details of the problems Eric had at the time of his marriage to Marjorie Bisdee and their settling in Tasmania. According to Tom’s account Marjorie’s father insisted that they should go to Tasmania and help his son Graeme Bisdee on his farm instead of the Argentine which had been Eric’s intention. Eric agreed and went out to Tasmania to make the necessary arrangements, with Marjorie following later. It appears that Eric was more inclined to settle in New Zealand as he bought a property there but sold it a year later at a profit. Marjorie’s father appears to have felt that New Zealand was too far and Eric was obliged to find a property in Tasmania. About a year later he bought a property called Stockdale between Campania and Colebrook. Tom writes ‘It was a very nice property of about 1400 acres, all cleared and good rolling sheep country with some flats on the Cole [Coal] River. It had a rather severe but pleasant old sandstone house on it with plenty of sandstone outbuildings. He must have thought that all his troubles were at an end. It was only about 20 miles from Sandhill and would have been a very nice property to own.’ According to Tom his father-in-law-to-be insisted that he and Marjorie return to England to get married so Eric put a manager in the farm and sailed for England where he was married. (TP).

Beryl takes up the story: ‘In 1908 Eric came back from Tasmania and married Marjorie Bisdee.’ (BM37). They were married at the Hutton parish church, Somerset on 22 July 1908[6]. Then on 8 August 1908 he sailed[7] with his wife from Plymouth to Wellington, N.Z. (In their note CMJ write that they sailed for Tasmania – the ship may have called in to an Australian port on its way to N.Z.). Beryl writes: ‘[after their wedding] the happy couple left for Tasmania where Eric had a property.’ (BM37).

Tom continues with the story: ‘Eric and Marjorie had to have a first class passage back to Tasmania. What they found on arrival was disaster – in effect they were broke. There had been a severe period of drought with which the manager had been quite unable to cope. They tried for a while to pull things around … . Eventually, Stockdale was sold, though for a sum which was too small to buy anything but the most limited place in its stead. Eric … bought a small dairy farm near Irishtown in the North West corner of Tasmania. It was called Forrest Gate. This was, I think in 1910, and before the railway had been put through to Smithton, and Eric was hoping that this would be done in the near future, and the place would consequently improve in value.’ (TP).

‘I am not quite sure who was responsible for this debacle … but I know Eric put some blame on Thomas Bisdee [Marjorie’s father], and one cannot help being sympathetic with him’ (TP).

In a letter to Beryl dated 21 August 1909 from Tasmania (transcribed by Tom Paxton) Eric responds to what must have been some family criticism of the way that he had moved to such a remote place with his new wife. He refers to: ‘any condemnation that may float about at me taking Marge so far back.’ (TP33). ‘In Australia there are gentlewomen hundreds of miles from anywhere who bring up their families as gentlefolk and live a happy life in a killing climate … . When a girl has a youngster she finds it wonderful company and in a comfortable home with all the interests attending it like her horse, garden and dogs, poultry etc. the absence of friends is not so greatly felt.’ (TP34). The letter also describes all the things that Eric has done to build up his farm like being about to buy almost a thousand acres of top quality land. He goes on to say how much better it is to invest in this part of Tasmania than consider New Zealand where prices are higher. ‘If there was any money to be made in the more settled parts of NZ or here I would not start pioneering but as there is not and there is a lot to be made out of this land I have no other course open to me.’ (TP34). Here Eric is referring to his purchase of Forrest Gate (MCJ).

While they were living at Stockdale Marjorie and Eric’s first daughter Elizabeth Marjorie was born at Hobart, on 20 April,1909. (MCJ). Following their move to Forrest Gate their ‘second daughter, Gwyndoline Clare (always known as Clare) was born on 23 October 1910 in Stanley, on the north coast of Tasmania.’ (MCJ). ‘… when Elizabeth was one and a half and Clare a baby I went out and stayed two years with them. 1910-1912.’ (BM37). ‘Elizabeth and Clare had governesses for their early education, then later boarded at St Michael’s Collegiate School in Hobart, a two-day journey from home.  Eric and Marjorie’s third child, to Eric’s disappointment another girl, was born in Hobart in 1918 and named Margaret Katharine (MCJ).

