Scotch Bella: A Complicated Story of Early South Australia

(Waiting For Breakfast’ from The Sunday at Home magazine 1870)

Recently the South Australian prison records were digitized and made available on Familysearch and I’ve spent some time browsing the early years.

A fascinating part of the Adelaide prison records in the 1840s is that they state where the prisoner came from and what year they came to the colony of South Australia. There are some crimes that appear regularly, the main two being 1) refusal by an indentured sailor to return to his ship and 2) drunk and disorderly. Sometimes there were six or seven men from the same ship refusing to return, and often those sailors came from countries outside of Great Britain. One day I’ll explore maritime history in South Australia. I’ll add that to the list.

So, I was browsing the prison records and pondering on such crimes as ‘obstructing the footpath’ and ‘damaging melons’ and I started looking at the places of origin of the prisoners. That’s when I noticed how many ‘drunk and offensive behaviour’ crimes were committed by people from Van Diemen’s Land.

I’m sure everyone knows that Van Diemen’s Land is the primary focus of my research (closely ahead of Munster). So I started looking in the Tassie records to see who those people were, thinking they might have been former convicts.

I was right. Most of them got their conditional pardon and hightailed it out of the state through the late 1830s. It’s too early for the gold rush. I don’t know if they wanted a fresh start in a place requiring labour, or if they were trying to get back to England and just trying to save up for their ticket. By the time we’re into the 1850s there are prisoners from Port Philip as well, plus a couple from Sydney.

Yep, deeply engrossing stuff.

The Colony of South Australia

The colony of South Australia began officially in 1836. It was founded on the notion of free settlement by colonists who could either support themselves financially, or bring some skill with them that the colony required (which meant they could support themselves financially).

The colony was wanted by British folk who wanted a respectable home – ie no convicts, no slave labour, no suss religion – that sort of thing. People who wanted to emigrate, but wanted to emigrate to a place as civilised as the one they had left.

The colony version of a gated community, in fact.

Some people did ascribe to that ideal, but the whole scheme laid itself open to corrupt absentee landlords. A lot of dodgy practices took place such as applying for a land grant in a baby’s name to increase one’s holding, purchasing all the land along a creek so that landlocked grantees would go bankrupt and sell up cheap .. the kind of stuff you see in American Westerns with squatters and their hired gunhands.

The first settlers set foot on ground near Port Adelaide in 1836; just a couple of boatloads.

But with all its problems, some ethical and enlightened minds came out to help set it all up. It wasn’t all bad.

By 1838 the colony had a population of approximately 6,000, with maybe half of them in the designated principal port town, Adelaide. Colonisation started along the coast; the inland was too hot and dry and arid. A flourishing port town began on the Fleurieu Peninsula to the east of Adelaide. Others began on peninsulas to the west: the Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas. Travel between those growing towns was by boat.

Despite it’s lofty and exclusionary ideals, the colony of South Australia attracted ex-convicts and absconders from all over. It was something they hadn’t expected; something they had to find a solution for after the fact.

Dismayed by the need to do so, the administrators of South Australia designed and built their prison very early on; it was taking prisoners by late 1838 and construction continued for some years after.

By 1847 the population of South Australia is estimated at 31,000. Adelaide was still growing, plus people had moved inland. Not far in, but white settlers could be found as far north as Clare (about eighty miles) and as far west as Mt Barker.

By 1849 the population reached 50,000. It’s hard for any town to assimilate that much change.

Now on to the subject of this post ..

The Incarceration of Isabella Anderson

(Entry in the prison records for Isabella Anderson, 5th March 1848)

Isabella Anderson is an early female arrest in this particular register. Aged 41 years and single in 1848, she was found guilty of being ‘drunk and disorderly in Morphett Street’ and placed in prison for ten days. Her place of origin was Van Diemen’s Land and she came to South Australia in 1838.

I didn’t think that much about her until her name popped up again, just a few weeks later (1b).

“Common prostitute using profane indecent and obscene language in Hindley Park.”

She pops up again and again. It’s obvious she had a problem with alcohol, and struggled to keep a roof over her head. I started to feel sorry for her; a middle aged woman in a strange place. Who were her friends? Was anyone worried about her back in Van Diemen’s Land?

I delved a bit deeper. By matching news reports with the prison records I learned that Isabella Anderson was a highly visible character in Adelaide in those days, and was known rather unkindly as ‘Scotch Bella’.

Isabella Anderson in South Australia

The earliest record of arrest I’ve found so far is January 1841, she was drunk and disorderly at the Port. There are only men in the register before that. Isabella has the dubious honour of being the very first woman incarcerated in Adelaide Gaol.

She might have laughed about that. She was a woman of spirit in those days.

Just a few weeks later she was arrested again, the record calling her ‘a prostitute being drunk in the streets of Adelaide’.

Newspaper reports about Isabella Anderson take us back to 1842, but it’s clear she was a known character about town before that: probably since her arrival in 1838. I’ve included these snips because they show some of Isabella’s personality.

(18th April 1842) (1)

Wed 1 May 1844 (2)

Wed 1 Jan 1845 (3)

A long time ago, I read some instructions on taking oral histories for a family history group. One of the suggested questions was ‘what are some colourful characters that you remember around town?”

The question was designed to draw out descriptions of people like Isabella Anderson. Not to ridicule, exactly, but with a failure to understand that they often did not live that way by choice. It seems like choice, because they choose it. But for many on the streets in the past and undoubtedly in the present, it was like choosing to sit on a stone floor vs sitting on hot coals. A choice between something bad or something worse.

In 1840s Adelaide, nobody knew what to do with “Scotch Bella”.

1 May 1845 (4)

17 May 1845 (5)

21 May 1845 (6)

And so it goes on, chronicling Isabella Anderson’s descent into poorer physical and mental health until in mid 1846 we reach this event (7):

There’s a break after that. Isabella seems to have spent three months in the lunatic asylum before she was deemed cured and released to the world again. She went straight back in (8).

After this arrest she seems to have had another spell in the lunatic asylum, following which we get the spate of arrests in the prison registers shown above.

From this time there’s a change in Isabella’s mood. She’s not so happy. She starts thinking of Van Diemen’s Land as home. She’s clearly ready to leave South Australia now.

9th March 1848 (9)

Old lady? Isabella Anderson was forty three. Even by colonial standards that didn’t make her old. Most women were still having their last babies at this age, working in the fields, nursing family members, cooking and cleaning .. I expect it’s an indication of the impact of Isabella’s hard life. She looked old. She was over everything. She was feeling very, very alone.

27th May 1848 (10)

They didn’t send her back to Van Diemen’s Land. They just incarcerated her for another few weeks and then released her.

By this time I was quite invested in poor Isabella. I wanted to know how she ended up in that position. How was it that she was in her forties and single in a world where there was always some man to take a bedmate into his home? Fair enough, by the time she was in her forties she was addled and mentally damaged, but had she always been that way? She got to South Australia somehow, and Sergeant Lorymer said she was capable of work, he’d seen her do it.

If she was capable of work of any sort in a colony where women were in short supply, why was she single? And was she actually Scottish?

I can now answer some of those questions. Here’s the full story of Isabella (Bell) Anderson as I understand it.

NOTE: I should state here that I seem to be the only one following this connection for the Bell Anderson discussed next. It bothers me when that happens, it can mean I’ve missed some vital detail. But I’ve looked at the alternatives and I’m confident they can be eliminated. This is still the most compelling match for Isabella. (See section below blog for discussion of these alternatives)

The Whole Story

Isabella was born on 23rd December 1804 in a place called Dysart in the Scottish county of Fife. Her parents were Robert Anderson and Margaret nee Bruce, and she was the sixth child of eight. There’s few clues about her childhood. All of her siblings seem to have lived to adulthood.

She was baptised Isabella, but she was known as Bell to her family and friends. She first enters the criminal records at the age of eighteen.

Index search result on

I ordered the record and it came through very promptly from ScottishIndexes. Bell was arrested for drunkenness and interrupting passengers. In short, she was just the same then as she was in later years; alcohol made her vocal. She wasn’t afraid of attracting attention. She wasn’t afraid of conflict. And even then she had little hope for the future.

Edinburgh was a hard place to be vagrant. Bitterly cold, the inhabitants deeply suspicious, the wharf areas full of damp and decay. And utterly filled with desperation and depravity. A young girl in the midst of all this was at risk of all kinds of danger. She had to be tough just to stay alive.

This is an excerpt about recommitments to Edinburgh Bridewell, the city’s main prison.

(Picture of Edinburgh, John Stark 1821)

Bell spent 30 days in gaol, from 17th April to 17th May. After leaving prison she seems to have stayed in Edinburgh.

She’s put her age down slightly in this record; she was actually 19. The record also refers to a previous commitment on 22nd December 1822. She was seventeen then.

Every year from 1824 to 1828, there’s a record for Bell Anderson going into Edinburgh Bridewell for some short time. She was caught in the cycle of crime. And even then, it seems, alcohol had a hold on her. Maybe a physical hold, but certainly it was her escape, her way of relaxing. Her way of feeling human in a very harsh world.

The various incarcerations suggest she was drinking heavily and becoming very comfortable with gaol. The alcohol took hold with a vengeance. But at this stage drinking was a happy thing; something you did with your friends. They were all drinking as much as each other. There was camaraderie and solidarity. They were found family.

Somewhere around 1826 she met Robert Donaldson.

When Bell was twenty two years old, Robert was twenty eight. He was a tailor from Perthshire, black haired, brown eyed and tall. In 1828 he was lame in the left leg, there’s no indication if that was a recent injury or if he might have been born that way.

In her 1827 criminal record, Bell is surnamed Anderson. In 1828 she is Bell Robertson nee Anderson, and the two of them have a child, for whom I can find no baptism.

There’s no record of a marriage that I can find either. Maybe no ceremony was conducted, maybe the birth of the child was ceremony enough.

So contrary to the ‘single’ status we see in the South Australia records, by the end of 1828, at the age of twenty two years, Bell was a married woman and a mother.

A report of this court appearance was printed by various Scottish papers.

In the case of William Paterson, Janet Morrison, Marion Campbell or Ross, Robert Donaldson and Isabella Anderson or Donaldson, accused of robbing of his watch a man who had been inveigled by some of the females to a house kept by Paterson – Campbell and Anderson were sentenced to be transported for 7 years – Paterson, Donaldson and Janet Morrison to be transported for fourteen years. The Lord Justice Clerk, in the course of his observation on this case, dwelt most strongly and most justly on the evil tendency of such houses as that kept by Paterson, but for which, crimes in this city would be much less frequent, and the property of the citizens much more secure.

(Inverness Journal and Northern Advertiser 26 December 1828)

Reading between the lines, the house was the centre for an organised gang of criminals, maybe a brothel as well. It must have been exciting for a youngster like Bell. She possibly met the others in one of her first gaol stints. Her baby lived there too. Maybe was born there.

A random ship

This time, incarceration tore Bell’s world apart.

The baby’s name was Joan and she was just seven months old at the time of sentencing. All we know about her comes from the ship’s medical log.

Back in gaol, Joan was forcibly weaned from her mother “in preparation for the journey.” It was probably intended that she should die. Babies did die during weaning, it happened in Van Diemen’s Land after arrival.

Joan lived. She was taken on board the ‘Lady of the Lake’ with her mother and the two other women.

It was a journey that shook even the surgeon. His notes are heartfelt. He tried to maintain health on board – but they were handicapped from the start.

There are some dire notes in the medical log for that voyage (11b).

From 18-31 May 1829, we received 10 free women and 19 children; 81 female prisoners and 17 children, the largest ever sent to New South Wales in so small a vessel; and I may here observe, she was the smallest ship ever taken up to convey convicts. We were visited repeatedly by Mrs Pryoe and Miss Lydia Irving, the quakers, while at Woolwich, who appeared to be indefatigable in endeavouring to impress upon the prisoners the necessity of abandoning their evil ways, and becoming useful members of society. After several excellent admonitory discourses they distributed to them testaments, religious tracts, and several articles of comfort for their use during the voyage. “

Later in the journal:

On 8 July 1829 we reached Teneriffe to replenish our water, and procure fresh provisions for the convicts. Anna Maria Dix an infant nineteen months old died (on the 30 July) of atrophy, arising in some respects from want of proper food, having been deprived of its milk diet on embarking at Woolwich. On the 16 October 1829 it blew a complete hurricane, when the ship was obliged to be hove to the wind. On 30 September 1829, Christiana McDonald, a convict, aged 18, fell overboard, in endeavouring to save her cap, which was blown into main channels. The ship was going through the water at the rate of eight knots at the time. The helm was instantly put down, and a boat lowered, but she sunk almost immediately. All prisoners were landed on 6 November 1829. I may here be permitted to observe that a ship of the small tonnage of the Lady of the Lake is by no means adapted to carry out female prisoners from being constantly wet between decks and the hatches being obliged to be put on, thereby causing great deterioration of the atmosphere in the prison.

The surgeon wrote at great length about the patients in his care. The first was little Anna Maria Dix, mentioned above. But there were many others, including little Joan Donaldson.

Surgeon’s Report Joan Donaldson

August 9th 1829. Joan Donaldson aged 12 months.

This infant was a puny weakly child when received on board – was weaned at seven months old preparatory to accompanying her mother Joan [sic] Donaldson alias Anderson, a convict. The change of diet from that of (cow’s) milk to oatmeal and rice made a very striking alteration in her appearance the first month after quitting England. In fact, she never relished either gruel or rice, and latterly refused the former altogether, but made use of ??? and biscuit powder however this was soon expended.

On the 9th August she was very much emaciated and debilitated.

Difficult dentition about this period ushered in a train of febrile symptoms, accompanied by great irritation and almost total loss of appetite.

The surgeon describes how he treated little Joan with mild purges and tepid baths.

