About Biggs family

Retirement has given me the time to really delve into my passion for family history - not just the facts but reading about the times and places where they lived and gaining an understanding of what their lives would have been like.

# 52 Ancestors: Brother

Albert ChisholmWith the trigger word of ” brother”, it reminded me of my grandmother’s “missing” brother. I think it most likely that the connection was severed when her brother became a Baptist minister.

My grandmother, Hazel Annie Chisholm,  had separated from her husband after less than two years of marriage. She began a relationship with a Catholic who was the love of her life and my grandfather. When she sent her daughter to the local Catholic school I imagine that this would have been the final straw for Albert who had wholeheartedly become a Baptist. This would have meant strong opposition to divorce and the holding of anti-catholic/papist sentiments.

Thanks to his granddaughter, Robyn and Audrey Chisholm it is now possible to share his story. To read more about him click here

#52 Ancestors: Easy

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My early attempts to trace my ancestors was a pen and paper effort, not only was it difficult but also frustrating. Today it is so much easier with the internet. So many records and documents are easily accessible especially those related to Australia.

Searching for family history has become big business but for all that, some may complain about the cost of Ancestry or similar genealogical sites, it has really revolutionised the process of maintaining a tree and searching records and connections.

It’s great to have so many tools available at my fingertips – but I also relish the times when I leave the screen and keyboard behind. There is nothing like a trip to an old cemetery, or browsing through the original records at the State Archives but best of all are the opportunities to meet up with a newly discovered relation to share information. Easiest of all is when one of them has already done loads of research, like Audrey Barney, my New Zealand Chisholm cousin, who has researched and published a book on this line of the family.

For me, it is a perfect retirement hobby and the use of technology has made it so much more accessible. There is one glitch though. Secrets about the past are an emotional and psychological inheritance, passed on across the generations, and I can feel the effects of it even in my own life. I am also aware that some of my ancestors would be turning in their graves to think that all of the family secrets are now available for anyone to see. What was once a family secret and kept hidden for years if not centuries is now regarded as an incredible find and celebrated!  Times have certainly changed.

#52 Ancestors: Challenging

the drovers wifeToday women who take up the challenge of successfully combining home and family with a career are often labelled “superwomen”. Having attempted to do the same I greatly admire those women who from necessity or desire take this road and are able to balance their home and life without burning out. I used to think how great it would be to live in a time when men were the breadwinners and the women had only the responsibility to look after home and children.  One thing genealogy has taught me is that my female ancestors did not have an easy time, and I doubt that I could cope with the challenges they faced throughout their lives.

In tracing my ancestors, it is clear that households were a patriarchy; men controlled every aspect of the household. Women acted as subordinates to men. Men were the decision-makers usually in charge of all household finances even if their wife provided some income either through their dowry/inheritance or by selling produce that she grew or made. The man was the owner of all property of the household and women rarely spoke against or divorced their husband. Women could not vote, own land while married, go to a university, earn equal wages, enter many professions, and even report domestic abuse. Would I be willing to live without my education, my work and the recognition of my contribution to our family and the community as a whole…definitely not!

My ancestors were middle class and the women were responsible for running the household, for cooking and feeding the family, tending the garden and animals, raising their children and of course, seeing their husband’s needs were met. While I nod my head thinking I could probably do that then I remember not only the labour-saving devices we have today but also that simplest of “luxuries”; running water at the turn of a tap, sewerage whisked away unseen, light and heating at the touch of a button So no thanks, I will forgo that challenge as well.

My 2x great grandmother, Margaret Henderson (nee Crosby), gave birth to eleven children between 1838 and 1858, or the average of one child every two years. All except one infant survived to adulthood. Women assumed that after marriage children would follow promptly and regularly and that is certainly the case with nearly all my married female ancestors who had at least six children unless they died in childbirth. With no birth control, the prevailing sense was that children just ‘came’ and that there was little to be done about it, besides it was also regarded as a married woman’s duty.  Babies were born at home, usually with the assistance of family or a “midwife” with no formal training. With no anaesthetics or antisepsis, childbirth was both dangerous and painful. Married women regarded it as their place to endure this suffering. Given most of my ancestors abided strictly by their religious beliefs I am sure the woman in labour was reminded of the quote from Genesis (3:16) while they were in labour “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain, you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” So no thanks to that challenge as well!

My maternal ancestors were amazing when I think of the lives they endured. Would I take on the challenge of trying to live like them? The answer would have to be a definite no… I can already hear my husband suggesting that a “scold’s bridle” would be definitely needed for such an argumentative wife.

#52 Ancestors: Independence

I have wondered what made my great grandfather, Alfred Wilson Chisholm, leave home and family in New Zealand and strike out on his own in Australia. I can only think that it was his bid for independence.

