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)

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).

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.

Girl versus family: Kate Fitzgerald 1824-1911


Another relative has agreed to take a DNA test for me, so I’m updating a branch of the tree that I haven’t looked at for a while. In doing so, I reconnected with Kate Fitzgerald and her plight struck me all over again. She deserves a blog post.

Her full name was Isabella Kate Johnston Fitzgerald, but she was always known as ‘Kate’. She was – according to a later note – born in Trinidad on the property of her Uncle Andrew Johnston who had a plantation. Her father was Robert Appleyard Fitzgerald, a self-centred Irishman of good family, keen to improve the family fortunes and create his own empire.

Robert Appleyard Fitzgerald

Not that his family fortunes were bad – he was born at Geraldine House in Limerick, the son of a silversmith of decent income who had married a wealthy woman. But the family lived in the shadow of former glory – a grandchild, it seems, of one of the Dukes of Leinster. Possibly by an illegitimate liaison, it’s hard to know. The point here is that Robert Appleyard Fitzgerald possessed a strong belief that he was born to greatness and all he had to do was make the right decisions and everything would fall into place.

He made a good start by marrying Isabella Forrester Johnston, daughter of Henry Johnston and Henrietta Ogilvie. They moved out to Trinidad, the plan being that Robert would purchase a plantation and make his fortune.

Yes, they undoubtedly had slaves. There are very few details about this location. Robert and his wife Isabella were, from all we know, very happy.

Believed to be Isabella Forrester Johnson

Kate’s little sister was born on 1st January 1826, also in Trinidad. But the family wasn’t settled.

That is, Robert wasn’t settled. Always with an eye to the next great thing, Robert was inspired by the Americas and the gains that could be made there.

They moved to Woodbridge, New Jersey. We know this from the births of two sons, William Henry Fitzgerald in early 1830, and little Robert Appleyard on 8th August 1832.

Sickness struck the family here. Little William died of cholera on the 17th August. It might even have been brought to the household by the doctor attending the baby’s birth.

The baby lived two weeks. He took his last breath on 28th August 1832 and was buried the following day. Cholera was given as cause of death.

After the baby’s death they made another move. By the end of that year the family was in New Orleans.

They were just in time for the Black Cholera outbreak of 1833.


There’s no indication of Kate and Ellen’s presence in New Orleans – or even in New Jersey for that matter. Possibly because of their mother’s health after the death of little Robert, they were sent back to England with Uncle Andrew.

It was, as events show, a decision that saved their life, but I’d like to point out that this might not have been the reason the family was separated. Robert was like this. He was not an evil man, he cared very much for the people around him. But he was entirely without empathy and at the heart of everything he did was himself. A true narcissist, not malevolent at all, very generous and pleased with himself for being so, but with no concept that what suited him might not be best for anyone else.

If he was truly concerned for his family, he’d have sent his wife as well.

The girls were quite possibly sent to England just because it was easier to travel without them. And because Isabella could be an engaged social partner if she wasn’t overburdened with family.

Here’s a quote from an academic article about the 1833 epidemic.

Local merchants tried unsuccessfully to calm panic by suppressing information. Cholera was not good for business. Business was depressed. Organized religion thrived. National and state days of prayer were appointed to appease an angry God.

During these frightening times, the people learned nothing about the infectiousness of cholera or about its prevention through sanitation. Their experiences tended to reinforce their belief in miasmas or divine retribution.


I think that explains the situation very nicely.

I found a wonderful snippet in the Boston Morning Post on 29th May 1833.

extract of a letter dated ‘Mobile, May 8’

“On my way to this place from New Orleans, I put up at a hotel near the Landing below the town. A Mr Fitzgerald, formerly a merchant of New York, but now of New Orleans, slept with his lady in a chamber next to mine. The next morning I heard him tell Mr B, a gentlement who accompanied me, on the piazza, that his wife had been sick all night with retching and cramps. I at once suspected cholera, and got out of bed to offer my services, but was told a physician had been sent for and would be there immediately. My suspicion proved correct, and she died in a few hours. The husband appeared very disconsolate. He has buried four children, two here, by cholera last summer, and has two living in England.”

For a random newspaper correspondence it’s remarkably accurate. I’m not aware of two more children dying elsewhere but there is time in their marriage for it to occur, so maybe that is true also.

I haven’t found an exact registration for Isabella’s death or burial, but this article matches dates in the family tree drawn up by Isabella’s grandchild fifty years later.

Back in England, Kate and Ellen must have been informed of their mother’s death. And eventually – for short spells only – their father joined them, and took them out to his parents at Geraldine House in Rathkeale, Limerick.

How I imagine Kate and Ellen at this time in their life.

Their father wasted no time finding a new mother for his daughters. With his suave confidence and good looks, his stories of travelling the world, his incessant but skillful namedropping and no doubt sophisticated social skills, he presented himself as a real catch. And it’s true, he came from a good family, there was money behind him. And he had all the mystique of past tragedy into the bargain.

The lucky woman was another Isabella and she was twenty years younger than he.

Isabella Stevenson was British. Born in 1814 to a family of good name but diminishing finances, she was just ten years older than Kate, twelve years older than Ellen. Her journals and letters show her to be a very kindhearted girl, quite sensitive, but one who had never experienced true hardship or tragedy. There was no sorrow in her but the sadness she felt for others. And being very deeply in love with her mesmerising husband, she took his opinon on everything as her own.

How the girls felt upon meeting her can only be guessed. Kate and Ellen were barely out of mourning.

The marriage was a lavish affair on 6th May 1835 and the whole family moved into premises in Dublin.


Two children were born to Robert and his second wife while here. Caroline in 1836 and a baby boy who died in his first day of life in 1837.

Robert was as restless as ever. After the death of their son they went back to New York. They were living here when little Frances was born in 1838. But like all of Robert’s business ventures, they ended up in trouble and returned to Ireland where the family could help them out.

At the age of fifteen, Robert felt it was time that Kate blossomed into full adulthood. A good marriage, that was clearly his thought, to the most useful son in law he could find.

Kate was launched on society. She hated it. It was not a success.

This takes us to 1840.

