Our Hodgetts Family Saga – Thomas Hodgetts,1790, Sydney

In my last blog I wrote about the first document I had found concerning our ancestor Thomas Hodgetts in Australia which was his entry in the Transportation Register for the Second Fleet. This time I’m writing about the second document I found for Thomas in Australia. This was the marriage of George Fry and Elena Sandwick on 7 November 1790, when Thomas was recorded as one of the witnesses.


West view of Sydney Cove taken from the Rocks, at the rear of the General Hospital 1789 [from the collections of the State Library of New South Wales[a4635001 / DG V1/14] (Dixson Galleries)

I found the above-mentioned reference years ago when I was reading books on the early settlement of Sydney for the background to put our Thomas in context. I came across a series of history books written by John Cobley. I was amazed when I looked at the index of Volume II and not only saw references to Thomas Hodgetts (Hodges) but Harriet as well. These were in connection to early marriages in Sydney where they were recorded as witnesses.[1]

At the time all I could do was note the references as I had no way of looking at the original record. Later I was able to actually look at the microfilmed record of the marriages which had been released by the Archives Authority of NSW (now State Records of NSW) as part of their Genealogical Kit in 1988.

Although you can view these records at your library you cannot make a printout as it is a condition of use of these records and is stated at the beginning of each film. The copyright belongs to the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages. You can purchase a copy from their office.

At the time I was able to make a transcription and add appropriate notes of each of these marriages. There are in fact two references for each in the online index at the Registrar of Births, Death and Marriages website. You should consult both as they are different.

FRY-SANDWICH,1790,Sydney,Marriage Register Transcription1

FRY-SANDWICH,1790,Sydney,Marriage Register Transcription2

This was only the beginning, not the end of my research when I transcribed these records.

How did I use these records to further my research into the lives of our Hodgetts ancestors?

Remember our ancestors lived complex lives and their family and friends played an important part. As Sydney was a convict settlement the Government officials also played a part and greatly influenced where and how our ancestors lived.

At this stage, I already knew that Thomas had arrived by the Second Fleet in June 1790. However, I needed to know who was the Rev Richard Johnson? Where did the marriage take place? Who were George Fry and Elena Sandwich, and the other witness, William Frazer? How could Thomas Hodgetts have known them?

 Rev Richard Johnson.

He was a Church of England clergyman ordained in England in 1784. In 1786 he received a Royal Warrant appointing him chaplain to the new colony in New South Wales. Shortly afterward he married Mary Burton at Islington, London on 4 December 1786. They embarked a few months later in the Golden Grove in the First Fleet.

Soon after arrival the Rev Johnson held his first service and continued to do whenever and wherever he could. These he carried out in tents, barns, or even under trees when a building was not available. He also carried out baptism, marriage, and burial services and entered them into his private register. Later he sent a list to the Governor’s Office  of all baptisms, marriages, and burials.

Johnson was known for his care and interest in the convicts and often gave articles and food for their comfort from his own stores brought out from London in a private capacity.

Although Governor Phillip required the convicts to attend Sunday service, he was reticent to build a church as he felt all the Government building projects should be to house and feed the colony.

By 1793, Johnson was so frustrated by the lack of progress towards the building of a church that he undertook this project himself and paid for the materials and labour for the church to be built. It was a wattle and daub construction at what is now Richard Johnson Square at the intersection of Bligh and Hunter Streets. Unfortunately, this was burned down in 1798. The Governor had it replaced with a larger and more substantial building.

Johnson was also concerned about the lack of facilities for the education of colonial children and established schools in Sydney and later Parramatta. He also travelled to Norfolk Island when he could for the spiritual care of the convicts there.

Johnson and his family remained in the colony for nearly ten years before he asked to be returned home to England citing ill health. The family left by the Buffalo in September 1800.[2]

Where and when did the marriage take place?

The 7 November 1790 was a Sunday, so it is most likely to have taken place after the obligatory Sunday Service.

As Johnson had not built his church and the parish of St Phillip’s had not been established in 1790, the ceremony most likely took place outside or in a tent in the settlement of Sydney.

George Fry

George Fry had been sentenced to death on 18 March 1782 for stealing 5 yards of cloth in Exeter. He was given a reprieve to be sent to the African Colonies. However, he was later sent to a small prison in London. On 19 April 1785, he was sent onto the Censor a prison hulk in the Thames. He stayed there for nearly two years before he embarked on the Scarborough in the First Fleet.

Gathering information from later records of his life in the colony it is believed he worked as a blacksmith at the time of his marriage. [3]

Elena Sandwick

Elena Sandwick, also known as Ellen and Eleanor Sandwich was sentenced to 14 years transportation at Carlisle (Cumberland) Assizes for receiving stolen property. Her son and three others were tried for the burglary. In 1789 Eleanor was sent to London to embark on the Neptune. It is more than likely Harriet and Eleanor became friends on board and continued as such in the colony.[4]

William Frazer

William Frazer was sentenced with his wife Ellen or Eleanor Frazer to seven years transportation at the Manchester Quarter Sessions in 1787 for the theft of several pieces of cloth. The couple petitioned to be transported together and a copy of their marriage certificate – William Frazer to Ellen Redchester was appended with the petition when it was sent to Evan Nepean’s office.  The gaoler at Lancaster Castle reported he had signed the contract for the removal of Frazer with other convicts for the embarkation of the First Fleet in 1787. In several early colonial documents, he was recorded as a blacksmith.[5]

Thomas Hodgetts

Thomas Hodgetts was implicated in a robbery in 1787 in Staffordshire and was sentenced to 7 years transportation. He embarked on the Scarborough in the Second Fleet in 1790. On arrival, he is believed to have been housed with the colonial blacksmiths from the First Fleet, including George Fry and William Frazer. He became friends with the same.[6]

It is possible that Harriet was also present at the marriage, but it was the groom’s friends William Frazer and Thomas Hodgetts who stepped forward to be witnesses to the marriage.

Something unusual for this marriage was that all parties could sign their name.

Comparing the signature of Thomas Hodgetts on this marriage certificate and that of the Thomas Hodgetts who married Ann Duce in Wednesbury, Staffordshire in 1783, helps to support our claim that this is the same person.

I hope I have shown you how extending and following up some of these clues about our ancestors can not only help with your overall research but add richness to the story.

Copies of my share documents for this marriage can be found under the Resources and Examples Tab on this website. See FRY-SANDWICK, 1790, Sydney, Marriage Transcription 1, and 2.

PS-  Richard Hodgetts mentioned this marriage in his book, “The Brave Old Pioneers 1788-1988.” This book is still available from Richard. If you wish to have contact details please leave request in comment box below. This is to protect Richard’s private email address being harvested by scammers.

 [1]Sydney Cove 1789-1790, John Cobley,1963 (Reprint 1980), Sydney, Angus and Robertson,p296.
[2]Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, Mollie Gillen, 1989, Sydney, Library of Australian History, p 195.
[3] Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, Mollie Gillen, 1989, Sydney, Library of Australian History, p 137.
[4] The Second Fleet:- Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, Michael Flynn,1993, Sydney, Library of Australian History, p518.
[5] Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, Mollie Gillen, 1989, Sydney, Library of Australian History, p 134-5.
6] The Second Fleet:- Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, Michael Flynn,1993, Sydney, Library of Australian History, p335.

Our Hodgetts Family Saga- Thomas Hodgetts Transportation Register

We research our family history backward – that is we start at the end and then move back generation by generation with documentation. However, most of us find when it comes to writing the family story we find it easier to write from the earliest ancestor we can find and then move forward with the story.

So with our Thomas Hodgetts I began with his burial and moved backward, finally arriving at the document I believe to be his baptism in Staffordshire.

Having said that, I am going to share with you a series of blogs about our Thomas and Harriet Hodgetts from what many people might consider the middle of the Hodgett story. That is their arrival in Sydney on the Second Fleet. For me, this is for convenience, but it is also the beginning of their life together.

The first document for this couple in Australia was Thomas Hodgett’s entry in the Convict Transportation Register. This was the first time this document was used. For the First Fleet in 1788 only a list of convicts on board each transport was supplied to Governor Phillip. However, the lack of any other information caused a major problem for Phillip.

Obviously, each of those “transported” were convicts, but soon after arrival, Phillip found convicts approaching his officers saying that they had completed their term of ‘sentence’ and asked the Governor to arrange their passage home to England, so they could resume their lives as free persons. Or, because of good conduct, they might ask for the indulgence of a shortened sentence with the same accompanying request for passage to England. However, Phillip had no documentation which showed when their sentence expired or would expire.

In England, convicts who had served their sentences were free to return home when their term was proven to be completed. In the transported convicts mind that should also happen in the New South Wales colony. As the Government had transported them there, they should return them home. Note, ‘exile’ for life was not part of their sentence. There were cases that mentioned this as a condition of sentence, and of course, those convicts could not have expected to go home.

However, it was not the intention of the Home Office that convicts and indeed soldiers should return home, but to remain after the completion of their sentence or service in the colony as ‘free settlers’.

To overcome this dilemma, Phillip in his early correspondence to the Home Office, requested that each convict’s place and date of conviction, and the term of the sentence be listed with their name.

Adhering to Phillip’s request the ‘Transportation Register’ was included for the Second Fleet showing this information.

Now let us look at the entry for Thomas Hodgetts. [Note- It was usual to use contractions to shorten the paper work].

HODGETTS,Thomas,1790,Sydney,Convict,Transportation Register

From Ancestry.com.au, Australian Records Collection, Index of Convict Transportation Register, from State Records of NSW, Convict Transportation Register 1789-1790 (Second Fleet) p 64.

[NB:- Although all these men were sentenced in the same place and often the same day, they were not all sentenced for the same crime nor length of sentence.]

However, it soon became apparent even this extra piece of information was not enough to identify the right person. Particularly when there was more than one person of the same name, even on the same ship.

This led to the document we know as the “Convict Indent”, which gave a whole lot of information about each convict including age, religion, education, crime and sentence, and even who they were assigned to on arrival. This helped not only at their arrival, but it could help track them in the colony right to the end of their sentence. These documents now in the State Records of New South Wales, help us to identify our ancestors among the many thousands of convicts when we are tracing our family tree.

The above is an explanation of why we only have a ‘Transportation Register’ entry for our Thomas Hodgetts and not a ‘Convict Indent’, which I know many people are looking for.

HODGETTS,Thomas,1790,Sydney,Convict Transportation Register

My above share document can be found under The Resources and Examples Tab on this website as Thomas Hodgett’s Transportation Register Transcription.

Good Ancestor hunting everyone.

The Case of the Missing Bride- Arthur Baxter and Harriet May Bell

In former blogs, I told the story of my maternal grandparents, Arthur Baxter and Harriet May Bell’s romance, long engagement, and finally their marriage.

Harriet May was known by her friends and family by her second name, May. May’s father, John Bell had instructed  Arthur that his new bride had been raised as a lady, and she should not be expected to live in a bush camp as Arthur and his mates had done for the four previous years.

When the couple reached Murwillumbah, Arthur decided to ride out to Chillingham to visit friends from Camden, the Doust family. Several members of the Doust family had moved to the Richmond River just after the turn of the 20th century. Young Bert and Edwin Doust, who were about Arthur’s age, had taken up land at Chillingham, on the Tweed. They had cleared a few acres and built a slab hut. Two of their sisters, Emily and Olive, also lived with them. Arthur thought  May might be able to stay with the Doust girls until he could find a suitable house to rent.  Consequently, Arthur left May at the Murwillumbah hotel while he went on his mission.

However, in the hotel dining room that night, May met Mr. Harry Grant, who had just brought his wife, who was very ill,  to Murwillumbah, to have their sixth child. He had called at the hotel, because of a terrible storm, but he informed May that he had to leave early in the morning for his farm at Mt Burrell, about twenty miles away in the bush. He had left the five young children at home with a friend, who not only was keeping an eye on the children, but had nearly 100 cows to milk by hand. He was worried about their safety, as although neighbours had promised to keep an eye on them too, a couple of young aboriginal men in the district had proved troublesome.

May was very concerned, particularly for the young children, the youngest not yet two years of age, should be left so. She insisted that she should go with him to care for the children until their mother’s return.

Family History Photos

The falls on the South Arm near Grants Farm- Original owned by Nola Mackey


The Grant selection was on the Rous or South Arm of the Tweed River. The selectors in the area were clearing the scrub to plant pastures for dairy farming.

The Grant home at that stage was little more than a bush slab hut with added rooms as the family grew. (It was further around the hill and closer to the creek than the Grant homes today. Years ago you could see the house stumps under a big old Moreton Bay fig. The old road wound around the hills rather than following the creek as it does today).

May had to learn to cook in a camp oven over an open fire, which she had never done before. She never had the cooking duty at home. Her sister Ollie did that.

She had to make her own yeast for the bread for the family and ‘workers’. These were young men clearing the scrub on Grant’s Selection.

Years later she would entertain her granddaughters with stories about her many cooking disasters during that time.

Water was heated for bathing the children and washing the clothes, in buckets made from 4-gallon kerosene tins precariously slung over the coals. The water was hauled from the creek in those same buckets. Wash days were an all-day affair with that sized family.

It was at the Grant home, Arthur found his bride a week later. Although Arthur had made the arrangements for May to live at the Doust’s at Chillingham, as planned, she refused to leave the Grant children in such circumstances. So the couple stayed with the Grants for several weeks, and May undertook the duties of caring for the children, cooking, and other household chores until Mrs. Grant’s return home.

Arthur, who had been brought up on a dairy farm was able to milk and could assist Harry Grant with other farming duties.

Family History Photos

Rous or South Arm of the Tweed River near Grant’s Farm-
Original owned by Nola Mackey


There were times when the men were late returning to milk the cows in the evening, and May was required to help milk, although she had no experience. Much to the amusement of the menfolk, not only at Grant’s but other farms in the district, she arrived at the milking bails in full dress, including a clean and freshly starched kitchen apron, stockings, court shoes, and make-up.

Years later some of these men admitted to May that they had bets amongst themselves that she wouldn’t last a month farming and would return to Picton.

In fact, she adjusted over time and outlasted them all. She went on to farm with Arthur in that area for nearly fifty years despite floods, droughts, fire, and wartime restrictions.

They were still living on the farm when Arthur died in 1959.