3rd September 1829: Eruption made its appearance behind the ears, head and different parts of the body. She was also attacked by diarrhea, aggravated by the increased irritation.”

She was dosed with ‘Cretaceous mixture with the addition of Tincture of Cinnamon’, plus occasionally a “mild purge of calomel and rhubarb“.

10th September 1829: The irritation was much abated, but she had become so reduced, and appetite having failed, that I entertained no hopes of her recovering. On the 10th September as 6.30pm she expired.

Poor Bell.

What she really thought, we’ll never know, but she’d grown up so lonely, so unprotected that I suspect she cleaved very hard to that child. And now Joan was dead; killed by the meddling of the authorities who thought they knew better than she did.

Bell had the rest of the journey to dwell on her thoughts.

The ‘Lady of the Lake’ arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 1st November 1829.

The three women were sisters in adversity. It was probably a mistake transporting them together, they were trouble from the day they arrived. Bell, Marion and Janet’s conduct reports look remarkably similar. Obscene language, drinking, not showing up for duty. Janet went off to some drinking establishment with her master’s child in tow. Bell was recalled from one position for disgusting language in front of the mistress’s children.

It’s probably too hard to read in this blog, but here is Bell’s conduct report. Full of detail. Full of strife.

The authorities had this strange idea that domestic service came naturally to a woman. There was a bit of training on the boat, but it was a big ask for girls who had run wild since childhood. It might have worked .. but Bell knew that authority figures couldn’t be trusted. She was tougher, stronger, in her own eyes far more resilient than a woman whose principal focus was getting bread to rise and putting a ribbon in the hair of a pampered child. A woman who had everything Bell had lost – how that was thrown in her face! Every day when she woke, she was in the midst of the world she’d thought she had.

From the vantage point of the educated future we know it wasn’t really like that. Bell was not in a good place. Her version of domesticity was full of danger and unhealthy living. She was about to raise that child in very risky conditions. But Bell wouldn’t have seen it that way, and Joan had died a needless death that nobody should have to die.

Plus, Bell was probably battling alcoholism before she even left Scotland, and in this land where wages were sometimes paid in ale, she had no hope of staying sober.

Here is Bell’s description:

A tiny woman with hazel eyes and dark hair, but larger than life like so many of those Scottish convict women. Volatile and restless, Bell owed nothing to anybody.

Her husband arrived the following year and his convict career was as active as hers. Plenty of drunkenness, absconding, petty thefts.

They never got back together. It seems as if they planned to at the start, each declared that their spouse was being transported too. But as the years went by, it just didn’t happen.

Bell and Marion’s time was up in 1835. (11)

The freedom was too much. Bell had never experienced normal life. I don’t know what her childhood was like, but given she was in prison by the age of seventeen, she’d found the wild side long before she knew anything of domesticity. Finally free in Van Diemen’s Land, she could only do what she had always done – drink. (12)

‘Glorious’ is an old word meaning ‘blissfully drunk’.

What was she to do? Bell was married. Her husband was inaccessible, but he was nearby and that meant she wasn’t free to hook up with someone else – at least, not very publicly, which meant a respectable man was unlikely to have anything to do with her.

Honestly, I don’t think Bell wanted a man in her life. She was independent. She had a sense of humour and people liked her. That’s why the two women came looking for her at the gaol that time. That’s why the journalist constantly wrote up her arrests. That’s why people discussed her possible death in those early years. She was a huge problem, but they didn’t hate her for it. They tried to help.

Bell lived in a world of prostitution and deception, but none of her difficulties involve men. She drank and got mouthy, that was all. But she drank alone, or she drank with other women. If there really were sexual encounter, they seem to have been purely business.

To me, it seems like she had a deep distrust of men. Any time a man showed interest she probably ran a mile from him.

She spent most of her convict years at Georgetown in the north. Maybe she went bush. Van Diemen’s Land was a small place in those days. If she’d stayed in Hobart or Launceston I think we’d see more of her in the police reports.

As for her friends, Janet was only halfway through her sentence, and Marion .. there’s a Marion Campbell (widow) who married convict Stephen Barnes in 1836, that might be her. Maybe. Those two lived very quietly as married servants in a household.

Bushland in Van Diemen’s Land was like this.

Bell went to South Australia in 1838, the year her husband was granted his ticket of leave.

Did she know he was getting that? Had they planned to go together, for Robert to abscond with here? Or was she leaving before he could gain his restricted freedom?

There’s no clear record of Bell’s journey to Adelaide. Various ships left from either Hobart or Launceston, some not listing passengers by name.

Perhaps the plan was for Bell to go first and set them up in Adelaide, and for Robert to follow when he was actually free. Or maybe he was ready to abscond, that certainly happened with ticket-of-leavers.

But he ended up arrested for drunkenness and you can’t get drunk when on a ticket of leave. His ticket of leave was revoked. Did Isabella wait in vain, thinking Robert had just abandoned her? Did she stay single for him until it was too late, until her health and her mind was gone?

Bell was already in Adelaide, using her maiden name and declaring herself a single woman.

Maybe it was Bell’s fresh start. She very firmly called herself single; even in the news reports she referred to herself as ‘Miss Anderson’. Was that irony? Was she remembering a husband and child whenever she said it?

All we know is how she lived through the next decade.

In the 1850s she settled down a little. Her health was very bad.

Let’s skip forward a few years to 1st March 1853 (13).

These are the last years that Isabella appears in court, so I’ll put them in. This is 21st March 1854 (14)

And two days later on 23rd March 1854 (15)

It was the final charge for Isabella Anderson, and I expect she was probably glad of it. She spent a short time in gaol and on 4th May 1854 she was taken to the lunatic asylum.

Here’s a truncated version of that last gaol record:

There’s nothing else in the papers about Bell Anderson until 1860. She gets a brief mention in a report on the asylum. It’s an indication of the level of her notoriety nearly a decade before.

23rd Jan 1860 (16)

Bell passed away in the Lunatic Asylum on 27th April 1866, aged 52 years, although not even Bell probably remembered her actual age. She was buried in West Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide and has an entry on FindAGrave, but the grave has been reclaimed for another person now.

No trace of Bell remains. I’ve managed to trace one of her sisters, Elizabeth Bruce Anderson, who married James Weir and emigrated to Canada. Elizabeth wasn’t as wild, it seems. Maybe she breathed a sigh of relief when she lost sight of her troubled little sister.

It’s possible that after her first gaol term Bell was ashamed to go home, or maybe she was banned from returning. Whatever the story, it’s a shame that Bell never did find a place where she felt she belonged. But hopefully the last few years were ones of peace.

Without meaning it, Bell has earned herself a place in the history books as one of the best chronicled colonists of South Australia. I like to think she’d find that funny too.

(West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide)

Bell Anderson alternatives in current research:

There are two

  • A baby Elizabeth Philips was baptised in Launceston Tasmania on 30 Jun 1837, parents Henry Philips and Isabella Anderson. This Isabella was likely to be Isabella Henderson of the ship Mellish whose marriage application to Henry Phillips was approved that same year.
  • Isabella Donaldson aged 64 died in Hobart in 1863, wife of a carpenter. I think that Isabella was the wife of William Donaldson, carpenter. Her death notice was in the paper that year. William Donaldson married Isabella Trotter in Dunino, Fife, Scotland and they had one son, Benjamin Trotter Donaldson. William Donaldson, carpenter, died on 20 Jun 1883 in the Tasmanian Huon, his death informed by his son Benjamin.


(1a) “Australia, South Australia, Prison Records, 1838-1912.” Database. FamilySearch. : 10 February 2021. Citing Attorney General Office of South Australia, Adelaide.

(1b) “Australia, South Australia, Prison Records, 1838-1912.” Database. FamilySearch. : 10 February 2021. Citing Attorney General Office of South Australia, Adelaide.

(1c) (1842, April 12). Southern Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1838 – 1844), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(2) AGRICULTURAL AND HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY. (1844, May 1). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 2. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(3) POLICE COMMISSIONER’S COURT. (1845, January 1). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(4) (1845, May 2). South Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1844 – 1851), p. 2. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(5) POLICE COMMISSIONER’S COURT. (1845, May 17). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(6) POLICE COMMISSIONER’S COURT. (1845, May 21). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(7) Friday, 24th April, (1846, April 25). Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(8) POLICE COMMISSIONER’S COURT. (1845, August 23). South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (Adelaide, SA : 1845 – 1847), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(9) APA citationThursday, 9th March. (1848, March 11). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(10) Friday, 26th May. (1848, May 27). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(11) FROM THE HOBART TOWN GAZETTE. Friday, Dec. 4, 1835. (1835, December 10). Launceston Advertiser (Tas. : 1829 – 1846), p. 4. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(11b) National Archives of London ADM 101/41/9

(12) LAUNCESTON POLICE INTELLIGENCE. (1836, January 16). The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 – 1880), p. 2. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from

(13) POLICE COURT. (1853, March 3). Adelaide Times (SA : 1848 – 1858), p. 3. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from

(14) WILLUNGA DISTRICT COUNCIL. (1854, March 21). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(15) SOUTHERN RACES. (1854, March 23). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

Jane Leahy – Curiously Absent from Everywhere

(Image from an 1870s magazine)

#52Ancestors Week 4 – Curious.

There are plenty of puzzles in my family tree. Despite all my efforts, Jane Leahy is still one of them.

Warning: this post is heavy on detail and more of a report than a general post.

Blackwater Castle near Castletownroche in Cork

Jane’s brief appearance in the records spans the seven years it took her to baptise five illegitimate children – 1839 to 1846.

The baptisms took place in the parish of Castletownroche. The father for all five was Henry Harrison Peard, and their address was given as Inchinapallas (aka Inchinapalace). Henry Peard’s death notice refers to him as ‘Henry H Peard of Inchinapallis’ so I think we can assume the two lived together.

That’s merely an assumption. Perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps Jane lived in a cottage on the property.

She was Irish Catholic and he was Protestant, but that didn’t truly stop people from marrying. It wasn’t very common, but it happened often enough. They were public enough that Jane could name him as the father for all the baptisms.

That said, did he even know he was publicly named? Was he present at those baptisms?

Here’s some geography. The world of Jane Leahy was a rather small triangle.

These towns and directions are pretty much to scale. Mallow, Fermoy and Mitchelstown form a triangle, Castletownroche and the townland of Inchinapallas are towards the centre south.

The Peards settled at Castlelyons near Fermoy somewhere around the 1640s (see Richard Peard-Adventurer or Gentleman?) and the ancestral property of Coole Abbey was passed down from eldest son to eldest son. They were comfortably off, not excessively wealthy. They weren’t titled. But they were landed gentry. They were educated, they travelled, they married into equally good families.

At least, some of them returned to Cork. I’ve not managed to trace the whole family.

As far as I can tell, our Henry Harrison Peard did not marry at all. He did not even marry the woman who gave him five children.

Why not?

There’s no indication that Jane could read or write. Castletownroche is six and a half miles from his home in Inchinappalas. I’m guessing she was a servant in Henry’s household and her parents were at Castletownroche. Would that be reason enough for him to not marry her?

Henry was aged about 25 when the eldest child John was baptised in Castetownroche. John was baptised on 26th June 1839, the 23rd child to be baptised that month.

(Baptism of John Peard 1839)

For a while I wondered if he really was the father, but enough DNA matches have surfaced to confirm that he was. At least, to confirm that a Peard of that particular family was the father.

Henry Peard was heavily involved in efforts to alleviate the impact of poverty on the Irish poor. The 1830s and 1840s were peak years of the Irish famine. Whole families were starving to death, fever was raging, misery was everywhere.

Henry’s family spent the 1820s in St Helier. Coming back to Cork from somewhere like the Channel Islands must have given the whole family a shock. The locals had grown gradually into the tragedy, but Henry and his siblings did not grow up here. They saw it in all its catastrophic rawness.

It might be because he lived elsewhere that a relationship developed between Henry and Jane. He didn’t have the local prejudices of religion, class and education. He exerted himself hugely to deliver food to the poor, to seek out medical help, to find them places to live.

But he still didn’t marry Jane, and when he died in 1847 of a fever probably caught from those he was helping, no trace of her remained. She just vanished.

I don’t know how old she was. All I know is that she was childbearing age from 1839 to 1846. She might have been 15 in 1839. She might have been 40. We can’t even be sure of her name. Yes, she was Jane Leahy, but was that by birth or marriage? Perhaps she was a widow?

Here’s that ‘map’ with a couple more places marked.

Castlelyons in the lower right is Peard homeland since circa 1640. It’s four miles from Fermoy. Ballyhooly is the nearest town to the townland of Inchinapallas, four miles from Castletownroche, 2.5 miles from where we think Henry Peard was living.
(Baptism of the second child, Richard Peard 1841)

Because we know so little about Jane, the best clue seems to be those baptism sponsors. Maybe they’re from Henry’s side, but if Henry’s family were happy to attend a local Catholic church for the baptism of Henry’s child among people who might have felt very bitter towards them with their good clothes and obvious health, then what possible impediment could there have been to the marriage??

(Baptism of third child, William Peard 1842)

At this point I’m puzzled that no child was named Henry.

It’s fairly common to name the first two boys after their grandfathers. We know that Henry Harrison Peard’s father was John Peard, so presumably young John was named after him. In that case, perhaps Jane’s father was Richard or William?

Whatever the naming system, we have three boys and none are named after their father. Why not???????????

Is there an elder child yet to find? Or did Henry perhaps already have a son named Henry with another woman?

(Baptisms of Ellen and Sarah Peard in 1846)

The final children were baptised together after a four year gap. This doesn’t make them twins. There’s no indication of their age at this time. I’m guessing Ellen was older than Sarah.

A Look at the Sponsors

I’m sorry. This gets convoluted.

