Lucy: A private life revealed through public records

Public Record Office Victoria (State Archives of Victoria, Australia)

Lucy Sarah Bell’s story is representative of many nineteenth-century women. A farmer’s wife, and mother to several children, Lucy did not lead a public life. Her story is one of incredible hardship and loss coupled with a bureaucratic battle to secure land in the new state of Victoria, Australia.

This exhibition is intended as an educational tool for new family researchers. 

The archival record series' used in this exhibition can help paint a picture of someone's life.

This is the story of a girl who arrived in Victoria as an 11 year old called Lucy Bell.


Lucy Bell arrived with her family in the Colony of Victoria on 20 April 1855. The Bell family sailed with two hundred and twenty other government-assisted immigrants from Liverpool in England to Geelong in Victoria aboard the ship Sir Charles Napier, a journey that took five months.

Like many other new arrivals to the colony, Lucy’s family left the Immigrant’s Depot at Geelong ‘on their own account’ to head to the Goldfields. The Bells made their way to a mining area just south of Ballarat.

The ship Sir Charles Napier sailed in December 1854 from Liverpool and arrived in Geelong in April 1855. The passenger list includes little Lucy's name, her age (11 years), and the names of other family members.   
This list of births and baptisms was kept by the Bell family. It tells us where the family originally came from in Scotland, the names of Lucy’s parents and siblings, and their dates of birth. Tillicoultry, Scotland. Courtesy Bell Family. 
Lucy's family arrived at Geelong wharf  in 1855. A view of the the wharf from the Botanic Gardens, 1855. State Library of Victoria. S T Gill. 

Which Records did we use for this research? PROV, VPRS 14/P0 Register of Assisted Immigrants from the United Kingdom, 1839-71, unit 16, book 12, folio 56. A searchable online index currently exists to search passenger names to Victoria at

This is the kind of ship Lucy's family would have arrived in. A typical rigged immigrants' ship of the 1850s. Reproduced with permission from the Melbourne  Maritime Museum Polly Woodside National Trust of Australia Collection



At the age of twenty, on 16 October 1863, Lucy met and married a Swiss immigrant, John Singer. Their first child, Charles Leopold, was born at Whim Holes in the District of Buninyong in 1865; Lucy Caroline was born in 1866 and Agatha Katherine in 1872. Details of this marriage and their children are found on records at the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

The district of Buninyong where Lucy Caroline was born in 1866 and Agatha Katherine in 1872. Buninyong from Bowen Hill. Ernest Decimus Stocks 1840-1921 
Lucy Bell, dressmaker, married John Singer, a 28-year-old sawyer from Neuchâtel, Switzerland, at the Presbyterian Manse, Ballarat on 16 October 1863. This marriage certificate has been reproduced from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria. 
Lucy gave birth to her first child, Charles Leopold Singer, on 8 March 1865, at Whim Holes in the District of Buninyong, South of Ballarat. Lucy Singer is listed as Charles' mother. This birth Certificate has been reproduced with kind permission from the Registry Of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria.


By the time of Agatha’s birth, John Singer and Lucy Bell had applied for and been issued licences to occupy two adjoining allotments of land (80 acres) in the parishes of Yarrowee and Lynchfield. Under the Land Act 1869, he had to fulfil certain requirements to occupy and  cultivate the land. The Land Act is made of many different leasing arrangements, and the number connected to the act is a clue to the circumstances on which they could occupy the land.

John Singer’s application for an allotment of land, including a survey of the land, in the Parish of Yarrowee.
Land Selection Files, detailing the requirements of John Singer's licence to lease Crown land. It details the requirements of payment under sections 19 and 20 of the the Land Act (1869). A record of his application was found by researching Land Selection Files at Public Record Office Victoria.
This is Singers Lane (2004). The two allotments were originally selected by John Singer and then granted to Lucy Campbell. They are located to the right and left of the lane. Photograph by Louisa Scott, PROV Collection.

On 16 June 1873, John Singer died suddenly of strangulated Hernia, leaving his widow with three children, including a small baby. Lucy’s position on the land became very complicated and uncertain because John Singer died without a will. 

Lucy sought to obtain letters of administration to then administer her deceased husband’s estate. She failed to secure the estate because she neither lived nor cultivated the land, she wrote desperately to the Minister of Lands asking him to reconsider.

Lucy's application for lease of the Yarrowee allotment stipulated that at least one acre out of every ten had to be cultivated during the term of the licence. 
Lucy's letter to the Minister of Lands.

'Sir, will you please reconsider your decision about the cultivation condition … I beg of you to remember that I am only a woman and am not able to clear and fence off the land myself nor am I able to employ any other’. Lucy Singer

During this time Lucy remarried, this time to Mr Peter Campbell in 1874, her sister's brother-in-law. Lucy and Peter had a son, Henry, who was born in 1875. He survived only three days. They also had a daughter, Rose Jane, born in 1876.

The marriage certificate between Lucy Singer and Peter Campbell from the Presbyterian Church in Buninyong, on 28 July 1874, reproduced with kind permission from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria.

At this point in time the Probate Office required her new husband’s agreement before it would issue letters of administration to her for the land she had worked on with her deceased husband prior to his death. Peter Campbell wrote to the Probate Office.