Tom provides a paragraph about how Marjorie coped after their return to Tasmania following their wedding: ‘Through all these vicissitudes, Marjorie was an extremely patient and long suffering wife.  The house at Forest Gate was weatherboard, and little more than a cottage.  A front door in the centre of the front veranda led into a central passage through the house with two rooms on each side and kitchen etc built on to the back, with stairs leading up to two attic bedrooms.  Clare and I made a trip to the North West coast when we came to Tasmania in the late 1950s but the house was no longer there.  Somebody, we were told, had loaded it on to a jinker and taken it down to Trowattta.  All that remained were a few flagstones and steps and some ragged old cypress trees showing where the garden had been.  In this house, Marjorie accommodated her two babies (later three), various servants or lady helps or governesses, and, at different times, her husband’s sister Beryl, (for two years), his brother Rupert, his sister Gwyn and her husband (for a year).  Not infrequently she found herself left at home with the domestic duties while the others were out riding.  It cannot have been a very inspiring life for her, as there were no people in the district who she could count as friends’ (TP).

It was some time before the outbreak of the First World War that Rupert visited Eric and Marjorie for Beryl reports: ‘[Rupert] was feeling discontented [with life in the navy] and he decided to retire and join Eric in Tasmania, sheep farming. While looking for a sheep station, the First World War broke out. He dashed up to Sydney just in time to join the Australia starting for New Guinea, to take the German owned part of it.’ (BM47). The next record we have relating to Eric refers to a time after the end of the war when Gwyn and Edward visited Forest Gate on their honeymoon. There is a record of them sailing from London on 9 December 1921 to Sydney[8]. ‘Gwyn and Edward [sailed] for New Zealand … to camp and explore. … They … ended up at Forest Gate in Tasmania, with Eric and Marjorie.’ (BM51). ‘[Gwyn and Edward] had been with Eric at Forest Gate, but left it when Eric gave it up and bought a property at Wagga [now known as Wagga Wagga].’ (BM 62).

‘The north-west coast of Tasmania had a high rainfall, and the coming of World War I meant that the promised railway was never built.  In 1923 the family moved to a property Draycott near Wagga Wagga in New South Wales.  Here the family, particularly Marjorie, had to contend with another uncomfortable house, terrible summer heat, snakes (a problem already encountered at Forest Gate), grass fires, and occasional bush-fires’. (MCJ).

Then at some unspecified time between August 1925 and April 1927 when Rupert was in command of the Tingira and while Beryl was staying on board in Sydney Beryl writes ‘In the holidays we went camping with Eric and Marjorie when she was there …’ (BM61).

‘In about 1936 they moved to Micklegate, at Dunkeld, west of Bathurst, NSW (Bathurst is 90 miles west of Sydney). The move was quite a long drawn out affair because although the sale of Draycott went through the buyer eventually couldn’t pay.  Margaret says that they had some months in Sydney, and another period in Tasmania, while Eric looked for a property. The Bathurst property had a much better climate, a comfortable and spacious house, and there were a number of people that Eric and Marjorie knew in the area. (MCJ).

Beryl notes that he and Marjorie visited England some time after Gwyn’s death in March 1949 thus: ‘Eric came to England with Marjorie [According to Margaret this was 1954 or 1955]’ (BM77). They saw members of both their families.   Margaret says that they enjoyed the voyage and danced in the evenings. (MCJ).

‘In the early 1950s Eric and Marjorie moved to Kewstoke [of] just 100 acres, 3 miles west of Bathurst (later swallowed by housing). This was Eric’s last property before full retirement.  He had a horse and umpired for polocrosse games, and still had about 100 merinos, two Border Leicesters, a cow which he milked, hens, a dog called Jack, and a couple of cats.’ (MCJ).

