Sunday, February 26, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy - Cemeteries


Kilmuir Cemetery Isle of Skye where many MacDonald ancestors lie.

A Short History Of Burials and Cemeteries

Burial places, practises, and monuments are an important resource for family historians and historians alike. From an archaeological perspective, they provide us with a great deal of insight  into social history and the way in which our ancestors lived. Whether our ancestors were ancient Celts, Vikings, Romans, Christians, Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim their burial customs all involved some type of religious ceremony, rituals or rites and were a memorial or tribute to the dead. Vikings, for example believed that after death they joined the gods in a life similar to the one existing. They prepared the dead for the afterlife by burying them with all of the things they would require, including the tools of their trade, food, pottery, jewellery and clothing. Stone markers were placed in a ring shaped to resemble a boat, which was believed to be the way the Vikings envisioned that the dead travelled to the afterlife. Much significant information regarding the way in which the Vikings lived has been determined from their grave sites.

A Viking Burial Site in Sweden. Stone Markers resemble a Boat.

In many cultures, the poor, who were unable to afford a proper burial, were interred in mass graves however these burials still embraced rituals such as mourning, wakes and ceremonies. Many of our modern burial customs originate from ancient and Pagan times, rites which stemmed from fear of retribution from the ancient gods. Many burial places and monuments are a testament to the position a person occupied society.  The Egyptians, for example, built great pyramids to honour their kings. These monuments are a record of cultural practises as well as changes in societal beliefs and are an invaluable record of our past. Many of the artifacts which have been discovered in ancient burial places are now housed in museums as a tangible reminder of our past. 

Egyptian Pyramid

Early Christians were buried for the most part, in unmarked graves. After the 15th century a demand emerged in England, for holy burial in Churchyard Graves. These were generally small and soon became crowded and resulted in the practise of burying the dead upon the dead. The 17th  century witnessed a shift in focus to the 'individual' as well as a trend towards the desire to preserve and protect the memory of a person deceased. In the 17th and 18th centuries, originating in Italy, France and Sweden, it became the practise to bury the dead in 'burial places', 'graveyards or as they were once known, 'bone yards'. These graveyards eventually became referred to as 'cemeteries', a word derived from a Greek word for 'sleeping place'. Early graveyards were situated in a place central to communities. In the early 19th century a move towards new and more commercial and larger burial places emerged.  Cemeteries were built in large park like locations on the periphery of towns and cities and with them emerged a trend towards more elaborate tombstones. Whilst many of the poor, still continued to be buried in unmarked graves, tombstones or headstones, began to hold inscriptions. Some were simple reminders of a person's name and the age when they died, whilst others carried extravagant inscriptions or epitaphs as well as decorative symbols such as a dove or a wreath.

Headstones in the Churchyard of St Mary's Islington where my 4 times g Grandfather is buried.

Relevance of Cemeteries Today

Humour on a Headstone.

The  cemeteries with which we are familiar today, can be regarded as  museums, which hold a wealth of information for family historians. As well as being an historical record of religious practises and  architectural and sculptural styles and trends, cemeteries are a treasure trove of information about communities and cultures. Importantly for the Family Historian, many headstones are the key to significant details about the lives of individuals. In some graves there are several generations of families buried. Inscriptions on headstones range from names and dates, to humorous stories, photographs and sometimes, detailed anecdotes about the deceased. Each and every headstone and grave in a cemetery has a story to tell, through its symbolism and inscription, its cultural significance, its simple design or elaborateness. even by its telltale absence.  It is those stories which are so poignant to family historians and which make cemeteries a compelling source of fascinating information about family members as well as the communities they were a part of.

Matthew Bowden's Tombstone in Tasmania is  a Family Historian's dream.

