Sunday, February 10, 2019

Robert Forrester's Wife Mary Frost

On 19 October 1791, the marriage of a Robert Forster to a woman named Mary Frost was recorded in the parish registers of St Philip's Church of England in Sydney.[1] Robert made his mark but Mary signed her name, unusual for women in Sydney at that time..
Excerpt from Parish Registers, St Philip's Sydney, SAG Film 90, Mitchell Library

Who was Robert’s bride? When 'Robert Forrester, First Fleeter' was published in January 2009, it contained an Appendix canvassing Mary's possible identity (Appendix 3). With a Second Edition of the book nearing completion, that Appendix has been omitted to allow space for new material.

Despite extensive research for the Second Edition, we still don't know who Mary was.

Here's why.

1. Mary Frost/Forrester

Living on Norfolk Island at the end of 1791 were Robert Forrester and his wife Mary Frost, fresh from their marriage in Sydney.  

Proof of Robert’s arrival on Norfolk Island comes from the government’s victualling lists, giving his date of arrival as 4 November 1791, aboard Atlantic

In another government list, those aboard the Atlantic included 10 ‘male convicts become settlers’ (one being Robert Forrester), no free women, 13 female convicts and 3 children of convicts.[2] It’s the only evidence we have that Mary must have been a convict. Her transport ship and date of arrival in Sydney remains unknown. 

Mary’s arrival at Norfolk Island with Robert on 4 November 1791 is taken as a fact, as he was recorded as a married man there on 5 November. [3] He was also recorded as a married man in a list dated 6 December, that list included in correspondence dated 29 December 1791.[4] From this date Mary disappears from the records. 

Her husband Robert Forrester is recorded in the Norfolk Island Victualling Book throughout 1792 with an arrival date of 4 November 1791 and a departure date of 9 March 1793.[5] But no-one named Mary Frost was listed as an arrival or as a departure on those dates, making her an example of ‘a number of major errors and missing people in the Norfolk Island Victualling Book, 1792 - 1796’.[6] 

Unfortunately, this means that Mary, an unlisted arrival in NSW, with no specific record of her presence or death on Norfolk Island, or her departure from there, is unlikely ever to be identified. 

The material which follows proves that she could not have been one of the three other women named Frost already living on Norfolk Island when she arrived there in November 1791. Two of these women were named Mary Frost and one was named Frances Frost. They’d been there for 18 months, being shipped there from Sydney on 7 August 1790 aboard the Surprize, the Second Fleet transport vessel making its homeward journey via Norfolk Island.

2. Mary Frost/Peck

Surprize definitely brought the Mary Frost who was tried at Thetford in Norfolk on 19 March 1789, for the theft of wearing apparel and some flour, and was then reprieved from a death sentence to transportation for 7 years. She arrived in Sydney in June 1790 aboard the Second Fleet ship Neptune and two months later was sent to Norfolk Island aboard Surprize. There she teamed up with Joshua Peck, married him in November 1791 and had a number of children, the eldest being John, born on Norfolk Island in 1792 but too young to make an appearance in the victualling records before the Pecks left for Sydney in 1793.[8]

In 1792 the Norfolk Island Victualling Book records her as one of two convict women named Mary Frost being fed from the government store, both women having arrived on the island on 7 August 1790 aboard Surprize.[9]  Read on - the other Mary was not Robert's wife.

The Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796 shows this Mary Frost {i.e. Joshua Peck's wife) receiving rations for a total of 365 days in 1792 and 89 days in 1793.[10] Her husband also received rations for 365 days in 1792 and for 89 days in 1793, with his record showing the Pecks leaving Norfolk Island aboard Chesterfield on 30 March 1793.[11] Victualling records prove that the Pecks with their children returned to the island some years later. Only one Mary Frost was still ‘on stores’ in the Muster taken in February 1805 on Norfolk Island.[12] This ‘woman from sentence expired’ would have been Joshua Peck’s wife. 

Mary and her husband Joshua Peck and their children were resettled in Tasmania at the end of 1807.[13] Mary Peck/Frost’s life on Norfolk Island, in New South Wales, back on Norfolk Island and then in Tasmania has been well tracked by others until her death in Tasmania in 1847.

