Family history and red herrings …

J’s Australian ancestry is a mystery to me. Her lineal great^n grandfather is Henry Thomas Hill, who worked for Victorian Railways and who died in Castlemaine in May 1882.

He had a wife, Anne Humfries or Humphries and they first appear in the records in Castlemaine in 1848.

I can’t find any record of their marriage, migration to Australia, or their individual births. They may have been free settlers, convicts, people who moved from Tasmania, I simply don’t know.

I can estimate Henry to have been born around 1810 as his death notice gives his age as 72 when he died, but that’s it.

Anne Humfries, who was ten years younger than him, lived to 1904, dying in Carlton. A number of her children were living in and around Carlton and Fitzroy at the time. She was possibly living with one of her children, I havn’t checked that out yet.

When she died, the funeral notice states that her coffin would be taken by train from Carlton to Castlemaine to be buried alongside her husband. This was obviously quite an expensive funeral, with two companies of funeral directors involved. It also suggests a deep and enduring relationship between the two.

Recently however, I came across a Henry Thomas Hill who also died in Castlemaine in 1882, but who married a woman called Charlotte Elizabeth Salt in Warrnambool in 1857.

This immediately raised a red flag – Henry and Anne’s youngest child wasn’t born until 1858.

So while it wasn’t impossible for Henry to have bigamously married Charlotte, it seemed a tad unlikely.

Charlotte had previously been married to William Julian Thomas, who had died in early 1857, with Charlotte remarrying in October of that year.

Interestingly, Charlotte and William married in Port Fairy, and there is a record of a Henry Hill arriving in Port Fairy from Tasmania. It’s possible that they had had a long standing friendship.

Charlotte’s Henry is described as a hair dresser and wood carver which is an interesting combination.

I also don’t think Charlotte is anything to do with J’s family – I think someone has confused the death records of two Henry Hill’s who died around the same time.

What is interesting is that Charlotte’s Henry (who sometimes has his birth year given as 1810, and sometimes as 1819) turns up as either being born in Stone in Staffordshire, or in Middlesex. Obviously he can’t have been born twice, so given that someone has mixed up the deaths of two Henry Hill’s is possible, just possible that one of these births is also our man – but which one I don’t know as yet …

[Update 12 November 2021]

I think I might now have some understanding – there were two Henry Thomas Hill’s one of whome married Charlotte Salt in 1857, and one of whom didn’t.

Somewhere along the line someone has misidentified Charlotte’s Henry as dying in Castlemaine in 1882. This is of course the wrong Henry.

I’ve now found records that suggest that Charlotte’s Henry in fact died in the Ballarat Benevolent Asylum in 1899

screen grab of Henry Thomas Hill Death record

and there he is …

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Women in nineteenth century sealer’s camps

Well, I’ve become a bit intrigued by the Elizabeth Farr story, not that I’ve got very far tracing her.

What I have found is that no one really knows much about sealer’s camps – there seems to be an assumption that they consisted of a group of gnarly and probably fetid men that went around clubbing seals, skinning them and rendering the remains.

If the sealers were local the men were usually dropped off early in the season by the seal boat which returned later to pick them up. Obviously if they were from further afield – America for example – they anchored their boat securely while working onshore.

But it does seem that sometimes there were women present in the camps.

James Clark Ross, on his 1840 expedition to Antarctica stopped off on Campbell Island and in his account of the voyage wrote:

Screenshot 2021-03-25 111436

This of course asks as many questions as it answers. Elizabeth Farr was clearly not a French woman, and it’s not clear from Ross’s account how recent the grave was, or indeed he had confused the grave with another.

However, it does seem to suggest that women were present on occasions in sealer’s camps ….

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Long S in the Sydney Gazette ..

The Sydney Gazette story of Captain Hasselborough’s demise is interesting typographically for its use of the long s.

In the handwriting of the time the long s was only really used as the first s of double s in a word, Haſselborough, rather than Hasselborough.

However, a lot of English typesetters of the time stuck to an older set of rules, which basically meant that the long s was used where we would use a round s, except at the end of the word, so Haſſelburgh instead of Haſselburgh for Hasselburgh and Perſeverance Bay for Perseverance Bay.

Apparently some typesetters in the early nineteenth century switched to following the normal handwritten usage, but quite a few did not.

Sydney was of course a small isolated settlement, six months by ship from England, so it’s not surprising that eighteenth century typesetting practices should persist into the early nineteenth century.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Lady of the Heather …

I was listening to a Radio New Zealand podcast about the archaeology of sealers’ camps on Campbell Island, way to the south of New Zealand, when I heard a story that I had never heard before.

