Not the Same Sky

Fiction can tell the stories of our ancestors in a way that a bare recitation of facts cannot. There is no way that we can know how our ancestors felt when they left their homes forever for a new land, but we can look to our master storytellers to give us an idea.

This is a book review of one such book from last year that was previously published in my personal blog. I think it is an important part of our research to read everything we can, and that can include well-research and written fiction.

Not the Same Sky

I’ve just finished the most marvellous book, Not the Same Sky, about some of the Irish Famine Orphan girls shipped out to Sydney in 1849. I bought it from the author, Evelyn Conlon, at the Irish Famine Memorial Anniversary at Hyde Park Barracks a few months ago and was saving it until I had time to read it properly.

The book tells the story of around two hundred girls selected and shipped out on the Thomas Arbuthnot, and the unusually caring Surgeon-Superintendent, Charles Strutt, who looked after their welfare onboard ship and after landing in their new home. He took 120 of them on an overland journey to Yass and Gundagai to find employers of suitable character for them.

This story is told in A Decent Set of Girls, by Richard Reid and Cherly Mongan, which reproduces Dr Strutt’s journal and gives documents, facts and statistics of the journey and the lives of the girls in Australia.

A novel, though, is a different creature entirely. The facts – 194 orphan girls between 14 and 20 years old were rounded up from work houses around Ireland and sent to Sydney – cannot possibly convey the bewilderment and aching loss of these girls in the way that a novel can. And this one does, superbly.

… Matron’s voice sounded muffled until she began to name names.

‘Mary Traynor, Anne Sherry, it’s Australia for you. Honora Raftery, you too I think. And Julia Cuffe, maybe.’

‘What do you mean Australia?’ a small pale girl asked.

‘Not you. It doesn’t apply to you,’ Matron said. ‘No it wouldn’t apply to you. You’re too young.’

‘I’m old enough, ‘ the girl said, but Matron said, ‘No,’ again.

‘And you, Bridget Joyce, it’s Australia now for you.’

‘When?’ a voice dared.

‘Next month, yes, the sooner now the better,’ Matron added.

‘Can I go too?’ another voice asked tentatively.

‘No, Betsy Shannon, you’re too old.’

‘I’m young enough,’ she said. ‘Twenty-four.’

‘Duffy, you’re young enough, you’ll do. What’s your first name again?’

… Matron left the room, the girls looking after her. Honora Raftery sneaked a look at Anne Sherry and Julia Cuffe. Others looked at the ground. It was a lot to take in. Staying alive was the job they were all involved in now.

Matron rubbed her hands down her front, as if wiping off the part she had just played in this scheme. She didn’t know what she thought of it.

The girls knew it must be far because they needed several changes of clothes for the voyage, but they refused to believe the rumours that it was going to take 3 months to get there. That’s just too impossible. 3 months!

Later, on the ship, the doctor has been showing them a map to show them where they are and where they are going, although concerned at how the news of how far away this is will affect them. He is not sure whether they will all understand, but he sees that at least a few of them do when they recognise that the ship has turned east to sail past Africa and on to Australia:

Charles was leaving the deck to go to his quarters when he heard one of the older girls shouting out to the sea. She was hollering so loudly the words could be heard perfectly by all who stood ready to dance. Her voice even carried above the sound of sail and water and wind.

‘The ship has well rounded the corner now. There’s no going back.’

She followed with another wail of a sentence – she seemed to start high and go low. It was hard to know what effect, if any, that she intended to have by making this noise. But hot on its heels followed the slowest, lowest moan, which moved up first one pitch, then swelled into a second, gathering a scream under its echo, and rising further, if that were possible, into the most ferocious howling. Everyone was now involved in these gutturals, weeping for their lost land and their families, immersed in their threnody. Charles stood rooted to the spot, helpless in the face of this terrible sound, the hairs standing up on his neck. It would have to stop. It seemed to him to be the erasure of hope.

The girls found it necessary to forget where they came from, who they were, and the family they had lost, in order to survive in this strange new land where the birds made such an enormous noise and the trees were white and the grass was yellow and the sun was so hot. They didn’t pass their memories on to their children – those memories were too painful, too dangerous to carry lest they overwhelm.

