After all it is St Patrick’s Day

Late today — in fact I was going to skip the day. However, some wonderful things came my way via Facebook/YouTube. But let me remind you:

In September 2011 I posted Returnee! It featured this photo of my grandnephew Nathan in an Irish landscape that year.


I am 99% sure he is the first of Jacob Whitfield’s descendants to set foot in the Old Country since the 1820s! Of course someone may have…

As I said on Facebook this morning: My great-great-grandfather William Whitfield was born here (Cootehill, County Cavan) in 1812. He arrived in Sydney in 1826 via the “Thames” to join his convict father, Jacob, who had arrived via “Isabella 1” in 1822.

In some circles however one would best keep quiet about coming from a “plantation” town. Do make sure you hear the lovely song at the end.

And here is the song:

For William Whitfield, born in Cootehill 1812, died in Sydney 1897. Long a resident of Picton NSW. My great-great-grandfather.

Oh fare thee well, sweet Cootehill town
The place where I was born and bred
Through shady groves and flowery hills
My youthful fancy did serenade

But now, I’m bound for Amerikay
A country that I never saw
These pleasant scenes, I’ll always mind
When I am roving far away

The pleasant hills near Cootehill town
Where I have spent my youthful days
Both day and night, I took delight
In dancing and in harmless plays

But while I rove from town to town
Fond memory in my mind shall stay
Of those pleasant happy youthful hours
That now are spent and passed away

I hope kind fate will reinstate
And fortune’s face upon me smile
To safe conduct me home again
To my own dear native Irish isle

When my comrades all and friends likewise
Will gather round and thus will say
We will sing and dance as in the days of old
For you’re welcome home from far away

Was Jacob Whitfield, my convict ancestor, a Quaker?

This place in Devonshire Street Surry Hills, seen here pre-tram, always intrigued me, even when from 1955-59 I passed it when walking (or running!) from Sydney Boys High to Central Station.


Now as for my Whitfield family, all the funerals we went to in Picton in the 1950s were held in the Church of England, and the Shellharbour Whitfield weddings etc were always in the Church of England.

But in the first decade of this century when I posted my initial family history page a very fruitful dialogue ensued there about Jacob Whitfield, our ancestor, who received a life sentence to transportation in 1820 and arrived in Sydney in 1822. The main participants were family historian Bob Starling, John Van Luyn in Perth and Stuart Daniels. The question arose: Was Jacob a Quaker?

Surname Whitfield
First Name Jacob
Ship Isabella I (2) [1822]
Tried 1820
Trial Place Tyrone Co
Term Life
DOB 1760
Native Place Tyrone
Death Place
Remarks Ploughman

That is from a listing of the convicts on the Isabella — and the birth date is clearly wrong. The consensus now is that 1774 is more likely. Here is how the dialogue proceeded:

Recent emails to October 2008 (Links may or may not work in 2021!)

Stuart Daniels wrote to me in September 2008, and more recently John Van Luyn has been in touch several times, and through him, indirectly, Bob Starling. The family story is certainly being advanced through the work these people are doing.

Stuart wrote, and I have edited at his request: “Neil, we (Bob & I ) have traced the deaths of Jacob’s wives in Australia and have documents to show the details. Jacob was born May 1774 in Ballyhagen Co Kildare and his father was John and mother Sarah. This information was supplied by Marguerite Fenn & James Sullivan. Also the Leslie family of Innisfail have the same list. [See my entry below — N. W.] Jacob’s children are listed as Mary b. 1808 d. 1872  in NSW; Catherine b. 1810 d. ?;  Judith b. 1811 d. 1858 ; William b.16/03/1812 d 12/10/1897 Sydney NSW , Jacob b 1820 d ?. Jacob was convicted of horse stealing 1820 and there is a report in The Belfast News Letter of Friday the 4th Aug 1820, no. 8084; page 4, column 3. He was found guilty and was sentenced to hang but was sent to Australia. Jacob married Elizabeth Smith  in 1840 and her death was recorded at Darlinghurst Goal 12 Aug 1851. The records are only found in state archives and not on BDM records. He also married Jean Connell in 1832 but she died the same year from TB. This information has just come to light. Jacob at one stage had a market garden in Market Lane where he grew strawberries. That site is now known as Wentworth Avenue. He was also consigned to his daughter Mary SWEENEY and finally to his son William. His date and place of death remains a mystery. There is also a record of 1848 letter no. 48/3329 , dated 30/12/1847: Application by Jacob to have his sons, John aged 40 and Joseph aged 38, of Coote Hill, with their families, brought to Australia by the Government. Did they come? Jacob was a protestant and Rita, my cousin, has his Orangeman’s sash. He would have belonged to the Church of Ireland which was the same as C of E.”