I’ll add one more record here: the baptism of Patrick Sullivan in April 1839 with what has to be our Jane Leahy as sponsor. She would have been pregnant with John at the time, although maybe not showing if he was her first.

Here are my findings:

Digitised baptisms for Castletownroche begin in 1811. Older people might simply be absent from searchable records.

Thomas Donovan – no baptism located in Castletownroche. A couple in the further reaches of the diocese of Cloyne. Two babies of this name were baptised in Castletownroche in the late 1820s, perhaps suggesting they had a common grandfather of that name?? But those two are too young to be sponsors for an 1839 baptism.

Margaret Leahy – many possibilities. There is a possible 1819 baptism in Castlelyons (Peard home ground) with parents John Leahy and Ellen Cosgrave who also have a daughter Jane baptised 1816. This couple is a hot contender as parents of our Jane, but the surname Cosgrave does not show AT ALL among the trees of my DNA matches so I can confirm nothing. It’s possible that Henry hired his servants from his home town to Inchinapallas and their whole extended families moved with them, hence the switch from Castlelyons church to Castletownroche. But this is purely conjecture. There are several Margaret Leahy’s showing as mothers to baptised babies in Castletownroche through the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s.

Eugene Mahoney – no baptism found in Castletownroche but a candidate located in Castlelyons, baptised 1820 the son of Denis Mahoney and Ellen Mara(?), sponsors John Eagan and Ann Kenny.

Margaret Donovan – A possible baptism in Castletownroche in 1813, daughter of John Donovan and Mary Scannel with sponsors Patrick Mahoney and Mary Keefe. There’s a marriage in 1840 in Castletownroche between Margaret Donovan and Denis Sullivan. Witnesses look to be Daniel Sullivan and Owen Donovan, but the handwriting is a bit hard to read.

Daniel Neill – two options: there’s a marriage in Castletownroche in 1822 between Daniel Neill and Margaret Buckley. There’s a baptism in Castlelyons 1814, to Michael Neill and Honora Sullivan. The person on the scene is always the most likely.

Bridget Hickey – this is very likely the wife of Bartholomew Connell of Castletownroche. Her children were born concurrently with Henry and Jane’s.

David Gay – Two generations, son David baptised 1822 in Castletownroche to David Gay and Mary Nagle (sponsors Andrew Casey and Catherine Neill). In 1840 a baby David Gay was baptised in Castletownroche to William Gay and Julia Sullivan of Inchinapallas. William seems to be another son of the earlier David and Mary.

Catherine Culnane – There are a spattering of Culnanes in the Castletownroche search results but nothing conclusive.

Michael Flahavan – baptised 10 Oct 1819, son of Martin Flahavin and Jane Casey of Inchinapallas. There’s no doubt about this one. Sponsors to the birth were Ned Mahoney and Catherine Hickey. I can’t find a marriage, but from 1841, a Martin Flahavin and Margaret Donovan of Inchinapallas were baptizing children, including a daughter Johanna.

Margaret Sullivan – many possibilities, none certain.

Michael Sullivan – Michael Sullivan and Mary Sheahan lived at Inchinapallas. Their son Denis was baptised in 1834 and one of his sponsors was Michael Flahavan. I can’t find a marriage.

Patrick Sheahan – I think this Patrick might be the one baptised 08 Oct 1815 to William Shehan and Jane Keefe, living at Templenoe. Several of the Mary Sheahans that I looked at were in Templenoe. But I really am not sure.


This hasn’t helped me locate Jane, but it has shown a community.

The place was obscure, even by Cork standards. It rarely appears on 19th century maps or travel guides. The closest I’ve found is Ballyhooly which is equally obscure.

(Picturesque Views of the Antiquities of Ireland 1840)

Several families lived at Inchinapallas. These included the Sullivans, the Gays, the Mahoneys and the Flahavens, as well as our Jane Leahy and Henry Harrison Peard. There’s no indication that the sponsors of Henry and Jane’s children were family; they were probably just the other families in the same location. Friends.

The same surnames are scattered throughout the diocese, so there’s nothing to be learned there, and many records are illegible. It’s probably worth the time it would take to scour the parish records by hand and pluck out all the families of Inchinapallas – that’s a project I might undertake one day. But for now I’ll continue to explore the possibilites of DNA matching.

Through looking at the families of Inchinapallas I can see who Jane’s children played with; who their neighbours were. I don’t know if they continued in that place after Henry’s untimely death in 1847. I don’t know what his death meant to all the families there.

And so concludes this post: the curious absence of facts about Jane Leahy continues unabated.

(Leigh’s New Pocket Road-Book of Ireland 1835)

Beryl Reading – A Baby on a Postcard

#52Ancestors Week 3 – Favourite Photo

(Beryl Reading aged 3 months)

It was something they used to do in our state in the first half of the twentieth century- take a photo and turn it into a postcard that you could stick a stamp onto and send through the mail.

We have very few surviving photographs in our family. This is my grandmother Beryl, born January 1918 in Kempton, Tasmania. My grandmother handed it to me one day when I was visiting and said “Can you guess who this is?”

I couldn’t. I’ve never been good at recognising people.

She then let me turn it over to read the back, and said I could keep it if I wanted it.

Of course I did!

Message on back of the postcard

On the back it says:

“Dear Sarah

Beryl when she was 3 months old we could not get her to look up. I remain

E Reading”

It’s a true blast from the past because that’s exactly how they all talked, everyone around me. Running sentences together, switching where the pauses go. And the valediction also, which doesn’t make much sense alone but they were taught to say it at school. Not the whole “I remain your [servant, friend etc]. Just ‘I remain’.

This is my great grandmother’s handwriting. Esther was Beryl’s mother. Esther had a younger sister named Sarah, I’m guessing she was the recipient of the postcard. And at some point down the track the postcard was returned to Esther and passed on to Beryl, who then passed it on to me. I notice there’s no stamp, it may have been placed in a parcel with other items.

Beryl was the seventh child in her family. It’s lovely to see them still taking pleasure in a new addition, enough to have her dressed up in a clean frock and lacy bib. They were a very poor family, they all lived in a two bedroomed house with the males in one room, the females in the other. Beryl’s father was a share farmer, mostly of pigs, and they had some very tough years. Through it all they were united and loving.

Beryl grew up in the now vanished town of Apsley in Central Tasmania and went to the very small Apsley school. Her father died unexpectedly on 27th December 1931. The following year was her final at school.


She met her future husband when he came through her town as a laborer working on a new rail line. They were married in the registry office in Hobart in 1939.

It’s a shame she didn’t get a proper wedding, but the war was on and nobody had money. Plus, he came from Cygnet in the southern Huon Valley, a place of hills and dense forests and treacherous winding roads, while she was miles away in Central Tasmania. How could they ask their families to travel all that way? By modern standards the journey is manageable and Hobart was halfway between the two, but it was far slower in those days.

All the same, I think she’d have liked it: the gathering of family, and of feeling beautiful in a pretty dress. But she never said anything about that.

And speaking of weddings, here is Beryl and I at my wedding. I’ve cut the others out of the photo because I haven’t gained their permission to post the photo, not because there’s any kind of rift.

Beryl and myself at my wedding. She was aged about seventy at that time.

Beryl passed away in Franklin Aged Care on 9th February 2011. Due to family commitments and finances I was unable to attend her funeral which I will forever regret, but every time I visit the state of Tasmania I stop by her grave to say hello.

Beryl’s headstone, truncated to protect the privacy of living persons in the list of her children.

The photograph of Beryl as a baby now sits in a frame on my bookcase. I see it every day.

(1) “EMPIRE DAY” The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954) 18 May 1932: 10. Web. 16 Jan 2022 <>

Patrick Dillon of Dublin

#52Ancestors Week 2-Favourite Find

(View of the City of Dublin)

This week’s prompt for 52 Ancestors is ‘Favourite Find’. I have many, but I’ve not yet written about this family. It’s definitely time. Finding Patrick Dillon broke down a very persistent brick wall.

It also returned a lost surname to the tree. My paternal line is ‘Dillon’ and for decades we accepted that we had Dillon ancestry. Actually we didn’t – the paternal line is ‘Dillane’ morphed into Dillon quite recently. So after losing ‘Dillon’, a bit of research in a different line has brought Dillon back in a different place in the tree.

This is partly a post, partly a scrapbook of quotes by others about the world of Patrick Dillon, partly a historical account of Ireland from 1770-1800. I’ve done this to fill out his world where we don’t know about him personally. He lived in violent times and this is not a gentle history, but it’s accurate to his world.

Patrick was probably born in the 1770s, maybe in Dublin. He was Irish Catholic, which makes him hard to find, plus his name is very common. He was married in Dublin in 1803 and six children were born to him there. My ancestor is a seventh child to the family and there is no baptism record for her.

Dublin was a difficult place for an Irish Catholic to live. This post describes the events of the time, and how I think Patrick was impacted by them.

Irish Catholics in Ireland were into their third century of demonization by the time of Patrick’s birth. It’s hard to imagine what that does to a society, with successive generations stripped of dignity, respectability and hope. The goalposts changed regularly, they could never form a plan to pull the family together, no new way of life lasted more than two generations. And by the late 18th century they were seeing the effects of abuse on the land by the English overlords. Absent landlords ordered the planting of crops not suited to their soil, wars had resulted in the deliberate despoiling and salting of Irish owned land, as punishment. Whole forests were burned to the ground to prevent Irish soldiers and civilians from hiding.

It’s a grim picture, amidst which the Irish Catholic families fought for survival and justice, but also did what they could to lead stable, safe and happy lives. We still have remnants of their very hidden inner lives in songs, fabrics and devotions.

Plus there were wealthier Dillons: they were a major force a few centuries earlier and had found common ground with England. Many of them even became protestant. It’s possible that my Patrick came from Protestant origins, but in 1803 he was married in a Catholic church in Dublin and there’s no indication that he was comfortably off. He was most likely a quiet honest working man in the middle of difficult times.

Historian and journalist Philip Harwood describes Ireland this way:

(Philip Harwood ‘History of the 1798 Irish Rebellion’ 1849)

The situation was different across Ireland. Organised action against the tyranny of the British in the southern half of Ireland tended to start in Munster – that is, Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Kerry.

Dublin was far more English controlled. This meant fewer privileges for the native Irish, but conversely more stable employment on English properties so more family security. If you could put up with the subjugation, living conditions were much better. And maybe the English officials here were able to relax a little and give the Irish tenants some of the perks of a free people.

A man named Dr Thomas Campbell described Dublin in 1777 as an expansive city, about a quarter the size of London in area but with more empty spaces between the houses. A beautiful bay of blue water, a scenic coastline. He was surprised since England viewed Dublin as a smaller place, but noted that many Irish Catholics lived in Dublin who were not counted in any records.

Dr Thomas Campbell ‘A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland in Letters’ 1777

Campbell describes Dublin beautifully, both the good and the bad. This is Dublin as Patrick would have known it.

Campbell visited Dublin University and wasn’t impressed at all. Then he spent a few days exploring Dublin beyond the main squares and began to see how people were living.

Campbell described the hospital in some detail, and how it was a centre of social life since the hospital actually held music nights and dinners and concerts and dances which were attended by many. They were, of course, for Protestants only.

He then tells us about the Dublin people and here we get a glimpse of Patrick Dillon’s cohort. (canaille is a French word referring to the beggars and homeless and downtrodden poor).

It’s inevitable that the Irish people would be like this, given their past and their present treatment and the complete inaccessibility of any infrastructure to assist them.

Campbell clearly understood this. He shows himself to be a very understanding man.

Alcohol was probably the only recourse for medication, for entertainment, for warmth, even for sustenance. It’s also the one thing the British people supplied very freely to the Irish folk. And in those days they didn’t realise it was addictive. But drinking was common among the Protestants too, with every daily occasion involving drinks. No wonder Thomas Campbell was disturbed by what he saw.

Not all Irish folk were alcoholics: just the ones who had given up.

Our Patrick hadn’t given up as he reached his adult years. He was young and most likely fit and hopeful. I think this because he got married and must have felt he was able to support a family.

Historian Philip Harwood describes Ireland in 1783 as a place ready for independence from England. Even the English colonists wanted this, so they could profit from exported produce, choose their own customers, set their own taxes and make adjustments that would help the population. Protestants and Catholics united more than ever before in this.

A lot of parliamentary changes made it seem imminent. England granted Ireland’s parliament it’s independance in 1782 and the whole country rejoiced that freedom was upon them.

Philip Harwood ‘History of the 1798 Irish Rebellion’

The world of Patrick Dillon was a tough one, full of angry people and escalating violence. Harwood wrote succinctly of the rise of Irish rebellion groups like the Whiteboys and the Defenders.

Most of this was still out in the rural areas. Dublin carried on much as it had before, with just a few brawls and minor riots. Until the French Revolution of 1789 set everything off in Ireland.

Native Ireland and France had a very long connection. France sent aid to assist them in earlier centuries against Protestant England, and right through the 18th century Irish Catholics had quietly slipped out of Ireland to go join the French armies. If an Irish Catholic felt any trust in a nation other than Ireland, it was France. It makes sense that this event would ignite a flame.

The result was war in Ireland.

It took a while to get going. The Irish people banded together, a delegate went to France to ask for assistance which was provided, but bad weather prevented the French fleet from landing. This alerted England to the danger and they sent troops.

A new powerful Irish army was ready. The plan was to take control of Dublin.

It all failed, and it failed very fast. England were clever at keeping Ireland down, and more experienced with the coast and currents than France, plus they were geared up for the Napoleonic wars already and had fresh troops straight across the channel.

The rebellion was crushed in 1798, martial law imposed and even stricter conditions placed on the Irish Catholics. Irish Catholics were rounded up, removed from their land and barred from gathering together. This was the time when hedge schools and surreptitious worship in dense thickets became a thing.

