Not Just Ned

For those in Canberra or planning a visit to the area, you may want to check out the new exhibition at the National Museum of Australia – Not Just Ned: a true history of the Irish in Australia.

The exhibition focuses on the history of the Irish in Australia and the contribution they have made to our culture. In addition to some fascinating exhibits including armour that belonged to the Kelly Gang and fragments from the original Eureka Flag, there is also a dedicated resource area that visitors can use to research their Irish heritage.

The exhibition runs until the end of July. More details are available on the website – www.nam.gov.au

Thomas Power 1843 (Tipperary, Ireland) -1929 (Sydney, Australia)

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Solomon Wiseman and the history of Wisemans Ferry

An interesting character from my family tree is a man named Solomon Wiseman, an English convict who made a very successful life for himself here in New South Wales.

Solomon was born on the 16th April 1777 in Cobham, Kent. Wiseman was a merchant who also worked for the British Government carrying spies across the English Channel to France. In 1805 he was  convicted at the Old Bailey of stealing 704 lbs of brazil wood. He was sentenced to death but had his sentence commuted to transportation for life to Australia.

Along with his wife Jane (nee Middleton, whom he married in 1799) and their two children William (1801-1831) and Richard (1806-1856), Solomon arrived in Sydney aboard the Alexander on the 20th August 1806.

Solomon was fortunate to be granted conditional liberty, which essentially meant that he was free to serve out his sentence under the supervision of his wife. In 1810 he was granted a Ticket of Leave and in 1812 he was given an Absolute Pardon. He then started an extremely successful business empire as a merchant which included shipping coal from Newcastle, wheat from the Hawkesbury region and timber from the Shoalhaven region. In 1811 he had launched his sloop the Hawkesbury Packet which he used to bring cedar from Port Stephens.

In 1817 he was granted 100 acres on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in Lower Portland Head, which became known as Wisemans Ferry. In 1823 he was granted a further 200 acres here. On this land he built an inn known as the Sign of the Packet in 1821 and in 1826 he built an elaborate family home known as Cobham Hall (now the Wisemans Inn Hotel).

The following is taken from the monument to Solomon at Wisemans Ferry (courtesy of Hawkesbury on the Net)…

In the early 1820’s Wiseman shrewdly discovered the government’s intentions to build the colony’s first road between Sydney and the Hunter Valley near his land grant. Wiseman took it upon himself to convince the authorities that a route through his land was the best. With success for Wiseman the road building commenced in 1826 with two road gangs being located on either side of the Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry . In 1827 Solomon Wiseman received the lucrative contract to supply all provisions to these gangs, and later that year the licence to operate a ferry to transport people and stock across the river. The original ferry crossing was 2km downstream from its present crossing, but was moved in 1829 when the Devine’s Hill ascent was chosen as the new route for the Great North Road. The current ferry crossing is the oldest in Australia’s history.

Solomon and Jane had four more children after their arrival in Australia – John (1809-1855), Thomas (1811-1855), Mary (1813-1872) and Sarah (1816-1902).

Jane died at the age of 51 on the 20th July 1821 at Portland Head after a long illness.

Solomon married Sophia Warner (nee Williams) on the 1st November 1826 at Wilberforce. Sophia was the widow of one of his employees. They stayed married until his death on the 28th November 1838. He was buried at his property with first wife Jane and later reinterred at the Church  of St Mary Magdalene. Sadly, his vault was broken into and his coffin vandalised. What was left of Solomon was then buried at the cemetery at Wisemans Ferry. Sophia returned to England in 1841 and died in London in 1870.

Portrait of Solomon Wiseman

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Mapping our Anzacs

Robert Cedric Dorman (1897-1917) - Enlistment Papers

Many of us will have had military history on our minds this week and with that in mind, I thought I should mention a fantastic website developed by the National Archives of Australia (NAA) and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs…

Mapping Our Anzacs is more than a website, it is really an interactive and collaborative online tool for researching those that served in the Australian Army during WWI. The format is quite unique and utilises Google mapping technology to explore our military history in a new way. The site includes over 375,000 service records that became more widely accessible in 2007 when the NAA released online copies of all the records in their B2455 Series i.e. records of those serving in WWI.

The website has a number of facets which is what makes it so interesting. The user can use maps to search for soldiers by their place of birth or place of enlistment. Each location displays an alphabetical listing of all soldiers from that location which the user can then select from to display service records. What makes the website so special is that users can select a person and add their own information to a digital scrapbook which will appear on the website. Users are also encouraged to develop ‘tribute pages’. This is something I plan on doing in the future.

Well worth a look – http://mappingouranzacs.naa.gov.au/default.aspx

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Some useful military resources

Petty Officer James Armstrong & actor Charles "Bud" Tingwell.

Being ANZAC day on the 25th, I have been doing some more research on family members that served in the military. The very useful thing about researching those who have served is that the military keep very thorough records and are also quite mindful of making historical records accessible. I thought I would make a quick list of some websites that I often use in my research…

The AIF Projecthttp://www.aif.adfa.edu.au:8080/index.html

Created by ADFA, this database is an invaluable resource that gives quite comprehensive details of over 330,000 Defence members that served overseas in the First Australian Imperial Force 1914-1918.

The Australian War Memorial http://www.awm.gov.au/research/family.asp

Users can search the AWM’s collection for records related to individuals or the units in which they served from 1885-present.

World War II Nominal Roll http://www.ww2roll.gov.au/
A searchable database of those that served in the Australian Defence Forces or Merchant Navy during WWII.
Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918 http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/index.html
A comprehensive guide to WWI battles, with a detailed information about European war cemeteries.
Includes a useful database of 1.7 million men and women who served in the Commonwealth Forces in WWI & WWII and details of the 23,000 cemeteries and memorials where they are commemorated.

