More positivity in 2012 (Accentuate the Positive part 2)

Are you too hard on yourself about your genealogy or family history work in 2012? Do you think more about what you didn’t achieve, or that ancestor who is still hiding,  or whose records seem all to have been destroyed? It’s easy to think like that, isn’t it…

I’m constantly frustrated my being unable to pin down Rebecca Harrington, a 2x great grandmother. She’s a very slippery character. Still, I won’t give up.

A very good year for geneabloggers

So I was delighted to read Geniaus‘s inspiring geneameme, Accentuate the Positive, in which she invites us to share the good news about our activities in 2012. Thank you, Jill!

I’ve already posted the first half of my contribution, so here we go with the second:

Fleet marriage (from Robert Chambers 'Book of Days')

18th century Fleet marriage (detail)

11. A genealogy conference/seminar/webinar from which I learnt something new was… I haven’t been to any in 2012, but I have attended talks at the National Archives in Kew. One of these was Rebecca Probert’s fascinating and illuminating Tracing marriages; legal requirements and actual practice, 1700-1836. Click on the link to hear a podcast.

It’s full of useful information about those elusive marriages and debunks a few myths, as well. Broomstick weddings – true or false? And what about Fleet marriages?

I do plan to go to Who Do You Think You Are Live in London this February. Maybe I’ll see you there?

12. I am proud of the presentation I gave at/to… I haven’t given one, but I’m pleased with a question I asked at another National Archives talk, by Hamish Maxwell-Stuart, on Morbidity and mortality on convict voyages to 19th century Australia. I asked about transported convicts being deprived of water (which happened to Sarah Marshall on the Friendship), and this led to an interesting email exchange. I’m grateful to him for taking the time to contact me.

'Irish Lives Remembered' article about Nicholas Delaney

‘Irish Lives Remembered’ article

13. A journal/magazine article I had published was in the new free online Irish genealogy magazine, Irish Lives Remembered. I was thrilled and honoured when Eileen asked me to write about my 3x great grandfather, Nicholas Delaney, and how my mother and I came to write A Rebel Hand, our book about him.

I’m an avid reader of the magazine, and an added bonus is that it features a lot of Australian information as well.

So you can imagine what a joy it was to write the article, and to remember the extraordinary days when we were researching our book. It was hard work, but very rewarding and exciting, too. And it started me on my genie journey.

14. I taught a friend how to find and order a birth certificate online. It wasn’t difficult, but it was useful for them, and so it was worth it for both of us.

15. A genealogy book that taught me something new was The John Simpson and Sarah Saga, compiled by Sylvia Taylor. This is the record of her research into the lives of John and his (?clandestine) wife, Sarah Marshall, and a list of their descendants, along with family stories. They’re my 3x great grandparents, both convicts, who arrived in New South Wales within days of each other in January 1818 and got together soon after. Their daughter Lucy, my ancestor, was born ten months later…

I’m grateful to my cousin, Wayne Morris, for letting me see his copy of the book. I couldn’t track down a copy anywhere, online or in real life, until then. Sometimes it’s frustrating trying to do Australian research while I’m in the UK. I can just see my Aussie genealogy pals smiling wryly – many of them may have the same problem, but in reverse.

My next step is to follow up every fact in Sylvia’s book. Not that I doubt her for a moment, and I’m very thankful for all her hard work, it’s just that if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s check your sources. And check again.

English: Photograph of the The National Archiv...

The National Archives by Nick Cooper (via Wikipedia)

16. A great repository/archive/library I visited was The National Archives in London. I planned to go to more archives and libraries in 2012 and signed up for introductory tours of the London Metropolitan Archives, the Guildhall Library (where I took the chance to see a fascinating exhibition about London’s guilds) and the Society of Genealogists. They were all Aladdin’s caves, but I have to say that TNA was the most impressive – not surprisingly, given its size and reach.

I also went along to my local library’s refurbished Local Studies centre and will be going back often now it’s open again. Our libraries are under threat and need our support.

17. A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was… (cough) I’m going to cheat bend the rules a little now. Here in the UK, there seems to be an endless fascination (obsession?) with the Tudors. And a slew of books about the period, too. I’m up for history of any era, but I’ve been feeling Tudored out recently.

But I’d been impressed (and puzzled!) by Hilary Mantel‘s Wolf Hall, her novel about Thomas Cromwell, and was looking forward to reading Bring Up the Bodies in about five years when it would be available at my library. Popular books tend to be borrowed back-to-back for a long time. So one day as I was browsing the shelves I was surprised and delighted to see it sitting there, available and grabbed it. Bring Up the Bodies isn’t a book for reading on the beach. You have to work hard, but I learned a lot of historical background (while remembering it was fiction). And, yes, I really enjoyed it.

The Three Sisters, Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Blue Mountains by JJ Harrison (via Wikipedia)

19. A geneadventure I enjoyed was… I had no big adventures in 2012. There were small voyages of discovery, though, like getting to know those excellent libraries I’ve mentioned. Writing the Irish Lives Remembered article was a new departure as well.

And really, family history and genealogy is all an adventure. We set out with a map which is missing huge chunks, we take wrong paths, we get lost, we get help from others, and sometimes we find what we are looking for – or even something we aren’t, but which is also worth the journey.

If I had a fairy godmother, I’d ask her to magic me to the Blue Mountains in 2013. It’s the 200th anniversary of the first crossing, made by Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth in 1813 (though the story can be questioned). It was on the other side, near Little Hartley, that my Delaney ancestors made their home. So I’d love to be there for the bicentenary celebrations, but it won’t be possible. I’ll travel in my dreams and on the net instead.

20. Another positive I would like to share is something you’re probably familiar with – the genealogy community online. Bloggers, tweeters, on Facebook and Google+, writers and readers, you’re wonderful. Supportive, funny, full of information. Thank you for your comments,  advice, suggestions and encouragement.

If you’d like to see all the other responses to this geneameme, Jill’s listed them here. You’ll find stories of hard work, triumph, humour and above all, a record of a positive 2012.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in A Rebel Hand, Blogging, Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Happy New Year! Accentuate the positive

Balloons reading 2012

Thanks to Geniaus for this image

It’s 2013 at last! I can’t deny that (except on the genealogy front) 2012 was a rubbish year. So I was delighted to see Geniaus suggesting a new geneameme: Accentuate the Positive 2012. What better way to start the new year?

