2011 Australia Day – the earliest documents of my Australian ancestors

Shelley from Twigs of Yore has suggested an alternative way of celebrating Australia Day for genealogists. Shelley issued an invitation to: Find the earliest piece of documentation you have about an ancestor in Australia. If you don’t have an Australian ancestor, then choose the earliest piece of documentation you have for a relative in Australia.

I didn’t have a hard choice to make about who I would focus on for this post. My 3rd great grandfather George SIMMONS/SYMONS arrived in Australia as a convict in 1840 and has, so far, provided me with the earliest  documented evidence of my Australian ancestors.

What is the document?

The document I have is an article from the North Devon Journal, dated 18 April 1839, describing the trial and sentencing of George SYMONS for stealing a pair of shoes. The condition of the article makes it very hard to read and is not worth including an image of here. I have transcribed it though, and have included most of it below.

“The grand jury having found a true bill against George Symons, aged 16, for a felony, the prisoner was arraigned, charged with stealing on the 22nd day of March last, one pair shoes, the property of John Hartnoll, from the smack ‘Flora’ lying at the quay. The prisoner pleaded “not guilty.”…The first witness was John Hartnoll; the prosecutor; (I) am master of the smack ‘Flora;’ she was lying at Barnstaple quay on the 22nd March; I was on board during the day; left a her a little after one o’clock; left a pair of shoes in the companion; the prisoner was on board, but he is not in my employ, nor had he any business there, but I have often seen him about the quay, and he is in the habit of going aboard vessels; I returned a little after two; prisoner was not there then; I found my shoes missing immediately; in the course of the following Monday, I saw my shoes at the house of Tucker, in Back Lane(?), on the feet of a man named Fagan; I took the shoes from Fagan and gave them to Chanter, the constable.

Susannah Smith; keep a pawnbroker’s shop in Barnstaple; know the prisoner; in the afternoon of the 22nd March, he came to my shop to pledge a pair of shoes; I advanced 8__(??) upon them, and he came again some time after with a person to purchase the shoes, but he did not buy them because they did not suit him; he afterwards came gain with Elizabeth Fagan, and she bought them; the boy returned the ticket, and woman paid me 8 ½ _(?).

Elizabeth Fagan; I was at Tucker’s lodging house on Friday, 22nd March; know the prisoner; saw him at Tucker’s; bought a pawn ticket of(sic) him for 6d(?); he went with me to Mrs Smith’s pawn shop for the shoes; I paid her 8 ½d, and she gave me the shoes; I carried them home, and my husband put them on this feet and wore them.

Joseph Fagan; received a pair of shoes from my wife on Friday, 22nd March; wore them until Monday, when Mr Hartnoll came, and said the shoes were his, and I took them off and cleaned them, and gave them to him.

William Chanter, policeman, produced the shoes; and the prosecutor identified them.

The prisoner declined to say any thing in his defence.

The Recorder summed up, and the jury without hesitation found the prisoner guilty.”

Not particularly conclusive testimony from the witnesses, but as the “prisoner” declined to comment it is hard to form an opinion other than the  “guilty” that was given.

Do you remember the research process that lead you to it? How and where did you find it?

I had trouble initially tracking down where George SIMMONS had appeared from, because it turned out he was originally known as George SYMONS. As I traced back through my paternal grandmother’s ancestors, I was looking for her maiden name SIMMONS. I found her grandfather James SIMMONS through NSW BDM certificates, but could find no trace of the George SIMMONS listed on his baptism certificate. Using the NSW BDM index search I tried all sorts of combinations of searches and in one late night act entered “S*” as a search phrase for the surname and the first names George and Sarah (TUCKERMAN) which I had from James’ baptism cert, and up popped SYMONS. (Of course once I had done this and got a result I wondered why I hadn’t tried it sooner!) From there George SYMONS’ convict and Australian story unfolded.

Tell us the story(ies) of the document. You may like to consider the nature of the document, the people mentioned, the place and the time. Be as long or short, broad or narrow in your story telling as you like!

Once I had discovered I had an ancestor with a convict past, I was determined to find out if George had been recorded speaking in his defence. Unfortunately as you have seen above he did not, but I was still thrilled to receive the copy of the article from the North Devon Record Office who I contacted for research assistance when I could not find online access to the sources I needed.

George and Sarah settled near Milton/Ulladulla and had 11 children. George died when he was 49 and was listed as a farmer on his death certificate. His youngest child was 1 at the time of his death, and Sarah died only 6 years later. George and Sarah’s deaths’ at relatively young ages, and with young children left without parents, makes you consider some of the hardships our early Australian ancestors endured, and appreciate those that have paved the way for us.

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