Ancestors in Van Diemen’s Land

Sarah, my DNA cousin at predicted genetic distance of 4.4 on Gedmatch, replied to my email.

She was very excited.  She lived in England but was born in Australia.  She had tested with a different company to me and her mother was a single parent.  Sarah was seeking the father she had never known.  In my email, I had given the locations of my four grandparents and my father’s father came from the same region as her father.  It looked quite plausible.

However, I asked her to send the details she knew – her mother’s side – so we could eliminate them.  She was not a genealogist and only had a handwritten page of notes from a great uncle.  She sent me a copy and I found the match instantly.  This was how simple I had originally expected it to be!

We shared the same 3x great grandparents, Robert Lockley and Catherine Hingley.  We were 4th cousins.  This match was on her mother’s side and my father’s side. I had her great grandmother’s birth in my tree but had not discovered what became of her, as she married after 1900 which is always harder to research in Tasmania.

We also shared a slightly more distant common ancestor couple, Thomas Wilken Cowen and his wife/partner Mary.  Through this couple, we were fifth cousins once removed. Once again, this was on her mother’s side and my father’s side.

The state of Tasmania began as the colony of Van Diemen’s Land in 1803.  In its earliest years it was just a penal colony and no one was allowed on or off the island without letters of introduction and recommendation.  This changed quite early on.  England had an overpopulation problem and Van Diemen’s Land needed workers.

The colony had a rough start and everyone nearly starved.  The convicts roamed free, under threat of death if they attempted to abscond.  However, in the days of starvation it really wasn’t hurting anyone if some were gone.  They weren’t eating the meagre supplies, they weren’t adding to the burdens.  Later, farmers arrived and worked out how to use the climate and the soil.  Little settlements began to pop up all over and the convicts were confined again to keep order.  The worst were kept way down the east coast at a place called Port Arthur.

Port Arthur as it is today.  This was the penal colony for the more dangerous convicts, but it always was described as a beautiful place by free visitors.
Port Arthur as it is today. This was the penal colony for the more dangerous convicts, but it always was described as a beautiful place by free visitors.

In the early years of free settlement, prejudice against the convicts was quite strong.  However, this had to change.  Convicts -either still indentured or now free – held necessary jobs in the community.  They were carpenters, teachers, nurses and farmers.  Quite a few were constables.  Some of them never offended either during their period of servitude or afterwards.  Others were unable to change their ways.  But in the colony, convicts were only one of many groups to be concerned about.  There were aboriginal groups, who generally treated others as they were treated, there were sailors spending a week or two onshore with their wages to spend, soldiers who were often little better than thugs who liked violence and drank way more than was good for them, escaped slaves from the West Indies, deserters of all kinds, bushrangers, sealers and whalers who so often had a sadistic streak and felt no loyalty to their fellow men ….. it became necessary to judge people by what they did now or would do next, rather than by what they had done in the past.

By the 1840s, there was a lot of pressure on England to end transportation and allow the colony to establish itself respectably.  It was flourishing – it had a strong shipping industry, farms were producing enough for the colony and more to export, and the pubs were doing a roaring trade.  There were fetes and regattas, musical performances, public picnics and formal dinners.  As New South Wales suffered a depression in a time of drought, Van Diemen’s Land was able to profitably provide.  However, even Van Diemen’s Land was beginning to feel the economic pinch and viewed the continuing influx of convicts with great disfavour.

Even today, there are some who prefer not to find convicts amongst their ancestors.  However, most now cherish and parade their dubious past.  Those early Tasmanians are a pleasure to research.  They had spirit and a strong opinion which they had no reason not to express.  Their personalities come through very clearly in the records.  The inhabitants of Van Diemen’s Land worked as hard as they needed to, partied just as hard as modern man in their leisure time, and involved themselves in everything that went on around them.

This was the new world of Robert Lockley and Catherine Hingley.

The Derwent River viewed from Mt Wellington.  Hobart Town began at the far right where the wharf area can just be seen (east), and settlers followed the river westward and inland.
The Derwent River viewed from Mt Wellington. Hobart Town began at the far right where the wharf area can just be seen (east), and settlers followed the river westward and inland.
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