A Cemetery which has Personal Meaning to Me

Cooroy Cemetery 
Over the years, as a Family Historian, I have wandered through many cemeteries in search of my ancestors. I have also wandered through cemeteries just reading the headstones of other people's family members. Without exception, I always experience a quiet 'at peace' moment when I discover the grave of an ancestor. Even before I take in the information provided on a headstone, there is a moment of 'connection' and in that moment my ancestor feels very real to me. At the graveside, I feel that I am in the presence of my ancestor.  Every grave tells a story. When I found the grave sites of my  paternal great grandparents, John and Elizabeth McDade and discovered with disappointment that they had no headstone or marker of any kind, I felt saddened. Then I realised that when they both die within several years of each other in the early 1930's, that their deaths had occurred during the depression years. There was probably little money in a working class family for such luxuries as an inscribed headstone. This is something that family members are now setting about to rectify.

My favourite cemetery to visit is the Cooroy Cemetery where lies the grave of my great great grandparents John and Hannah (Gair) Morrison. John Morrison is an ancestor who I have put much effort into researching. I recently wrote about his 'wealth for toil' in the Twigs of Yore, Australia Day Blogging Challenge. In John Morrison, I had discovered a hard working man who built up great wealth and who through no fault of his own had lost almost everything. He had moved his family from Sydney where he had been a prominant builder and rail carriage contractor and after working as a rail carriage foreman for 10 years in Ipswich, had spent the last 7 years of his life quietly living in the town of Cooroy, inland from Noosa in Queensland. John and Hannah Morrison both died in 1927. I knew from a cousin who had visited Cooroy some years previously, and who had removed many weeds from their grave, that both John and Hannah were buried in the Cooroy Cemetery. 

The Cooroy Cemetery is situated on a hill on the outskirts of the town of Cooroy, in a most pretty location, surrounded by trees. The entrance to this cemetery, appears to have once been situated at the bottom of the hill and is now at the uppermost part of the hill. From what looks like the original entrance the grave certainly would have been located in a prominent position, however where it lies now, it is downhill from the present entrance to the cemetery. As I walked from grave to grave on a very hot day, I almost gave up hope of finding the Morrison grave. So many graves were missing headstones, some were unmarked and others I noticed were in such a state of disrepair that an inscription was difficult or impossible to read. Finally, I came across a very large double grave with a headstone which was almost indecipherable. Despite many years accumulation of lichen on the headstone, as I closely scrutinised it, I found I could just make out the word Hannah and Morrison. My excitement grew as I read the faint name Tait after Hannah's name. My great great grandmother's maiden name was Hannah Tait Gair. Tait was the surname of her maternal grandmother Elizabeth Tait, from Cramlington in Northumberland where Hannah was born. I knew immediately that I had found the Morrison grave. 

I could just make out the word Hannah and Morrison

There was much significance in the finding of this grave. As a Queenslander living in Sydney, I had felt little connection to the state of NSW for most of my married life. Finding that my 2 times great grandfather, John Morrison, a Scotsman by birth had immigrated to Sydney from Northumberland with his wife Hannah and settled in Strathfield, Sydney delighted me. That their daughter, Florence, my great grandmother, was born there, endowed me with, an immediate connection with the city that I  live in. I visited the beautiful buildings in Sydney that John Morrison built and has he has left as his legacy, including Chapter House at St Andrew's Cathedral,  Gothic Style Churches and Strathfield Council Chambers. To be standing before his grave and that of his wife Hannah, who's name one of my daughters bears as a middle name was quite emotional.

My husband and I spent some time quietly weeding the grave which was bigger and more substantial than I had expected. I felt pleasantly relieved that someone had afforded them such a lovely resting place. Unexpectedly, my husband, David announced that he would like to clean the headstone. With his expertise as a heritage Architect, he felt that the stone beneath the lichen was Granite. I was surprised at his suggestion as we had not arrived at the cemetery dressed suitably to undertake such a task. I quickly became enthusiastic and  undeterred by the hot weather and growing lateness of day, we drove to the local hardware store in Cooroy, in search of  the appropriate cleaning products to attempt to restore the headstone. Once back at the grave site, David set to work with my help.

