14 August 2023
Golden Opportunities

Henry Harper Curtis


Henry Harper Cutis was born on 15th August 1830 at Neath, the son of John William Curtis and Anna Maria Harper from whom he took his middle name.  The Curtis family[1]  were watchmakers and jewellers originating from Clerkenwell, London and Henry was apprenticed to his father at his watchmaking shop in the Brickyard, Neath (on the north side of Bridge Street; Brickyard Cottages still stand).  They also undertook clock repairs and in this capacity the young Henry was despatched to attend to the grandfather clock of the Paddison family at Trenache Farm in Bryncoch.  Here he met Julia Frances Paddison who had been running the household for her widower Quaker father since the age of thirteen.  Julia fancied 'the handsome brute' Henry and he saw the gentle Julia as just his style since he liked 'biddable women'.  They consequently fell in love and were married on 4th December 1849 at Mount Pleasant Chapel, Swansea when he was 19 and she was 21 years old. 

Within a few months of their marriage, in true pioneering spirit they set out for a new life in Australia, landing at Sydney, New South Wales, after a five month voyage.  They initially stayed with some Harper relations who had emigrated earlier but family friction caused them to journey 50 miles west to Bathhurst which was the gateway to the goldfields. Whilst it is unclear if he prospected for gold himself, he did achieve success as the town's jeweller [a clock made by Henry exists in the town museum] and later became the chief gold buyer of placer gold for the whole of New South Wales, buying the raw metal directly from the prospectors and reselling to a broker in Sydney. [Placer gold is the gold that most prospectors who 'panned' for gold are familiar with. It is not really any different to lode gold. It is simply a concentration of gold that is created over time as it erodes from hard rock veins.]  Being skilled in the handling of weapons, Henry was more than capable of survival in the sometimes dangerous business that would make him and Julia quite wealthy.  Whilst there the couple produced four children.    

Having accumulated what in those days was considered a small fortune, Henry decided to go back to Neath with the intention of buying a landed estate and living the rest of his days as a country gentleman.  Add to this, it is said that the Australian climate did not agree with Julia and nine years later in 1858 they returned to 'old' south Wales and settled at Trenache Farm (Julia's family home).  Things, however, did not go to plan as a bank panic wiped out much of his capital and Henry was obliged to re-enter the jewellery business, opening a shop in Wind Street next to the Glamorganshire Bank (No.8) and later at the corner of New Street with Green Street. A 'Curtis' clock is to be found in Maes-yr-Haf chapel which remains in working order today.

  He also joined the 15th Glamorgan Rifle Volunteers and became a keen marksman of national fame winning the Queen's badge for shooting at competitions of the English National Rifle Association in Wimbledon in 1863 and 1869.  The couple also had a further six children. Sadly one child died in infancy.


Henry Harper Curtis in uniform, with rifle. Buttons and badge of the 15th Glamorgan Rifle Volunteers

 By 1871 they were on their travels again and this time Henry and Julia along with their nine children ventured to Douglas County, Denver, Colorado in America.  Why they chose this particular destination is a mystery, but several other Neath families emigrated at the same time and on the same ship embarking on the S.S. Java at Liverpool.  In Denver, about three and a half miles south of Sedalia, at West Plum Creek, they bought a 560 acre ranch and enlarged the tiny house there by seven rooms.  Due to the oak thickets along its banks, they named their ranch 'Oaklands'.  The environment was aptly suited to the ranching of beef and dairy cattle as well as the growing of cereal and potato crops.  It would seem that this time the climate did agree with Julia, since they stayed for the rest of their lives adding to their holdings of land over the years.

Henry Harper Curtis also became a justice of the peace and a magistrate in Douglas County.  For a while he went to Long Beach, California (presumably taking the family along too), but returned to Colorado in 1883 and settled at the 'Pentilla Ranch' until 1902 when he returned to 'Oaklands'. 

Their Welsh origins can be seen in the names they gave to their properties such as 'Pentilla Ranch' at Littlejohn because the rolling prairie reminded him of Wales; the name means 'high and dry'.  Another property near the town of Sedalia is named Longford Court along with others that are named Gnoll, Cefan Court, Cimla and Brynhyfryd (Mount Pleasant).

Julia had become much more than the 'biddable woman' that Henry thought her to be when she was nineteen, being a formidable woman in her own right; she could ride as well as any man, chase off coyotes and was capable of conversing in the language of the neighbouring Native Americans.  She was proud of keeping a neat and tidy home and would not relent to do her housework even in later life when her infirmity reduced her to walking with crutches. Henry would die first in 1911 followed by Julia in 1913.  They are interred at Bear Canyon Cemetery.  Their farm 'Oaklands' enjoys preservation status.  Succeeding generations of the family number more than 500 descendants.


Henry & Julia Curtis in later life and their grave at Bear Canyon Cemetary




[1] William Curtis was a watchmaker and jeweller in Clerkenwell at a time when it was the centre of the London watchmaking industry. His son, John William, married Maria Harper (b. 1799), formerly of Brynhyfryd, Neath. John William Curtis took over, from his brother James, a watchmaker's shop in Brick Yard (probably the north side of Bridge Street, Neath). Anna Maria bore him seven sons and a daughter; the daughter and two sons died young and are buried in Zoar graveyard.  Of the later generations that did not emigrate, Alfred Curtis 1829-1886) became the first of three 'Curtis' Town Clerks of Neath, followed by his son, Edwin Charles (1886-1919) and grandson, Alfred Edwin Ifor who was also a Freeman of Neath Borough.



sitemap | cookie policy | privacy policy | accessibility statement