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Filed under Archives, Australian history, Military history, Research tools, WWI, WWII

St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta

I have to admit that I have a particular fascination with historical cemeteries. Nothing macabre mind you, I just have a special appreciation for their place in history and the unique opportunities that they offer for historical research.

One cemetery that is a particular favourite of mine is St John’s Cemetery at Parramatta in Sydney’s west.  St John’s is actually the oldest cemetery in Australia, established in 1790, and it includes the graves of many of our First Fleeters and early pioneers, including a number of my ancestors…

  • Isaac Augustus Mobbs (1851-1938)
  • Edith Mary Mobbs (nee Crabbe) (1852-1946)
  • Mary Ann Tunks (1824-1824)
  • Sarah Tomlinson (nee Lester) (abt 1780-1837)
  • Mary Martin (nee Randall) (1793-1857)
  • John Martin (1757-1837)
  • Mary Ann Bowerman (nee Martin) (1822-1870)
  • George Best (1758-1836)
  • Martha Best (nee Chamberlain) (1778-1833)
  • George Best (1801-1823)
  • Sarah Pye (nee Best) (1809-1882)
  • William Best (1816-1902)
  • Susan Best (nee Gilbert) (1822-1865)
  • Hannah Carter (nee Best) (1851-1927)
  • Gwendoline Best (1888-1897)
  • Robert Roy Best (1886-1904)
  • Vera Best (1882-1913)
  • Robert Holt Best (1856-1933)
  • Emily Jane Best (nee Luke) (1856-1935)
  • Hilary Susan Best (1884-1950)

And probably many more to add. I still have quite a lot of research to do and will visit again on my next trip to Sydney.

St John’s is located right on the edge of the Parramatta CBD. It is quite a strange experience visiting the cemetery as it is surrounded by tall apartment blocks and retail buildings. It is well worth a wander around and certainly isn’t the same bushwhacking experience as visiting St Paul’s at nearby Carlingford. While doing some research today, I also found a link to ghost tours of St John’s operated by Past Times Tours – http://www.paranormalaustralia.com/tours/tourbones.html.

St John's Cemetery, Parramatta

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The mysterious John Swadling

For as long as I have been researching my family history, I have been keen to discover more about my Great Great Grandfather John Swadling. Well after six years of on and off searching, I finally had a breakthrough yesterday after stumbling across another researcher’s tree on www.ancestry.com.au. Before yesterday I simply had a name and no other information, although I had quite a lot of information about his wife Elizabeth Ireland and their five children – Euphemia (my great grandmother), James, Margaret, Kathleen and Robert.

This is a great example of how just one small piece of information can open up a whole family tree. What I discovered is that the mysterious John Swadling was born in Sydney around 1842, the son of two English convicts – John Swadling (1818-1858) and Mary Ann Baker (1819-1890). When John Snr died, John Jnr took over his father’s successful Farriers business located in Castlereagh Street in the Sydney CBD. According to his funeral notice, John was also heavily involved in the Loyal Rose of Australia Lodge and at some point even served as the lodge’s Provincial Grand Master. He lived in Manly and died there on the 26th December 1897. He is buried in Manly Cemetery.

What is most curious though, are two pieces of information I found yesterday.

Firstly, the following was from the Sydney Morning Herald on 31st May 1873… “In the affiliation case, Elizabeth Ireland v. John Swadling, defendant was ordered to pay the sum of 5s. per week for 12 months, together with 6s. 6d. costs of Court, and 2 pounds 2s. professional costs to Mr J Lowe, who conducted the case for the complainant”. According to some quick research I did today, an affiliation case is conducted to determine the paternity of a child and the father’s financial obligations. Curious, as I have no idea who the child in question might be.

Secondly, I discovered that when John died he left his estate to be divided between his two sisters and left nothing for Elizabeth or any of his five children with her.

I can see that I will need to do a lot more digging.

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Australian WWI Diggers Identified

A story in yesterday’s newspaper caught my eye. Many people would remember that last year the remains of 250 WWI soldiers were found in a mass grave near Fromelles in France. These soldiers were killed in battle at Pheasant Wood in 1916. 205 of the 250 soldiers recovered have been identified as Australians, but the process of proving exact identities is painstaking.

On Friday, it was reported that another 19 of these soldiers have been identified by name, following the previous identification of 75. More DNA testing will be carried out between now and 2014 as more relatives of the soldiers come forward.

How amazing that we now have the technology to help identify these men and let their families put them to rest.

Most Australian families would have a number of relatives who have served in the military. I have to admit that military history is a particular interest of mine and I have always keenly investigated my relatives that have served in the Defence Forces, particularly those that served in WWI and WWII. When I think of WWI I think of two relatives in particular – Robert Dorman and Stanley Higgs.

Robert Cedric Dorman was born on the 23rd Oct 1897 in Leichhardt NSW. Robert was my husband’s Great Great Uncle. He enlisted in the Australian Army in Jan 1916 at the age of 18 and left for Europe in June that year. Almost a year later on 5th May 1917, he was killed in action at Bullecourt by a shell that fell in the trench behind the front line. Unfortunately it is not known exactly where Robert was buried but he is commemorated on the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux in France.

Stanley Higgs was born in 1877 in Wales. I first began researching Stanley’s life after my second cousin Jonathan asked me if I could find some more history on his family. Stanley was Jonathan’s Grandfather. Stanley left a wife and two young boys to join the Imperial Army’s Welsh Regiment, where he moved to the Western Front in Jan 1915. Stanley was killed in action at the second battle of Ypres on the 21st April 1915 at the age of 38. He is buried at Bedford House Cemetery in Belgium.

Robert Cedric Dorman 1897-1917

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