Friday, September 22, 2017

My convict ancestor

We first heard that we had convict ancestors in 1990 when we received news that a group of family members in New South Wales and Queensland had researched our family's history and produced a book, A Battle against the odds, about pioneers of the Hawkesbury River, Box Hill and the Nelson regions outside Sydney.

In the book we found information about my great-great-grandfather, John Smith, who  was convicted of burglary and  theft on 3rd April 1816 in London. John Smith was sentenced to death but was granted a reprieve and was transported to New South Wales on the convict ship the Sir William Bensley.

Proceedings of his 1816 trial at the Old Bailey make fascinating reading: Ref t18160403-4

My great-great-grandfather was nineteen when he stood on the dock of the Old Bailey in London and heard the presiding judge, Lord Ellenburough, read his sentence.

 Lord Ellenburough, the presiding judge at the trial of John Smith

John was accused of entering the house of Edmund Simkins with the intention being to steal a looking-glass. He was convicted on the evidence of Edmund Simkins who apprehended him and took him to the local police station with the assistance of a passer by.

 An excerpt of the trial transcript is here:

"EDMUND SIMKINS. On the 17th of February last, in the evening, at about a quarter past seven o'clock, I was sitting in my kitchen with my family, at my house, No. 24, Greenfield-street, Commercial-road, at the parish of St. Dunsten Stebonheath, and I was alarmed by something over me, as if something had dropped; some one of the family exclaimed, there is someone in the parlour; that was the room above. I immediately ran up stairs, and discovered the prisoner with a glass, resting on the ledge of the window; it was a looking-glass; the window was open; the shutters had been put to; the sash was thrown completely up. I was in the room not ten minutes before; it was then down. I have not a doubt but that the prisoner at the bar, who was in the room, had opened the window; the sash is fastened down by a catch, or a window drop. I found this catch forced from the window, and lying on the floor. This is part of the catch; that had been entire, and fastened to the window, and I found this knife also in the room; it was not there ten minutes before. I found the prisoner at the bar getting out at the window, with the looking-glass resting on the ledge; the glass was removed from its place. There is a little wooden railing outside, that he might have rested his foot on in getting out; he might have got out without breaking the glass or damaging himself. When I saw him getting out, I gave the alarm of stop thief; he had got one foot on the chair, and the other on the table. The watch was not set. I gave the alarm of stop thief, and a young man was passing, and saw him coming from the window, and threw him down into the kinnel, and I found him in his custody, when I secured him; this was about a quarter after seven o'clock, it was dark. When I went up, I had not a candle with me, but I knew the prisoner was the same man when I went round, because I have a lamp just opposite to me, and another by me. The prisoner is the same man whom I saw in the room. He begged very hard for mercy, and hoped I would let him go. I am sure the window was down when I went up about ten minutes before. No person could get in at the window, or force it up, without forceing this catch off."


Monday, July 17, 2017

Convict Case Study: Mary Ellis Ennis Tully Smith, 1799 – 1868

I've recently completed Convict Ancestors, one of the Family History units at the University of Tasmania. (UTAS). I chose my G.G.Grandmother, Mary Tully Smith as the subject of my case study research.
Convict Case Study: Mary Ellis Ennis Tully Smith abt 1799 – 1868

In July 1817, Mary Tully, an 18-year-old girl from County Cork in Ireland, found herself on the wrong side of the law, convicted of house breaking in Dublin for which she received a sentence of transportation to New South Wales for seven years.

We don't know why Mary fell into crime. Maybe she had lost her job as was a silk winder in Dublin. In the latter part of the 18th century, Irish silk weaving flourished, with around 1,200 looms operating in the Liberties area of Dublin. However, by Mary's time silk weaving had entered a period of depression. Dublin supplied silk garments to the fashionable upper classes, but when the Irish Parliament was dissolved in 1801, Ireland was integrated into the United Kingdom and many of the Dublin's wealthy relocated to London. As a result, the demand for silk dropped. So, one can easily imagine young Mary fallen on hard times, resorting to thieving to survive.

