Week 06 – Surprise

This is a story full of SURPRISES!

How did the name of a respected twenty-one year old young man, son of a baron and a Roman Catholic, appear on the birth certificate of a baby girl born in the Church of England workhouse at St George, Hanover Square on 21 July 1819. Now that was a matter of conjecture and what a SURPRISE for me when I was researching my respectable Protestant line!

St George's Hanover Square Workshouse
St George’s, Hanover Square Workhouse

It intrigued me and I continued my search. Caroline Woller (or Wooler, or Wooller) was born in the workhouse of St George Hanover Square to Elizabeth, who was not quite fifteen and certainly not married. If you look at most birth records for this type of birth it is quite unusual to even have a father recorded, yet when I found Caroline’s, the name of the father jumped out from the page – Charles Clifford, Gentleman. It was a SURPRISE for me and I was immediately intrigued.

Who was Charles Clifford, Gentleman, and why had he abandoned this fourteen- year-

2017 - 06 - CLIFFORD - 8 Mansfield Street - digital image taken by James (1)
My son James outside            8 Mansfield Street,    Marylebone

old girl to have her baby in the workhouse? It did not take me very long to discover who he was. Within a mile, in the upmarket suburb of Marylebone, was the Town House of Charles Clifford, 6th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh, Devon, the father of our young gentleman. So, one part of the SURPRISE had been uncovered.

The second part of this SURPRISE took more time for me to discover. Why was young Elizabeth placed in a workhouse? The immediate reason was, of course, because she was pregnant. Yet young Charles Clifford was openly claiming to be the father, so one must presume it was his father who insisted that Elizabeth be sent away. The next question that occurred to me was, “Why so close?” Surely this would not prevent the scandal being discovered. I began to delve into the Clifford Family, a well-renowned, well-liked, prosperous family in the London community. Young Charles, his second son, was renowned as a member of the “haut-ton”.

But there was one thing that stood out – another SURPRISE – Lord Charles, a Baron, did not sit in the House of Lords. I wondered why,  then realised the obvious answer. He was a Roman Catholic. My research showed he was indeed a leading member of London Roman Catholic Society. At that time, he was not allowed to “sit” in the House of Lords, although this changed just a few years’ later in 1822. Therefore, their social circle would have mostly included the Roman Catholic Elite, so placing Elizabeth so close to home, but in a Church of England workhouse would have appeared to be quite a safe option. Again, was it on Charles Junior’s insistence that she remained close? I do not know.

Elizabeth with tag (1)The last SURPRISE is still to be found. It is a “brick wall”. I look forward to discovering when, why and how this young woman and her baby daughter left London and travelled to the other side of the world to live in Tasmania. Once in Tasmania, Elizabeth and Caroline’s lives changed for the better it would seem. They both assumed responsible roles in the household of John Bell Esquire. They both eventually married pardoned convicts. Their husbands supported them financially They both had several children who survived to adulthood. What started as somewhat a tragedy ended in triumph. That indeed would have been a SURPRISE for them, I feel.

Week 05 – At the Library

This week’s narrative does not involve an ancestor specifically. It is more a story of my relationship with each one of them. It is the history of my entanglement, preoccupation, involvement and fascination with family history and genealogy. Where did this tale begin? In a library of course!

My journey began with a random comment by my ex-mother-in-law in about 1980. We were talking about families and relations in general, one day and she said,

“There’s a street in Sydney named after my family.”

Of course, I asked. She told me it was Beehag Street in Kyeemagh, just off Botany Bay. It was where one branch of her family first settled and had market gardens. This spiked my interest and at my earliest opportunity I took myself of to the Society of Australian Genealogists library to do some research. So, my first foray into family history was into my in-laws, not my own family. From that library, I went to various local historical societies – those of you who are old enough will identify with me – hour upon hour spent crouching over the microfiche machine, hand cranking, eyes focusing on the rolling visuals until suddenly you spy the one little piece of information that you’ve spent at least two hours trying to find. Then you’d spend your hard-earned cash on a printout that, if you were fortunate, was legible. I learnt about Beehags, Stoneys, and various other interesting names including one that at the last count had seven different spellings – Weidemeier being the finally accepted one!