John Van Luyn has pointed to quite a few other new items of information. It may be that Jacob was buried in the old Devonshire Street cemetery, which was resumed when the current Central Station was built. The bodies and headstones were moved to various other cemeteries, but we do not know at this time what became of Jacob. Writing to Bob Starling in September 2008, John said: “Yes, obviously women’s rights in Ireland had a much lower status than a convict in Sydney. The only thing I can think of in splitting the children up between Mary and Jacob would be that there was no social security in those days and your children were your life insurance policy in old age. Jacob’s details & death are a mystery indeed.  From reading this article…. there would be a very low likelihood of travel back to Ireland or anywhere else I think without the official paper work. Jacob was pardoned in 1841 and….’A Conditional Pardon, when approved by His Majesty through the Secretary of State, but not before, restores the Rights of Freedom, from the date of instrument, within the colony. But it bestows no power of leaving the colony, and no rights whatever beyond its limits’. I have a possible sighting that is dated 1842. It is a reference to a ‘Whitfield who lives in a hut in a Garden near Jonathan Leake – had a ticket of leave for Windsor and is now free’. The only details I could find were for a Jonathan Leak who was a convict potter. There is a tonne of information on him and his pottery on the net if you search “Jonathan Leak” and “convict” which roughly indicates where his pottery was.”

That pottery is at “Brickfield Hill”, but apparently that isn’t exactly where the World Square complex now is, but rather may have been back towards Chinatown (Hay Street) and Surry Hills. It may indeed turn out that Jacob’s hut was in or near the Downing Centre, a Sydney Law Court complex these days, which is a touch ironic. Rather than Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills, then, as I speculate below, he would have lived closer in to the city, and not far from Chinatown. The links above are a combination of ones John suggested and others I have found for myself.

Bob Starling added a comment in 2011:

I have lodged my research with the Society of Genealogy (SAG) Sydney who in turn have made reference to the research on the National Library of Australia web site -

For some years I have been searching for Jacob Whitfield’s death. It was noticed that Jacob gave his religion as a Quaker on one of his applications to marry. With this fact the Quaker society in Sydney has carried out some research and came up with the following piece of information:

“In searching the incomplete records we have of burials in the Friends Burial Ground within the old Devonshire Street (Sandhills) Cemetery, I came across a reference to:“Burial Notes missing of … Jacob Whitfield” Unfortunately, there is no indication of his date of death or burial. Burials took place in the Friends Burial Ground from about 1837 through to about 1880.”

Whilst we can now accept that Jacob died in Sydney, probably between 1851 and 1856 we cannot quite put him to rest until we find an exact date.

The comment thread on that page really is quite a treasure trove now!

Now we know that Jacob’s son William Whitfield — I posted about this a few days back — was born in Cootehill, Parish of Drumgoon, County Cavan. Thanks to YouTube I found a brief clip of the Quaker Graveyard in Cootehill. But first a longer video explaining what is different about Quaker graveyards.

Now to Cootehill:

Finally, how about this for a linkage? County Cavan meets Kunming China!

“Corner boy” is an Irish expression meaning a disreputable man or youth who spends his time loitering on the street.

Is this our Whitfield bicentennial?