The names of the girls used in the book are fictional. It is impossible to tell the story of 194 women in one book so the author has selected four and followed them through the voyage and in their new lives, showing what they had to do to survive.

To survive. We do not have any idea, really, about what the bare struggle for survival does to a person, where parents and brothers and sisters die in front of you and the routine of living falls away until there is nothing but the roaring in the stomach. The only people who understand this today are refugees, because famines still occur and people are driven from their homes and farms by war and drought and other catastrophes, and they try to find safety in a new home, anywhere that will take them.

House of Commons Parliamentary Papers

The Colonies of Australia were often discussed in the British Parliament, and much of the relevant correspondence and reports were printed and distributed for the information of the Members. The success of the colonies, convicts, immigration, churches; all were subjects of interest to the  Parliament. Although rarely mentioning individuals by name these reports can be very useful to historians.

The Parliamentary Papers for the British House of Commons have been digitised and categorised for the use of researchers. The website is but you need to have a login and password to enter it.

Fortunately, if you have a Library Card from the National Library of Australia you can access the site for free. Just go to the Library’s homepage and click on eResources in the top right hand corner. Here you can enter your Library Card number and your family name. If you don’t have a Library Card you can request one, and it will be posted within a couple of weeks.

Once you’ve logged in using your Library Card go down to Find a resource and type in ‘House of Commons’. Accept the terms and conditions. If you then Browse Subject Catalogue you need to get down to The dominions and colonies:

Parliamentary Papers for Australia and New Zealand

I suggest you have a good look around in here, depending on your interest. If we open the Australian settlementswe can see:

Australian settlements

Here is a partial list of results for Convicts:

1834 (82) Secondary punishment. (Australia.) Correspondence, on the subject of secondary punishment.

1834 (614) Secondary punishment. (Australia.) Further correspondence on the subject of secondary punishment.

1841 Session 1 (412) Secondary punishment. (New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land.) Return to an address of the Honourable the House of Commons, dated 7 June 1841;–for, copies or extracts of any correspondence between the Secretary of State and the Governor of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, on the subject of secondary punishment.

1851 (130) Convict discipline and transportation. Copies of all petitions on the subject of convict discipline and transportation, which have been presented to the House of Commons from any part of Australia or Van Diemen’s Land since the year 1838, with the number of signatures attached to each petition.

1851 (280) Convict discipline and transportation. Copies of all petitions on the subject of convict discipline and transportation, which have been presented to Her Majesty, from any part of Australia or Van Diemen’s Land, since the year 1838, with the number of signatures attached to each petition.

1854 [1795] Convict discipline and transportation. Australian colonies. Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation (in continuation of papers presented July 18, 1853.)

1854-55 [1916] [1988] Australian colonies. Convict discipline and transportation. Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation. (In continuation of papers presented May 1854.)

1856 [2101] Australian colonies. Convict discipline and transportation. Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation. (In continuation of papers presented August 1855.)

1857 Session 1 [2197] Australian colonies. Convict discipline and transportation. Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation. (In continuation of papers presented 2 June 1856.)

1860 (454) Convicts (Western Australia, &c.). Returns of the total cost to the Imperial Treasury of the convict establishments in Western Australia, including the expense of transporting convicts thereto, and the military charges thereat; the estimated European population in each of the Australian colonies, &c.; also, copies of the acts now in force in the several Australian colonies and the Cape of Good Hope for preventing the introduction of persons convicted of felony.

1861 [2796] Australian colonies. Convict discipline and transportation. Further correspondence on the subject of convict discipline and transportation.

1863 (505) Transportation (Australia). Copies of memorials received by the Secretary of State for the Colonies since 1 January 1863, in favour of or against transportation to any part of Australia; of addresses to Her Majesty from the legislative bodies in Australia on the same subject; of minutes or addresses by executive councils in Australia on the same subject, which have been transmitted to the Secretary of State; and, of the resolution adopted by the conference of delegates from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania, which recently met at Melbourne.

1864 [3357] Transportation. Copies or extracts of despatches lately received from the governors of the Australian colonies. With petitions against the continuance of transportation.

1865 [3424] Correspondence relative to the discontinuance of transportation.

Here is a partial list for New South Wales settlements:

1810 (45) A return of the number of persons, male or female, who have been transported as criminals to New South Wales since the first establishment of the colony: specifying, the term for which each person was transported;–the date and place of conviction;–and the time of embarkation to New South Wales: (except 607 persons, who were transported as criminals to New South Wales in the spring of 1787.)

1810-11 (38) A return of the number of persons, male or female, who have been transported as criminals to New South Wales since the month of August 1809; specifying the term for which each person was transported;–the date and place of conviction; and the time of embarkation.

1812 (97) A return of the number of persons, male and female, who have been transported as criminals to New South Wales, since the month of July 1810; specifying, the term for which each person was transported; the date and place of conviction; and, the time of embarkation.

1814-15 (354) An account of the number of persons, male and female,–(distinguishing and stating the ages of those under 21 years of age,)–who have been transported as criminals to New South Wales, in the years 1812, 1813, 1814, and 1815. 1.

1816 (314) An account of the number of convicts who have died in their passage to New South Wales, since the year 1810; distinguishing the names of the ships in which the deaths have occurred.

1816 (315) An account of the number of convicts landed in New South Wales, since the year 1810; distinguishing the ships in which they were conveyed from this country: so far as the same has been received. 2.

1816 (366) An account of the expense of victualling the several ships taking convicts to the settlement of New South Wales and its dependencies; and also of the provisions provided and sent by this department thither, in each of the years, from the year 1811, to the 11th April 1816.

1816 (431) An account of the annual expense of the transportation of convicts to New South Wales and its dependencies, and of the total annual expense of those settlements, since the year 1811; according to the form of the appendix to the report of the committee of finance, presented to the House of Commons, 26th June 1798. Whitehall Treasury Chambers 7th June 1816.

1816 (450) Papers relating to His Majesty’s settlements at New South Wales: 1811-1814.

1817 (237) 1. An estimate of the sum which may be wanted to defray the expense attending the confining, maintaining, and employing convicts at home; for the year 1817. 2. An estimate of the sum that may probably be wanted to defray the amount of bills drawn, or to be drawn, from New South Wales; for the year 1817.

1817 (276) Return of the number of persons, male and female;–distinguishing the ages of those under twenty-one years of age; stating their respective ages, who have been transported as criminals to New South Wales, since the 1st January 1812; specifying the term for which each was transported, the date and place of conviction, and the time of embarkation.

1818 (418) Return of the number of persons, who have been sent to New South Wales, under sentence of seven years transportation, from the 1st of January 1816, to the 1st of January 1818; distinguishing each year, also the sex of the prisoners, and classing them according to their respective ages.

1819 (191) An account of the annual expense of the transportation of convicts to New South Wales and its dependencies, and of the total annual expense of those settlements, since the year 1815.

The documents are all downloadable as PDF files, and some of them are quite large. Here is an example from 1816 (450) Papers relating to His Majesty’s settlements at New South Wales: 1811-1814:

Papers related to NSW 1816 page 12
HOUSE OF COMMONS PAPERS; ACCOUNTS AND PAPERS Volume/Page XVIII.299; Papers relating to His Majesty’s settlements at New South Wales: 1811-1814, Paper number (450), page 13.

These documents are indispensable to historians and are easily obtainable for Australian residents. Libraries and universities in other countries may have similar arrangements, so it’s worth checking. All colonies are represented.