Kate was fifteen at the start of 1840. Her stepmother’s letters describe her as a solemn girl who rarely showed any emotion and rarely said a word. Taciturn, some said. But it’s clear that she spoke to Ellen and to her father at times. It’s clear that she and her stepmother never found common ground. Kate’s inability to communicate and Isabella’s inability to comprehend the effects of grief were insuperable barriers. The two were civil, but that was all.

Kate wasn’t really alone: she and Ellen were inseparable. The two had suffered together and had come through together. She could talk to Ellen. And Ellen didn’t really need words anyway, Ellen understood everything about her sister. Could speak for her at social functions, at the table. In return, Kate was a pillar of support for Ellen, took on the role of mother so completely that Ellen overcame the shock of their loss.

By now Robert was feeling the pinch again, his finances in poor order. He couldn’t throw a dowry behind her, not the way that would secure her a husband no matter what.

He turned his attention back to the world at large. Listened to stories about the antipodes, about the great need for educated men in senior administrative positions in the colonies. In Australia.

The girls were not part of this decision, but they seem to have coped with everything while they were together. So the plan was made; the two of them, their father, their sociable, cheerful and once-more-pregnant young stepmother and their little sisters (aged five and three) were to leave everything they knew and go out on an adventure.

Unlike the bounty immigrants and convict families, they were not leaving home forever. That was never the plan. They’d be back. But it still meant leaving everything they held dear. It would be an absence of some years.

Isabella’s day book gives a few details.

They went by ferry from Dublin to Hennor House in Hertfordshire, Isabella’s childhood home where her widowed mother and her brother still lived. Isabella was about seven months pregnant.

Kate turned sixteen on 24th June 1840, around the time of this journey.

4th July 1840 Left Hennor for London accompanied by dear Con [her sister Constance] after having paid my farewell visit to ????

In London they stayed with Constance. I’m a bit confused about that since Constance was a single woman at the time. I’m thinking they were actually all with their Aunt Frances Middleton, wife to Lambert Middleton who certainly had a town house. But I’m not quite sure. Isabella was very close to ‘Aunt Middleton’ and many of the surviving letters are correspondence between the two.

Kate’s new baby sister was born on 8th August 1840, mere days after their arrival. She was baptised Constance Dundas Fitzgerald in London. And on the 7th of September they were on board the ship Alfred.

The voyage was against the advice of Isabella’s brother-in-law doctor , and her mother, it seems, said some almost-harsh things about Robert and his lack of responsibility in putting a newly confined woman through such an arduous journey.

Through her months on the boat Isabella pointedly includes any meagre evidence she can find to ‘assuage’ her mother’s fears on that matter.

I know this post is about Kate, but Isabella’s journal gives some very telling details.

Keep in mind that she wrote the journal with a view to mailing it back to England for family to read, in lieu of letters. So she’s phrasing things carefully.

7th Sept 1840 Much engaged during the day in arranging state rooms, and securing trunks, boxes, books etc secure in their places. The sea smooth, a light fair wind, lovely evening, a glorious sunset, closed this first day of our long, long voyage and retired to bed at 9 o’clock fatigued in mind as well as body …

Journal of Isabella Fitzgerald nee Stevenson

She describes their embarkation in greater detail later, but I’d like to point out that this woman gave birth to her fourth child just four weeks earlier and she’s also caring for the other two, while tackling these settling in tasks. No wonder she’s fatigued! She does have two servants to help, but they are a pair of Irish girls working for their passage who have never acted in that capacity before, and the whole voyage is a matter of training them in the duties she needs them for, so she is actually doing most of the care herself.

It shows the family dynamics. She’s in a weakened physical state, she’s basically cabin bound, her husband is off hobnobbing with the Captain and other guests. And nobody is spending much time with Kate and Ellen. Not that they need it. They’re very self sufficient. And they have each other.

I wish to reinforce that fact. They have each other.

From Isabella’s diary.

I’ve skipped a lot of fascinating events in an attempt to keep it focused on Kate:

8th Sept Our meal hours are, B/fast 8; Luncheon 12; Dinner 3; Tea 6 and Supper 9 o’c. My seat at table is next to the Captain at his right hand; next to me, Robert /of course/; and then Ellen, close to her cabin door, Kate opposite to me between Mr Brett, first mate, and Mr Massy, a young Irish man, acquainted with the Limerick folks; Kate’s remarks as usual – few and far between!

12th Sept No incident worth recording, except  a severe fall of a poor woman by which she fractured her skull, bled, blistered on the head and cupped on the neck.   Robert assisted the Doctor.  Another woman in the hospital with slight fever – great attention paid to cleanliness and fumigation to prevent disease; our Doctor – very gentlemanlike, intelligent, active and decided – keeps the people in good order.

18th Sept. Fresh breezes and squalls going our course towards Madeira, which we expect to make tomorrow; opened the piano and found the sound much deadened by the case, the ocean up to this time has rolled too much to attempt it; it is with difficulty we keep our seats at table, all holding on by our neighbours!

21st Sept To bear the heat; Kate and Ellen play and sing, occasionally, but the Piano being in the public Cabin or Cuddy, they cannot with any pleasure to themselves practice regularly.  People continue healthy, only two in the hospital, the woman with the fractured skull and the woman with slight fever before mentioned, both mending slowly; several children have whooping cough.

28th Sept On Sunday night a heavy fall of rain with tropical lightning, such as is never seen in England, but no thunder; on its departure it took from us our lovely “trader” [wind] and we are now quietly moving with that lazy motion, so very undecided, that we are apprehensive of a calm, a calamity indeed, to our crowded ship, and without a breeze to give a circulation of air between decks we cannot expect to be entirely exempt from the visitation of fever, which but too often afflicts Emigrants in this Torrid Zone and frequently carries off numbers.

29th Sept Since Sunday the heat has been oppressive.  The thermometer varying from 80 to 84.  The hot winds from the coast of Africa are blowing upon us, making us all weak and languid.  We sleep with our Cabin windows all open, have all left off our night caps, not excepting little Con, who suffers from the heat as much as any of us; she only wears the day caps when she goes on deck.  Kate and Ellen /wonderful to tell/  have left off two garments; Carry and Fanny trot about in their frocks and “first things” only and no socks;  the Doctor’s children the same.  They are terribly burnt, so are we all, as we sit writing and reading on deck, without our bonnets but there is an awning put up every day.