As the years of grime and lichen gradually washed away from the headstone, we were truly speechless. Slowly, before us, what had appeared to be a plain dirty headstone with the appearance of grubby concrete,was transforming into a beautifully  black granite headstone engraved with the shape of a Bible or book. I cannot begin to describe my emotions as the intricately detailed tassel, pictured below, began to appear in the middle of the shape of the book.

Inscriptions appearing on the Headstone 

The Headstone with lichen removed.

Unfortunately we ran out of daylight to clean more than the front of the headstone, however, we were able to clean enough of the stone on which it rested, to ascertain that it was made of red granite.

Headstone on the Grave after cleaning.

The final touches to the grave of John and Hannah Morrison

Since my husband and I cleaned the headstone on John and Hannah Morrison's grave, I have returned three times to visit the Cooroy Cemetery in Queensland.  I feel privileged to be the keeper of the grave of my great great grandparents as there are no family members in Cooroy to care for the grave. I have come to 'know'  my ancestors not only through my research, but more significantly through lovingly taking care of their resting place, nestled on the side of a hill amongst the trees in Cooroy Cemetery.  Along with my husband David, visiting and caring for the grave on our annual holiday is now one of our favourite holiday outings.


Cooroy-Noosa Genealogical and Family History Research Group
The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History  edited by David Hey
Gravely Tasmanian: A friendly guide to Tasmanian graveyards Vol. 11 By Joan and Buck Emberg
Monuments and Memorials edited by Beryl Henderson [History of Funeral Customs]

Thursday, February 23, 2012

When a Name is Not Enough.

 Our Ancestors' Lives in Context

Every family historian delights in the finding and adding of names of ancestors to the family tree. The significance of genealogy, however, lies not only in expanding branches and extending roots. The importance of investigating the historical context of the lives of ancestors cannot be underestimated. History unfolds before our eyes, is transformed, and shifts towards a more personalized perspective when we view it through the lives of our forebears. This is the first of a series of blogs I am writing where I examine how it helps to understand our ancestor's lives in their historical context.

Scottish Ancestors in Historical Context
The massacre of Glencoe in Scotland on February 13, 1692

For me, ( and for many others) being a family historian has always implied considerably more than just names and dates. I appreciate family history as a part of its wider context. In addition to its relevance to the background of our families, family history IS HISTORY. As each family historian compiles data about his or her individual family tree, collectively, we are recording the history of our world. Genealogy is much more than names and dates of births, deaths and marriages. When we record the lives of ancestors we are also recording their lives within the social, economic and political context in which they lived. Our ancestors fought in wars and took part in revolutions. They lived through through great famines and plagues. Ancestors were members of nobility, and royalty and many lived privileged lives. Predecessors suffered the indignation of poverty and social injustices. They saw innovation and great changes throughout the times in which they lived. Our forebears witnessed political unrest, economic growth and depressions. Industrial changes transformed the the world in which they lived and inevitably bore consequences for them personally. Ancestors committed crimes, performed noteworthy deeds, observed great art movements and diversity in architecture.  Many had occupations that have names foreign to us and that no longer exist today but which offer us an unparalleled window through which to glimpse the past. Frequently, the  social. economic or political conditions at the time of their lives were the reasons why our ancestors emigrated or were displaced. Our ancestors were eye witnesses to world events and their lives reflect the world's transition through time. Through the personal stories of our ancestors we are privileged to glimpse a personal perspective of history which refines and clarifies our understanding of our own historical background.

