Thomas Hodgetts, Second Fleeter- Identifying Our Ancestor

For many years several family historians researching and writing about the “Thomas Hodgetts” who was transported on the Second Fleet, have argued over his origins. All records we have been able to gather together stated he came from “Staffordshire, England”. However there are several “Thomas Hodgetts” born in Staffordshire about the same time. How can we identify our Thomas Hodgetts from the rest?

 Anyone who has followed any of my research and blogs will know I am a great believer in digging long and deep into the “Parish Chest Records”. From these we can get down to the local level not only of our ancestors, but all their friends and family too.

 Over time I sorted through all the surviving Parish Chest records of many, many parishes in Staffordshire, in my quest for Thomas Hodgetts.

 I was finally rewarded when I found the Examination Certificate of an Ann Hodgetts, when she applied for assistance, on 13 January 1790, to the Vestry of Wednesbury, Staffordshire.

 This parish meeting was made up of the Vicar, Parish Clerk, and Overseer of the Poor. Church Wardens might also attend. Their job was to administer the parish funds. They had the reputation of being very careful with parish funds, especially in difficult times as was the case in Wednesbury in the latter part of the 18th Century. Only those who had a very good case would get the needed assistance.

 In her examination, which was given under oath, Ann Hodgetts stated, among other things, that she had married Thomas Hodgetts some years before and she had three children, who were desperately in need of assistance. She gave their names and ages. She also stated that her husband had been ‘transported’ and she had no one to turn to for assistance.

She finally stated that she had not at any time applied to any other parish for assistance. This would suggest she did not approach St Mary’s, Whitechapel, London, for help as some have claimed.

 Having transcribed this document and gleaned several important clues, I could now move forward on my research into the origins of our Thomas Hodgetts.

 Meanwhile, on the very day that Ann Hodgetts had been examined at Wednesbury, Staffordshire, some 170 miles to the south, in Portsmouth on the coast of Hampshire, others waited. Several ships were anchored in the harbour waiting for the wretched winter gales to abate so they might sail.

These included the Justinian, Guardian, Surprise, Scarborough and Neptune. These five ships were to make up the Second Fleet bound for New South Wales.

 On board the Scarborough was our Thomas Hodgetts, who had lost his appeal not to be transported and to serve out his sentence in England.

 On board the Neptune was our Harriet, a free woman, who arrived on the shores of New South Wales several months later claiming to be the wife of “Thomas Hodgetts”. She certainly wasn’t Ann Hodgetts who had changed her name and was sailing towards a better life. Who was she, and how did she get a ‘free passage’ on the Neptune?

 On the 19th January 1790 the weather improved and the Fleet set sail for New South Wales.

 In recent blogs I have stated that I have begun to put together our Hodgetts family history.

Most family historians know that a family history is more than a list of names and dates. You need the story around these names, dates and events. However, it does not mean that you should fabricate a wonderful fictional story with no basis of historical and contextual truth just because you want your ancestors to be so. Nor should you thoughtlessly manipulate names and dates to fit this fictitious story.

 There are many, many published books and articles that suggest how to go about putting together an interesting family history based on facts and evidence. There are also on-line writing courses on that very subject. Just Google it. You will be surprised how much there is. You need to find that book or course that fits what you want to do.

 I have written and published many books on history and family history, but each one is different, and I try to approach each project with new eyes. At the same time there are basic things I need to think about when I start to write.

Time, place, circumstances, law, custom, mood, suspense, pace and ‘voice’ are some of the things I need to keep in mind. Indeed there is much to think about as I begin to put my words down on paper.

I know I will not find it an easy project, and there will be much frustration and editing, but I can but try.

Taking the above mentioned document of Ann Hodgett’s Settlement Examination, this is one way I might use it in the family story.

 Ann Hodgetts, the wife of Thomas Hodgetts, in desperate need, applied to the Wednesbury Parish for assistance for herself and her children on 13 January 1790. (Referenced Footnote)

Or perhaps this way.

Ann sat huddled in the icy tomb. She clutched her thin brown shawl around herself and stared down into the darkness, where her much-mended shoes should be. She couldn’t see them, nor could she feel her feet. Her shoes were wet with melted snow, and her feet had literally frozen into them. She was completely numb with cold and hunger.

 She had prayed long and fervently for many months, that this hour would not come.

Firstly to Mary, the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Mother to all mothers. In the beginning in the long warm days of summer Ann’s prayers had been answered, and she believed that she had been delivered from this terrible fate. In those days Ann had hope.

 However, as the barmy days gave way to chilling winds and long dark nights, it seemed the saintly Mother no longer listened to her supplications. When Ann knew Mary had deserted her, she then prayed even longer and harder to St Bartholomew, the patron Saint of this very church, and then to all the heavenly host, but to no avail. By now, Ann’s hope had faded away.

 Would she and her children now be sentenced to a terrible death, through no fault of their own?

 Suddenly the heavy door of the church creaked loudly, and a draught of chilling winds entered the inky darkness. A single candle spluttered into life and a shadowy figure glided down the nave to light the altar candles, one by one.

 Soon other shadowy figures entered and set up a trestle and chairs three parts of the way up the nave, below the pulpit, and in front of the choir stalls. This was some distance from where Ann sat, towards the rear of the church, in what had been in better days, the family pew.

interior2

Interior of St Bartholomew’s Church, Wednesbury prior to the alterations of 1827.(from: A History of Wednesbury, in the County of Stafford’ by JN Bagnall Published 1854, by William Parke, Wolverhampton.) Retrieved From <http://dp.genuki.uk/big/eng/STS/Wednesbury/StBartholomew/picture2> on 25 May 2017

The door opened a third time and in strode several portly figures, some with chains of office hanging from their necks, to be seated at the table. To sit in judgement for, and with God himself. For a full minute a foreboding stillness settled on the ancient stone church.

 Then one of the figures of judgement rose and bellowed into the darkness. “This Vestry is now in session. All ye seeking benefit, come forth!”

 Ann rose slowly and shuffled forward. Thus began the Settlement Examination of Ann Hodgetts. (Referenced footnote)

Or somewhere in between. I would value comments from Hodgett descendants, as I know there are a lot of you out there.

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The “Dash” of Thomas Hodgetts, Second Fleeter

Thomas Hodgetts, born 1763, Staffordshire, England, arrived in Sydney in 1790 aboard the Second Fleet. He died in Tasmania in 1823.

He is my husband’s ancestor and I have spent many years researching his life.

My challenge is now to get his story down on paper. I have spent the last few days collecting my notes, folders and computer files together to begin this task. Like all projects the hardest part is getting started.

While the research began at his death and progressed backwards through the surviving Tasmanian, Norfolk Island and New South Wales records to Staffordshire in England, the writing of the story is better explained from his birth through his youthful years, marriage, criminal records, transportation and life in New South Wales, Norfolk Island and Tasmania. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘dash’ in a person’s life.

You know when you see “Thomas Hodgetts, 1763 – 1823”, which refers to born 1763 and died 1823. The ‘dash’ years are their life story in between those dates. In Thomas’s case it spans 60 years.

I have now broken these 60 years into his life in England and his life in Australia. He was 27 years of age when he was transported in 1790, so that gives me 27 years in England and 33 years in Australia. In England it is the Georgian and early Regency period and in Australia early Colonial times, and all that implies in law and custom.

 We can piece the story through many records, but putting it all down in the historical and social context of the times without making some ‘gaff’ is the real challenge.

MALH0023509Above: One of the Petitions for Thomas Hodgetts [ Ref: Thomas Hodgetts Petition;1789,Home Office,HO13,Correspondence and Warrents,7/23,England and Wales; Crime, Prisons & Punishment,1770-1935,Institutions & Organizations, Prison Registers retrieved from Findmypast,15 May 2017 at http://search.findmypast.com.au/record?id=tna%2fccc%2f2a%2fho13%2f00006070 ]This is  also one of the documents I  photographed  when at the National Archives, London in 2014.

 Although I find it all most interesting, it is going to take some real discipline to sit at it day after day as ‘work’, especially with the busy life we lead.

The reason I am doing this project is for our children and grandchildren, but I know there are many thousands of descendants of Thomas Hodgetts in Australia, who are always keen to find out more on this ancestral line. Hopefully their interest will keep me on track with the project.