A Quick(ish??) Post about the Ancestry DNA Match change

A lot of people have written very well about this. It impacts every researcher who uses DNA matching and everyone has a different opinion. Which interests me as much as the event itself.

I’m no kind of expert. This post is about what the change means to me and the way I do my research.

So for context – if you do a DNA test with Ancestry, and you have a family tree on their site, and you link your DNA test to yourself in your tree, then Ancestry will compare your tree with the trees of your matches to see if it finds any common ancestors. It will then highlight these common ancestors so that you can compare the trees and see if you agree. If it’s correct then yes, you’ve found a cousin.

It looks like this:

The above match is female, has a linked tree with 79 people in it, shares 7cM with me which is a reasonably small match, and apparently has a common ancestor. I can then click on the tree link and check it out.

The suggestions go all the way down to myself and my match. I’ve cut off the lower ones for the sake of privacy.

I have several matches to these ancestors, one of whom is through an ancestral daughter who I’d never managed to trace. The common ancestors are definitely the same people. The paper trail verifies their movements. These are genuine matches. Two share 7 centiMorgans with me, one shares 6 centiMorgans.

Is it actually a DNA Match? I don’t know, because Ancestry doesn’t give us access to a chromosome browser. To me, it doesn’t necessarily matter. Well – it does and it doesn’t.

And this, I think, is where all the confusion and different opinions and complexity comes in.

On Family Tree DNA you do get a chromosome browser.

I picked two matches who also match each other and here’s the place that we all match. Same place on the same chromosome, that’s what makes it a real match. Of course, chromosomes are paired – there are two ‘number nine’ chromosomes, one that we got from our father, one from our mother. It takes a bit of comparing with known matches to determine which of that pair these matches are actually matching with. If they match in the same place on different chromosomes they are not a match, but if it’s the exact same one they are. Working it out can be done, and many of us enjoy that game.

If you can figure out which ancestral line a specific segment was inherited from, that’s useful. For the above ancestor John Peard and his wife Bridget Woodley, I could look for that precise segment match among the unidentified hordes who also match me, but haven’t got a tree – and I could say positively ‘This person also descends from John Peard and Bridget Woodley’. Or maybe I could say, ‘this person descends from a sibling of John Peard and Bridget Woodley’.

My example match is so far back, it takes a solid paper trail and a lot of time and a lot of matches with trees to even begin. I’ve been lucky with this one.

This is Ancestry’s ‘thrulines’ facility. It has pulled together every DNA match with those same ancestors – or with enough ancestors that some tree in the system can bridge the gap – and it shows them to me. I have twelve matches on Ancestry who also descend from John Peard and Bridget Woodley. It’s quite amazing, because I rarely stumble across Peard researchers. I’d never have found these guys were it not for DNA matching. I have another four on FtDNA who haven’t tested with Ancestry at all, including one who descends from John Peard’s brother. That’s sixteen matches back to my 3rd/4th/5th great grandfather in this family line.

The one on the far right is a genuine match but their tree is slightly wrong, so they don’t show up in the correct place.

Onto the harder ones:

The magic number in Genealogical DNA is 7 centiMorgans. Some scientists determined several years ago that a match of this length (or longer) is more likely to be genuine. If you go smaller, some will be genuine, some might not. And then you get what is called a ‘false match’.

I hate that term. It’s misleading. But that’s what everyone calls it.

A false match isn’t actually a false match. It’s not like a ‘false positive’ in a medical test. It’s not saying there’s a match when there isn’t. There really is a match.

Someone else’s chromosomes could have accidentally come together in the same sequence as yours – that can happen, and since they don’t share your ancestors at all it’s useless to spend time looking for a connection. This is the most genuine form of ‘false match’. It’s like the two boys in ‘The Prince and the Pauper – they looked identical, but they were not actually related at all. In a perfect world, there’d be some way of spotting these and filtering them out so what we could see were just the real ones.

Accidental similarity

But there are other sorts of ‘false matches’. You might match in much smaller segments from different ancestors that have ended up next to each other so it looks like a bigger match than it really is. A 4 centiMorgan segment from your father’s side next to a 5 centiMorgan segment from your mother’s looks at face value like a 9 centiMorgan match, until you check the matches in common. With the massive endogamy coming out of little villages across the world where cousins married second cousins and their children did the same, century after century, you end up with a lot of third/fourth cousins emigrating to the Americas or Australia or Canada who actually share enough DNA to look like first cousins. So we can look closely related when we aren’t.

That is, if I have an ancestor from West Limerick and you do too, we’re likely to have a very small DNA match whoever our ancestors were. And if I have an ancestor from Isle of Harris in Scotland and so do you, we’ll share DNA from there too. Just think how many people must have one ancestor from West Limerick and another from Isle of Harris. If those two segments are next to each other it looks like a different match to the one it really is.

Cottage at Isle of Harris

It is still a genuine match though, really. Just way too hard to identify, and there’s always the chance that one portion is an accidental resemblance even if part is by descent. That one takes some untangling.

The next ‘false match’ is where the match has come down unchanged for so many centuries that the common ancestor is way before written records. This happens more often than anyone first imagined, and those segments are known as ‘sticky segments’. Since they have come down unchanged to so many people, you end up matching thousands of people who seem like fifth cousins but are really twenty fifth cousins. You’ll hear this multi-match chromosome region referred to as a ‘pile-up’ region.

Once again it’s a genuine match. But at this point we can’t use them. Nobody has the trees. I think in time we’ll get there, with enough people testing, enough records coming on line, enough chromosome painting. But not yet, and the process is fraught with error. So for now it’s a ‘false match’.

That’s the background.

DNA testing at Ancestry has really taken off. The site is groaning under the strain of all those testers, stuck at home now due to lockdowns, isolated and diligently exploring their match. Site response times are very slow. We often get error messages saying their backend servers are overloaded. It can’t go on this way.

So they’ve decided to remove all those 6 and 7 centiMorgan matches, because most are ‘false’. And the remaining 8+ matches will be far clearer.

So, what do I think about that?

A lot of people are utterly appalled. Even more people, I think, are happy about it. My knee jerk reaction was horror, because I hate to let anything go before I’ve had a chance to look at it for myself.

Now, I’m lucky. I come from Tasmania, a small island settled by convicts and soldiers. Every step my immediate ancestors took was recorded. Not only that but the records were deemed to be part of our heritage and were digitized and made available to us all for free. Civil registrations, convict files and newspapers. And being an island, all entry and exit was recorded too, in shipping records. We have excellent paper trails back to England, to those 7th/8th/9th great grandparents. So we – like most others – can really make use of small matches. But most people can’t. So to most people, those tiny impossible hints really are ‘false matches’.

I would prefer that it didn’t happen so soon, but they just might be right. In some respects.

I have a total of 38,047 matches on Ancestry. 410 are close matches (fourth cousin or closer). I know just how I connect to every close match that has a tree with the exception of four, and for those I at least know the region/ancestral branch. I can take a guess at many close matches without trees, but a few of them are a complete mystery.

What would I have lost had I never looked at my 6-7cM matches?

Actually, a lot!

I have identified twenty cousins through 6-7cM matches. Some were the Peard matches mentioned above. Another is the sister of my Irish Catholic ancestor Mary Woulfe of West Limerick, born in Sugar Hill at the cusp of parish records. Others are descendants of the Brown family, subjects of my last blog post.

Yes, some of my most exciting discoveries have been made through matches at this level. No, I’m not sure if they are DNA matches, but DNA matching has brought me paper-verifiable matches that I’d never have found because they moved to districts I could not have predicted.

So if you want DNA purity, then yes, this is probably the best idea. And Ancestry’s common ancestor feature only works back to about eight(?) generations, if you match at the ninth you have to put in the legwork yourself and look at trees, search for names. It’s a good idea for Ancestry, they can reduce their server overloads and keep us genies focused on more accurate data, not screwing up our trees making fake cousins fit when they don’t. I get it.

All the same, I wish I could have looked through my 30,000 or so 6-7cM matches before it happened. But if I’ve missed some amazing breakthrough, I’ll never know. So I’ll let it go.

It’s a pity, but it’s not the end.

An image showing ‘The Last Mile of England’ (Shropshire). It seemed appropriate.

A Family in Cambridgeshire in the late 1700s


This is the story of a family named Brown.