The letter from Lucy's second husband, Peter Campbell, requesting administration rights so the licence of John Singer's estate would be issued to his wife Lucy. 

Lucy Campbell finally obtained the grant of the Yarrowee land in 1880 from the Probate Office seven years after John Singer's death.

The letter finally granting Lucy administration rights over her dead husband's estate.

Which Records did we use for this research? 

The Land Selection Files document Lucy's attempt to purchase her deceased husband's land and the Probate and Administration Files hold records about the final approval for the granting of her husband's licence into her name. 

The trail of records from Lucy Singer/Campbell to the Minister for Lands, and to the Probate Office, include many pieces of correspondence, zoom in on some of these documents to take a closer look. After that, find out what happened to Lucy? 

VPRS 28/P0 Probate and Administration Files, unit 169, item 14/493. 

VPRS 28/P2 Probate and Administration Files, unit 48, item 14/493.

PRS 625/P0 Land Selection Files, sections 19 and 20, unit 78, item 4127/19.20.

VPRS 627/P0 Land Selection Files, unit 174, item 15159/31.

Lucy's application for lease of the Yarrowee allotment stipulated that at least one acre out of every ten had to be cultivated during the term of the licence. PROV, VPRS 625/P0 Land Selection Files, unit 78, item 4127/19.20 
These notes acknowledge Lucy's change of name following her second marriage and receipt of letters of administration, and they document the decision to grant her the lease of John Singer's allotments. PROV, VPRS 625/P0, Land Selection Files, unit 78, item 4127/19.20
Lucy's application to purchase the Lynchfield allotment.  Forms like this one were used to record the process of granting permission to purchase or 'alienate' Crown land. PROV, VPRS 627/P0 Land Selection Files, unit 174, item 15159/31 
Lucy's application to purchase her deceased husband's land in the Parish of Lynchfield. PROV, VPRS 627/P0 Land Selection Files, unit 174, item 15159/3
Lucy's letter to the Minister of Lands, pleading that the improvement conditions for the allotments be waived. PROV, VPRS 625/P0 Land Selection Files sections 19 and 20, unit 78, item 4127/19.20 
The Office of Lands and Survey (Deeds Division) in Melbourne requested that Lucy submit the letters of administration for her late husband's estate before a crown grant or lease could be issued. PROV, VPRS 627/P0 Land Selection Files, unit 174, item 15159/31


Lucy died on the evening of Thursday 29 January, 1885. 

She was 42 years old. She had gone to the nearby waterhole to collect 'fancy' ferns. 

When her daughter Agatha went to assist her she found no trace of her mother, except for her hat. Peter Campbell pulled his wife from the water but she was already dead. 

The magisterial inquiry was undertaken by Mr Frederick Ingle JP. It was his duty to ensure that nothing suspicious had occurred. Mr Ingle interviewed Lucy’s family and other witnesses who helped pull Lucy from the pond. He found that Lucy Sarah Campbell drowned accidentally.

The waterhole where Lucy died, near the Campbell family home. Courtesy of the Campbell family photographic collection
Lucy Sarah Campbell died on the 29th of January 1885. The death certificate states accidental drowning as the cause of death. This death certificate has been reproduced with kind permission from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria 

“...On the evening of the 29th I asked my sister Lucy where my mother was, she told me she had gone to the water hole to collect ferns, I went after her to assist her and when I got there I found her hat on the boards but could see nothing of my step father and mother always lived on good terms as far as I know.” Agatha Singer, coroners inquest deponent.

Agatha Singer's deposition. PROV, VPRS 24/P0 Inquest Deposition Files, unit 478, item 1885/145
Agatha Singer was only 12 when she saw her mother Lucy pulled from the lake where she had drowned accidentally. 
Peter Campbell's deposition. 

“..we recovered her body from the water and at once tried to restore animation without effect.” 

Peter Campbell's deposition from the Victorian inquest files.

The Police report into Lucy Campbell's death stated there were no suspicious circumstances associated with the case.

Which Records did we use for this research?

VPRS 24/P0 Inquest Deposition Files, unit 478, item 1885.

VPRS 28/P0 Probate and Administration Files, unit 382, item 31/742.

The 1886 decision by the Probate Office to hand over the administration of the estate to Charles Singer, Lucy's son, following her death. 

Following Lucy Campbell’s death, her first child (with John Singer) Charles Leopold Singer assumed responsibility for the administration of his father’s estate.

The grave of Lucy and John Singer's daughters Lucy Caroline and Agatha Singer. Courtesy of Napoleons and District Historical Society. 

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the donors of material for the reproduction of this story as an online exhibition. In particular we would like to thank Mr Tony Leviston and Mrs Eleanor George, descendants of Lucy, for their assistance, and Anne Beggs-Sunter and the Buninyong and District Historical Society. The PROV staff who compiled the material are: Louisa Scott, Joan Hunt, Colin Kemp, Daniel Wilksch, Diane Gardiner, Sebastian Gurciullo, and Kyle Young.

Credits: Story

Asa Letourneau, Content Editor
Kate Follington, Content Editor
Colin Kemp, Digitisation
Charlie Spiteri, Additional Research
Sebastian Gurciullo, Original Curator

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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