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.

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.



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)


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?

Framing History-Elizabeth McArthur and Harriet Hodgetts

When we are writing our family’s history we need not only the specific facts of their lives but also to put them into the context, of the time and place. That is when, where and how they lived.

However, “All history is conjecture. All of it. It is the height of folly and arrogance for anyone to say that he or she knows definitely what happened in the past. We piece together the story as best we can, with the shreds of evidence that exist. When we are very lucky the pieces come together to form a beautiful and cohesive collage”….[from The Book of Love, Kathleen McGowan]

I am interested specifically in the Second Fleet story, because one of my husband’s ancestors, Harriet Hodgetts, is believed to have arrived in Australia, as a free woman, on the Second Fleet.

When we are writing about specific events, such as the “Second Fleet”,  we need to dig deep into a whole range of records. We have to study them carefully if we are to get the most out of them.

The following blogs are my interpretation of the documents and information I have found, and my version of what happened all those years ago, and why. How close it is to the ‘real thing’ I do not know, but believe it is a possible explanation of the events of that time.

The only surviving personal record of the Second Fleet is part of a Journal written by Elizabeth McArthur, the wife of John McArthur, a Lieutenant in the Marines. They embarked on the ‘Neptune’ in London. It is a personal record of some of her experiences, and what she thought about some of the things, going on about her. It only covers a few weeks of the voyage, on board the Neptune, not the whole seven months at sea. Much has been written and inferred by these few pages. Many historians have studied them, and written whole books on their interpretation of that collection of remarks and musings.

For the First Fleet there are more than twenty accounts of the voyage out, and indeed even the return voyage. It is hard to believe Elizabeth McArthur was the only person recording that voyage. True, a few letters written about the arrival of the Second Fleet in Sydney have survived, but no other records of personal experiences on board the ship itself. It was a popular thing for, particularly educated men to record their experiences, and publish them in book form, usually in their lifetime. There also would have been the Captain’s Log, the Surgeon Superintendent’s and the Naval Agents reports, of the day to day running of each of the ships in the Fleet. However, these have not survived, possibly destroyed to avoid blame and recrimination, after such a disastrous voyage.

I have been studying the Elizabeth McArthur story, so I can better understand our Harriet Hodgetts. She had been born in the same year as Elizabeth, and faced many of the same challenges, as their parallel lives stretched well into the 19th Century. They both died in Australia in the same year. There are very few records that even mention Harriet ‘Hodgetts’ by name, and absolutely none in the way of family stories, letters, diaries, or journals, telling of her thoughts, attitudes, and her victories and sorrows over the 83 years, of her long and eventful life.

As I have studied the life of Elizabeth McArthur and this specific part of our history, I see a different interpretation of what was going on around Elizabeth, then is recorded in her Journal.  Her reaction to things she had no former experience of. The things she was not a witness to, but only heard second or third hand. Finally, of things, that were specifically kept from her, particularly by her husband, John McArthur.

Let me say at the outset I have great admiration for Elizabeth McArthur and Harriet Hodgetts, and as women, how they met the day to day challenges, not only of the voyage but in the infant colony at the edge of the known world.


View of Sydney Cove-1792

To really understand Elizabeth McArthur and Harriet Hodgetts, I believe I needed to go right back to the beginning and study their ancestors and families. I wanted to find not only where and how they lived, but how they may have influenced the women’s outlook on life.  I wanted to find some possible explanations, not only for some of their decisions and indomitable faith but how they managed to live in a male-dominated society and world, so far away from their ‘roots’, with no family support.

Who was the real Elizabeth McArthur? Who was the real Harriet Hodgetts?