He didn’t swim. David John Smede, shipwrecked apprentice or something else?

I recently started the UTAS unit HAA003 Introduction to Family History after a spur of the moment decision to do so. I had read about it, mainly on Facebook, and talked to someone who had done it and found it very useful so when it popped up in an Inside History article I was reading I decided to sign myself up.

The main reason I am doing this unit, (I worked this out two weeks later when I actually realised what I had done), was to structure and organise my research. Not better than how I do now, just at all. Since starting my family history research I have made some wonderful discoveries, however I have not followed any plans or structure, which really means I have discovered things that are pretty easy to find, ie., on Ancestry, FMP, FamilySearch etc. I hoped the UTAS unit would help me focus and structure my research, and it has.

The main assessment task for this unit is to undertake a Research Plan. Pose your question and endeavour to answer it. So the first difficult part was to work out which ancestor and problem I was going to investigate. This took me two weeks to decide, you don’t need the details, and I settled on my great great grandfather, David John SMEDE/SMEDES. Why did I choose him? I like his photo. There is something about him that makes me wish I had known him.

David John SMEDE

David John SMEDE

I also chose him because I have been unable to discover how and when he arrived in Australia. David John SMEDES, sometimes also known as John David SMEDES, was born in Spitalfields, England in 1847. Before starting this unit, I had traced David through his birth certificate and UK Census records in 1851 and 1861, however after the 1861 Census I could find no mention of him until his marriage to Catherine PICKETT in Rylstone, NSW, AUS in 1870. Nine years were unaccounted for, although quite obviously at some point during that time he made his way to Australia. I searched all available record sets and indexes of records covering immigration to Australia for those years but I could not find him as an assisted or unassisted passenger, or as a convict – which would have been unlikely considering it was at the end of the transportation years, but still worth checking. I also tried Trove, searching passenger lists hoping that his name would appear on one of those. I drew another blank, so I shelved him for a while before I got too frustrated.

Discovering the details of David’s arrival in Australia was an easy choice to make when selecting a research problem, although I actually had very little hope of discovering new information. Luckily I was wrong.

I began by looking at everything I had already found out about David and finished entering the details into a timeline. This clearly showed that there was a nine year gap in my knowledge of his movements. The last record I had for him in England was as a 14 year old book binders apprentice in the 1861 UK Census. The next time I had located him was his wedding, as mentioned above. It is no coincidence that he appeared in the Rylstone district as his older brother, also sometimes called John, was already living there.

I decided to focus on apprenticeship records in the UK. I spent some time going through the National Archives and London Metropolitan Archives websites, hoping they had collections of records that would be useful. I read through relevant help sheets to try and pinpoint which records and made a note of the ones I thought I would try and follow up on somehow. None of them are digitised, so my options are few. Then I decided to try Ancestry, using the access I had as part of this course. I searched the Card Catalogue for ‘apprentice*’ and found a number of databases that were worth searching. One in particular caught my eye, it had NEW next to it. It was the UK Apprentices Indentured in Merchant Navy 1824-1901. I searched for SMEDES, not really expecting anything and almost feel off my chair when John David SMEDES turned up as an apprentice on the vessel the Troar, indentured in June 1863. OMG!

I was a tad excited and thought I would try a quick Google search to see if I could find anything out about the ship. I put Troar into Google and disappointingly didn’t find anything about a ship. So I did what I should have done first and I actually sat down and looked at the image of the record itself rather than the indexing that was on Ancestry. The image showed me many other details about his apprenticeship. David, (I’m defaulting to calling him David because that is what he was known as after he arrived in Australia. I believe this name switch probably happened because his older brother was also John and two of them living in the same district would have been confusing), was indentured on 2 June 1863 for four years on the ship Troar. The Captain’s name was C.B. Dasborough and the port that the ship came from appeared to be Sunderland. I put Dasborough, Sunderland and Troar into Google and found…the ship was actually called Troas, not Troar. Looking at the image of the record, I could see how easy it would be for the transcription error to have occurred. The ‘s’ on the end of the name looks a lot like an ‘r’, particularly as the writing is very small.

This was a great lesson for me, because without the name of the Captain and home port I probably wouldn’t have found anything about the ship, searching as I was on the wrong name. I found an image of the ship itself on the Royal Museums Greenwich website which gave me some more information about the ship and where it seemed to have sailed. Having no experience with searching for maritime records I wasn’t really sure what to do next, so tried the National Archives website again. I found it hard trying to pinpoint records that would be useful, I’m sure they are there I just didn’t really know what I was looking for and do need to go back and ask for some advice next time. At this point I kind of gave up and decided to go local and contact the local records office in Sunderland. I found the Sunderland City Council Local Studies Centre website and emailed them, briefly explaining what I was looking for, the time period and asked them if they held any crew lists or shipping records regarding ship voyages.

The Local Studies Centre emailed me the next day to say that there were actually two ships by that name that were built in Sunderland and that they didn’t think it would be the first one I was interested in because it had been wrecked off the coast of Australia in 1865. What?? Now things were getting interesting. Could David have been a crew member on the ship at that time when it was wrecked and this is how he ended up in Australia? I emailed them back and told them I thought it was the first ship I was looking for, primarily because he had been indentured to it in 1863, only two years earlier, and it was for a period of four years which would mean he should have still been an apprentice on it.  The wonderful person at the Local Studies Centre, who remained nameless, emailed me a selection of records, newspaper articles and entries from Lloyd’s Lists relevant to the Troas that was built in 1856. There was enough information there to help me begin searching for records about how the ship was wrecked in May 1865.

My first stop was TROVE to try and find some articles (tagged in TROVE) to give me some background about the shipwreck. The story in a nutshell was that the ship had pulled in to Port Adelaide at the beginning of May, sailed east a week or so later and was wrecked near Rivoli Bay, on the Limestone Coast of South Australia, with no lives lost thankfully. It seems that the crew were able to make it ashore and walked inland for a number of miles to a homestead where they were well looked after by the owners and the Captain was able to send a telegraph the next day about the ship wreck. I was finding this incredibly exciting thinking I had mostly likely found that David arrived in Australia because he had been shipwrecked. Because he could hardly sail back to England if the ship was destroyed, could he?

What to do next? Of course I wanted to find out now, but it doesn’t always work like that – especially when the records you probably need to look at are nowhere near where you are. (Usually the case for me!). I looked again that the NAA to see if there were any guides that would help me locate crew or shipping records for South Australia around 1865. I found one, South Australian Maritime Records – Fact Sheet 260, that listed a number of records that I thought would be worth a look…whenever I managed to go to an archive that held them. Looking around a little more on the website I saw the link Ask us a question and thought, ‘Why not?’. They might at the very least be able to tell me if they thought those records could be useful and after my success with asking the Sunderland City Council Local Studies Centre for help, I decided it was worth an email.

My email was short and contained David’s name, common alternative name, ship name, and relevant dates to do with his apprenticeship and the wreck of the Troas. I also listed three sets of records that I thought I would check if I had access to them:

  • Series no.: D3, Title: Register of ships crew (British and foreign ships) discharged at Port Adelaide
  • Series no.: A7509, Title: Register of British Ships: Main Register subsequent to Merchant Shipping Act 1854, Port Adelaide
  • Series no.: D6, Title: Registers of ships crew deserted at Port Adelaide from British and foreign ships

Off my email went and I received an automatic reply stating that they aimed to respond to inquiries within 5 working days. I would just have to be patient. Not easy when I had gotten so excited about finally, I hoped, tracking down how and when David arrived in Australia.