St Catherine’s House in London

An overseas trip meant spending three days immersed in St Catherine’s House, chasing up the Fiander side of my husband’s family. So many large volumes to peruse and copies duly obtained. It was quite overwhelming as my expertise was severely lacking in those days. All of this was while I was still married to the in-laws and living in Sydney.

When the marriage ended in 1988, I returned to live closer to my familial support system in Burnie, Tasmania. Family history was put on the backburner for a while. But my father kept newspaper cuttings. He had been doing it for many years. Anything and everything – hatches, matches and dispatches, successes and achievements – about his family and my mother’s family was cut out of the newspaper and stored in a box. I asked my father what he was going to do with all of these, and he asked me to help him sort them. This aroused my interest in family history again, so where did I go – off to the library!

Just a minute selection of the microfiche records collected

The local historical society’s library was a good starting point. I was fortunate as more than 50% of my family history is based in and around Burnie, but it was only a beginning. When I ran out of information, the beautiful old lady who managed the library sent me off to the local municipal library and from that moment on, I was hooked. I haunted that library so often that all the staff knew me, and we were on a first-name basis! These records that I acquired over the next five years were detailed and still remain as the foundation for the family tree I have created. Those microfiche records that I printed out, I then documented and even had them laminated, which was fortunate because it meant they survived a house fire I had eight years’ later.

Now, of course, my research assistant is not a library, but my computer. However, on a recent trip to Hobart from my home on the mid north coast of New South Wales, I took great delight in spending a lovely morning with my cousin and her husband who help run the Tasmanian Family History Society library at Bellerive, and two full days in the Tasmanian Archives – there’s still a certain feeling, actually being in a library!

Week 04 – I’d Like To Meet

I would love to have met my step great-grandmother, an amazing woman named Amelia Frances Byworth Atkinson. Writing about her is easy; distinguishing the fact from folklore is very difficult. I grew up with stories about this incredible woman and when I started to research my family tree, some of the stories were supported and some became exaggerated “Chinese Whispers”!

Here is the background to her story. My great-grandfather, William Henry Atkinson Snr, was born in Tipperary, Ireland in 1844. In 1854, at the age of ten, with his parents, Thomas and Eliza, and four siblings, he emigrated to Tasmania. On the ship, he met his future wife, Eliza Spooner, the daughter of the ship’s mate, who was the same age – maybe childhood sweethearts! Twelve years later, they married and then had five children in the next seven years. The saddest part of this love story is that Eliza died of puerperal fever, within a month of the last child being born. William Henry was left behind with five children under seven years old, living in the bush behind Burnie.

So, this is when Amelia Frances Byworth comes into the story. The daughter of a Master Mariner, she was born at sea in 1853. According to family folklore, she was introduced to William through the friendship of her father with William. Poor Amelia had been thwarted in love and needed somewhere to hide away to nurse her wounds for a while.

wh senior and amelia
Amelia and William on their wedding day

At William’s invitation, she travelled to Burnie by ship, and landed on shore in the bosun’s chair! She became a companion for William’s mother, Eliza. I think William had a plan in mind from the beginning as he had not long lost his wife, Eliza! Just seventeen months after his wife’s death, they married. Amelia, at just twenty-one years old, took on William’s brood.

Let me describe where they lived. The Atkinson clan, who had arrived in Tasmania in 1854 had been sponsored by a Captain H. B. Stoney (his brother, the Rev, Ralph Stoney, lived in a house called “Firmount”, had baptized the Atkinson children in Ireland and had employed Thomas Atkinson!). He had acquired a large tract of land and employed Thomas to manage 640 acres on Round Hill in the Burnie area (Highest hill in linocut below from 1835). This land proved useless for farming. Thomas then acquired land from the VDL company.