‘In Tasmania and at Wagga Wagga, Eric very successfully bred Southdown and Border Leicester sheep, but at Bathurst the land was more suitable for Merinos.  He did his own wool classing and obtained top prices for the wool.  His Southdowns and Border Leicesters won many prizes at local sheep shows.  He also had great success at country shows with his horses and horsemanship.  Some of his horses were Coastguard, Chinook, Chilly Wind, Rum Jungle and Billy Wallace, the last named after one of Princess Margaret’s boyfriends. Eric was a very good farmer, but lacked enough capital to buy larger sheep properties.  The disaster with his property at Campania left him short of money.  The drop in wool prices in the 1950s also hit him hard.’ (MCJ).

‘In 1959 [after his retirement] Eric and Marjorie moved back to Tasmania, to be near their daughter Clare Paxton and her family, especially Clare’s two youngest children, the twins Susan and Amanda.  They lived in the Hobart suburb of Taroona on the Derwent Estuary.  Eric kept a horse, Felix (a great jumper) on a property south of Hobart and continued to ride and to umpire for polocrosse   He also had a fibreglass dinghy and did a lot of fishing, going out in all weathers.’ (MCJ).

‘Eric got Parkinson’s Disease and he and Marjorie eventually had to move to a nursing home in the Hobart suburb of Berriedale’ (MCJ). Eric died (at the good age of 87) in Berriedale, Hobart on 25 December 1968. He left an estate of almost seventy four thousand Australian dollars to his three daughters and grandchildren[9].

Marjorie died from a heart attack on 30 June 1969 while visiting her daughter Elizabeth in Sydney.’ (MCJ), leaving ninety three thousand Australian dollars to be divided between her daughters and grandchildren[10].


[1] One and a half pages of typescript by Eric Marston entitled ‘Early life of Eric Marston Garsia’ covering the period from birth to his marriage to Marjorie Bisdee in 1908. Sent to me by Christina 27 Oct. 2009 and filed as DOC445.

[2] Notes by Tom Paxton sent to me by Christina Pender with her email of 2 April 2010 and filed as DOC449. CP suggests that this note by TP be included in its entirety in our website – I’m not sure.

[3] One and a quarter pages of typescript entitled ‘Eric Garsia’s life from Marriage’ compiled by Margaret Wolferstan (Eric’s daughter), Cristina Pender  and Judith Paxton (Eric’s granddaughters) sent to me by Christina with her email of 2 April 2010, filed as DOC449.

[4] Copy of a transcription of Elizabeth Parker Watson’s Bible showing the birth dates of her children (from Christina Pender via email from Joan 21 Feb 2008), filed as DOC 387.

[5] Passenger lists leaving the UK 1890-1960: Mr E.M. Garsia, 11 Aug. 1905 London to Melbourne, Age:31, Single, Male, Gent. (through findmypast) DOC: 386/l.

[6] From a certified copy of an entry of marriage from the General Register Office his age is given as 25. His rank or profession: sheep farmer.  His address: Buckland, Beach Road, Weston-super-Mare. His father’s name is given as Christopher Garsia Captain in British Army (Retired). His bride was Marjorie Sutherland Bisdee aged 27 (d.o.b. circa 1881). Her address: The Courts, Hutton. Her father’s name was Thomas Gamaliel (?) Bisdee of Rank or profession: Esquire. The witnesses were: Thomas G. Bisdee, Christopher Garsia Capt., Rupert Garsia Sub-Lieutenant. (Copy of his marriage certificate: DOC148)

[7] Passenger lists leaving the UK 1980-1960; Mr E.M. Garsia & Mrs Garsia, 8 Aug. 1908 Plymouth to Wellington, N.Z. DOC386n. (through findmypast)

[8] Passenger lists leaving the UK 1890-1960; Mr Edward Bussey (sic) Berthon & Mrs. Gwyndoline Berthon, 9 Dec. 1921 from London to Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon). DOC386aa. (through findmypast)

[9] Copy of Eric’s will (Australian National Archives:Date 1969, Reference: AD960/118, Will No.: 51016. email from Angela 28 May 2007)  DOC372.

[10] Copy of Marjorie’s will (Australian National Archives:Date 1969, Reference: AD960/123, Will No.: 52105. email from Angela 28 May 2007.) DOC373.