How I Found My Convicts

A Genealogical Odyssey

by Margaret Hardwick



I think the phrase How I found my convicts could be reworded as How my convicts found me. Robert and I travelled extensively in the UK in 1980 and were often asked about our convict and Irish ancestors and we would unknowingly answer we had neither, and felt it was all a bit over-rated. 1988 came and went without us taking much interest. Robert’s New South Wales family had come in 1851 and his South Australian family a bit earlier. My first ancestor, a magistrate, had come in 1806 and Governor Macquarie had brought my family of plasterers to Bathurst in the 1830s to do the ceilings of on the new Court House at Bathurst, the Cathedral and the Gaol. John Lister a sea captain decided to settle about 1830 and in the 1840s my Scot family arrived. My family had been involved in the discovery of payable gold at Ophir and my mother was quite proud of it. Robert and I were both brought up to know our family heritage and be proud of it. Robert was descended from Vikings and Scots, and I was descended from pioneers, English and Scots, and I guess that’s true as far as it goes. But they left out important facts, and created some myths that had to be exploded. I hadn’t taken genealogy seriously up to this point. I had dabbled a bit in my Bate history we had answered questions when cousins had written. Bob Dalrymple had sent us a family chart of Robert’s 3rd Welsh great grandfather Evan Richards’s descendants and asked a lot of questions.

In 1990 my cousin John Finlay retired as the shire clerk at Blayney, but with his work at the council had developed an interest in genealogy. My grandparents, because their only surviving child Elsie was delicate, had left Blayney and the mining villages and gone to live in Sydney in 1912. But as both came from large families there was always a stream of country visitors. My brother used to call our house "Mum's Motel". We called all these relations, of whom there were many, Uncle or Aunt if they were older than us, and cousin if they were the same age or younger. John Finlay came down with his 80-year-old father to see what Auntie Elsie knew about the convict parents of the plasterer Ebenezer Davis, William and Mary Davis. Mother didn’t even know they existed. My sister Joan who was caring for my mother made notes that William Davis, alias Brown, came on the Royal Admiral in 1800 and married Mary Geer (also a convict) in 1810. Joan wrote to me to see what I knew — which was nothing. Next time I went to Sydney I went to the Mitchell Library to research. They sent me next door to the New South Wales Library where, in the basement, they have quite a lot of personal records of early settlers. Sure enough William Davis, alias Brown, existed with good description of him and his crimes. I made a basic mistake — I didn’t write down the reel and I have never found that reel since, though I have found a lot of others.

We were in the midst of building a house in Goonellabah and planning for retirement, so family history was welcomed to the agenda. I joined the Richmond/Tweed Family History Society and started doing courses with Richmond Tweed Family History Society and Janet Reakes. I found the old library research rooms in Rous Road, and when Robert came over to the University I’d come over and spend a couple of hours reading reels. I learnt a lot from reading reels and since belonging to U3A have learnt a lot from the internet; original documents have all sorts of little details you don't get from copies. It's always check and recheck. The thrill is in seeing the document your family member signed — even if it is with an X. I wrote letters, read magazines, joined societies, some of which I still belong to. I advertised in family history magazines for family members and have made lasting friendships with new cousins I found on both families, and made friends with numerous genealogists. I was introduced to Family sheets and encouraged to use them by Janet Reakes.

Because he knew very little about his maternal Smith Grandma, Robert was keen for me to research his family, but he used to love to tease me about my interest in the dead. My retort was I write to more of your cousins than you do. Robert’s grandmother was Emma Amy Susannah Smith from Gravels Plains Station, Victoria, so he suggested I write to his cousin Jacy Woolven at Rockley. Jacy gave me lots of information. Robert and she were descended from the Tebutts, at that time their cousin was featured on the $100 note. The relations were coming earlier and earlier and I wrote why are they all coming to Australia and her reply was well if you must know we are descended from four convicts and one was on the First Fleet. Jacy and Robert’s mothers may have been keen to keep it quiet, but most of our generation thought it was quite interesting. So here I was in 1993 about to retire and now researching 6 convicts. Jane convicted of stealing came 1788, teenage Robert Chapman 1796 who stole a flock of sheep (what did he think he was going to do with them?), naughty William Davis, alias Brown, 1800 who broke into a shop, and Andrew Doyle an Irish forger from Dublin who came in 1803. Andrew wrote back to Ireland saying the voyage was the best holiday he’d ever had. What a colourful character he turned out to be! Teenage Edward Fletcher one of a gang of thieving soldiers, and little Mary Geer age 14 who pleaded not guilty but still got transported in 1806. I did the hard yards collecting with Jacy’s help the certificates needed to prove the connection to the First Fleeter. Jane Langley and Robert joined the First Fleet Fellowship and I became an associate and eventually we joined the Jane Langley Descendants Association and the Northern Rivers Chapter of the First Fleeters and I was co-opted on to the Jane Langley committee to help write the family history. When we first joined First Fleet Fellowship we went to an Australia Day luncheon and were told we should sit with the family. We didn’t even know Jane had a family! The cousins there that day were descended from Henrietta, Robert’s ancestral 4th great grandmother. These cousins had never met any of Susannah’s descendants and thought she had died childless. Susannah’s husband William Chapman, grazier son of convict Robert Chapman and Elizabeth Tebbutt up until 1993 had managed to keep it somewhat concealed — any daring word by a grandchild was laughed off as ridiculous and the story so entrenched that his mother, a widow with one child, had come to the colony for a better life. There are still some fast and furious debates on the matter especially with some Victorian members of the family. Back to Jane Langley who had a child off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope fathered by the seaman Philip Scriven on the Lady Penrhyn— Henrietta Scriven (there are seven different recorded spellings of her surname). Henrietta was one of 20 children born on the First Fleet most of whom didn’t survive infancy, never the less Henrietta and another girl survived and married but Henrietta is the only known one to have descendants in Australia. (9 generations).

We retired from Byron Bay moved to the house at Goonellabah and I went on steadily reading reels, books and writing letters, and entering it all up in arch files. The arch files slowly grew until today I have 30 arch files plus numerous boxes of papers and books. We went on a world holiday in the second half of 1994 and I did research at Harvard University Library in Boston where Robert’s ancestors had lived in the 17th century. There were no convicts there — his 11th great grandfather died of starvation in the James Town debacle, and his 9th great grandfather was the 2nd president of Harvard University. Charles’ son Ichabod and his five brothers were early graduates of Harvard University. I said no convicts but Charles had been getting into trouble with the ruling authorities back in England and had fled to Massachusetts. The Rev Charles Chauncy had spent 3 years under house arrest in England for quarrelling with Archbishop Laud and Charles I. Ichabod (8th great grandfather) was born during these years and the name means the glory has gone out of Israel. Ichabod after his studies went back to England was accused of being involved in the Moncrieff Revolt and was exiled to Holland for 3 years and wrote a book denying it. Robert’s mother Laurie Chauncy who has a very old family history (30 provable generations) which had a capacity to back the wrong political party. I don’t know how the Plantagenets didn’t all get wiped out in the War of the Roses, but it has one advantage there are great records. At one stage I thought I was going to prove it was all a myth because Laurie did leave out a non-marriage, fights and the court cases but the inevitable cousin guided me through the maze of papers and documents.

From Boston we flew to Ireland and did some Irish research in Dublin, from there we flew to the Isle of Man. If you have Manx family they have the most wonderful records, and they are on-line, and they are generous with helping you. Travelled a bit in England and visited Wells. Robert descends from the Tudor Bishop John Still of Bath and Wells and the current bishop’s secretary was very helpful with research and only wanted photocopying and expenses to be covered. We found the farmhouse from which Robert’s blacksmith great grandfather George White migrated from Wiltshire to Australia. Wiltshire is great for family history and it is on-line in Genuki. We found family memorials in a little Saxon church in Salisbury opposite the Cathedral. We had a rest in Christchurch where I caught up with my father’s sister and got rid of the hire car and took a coach to London where we moved into a B & B. From here I could go off and do research without tiring Robert out. In those days records used to be kept in London, and I got a reader’s ticket and researched Mary and William Davis even got to handle William Davis' stinking gaol records. These days you have to go to Kew. We visited the English Genealogy Society and met Anthony Camp the president who was a distant cousin of Robert’s, but didn't get too much joy there. We might be several generations from the court case that sent the family to Adelaide, but it’s not forgotten, and the fact the Australian family won the case is obviously not forgiven, and we are still not to be accepted in London society.

Back home and still I did not own a computer. I was researching Robert’s family and someone in England had taken an interest in the Hardwick family (wool merchants from Leeds) and was writing a book about them and their Methodist connection. Letters from cousins collecting information for the book another two convicts turned up on Robert’s parental side much later than the others, making 8 ancestral convicts. Sarah Gordon arrived 1816, and boy was she angry at being transported and prepared to give everyone a hard time. George Pickering who arrived in 1826 and was very ill and spends years in Sydney hospital and it was very hard to find his records. George doesn’t show in the 1828 Census which is always my first reference point. For George it was the surgeon’s log and his ticket of leave that gave me the best information because I could then track him through correspondence in the State archives. His letters had been destroyed but the replies to his letters were still there. One has to think about looking in the Rum Hospital and the other hospitals and asylums. Sarah is a very interesting character she first marries an elderly convict Richard Vickers who is running a bakery and oil business in York Street and Richard dies and leaves the business to Sarah and their baby daughter. More adventures in and out of the female factory where she is accused of giving presents to the matron and Sarah marries George Pickering and they have two children and Sarah dies leaving valuable property including Dixon Street. The records survived in a tin trunk in a garage at Mudgee because Sarah Pickering née Vickers, née Gordon’s children had to prove as they reached 21 that they were her heirs. It took a few years for all this to come out. Even the archives at the Rocks years later had difficulty in believing a convict woman could leave property. Back to Jane Langley who had been sent to live on Norfolk Island we thought we would like to visit there and had booked to go Foundation Day March 1996, but there was a giant hiccup — Robert had to have more surgery. Fortunately we had travel insurance so we weren’t out of pocket and a friend had gone overseas and lent me her computer and said learn to use it this how you turn it on, get into Word and save to floppy. While she was away I transcribed an 1846-1854 Diary. Another save was from a garage when an elderly uncle descended from the Smith family died, his widow said does anyone want this box or do I send it to the tip. Niece Coralie said yes we want it and Margaret Hardwick will transcribe a photocopy we are going to send her. John Smith who wrote the diary was married to Emma Doyle the daughter of the Irish convict Andrew Doyle owned a grazing property at Singleton and went through a bad depression banks foreclosing and drought. I published the diary and had 3 reprints. At the moment I am being asked to reprint for library and research use. I am hoping they will like the internet version and I can return to finishing some of my work in progress.

After the computer was returned to its owner I realised I couldn’t manage without a machine so I bought my first computer 1996 with the travel insurance, and I bought Bob Dalrymple’s computer programme because it was an Australian programme. At first it drove me crazy, but I persisted learnt to back up and update regularly, I am now on my third computer and back up to CD and use the internet. I have survived two serious crashes, though they did send me into the depths of despair because the second book I had written was on the computer. I had caught a virus from a family research chat room so my advice to you is to have the very best firewall you can afford. It’s a nuisance because it slows the internet down it asks endlessly do you trust this site but so far it has worked, so it’s worth it. No more ancestral convicts appeared but a whole lot of side ones. One son-in-law has 4 convict first Fleeters ancestral grandparents and convict men usually married into convict families and any comely young woman could usually make a marriage with non convict men in the colony because in the colony until 1828 there was only one woman to every three men. I thought I’d count the convicts for this talk but I got to 16 and thought oh that will do. I did find my Irish connection — my mother’s Scot ancestors had gone to Northern Ireland in the time of James I and worked on the plantations for 300 years before they came to Australia as free settlers at Windsor.

If you join the Society of Australian Genealogists commonly known as SAG www.sag.org.au you are allowed one free ad a year for information on your family, some very good and unexpected information came from these ads also if you are a country member there is a free research service and their new CDs and books you get offered at a discount before they go into general distribution. They have tickets of leave on line amongst other interesting sites.

My mother was right about the Davis brothers being plasterers and working on the Bathurst buildings. What she didn’t know was they did their apprenticeships in Sydney with William Lycett who had the contract for the government buildings plastering. Their brother Charles died when he was doing his apprenticeship with a fall from the scaffolding while building the first Sydney synagogue.

Do chronologies, no matter how trivial the information if you have a date, when tried, when sailed, when arrived, who they worked for, what their jobs were, where they lived when they married, when the babies arrived, when they were witnesses for any thing and everything; be it a trial or a wedding, it builds the story. If you are in doubt of your facts write it down this needs to be checked and you may save some future family historian a headache.

Sarah Gordon and George Pickering were both from Lancaster. Sarah spent time in Lancaster Castle prison and when I was researching her 7 years ago they were anxious to learn her descendants’ details for their programme so helped me with my research. Unfortunately this has been taken over by Ancestry so you have to pay for it.

Trade information. We all put a lot of time and work into our families and unfortunately some people will take the lot with very little in return so be careful. Peter Doyle who wrote The Hawkesbury Doyles only did the male line from Andrew Doyle the Irish forger and when I asked him why he left out Andrew’s three girls he said one married a John Smith that was too hard to research. I had done the hard yards on that one so we exchanged information. Corresponding with cousins is good as they are further away from events than aunts and uncles who have more reason for keeping the family secrets. Secrets are part of the game — we all have things we don’t want to talk about that hurt. Respect the living — they have a right to privacy. I know a number of people who are descended from the Caribbean convict slave Billy Blue after whom Blues Point is named. One family is as proud as Punch and will talk to anyone about it, and in the other you can’t mention it. I only found out by accident because they said I am descended from George Lavender. Lavender Bay adjoins Blues Point, and I said Oh! He was married to Billy Blue’s daughter Susannah. Now they look at me warily when I mention genealogy.

At times I have got very good material just browsing in libraries and indexes. In Hobart a couple of years ago while waiting to see papers about a Bate land holding I was just flicking the index and got a Lister land holding on South Brunie Island Tasmania it included my 3rd great grandparents’ wedding certificate from their marriage in London in 1827. These two land holdings cost me $40 in photocopying but nobody else in the family had them. My cousin who is the Lister expert didn’t even know John had owned land in Tasmania. What made me look was in my Grandmother papers had been some drawings her grandmother had done in Van Diemen’s Land.

Some oops I have found. Ancestry have me with 6 children and even when told have done nothing about correcting it.

LDS won’t correct mistakes their members have entered on the IGI because of their religious beliefs, so you always need to check their material with original documents. They are very helpful with getting original reels.

Mollie Gillen is an excellent Australian historian but never-the-less had three mistakes about our families in one of her books: that Edward Fletcher (Robert’s 4th great grandparent) was Irish and transported because he was an Irish rebel when actually he was English and court-martialled and transported for theft when he was in the British Army. Mollie assumed because convict George Onslow’s first teenage wife died of alcoholic poisoning his second teenage wife (my ancestral great aunt) probably did the same, which was far from the case as Eliza Davis outlived George and became a landholder in Petersham. Mollie when reading the surgeon’s log on the birth of Henrietta Scriven (Robert’s 4th great grandmother) because the letters t.g. appeared in the surgeon’s log assumed that it indicated the name of her father, whereas it is sailor’s shorthand for top gallant sail. Her father as foremastman was responsible for this sail. This mistake has been repeated in other books. The poor man they tried to tag with the paternity actually captained a ship that sailed from Portsmouth. The two ships didn’t even sight one another until Rio de Janeiro, Jane Langley had sailed from London, I don’t think they ever even met.

I have seen also Edward Fletcher recorded in a library site as a First Fleeter when he didn’t arrive until 1801. He did, however, marry a First Fleeter.

On one internet site a male family member has the wrong mother recorded and it says he is widowed at the time of his second marriage when his first wife was still alive and living remarried in another state.

Andrew Doyle (another 4th great grandfather) is recorded as an Irish rebel when in fact he never had any time for the rebellion and there are letters surviving from him saying so.

I shot Joseph Lister the inventor of Listerene off the Lister tree — right surname wrong family wrong age.

There is a portrait on an American site saying it is 2nd President of the University. Harvard Archives showed me the portrait and told me it was actually painted many years later and is believed it to be of his son or grandson — the wig and the dress are a real give away.

I was corrected by Cousin Gerald in England for saying Robert Pymble, a free settler who arrived in 1819, was my grandmother’s uncle. She called him Uncle Robert but turned out he was her great uncle and his orange farm today is known as the Sydney suburb of Pymble. In spite of having the generations muddled I was delighted to be consulted for material for a Pymble family book.

Talking of muddled generations: there was fun tracing my Davis family maternal grandfather Ebenezer Bathurst Davis son of Ebenezer Davis (Magpie Davis). I didn’t know there was another Ebenezer Davis (Lemon Squeezer Davis) then William Davis, alias Brown.

You may wonder why I mention William’s alias constantly. It became very important tracing him. Like John Smith there are many William Davises in the early colony, and his alias with his ship and his year of arrival make him unique, and that’s what helps a researcher.

I wrote this article in 2006 for the U3A Genealogy Discussion Group since then some of the research has moved on and there have been some corrections. More cousins have surfaced and more stories unfolded.




Web page made 6 December 2008; last edited