Agnes Willis Cairns and the 4X Great-Granddaughters’ Gift

This year we have three granddaughters who are in Fourth Grade at school. This is the year they are introduced to early European Settlement in Australia, the First Fleet, and the ‘convict era’. They were all given research projects along the way.

They are well aware of their grandmother’s passion, so it was not long before they contacted me for help.

I could tell them they were descended from First Fleeters, Second Fleeters, and various other convicts. In fact, they have at least fifteen ancestors, who came to Australia as convicts.

Once I could show them where they all slotted into our large ‘family tree’ they were ready to research these convict ancestors.

All are very proficient in the use of ‘Google’ and the Internet, so were quickly able to bring to light a lot of information on their convict ancestors, which was a lot of fun for us all.

As part of learning about the convict experience, the girls have been reading fiction stories written about convict children of nine to twelve years of age. Most were convicted of stealing and sentenced to transportation. The stories may be fiction, but they are based on facts and give good details, so the children can understand and relate to the lives of the convict children of the early 19th Century.

We do not have any ‘child’ convicts in our family history, but I was able to tell the girls their 4X Great Grandmother, Agnes Cairns had arrived in Tasmania in 1829 at 10 years of age. That is the same age as the granddaughters are this year. Agnes was a  free person but had traveled half-way around the world on a convict ship, to the small colonial outpost of Hobart. She accompanied her mother, Elizabeth Merry, who was a convict.

 

kilmarnock

from Google Images- 30 August 2018

 

The granddaughters were keen to put Agnes’s name into Google and convict websites. They were so disappointed, as found no records with her name on them, although they did find her mother.

As I could show all the pertinent records from the girls own birth certificates, back through the generations to their 4X Great-Grandmother Agnes Cairns, they could understand where Agnes and her mother Elizabeth fitted into the family tree. They were at a loss of how they could find out about this ancestor. I suggested they write her a letter asking the questions they wanted to know about.

This is the letter.

Dear 4X Great-Grandma Agnes,

We have been learning about children in the early 19th Century.

Our grandmother has told us you came to Tasmania when you were ten years old. The same age as we are now. She said your mother was a convict.

Can you please write and tell us where you lived in Scotland?

Did you have any brothers or sisters?

How did you come to Australia?

What was it like living in Hobart when you first arrived?

Where did you and your mother live and what did you eat?

When and where did you marry?

Where did you live with your sixteen children? You must have had a very large house.

Lots of love

From your 4X Great-Granddaughters……Mary, Jane, and Ann (not their real names)

TAS-HobartTown-VanDiemensLand-J-F-Tallis

From Google Images – 30 August 2018

 

Now that will be an interesting history project for one devoted grandmother.

My plan is to write Agnes’s story in about fifty pages, answering in some detail the questions about where and how she lived, from her birth in Kilmarnock, Scotland to her death in Victoria, Australia, aged 89 years. There are no known pictures of Agnes, but I will add appropriate illustrations where I can.

Yes, the girls do know that their 4X Great-Grandmother is dead, and they know it will be their own grandmother, who will research and write the story. But, can you imagine how exciting it will be for these girls to get a ‘personal’ reply from an ancestor? Wouldn’t we all love and treasure such a gift, no matter how old we are? Wouldn’t it be a possession we would keep and pass down to our children and then down the line, keeping our Family History alive for the generations to come?

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