Don’t forget the relatives – a NSW immigration story

sailing_ship 200x300This is a story from my own family tree, in particular it is about my g-g-grandfather Richard Eason. When I started looking into my family history I got his NSW death certificate from 1922 on which the informant (his son Irwin) stated that he was born in County Tyrone, Ireland; that his residence in Australia had been for 72 years; and that his mother’s name was Sarah Irwin.

A search of the State Records NSW index to Assisted Immigrants arriving in Sydney and Newcastle showed a Richard Eason arriving in NSW on the Orient in 1850, aged 20. I have copies of two passenger lists from this event – the “Agents’ Immigrant Lists” and the “Board’s Immigrant Lists”. The “Board’s” list shows, among other things, parents names and whether they are still living, and relatives in the Colony. (Archives Authority of New South Wales, Persons on Bounty Ships to Sydney, Newcastle, Moreton Bay, 1848-1891, (Board’s Immigrants Lists 1848-1891), SR Reel 2461). Richard gave his father’s name as Richard Eason and indicated that he was no longer living; and he gave the name John Clements in Swan River as his relative. What is actually written in the column looked to me at the time like “acq John Clements Swan River” and I decided that “acq” meant “acquaintance” and left it at that.

I also found that a Catherine Clements, also from Tyrone, was on the same ship the Orient and gave as her relative “a brother John Clements Carcoar and a sister Sarah living in Sydney”. I wish I could say that I looked through the whole passenger list to find anyone else that had come from Tyrone, but I actually found her name in the Hervey Bay Indexers’ The Relations Index of Immigrants to NSW on microfiche in my local library.

Eventually, many years later, I did look up the arrival of this John Clements. I rechecked the Hervey Bay Indexers’ The Relations Index of Immigrants to NSW and they stated the relationship of John Clements to Richard Eason was cousin. So I looked for the arrival of John Clements. John wasn’t in the online index for assisted arrivals from 1844 at www.records.nsw.gov.au, but he was in the microfilmed card index of arrivals from 1828-1842 (Index to Assisted (Bounty) Immigrants to New South Wales 1828-1842, Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City). He arrived on the Pearl in 1841. In Assisted (bounty) immigrants 1839-1842 (SR Reel 1335) John’s native place was Clogher, Tyrone, the same as my Richard, he was Presbyterian (Richard was Church of England), and his parents were Joseph and Catherine Clements, both living.

The revelation was Sarah Clements, found in the same index and arriving on the same ship, the Pearl, as her brother John – her parents were Joseph Clements and Catherine IRWIN. My Richard’s mother was Sarah IRWIN, so I started to think that they really were cousins, not just acquaintances. Sarah also stated that she was under the protection of her Aunt Mrs Irwin, so I searched the rest of the passenger records for Mrs Irwin, and found William Irwin with his wife Catherine and their 5 children. William, a native of Clogher, Tyrone, was a farm labourer, and his parents were stated to be John Irwin, a farmer, and Sarah Stevenson. (Archives Authority of New South Wales, Assisted (Bounty) Immigrants Arriving Sydney 1828-1842, SR Reel 1335)

To cut a long story short, it is entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that this William Irwin is the brother of my Richard Eason’s mother Sarah Irwin, whose father was John Irwin, a farmer, and whose mother has not been recorded in any document I have been able to find. Having found a possible brother of Sarah’s whose parents were recorded I can deduce the name of Sarah’s mother – Sarah Stevenson. In addition it is likely that the Irwins’ were Presbyterian, another revelation. So by chasing up a relative’s name on a passenger list I have been able to find a likely name for my previously-unknown g-g-g-g-grandmother. Where records in Ireland are so scarce, this is no small thing!

So the lesson is this: Always follow up the names of people that are associated with your ancestors, even if you can’t see any connection. You never know where they might lead you. I thought this cousin John Clements was just an acquaintance from Richard’s old country and ignored him, and in the end he was the only link I have, even now, to Richard’s maternal grandmother. The records in Ireland are notoriously scanty and tracing generations back through baptism and marriage registers, even if they still exist, is impossible from Australia unless you pay a researcher in Ireland or go there yourself, which is my next plan!

A note on sources – all the records I have referred to are microfilmed copies of records held by State Records New South Wales. They are available at the Reading Rooms in The Rocks and Kingswood and in many libraries around New South Wales and other Australian capital cities.

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  1. [...] up the microfilm. There are two lists, and if you are lucky your ancestor will appear in both. I posted a story a few years ago about how I found my Richard Eason’s mother’s mother from the [...]

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