There’s a struggle most family historians will know. You spend years poring over records, identifying the ancestor, working on that jump back to the previous generation. Hoping that the unknown parents will turn out to be Winterfink or Albercoyle, something searchable that will stand out in lists and newspaper articles and interment records. Names like Brown or Smith can doom an ancestor to permanent obscurity.

My ancestors were John and Mary Brown, married 1760 in Fordham, Cambridgeshire.

As it happens they were more visible than expected, partly due to their grandson Robert born 1818. He was transported to Australia as a convict so we know a lot about him. Not only that, he lived a very long life among family equally blessed with longevity so the oral history is good. Robert Brown died in 1911, his son died in the 1950s.


Tracing the family back from Robert to his father Benjamin was simple. Benjamin (born 1785) married Susan (Susannah) Sargent, the names are unique enough, we have them in every British census and could build their family with ease. They spent their entire lives in the same region, which helped a lot. They were labourers, farmers, ploughmen. Agricultural pursuits right through. Our Robert seems to have been the only black sheep, the others appear fleetingly through births, marriages, death and census. A quiet and excessively numerous family.

The complication was Suffolk. Fordham is right there by the border and while Cambridgeshire records are available online, Suffolk is a great challenge for anyone not on the ground. Benjamin came from Fordham, his wife Susan from Exning. Susan was a brick wall for many years because of this.

Focusing on Fordham, Benjamin was the son of John and Mary Brown nee Boon.

Here is the whole family:

This may be incomplete. Eleven children seems like quite enough but there is a suspicious gap between Sarah No. 2 and John. There’s room for two more children there.

It’s complicated from here on in. For clarity, John Brown’s parents are referred to as ‘Granddad John’ and ‘Grandma Sarah’. John and Mary’s same name children are John Jr and Mary Jr.

We can only guess at the size of their house. Granddad John lived for some years in Landwade but was buried 1772 in Fordham, so he might have lived with them too.

A few generations earlier the Browns owned land and had wills, so our John Brown might have lived on his own land too. But his children clearly lived in rental places and there’s no indication land was passed on to any of them.

It was probably lucky that the eldest children in the family were girls. By the time their mother reached her less energetic middle years when pregnancy is harder and childbirth even more risky, she had a group of capable youngsters able to take the load on their own shoulders.

The first Sarah died at the age of six and was buried on 1st December 1767 in Fordham. She was the only child they lost.

John Junior was baptised on 27 November 1774, not long after the death of Granddad John. There was probably some rejoicing or at least relief that the head of this household would finally have someone to help with heavy work and take over the household if need be. Maybe they held their breath until he survived that dangerous first year. But the baby was hale and hearty, it seems, and grew up just fine.

Baby John had a bevy of personal carers in Mary (12), Elizabeth (10), Ann (8) and Sarah (6). That’s if Mary was still around; girls in this region were commonly out at work by the age of 11.

John was the only son for some time. His birth was followed by Hannah and Martha, and by now the eldest daughters were young adults, probably doing farm work or in service around the district.

Child number nine was Jane, baptised on 30th June 1782. She was six months old when her eldest sister was married.

The marriage was straightforward like everything else in the life of this family. Mary Jr was about to turn twenty. No doubt a capable home manager, experienced in childcare, she knew how to cook and sew and milk cows and nurse children through fevers and all those things required of a farmer’s wife in 1782. So when local man John Munns looked for a wife she was going to be a strong contender.

The Munns family, like the Browns and the Sargents, jumped across the county border between Fordham, Landwade and Exning. I’m not sure which side of the border they began on. I actually think we’ll find an earlier Munns link, maybe they were connected to Mary Boon. There’s a good chance young Mary Brown and John Munns knew each other their entire lives.

I imagine they announced their engagement and made plans. The marriage took place on the 18th November 1782. Everything respectable and straightforward.


I learned about Mary’s marriage through DNA matches with three of her descendants.

Two years later, Ann Brown formalised her union with farmer John Burling of Swaffham Prior, a village six miles from Fordham, three miles from Exning. It wasn’t a big move, but a good one socially and economically. John was a landowner in a modest way and his farm was quite successful.

I discovered Ann through another DNA match.

From this point on, the generations are slightly muddled. John and Mary Brown’s tenth child – their second son Benjamin – was baptised in the same week as Mary Jr’s apparent first child Henry Munns, and also John and Ann Burling’s first child Susannah.

At a calculated guess based on ages and proximity through the decades, I would say Benjamin Brown grew up playing with his nephew Henry Munns and his cousin William Brown. And the Sergeants/Sargents were there too, not yet married into the family but at all the social events. As were the Burlings.

This is the time to introduce William and Mary Sergeant of Exning.

William Sergeant and Mary Levett were married in 1778 and their eldest son John was born the same year. George, Susannah, William and Mary were born over the next few years, followed finally by Elizabeth, James and Eleanor. They lived in Exning and mostly stayed there, but they attended Brown weddings and the families knew each other well.


This, as far as I can see, is what English village life really was. Not individual families as we do it today, the whole population personally connected again and again. I’ve kept it simple so far.

In 1787, Susan Brown’s birth completed the family of John and Mary Brown. In this same year, little Susannah Burling was buried and a new Burling daughter was given the same name.

By 1788, Elizabeth Brown must have felt like an old maid. There she was aged 24, nieces and nephew popping up everywhere (Mary Munns and Isaac Burling came into the world this year). But finally it was time for her own wedding. She married John Frost in Isleham, Cambridgeshire.

I have DNA matches with Elizabeth’s descendants too.

Sarah may have married in Isleham too, there is a plausible marriage with John Peachey on 24th October, 1787. But I cannot be sure of it.

So having introduced all the characters now, we can pull the whole thing together. Mary Munns, Elizabeth Frost, Ann Burling and Sarah Peachey(?) are settled. There’s a gap now, which matches that six year child gap between Sarah and John. The four married daughters increased their families significantly. The Sergeant children are likewise growing up

On 27th September 1798, John Brown Junior was married to Ann Shinn in Fordham. He may have felt some pressure to do so, his father was sixty years old and probably starting to ail.


It was another time of rapid change. Hannah married Thomas Bishop in 1799 (DNA matches brought this to light), then came the death of John Brown, father and grandfather to this giant family. He was buried in the Fordham cemetery on 10th April 1801.

A year later was the first union with the Sergeant family through the marriage of Martha Brown and John, the eldest Sergeant boy. They spent a couple of years in Suffolk before moving to Fordham.

I discovered Martha through DNA matches too.

To conclude this part of their history, Benjamin Brown married Susan(nah) Sergeant in 1810, while Jane married William Durrant four years later. I have not located a marriage for Susan.


There’s just one more marriage to add.

The fifth Sergeant child was Mary, born a year later than my Benjamin, baptised 09th October 1786 in Exning.

Mary Sargent married Henry Munns, the eldest son of John Munns and Mary Brown.

It is confusing. John Sergeant married Martha Brown. Susan Sergeant married Benjamin Brown. Mary Sergeant married Henry Munns. You can see how I might have strong matches with other descendants of this family. But I also have matches with descendants of Eleanor Sergeant who married an Andrews, and with Burlings and Frosts and Bishops so it’s not just endogamy from that particular grouping.

In conclusion, this is the family of John and Mary Brown as I now know it, a long way ahead from my first post about the family. I wrote this first to help others researching this family, and second to show what DNA matching can achieve.

Now I’ll get on with more research.

Image captions:

1 Image by Bob Jones : Track near Fordham, from Wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0 .No changes made.

2 Robert Brown born 1818 with grandchildren Lucy, Amy and Mary in Australia.

3 George Stubbs: Haymakers 1785 (public domain)

4 John Constable’s Wivenhoe Park, Essex showing rural features. There are very few paintings featuring Cambridgeshire.

5 Old man Family Hour Magazine 1854

6. I chose this image for the mud. Very much a part of British farming.

Francis and Fanny Eliza Burleton – A Fresh Start #52Ancestors Week 1

Bristol 1840 (John Chilcott)

On the 6th June 1851, Francis Burleton and his wife Fanny Eliza lived in a small house in Bristol. It was a terrace house in a long row. Not the worst place to live, but a huge change from the rural highlands of Somerset and Wales where each had grown up.

On this date the family consisted of 6 people. There was 36 year old Francis, his 24 year old wife Fanny Eliza and 3 year old Mary Ann at the core. Francis was a corn dealer following in his father’s footsteps. With his uncle Robert’s good training behind him, he had every chance of succeeding where his father had failed.

Seven years ago Francis lost his father in a tragic shipwreck which robbed the family of a chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of society. William’s story concludes here.

Six years ago, Fanny Eliza’s father passed away in Bristol. He may have died in the very house they were in for the 1851 census. His story concludes here.

One year ago, Francis and Fanny Eliza buried their son Albert. I’ve written about the event here.

It had been a decade of loss for them both, but as the family grew smaller they grew closer.

On 6th June 1851, they lived at 3 York Street, Bristol. The house is still there.

Photographer’s child taken out of picture. Posted with permission, taken 2014.

With Francis, Fanny Eliza and Mary were three others. Francis’ mother Elizabeth nee Dudden aged 67. his brother William aged 32, and his sister Sarah aged 38.

By June of 1851, plans were already afoot. Perhaps Francis’ father wrote back about great opportunities in the colonies. Maybe it was just a way to escape struggle and death. Whatever the reasons, Francis and Fanny Eliza had made their decision.

Their fresh start was a move to the new improved colony of New South Wales.

It was probably a move of desperation for the Burletons. The British colony was seventy years old. But this was a giant region and the discovery of gold brought swarms upon swarms of hopeful new immigrants to the shores. Whole towns sprang up over night. Existing villages surged to city size. Transport problems, shortage of resources, the absence of law enforcement all culminated in the splitting of one giant colony into two more manageable ones.

On 1st July 1851, Victoria was born. Wealthy from the beginning, it settled down to pass laws, open immigration to those with skills that the colony required, and reap the benefits of their geographic location, the hub between three flourishing colonies with a lot of movement between.

It wasn’t such an easy time for New South Wales. They were in the middle of an economic slump and were losing valuable residents every day to the shiny new lands down south. But in 1852 they were starting to rally. It wasn’t such a bad time to be in Australia.

So it wasn’t only a fresh start for the Burletons. It was a fresh start for the Australian colonies too.

Map of the eastern Australian colonies. Adapted from the map of Australia by NordNordWest [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

They travelled on the Neptune. Francis described himself as a ‘farm manager’ but the immigration records rephrased, presumably in a way that made him the most useful. He is shown as a ‘brewer or farm labourer’. The shipping record confirms the details we have for him. His age, his birthplace, his parents (William and Elizabeth Dodding, a small confusion there as he presumably provided his mother’s maiden name). That his father is dead and his mother residing in Bristol.

Fanny Eliza is likewise confirmed. A house servant born in West Harptree, parents Thomas Wookey and Hannah. Mary aged 4.

I add this detail in their ‘remarks’ section which may be more decipherable to others than to myself. I can see they have five pounds. But there’s more.

Detail from New South Wales Immigration records, ship’s list for the Neptune dated 19th February 1852

Also on board was Francis’ brother William. The two of them were close for their entire lives. William’s details corroborate all other records nicely.

They said goodbye to their mother and sister and boarded the Neptune at one of its British ports.

The journey was recorded in a couple of places:

The Neptune left Deptford on the 9th of September, the Nore on the 10th, and Plymouth on the 26th September. She experienced very heavy weather in lat. 46-46 North long., 10 degrees West. A heavy sea struck her and carried away fore and main topmasts, all three topgallant masts, fore top-gallant yard, and she had to put back to Falmoutb, where several of the emigrants left her.

She resumed her voyage on the 23rd October. She has on board 42 married couples, 56 single men, 70 single women, 31 boys, and 24 girls under 14 years of age, and 10 infants. Seven births occurred during the passage, and eight deaths. Three of the latter were adults.

Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Saturday 7 February 1852, page 2

Poor Francis and Fanny must have felt as if everything they touched turned to disaster. But they stuck it out, and they arrived safely at Port Jackson on 19th February 1852.

They came to a country very different to the one they left behind. They arrived in the height of summer. They found mosquitoes, giant spiders and poisonous snakes and the stories of these were brought on board ship before they even set foot on the land.

The Heads, Sydney, picture by David Edwards [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

I’ll conclude this blog with the announcement of the ship’s arrival, as Francis, Fanny, William and little Mary waited on board to see what the future might hold for them.

Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), Thursday 19 February 1852, page 2

Francis and Fanny Eliza Burleton

It’s a busy time of year and I’m cheating a bit. I’m going to publish some flash fiction instead of a something factual. I’m still conflicted about fictionalizing the past. I wish to state very clearly that it might not have happened this way at all.

That said, the facts are verifiable. It’s the conversation and the thoughts and some physical descriptions which are not. We can’t know. But I do have some idea of their personalities and their views on the world. Francis had a strong sense of responsibility and a great deal to prove to himself. Fanny Eliza was a wonderfully strong woman who always found a way forward. Many records still exist about this couple. Their personalities have left a mark.

My 3 times great grandparents Francis Burleton and Fanny Eliza Wookey were married in 1844 in East Harptree, Somerset. On 20th March 1850 they lost their son Albert Edward Burleton. I’m hoping to move out of the death theme by Christmas Day with their arrival in Australia, but I like to maintain accurate chronology. Although this is the story of a funeral, it’s the beginning of a new approach. A point at which, I’m fairly sure, they looked at their circumstance and their future and decided that something needed to change.

East Harptree in Somerset England, the ancestral region of the Burletons and Wookeys

A Funeral In East Harptree (March 1850)

On a balmy morning in spring when new leaves budded on the trees, Francis Burleton followed slowly behind a tiny coffin destined for the East Harptree churchyard.

Fanny Eliza, black clad and very contained, walked at his side carrying their daughter. Her haunted poise wrenched the breath from his chest. Mary was settled deep into her mother’s arms, very aware that catastrophe of some sort had struck the family.

At the churchyard he waited with his wife and his brother Will, lost in thought.  Would the sunny girl he had married emerge again?  Or was she now a different creature?

Here was the grave of John Burleton, his grandfather.  He remembered a solid man of stoic demeanor and poker face, the last of the old style of yeoman farmers.  Church warden, local magistrate and of impeccable reputation.  John Burleton had even entertained aristocracy at Eastwood Farm. His excellent husbandry added wealth to local importance. It meant something here in Somerset to be a Burleton.

But Francis also remembered that time when he was just a boy where he had no place to be, overhearing a tirade of abuse hurled at his Papa by this great man. John Burleton with florid cheeks and booming voice in the parlour at Eastwood Farm.  And his own Papa, six inches taller but cowed and silent, accepting the abuse.

“A bankrupt! A Burleton in the bankruptcy courts?  How DARE you show your face on this property now!  I might have known you’d throw it all away, boy,  but I’ll be damned if I’ll permit you to take us with you.”

Even then, afraid to move for fear of being spotted, Francis marvelled at the difference between the two men. Grandpapa so black and stiff. Papa so ethereal, tall and thin with light wispy hair.  His grandpapa with rigid routines and his papa with a new grand scheme every day.  But Francis did not, back then, know what bankruptcy was.

They moved to Wales, escaping whispers and recriminations.  Mamma was staunchly supportive of Papa, as always. The Burletons had not approved of her and she was happier in Wales. Until Papa was transported to the colonies as a common criminal.

It really wasn’t Papa’s fault. Setting the Welsh town against him with his criticism and grand schemes, he upset the natural order of things as he always did. And they’d taken action, got him shipped off.  Exiled for being a fool. And the family was separated forever.

Their uncle called Francis and Will back to Eastwood Farm where they could learn good management. Where any influence of their father could be undone. Uncle Robert was a good man who liked to do right by his family.

Coming back to East Harptree made sense. But it was an uneasy home now. Everybody knew. Nobody said a word, you could imagine the secret had been kept successfully. But the truth was there in the glances, the careful words – they way some families chose not to mix with the returned young men.

But that was in the past. He was married now. He had his own commitments. He understood loss and gain. Had hope for his own future and that of his children.

And now Will was heeding the call for emigrants and leaving them.

Uncle Robert stood alone, solid and poker faced just like the old man. He wasn’t happy with the funeral arrangements.  Little Albert should have been buried in the Burleton plot, but Fanny Eliza had put her foot down and she was a Wollen. 

Wollen. An old name, true aristocracy.  They’d daughtered out now and Fanny’s mother had been one of the last. Francis had married her for herself, not her family name.  Yet she had a power over the Burletons that he could never have imagined and she was not in awe of them at all. 

