A Skeleton in the Cupboard

I’ve got 11,249 relatives.

I’ve been researching my family history for quite a while now.

One of the reasons we do it is to find the skeletons – we all like a bit of gossip, even if it’s 200 year old gossip!!

So – this is the story of one of my skeletons.

My Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather’s brother, Matthew Pearson Thompson, was convicted of ‘defrauding his master’, and sentenced to 14 years penal servitude in Australia.

He arrived in Australia in 1814 – not in the first fleet, which went out there in the late 1780s, but still fairly early on.

The following year, the British government paid for his wife Ann Earle and their two children to join him in Australia. Not an altruistic act, but simple expediency – they didn’t want the expense of looking after the dependents of a criminal, and also it was believed that children would follow in their father’s footsteps and have criminal leanings themselves. Better to pay for their passage than keep them in the UK.

Being sent to Australia was the making of our Matthew. He had been a merchant’s clerk, and as such would have been both literate and numerate – and was probably in the minority amongst the convicts.

He ended up in and around a place called Wiseman’s Ferry, now just a two-hour drive north of Sydney. Within a year he was working as a schoolteacher at Pitt Town, and it wasn’t long before he became the headmaster.

Another convict and his family become important in my family history at this point, even though they are unrelated – John Fernance, and his wife Mary Green.

Our Matthew, and John Fernance had both been sent out to Australia as convicts on board the General Hewitt. Their wives (Ann Thompson nee Earle, and Mary Fernance nee Green) both travelled out the following year on board the Broxbornebury. Once in Australia they appear to have farmed parcels of land adjacent to each other.

Both couples had more children – and three of the Thompson children married three of the Fernance children, and between them set about doing their bit to populate New South Wales.

Four years ago, we were in Sydney – so of course we had to drive up to Wiseman’s Ferry. It turns out there is now a resort hotel there – The Retreat at Wiseman’s. Well, it would have been rude not to. We stayed a couple of nights.

We did the Convict Trail, we found the school Matthew had taught at. We found the Pioneer’s Graveyard. We found his grave. And I realised, as I looked around at the names on the other gravestones, that I was probably related, one way or another, to every single person in that graveyard – quite a sobering thought!

By the time his 14 years penal servitude was up, he was a fine upstanding member of the community. He was a headmaster, he owned land, he ran cattle. He was on the local council.

In 1828, when he had the chance to come back to the UK – he didn’t.

He and Ann made a good life for themselves, against all the odds. They had two children while they were living in England, and five more in Australia. They had 38 Australian grandchildren.

Pretty good going for a skeleton.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. anglosvizzera says:

    What wonderful findings! I’ve found a few relatively close cousins who descended from miners who went to Pennsylvania. It’s a small world, isn’t it?


  2. Small – and interesting!!


  3. jmarie1974 says:

    how amazing is that! great post 🙂


    1. It’s is, isn’t it – it must have been a hard life out there back then.

      Liked by 1 person

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