Linocut of Burnie from 1835,           hand-coloured in the 1890’s.

The boundaries of this land today are Mount Street, Three Mile Line, Mooreville Road and Linton Street/Malonga Drive – nearly 1800 acres (720 hectares) (Look it up on Google Maps)! It was completely bush, and the Atkinson men cleared it. They mostly ran cattle, and of course, grew potatoes, but it was still a very tough life. It still took nearly a day on a bullock dray to go down the hill to the rudimentary settlement of Emu Bay, about four kilometres away and approximately a six-minute drive now.


02 fairmount family - atkinson- byworth - circa 1897 adjusted
Amelia’s ten surviving children

So not only did Amelia take on William’s five children but also the harsh reality of living in a tough neighbourhood! She raised the five children as though they were her own and bore eleven more children to William, ten of whom survived till adulthood. She was renowned in the district for the care and attention she bestowed on all the fifteen children. Once a month, they would all make the journey to Burnie to get supplies and it was always noticed that every man in the family displayed starched white collars and cuffs and the women and girls always had stiffly starched white aprons. How she managed and maintained that kind of standard in the conditions in which she live is unimagineable.

Now this is where the story becomes interesting. Family folklore says that before she married William, she made him change his will to the effect that if she had any children then they would inherit any property that William acquired or already owned, thus disinheriting the first family. He agreed and that is what happened. The males in the first family toiled and created a prosperous empire but when their father died, they inherited nothing. Amelia’s ten living children, however, split the inheritance between them. Amazingly, the half siblings remained as family, such was the love and devotion she had imbued into their lives.

Even though my great-grandfather, William Henry Jnr was disinherited, he apparently never spoke ill of Amelia and only ever spoke with affection of her – a truly amazing, intuitive, practical and clever woman. I would certainly loved to have met her.

Week 03 – Unusual Name

james - john james (1)John James – that’s not an unusual name. But there’s more to this story.

John James arrived in Tasmania on the “Clyde” on 18th December 1830, as a convict. Over the next fourteen years he served out his sentence and received a Pardon in early 1844. He married Caroline Wooller soon after. When their first child arrived, he was named William FAIRCHILD James. He had a daughter than another son, who was named Charles FAIRCHILD James. Through at least three to four more generations, the FAIRCHILD name has been carried on as a second name for both male and female offspring!

When I discovered this, my interest was piqued. Where had this FAIRCHILD name come from? I attempted to find the name in John James’ background but could find no birth records in London for a John James at the appropriate time for a John James, let alone one with the name Fairchild involved. After much searching using various sites, I had hit a “brick wall”.

I set it aside for quite a while then in a ”light bulb” moment – what if my John James had been born FAIRCHILD. More searching ensued. Success – a child was born on 17th October 1813 and surrendered to the orphanage at St Pancras Church, London, to Isabella FAIRCHILD and James Tobin. The father was already dead and, one must presume, the mother died in childbirth. So, John James Fairchild Tobin was a foundling.

By the age of 14 he was apprenticed to a butcher and, as was quite often the custom for foundlings, his name was simplified to John James. I have yet to document this officially, but the thread of facts is reasonably strong, and is strengthened by the use of the name FAIRCHILD, as homage to his mother, in later years. Am I clutching at straws? I hope not!

