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 life-time. 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, than 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

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?

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Harriet Hodgetts and Elizabeth McArthur -Interesting Coincidences and Parallel Lives.

 

I have said in former blogs I have been researching and writing Harriet Hodgetts story for some time now. In recent times I have been exploring and writing about four sea voyages she made in her life-time. Her first voyage was in cramped quarters on a convict ship in the Second Fleet.

The only surviving written record of a personal experience of that voyage is a few pages of a journal kept by Elizabeth McArthur, one of the marine’s wives.

To write Harriet’s story, I needed to explore and write Elizabeth’s story too. While doing this, I was completely blown away, with the unbelievable coincidences of the parallel lives, of these two incredible women.

  • Both were born and baptized in country parishes in England, within months of each other in 1766. Elizabeth in Devonshire and Harriet in Staffordshire.

  • Both were the eldest daughters in their family, who were effectively disinherited by the early deaths of their respective fathers.

  • Both came under the guardianship of their grandfathers. Elizabeth, her Maternal Grandfather and Harriet, her Paternal Grandfather.

  • Both fell in love, and let their heart rule their head. They ‘choose’ to accompany their ‘husbands’ on the Second Fleet, although by all the ‘rules’ and ‘social norms’ at the time, neither should have been on that voyage.

  • Both arrived in Sydney at the same time and lived near each other in the infant colony.

 

View_of_Sydney_Cove_1792
View of Sydney Cove-1792

  • Both moved to Parramatta and lived there for some time.

Lycett_Parramatta_02_Elizabeth-Farm_wr
Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta

 

  • Both settled on the land and became ‘farmer’s wives’.

  • Both became widowed, Elizabeth in 1834 and Harriet in 1823.

  • Both died in Australia in 1850, within a few months of each other, aged 83 years. Elizabeth in New South Wales, and Harriet in Tasmania.

Regardless of all these coincidences, I believe although they may have set eyes on each other, from time to time, they never met. Elizabeth McArthur, being a Marine Captain’s wife, at the high end of the social scale of the colony, and Harriet Hodgetts being the wife a convict blacksmith, at the other end of the social scale.

 

Harriet Hodgett’s Journeys by Sea- Part 1

I have been researching and writing Harriet’s story for some time now. I knew it would not be easy, but the more I do, the more I need to do, to actually to do justice to the project. I have tried to ‘block- out’ the story, and arrange research to build the story in chunks.

In recent weeks I have been concentrating on researching and writing about Harriett’s sea voyages. Progress has been slow, but rewarding.

To my knowledge, in a time-span of thirty years, Harriet made four journeys by sea .

  • The first, London to Port Jackson in 1790 as a ‘free’ woman on the convict ship Neptune with a voyage of nearly 7 months.
  • The second, from Sydney to Norfolk Island in 1800, a voyage of several days.
  • The third, from Norfolk Island back to Sydney in 1805, also taking several days.
  • The fourth, from Sydney to Port Dalrymple in northern Tasmania in 1819, also taking about two weeks.

Each of these voyages would have been  a very different experience for Harriet. I need to take many things into account, as I ponder and write her story.

For instance, let us take the first voyage. I believe it is not enough to just say she got on board in London in 1789 and arrived in Port Jackson, several months later on 28 June 1790. There are no documents with Harriet’s name on it. In fact there are very few surviving documents about the voyage of the Second Fleet, even official ones.

How can I write up her ‘experience’ of the voyage itself? It may be fiction, but it needs to be credible fiction.

From the few scant reports of the voyage at the time, we know it was a horrendous journey, which led to much death and sickness.

When news finally filtered back to authorities in England, the captains and ship’s officers were blamed for the carnage. However was this really the case, or was there much more to the story?

To answer some of these questions  I need to track down every one of those surviving documents. I need to study the providence and assess the motivation for the creating of such documents.

I also need to consider, if there may have been documents, that for some reason have not survived. What might these reasons be?

Firstly, I needed to research the ships and boats of the era. How they were made, the parts there of, and how the ‘systems’ on board worked, involving the officers and crew.

