Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

The Theakston name on my tree has long held fascination.   It wasn’t long after I added family members and started searching, that I found results and stories sprung forth without hardly having to dig.  The only slightly frustrating thing, is that I’m not 100% sure if the family is related to me.  Everything seems to fit except for one small detail and this small detail is enough to cast doubt over the Theakston branch (perhaps I will shed more light on this in the future).  Nevertheless, I have decided that whether they are related or not, their stories are far too interesting to remain untold.

Hugh James Theakston was born on 20 February 1844 in Southsea in England and was the fourth child to Christopher Edwin Theakston and Matilda Elizabeth Crosbe.  Provided my intuition is correct, he is also my Great x 3 Grandfather.

In 1850, when Hugh was only six years old, he and his family suffered a terrible blow when their mother Matilda and baby brother, George Crosbe Theakston passed away.  In view of the fact that they both died in the same year, I can only assume that there may have been some sort of complication with the birth.

With his father Christopher employed as a clerk for the Portsmouth branch of the Bank of England, Hugh spent his childhood growing up in the town of Portsea.  In 1851, he was living on Norfolk Street with his father, an older sister (Matilda), two older brothers (Arthur and Edwin), a younger sister (Julia) and two general servants.

Ten years later, 1861 turned out to be the year where things went awry for the Theakston family.  On 10 July 1861, Hugh’s father, Christopher was brought to court to face charges of embezzlement within the Bank of England.  Pleading guilty, he was sentenced to four years imprisonment (more details on the case will be in a future post about Christopher) and he subsequently placed his children in an unfortunate position.

At this point, the only census record for Hugh in 1861 shows him visiting the Allen family in Portsea with his two sisters, Matilda and Julia.  He is also unemployed with his occupation being listed as “late clerk”.

Many years after the 1861 census, Hugh decided that he’d try his luck as a sailor and thus also left England.  He departed London and arrived in Sydney on 11 June 1869 on board the ship “Annesley”.  He is listed as being the second mate.

In the 1870s, Hugh is seen on various passenger lists travelling back and forth from Adelaide to Sydney.  In South Australia on 7 February 1874 he received a Certificate of Competency as Master Ordinary and on 9 April that same year, he left Port Wakefield in South Australia and arrived back in Sydney on board the ship “Claymore”.  Once again he is listed as a mate.

These trips between Sydney and Adelaide are probably the reason he eventually met Elizabeth Emily Freeman (known as Emily) who lived in South Australia.  The two married in St Paul’s Anglican Church in Port Adelaide on 2 March 1876.

Even though Hugh constantly travelled for work, their home base remained in South Australia for some time.  It was in South Australia that Emily gave birth to four of their children.  Edith Alice Maud Theakston was born on 17 February 1877 (my Great-great Grandmother), Hugh James Theakston was born on 12 May 1879, Christopher Edwin Theakston was born on 5 February 1881 and Florence Emily Amanda Theakston was born on 7 August 1883.  All were born in Glanville.

Sometime between 1883 and 1888, Hugh  packed up his family and sailed west.  With the family residing in Fremantle (on Cantonment Road and eventually Short Street), Hugh continued captaining various vessels and transporting goods and passengers up and down the coast of Western Australia.  His journeys are recorded throughout the passenger lists and shipping arrivals and departures in The West Australian.

Four more children were soon born in Fremantle.  Hilda Evelyn May Theakston was born in 1888, Ivy Gladys Rose Theakston was born in 1891, Arthur Harold Theakston was born in 1894 and George Lewis Theakston was born in 1897.  Unfortunately, the youngest son George also passed away in 1897 at only nine months old.

There is a certain amount of risk with any profession and Hugh was brought face to face with one such risk when the vessel he was Master of (a steamboat named The Dolphin) caught fire whilst anchored in Fremantle.  No one was injured and the flames were eventually extinguished but this was not without great damage to the steamer and attracting the attention of the people who lived in Fremantle.  A fairly large newspaper article was printed in The West Australian and an inquiry into the cause of the fire followed.  Despite being found to be an accident, Hugh still received a reprimand stating that as the Master of the vessel he should have been more responsible.

Though my searching brought forward many different details of his life, family and occupation, I struggled to find any information pertaining to his death.  He was not listed as being buried in Fremantle with Emily and there was no record of his death on BDM.  A chance visit to the State Records Office finally solved the riddle of Hugh James Theakston’s death.

Hugh was Master of the lugger “Katiga” when it left Singapore on 26 February 1902, heading to Broome, Western Australia with seven men on board.  During its journey, the lugger reached Banjoewangi on 15 March 1902 and stopped there to obtain provisions and refill with water.  The Katiga left Banjoewangi on the night of the 16 March in company with the ship “Kadua” and they sailed together until 22 March when they became caught in a gale and were separated.

Whilst the Kadua reached Broome on 21 April 1902, the Katiga, its Master, Hugh James Theakston and all of the crew members were never seen again.

Up until 26 February 1902, Hugh was known to regularly correspond with Emily, who at that time lived on Cantonment Road in Fremantle.  After this date, she no longer received any correspondence from him.

With no bodies found, it was assumed that all lives had been lost at sea.  Nearly seven months after the date The Katiga was due to arrive in Broome, Emily made an application to have Hugh’s death presumed.  It was ordered by the Court on 1 December 1902 that Hugh James Theakston was presumed drowned on 22 March 1902.

His Will was executed on 7 October 1886 (most probably in South Australia) and in it, he bequeathed all of his property to his wife Emily which totalled £231.

It is quite a sad end for a man who led such an interesting life.  With no body to bury, he has no official resting place.  His only memorial is etched on the headstone of his wife’s grave.

The headstone of Emily Theakston.

  • FreeBMD. England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index, 1837-1915 [database on-line].
  • 1851 & 1861 England Census [database on-line].
  • New South Wales, Australia, Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1826-1922 [database on-line].
  • The West Australian (Perth, WA: 1879-1954), Monday 26 November 1888, Page 3 –
  • South Australian Births, Deaths & Marriages (CD)
  • Western Australian Births, Deaths & Marriages (
  • South Australian State Records Office
  • Metropolitan Cemeteries Board (
  • Western Australian State Records Office (Item number: 1903/004. Item name: Hugh James Theakston. Consignment number: 3403).
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