A lot of rural Catholic churches were closed down and the people banned from meeting together.

This is the social climate I wanted to describe here. A world of fear and deep suspicion, great disappointment and anger. A world full of displaced soldiers and rebels who had been stripped of their land.

In the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion, the young Patrick Dillon and Bridget Hayes were optimistic enough to envision a future together. The wedding ceremony was conducted at St. James Catholic Church in Dublin on 24th June 1803.

They settled in the parish of St Catherine’s, in the liberties, an area in the south of the city. Seven children were born to them over the next ten years.

This is all I’ve found so far. They may have moved, or perhaps one of the parents died.

John and James each married a girl surnamed Martin. Thomas married a Murphy. Those marriages took place in Dublin.

My ancestor is Mary and she married in Kildare, forty miles away from the others.

Why would she be so far from home? I still have moments of doubt that these are the same family, but the DNA matches are reasonably strong. They match on the same segments, there’s a paper trail for them all. It’s just a mystery yet to be solved. Maybe the whole family moved to Kildare and only the boys stayed in Dublin, perhaps because they had employment there?

Despite the questions, it’s a very helpful find and I’m sure to learn more as time goes on.

Where Does Anything Begin?

#52Ancestors Week One-Foundations

(Valdivia ancestor sculpture with two faces)

This year I’m participating again in Amy Johnson Crow’s ’52 Ancestors’, which means I write a blog post every week about ancestry based on a supplied topic prompt.

The prompt for week one is ‘Foundations’.

Foundations have always challenged me because there is always a ‘before’. How do you draw the line? Where do you declare something a new entity, a new beginning?

It seems easy from a distance. It’s never straightforward when you get close.

When I started my family history, I drew boundary lines because I knew what a big project it was. First up, I wanted to identify the ancestor in each line who arrived in Australia. That first pioneer on every side. How simple can you get?

My great grandmother Alice Head

My great grandmother Alice Head is an excellent example. She emigrated from England in 1896, married Herbert Dunstall in Kalgoorlie, and they lived happily ever after in Western Australia. Simple!

Until I explored her ancestry and found her great grandfather George Devon Doo. He was born in Surrey, England, in 1794, joined the navy and served for several years in India, after which he was pensioned out as an invalid. He was also addicted to strong spirits and opium.

George Devon Doo made his way to Australia in 1838. He struggled for nearly thirty years and eventually died in Yass, New South Wales, in 1865: almost thirty years before Alice made her journey out.

So in my family tree, who is the pioneering ancestor in that line? Is it Alice Head or is it George Devon Doo? There’s an excellent chance that Alice lived her entire life not knowing anything of that great grandfather or his naval career.

Another example:

William Morey 1851-1914

My great great grandfather William Morey died in Mannus near Tumbarumba, New South Wales. He’s a known pioneer of the district. For years we thought he was a pioneer to Australia.

William and his wife Fanny moved to Mannus with their nine surviving children in 1908 and built a home on one of eight share farming allotments in the new settlement. The place is full of history; every trip we made as children were full of memorials and tales of those first families. We went to see the houses they once lived in, the carefully preserved sulkies they drove, the dusty portraits on the walls of various great aunts and uncles’ homes. A glimpse into a shadowy past so distant it takes special care to preserve the memories.

1908! That’s barely the past at all!

I’ve recently written about William’s parents. They were shadowy figures who left no relics behind. They had their troubles – alcoholism, clashes with neighbours, court appearances for theft. In the end his mother even changed her name and became someone else entirely.

It’s taken a concerted effort by many descendants to locate them and put together their story, but they were in Australia too. Great great grandfather William Morey was a pioneer of Mannus (1908) with an untarnished reputation. But he was actually Australian born. His birth family was less than fifty miles away.

It was his never-referenced parents who were the pioneers – the ones who made poor choices, the ones who never found their place. The ones you couldn’t bring home to meet your new family or your neighbours.

Who founded the mighty dynasty of Morey in the Snowy Mountains district in New South Wales? Their descendants are numerous and respectable. Was it William Morey 1851-1814? Or his parents who came to Australia in 1848 but self-destructed and vanished from sight?

Of course, there’s no answer to my question.

Every generation is a rich combination of old influences and new. Nobody lives in a vaccuum. We are the sum of our experiences, our legacies, our opportunities and obstacles. All of that comes from what went before. George Devon Doo ended the way he did because of his past: his father died when he was little, his mother remarried and her new husband got him a place on a naval ship when he was just eleven years old. He was a child pushed into a savage adult world. The injured, opium-addled man we find sixty years later is the end result of that tragic beginning.

William Morey became the man he was because he married a respectable woman raised in an orphanage. She had a heart of gold but the concept of family dragging one down was alien to her. I’m quite sure she encouraged her new husband to step away from his dysfunctional origins, to look forward and do what was needed for his own children.

It was the only way. But what you’ve come from still has an impact. His past shaped his ideas, his fears. He did not travel, he encouraged all his adult children to stay nearby and live equally quiet lives, without telling them why. His views make a lot more sense when you know what went before.

Mountshannon House interior

I’ve been grappling with this issue recently because I was stuck for a Christmas present for my father. I decided the best thing I could do was write him a history of the paternal line. Nothing too complex – short chapters, each one about one ancestor. I decided to do it from earliest to latest to properly build the story.

My paternal lineage is Irish Catholic, so there are limits to how far back I can go. The earliest named ancestor is Edmond Dillane born circa 1760 in Kerry.

But there’s a bit of explanation to be done in talking about his world. DNA matches suggest that Edmond had two brothers, John and Matthew, and a sister Catherine, and they lived in the Listowel region of Kerry.

Looking at naming patterns for their children suggests that their parents were likely named John Dillane and Catherine. Y-DNA matches show several originating ancestors from Cork in the late 1600s, so it seems likely to me that our Dillanes were formerly in Cork and settled in Kerry sometime before 1750.

I’ve spent some time examining occurrences of the surname across Munster and further afield, and some time looking into the various wars of Ireland in that turbulent 17th century.

I became lost for a while in piecing together the geographical journey of our Y-DNA matches. I don’t think we’ve had the surname Dillane for very long. Sometime in the 1700s Dillane took over from Delane. That’s the spelling you find in earlier records.

I still haven’t written that history for my father. I’m now targeting his birthday. I need to draw the line somewhere and call something a beginning.

Foundations are every point really. We just have to pick the foundation for whatever story we are going to tell. Every event, every moment in time; they’re all the start of something.

I’ve used this prompt to get my head around that concept. It’s time to write.

Edward (Ned) Dillon 1878-1958 (The earliest of the Dillane paternal line for whom I have a picture).

What’s In A Name? – The Astounding Footprint of Aphra Crayford (1587-1662)

Aphra Crayford is hard to spot in a plethora of deeds, wills, land titles and political disputes, but she’s still very much in the picture.

She was married at the age of twenty two and settled with her husband in Ireland where she raised a large family. She saw the transfer of the British throne from monarch to monarch to parliament to monarch again. She saw skirmishes and outright rebellion in Ireland through all of her married life, and she witnessed – from a distance – the end of her family’s influence in Kent.

It was a time of immense change, and what a shame we don’t have it in Aphra’s own words. What were her thoughts on the annihilation of the world order as she once knew it? Did she have fears for her children’s future? Did they feel safe? Did they feel helpless?

Aphra herself – and her children – can be found scattered through the genealogical records, rarely connected together. Not much remains from that time and the families travelled extensively which doesn’t help.

This post is about what I know so far.

Aphra’s birthplace; Great Mongeham, Kent

THE CRAYFORD-HOUSE, alias STONEHALL, was a mansion situated at a small distance westward of the church … this mansion, for many descents, was the property and residence of the family of Crayford, whose estates in this neighbourhood were very considerable. In the year 1460 at the battle of Northampton, fighting on behalf of the then victorious house of York, mention is made of William Crayford, Esq. who was then made knight-banneret by King Edward IV for his eminent services performed there and at different times before … from this Sir William Crayford, knight-banneret, this seat and estate descended down to William Crayford, Esq. of Great Mongeham, who died possessed of it in Charles II.’s reign, and seems to have been the last of this family who resided here.

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 9. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1800.

The story of Stonehall at Great Mongeham is a story of influence, power and wealth.

The house no longer exists. We don’t actually know what it looked like, but chance references imply that it was large with extensive grounds. The family played their part in the support of their King – or Queen at the time of Aphra’s birth – and were rewarded or punished accordingly, as per the times.

This was a family with a long proud history, something Aphra was no doubt taught from a very young age. At the time of that first Sir William’s conferral of honours they were already associating with Edward IV. They can trace their lineage on some sides back to the Norman conquest, a point of great pride in that time period. Not perhaps on the Crayford side, but even if it was a maternal line it still counted. They were very clearly Important.

Aphra’s parents were Sir William Crayford (a later namesake of the original) and his wife Anne Norton whose lineage was as illustrious as her husband’s. They parented nine children; four sons and five daughters. Aphra was child number eight, the youngest girl. Her brother Robert was born a year later. (NOTE: Some family trees have two more children in this family after Robert – John and Richard.)

The Early Years

Aphra’s childhood was relatively calm. Events were far away and Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne, followed by James I in the year that Aphra turned sixteen. Life for Aphra was probably focused on domestic matters. The marriage of her eldest brother Edward to Anne Hayward. The marriage of her eldest sister Anne to John Warren. The birth of nephews and nieces.

In 1609, Aphra married Thomas Maunsell.

Unknown wedding couple painted 1610 – an example of fashions of the time.

Thomas was thirty two years old and like the Crayfords, he could trace his lineage back to the Norman conquest through maternal lines. His family came from Buckinghamshire where they held a respectable amount of property.

But Thomas was a younger son, so his inheritance was a small plot of land with a good house. Nothing shabby, but very obscure.

A younger son marrying a younger daughter – a good solid match, but not advantageous to either. Aphra came with a dowry, but after all she was the eighth child. She didn’t bring land or title.

They had a bit to set them up, but they had to use it wisely.

There’s nothing to say how they made their decisions. Nothing to suggest they put their heads together and came up with a plan. But there’s plenty to suggest that Aphra was respected by her family for generations to come, so I think that’s what they did. Thomas may have suggested – and Aphra in conjunction with her father may have agreed – that Ireland was the land of opportunity.

At 32 years of age, Thomas Maunsell was retiring from a successful naval career. As his reward for services rendered he was granted the right to claim land in Ireland.

Ireland never was a truly safe place for a British settler, and in 1609 the British in charge were hard at work maintaining the tenuous law and order that they had. They were deeply suspicious of adventurers who might be there to stir up discontent, who might be spies for the wrong side – be that France or England or Scotland or the New Irish or the Old Irish.

Thomas Maunsell received letters of authorization which were copied and sent to all outposts and naval vessels. He clearly had this in his possession already at the time of marriage.

Here’s an excerpt from ‘The History of Maunsell’ by Robert George Maunsell. I’ve tidied it up for readability.

Thomas Maunsell, born 1577; matriculated. Mag. Hall, 1594, as a youth he distinguished himself against the Spanish Armada, and was subsequently a Captain in the Fleet. In the college books he is described as Thomas Maunsell, of Chicheley, Bucks, gent, late of Barnard's Inn; admitted 1599 to Gray's Inn. He retired from the naval service in 1609, and on 28th July of that year, as per order of Council, the Irish authorities received a command as follows: — 

"Whereas this gent, Captain Thomas Maunsell, is come into this Kingdom .. to take a view of the most convenient places for him to settle in .. to which end he has brought unto us letters of recommendation. These are therefore, to require every of you his Maties Officers, Mynisters, not only to permit the said Captain abovenamed with his servants peaceably and quietly to pass by you as he shall have occasion to search and enquire as aforesaid, but also to be aiding, comporting and assisting unto him with post horses and guides from place to place in his travels, and if need require, to give him the best knowledge and furtherance you may .. whereof you and every of you may not fail, as you will answer the contrary at your perils. Given at Melefont, this 28th July, 1609."

Thomas Maunsell sold the estate at Newport-Pagnell left him by his father's will, and sailing for Ireland he landed at Waterford and settled at Derryvillane in the county of Cork. 

The next stage of Aphra’s life is a matter of reading between the lines. According to the History of Maunsell, Thomas and Aphra had 23 children, of whom eleven lived to adulthood.

Burke, on the other hand, makes a very succinct reference in his Peerage books.

[The third son] Thomas, went to Ireland in 1609, and settled at Derryvolane, county Cork. He married Aphra, daughter of Sir William Crawford and dying about 1642 left, with other issue, Thomas, ancestor of the Maunsells of Limerick, and a son John.

Is one woman capable of producing 23 children, especially when she starts in her twenties? I’m guessing she didn’t.

In my own tree I have eleven named children:

And thus began the dynasty of Maunsell in Ireland. One of their sons – Thomas – is recorded as a 1649er who received extensive amounts of land after Cromwell’s victory.

To this point I’ve kept it all very simple, but anyone who has researched 17th Century Ireland knows that it isn’t. The records aren’t there. People moved all over the place. People moved away and came back ten years later. And you rarely find yourself dealing with just a nuclear family – if a family actually did build themselves a decent manor house, secured property and a steady income, all the extended family came over too.

As well as that, the kids married the neighbours. And their kids married other neighbours. It gets very messy to separate from family from another.

Plus there’s a third complication that people once didn’t understand: the various new colonies of the world were all peopled by the same important wealthy families. You have the same Warner family in Cork and Barbados, Benger and Nason in Waterford and Newfoundland and Philadelphia, French and Cole in Waterford and Maryland, Peard in Cork and Massachussetts and Newfoundland. Spotswood in Waterford and Virginia. And so on and so forth.