The last grand daughter of Charles Edward Stuart aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, lived in a sod hut on Campbell Island, a substantial hut with glass in the windows, lace curtains, and a heather bush by the front door, and that she would walk along the foreshore in shoes with silver buckles.’

Unlikely, to say the least. Unless she was really down on her luck, any grand daughter of Charles Edward Stuart, was unlikely to consort with sealers, much less live on an island at the arse end of the world in a sod hut, no matter how elegant it was.

However, my discovery of my own connection with the Sobieski-Stuarts shows that the Bonny Prince Charlie legend did seem to have a hold over people well into the nineteenth century, so I could imagine that some woman may have claimed that her illegitimate daughter was a result of a one night stand with Bonnie Prince Charlie, and that her daughter could just possibly have ended up on a sealer’s boat away down in the southern ocean.

The times do sort of fit – Bonnie Prince Charlie took to the heather in 1746 after Culloden, if one assumes 20 odd years between generations that would mean that our supposed grand daughter would be in her mid twenties at the end of the eighteenth century.

Campbell Island itself was discovered in 1810 by a Captain Hasselborough, who commanded the Perseverance a Campbell company seal boat out of Sydney.

Captain Hasselborough was later to lose his life in an accident in Perseverance Bay on the island.

Interestingly, the other victims on the accident were a ship’s boy George Allwright and a ship’s girl Elizabeth Farr from Norfolk Island.

Norfolk Island was of course purely a penal colony at the time and Elizabeth Farr was said to have run away at the age of 13 to become a ship’s girl – which could be anything from a skivvy to an officer’s bedmate, or perhaps both – apparently quite a few girls and young women preferred to take their chances running away on a seal boat with all the risks of sexual abuse and exploitation that entailed rather than live out their lives in a penal colony where there were substantially more men than women, and where women were equally at risk of sexual abuse.

Their deaths were recorded in the Sydney Gazette at the time – the whole story can be downloaded from Trove – but essentially all three drowned and were buried on the island.

Elizabeth was probably thirteen or fourteen when she drowned, meaning that she would have been born at the end of the eighteenth century. It would fit the story quite neatly if she was the great grand daughter than the grand daughter.

So maybe, just maybe, being the illegitimate great grand daughter of Bonnie Prince Charlie was a story she told about herself.

Interestingly, her mother was also said to have been known as Elizabeth Farr and a convict, meaning that we should have a little bit of a documentation tail about them …

[update 24/03/2021]

I’ve since come across another, grimmer suggestion.

That the story of Elizabeth Farr had become mixed up with a later story of a woman, possibly another ship’s girl, that was put ashore a few years later and abandoned on the island.

It is said that she built herself a sod hut for shelter, and that her skeelton was found a few years later.

It doesn’t answer the supposed Bonnie Prince Charlie link, but could explain the story of the exiled woman and the sod hut …

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Venetian glass beads in Alaska

This morning I tweeted a link to a Gizmodo article reporting the discovery of fifteenth Venetian glass beads in Alaska.

Obviously the article is written from a US viewpoint, and makes the point that the beads were probably deposited before 1492 when Columbus arrived in the Carribean,

This is not particularly relevant given that Alaska is a very long way from Hispaniola (where Columbus landed) and the other side of the continent.

What we can say is that these beads were deposited well before any European voyages to the Pacific northwest.

It’s also before the beginning of the Russian expansion into Siberia so we can confidently rule out Russian fur traders as a source.

Interestingly it’s also before the Spanish and Portuguese established a presence in what is now the Phillipines, Timor, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Inuit deposits across the Arctic occasionally turn up belt buckles and other metal artefacts of Russian origin, which shows that there was a pre-contact trading network with Russian settlements further west in the Arctic.

Beads however are kind of special. While essentially worthless they are both pretty and easy to transport and effectively act as a currency, as we see in Australia where the Yolngu traded trepang for beads (the same sort of beads that have been found in Alaska) with Macassan traders and then traded them with communities further south.

These glass beads in Alaska were probably similarly traded, perhaps as part of a network trading furs with Chinese and Korean traders further south, and were traded further north through Kamchatka and on into Alaska.

In Tent Life in Siberia, which describes his role in the failed attempt to build a telegraph line from the USA to St Petersburg via the Bering Strait, George Kennan describes the life of the indigenous people of the Kamchatka peninsula in the 1870’s.

What is striking about his description, is that apart from a few isolated military outposts and Orthodox missions, the indigenous people had contact with few outsiders other than fur traders, and other than tea, Russian enamelware teapots and hurricane lamps, were even then still living what was essentially a traditional lifestyle.

