in Family history

John Morgan and Eliza Watts – My Ancestors or Not?

Town in the Tasmanian Midlands

Town in the Tasmanian Midlands

Inquiries are underway.  Over the next month, more details may arrive in the mail and until then research continues around the region in question.

To summarise: my mystery great great great grandmother Mary Morgan was born around 1840 in Tasmania, and by 1856 she was in Hamilton with my great great great grandfather Robert Brown.  Over the next 25 years they had ten children.

Children of Robert Brown and Mary Morgan in Hamilton and Broadmarsh

Children of Robert Brown and Mary Morgan in Hamilton and Broadmarsh, Tasmania, Australia

Robert Brown was a convict transported on the Tortoise.  Born in 1818 in Cambridgeshire, he was transported in 1842 for life and received a conditional pardon in 1853. Coming from a farming background, he was perfectly at home in a rural area. His parents were Benjamin and Susan. Among his children we can find these names.

My own ancestor is the third son, John.  In 1882, John Brown married Sarah Ellen Cox in Broadmarsh and their eldest daughter Esther was my great grandmother.

In the meantime, the one known Morgan family in Hamilton in 1856 has to be examined as a potential connection. At least one online tree has placed John Morgan and Eliza Watts as Mary’s parents.  Initially I discounted them but circumstantial evidence is building.

Labourer's hut in Tasmania

Labourer’s hut in Tasmania

These huts used to be everywhere but there are not so many around now.  It’s a poor photograph, taken from a moving vehicle. But you get the idea – small, single roomed or partitioned into private and public space. Used to house itinerant workers but also sometimes housed whole families of parents plus up to ten children. This one was beside a house but often they were out on their own in the forest, lived in by shepherds. I don’t know how the Morgans lived but my Brown family had some associations with these places.

John Morgan may have been the convict who was transported to New South Wales in 1838 on the Bengal Merchant.  I’ve found this information online but have not viewed it anywhere official yet. It may have been on the parish record of his wedding which is not online.

He was born around 1812 and had arrived in Tasmania by the 1840s.  He is listed as the father of an unnamed boy born 12th December 1842 in Hamilton to Eliza Watts, so he was there early, and even at that time he and Eliza were together. I have eleven children confirmed to them, plus my Mary and one other who may have been Eliza’s but not John’s but maybe were also his.  Or maybe the eldest two were John’s and not Eliza’s, which make more sense physically but less in other ways. John Morgan died in Hamilton in 1882.

Table Mountain Tas from the Midlands Highway

Table Mountain Tas from the Midlands Highway

Anyone who has read my blogs will probably recognise the names on this road sign. This is looking west from the Midlands Highway near Oatlands and the mountain in the distance is Table Mountain. To its south is Hamilton and Ouse. Over there in that blueish hazy wooded area on the left hand side of the photograph is where the Morgans and Browns lived, about 170 years ago.

Early references to Morgans in the Hamilton region are scarce.  No birth record has been found for Hugh in 1838 or for my Mary in circa 1840. Eliza informed for the birth of the two unnamed male children in 1842 and 1844.  Eliza informed for the birth of Ann in 1847.  There was a daughter Ellen born 1846, but we found her from her death record several years later. The first touch of John Morgan himself in the record is the birth of Elizabeth in 1849, when the father was the informant.  John Morgan, according to both Eliza and himself, was a labourer.

Perhaps we have a reference here:


Before His Honor the Chief Justice, and a Military Jury.

John Davis was charged with the manslaughter of Hugh Macdougall, in the district of Hamilton,in the month of April last. 

James Burn- Knew the deceased Hugh Macdougall; saw him last alive about the 16th of April ; it was on a Monday ; he was lying in bed, with his head on a pillow, by a fire in Littlehales’s house; this was, between 10 and 11 in the morning; deceased appeared to witness to be in a state of intoxication ; he laid, and seemed to be snoring, and made no motion ; his breath smelt strong of spirits ; witness remained there till about three o’clock in the afternoon; the deceased never spoke, during the time witness was there. A man named Morgan came in about three o’clock, and looked at Macdougall; he got some warm water, and washed his mouth; witness and William Patterson rose him off the bed, when he appeared as if he were going to be sick ; but only a little blood and water came out of his mouth ; he dropped his hands, his head fell upon his breast, and he died …..