Interconnections are everywhere and a generation on, everyone was doing well for themself and feeling a bit of a fraud because their forebears weren’t as swanky as the people they were now mixing with. People became cagey about their genealogy. They exerted effort convincing the world that their position in society was completely legitimate.

The descendants of Thomas and Aphra Maunsell are just as hard to track as all the rest, but we’ve got an amazing advantage: Aphra’s first name.

Here are the women named Aphra in my tree so far.

It took me way too long to realise that nearly all the women named Aphra in those parts of Ireland are descendants of Aphra Crayford. They generally appear in the records in a very disembodied way.

For example, from Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland 1912:

“JOHN BROWN, of Bridgetown (Clonboy), Capt. Limerick Militia, married 1801 to Constance, 2nd daughter of Colonel William Odell, of The Grove, co. Limerick (M.P. for co. Limerick for thirty years, and a Lord of the Treasury), by Aphra his wife, daughter of John Crone, of Byblow, co. Cork.”

In the above excerpt there’s no clue that Constance’s mother Aphra Crone was a descendant of Thomas Maunsell and Aphra Crayford. It took a lot of reading and searching to track her back. To find that Aphra Crone’s paternal grandmother was Aphra Johnson, and that she in turn was the granddaughter of Aphra Maunsell, eldest daughter of Aphra Crayford. That’s a lot of generations to track through. But the connection was there.

I’ve made it my project over the last six months – track all the Aphras to see if they belong to that family.

There’s just one exception so far: Aphra Warren, the daughter of Anne Crayford and John Warren. She’s our Aphra’s niece and she was born in England.

There are also three women who I’ve not managed to trace: Aphra Benger born circa 1675, Aphra Aylmer born circa 1670, and Aphra Gaggin/Goggin/Gookin born circa 1780. But those three are in the same neighbourhood. It’s probably just a matter of time until their connection is found.

You find family names like that in genealogical research. Family names meant something. That was understood. You didn’t just pick a name for your daughter because it was pretty, not when it was a Maunsell family name and the Maunsells were moneyed and connected. It would look like you were stating a relationship, lying about a connection that didn’t exist. Some first names are as much part of the family property as the surname.

I’m speculating regarding this specific name Aphra, but people did treat names that way and it’s very clear that nobody else used it. That name wasn’t like Mary or Sarah or Elizabeth, not names from the bible that anyone might use. Aphra was very specific to that family.

And every new Aphra harkened back to the very first. Aphra Crayford, matriarch of the Maunsells, and of branches of Eatons, Naylors, Peacocks, Boles and Bowles, Downings, Hodders … and all the rest of those surnames showing in my list of women named Aphra.

Late in life, Thomas Maunsell became sick. He and Aphra returned to England where he passed away in 1646. Or 1642 by some counts. This meant that they weren’t in Ireland for the Rebellion of 1641. Either very luckily, or by design, since their sons were military men who might have realised where matters were heading.

I’ll quote ‘The History of Maunsell’ to conclude:

“Mrs. Maunsell having survived her husband returned to Ireland, and resided with her third son, Captain John Maunsell, at Ballyvoreen, near Caherconlish. She died prior to 1662, and her remains were interred in the chancel of the church at Caherconlish, where her son erected the following memorial, bearing that date: —

Here lyeth the bodye of Aphra Maunsell, my dear mother, daughter of Sir Wm. Crayford, of Kent.

She wasn’t buried alone. The memorial continues.

Here also lyeth my dear wife, Mary Maunsell, daughter of Geo. Booth, Esq., of Cheshire. And of my sister, Aphra Peacock. And of her daughter, Anne Peacock.”

Aphra Crayford was my 11th great grandmother through her son Thomas, my 12th great grandmother through her daughter Anne and also through her daughter Catherine, and my 10th great grandmother through her son Boyle.

Reference List

Burke’s Landed Families of Ireland 1826

Burke’s Genealogical History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland 1912 – Digitized copy

The History of Maunsell by Robert Maunsell, Digitized

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Edward Hasted 1797 via Google books.

Baptism records Parish of Great Mongeham

Examination of Thomas Maunsell in the 1641 Depositions

Richard Peard – Adventurer or Gentleman?

Dean, Frank; On the Irish Coast; Leeds Museums and Galleries;

Just who was Richard Peard of 1600s Cork?

I have a decades long fascination for the British plantations in Ireland. I’ve read everything I could find about them – which actually isn’t much. Popularised accounts tend to be polarised or romanticised and I don’t have easy access to scholarly databases. I’d hoped to specialise in this region/area when I went to uni, but Australian universities have Australian history as a primary focus (of course) and no guest lecturer presented with early modern Ireland as their special subject.

Which means – I’m not a scholar in this field and this is simply a genealogist’s look at a historically dense, culturally rich, deeply empassioned decade that meant different things to just about everyone who was present – or not present.

That said, after a few decades I’ve gleaned a few details to help me track my British ancestors in Ireland.

Thomas Luny-A Frigate of the Royal Navy leaving Cork Harbour.jpg

I came back to Peard research quite by chance and realised my first ever trial blog post was regarding the Peard family, so it seems fitting to return to them for my first post directly from the new website. This is an update on the Peards as I understand them.

The oral tradition regarding Richard Peard

Here’s the family story:

Richard Peard was born around 1598 in Barnstaple, Devonshire into the family of the Barnstaple mayor. He married Richorde Cole and became the parent to two sons, Richard and Henry. He travelled to Ireland in Cromwell’s army and was given land at Castlelyons in return for his services for England. He is buried in some state there while his sons went on to found a dynasty and build the family mansion of Coole Abbey.

Here’s how the family story became established:

Back in the 1970s one Peard descendant was greatly inspired by the Peard story. She paid a professional researcher in Ireland who put together a tree going right back to that Cromwellian soldier Richard Peard. She later made her own visit to Ireland where she photographed the ancestral mansion and viewed various parish records. She wrote to all the Peards in the phone book and offered a photocopy of the tree in return for genealogical information regarding their branch of the family.

I have no intention of denigrating the efforts of that researcher. She achieved a great deal and through her enthusiasm she gave the whole Peard diaspora in Australia a renewed pride in their lineage. But along with good was some not so good. The researcher endorsed a system of ‘I’ll give you a detail if you give me one’ . She requested that other researchers delete their online comments and communicate with her by private message only. In effect – maybe without meaning to – she prevented any collaboration at all. And because the research was kept offline there was no peer review, and no way to know what sources had been examined.

I’m not sure if she is still alive and I have no idea what became of her collected data.

The present day

Modern Peard researchers have challenged this oral history with the help of newly digitized records and DNA. Others have blogged about this and shared their findings. This is my summary.

Where did Richard Peard come from?

A view of Castletownshend, Cork.

Richard Peard’s tomb exists in Ireland in the cemetery of Kill-St-Anne in Coole, Cork. I’m very grateful to Niall C.E.J. O’Brien for writing about the tomb and its wording (1). His version of the family story has three sons to the original Richard, namely Richard, Henry and William.

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien reports the tomb giving Richard’s native place as Upcott in Welcombe, Devonshire. On this tomb, the original Richard is recorded as ‘Ensign Richard Peard‘. Richard’s death date is given – 28th Feb 1683 – and some other Peards are referenced including ‘Richard Peard of Coole, gent, eldest son’ .

Another researcher (Staigfamily) has uploaded a research document to their website regarding Richard Peard (2). He/she questions Richard’s connection to the Barnstaple family citing the wording on the tomb. He/she also notes a coat of arms on the tomb being the same as that of the Peards of Devon and further refers to probate records for a family of Peard in Welcombe at the right time to be our Richard’s.

Looking through the records, Burke’s Peerage says that Richard Peard “is stated to be a younger branch of the Peards of Devonshire”. Burke also says that Richard Peard married a Miss Cole, daughter of Richard Cole Esquire.

Burke was careful to remove himself from those assertions. “Stated to be” rather than “Is”. This is what the family said. It may or may not be true.

The Barnstaple Peards were powerful. Barnstaple was a hub of international trade in the 1600s and the Peards were goldsmiths and merchants. They were educated and political. Burke could have stirred up a lot of trouble even a century or two later if he stated a relationship that didn’t actually exist, especially when the family in question were so well connected.

There’s also no certainly about “Miss Cole”. The original paid researcher located a marriage between a Richard Peard and Richorde Cole in West Downs in 1636. That could be them. There’s also a marriage in 1608 between a Richard Peard and Christiana Cole in Bristol. That’s a bit early, but without birth details for Richard we once again can’t be sure.

I also note that the surname ‘Coole’ can be found in Welcombe, Devon. Did our Ensign Richard Peard marry a “Miss Coole” and is this where the mansion got its name? I’m aware ‘Coole’ was already a location name in other parts of Ireland, but the mansion could still have been named for a person.

I further note that the surname ‘Coole’ is deemed by surname websites to be an Irish name in the first place. It’s possible that Ensign Richard met and married his wife in Ireland. That could be true whether she was Coole or Cole.

First conclusion:

It seems to me that Richard Peard died exactly when we were told he did, and that he really did come from Devonshire. Maybe not from Barnstaple, but from Devonshire. I think we can also accept that he had an eldest son named Richard which implies the existence of younger sons, otherwise they’d put ‘son’ or ‘only son’. So we do have something to work from here.

Was Ensign Richard a soldier?

It’s natural to start out in the army as an Ensign, but there are commissions to be bought and rewards for time served. Yet our Ensign Richard stayed at the bottom.

To explain my thoughts on this I need to summarise six hundred years in Ireland. Trust me, it’s relevant to the study of Richard Peard.

Propaganda or news? Published after the 1641 rebellion

Ireland has been contested ground for centuries. It wasn’t just England vs Ireland or Scandinavia vs Ireland. It was the ideal meeting ground for England vs Scotland, for France vs England, for Catholic England vs Protestant England. Ireland was geographically strategic. A lot of wars took place in Ireland that had little to do with the Irish people.

That helped nobody.

It was simpler for England to claim Ireland by colonising the place. As it were, to plant British cuckoos in the nest of Ireland. This is where the younger sons and the disenfranchised religious groups come in. Go to Ireland and establish an estate and it’s yours.

It was a feudal system at heart. Wealthy ambitious men received grants of land and took tenants of their own. By doing the hard work, the tenants could then receive their own reward. It might be a long lease, it might be land of their own. It might just be the protection of their sponsor against the displaced Irish rabble. The rewards trickled down from the highest rung of the hierarchy to the lowest.

England began plantations in Ireland in the time of Henry II, right back in the 12th century. Those inhabitants transformed into Irishmen and ceased to be loyal to England.

This happened again and again and again across the next few hundred years.

A major plantation was started in 1589 and that was the beginning of the famous trouble.

I used to think of plantations as a coherent crowd of settlers moving into a town and planting crops. Like you see in American westerns where the townspeople live safely in a fort, or like we had in Australia with the establishment of Sydney or Hobart Town. Houses going up, streets formed, soldiery patrolling the town borders.

It wasn’t like that at all, especially not in 1589. The designated leaders were given their powers and their prime land, and a list was compiled of all the land of the evicted Irish folk. When families arrived in Ireland – by boat – they were allocated their land and they went there. They moved into the Irish cottages and fenced and built their own and cleared fields and worked very very hard. But their neighbours weren’t other new settlers – their neighbours were the Irish rebels who hadn’t yet been evicted.

Those poor settlers moved into very hostile land without any protection at all. They couldn’t even set foot out of their gates to go visit their friends. They were trapped.

The 1589 plantation was a failure.

Another British monarch and another few decades later came the Ulster Plantation of 1610. That one was better managed. The Irish Lords were ousted. Britain gained its foothold.

The Irish Lords gathered strength in the lands that were still their own. It took a couple of decades.

And so we come to the Great Rebellion of 1641 when the Irish people fought back. They manged to reclaim a lot of territory. Not all – but a lot.

Reports filtering into England were terrifying. Complete annihilation of the British, hundreds of thousands slain, unspeakable atrocities. Today, historians think at least 4,000 British settlers were killed. There were atrocities committed on both sides. Like any war, there were acts of violence and acts of mercy.

Fighting continued for years.

Peacetime writeups rarely portray the true situation. It wasn’t a single finite piece of fighting that died away. There was one mammoth wave of destruction, and in its wake was sheer anarchy. Pillaging and burning and murdering went on for years. The strong Irish troops were getting even stronger and continuing to attack the British controlled cities.

The British survivors were stuck, especially the tenants. Suppose they went back to the safety of England?

They couldn’t. It was those British landlords who had sent them over in the first place. The British landlords were given this land by their king or queen, and their way of making it safe was to send their own labourers.

To return now meant facing the anger of those British landlords. It would be a considered a betrayal. Their landlord would deny them access, turn them away. They’d be homeless and considered faithless by all around.

They had to stay even if the Irish killed them, and wait for British troops to come and make everything sane again.

That’s where Cromwell enters the scene. He came over in 1649 to sort the whole mess out.

Oliver Cromwell

According to the family story, Richard Peard arrived with Cromwell.

That part of the story is definitely false. Richard Peard was already in Ireland before 1641. We know because he made the following deposition:

Richard Peard late of the Town & parish of Coole within the County of Cork husbandman (a British protestant) … saith that on or about the 6th of April last & since the beginning of this present rebellion in Ireland he lost was robbed and forceable despoiled of his goods & chattels .. worth 288 pound 10s. Of Cows heifers horses & swine at Coole aforesaid to the value of three score pounds ten shillings. Of household stuff one fowling piece & a rapier to the value of eight pounds. Of Corn in the haggard to the value of Twenty pounds.