He was one of eleven children being raised in a strict Methodist family. His father was a lay preacher and all of the children were expected to attend Sunday School and Bible studies as well as sing in the church choir. The Methodist religion frowned on gambling and the drinking of alcohol both habits that Alfred took up during his life in Australia.

Although he had a good position in a printer’s firm and was learning the trade it appears that he wanted adventure and freedom especially from the rules and responsibilities of being in a family setting.  By moving to Australia he had a chance to go out and conquer the world and as far as records show he never returned to his family in New Zealand. To read more about his life click here

# 52 Ancestors: Legend

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Bullock team pulling a loaded wagon along a country road, New South Wales. Fairfax archive of glass plate negatives. National Library of Australia.

My great-great granduncle,  Lynn III Shepherd, had a bullock team. Born in 1862 he had watched his father, Lynn II Shepherd, digging the goldfields, to make enough to support his family.  Lynn figured there was more gold to be made supplying the diggers rather than digging in the dirt in the hope of the big find that never happened.

A bullocky, as they were known, tramped everywhere, carting impossible loads to near impossible places, their plodding and the ruts of their wagons slowly building the paths that we travel today as roads, their camps turning into villages that became today’s country towns and regional cities. Lynn was well known in his trade as a carrier at the beginning of the twentieth century when the bullock-drawn wagons gave way to motorised vehicles. According to family history, a poem was written about him and I think that would justify calling him a legend.

When Bully Buys the Engine

Ye carriers, all list to my lay ;
We’ll shortly have to clear away,
For Bully is about, they say,

To buy a traction engine.

And he’s going to travel day and night
To drive us off the road for spite ;
We’ll have a spree, and we’ll all get tight,

When Bully buys the engine.

He’ll draw all corn, and flour, and lime,
Forty tons he’ll take each time ;
Be jabbers, boys, ’twill be sublime

When Bully buys the engine. 

All business folk he will entice
To give him their loading at his price ;
We all must keep as quiet as mice

When Bully buys the engine.

The carriers’ trade he’ll surely spoil,
Play havoc with Scotch Jock and Doyle;
But we’ll be saved a lot of toil

When Bully buys the engine.

And those who families have to keep
Can get their groceries then quite cheap ;
Poor folk will have more time to sleep

When Bully buys the engine.

Though strange to some no doubt ’twill seem
To have their goods brought up by team ;
Jack Holder swears he’ll pawn his team

When Bully buys the engine.

We’ll want no Government men, nor chocks ;
There’ll bo no work for horse or ox ;
We’ll need no long wire rope nor blocks

When Bully buys the engine.

Of passengers, too, he’ll get his whack ;
There’ll be no call for Paddy and Jack ;
All hands, of course, must clear the track

When Bully buys the engine.

As a driver, too, won’t Yacka shine
There’ll be fire and smoke all down the line;
Old Sullivan vows that be’Il resign

When Bully buys the engine.

For he’ll want the road all on his own ;
He’ll shake up Pooley and Malone ;
And Tim will want more planks and stone

When Bully boys the engine.

On Jellamatong we’ll see a dredge.
And o’er the stepping stones a bridge,
And the Rover says he’ll take the pledge

When Bully buys the engine.

 

(The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal. 3 Jan 1906)

 

#52 Ancestors: The Earliest

pennies

Elizabeth Davison is the earliest of our ancestors to arrive in Australia. Elizabeth’s birth is estimated to be around 1791 based on her death certificate. It has not been possible to find a birth record or any details of her parents or early life. Even her surname is not definitely confirmed, in some records, it is written as Davis and others Davison. What is known that on 7 September 1807 when she was about 16 years old, she was convicted of the theft of goods to the value of 1 shilling or more, without any aggravating circumstances. It could have been more than a shilling, but charges were kept to this amount as anything over this could result in capital punishment. If it was just a shilling then for the twelve pence that were stolen, she could have purchased two loaves of bread.

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New South Wales Government. Musters and other papers relating to convict ships. Series CGS 1155, Reels 2417-2428. State Records Authority of New South Wales. Kingswood

She was sentenced to transportation for 7 years at the York East Riding Quarter Session under the name of Elizabeth Davison. Despite the punishment far exceeding the severity of her crime the sentence was in line with similar convictions in this period and highlights the British government’s policy of specifically targeting female convicts that were potential “breeders” for their new colony, and at sixteen years of age, she would have fitted into this category.

Elizabeth was held in the harsh conditions at Newgate prison to await transportation where, according to Mrs Fry, a prison reformer, the main amusements were swearing, fighting, singing, dancing and drinking. In an article written for the Edinburgh Review in 1808 it reported Sir Richard Phillip’s description of the appaling conditions of the prison:

There are generally in Newgate from one hundred to one hundred and thirty women. He compares … the manner in which they are disposed at night to the arrangement of a slave ship … each person has an allotted breadth of only eighteen inches. This wretched accommodation is, perhaps less to be deplored than the indiscriminate mixture, in the same room of the unconvicted with those who have been found guilty … of those accused, perhaps on slight grounds, of crimes with those against whom the charged has been established … and of the young and repentant offender, with the old and hardened in transgression.

After eight months in Newgate, Elizabeth boarded the convict ship, The Speke. Before being sent to the ship, the women were provided with one jacket or gown; one petticoat; two extra shifts; two spare handkerchiefs; two spare pair of stockings; one spare pair of shoes for their six months journey. The ship sailed from Falmouth on 18th May 1808; Elizabeth was one of the 99 female prisoners who embarked the ship for transportation to New South Wales. The Speke was part of a convoy and arrived at Rio, with the fleet on the 24th July.

By the time that the Speke arrived in Rio, Elizabeth was pregnant. At sea for months, there was no possibility of separating the female convicts from the crew. A “Selection of Reports and Papers to the House of Commons. Vol. 58” includes papers from 1811 – 12 reporting: “Improprites will be committed on board a female convict ship under the best regulations, but females who do not wish to do wrong should not be compelled against their inclinations”. For many of the prisoner, especially a 16-year-old girl like Elizabeth, I think that survival rather than inclinations would have played a part!  The father of her child was William Travers, a 20-year-old crew member.  The ship set sail again on the 11th August and arrived at the Cape the 10th of September with Government stores.

The ship sailed again for Port Jackson on the 30th September, and having an uninterrupted succession of favourable weather, reached there on 15 November 1808 after a journey of almost six months. Ninety-seven female prisoners arrived on the Speke, two having died on the passage out.

The women were all reported to be healthy on arrival – The healthy and cleanly state in which the prisoners from the Speke were landed is a strong proof of the care and humanity with which they were treated during the voyage.

While they may have been “healthy” according to government reports for Elizabeth and the other women the unfamiliar climate, plants, animals and insects, combined with a heat they weren’t used to, flies and dust, and a lack of clothing would have made them feel isolated and far from home.

The Female Factory (prison) at Parramatta where female convicts were normally employed on weaving looms, had been partly damaged by fire the previous year and the Supervising weaver George Mealmaker died a few months before the Speke arrived, so many of the women who came on the Speke were probably mostly distributed around Sydney and Parramatta . As Elizabeth was pregnant, she would have been kept in or near one of the  “Female Factories”, doing laundering, sewing, carding and spinning.

Her son, Edward Travers, was born on 11 April 1809. Women who gave birth stayed with their infants until they were weaned; the babies were then kept in the nurseries and, if they survived, at the age of two, they went to the orphanages.  On 17 February 1811, at 20 years of age Elizabeth was buried at St Matthew’s at Windsor. There is no date or cause of death recorded, and she is buried in an unmarked and unknown site.

William Travers, the man who fathered her son, had remained at sea and as a seaman on board the Cumberland was murdered by cannibals on one of the Friendly Islands in 1814. (Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842), Saturday 22 October 1814, page 2). Her son was taken into care by Sarah Webb and William Mortimer until July 1818 when he was recommended for new orphan school at the age of nine years. The Mortimers had arranged his christening at St Matthews, Windsor, in 1811. He was given the name of Edward Mortimer Davis, but in life, he used the name Edward Mortimer Travers.

Elizabeth is my 4th great grandmother and is related through my father Charles Godfrey Biggs:

Elizabeth Davison (1791 – 1811)
4th great-grandmother
Edward Mortimer Davis Travers (1809 – 1876)
Son of Elizabeth Davison
John Mortimer Thomas TRAVERS (1833 – 1867)
Son of Edward Mortimer Davis Travers
Eliza Jane Travers (1860 – 1940)
Daughter of John Mortimer Thomas TRAVERS
Sarah Beatrice Shepherd (1886 – 1962)
Daughter of Eliza Jane Travers 
Charles Godfrey Biggs (1916 – 2006)
Son of Sarah Beatrice Shepherd

#52 Ancestors: Dear Diary

How wonderful it would be to come across a diary written by one of my ancestors, but no such luck.  I shouldn’t be surprised as I don’t keep a diary myself although now I think about it maybe that is the role that facebook now plays. There are lots of moments that I write about maybe only mundane things like the weather, sometimes a recipe I like or maybe photos of family gatherings or holidays that I want to remember.  Sometimes it’s even someone or something from the past that I cherish. Not everyone will be interested but in some ways, it is a chronical of my life and the people I love. So here’s to the social media version of a diary … Facebook you have your place as a recorder of history.