He watched her move quietly to her mother’s grave and place a finger lightly on the headstone as she always did.  Just a quiet ‘hello Mamma’ to the woman who died to give her birth.  It was Fanny Eliza’s decree that her first born son would be buried here, with his grandmother to watch over him for all eternity. 

The tiny coffin was lowered.  Francis and Fanny Eliza cast the first sod. They watched their cherished son vanish from view forever.  Francis had the distinct impression that Fan was burying her innocence in that little grave with her boy.  When it was done she looked at him. Serene. Peaceful. Determined. Changed.

“Will has the right idea,” she said.  “We have nothing here. Mamma will care for Albert now.”

Francis looked at her in puzzlement. 

Fanny Eliza looked across the churchyard.  “I want to move to the colonies.  This place is not good for children.”

Move to the colonies. Will had suggested it weeks ago and he felt a stirring of curiosity. What might it be like?

But if Fanny Eliza had decided there was no question.

“Yes.” He looked solemnly at her.  “Let’s do that.”

They walked across the churchyard to rejoin the mourners.

At the Time of Death .. Please Don’t Bury the Family Bible!

Some of my readers may know that I work for a family based funeral service. We are in a small city on the edge of the Australian outback and our nearest competitors are almost 100km away. Because of this we become very personally acquainted with the local families. Along with the doctor, their church and their teachers, we see them regularly when we bury their loved ones. It’s not like the big cities where this is just a job. It’s a true vocation for us.

We are never off duty. We meet our families every day at the shop, at the hairdresser, at the doctor’s. We are on call seven days a week and we don’t stop for any public holiday. We feel very privileged to be playing the role that we are and whatever we have agreed to do as part of the burial, we do – to the very letter.

Among other duties, I prepare bodies for burial or cremation. I take the clothes and objects that the family brings to us, I spread them out on a table to see what I have, I review any special instructions. Then I follow those instructions to the letter.

As long as nobody will be harmed and there is no legal obstacle, whatever is given to us to include with the deceased person will be placed in that coffin.

His favourite handkerchief in his pocket? Absolutely.

The gold ring on her left index finger, the pearl ring on her right ring finger and the topaz anklet on her right ankle? Not a problem.

Hair brushed back with a left parting, wearing a kilt with all his military badges pinned to his tie? Easy done. A photograph of the family dog in his hands and a sprig of rosemary under his chin? Even easier.

It’s a pleasure to prepare a loved one exactly as the family would like.

But the family bibles break my heart. We don’t see many, thank goodness, but it does happen.

I would very much like to suggest to everyone that a family bible should not be buried with a body.

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I need to get this off my chest. A family bible is a family commitment. It’s a vote of confidence in the family by those earlier generations. It’s the manifestation of a belief that this family has value and longevity. That all the sacrifice and hardship that one person does will be worth it, because those who will be born in future generations can reap the benefits.

Someone, sitting there writing their child’s birth in the 1860’s into that bible, imagined that child’s great grandson or daughter writing in their own child’s birth in the same way. I guarantee it. Writing in a family bible is an exercise in connectedness. One sees the continuum of life.

Being a family historian I’d personally go further and suggest that any memorabilia not specifically requested to be interred with the person should be kept. Cards, prayer books, letter’s from great grandma, handcrafted lace tablecloths, pocket watches, original photographs – to me, all such items belong to a whole family, not a specific member of it.

I certainly understand that some items have particular significance to the newly deceased and there is a case for that object going with them. There’s no more to be said in this case. And it can be very healing for whoever is left when this is done.

But that’s not what I see most of the time. This is often a decision by younger members of the family, not a request from the deceased.

So this is a brief post to tell everyone – if you don’t have reason to believe they wanted it buried with them, it’s all right to hold on to an item. It’s a respectful memory to keep of the deceased person. I’m particularly speaking to those reluctant executors who are bowing to pressure from more aggressive family members. Who want to do the right thing but are not sure what the right thing is.

Having responsibility for organising a funeral is harder than anyone can imagine if they haven’t experienced it. You will be feeling uncertain. You will be anxious. You will be overwhelmed and feeling pressured from fifty directions at once. But some of you would like to keep that family bible only there’s so much going on that you can’t withstand the one or two vocal proponents for encoffining with the deceased.

If the item is of great value, you are not being a vulture. People don’t say that as often as you might fear. The legacy of the family is important, do frame your desire to keep an object in these terms if you are concerned.

Don’t be too sure that the deceased really wanted it with them. If they kept it safe for the last seventy years, they possibly hoped someone else would take over their cherished duty.

And – this is a contentious one – don’t think it’s best to send it with the deceased to avoid family from squabbling over it. Or to prevent Cousin Jack from taking the item and selling it on ebay. Yes, that would be an utter tragedy and yes, your deceased family member might turn over in their grave. But as long as it’s out there in the world you have the chance to get it back. Awful that it would come to this, but – it’s still better than losing it altogether. Maybe you can buy it at great cost in twenty years time for a lot of money. An dreadful thought, I know. But still better than allowing it to vanish from the world altogether.

Even in these days of excellent records, we are likely to vanish. All of our digital records can be wiped at the press of a button. In Australia companies are obliged to hold records for seven years only. After that, many are automatically deleted. We receive bills and financial statements by email, we make unrecorded phone calls. How can our family members of 2050 connect themselves with their ancestors of a hundred years earlier?

It’s easy to imagine that those bibles and other objects from fifty years ago are nothing special. It’s just not true. We really, really need them.

Thank you to all for considering this matter in your own lives and for acting as custodian to those valuable physical records of your heritage.

George Devon Doo

In my tree, I have a rather unbelievable class change across two generations. So unbelievable that I often come back to it, thinking it must be a mistake. That I’m wrong in the tree, that I found the wrong father for this ancestor.

I still don’t know. I still come back to it. DNA has given me no confirmation at all. Maybe it’s wrong. But I’ll place the whole conundrum here and maybe someone will be able to help.

George Devon Doo was born on 21st November 1794, the eldest child of John and Harriet Doo. His mother Harriet was a Devon, the daughter of George Barker Devon. I’ve written about her line here and here .

The family was very respectable. John Doo descended from a long line of Anglican reverends and gentleman farmers in Hertfordshire. His mother traced back to aristocracy, just out of living memory. The men in his family were magistrates and church wardens, sat on local boards and played a large part in local affairs.

Harriet Devon, on the other hand, came from flamboyant and uneducated London wealth. Flung into the ranks of the millionaire (or 17th century equivalent) through a somewhat questionable inheritance, the Devon family lived opulantly and to some degree imploded while Harriet was still a child. But the money was still there and the younger generation had enough skills to hold on to some of their birth advantage. Harriet made a sensible marriage. George Devon Doo was born into comfort and security.

He was still a baby when the family returned to Buckland, Hertfordshire. His mother was pregnant with a second child and his father was possibly ill. I’ve found no reason for the move, but John Doo died on 31st March 1797 in Hertford.

I have not found a death record. Just a newspaper report:

The ‘Oxford Journal‘ 08 April 1797, page 4: ‘Died: Mr John Doo, of Buckland, in Hertfordshire, Son of the late Mr John Doo, of Chipping.

Six months later, George’s little sister Fanny was born in Hertfordshire.

No records have been located about George’s childhood. The next event of note is his mother’s remarriage to Peter White on 7th February 1805. George was aged eight at the time.

I have a suspicion that this was the beginning of bad times for George. I’m guessing here, but given his later actions, and that of his descendants, I’d say he was a difficult child. There’s a strain of high functioning autism in our family that comes down through that branch, along with sensory sensitivity, anxiety and a need for lots of personal space. I’ve wondered if it went back this far. But this is mere speculation.

At the age of ten, George was placed in the British Navy while his sister Fanny went back to her father’s relatives at Buckland. Peter and Harriet White moved to Devon and had seven children. There is no indication that the two Doo children ever mixed with them.

George wasn’t alone in the navy. He was placed on the same ship as his young half-uncle, then sixteen-year-old Frederick Devon. Just like George, Frederick had joined at the age of eleven , as had his eldest brother Thomas Barker Devon. With all the family money behind them and probably different personal skills, both Thomas and Frederick achieved high rank.

The family circumstances were odd. After two children with his wife Ann Lovelace, Harriet’s father had abandoned her to move in with a new partner Elizabeth Willis. The two lived in society with no apparent loss of status. Their ten children were Harriet’s half siblings, but it looks as though Harriet did not associate with them. Exactly like George with his own half-siblings.

