Our Bell Family in Australia- George Bell’s Marriage 1844

I have been researching our Bell family for over fifty years. The first of our family to arrive in Australia were two brothers, James and George Bell from East Farleigh, Kent, England. They arrived as sailors on the convict ship Asia on 2 December 1837.

See “A Window in Time-My Bell Family in East Farleigh, Kent, England”, posted 30 April 2014 and,” My Bell Family Ancestors-George Bell (1817-1894)-Sorting Red Herrings”, posted 3 July 2014.

Although I have searched diligently for years, I have not been able to find any documents for these brothers until 25 December 1844 when George Bell married Sarah Sargent at Sutton Forest.

I first purchased a certified transcription of this marriage in 1973 from the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Sydney. This is a transcription of that document.

BELL-SARGENT, 1844,Sutton Forest,Marriage Transcription 1

I especially noted “Bachelor, free by servitude”, beside George Bell’s name. This meant he had been a convict.

However, I had found good evidence that he had come free as a sailor on the convict ship, Asia in 1837. Had he gotten into trouble after his arrival?

I searched many court and gaol records between 1837-1844 at the State Library and State Records of New South Wales, and even old newspaper reports on Trove, but never had been successful in finding any clue to why George was ‘free by servitude’.

It has been my greatest sticking point in writing up the history of George Bell. I have had other professional historians have a look at the problem but no-one had been able to solve this problem or help with answers.

I then checked for references in the online index of the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages in Sydney at https://bdm.nsw.gov.au/

I found the only reference:-

404/1844 V1844404 29      BELL      GEORGE   and   SARGENT  SARAH    MY

The early colonial baptism, marriage, and burial records of some 164 volumes cover the time before civil registration in New South Wales. This includes Victoria and Queensland which was part of New South Wales at that time. These are held as Government records by the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages for New South Wales in Sydney.

Many of these records were microfilmed and released to the public in the Archives Authority of New South Wales Genealogical Kit in 1988. Of the 164 volumes copied, only 123 volumes were released in the kit covering the time frame 1788-1855. Volumes 124-164 were not included in the kit.

This was because some of the records contained in the volumes were after 1855 so fell outside the parameters of the historical project and were subject to state privacy laws. Other volumes were not included because they were so fragile and the handling of those volumes would have destroyed them.

Returning to our Bell family research, I found Vol 29 was in the records released and I consulted the appropriate film.

This gave the same information as the certified transcription from the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages Office, and with the identical reference, it was clear to me that the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages had sighted the same register. I added this reference to my transcription, so I knew I had looked at this record.

It looked as if I would never solve the mystery.

However, were these transcriptions enough for my datasheet for my ancestor’s George Bell and Sarah Sargent’s marriage?

As I have been encouraging the historians in our families as well as my students to collect every document they can to build evidence for the events of birth, marriage, and death for all ancestors, I thought about what I could do to collect more evidence.

I consulted Trove for any notice or newspaper article about the marriage in 1844. There was none.

I had not found any other memorabilia concerning this marriage in family papers on any branch of the family either.

I then decided to see if the original parish register of All Saints, Sutton Forest had survived and track down the register itself.

I found it had survived in the Sydney Diocese Archives, but I was unable to visit to see the original. However, it had been microfilmed and copies were available at the National and State Libraries as well as the Society of Australian Genealogists. Again, in the present circumstances, I couldn’t travel to view these filmed records.

An online search revealed that many of the Anglican Parish Registers of the Sydney Diocese can be found at Ancestry.com, including Sutton Forest.

[As we are in lockdown with COVID 19- yes, we are those elderly relatives- family gave me a subscription as a birthday gift].

I was able to find and download an image of the marriage of George Bell and Sarah Sargent. I was excited as this was a ‘true image’ of the register the couple, witnesses, and clergy had signed on the day-the 25th December 1844.

On examining this document I was shocked by what I found. Right there, clearly written for George Bell was “Bachelor, free immigrant”. I admit I enlarged the image and then just stared at it for a few minutes.

BELL-SARGENT,1844,Sutton Forest,Marriege Register ClipExtract from an image – Bell-Sargent Marriage,1844 downloaded from Ancestry.com, by Nola Mackey,1st August 2020.


What a great find!

In all other respects, the entry was identical information to what was on the ‘official’ documents.

This is an example of a ‘transcription error’ at the first ‘copy’ made from the original parish register for the Colonial Secretary’s Office. After all these years I am very happy about this outcome.

My share transcriptions of these documents can be found under the Resources and Examples Tab on this website under:-

BELL-SARGENT, 1844, Sutton Forest, Marriage Transcription 1 and

BELL-SARGENT,1844, Sutton Forest, Marriage Transcription 2

The moral of this story is that family history is an ongoing journey and you should never assume you have all the information. Nor should you ever give up in trying to solve family stories and inconsistencies on documents.

In the next blog, I will show you how I took the information from this document to carry on with my research into the lives of George and Sarah Bell.


Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 1, Tilbury

Vern and I have returned home from our overseas holiday, and it is now a month since we disembarked from our cruise with the Unlockthepast family history team on-board the Marco Polo. We had a marvellous time, and saw things, and went to places, we are not likely to see or do again.

Over the next few days I thought I would give you some idea what we saw and did, while on this cruise.

Day 1 , Saturday 19 July

We had been staying with distant cousins at Strood in Kent. We have the same ancestors some seven generations back on my ‘Bell’ family line. They had offered to drop us off at the Cruise Terminal at Tilbury, after we had lunched at a local pub called ‘The Three Crutches’. An interesting name for a pub, but that is another story.

The traffic was very heavy, so a forty minute journey took well over two hours and we arrived at the Tilbury Cruise Terminal just after three- thirty.

The Marco Polo was berthed at the terminal, and was already boarding passengers. She was not one of those huge floating cities, but had a more traditional profile with teak decks and a distinctive dark blue hull. She was just over 176 metres long and nearly 24 metres wide, and had 450 cabins, where she could accommodate up to 800 guests. She will be celebrating her Golden Jubilee (that’s 50 years) next year, and has a fascinating history. Check it out at www.cruiseandmaritime.com/ship/marco-polo/profile for photos and information.

There was all the hubbub of customs, and then the embarking hall where luggage, suitably ticketed, was whisked away by porters, and the ship’s staff collected our passports, took our photo and issued our photo identification boarding pass. This was a very important item for the cruise, as it not only got us on and off the ship but served as ‘cash’ on board.

As we walked along the covered gangway we could see artwork depicting the outlined shadows of all those who have used this terminal over the years. Here we also had ‘boarding photos’ taken by the ship’s professional photographers, which we could later purchase as mementoes of the voyage.

As we boarded the ship itself, we were met by staff and escorted to our cabin, where our luggage awaited us. We had requested this particular cabin, when we booked the cruise some nine months before.

We then went to the Marco Polo Lounge where we registered with the Unlockthepast team and collected our conference material and program.

We were soon out on deck watching others embarking.

I’m very interested in architecture and when I looked over to the front of the cruise terminal,I knew it was not a modern 21st Century building, and guessed it was much older, but how old? I made a mental note to research this when I had time. Anyone who knows me well, know I go off on research tangents all the time, as I want to know so much, about so many things.


Anyway, when I ‘googled’ it on the Internet, I found it had quite an interesting and important place in British maritime history. For instance, it took an Act of parliament, so the first docks could be built here in 1882. Secondly, it will soon be celebrating it’s centenary as a cruise liner terminal, and thirdly, it was the port of embarkation for all those who emigrated to Australia under the assisted passage scheme established and operated by the Australian Government after World War II. The “Ten Pound Poms” as they were known in Australia.

Many elderly first generation Australians, researching their family history, will come across the name “Tilbury,” and I wondered, were there any actually on board with us?

After the obligatory safety drill – though we appreciate we have to do it, but hope never have to use it – we remained on deck, and watched and felt, the Marco Polo pull gracefully away from the wharf and slowly move towards mid-stream of the Thames. She then turned downstream, where we met other commercial tankers slowly moving upstream towards their designated berths.

It was fascinating to look across the river and see all the old bond stores,and derelict wharves, which had all seen better days. However,the big surprise was the several ‘tall ships’ or old sailing ships which were berthed in all their glory, possibly around Gravesend. I was quite emotional when I saw them, as I know some of my Bell family left Gravesend as sailors on the convict ship “Asia” in 1837. Perhaps a small ‘time-warp’ to give me a glimpse of those far off days.

We enjoyed dinner in the ship’s Bistro, before we returned to the Marco Polo Lounge for the ‘ meet and greet’ of the conference participants and lecturers. All those eager family historians were a friendly lot, and it was great to catch up with old friends, as well as make new ones. There was a great line-up of several of the world’s leading professional genealogists to share their knowledge and wisdom with us over the cruise.

It was then free time, so we returned to the deck to watch the passing ships and landscape. It was mid-summer and so there was a long twilight before darkness fell late in the evening.


As we moved out into the Thames Estuary, and were leaving the land behind, we were surprised to come across what looked like ‘ huge rusting metal crabs’ perching in the sea. A quick ‘google’ and another unusual and interesting glimpse into British maritime history, as I found that they were what was left of the defensive Maunsell Army Forts of World War II. Again I wondered if there were any among us whose parents worked at any of the Maunsell Naval Forts, consisting of one large platform or the three Maunsell Army Forts in the Thames Estuary at Nore, Red Sands and Shivering Sands, which was north of Herne Bay and over nine nautical miles from the nearest land. No place to be in the terrible North Sea winter gales.

I guess ‘Goodwin Sands’ mentioned in the great days of sailing ships must have been about here, or perhaps a little to the south.

It was then time for bed, and it was nice to go off to sleep with the sound of the ship’s engines murmuring below us.