Here’s my contribution:

1.  An elusive ancestor I found was Griffith Owen or Owens, my great-grandfather. The family story was that his son, my grandfather, was from Anglesey, but it was Griffith who was born there. I finally tracked him down, via several howlingly bad census transcriptions (1901 and 1911), to Llanfaethlu, a dot on the map of that island. (See no 4)

My mother, with me at one week old

One week old

2.  A precious family photo I found was… Since my mother’s death I’ve had a look through some of the family photos she kept. The most precious to me is the ones my dad took of mum and me just after I was born and the ones from our first Christmas as a family. I’m planning to post some more of these in the next few days.

3.  An ancestor’s grave I found was Lucy Simpson’s. I didn’t see it myself, because it’s in the old family graveyard at Moyne Farm, but my generous cousin Wayne Morris sent me a recent photo of what remains of it. The headstone appears to have broken in two in the past few years.

Lucy was the first child of my 3x great grandparents, Sarah Marshall and John Simpson, both convicts. Thank you, Wayne!

Close-up of 1901 census

No, it’s not ‘Llanfentlily’

4.  An important vital record I found was the 1891 census record of my grandfather Richard aged 9, which gave me the names of his parents. It also showed that he was not born on Anglesey after all. It was his father Griffith who came from that beautiful island. Now where on earth, or Anglesey, was ‘Llanfentlily’ (1901 census) or ‘Llanfenthty’ (1911)? Time for a spot of palaeography and a map. (See no 1)

5.  A newly found family member who shared… who to choose from? The joy of social media is that cousins and their family members have been getting in touch this year and it’s always a joy to make contact and read about their stories if they want to share them. Thank you to Marty, Michael, Karen, Betty, Jim, Trina, Sharron, Gary, Dan, Therese, Wayne, Sandra, Michelle, Ken, Julie and Lee. And anyone I’ve missed because I didn’t know you were a rellie.

Nicholas Delaney's murder - Sydney Monitor, part 1

Murder trial reported

6.  A geneasurprise I received was finding out that my 3x great-grandfather, Nicholas Delaney, had probably been murdered. Since he was the one who started me on my addiction to interest in genealogy, it was a sad moment.

But being positive, it was a big discovery, and I was able to share it with my mum. And I blogged about it, adding to the information already out there in our book about Nicholas, A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798. Yay for geneablogging! And thanks to Amy from Branches Leaves & Pollen, who started the Trove Tuesday meme.

7.   My 2012 blog post that I was particularly proud of was Back to Blog – death and renewal, because that was the post which got me back to blogging after my mother’s death. It’s positive because I got back in touch with my genea-pals after some weeks of silence and you were so kind and sent me such lovely messages. Thank you. The genealogy community can be wonderful.

Mary Maude Wilson, my great-grandmother, doing the wash

Mary on wash day

8.   My 2012 blog post that received a large number of hits or comments was What did Mary do on Monday? Women’s work, inspired by Cassmob’s Family History Across the Seas Women’s History Month post in March. The idea was to honour a woman from our family tree by starting with a photograph and telling its story.

I chose Mary Maude Delaney, nee Wilson, my kindly great-grandmother, in an unusual, informal, photo of her, smiling while hanging out the washing. I wrote about washday in the times when everything was done by hand, a hated job. I learned a lot about the back-breaking business of doing the laundry while researching that post.

9.  A new piece of software I mastered was Evernote. I can’t pretend I’ve really mastered it, but I’m learning, and I use it all the time. I don’t know how I did without it (well, I do, I used lots of different files, folders, clipping programs…). I think it was Geniaus who alerted me to it, and I was hooked from the start.

10. A social media tool I enjoyed using for genealogy was Twitter. Now 2012 was the year of Google+, and it is excellent for genealogy, but I confess I have more fun on Twitter. It’s also a great news feed, and alerts me to posts I might otherwise have missed.

The original geneameme has 20 positive points and so far I’ve written about the first 10. Because this is already a long post I’ll come back to the rest of them next time. Watch this space for more positivity…

And here it is!



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in A Rebel Hand, Blogging, Genealogy, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Time to branch out?

It’s Start Your Family Tree Week again. How’s yours?

Mine has grown a little, it’s less lop-sided than last year’s. But I’m going to be doing a bit of tree surgery and root-nourishing over the festive season.

Family tree template

Is yours too bare? (Tomasz Steifer via Wikimedia Commons)

If you’d like to join me in a spot of genea-gardening, here’s a good place to start – FindMyPast Ireland has a week of tips and a competition on social media (you do use Facebook, Twitter or G+, don’t you?)

And to help there’s still time to take up the offer of 50 free credits, worth over £5, or up to 10 free views of original documents, at FindMyPast UK, along with useful tips.

You can also get 50 more FMP credits via the Lost Cousins newsletter, making a fantastic total of 100. If you subscribe, you’ll get regular tips and news of offers. And until the end of the year you can use the site for free. There’s also a free downloadable PDF ancestor chart with Ahnentafel numbers.

Another place for helpful SYFTW tips is Genes Reunited, which also has downloadable charts and family question sheets. They’ll be running competitions, too, as British GENES points out. (Thanks, Chris, for explaining the FMP credits so clearly here.)

I still can’t find one great-grandfather in the 1881 census. I know he was alive then, but as a mariner he might have been at sea on census day. Maybe I’ll track him down this week?

If I find any other special Start Your Family Tree Week tips this week I’ll post them here. And please let me know if you spot any.

Happy tree-growing!

Stop press: More (40) free FMP credits, this time in association with Who Do You Think You Are? magazine. And 50 more via FMP UK’s Facebook page. Thanks to Tamara McCloskey for the tip.

And another 40 (that’s a possible 230 in all, phew!) with the details here on British & Irish Genealogy. Thanks, Mick Southwick.

A big thank you to all the above – they’ve already helped me find out more about my more elusive family members.

Two great places to go for the latest in UK and Ireland genealogy news, including offers like these, are British GENES and British & Irish Genealogy.

Some of these offers have now expired, but Julie from Anglers Rest has pointed out another, expiring on February 2nd, here. It’s for 40 credits. Thanks, FMP!

FMP Ireland has another 50 credits to celebrate Irish Family History Day. You could use them to look up some of the ‘twenty-one million Birth, Marriage and Death records’ they’ve added. Expires on January 31. And you can use the same code to get 50 more on FMP’s US site.

… and there’s more! To celebrate Australia Day (January 26 – watch this space for a special post), is opening up its convict and criminal records for free, unlimited access. But be quick – this only lasts till Monday 28th January.


 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Merry Christmas!

A century or two ago – the time I’m blogging about – Christmas celebrations  began on the 24th or 25th of December. The feast went on until Twelfth Night (January 6th).

Old family Christmas decorations

Christmas decorations from my childhood

So I’ll be blogging more about Christmas past over the next few days. I just haven’t felt like it recently because it’s the first without my beloved mother, who held all the family traditions.

So in the meantime, here are some tree decorations which are almost as old as I am – perhaps older. They seem to have been on her tree forever.

And it will be a good Christmas – just different.

So I wish you a wonderful day, with family or friends, and many happy memories to keep for ever.

Merry Christmas!



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Blogging | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Calling all Delaney cousins!

I’ve got a question for you.

Would you like an online forum for descendants of Nicholas Delaney where we can meet and share research, ask questions, swap stories, post photos or just get to know each other?

I’ve just had an interesting email from a guide at the excellent National 1798 Rebellion Centre and Enniscorthy Castle in Co Wexford (hi, Rory!) in which he says:

I am emailing you in relation to the many tourists we get each year who are descended from Nicholas Delaney.

These visitors are familiar with varying amounts of information about Nicholas and some are aware of the book, A Rebel Hand : Nicholas Delaney of 1798: from Ireland to Australia.

Is there any family forum… where descendants of Nicholas meet one another so we could pass this information on to our visitors?

Well, I don’t know of any, so if you do, please let me know and I’ll pass it on. But if there isn’t a forum, and people want one, now would be a good time to set it up.

Women typing on laptop. Photo: Ed Yourdon via Creative Commons

Photo: Ed Yourdon via Creative Commons

So I’d like your help, please.

What’s the best way to do this? It should be easy to use and access. So far I’ve thought of a Facebook group, a Google+ Community or a Rootschat.

I’ve only ever regularly used FB groups and, recently, two G+ Communities (they’re a new development).

All ideas, recommendations, tips and even warnings will be very welcome. And please pass the word on to your relatives. Thank you!

Of course, meeting in person is the best, but there are so many of us and so spread about that it’s not practical on anything but a small scale…


PS: I’ve had to disable comments on this page because of spamming. What a nuisance, eh?



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in A Rebel Hand, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Two today!

Birthday cake with 2 in smarties

Image from Wikimedia Commons

I nearly missed it. This blog’s second birthday, today, November 10th.

In fact it was the wonderful Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers who reminded me in his Blogging Beat. Thanks, Thomas – here’s a virtual birthday cake for you and the lovely people on Twitter, Facebook etc who’ve wished me a happy 2nd blogiversary.

A lot has happened since my first anniversary.

I’d just started looking beyond Nicholas Delaney, my Irish rebel and convict ancestor who got me started on genealogy. I was enjoying scrambling up and down other branches of the family tree, and to my surprise my first post about Sarah Marshall (Sarah Simpson) is now the most-viewed one. That’s probably not because it’s brilliant, but because of the great interest in her supposedly haunted grave. Still, the other posts about Sarah are viewed a lot, too.

My mother, possibly as an ABC announcer

Old photo of my mother

Another branch that beckoned me away from Nicholas was the story of James Thomas Richards, a Thames waterman who was transported for stealing a till. I’m glad I followed him up, because I pieced together a story which pleased and surprised my mother, who’d started on his trail along with our cousin Geoff a while ago. It feels good to have been able to share it with her before she died.

Something else I showed her not long before her death was the surprising news that Nicholas Delaney had possibly been murdered. Like me, she thought it a sad end for such a vigorous and enterprising man.

After she died I stopped blogging for a while, but eventually I was able to come back and post a tribute to the woman who started me on my genealogy journey.

Toddler sitting in front of laptop © Tammra McCauley

Image © Tammra McCauley via Flickr

So now I’m not a baby blogger any more, but a two-year-old toddler blogger (togger?), what direction should I go in next?

I’ll keep on doing the new things I’ve done this year. Like going to the National Archives at Kew, London Metropolitan Archives and the Guildhall Library, not just for records but for their fascinating talks.

I’ll look at Sarah Marshall, John Simpson and James Richards more. I don’t know if  I’ll blog about the more respectable other side of my family as it might be too much of a diversion, but I’ll keep hunting them.

And I plan to take part in Amy Houston’s Trove Tuesday meme, and do Trove transcriptions, more. As well as other genealogy blogging prompts.

But the most important thing I’m looking forward to is finding out what you would like to see on this blog. More about New South Wales? Or Ireland? Or London? Or convicts? Historical background as well as genealogy? I’d love to know what you want to read about.

If you’d like to start genealogy blogging there’s a lot of help and advice around. Here are some tips for new geneabloggers.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in A Rebel Hand, Blogging, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Nicholas’s murder – the editor, the judge and the doctor (Trove Tuesday post, part 3)

In my last post about Nicholas Delaney’s murder on September 3, 1834, I asked a few questions. Why would the editor of the Sydney Monitor add a note to the end of the report of John Kennedy’s trial in which he questioned the verdict? And what about Dr Black and Justice Burton, whose opinions may have swayed the jury?

Today I’d like to have a look at some of the background to this story.

The Monitor‘s editor, Edward Smith Hall (1786-1860), was a remarkable man. A committed Christian and a contrarian, he was never afraid to speak his mind when he disagreed with what was going on in New South Wales. I won’t give you his life story as that would take too long, but here’s one biography.

Edward Smith Hall's comment in the Monitor on the trial of John Kennedy for murdering Nicholas Delaney

Hall’s comment on Kennedy’s trial in the Monitor

Hall arrived in Sydney on October 10, 1811, with letters of recommendation from William Wilberforce, among others. Farming his grant of land didn’t turn out to be successful, and he threw his energies into social and religious work. In 1813 he co-founded the New South Wales Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence, which became the Benevolent Society in 1818. He was appointed cashier and secretary of the Bank of New South Wales in Macquarie Place (one of Nicholas Delaney’s projects) in 1817 and became a coroner in 1820 – experience which would qualify him to comment on John Kennedy’s trial.