The deponent saith that by means of this present rebellion in Ireland he is dispossessed of the several farms .. the lands of Ballyrice wherein he has a lease of eighteen years to come worth yearly above the Landlords rent eight pounds per annum having payed forty pounds for the same his interest in the said lease he values to be worth four score pounds. Of another lease of the lands of Ballynelly in the said County worth yearly to this deponent ten pounds for seven years yet to come which lease he values to be worth twenty pounds Of another farm in Coole wherin he has a lease of fifteen years to come worth above the landlords rent eighteen pounds per annum which lease he values to be worth before the beginning of this rebellion the sum of one hundred pounds.

The total of his losses amounts to two hundred four score & eight pounds ten shillings. The deponent saith that Richard Condon of Ballymacpatrick and Richard Condon of Ballydurgen in the said County gentlemen took away this deponents said Cattle & household goods & further he deposeth not.

1641 Deposition for Richard Peard (3)

I love the 1641 depositions. They were statements made by British residents in Ireland declaring what damages they’d suffered in the 1641 rebellion. It actually took several years for the depositions to be taken so despite their name, it might have been as late as 1655 before their losses were actually recorded.

They are a fantastic source of information about life in the plantations of Ireland. But there’s a good chance people fluffed up their holdings and their revenue in the hope of good compensation.

It looks from this deposition as if Richard Peard was a middleman. That is, he rented land from someone and rented it on to a tenant at a higher price. ‘Worth above the Landlord’s rent’ refers to the profit he received for renting it on. He effectively acted like a rental agent today.

As well as this, he had cows and swine and horses. Richard Peard was farming.

This doesn’t mean he wasn’t a soldier. He got the rank of Ensign from somewhere. But I’m not sure soldiery was his career.

The 1649ers

When Cromwell came to Ireland in 1649 he was in a weak position.

He had to do it, given all his political manoeuvring in England. He had to take Ireland back or at least make a good showing, but would he have negotiated if he really expected to win?

He issued a promise to the Irish soldiers. If you side with me, you’ll be rewarded with land.

This is how it’s recorded in history. I presume the promise was actually to the officers, not to all the soldier rabble, on the understanding that the common soldiers would follow their officer into whatever the officer chose.

The soldiers (officers) who changed their allegiance and joined Cromwell were hereafter known as the 1649ers.

After a few decades it became a badge of honour. Cromwell held to his side of the bargain and by 1652 those officers were indeed granted land reclaimed from the Irish losers. Some of their families became influential businessmen. In the modern world they’d be considered turncoats, but nobody seems to have thought of it that way in these days. They were honourable soldiers.

Some people think Richard Peard was a 1649er. It’s certainly possible.

But .. another practise at the time was the selling of entitlements. This meant that a soldier who was entitled to a reward for services could sell his soldier identity to a non-soldier.

This didn’t mean just selling his reward – he had to sell the rank with it, his uniform and sword – whatever he had that showed his position in the regiment. They didn’t keep records of individual soldiers, just the number of each rank per troop. So as long as the numbers and ranks matched nobody official would know if the Ensign’s surname was Smith or Jones. And if Ensign Smith sold his entitlement to Farmer Jones, Farmer Jones became Ensign Jones who just happened to have a farm.

I’ve found a fascinating article from 1847 about the 1649ers.

Fisheries in the Co. Cork, by Hibernicus, p.251, ‘Gentleman’s Magazine, Or Monthly Intelligencer’ (1847)

Did our Ensign Richard Peard buy his military rank to obtain land and riches? It’s very possible.

I’ll just add another snip from the same article. When he says ‘Some persons thus designated’ he means persons described in the 1641 depositions as ‘gentlemen’.

The author might be being unfair. It might be that a rewrite was made if the original was messy and the mark is placed because the deponent wasn’t present at this time. But each one was supposed to be an affidavit, accurate at the time of making, so it’s likely true that if a man made his mark, he was illiterate.

That said, Richard Peard’s mark was a perfectly formed letter R. A mark carefully taught to an otherwise illiterate man? Maybe.

All the same, it’s a healthy note of scepticism in a rarely questioned story.

Richard Peard of Coole Abbey, gentleman and eldest son of the Ensign, had every reason to encourage the story of respectable ancestry and venerable forebears. He was the proud possessor of an estate, and he was keeping company with men of good name and solid fortune. They looked after that property with great care and they held onto it practically forever. It took World War II to wrest it away from the family.

That said, they made some very advantageous marriages along the way.

Gentleman Richard is my 8th great grandfather. I’m glad he made enough of a splash to get into Burke’s peerage, but I also am not convinced that he descends directly from the Barnstaple goldsmith Peards. Perhaps they’re the same family a couple of generations back.

I’ll just have to see what records show up next.

Coole Abbey built 1765 by Ensign Richard’s great great grandson Henry Peard at the time of his marriage to Mary Gumbleton, on the Peard family land at Coole. (5)

(1) Niall C.E.J. O’Brien


(3) 1641 Depositions, Dublin University

(4) Fisheries in the Co. Cork, by Hibernicus, p.251, ‘Gentleman’s Magazine, Or Monthly Intelligencer’ (1847)

Moving the Blog House!

This is just a notification to readers that I am in the process of shifting to my own webspace. There’s a good chance you won’t even notice – as long as I manage all the steps in the correct sequence.

I’ve been very quiet lately because I knew this move was coming. As soon as the move is successfully made, I’ll be blogging again.

I’m setting up a redirect so you can keep coming here and will automatically find yourself there. But just in case I make a mistake, or if you wish to bookmark the direct site, here’s the new location.

I can’t wait to be back into the writing!

Irene (Historybylarzus)

What happened to Eliza Morey?

Sometimes in my tree I get lazy. I learn who the ancestor is, who they married, what children they had. And then I assume that nothing else of interest happened to them between the birth of the youngest child and their peaceful passing at some ripe old age, with family all around. Sometimes, if I can’t find their death record, I just move on to researching another family.

It’s not a good practice. Those later years of someone’s life can give a lot of clues to their personality and their experiences.

So it was with Eliza.

She’s one of my Chardstock ancestors. It’s a village on the Dorset/Devon border, quite close to Somerset, equally close to Gloucestershire. If its families were prone to travel you’d have to look at all four counties for their records. But luckily – for me – most of my Chardstock ancestors just lived in that little village for at least four hundred years.

On the map below, Chardstock is roughly where the blue cross is over the U in Bournemouth. It’s a rural place: farming mostly. They still recognised the yeomanry there. The social order stayed as it always had been. There were gentleman families and there were labourers. It was, I suspect, parochial even for rural Dorset. And it’s my guess that Eliza dreamed of something more.

Eliza was baptised on 9th October 1825 in Chardstock, the youngest child of John Larcombe and his wife Prudence Wilmington. So far six children have been identified: Sarah born 1808, Robert 1810, William 1816, Martha 1820, Elizabeth 1823 and my Eliza in 1825. And yes, they considered Elizabeth and Eliza to be completely different names. There are gaps in that family, enough for at least three more children.

They were a poor family. John Larcombe was a labourer and the children went out to work once they reached their teen years. Prudence their mother died in 1838 and by the 1841 census the family had well and truly scattered. The older ones aren’t so relevant to this story, but here’s Eliza herself, a 15 year old servant in Chardstock.


and here’s the second youngest, Eliza’s 16 year old sister Elizabeth working as a female servant for Zachariah Chick in the town Cricket St Thomas in Somerset. (The 1841 census rounded ages to the nearest five). At 45 Zachariah was a widower and a yeoman farmer. Only a few of his children were still at home, but being a higher social class than the Larcombes they were not required to go out to work.


Over the next few years Elizabeth and Eliza both settled down, but in very different ways. Elizabeth’s first child was baptised in 1844 – a son Edwin, in the register as Edwin Larcombe since she was unmarried, but with Zachariah Chick listed as the father. And Eliza was married in Chardstock to William Morey, a young man from a longstanding Chardstock family of the same status as herself.

William and Eliza became parents to John in 1846, and made the decision about this time to emigrate to Australia. It may have been Elizabeth’s comfortable life that prompted Eliza, because Elizabeth was settled in as mistress in charge, mother of three children now to Zachariah Chick though not actually married to him.

New South Wales was the land of hope in those days, and stories were beginning to filter into England about gold, and tin, and riches just lying on the ground waiting to be scooped up.

And so they went to join the gold rush and make their fortunes, and maybe escape the oppressive poverty and lack of opportunity in their home town. They put their names down for an emigration scheme, were accepted, and in 1848 they boarded the Adelaide for their grand future.

I’m pretty sure this is what Eliza had in mind. And William went along with it, easy to convince, happy in his marriage. Ready to make a go of whatever was to come. I can’t be quite sure, but I think this explains how it all turned out. I don’t think he was an adventurer at heart. But he was a hardworking man with plenty of courage, ready to have a good shot at it.

Here they are in the shipping records, arriving in New South Wales.


Emigration assistance schemes weren’t for gold seekers. They were bringing workers in to fill skill shortages, like farmers and farm labourers and domestic servants. There were requirements to work for a contracted length of time in that job before you could strike out alone. The Moreys ended up at what would one day be called Beechworth. In the 1840s it was a couple of large stations and agents from mining couples, drifting prospectors and a few hopeful shopkeepers. Hotels were being built to accommodate the workers. Roads were mere tracks. It was rough country. It must have been very strange for the Moreys.

They seem to have taken it in their stride. William found work as a farm labourer, Eliza no doubt worked as well. By the time their daughter Elizabeth was born in 1850, they’d fulfilled their contractual obligations.

They headed for the hills. Specifically, for the Black Ranges, later known as Narrandera.

We only know this because their third child William was born here in 1852. Baby William is my great great grandfather.

There’s no record of their life here, prospecting for gold. They might have found a bit. William certainly gained a few skills in mining, made friends and formed partnerships with others doing the same. They might as well have stepped into another universe. We know their daughter Eliza was born in 1854 because she’s with them in later years. And why the three year gap? Did they lose a child in there? If so, that might have formed part of their decision to come back. A 250 mile slog down the Great Dividing Range, back almost to their starting point.

Mary Jane’s birthplace in 1856 is commonly given as Reedy Creek. I haven’t seen the original record myself. But three years later George is born at Reid’s Creek near Beechworth, which seems an astounding coincidence. It seems more likely that this was Mary Jane’s birthplace too.

I don’t think the gold seeking venture was a success. It was the hunt for gold that brought them back.

Map of Victoria showing Reedy Creek and Beechworth

Gold was discovered at Reid’s Creek in 1852. The Morey family came straight back to the man who was probably their original employer and this time they stayed, not far from the village that took its name from the nearby El Dorado mine.

Emily was born in 1861 and the family was – apparently – complete.

Back in England, most of the Larcombe siblings were settled down. Elizabeth finally got her marriage to Zachariah Chick. After six children were born to them they married in 1855 and then had three more. Elizabeth’s youngest, Fanny Chick, was born the same year as little Emily Morey.

But in Reid’s Creek things weren’t so good.

They’d travelled across the world. They’d put their hearts into it, gone into the wilderness where there was no protection against violence, against sickness, against wild animals and hostile humans. To places where people went mad from loneliness. They survived and came back to relative civilisation.

But they were still exactly where they started. They were still just subsisting, still labouring in the employ of other people. They still had nothing of their own. And they didn’t know how to change that.

The Moreys were living in a rough area. There was more movement now between Sydney and Melbourne, the gold rush was in full swing and thousands of newcomers were arriving in the colonies every week, sometimes each day. That’s not an exaggeration, there were several boats a week to each port, each carrying a few hundred passengers. The New South Wales and Victorian governments scrambled to establish laws, to control the influx and maintain some law and order, and also to hang onto their resources. The constabulary was rapidly increasing, mining inspectors were being hastily trained and sent out to the field, and mining consortiums sought to stake the best claims, using all their experience and financial backing to buy land and force the incoming gold seekers into employee roles rather than the freelance prospectors most of them wanted to be.

Drifters were everywhere, some of them quite desperate.

By 1860 along the Ovens River near Beechworth, there wasn’t much land left to be claimed. There was a lot of theft, the occasional murder. And a lot of hungry people.

William Morey knew what he was seeing. The dream for sudden riches was over. I think he saw it as a fool’s quest. He was a quiet man, maybe not creative, but he knew when he was flogging a dead horse. He turned back to what he knew; farm work, for Mr Reid.

But Eliza still hoped, and maybe resented William for giving it up.

In 1858 the Moreys were involved in a court case. Nothing too big.


Just a small issue over a pig. Eliza apparently borrowed it, and lost it, and was disputing that she ought to pay ten pounds to compensate the owner for the loss. Or perhaps disputed that the pig was worth ten pounds. Since ownership of the pig could not be verified, the case was dismissed.

In 1862 came a bigger court case.


It’s hard to know what to make of this. There’s a fair bit of it at the time, people bringing grievances like this to court. In one way it seems like petty stuff, but in that location, in that decade, the loss of a pig or the ability of a cow to breed could push a struggling farmer into insolvency. Did the pig actually go missing? Did the Moreys innocently believe those cows were still fertile and the absence of calves was just a matter of waiting? The story changes over the months too. First, they brought the cows and left them in a yard but the cows jumped out and returned to the herd. Second, Ferguson himself asked them to take the cows back because they were supposed to have calves and they could be impregnated in the herd. Third, he refused to have them because they were old and dry. Everyone involved said contradictory things.

The matter was back in court a year later. It’s a tedious case, but we get a feel for their life through it. In summary, Ferguson was to receive two cows and two calves in return for building work, he was given two old dry cows without calves, potentially too old even to have more. He agreed to leave the cows with the Moreys to ‘run with the herd’, in effect, so they would get pregnant. But now the cows are nowhere to be found and he seems to have lost everything. He wants his pay in some form. The legal response is different depending on whether the cows ever came into his possession in the first instance, or not. The original case can be retried because its principal witness went to jail for perjury after a different case, and that casts doubt on his testimony.