I got a huge surprise only two hours later when an email appeared from the NAA. What did it say? Well not exactly what I expected. It seems that my ancestor fortuitously deserted the Troas when it docked at Port Adelaide on 1 May 1865. The entry in the D6, Title: Registers of ships crew deserted at Port Adelaide from British and foreign ships states: Name: J D Smedes, Designation: Apprentice, Desertion: May 1, 1865, Ship: Troas, Master: Desborough. There was the answer to my research question, David arrived in Australia by ship, the Troas as an indentured apprentice, and deserted the same ship in Port Adelaide, SA on 1 May 1865. I was very excited, for the most part excited that by using the skills I had been learning in the UTAS unit I had actually made more progress in six weeks on a mystery than I had in the previous 4 years! It would appear that being focused and structured in your research, opening up your mind to different sources and places to find records, can make an enormous difference to your research. I would recommend it to anyone who would like to improve their genealogical research and organisational skills.

Now, however, I don’t know where David was between May 1865 and when he was married in September 1870. I also don’t know how he got from Port Adelaide to Rylstone, NSW where he settled for the rest of his life.

Luckily there is always another mystery to solve.


John Smedes, where did he come from and where did he go?

John SMEDES, my ggg grandfather, is my current brick wall obsession. I have tried over a number of years to find out where and when he was born, and where and when he died, but just keep coming up blank.

John SMEDES, or (Frederick John SMEDES depending on which record you are looking at), first appears in English records as marrying Amelia Lydia Ann NEIDERMANN in the Parish of Christ Church, Middlesex on 3 July 1836.

His next appearance is in September 1837 on the baptism record of the first born of John and Amelia, Amelia Gagena, (or Gazenia), SMEDES. On this record John is listed as a labourer and resident of Brick Lane.

I should note here that I have not obtained every single certificate of birth, marriage and death records of John and Amelia’s known children, but have managed to acquire a few of them. To my knowledge they had five: Amelia Gagena, John Frederick born in 1839, George Henry born in 1843, Ann Rosetta born in 1845 and David John (my gg grandfather) born in 1847.

The 1841 Census John SMEDES is recorded as being 30 years of age, a sugar baker by occupation, and as being from foreign parts. John lives in Thrawl Street with his wife Emilia (sic), daughter Emilia (sic) and son John.

After this, I can find no trace of him. The 1851 lists his wife Amelia as a ‘widow’, still living in Thrawl St and with the occupation of ‘shop keeper’. So what happened to John??

I have searched in many places including Ancestry and Find My Past and was very excited when London Parish Registers were added to Ancestry, but cannot find his death recorded anywhere. My searches have been both narrow and broad, taking into account the many variations in spellings I have come across for SMEDES, including SMEEDES, SMEDIS and SMEDE.

I *think* he died sometime between 1846 and 1851, primarily because his last child was born in May 1847, so 1846 allows for conception (assuming of course he was even the father, but is listed as such on David John’s birth certificate), and 1851 because he does not appear on the 1851 Census and Amelia is listed as a widow, (I am still assuming at this stage that this was the case, but it also may not be). Amelia also remarries in June 1851 to Diederich LUTJEN, so unless he ran away which he could have done, I have assumed him to have died before this date.

My next step was to browse page by page through the GRO index for those years under S to see if I could locate him, particularly as some of those records were hand written and so may not have been correctly indexed for searching. I found ZIP. Then I looked right through the Christ Church Spitalfields Burial Register from 1846 to 1851. ZIP again. Interestingly I also did not find a record for the burial of Ann Rosetta who died very young in 1846, so I was not over hopeful of finding the father. Maybe they were both simply buried elsewhere. I can find Ann Rosetta in the GRO Index though, so why not John??

Where did he come from??? I have heard a few family stories that he was from Germany, but lacking any details on that other than the 1841 Census stating he was from ‘foreign parts’, I really don’t know where to start looking for his place of origin. I had hoped that David John’s birth certificate would list his father’s place of birth but it did not, it was too early to record that information.

I have also done some searching in newspapers, thinking that if he was a sugar baker he may have met with an accident and untimely death – again there was nothing, nothing with his name anyway. There are plenty of stories about deaths associated with the sugar mills of the area.

Time to take another break from him I think. If anyone has any suggestions for me please I would love to hear from you. I am still relatively new to this and would welcome any hints. The answer is probably staring me in the face.

Trove Tuesday – one of my fav articles

I love Trove! I would be surprised to hear anyone say anything other than that.

I have found many wonderful articles and images on Trove that have helped add layers to my family history research. One of my favourite articles so far is one about my great grandfather George Thomas Smede who I have previously posted about in Wealth for Toil and The Butcher and the Policeman.

GT Smede takes a starring role as he, “dressed as a cricketer”, (one assumes that means he had just finished playing a game of cricket rather than being dressed up for a fancy dress party!), comes upon a group of people on a picnic. Must have looked like an ordinary group of people enjoying the sunshine and views at Broken Head until….the water exploded in front of them! They were dynamiting fish, as you do – not!

1929 ‘DYNAMITING FISH. PICNICKERS FINED.’, The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 25 February, p. 14, viewed 28 August, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21379510

This may explain why it is very hard to catch any fish down there these days.

The butcher and the policeman

I wrote a post earlier this year about my great grandfather George Thomas SMEDE. In it I noted that he had been declared bankrupt in Berridale in 1917, but at the time of writing the post I did not know why. I do now, and what I have discovered is both maddening and sad.

A couple of months ago a friend very kindly made a copy of GT’s bankruptcy file when she made a trip to the State Records of NSW in Kingswood. (Thank you Tracy!) This is my first experience with a bankruptcy file and it has been interesting to see how much information is contained in one.

In the bankruptcy file, GT attributes his bankruptcy to an action for damages in the District Court at Cooma in June 1917. The claim for damages for an amount of £130.5.7 was taken against GT by a John Oliver WESTON of Berridale, described in the file as a “Butcher and Grazier”. So, I already don’t like Mr Weston.

In order to be discharged from bankruptcy in 1920, GT wrote a declaration and included his side of the story regarding Weston’s claim against him. At the time, (which I can only judge to be prior to the court case in June 1917 as no date is given), GT was a police constable in Berridale and arrested Weston after he was accused of stealing some timber. Weston had purchased some wire netting at a sale in Berridale and had been informed by the auctioneer that although there was timber attached to the wire netting, it was not included in the sale. Weston took it home anyway, and when he refused to hand it over to GT who went to his house in an official capacity, GT arrested him.

On Weston’s appearance at the Police Court in Dalgetty, however, the case against Weston was dismissed because the Magistrate held that there was insufficient evidence against him. It may have helped GT’s case if the Magistrate had called on the auctioneer’s clerk to appear before him and state what had occurred, but he didn’t. As a result, the case was dismissed and Weston claimed £400 in damages from GT for wrongful arrest, even though the Magistrate at one point made the comment, “The fact is, Weston took the timber without authority”.

Paying Weston’s damages claim is what forced GT into bankruptcy.

Throughout my research into GT’s bankruptcy I have tried to be mindful that it is GT’s account alone that I have access to. Unless I find another account that backs his up, which is unlikely, I must be careful to remember that I am only in possession of one side of the story. Unfortunately, no-one alive on this side of the family has any details on GT’s bankruptcy. All his children have passed away, including my grandmother, and none of his grandchildren, including my mother, had ever heard that he was bankrupt. It may be that none of his children were ever aware it had happened as they were quite young at the time.

I digress. I have a soft spot for GT, although he died before I was born and I did not know him. Maybe having his clock has formed a connection between us. Regardless, I would love to believe his side of the story, and after digging further in Trove, I am inclined to.

I did a few different searches for John Weston, using a variety of combinations of his name, on Trove and found some intriguing pieces of information. The most interesting results appeared when I searched for “John Oliver Weston” and I have tagged them for future reference. It would seem that Weston had a tendency to take people to court. One action in particular caught my eye. Two years after he took GT to court, Weston went after three other policemen. I wonder if people were asking questions about his integrity at this stage, particularly as this time he was awarded a token amount of one farthing, (did farthings exist? – something else to research!), in damages.

1919 ‘Unusual Action at Cooma District Court.’, Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer (NSW : 1915 – 1927), 20 June, p. 2, viewed 8 June, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31648921

I still have a few places to look for to either confirm or discount GT’s account. I need to check local press, as yet not digitised on Trove, as well as obtaining a copy of GT and Weston’s appearance in front of the Police Magistrate in Dalgetty, if one exists.

Who knows, they may shed further light on the story. I hope so.

There is a John O WESTON listed as being born in 1869 (Ref: 9902/1869) in Cooma to William and Mary A. Death of same man included in BDM index in 1934 (Ref: 12684/1934)

Australia Day 2012 – Wealth for Toil

Shelley at Twigs of Yore has invited geneabloggers to participate in an Australia Day blog event: Australia Day 2012 – Wealth for Toil.

The requirements are:

To participate, choose someone who lived in Australia (preferably one of your ancestors) and tell us how they toiled. Your post should include:

  1. What was their occupation? 
  2. What information do you have about the individual’s work, or about the occupation in general?
  3. The story of the person, focussing on their occupation; or
    The story of the occupation, using the person as an example.

Responses may be as long or short as you like, and as narrow or broad as you wish.

My great grandfather George Thomas SMEDE was born on 26 July 1878 in Rylstone NSW, the 6th of David John SMEDE and Catherine PICKETT’s 11 children.

GT’s first occupation was as a soldier for the Boer War. He enlisted in 1900 and trained for the war but it ended before he left Australia.

Trained for the Boer War - 1900GT continued to be employed by the military forces of the NSW State Government, before it was taken over by the Commonwealth Government, until he was transferred to the NSW Police Force in 1906. His first appointment as a policeman was to Taralga, near Goulburn, where he was for around 2 years, and was where he met my great grandmother Edith GOODHEW. (Edith’s father was the local police sergeant, coincidentally also called George Thomas!)

He left Taralga for Broken Hill where he spent 6 months during the Broken Hill strike of 1909 and on his return was posted to Crookwell. GT remained at Crookwell for over 6 years, his longest time at any posts and was then appointed to Berridale. Whilst in Berridale in 1917 GT was declared bankrupt. I have not obtained a copy of his bankruptcy papers yet so do not know anything other than that. (I hope to have a copy of these papers soon as a friend has offered to get a copy when she goes to State Records of NSW.) Maybe a policeman’s salary was not sufficient to bring up 3 or 4 children.

Next he moved to Bungonia, Ariah Park and Grafton, (where I grew up). In Grafton he was promoted to the rank of sergeant third-class. During these years, 1909-1924, GT and Edith had 5 children: George Athol, Nola Ruth, Vida Jean, Edna Blanche (my grandmother) and Ivor Gregory.

GT, Edith and their first 4 children. My grandmother is the baby sitting on her mother’s lap.

Two years later GT moved to Byron Bay, (very close to where I now live), and stayed here for 5 years. During this time he was promoted to the rank of sergeant second-class. It was also here where an event, about dynamiting fish, occurred which was reported in The Brisbane Courier and is one of my favourite articles about any of my ancestors.

1929 ‘DYNAMITING FISH. PICNICKERS FINED.’, The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 25 February, p. 14, viewed 25 January, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21379510

In the remaining years of GT’s 31-year career with the police force, the family moved twice more to Kempsey and finally to Taree where he was promoted to the rank of sergeant first class in 1935.

George Thomas retired in Taree in 1938 and was highly praised in the local press for “carrying out his duties with fine diplomacy and courtesy.” He was also presented with a clock that I am extremely proud to now own.

The Manning River Times (date unknown)

The clock occupies pride of place in our living room, a reminder of a hard-working and well-respected police officer.

George Thomas and Edith in 1959, a few years before he passed away.