30th Sept Kate and Ellen spend most of their time on Deck, working or reading, they also have regular lessons from Robert, in geography; and Robert often reads to us, while working.  This plan tho’ has been a little broken in upon by the heat.

Oct 12th Lat 4.34 Lon 23.53 . Thermometer 80 by which it appears that we have only made 200 miles southing, during the last eight days, this is rather melancholy, still, we ought not to repine, but rather be thankful that we are all still preserved from sickness. The people [284 bounty emigrants in steerage] are lively and as happy as circumstances will permit, the poor creatures having many troubles and deprivations which they bear remarkably well, their greatest being the want of good water, a thing which time only can remedy by self-purification; it is really most loathsome and affects for tea so much that sometimes we can scarcely drink it. It is fortunate for us that we brought a filter, what we should have done without it, I know not; we are limited in the quantity of washing and drinking water, but with a little care find it quite sufficient. We have a good luxury, … a shower bath in our greater gallery or closet .. however, I have not partaken ; it has lately been put in order and Kate, Ellen and Robert take one almost daily before breakfast.

Nov 28th Our good fortune continues and we are making rapid progress but the vessel rolls terrifically at times, so much so that we have been obliged to have stanchions put up in our cabins by which to hold on, before which, we could not keep our seats, but were continually sliding up or down the window seat and lockers tumbling one over the other and I have adopted an excellent plan of securing myself when Baby is in my arms by tying myself to one of the posts by a rope around my waist! It is quite amusing to see Carry and Fanny balancing themselves with the motion of the vessel; when a heavy roll comes they lie down on the floor until it is over! You can easily imagine what uneasy, restless nights we often pass, with the exception of Kate, Ellen and Baby! All of whom sleep sounder the greater the motion! The rolling I spoke of in my letters from the Cape was nothing compared to what we have suffered from since we left it and it is only on a quiet day now and then that I can proceed with my journal, besides which it has now become cold, and our cuddy looks comfortless enough without fire and carpet.

Dec 8th 1840 The appearance of Cape Town from the bay is not very striking, being situated in a hollow at the entrance of a valley and the best part of it being hid by the termination of a hill, still, several good houses could be discerned thro’ the telescope, all being painted white and green, many of them having flat roofs; also two churches with spires, the one Lutheran and the other belonging to the Church of England. The scenery is magnificent, the Table Mountain, 3500 feet high, overhangs the town, rising almost perpendiculously at its back, its sides being flanked with beautiful hills, with immense ranges of rock of great height in the distance. …

On Saturday we went on shore escorted by Mr Bennet and Mr Massey, the town contains two or three handsome buildings, with a valuable library, and fine reading room, but the place was too Englified …

I took dear little Carry with me, who was much amused with the children, and talked much of being at the “Cape of Good Hope”, laying such stress on each word. The sensation of walking on solid ground was delightful at first, but the sun was very powerful, and we soon got tired, having been long without exercise, and I glad enough to get back on board again where I had more enjoyment from the recollection of my visit to Cape Town, than I had whilst there, particularly as dear Robert was not with me, whom I reluctantly spared to accompany Captain Crawford in a gig to “Constantia” about 12 miles from the town, where there is a vineyard producing about 5000 gallons of dark, sweet wine …

Dec 26th 1840 On Christmas Day the emigrants were treated with a dinner of fresh meat, plum pudding and wine; our treat was to be startled out of our sleep at 12 o’c on Christmas eve by the Band, playing in the cuddy and the Captain wishing us the compliments of the season thro’ his speaking trumpet! Our latitude was 45 deg 9 mins East Lon 95 deg 37 mins – bringing us within a few days sail of the South Western point of Australia; being the Swan River settlement. Thus our Christmas Day was passed at sea, contrary to the expectations of many of us, who had hoped to partake of Christmas fare with there friends, but for ourselves, who have no one to welcome us, or make merry with at the new home to which we are going, we did not regret it.

Jan 1st 1841 New years Day was ushered in by music at midnight, and a similar ceremony gone through that took place on Christmas eve.  It being Ellen’s birthday, it was the Captain’s wish to have a sort of fete in compliment to her, but Robert requested that he would not notice it, as it might give opportunities for freedoms which we should wish to avoid; her health was however proposed by the Doctor, and drank in champagne. [NOTE: Ellen turned fifteen]

Jan 18th 1841 (Sydney) The anchor is dropped and we are once more quiet so far as the motion of the vessel is concerned; the harbour is extremely beautiful, appearing like a large lake enclosed with wooded hills and we have a peep of the town at a little distance; the vessel will be hauled up to Walker’s wharf in a few days. 6 o’clock. Robert and a few of the gentlemen have been ashore looking for quarters, which by all accounts are very difficult to be procured, and rents exhorbitant, which news does not tend to raise our spirits; lodgings of some description must be got immediately as it is expected that we leave the vessel in 48 hours from the time of arrival; the heat coming so suddenly upon us is almost overpowering.

A letter from Isabella to her mother the following day (19th Jan 1841).

My dear, dear Mother,

After hard work we have left the Alfred and got into lodging for which, we must pay 4 pounds per week, and we are considered exceedingly fortunate in getting them, even at that price.  Robert has seen the Governor and the Colonial Secretary and has been received in the most flattering manner.  May God grant him success.  We are only this moment got in. I have much to do before night. Farewell dear Mamma.


The end of a long and difficult journey, but Isabella’s version was that of a cabin bound mother. Out on deck, things were different. For Kate, they were simultaneously better and worse.

The cabin passengers became quite well acquainted on this journey. They came from similar backgrounds, and among them were some of more impressive families than the Fitzgeralds, including Alexander and Thomas Crawford, Superintendent Cartwright and his family, a Mr John Bennet, Miss Harnett, and brothers John and Rawdon McDouall.

John Crichton Stuart McDouall was twenty one at the time of this voyage, his brother Rawdon was nineteen. They struck up a friendship with the Fitzgeralds.