To understand the progress of Mary's life, we need to examine the various family names by which she is recorded in the archives: Mary Ellis (at trial and transportation), Mary Ennis (on permission to marry document and at marriage), Mary Tully (on the baptismal certificates her NSW-born children and on her death certificate), and Mary Smith after she married John Smith, in New South Wales in 1820. The most likely explanation is that Mary was born Mary Tully and subsequently married or had a relationship(s) with a person(s) by the name of Ellis or Ennis or both. No birth certificate for our Mary Tully can be found among the available Irish records, but according to her death certificate, she was born in Cork, Ireland.

Mary was transported on the Elizabeth 1, (Elizabeth 1, to distinguish it from later convict ships named Elizabeth), which set sail in July 1818 from Cork Harbour under the command of Captain William Ostler. There were 101 women and 17 children on board and, according to the ship's surgeon, Mr William Hamilton, who recorded events in his journal (cited by secondary sources), the 101 comprised two groups of women – some from Cork and some from Dublin. At 5pm on 11 July 1818, as the group of 28 convicts from Cork came alongside to join the Dublin girls already on board, a loud cheer rang out. Hamilton divided the groups evenly and issued them with identical rations and clothing. As was often the custom, the 482-ton sailing ship, built in Chepstow in 1809, sailed directly to NSW, not stopping at the Cape of Good Hope. The vessel made rapid progress, completing the journey in 116 days and all on board were landed safely at Port Jackson on 19 November 1818.
Mary Ellis is listed on her arrival in the Colony as having been tried in Dublin in July 1817, sentenced to transportation for seven years and assigned to the "Government Factory".

Mary Ellis listed in 1818 on the 'New South Wales, Australia, Settler and Convict Lists', p.1, from Ancestry database

Mary Ellis listed in 1818 on the 'New South Wales, Australia, Settler and Convict Lists', p.2 from Ancestry database

Upon arrival, Mary travelled by boat up the Parramatta River to the Women's Factory there. We don't know if she was able to use her textile skills while at the Factory, but within a short space of time she met her future husband, fellow convict John Smith (transported, Sir William Bensley, 1817). The Women's Factory had a reputation as somewhat of a marriage market – a place where single men of the Colony went to find a wife. Maybe that is where our great-great-grandparents met? In July 1820, Mary and John sought and received permission from Governor Macquarie to marry and, on 4 September 1820, they were wed. Mary married under the name of Mary Ennis and there is an entry in the Marriage Registry St Matthew Anglican Church in Windsor.

Four years later, on 7 October 1824, Mary became free from servitude and at this point the record gives us a detailed physical portrait of our ancestor. She was five foot and half an inch tall, with a fair, ruddy, freckled complexion, hazel eyes and dark brown hair. Against "hazel" there is a barely legible comment that indicates a peculiarity, maybe blindness, in her left eye.

Physical description of Mary Ellis from the Certificate of Freedom, found on Ancestry

The 1825 General Muster of convicts in NSW, records Mary Ellis as having arrived on the Elizabeth 1, transported for seven years, and assigned as housekeeper to J. Smith (presumably her husband) in the district Melville. Over the following years, census records reveal that Mary and John settled into life in the Colony, with John working as a farm labourer in the district of Bathurst (the less). In 1824, Mary (alias Mary Ennis) and John have three children: Margaret (5), John (3), Mary (1). By 1828, the couple had five children Margaret (9), John (6), Mary (5), Henry (3), James (2) and owned five head of cattle. On both census documents the name of the ship (Elizabeth, 1818) and the sentence (seven years) are recorded against Mary's name.

Mary's husband John died on 19 July 1866. My great-grandfather, Robert Smith, the 10th of Mary and John's 13 children, reported Mary Tully Smith's death at Nelson on the Windsor Road. At this point Mary's birth name is given as Tully and her father is identified as Charles Tully. The family placed a notice in the Sydney Mail newspaper on Saturday 20th June 1868.

Death notice for Mary Tully Smith published in the Sydney Mail, from Tove database
Throughout the search of the archival records, several facts point to Mary Ennis/Ellis/Tully/Smith as being the same person: the transportation ship Elizabeth 1, her age, the nature/date of her crime, conviction and sentence. After her marriage to John Smith, her maiden name is stated as Tully on the baptismal certificate of at least one her children, namely Mary Smith born 16 August 1825. While the early part of Mary's life is shrouded in mystery and confusion, the latter portion of her life is one of a true pioneer, who settled in the Windsor district outside Sydney.