Immigration Indexes

There are four ways that our ancestors could have arrived in Australia in the early years of the colony before Federation. These are:

  1. Convict transportation
  2. Soldiers assigned to the convict colony
  3. Ships’ crew
  4. Immigrants, whether assisted or unassisted

Today we will be concentrating on immigrants – people who chose to leave their homeland to make a new life in the new Colony. These fall into two categories, depending on whether their passage was subsidised by the government (assisted) or they paid their own way (unassisted). This distinction is important for us looking for their arrival because of the differences in the records that were kept at the time.

sailing_ship 200x300

Assisted immigrants

Immigrants were assisted in order to more quickly populate the new Colony of New South Wales. Of the estimated 1.4 million free immigrants to Australia in the nineteenth century, about half arrived through government assistance. The first assistance scheme was introduced in 1831 in response to the demand for skilled labour and female domestic and farm servants. The schemes were funded initially from the sale of crown land, and later through more direct government funding and contributions from sponsors – usually employers or family members.

Prospective immigrants had to show themselves to be suitable candidates for assistance. They had to be young, healthy, and “useful” in their work experience. The records kept for assisted immigrants contain the answers to many questions asked of them, and these records are invaluable to genealogists today. At best they contain occupation, religion, education (whether they could read, write, or both), parents’ names and residence, and relatives living in the Colony – the Immigration Board’s Lists.

Assisted immigrant online indexes

The first, best, place to look is the online indexes at State Records NSW. Indexes are available for assisted immigrants to Sydney, Port Phillip (before it became the separate Colony of Victoria), Moreton Bay (before it became Queensland) and Newcastle from 1844 (for Sydney, earlier for other ports) to 1896. Index entries give surname and first name, age, vessel, year, and one or two reel numbers. The reel numbers lead to the Immigration Agents’ Lists and the Immigration Board’s Lists, respectively. The Board’s List has more information but both should be examined if possible in case difficult handwriting or transcript errors give different information.

A new index of some assisted immigrants between 1828 and 1843 has also been made available online. Be aware that this index does not cover all arrivals.

Unassisted immigrants

If we cannot find our ancestor among the assisted immigrants, and we have discounted the possibility of arrival as a convict, soldier or ship’s crew, we must look to unassisted passengers, or free settlers. Very little information was collected for these passengers; they paid their money and got a berth, or a cabin, on a ship. At best there will be a title, first name and surname (eg Mr John Smith); age; occupation; country of origin (eg England, Scotland or Ireland); and family members listed by name and age. Less common names might give a positive identification, especially if family members are also identified.

At worst there will be a name only (eg Mr Smith) “and family”, making a conclusive identification impossible. Before 1854 many passengers were not even listed individually, especially in steerage, but just counted in a total. We will never find records of these in passenger lists but must rely on indirect evidence, such as newspaper reports.

Unassisted immigrant online indexes

Again, the first place to look is the online indexes at State Records NSW. An index of unassisted passengers from 1842-1855 gives Surname and initials, age (not always given), Ship, Status (crew or passenger), date of arrival,  previous port, remarks, and a reel number. Use this reel number to find the record at State Records reading rooms or libraries that have State Records reels. Quite often you will find no more information on the reel than is in the index, making it impossible to determine whether the person is your ancestor.

The next place to look is the indexes available at Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters, an epic undertaking by Mary-Anne Warner and her volunteers to index passenger lists from 1845 to 1892 and eventually 1922. This index is still in progress and more volunteers are always welcome!

Another possibility is the Index of Inward Passenger Lists for British, Foreign and New Zealand Ports, 1852-1923 at the Public Record Office of Victoria website. Ships from the UK often stopped at Melbourne before coming on to Sydney and your passenger may be listed there. You can then look for the film on which the ship arrived in Sydney a few days later to see if your passenger arrived here.

Another possibility, so far only for later arrivals, is to find the departure from Britain. FindMyPast has indexes and digital images of passenger lists for 1890 to 1939 with more to come. The information is sometimes more detailed than the arrival information, including occupation and nationality, and is reproduced in full colour. FindMyPast is pay-per-view or by subscription. In some cases it is possible to find a departure from England, arrival in Melbourne and then in Sydney, and all three can give much more certainty than looking at one passenger list alone that may have the bare minimum of information.

Microfilm indexes

Once you’ve exhausted the online indexes it’s time to look for microfilmed indexes:

The Bounty Index 1828-1842 for assisted immigrants is available on microfilm at State Records NSW reading rooms and many libraries. It has also been produced on CD. It can lead you to the passenger lists for Bounty ships, held on microfilm at State Records NSW and many libraries.

