Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

The fifth child born to Thomas and Mary Ann Holt (nee Edwards), Elizabeth Maud Holt came into the world on 13 July 1862 in Easenhall in Warwickshire, England. Her father, Thomas, worked as an agricultural labourer while her mother (in her youth) was a ribbon weaver.

The family tended to live in small towns surrounding the larger market town of Rugby and, as Elizabeth grew, she was joined by three more siblings.

Unfortunately not much is known about her early years in Warwickshire. Her family was not wealthy so it’s likely they lived in small cottages.

This can be seen in the 1871 English Census taken on 2 April. Elizabeth (aged 8) was listed in the Census with her parents and three younger siblings. They were living in a cottage in the town of Bilton in Warwickshire.

1871-censusElizabeth was the only child who was recorded as a ‘scholar’ though it’s likely her brother, Thomas also went to school. The Holt family, like so many other working class families, benefited from The Elementary Education Act passed in 1870. It provided for the education of all children between the ages of five and thirteen. Elizabeth may have first started school in the previous year at the age of seven.


Schooling in the 1870s would have included the three R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic along with religious instruction. Children learnt their lessons simply by copying into their books what the teacher had written on the blackboard.

Along with lessons at school, there would have been lessons and work at home, perhaps in the form of cleaning, cooking and sewing.

Elizabeth may have only been attending school for a couple of years when her family was rocked by tragedy. In early January 1873, Thomas Holt passed away at the relatively young age of 43. The Holt family lost their husband, father and the main source of their income.

While it’s possible Elizabeth continued her schooling (she was nine at the time and would have had about three more years left) it’s also likely she was forced to help her family in some way, perhaps by obtaining employment. Despite the Education Act, many children were kept out of school if earning an income was more important.

Certainly by the age of 13 (when school officially ended for the working class) she was at work as a domestic servant. Though it’s not been verified, a story told to me by my Great Aunt states that Elizabeth was employed by a family in England to help care for their children.

From 1875 to 1877 Elizabeth most likely resided with a wealthier family in England (possibly somewhere in Warwickshire) and was required to do all the household chores such as cleaning, washing dishes, ironing and mending. She worked for most of the day, seven days a week. There may have been the occasional afternoon off but there was no such thing as a weekend. She was paid, but given the early death of her father, much of that income may have been sent back to her mother and siblings.

In Western Australia during the 1870s, wealthy families were crying out for well-trained domestic servants. A letter written by ‘A Suffering Materfamilias’ in February 1874 to the editor of The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Times described what they were experiencing as “daily torture“.


They ended the letter with the following suggestion:

…let us put an end to the present state, and go in for at all events assisted female immigration, and thus remedy the evil from which families are now so sorely suffering…

Assisted immigration was established and advertisements (such as the two below) can be found peppered within the UK newspapers.



Elizabeth was one of the many British people who decided to take advantage of the free passage and, on 21 September 1877, at the tender age of 15, she departed England and emigrated to Western Australia on board the Robert Morrison.

It’s a curious decision for a 15 year old to make and, unfortunately, it’s not known what helped shape it. While it’s certainly possible she came across an advertisement such as those above, it doesn’t actually give any insight into why she chose to emigrate. Perhaps the family she was working for was emigrating and she was asked to join them (a strong possibility as this was mentioned by my Great Aunt). Maybe she was unhappy and desired a change. Or, perhaps a friend decided to robert-morrisonemigrate and encouraged Elizabeth to go with her. All manner of possibilities could be thought up in one’s imagination but I’ll likely never know what was the deciding factor.

The Robert Morrison arrived in Fremantle on 20 December 1877 and, nine days before its arrival, a complete list of immigrants was printed in the paper (left). Elizabeth’s name has been highlighted in blue.

According to family legend, when Elizabeth arrived she knew her first name but only knew that her middle name started with the letter ‘M’. When writing out her name on documents, she picked the name ‘Maud’. It wasn’t until many years later when signing documents from England that she found she had to re-sign them. Elizabeth had signed ‘Maud’ but was advised by family that her middle name was actually ‘Mary’.

Elizabeth was one of eight single women on the ship who recorded their occupation as ‘domestic servant’. Along with Bridget O’Neil, she was also the youngest. Perhaps the older women, Ann Prior (35) and Martha Ann Daniels (32) took on motherly roles and mentored and cared for the younger passengers, most of whom were teenagers.

After having landed in Fremantle, Elizabeth would have then proceeded to Perth to the Immigrant Depot where she would await employment. Given how sought-after domestic servants were, it would seem she didn’t have to wait long. By early January 1878, The Inquirer and Commercial News reported that most of the immigrants who had arrived via the Robert Morrison had been snapped up by employers.

We are glad to learn that the majority of the immigrants by the Robert Morrison, who appear to be an unusually respectable lot, have met with employment at fairly remunerative wages.

For the next five years Elizabeth continued work as a domestic servant. The details of her life during this period (such as the families she worked for) are unknown but it’s likely she remained in the vicinity of Perth. She was also never mentioned in the newspapers so we can assume she kept out of serious trouble.

During this period domestic servants in Western Australia were still considered ‘in demand’ and many people regularly lamented the quality of those employed. It was also during this period that Sir Luke Leake prosecuted his two domestic servants for leaving his service without permission. They were sent to prison for 24 hours as punishment. The facts were later printed in The Herald when it became known that they had left his service because his wife, in a fit of anger, had told them to “take themselves off“.

The affair caused quite a sensation and resulted in discussion about the importance of servants and masters knowing their legal and moral obligations. It also caused frustration, with domestic servant, ‘Mary Jane’, writing a letter explaining the occasional difficulties domestic servants had in having to obey their masters. She ended with a description of what she had to endure.

Now, Sir, I have lived in several families with no experiences of this kind, but latterly I have known what it is on Sunday morning to be called four times up two flights of stairs, and be pelted with toilet paraphernalia while my mistress has been dressing for church, and when I objected to the missiles, to be laughed at and told that I had no witnesses, and to do my best…

Hopefully Elizabeth never experienced such behaviour during her employment.

It can also be assumed that in these five years Elizabeth settled in to her new life in Western Australia and began to make friends. She became associated with the Flynn family and family stories indicate she formed an acquaintance with Edwin Flynn who was the same age as her. It was through Edwin that she came to meet her future husband, William James Flynn.

On 6 August 1882 at St George’s Cathedral in Perth, Elizabeth (aged 20) and William (aged 26) were married. They initially made their home in Perth, before moving to York in the 1890s and then eventually back to Perth.


Elizabeth and William in 1932

She gave birth to eleven children between the years 1883 and 1908, all of whom were given her maiden name as their middle name; a common tradition during the Victorian era but one that I personally find inspiring. Such choices, even if common during the era, are not actually common on my family tree. I’m not sure if there was any meaning behind the decision but it indicates a woman with a strong sense of her own mind and a desire to acknowledge the family she’d left behind. Perhaps it also indicates the great deal of respect William had for her.

Elizabeth outlived her husband by 15 years. She even outlived three of her children. She was 89 years of age when she passed away in Subiaco on 30 May 1952.

With her death, much of the information about her life and her early years in England and Western Australia was gone; a fact that is quite common when it comes to researching female ancestors. Perhaps she told some stories to her children who then passed them along to their children but, as the generations grew, the stories stopped being recounted. I certainly grew up with barely any knowledge of Elizabeth and the life she lived.

ElizabethLike so many women throughout history, much of her story is lost. She was a wife, a mother, a friend, a woman. Throughout her life she would have played a number of different parts and would have impacted many people in different ways. She could cook, she could clean, she was known as a skilled dressmaker, she cared for her family and she cared for her husband in later years when dementia set in. She was probably an interactive member of the communities she lived in. She was considered kind and intelligent. She was my 2nd Great Grandmother. I never knew her but I certainly admire the choices she made throughout her life, especially the brave choice to emigrate at age 15. In telling her story, I can’t delve into great detail about who she was and what she experienced but I tell it as best I can. She was a woman whose story was rendered invisible in the history of the world but I hope in telling it I’ve helped make it visible again.


  • Birth date and place of birth for Elizabeth Maud Holt courtesy of Audrey.
  • Family stories courtesy of Aunty Betty.
  • Photo of Elizabeth Flynn outside her house courtesy of Jo.
  • Information relating to The Elementary Education Act of 1870 and the image of the children courtesy of (
  • 1871 English Census courtesy of Ancestry (Class: RG10; Piece: 3220; Folio: 45; Page: 20; GSU roll: 839266).
  • Warwickshire County Record Office; Warwick, England; Warwickshire Anglican Registers; Roll: Engl/2/1218; Document Reference: DR 380
  • 1874 ‘FEMALE SERVANTS.’, The Perth Gazette and West Australian Times (WA : 1864 – 1874), 27 February, p. 3. , viewed 05 Mar 2017,
  • Leeds Times; 1 May 1875; Page 4. Obtained courtesy of Findmypast.
  • Dewsbury Reporter; 13 January 1877; Page 5. Obtained courtesy of Findmypast.
  • 1877 ‘LIST OF IMMIGRANTS PER “ROBERT MORRISON.”‘, The Western Australian Times (Perth, WA : 1874 – 1879), 11 December, p. 3. , viewed 05 Mar 2017,
  • 1878 ‘NOTES FROM NORTHAMPTON.’, The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901), 2 January, p. 3. , viewed 06 Mar 2017,
  • 1879 ‘A SERVANT GIRL’S QUESTIONS?’, The Herald (Fremantle, WA : 1867 – 1886), 17 May, p. 3. , viewed 06 Mar 2017,

Collie Courthouse and Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the Wellington District circa 1911. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (BA579/206).

From the very beginning, when I first started to dip my toes into genealogical research, the Western Australian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages website was one of my key websites for finding my ancestors. I still continue to use their indexes and consider it one of the best resources for Western Australian family history.

It’s not the prettiest website; there are no bells and whistles that make it stand out and catch your eye but what it lacks in aesthetics, it makes up in functionality. Their searchable indexes for births, deaths and marriages in Western Australia are described as ‘reversible’. This means that you can search in a variety of different ways, or, as Willy Wonka described the way in which the Wonkavator travelled:

…[it] can go sideways, and slantways, and longways, and backways… and squareways, and front ways, and any other ways that you can think of.

In this blog post I’ll be sharing the ways in which these indexes can be searched, from the more common techniques to the not-so-common.

The website for accessing the Western Australian Birth, Death and Marriage indexes is:

Clicking on a particular button (births, deaths or marriages) loads the search fields.


So that this post is not repetitive, I will be utilising the birth index for my examples. While the fields are slightly different, the various search techniques are essentially the same and can be applied to either index.

The most common way to search the indexes is simply by surname. Enter the name into the box corresponding to ‘Family Name’ and click search.


This will bring up all the results associated with that particular surname but it doesn’t bring up names that may be listed under a slightly different spelling. I.e. entries listed as Barrett instead of Barratt.

While searching using only a surname is handy if you have a relatively uncommon name, scrolling through page after page will become cumbersome if you’re searching for a very common name such as ‘Smith’. This is when you should look at adding additional fields such as a first name.


In the above example, I added the name ‘Edward’ in the ‘Given Name(s)’ field and searched with the surname ‘Barratt’. There are two available entries, the second one is my 2nd Great Grandfather. If you would like to order a copy of the certificate, you may wish to click the ‘order’ link on the far right of the entry on the website. This will then load a (partially) pre-populated order form for you to complete and post to the Registry Office.

Having found the relevant entry, you may wish to try and find other siblings. To do this without having to scroll through the entire list of registrations, keep the surname entered, remove the first name from the box (leave it blank) but add the name of the father (perhaps just his first name) to the box ‘Name of Father’. To refine it further, add the mother’s name to the field ‘Name of Mother’. In the example below, I added the names James (first name) and Elizabeth (middle name).


Eight out of the nine children born to James and Frances are listed. Where is the ninth?

Initially you may find that obtaining results is easy peasy. But it’s at this point when you need to remember to think outside the box. If you know there is another way in which your surname is spelt, try the other spelling. Other relatives (who have had their names registered with the incorrect spelling) may be missed if you don’t try other versions.


The above image shows James and Frances’s ninth child, Edith, incorrectly recorded as ‘Barrett’ instead of ‘Barratt’.

What if you don’t know how many children your ancestors had and you don’t want to continuously enter different types spellings? This is the beauty of the reversible search – remove the surname or enter only the first initial or first part of the surname. I know Barratt can be spelt several different ways but I also know it always starts with the letter ‘B’.

The results below show three surname registrations starting with ‘B’ whose father and mother have James or Frances somewhere in their name.


It’s important to note that these types of searches and results only apply to birth registrations up to 1905. Birth registrations after this year do not include the names of the father and mother and searching using this method will not produce results.

But what if you don’t know the names of the parents? Enter the surname in the box (completely or partially), type in the first name and then, enter in the approximate range of years you believe your ancestor was born. E.g. I know my Great Grandfather’s name was William Nicholson and that he was born around 1901 but I don’t know who his parents were. I would enter William’s surname and first name and then, in the box for ‘Year of Birth’, I would enter the years 1900 and 1904. The results would show all the William Nicholsons whose births were registered between the years 1900 and 1904, of which there’s only one:


Now, here is my top piece of advice relating to searching the Western Australian indexes:

You are not limited

Curious about any illegitimate children within the family? Enter a surname and then enter the mother’s surname as being the same as the child’s. Often illegitimate children were listed with the mother’s maiden name and may not have the father listed at all.


Are you researching a particular place and hoping to find records relating to all births there? Remove all search fields relating to surnames, first names etc and only enter the place of birth. E.g. in the below image I searched for all births in the town of Australind.


Wondering about the number of births registered in 1841? Enter only the dates 1841-1841 in the ‘Year of Birth’ field and click search. Incidentally, 47 results are listed (not all shown below).


Apply these same techniques when using the death and marriage indexes. Enter surnames, first names, years – the world really is your oyster.

If you’re forever curious (much like me) enter the word ‘unknown’ into either name box. The list of people who were unknown to authorities is phenomenal. Many times I’ve looked through the list, often wondering who they were and what stories they had to tell. Wondering if there was a way in which research could help make them ‘known’ again.


I’ve provided you with several different examples on how to use the Western Australian Birth, Death and Marriage indexes but once again I’m going to reiterate: you are not limited. Seriously, play around with the index. Even if it’s got nothing to do with your family history research, try different search combinations and see what crops up. You might be surprised by what you find.

Happy searching!


This blog post is entirely a work of fiction; inspired by one of my own family history stories but created using my imagination.

11306039564_6243d2bc30_bThe story I was told as a little girl was that I was born in the darkness of night amidst a great and powerful storm. Rain fell down in sheets, thunder growled and grumbled and lightning struck so often that there was almost no need for a lamp in my parents’ small hut. My mother screamed with the weather and I resisted and then slid forth into the world, screaming along with her.

The fact that I was born at such an auspicious moment (as I was told repetitively by my Aunt Mary) meant that I would do great things in the world. I would be strong and powerful, just like the storm. I believed her words, and the knowledge of my destiny (foretold by the weather) filled me with courage and hope. I would not be like other people, I would be different.

I was often filled with many questions about my life and, as a young girl, I asked them freely without restraint. I was told a few things, enough to keep my curious mind satisfied, but was reminded that children should be seen and not heard. I grew into a young woman and learnt not to ask the questions that plagued my mind. I accepted my lot in life, practiced kindness and regularly daydreamed of what my destiny would be. I was well-loved by all my Aunts and Uncles and was treated as though I was one of their own children. I rarely, if ever, saw my father.

It was all a lie.

I discovered the letter quite by accident. Aunt Mary had left for town. Uncle Joe and his sons (my cousins) were out working on the farm and I was the only one left behind in the house. They had no daughters and I suppose I took the place of the daughter they never had. I regularly cooked and helped with the chores and, on this particular day, I thought I would do some cleaning. I began in the kitchen and wiped down the bench and put various objects away. I reached up to put the tin of flour back in its spot on the shelf but found it wouldn’t quite fit snugly in line with the other tins. Standing on the tips of my toes, I pushed harder. It was no good. There was something behind it which was in the way.

I put the flour back on the bench and looked up. A brick was sticking out a little. I suppose I should have left it for one of my cousins to fix but, as they were likely in one of the far off paddocks, I decided to investigate it myself.

I pulled one of the kitchen chairs closer to the bench and stood on it for a closer view. Unlike the other bricks in the wall, this one appeared to be cracked all the way around. I leaned in closer and took hold of the left side which was jutting out. Expecting resistance, I pulled with force but found that it slipped out so quickly and easily that I nearly dropped it on the floor. I carefully placed the brick on the bench next to the flour and turned my attention back to the hole in the wall. There was something in it.

With my left hand placed on the wall for balance, I leaned forward and placed my hand inside the hole. I pulled out an envelope addressed to Aunt Mary. I turned it over and gasped in shock. The sender was my mother.

It had already been opened and I stood on the chair looking at the handwriting as I debated whether or not I should read the letter. I turned it over again and stared at my Aunt’s name and address written on the front by, of all people, my mother. The mother who had died when I was young. The mother my Aunt cared not to talk about. The mother I knew almost nothing about.

I had to read it. I knew that to do so would be a great violation but the uneasiness I felt about trespassing on my Aunt’s privacy was heavily outweighed by the great, natural curiosity that had existed within me almost since birth. I had longed to know something of my mother and here something was, and in her own hand no less.

I stepped carefully down from my lofty position and, leaving the chair where it was, sat on it. Without hesitation, I turned the envelope over, glanced briefly at my mother’s name scrawled on the back, reached inside and pulled out the contents.

It was a single sheet of folded paper, slightly damaged with age and covered with the same scrawling handwriting. Thinking back to that moment, it is hard to describe the myriad of emotions that coursed within me as I grasped such an item. I was excited, nervous and guilt-ridden. My outward appearance was calm but there was a raging torrent within me and my heart beat fast at the prospect of reading her words. I opened it and forced myself to focus.

13 Jany 1894

My dearest Mary,

I send these short lines as I have such wonderful news to tell you. As you thought when I saw you at Christmas last I was not long at home before I began to feel great pains. The child was earlier than expected but was on its way. I had a difficult time but Anna was a great help and comfort. After many hours she came into the world in the morning of the 9th Jany, just as the sun shone its lite through the window.

I stopped in confusion at this point and continued to stare intermittently at the words sun and light. I looked back at the date: 9th January 1894. The day of my birth. She was referring to my birth. So why was I told that I was born at night during a storm? I read on.

I have named her Catherine for me and Maria after mother. Thomas is well pleased and sends his love. I have not been feeling well since but am hoping it will pass soon. The baby cries a lot which is not helping.

Please give my love to Joe and my nephews.

