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Joseph was baptised in the Yorkshire village of Methley on May 26th, 1799. He was the third of ten children born to Benjamin Popplewell and his wife Esther, nee Hartley.

Nothing is known of Joseph's life in England, other than the fact he became a stonemason at an early age. This was his occupation on arrival in Australia, and for the remainder of his life. He also apparently married, being described as a "widower" at his 1840 marriage, but his wife did not accompany him to Australia and so presumably had died before 1834.

He arrived in Sydney aboard the Royal Saxon on February 2nd, 1835. The ship had departed London on September 13th, 1834 and traveled to Liverpool, where it is likely that Joseph boarded. On September 20th, he left English soil forever.

Shortly after his arrival in Sydney, Joseph set up business as a stonemason at 184 Pitt street, somewhere near Brickfield Hill. His main work initially involved making headstones for the nearby Sandhills Cemetery. When this cemetery was cleared to make way for Central Railway Station, many of the headstones were transferred to Bunnerong, where examples of Joseph's craft can still be seen, rehoused in the Pioneer Park.

Joseph married at St. Andrews Scots Church, Sydney on March 26th, 1840. His wife was Mary Anne Moreland, believed to be the widow of James Morland who died in 1839. Joseph and Mary had a very short marriage, before Mary died in 1841.

In 1844, Joseph is shown as conducting his business at 184 Pitt St. He is also referenced in the Maitland Mercury in 1844, and Jan-June 1846 (see index by R and W Gow).

At this stage, he had met Emily Messer, the widow of publican Henry Messer, who bore him twins in 1845. Both died soon after birth. Joseph and Emily then moved to Morpeth, in the Hunter Valley, where they were married on April 20th, 1846. Their first surviving child, son David, was born at West Maitland in 1846, but the family soon returned to Sydney.

In the 1851 Sydney Directory Joseph is listed as a mason and sculptor at 63 Pitt-street South.

Joseph became the first Mormon convert in NSW (and the second in Australia) when, on December 3rd 1851 he was baptised into the religion. Together with Emily (also converted), their children, and Emily's daughter from her first marriage, they sailed for California and Utah aboard the Envelope, leaving Sydney on April 6th, 1853. Their stay was brief, Joseph having difficulty in coming to terms with the practice of polygamy. As far as can be ascertained, the family never left California before returning to Sydney aboard the schooner Jane A Falkenburg on April 14th, 1856. Emily's daughter (also Emily) did not return, having married in California shortly after arrival, and she remained in California for the remainder of her life.

Joseph returned to his career as a stone mason, working on such projects as the Great Hall at Sydney University, where he carved the gargoyles which decorate the exterior. He also left his initials (JP) on a decorative shield inside the Great Hall. Two posed photographs (one at left) exist of he and his team of workers with Professor John Smith in front of the partly-completed Great Hall, but unfortunately Joseph's face is in deep shadow.

In the 1858-59 Sands Directory, he is listed as a mason at 309 Sussex St.

In 1861, the Sands Directory shows him as a Stonemason, of Newtown- road, Newtown. By 1863, he had moved to Elizabeth-st, Camperdown, as a Stonecutter.

The later years in the lives of both Joseph and Emily are shrouded in mystery. It appears they were living apart when Emily died in 1863 at Penrith, where she is buried beneath an imposing headstone erected by "D & E Popplewell". Joseph survived another nine years, before he died at the Sydney Infirmary on July 23rd, 1872. He was buried in the Church of England section of Rookwood cemetery, ironically in an unmarked grave.