About Branches of my family tree

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.

Legends: My ancestor was eaten by cannibals!

As legends go there would probably none to equal that of my fifth great grandfather, William Hugh Travers …unbelievably murdered and eaten by cannibals!!

It has not been possible to find any details about William’s background before he sailed on the “Speke” from England in 1808. Records show William as a twenty-year-old Irish seaman. Like other seamen of this era, William would have gone to sea when a boy, probably no more than 16 years old. Life on board was hard but it did offer a chance of freedom and adventure, regular food, even if it was not of the best quality, and reliable pay. This is more than what he may have been able to achieve if he was locked in poverty in Ireland. I can recommend reading “Two Years Before the Mast” by Richard Henry Dana, although written about a sea journey in 1834, it does an insight into what life on board a sailing ship was like for William. A free on line version can be viewed at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2055/2055-h/2055-h.htm

The Speke sailed from Falmouth, England, on 18 May 1808 and arrived in Australia at Port Jackson on 16 November 1808. The vessel had been contracted by the British government to transport 99 female convicts to Australia, including my five times great-grandmother, Elizabeth Davis/Davison, who was only 16 years old at the time. At sea for months, there was no possibility of separating the female convicts from the crew and the crew was encouraged to take “wives” for the duration of the voyage. A report titled, “A Selection of Reports and Papers to the House of Commons. Vol. 58” stated: “Improprieties 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”.

Such “improprieties” were not uncommon and are detailed in “The Floating Brothel” written by Sian Rees describing the voyage of the Lady Juliana in 1789 which sailed under similar conditions to the Speke. It is unlikely that any woman, especially a sixteen-year-old girl, such as Elizabeth, would have any choice in the matter, if she wanted to survive the voyage and arrive safely in Australia.

William chose Elizabeth, and by the time the ship arrived in Sydney, she was almost five months pregnant. Elizabeth was sent to the Female Factory at Parramatta to work and await birth while William returned to life on the sea. Their son, Edward Mortimer Davis, was born on 11 April 1809. Elizabeth died in 1811 when her son was two years old. William’s name is documented in the Colonial Secretary’s Papers as the father of Edward. Edward used his father’s surname in later years, being known as Edward Mortimer Travers. (Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1825. New South Wales Government. The main series of letters received 1788-1825. Series 897, Reels 6041-6064, 6071-6072. State Records Authority of New South Wales. Kingswood)

Had William developed an attachment to Elizabeth? Was he aware that she was pregnant with his son? Regardless of possible answers to those questions, William was contracted to the ship and there would have been little choice or opportunity to remain in the colony regardless of any feelings he may have had towards Elizabeth. At this point he disappears from records, possibly returning to England on the Speke to continue his life at sea.

It is not until 1814 that William reappears in an article in the Sydney Gazette about the voyage of the commericial schooner, the Cumberland, and William is identified as a member of the crew attacked and killed in the “Friendly Islands”: The article provides a background to the incident Sydney Gazette Sat 22 Oct 1814 p. 2. National Library of Australia:

On Thursday arrived the “Cumberland” a colonial schooner, Mr. Goodenough master, from Islands to the Eastward of the Friendly Islands, which she from hence proceeded the 18th of January last, with a view of procuring sandalwood, but failing in that object, has brought a lading of a wood possessing the property of dying various shades of yellow. This they procured at the island of Loratonga, 16 leagues E of Tongataboo, the natives of which are of the Otaheitan complexion, and of similar manners, but taller and much better formed.

On their first and second attempts to land, they were prevented by the natives, who attacked them with slings, from which they threw round stones 6 lbs. weight with surprising dexterity. They nevertheless effected a landing afterwards, and became very friendly with the natives, who were employed in procuring the wood, and paid as labourers for their assistance, in tochies,(Tongan word for adze) tomahawks, and other suitable articles. They continued a friendly intercourse until the 12th of August ; when John Croker one of the crew who had accompanied Mr Wentworth on shore, was assaulted and killed in his presence with a club so instantaneously and unexpectedly as to render Mr Wentworth’s aid wholly ineffectual. As soon as he saw the unfortunate man knocked down, he drew and snapped his pistol at the assailant—but it missed fire; and as there was no time for deliberation, he rushed forward to his assistance—but human aid was then of no avail, for his head was bruised to a mummy, and his corporal pains had ceased for ever.

Mr. W. having now only to provide for his own safety, took a pistol from the dead man’s body, and menacing and menaced, made his way to his boat. In another quarter a similar assault had been made on others of the crew, who were on shore for provisions, and all massacred: these were William Travis, George Strait, and an Otaheitan, and Ann Butcher, an unfortunate woman who had gone from this port in the vessel, was killed at the same time, when ashore on a visit to some native women who had shewn her much kindness.

Mr. Goodenough affirms it to be his opinion, that all the murdered persons were afterwards devoured, as they had seen a part of one that exhibited every appearance of its remaining a fragment of a cannibal festival.

More details of this voyage are provided in “Rarotongan Sandalwood: The Visit of Goodenough to Rarotonga in 1814. H E Maude and Marjorie Tuainekore Crocombe. The Journal of Polynesian Society. Vol. 71, No. 1 (March 1962), pp. 32-56. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20703963.

When the Cumberland departed for the Pacific Islands, it was clear that the British government was well aware of the disruption these commercial voyages were inflicting on island communities. Six weeks before the Cumberland left Port Jackson, Governor Macquarie had promulgated a Government and General Order dated December 1, 1813, requiring a good behavior bond of £1,000 from all vessels trading in the Pacific Islands, to be forfeited on the occurrence of several specified acts against the natives of these islands.

Despite the warning issued in this order, the Cumberland sailed to Walker’s Island (Rarotonga) arriving in March with the expectation of finding the untapped treasure of aromatic Sandalwood and to take their share before the find was exhausted. They went on to breech the government order and it appears that these were not disclosed on their return.

When the ship arrived in Rarotonga the captain ignored initial attempts by the islanders to drive them off, was ignorant of tribal conflicts and rivalries, and had no respect for the islanders’ way of life. Reading the full story of the voyage it is clear that the crew of the Cumberland only wanted three things: a bountiful commercial cargo, food, and women; and “what they wanted they took with a free hand, not noticeably concerned with the niceties of legal ownership.”

The final straw was the desecration, on the 12 August 1814, of the marae (community sacred place) where they took coconuts from the storehouse belonging to the chief. They could hardly have done anything more calculated to offend not only the chief and people of Avarua but, to a lesser degree, the whole island of Rarotonga.

Retribution was swift. The two European seamen, George Strait and my ancestor, William Travis, who were engaged in supervising the carrying away of the coconuts, were attacked and killed. Travis was killed by the people of Titama at Matavera while Strait was despatched at Turangi. Captain Goodenough told that the men had been murdered and later eaten in a ceremony involving cannibalism.

So that is the story of my ancestor William Travis as far as I have been able to find so far. It leave me feeling horrified at the social norms and attitudes of Europeans and my ancestors involvement. Nonetheless it is a tale worth telling to generations to come.

#52 Ancestors: Beginnings

I love the start of a new year, it is a chance to start afresh and after a terrible 2020 it something I certainly need. For over 12 months due to health problems my family history research has been unfocused and random so my new years resolution is to put my formal researcher’s hat on again.

To help to get back into it, I am back to using the word prompts from Amy Crow Johnson’s 52 ancestors in 52 weeks to get me writing again so I can share tree information with my family and discover more about my ancestors and the reasons for some of the life changing decisions they made. Her week one prompt is Beginnings and as you can see I am beginning the new year with new resolve in undertaking family history.

My other new years resolution is to dig further into the Biggs family tree I have managed to research and confirm our Biggs family line back to James Biggs senior from Potterne in Wiltshire in 1724. Now if I can find out more about the exact land they farmed and maybe take it back another generation or two I would be very happy.
I hope 2021 leads us to some new and exciting places.

Sweet and Sour Sweet Peas

As a child of the 1950’s I grew up in a family that ate dinner together every night promptly at 6pm, just half an hour after Dad arrived home from work. Dinner was eaten at a large laminated table in the middle of the kitchen. It was a place that served many purposes not just for eating. It was used for doing our homework while Mum kept an eagle on our progress while she cooked dinner, a table for cutting out patterns for our new dresses, or a riotous game of monopoly with groans of ‘we haven’t finished yet’ when told to clear the table for dinner.

The dinners may not have always been to my liking but you can be assured the food was plentiful and nourishing even though it was routinely ‘meat and three vegs’. Friday nights were my favourite as it was regarded as Mum’s night off with the dinner supplied by the local take away fish and chip shop. Mum’s familiar words nearly every Friday ‘now that was a nice piece of fish’ are now embedded in family history and bring a shared chuckle whenever repeated at family gatherings.

After such a standard diet for descendants of English heritage the opening of a Chinese Restaurant in our quiet little suburb proved to be the wedge that started to change our eating habits. Mum’s night off could now be extended to take away Chinese. We ordered the usual surburban Chinese meals that were common back then, spring rolls, chicken chow mein, sweet and sour pork and of course fried rice. While my experiences have made me wonder about the authenticity of those Chinese meals I would have to say that those plastic containers filled with strange concoctions of unrecognisable vegies, meat and sauce changed my eating habits for ever.

It was Dad’s job to order and pick up the take away and, I suspect, encouraged by our big brother, Col, the quantities ordered always seemed to result in lots of leftovers. My memories of one meal in particular saw my mother throwing up her hands saying there is just too much and the resulting leftovers being consigned to a large hole in the garden.

Never one to miss a chance at a few more flowers the newly dug patch seemed like the ideal place to plant some sweet pea seeds and as it was the St Patricks Day it seemed auspicious that they were planted on that date. Now whether it was St Patrick or all that left over sweet and sour pork I don’t know the sweet peas flourished, growing to enormous heights and covering the side of the house in incredible rainbow coloured flowers for weeks.

Every year I now plant my sweet peas on St Patricks Day and remember the love, laughter and togetherness of those early family meals and the wonders of sweet and sour pork as a garden fertiliser!

#52 Ancestors: Context

When I started this blog, it was to supplement our family tree on Ancestry, to turn basic facts into a little bit of a story and share some ideas of what I thought my ancestors were like in order to bring us closer to them. I wanted to make them not just a name and a set of dates but people who have made us what we are today

There are so many places to go to find out more about our ancestors’ lives within a historical context. My favourite place is old newspapers. Trove an online site of the National Library of Australia (https://www.nla.gov.au/) is just that, a treasure trove.  In the section on digitised newspapers, I have found everything from memorial notices that summarise their lives and how they were regarded by the community, articles that had been written by my ancestors that shed light on their opinions and tales of the hardships they faced whether it be accidents, drought, or bankruptcy.

Sometimes an ancestor has led me to research an occupation I knew little about. My 4 x great grandfather was a miner in Northern England. Historical research abounds in this area, and it filled in so many details of what life was like for him, his family and the community where he lived and worked. The research also led me to historical fiction which has brought it to life for me. The Durham Trilogy by Janet MacLeod Trotter which follows the lives of families in the mining village of Durham is one example. I had never heard of a “clippy mat” where the women would cut up pieces of old cloth and thread the pieces through hessian until I read these books.  The mats were made as floor coverings to keep feet warm in the cold northern England winters, and I can imagine my female ancestors sitting around the fire in candlelight working on the mats.

World War 1 and 11 records held by the National Archives of Australia are extraordinary resources that have helped me discover so much about my family’s war history.  Where they are gaps in the written records the Australian War Museum provides incredible information on the regiments they belonged to, where they fought and the conditions they experienced (https://www.awm.gov.au/). A visit to the museum even provided an experience of flying in a Bomber over Europe in WW2. It gave me just an inkling of what my Uncle Roy experienced before he was shot down over Germany in 1943.

The more I research the more I can put my ancestors lives in context. I am no longer satisfied with the basic facts, these are just an introduction to their story and I hope through some of my stories that I have managed to bring them to life for others in my family.

#52 Ancestors: Harvest

One of the family heirlooms that I treasure is a pair of plates that I think of as Harvest plates. They are majolica glazed bread platters with a moulded corn pattern and “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” in relief around the edges. My mother treasured these plates and they were only used on very special occasions. I especially remember them being brought out on Christmas day for our family feast. She told me they were from the Chisholm side of the family and were probably given to my great grandfather and great grandmother, Alfred Wilson Chisholm and Sarah Ann (nee Wood) as wedding presents.

The plates were of a very popular design used by a number of potteries in both Australia and NewZealand. I have received a comment that the bread plate was made at David Agnew’s pottery called ‘Sandhurst Pottery’ at Bundanba, Qld. in the period 1886-1911.

It looks like I will now have another area to research once restrictions ease and the museums are open.

plate 2

Bread platter, ‘Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread’, earthenware with majolica glaze,  David Agnew’s pottery called ‘Sandhurst Pottery’ at Bundanba, Qld. in the period 1886-1911. From the Biggs family collection.

#52 Ancestors: Map it out

My favourite maps that I used to help work out the lives of my Shepherd ancestors is an old Southern Highlands map. The first map was created in 1830 when a plan of eight allotments were created at Bong Bong for Veterans from the battle of Waterloo. Pinpointing where they lived provided me with a major clue about their lives and the historical events that surrounded them.

bong bong 1

Veterans’ allotments at Bong Bong in 1830. State Library of NSW.

The veterans were offered an engagement in Australia for two years to help rid the countryside of bushrangers. The rates of pay were relatively generous and on discharge that received a free grant of land.  The eight allotments at Bong Bong were granted to William Chater, John Gilzan, Samuel Holmes, Enos McGarr, Christopher Rhall, Lynn Shepherd (my 3x great grandfather) and brothers Thomas and William Wood (my 4 x great grandfather).

Both my ancestors arrived with the Royal Veterans Corp within a year of each other. My 4x great grandfather, William Wood, arrived in 1825 on the ship the Catherine Stewart Forbes. He took up possession of his grant in 1839. My 3 x great grandfather, Lynn  Shepherd, arrived on board the Orpheus in 1826 and took possession of his grant in 1830.

Each allotment was of 80 acres between Eridge Park Road (then known as Old Bong Bong Road) and the Wingecarribee River. They were given rations for 12 months, and they had to remain on and cultivate the land for seven years before being granted ownership.

The next map I came across provides names on each allotment. It looks as if not all the Veteran grantees did not take up their land or found life too difficult on the harsh swampy land but both my ancestors continue to be listed as landholders.

bong bong map (2)

When I look at it against a map of today I can see why I feel so at home in this part of the world. Their allotments on what is now called Eridge Park Road are less than ten minutes walk from our back gate!

#52 Ancestors: Cousins

Once you start researching family history, cousins seem to show up in all sorts of places. One that has been interesting me lately is my 1st cousin (3 times removed) who has shown up in America and thanks to one of the Dowse descendants I am able to provide some of his history.

In 1826 my 3 x great aunt Mary Biggs (older sister to my 2 x great grandfather James Biggs) married George Dowse. Both the Biggs and Dowse family came from Potterne in Wiltshire. Their second child was a boy, Jabez Biggs Dowse, born on 20 February 1829. He was baptised in St Mary’s Wesleyan Methodist Church at Devises, Wiltshire on 16 May 1830. As devout non-conformists, they chose a biblical name for their son. The name Jabez means “he causes pain”. Possibly his birth was exceptionally painful or there may have health problems early in infancy. Whatever the reason it seems they must have had some concerns about this new addition to the family.

His mother died when he was eight years old and at the age of 12 years, he was living with his father, who was a dealer in grain (a mealman) and his younger siblings in Potterne in Wiltshire. By the 1851 census, he is no longer recorded with his family and he disappears from records. His older brother, Stephen had immigrated to America and it is likely that he had followed in his footsteps.

The next record for Jabez is in the 1860 United States Census. He is 30  years old, single and his occupation is described as a miller. In 1861 he applied for and became an American citizen. In 1864 he is shown in the US City Directory for Lockport Illinois as a grocer.

The reason for my interest in Jabez is for something entirely different. Jabez was an inventor and in 1867 he took out a patent for the “Dowse Fuze” for use in submarine mines

dowse fuze

His invention was taken up by the US Corp of Engineers and detailed in “Professional Papers of the Corps of Engineers of the United States Army”.  So maybe our family can take a little bit of credit for some of the engineering skills and the pathway my nephew is following!

Jabez never married and died in 1878 at the age of 49. He is buried in Lockport,  Illinois.

 

 

#52 Ancestors: Mistakes

It is so easy to make mistakes when doing family history. It might be another person’s family tree that looks fine on the surface but when you dig a little deeper is sending you down the wrong track. It might be from oral history where formal documents prove otherwise. There are so many family tales that are made up to hide the “unforgivable” truth, so many skeletons that needed to be hidden in the cupboard. Formal documentation may not be always correct with information unknown, based on what it sounded like, made up or just an honest mistake. Often even professional transcribers will make mistakes. Mistakes that does happen most frequently to me are interpreting those handwritten records that look like chicken scratches just like this will that belonged to my 4 x great grandmother Margaret Deane (nee Chalklen).

Will of Margaret Deane

I guess researching family history would not prove to be so interesting and challenging if it was all straightforward so bring on the mistakes and give me the chance to put them right!

#52 Ancestors: School days

We all have those school photos where we are lined up in rows with our classmates for our annual school photo. It is nice to look back on them and wonder what happened to all of our fellow students.

For my Mum, her early years of school in Brisbane were not happy ones. With her coffee-coloured skin, that turned a few shades darker from playing in the sun, and black hair she drew the attention of the school bullies who decided that she was an “Abo” and not worthy of their friendship. I can imagine her tears as the word’s and behaviour that were cruel and thoughtless made her feel ashamed and humiliated.  Such overt racism was prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries and, it is not difficult to imagine the psychological damage that such loathing towards her caused making her feel less than her classmates.

Her parents did all they could to make her feel proud, telling her she was really an Indian princess (think of the sari’s I could wear if that were the truth!) and finally removing her from the State school and placing her in the local Catholic school where thankfully she was accepted for the beautiful young girl she was. By the time they had moved to Sydney, she had a large group of friends and recognised that the comments from her childhood were meaningless.

My research and DNA results confirm that my mother was not Aboriginal, nor any other dark-skinned race. I have to admit to being a bit disappointed at this as it would be wonderful to have such ancestry. The dark colouring comes from her Scottish Chisholm heritage with many of the NZ Chisholms sharing the same colouring.

My Mum was probably around eight years old in this school photo, attending Dutton Park Primary School in 1923. She is the fifth child from the left marked with an X (Mum did this so that we knew which one was her).

Mum school 1923

Has anything changed much? I had to laugh when my daughter came home from High School one day (yep, she has the olive skin and dark hair) to say that the “Greek” girls thought she was one of them and wanted to know which part of Greece her family came from!

#52 Ancestors: At Work

Mum Cake shop.jpgMulled over this trigger word a bit as there were so many choices. I decided that I would share one of my favourite photos of my Mum, Hazel Edith Biggs (nee Chisholm). Before she married she worked in a cakeshop and it is here that my memory lets me down so I hope my siblings can remind me. I think the shop was in Beverly Hills and she managed the shop front and sales assistants.  Mum is the one in the middle marked with a small x. She remained a life long friend with the owner who I think was called Sid Ward. Anyway here is the photo … I can almost smell the cream buns!