“SUPREME COURT—CRIMINAL SIDE.” Colonial Times(Hobart, Tas. : 1828 – 1857) 9 Jun 1840: 5. Web. 28 Jun 2015 <>.

This just might be our John. There has been no mention of any other Morgan in Hamilton at this time.

Here are the children of John and Eliza, as per references in the official records.

Family of John Morgan and Eliza Watts

Family of John Morgan and Eliza Watts

In a previous blog I commented on the absence of a son called John, and suggested that maybe the male child born in 1844 lived and was given that name.

With regard to this suggestion, I have found a most supportive article.


AN ALARMING ACCIDENT occurred at Hamilton on Sunday last.  It appears that Mr. Albert Langdon was   returning home, accompanied by one of his men and a lad named John Morgan, and was proceeding over the bridge near Mr. Sibley’s mill, when the horse shied and became restive, which ended in him taking a leap with the cart, &c. over the parapet of the bridge, (that part being unfenced.) Mr. Langdon’s arm was much injured and the lad seriously hurt.   The man and horse escaped with a shaking. It is strange that the proper authorities do not attend to the dangerous state of the approaches to this township, when so trifling an outlay would make them secure. This is the second accident which has occurred lately, and almost a miracle each time that several lives were not lost.

“POLICE OFFICE.—THIS DAY.” The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859) 1 Feb 1859: 3. Web. 28 Jun 2015 <>.

So, I ask myself, who is this lad named John Morgan in 1859?  Someone born in 1844 would be aged 15 by this time, surely a good age to be called a lad?  I have great hopes for this clue.  I also hope that the boy lived. Injury in those days was no trifling concern.

Then finally, in the 1870s we find a glimpse into the character of John Morgan, in the briefest summary of a rather tragic event:


Emma Morgan pleaded guilty to having, on the 4th July last, unlawfully endeavoured to conceal the birth of a child, by secretly burying its dead body immediately after birth,

The prisoner, who admitted the child was stillborn, and that she did not know she was doing wrong in endeavouring to conceal its birth, [said] her father had threatened to turn her out of the house. She was remanded for sentence.

“SUPREME COURT.” The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954) 29 Nov 1876: 2. Web. 28 Jun 2015 <>.

One wonders at the story behind this event.  A bit rich, surely, for John Morgan to threaten Emma when his own elder children were born out of wedlock?  Or maybe they were not really his and he didn’t even know that Eliza had named him as father?  Always questions when looking at families in the past.

Emma’s record is very empty and she never reoffended. I have found no birth or death record for the baby in question either.  Eventually Emma married George Collins in 1883.

Emma's very brief record

Emma’s very brief record CON42/1/1 Page 142 at

John Morgan passed away in Hamilton on 28th January 1882 and is not to be confused with John Morgan who passed away on 7th January 1882. Different men. Ours is the later death.

His wife Eliza passed away in Bothwell on 3rd Aug 1894.  Like most women of her era, she had been conspicuously absent in the records of the time.  She will however appear in future blog posts.

Until further details come in this is the family.  I have to ask myself, given Emma’s experience, what would my Mary have done had she been a single girl of this family with a child on the way?  Is that how it was for her, threatened with expulsion from the family home?  We have still located no marriage for Robert Brown and Mary Morgan.  Did Robert Brown rescue a young girl in trouble and win himself a wife by his action?  Or take responsibility for a problem of his own making?  It would not be the first time that a couple came together in such circumstance.

The search goes on.

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  1. In 1839, before her marriage to John, Eliza Watts was a servant working in the household of Edward and Eleanor (Ellen) Littlehales, my g-g-g-grandparents! Eliza’s death registration shows the informant was her son John. My great-great-grandparents, Joseph and Ellen Best, were witnesses at the wedding of John Morgan and Eliza Watts in 1850.

  2. I have a John Morgan in my family tree born 1812 with question mark and Eliza Morgan watts born 1812 died 1894.birth of son John Morgan January 18/1844 birth hollow tree hobart.