Life on board ships was by necessity, very ordered. Everyone was under strict instructions and a rigid routine. It was not a holiday in any sense of the word, even for those ‘free’ passengers.

The Neptune was a large very crowded ship of nearly 800 tons. It has been difficult to clearly establish how many people were on-board, when she left England, but it is believed it totaled about six hundred and twenty. There was also a large quantity of  stores, both for the voyage, as well as for the colony.

Thomas Gilbert, had been appointed captain, as he had had experience, being captain of the Charlotte in the First Fleet. However, after the Macarthur fiasco, he was replaced by Donald Trail. Trail an experienced navy captain, and later in transporting slaves, had originally been appointed to the Surprize.

John Marshall was captain of the Scarborough. He had also been her master on the voyage of the First Fleet.

How was the voyage in the Second Fleet, so different to cause so much trouble, with horrendous consequences?

How did Harriet get that free passage in the first place? Where did she sleep on board and who were her friends?

It takes a lot of work to put together a possible story. Who, how, when, where, and why are always the questions I need to ask before setting down my thoughts.

I then need to visualize each section of the story as I put it down on paper. Here is a little taste of the first draft of the story, as Harriet sets out on her sea voyage in 1790.

Harriet lay awkwardly in the narrow bunk and watched the gimbal swing gently to and fro, making ghoulish shadows on the wall. She felt the slight warmth of the child huddled beside her, as it convulsed with heartbreaking sobs, even as it drifted off to a troubled sleep.

It had been a long and exhausting day and now stretched into a cold and numbing night, but sleep would not come to Harriet.

All around her there were unseen souls, coughing, snoring, groaning and crying, but it was difficult to place sounds in the shadowy darkness. Then there were the ship’s groans and creaks as it rocked on the rising tide. The occasional bell and muffled cry, somewhere out there in the moonless night.

Harriet still stared at the wall. Was it really little more than a day, since she had prepared for her daring adventure? As she contemplated what may lay ahead, her heart quickened and she began to feel fear rising in her stomach. Was fear and regret now stealing her heart as had been foretold?

She shut her eyes tight, covered her ears and willed herself to feel the warm sunshine, smell the scented meadows, and hear the twittering birds, with her beloved Tom beside her, in the Staffordshire countryside, far away. She was successful for just a brief moment, and then her fears engulfed her again. What if her ruse was discovered, her dreams dashed, and worst of all, actual imprisonment.

She clenched her jaw and pushed away those dark thoughts again. She finally began to relax and calm herself.

She gently stroked the brow of the sleeping child beside her and thought of the many times she had comforted the little ones, as terrifying nightmares had overtaken them while they slept in their tiny attic room. Someone else would have that duty now.

Her heart started to pound again as her thoughts drifted back to the daring plan Elizabeth and Ann had convinced her could be achieved.

On the docks this morning the damp sea air had smelt of salt and freedom, but tonight in the ship, it only smelt of fetid breath, coal tar, cheap wine and other more complicated smells.

There was still time to turn back. Tomorrow she could leave the ship and return to John, Ann and the little ones. They would be angry with her, but she could go back to her former life. A miserable life with no promise. A lonely existence, with her Tom, long gone to the other side of the world. With such difficult times, she now had no prospects of marriage. Only a slow creeping imprisonment, by family and society, in cold dark London.

She had had a home, true, but for how long? John and Ann, who were kin, had reluctantly taken her into their household some years ago, to help with their young children. It was just after her Tom had been sentenced to death. She could still recall in stark detail, that horrible day in the Staffordshire Court.

His sentence had later been changed to transportation and he had been sent to the hulks in Portsmouth Harbour. He had been working as a blacksmith on the harbour works. There had been some hope that he would complete his sentence on the hulks, and then return home. She could wait. However his petitions had been pushed aside, and he was to be transported to New South Wales. He was innocent, but that made no difference to those Judges! He was to be gone!