As these beads would predate any substantial Russian expansion to the east, the most probable hypothesis is that they came via China. Chinese merchants had a long tradition of trade with the Siberian peoples closer to the Chinese border, and one could surmise that these merchants sourced the glass beads via the overland Silk Road route, rather than via the porcelain trade with South East Asia, given that there was no European presence at the time they were deposited…


There is a second article this morning that takes issue with issue with the date and suggests a late sixteenth/early seventeenth century date is more likely for the beads.

This date is still before any substantial Russian or indeed other European presence in the area, and does not invalidate the hypothesis of the beads being traded from Chinese merchants, the only real change is that a substantially later date makes sourcing via the porcelain trade in South East Asia a possibility

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The documentation cliff …

As I’ve said before, I’ve been messing about with family history to keep my skills sharp during this thing which is the pandemic, even to the extent that I bought myself a one year all-knobs-and-whistles subscription to MyHeritage as a belated Christmas present.

One of the knobs and whistles you get with the full subscription is Smart Match, which basically takes the initial family tree you built and looks for matches in other family trees and offers you the chance to help expand your family tree, the result being that I apparently have whole squads of third cousins of which I know nothing.

I also have a whole range of Florindas and Gertrudes from the Anglican great and good of eighteenth century Ireland through my admittedly tenuous connection with the Sobieski-Stuarts, due to one of my distant ancestors being a sibling of Thomas Allen’s mistress.

(I actually don’t like the word mistress, it doesn’t describe the relationship adequately. In a world where divorce was not an option, he was unable to marry Ann Salmond, my distant relation, yet they lived together for the rest of his life and had children together, which suggests that there was more to the relationship than sexual passion.)

What it hasn’t given me is much in the way of relatives in my line of descent – obviously no one else has researched them further, so I’m thrown back on the public databases of births, marriages and deaths, which gets me back to 1805 or thereabouts with a degree of confidence and the rest is manual searching and guesswork.

J’s family is even worse.

Her father’s side has been well researched by her cousin, but her mother’s side is a mess.

Her maternal grandfather’s line traces back to a man known as Henry Thomas Hill, who has a wife/partner called Anne Humphries who both appear in Castlemaine in the late 1840’s, shortly before the gold rush, where they have a child.

Neither of them appear to have been convicts, or more accurately they don’t appear on any of the convict registers. Neither of them appear on any of the surviving passenger lists of migrants, and there appears to be no record of their births, or their marriage.

They just appear.

It’s possible that they changed their names and reinvented themselves.

Castlemaine began as a squatter settlement in the late 1830’s, and my best guess is that they found their way there to work on the sheep runs (shades of Magwitch in Great Expectations), and that they came via Tasmania from England. (Victoria did not exist as a separate colony in the 1840’s and was governed as part of New South Wales, but quite a few of the early settlers came from Van Diemen’s land, or as we now call it, Tasmania.)

But there’s a point here.

Comprehensive record keeping in the British Empire didn’t really get going until the 1850’s. Before then it was incumbent on the local parishes to keep records, which they mostly did for members of the appropriate ‘official’ churches.

That means that for a birth in the eighteen fifties you can get the mother’s name, the father’s name, possibly their ages.

If they lived in England and Wales you might then be able to trace them back through the 1851 and 1841 censuses, which might well give you the names of the grandparents.

Prior to 1841, names were not collated centrally, so basically it’s a case to see whether the earlier records have been kept by the appropriate county record office and, given that one can’t just pop round to look at the records, digitised and put online. Knowing which microfilm roll to search doesn’t help.

In Scotland, the situation is slightly different, but the first usable census is the 1841 census. Census records before then were kept by the individual parishes, and may not have been digitised.

In New South Wales, censuses start in 1836 and after 1841 only record the head of the household, which obviously presents difficulties.

So all this means that you can, with a little work, usually trace people back to the 1820’s, and with a bit of luck a little bit earlier. Before then, who knows?

Parish registers are of course incomplete.

In Scotland, as I’ve found, birth records sometimes do not include the mother’s name, or where they were living, although sometimes a little detective work can help here.

In England, it’s a little different, but using much the same techniques I’ve been able to trace some of J’s maternal grandmother’s forebears to rural Norfolk in the 1820’s using the Diocese of Norwich’s records.

What happened if your forebears were members of some obscure dissenting sect is unclear to me – if they had no clear relationship with the established church, they may simply have been missed.

And of course, in a frontier society like colonial Australia, people may well simply lied about their past, and maybe there was no one to officially record a birth, marriage or death anyway.

The result is, that before 1800 we have a documentation cliff. Records tend to be terse and omit key facts, making it difficult to research people, unless of course they were of some importance. And of course people did not have the long tail of documentation we have today, allowing them to re-invent themselves in the colonies if they wished.