Scottish Highlanders going into Battle

Scotland's early recorded history is abundant with violence. Between the years 1688 and 1746 great Britain experience a wave of insurgence intended to restore King James VII of Scotland and II of England and his House of Stuart descendants to the throne.  Amongst the ruthless feuds, battles and acts of treachery, one incident, which is possibly still today, most passionate in the minds of Scottish clans, was the Massacre of Glencoe on February 13, 1692. This treacherous event took place as a consequence of the Jacobite Uprising of 1689 and the failure of the Catholic Scottish MacDonald Highland Clans to pledge their support to the Protestant Monarchs of Britain, William and Mary. In August of 1691, King William III extended an offer of pardon to the Highland Clans providing they pledged their support to him before the end of that year and advised of inexorable consequences for failure to comply. The Clan Chiefs wrote to King James requesting his permission to register their allegiance to King William. With the bitter reality of defeat upon him, King James acceded. The winter of 1691 was especially harsh, however, and word of the King James' waive did not reach the isolated Highlands until mid - December, whereupon, the chiefs promptly set off to comply with the King William's request.

Alastair MacIain, Chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe arrived at Fort William on December 31, 1691, to pledge his support for King William. Given a letter of protection which affirmed that he had arrived before the deadline he then headed to Inveraray to swear his oath before Sir Colin Campbell, the Sheriff of Argyll. In a plot hatched by English military commanders, whose animosity towards the highlanders was well known, several military companies led by Captain Robert Campbell were sent to Glencoe, welcomed and even billeted with Alastair McIain and the Glencoe MacDonalds. After a night of generous hospitality, on the part of the MacDonald Clan, the Campbells were ordered to 'fall upon the rebels'. The unsuspecting MacDonalds were attacked at 5 am on February 13, 1692. This bloodbath resulted in the slaughter of many MacDonalds, including Robert Campbell's own niece and her family. For Captain Robert Campbell. this was bitter sweet revenge for the 1689 plundering of his own lands at Glenlyon by the Glengarry and Glencoe MacDonalds. The Mort Ghlinne Comhann  or murder of Glen Coe has had a very personal implication in both my husband's and my own backgrounds since we discovered that it was my very own Campbell ancestors, who 'fell upon' and treacherously killed his unsuspecting his MacDonald relatives. 
Captain Colin Campbell's orders to 'fall upon' the MacDonald Clan

Explaining the treachery on the part of my Campbell ancestors requires some understanding of the political situation in the Scottish Highlands in the 17th century and even earlier as well as some knowledge of the Highland Clan system. Until 1493, the MacDonald Lords of the Isles were the greatest land and sea power in Britain after the Kings of England and Scotland. When King James VI forfeited their lands, he created a political void which the Campbell Clan quickly filled. They received Royal authority to accumulate land and to have legal rights to the lands belonging to other clans. The Campbells, especially the Earls of Argyll, became powerful Feudal Lords. For many centuries in the Scottish Highlands the basic system of society was the clan or clann which in Gaelic translates as 'children'. Contrary to popular belief, not every member of a clan was related to its chief. Many of the members were, however, there were also other ordinary people who relied upon the chief for protection. The clan system originated in early Celtic and feudal ideas where power depended upon land ownership and the size of the clan's manpower to fight battles. The Campbell's increased their power and influence in the Highland society until the 17th century when the Clan Donalds amongst other Clans joined the Royalist campaign. With the Campbells supporting the Parliamentarians, the MacDonalds saw this as a means of winning their lands back from the Campbells. Lawlessness reigned supreme in the Highlands and events attests to a violent history of feuds and battles between rival clans.

