Our Bell Family in Australia-George and Sarah Bell in the 1840s.

When we are researching our family history, most of our energy goes into finding the documents that show the events of birth, marriage, and death of our ancestors. However, to build a picture of the lives of our ancestors we need to research the time, place, and the people involved in these events.

In a former blog, I wrote about the marriage of my ancestors, George Bell and Sarah Sargent at Sutton Forest in 1844. [See blog Our Bell Family in Australia-George Bell’s Marriage 1844‘ posted 9 August 2020].

Now I needed to research the place, Sutton Forest; the church, All Saints Church of England; the Minister, Rev William Stone and the witnesses, Robert Wallace and Mary Thomas as well as George and Sarah themselves.

Sutton Forest

The graveyard and All Saints Anglican Church (1861).

Sutton Forest

Sutton Forest was named by Commissioner Bigge when he traveled through the area in 1820 with Governor Macquarie. It was on the edge of ‘settlement’  on the Great South Road. It was named after the Speaker of the House of Commons in England. Political motives were always in mind when naming places in New South Wales in our early history.

A private village grew up here in the late 1820s when the land was made available for a church and cemetery in 1828. By the following year, a weatherboard chapel had been erected and was in use. This was where George Bell and Sarah Sargent’s wedding took place in 1844. [See blog  Our Bell Family in Australia- George Bell’s Marriage 1844′ posted on 9 August 2020).

The neat stone building standing today was built in 1861 to the plans of the Colonial Architect, Edmund Becket.

More information can be found at https://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/sutton-forest-ns

Rev William Stone

The Rev William Stone was appointed to Sutton Forest in 1843 to replace, Rev George Vidal.  He served there many years until he retired in 1858. He remained living at Sutton Forest and died there in 1870. He was buried in the churchyard and has a headstone.

The first school at Sutton Forest was opened in late 1830 with 18 pupils, under the instruction of John Eyre, a convict who had arrived that year. It had been built adjacent to the church. It was a church school and the local families continued to support it and it stayed in use until 1880 when the public school was opened.

A small cottage near the school was where the teacher and his family resided.

Robert Wallace

In the early 1840s, Robert Wallace was appointed as a teacher. He is believed to have been a friend of the Sargent family and that is how he became a witness at the wedding of George Bell and Sarah Sargent.

Mary Thomas

The other witness to the wedding was Mary Thomas the wife of James Thomas. They too were farming in the area and believed to be friends of the Sargent family. They later moved to The Oaks area near Picton, and in 1849 two of their sons were baptized at St Marks Church of England, Picton.


The Sargent family, Thomas, his wife Alice (also spelled as Ellis in many records), and their four children emigrated on the Woodbridge in 1838. [See blog  ‘Immigration -“Woodbridge” Voyage-1838 posted 28 July 2017.]

They settled in the area soon after arrival. Four more children were born there and were baptized in All Saints. Sarah was the second daughter and had been born in Beckley, Sussex in 1827.


James and George Bell emigrated as sailors on the convict ship Asia in 1837. [See blogs

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.


A Jack and Jill Sussex Mill

Found at http://www.windmillworld.com/millid/2614.htm

After marriage George and Sarah Bell moved to Picton. In those days nearly fifty miles away over a rough and dangerous track. It is believed that Thomas Sargent was employed to help build a windmill on what was known for many years as Windmill Hill, which overlooked Picton. This was for the Larkin family, who were also of Sutton Forest. George and his brother James assisted him. It was built in wood and was in the ‘Sussex Style’. It was not successful as it was too far from the village and the wind was unreliable. George and James Bell made bricks and later assisted in building a steam-powered mill down on Stonequarry creek.

George and Sarah Bell’s children were all born at Picton. They were baptized there too. However, although George and Sarah were married in the Church of England at Sutton Forrest when it came to baptize their children, they took advantage of whichever minister was visiting the village at the time.  Their children’s baptisms can be found in the Church of England, Presbyterian, and Wesleyan records.

More information on the Picton Windmills can be found at


Information on the time period can be found at


Most of all have fun with your research.


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.