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Heidelberg’s Busy Bee Signature Quilt, 1895-96

Square E2

Quilt square E2


S. Bennell


The person represented here is most likely to be Samuel Bennell (1838-1895), a builder who lived in Fitzroy before retiring to Sandringham.

Further information

Samuel Bennell was born in Launceston, Tasmania. His parents John Bennell (1800-1866) and Mary Ann Wallace (1805-1839) were married in Southwark, Surrey in 1823 and subsequently migrated to Tasmania. John’s younger brother, James Bennell (1809-1878), together with his wife Hepzibah Beaumont (1813-1882) and young family, also migrated to Tasmania, arriving in Launceston in 1832. Both Bennell brothers worked in the building industry. 1,2,3.

Following Mary Ann’s death in 1839, John Bennell and his three surviving children, including Samuel, moved to Melbourne. John then married Mary Jane Ward (1826-1863) in 1841. The couple went on to have a large family of 10 children, six of whom survived to adulthood. These included Benjamin Bennell (1846-1908) [K10] and Joshua Bennell (1848-1928). 4,5.

Samuel Bennell married Rebecca Mercer (1842-1872) in 1859 and the couple had six children, three of whom survived to adulthood. Following Rebecca’s death, Samuel married Hannah Naomi Bennell Bailey (1855-1891) in 1884 and had four more children, three of whom survived to adulthood. They lived at 167 Brunswick Street, North Fitzroy. 6,7.

Samuel and his two half brothers Benjamin and Joshua followed in the family tradition and worked as contractors and builders. 8,9. As well as building the Baptist Church in Clifton Hill, Joshua Bennell was the building contractor for the new Scots Presbyterian Church, Heidelberg, 1900-1901. 10,11.

It may not be immediately obvious what the connection was in 1895-96 between the Busy Bees in Heidelberg and Samuel Bennell, by then a widower for a second time. However in 1890, Samuel’s eldest surviving daughter Mary Ann (1864-1934) had married John Anstruther Davidson Donaldson (1864-1961), youngest son of John Donaldson (1827-1905) and his wife Anstruther Davidson (1827-1864) of Bellevue, Ivanhoe.

John Anstruther Davidson Donaldson (JADD) is very likely the J.A.D.D. at [A10]. After leaving school, he had gone to work with Samuel so the Donaldson and Bennell families were clearly well known to each other. 12. The Busy Bee ‘I Donaldson’ in the [Central] square of the quilt could be Isabella Leslie Donaldson (née Cantlay, 1843-1931), second wife of John Donaldson, stepmother of JADD, or Isabella Ann (1869-1900), JADD’s half-sister. The Busy Bee ‘M Donaldson’ could be JADD’s sister Margaret Alexander Davidson Donaldson (1860-1940), or his half-sister Mary May Donaldson (1874-1924). For further information on the Donaldson family click here (opens a PDF).

JADD and his wife Mary Ann Donaldson initially lived in Clifton Hill where their two daughters, Muriel Rebecca (1891-1961) and Margaret Alexandra (1893-1990) were born. They then moved to Sandringham where their next three children, John Samuel (1896-1917), Mary Amy Isabella (1898-1996) and Victoria Dorothea (1901-1982) were born. Muriel’s name [B14] appears to have been contributed to the quilt after their move to Sandringham.

The newspaper notice of Samuel’s death describes him as a ‘contractor, of Sandringham, late of Fitzroy’. 13. It is not clear when the widower Samuel Donaldson and presumably his younger children moved to Sandringham, nor whether they overlapped with John and Mary Ann and their young family.

Samuel Bennell’s square was presumably contributed to the quilt before his death in November 1895. His is the only contribution that we have identified where the contributor was no longer alive when the quilt was completed in February 1896. (See [A17] for the completion/sign-off square.)


  1. Ancestry.com ‘John Bennell Facts’, Mathieson Family Tree, viewed 29 February 2020.

  2. ‘Judicial and Law Notices’, The Argus, Wednesday 6 June 1866, p. 3.

  3. ‘The late Mr Jas Bennell’, Weekly Examiner, Saturday 2 March 1878, p. 17.

  4. Ancestry.com ‘ Benjamin Bennell Facts’, Melinda Eddington Family Tree, viewed 29 February 2020.

  5. Ancestry.com ‘Joshua Bennell Facts’, Faubel Family Tree, viewed 29 February 2020.

  6. Ancestry.com ‘Samuel Bennell Facts’, Mathieson Family Tree, viewed 29 February 2020.

  7. ‘Funeral Notices’, The Argus, Wednesday 20 May 1891, p. 1.

  8. ‘Wills and Estates’, Australasian, 28 March 1896, p. 33.

  9. Ancestry.com ‘Benjamin Bennell 35 Hodgkinson Street, Clifton Hill ¬ builder’, p. 3. Electoral Rolls 1906 Victoria, Batman, Clifton Hill Viewed on-line 7 March 2020.

  10. ‘Baptist Church, Clifton Hill Laying the Foundation Stone’, Mercury and Weekly Courier, Thursday 27 June 1895, p. 3.

  11. ‘Scots Church, Heidelberg’, Mercury and Weekly Courier, Friday 5 July 1901, p. 2.

  12. Woiwod, M (1994) Kangaroo Ground: The Highland Taken, Tarcoola Press p. 118.

  13. ‘Deaths’, Australasian, Saturday 30 November 1895, p. 45.

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