To be more precise, John McDouall and Ellen Fitzgerald struck up a friendship, with the blessing of Ellen’s father who for whatever reason failed to say a thing about it to his wife.

Things came to a head upon their arrival in Sydney. Here is another letter from Isabella to her mother.

28th January 1841

My dearest Mother,

Having settled ourselves so far as to be able to turn around and look about us, my objective is to give you, in whose thoughts and fond solicitude I know I have so large a share, some account of our proceedings and prospects. The latter, judging by the very friendly receptions my dear Robert has met with, are promising, and I thank God. He who has so mercifully upheld us through so many trials and difficulties, and raised up a friend to help us, from whom Robert has borrowed money, but He only knows when we may be enabled to repay it. Business now is greatly depressed, and two or three large houses have failed; everywhere there is the same tale of distress; farms are given up and sold at a sacrifice; cattle can be purchased at 3 Pound a head, sheep 5 shillings and lambs into the bargain, any person having money here now could double it in twelve months, but alas we have it not. From all we have yet heard, it seems most likely that New Zealand will yet be our destination; there is nothing to be got here but a Police Magistracy with from 250-300 Pounds a year, all other situations being and to fill which we should be obliged to go three or four hundred miles up in the country, entirely cut off from society and without any prospect of advancement, whereas in New Zealand some of the best appointments are yet to be made and Government has been on the lookout for persons competent to fill them. Six months ago he could have got the best appointment the country affords, that of Colonial Secretary, still, from Robert’s knowledge of business and his having held the above named situation in the West Indies, I have every confidence he will yet get a good one. He will have another interview with the Governor on Saturday; he has seen the Attorney General and Postmaster-General and will soon have delivered all his letters …

And another letter to follow:

10th February 1841

All that we have heard is in favour of going to New Zealand, which we have finally decided. We go to Auckland on the ‘River Thames’, on the eastern coast of the northern Island .. carrying letters from the British government to the Governor Captain Hobbs, one of which is from Lieutenant John Russell which is considered as good as an appointment.

I go to encounter great inconveniences doubtless, and probably hardships situated as we are without means, still having firm confidence in Him who has so mercifully supported us thus far.

But I must hasten to communicate what, tho’ left to the last is the most important news I have to tell .. it is this: Ellen is going to be married. To a gentleman who came out with us of very good family and independent means, the son of a Clergyman, who is a Prebendary of the Cathedral of Peterboro .. and he is first cousin to the Marquis of Bute. But I am happy to say that his high connection is not his only recommendation; though very young, only 23 years, he appears very steady, sensible and intelligent, his manners quiet but pleasing and has been accustomed to female society having several sisters; altogether. He was a favourite with us long before we suspected anything, which was not until a week or two before we landed, thou’ I believe they have pretty well understood each other from the time we left the Cape. They are to be married on Tuesday the 23rd. When matters were first arranged we had no idea of it taking place for a few months, which would have given Mr McDouall an opportunity of purchasing an estate in the country, but when we finally decided to go [to New Zealand] without loss of time the gentleman did not much relish the idea of his intended bride being taken away from him, so Robert proposed our waiting a fortnight in order that the marriage might take place.

Kate is to remain with them on a visit for three or four months, thus our expenses down to New Zealand will be much lightened ..

Similar region to that settled by John and Ellen

It was the best arrangement for Kate, in a circumstance that couldn’t have been easy. A few months to ease the parting blow, to step back from that formerly inseparable companion and allow a stranger to move right into her place. However kind Ellen might be, it was going to be tough. However generous Kate was, however much she wanted Ellen’s happiness, it was going to be sad in some ways. But at least she was still valued for herself here .. not just an additional expense ..

The next details also come via Isabella, from her day book this time. (Ellen married to John McDouall at Sydney. Accompanied by Kate to Parramatta.)

23rd February 1841

(Sailed from Sydney for New Zealand.)

18th March 1841

In the end Kate spent several months with her sister. Long enough for a lot of letters to pass between family members in England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, many of them written on scraps of paper with densely crossed lines. Robert had secured a position as Registrar of the Supreme Court and Manager of Intestate Estates. Jobs for a general clerk, and in a brand new colony, how many Intestate Estates were there likely to be? But they were desperate by then, and in debt. And the society was high.

Kate knew little of that, just the optimistic letters sent by her father and stepmother. In the surviving records the only letter came from her father and was addressed not to his daughters but to Ellen’s husband ‘Mac’. Paper was very scarce. In this letter he asks his son in law to pass on a message to Kate.

Perhaps she had her own and it has been lost in time.

On the surface, all was fine. She stayed in Parramatta with her sister and brother in law, and others of his family. And when John purchased his rural property at New Freugh, she boarded a ship for New Zealand and went off to her new home. Back to her father.

She was on her own for the first time and still very young, still a girl who scarcely spoke, who gave no hint of her feelings. No doubt missing her sister. It must have struck her that she was finally, truly, alone.

William Hobson, first Governor of New Zealand

She just after Christmas and must have missed Ellen’s sixteenth birthday by a matter of days.

They met her with warmth, according to Isabella. And introduced her to their new friends. To Governor Hobson and his wife who had become a good friend to Isabella, and to Colonial Secretary Willoughby Shortland who had come out with Hobson and was – like Robert Appleyard Fitzgerald – angling for a decent promotion. Robert’s competition, but far better connected, the heir to a large estate in Devon. A man from a good school who was not only educated, but understood social nuance in a way that Robert did not.

When Kate first met Willoughby Shortland he was thirty seven years old. Kate was seventeen.

There used to be a lot more data out there about Willoughby. And much speculation. Online trees link him to a Maori woman with whom he may have had three children. I have no idea what facts support this, if any. But I shall place those details here in the hopes that someone who reads this can confirm or repute.

So, Willoughby’s official background:

He served on Jamaica Station from 1829–33 where he was associated with Captain William Hobson, and where he attained his first command, HMS Monkey, in 1830. He was invalided home in 1833, but six years later accompanied Hobson to Sydney, where he was appointed to New Zealand as Police Magistrate. Shortland became New Zealand Colonial Secretary on 3 May 1841 and on Hobson’s death (10 September 1842) succeeded him as Administrator pending Governor FitzRoy’s arrival 15 months later.