And in a sense, people in the early 1800’s recognised this, so publications like the 1802 New Jamaica Alamanc included the Army and Navy lists, so that you could be sure that someone who claimed to be an officer and a gentleman was at least an officer.

While records and directories help they are not a complete solution. Furthermore pre 1800 parish records may not be fully digitised – meaning that the work is impossible to do remotely.

So we have what I term the documentation cliff – people who were not property owners become invisible …

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The role of the Kirk Session in policing rural fornication in Scotland

When I was researching my great-great-great grandfather’s marriage the notice of his banns was simply an entry in the Airlie Kirk Session minute book for 1805.

When I downloaded the record, actually what I got was a copy of page 305 of the minute book. Just for fun, and I agree it’s a very peculiar idea of fun I read through the entire page, and it’s actually an interesting window into the life of the parish – microhistory even – because, buried in among the normal business of the parish – rent charged for the use of mort cloths in burials, charitable bequests, and normal business expenses, there are records of the business of the Kirk Session in its role as an ecclesiastical court overseeing the life of the parish.

Here are some extracts (I’ve expanded the contractions but left the spellings, including the use of the long s as is):

November 24th 1805

Agnes Clerk appeared in publick before the congregation for the first time for the sin of fornication with William Kermoch and was rebuked for the first time.

William Howie, Miller at Cardean paid his own and his partner’s penalty £2:15:4d

But that wasn’t the end to William Howie’s fall from grace:

December 1st 1805

William Howie, Miller at Cardean, appeared before the Seſsion for the sin of fornication with Janet Saunders and was rebuked and absolved.

So we see that the Kirk was not only acting as morality enforcers but deriving substantial revenue from it – using the UK’s Office of National Statistics inflation calculator, William Howie’s fine would be approximately £290 (A$ 420) today.

However that wasn’t the only story of rural fornication. I don’t have the complete story, but at the top of the page there is an entry that reads:

The Seſsion ordered their Clerk to write to Mr Cannan, Minister at Kirriemuir to summon the said William Watson to appear before the next Sabbath to answer the accusation of Agnes Fairweather.

November 24th 1805

The Seſsion meeting constitute. Appeared William Watson, Butcher at Kirriemuir and being informed of the accusation of Agnes Fairweather against him and being suitably exhorted by the Minister to be sincere and ingenuous in telling the truth positively denied being guilty of fornication with Agnes Fairweather or the father of her child. But she being called in adhered to her former confeſsion. The Seſsion ordered the both to attend here the next Sabbath.

December 1st 1805

The Seſsion meeting constitute. Agnes Fairweather appeared and adhered to her former confeſsion and accusation of William Watson. William Watson not appearing nothing further now done in the matter.

What is interesting is that the Kirk Session would contact ministers in neighbouring parishes to inform them of the possible misdeeds of their parishioners and request the attendance of malefactors from elsewhere to appear before the Kirk Session

When the Kirk Session met to act as a court of morality it was obviously quite a formal proceeding. The formulaic phrase The Seſsion meeting constitute appears each time in the minutes prior to the report of the Kirk Session as a court of morality. I had a little trouble with the word constitute, but the Dictionary of the Scots Language defines it as to open formally which certainly fits with the tone of the minutes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Madeleine Smith and marriage

I was going to leave Madeleine alone for a bit, but while I was researching the marriage of my great-great-great grandfather several things about Madeleine and Emile’s relationship clicked into place.

In her letters to Emile, Madeleine signed herself as ‘your wife’ and addressed him as ‘husband’. Given that Madeleine had also had a sexual relationship with Emile, and moreover had written about it, it could have been argued in a court of law that in fact they were married as the law stood in Scotland at the time.

This isn’t an isolated case, the Yelverton case a few years later turned on a similar point.

There are also cases of people in similar irregular relationships being made to formalise the relationship.

Therefore, if Madeleine was to marry Walter Minnoch, as her father desired, she had to destroy any proof that there was of the nature of the relationship  with Emile, which is why she wanted her letters back.

As long as he had her letters, Emile L’Angelier had a hold over her and could potentially blackmail her.

Poisoning Emile when he would not return her letters made the problem go away, or so she thought …

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Banns and Proclamations

One of the things that I like about family history is that you learn things about how a society worked.

For example I was researching the marriage of my great-great-great grandfather who I knew was named James Moncur.

I also knew that he was married because the birth record for his son from 1814 states

James Moncur in Moſside of Inglistoun had a child by his wife baptised and called James

Now as we know, the land tenancy system in the north east of Scotland was such that someone would take the tenancy of a farm for a number of years and then hire farm workers – fee in Scots – for a period of six months or a year at a time.

