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.


Our Hodgetts Family Saga – Thomas Hodgetts,1792,Parramatta.

The fifth document for our Hodgetts family in Australia was the marriage of John Martin to Ann Toy when Thomas Hodgetts was a witness.

I first came across this reference in Sydney Cove 1791-1792, Volume III by John Cobley.

“Sunday, 26 August (1792)

Fine and cloudy.

The Rev Richard Johnson conducted two wedding services at Parramatta… John Martin married Ann Toy, with Thomas Hodgetts and Luke Jones as witnesses“.[1]

From this entry, 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/

217/1792 V1792217 3A MARTIN  JOHN TO TOY ANN CB


79/1792 V179279 147A MARTIN JOHN TO TOY ANN CB

I immediately consulted the Baptism, Marriage, and Burial records 1788-1855 in Archives Authority of NSW (now State Records of NSW) Genealogical Kit, 1988.

However, only one record was available. That was on Reel 5002, Vol 3 entry number 217. This was from the chronological list of marriages that Rev Johnson sent to the Governor’s Office. There was little information on this entry.

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.  At the time I was able to make transcription and add appropriate notes to my transcription.

MARTIN-TOY,1792,Parramatta,Marriage Transcription1

The second reference you will note fell into the Volumes not available in the Genealogical Kit. That is the 124-164 volume frame. The volume we want is 147.[See blog post “Our Hodgetts Saga – John Hodgetts,1791, Rose Hill “, for further information about these records.] So I was not able to view a microfilmed copy of the marriage register of the Rev Richard Johnson.

However, I was able to get a certified transcription (not a copy) of this record from the registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages office in Sydney. The fee of $35 for a transcription is not a small sum, but as it is an early colonial reference to our Thomas Hodgetts, who is a direct ancestor of my husband, I purchased this transcription.

MARTIN-TOY,1792,Parramatta,Marriage Transcription2

If I had been able to see or purchase a copy I could have compared Thomas Hodgett’s signature to former examples. In this case, I was not able to do so.  However, I was able to confirm Thomas was still at Parramatta. His eldest son, John had been baptized at Rose Hill (Parramatta) the year before. To whether Thomas was still in convict accommodation or he and Harriet had been allotted their own quarters we do not know. Governor Phillip was keen to house and feed the colony and all projects were still directed to the public good. He had started to allow land allocations to convicts who had completed their sentence and non-commissioned officers and privates who had completed their term of service and wished to remain in the colony. Others still under sentence and service were housed in government accommodation and barracks.

Harriet and the infant John may have been in the women convict quarters. Hopeful they may have been allowed a small suitable hut with another family or just maybe after a time one on their own, with Thomas having permission to join them.

Government House,Parramatta

Government House, Parramatta,1791

From the collections of the

State Library of New South Wales

[a928407 / DG SSV1B/3]

(Dixson Galleries)

From <https://dictionaryofsydney.org/media/3163>

This was only the beginning not the end of my research when I transcribed these records. From former blog research, we know that the Rev Richard Johnson was a Church of England chaplain appointed to the colony and had arrived with his wife as free persons on the First Fleet.[See Our Hodgetts Family Saga – Thomas Hodgetts,1790, Sydney].

Now let us look at the wedding party and how Thomas Hodgetts might have known these people.

John Martin

John Martin was charged at the Old Bailey 3 July 1782 with stealing clothes. He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation. It was stated he was a negro and he was put on a convict ship for Africa. However, he became ill before he sailed and was returned to Newgate Prison. He was later transferred to the prison hulk Ceres in the Thames. He finally embarked on the Alexander on 6 January 1787 and was sent out to Sydney on the First Fleet. He later removed to Parramatta and it is there we believe became a friend of Thomas Hodgett’s. He married Ann Toy on 26 August 1792 when Thomas Hodgetts was one of the witnesses. He was granted fifty acres of land on the northern boundary of Parramatta at the end of that year and remained there for many years. When his wife Ann died in 1806 he remarried.[2]

Ann Toy

Ann Toy was sentenced to seven years transportation in October 1789 at the Maidstone Quarter Sessions for petty larceny. She was arrested and charged after pawning a violin which had been stolen from Giles Russell, a pensioner at the Royal Hospital in Greenwich. She was immediately embarked on the Neptune in the Second Fleet. She was possibly a friend of Harriet Hodgetts. She married John Martin on 26 August 1792 at Parramatta. Ann remained childless and died in 1806.[3]

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. After a few months in Sydney, he moved to Parramatta with Harriet, a free woman who arrived on the Neptune claiming to be his wife. [See Our Hodgetts Saga – Harriet Hodgetts,1790, Sydney.]

Although it is possible John Martin was known to Thomas Hodgett’s in Sydney it is more probable that they became friends after their move to Parramatta, hence he being a witness to his marriage.[4]

Luke Jones

Luke Jones was born about 1768. On 2 April 1788, he was sentenced to seven years transportation at the Old Bailey for the theft of clothing. He was put in the crowded Newgate prison. In late 1789 he was sent to the prison hulk Dunkirk in Plymouth Harbour. He embarked on the Neptune to sail in the Second Fleet to Sydney.[5]

Records in the colony for this convict are scarce, although he can be found on the Transportation Register for the Second Fleet. He is believed to have moved to Parramatta with other Second Fleet convicts in early 1791.

There is no mention of this convict in the records until 1792 when he appears as a witness to a marriage on the 24th June. For the next six months, he was a witness at all marriages at Parramatta, some 22 in all. Rather than being a close friend of all these couples, I believe it more likely that he was acting as a clerk or churchwarden at Parramatta for the Rev Richard Johnson during this time. [6]The indications are that he could read and write as he signed the register in each case. He could have carried on into 1793, however, the records are not available to check if this was the case.

In Michael Flynn’s book for The Second Fleet, Luke Jones is recorded as arriving on the Second Fleet but having died on 1 August 1790 soon after arrival. I believe this is incorrect and it was the convict Lewis Jones who was buried on this date.[7]

My share documents for this marriage can be found under the  Resources and Examples Tab on this website under-

MARTIN-TOY, 1792, Parramatta, Marriage Transcription 1

MARTIN-TOY,1792,Parramatta,Marriage Transcription 2

[1] Sydney Cove 1791-1792 (Volume III), John Cobley, Angus & Robertson Publishers,1965, Sydney, p294
[2]The Founders of Australia-A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, Mollie Gillen, Library of Australian History, Sydney,1989,p239.
[3] The Second Fleet-Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, Michael Flynn, Library of Australian History, Sydney,1993,p 576.
[4] ibid, p335.
[5] The Second Fleet-Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, Michael Flynn, Library of Australian History, Sydney,1993,p 371.
[6]Sydney Cove 1791-1792 (Volume III), John Cobley, Angus & Robertson Publishers,1965,Sydney, pp 274,280,285,290,294,317,323,339,347,354,355.
[7] The Second Fleet-Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, Michael Flynn, Library of Australian History, Sydney,1993,p 371.

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.

More than a Certificate – Arthur Baxter and Harriet May Bell

Many family historians collect the birth, death, and marriage certificates of their ancestors thinking that they tell the story of their lives. However  I  believe, that one document does not tell the story of an event.

We are also advised when writing up our family histories to allow the facts to speak for themselves and let the reader draw their own conclusions. Fifty years of experience has taught me not to always believe this is so.

Let us take the marriage certificate of my maternal grandparents Arthur and Harriet May Baxter (nee Bell). According to their marriage certificate,(a full copy of which I purchased from the Registrar of Births, Death and Marriages (Sydney), they married at St David’s, Thirroul on 27 January 1913.

BAXTER-BELL Marriage,1913,Thirroul,Church Marriage Register

Church of England images of Sydney Diocese, retrieved from ancestry.com website 1 April 2020

That is all fine until you know that their eldest child was born at the end of July. The first conclusion one might jump to was that he married her because she was pregnant to save her reputation. A reasonable assumption perhaps in Edwardian Society before World War I.

However, the true story of this couple’s marriage is much more interesting.

Arthur Baxter, the fourth son and sixth child of James and Margaret Baxter (nee Kennedy) was born in 1888 at Picton, New South Wales. His parents and grandparents were pioneers of the district.

Harriet May Bell, the fifth daughter, and sixth child of John and Alice Bell (nee Sherwood) was born in 1891 also at Picton. Her parents and grandparents were also pioneers of the district.

Both Arthur and Harriet May were baptized at St Mark’s Church of England, Picton.

Arthur Baxter grew up on the family dairy farm at Clifton near Picton and worked at farm chores from an early age with his father and brothers. He attended Clifton Provisional School which was situated on the Baxter property.

The farm at Clifton was run by his father with the help of his seven sons. It was likely that the elder sons might inherit the farm or at least have some pecuniary interest while the younger sons were expected to work for their ‘keep’ until they reached their majority of 21 years when they might expect to have some kind of monetary allowance for their work.

Arthur Baxter met May Bell at St Mark’s Annual Sunday School picnic about 1906 and fell in love with her. At the time he was about eighteen years of age, but with no prospects, and she nearly sixteen but not allowed to go out unchaperoned and certainly not with a farmer’s son.

Arthur suffered from asthma and it was believed to have been aggravated by working near cattle. The cold Picton winters did not allow his health to improve as the years went by.

Arthur knew if he was to have any chance of winning Miss May Bell he had to leave the farm and find employment to earn the money to make his own way in life.

Early in the 20th Century, Crown land was offered to selectors on the upper reaches of the Tweed River, in northern New South Wales, particularly at Chillingham on the North Arm and Kunghur on the South Arm. These land opportunities were advertised in various newspapers including ‘The Farmer and Settler’. It is believed this is how the young men in the Camden and Picton area knew of the land being offered for selection at Chillingham. A number of young men left the family farms and struck out on their own. If they had the money they took up their own block. The Doust brothers of Camden were ones that took up a selection there. Another family from the area was the Todd family.  They were from Elderslie, Mt Hunter, and had grown up with the Baxter family. Those young men who didn’t have the money to select or buy went to find employment by assisting the selectors to clear these blocks for dairying, thereby gaining the money to buy their own farms. Arthur Baxter and his mate Lock Nicholson fell into this category.

Early in 1908 Arthur Baxter, Lock Nicholson, and several other young men from the Picton district went to the Tweed River. They caught the train to Sydney, where they boarded the coastal steamer, Orara. (Probably as steerage passengers to save money).The Orara left Sydney about 9 am on Saturday and arrived at Byron Bay early on the following Monday morning. They then caught the train to Murwillumbah.

Murwillumbah had been settled many years before and by 1907 was a bustling town with hotels, post office, courthouse, and numerous other shops, businesses, and houses. However on the 15 September tragedy struck the town, when it was virtually burned to the ground by a raging fire. By the time Arthur and his mates arrived early in 1908 the town was being rebuilt, and there was an air of optimism.

At Murwillumbah, the men hitched a ride with the mail-man who delivered to the district three days a week.  Chillingham or Bean Tree as it was known, was a creek crossing on the road to the Queensland Border, which was a few miles away.  Here the young men gained employment as planned by helping the selectors clear the heavy scrub so they could plant grasses for the grazing of dairy cattle. The surrounding farming district was known as Zara.

One of these selectors was William Growcock, an Irish immigrant who had arrived in Queensland in 1891. He was in the Chillingham area from about 1900, officially selecting in 1904 and adding to his block in 1907. He employed Arthur Baxter and his mate Lock Nicholson to clear fell the scrub on his second block.

[Spoiler alert- Forty years later Arthur Baxter’s daughter Margaret married William Growcock’s son, William. This couple were my parents].

Although hundreds of miles apart, Arthur Baxter and May Bell’s romance blossomed throughout 1908 as they corresponded regularly. In one of those letters, Arthur wrote to May and told her ‘the boys’ (Arthur and his friends) would be home for Christmas and asked her to meet the late train from Sydney at the Picton Railway Station, on a certain day, as it was very important. May asked her father to accompany her to the station, as it was late evening and she was only seventeen and wouldn’t be turning eighteen until the following month. Young ladies did not go out at night unchaperoned. When they met at the station, without a word Arthur grabbed May’s left hand and slipped a sapphire and diamond engagement ring on her finger. (She always maintained that Arthur may have asked her father for her hand in marriage, but he didn’t ask her). Arthur had just turned twenty-one years a couple of days before.

Picton Railway Station

Picton Railway Station from State Rail Authority Archives Photographic Reference Print Collection, retrieved 1 April 2010

May Bell’s mother, Alice Bell, was not keen on the union because several of the Baxter boys had a ‘weakness in the chest’ (asthma) and she didn’t want another daughter saddled with an invalid husband as her second daughter, Alice had been with Amos Kiss.

However, her main objection was because of Arthur’s mother’s family- the Kennedy’s- ‘had madness in the family’. Arthur’s maternal grandfather, Gilbert Kennedy had been in Parramatta Asylum for the Insane for nearly thirty-six years when he died in 1903. His widow remained in the Picton area until her death in 1912, and everyone knew the family and their ‘troubles’.

May Bell’s mother refused to give her consent to the marriage, hoping she would find a ‘better match’. May’s father, John Bell, also had certain reservations as Arthur had not yet earned enough money to take up a selection of his own and build a home. The beautiful ring he had purchased in Sydney, had taken much of his hard-earned cash of the first year of scrub-clearing.

As May was still underage and needed her parent’s permission there way only one thing they could do. To wait until she was twenty-one. It was going to be a long engagement.