Australia, Convict Index, 1788-1868, Ancestry, Accessed 11 May 2017.
Bateson, Charles. The Convict Ships, 1787-1868, 2nd edn, Glasgow, Brown, Son & Ferguson, 1969.
Breathnach, Kathleen. 'The Last of the Dublin Silk Weavers', Irish Arts Review Yearbook, 1990, pp. 134-143.
Brown, Arthur. J. A Battle Against the Odds: Stories of our Pioneering Families on Norfolk Island, the Hawkesbury River, Mulgrave Place, Green Hills, Box Hill and Nelson. Epping, NSW, Arthur J. Brown, 1990.
Hughes, Robert. The Fatal Shore. 1st American edn, New York, Knopf, 1986.
New South Wales, Australia Convict Ship Muster Rolls and Related Records, 1790-1849, Ancestry, Accessed, 4 May 2017.
New South Wales, Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842, Ancestry, Accessed 11 May 2017.
New South Wales, Australia, Settler and Convict Lists, 1787-1834, Ancestry, Accessed 25 May 2017.
New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1856, Ancestry, Accessed 4 May 2017.
New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, 1827-1867, Ancestry, Accessed 4 May 2017.
New South Wales, Census and Population Books, 1811-1825, Ancestry, Accessed 4 May 2017.
New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia Convict Musters, 1806-1849, Ancestry, Accessed 4 May 2017.
New South Wales, Australia Census 1828, Ancestry, Accessed 4 May 2017.
Sydney Mail.
Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages New South Wales.
St. Matthews Anglican Church Register, Windsor, New South Wales.
Wikipedia. 'Acts of Union 1800',, Accessed 25 May 2017.
Willetts, J. 'Free Settler or Felon? Convict Ship Elizabeth 1818',, Accessed 25 May 2017.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Second Eleven

Photo of Saint Joseph's College in 1904, courtesy of the College archives

A version of this piece was posted as one of my assignments in the University of Tasmania's unit in Family History Writing. The idea is to write "flash fiction", to convey an scene in less than 250 words. This is an image of my father's first day at school at Saint Joseph's College in 1923. The 1904 photo is of the main school building which was taken 19 years before Bede's time.

Alice Smith and Bede had travelled up to Sydney the previous week, taking the bone-shaking slow train from Wagga.

Now, outside the school, Bede gazed up at the towering sandstone building that would be his home for the next five years. His new uniform, half a size too big, felt heavy on his back.

When they entered the headmaster's office, Brother O'Meara was busy signing papers but he stood up and reached over the desk to shake Bede's hand. The Brother's fingers were stained dark blue and Bede caught the faint metallic smell of ink. Brother O'Meara spoke with a lilting Irish accent and began to explain the orientation procedures.

'We're always happy to welcome the country boys, Mrs Smith. I've assigned Flanagan here to show you both around. God bless.'

'Thank you, Brother.'

The boy Flanagan took them down a dimly lit corridor that led towards the dorms. He stopped half way along, to look out across the lush green lawn.

'Do you play cricket, Smith?'

A broad smile stretched across Bede's fair face and his blue eyes lit up.

'I certainly do.'

'Batsman or bowler?' Flanagan asked.

'I'm an all rounder. My Dad's been helping me with my off-breaks, at home, in Leeton.'

'Excellent! We're preparing boys for the Second Eleven. Come on, I'll show you the playing fields.'

Through the stone archway, in the distance, there came the flash of a figure in white running in, followed by the faint pock sound of the ball.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Writing the Family History Scene

I'm currently enrolled in an online family history writing course, Writing the Family History Scene, run by Lynn Palermo, The Armchair Genealogist

Our first assignment is to write a brief summary of a scene we plan to write, explaining our main protagonist and ancestor.

Here is the scene I plan to write with a brief lead in, explaining the what happened before the scene.


The protagonist is Bede, a 29 year old Australian dentist and bachelor, who has recently arrived in Toronto, Canada. Bede has travelled there to take a postgraduate Doctorate of Dentistry degree at the University of Toronto along with several other Australians, taking the same course. He intends to return to Australia after his one-year course of studies, to resume his career as a dentist. However in the previous month, September 1939, on the ship crossing the Pacific they received news that war had broken out.

SCENE title: In the mood
The scene takes place at a party on campus of the University of Toronto in early October 1939. The party is being held to welcome the new students. Bede is in the company of an Australian dentist friend Denny, and the two crack a few jokes and enjoy the local rye whiskey. There's a Canadian girl at the party, Marjorie, a dental nurse, who has brought along some of her girlfriends. Across the room, Bede recognises Marjorie talking to an attractive young woman and he decides go and introduce himself. Marjorie's friend is named Marg. The band starts playing a Glenn Miller big band number, In the mood and Bede asks Marg to dance. They share some jokes and he's quite impressed with her and wants to see her again. Not only is Marg attractive, but she's smart and funny. Bede is a born-leader, used to being in control. He's the oldest son in the family of five and everyone looks up to him, but Marg is able to match him in wit. Bede has left behind a girlfriend in Australia, but with the war on anything could happen. The scene ends with Bede chatting to Denny again. He doesn't know it yet, but there are several areas of potential conflict looming with Marg: social status (Marg is from a well-to-do family), different national allegiances and different religion.

And here's a happy photo of Bede and his new wife Marg, taken sometime in early 1943, when she was expecting their first child.

Bede and Marg Smith in Ontario in 1943

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lessons learned

Me with my little sister Cathy in Toronto 1953
The following piece appeared originally in the Katharine Susannah Prichard Past Tense Anthology in June 2016

Lessons Learned

It was a day of firsts – the first snowfall of winter, my first experience of snow, and my first day of school in Canada. I was only five and a half in that winter of 1953. My Canadian mother had brought us all the way from our home in Sydney, Australia to spend nine months with our Nana Mollie in Toronto. My mother had married an Australian and she left Canada to move to Sydney, in 1946. She always felt guilty about leaving her newly-bereaved mother behind and when Nana sent the money for the ocean voyage across the Pacific, she jumped at the opportunity. Dad had to remain behind in Sydney, because of his work. I would be attending the local school in Toronto over the winter term with my older sister Pat.

Lambton Park Primary School was within walking distance from Nana's house, but mother decided to drive us on our first day. I climbed into the back seat of the Austin, rugged up like a rolly-polly doll with my nose pressed to the frosty window. The neighbourhood gardens were covered in snow, like a dusting of fine icing sugar.

'Do you think we'll be playing in the snow Mummy?'
'Yes darling, most probably.'
'Will I make new friends there?'
'Yes of course, you'll be fine.' She reassured us.

Mother dropped us off at the front entrance of the school. I stepped out of the car and anxiously scanned the scene. A long path led up to the front portico of the two-storey brick building. On either side of the path, groups of boys lurked behind the trees. I swung back to the road to call for my mother, but her car had already moved away.

Pat held out a confident hand and we hoisted our school cases and marched at a steady pace towards the front entrance. We were half way down the path when I noticed a boy's head dart out from behind the trees. Then snowballs started flying. I moved behind Pat, but a something like a hard rock hit my arm with a painful whack.

A blonde boy laughed. 'Gotcha!'
I bent down to grab a handful of snow, but Pat yanked on my arm. 'No time! Quick, make a run for it!'

We ducked and weaved between the icy missiles, our shoes slipping in the snow, eyes fixed on the entrance up ahead. Other children fled, screeching with us, until we reached the safety of the front door and threw ourselves inside.

The rest of that first day is a blur to me now and it probably passed uneventfully. We had learned our first lesson of survival in the Canadian winter schoolyard. There was a trick to making snowballs and if you didn't know how, you'd better duck for cover. Over that winter we worked hard at perfecting our snowball skills. Although we tried, adding layer upon layer, until the snow turned to ice in our bare hands, we could never quite match it with the local children.

We had other adventures and mishaps in those months in Canada. One bitterly cold day, Pat and I went skating on a makeshift outdoor ice pond at the school. We had been dropped off and were to walk home, a distance of a half mile or so. Later, our hands blue with cold, we could not untie our skates and were alone in the darkening gloom of the afternoon. The other children had somehow vanished. We had to clomp down the street with in our skates still on our feet, and clamber up the stairs of a stranger's house to call for help. It was a moment of lasting embarrassment for my responsible older sister – and another lesson in winter survival.

Before long, we were on the ship sailing across the Pacific, back home to Sydney. Dad was waiting on the wharf to welcome us with big hugs. The summer heat blazed through the car window on the hot drive home through the western suburbs. When we arrived we were greeted by a deafening buzz coming from the backyard trees. The local boys were up there, perched on a branch, collecting cicadas. How did they manage that feat? Our next lesson awaited us. In due course, the dreams of ice and snow melted away.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Leaving Newfoundland


The following piece is an excerpt from Chapter Two of my forthcoming book:

Pack your Baggs: a family's journey from Newfoundland to Australia

Conception Bay, Newfoundland 1874

Carbonear jetty buzzed with activity this morning, as the crew prepared the weekly steamboat for departure. Edward Baggs was on board, leaning over the rails to observe the goings-on below. Two men were struggling to push a large wooden crate up the gangplank. With every step upward, they slipped back, straining under the load. Edward's meagre possessions were already on board. He had only one bag, suggesting scant material gains for his 26 years in Newfoundland.

At the sound of a small voice, Edward turned around to see his little brother Allan, standing back frowning.
'Why so glum? Come and join me,' Edward said.
He grabbed Allan by the hand and helped him to the rail.
'When will we get to Saint John's?' Allan said.
'Sometime this evening, I think,' Edward said.
'Are we going to come back to Newfoundland?' asked Allan.
Edward shook his head.
'But what about my friends?'
'You'll soon make new school friends in Toronto. Don't worry.'
Edward wrapped his long arms around his little brother.
'But when will we get to Toronto?'
'Father said it will be more than a week. We have a few boat trips ahead of us, before we board the steam train for Toronto. A ride on the new railroad, imagine that!'

The rest of the family ventured out on deck to join them. By now many locals had disembarked and a party of friends and relatives had gathered on the dock to see them off. It wasn't every day that such a large group left the shores of Newfoundland. Edward's mother struggled to remain calm and some of those in the group below had already dissolved into tears.

All at once they heard a snarl from the horn – then a final warning shout.
'All those not travelling must leave the boat now!'

The steamer's smoke stack belched out an acrid-smelling cloud, showering Edward with spots of black soot. After several attempts, the men below managed to remove the hemp ropes. Free from its harness, the boat began to pull away from the jetty. Within minutes the boat had gathered a head of steam and was making its way into the deeper waters of Conception Bay. Fishermen were already out this morning and Edward recognised some of the faces of those leaning over the side of the dory hauling in cod. This was the life he was leaving behind. He moved to the stern of the boat as they pointed east. The familiar homeland was diminishing before his eyes into a blur of small coves. All he could make out were the ochre-coloured specs of settlements dotted around the bay and the white church on the rise. A swell came up when they left the protection of the headland and the wind bared its teeth. Far to the north a giant iceberg floated, white as a ghost ship. Edward shivered. It was time to join his family inside, where they had kept a spot for him on the wooden benches, surrounded by their belongings.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Match of the day

Match of the day

The Sun has billed it as the match of the day – University, the underdogs, facing off against Saint George.

In my mind's eye, I catch a glimpse of my father Bede on that morning in February 1932. He is walking from Hurtsville Station, down the frangipani streets, past the new red and brick tile houses. With his canvas bag slung over his shoulder there's a spring in his step, as he makes his way towards oval.

Thousands line the streets leading up to the oval; while inside, the ground is full to bursting point. Young fans clutching autograph books hang like monkeys on the fence.

In the humid confines of the change room, Bede has started to sweat. His team mate, Tom Parsonage, paces up and down.

'How about that crowd!'

'They're not here to watch us, mate,' Bede says. 'You can be sure of that.'

Saint George wins the toss and elects to bat and are off to a rapid start. On the first fall of wicket, when the number three batsman appears, the crowd erupts. Two young boys clamber over the perimeter fence. A police officer intervenes to stop them from grabbing Bradman by the shirt.

Bede's bowling is not up to his usual standard and he doesn't manage to dislodge Bradman, who eventually falls leg-before-wicket to Parsonage for 50. By the end of the day Saint George has amassed a total of 304 and, in the dwindling light, Bede and Tom Parsonage stride to the crease, to open the batting for University. The match will continue on the following weekend, when University will try to equal Saint George's batting total.

There were 8000 people at Hurstville for that Saturday's cricket match. My father had to content himself with the hope that next season he might have another crack at taking Bradman's wicket.

Trove Reference
Corbett, C. (28 February 1932 ). Bradman's crowd, The Sun, p. 35.