Jan 25, 2011

Posted | 4 Comments

Australia Day 2011 My Earliest Documents

This is my contribution to the Australia Day blogging theme suggested by Twigs of Yore celebrating our earliest connections and documents in Australia.

By the time my son was born, I had been tracing my own family history for ten years and I knew that my earliest ancestors arrived in the early 1860s and later. I was deeply disappointed that I didn’t have any convicts having studied early Australian history at university. That early period of our history is fascinating and I wanted to have been part of it.

At some point I decided to start looking into my son’s family history ie his father’s side and I knew from my mother in law that they were half Danish and half English and that they had settled around the Gympie area in the 1860s. So I wasn’t expecting any convicts to suddenly pop up and surprise me.

I clearly remember the day when I collected the mail out of the letter box and it contained a number of NSW certificates – as I had worked my way backwards through his ancestors I learned that the English miner John Barrow Atkinson’s wife Emma Jane Bullen had been born on the goldfields of Victoria.  Her parents Henry Bullen and Georgiana Evans had married in Sydney in 1853. As I worked back through each generation it still didn’t dawn on me that there might be convicts until I realised Georgiana Evans had been born in Sydney in 1829. When I got that certificate of baptism (pre civil registration and in the days before genealogy kits on microfilm) I knew there had to be convicts. I was so excited.

Georgiana’s parents were Samuel Evans and Emma Walker and they married in 1826 in Sydney. Samuel was a convict who had been convicted of having forged notes in his possession in Monmouth and was sentenced to transportation for 14 years in 1818. Emma was the daughter of convict Richard Walker who was convicted in London of having a forged banknote in his possession. He was sentenced in 1813 to transportation for 14 years.

I have told their story in my Society of Australian Genealogists Diploma of Historical Studies 1992 thesis From Iron Chains to Gold Bars: The Story of the Walker family and its descendants including the Evans, Potter, Bullen and Atkinson families, 1814-1941 available on my website (scroll down).  

All of the various certificates, newspaper articles and convict and other government documents that I have collected over the years have helped me to fill out the details of their lives.

Australia Day for me has always been about European settlement and our convict origins and I am so glad that I am the mother of someone who has convict heritage!


  1. Now I’ve got a thesis to read! Thanks for the link.
    Thanks for sharing the story of your wayward in-law ancestors.
    There’s no shame in coming from a line of upright citizens :-)

  2. Hi Shauna,
    Thanks for sharing the story of your earliest documented ancestors for Australia Day. As far as I know I don’t have any convicts in my family either, though I have some doubts about one ancestor as there was a story that he came as a convict. I found a record for an ‘exile’ which looked like it could have been him, but turned out it definitely wasn’t. Someday I hope to solve the mystery!

  3. I have 3 convict ancestors and my husband always said that there wouldn’t be any in his family. I’ve found two, one for his father’s side and one for his mother’s side. This means that my father’s side is the only branch who came free. Looking forward to reading your thesis.

  4. Yes, we are always taught about convicts and when you start out in family history you expect to find them. None of mine are looking too much like convicts at the moment!

    Thanks for participating. I’ll definately have a look at your thesis. Sounds fascinating!

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