3. Mary Frost

From later records, the second Mary Frost on Norfolk Island appears to have been an unlisted arrival in Sydney on 3 June 1790 aboard the Lady Juliana, the so-called ‘floating brothel.[14] Victualling records show her as arriving on Norfolk Island aboard Surprize on 7 August 1790, receiving either full or meat only rations for a total of 365 days in both 1792 and 1793, and full rations for 365 days in both 1794 and 1795.[15] No details of her crime, trial or sentence are known. 

It’s possible that Mary was the mother of a mysterious convict’s child named Mary Frost, added in 1792 to the bottom of a page in the Norfolk Island Victualling Book with no other details.[16] Her listing in the Mutch Index as born on the island in November 1791 is an estimated date of birth.[17] It’s possible that baby Mary was born during or soon after the voyage of the Lady Juliana in 1790. 

Mary Frost Snr is assumed to be the mother of a convict’s child named Sarah Frost, who was born on the island on 17 June 1791, ten months after Mary arrived there, and died there on 23 October 1795 according to victualling records.[18] 

Unless she made a trip to Sydney after 17 June 1791 and before October 1791, this Mary Frost could not have been marrying Robert Forrester and signing her name on the marriage register in Sydney on 19 October 1791, as she’d been living on Norfolk Island since August 1790. Rations issued to her indicate that she did not leave the island from the start of 1792 through to the end of 1795. However Norfolk Island researcher Cathy Dunn has listed Mary Frost, convict, Mary Frost, convict’s child and Sarah Frost, convict’s child among 62 passengers aboard the Atlantic when it sailed from Norfolk Island to Port Jackson (Sydney) on 21 September 1792.[19] 

Rations issued indicate that Mary (on full rations) and her daughter Sarah (on half rations) soon returned to Norfolk Island (if they ever left, because there are no gaps in issuance of mother Mary’s rations).[20] Babies Mary and Sarah did not draw rations in 1792 but baby Mary didn’t draw rations later either, suggesting that she never returned to the island with her mother and sister. Baby Sarah drew half-rations for most of 1793 (from around the time she turned two?), all of 1794 and up until the 296th day of 1795, 23 October, the day 4-yr-old Sarah died. 

Still living on Norfolk Island at the end of 1800 was settler Mary Frost, pardoned by Governor King on 16 December 1800.[21] She’d arrived in Sydney on the Lady Juliana in June 1790 after trial in 1787.[22] Her benefactor, the newly-arrived Governor King, now living in Sydney, would have known her during his previous role as Lieutenant Governor on Norfolk Island. As the other Frost women who’d lived on the island (Mary Frost/Peck and Frances Frost) did not need a Pardon, their sentences of 1788 and 1789 having long-since expired, the pardon must connect to this ‘mystery’ lady. With no subsequent references to her, it could be that she took the surname of her unknown husband, or permanently left the colony. 

There is no death for a Mary Frost on Norfolk Island.[23] Settlers remaining at Norfolk Island after 1804 were mostly resettled in Tasmania but, other than for Mary Frost/Peck, Tasmania has no record for a death of any other Mary Frost/Foster/Forster/Forrester of an appropriate age.[24] 

In New South Wales, a Mary Foster was buried on 1 December 1801, not described as a convict or as a wife, as some others were at the time, just as a ‘woman’ whose abode was Sydney.[25] The 1800-1802 Muster book records the death of two adults named Mary Foster, on 1 December 1801 and 30 December 1801, but the second Mary is not listed in parish burial records and could be a duplicate of the first burial.[26] She appears to have been the Mary Foster who arrived aboard Britannia on 27 May 1797 after being tried at Dublin City in January 1796 and sentenced to 7 Years.[27] The Mary Forster who died in Sydney Hospital aged 51 in September 1826 was a convict who’d arrived aboard Indispensable in 1809.[28] 

4. Frances Frost

Lady Juliana also brought Frances Frost from England. At her trial at the July 1788 Devon Assizes held at Exeter, 20-yr-old Frances Frost received a 7 year sentence.[29] Her crime was the theft of a linen gown and other items.[30] Peter Selley, from Devon in England, advises that Frances was born in 1768 in Sandford, Devon as the seventh child of Francis Frost and his wife Sarah nee Collins. Her victim was young Jane or Jenny Drake, born in 1771, the eldest of four daughters of the local miller. Jane married Richard Browne, in 1802.[31]

Frances, living on Norfolk Island from August 1790, had at least one child, a ‘convict’s child’ named Margaret Frost who was born on the island on 21 Dec 1793.
[32] Peter Selley has located a separate published  record for the father of another daughter Sarah, born 17 June 1791, died 23 October 1795, the father's name given as John Frith and rations are issued in Sarah's name for most of 1793, all of 1794 and up to her death in 1795.[33] Margaret’s rations issued in 1794 and 1795 fitted the pattern for Frances Frost, who received stores continuously through 1792, 1793, 1794 and for 310 days in 1795.[34] Frances Frost, a married woman who’d arrived in Sydney on the Lady Juliana in 1790 and on Norfolk Island on 7 August 1790, departed Norfolk Island after November 1795.[35] With Margaret, Frances departed from Norfolk Island on 6 November 1795 on the Supply.[36] Frances returned to Norfolk Island and was back on stores on 1 October 1796.[37] This is the date noted for the birth of her third daughter, the second Sarah (alias Elizabeth Frost, according to the Biographical Database of Australia), father once again listed as John Frith, about whom nothing is known.[38] The convict’s child receiving rations from that same date was listed as Sarah Frost, not Margaret.[39] Does this mean the almost 3-yr-old Margaret had been left behind in Sydney, or had died?

To conclude, 
the old Appendix 3 information about Mary Frost, as published in 2009 and uploaded to this blog on 12 December 2018, badly needed revising and this current post is the result of that work. Hopefully it clarifies the confusion about the four women named Frost who lived on Norfolk Island in the early 1790s. I believe it eliminates three of them as the potential wife of Robert Forrester. We are left wondering who she was and what happened to her. I thank Cathy Dunn of Australian History Research, a specialist researcher into Norfolk Island  history, for her input into some of the points I raised with her 

Don't forget to email me if you'd like to join the waiting list for the new book. For more details, see my website

Endnotes



[1] PRs, St Philip’s, Sydney, SAG Film 90, ML
[2] HRNSW Vol 1 Part 2, p 561, ‘State of the Settlements at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island the 18th of November, 1791’
[3] Bigge's Appendix, Return of Lands Granted in His Majesty's Territory of New South Wales, 5 Nov 1791, Ref A2131 CY Reel 727, p 61, ML
[4] Bigge's Appendix, A List of Persons Settled on Norfolk Island who have not got their grants, 29 Dec 1791, Ref A2131 CY Reel 727, p 55, ML
[5] Norfolk Island Victualling Book, 1792 - 1796, p 28b, A1958, ML (microfilm copy in State Records NSW at SR Reel 2747 and at SLV, GM)
[6] Email from Cathy Dunn of Australian History Research to Louise Wilson, 8 Feb 2019
[8] Flynn, Michael, The Second Fleet, Britain's Grim Convict Armada of 1790 (Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1993), pp 280-281
[9] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 59b & p 60a, GM 115, SLV
[10] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 59b, GM 115, SLV
[11] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 21a, GM 115, SLV
[12] Baxter, Carol J, (Ed), Muster of New South Wales and Norfolk Island, 1805-1806 (ABGR in assoc with SAG, Sydney 1989), Ref D0517 p 195
[13] Departed Norfolk Island 26 Dec 1807 aboard Porpoise, ‘Convict Settlement on Norfolk Island’, Compiled by Kaye Vernon, SRNSW, 2012, p 260
[14] Recommendations for Absolute Pardons, 1826-1846, NRS 1179, Australian Convict Conditional and Absolute Pardons, 1791-1867, SRNSW, Reel 800
[15] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 60a, GM 115, SLV
[16] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 77b, GM 115, SLV
[17] Cathy Dunn to Louise Wilson, Facebook post on Norfolk Island History Researchers, 5 Feb 2019
[18] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 76a, GM 115, SLV
[19] Research of professional Norfolk Island researcher Cathy Dunn on her Australian History Research website http://www.australianhistoryresearch.info/atlantic-from-norfolk-island-to-port-jackson-september-1792/, accessed 31 Jan 2019
[20] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 60a & p 76a, GM 115, SLV
[21] Baxter, Carol J, (Ed), Musters and Lists, New South Wales and Norfolk Island, 1800-1802 (ABGR in assoc with SAG, Sydney 1988), Governor King’s Lists 1801, List 6,  Ref BF088, p 119
[22] Recommendations for Absolute Pardons, 1826-1846, NRS 1179, Australian Convict Conditional and Absolute Pardons, 1791-1867, SRNSW, Reel 800
[23] Email from Cathy Dunn of Australian History Research to Louise Wilson, 8 Feb 2019
[24] Tasmanian Pioneer Index, 1803-1899, Archives Office of Tasmania, CDROM 2003, at SLV
[25] PRs, St Philip’s, Sydney, SAG Film 90, ML; also NSW V18011600 2A/1801
[26] Baxter, Muster, 1800-1802, King’s Lists 1801, List 9, General Return of Deaths in the Territory of New South Wales from 1st September 1800 to 31st December 1801, Refs BJ087 & BJ095, p 129
[27] Biographical Database of Australia, Mary Foster Person ID  B#10011615801, accessed 2 Feb 2019
[28] NSW BDM 1329/1826 V18261329 44B
[29] Biographical Database of Australia, Biog Item No. 100111017
[30] Convict Records website, https://convictrecords.com.au/convicts/frost/frances/129072, accessed 7 Feb 2019
[31] Email from Peter Selley to Louise Wilson, 16 Apr 2019
[32] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 81a, GM 115, SLV
[33] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 76a, GM 115, SLV and Donohoe, James Hugh, Births in Australia, 1788-1828, (J S Shaw North Publishing, 2004), p 186
[34] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 81a, GM 115, SLV
[35] Biographical Database of Australia, Biog Item No. 120211836
[36] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 58a & p 81a, GM 115, SLV
[37] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 62b, GM 115, SLV
[38] Donohoe, James Hugh, Births in Australia, 1788-1828, (J S Shaw North Publishing, 2004), p 186
[39] Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796, p 84a, GM 115, SLV



Friday, December 14, 2018

Second Edition of Robert Forrester's Story

The First Edition of 'Robert Forrester, First Fleeter' was published in January 2009. At the time I was very new to the field of researching and writing about Australian history but it was easy to see that Robert's story was compelling. Despite my inexperience as an amateur historian, the judging panel of the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies (since re-named as Family History Connections) rated the book as 'Highly Commended' in the Alexander Henderson Award, 2009.

That book incorporated my own extensive 'deep delving' into original records (primary sources), trying to track whatever I could find about specific events in Robert's life. In many other places in that book I relied on the published research of others to tell the general story of his times. Virtually every point made in the book was supported by an endnote, so that others could cross-check my work and could use the same often obscure sources for their own research. I've been told that my book significantly raised the standard of non-fiction Australian family histories and set a good example for others to follow.

Sketch by my mother Julia Woodhouse of the three Aborigines in 1799
Ten years have now passed, and I've gained a much greater understanding of the early days of Sydney and the Hawkesbury and the Aboriginal history of those times. Robert and Isabella have each found a place in our country's history of the interactions between our First Peoples and our first settlers.  I can see how I could have described many aspects of that historical period more accurately, or more clearly. Other researchers have been at work too, since my Forrester research was completed in 2008, and I've benefited from their thinking and writing.

'Robert Forrester, First Fleeter' has been popular and already reprinted twice, in 2011 and 2014 but, when supplies once again began running out in 2017, I decided to take this opportunity to update the book. It will contain:
  • some exciting news about Robert's family of origin
  • a new interpretation of 'the crime' in London
  • additional information about Robert's partner-in-crime, Richard McDale/McDeed
  • more information about the London landlady, Letitia Coleman
  • an improved description of events on 21 & 26 January, 1788 
  • an update on Sydney's 'orgy myth'
  • a more precise definition of the location of Robert's grant on Norfolk Island
  • an update on Isabella Ramsay's family of origin
  • a more precise definition of the location of Robert's 1794 grant beside the Hawkesbury
  • much more about settler interactions with the Aborigines (the 'Frontier War' and massacres)
  • more about Robert's killing of an Aborigine in 1794
  • information about Isabella Ramsay's interesting role when two Aborigines were killed at Cornwallis in 1799
  • the counterargument to the criticism of Robert Forrester in 'Hawkesbury Settlement Revealed' and several other publications
  • less reliance on excerpts from 'An Account of the English Colony In New South Wales' by David Collins
  • numerous other minor amendments and additional pictures
This new material added many extra pages to the original book, so Appendices 1-8 in the First Edition have been omitted. The content is preserved, either within the revised book or as individual posts on this blog:
  • Robert Forrester's Origins - posted on 10 December 2018
  • Richard McDale/McDeed - now incorporated within main text of Second Edition
  • Mary Frost of the Neptune - posted on 12 December 2018 as 'Robert Forrester's Wife Mary Frost'
  • Duncan Forrester - posted on 13 December 2018 as 'Duncan Forrester of the New South Wales Corps'
  • Isabella Ramsay's Origins - posted on 11 December 2018
  • Argyle Reach Grants, 1794 - now incorporated within main text of Second Edition
  • Isabella Jane Forrester/Bushell - now incorporated within main text of Second Edition
  • James Metcalf - now incorporated within main text of Second Edition
The book has been streamlined in other ways too, to make it no longer than the First Edition, despite the inclusion of additional material. Its publication date awaits confirmation of the DNA links to prove, as far as possible, Robert's parentage. Please email me if you'd like to join the waiting list for the Second Edition of  'Robert Forrester, First Fleeter'.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Duncan Forrester of New South Wales Corps

When ‘Robert Forrester, First Fleeter’ was tried at the Old Bailey in London in 1783 he said he was a stranger in that city. Looking for clues about his origins, at first I wondered whether the New South Wales Corps soldier Duncan Forrester was somehow connected to Robert. 

NSW Corps Re-enactment, Ebenezer 2009, © Louise Wilson
Many coincidences tempted me to think this way. After Robert was transported with the First Fleet to Sydney, arriving there in January 1788, Duncan enlisted in the newly-formed NSW Corps on 8 August 1789 and arrived in Sydney with the Second Fleet in June 1790. Once Robert was a free man, he and Duncan both travelled to Norfolk Island on the Atlantic, arriving there on 4 November 1791, and both sailed from Norfolk Island for Sydney on the Kitty in 9 March 1793. Robert did not move from Sydney to the Hawkesbury until after Duncan's burial in Sydney on 20 June 1794.

Yet, if the men had been connected through kinship, surely Robert would have named one of his sons in honour of Duncan.

No age was given when Duncan Forrester was buried in Sydney on 20 June 1794, so tracking his likely place and date of birth is problematic. Of the very few Duncan Forrester births listed various online parish records, only two are listed in the time frame 1740-1780, both siblings from the same family in Scotland. The first Duncan died young. If the second surviving Duncan became the soldier Duncan Forrester, he would have been 44 years of age when he died.

Duncan Forrester of Caltown, South Leith, Edinburgh

The two Duncans and their siblings were born at Caltown and baptised at South Leith, the harbour area of Edinburgh, Midlothian, all being children of a heelmaker named William Forrester. The witness for the baptisms was a shoemaker named John Forrester of Caltown. This was another tempting clue, as many of Robert’s circle in Australia were shoemakers. The only other Forrester appearing in the baptism registers for South Leith between 1740 and the end of 1770 was Ralph Forrester, a bottle blower of Leith.

These three Forrester men are likely to have been the brothers John (born 1715), William (born 1722), and Ralph (born 1728) who were christened in Glasgow, Lanarkshire as members of the large family of Alexander Forrester and Mary Govan.

After the brothers moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh, William married his first wife Margaret Smith in South Leith on 9 December 1742. William was recorded as a heelmaker in Caltown at the baptisms of his children, who were:
  1. William Forrester, born in Caltown on 17 November 1743 and christened in South Leith on 21 November 1743.
  2. Jean Forrester, born in Caltown on 11 December 1745 and christened in South Leith on 15 December 1745. Jean died in infancy, before 1752.
  3. Duncan Forrester, born in Caltown on 11 November 1746 and christened in South Leith on 14 November 1746. The child was possibly named after an Andrew Duncan, another Caltown heelmaker, who might have been his father’s business partner. Young Duncan died before May 1750.
  4. John Forrester, born in Caltown on 11 October 1747 and christened in South Leith on 13 October 1747.
  5. Duncan Forrester, the second child in the family with that name, born in Caltown on 12 May 1750 and christened in South Leith on 16 May 1750. 
    Presumably he was the Duncan Forrester who married Jean Proven on 2 December 1775 at Linlithgow, West Lothian, not far away.[1] One child is recorded for them in the IGI - Agness, born on 26 September and christened on 6 October 1776 at Linlithgow.[2] Her father was described as a ‘workman at Kingscavell’, which was a small town just outside Linlithgow on the road towards Edinburgh. Witnesses to the baptism were Alex. Murray and Andrew Graham, who witnessed a number of baptisms and were probably parish officials. Parish records contain many baptisms for the children of ‘Dragoon in 10th Regiment’, and ‘soldier in South Fencibles’ and mention is also made of the ‘1st Royal Regiment of Dragoons’.
    Online parish records indicate that no more children for Duncan and Jean Forrester were baptised in this parish, or any other Scottish parish, suggesting that one of the parents died, or the father was absent from home. Duncan’s wife and daughter still seemed to be alive, so did Duncan enlist as a soldier and fight in the American War of Independence?
  6. Jean Forrester, born in Caltown on 31 January 1752 and christened in South Leith on 7 February 1752.
The South Leith parish records I consulted did not contain relevant burial records, but it seems that as well as several of his infant children, William Forrester’s first wife Margaret died young.

Robert Forrester of Caltown, South Leith, Edinburgh

After the death of his first wife Margaret, William Forrester married his second wife Anne Hamilton in South Leith on 7 January 1756. They had three children:
  1. Barbara Forrester, born in Caltown on 30 November 1756 and christened in South Leith on 12 December 1756. She married Murdoch Campbell in South Leith on 11 August 1792.
  2. Thomas Forrester, born in Caltown in March 1758 and christened in South Leith in March 1758. The specific dates were unreadable on the microfilm I consulted.
    I did not track his life but he seems NOT to have been the Thomas Forrester who was buried on 13 March 1806 at St John's Parramatta, NSW.[3] This man was an adult who lived at Parramatta, and was therefore most unlikely to be related to Robert Forrester, as a close relative would surely seek to live near Robert at Windsor, NSW. Thomas Forrester of Parramatta was not classified as either a soldier or a convict when he was buried, and was not included in the 1800 - 1802 Muster, suggesting that he arrived after 1802. He was probably the convict named Thomas Forrester who arrived aboard Coromandel on 7 May 1804, to serve a sentence of fourteen years imposed at his trial at Warwick on 24 March 1803. No further details are contained in the relevant convict indents.
  3. Robert Forrester, born in Caltown on 8 June 1761 and christened in South Leith on 15 June 1761. This baptism record does not exactly fit with the known facts for Robert Forrester of the First Fleet, whose date of birth was most likely between 1757 and 1759.
This 1761 Robert was definitely a younger half-brother of the 1750 Duncan Forrester, who is presumed to have arrived in Sydney as a soldier in 1790 and died there in 1794. But was the 1761 Robert 'our' Robert, the First Fleeter? It seems not.

DNA testing conducted in 2018 has yielded the surprising tentative result that ‘Robert Forrester, First Fleeter’ is most likely the Scottish-born son of an unmarried Forrester woman and a man named John McGaw. Further Y-DNA testing is underway. If true, Robert appears to have adopted his mother's surname. Final conclusions about Robert's origins will be published in the Second Edition of 'Robert Forrester, First Fleeter'.  

Having now decided to scrap the theory that Duncan and Robert might have been related, I won’t be including Appendix 4 from the First Edition of ‘Robert Forrester, First Fleeter’ within the Second Edition of the book. It will free up space for new material located during the past ten years. But, just in case it might help other researchers, my genealogical research into Duncan is preserved here in this blog post.

Please email me if you'd like to join the waiting list for the updated version of the book.




[1] PRs, Linlithgow, West Lothian, Marriages, LDS Film 1066634
[2] PRs, Linlithgow, West Lothian, Births & Baptisms, 1674-1799, LDS Film 1066632
[3] NSW V18062037 Reel 2A/1806

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Isabella Ramsay's Origins

Many of the First Fleeters who arrived in Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788 never found a wife. There just weren't enough women to go round.

The story of the convict 'Robert Forrester, First Fleeter', published in January 2009, would never have been told if he'd been one of these men. Luckily, he found a mate in Isabella Ramsay, who arrived in Sydney Cove as a convict on 9 July 1791. Robert and Isabella had nine children together, making her one of the founding mothers of modern Australia. Their numerous descendants retain a keen interest in their story.

But who was Isabella and where did she come from?

The Ramsays

The details of Isabella's trial at Carlisle, Cumberland in 1790 (published in full in the book) narrowed the focus of the search for her to north-west England, on the border with Scotland. Her child-bearing years extended from 1794 to 1806, placing her date of birth somewhere between 1750 and 1780.

Isabella Ramsay's Place of Origin

Ten years ago, before the advent of Ancestry, Find My Past and the like, the International Genealogical Index (IGI) was the obvious place to start the search for Isabella’s family of origin. For baptisms of girls named Isabella Ramsay in the period 1750-1780, only two children emerged as serious options, both baptised in 1773 in Cumberland.
  • The first child was Isabela Ramsey, daughter of Thomas, christened on 10 June 1773 at All Saints Cockermouth. (Source: Bishop's Transcripts, 1689-1830, Cockermouth, Cumberland, LDS Film 0090596)
  • The second was Isabella Ramsay, daughter of William, baptised on 17 October 1773 at Workington. (Source: Bishop's Transcripts,  St Michael, Workington, Cumberland, LDS Film 90689, Items 4-6)
Ten years later, no-one else has emerged as a possible contender.

Cockermouth is not far from Workington and parish records are consistent with Thomas and William being brothers, along with another man named James Ramsay. Brief descriptions of their families follow.

Thomas Ramsay of Cockermouth

Thomas Ramsay was christened at the Presbyterian Church in Workington, Cumberland, in 1749 as a son of William Ramsay and Ann Buckingham.

He married Ann Paul in Gateshead, Durham, on 22 December 1765.

On 10 June 1773 at All Saints Cockermouth, three daughters of a Thomas Ramsey, hatter, were baptised. The youngest of the three was Isabela Ramsey. This baby was buried 17 days later, so could not have been the woman transported to New South Wales.

Two more children were born to Thomas and Ann.

If baby Isabela’s father was the same Thomas baptised back in 1749, then she was a cousin of the other Isabella who was baptised in 1773.

William Ramsay of Workington

William Ramsay was christened at the Presbyterian Church in Workington, Cumberland, in 1753 as a son of William Ramsay and Ann Buckingham. His age at death suggests that he may have been born around 1750. At that time, Workington was a major seaport and shipbuilding town.

William Jnr became a seaman, and in the course of his travels he met Mary Wind, who he married in Gateshead, Durham, on 22 December 1771. Gateshead was directly across country from Workington. His likely brother Thomas also married in Gateshead, in 1765. William and Mary lived in Gateshead for a short period before returning to Workington.

William Ramsay and Mary Wind had the following children:

  1. Margaret Ramsay was christened in Gateshead, Durham, on 11 October 1772. Margaret, daughter of William Ramsay, was buried on 26 January 1777 at St Michael's in Workington, Cumberland. Her age was not given but she was four years old.
  2. Isabella Ramsay, daughter of William Ramsay, and one of a set of twins, was christened at St Michael’s in Workington on 17 October 1773.
  3. Ann Ramsay, daughter of William Ramsay, and the other twin, was christened at St Michael’s in Workington on 17 October 1773. Ann died before December 1777, when a second child named Ann was baptised.
Baptism, Ann & Isabella, daurs of Wm Ramsay

The record for the first Ann’s burial has not been found in the parish transcripts for St Michael’s in Workington, but the transcripts contain only two burials in December 1773, an unusually low number, suggesting that some records from the original registers were missing or illegible. Alternatively, it is possible that Ann was baptised twice, in 1773 and again in 1777.

Assuming that baby Ann did die in December 1773, it seems likely that the twins’ mother died too, as William Ramsay, a mariner, married a woman named Mary Ramsay at St Michael’s in Workington on 30 May 1774. Mary was possibly William’s first cousin, brought in to look after his two infant children (Margaret and the surviving twin, Isabella).

William Ramsay and Mary Ramsay had the following children:

  1. James Ramsay, son of William Ramsay, was christened at St Michael’s in Workington on 2 July 1776. James was buried on 11 February 1799 at St Michael's in Workington. No age was given, but he was aged 22.
  2. Ann Ramsay, daughter of William Ramsay, was christened at St Michael’s in Workington on 7 December 1777.  She married the mariner Leonard Crosthwaite at St Michael’s in Workington on 21 July 1796. He died at sea soon after their marriage, along with two brothers (Source: The London Chronicle, Vol 82, J Wilkie, 1797, p 482), but not before fathering a son Leonard Crosthwaite Jnr, who was baptised at St Michael’s in Workington on 29 January 1798 as the son of Leonard (dec’d) and Ann Crosthwaite. 
    Ann survived as a grocer, later helped by her son, and remained a widow until her death at Beckfoot, on the coast north of Workington, in the district of Holme Cultrant Abbey. She was buried at St Michael’s in Workington on 14 June 1832, her age given as 57 years. As a precise calculation, the age at death puts her date of birth between 15 June 1774 and 14 June 1775, in between the two baptism records for Ann Ramsay, but ages given at death are often an approximation. In Ann's case, the informant was likely her elderly father or her son.
  3. Elizabeth Ramsay, daughter of William & Mary Ramsay, was christened at St Michael’s in Workington on 20 February 1780. Elizabeth, daughter of William Ramsay, was buried on 19 April 1799 at St Michael's in Workington. No age was given, but she was 19 years old.
  4. Mary Ramsay, daughter of William & Mary Ramsay, was christened at St Michael’s in Workington on 10 February 1783. Mary, daughter of William Ramsay, mariner, died on 5 October 1807, and was buried two days later at St Michael's in Workington. She would have been 24 years old.
The names Isabella Ramsay later chose for her Australian-born children led to the conclusion that her father was indeed William Ramsay of Workington. Isabella Ramsay’s four Australian daughters were named Elizabeth, Margaret, Ann and Isabella, the same names as for herself and her half-sisters, except for Mary. Perhaps Mary was not chosen as a name in Australia because Bella and her step-mother Mary did not get along.

Only one of Isabella’s siblings lived long enough to marry, which also fits with her own apparent death at a relatively young age.

Yet another point of support for this being Isabella’s family of origin is the disappearance of Isabella from parish records (Bishops Transcripts) in Cumberland. No marriage was recorded for Isabella, and no burial, whereas the life cycle for the rest of this family can be traced, except for her twin, as noted. Isabella’s departure from Cumberland is therefore consistent with parish records.

Isabella’s step-mother Mary, wife of William Ramsay, mariner, was buried at St Michael’s, Workington on 11 January 1819. Her age was stated at 68 years.

Isabella’s father William lived on for another thirteen years. He died two months after his daughter Ann, and was buried at St Michael’s in Workington as an 82-year-old mariner, on 11 August 1832. His entire family in Cumberland had predeceased him, except for his grandson Leonard Crosthwaite, who died in 1867, unmarried and childless. William probably never knew about the fate of his daughter Isabella and his numerous grandchildren on the other side of the world.

James Ramsay of Whitehaven

Isabella’s uncle James Ramsay was christened in 1756 at the Presbyterian Church in Workington, Cumberland. He was a son of William Ramsay and Ann Buckingham.

James Ramsay and his wife Dinah née Banks lived in Addison’s Alley, Whitehaven, a booming seaport a little further to the south of Workington. At the time it was the second busiest port in England, after London. Baptisms for James and Dinah’s four children were recorded in the Scotch Presbyterian Church in James Street, Whitehaven between 1778 and 1784. Their daughter Dinah died in 1782, aged two years.

James Ramsay was buried in St Nicholas Old Chapel, Whitehaven on 26 January 1785. Six weeks later his youngest daughter died, also named Dinah. Dinah was left to care for her surviving daughter Nanny and son James.

Dinah remarried on 30 January 1788, to a man named Archibald Stoup. Both of Dinah’s marriages are recorded in the parish records of St Nicholas, Old Chapel. Dinah remained a resident of Addison’s Alley, where two Stoup children were born, Mary in 1788 and Alexander in 1792, and the Stoups then moved, as Dinah’s last child Isaac Stoup was born at Michael St, Whitehaven in 1796. All three Stoup baptisms are recorded in the same parish records as their Ramsay half-siblings.

Note

The above details provide an updated version of Appendix 5 in the book  'Robert Forrester, First Fleeter', a book which contains much more about Isabella herself and is currently being revised. The new book won't include the above genealogical details, to save space, so they are 'preserved' here. This culling will leave room in the Second Edition of the book for all the new perspectives on the lives of Robert Forrester and Isabella Ramsay, collected over the past ten years.

Please email me if you'd like to join the waiting list for the new book. For further details, see my website.