Your loving sister,

Having read the letter the turmoil within me began to ease. My excitement gave way to confusion. I read it again and then reread it to make sure that nothing was missed in my eagerness. As I was doing so, a shout and a whistle somewhere outside caused me to jump and I quickly refolded the paper and guiltily shoved it back into the envelope. Once again I climbed the chair and returned the letter to its hiding place; sealing it in with the brick. It still would not sit smoothly and I then realised that it was meant to be like that; a small hole in the wall for my Aunt to keep her secrets. And my secrets, it would seem.

I returned the flour tin and chair back to where they belonged and feigned an air of innocence as my Uncle and cousins loudly boomed and stomped their way through the house seeking cups of tea. Luckily for me they were not the noticing kind and I went about preparing the tea and cutting cake before claiming I was feeling unwell. I then went to my room, closed the door and lay down on my bed. For some time I stared up at the cracks on the ceiling and tried to get my head around the letter. The questions that had existed as a gentle hum within my mind were buzzing furiously. My family had lied to me. In the past the question I had asked most of my Aunts and Uncles was who; who was my mother? After reading the letter two new words rose to the top of the list: why and what. Why was I lied to? And what were they hiding from me?

Image courtesy of The British Library; “Thro’ the Battle Smoke”; “British Library HMNTS 12602.g.8.”; Page 84;

Last year I wrote a post in which I pondered, who was Jemima Barratt? Listed as an assisted passenger with Mary Ann, Elizabeth, James and Emma Barratt, she was an anomaly within the Barratt family history. Was her listing a mistake or, was there more to the story? The answer remained absent until I took a risk and ordered birth and death certificates from England’s General Register Office. The receipt of the certificates has since altered the known history of the Barratts and sheds more light on the plight of Mary Ann after her husband, Enoch, was first incarcerated and then transported to Western Australia.

The two Barretts were sentenced to 10 years’ transportation…

Having been found guilty of receiving stolen goods on 12 May 1851, Enoch Pearson Barratt and George Pearson Barratt (brothers) faced one of the most undesirable punishments of the Victorian era: transportation.

While details of the brother’s lives after their convictions are easily obtainable (both spent time in Newgate and then Wakefield Prisons) it is the lives of their families and how they fared which has often weighed on my mind. What did their wives do after their husbands were sent to prison?

Far from accepting the fate doled out to their husbands, Mary Ann (Enoch’s wife and my 4th Great Grandmother) and Mary (George’s wife) decided to fight for them; both submitting petitions pleading to those with power to prevent their husbands from being transported.

Both were illiterate. Both approached different people to help them write the petition. Both petitioned Sir George Grey who was Secretary of State for the Home Department. From Deptford, Mary Ann spoke of Enoch’s good character and, in proof of this, provided a certified copy of a letter he received from George Hawkins (a Manager of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway) many years before. She went on to state that Enoch was innocent and that witnesses (who most likely supported Enoch’s story) were in attendance and were not called. Essentially, she put forward that there had been injustice in the Court.


The letter from George Hawkins. It seems likely the date (1837) on this letter is incorrect. Most records indicate Enoch was still in Newport Pagnell at this point in time. The year 1847 is a better fit though I can’t explain why it was recorded incorrectly.

Mary, writing from Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire, spoke of the nine children (all dependents) she would have to raise on her own and touched on the evidence of Sergeant Carpenter (the Policeman who uncovered the brothers’ scheme) stating that “Carpenters evidence against her husband was of a very questionable and unsatisfactory nature and was much commented on by the Counsel on the Tryal.

Both gave compelling arguments but only one petition was successful. In the end, Mary’s letter won over the Secretary and George’s sentence was commuted. Unsuccessful, Mary Ann faced the reality that she would soon lose Enoch, not just to the prison system, but for good, as he was to be transported to a country on the other side of the world.

Mary Ann’s petition forms part of Findmypast’s Crime, Prison and Punishment documents (originally from the UK National Archives) and consists of seven pages. Unfortunately, due to an error, only page one is available on their website. Despite having advised them of the error many times since September last year, it has not been rectified. Unfortunately this blog post has been written without the knowledge of what the subsequent pages contain. Perhaps in the future (when the document is available in its entirety) I’ll be able to edit this post to include the extra information.

Enoch remained in prison (first Newgate before being transferred to Wakefield) for another year before he was transported to Western Australia. Mary Ann most likely went back to Deptford. Today (according to Google Maps) it’s a 20 minute drive from Deptford to the Old Bailey (the area where Newgate Prison once stood) and it takes over three hours to drive from Deptford to Wakefield (in West Yorkshire). Back in the 1850s these journeys would have been significantly longer. With three children and limited income, the thought of Mary Ann regularly visiting her husband in either prison is not one I entertain. Perhaps she was able to see him one last time but, it’s realistic that the last time she saw him was when he was standing in the dock at the Old Bailey.

What became of Mary Ann during this period is unknown. Resigned to her fate, she had to get on with her life as best as she could. Now the sole parent and provider of three children under the age of 12, she may have had to take on jobs to obtain a small income. If work was scarce, perhaps she fell back on the generosity of family members or benevolent societies.

Despite the fact that Enoch was still in England (albeit not as a free man) Mary Ann also did not abstain from interactions with the opposite sex. Sometime in February 1852 (nine months after Enoch’s conviction) she slept with a man by the name of John. She was still living in Deptford and the nature of this relationship and how long it endured will remain Mary Ann’s secret.

By May 1852, she knew she was pregnant. One can only speculate on the thoughts that would have continually bubbled through her mind. She was pregnant when she had three other children to support. The father of the child wasn’t her husband. Adding to her worries, another child meant another mouth to feed. Perhaps she also thought of Enoch. It’s not known if she had news of his whereabouts but, at this point in time, he was chained up on the ship William Jardine bound for Western Australia.

Of course we can never know the nature of her relationship with John but, contradicting the aforementioned negative thoughts, perhaps she was happy at the prospect of having another child.

Enoch arrived in Western Australia in August 1852; Mary Ann was six months into her pregnancy. Three months later, she gave birth to a baby girl.

Born on 23 November 1852 at 26 Giffin Street in St Paul’s Deptford, Mary Ann decided to name her daughter Jemima. She registered the birth on 4 January in the new year and signed her name with a cross. She was still living at the address on Giffin Street. The name and occupation of the father were also provided: John Barrett, mariner.

Initially, one might think that Mary Ann had become associated with another Barrett but, in my opinion, the Barrett surname attributed to John may well have been a decoy to try and hide the illegitimacy of her child. In the Victorian era, where image meant everything and illegitimacy was scandalous, it looked much nicer if the father’s surname on a child’s birth certificate matched your own. There would also be less questions.

Meanwhile, in Western Australia, Enoch was slowly settling in to his new life. It didn’t take him too long before he found out that convicts could apply for their families to join them in the Colony. A letter was sent on his behalf and, by April 1853, it arrived in England.

At a meeting of the Board of Governors and Directors of St Paul Deptford, Sergeant Carpenter (the same Policeman mentioned at the start of this post) attended and put forward an application on behalf of Mary Ann requesting assistance for the family to travel to Western Australia.

He (Sergeant Carpenter) had made this application, in hopes that if the Board had power to assist, it would confer a great benefit to the poor woman, who although not at present chargeable to the parish, had very limited means of support for herself and children.

The Board considered his application and declared they would do everything in their power to have it approved by the Poor Law Board (where the funds would come from). The outlay of several pounds for the Barratt family’s travel expenses was acknowledged to be more favourable than if they remained in England and approached the parish for support.

They also praised Sergeant Carpenter for the trouble he had taken to help better the condition of the family and I can’t help but agree with them. It’s interesting to look at the juxtaposition of the situation. Sergeant Carpenter was the means of their downfall (through carrying out his duties as a Policeman) but was not so unfeeling that he neglected them afterwards. Even after the conviction was obtained it would appear he continued to try and help in some way.

It’s not known if the Board granted the funds but, on 10 June 1853, the following letter was sent from ‘H Waddington’ to Mr Thomas Marchant, the Vestry Clerk of St Pauls Deptford and related to Enoch’s request.

I am directed by Viscount Palmerston to acknowle [acknowledge] the rect. [receipt] of yr. [your] lr. [letter] of the 8th Inst, requesting to be furnished with information regarding the Grant of an Assisted Passage to Western Australia to the Wife and Family of Enoch Pearson Barrett, a Convict under sentence of transportation in tht. [that] Colony; and I am to acqt. [acquaint] you that the subject of yr. [your] lr. [letter] relating to the Colonial Department, Lord Palmerston has caused the same to be forwarded thither for the consideration of the Duke of Newcastle whose decision thereon will be communicated to you in due course.

The Duke of Newcastle granted his request and it was likely that Mary Ann was soon made aware that she could join her husband in Western Australia.

At some point she had to provide the names of family members who would be taking advantage of the free passage to join Enoch. They were listed in age order; Mary Ann’s name at the top followed by Elizabeth, James, Emma and, lastly, Jemima.


Despite the fact that Jemima wasn’t Enoch’s child, Mary Ann was not willing to leave her daughter behind. She was going to take her with her. It would have been an interesting conversation once the family arrived in Western Australia. Perhaps she was simply planning on telling Enoch that she was his daughter. Or, perhaps she didn’t care what Enoch thought and he would have to accept her as his own despite the fact that she clearly couldn’t have been.

The family was given embarkation orders to travel on the ship Victory but, by the time the ship departed England, Jemima was no longer listed as a passenger.