It seems petty to us, but cattle stealing carried the death penalty for a while and still led to life imprisonment, so the courts took the matter very seriously.

Ferguson v Morey

John Ferguson: I am a splitter and reside at El Dorado. In August 1861, I was engaged by William Morey to erect a hut. I had a conversation with Morey about the payment and he agreed to give two cows with calves at foot as equivalent to 16 Pounds. The cows were delivered at my yard but were returned, as not being according to agreement. About twelve months afterwards I demanded the money from the defendant. Summonsed him for the money. Defendant after that delivered two dry cows at plaintiff’s yard.

I remember the trial at Wangaratta. On that occasion a man named John Williams was examined. Williams swore that he was a servant of Morey’s, and that plaintiff had agreed to take two dry cows as payment, consequently he (plaintiff)
was nonsuited without costs.

I agreed to put up a kitchen, a dairy and a milking yard for the sum of 16 Pounds. These are the very same costs as the action was brought for at Wangaratta. My wife was present when the sows were delivered.

Mrs Eliza Ferguson: I am wife of the previous witness. Was present when the cows were delivered by defendant. A son of Morey’s and another man delivered them. They said they brought the cows from Mrs Morey. Refused to take delivery because the cows had no calves at foot. I got the receipt from a little girl. The cows were to be worth 8 Pounds each.

John Rice: I am a bullock driver. I was present when the cows were delivered at Ferguson’s yard by Morey and his servant man. Ferguson was present, but refused to take delivery. I took no action in the affair. I have nothing to say about the cows.

Mary Ann Evans: About two years ago, I resided at the El Dorado. I received a piece of paper from Mr Morey, which said he had cows and put them in the yard. The cows jumped out of the yard again.

For the defence:

William Morey: I am a shepherd but I was formerly a dairyman. The plaintiff came to my place and selected two cows and said he would have them. I did not guarantee that the cows were in calf. They were two of the best cows I had. I delivered them at Ferguson’s yard. It was a good yard with a three rail fence. Ferguson was not present at the delivery. I haven’t seen the cows since. We have not eaten either of them. Ferguson asked permission of me to run the cows with his herd. I never saw Ferguson for twelve months after the cows were delivered. We were to keep the cows until they calved. I should think the cows had been on the run for six years.

Mrs Eliza Morey: I remember making an agreement about two years ago, with Ferguson to erect some buildings. Mr Ferguson wished two cows as the cost of the labor. He selected two cows at the time, and agreed to do the work. I offered him two cows with calves at foot, but he said he would rather wait a year and have those he had chosen. The cows were, at that time, fully worth 16 Pound.

Ferguson never finished the work. I remember my husband taking away the cows in order to deliver them to the him. He retained the account to have it altered. He asked for the cows to run with our cows. I said he might if he received Mr Reid’s consent. The cows were running in the bush when Ferguson’s mate selected them. He was to wait until the cows calved. The receipt is in my handwriting. A man named Williams gave evidence in a former case. He has since been convicted of perjury. It did not arise out of the case between my husband and the plaintiff.

James Rohner: Was present when the agreement was made. Was present also at the second delivery. The cows were good ones. I have been in Mr Morey’s employ for five years. Can’t say how long Williams was in the employ of Mr Morey. There was nothing said about calves.

John Morey: I am the son of the defendant. Was present when the agreement was made between the plaintiff and defendant. The cows were Ferguson’s own selecting. Plaintiff was offered two cows with calves at foot, but he said he would rather have two old cows. The cows have never had a calf since. I am eighteen years old, but the cows are not as old as me. I saw the cows not long ago: about a fortnight ago. I have never seen the bones of either of the cows.

Mrs Morey: I bought the two cows as milk cows. They might have been six years old when I bought them, not too old to have calves. They have not since had calves.

Verdict for the plaintiff, for 16 pounds with 1 pound 33s, costs.


In between those hearings about the cows was another. In January 1863, the Moreys were taken to court for being in possession of someone else’s horse. I won’t put the whole thing here, but there are a few more details about the lives of William and Eliza that shed some light on their lives. This is the case where John Williams perjured himself, referenced in the matter of the cows.


The big takeaway here, for me, is that William Morey was not often home. And in fact he had become quite isolated from his family. It’s hard to know how involved he actually was in these events.

Whether the Moreys were dishonest or innocent was not known, but there was clearly some bad feelings against them now. And there’s a clear escalation in the ‘misunderstandings’.

It settles down after this. Or the cases were not published in the paper, I’m not sure.

In 1866 Elizabeth Morey, eldest daughter, married George Russell and their son George was born a year later. As far as I can tell, this is William and Elizabeth’s first grandchild.

And in 1865-1867, I’ve not found a birth so I can’t tell, William and Eliza’s final child was born, a son named Edward Chick Morey.

Why would they give their child that name?

For many years I did not think he was one of our family. I saw his name in the records, but I knew that Chick was not a family name; I have their ancestry back to the 1600s, Chardstock keeps good records. Chick is not even a name of the region. But DNA has proven the connection, and now I know that Eliza’s sister married a Chick so it does make some sense … but honestly, not much.

And then in 1869, George and Elizabeth Russell’s second child is born. A son they name Zachariah Chick Russell.

Once again, why???

I notice that Zachariah Chick’s father, whose name was also Zachariah Chick, died in about 1865 in England. Did money from his will filter their way?

Or did Zachariah and Elizabeth maybe come out to Australia to visit the Moreys? And Zachariah was so impressive they started hero worshipping him?

It did cross my mind that young Edward might not be William Morey’s child. It also crossed my mind that young Edward might be a grandchild of Eliza’s, not her own. But without more records there’s no way to find out.

And then things fell apart completely.


That familiar notice, showing that all is not well in the marriage. That the couple have separated.

Eliza and the children continued in the same house on Mr Reid’s property. William, presumably, made a new home for himself at Rutherford where he was working.

The separation was permanent. And in 1872, Eliza was back in court.

LARCENY Eliza Morey surrendered to her bail on the above charge, and was placed at the bar. The prisoner was charged with stealing, or feloniously receiving, on the 20th March, a dress, the property of Johanna Diedrich.

Johanna Diedrich deposed : I was in the service of Mrs Wallace, when I lost a dress from a line at the back of the house at El Dorado. I missed it the following morning, and informed the police. The dress produced is the same. I had a piece of the material of which it was made, which is now produced. Maria Taylor, dressmaker, identified the dress produced as having been made by her for last witness. Constable Strachan, deposed to searching defendant’s premises under warrant. She claimed all the things in a certain box, and said that she had bought the dress produced from Mr Wright, draper, of El Dorado.

Elizabeth Nester (actually Russell), married daughter of accused, deposed that Mrs O’Neill had been confined in her house. She had taken her in out of charity. On leaving, Mrs O’Neill had given her a jacket. Soon afterwards, Mrs O’Neill was sent for a month to Beechworth gaol for drunkenness. When she came out, she returned and asked the jacket back, giving a dress in exchange. That was the dress produced (by the police), and she gave it to her sister, Mary Jane Morey , as it was too small for herself. The dress was given her on the Wednesday before Good Friday.

Mary Jane Morey and Eliza Morey, daughters of the prisoner, corroborated the above evidence in several particulars.

The Crown Prosecutor wished to call the governor of Beechworth gaol to prove on what day the Mrs O’Neill referred to had been discharged from imprisonment, but this was opposed by Mr Bowman, and not allowed by the court. The Crown Prosecutor having briefly replied, his Honor, with equal brevity, summed up, when the jury requested to retire. After a short interval they returned with a verdict of Not Guilty. 


By this year, Eliza Morey’s name was pretty much mud in the little mining locality of El Dorado near Beechworth. William was gone, she had a baby to deal with and the rest of her children were teenagers. It seems as if John and William Jr did everything. There’s another case in court where William Morey apparently did not hold up to a deal and it emerged that nobody had seen him, they’d only dealt with the sons, and there were rumours that Mr Morey did not even live there any more. There was also an accusation of perjury against Eliza which was thrown out before coming to court.

Poor Eliza was doing it tough. Poor William Senior was probably doing it tough too, but he didn’t get into the papers so we don’t know. Which could be an indication that maybe Eliza was the one behind all the dodgy deals, while William was absent. But maybe she was a victim of a toxic community.

Young Eliza married George Cruse in nearby Albury in 1882, and after that – for a while – the rest of the family seemed to drop straight off the map.

William Morey Junior – my great great grandfather, kindly shared by my second cousin.

When you start researching a family tree, you begin with the present day and go back. So I started with my great grandmother Stella Peard nee Morey, the lady who first inspired my interest in family history. She was ninety years old when I was ten, and she was the daughter of William Junior, pictured above. There’s more about William Junior in this blog post.

We knew all about William Junior. He was one of the first settlers in his region, and the district is crowded with his descendants today. It took a little more work to get back to his parents. But while we found their names, their baptisms and their emigration, their later years only came to light recently.

It wasn’t my discovery. It was one of my amazing distant cousins who pored over ever record until he found them.

Or more to the point, he found Eliza. To this day nobody knows what became of William Morey. That notice in the paper in 1870 is the last we hear from him. There are a couple of possible deaths in that region, but nothing we can be sure of. He might have gone back to England for all we know.

Eliza started a new life in Melbourne.

In 1879, William Junior married Fanny Fox and they settled in Bethanga. In 1882, Eliza married George Cruse in Albury. In 1894, Mary Jane married John Nankervis in Richmond, now a city of Melbourne. And in 1901, George married Eliza Lang in Richmond. So all signs were there, pointing to Richmond. That’s where she went.

I think Eliza would have liked Melbourne. Farming life wasn’t really her thing, not the hard hot relentless farming that you get in Australia.

In 1906, Eliza was married for a second time. She said she was a widow and maybe she was. She said her first husband died in 1865 and that’s definitely untrue.

She had a new name and new parents. And she’d moved up into that social class that I’m pretty sure she wanted all along.


Louisa Morey, daughter of John Charles Wilmott and Prudence Dunn, married Presbyterian Reverend Alexander McKay on the 9th of September 1889. He was a gentleman, she was a lady.

There actually was a John Charles Wilmott in New South Wales at that time, but he wasn’t married to a Prudence Dunn. And I can’t find any record of such a couple. And this doesn’t leave one with any confidence that we have the right person.

Could one really connect Louisa McKay, minister’s wife with that determined woman from El Dorado who went to court to argue that two cows were perfectly likely to produce calves and were therefore worth eight pounds each? Could this be the woman who argued that she oughtn’t have to pay for a pig that went missing while in her possession?

You’d think not. But her death certificate pulls the two together.

Eliza aka Louisa McKay died on the 10th August 1907 in Richmond, Victoria. Her death certificate lists all of her children, and comes closer to the truth than that marriage certificate.


William Junior had a daughter Louisa, but no child called Eliza. I wondered where the name came from.

Did Louisa tell her second husband everything? Did she change herself into somebody she wasn’t to achieve that second marriage, or did Melbourne allow her to finally become the person she was all along?

There are still questions. Why give her youngest child that middle name? Why give false names for your parents? Or was that the minister who made an error, maybe mistranscribed? But if so, how did the name Wilmott end up on the death certification? Her children obviously knew the name.

But she died a lady. Widowed again, but not in the straits she’d found herself in back in El Dorado.

There’s still more to learn in Eliza’s story, but her last few decades truly brought her into view. And this goes to show why it’s worth researching someone to the very end of their life.

  1. 1841 Census: HO107; Piece: 280; Book: 4; Civil Parish: Chardstock; County: Dorset; Enumeration District: 12; Folio: 27; Page: 5; Line: 22; GSU roll: 241337
  2. 1841 Census: HO107 , Piece 954 ,Book number 4, Folio 3, Page 1, Schedule 227
  3. tate Records Authority of New South Wales; Kingswood New South Wales, Australia; Persons on bounty ships arriving at Port Phillip (Agent’s Immigrant Lists); Series: 5318; Reel: 2144; Item: [4/4816]
  4. Victoria Petty Sessions Registers, 3 Sep 1858-ca. 31 Dec 1861, 1504/P0/Vol 1
  5. “WANGARATTA COUNTY COURT.” Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918) 21 August 1862: 2. Web. 2 Apr 2021
  6. “Beechworth County court.” Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918) 8 October 1863: 2. Web. 2 Apr 2021 <>.
  7. “Beechworth Police Court.” Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918) 3 January 1863: 3. Web. 3 Apr 2021
  8. Advertising (1870, October 13). Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from
  9. “BEECHWORTH CIRCUIT COURT.” Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918) 17 April 1872: 3. Web. 2 Apr 2021 <>.
  10. Marriage registration of Alexander McKay and Louisa Morey.
  11. Death certificate of Louisa McKay

Lydia Jelley 1824 – 1899 :A Different Way To Get By


It’s International Women’s Day. I spent a bit of time looking at all the women in my tree to see who might best represent women for me, this year, and Lydia leaped out instantly. She had an eventful life and was proactive throughout. Unlike many in my tree her story doesn’t fade away into motherhood. I don’t know if she would have thought her life a happy one. There were happy moments. But given where she came from, and the perhaps questionable life chooses she made, she did all right. And she certainly left a large number of descendants to keep her memory alive after her death.

Lydia was the second child in her family, the daughter of William Jelley, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Lydia nee Smeeton. She was baptised in Little Stretton where the family lived. The family had long connections with the town – at least, Lydia’s father did. The Jelley family were poor and uneducated, but they seemed to always have work and probably worked very hard.

The Smeetons were different. They had some connections locally, it is true, but the Smeetons were based in London at this time. Maybe they were among the poor who migrated in to the big city seeking work. Lydia’s mother was born in nearby Countesthorpe as far as we can tell, but there were certainly cousins in London. One of our Lydia’s uncles was a butcher in Surrey and as newspaper reports later show, Lydia had contact with her cousins there.