In 1826 he and Arthur Hill published a new paper, the Monitor, with the motto  ‘nothing extenuate nor set down aught in malice’. Hill resigned the next year, and Edward Smith Hall carried on as editor, opposing what he saw as injustices and helping to bring down Governor Ralph Darling. He held the position until 1840, an unprecedented length of time in those days.

Another comment from Edward Smith Hall in the Monitor - report after the one about Nicholas Delaney's death

The ‘Monitor’ report of the following case

Hall didn’t always add his views to the end of a report (after all, as editor, he had the whole paper to epress his opinions) but it’s interesting to see that the report on Justice Burton next trial after Kennedy’s that day has a longer comment.

I like his politely sarcastic tone: “We cannot see the grounds upon which the learned Judge intends to make this application…” and his questioning of what he sees as doubtful judgements.

And yes, I am biased!

So what about William Westbrooke Burton? Again, I won’t go into his life story , including his judgements about the rights of Aboriginal people, here, but the relevant facts are that he was appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 1832 and soon expressed his opinion that “an overwhelming defect of religious principle” was the cause of the many crimes in the colony, may of which led to the death penalty.

Report in the Sydney Monitor of Judge William Burton's first trial, February 1833

Judge Burton’s first trial, 1833 (Monitor)

He had a low opinion of convicts, emancipists and Catholics. You might think that this could have biased him against Nicholas, but John Kennedy may well have been Catholic himself, and although I haven’t found any evidence of his being a convict, I’ve seen none that shows he came free, either.

Judge Burton served two terms in New South Wales, resigning in 1861 after a conflict over land legislation. He is credited with contributing towards the ending of convict transportation to New South Wales through his influence on the report of the select committee on transportation (the Molesworth Committee) in 1837.

John Dight appointed coroner, Sydney Monitor, June 7 1828

John Dight appointed, Monitor, June 7 1828

Since my last post I’ve found the record of the inquest into Nicholas’s death. John Dight had been the coroner at Evan since 1828. The Registers of Coroners’ Inquests, 1796-1942 (thank you, Ancestry!) shows that he carried out the inquest himself on September 27 and found a verdict of “manslaughter ag[ains]t Jno Kennedy”.

The Monitor report says that Dr Black’s opinion was different. “It was his… opinion, that [Nicholas’s head wounds] were caused by falls” and not by being hit with a stick or rock. I haven’t found out much about the doctor except that he practised in the Penrith area and was called as a witness in court several times.

Not surprisingly, John Kennedy is hard to track down. I don’t know where he came from before he turned up as a labourer in Penrith. There are various convicts with the same name, but it’s not an unusual one. Peter Mayberry’s Irish Convicts to New South Wales shows 20 arriving before 1834, six of whom were labourers.

John Kennedy sentenced. Report in The Sydney Herald, November 1834

Report of John Kennedy’s sentence

As for what happened to him after the trial, the Supreme Court document notes that on November 15, 1834, he was “found Guilty of Larceny from the person and Not Guilty of putting in fear”. Three days later it adds: “Transported for Life”. The Sydney Herald was one of four papers to report the verdict.

It states that he was sent to a penal colony – perhaps Norfolk Island or Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania).  Better than being hung, you might think. But while I was trawling Trove for any clues about Kennedy after 1834 (and found nothing I could pin down),  I did see a story about a man given the same sentence, who commented that he would rather hang than be transported.

There’s one last mystery to look at. Attorney General John Kinchela‘s document lists these men as witnesses: Abram Samuel, John McPetre, Thomas Carty, John Delany [sic] and Michael Mulcahy. The second last on the list has the same name as Nicholas and Elizabeth‘s eldest son. Since John had his parents living with him, it’s safe to guess that the John Delany on the witness list is the same man.

Michael Mulcahy is interesting, too. That’s the name of the man Elizabeth married in 1835, the following year. Was he a family friend? I’ve still got to track him down.

Since my last post, Aussie genealogy blogger cassmob has asked: “Was the judge simply stating the legal situation? … Did the jury think it wasn’t beyond reasonable doubt and hence their conclusion?” Fair comment. I’ll probably never know, since the Monitor is the only place Kennedy’s trial seems to have been recorded. Sometimes we just have to let go. But maybe you know something more about the background to this story? 

Further reading and sources:

Review of Edward Smith Hall and the Sydney Monitor by Erin Ihde in The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

Edward Smith Hall in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Wikipedia and 

Judge (later Sir) William Westbrooke Burton in the ADB and on the Parliament of New South Wales website

… and, of course, Trove



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

So was Nicholas Delaney murdered? Did John Kennedy hang? (Trove Tuesday post, part 2)

Last Trove Tuesday I started to tell the story of how Nicholas Delaney was attacked and robbed on September 2, 1834, and died the next day. It’s a story about my own ancestor I came across using the National Library of Australia‘s online historic-newspapers-and-more resource, Trove.

After Nicholas was found lying dead near his house, a coroner‘s inquest into his death was held between September 4 and October 6. A coroner’s court was held at Penrith from 1821 onwards. I’ve tracked down where I could look to see if any record or index survives, but it’s on the other side of the world, so my trail has gone cold for the moment. (Update: Found it! I’ll post about it next time.)

Feloniously and violently stole

On November 1, the Attorney General, John Kinchela, informed the Supreme Court of New South Wales that “John Kennedy late of Penrith – in the Colony aforesaid Labourer… near the Kings [sic] Highway between Penrith and Mulgoa… in and upon one Nicholas Delany… feloniously did make and assault and him the said Nicholas Delany in bodily fear and danger of his life… and against the will of the said Nicholas Delany then and there feloniously and violently did steal take and carry away [his clothes and money]”.

Cutting out all the repetitive legalese of the Attorney General’s document*, John Kennedy was accused of violently assaulting and robbing Nicholas and making him fear for his life. Not of murdering him. Yet it’s quite clear from the newspaper report that Kennedy faced hanging. The trial was “put off” until Saturday, November 15.

For any more information we have to go back to the Sydney Monitor, since the only source of court reporting in New South Wales was provided by newspapers until 1862.

What Dr Black said about Nicholas's wounds

Dr Black’s opinion

The article continues: “Dr. Black, who attended the Coroner’s Inquest, deposed that he examined the body of the deceased; there were several contused lacerated wounds on the head, and one on the nose; probably caused by falling on a stump or stone; it was possible that a stick would have caused the wounds – but it was his (Dr. Black’s) opinion, that they were caused by falls; on examining the brain he found about three ounces of extravasated blood on the left hemisphere.”

Poor Nicholas.

Nobody seems to have mentioned those wounds when he was helped to Mrs Brooks’ hut, or when he got up the next morning to go home. But, Mr Justice Burton told the jury, “in order to constitute the offence for which the prisoner stood indicted, there must be either violence used, or bodily fear caused; a threat, or the production of an unlawful instrument would constitute a robbery, but the mere taking away would not. In the present case were the Jury satisfied there was a stealing? And if so, was that stealing with violence? For stealing from the person without violence, was not a capital offence.”

Everything depended on whether Kennedy assaulted Nicholas, or ‘just’ robbed him.

The judge elaborated. “In order to constitute the offence for which the prisoner stood indicted, there must be either violence used, or bodily fear caused; a threat, or the production of an unlawful instrument would constitute a robbery, but the mere taking away would not. In the present case were the Jury satisfied there was a stealing? And if so, was that stealing with violence? For stealing from the person without violence, was not a capital offence.”

Verdict on John Kennedy: guilty of larceny; plus editor's comment

Verdict on John Kennedy: guilty of larceny

That’s all the report tells us about the arguments in court. The jury must have been swayed by Dr Black’s opinion that Nicholas got “several contused lacerated wounds” on his head by falling over when drunk, or on his way home, nearly sober, the next morning.

Because, the report continues, they found Kennedy “guilty of larceny upon the person”. In other words, theft, but not assault or murder or, as the Attorney General’s document says, “taking in fear”.

Kennedy was “remanded to take his trial on another charge”, and the court document shows that on November 18 he was sentenced to be transported for life.

There’s a very interesting note by the editor at the end of the report: “(It seems very extraordinary if Delaney died of falls received when in a state of drunkenness, from which he recovered so far as to walk home.-ED )”

I feel very sad reading this. Sad that Nicholas had such a painful, lonely death and sad that he did not get justice. Because even if Nicholas’s wounds weren’t caused by Kennedy on the night of September 2, then who hit him so viciously? Was he attacked on the way home next morning?

And the story raises other questions, too. Why would the editor take the trouble to comment? And what sort of men were Dr Black and Justice Burton?

I’ll look at the background in my next post.


How did Nicholas’s murder go unnoticed by previous family historians, I wondered? The two people I could have asked, my mother and Antoinette Sullivan, are dead, so I can only guess that the Sydney Monitor article escaped those two meticulous researchers. But now with Trove, it’s so much easier to track down our ancestors.

So I apologise to everyone who has a copy of our book, A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798 for not ending the story accurately. We just didn’t know. But that’s what this blog is for – publishing all the new research I’m doing into the stories of my ancestors and relatives.

In an earlier post I wrote about my 3xgreat grandmother, Sarah Marshall) and asked if she’d been murdered, as some people think. The evidence says that she wasn’t. But a legend has grown up around her haunting the graveyard anyway. This has proved to be one of the blog’s most popular (and controversial) posts.

* After my last post, Michael Wood, a Delaney cousin who has already been kind enough to let me use his photo of Sarah Marshall’s grave, got in touch and sent some pictures of the court document. The original is in the State Archives of New South Wales.

Here’s the whole Monitor article:

All the article about Nicholas Delaney's murder in the Sydney Monitor


 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in A Rebel Hand, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

How did Nicholas Delaney die? A murder mystery (Trove Tuesday post)

Nicholas Delaney is something of a hero to me and many of his other descendants. An Irish rebel in 1798, he escaped being hung and built a new life for himself and his family in early colonial New South Wales. So it was a shock to find out that his death was tragic – possibly murdered and robbed by a man he knew.

I was idly browsing Trove, the wonderful (and free!) digital treasury of Australian newpapers, publications, pictures and more, when I came across this –

Search result on Trove

The search result that started it all

Supreme Court? Criminal? Assault? I thought. Oh, no!

Then I looked again at the date. ‘2nd September’, it said, and the newspaper, the Sydney Monitor, was dated 1834. That was they day before he died. This was getting worse. Was I reading about my own great-great-great grandfather’s murder?

I clicked on the article. “SUPREME COURT. – CRIMINAL SIDE.  SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 15. – Before Mr. JUSTICE BURTON and a Jury of Inhabitants,” it started.

Nicholas Delaney's murder - Sydney Monitor, part 1

The story begins…

“John Kennedy was indicted for assaulting Nicholas Delaney, on the highway, near Penrith, on the 2nd September, and stealing from his person one coat, one handkerchief, and 4 one-pound notes. From the evidence it appeared, that on the day named in the indictment, the prisoner was at the King’s Head, at Penrith, when Delaney was paid the sum of £5. Shortly afterwards they were both seen in company on the road opposite Mrs Brooks’ premises, apparently both very much intoxicated…”

Nicholas fell “into a gulley” but the two staggered on for a quarter of a mile till they took a short cut towards his house, with Nicholas falling over again.

So far so almost comic. But, 10 minutes later, one of Mrs. Brooks’ servants, who was giving evidence, “saw Delaney lying on the ground with nothing on but his shirt, and the prisoner standing by him”.

The man raised the alarm and Kennedy was arrested. Nicholas’s clothes were in a bundle and Kennedy claimed that “he had taken the clothes off him for the purpose of taking care of them.” How kind, you might think, but why was he nearly naked in the first place? Mr Justice Burton didn’t seem to think it was odd, though.

Someone must have got Nicholas into his clothes again, though he “was unable to speak, and was removed to one of Mrs. Brooks’ huts, where he was put to bed, and slept for some hours”.


Meanwhile Kennedy was searched on his way to the watch-house, where suspected criminals were imprisoned, and a black handkerchief belonging to Nicholas was found on him, “but he told the constable that Delaney had stripped to fight him.” That would be a plausible excuse for his having the clothes, but why was the handkerchief in his pocket and not with them?

This was, of course, proof of theft. And, odd as it seems to us now, handkerchiefs were highly prized by thieves in the 19th century and before. Easy to hide, easy to sell, and fetching a good price, they were the favourites of Charles Dickens’ Artful Dodger.

The £5 Nicholas was paid was worth a lot more. Even after a few drinks, he still had four pound notes left. That would have been a huge temptation. £4 0s 0d in 1828 has been calculated as being worth £267.00 in 2010, using the retail price index, or  £2,920.00 using average earnings.

Top of the front page of the Sydney Monitor, November 15th 1828

Sydney Monitor, November 15th 1828 (top of front page)

So far, this has just been a story of drunkenness and an attempted robbery. But it gets far worse. “When [Nicholas] got up he missed the handkerchief out of his pocket…” so it was stolen, not given to Kennedy.

The report goes on: “He appeared nearly sober, and started for the purpose of going home, but was found the next morning lying dead about a quarter of a mile from his own house.”

So… how and why did Nicholas die? I’ll finish the story in my next post. (Sorry! But otherwise it would be just too long.) But I’m thinking I should put that black handkerchief on my head and pronounce sentence on John Kennedy.

Trove Tuesday

I’d planned to write this post to coincide with the anniversary of Nicholas’s death, but my own mother’s death meant that life has become a bit hectic and unpredictable. So I’m extra grateful to Amy from Branches Leaves & Pollen for coming up with the idea of Trove Tuesday posts, which celebrate the wonderful resource for genealogists and historians of Australia provided free by the National Library‘s online resource, Trove. It’s been a real incentive to get on with blogging again.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Back to Blog – death and renewal

I’ve been away from this blog for several weeks because my mother has died. With the funeral to arrange, relatives from the UK, Australia and New Zealand to contact, and our grief to cope with as well as the usual business of ordinary life to get on with, I hadn’t the time – or the heart.

My mother as a glamorous young woman

My mother as a young woman

But from a genealogy point of view, my huge loss has been balanced a little by some gains.  I’ll talk about those later.

My father died when I was quite young. He’d always told us family stories, but he didn’t speak much about his own life. I kept meaning to ask Mum more about it, but there was always something else to talk about, and there would be another time, wouldn’t there? Well, now there isn’t.

I wish I could send a message back in time to myself and say: “Just ask. Make the time. Take notes. Record her memories. Don’t lose them.”

But I am very lucky because she had, for several years, been writing down her own life story and her children and grandchildren will always have that.

I’m also lucky because it was on a visit to relatives in Australia in the 1990s that she finally tracked down our elusive Delaney ancestor, Nicholas. Our branch of the family had known his name, but nothing about his life before he came to New South Wales – or much about what happened after that, either.

Hidden truth

In fact, we’d been fed some myths, to cover up the facts, which were that he was a convict, an Irish rebel and a convicted murderer.

Thanks to the dedication of our cousins, we found out the truth about Nicholas Delaney and eventually wrote his biography and, when more stories came up, I started blogging about them. Finding new information about our ancestors was exciting for both of us, and Mum and I swapped facts and stories by email and over long chats around the table.

Mary Maude Delaney, nee Wilson, doing the weekly wash

Mary Maude on washday

There are still questions I want to ask her. Did you get any further with tracking down Mary Maude Wilson‘s mysterious mother, Sarah Emma? Where’s the evidence that James Thomas Richards‘ wife, Rebecca, was a foundling? And I so much want to share my new discoveries with her.

Some of these questions will never get an answer. But she’s not the only one I can ask.

One consolation of contacting relatives around the world is that they’ve shared some lovely memories of her with me, and some other family history as well. I’ve added some more twigs to our tree. And I’m going to go on letting them know about my discoveries, and hoping they’ll let me have their opinions and add to my knowledge. It’s wonderful to be in touch with my cousins again.

And I’ll always be grateful to Mum for getting me interested in genealogy. It’s a gift that has given me great pleasure, many frustrations and membership of an inspiring community of bloggers, tweeters and other fellow geneaddicts.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Blogging, Genealogy, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Goodbye to the last Delaney

In memory of Patricia, the last in our family to have the surname Delaney.

Died July 24 2012

My beloved mother

Rest in peace

Posted in Nicholas Delaney | 22 Comments

Illuminating Blogger Award – is one of your favourites here?

This week has ended in the most wonderful way. Sharn of Family History 4 u has done me the honour of nominating A Rebel Hand for the Illuminating Blogger Award, set up by Food Stories.

Thank you so much, Sharn.

Illuminating Blogger Award

Illuminating Blogger Award

To say I’m thrilled is an understatement. I’m also greatly humbled, because I’ve been enjoying seeing some of my favourite genealogy blogs receiving this award and they are inspiring, well-written, fascinating and pretty much what I want to do when I grow up. *

The last week has been a tough one, with looking after a friend who’s just come out of hospital, having my phone stolen, lots of calls from kind police officers, and a leaking radiator making huge puddles on the carpet. So when Irish Lives Remembered published a two-page article on my ancestor Nicholas Delaney it was like the sun breaking through the cold and damp of this miserable excuse of a summer.

And then to be given this award… well, you can imagine how happy I am. In fact, I had a little cry touch of hay fever earlier on.

Enough about me. How to choose blogs to nominate for their illuminating, informative posts when there are so many around? I decided to give the awards to ones which haven’t already been nominated. So here they are (drum roll and trumpets, please):


Tanya Honey’s sense of humour, lively writing style and dedication to genealogy make My Genealogy Adventure a joy to read as well as a source of compelling Australian genie information. She talks tech as well, which I always find impressive and useful.

For eclectic expertise you can’t go wrong with The Family Recorder from Audrey Collins, a well-known and respected name among geneabloggers. She, too, has that gift of mixing impressive research with humour to make a compelling read.

At Shakespeare’s England the historian known as Dainty Ballerina writes with wit, erudition and an eye for the unusual about, well, England in the time of Shakespeare – and a lot of other Early Modern stuff as well. The 17th century is my secret vice, though I don’t blog about it. Obviously. Or it wouldn’t be a secret.

The Chirugeon’s Apprentice doesn’t call itself a blog but, with Lindsey Fitzharris’s regular posts about the bizarre and horrifying world of pre-anaesthetic surgery, it certainly behaves like one. Anyone writing about those (thankfully) far-off days could learn a lot from this meticulously-researched site. Riveting, but not for the squeamish.

I have no ancestors from the West Indies but I always enjoy A Parcel of Ribbons, Anne Powers’ intelligent, fascinating and beautifully-designed blog about Georgian Jamaica. Sometimes it’s good to get out of my own niche and look at other places, times and ways of life.

She’s only been blogging since January but already Nicola Elsom at The Genealogy Workshop is a favourite for her blend of family history and clear, succinct and readable genealogy and techie advice.