On 11 October 1853 at 12 Stanhope Street in Deptford, Jemima (only eleven months old) passed away from convulsions (most likely the final symptom of an underlying illness). Mary Ann registered the death the next day, again signing her name with a cross. Interestingly, Thomas Marchant, the receiver of the earlier mentioned letter, was also the registrar who recorded the death.

Any grief felt by Mary Ann would likely have been pushed aside fairly quickly. There was always work to be done and she had to care for her three elder children. The date of their departure was also steadily approaching and Mary Ann may have had to make preparations for the journey.

Just over two months later, on 28 December 1853, Mary Ann, Elizabeth, James and EmmMary-Ann_thumb.jpga departed England on board the Victory. The journey took about 90 days with the ship arriving in Fremantle on 24 March 1854. One can only imagine the euphoria felt by Enoch and Mary Ann when they finally saw each other after three years of being apart.

They would have had a lot to catch up on and a lot to discuss. Did Enoch know about baby Jemima? If not, did Mary Ann tell him? Or, did she decide to keep those three years of her life a secret?

The only known photo of Mary Ann Barratt (nee Fleming) is the one on the left. When I was younger I looked at the image of a proud Enoch and then compared it to Mary Ann’s sombre expression. There was something slightly pinched about it and I often wondered if she was mean. With the benefit of wisdom and the discovery of baby Jemima (which adds immensely to Mary Ann’s story) I no longer consider this description accurate. She was a woman, and like so many women of the past, her story is mostly lost. I have no idea what she was like but I now have an idea of her strength and determination and a little more knowledge of what she went through on her own before she finally joined her husband in Western Australia.


  • “CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT.” Daily News [London, England] 15 May 1851: n.p. British Library Newspapers. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.
  • England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935 (Findmypast online); HO18; Home Office: Criminal Petitions: Series II; Piece Number: 310; George Pearson Barrett.
  • Registers Of Prisoners In The County Prisons Of Wakefield; Findmypast (Series: HO23 – Piece: 15).
  • Convicts to Australia; William Jardine (
  • Certified Copy of Jemima Barratt’s Birth Certificate obtained from the General Register Office. England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915; Registration Year: 1853; Registration District: Greenwich; Volume: 1d; Page: 483.
  • Certified Copy of Jemima Barrett’s Death Certificate obtained from the General Register Office. England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index: 1837-1915; Registration Year: 1853; Registration District: Greenwich; Volume: 1d; Page: 404.
  • Kentish Mercury; 16 April 1853; Page 5. Obtained via Findmypast.
  • Correspondence and Warrants; Findmypast (Series: HO13 – Piece: 102 – Folio: 265).
  • SRO of Western Australia; Albany Passenger list of Assisted Emigrants showing names of emigrants and from which countries selected; Accession: 115; Roll: 214 (courtesy of Ancestry).

Messages in bottles have long been considered fascinating to many people. Stories of people finding them on the beach regularly pop up on news websites (often with the letters returned to their original owners) so it’s of no surprise to find that newspapers of the past similarly reported on such discoveries in much the same way.


In 1869 when the bottle was found, Abraham Hurst was 64 years old and had been living in the southwest of Western Australia for 27 years. Specific details relating to his discovery were not printed (I’m not even particularly sure where the bottle was found) but the letter found within the bottle was. While I can only use my imagination as to how Abraham found it, I can go one better with respect to the contents; I can research it.

The letter was written by an individual while they were on board the ship Hydrabad. It’s dated 18 April 1869 and appears to have been signed off by the Master of the ship, Richard Jones. This could mean that the letter was written by Richard or his name was added at the end as an extra identifying factor.

The Hydrabad was an iron, three-masted sailing ship weighing 1,339 tons. Built in Glasgow, Scotland in 1865, it was launched in May of the same year and was registered in Bombay (now Mumbai) in India in 1866.


The Hydrabad in full sail by William Clark. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

It mostly operated as a cargo and/or passenger vessel between England, India and Australia and was originally owned by the Bombay Iron Ship Company. It had several Captains throughout the years and, by 1868, had been sold to T. Stephens & Co. At this point in time, Richard Jones was appointed the ship’s Captain.

On 22 October 1868, the Hydrabad departed Liverpool carrying passengers bound for Victoria. It arrived on 6 January 1869. It’s next job was to transport a cargo of coal from Newcastle (New South Wales) to Bombay and it departed Newcastle on 25 March. Captain Jones sailed the ship in a westerly direction around the southern coastline of Australia. They were headed towards Western Australia.

It’s not known if the ship docked in Western Australia (there is a good chance it did so in Albany) but nevertheless, by 18 April (the date of the letter) someone wrote their coordinates on a piece of paper…

Lat 30 deg South, Long. 112 deg East, 23 days out, all well.

…placed the letter in a bottle, sealed it and then threw it over the side of the ship into the Indian Ocean.

It’s an act which, to me, shows the optimism of those on board. They had been at sea for 23 days and everything thus far had gone according to plan. Was the message in  the bottle the work of one individual? Or, was the whole crew aware of it and excitedly mused on thoughts of where in the world their letter would end up.

The coordinates written in the letter reveal that the Hydrabad was off the coast of Western Australia; north of Perth and approximately west of Green Head (see the map below).


The fact that the ship’s coordinates were included in the letter adds weight to the possibility that perhaps Captain Jones had written it after all.

With respect to the bottle, the rest of the story is known. Bobbing along in the Indian Ocean, it floated south and, five months later, washed up on a beach near Bunbury only to be found by my 4th Great Grandfather.

The story of the Hydrabad however, continues.

The ship sailed north and soon left the west coast of Australia bound for the west coast of India. It arrived in Bombay on 3 June 1869 and stayed there for some time.

Unfortunately the words written on the letter ‘all well’ proved ominous. While still in Bombay, Captain Richard Jones contracted cholera and, on 31 July 1869, he passed away.


The Hydrabad remained in the vicinity of the Arabian Sea for another month or so. Sometime in late August or early September (around the time the bottle was being scooped up from the beach in Bunbury) the ship was at the port of Jedda (Saudi Arabia) when it was chartered by the wife of Syud Hamed bin Sulliman (an ambassador to Bombay). She had been on pilgrimage to Mecca and required a ship to take her and her retinue back home to Zanzibar.

Not long after leaving Jedda they found themselves in a south-westerly monsoon and were forced to divert their course to the port of Aleppy (today Alappuzha). Once the weather cleared the Hydrabad departed Aleppy and again set sail for Zanzibar.

During the night of 11 September 1869, about 45 miles from the coast of Zanzibar, it was realised that the Hydrabad was quite close to a sandbank named Latham’s Shoal. In order to prevent the ship from drifting onto the shoal, the Captain ordered to ‘let go the anchor’. They remained safe during the night but, upon resuming their journey in the morning, the wind (which must have been fairly strong) caused the ship to drift and it was subsequently wrecked on the reef.


The approximate location on Latham’s Shoal.

For seven days the Hydrabad, it’s crew and passengers remained stranded on the tiny shoal. Some people had drowned at the time of the wreck but those who survived found the small island uninhabitable. There was no water available but they managed to sustain themselves on sea birds and eggs. As the days wore on, some people died from dehydration.

At some point it was decided that there was no use sitting and waiting for help. Five people set out in a small boat (which had survived the wreck) and rowed towards the mainland for assistance.

They arrived safely and on 18 September 1869 at 11pm, John Kirk (the Political Agent and Consul of Zanzibar) received word of the British ship which had been wrecked.

The Sultan was out of the country at the time but his Wuzeer (similar to a Prime Minister) Sheik Sulaman bin Aik was left in charge and immediately arranged for the Sultan’s steam yacht to be made ready to rescue the survivors. John Kirk joined him on the rescue mission and they reached Latham’s Shoal in the afternoon of the following day.


Of the 84 people who were on board the Hydrabad (totalling 32 crew members and 52 passengers) 59 were rescued and landed alive at Zanzibar. 25 people had lost their lives. Of the ship’s crew, three had drowned at the time of the wreck, two had died from thirst on the shoal and three others (who had left on a raft – possibly to seek help) were unaccounted for.

John Kirk’s letter (written to Charles Gonne, the Chief Secretary to the Government in the Political Department) was published in most of the British newspapers of the time and several Australian newspapers. The ship was often declared in headlines as a loss but history tells us this wasn’t the case.

According to the Heritage New Zealand website, the Hydrabadsustained damage and as a consequence remained at Bombay for almost a year while repairs were being carried out, finally returning to Liverpool on 3 October 1870.” Perhaps the damage caused by Latham’s Shoal wasn’t quite as bad as first thought.

The Hydrabad eventually returned to the seas and continued to make various voyages throughout the next eight years.

Its last journey took place in 1878 when it travelled from Adelaide to Lyttelton (New Zealand) to collect surplus railway stock which had been purchased by the South Australian Government from the New Zealand Government. During its return journey it met with inclement weather while passing through the Cook Strait and, on 24 June 1878, it was grounded in the sand of Waitarere Beach.

At this point in time, Abraham Hurst was 73 years old, still alive and still living in Bunbury. Nearly ten years had passed since he had found the bottle. I wonder if, even after all those years, he had kept both the bottle and the message somewhere safe in his home. Western Australian newspapers did not report on the wreck of the Hydrabad in New Zealand so it’s likely Abraham was never able to read the story of its demise. Regardless, I can’t help but wonder if he often pondered on the letter, the identity of its author and the ship it had come from.

Over the years several attempts to recover the Hydrabad failed and after being gutted by fire in 1881 (coincidentally, the same year Abraham Hurst passed away) it was finally left to sit where it was; slowly ravaged by time and eventually swallowed by the sand.


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