'Cousin Walter', or Walter Thomas Bassett (1866-1952), has figured in Australian and Dadswell family history on a number of fronts. But what do we really know about him and his family?
Walter is known for his service in the Victorian Navy in colonial times, his trip to China as part of the Victorian naval contingent during the Boxer Rebellion, and - until his death in 1952 - his contact with members of the Dadswell family.
Contact with he and his wife (formerly Annie Crittall) at their Ivanhoe, Melbourne, home led to meetings over many years with members of the Bassett and Crittall families when Australian Dadswells travelled to England.
So, what is known about Walter and his family?
Walter Bassett and his wife, the former Annie Crittall, were first cousins, and their grandmother was a Dadswell (Jane Hannah Dadswell, who married John Bassett). They also had an uncle (Charles Bassett) who married a Dadswell (Elizabeth Jane Dadswell), so the Bassett and Dadswell families were intertwined well before Walter and Annie settled in Australia.
Walter Thomas Bassett was born in Rotherfield, Sussex, on 21 April 1866, the son of Thomas Bassett and Isabella Gorrange (later spelled Gorringe). The 1871 census shows the 5-year-old Walter living at Town Row, Rotherfield, with his mother and 86-year-old great grandmother, Charlotte (Ovenden) Dadswell.
Family sources believe that during some of his childhood, Walter was looked after by one of his aunts, Abigail Bassett (also known as Abigel) who in 1862 had married Alfred Crittall. At the time of the 1881 census, Walter (aged 14) is shown as living with the Crittall family and was employed as a farm servant. His cousin and future wife Annie Crittall was in the same household.
In September 1883, when aged 18, Walter Bassett embarked on a career at sea, sailing aboard the trading ship Cape Vincent as an apprentice for four years. The following year he was selected to act in place of the 3rd officer who was one of seven crew members lost to cholera. Walter remained as acting 3rd officer until completion of his apprenticeship.
He was still aboard the Cape Vincent in November 1888 when it arrived in Melbourne with a cargo of timber. He left the ship there, and in the following January enlisted in the Victorian Navy, a small colonial force which existed before the establishment of the Royal Australian Navy.
[Although there are some time discrepancies in the story, Henry William Dadswell (1894-1978) of Red Cliffs said Walter had told him he went to sea early in life, that the captain of his ship had been so severe he ran away - and by joining the Navy the captain could not pursue him].
His certificate of service with the Victorian Navy showed that despite his prior sea-going apprenticeship, he still served six months on probation before being accepted for a five year enlistment.
His cousin, and future wife, Annie Crittall, arrived in Melbourne aboard the P&O steamer Britannia in 1891 but presumably travelled onto Sydney as in April of that year Walter Bassett travelled to Sydney to marry Annie who was nursing and living at Leichhardt.
[This union meant that Annie was marrying into the Bassetts, her mother's side of her family - see chart below].
Walter continued to serve in the Victorian Navy and this included time aboard HMVS Cerberus - the picture at right is Walter aboard this ship. As a signaller, he left Melbourne in 1900 aboard the SS Salamis with the Victorian naval contingent to serve in China. A year later he was back in Melbourne, and subsequently was made yeoman (or petty officer) of signals.
He remained in navy service until 1911 when he transferred to Navy Office (the main administration centre of the Royal Australian Navy), which at that time was located in Victoria Barracks, Melbourne. After his "retirement" in 1932, he received a letter of appreciation from the State Governor for services rendered. However, for this naval-minded man, it was not the end of his association with the Navy.
Both Henry Dadswell and Tom (Toz) Dadswell (b1932) could recall a story about Walter giving a false age so he could again serve. Toz believes this was during World War Two, when Walter applied to again serve at Navy Office. But by this time (ca 1939), Walter was more than 70 and apparently was only accepted when he somehow concealed his real age.
He was a very young 70 - at the time of this work he was cycling from his home in Ivanhoe to Navy Office in St Kilda Road, a distance of about 10 kilometres, and home again, often in the dark. Eventually he was recognised, his age was checked, and he was compelled to retire.
Henry Dadswell said Walter had made contact with his father (Alfred Otto Dadswell), and the family contact grew from there.
Henry said also that he had met Walter before he (Henry) sailed to Europe to serve in World War One theatres (Henry wrote in Diary of a Sapper that Mrs Bassett - he would never have called her Annie - took him under her wing when he was recovering from diphtheria during his army training in Melbourne).
It was from those meetings that Henry subsequently visited the Bassett and Crittall families while he was on leave in England.
Other members of the family also met Walter at the Waterdale Road, Ivanhoe, Melbourne home or at the Dadswell family home at Warrak, near Ararat (the picture above is of Otto Dadswell, left, and Walter at Warrak).
Walter's sea-going stories certainly had an influence in the decision of Toz Dadswell joining the Royal Australian Navy in 1946. The young Dadswell had met Walter and had heard stories of his sea-faring days.
Walter subsequently followed with interest the naval career of the young Dadswell, and he also attended Toz's graduation ceremony at Flinders Naval Depot in 1949. At the graduation he was introduced to Rear Admiral J. A. (later Sir John) Collins, who then recalled Walter from the time when he (Sir John) first joined the Navy as a cadet (1913).
Picture at right: Walter (left), aged 84, at the Royal Australian Naval College 1949 graduation at Flinders, Victoria, of Thomas (Toz) Dadswell (centre), with Rear Admiral J. A. (later Sir John) Collins.
The Bassett family lived at Ivanhoe for much of their life. Walter and Annie had four children - Isobel Helen Bassett (1893-1978), Winifred Kate Crittall Bassett (1895-1978), Florence Annie Bassett (1902-1997) and Mary Lillia Bassett who was born and died as an infant in 1904. Annie died at Ivanhoe in 1930 when aged 65, and Walter was still living there when he died on 13 July 1952 at the age of 86.
So, where does the Bassett family fit in with the Dadswell family?
In the table and chart below, only the direct family lines have been shown - for clarity, siblings have not been included. Firstly, the chart shows the common line of our direct descendents:
Robert Doudeswell (ca1560 - 1636)
married Elizabeth (surname unknown)
Robert Doudeswell (1606 - 1676)
married Mary Anyscombe (died 1633)
Edward Dodswell (1659 - 1736)
married Elizabeth Elliott (ca1657 - 1735)
Alexander Dodswell (1686-1766)
married Anne Baker (1693-1778)
Thomas Dadswell (1732-1803)
married Sarah Brown (?-1808)
James Dadswell (1786-1838)
married Charlotte Ovenden (c1788-1882)
At this point, the family lines diverge, and a chart may be a better way to show how the Bassett, Dadswell and Crittall families came to know each other.
For Henry Dadswell of Red Cliffs, Victoria, his 'Cousin Walter' was, in fact, his second cousin.
Walter Bassett details on Victorian Naval Forces Muster
Index of Family Stories
- Information compiled February 2006, updated September 2011