An incomplete index of paying passengers from July 1826 to 1853 is available in State Records NSW reading rooms on Reels 1358-1372.

The Society of Australian Genealogists has produced an Index to Passengers Arriving 1826-37, which is available in the Society library at 379 Kent Street, Sydney, and the State Records NSW reading rooms.


Haines, Robin F., Nineteenth Century Government Assisted Immigrants from the United Kingdom to Australia: Schemes, Regulations and Arrivals, 1831-1900, and some vital statistics 1834-1860. Adelaide: Flinders University, 1995.

State Records New South Wales, Archives in Brief Nos. 1, 24. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2004-5.



Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters

Public Record Office of Victoria

Society of Australian Genealogists

State Records NSW

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, 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.

Five essential websites for NSW genealogy

Today I want to discuss websites that I find to be essential for researching family history in New South Wales. Genealogy has come a very long way in the last few years, with so many government repositories and others putting indexes, and even images of the actual records, online. Here are the websites that I use most often.

1. NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages Historical Index Search is a necessary first step for anyone starting on their family history. Starting with the people you know – your parents and their parents, you can then start putting the meat on the bones – the hard evidence of birth, death, and marriage registrations. The index allows searching for births from 1788 to 1906 by name and/or parents’ names; deaths from 1788 to 1976 by name or parents’ names; and marriages from 1788 to 1956 by either or both parties’ names. The upper search limit increases each year by one year. Once an entry is found the certificate can be ordered and paid for online. Current cost for a certificate is $25.00.

2. NSW State Records was previously names the Archives Office of NSW. Their indexes online has many useful indexes including some censuses; Colonial Secretary Correspondence; Convicts; Court, Police and Prison records such as civil and criminal cases, divorces, gaol photographs, police service records, and some early probate records; Deceased Estate files of the Stamp Duties Office; Education and Child Welfare; Immigration and Shipping; Indigenous Australians; Insolvencies; Land records and Naturalization. Additional records and series are added to as indexing progresses. The Convict and Immigration indexes are essential resources for finding out how your ancestor arrived in Australia. Some indexes are held on the websites of other organisations.

3. Society of Australian Genealogists is based in Sydney and is a marvelous resource for Australian research and NSW research in particular. Their research guides are enormously helpful – factual and very informative. Online databases include Convicts’ Tickets of Leave, Electoral districts for Sydney Streets, Soldiers and Marines from 1787 to 1830, and NSW Ships Musters 1816-1825. The catalogue shows what resources are available when you visit the library and is being added to all the time.

4. State Library of NSW has many resources that are also available in other repositories such as State Records NSW. I always check their catalogue to see if it is worthwhile to visit for records on microfilm or microfiche, both Australian and from the UK. They also have some records for other states. Mitchell Library and the William Dixson Library in particular specialise in Australian and New Zealand books and manuscripts. The State Library also has a vast collection of maps and plans, pictures, photographs and newspapers.

5. NSW Department of Lands is not an immediately obvious source for family history, and it does allow some limited property searches here. What I use it for most often is its Historical Parish Maps, which can be viewed in small sections from here. It may be useful before doing a map search to find the correct parish using the search at the Geographical Names Board. All the existing parish maps that have been superceded by more recent versions have been digitised and put online. Towns are included to the street level, and portions of land have the names of the original purchaser. Hours can be spent looking at these maps. CDs of the maps are also available from the Department.

6. I know I said there would be five websites, but I think the State Records NSW website must be mentioned again apart from its online indexes. This is the place to find out whether the records you want actually exist and have been archived. As the progressive indexing of their holding continues more and more records can be found by searching in Archives Investigator, their catalogue search facility. For example, probate files can be found by searching for the name and the word “death” as keywords (and using “All Words” not “Exact Phrase”). Their Archives in Brief series are very useful guides to the records they hold and are available online or in hardcopy in State Records Reading Rooms.

These are the NSW sites that I use most often in my research for myself and others. I would be very interested to hear from others if they disagree with anything on my list, or have others they would like to share.