The Campbells of Argylle in Battle 1689

Alexander MacDonald of Drimindarach, 6 times great grandfather to my children was forced to forfeit his ancestral lands following the Rising of 1745 when he, as head of his Clan MacDonald of Sleat, supported Bonnie Prince Charlie. His son Charles MacDonald also lost his lands, which adjoined the property of the Earl of Moray in Invernesshire, when he played a leading role in the famous Battle of Culloden which took place on April 16,1746. Charles MacDonald, is reported to have single handedly smashed the gates of the Castle Carlisle and won it for the Highlanders. The battle of Culloden was the final battle in the Jacobite uprisings. This battle, fought on Drumossie Moor to the north east of Inverness, saw the final defeat of the Jacobite supporters and their attempt to restore the House of Stuart to the Throne of England. The Highland heroine, Flora MacDonald, who famously assisted Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape from The Isle of Uist to Skye, also sits illustriously on the family tree as documentation of family but significantly as illustration of history. I am pleased that my children can proudly relate the tale of the bravery of their 5 times great grandfather, Charles MacDonald at Carlisle Castle and that their own relative, Flora MacDonald  dressed Prince Charles Stuart in women's clothing and sent him 'Over the Sea to Skye'. It is a lessor boasted, but just as treasured tale, that my own Clan Davidson and Clan Chattan ancestors became very drunk during the night preceding the famous Culloden Battle and contributed significantly to the loss of this great final clash between the French supported Jacobites and the Hanoverian British Government.

The battle of Culloden

Flora MacDonald depicted with Bonnie Prince Charlie [Painting by G.W. Joy]

Family History furnishes History with personal relativity. Understanding the history of battles between the Scottish Clans and the English Monarchy  provided me with an historical backdrop against which I could sympathetically interpret our family history. Recorded historical chronicles of battles fought by the Scottish Highland Clans explained why a later ancestor and progenitor of Clan MacDonald, Alexander MacDonald, a qualified medical practitioner known as ' An Dotair Ruadh' (the red doctor) was living on rented lands at Gillin Farm in Sleat prior to and after, 1798 when he fought with the Glengarry Fencibles, and not as might be expected, on the ancestral MacDonald lands of Kilmalew and Drimindarach.

Gillin Farm in Sleat, which Alexander MacDonald leased.

Mathew MacDonald, grandson of Alexander and great great grandfather of my husband was born in around 1812, in the house at Gillin farm, pictured above. Mathew arrived in Australia in 1837 on board the William Nichol , the first of the ships to bring Scottish Highlanders to Australia as part of the Dunmore Lang Scheme. Reverend John Dunmore Lang, a young Scottish missionary, and later an ordained Minister,  began an immigration scheme in NSW in 1837, through which he was instrumental in bringing many new colonists to Australia. His vision was twofold. Not only did Lang see his scheme as a way to offer hope for a better life for immigrants, but he viewed his immigration scheme as a plan to rectify what was in his opinion, a moral plight, in the Colony. Since a vast number of convicts in Australia were Catholic Irish, Lang's concept was to balance the  inequity between Catholic and Protestant settlers by populating the rural areas of the colony with Protestant farmers, thereby expanding the number of Presbyterian Churches as well as prospective Ministers for the church.

Reverend John Dunmore Lang

To understand why Mathew MacDonald and his wife Mary McPherson along with many other Scottish Highlanders chose to leave the kinship of the home they knew so well, requires a review of the economic circumstances in Scotland in the 1830's. In the early part of that decade, Scotland was in the midst of a surge of industrial and commercial enterprise, which in addition to a significant population increase, had a disastrous effect on the living conditions for the essentially agricultural and isolated highlands. Large scale emigration from the Scottish Highlands was predominantly the consequence of destitution forced upon the farm workers.

Mathew MacDonald ( born c 1812) as the first born son of  Charles MacDonald, Tacksman* of Ord, a substantial landowner and progenitor of the Clan MacDonald of Sleat does not appear to meet the criteria for the Reverend Lang's immigration scheme as neither a destitute farm worker, nor a Protestant. As the title, Family History would suggest, fundamentals of family must unavoidably be taken into account, alongside evidence of history. According to Scottish naming patterns observed traditionally and strictly by Scottish Clan Progenitors, Mathew, as the first male child of Charles MacDonald of Ord, should have inherited his grandfather's name of Alexander, a name later given to the first son of Charles of Ord by his wife Anne Mcleod whom he married in 1828.  Mathew's family circumstances -  the identity of his mother is unknown, he was not afforded the traditional family name,  augmented by historical evidence - Scottish marriage traditions, lead to the conclusion that he was most likely, the child of a handfast marriage, which although recognised at the time in Scotland was probably not acknowledged by the family. Traditional European handfasting, or marriage by mutual consent, was commonly performed by the binding or exchanging of rings, and was a particularly popular custom in the Hebrides and especially on the Isle of Skye.  Although not recognised by the Church, handfasting was known to be practised on the Ise of Skye into the 19th century. Handfasting is mentioned by a number of authors with reference to The Isle of Skye, including Walter Scott [The Monastery]. Mathew was never destined to  inherit the progenitorship of the Clan MacDonald of Sleat, nor it appears to be well educated as were his younger half siblings. His occupation, confirmed on the passenger list of the William Nichol, was that of a shepherd.
 * a tacksman is a leaseholder, especially in Skye, who sublets to tenants.

Family anecdotes portray Mathew's decision to leave the Isle of Skye as the result of his father not approving of his marriage to Mary McPherson, nanny to Mathew's half siblings. That Mathew never again spoke to his father, supports the family anecdote , however,  there is little doubt that Mathew and Mary MacDonald were part of a mass wave of emigration from the poverty stricken agricultural highlands. 

Ord House, home of Charles MacDonald, Mathew's father.

Of course not all of our ancestors have illustrious lines which can be traced back to John, Lord of the Isles through both his wife Amy McRuari (a commoner) and Princess Margaret Stewart, daughter of King Robert 11 of Scotland.  My Campbell ancestors are understandably unpopular amongst this proud MacDonald family so when I announced my intention some years ago to name our baby, Campbell MacDonald White, my father in law declared vehemently that 'No grandchild of MINE will bear  the name of Campbell WITH MacDonald.'  Fortunately we had a daughter so the crisis was averted. Those MacDonald Clan members have long memories it seems! 

John, MacDonald Lord of the Isles

Mathew and Mary MacDonald 

On my family tree I have a Campbell who married a McDairmid, in Argyll. Their daughter, Sarah, was born in 1781 in  Greenock, Renfrewshire, the same parish in which she married James McDade.  Understanding  some of Scotland's history has enabled me to understand why these proud, traditional farming Highlanders moved from the lands of their fierce kinship to live in the lowlands, in the dense city of Glasgow. Around 1762, small highland farmers or crofters began to be  encouraged and often forcibly removed from the land to make way for larger and more profitable farming for wealthy land owners. Economic times were difficult and a succession of seasons of harsh weather and an increase in population, resulted in overcrowding and unprofitable agricultural use of highland farmland. Many people still view the Highland Clearances as having been an attempt to sever the power of the Clans. Historically, my McDairmid of Argyll ancestors were a part of the Highland Clearance and left the Scottish Highlands to live in Glasgow, where they and their descendants remained, working as coal miners.

James McDade, my fourth great grandfather was born in Ireland. He arrived in Scotland sometime in the 1790's, as part of an explosive wave of Irish immigration. Between 1790 and 1850 more than 300,000 Irish people arrived in Scotland from Ireland to find a better life. Most of these Irish migrants settled in Glasgow where, skilled in handloom weaving, they formed communities of independent cotton weavers in areas such as Bridgeton and Carlton. The influx of Irish weavers contributed significantly and positively towards the Scottish economy. Despite this, the Irish were generally not welcome in Scotland and the Catholic Irish migrants were especially unpopular. My ancestors were coal miners not weavers and they were Catholic, so it is entirely likely that they suffered discrimination and hardship because of this. The large number of Irish migrants arriving in Scotland caused serious housing and health problems in Glasgow in the early 1800's. From my knowledge of Scottish history during this period, I know that my McDade ancestors lived through serious typhus and cholera epidemics from 1817 onwards. 50% of deaths from these epidemics were children younger than 5 years of age. The relevance of this historical evidence for me personally is significant in that these epidemics almost certainly explain the deaths of all of James and Sarah McDade's children except for one. Their surviving son, James is my three times great grandfather. The death of one more child would have meant that I would not be here today. Placing my four times great grandparents, Sarah and James McDade within the historical context of their life, understanding the political, economic and social and circumstances of the world in which they lived, the events that they witnessed and the hardships they endured, has enabled me to understand more about them as real people.

Scottish Coal Miners

Amongst the ancestral names which I am researching in Scotland are, McDade, Campbell, McDairmid, Bonner, Gibson, Thompson, Rennie, MacDonald, McKinnon, McLeod, McPherson, MacAlister and McIntyre. The  people who accompany these surnames all have forenames and dates of births, deaths and marriages. They have offspring and children. Their names and details fill the spreading branches of my family tree. When I search beyond those names and dates, to understand the historical context of my ancestor's lives, the more real my ancestors become, and my research becomes much more rewarding and fulfilling. The longer I linger in this personalised perspective of history the more I feel a part of history.

Preview of Part 2: German Ancestors in Historical Context.

Recently whilst on a trip to Toowoomba in Queensland where my Prussian great great Grandfather, Gottlieb Nerger settled in 1852 and married German born Christiana Siegler who arrived in Qld in 1864, I came across a document which showed that he had contributed 1 Pound towards the construction of the first Lutheran Church in Toowoomba.

Gottlieb Neger's name 3rd from the top.

Friday, February 17, 2012

First Fleet Memorial Gardens - Wallabadah NSW

A Memorial Park for the First Fleet

Sign for the Memorial Garden from the northern approach on the New England Highway.

This blog could well be named 'Travels of a Genealogist', since many of my blogs involve 'finds'  such as diaries, photographs and family heirlooms which I collect whilst travelling, mainly around Australia as well as overseas. On a return trip from Rockhampton to Sydney, a few years ago, I happened upon a wonderful Memorial Garden dedicated to the First Fleet. The Garden sits impressively in a park on the banks of the Quirindi Creek, in a small town called Wallabadah, approximately 60 km south of Tamworth and 359 km north of Sydney in New South Wales. Wallabadah is situated on the New England Highway and lies on the eastern rim of the Liverpool Plains. On the occasion when I discovered the Memorial Garden, I had only a short time to spend there, but I knew that I needed to return. Back in Sydney, I discussed the memorial with a friend of mine who had ancestors on the First, Second and Third Fleet. We both wondered why a memorial to the First Fleet would be situated so far from its landing place in Sydney. 

On a recent journey from Tamworth to Sydney, I made certain that the First Fleet Memorial Garden was on my list of places to visit and finally the question of why a First Fleet Memorial is situated in Wallabadah, has been answered for me by the sign pictured below.

On this, my second visit to the pretty little town of Wallabadah, I was thrilled to discover that the Memorial Garden now has a memorial added, for the Second Fleet as well as the First. The concept for, and construction of a Memorial to the First Fleet were the result of the determination of a Sydney born man named Ray Collins. Ray grew up knowing nothing of his convict origins and, in fact, only discovered, as an adult, that his ancestor's name had been changed from Cross to Collins to obscure the family's convict ancestry. Ray subsequently discovered that he had convict ancestors who had arrived in Australia with the First and the Second Fleet.

Building a Memorial as a tribute to the first European settlers who arrived in Port Jackson, and upon who's toil and hardship, our country was founded, became a passion for Ray Collins. He spent several years researching the First Fleet, gathering names and details of every person  who sailed on the 11 ships which journeyed from England to the colony of Australia, arriving at Port Jackson on January 26 th 1788. The following ships made up the First Fleet of convict ships to arrive in Australia - HMS Sirius, HMS Supply, The Alexander, The Borrowdale, The Charlotte, The Fishburn, The Friendship, The Golden Grove, The Lady Penrhyn, The Prince of Wales and The Scarborough.

The Ships of the First Fleet anchored in Port Jackson

A stonemason by trade, Ray travelled throughout the country with his work, and everywhere he went he approached local councils with his idea of building a memorial to the First Fleet. After several years of consultation with  councils, the Liverpool Plains Shire Council approved Ray's concept and offered to sponsor the materials and equipment for Ray Collins to build the Memorial Garden. The First Fleet Memorial Garden transformed a hardly used caravan park into a colourful and informative historical monument and was officially opened on January 26, 2005. Ray Collins lovingly chiselled each and every name on each sandstone tablet which line the pathways winding between the 11 circular gardens, each representing one of the 11 ships of the First Fleet. Within each garden is a stone tablet bearing the name and a picture of the ship. 

Stone tablet in the centre of the first of 11 First Fleet gardens

The stone tablet for the 'Sirius" with my friend's ancestor Owen Cavenaugh's name  on it.

In 2009 the memorial to the Second Fleet was opened in the Garden at Wallabadah. The Second Fleet Garden is designed with two gardens surrounded by stone tablets which are arranged by ship.  Placed alongside the path throughout this section of the garden, are attractive, educational and informative signs.

The stone tablet bearing the name of the infamous Lady Juliana better known as the Floating Brothel

A stone tablet bearing names from the Lady Juliana, including that of my friend's ancestor Margaret Dowling.

One of the interpretive signs in the Second fleet section of the gardens.

A visit to the First Fleet Memorial Garden is well worthwhile, but  enough time needs to be allowed to read the many interpretive boards which provide a wealth of intriguing information. The main Information Panel in the southern end of the Garden displays lists of supplies carried on ships, what goods people took with them, (including a surgeon named George Worgen who even took a piano on board with him on the ship Sirius) in addition to fascinating anecdotes about each voyage- facts about the journeys, the perils faced, interaction with the native peoples of Australia when they arrived and much more. Even if you do not have ancestors who journeyed to the new Colony on these convict fleets, this information provides an enormous amount of insight into voyages in general to Australia in the late 1700's and is a significantly educational tribute to Australia's convict past. 

The First Feet Memorial Garden deservedly won a Cultural Award in 2009 for the Liverpool Plains Shire Council, in the Cultural Infrastructure section Division 1.

The Memorial Garden and Main Information Panel seen from the Entrance to the Garden.

The cobblestone path which winds its way through the 11 gardens and ships of the First Fleet.

The Flag Pole and Fully Rigged Picnic Area in the Memorial Garden.

As I walked through the Memorial Garden, I couldn't help but be impressed by the loving effort that Ray Collins had put into this tribute, not only to his own convict ancestors, but to remember all of those who journeyed to Australia on the first voyages. I decided, as my own tribute, to photograph every single tablet in the garden. The look on my husband's face when I announced my intention to do this was priceless! (there are a lot of names!) I cannot display all of these photographs here, however, if you or anyone you know have First or Second Fleet ancestors I will be pleased to pass on the photographs of the names of the ship on which they arrived as well as the tablet bearing their names. 

Standing in front of the First Fleet Information Panel on the southern side of the Garden

A Close Up View of the main Information Panel

George Bouchier Worgan, Surgeon, 'Sirius' "Took a piano with him".

The First Fleet Memorial Garden is open seven days a week and a gold  coin donation helps to maintain this beautiful and historically important tribute which Ray Collins single handedly erected.

Ray Collins' ancestor, John CROSS, was born in 1757 in Wiltshire, England, At the age of 29 years he was charged with stealing sheep and sentenced to 7 years transportation. John Cross arrived in Port Jackson in 1788 on board the ship The Alexander. John married Mary Davidson (or Davison) who was transported on the Lady Juliana and the couple had 9 children. John Cross died in 1824 and was buried at Windsor. His son, David was a Stonemason, who built the Victoria Inn which still stands at Wiseman's Ferry. 

Further information about the First Fleet Memorial Garden can be found at: