AND ONTO SOME HISTORY…
A new desktop computer – the first of these I’d had since the children were at school in the 1980’s – led me to get serious about researching my family history. As I’d realized, when we were in Tasmania in 1999-2000, this was an area of considerable sensitivity amongst Tasmanian families, where much information was simply not talked of, let alone passed down the generations. So many ancestors had arrived in Van Diemans Land involuntarily, courtesy of the British Government – and so many isolated farming families had intermarried…. It proved an engrossing study, one that would continue to occupy me, intermittently, for years to come.
My father’s family members – if not their individual history and experiences – had been documented in the family history book published in 2000, so I knew that family branch originated labouring on farms in Somerset and being enterprising enough to chance their futures in Van Diemans Land as assisted migrants. They bred prolifically, as was usual in those times. Perhaps a bit less usual was that almost all offspring survived to adulthood to, in their turn, produce large families. By the end of the 20th century, the descendents list filled several hundred pages in that book.
What was not realized at the time, or until modern genetic testing and research, was that the “family illness” was also passed down from my twice great grandmother, through most of her children, fortunately skipping the branch that I descend from. Dad had spoken vaguely of Huntingtons Chorea occurring when some first cousins married, but of course that was only a partial truth. Not a great claim to fame for poor old granny.
Much less was known about the family lines of my three other grandparents. My investigations on Ancestry into this led to some interesting results. Most pleasing was being contacted by a previously unknown cousin – I have lots of those as it turns out – descended from dad’s mother. She was seriously into researching the history of her family in Tasmania, New Zealand and Ireland, and gave me much information. Even better, she lived on the other side of the Dandenong Ranges, so we were able to meet in person and forge an ongoing friendship.
My mother was the youngest of seven, hailing from an isolated area in the foothills of the Great Western Tiers. On a trip to Tasmania with her, in 1971, I had briefly met large numbers of her brothers’ families. I knew that her oldest brother had moved to New Zealand to find work, when mum was young, so about 1916, and the family had lost contact. Seems that migration to NZ was rather common in those times. Although mum was no longer alive to hear the news, I was able to track down his NZ life and family and make contact with a person who had known him. One mystery solved.
Best of all, I was able to track the arrival in the Australian colonies, of mum’s ancestors. The theme of assisted agricultural labourers, mostly from Somerset, continued. But a grandfather’s history was elusive, for ages, and I suspected all sorts of dire explanations. Persistence found an official mis-spelling of a name – also common with semi-literate officials – and so that branch turned up as assisted immigrants to the Port Phillip District in 1849 – just in time for the gold rushes! But twice great-grand-dad died in 1851 and it seems his remains are now beneath the car park of the Victoria Markets. This area was in those days, outside the young Melbourne settlement and the site of its first cemetery.
I found a great grandmother who died exactly 100 years before the birth of my daughter, on the same date – in childbirth! Tragically common in those times. Possibly a good thing I didn’t know about that, back in 1972…They say history repeats itself, and it damn near did!
I think it would be rare to be descended from the Tasmanian pioneers of the 1830’s and 40’s, without having a smattering of convict ancestry and so it proved, with a couple of thieves in there. Again, a mirror of their times – picking pockets, stealing a coat, stealing a piece of bacon…One ancestor was sent to Van Dieman’s Land for stealing his brother’s coat. I suspect that may have been a somewhat disfunctional family?
Another rogue great grandfather also related to Australian history in an interesting way. Arriving in SA as an assisted migrant under the Wakefield scheme, he soon abandoned the wife who came with him, and their young child, and then resurfaced in gold-rush Melbourne. He married great grandma there – presumably bigamously – and they moved to Tasmania. Eventually he disappeared from there, leaving behind wife and a clutch of offspring, only to appear yet again around the Victorian goldfields of the Wedderburn area where – you guessed it – he married yet again and had another family.
My original university degree was in history and Australian history had been a speciality, so for me it was fascinating to be able to place the key events in the lives of these ancestors against the backdrop of my knowledge of the nation’s history.
So, all of that was about the one highlight of an otherwise dreary year.
I was able to travel vicariously through friend M, who – along with gentleman friend – travelled to Qld for a house sitting stint. They travelled up through Bourke, in order to show the man, who was a novice at M’s kind of travel, some of the inland. Unfortunately, whilst there, he had a camp chair collapse under him, and eventually ended up in hospital in Toowoomba, diagnosed with a couple of broken ribs and pneumonia.
November 14, 2022 at 8:34 am
I too have spent a lot of time researching colourful ancestors, it seems that their lives were stranger than fiction. But you had me laughing about M’s new bloke. You know what they say…the single blokes are on cruise ships looking for love, while the Sheila’s are belting about the bush in 4×4’s.