Mahala Mills (nee Kent) with two of her children

Mahala Kent was born in 1833 in Essex, England, the 6th known child of Thomas Kent and Sarah Ruffell. Her father was a mariner, and her siblings were Sally, William, Jane, Mary & Thomas.

Mahala's marriage certificate

The family lived on East Street in Wivenhoe. Down the road boarded a William Mills, who Mahala succumbed to the charms of. He had been a soldier in the Sihk Wars in India and now had an apprenticeship as a shipwright which he had begun before joining the military. He worked for twelve hours a day from 7am to 7pm for 7 days a week for 1/- per day. The couple were married in the church at Wivenhoe in 1854. Witnesses to the marriage were Thomas Kent and Thomas Howard. Both bride and groom signed the marriage certificate.

William and Mahala were given a part of the Old Garrison House as a bridal home and they eventually had 14 children. Mahala had a very fine contralto voice, which was used to advantage singing both as a soloist and as a chorister in the Wivenhoe Church and the Colchester Cathedral.

1861 census[]

In the 1861 census, Mahala and family are living at Maldon Street Peter, Wivenhoe in Essex. William is listed as a 35 year old ships carpenter, and Mahala's name is incorrectly transcribed as Martha. Children living with them at the time are George, Wallace and William.

1871 census[]

In the 1871 census for Essex, Mahala and family are recorded at Rose and Crown Lane, Wivenhoe. William is listed as a 46 year old shipwirght, and Mahala as a 38 year old tailoress. Children living with them at the time include Wallace (a groom), William, Arthur, Sarah, Mahala, Victoria and Blanche.

Neighbourhood Dispute[]

The Essex Standard newspaper reports that Mahala had a dispute with one of her neighbours in Wivenhoe on Christmas Day 1873. Mary Simons accused one of Mahala's sons of breaking a window at her property. Mary apparently became very vocal, picked up half a brick, and threw it at Mahala. Mahala caught the brick in her left hand. Mary then went to throw another brick at Mahala, but her daughter intervened. Mahala testified that she thought Mary was drunk and her story was corroborated by an Emma Kent (likely a relation of Mahala). Mary was charged with assault and fined 1 shilling with 11 shilling in expenses or 14 days imprisonment. The court then ordered the husbands of both Mahala and Mary be bound over in 5 pounds each, for 'the better conduct of their partners in future'.

Journey to Australia[]

With the phasing out of wooden ships and the introduction of steel hulls, William's shipwright skills were not in great demand. By 1878 he was listening to the overtures from his brother George, who had migrated to South Australia some time earlier, and who was prepared to act as a sponsor for William, Mahala and family to move there too. Mahala and William's elder son George had also made the move to South Australia, and may also have assisted.

In October 1878, part of the family set out from Wivenhoe and travelled by train to Portsmouth where they boarded the ship Woodlark on 8th November 1878. When a comparatively new ship, the Woodlark was chartered by the Shaw, Savill Co. for three voyages to New Zealand. She was a fine clipper of 867 tons, built in 1870, and owned by A. Stephens and Son, Dundee. At 869 tons, her captain was Captain W. Gibbons, and it was chartered by Sir Arthur Blyth, K.C.M.G., Agent-General for South Australia. The ship had 290 emigrants onboard, among whom were fifty-nine single female domestic servants.

The ship left Plymouth on 8th November 1878. On the day of sailing, the ship came into collision with a fishing boat named the Mary Ann in the English Channel, near Eddystone at 3am in the morning. The collision resulted in the fishing boat sinking, while the Woodlark damaged some spars, a lower foretopsail and a spanker boom. The Woodlark took aboard the crew of the Mary Ann, and landed them at Weymouth on the evening of November 11th.

They arrived in South Australia on 21st February 1879. Children that had travelled with William and Mahala were Arthur, Sarah, Mahala, Victoria, Blanche, Cicey, Charles and Grace. Son William would eventually come out to Australia of his own accord, and lived in New South Wales.

South Australia[]

It is likely that the family was first housed with brother George and that William worked with his brother as a carpenter until he could move into a home of his own.

The South Australian Directories lists the following residences for William, employed as a carpenter, between 1899 and 1903:-

  • 1882 - Claxton Street, Adelaide
  • 1884-1885 - Sydenham Road, Norwood
  • 1886 - not listed
  • 1887-1897 - Sussex Street, North Adelaide
  • 1898 - King William Street, Kent Town
  • 1899-1903 - Park Terrace, Gilberton.

Mahala and the girls contributed to the family's support as seamstresses. William seems to have retired early, as later documents change his occupation from shipwright/carpenter to 'Gentleman'.

Mahala with daughter Victoria's family


Mahala died on the 23rd August 1902 of senile decay, aged 69 years. The death occurred at her daughter, Grace Lloyd's residence at Morcomb Street, Stepney. She was interred at the Payneham Cemetery, and it appears that William retired after her death, living at the residence of his daughter Grace. A copy of Mahala's memorial card is still in family hands today. When he died, he was buried with her at the Payneham Cemetery.

Mahala's memorial card


Name Birth Death
Children of William and Mahala Mills

John Augustine 22/12/1854
Wivenhoe, Essex
Wivenhoe, Essex,

George William 5/3/1856
Wivenhoe, Essex, England
Adelaide, South Australia

Wallace John 25/5/1858
Wivenhoe, Essex
Wivenhoe, Essex

William Ruffell 30/4/1860
Wivenhoe, Essex
Mt Pleasant near Wollongong, New South Wales

Thomas Jeffrey 15/6/1862
Wivenhoe, Essex
Wivenhoe, Essex

Arthur Frederick 19/9/1863
Colchester, Essex
Adelaide, South Australia

Sarah Jane 19/2/1866
Colchester, Essex
Prospect, South Australia

Mahala Annie 12/4/1867
Wivenhoe, Essex
Sydney, New South Wales

Victoria Emily 25/6/1869
Wivenhoe, Essex
Gilberton, South Australia

Blanche Elizabeth Grace 8/3/1871
Wivenhoe, Essex
New South Wales

Cicey Mary Ansell 20/12/1872
Wivenhoe, Essex

Charles Anthony 21/6/1875
Wivenhoe, Essex
Northam, Western Australia

Grace Maud Beatrice 21/6/1875
Wivenhoe, Essex
Adelaide, South Australia

Marguerita 9/5/1876
Wivenhoe, Essex
Wivenhoe, Essex


  • Seax Registers
  • Obituary of William Munson Mills, from the Observer, March 24th 1917
  • Historical Information received from William Munson Mills (junior) on 22nd September 2000
  • Family Bible information
  • Information from Bernie Barnes, UK
  • Birth, Deaths & Marriages records
  • Baptism records
  • Indenture records