In this post I’m exploring the life of Joseph, another of the children of John Holdsworth, a carpenter who moved to Stepney in the early years of the nineteenth century. Like his older sister Eliza, whose life as a domestic servant I discussed in the last post, Joseph Holdsworth (who, confusingly, shared a Christian name with his grandfather, uncle, and a number of his cousins) was born in Oxfordshire. However, whereas Eliza was born in Chipping Norton, by the time Joseph was born in 1809, his parents had been living in Oxford for a number of years, and in fact another of his sisters, Keziah (who will be the subject of the next post) had been born in the city in 1804.

As mentioned in the previous post, John Holdsworth and his family had moved to William Street in the parish of St George in the East, at the latest by 1812, when Joseph would have been three years old, so most of his childhood was spent in Stepney. It was certainly there that he met his future wife, Elizabeth, some time in the early 1830s, when he was in his late teens. Elizabeth Osmer Cuzens lived with her parents in Elizabeth Street in Bethnal Green, between Old Bethnal Green Road and Hackney Road. However, like Joseph, Elizabeth had been born elsewhere: the Cuzens family had moved from Portsmouth, Hampshire, where Elizabeth was born in 1812.


High Street, Portsmouth, in the mid-nineteenth century (via

Elizabeth’s father Benjamin Cuzens was the clerk to a benevolent society and he had married his wife Elizabeth Osmer in 1800. They had two other children besides Elizabeth: a son Benjamin, born in 1801, and another daughter, Susannah, born in 1816, by which time the family was living in London. Like the Holdsworths, the Cuzens family were Dissenters. Benjamin Cuzens the elder had been christened at the Presbyterian church in Portsmouth High Street in March 1781, and his daughter Elizabeth at Orange Street Independent Chapel in Portsea. Moreover, his son Benjamin Cuzens the younger would become a Congregational minister. He was also a poet, hymn-writer and painter of some renown. Rev. Benjamin Cuzens was married first to a woman named Elizabeth Ann and then, after she died, perhaps giving birth to their  daughter Elizabeth, to Phoebe Clark, whom he married at the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, in 1828. Benjamin and Phoebe Cuzens would have ten children together.

Joseph Holdsworth married Elizabeth Cuzens at the parish church of St Anne, Limehouse, on 31st August 1835, when he was twenty-six years old and she was twenty-two. The witnesses included Joseph’s brother-in-law John Blanch, the husband of his sister Keziah.

By 1837, when their son (Joseph) George was born, Joseph and Elizabeth Holdsworth were living in Devonshire Street, Mile End Old Town. Joseph, now thirty-two, was working as a carpenter, like his father John. Another son, John Benjamin, followed in 1839. The family was still at Devonshire Street when the 1841 census was taken: Joseph was now described as a builder and Elizabeth as a haberdasher. In 1849 their daughter Emily Susannah was born, followed by Elizabeth Helen in 1846 and Mary Ann Eliza in 1849. The 1851 census finds the growing family still in Devonshire street, where George, now fourteen, was already working as a carpenter, almost certainly alongside his father Joseph.


Devonshire Street can be seen, to the north of Mile End Road, in this section of Greenwood’s London map of 1827

Meanwhile Joseph Holdsworth’s brother-in-law, Rev. Benjamin Cuzens, who had served congregations in Crick, Northamptonshire and Broadway, Worcestershire, was formulating plans to emigrate. According to Design and Art Australia Online:

Of delicate health, he was advised to seek a more suitable climate, so sailed for Australia as chaplain on board the Travancore . The ship left England with a select company of free tradesmen-settlers brought out under the auspices of Rev. Dr J.D. Lang of Sydney. Cuzens, his wife and family arrived at Point Henry in the Port Phillip District (now Victoria) on 1 November 1849 and immediately settled in Geelong, where Cuzens gathered the second Independent Church of Victoria in February 1850.

In time, they would be joined by Joseph and Elizabeth Holdsworth and their children, who sailed to Australia on the Lady Peel, arriving in Victoria on 17th January 1854. Joseph and Elizabeth would settle in Geelong, close to their relative Rev. Cuzens, and have two more children in Australia: Sarah Jane in 1855 and Henry Godfrey in 1859. I wonder if Joseph, a carpenter and builder, had a hand in the construction of his brother-in-law’s church in Geelong?


Geelong Independent or Congregational Church, Victoria, Australia (from the Illustrated Australian News, Melbourne, 30th August 1879, page 141, via

The Design and Art Australia website picks up the story of Rev. Benjamin Cuzens’ after he and his family arrived in Victoria:

Despite the secession of those opposed to state aid in April, the severe recurrence of his illness which confined him to a chair as a cripple, and the arrival of another minister to succeed him, he remained pastor of the Ryrie Street Independent Church until his death on 18 September 1869.

While subjected to this ‘long trial of suffering and inactivity’, Cuzens was able to develop his artistic talents. He specialised in flower paintings, exhibiting five at the Geelong Mechanics Institute in 1857 (poppies, arum lilies, camellias, geraniums and convolvulii), together with a miniature head of Christ painted on ivory and The Sisters . In 1863 he showed a flower painting and Crown of Thorns at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute.

Benjamin Cuzens died in Geelong in 1869, at the age of sixty-eight. At some point Joseph and Elizabeth Holdsworth moved to the district of South Yarra, Melbourne, perhaps to be near their son Joseph George and his family. Elizabeth Holdsworth died in South Yarra on 30th September 1891, at the age of seventy-eight. In 1903 Joseph Holdsworth’s name could be found in the electoral roll for the division of South Melbourne. Now aged ninety-four, he was said to be living at 402 Punt Road, South Yarra, and was of ‘independent means’. His son Joseph George, still working as a carpenter, was at the same address.


South Yarra, Victoria, Australia, in 1906 (via Wikipedia)

Joseph Holdsworth died at South Yarra, Victoria, on 12th July 1905 at the age of ninety-six: like his older sister Eliza, who died five years before him, he had lived long enough to see the beginning of a new century.