Leicestershire was in an uncomfortable state in the 1820s when Lydia was born and raised. Bang in the middle of the country, utterly landlocked, it did not benefit from sea trade or naval activity. And yet it was a hotbed of insalubrious activity. Of travellers moving from one side of the country to the other. It was near to Staffordshire and Warwickshire which were centres of crime in those days. Hardware was the industry in those counties, nailmaking and smelting and working with ore. And their very tough working conditions led to a lot of refugees moving in to peaceful, more rural Leicestershire.

Organized criminal groups were everywhere. Smugglers, highwaymen, fences taking stolen property from one county and selling it in another. And Leicestershire – bang in the centre of England – was The Crossroads. The place where stolen goods changed hands. The place where a wanted man took a quiet moment to shave off his beard and don a wig and transform into a different person, before heading further away from his troubles.

The Smeeton cousins in London may have been involved in this sort of doings.

And under its peaceful rural facade a new type of rot was setting in for the poor people of Leicestershire. Into the 1830s the textile industry came into its own. Crops changed. Industrialization made its mark. More and more Leicestershire labourers made their way to the city of Leicester to work in sweatshop conditions, whole families at their looms from morning till night, never seeing the sun.

This was beginning to happen as Lydia grew up.

They were a fairly healthy family; healthy enough that all the children survived infancy. By the time Lydia was eleven years old there were six of them. In order they were Eliza, Lydia, John, Dorcas, Harriet and William.

Looking through the British census records show that the Jelley children left home at the youngest age possible and went out to work themselves. In Leicestershire they could be employed at age eleven. Eliza was probably already gone, and now it was Lydia’s turn. At about the age of eleven, somewhere around 1835, she became a servant in someone else’s household.


Lydia first pops into the newspaper record on the 4th July 1840 in the Leicester Mercury.

Lydia Jelley, a female recently in the service of Mr Healey, tailor, was charged with stealing several waistcoat pieces, his property. The prisoner left his service in November last, and about three weeks ago was apprehended by Mr Price, the constable of Ashby, on a charge of felony, when he found the waistcoat pieces in her box. As Mr Price was not in attendance, she was remanded for further examination on Monday.

Leicestershire Mercury 4 Jul 1840 p3

On the 11th July 1840 in the Leicester Mercury:

Lydia Jelley, who was remanded on Friday on a charge of stealing several fancy waistcoat pieces from the shop of Mr Healdy, woollen draper and tailro, of St Martin’s-street, sometime in November last, being placed at the bar. Mr Price, the constable of Ashby, stated that on the 18th of June the prisoner was about to leave her place of service at Ashby in consequence of her master suspecting that she was not strictly honest, when he was sent for and her boxes were searched in his presence, and the waistcoat pieces found amongst her clothes; on being questioned as to how she became possessed of them, she said they were sent her by a relation of the name of Smeeton, residing in London, and denied that she had ever lived with any tailor or draper in Leicester. Mr Healey identified the waistcoats as his property, which he said must have been taken by the prisoner during the short time (three weeks) that she was in his service, which she left on the 14th of November. She was committed for trial at the assizes.

Her crime is written into the gaol register as ‘larceny by servant’, a type of larceny given its own category. And a month later:

LYDIA JELLY, 17, pleaded Guilty to a charge of stealing, on the 14th of November, twelve waistcoat pieces, the property of her master, William Healey. One months imprisonment. Mr T Deacon, Conduit-street, who had known the prisoner 13 years, gave her a good character; and said he should be willing, on her liberation, to take her into his family.

Leicestershire Mercury 15 Aug 1840, p4 ‘Leicestershire Summer Assizes’ via Findmypast

Thomas Deacon of Conduit St was a stocking maker, a widower with a daughter of Lydia’s age. And in the 1841 census it’s just he and his daughter Eliza. It obviously didn’t work out with Lydia. She’s a servant to hozier William Preston in Southampton St, Leicester.

This place didn’t work out either.

We next see Lydia in the Leicestershire Mercury, November 1842, in the Leicester Police Courts report.

Lydia Jelly was brought up under the following circumstances: – She had been living with Mr. Rogers, dentist, London Road, for the last six weeks. It appeared that she had been out all the night of Tuesday, as when she was called at six o’clock on Wednesday morning she was not to be found. She returned soon after withi a small basket and let herself in at the back door. The basket contained a gold finger ring, two bracelets, a miniature and several other articles. She said it was given to her by a young woman in the street, who would call for it. The articles are supposed to belong to some person with whom she had formerly lived. – Adjourned to Monday.

Leicestershire Mercury, November 1842 p 1

Here’s a more complete explanation:

IMPUDENT ROBBERY NEAR WEST-COTES – About a fortnight ago, the house of Mrs Bugg, near Westcotes, was broken open and a great quantity of jewellery etc was stolen therefrom. Some three weeks since, a young woman named Lydia Jelley, who lived as servant with Mrs Bugg, left to enter into the service of Mr Rogers, dentist. [Then comes a summary of the night out and the early morning return ..].

… she was observed by Mrs Rogers to have a basket with her. Mrs Rogers’ suspicions were excited, and she desired to see what the basket contained; and on inspecting its contents she saw a ring and other articles of jewellery therein. Mr Rogers immediate gave information to [the authorities] and hastened back to secure the lady, but she had made her escape. She was next heard of as being at Market Harborough, where in consequence of some suspicious circumstances, she was taken up by Clarke the constable of that place.

Leicester Chronicle 12 Nov 1842

and the resolution on 26th November 1842:

Lydia Jelley, the young woman who lately robbed her late mistress, Mrs Bugg near West Cotes, of a quantity of jewellery, was today committed for trial. Prisoner is a very neat respectable-looking young woman; but this is not the first time unhappily that she has been unable to restrain her hands from picking and stealing.

The case wasn’t brought to trial until March 1843, during which time Lydia presumably waited in gaol.

25th March 1843

LYDIA JELLEY (19: read and write well) was charged with having, on the 8th of November last, stolen, in the dwelling-house of Mrs Charlotte Bugg, a muff, four shawls, a mantle, six veils, two dresses, a watch, three brooches, and other articles, the property of the Rev G Bugg. The prisoner pleaded guilty, and a previous conviction having taking place, she was sentenced to fifteen years transportation.

Leicester Chronicle 25 Mar 1843, page 1, ‘Borough Spring Assizes’

I couldn’t find a picture of the exact ship, but the above vessel has very similar stats. Lydia was transported on the Emma Eugenia.

Why did Lydia do it? She came from poverty like many others. She was the second daughter in a large family and probably helped raise her siblings and work in her own home. But this does not bring people to crime. She was intelligent. In her first incarceration she is recorded as having ‘imperfect’ literacy skills, but later they are high. She worked for some years before her first arrest.

Did something happen to turn her onto that path? A problem with an employer? Or was she trained up to that life from an early age? The confusion for me is that she seems to have come away with nothing. She was moving residence very frequently, living out of her box. Almost like someone on the run. What did she do with the spoils of crime? Was she caught up in organized crime and passing on the loot to someone higher up the chain?

There’s a note in the paper a few months after this incarceration. Through her exploits, Lydia had caught the eye of the press. Her career was guaranteed to attract attention, the fear of untrustworthy servants was understandably strong in England. And so we have a final statement in the Leicester Chronicle of 02 Sep 1843.

REMOVAL OF FEMALE CONVICTS – On Saturday last the following were removed from the Borough Gaol, in custody of the governor and matron, to Millbank Penitentiary, viz., Anna (Actually Hannah) Cobley, aged 25, and Mary Carr, aged 20, for ten years, and Lydia Jelley, aged 19 years, at the March assizes, for fifteen years. A ship for the conveyance of female transports is expected to sail for New South Wales in October next, when the above convicts will probably be sent to their destination.

They left London on the 18th November 1843 and reached Hobart Town on 02 April 1844.

Lydia is described as a dark haired woman young woman with dark hazel eyes. Her height measured at 4 feet 11 and a half inches. Black eyebrows, long nose, small mouth. Once again she is describes as able to read and write well, she can work as a housemaid or needlewoman or Laundress. She’s single and her character is bad.

Like most other female convicts in Hobart Town in this decade, Lydia went to the stationary prison vessel Anson to be trained and refined as much as possible, and generally brought up to standard for assignment in the colony as needed. There’s not much in her convict record. Nothing to steal, perhaps, or she was removed from the influences that led to it. She’s not even involved in the common petty insolences that many women convicts indulged in. And wherever she was assigned, they were happy with her. She wasn’t returned to depot. Nobody made a report against her.

And we can assume that by 1845 she ended up in New Norfolk because that’s where she met her future husband. And probably where her eldest child was born.

We don’t know which came first, the marriage or the baby.

Lydia was granted permission to marry Robert Briers (in the convict books as Robert Bryars) on 31 Jan 1846. She was 21, he was 26. He came from Leicestershire too, a quiet man whose family had moved off the farms into the textile industry. Like Lydia he was transported for larceny. We can’t know for sure but there doesn’t seem to have been a violent bone in his body. He was a gentle soul who did what he had to do. He may have lacked the fire and entrepreneurial spirit of his new wife, but he was an anchor, and probably one of the safest men one could find.

They were married in St Matthews Church, New Norfolk, on 25th Feb 1846, just four weeks before the birth of their daughter Susan.

Is Susan actually Robert’s child? I don’t know. I haven’t matched with any DNA-testing descendant who can tell us. But let’s assume she is. We can also assume that Lydia’s pregnancy encouraged the authorities to approve the marriage application and allow the hasty marriage.

The next birth registration is that of daughter Eliza in 1849. But sometime before Eliza was born a son named Robert. He might have been born earlier than Susan, or in that gap between the two. Lydia was still serving out her sentence but might have been assigned to her husband once his was served out in 1848.

Robert and Lydia settled at Lachlan, a village in the hills near New Norfolk, where they raised their family. They were tenant farmers and with Robert’s farming knowledge and Lydia’s brains, they made a success of it.


Their son Robert was probably born in 1847. For a while I suspected he was not actually the son of convict Robert Briers, but DNA has confirmed the line. My assumption of child order is as follows.

Lydia received a ticket of leave in 1851 and a conditional pardon in 1854.

Robert Briers died in 1868 at the rather young age of 47, leaving Lydia with a farm and a very large family. And this is where we see Lydia come into her own.

She’d been saving. And at some time, maybe now with the death of her husband, but more likely before since he seemed to have kept her steady, she bought land. She bought the land they were currently farming and she bought other neighbouring land. She became a farmer in her own right. Lachlan was a tight community, they all pitched in together to work on all the properties and she’d have had labour to utilise when she needed it. But she must have understood that she had to give back too.

Lachlan near New Norfolk 1992

There are still Briers families at Lachlan today, the descendants of Robert and Lydia. They achieved a great deal given their beginnings. And after Robert’s death Lydia continued for a while at Lachlan, in charge of her own place and a merchant in her own right.

All the same, she met someone new and married him a year after Robert’s death, a saddler with his own property in Hobart named Benjamin Johnson.


It was not a good move.

There’s a sort of Lydia feel about this. An impulsivity, a spark and an originality. The two must have found common ground. He seems to have been a drinker, I think they might have met in a pub and conducted much of their courtship inside one too. And then they married and in the cold light of day things fell to bits rather fast.

The following comes from The Mercury, Hobart FRANKLIN. (1874, August 28). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved March 8, 2021, from

28th August 1874


I don’t know what happened after that. A man named Benjamin Johnson died in 1883, the civil registration was informed by the undertaker. This might be Lydia’s husband. In his very lengthy will he leaves everything to his daughter by his first wife and there’s no mention of Lydia at all. So is that the same person?

It might be, because just a year later in 1884, Lydia purchased forty nine acres and two roods at Molesworth for 66 pounds. This is another village outside of New Norfolk. Possibly she did this after selling the land at Lachlan, but if so she sold that land to her sons Robert and William because it remained in the family. And if not, where did the money come from?

She might have simply saved it up.


Lydia Johnson formerly Briers nee Jelley suffered an onset of dementia in her last years. She died on the 19th August 1899 in ‘New Norfolk’ which could mean New Norfolk township, or Molesworth, or Lachlan, or any of the other little communities that existed separate to the main town but kind of adjoined to it.

State Archives of Tasmania RGD35/1/68 no 626

Lydia was buried in North Circle Cemetery in New Norfolk in a grave well known by all her descendants.


So, why did I choose Lydia for this International Women’s Day post?

Because she came from nothing and made her mark in a world that did not give a woman the freedom to excel. The penal colonies of Australia were a great opportunity for men. There was still oppression and prejudice, but any determined man who kept his head could make his mark, become a landowner or a shop owner and become a success. It wasn’t so easy for women. Especially women of independent spirit.

Lydia did her best while widowed. That was when she bought land. That was when she showed that she had money saved and put away. That was when she was most equal to the men around her; not a servant girl who had no authority, but a mature woman with all the power granted to the widow, the almost-equality afforded one who was on their own through no fault of their own. She was beloved by her children to the end, by her many grandchildren and even great grandchildren.

And one wonders what she might have achieved in a different era.

  1. By Jean-Étienne Liotard – The Chocolate Girl, Public Domain,
  3. By Heinrich Zille –, Public Domain,
  4. Clark, William; The Barque ‘Eucles’; National Maritime Museum;
  5. A red dot for Hobart Town, another for the township of New Norfolk (formerly Elizabeth Town) and just to the south of that township, the village of Lachlan at the edge of the mountains. Portion of the following map, with colour dots added silicon_press_uk, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  6. Family Notices (1869, June 9). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved March 8, 2021, from
  7. FRANKLIN. (1874, August 28). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved March 8, 2021, from
  8. State Library of Tasmania RGD1/1 Book 97, Page 64
  9. , with permission.