She looked across at the indistinct mound in the berth opposite, where Elizabeth lay with her youngest child. Was she having doubts too? No, thought Harriet, Elizabeth was resigned to her fate long ago. To go with her husband to faraway New South Wales. Harriet’s dream was only hours old, and still very fragile.

Harriet’s story is a different kind of writing to what I have done before in writing up our family history. Certainly a challenge and a steep learning curve, if I’m to be anyway successful. I still have to have an outline of facts to base the story on, but have to know so much more about life of those far off times, to put together the story.  I still have a long way to go, but day by day, I progress slowly.

 

The “Dash” of Harriet Hodgetts, Second Fleeter

Harriet Hodgetts, born 1765 in Staffordshire, arrived in Sydney in 1790 on board the Second Fleet. She died in Tasmania in 1850. She is my husband’s ancestor and I have spent many years researching her life. My challenge now is to get this story down on paper. When I was collecting all my notes on ‘her husband’, Thomas, I also brought together all her records in one place. I plan to write her story as I write Thomas’s.

Yes, it is the ‘dash’ again- the one in “Harriet Hodgetts, 1765 – 1850”. This time it covers 85 years, both in England and Australia. Some 25 years in England and 60 years in Australia.

Her research also began with her death in Tasmania in 1850 and proceeded backwards through the records in Tasmania, Norfolk Island and New South Wales to Staffordshire in England.

The fact that she is a woman has made the research all the more difficult and much of the evidence is circumstantial, as she is not mentioned by name in the many records we research for information on our ancestors.

After her arrival as a free woman on the Second Fleet we presume she is with Thomas Hodgetts as she is listed on some government records as ‘wife of Thomas Hodgetts’. She is listed on the children’s baptism entries as their mother in both New South Wales and Norfolk Island, so we believe she remained with Thomas. As she died in Tasmania in 1850 we again believe she was with Thomas not only the six years before his death in 1823, but also remained in Tasmania for the 27 years after his death.

Just how do we write her story if there is little mention of her in the records? That is the big challenge.

“Harriet Hodgetts” also had a secret, which she took to the grave with her. She wasn’t who she claimed to be.

I believe the fact that her name was incorrect on her death entry suggests she told her family little of her origins and her life before she emigrated as a free woman on the Second Fleet in 1790.

Death Entry of “Henrietta Hodgetts” in Longford Tasmania. Believed to be that of the woman also known also as “Harriet Hodgetts”. [Ref: “Australia, Tasmania, Civil Registration, 1803-1933”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q27M-BB74 : retrieved 15 May 2017 from Family Search ,Utah,USA] From <https://familysearch.org/search/record/results?count=20&query=%2Bgivenname%3AHenrietta~%20%2Bsurname%3AHodgetts~%20%2Bbirth_year%3A1765-1770~%20%2Brecord_country%3AAustralia>

 

Thomas Hodgetts, Second Fleeter- Identifying Our Ancestor

For many years several family historians researching and writing about the “Thomas Hodgetts” who was transported on the Second Fleet, have argued over his origins. All records we have been able to gather together stated he came from “Staffordshire, England”. However there are several “Thomas Hodgetts” born in Staffordshire about the same time. How can we identify our Thomas Hodgetts from the rest?

 Anyone who has followed any of my research and blogs will know I am a great believer in digging long and deep into the “Parish Chest Records”. From these we can get down to the local level not only of our ancestors, but all their friends and family too.

 Over time I sorted through all the surviving Parish Chest records of many, many parishes in Staffordshire, in my quest for Thomas Hodgetts.

 I was finally rewarded when I found the Examination Certificate of an Ann Hodgetts, when she applied for assistance, on 13 January 1790, to the Vestry of Wednesbury, Staffordshire.

 This parish meeting was made up of the Vicar, Parish Clerk, and Overseer of the Poor. Church Wardens might also attend. Their job was to administer the parish funds. They had the reputation of being very careful with parish funds, especially in difficult times as was the case in Wednesbury in the latter part of the 18th Century. Only those who had a very good case would get the needed assistance.