The next two blogs are must-reads for anyone researching genealogy in the British Isles. That’s because they trawl the latest news and developments and serve them up daily with a dash of humour and a huge dollop of expertise.  Trust these guys. Put your hands together for Chris Paton at British GENES and Mick Southwick at British & Irish Genealogy.

The same goes for Irish Genealogy News, where Claire Santry is the one to go to for information about news and events in the island of Ireland. I don’t know how she does it, but if something’s happening in Ireland, Claire knows about it.

… And I’m going to break my own rule. He’s been nominated already, probably dozens of time, but Thomas MacEntee deserves every award around for Geneabloggers. For creating a wonderful online genealogy community, for his encouragement, for his knowledge, wisdom and humour. I would have had a much duller time blogging if not for him and the other geneabloggers around the world.

* And here are some of those great blogs which have already won the Illuminating Blogger Award: Ancestor Chasing, Anglers Rest, Dance Skeletons, Diary of an Australian Genealogist, Family History 4 uFamily history across the seas, From Helen V Smith’s Keyboard, Genealogy in New South Wales, Geniaus, Inside History, lonetester HQ, On a Flesh and Bone Foundation, Seeking Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family, The Armchair GenealogistTwigs of Yore, Queensland Genealogy, Western District Families. I hope I haven’t missed any…

If you are nominated, then you have received the Illuminating Blogger Award Please follow these steps:
  1. The nominee should visit the award site ( and leave a comment indicating that they have been nominated and by whom. (This step is so important because it’s the only way that we can create a blogroll of award winners).
  2. The Nominee should thank the person that nominated them by posting & including a link to their blog.
  3. The Nominee should include a courtesy link back to the official award site ( in their blog post.
  4. Share one random thing about yourself in your blog post.
  5. Select at least five other bloggers that you enjoy reading their illuminating, informative posts and nominate them for the award. Many people indicate that they wish they could nominate more so please feel free to nominate all your favorites.
  6. Notify your nominees by leaving a comment on their blog, including a link to the award site (
And you don’t need to wait to be nominated to give your favourite blog an award.  Just visit the award site and see how to do it.
 grave (Michael Wood 2011)

Sarah’s grave (Michael Wood 2011)

When I started this blog in November 2010, I planned to write about the background to Nicholas Delaney‘s life. He’s the Irish rebel and convict transported to Australia who started me off on the genealogy trail. Then I started using Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to connect with other people talking about the history of the people and places I was interested in and found there was a big geneablogging world in cyberspace.

It was a revelation! I learned a lot and got so much encouragement from the people I ‘met’ online. I grew bolder and explored other branches of the family tree. In fact my most popular post is about my finding out that another convict ancestor, Sarah Simpson (nee Marshall) was allegedly murdered and haunts a Penrith graveyard to this day. So they say.

So it’s wonderful to know that people find A Rebel Hand worth reading.

Old photo of man sending mail by boat (Wikipedia)

Oh – and one random fact about me. I once got the chance to go to St Kilda, or more accurately the island of Hirta, by helicopter. Since I’d read Tom Steel‘s book The Life and Death of St Kilda, I was really excited at going. It was an unforgettable experience. A few years later, I met Tom himself and was lucky enough to see him many times until his too-early death in 1997.

Thank you, Sharn, from the bottom of my heart, and thank you, CJ at Food Stories, for starting the ball rolling.

Update, July 16th: Serendipity! This evening at 1930 on BBC One there was an hour-long programme about St Kilda, the first of three. I enjoyed it.

Another update: BBC Radio 4 has broadcast a An Outcast of the Islands: Lady Grange, about the wife of James Erskine, Lord Justice Clerk of Scotland, who was exiled on St Kilda in the 18th century. A sad story.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in A Rebel Hand, Blogging, Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Transports of delight – researching the book about Nicholas

I’m feeling thrilled and very honoured. The Irish genealogy online magazine, Irish Lives Remembered, has just (July 10th) published a two-page article about Nicholas Delaney, the great-great-great grandfather and transported convict whose life inspired this blog and its sister website.

Irish Lives Remembered July edition cover

Irish Lives Remembered July cover

The magazine, which is free to read and download, has already featured stories about Irish convicts transported to Australia, so it was wonderful to be part of a series about this fascinating topic.

Eileen Munnelly, the editor, also asked me to write an introduction about how the book, A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798, came to be written.

Phew – 200 words to describe the excitement, frustration, hard work and surprises of those five or so years from my mother’s coming across a file in the Old Post Office in Hartley, New South Wales to the last proof correction and the arrival of the printed books in my slightly shaky hands.

Of course there wasn’t room to give credit to everyone who helped us, and I’d like to mention the person who set us on Nicholas’s trail, Antoinette Sullivan. Her tireless research in the days before internet genealogy went into that file and surprised and inspired us. Until then we’d thought Nicholas had been a respectable emigrant from Ireland. Family myths had him as a butler in Government House, Parramatta, or even Lord Mayor of Belfast (how unlikely is that!)

And, like many others with Australian families, we were delighted and amazed to learn that he’d been a convict – and an Irish rebel, and a convicted murderer (or freedom fighter, take your pick) as well.

In fact the book could never have been written without the generous help of many of our relatives, including Jeff and Bruce Farrar, Sylvia Hollier, Owen Benson, Brian Soutter, Doug Honess, Edna Delaney and Geoff Wilkin, in Australia and New Zealand.

1798 memorial, Ballyellis (from A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798)

1798 memorial, Ballyellis

When we began our research in Ireland, in the exciting days leading up to the bicentenary of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, we realised how lucky we were. Counties Wicklow and Wexford were buzzing with preparations for the commemoration of ’98 and new research was coming to light – and to bookshelves – all the time.

Many writers and historians were generous with their time, including Joan Kavanagh of the Wicklow Family History Centre, Ruan O’Donnell, Vincent O’Reilly, Nicholas Furlong and Owen Dudley Edwards as well as the staff of the National Archives and National Library in Dublin.

I think it’s important to thank them all and to say that we could never have found out about Nicholas’s colourful life without the help we had from family members and experts in Ireland and Australia.

Along the way we learned about a period in Irish history which textbooks across the water never told us about. We had another myth debunked; sadly Nicholas did not kill the man called the ‘Walking Gallows‘ (I’d like to write more about that another time).


We met some fascinating people, travelled though beautiful countryside, took dozens of photos and spent happy hours in libraries reading old books. It was an unforgettable time.

At the end of the introduction I mentioned how rewarding it is to write a family history blog. Being part of the genealogy blogging community has opened my eyes to another level of research and information and I’ve ‘met’ some inspiring people and had a lot of fun. So I won’t apologise for saying again, if you have a great family story to tell, do join us and start blogging!

Thank you, Eileen, for the privilege of writing for Irish Lives Remembered, and for reminding me of that time my mother and I spent finding out about Nicholas and the others caught up in 1798, the convict system and early colonial Australia.

There’s a list of links to sites about Irish convicts in Australia here.

This is a good week for magazines – Australia’s Inside History is also out, in shops and to download.
Update, July 12: Chris Paton has just posted a guide to writing genealogy articles here.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in 1798, A Rebel Hand, Convicts, Ireland, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Support our archives! Guest post

After talking about International Archives Day recently, I have asked Patricia Owen, who has spent many years hunting down books and manuscripts in libraries and archives, to write a guest post about her experiences of using them.


The papers kept by a family, a firm, all the way up to the London Metropolitan Archives and the National Archives at Kew – all give us access to the original  documents which record the past.

Letter from the Marquis Cornwallis transmuting Nicholas Delaney's death sentence to transportation to Sydney Cove

Nicholas Delaney reprieved

To see the very words written to commute the sentence of hanging for my Irish rebel ancestor, Nicholas Delaney, to transportation to an ultimately prosperous life in Australia was a memorable result of visiting the National Library of Ireland in Dublin.

The first I knew about him was when I walked into the Old Post Office in Hartley, New South Wales, to ask if they had any information about the farm my father grew up on. I was handed a transcript of my great-great-grandfather’s trial  deposited by a relative of ours.

But consulting the archives at Borough level has become more difficult in this time of cuts. Hammersmith and Fulham [in London] was reduced to opening two days a month, with one trained archivist and volunteer helpers struggling to cope with a roomful of enquirers.

Postcard of 'Historic Hartley', New South Wales, where Nicholas Delaney's story started being traced

Postcard of Hartley, NSW

The co-operation of the borough with Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea has just given us a day a week; a help, if not what we used to take for granted.

Ancestor tracing and local history are as popular today as they are valuable in bringing the past to life; we need to support the archives that let us see and handle its records for ourselves.

Patricia Owen was for many years a lecturer in teacher education. She has been an announcer with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and was the second-ever winner of BBC Television’s Mastermind. She writes about local history and is also the co-author of A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798.

The UK National Archives have just published a blog post guide to preparing for a visit to archives. I think it’s well worth reading.

Update: Patricia Owen died on Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Rest in peace.



 © A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Ireland, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Deep down in Deptford (and thumbs up for archives)

Deep into Deptford’s history, that is, looking for secrets in the streets. And possibly finding my great-great-great-great grandparents – how exciting!

English: Old medicine books of early 19th century

Today, June 9th, is International Archives Day and I’m hugely grateful to all the archivists and the archives, small and local or huge and national, that have helped me in my hunt for my ancestors and the world they lived in. From the post office in Hartley, NSW, to libraries in Counties Wicklow and Wexford, up to national centres in Australia, Ireland and London, they have all given me and my mother huge amounts of information. Thank you to all.

This week I went back to the London Metropolitan Archives, where I recently learned so much about researching London ancestors. I wanted to get a History Card, which will let me access original material (as well as their digital database). I also had a tour of the research resources there – indexes, files, other records, maps, books. I was especially excited to see maps I wrote about last time – looking at them in real life will be so much easier and more satisfying than scrolling around small images on a screen.

If you can’t get to London, do look at the LMA site and see what research you can do online.

Grove Street in 1827, from Greenwood's Map (from

Grove Street (Greenwood, 1827)

I had some spare time so I decided to do some more searching for my Thames waterman convict ancestor, James Thomas Richards. I knew he had been baptised in the church of St Paul, Deptford (now in south-east London, then in Kent) in May 1815. So with LMA’s parish records I was able to see his certificate of baptism, confirm his parents’ names and find out that they were living in Grove Street, a cluster of houses running almost north to south near the docks, at the time.

Working backwards through his parents’ marriage in 1807 I found his father’s (another James Thomas) baptism in 1787, again from Grove Street, and the names of the first James’s mother and father – Betty and William. Convict James’s mother was Ann Wicking and she was born, as far as I can see, in 1786 to Anna and William.

Now of course I need to double-check everything, but this is hugely exciting for me – it’s the first time I’ve traced an ancestor back six generations before mine. And being able to see where they lived is thrilling, too.

The secret history of a Deptford street

That evening, there was another wonderful surprise – a new BBC TV series, The Secret History of Our Streets, which started with an look at… yes, Deptford. It takes six streets which feature on the famous poverty maps compiled by Charles Booth and looks at the changes which have taken place since they were published in 1889 – 1891.

Grove St (Booth's map) showing it to be a 'mixed' area

Grove St (Booth’s map) – a ‘mixed’ area

This episode focused on Deptford High Street and the families who lived and worked in the area, many of whom lost their homes in the slum clearances of the 1960s. Sometimes controversial, always fascinating, it combined social history with family history and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

This isn’t a television review, so I’ll leave it to other people (see below) to comment. But the biggest excitement for me was listening to people who lived only streets away from where James Thomas Richards came from – people whose families (the Prices and Ovenells, for instance) had lived in the same place, often in the same houses, for generations.

Perhaps some of my own distant cousins were in the crowded market scenes seen on old film – or on the 2012 footage!

Which are your favourite archives – or archivists?

Here are some comments on The Secret History of Our Streets: from the BBC blog, the Guardian, the Telegraph, Time Out (naughty words alert), British & Irish Genealogy and bloggers The Deptford Dame and Crosswhatfields?

Deptford Miscellany has a great blogroll for SE8.

The Naval Dockyards Society is campaigning to make sure that developers do not destroy the character of historic Deptford.

The Shipwright’s Palace blogs about historic maritime Deptford.

Old Deptford History is exactly what it says.

Edward Walford‘s 1878 look at the history of Deptford

If you’ve got Kent ancestors, here’s a useful genealogy resource.

Caroline’s Miscellany has lively posts about Deptford then and now

And there’s a guest post on this blog about the importance of archives for family and local historians.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Convicts, Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments