I was only a young child but I clearly remember sitting around the kitchen table covered with a hand-embroidered tea cloth and the remainders of an afternoon tea. The tea set used was our good china and I think it was possibly the end of a Saturday afternoon tea with our Aunty Rose.
It was one of the few occasions when my mother shared her memories of her mother, my grandmother, Hazel Annie, and being curious about our family even at a young age my ears pricked up and I sat transfixed as Mum explained how she had been shown by her mother how to read the leaves.
It was a simple process, Make a pot of tea with proper tea leaves (no tea bags allowed) and let it steep, pour into a cup ( a china cup and saucer, not a mug) without straining, When finished with just a small amount left in the bottom, swirl the cup counterclockwise. Tip the cup upside down onto the saucer then turn it over and look at the pattern of the tea leaves. The pattern the leaves form will tell your fortune. Unfortunately, I couldn’t work out any patterns in the leaves as a child and have to admit it is a skill I certainly don’t have today. If you would like to try it yourself there are many websites and books as for me I would need the how to read tea leaves for dummies.
There is no doubt in my mind that my mother was just a little bit psychic and with her creamy coffee coloured skin, black hair and exotic looks she would have been a perfect gypsy. That mother’s skill in knowing your children so well meant we rarely escaped from being found out when we had been up to mischief. Her skills extended further than just her family. She was open hearted offering a shoulder to cry on, a willingness to lend a friendly ear and provide comfort whatever the source of pain. Maybe she was not psychic and able to tell fortunes but those of a naturally skilled counselor.
So now when I drink my morning cuppa, brewed with boiling water and real leaves I think of my Mum preparing a pot of tea in an age-old ritual that is involved in making the perfect brew. It makes me smile when I think about that chat over a cuppa and how maybe it was not just a friendly gesture but a little bit of magic.
I have not been able to find a passenger list for the Meridian, but I do know that my great, great grandfather, Thomas Henderson, his wife Margaret, and their eight children ( the oldest fifteen and the youngest less than two months embarked on Friday, 4 June 1853 on the Meridian for a journey to Australia to start a new life. I have also been contacted by the descendant of another passenger whose ancestors joined them on the same voyage. His name was William Guyton traveling with his wife Sophia, who was about five months pregnant, and their two children.
The voyage on the Meridian was not completed. On Aug. 23, the Meridian’s captain, suspecting an error in his calculations, sailed the ship in the direction of St. Paul’s islands in the far south of the Indian Ocean. Here he believed he would be able to make the necessary navigation corrections; however, the ship encountered a strong gale coming aground on the rocks of Amsterdam Island.
The story of the shipwreck is horrifying but Thomas and his family all survived as did William Guyton and his family including the infant, a girl, who was born on the Meridian shortly before the sinking. The full account of the voyage and shipwreck can be read by clicking here.
An American whaler, the Monmouth, in the charge of Captain Ludlow had not had much luck so far during the whaling season and the Captain decided to try his luck in the waters closer to Australia. Rather than finding the sought-after whales what they did find was the wreck of the Meridian and 105 survivors. Captain Ludlow was determined to rescue everyone who was stranded there – at a considerable financial sacrifice to himself and his crew since he would be suspending normal operations at the height of the whaling season
All of the survivors were incredibly grateful to Captain Ludlow and the crew of the Monmouth for their rescue. So much so that the Guyton’s named their newly born daughter Florence Monmouth Guyton after their rescue ship.
As for the Hendersons, they too never forgot their rescuers. They remained forever grateful to their deliverer, Captain Ludlow, and in his memory, a house they owned at 21 Albert Street, (renamed Philip Street) Burwood was named Monmouth. The property was purchased by the family around 1874. Like the Monmouth, it became a place of safety during the upheavals of their lives at this time. Betsy initially took up residence with her sister Janette after the failure of her marriage. Her father also lived there following a financial disaster, insolvency, and the failure of his second marriage
Without the Monmouth our family story would be very different. It would not surprise me if there were not other children or homes that carried this name in memory of the miraculous rescue. The family home named after the ship sadly no longer exists but we can still celebrate and remember the caring and brave crew who saved our ancestors.
There are many reasons why my ancestors remarried but the sadest story of multiple marriages belongs to my 3 times great grandfather Daniel Chisholm. His first wife Sarah was a fit young woman of 24 years and pregnant at the time of her marriage to Daniel in 1829. Women in this period saw childbearing as their fate and duty and as was expected she gave birth to eight children during her seventeen year marriage until her death from puerperal fever in 1846.
Left a widower with five surviving children Daniel remarried withing six months. His wife, Ann Bradshaw was 15 years younger than Daniel and 29 years of age at the time of their marriage, She had two children, the second child died when six months old and she died in the same quarter of the year. Her cause of death is unknown.
Once again Daniel remarried within six months to Martha Wilson (possibly a relative of his first wife). When they married in 1850 Daniel was 48 and Martha was twenty years younger. Their marriage lasted 17 years until her death in 1867. Martha had six children, dying following the birth of her last child Milton.
Daniel did not remarry. As well as losing his wives, it appears that only five of his children survived to adulthood. It is difficult to understand such a high mortality rate in this day and age. We have much to be thankful for where modern medicine is concerned. I am also extremely thankful that one of his surviving children was my 2 x great grandfather, Joseph Wilson Chisholm, who established the Chisholm line in New Zealand. Without him I would not be here today!
If you would like to read more about Daniel click here
Exploring old records, data bases, books and archives is very addictive when it comes to family history. Every once in a while though an unusual source appears to add colour to the story or family line that I might be hunting. The most unusual for me was while I was enjoying a British TV series called Rev. A story about a Church of England priest and his life in an inner city parish in London. The fictional name of the church was “St Saviour in the Marshes” in Hackney, East London. It was in the film credits that I realised that the church was actually St Leonards, Stepney, my ancestors family church (Biggs family line from Henderson to Crosby).
The church as it stands today was built around 1740, replacing an earlier structure.
The first record I have I my ancestors involvement with the church is the marriage of Peter Crosby (4 x great grandfather) to Elizabeth Biggleton (4 x great grandmother) in 1782 at St Leonards, Shoreditch..
It is then possible to trace the Crosby family through church records, with baptisms, marriages and burials until 1837 when Thomas Henderson married Margaret Crosby and became my immigrant ancestors to Australia.
Not only did I love the TV series but it also showed me the church interior and exterior from all angles. A very unexpected but welcome addition to my knowledge about the lives of my ancestors.
When my grandfather, Jack Doherty, met my grandmother, he was an itinerant worker and boarder in her mother’s home in Brisbane around 1913. He dearly loved her but she was separated from her husband, William Shute, who had returned to outback Australia so the relationship was not without problems. When Jack left to find work my grandmother Hazel Edith Shute (nee Chisholm) gave him “a photo in remembrance” of herself dated 2 November 1913.
On the back of the postcard/photo Hazel had written a poem that shows how deeply she had fallen in love with Jack.
Think of me at morn Think of me at night Think of me when far away And never forget to write
Think of me when you are happy Think of me when you are sad Think of the girl (Hazel) who dearly loves you Perhaps the thought will make you glad Eight little letters make three little words Forget me not (I love you)
The old old story ever new I have told my love for thee in these lines would tell again how dear thou art to me.
Yours always Hazel
Attempts at reconciling with her husband, William Shute, failed during November and she once again remained in Brisbance while he returned to Outback Queensland.
It appears that Jack returned to celebrate Christmas with Hazel and her family and it was at this reunion that their relationship was cemented and was to become life long. My mother was conceived aound the 20th December and DNA tests have confirmed that Jack Doherty was her father. The life story of Hazel Annie Chisholm can be read by clicking here
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.