Week 02 – Challenge

It was a cold and stormy night off the coastline of Western Australian coast in 1876 when the “Georgette” began to sink.
My 3x great-grandmother, Elizabeth (Laking) Hauxwell (41), was on board with at least four of her children Frances (8), Isabella (4) John (2) and my 2xgreat-grandmother, Annie (Hauxwell) Stammers (20) , who also had two young children with her – Mary Ann (4) and John(1). They were travelling to Adelaide where both fathers had gone to establish a building business.
There are two parts to the disaster that night. When the steamer began to take on water, the engines were flooded and stopped. It was left lifeless in the rolling waves. The captain gave the order to launch the first lifeboat with twenty women and children on board. It started to take on water very quickly then a large wave smashed it against the bow of the boat splitting it in two. All the passengers were thrown into the water. Some were pulled into another lifeboat, but two women and five children drowned. These included my 3x great-grandmother Elizabeth and her three children, Frances, Isabella and John.
All of this I know. All of this my fellow family historians agree with. My challenge is what happened to my 2x great-grandmother Annie and her two children. The passengers who were rescued into the second lifeboat drifted away from the “Georgette” and eventually landed. This is the first part.
Mary Ann (Stammers) Mitchell is my great-grandmother. As a child, my Nana Mitch told me the story of the shipwreck. She told me how she was put into the lifeboat. She told me how she was pulled back into the ship. Most importantly, she told me how the lady on the horse rescued her, her little brother and her mama, just as portrayed in the painting below.georgette-oil-painting-sr01[1]

Most of the newspaper reports that were received secondhand from either passengers or other witnesses to this disaster vary incredibly. Some record the women and children as all being on the lifeboat – that would make twenty-two plus crew. Some record the number on the lifeboat as being 17, including the crew and male passengers on board. Some reports record the names of passengers on board the lifeboat, including one Mrs Summers, who, by the way, is on none of the official passenger lists – some say this is Mrs Stammers – and this is the accepted story within the family. And, so it goes on. They are severely conflicted in their supposed facts.
The most reliable report comes from the Master himself. I choose to go with his official report. In this, it is stated that SOME of the women and children were put onto the lifeboat. It then states that SOME of the women and children were pulled back into the Steamer when the lifeboat sank. The second lifeboat with seventeen passengers onboard made landfall safely.

Then Part Two – the Georgette, still with fifty or more passengers, including six or seven women [and children] continued to take on water and drifted further south before the captain’s decision was to launch the last lifeboat. This was used to try and ferry passengers to the shore although it capsized on each occasion. Most made it to shore safely, but it was at this moment that Grace and Isaac intervened, assisting those floundering in the surf to make it to shore.

This account matches the oral story relayed to me by my great-grandmother. Now MY CHALLENGE is to convince the rest of the family!

Week 01: Firsts

auld kirk sidmouthWho was my first ancestor to arrive in Australia?

His name was James Reid. He arrived as a free settler, with his wife Annabella (Murray), in Hobart Town, on 15th January 1823. He had three children with him – Ann, James and Henry Grey.

James was my third great-grandfather. He was the son of a very well-to-do merchant from Edinburgh and Leith, also named James.

To emigrate to Australia, James had to apply to the Colonial Department. He had to prove that he had enough money to support his family once he arrived in Australia, approximately £5 000.00 per head of each family – in his application he stated that he had at least that much for each member of his family – about $4.5 million in today’s value! So together with his brother-in-law, he chartered his own vessel, the Urania and with about 62 people on board, they sailed from Leith in mid-June 1822.

You’d think that with that kind of backing his life would be successful and his business would prosper in Tasmania. For some time, it was indeed. With his wife Annabella, he had seven more children. He bought and settled land near Campbelltown and called it Greenhill but when the wool trade failed, he lost most of his money. By 1830, he had settled on the Tamar River on a property called Richmond Hill, near Sidmouth.

He built up a prosperous property and an excellent reputation in the colony, but his life was dogged by tragedy. Within a period of twelve years, he lost four of his children – his sons, James and Thomas drowned in their early twenties, Ann, his daughter died in childbirth and his son, Henry Grey fell from the back of a bullock dray. Despite this, he maintained a strong faith and was instrumental in not only donating the land for the Auld Kirk in Sidmouth but also in raising the funds for its construction. His three sons, his wife Annabella and he are all buried in the churchyard.