Perhaps George’s placement was coincidence. Or perhaps the families were more united than we knew?

George started in the navy just in time for the Napoleonic wars.

The navy during the Napoleonic wars was no place for a sensitive child. There are awful stories about life on board those ships, especially for the lowest rungs in the hierarchy. We don’t know much about his Naval career. I suspect it wasn’t good.

The next record is the birth of a baby girl named Clara Doo, daughter of George Devon Doo and Jane Rapier. It’s a transcription made in the last century and the original has not been located. But it’s a reputable transcription.

Supporting that birth record is another from London on 15th December 1813. It’s a rather faint baptism record, variously transcribed as Clara Rapier Doo and Clara Seraphim Doo. Personally, my vote is Clara Sophia Doo, but it’s very hard to tell. A middle name of Rapier makes so much sense. But I’m just not seeing it. Also, this baptism shows a mother named Ann.

This is the point to mention the OTHER Doo family.

They were farmers, victuallers and waterfront workers. They have the same family names – George, John, Ann, Jane, Harriet – all those names appear in that family. They lived in the rough part of town and had no education at all.

So many times, I’ve wondered if they are my ancestors and not George Devon Doo. And maybe they are the same family if we could go back just a few more generations. Because little Clara was baptised in Soho among a very different congregation to George Devon Doo.

On 20th September 1814, George Devon Doo was married to Ann Forester at St Mary Newington in Surrey. This, presumably, is the Ann of Clara’s baptism.

Is Ann Forester the one called Jane, the apparent mother of baby Clara? There’s no record to show. Maybe.

On 29th January 1815 in Soho, Surrey – the same church that baptised little Clara – a son was baptised. George Foster (Forester?) Doo, son of George Devon Doo and his wife Ann.

George Devon Doo is listed as a gentleman, so to this point I’m sure we have the same person.

After this, George went to India to serve in the military. Possibly the family went with him. They vanished. There are no details of later children at all.

And here is the problem point. I’ve no further information about either Ann or Clara. But both George’s – father and son – appear again in different places. I think.

Darlinghurst Gaol

In 1856, George appeared in a record from New South Wales, Australia. He was in gaol in Darlinghurst. He’s shown as a labourer but it’s clearly the same person. He arrived on the Elizabeth, direct from India.

And at last in 1865, we have a marvelous if tragic record. His very own words, as relayed by a third party. Along with some scandalous mistreatment of a vulnerable person.

To summarise: George was a patient in Yass hospital, addicted to alcohol and opium. Under the influence of strong craving he was in the habit of promising to write the various staff into his will if they brought him the narcotic.

The event, as reported by the ‘Maitland Mercury‘ on 06 Jun 1865:

The evidence of the wardsman of the Yass Hospital taken at the investigation on the death of George Devon Doo who died on the morning of the 25th May reveals a state of affairs in connection with that institution that is by no means calculated to raise its prestige in the eyes of the public.

The facts are briefly these: –G D Doo was subject to a complication of diseases, amongst which were disease of the heart and cancer of the jaw, in addition to which he suffered from a constant craving for strong drink. He was seen before under the influence of liquor and caught, if we may so use the term, in possession of a bottle of “painkiller”. It was known that a spirituous debauch or overdose of narcotic stimulant would most likely prove fatal, and that his medical attendant had strictly forbidden any indulgence beyond that prescribed by him. All this was known to the wardsman and yet, on removing the body, after death, almost the first things which were brought to light were two bottles containing brandy, and two others which had been lately filled with a compound the most unsuited of all others tor a man in a state of health such as was that of Doo for some time previous to his death. These, evidently the causeof death, were found beneath his pillow, but no one can state how or by what means they came there. Dr O’Connor, one of the medical attendants of the hospital, said, “I allowed Doo three glasses of wine, to be taken in small quantities during the day and a glass of brandy and water at bed time, as stimulants. On the night of his death, I am told, he did not take the brandy and water prescribed. I saw the body of deceased the morning after death, I believe he died of disease of the heart, accelerated by an overdose of brandy, or very likely a narcotic, such as I believe this .pain killer. to be” -Goulburn Argus.

Here is the trial as reported in the ‘Goulburn Herald‘ on 17th June 1865:

YASS. (From our correspondent.) On Tuesday forenoon, the subcommittee consisting of Mr. Allman, Mr. Pearse, and Mr. Hassett, met in the committee-room for the purpose of pursuing the inquiry into the wardsman’s conduct. The specific charge was that he had allowed brandy and wine to be admitted into the hospital and consumed by a patient in excess of the quantity ordered by the medical attendant.

Patrick O’Donnell’s evidence was to the effect that on his visiting the patient, George Devon Doo, the wardsman came into the room where they were with a square bottle of brandy, that he gave four glasses of the spirit to Doo during the time the witness was there, some four or five hours, and that he (witness) partook of some of it. Mr Goodman … had [a conversation] with George Devon Doo, during which the latter said that he was not half the man he had been since he and the wardsman drank a case of gin, and another of old tom together. The wardsman was not present at this conversation. Dr. O’Connor spoke as to the fracture of the knee-cap, for which George Devon Doo had been admitted for treatment, and that soon after he came to the hospital it was discovered that he was suffering from disease of the jaw; that he was seventy-six years of age, had served twenty-one years in the Indian army, during the last four years of which period he was in hospital under treatment for dysentery, and that he was a man of very feeble constitution. …

The evidence being concluded, the wardsman made a statement denying the charge implied in O’Donnell’s evidence, and explaining the time and where the patent medicine was found by him. He further stated that he never gave George Devon Doo any wine or brandy except what was ordered by his medical attendant, Dr. O’Connor.

The wardsman handed in several high testimonials connected with his conduct in the Sydney infirmary for many years … the sub-committee … had come to the unanimous conclusion that the present wardsman, Edmond Sidney Plunkett, was not a fit and proper person to hold the office, and recommended his dismissal. Some considerable discussion ensued, Mr. Allman giving it as his opinion that although O’Donnoll’s evidence might be suspected, he being somewhat disappointed at not being a legatee under Doo’s will, the sub-committee could not exclude his evidence .. of a large amount of grog having been given to Doo by the wardsman. .

Finally, here is the final will and testament of George Devon Doo, made in May 1865.

In the name of God Amen this is the last will of me George Devon Doo at present a patient in the Yass Hospital New South Wales. I give and bequeath unto Michael Cassidy of Yass in the said Colony, freeholder (who I hereby appoint as the Trustee and Executor of this my Will), the sum of five hundred pounds now lying in my credit at the Commercial Bank, Yass in trust for the sole and separate benefit of Elinor Plunkett the wife of Edward Sydney Plunkett, wardsman of the said hospital, and I swear that the sum of five hundred pounds, so given to the said Elinor Plunkett, shall not be given to the debts or control of her said husband and shall be payable to her by my said Executor on her receipt only, independent of her said husband.

I revoke all former wills by me at any time heretofore made.

The story of George Devon Doo is straightforward. Sad, but all the records fit together well. All my genealogical problems come with his son.

On 30th August 1830 in Richmond, Surrey, England, George Dennis Doo, plasterer, married Harriet Hammerton. George stated that his father was a clerk in a banking house. Harriet’s father was a smith.

That’s a sketchy record which looks to have no relevance to this family at all. George signed his own name.

There is a transcription of the baptism record for their son George Charles Doo in 1840, still in London. I haven’t found them in the 1841 census at all.

Their son Alfred J Doo was born in December 1845 in Mortlake, Surrey. His father is listed as a labourer at the baptism.

Their daughter Ann was baptised in September 1850 in Mortlake, Surrey. Her father is listed as a labourer.

How could this possibly be the same family as George Devon Doo? It makes much more sense for this George to connect to the waterfront Doo family.

This is one of the complicating records. The 1851 census for George Doo, labourer and husband of Harriet, in which he calls himself George Devon Doo. Through all the census records he has a different middle name. Dennis, Foster, Forester, Devon – there’s no consistency at all. But each name belongs with the other George Devon Doo. And I’ve found no connection to the waterfront Doo group either. There’s no baptism to fit him. At no point does he live near them or have any of them appear in his household.

I am very clearly a descendant of this George Doo, the bricklayer one. But is he a son of George Devon Doo? Probably not? If not, then who is he and where did he come from?

Generally speaking, you don’t get this kind of class plummet. Not this fast. But George Devon Doo was clearly estranged from his family. His sister Fanny and his mother Harriet did not mention him in their wills. He had a bequest from his father to live on, that was all. So the family may not have known anything about Clara and George.

And we don’t know what Ann’s social class was. Perhaps she was a servant and he married her so there was someone to care for baby Clara? And then dumped her and went off to India?? If the records exist, they have not yet been digitized.

DNA proves my lineage back to Harriet Hammerton and to her father John Hammerton.

I also have matches to the surname Forester, military family in India in the 1830s. Coincidence perhaps.

Ann Forester continues to be no more than a name on a few records from a two year period.

So this is the puzzle. I’ll be very happy to hear from anyone who might have researched the same families.


Wikimedia Commons File:Darlinghurst_gaol_new_south_wales.jpg

“ECCLESIASTICAL JURISDICTION.” New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW : 1832 – 1900) 2 June 1865: 1189. Web. 5 Dec 2019 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article225851637.

Robert Edwards / Public Footpath, just west of Buckland, Herts. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Public_Footpath,just_west_of_Buckland,_Herts.geograph.org.uk-_261629.jpg

1851 British Census General Record Office, London schedule 180, piece 461, Folio 16 Page 31

Surrey Parish Register Transcripts via FindMyPast

Michael Devon – Weaver of London

St Giles Cripplegate

This is a short post about a man with very few records.

Michael Devon was born around 1668 and grew up in Oxfordshire. His father was also Michael Devon and only one record – so far – provides this detail. Michael Devon Senior was not illustrious in any way. Respectable, but quietly so. Although he is listed as ‘Michael Devon of Oxford’, his surname is uncommon there. He may have come from elsewhere.

It’s very likely that Michael Senior had sons Samuel and William since men of this name are in the city of Oxford at the same time. But it’s not certain.

Portion of Michael Devon’s indenture document

Michael Devon Junior moved to London in the late 1690s and was apprenticed as a weaver. He completed his apprenticeship and entered business on his own. At around this time he married Mary Sambrooke on 29th December 1698 at St Giles, Cripplegate.

Record from marriage register St Giles Cripplegate

They had fourteen children, many of whom died in infancy.

The survivors were Michael (1703), James (1704), Thomas (1708), possibly Bartholomew (1710), George (1712), possibly Josiah (1717), William (1720) and Samuel (1727).

There are a few records of a Bartholomew Devon in Massachussetts who might be this man, but I’ve not found a way to confirm that. James, Thomas, George and Samuel remained in London.

In the majority of his children’s baptism records, Michael is listed as a weaver of Parson’s Lane.

Mary appears to have been a daughter of silversmith Samuel Sambrooke and his wife Mary, cousins to the Vanacker Sambrooks who held a baronetcy through the 18th century. It makes sense. How else did the family of a lowly weaver move up in the world so fast? And the family certainly did just one generation later. Michael Devon could read and write and had the wherewithal to send all of his sons to school. It seems likely that Mary’s family assisted.

My own line is through Michael’s eighth son Thomas, the third child to reach adulthood. I’ve written about Thomas here.

And really, this is all I know about Michael Devon. He was buried on 26th February 1730 and buried at St Mary Abchurch, London, in a vault.

His widow then married Walter Partridge.

Image: St Giles, Cripplegate. John Salmon / St Giles, Cripplegate, London EC2 – Sanctuary , https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/df/St_Giles%2C_Cripplegate%2C_London_EC2_-Sanctuarygeograph.org.uk-_1209143.jpg

Alice Dunstall – A Post For Mother’s Day

The Ballangarry Mine, owned by Herbert Dunstall who is almost certainly in this photograph. Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), Tuesday 1 August 1905, page 24

This is a semi-fictional account, although the included facts are accurate as far as we know.

The details come from oral histories and from archived records. Herbert and Alice were married in Kalgoorlie in 1899 and their son Kenneth was born there in 1900. They were a pair of intelligent, capable young adults who shared a dream of breaking free from the poverty and overwork that had destroyed their parents. In late 1900, Herbert purchased the Ballangarry Gold Mine at Lake Darlot. Alice planned to operate a boarding house, having observed the profits made in that industry in Kalgoorlie. In late 1901, Herbert and Alice became the proprietors of the Ballangarry Hotel, taking over from William (Wes) Beal(e) after his untimely demise from kidney failure at the age of 39 years .

In 1901, Herbert, Alice and baby Kenneth made the long journey into one of the harshest environments in all of Australia.

Red dust.  Swirling in the air and catching in her mouth, in her hair, in the sweaty cracks between her fingers. Rivulets of sweat trickled down her back and soaked into her sturdy shirt.  It was always a tough decision – thick clothes to protect against scratchy branches or thin clothes to stay cool.  Perched on a swaying camel tied into the middle of a camel train, Mrs Alice Dunstall reminded herself that all trials eventually come to an end.

She wiped sweat from her forehead. Kenny was a heavy red faced lump dozing against her chest.  He was tied to her, not pleasant for either of them in this afternoon heat but the only way to keep him safe for the journey.  A camel back ride was tough enough without holding a baby at the same time. The Aboriginal women in Boulder had taught her the tying trick.  They’d loved him. They always loved babies.

She turned to look behind at Herbert.  He was staring dreamily off into the horizon with the  sweat-dampened map open in his hands, unaware of the dirt or the heat or the insects buzzing in his ears.  His shirt was unbuttoned at the collar and he’d rolled up the sleeves.  He looked quite relaxed on the back of a camel in the scorching heat. 

She brushed the flies from Kenny’s face and Herbert noticed the movement.  He gave her a dazzling smile and nodded towards the west. Alice followed his eyes and recognised the shape of the hill from their map.  Herbert’s new mine was there.  He’d bought it in Kalgoorlie from a fellow who’d had enough of loneliness.  That wouldn’t happen to Herbert.  He was a solitary man who lived more in his own head than in the outer world. 

Lake Darlot’s location in the East Murchison Gold Field. Map of the West Australian goldfields 1896 : Coolgardie to Lake Darlot /​ compiled by J. T. Buxton, Coolgardie. Out of copyright.

With a lurch, the camels changed step.  She grabbed for the pommel with one hand and cupped the other round Kenny’s head.  They had topped a rise.  Now it was a long descent to – to what?  Was it rooftops before them?  The hard bare land stretched in all directions like an ocean in sunset, perforated by stunted trees and shadowy hollows that might be caves.  Sweat dripped into her eyes and her cheek stung.  She was burned, even with her broad-brimmed hat.

Was there a lake at Lake Darlot?  Sometimes there was, she had been told. When the rains came the place turned green in a matter of days. It was because of the rains that they were coming in by camel.  Five months ago the greatest flood ever known in the region had washed away the cart track and even now the eroded surface was all but impassable. The long, slow journey by steam train from Boulder to Leonora had been an adventure.  This stretch was rapidly losing its charm.

After the rains came the water soaked into the ground in a matter of days.  The skies powdered into a harsh blue and the red ground reasserted its supremacy. She had seen it already, right across Western Australia.  In her childhood she had known swirling white fog over the Thames in an English world of winter, cloaking the buildings until it seemed as if no other person could be found in the county at all.  This was the same scene painted in different hue.  Maybe those empty-seeming hills were as peopled as the world she had left?  Maybe locals were watching them even now?

The descent was bumpy and Kenny woke with a sad, croaking drizzle.  She pulled out the water bottle and splashed a few warm drops into his mouth.  At eight months he needed to drink more, but she wouldn’t feed him now. The buildings before them were taking shape – squat wooden structures quickly erected in the new little mining town and a main street taking form with tall, graceful houses of stone.  Faces stared from doorways as they passed.        

Map of the West Australian goldfields 1896 : Coolgardie to Lake Darlot /​ compiled by J. T. Buxton, Coolgardie. Out of copyright.

The Ballangarry Hotel was a low, long building walled in painted iron sheets with a wide verandah. It was a very welcome sight on a hot afternoon.  The camel driver gave a bellow and Alice clung for dear life as her mount lowered itself into a kneeling position.  An Aboriginal woman came out from the hotel verandah and reached out a hand to touch Kenny’s cheek.  The woman said something that Alice did not understand.  Alice nodded slowly and smiled.  She did not know the language but the sentiment was clear.

A portly man appeared then, his white skin a strong contrast to the woman’s.  He reached out a hand to help her off the camel.  Alice very stiffly forced her limbs into motion.

“You’d have to be Mrs Dunstall.”  he greeted her.  “Welcome to our little town.”  He had a wheeze in his voice.  “Wes Beal, proprietor.”

Herbert came to stand beside her. “How long before nightfall?”  He asked.

Alice gave him a sharp look.  “There’s no time to see the mine this afternoon, Herb.  We have to release the camels or they’ll charge us another day.”

Wes chuckled and nodded.  “They have us over a barrel, these Afghans, and they know it. They’re richer than the rest of us all together.  Got to admit, they’ve been invaluable to the Ballangarry. Would you like to step indoors, Mrs Dunstall?”

Oh, how Alice wanted to step indoors!  “I’ll just watch the unloading first.”  she said with a sigh.  Herbert was too dreamy, all kinds of tradesmen took advantage of him. 

Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934), Friday 29 August 1930, page 2

The Aboriginal woman made an arm gesture, offering to hold Kenny.  Alice threw her a grateful look and untied the wrap.  The woman reached out eager arms.  She knew just how to hold a baby.  She stared with fascination at Kenny’s face.

“Kenny.” Alice touched her son’s head.  The woman smiled.  “Kenneh.”

Close enough.  Alice pointed to herself.  “Alice.”

The woman frowned.  “Ah – Ale.”  Then she pointed to herself.  “Ehggei.”

“Ehggei.”  Alcie repeated.  The woman’s eyes narrowed.  “Ehggei”  She repeated.

After three attempts, Alice still hadn’t got it right but had come closest with ‘Egg’.  They smiled at each other in satisfaction.  Ale and Egg. 

With the camels unloaded and some local miner’s sons earning a few pennies bringing the goods indoors, Alice finally entered the spacious interior of the hotel with her husband, her son and her new friend Egg.

William Burleton 1783-1842 :Transportation

These are the final years of William Burleton, my 4x great grandfather, continued from Part II .

William died 177 years ago and we can’t know his true personality, but I’ve always liked him as he presents in the records. It’s clear that people in his own day didn’t know how to take him. Some thought him pompous and entitled, some just thought he was useless. Others seem to have liked him well enough. He was never completely without friends.

I see him as an impractical man, someone unsuited to daily slog. He had grand visions for his own future but was completely unable to manage his finances. That was his greatest downfall. I think he had pride in himself but that pride took a battering as the years passed, as he had more and more need to prove to both himself and others that he could be the man he had always believed he would become.

By 1836 he was in prison, awaiting transportation to the colonies to complete a seven year sentence. He was an old man now, aged 54, but of general good health and a skilled miller. There’s little doubt that he knew his trade well, it was the one thing that had saved him again and again.

Ship at night, 1854 from Religious Tract Society pamphlet

On 6th April 1836, William Burleton and 324 other male prisoners were loaded onto the ship Lord Lyndoch for its second convict run to Van Diemen’s Land.

Up till this time, William may have hoped for a reprieve; may not have believed it could go this far. He was not the typical convict. He was twice the age of most of his new contemporaries, of good birth and well educated. He was not a Welshman but due to his arrest and trial in Wales his cellmates were all from that country and many still spoke their own language. His differences might have seemed relevant. There was every reason to stay optimistic, but nobody stepped forward to save him from his fate.

The barque Lord Lyndoch was captained on this journey by the experienced John Baker. The surgeon was James Lawrence. It was an East India Company ship, leased to the British Navy in the usual manner. Built in 1815, it was in good repair but not of modern design. It was an experienced convict transport, there was no reason to expect any problems on the voyage.

An outbreak of dysentery while still at Sheerness delayed their departure. The earliest entry in the surgeon’s log is dated 10th April. The first two victims probably brought the sickness on board and both died after a week of treatment. No captain was going to make a long journey with illness on board, so the Lord Lyndoch sat in harbour until the infection was brought under control.

Shipping scene from London Illustrated News Aug 16 1856 p 170

A fortnight after William came on board, they were cleared to leave. The ship departed quietly for Deal off the coast of Kent, its departure scarcely rating a mention in local papers.

Deal – arrived the ‘Lord Lyndoch’, Baker, for Hobart Town …

Globe 20 April 1836 p4 Naval Intelligence

Deal – the ‘Lord Lyndoch’, for Hobart Town, and several others, outward-bound, remain.

Globe 22 April 1836 p4 Naval Intelligence

On 24th April the Lord Lyndoch finally put out to sea. They made good time for an old ship, the whole journey taking 118 days. Conditions on board were stable, a small amount of jaundice and scurvy troubling the prisoners but the surgeon took quick action. William Burleton – recorded in the convict register as William Bourleton – was not treated for any illness on the journey.

There are very few references to the ship as it traveled, but they seem to have taken the usual route down the west coast of Africa, stopping at the Capetown for supplies. The only report is accidental, part of a conversation between rival newspapers in the colonies.

Bent’s News and Tasmanian Three-Penny Register (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1836 – 1837), Saturday 6 August 1836, page 4

The Lord Lyndoch arrived in Hobart Town on 20th August 1836 and the arrival was reported in pretty much every paper in the colony.

Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 – 1839), Friday 26 August 1836, page 3

William’s conduct report is very short, but enough detail is given to track his life after arrival.

Conduct report for William Bourleton State Library of Tasmania
CON31-1-3 Image 106 page 154

Transcript of details above: Transported for Larceny,

Gaol Report: Character Bad of Late, formerly good, Connections Respectable, Hulk Report Good, Married, Stated this Offence: Stealing Books & Other Articles, Prosecutor W James of Monmouth, Married 7 Children, Wife Elizabeth at Monmouth, Surgeon’s report Orderly

You don’t often see ‘Connections Respectable’ in these records. You might see ‘good’, or ‘bad’ or often ‘indifferent’. But ‘Respectable’ probably means that William was telling people of his good birth and early prospects. He may have been negotiating for an assignment suitable for his position in society. Of course, position in society was officially gone once one became a convict, but in reality well born convicts still had some influence.

His name often appears beside Jenkin Jenkins’ in nonalphabetized records, so I think the two were friends.

His Description List is as follows:

State Library of Tasmania CON18/1/13 Page 284

The British prison system was tasked with finding any skill that William possessed which could make him a useful resource. I really doubt he called himself a ploughman or a farm labourer. He was a Miller, that’s what he always said. But the colonies needed farm workers so any farm experience made him worthy of transportation. As it turned out, Van Diemen’s Land needed millers as well. William was assigned to settler Andrew Gatenby who had land at the Isis River north of Campbell Town.

State Library of Tasmania, Appropriation Lists of Convicts CON27/1/2
Gatenby’s very large land grant was in the circled region. Public domain map of Van Diemen’s Land 1852

This description of the region was published four years before William’s arrival and references the mill in which William worked.

‘Statistical View of Van Diemen’s Land: Comprising Its Geography, Geology &c Forming A Complete Emigrant’s Guide’ 1832, no author named

We don’t have much detail of William’s daily life here, but the absence of notes in his conduct report suggests that he settled well. He coped with the cold and the bushrangers and the different types of grain. No doubt he wrote letters back to Wales and perhaps to Somerset as well, but if so, none have survived.

Present day Campbell Town, taken 2014

He received a ticket of leave in 1840 and letters written to the Lieutenant Governor in 1842 by Andrew Gatenby and John Gellibrand – two very influential men in Van Diemen’s Land – refer to William Burleton as a man who has contributed to the establishment of the settlement. Both men recommend him for an early pardon and request that he be allowed to return to his family in Wales.

It’s another indication that his inability to handle money was the root of all his troubles. While he was not required to manage finances he achieved very well.

The final part of his conduct report (above) states:

“The Lieut Governor has been pleased to remit the unexpired portion of this man’s sentence in order that he may leave the colony to proceed to England”

Conduct report for William Bourleton State Library of Tasmania
CON31-1-3 Image 106 page 154

It must have been a great moment for William. Finally he had the respect of some capable men – Gatenby and Gellibrand – and he might have learned some practicality during his time in the colony. But he was now aged 60 and clearly just wanted to go home to his family.

He booked onto a ship called the Normuhul, a small vessel leaving from Launceston for London on 20 April 1842.

The northern Tasmania coast in the rain. Taken 2015

Exactly six years earlier he had stood on the deck of the Lord Lyndoch as it waited at Deal, had probably looked across to the British shoreline and wondered if he would ever see it again. Now, no doubt, he stood on the deck of the Normuhul and looked at the forests along the Van Diemen’s Land coast. Probably, he was promising himself that he would never return. But maybe he intended to fetch his family and bring them back? Many did exactly that.

I haven’t found a picture of the Normuhul, but I like to think it was a pleasant boat since it was part of William’s almost triumphant return. He was the recipient of a full pardon, he was still a legitimate British citizen and he was going home at last.

It seems absolutely tragic that he didn’t get there. He’d probably written a letter telling Elizabeth that he was coming back. But it just wasn’t to be, the William Burleton streak of bad luck had returned.

It took me years to find William’s death. I knew that Elizabeth called herself a widow in the 1851 British census, but I never could find when he actually passed away.

Here it is in a section titled ‘Shipwrecks and Casualties at Sea’

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), Saturday 13 May 1843

The wreck was never recovered so we don’t know exactly where they went down. This was a misfortune entirely outside of his control for a man who always tried so very hard and failed so often. But he died with a clear record and at long last, leaving a good reputation behind him in Van Diemen’s Land.

Some of his family remained in Monmouth and their descendants are still there today. The rest returned to Somerset.

William Burleton 1783-1842 – Convicted Felon

This post continues the trials and tribulations of William Burleton, my 4 x great grandfather,  which began here.  

William Burleton’s home by 1833.- view is of nearby Crickhowell from Llangattock in Monmouthshire

Starting this post where the last one ended,  William was a man in his forties who now needed to claw his way back from bankruptcy.  He had some skills as a miller, he was quite well educated and he still had the basic support of his now-distant family.  Moving to the rainy County of Brecknock in Wales was probably not what he wanted, but it was a fair move to make at this juncture.

A most interesting book ‘A practical treatise on the Bankrupt Law, as amended by the new Act of the 6 Geo IV c 16‘ ( the Hon Robert Henry Eden 1825) tells us that even in 1825, five years was the period set in which a bankrupt cannot own property or borrow money.  William was declared bankrupt in 1826 so by 1831 he was considered solvent again. In 1833 he moved to Llangattock where he became the employee of local miller John James. 


Llangattock seems to be dismissively covered in many books of the time as the place that had ‘nothing of interest’.  Perhaps so, but there is enough written about it to get a decent picture of life there in the 1830s.

The story of Llangattock is tied up with nearby Crickhowell, to the extend that the two villages are occasionally referred to as one, much like William’s home villages of East and West Harptree in Somerset. He and Elizabeth may have felt comfortable with that.  The two Welsh villages were on opposite sides of the River Usk and connected by a bridge.

Both William’s old home and the new had extensive cave systems which locals liked to explore.  Wales lacked the documented antiquity for which Somerset was known, where visitors to the caves could find Roman or Pagan artefacts as a keepsake and it was easy to identify them as such.  The history of Wales was oral only, with just a few early scholars writing up their suppositions.

That said, here is the report of one 1810s scholar:

A History of the County of Brecknockshire by Theophilus Jones 1809 page 425

The church of Llangattock was supposedly one of many founded in Wales by Cattwyg of the Court of Arthur.  As a pastoral region the area was too sandy to give anything beyond the comfortable support of a hardworking family, so it took the discovery of iron to bring it out of obscurity and into the modern world of 1800.  

A History of the County of Brecknockshire by Theophilus Jones 1809 page 491

I’ve included that image from Mr Jones’ very detailed book for two reasons.  One is to fill out the world of Llangattock at that time. The other is for the reference to Mr Butler, since William’s mother was a Butler by birth.  More research will be undertaken to see if there was a connection.

If I were researching a different man I’d think that employment at the mines could have brought him to Breconshire.  But not William Burleton. He would never had coped with such heavy, mindless, undignified work as mining.  I really don’t see him as an arrogant, evil overlord. I think he was a creative, unwordly man with no capacity to adapt to his circumstances.  He was probably spoiled as a child and he always had assumed his future was secure.  But I cannot imagine him coping with heavy work like mining. He was trained as a miller and he stuck to that because that’s what he knew and that’s what he could do.

Another view from Llangattock

A History of the County of Brecknockshire by Theophilus Jones 1809 page 464

In all of my recent research into Llangattock, I haven’t found any reference to a mill.  I do know it was there because William Burleton became an employee at it in 1833.  It was owned by a Mr John James and was intended to be passed on to his eldest son, John James the younger.

But I do have a little bit about fairs which might be relevant, to finish off my village description:

A History of the County of Brecknockshire by Theophilus Jones 1809 page 464

William and Elizabeth Burleton moved to Llangattock by 1833 with probably six of their ten children, being Sarah (20), Elizabeth (17), George (13), John (12), Robert (10) and Eliza (9).  I’m quite sure that the girls went with them, but not so sure about the boys since they have proven hard to research.  I know for sure that Francis and Will – then aged 18 and 15 – remained in Somerset with their uncle Robert at Eastwood Manor Farm.

According to a local newspaper, William was empoyed from December 1833 till October 1834 when he took over as Manager of the mill, in the employ of John James.  It all fell apart on 7th April 1835.

It’s pretty clear that William was once more in financial difficulties.  The story as told in the papers is as follows:

“The prosecutor (John James Esq) left property in the mill-house, locked up in a room. On the 7th April was at the mill and saw the property safe.; was at the mill about the beginning of June, and found some panes of glass broken in the window; met the prisoner near the house; when he returned to the house found the door forced; did not miss the pistols till a black trunk, in which they were locked, was found in a wood; in the second week of July saw them in the possession of a person of the name of Thomas, a  pawn broker, in Bristol.”  (Brecon Gazette)

The story was written up in great detail probably because John James was such an influential local man.  And my William went to a lot of trouble to take the stolen goods all the way to Bristol.  If only he hadn’t dumped that trunk in the forest!  But the dumping of the trunk changed his likely motives.  Were he trying to overcome a temporary embarrassment and had intended to retrieve  the pistols, he would have kept the trunk to replace. 

“The pawnbroker identified the prisoner as the man who pledged the property, giving his name William Butler of Dundry, near Bristol.  The pistols were then produced and identified.”

William Burleton was found guilty.  As this was a first offence he was sentenced to a short term of imprisonment.  

Which is where it all gets suspicious.  A first offence under a certain value led to imprisonment.  If the value of the stolen items was less than five pounds, transportation was a sentence that could only be applied to repeat offenders.

Cruet stand.  Los Angeles County Museum of Art [Public domain]

The Brecon Gazette continued the story:

The prisoner was then tried on the other indictment, for stealing a cruet stand and three bottles, and other articles; but as the property was taken at the same time and from the same place as that laid in the former indictment, and as the evidence adduced was the same, it is unnecessary to give it in detail. The prisoner was found guilty on the second indictment, and sentenced to seven years transportation.

The reason given by the James family for the two indictments was that some of the property (the pistols) belonged to John James Senior while the cruet stand belonged to John James Junior.  But had they tried such a thing in a busy court like Birmingham or Surrey it would have been treated with utmost contempt. It was a clear manipulation of the law to remove William Burleton for good.  William Burleton’s lawyer, Mr Lee, apparently gave a good defense but they were no match for the influence of the wealthy and well connected John James.  And perhaps, knowing William as we do, Mr James had correctly identified that William would not learn his lesson and would remain an ever growing problem for Llangattock.

William was incarcerated in the Monmouth jail for a few days more, then shipped off to Sheerness to the hulk Ganymede along with fellow prisoners  Jenkin Jenkins and William Richards.

‘Day 159 Stormy III’ by Craig Holgate 
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) No changes made.

On 6th April 1836, just a few months before John James Junior entered holy matrimony with Margaret Davies back in Llangattock, my William Burleton along with Jenkin Jenkins and William Richards were loaded on board the Lord Lyndoch, ready for transportation to Van Diemen’s Land and a future that none could predict.

Story of William continues here.


  • Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette 15 August 1835
  • A History of the County of Brecknockshire by Theophilus Jones 1809
  • A practical treatise on the Bankrupt Law, as amended by the new Act of the 6 Geo IV c 16 by Robert Henley Eden Baron Henley 1829
  • Monmouthshire Merlin 22 August 1835