 In her examination, which was given under oath, Ann Hodgetts stated, among other things, that she had married Thomas Hodgetts some years before and she had three children, who were desperately in need of assistance. She gave their names and ages. She also stated that her husband had been ‘transported’ and she had no one to turn to for assistance.

She finally stated that she had not at any time applied to any other parish for assistance. This would suggest she did not approach St Mary’s, Whitechapel, London, for help as some have claimed.

 Having transcribed this document and gleaned several important clues, I could now move forward on my research into the origins of our Thomas Hodgetts.

 Meanwhile, on the very day that Ann Hodgetts had been examined at Wednesbury, Staffordshire, some 170 miles to the south, in Portsmouth on the coast of Hampshire, others waited. Several ships were anchored in the harbour waiting for the wretched winter gales to abate so they might sail.

These included the Justinian, Guardian, Surprise, Scarborough and Neptune. These five ships were to make up the Second Fleet bound for New South Wales.

 On board the Scarborough was our Thomas Hodgetts, who had lost his appeal not to be transported and to serve out his sentence in England.

 On board the Neptune was our Harriet, a free woman, who arrived on the shores of New South Wales several months later claiming to be the wife of “Thomas Hodgetts”. She certainly wasn’t Ann Hodgetts who had changed her name and was sailing towards a better life. Who was she, and how did she get a ‘free passage’ on the Neptune?

 On the 19th January 1790 the weather improved and the Fleet set sail for New South Wales.

 In recent blogs I have stated that I have begun to put together our Hodgetts family history.

Most family historians know that a family history is more than a list of names and dates. You need the story around these names, dates and events. However, it does not mean that you should fabricate a wonderful fictional story with no basis of historical and contextual truth just because you want your ancestors to be so. Nor should you thoughtlessly manipulate names and dates to fit this fictitious story.

 There are many, many published books and articles that suggest how to go about putting together an interesting family history based on facts and evidence. There are also on-line writing courses on that very subject. Just Google it. You will be surprised how much there is. You need to find that book or course that fits what you want to do.

 I have written and published many books on history and family history, but each one is different, and I try to approach each project with new eyes. At the same time there are basic things I need to think about when I start to write.

Time, place, circumstances, law, custom, mood, suspense, pace and ‘voice’ are some of the things I need to keep in mind. Indeed there is much to think about as I begin to put my words down on paper.

I know I will not find it an easy project, and there will be much frustration and editing, but I can but try.

Taking the above mentioned document of Ann Hodgett’s Settlement Examination, this is one way I might use it in the family story.

 Ann Hodgetts, the wife of Thomas Hodgetts, in desperate need, applied to the Wednesbury Parish for assistance for herself and her children on 13 January 1790. (Referenced Footnote)

Or perhaps this way.

Ann sat huddled in the icy tomb. She clutched her thin brown shawl around herself and stared down into the darkness, where her much-mended shoes should be. She couldn’t see them, nor could she feel her feet. Her shoes were wet with melted snow, and her feet had literally frozen into them. She was completely numb with cold and hunger.

 She had prayed long and fervently for many months, that this hour would not come.

Firstly to Mary, the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Mother to all mothers. In the beginning in the long warm days of summer Ann’s prayers had been answered, and she believed that she had been delivered from this terrible fate. In those days Ann had hope.

 However, as the barmy days gave way to chilling winds and long dark nights, it seemed the saintly Mother no longer listened to her supplications. When Ann knew Mary had deserted her, she then prayed even longer and harder to St Bartholomew, the patron Saint of this very church, and then to all the heavenly host, but to no avail. By now, Ann’s hope had faded away.

 Would she and her children now be sentenced to a terrible death, through no fault of their own?

 Suddenly the heavy door of the church creaked loudly, and a draught of chilling winds entered the inky darkness. A single candle spluttered into life and a shadowy figure glided down the nave to light the altar candles, one by one.

 Soon other shadowy figures entered and set up a trestle and chairs three parts of the way up the nave, below the pulpit, and in front of the choir stalls. This was some distance from where Ann sat, towards the rear of the church, in what had been in better days, the family pew.

interior2

Interior of St Bartholomew’s Church, Wednesbury prior to the alterations of 1827.(from: A History of Wednesbury, in the County of Stafford’ by JN Bagnall Published 1854, by William Parke, Wolverhampton.) Retrieved From <http://dp.genuki.uk/big/eng/STS/Wednesbury/StBartholomew/picture2> on 25 May 2017

The door opened a third time and in strode several portly figures, some with chains of office hanging from their necks, to be seated at the table. To sit in judgement for, and with God himself. For a full minute a foreboding stillness settled on the ancient stone church.

 Then one of the figures of judgement rose and bellowed into the darkness. “This Vestry is now in session. All ye seeking benefit, come forth!”

 Ann rose slowly and shuffled forward. Thus began the Settlement Examination of Ann Hodgetts. (Referenced footnote)

Or somewhere in between. I would value comments from Hodgett descendants, as I know there are a lot of you out there.

A Great Second Fleet Mystery-the Hodgetts Family

Our grandchildren are eighth generation born in Australia and are descendants of Thomas and Harriett Hodgetts, who arrived at Port Jackson on 28 June 1790 on board the Second Fleet.

I have been researching their ancestry on and off for over forty years, long before computers and the Internet, but it is only recently I have had the necessary time to devote to it again.

Originally back in the 1980’s, there was a small band of dedicated descendants of Thomas and Harriet Hodgetts, who searched the records in several libraries and archives throughout New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria. We corresponded and shared the information with each other. Several of us then contributed monies to have professional research done in Staffordshire, the native county of our Hodgetts ancestors.

Later other branches of the family became involved and this led to family reunions and the publication of the book, “The Brave Old Pioneers 1788-1988-A History of the Hodgetts,” by Richard J Hodgetts.

Much has been written about the Second Fleet and the Hodgetts in Australia in books such as the above mentioned, “ The Brave Old Pioneers” and “The Second Fleet- Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790” by Michael Flynn. Several websites also tell much of the story on particular family lines.

On our Hodgetts ancestry I have collected many documents tracing the family back generation by generation in Australia, from Valerie Mary and James John Mackey (nee Hodgetts); Vernon Edward and Fedalis Hodgetts (nee Finlay); Edward and Jeanette Hodgetts (nee Wheeler); James and Mary Hodgetts (nee Fagan); John and Olivia Hodgetts (nee Lucas) to Thomas and Harriet Hodgetts. Over the last few months I checked and and reassessed all these documents.

Even though some research had been undertaken on the Hodgetts family in England many years ago, it was superficial and incomplete. I have turned my efforts to researching the family in Staffordshire, England. With the use of the Internet to search and identify documents in National and County Archives and Libraries throughout the world, and by using the facilities of the LDS to identify and order microfilms of many the parish records for Staffordshire and London, I have now been able to identify our Thomas Hodgetts. By purchasing documents and laying them out in time and context, I have been able to put together much of his life before he was transported.

Similiarly I have been able to identify his wife, Ann, and their reputed children. By tracing these forward in time, I found no evidence they emigrated to Australia at a later time. In fact they remained in their native place and some of them can be found in the census records, some sixty years later.

It has been suggested Thomas’s wife Ann, changed her name to ‘Harriet’ and came to Australia leaving the children behind. As I can now prove this was not the case, it raises the question, who was the woman who came on the Second Fleet, and later claimed to be ‘ Harriet Hodgetts’ the wife of Thomas Hodgetts?

As this woman is a direct ancestor of my husband’s family, I now need to concentrate on researching her story. A very challenging task indeed. However, I have found a woman I believe is a potential candidate and hope over the coming months with painstaking and in-depth research, I may find the documents to solve this enigma.

Meanwhile, I am writing the story of the Hodgett family in Staffordshire with references and notes to eventually share with the family, but I want to see what I can find on our ‘Harriet’ first.