An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

And the New Zealand oral history that is believed to refer to him:

Mordechai was of Jewish descent. Te Ruki Kawiti wed him to his only daughter to lift the Tapu of the Puhi that he had put on her. After they had three children two of which were twins (Hoterene and Riria) the people of the Rohe told Kawiti that Mordechai had to leave so that Tuwahinenui – (Kawiti’s Daughter) could be tomo to Ruatara (One of Kawati’s main warriors). Upset by this, Mordechai left for Australia with his two sons Hohaia and Hoterene. Whilst gone Riria fretted for her twin and her health took a turn for the worst. Kawiti sent people to search for him and to ask for Hoterene to be brought back to save the life of his sister. They found them and Hoterene was brought home to his sisters side. Her health returned, however nothing was heard of Mordechai after this. It is uncertain as to weather he remained in Australia or returned to Israel. (Yes, not a very credible source. But there are a variety of sources listed there that are no longer accessible, so it can’t be discounted yet.)

And another oral history:

When Lt. Willoughby Shortland in his role as Colonial Secretary took the Treaty of Waitangi to Tuahine’s father Te Ruki Kawiti after all else had signed in the north, Kawiti told him that the cost of his signature was Willoughby’s name. Willoughby married Tuahine, Te Ruki’s daughter and fathered birth to twins who carried his Shortland name. Te Ruki took Shortland, translated it into “Hoterene” and gave it to Tuahine’s son, who then became known as Hoterene. All Shortland lines of descent in Ngati-Hine come from him.

It’s true that there are Maori people with the surname Shortland. Willoughby’s brother Edward had a strong interest in the Maori language and lived with a tribe for some time. But the three abovementioned children were born around 1833 to 1840, before Edward arrived in the country.

Anyway, it gives a clue as to the Shortland involvement in local affairs.

Why is this relevant?

Because on the 8th of January 1842, one week after he first met Kate, Willoughby Shortland proposed to her.

Kate said no.

And that is the event that prompted me to write this post.

Poor Kate. She’s lost her sister, the only one who truly cared for her. She has no mother but overworked Isabella who sees the proposal as an ideal solution to the Problem of the Difficult Stepdaughter. It’s perfect for Robert who knows he’s not going to get a promotion without better family contacts.

I think it was set up between Robert and Willoughby. I think someone was pushing Willoughby to shake off his Maori connections, and whatever other sordid entanglements he’d formed. And Robert always saw his daughters as magnets for useful sons in law. I think the second she disembarked from that boat her father was deciding how to bring her thoughts round to a marriage. And Willoughby sized her up the second he met her, knowing he already had her father’s approval. And probably the approval of William Hobson and his wife who was Isabella’s friend.


In a letter to her Aunt Middleton, Isabella mentioned the fuss. How astounded they all were at Kate’s obstinacy, how embarrassed they were. How Robert had had several long discussions with her and how strange it was that Kate couldn’t see what a wonderful opportunity was before her, especially when she’d just spent time with Ellen and could see the advantages of a good marriage.

I feel so, so sorry for Kate.

Yes, she did know the advantages of a good marriage.

Ellen’s was a fairytale romance, swept off her feet by a young man who adored her. A linking of like minds, two equals with great respect for each other. And that comes through larger than life. John McDouall treated his wife with complete respect. In his letters he acknowledges her opinion. Her likes and dislikes. It’s clear they discuss matters and form mutual agreements.

And here’s Willoughby – formal, somewhat arrogant, seeing her as a way out of a difficulty. I mean, it’s possible that he fell in love with her. But if he did and she then said no, would he have pursued the matter further?

It’s hard to know what’s in someone’s head. But I don’t think that was it. Especially looking at later years. And whatever his feelings, Kate said no!

But her family were so blinded by the brilliance of the marriage that they didn’t care.

A lot of my ancestors were in arranged marriages. It can work. I don’t personally have a problem with it. Only with this one because poor Kate said no. But she had no friends to take her side. And she was just seventeen and her mother was dead and her sister was an ocean away.

Willoughby Shortland

In the end, Kate said yes.

A superseded version of the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (1966) says the following about Willougby. Note there’s some bias here. But I particularly wanted to show that this opinion is out there.

In office, Shortland by his pomposity, flamboyancy of character, and lack of tact, quickly made himself obnoxious to the colonists, while his abruptness in dissolving the Port Nicholson Settlers’ Council aroused resentment throughout the New Zealand Company’s settlements. His abysmal ignorance of financial matters, and his recourse to the questionable expedient of issuing unauthorised drafts on the Imperial Treasury, added considerably to the colony’s public debt. Governor FitzRoy chose to blame all the shortcomings he found in the New Zealand Administration upon Shortland, whom he accordingly dismissed from office on 31 December 1843.

The Colonial Office did not share FitzRoy’s view in this matter, and considered his dispatches were at the least satisfactory, factual, and to the point. Accordingly he was appointed President of Nevis in 1845, and Governor of Tobago (1854–56). He retired from the Navy with the rank of Commander on 1 July 1864, and thereafter lived on his family property, Courtlands, Devonshire, until his death on 7 October 1869.

I don’t think Willoughby was a bad person. To me, he seems to be another troubled man whose family were determined to rule his life. Not an individual, pushed into a career path that didn’t suit him. Somewhat entitled, perhaps. It’s hard to look behind the official facade. Maybe he didn’t want to get married either.

Maybe he and Kate actually had that in common. And for different reasons neither dealt well with people.

On the 19th April 1842, Willoughby and Kate were married in Auckland. They settled in their own place, held parties, dinners and basically lived it up. And this did not change after the Hobsons left and Willoughby acted as Governor.

Isabella complained in a letter to Ellen that she was never invited to Government House. That her daughter Connie had scarcely set foot inside those walls. And that Kate showed no signs of ‘starting something’ months after the wedding.

Which shows that Isabella was not in Kate’s confidence.

There never were any children. When Willoughby moved on to Nevin, Kate went to Courtlands, the family estate in Devon. Later, Ellen’s daughter Isabella McDouall moved in with her so she was not alone. In fact, she may have had some happy years.

But she never again had the close companionship that she’d had with her sister in those early years.

In my tree, she looks like this. Larger than life, and yet faceless in the midst of a family of assertive individuals. Maybe I’ve corrected the imbalance with this blog post. I hope so.

One of Kate’s books from her final year of childhood.


  1. Matt Lemmon from Colorado, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Cartoon by Grandville: Cholera Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images “Chut! Il souffre horriblement du cholera.” Cartoon By: GrandvilleMoeurs Intimes, Series 5 Cabanes Published: 1910 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
  3. ‘The Black Cholera Comes to the Central Valley of America in the 19th Century – 1832, 1849, and Later’, Daly, Walter J., published in ‘Transactions of the American Clinical and Climatological Association’ via website
  4. Dublin Four Courts Alphonse Dousseau, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
  5. Botany Bay National Park. Maksym Kozlenko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  6. Winterslow mountains Michal Klajban, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Walters of Warbleton


On the 22nd May 1777 a young man named Thomas Walter married Elizabeth Potter at St Mary the Virgin Anglican Church in Warbleton. They settled there and raised a large family. Their descendants can still be found in the district today.

If my DNA matches are anything to go by, their descendants can be found EVERYWHERE. A few generations on lots of them left England and went all different ways.

But it all began back in 1777, with that marriage, with those two. At this church:

ST Mary’s Church in Warbleton. Creative Commons 2.0 Creator: Winniepix_Sue Winston, Winniepix_Sue Winston | Credit: ©Winniepix_Sue Winston

Their parents are mostly lost in obscurity.

Thomas was possibly the first born child of Richard Walter and Betty nee Washer who married in Selmeston in 1749. They then settled in Rotherfield near Crowborough where Thomas and his little brother Richard were baptised a year apart. Tragedy struck the family in 1754 when first Betty, then toddler Richard were buried within two months.

That’s all we know. The death of his son is the last reference to Richard that I’ve found. Maybe he married again. Maybe he left young Thomas with grandparents and went off adventuring. Hopefully one day he’ll show up again, in some yet-to-be-digitized record.

My rough map of the relevant localities from a public domain outline.

The Potter family are a little more visible. Elizabeth was baptised in Warbleton on the 29th October 1749 in the church of her later marriage, the daughter of Stephen and Ann Potter. Another daughter, Mary, was baptised in that same church two years later and buried the year after that.

Stephen was an overseer of the poor in Warbleton. After his death in 1809, Stephen Potter’s will was proved in 1810 to a value of less than £1500. Which is pretty decent for those days.

All of this hasn’t made him any easier to find, but it does gives clues regarding his status and education. He had some authority. In turn, this possibly gives some clue about Thomas Walter.

Elizabeth and Mary were probably younger children in the family. I’m guessing there are missing records.

So that’s the family background. They were working folk, but whether farm labourers or craftsmen is not known.

There’s a lot of detail out there about this region, but it’s very hard for a novice to pull apart. Warbleton was in a magical part of England. It’s on the oldest road in the country, an ancient track known as The Ridgeway. It seems in prehistoric times people moved about by travelling along the ridges of hills, that being more navigable and perhaps safer than the heavily forested valleys. Then later the ridge roads were used by soldiers, and merchants, and itinerant workers and many others, so some of the older roads stayed in use for centuries until towns popped up beside them, and the roads were widened and strengthened and bridged and fenced.

Many of those roads vanished, but the Ridgeway can still be walked on today.

Heathfield was a major stopping point on The Ridgeway. Warbleton was the next village along.

It’s a region known as the High Weald, anciently a near impenetrable forest and the home to bandits and wild animals.

Why does anyone need to know this? Because if you go researching anywhere outside of subscription sites, you’ll come bang against all these local names for things and it’s very, very hard to spot the place you want.

I found some interesting details in books from the late 18th century.

The above comes from ‘The Rural Economies of the Southern Counties’ by Mr Marshall, dated 1798. There was a lot of this at the time, I think these authors were commissioned by parliament to report on all the counties so their objective is to see if more value could be extracted from the region.

Mr Marshall really didn’t like the Weald.

A final description, this time of roads.

That’s enough of Mr Marshall and his attitude, but he did give us a good idea of the place away from the main roads, even as recent as 1798.

A lot of produce came out of the High Weald down to the coast for transport, both legally and otherwise. It was sheep and cattle country with some crops thrown in.

Smuggling was a longstanding problem all along the coast of England, it seems. After 1703 the military presence was increased along the Sussex coast to help deal with it. Wool, skins, leather and some metals were transported from the High Weald to the coast to be sent off. In March 1737 a skirmish between soldiers and smuggling gangs resulted in several deaths and an inquiry was held. The report stated:

There was no foreign persons at this business, but were all Sussex men, and may easily be spoken with.

Letter at British Treasury quoted in ‘Smugglers and Smuggling in Sussex’,W J Smith 1749

The Walter family might have had nothing to do with it, but even so, it was there in the background, in their communities. It was an interesting time.

Thomas and Elizabeth (also known as Betty in some records) were the proud parents of nine children.

Only one child did not live to adulthood, and he lived till he was five so that would have been a sad loss.

There’s something odd in the records. It shows Philly and Betty marrying on the same day in different churches, in different towns. Catsfield and Warbleton. Both on 22nd February 1803.

Unlike most counties, we only have transcription data for Sussex. I can’t check for myself. I don’t know if there’s a location error, a date error. Ten miles apart. I’m highly skeptical. But until I learn more it holds. The husband’s names are correct, they haven’t mixed up one girl for another.

It’s just .. odd.

So the record shows Philly marrying John Benge in Catsfield in 1803, after which they settled in Warbleton and raised a family.

On the very same day, Betty married Thomas Head at St Mary’s in Warbleton. A couple of children were born to them in Warbleton before they moved to Cranbrook in Kent.

Mrs Elizabeth Walter nee Potter was buried in the St Mary’s churchyard at Warbleton on the 29th of September 1803. She got to see two of her daughters safely married and the rest turning into healthy adults.

Stephen married local girl Hannah Booth. They spent some years in Warbleton before moving to Uckfield in their later years. In the 1841 census, Stephen was a widower working as a male servant and living with son Stephen and daughter in law Eleanor.

Jane was the single mother of Thomas Walter in 1810. A few years later she married Thomas Skrase and they settled in Portslade where they raised a large family.

Winifred was the only one who did not marry, she lived in Warbleton her entire life and was buried at St Mary’s Churchyard on 28th January 1829. Most likely she did as other maiden aunts did, traveled between the families to assist wherever needed.

Henry became a gardener. He and his wife moved around a bit while the children were being born, but by the 1851 census he was in Lower Beeding where he seems to have stayed.

Dinah married Robert Colbran in Warbleton, but they eventually settled in Herstmonceux.

And last of all, Eleanor married James Martin. They lived in Heathfield for some years where nine children were born to them. And then the whole family moved to Australia. Eleanor was buried in Lochinvar, New South Wales, in 1868.

Thomas Walter, I suspect after the death of his daughter Winifred, moved to Cranbrook with his daughter Betty and her husband. He was buried in Cranbrook on the 21st November 1830.

It has taken years to glean even those details about the Walter family. They became more important to document because of the colossal number of DNA matches I have through the various descendants.

I am a descendant of Betty Walter and her husband Thomas Head. Their fourth child Walter Head (presumably given his mother’s maiden name) is my third great grandfather.

Thomas and Elizabeth Walter are seven generations distant from me, and yet I share DNA with the descendants of Philly, Stephen, Henry, Jane and Eleanor. If it wasn’t for DNA matching Eleanor’s line would have stayed hidden for much longer.

Hopefully this will help other Walter researchers.

(1) Image from Snappygoat, purportedly Warbleton region. CC0

William Dudden of Chewton Mendip – The First in a Long Line

Once upon a time, in England, there was a forest called Mendip.

It was referred to through the 17th and 18th centuries as ‘The Ancient Forest of Mendip’. It can be found in Somerset, although apparently there isn’t as much forest now as there used to be. The region has hills and caves and dips and hollows and all those wonderful things you see in British television shows. A place that remained embedded in the past when other parts of England modernised and industrialized. Bristol and Bath moved somewhat sluggishly with the times, but these hills and holes held onto the old days as if they’d never heard of any new way.

Because of this, the region captured the imagination of many writers and romantics in the 18th and 19th century. But this blog is about an earlier period than that. My William Dudden was born round about 1580.

Here is a map of Somerset, nearly a century after William’s birth.

Richard from USA / CC BY ( Maps_of_England_circa_1670

That map is kind of meaningless at this scale, it’s just to show the shape of Somerset. The region that concerns William Dudden is as follows:

Richard from USA / CC BY ( Maps_of_England_circa_1670

Chewton Mendip, to the east of the Mendip hills. Deep in the Ancient Forest of Mendip, until the forest thinned and shrunk and ceased to be the great beast it once was. But in the 1500s it was still fairly dense and Chewton Mendip was a village surrounded by trees. A place of seemingly fertile soil and good rain and wildlife and narrow tracks leading in and out.

John Collinson described it this way in 1791:

The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset: Collected …, Volume 3 By John Collinson 1791 p 376

When William Dudden first went to Chewton Mendip, it was more forest than plain. The deer would have been there still.

Collinson says this about the Mendip Hills:

The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset: Collected …, Volume 3 By John Collinson 1791 p 376

“So very cold, that frost and snow inhabit these heights longer than they do almost any other parts of the country’ ..

No wonder the place stayed in the past. It was a challenging place to live, even in the foothills where Chewton Mendip is. A place that required a livelihood – a home and a form of heat. Good food and thick clothes. You couldn’t really be a beggar in a place like that. You’d just die.

Some did. The parish burial record contains many traveler and vagrant deaths. But if you could support yourself and your family, it was undoubtedly a good place to live.

Footpath from Chewton Mendip to Ford

To finish this long description, Christopher Greenwood describes it as follows in ‘Somersetshire Delineated’, 1821.

Somersetshire delineated, by C. and J. Greenwood, p 62, 1821

Parish records have been digitised for Chewton Mendip from 1554. Having scoured these records from the beginning up to 1726, I am pretty sure there is no mention of a Dudden before our William’s arrival, probably some time around 1609, and only his descendants thereafter.

I presume this because there is no death of anyone older who might be a parent living in the region, and no marriage of any other Dudden around the time that might indicate several siblings. He was the first.

William Dudden enters the register on the 10th of December 1610 when he marries local girl Alice Savidge.

William Dudden & Alicia Savidge; married Dec 10

That’s all it says.

The surname Savidge is right through the register. Even in the first year, 1554, there are three Savidge men producing youngsters. I suspect Alice’s father was either John or Robert, but the register is faded in places and I haven’t located her birth. She was probably somewhere between 15 and 25 at the time of marriage.

They were married by license. The license can be accessed via but it’s written in a sort of Latin Vulgate crossed with English, in a flowery script, and I haven’t unravelled the words just yet. It looks to me as if William Duddin was recorded as ‘William Dudding’ and that he came from Frome (Froum). Hence my circling that place in the above map. I might be wrong, but that’s my current theory.

The certainty is that he married by license, which means he was wealthy enough to pay the fee, and connected enough and knowledgeable enough to make it happen.

After their marriage, William and Alice settled in Chewton Mendip.

I’ve found the following children:

Fellow Dudden researchers will recognise some of these names. Valentine Dudden is a name carried right down to the 20th Century, as is William.

Thomas died in 1622, aged seven, which must have been hard since he was old enough for them to have truly become attached. He was buried on 16th June, maybe around the time of little Henry’s birth.

Henry was buried on 22nd July the same year. Maybe a week old, maybe a month, but unlikely to be older. Two sons gone in a flash.

I’ve found no other children. Possibly they moved away for a while, but I don’t think so. I think they stayed where they were and no more children were born. Joan, William, Valentine and Robert grew up, probably in Chewton Mendip, and all reached adulthood in good health.

Near Chewton Mendip

Having said that, the first to be married was William and he was not in his home town but in Wells. He married Dorothy on 13th October 1635 in St Cuthbert’s Church.

St Cuthberts, Wells, Celiakozlowski at English Wikipedia / CC BY (

What a fantastic church to be married in! I’m not sure of Dorothy’s last name, the record is very faded but it looks like Boyte or Boyle.

After their marriage, William and Dorothy settled in Chewton Mendip.

I’ve located the following children, all in Chewton Mendip. Question marks denote difficulty reading the parish record.

Dorothy was buried on 7 Jul 1665 in Chewton Mendip. At some time possibly ten years later, William Dudden the second remarried. I have not found the marriage and have no idea of his second wife’s name, but they had at least two children

I deduce from this that Robert born 1654 died sometime before 1678, but I haven’t found a death that I can be sure is his.

So back to the main family.

Joan Dudden married Stephen Calforde at Chewton Mendip on 3rd October 1636. She was aged 25 and Calforde is not a common name for Chewton Mendip, popping up very occasionally. I believe they moved away, one of these days I’ll find them and follow that line down. For now I only know of one child, a boy called John who was buried in Chewton Mendip on 24th October 1659. The baptism registers are easy to read in this period, I am pretty sure his wasn’t there. I do wonder if he was visiting his grandparents or cousins at the time of his death.

Then comes Valentine Dudden, who married Joan Parsons on 30 Jul 1640 in Chewton Mendip.

Valentine and Joan were the parents of the following children. They must have lived elsewhere for a while. I’ll find the early children one day.

A year after the marriage of William Dudden’s son Valentine, his wife Alice died. She was buried on 2nd May 1641.

It was a bad couple of years for the family, and for Chewton Mendip in general. The register is full of burials, about double the number of deaths as there are births for some months. Some sickness must have struck the community.

Alice lived long enough to meet perhaps five grandchildren (three through William and possibly one each through her children Joan Calforde and Valentine Dudden) and to lose two of them- Frances and Joan.

Were they all buried in the same part of the graveyard? The same plot maybe? I don’t think their headstones have survived, but I like to think it is possible. Alice, young Thomas and Henry and grandchildren Joan and Frances , all together.

St Mary Magdalene, Chewton Mendip, where all the Dudden baptisms, marriages and burials occurred.

Maybe that was the end of the hard times.

In 1642 the family celebrated two marriages. One was that of Robert Dudden, youngest son, with Joan of unknown surname. I don’t think they married in Chewton Mendip, I’ll keep an eye out in neighbouring parishes. But after the marriage they lived in Chewton Mendip for at least five years.

Three children were born to them in this time:

It’s always hard to know how to write the name Joan. In earlier years it was clear. Sometimes it was written as Joane, sometimes Joan. But this girl was written as Joanna while the same registrar wrote other girls as Joan. It might be Joan. But I will stick with Joanna for now. Even though she was probably named after her mother, maybe they pronounced it differently to differentiate?

The second marriage was our original William Dudden. A mere thirteen months after the death of Alice (on 27th June 1642), William Dudden aged approximately sixty married Jane Carpenter.

I don’t know much about Jane. I don’t know if she was older or younger, if she was a widow or a spinster. Possibly one or more of the children I have attributed to William and Dorothy were actually the older William and Jane’s.

But the baptisms for the children of William Dudden came regularly, two years apart, and all the names were different. I think it’s most likely that Jane was slightly older too. Probably still younger than William, but maybe at the end of her child bearing years.

It seems to have been a happy marriage. And it’s another indication, in my mind, that William Dudden the elder was financially comfortable. It’s easier for older men to find wives if they have a lot of security to offer. Of course, I might be well out here.

For the next thirty five years, life ticked over in Chewton Mendip. The grandchildren grew up. Great grandchildren came along. William Dudden’s son William became known as William Senior, after Valentine’s eldest son William married Susanna Blandon in Wells and settled back in Chewton Mendip. I’m very, very grateful to that wonderful registrar for differentiating between the sons and daughters of William Dudden Senior and William Dudden Junior, up until the time when the mother’s Christian name was required to be entered. It helped a lot.

William Dudden Senior’s son John became a churchwarden. (William Dudden Senior being the son of our original William Dudden. Yes, that’s confusing). John Dudden also married a woman named Joan. Honestly, it was getting beyond a joke at this time, and I’ll have to go search all the Somerset registers for that marriage too. So many Mrs Joan Duddens all having children.

And then on 23 Jul 1674, Jane the wife of William Dudden was buried in Chewton Mendip. At this time they were not giving age at death, so we have little idea about her. But I can tell you, because of the law passed not long before her death (1666), that she was buried in woollen. That is, wrapped in a woollen shroud, British grown and sewn, as legally required, and an affidavit sworn that it was done.

British sheep

William Dudden, the first of Chewton Mendip, was a widower once more. I think he liked marriage. I don’t think he managed very well alone, even with all those children and grandchildren and great grandchildren around. He only outlived his second wife by eighteen months.

William Dudden’s burial was recorded in the parish records on the 6th of January 1675 – which means, by our calendar, the 6th of January 1676, the new year beginning in March not January in those days.

I’d love to insert an image of that burial record but I’ve only found it on and I don’t think copyright allows it. So I’ll transcribe instead.

(1675) William Dudden a very old man, buried January the 6th

Somerset, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1531-1812, page 49 via

His descendants still live near Chewton Mendip today. And everywhere else in the world as well.

Postscript: I’m still sorting through the later generations of Duddens as they show in the Somerset Parish records. William Dudden the first of Chewton Mendip is my 10th great grandfather. His descendant George Dudden is my 5th great grandfather. But there are a couple of George Duddens who are second cousins, and while I think I know which is mine, I cannot be quite sure until I compile the entire family tree.

Post postscript: Not many of these records show up in an search, though others in the same register have been indexed. I found most of them by straight reading. They are recorded in a variety of spellings – Dudden, Duddin, Duden, Dudin, Dudding, Duddon – and the Christian names are often abbreviated (Wm, Tho, Jn), while Robert is consistently spelled as Robbard.