This meant that people did move around a lot, especially when they were younger and less likely to have acquired particular skills – for example a skilled ploughman could name his terms (within reason), but a general worker might have to scrabble to get a decent job.

So, while in 1814, James Moncur père might be living on a farm in the parish of Kinnettles, he might not be a few years previously. Equally, this was the early nineteenth century – while people did move between properties, they probably only moved a few kilometres at most as getting their next fee would depend on their reputation.

However searching for marriages involving a James Moncur anywhere in Scotland came up with exactly three results:

Screenshot 2021-01-15 153927

Notice something strange?

One record appears duplicated. This is because the banns (notice of marriage) were read in two separate parishes, most probably because one lived in one parish and the other in another.

However Kinfauns and St Madoes are adjoining parishes and some distance from Kinnettles while Airlie is not that far from Kinnettles.

So based on nothing more than wild supposition I went for the Airlie entry

marriage of James Moncur to Margaret Smart highlight

which comes from the Kirk Session minutes of 01 December 1805, and just below the notice of a Day of Thanksgiving for victory over the French and Spanish fleet at Trafalgar is the entry we are interested in:

Jas. Moncur in the Parish of Eaſsie ⁊ Mgt Smart in this Parish were procld pro tem

and further down the page we have a second entry from December 8, 1805

james and margaret second time

Jas. Moncur in the Parish of Eaſsie ⁊ Mgt Smart in this Parish were procld pro 2 tem ⁊ pro 3 tem

Marriage in early nineteenth century Scotland was based on the principle of mutual consent, and most took place in private homes, albeit usually, but not always, in the presence of a minister. As a consequence, there may be no record of the marriage, but in James and Margaret’s case they were following procedure and giving notice of their intent to marry so we might expect a record of the  marriage itself.

Normally there would be a second set of records from the parish of Eassie, but these seem to be missing – perhaps the rats got to it. If they married in Eassie, and the Eassie register is missing this would explain why there appears to be no record of the marriage itself.

And why do I think this is my great great great grandfather?



Screenshot 2021-01-15 162427

The parish of Eassie and Nevay adjoins the parish of Airlie – its about 8km between the two parish kirks. Kinnettles kirk is 10km from Eassie kirk, and these are the sorts of distances over which we might expect people to move.

Kinfauns, on the other hand is about fifty kilometres away probably more than a farmworker could easily move his family and effects …

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Inglistoun, Inglistoun, wherefore art thou Inglistoun ?

While I still had some credit left on my account with Scotland’s People, the Scottish Government’s genealogy service, I thought I’d try and find the birth record for my great-great grandfather, who was rather unimaginatively named James Moncur.

I already knew that he was born in 1814 in Kinnettles which was part of the parish of Glamis.

Finding him was relatively straightforward, and his birth date was given as August 26 1814 in the old Kinnettles Kirk register:

james moncur kinettles

As always, these records pose more questions than answers. The record reads

James Moncur in Moſside of Inglistoun had a child by his wife baptised and called James

(the weird character is a long s or ſ which was still used in Scots orthography at the start of the nineteenth century)

So, most unhelpfully, it doesn’t give either the mother’s name or the name of the witnesses, but it does give the fermtoun he was living at – it doesn’t of course mean that he was the tenant, merely that he lived there.

So where was Mosside of Inglistoun?

Inglistoun – which in Middle Scots literally meant ‘English Settlement’, toun being cognate with the Anglo Saxon tun rather than what we now mean by town – usually became Ingliston in the mid nineteenth century when the early, often monoglot English speaking, surveyors for the Ordnance Survey wrote place names down as they thought they should be rather than how they were pronounced, and indeed, there’s an Ingliston between Balkeerie and Eassie not too far from Kinnettles

Ingliston Angus

But there’s two problems – Eassie has a church and you would have thought that the birth would have been registered there, rather than Kinettles.

What’s more there’s no Mosside of of Inglisto(u)n farm nearby.

The map dates from the 1860’s, so it’s not impossible that the farm could have disappeared in the intervening years.

However given that the birth was registered in Kinnettles it made more sense to look on the 1865 Ordnance survey map for Kinnettles, and there it was, a couple of kilometres north was a cluster of farms with the Ingliston element in the name

mosside of ingliston

including Mosside of Ingliston.

However, sometime between the 1860’s and today, the farm seems to have disappeared leaving no trace, though the cluster of Wester, Middle and Easter Ingliston still seems to be extant …

Screenshot 2021-01-12 150138

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments