Sunday, April 28, 2013

Following my ancestor's footsteps to Ballarat

This week I'll be travelling to Ballarat for the Eighth Victorian Family History State Conference: Under the Southern Cross – A goldfields experience. My ancestor, Henry Ashmore, was one of the first to travel to the Victorian goldfields after payable gold deposits were discovered there in 1851.

Henry wrote a wonderfully descriptive letter to his brother in England in September 1852 which I would like to share with you. He wrote:

"On the 20th of October, 1851, I proceeded with a party of five to Ballarat diggings, it is situated six miles from Boningyong, that being the name of a very high mountain. From hence through the ranges to the diggings it is covered with white quartz which at places looks as if it is snow. To show you the fearful state of the roads, we sent our things up by a bullock-dray, and it took a fortnight (with ten bullocks) to reach a distance of fifty six miles. We walked with our damper and mutton, which occupied us eight days; some part of the way having to wade knee deep through the mud: there were drays out of number bogged on the road. At night we made our mi mis (hut) of green boughs and branches, and when it rained we were generally wet through. When it rains here it is not like your April showers, but it comes down in torrents. On reaching Ballarat we set to work, and in three weeks we averaged £60 each man, or nearly 2lbs. in weight. My party then wished to return home.

We set out shortly afterwards with a horse and dray for Mount Alexander. On our arrival we commenced work, but were not so fortunate as many, owing to our having a lazy, obstinate Scotchman with us, which was a great drawback. We stayed at the Mount three months, each dividing £150 per man. I then purchased the horse and dray for £52 (the same is now worth £120) and proceeded with my son and son-in-law to Bendigo, twenty-eight miles farther north, there being then not more than 100 people at the place. We commenced surfacing and earthing it down to the creek full two miles to wash, and we averaged about six ounces per day. We could not stop long here, as the drinking water was so bad that it gave us all the dysentry, and the heat was very oppressive. We left a great deal of sickness at the place. On our return to Corio, we found hundreds wending their way to Bendigo. After a few weeks I proceeded to Wardi Yallack, prospecting about fifty miles more southerly, as water was one grand point as well as gold. The precious metal is found there, but not in large quantities. The rocks and mountains in this district are the most splendid I have ever seen. We afterwards returned with a party to Bendigo-creek, remaining there about three months, and dividing £200 each man, The gold is mostly obtained in holes of from 10 to 30 feet deep. It took us on this last occasion 16 days to reach Bendigo from Corio. Provisions were very high when I was last at Bendigo, and there could not be less than 50,000 persons in that district—they are scattered for miles. Flour was selling £18 per bag; oats, £2 15s. per bushel; sugar 1s. 6d. per lb.; tobacco, 12s. per lb., and everything equally dear.

If the weather permits, we are off again in a week; at present it is not promising. Ice fell the other day, Sept. 2nd, nearly as big as walnuts, and the rivers are much swollen. We shall start for the Eureka (Ballarat), for diggers generally are doing well. The highest price I have obtained for my gold was £3. 7s. 3d. per ounce, the highest that has been given in this colony; when I first went to the diggins, only £2 18s. was given for it. I have sent you and my other brothers some Melbourne newspapers ; they will give you some idea of the quantity of gold that has been got. A ship left Melbourne on Tuesday with 120,000 ounces, for London; and a ship has just arrived with 837 emigrants. I should not be surprised to hear of thousands leaving Britain for our shores.

To give you some idea of the working the ground—when we get to the bottom of a hole, we fall in with different coloured clay, which we put into a tub to puddle and reduce so thin that we can wash it off in a dish: dipping the dish continually in the water, the gravel and sand wash out from being the lightest, and the gold falls to the bottom of the dish; but it frequently happens that we wash nearly all the surface down, which is done by putting the earth into a sieve and working it in a cradle—one bales water all the time, and the gold falls down on the slide or back part of the cradle. I see by the papers the gold found here has astonished our good folks at home. I must say some of the yields are wonderful: last week a nugget of solid gold, weighing 102 ounces, was found at Ballarat. The largest piece I have found was 7 oz. 15 dwts., when we first went to Ballarat."

Henry was described in a newspaper article several years later as a 'denizen of the diggins'. In the early 1860's he travelled to New Zealand in search of gold but soon returned to Australia. He lived for many years in the goldfields town of Creswick in Victoria where he died in 1884.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

New online prison records a "must" for convict research

I recently gave a talk on finding convicts online. I spoke about the useful details that can often be found in prison and hulk registers and gave an example of the wonderful information that I had found years ago about my ancestor, Charles Christmas, in the register of the Cumberland hulk.

The register of convicts in the hulk Cumberland, moored at Chatham, with gaoler's reports, 1830-1833 is at The National Archives UK, reference ADM6/418. The register had been filmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project, but it took a long time to search and eventually find my ancestor. I was very lucky as this register gives details of place of birth and the address of parents which I had not been able to find in any other record.

Fortunately, this and many other prison and hulk records are now indexed and available online at with more to come over the coming months.

Here is a taste of what can be found, using Charles Christmas' entry in the Cumberland register of 1831 as an example:

Number:                         1314
Name:                            Charles Christmas
Age:                               22
Offence:                         Uttering a forged order for goods
    When:                        12 May 1831
    Where:                       Old Bailey
Sentence:                       14
Character from Gaoler:   Here before
How Disposed of:            VDL Lord Lyndoch 14 July 1831
Where Born
    Town:                          Eagle Street, Holborn
    County:                       Middlesex
Hair:                                Dark Brown
Eyes:                               Light Grey
Eyebrows & Lashes:        Dark Brown
Nose:                              Com.
Mouth:                            Com.
Compl:                            Dark
Visage:                            Long
Make:                              Mid
Marrd. or Single              Single
    Ft:                              5
    Inches:                       3
Read or Write:                Both
Trade:                            Labourer
Remarks:                       Lower part of the face very narrow. Pitted with the small pox scar on the left side of the forehead. Right arm C.O.M. B.K.S. Left arm CCMB. Rope and anchor.
Address:                         Parents lives (sic) at No. 16 Berwick Street, Soho, London.

Good Hunting!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

John Wesley knew my Cornish ancestors

After researching my family history for about thirty years I have not found any ancestors who could be described as famous - although some are rather infamous! It was therefore pleasing to find that two of my Cornish ancestors knew a famous person, John Wesley, who, with his brother Charles and others, founded the Methodist movement.

John Wesley

My ancestors, John and Alice Daniel, lived at the village of Rosemergy in the parish of Morvah in Cornwall. They leased a small farm and John also did some tin mining.

On Tuesday 9 September 1766 John Wesley recorded in his journal:

In riding to St Ives I called on one with whom I used to lodge two or three and twenty years ago, Alice Daniel, at Rosemergy. Her sons are all gone from her, and she has but one daughter left, who is always ill. Her husband is dead; and she can no longer read her Bible, for she is stone-blind. Yet she murmurs at nothing, but cheerfully waits until her appointed time has come. How many of these jewels may lie hid, up and down, forgotten of men, but precious in the sight of God!

In a footnote in the published journal the transcriber adds: "The room which Wesley occupied in her house was called 'Mr Wesley's room'. For a considerable period it was preserved intact, with the furniture as he left it."

Two years later, on Friday 2 September 1768, Wesley wrote:

I preached at noon to an earnest company at Zennor, and in the evening to a far larger at St Just. Here being informed that one of our sisters in the next parish, Morvah, who entertained the preachers formerly, was now decrepit, and had not heard a sermon in many years, I went on Saturday the 3rd, at noon, to Alice Daniel's and preached near the house on 'They who shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, are equal unto angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.' I have always thought that there is something venerable in persons worn out with age;  especially when they retain their understanding and walk in the ways of God.

Alice Daniel died six months later, in March 1769. I'm sure John Wesley's words must have been a comfort to her as her life came to an end. Her husband, John, had died twenty years earlier.