I travelled to Britain and Ireland in April 2005. Apart from the usual touristy things, I wanted to find some of the places where my ancestors came from.
My mother’s side should be fairly easy. According to her grandmother she was ‘descended from free settlers’, in particular a young Irish lad from County Tipperary. ‘Granny’ wasn’t telling the whole story though. Born in 1831, the lad was actually the infant son of a convict transported to the colony of New South Wales (NSW) for seven years. And it wasn’t for stealing a loaf of bread either. He was tried for manslaughter and arrived in Sydney on the ship ‘Eliza’ on 6 September 1832. He was put to work on a farm and appears to have been a model convict. Mum and son subsequently came to the colony to be reunited with him in 1839 and settled near Menangle NSW.
The son was very industrious, married the descendent of a First Fleet convict at Campbelltown (now a satellite city and outer suburb 50 km from Sydney) had 15 kids and built up a successful sheep property after moving to the bush near Boorowa, a NSW town famous for its predominantly Irish population. A few generations later that property was destroyed by a large bush fire that killed two men. As a result my mother’s family became poor, especially after her father died. At 16 years old my mother and hers moved to Sydney at the height of the Great Depression. She wrote a chronicle that covers the period from 1916 to the 1980s that would make the basis of a great novel or social history.
One of the advantages of being descended from a convict is that their history is very well documented. We know why my ancestor was transported, when and exactly where he came from. We also have a newspaper clipping from the time reporting the crime. Apparently there was an affray at a fairground triggered by a feud between his family and another. One of the members of the latter was killed; probably inadvertently as the charge was for manslaughter rather than murder. It’s a wonder he wasn’t hung, but apparently there were strong recommendations for leniency. His brother was also convicted and transported on the same ship.
My father’s side is more difficult. His family come from Hanover in Germany and they were apparently attached to the royal court there. The latter subsequently became the British royal family. They appear to have lived in Reigate near London for some time before heading to Australia and also worked for Winston Churchill’s father. My dad’s grandmother spoke with a German accent. She was elderly by the 1940s but family members were apprehensive about that during the war because it might have affected my father’s career. He was a military instructor, an infantry company commander fighting the Japanese in New Guinea, and remained in the army until he retired in the late 60s.
So two of my destinations are therefore Tipperary (and specifically the ‘townland’ of Grallagh where the youngster was born) and the township of Reigate.
Copyright © – Phil Robeson 2012. You can copy any of my own stuff for non-commercial purposes as long as you attribute it to me and don’t make it look as if I endorse whatever it is you’re doing. (Note: Any non-original photos will have the author’s name under them and come from en-wikipedia unless I’ve stated otherwise.) For anything else, ask me.
PS: After reading this travelogue some of you might I’m think I have it in for England and the English. That’s probably fair comment, but my feelings were quite neutral before I actually visited. For comparison, read some of my stuff about Germany or Ireland, or just about anywhere else really.