I posted this around St Patrick’s Day in 2015. Rereading it I note that the crime that probably led to my convict ancestor Jacob Whitfield’s life sentence to Sydney occurred on 11 February 1820! Two hundred years ago yesterday. Our family historians located this somewhat murky story about charge and countercharge, giving us for the first time some good information on what Jacob’s crime had been. The official records were lost in a fire in Ireland in 1922 that did away with quite a lot of valuable genealogical information.

See also my 2018 post More on convict Jacob Whitfield.

Irish again – new light on Jacob Whitfield’s 1820 crime?

On St Patrick’s Day I posted:

As you may recall my father’s family descended from an Irish convict who arrived in Sydney 10 March 1822, and his son who joined him age 14 as a free settler in 1826. They came from this bit of Ireland, or nearby [followed by a scene from County Cavan].

Reminder of what constituted Ulster in 1820:


I needed that to follow a marvellous document sent to me by family historian Stuart Daniels that came his way through the research of Bob Starling. It is a transcript of a petition relating to a trial in County Tyrone in June 1820. The petition is addressed to Charles Chetwynd, 2nd Earl Talbot, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time.


Charles Chetwynd, Earl Talbot

Here is a key part where my ancestor is mentioned:

Jacob Whit  trial1

The document goes on to argue that Fisher (the petitioner) is not getting a fair trial in County Tyrone because a number of witnesses for the defence are in County Cavan.

Jacob Whit  trial2

I am not sure what light this casts on my ancestor Jacob Whitfield, who was convicted in relation to this matter and sentenced to life in New South Wales. I am inclined to read it as suggesting that Jacob Whitfield framed the petitioner. Stuart Daniels reads it differently:

Also I have been reading the trial of Jacob Whitfield in Cavan Ireland , and I don’t think he got a fair trial. One of his witnesses could not travel to the court room that was 40 miles away. The trial was held in Tyrone and the witnesses lived in Cavan. Both men protested about the restriction of their witnesses. Makes you wonder was it a kangaroo court, or the Irish equivalent. Was he innocent? We will never know. Our ancestor might not have been such a bad person. The writing is very hard to decipher.

…the original copy of the trial is VERY hard to read as it is in a yellow and faded copy, but Bob [Starling] did a good job of getting a readable copy.

I found also this account of County Cavan in those days.

Cavan, the southernmost county of the old province of Ulster, was a bleak inland region of limited agricultural and commercial development, but it was populous and contained the disfranchised boroughs of Belturbet and Cavan, where county meetings and elections were held. The Catholic population greatly outnumbered, yet were electorally in thrall to, the almost exclusively Protestant gentry, of whom none individually had a sufficient interest to return a Member. The leading figure since the Union had been the only resident nobleman, the 2nd earl of Farnham, a Tory representative peer and joint-governor, whose large and comparatively advanced estate at Farnham gave him an interest which was described by the Irish government in 1818 as ‘very great’. His estimated 1,000 electors were enough to ensure control of one seat, since the potential electorate was only about 6,000 (although one calculation put it as high as nearly 8,000) and in practice was probably far smaller…


Family note and then Attenborough

First family. I have noted before that my grandnephew David Parkes and his sister Lauren have been on an amazing and very extensive trip through Europe. Lauren’s latest posts on Facebook are from Ireland. This is just one photo:


So more descendants of Jacob Whitfield are revisiting the scene of the crime, so to speak. I have been wondering how close they have been to where his son William Whitfield was born 16 Mar 1812 , Parish of Drumgoon, Cootehill, Co. Cavan, Ireland.

Years ago, without even realising the family connection, David and Lauren’s older brother Nathan was in the Emerald Isle too, but only briefly.

That’s my grandnephew Nathan in Ireland in 2011.

And now Attenborough. Tonight Channel Nine is showing the Australia episode of Seven Worlds, One Planet. Definitely a must watch!

Screenshot (340)

On Facebook recently I reminded myself and everyone else of how David Attenborough moved from scepticism to acceptance on the subject of climate change. To quote the man himself way back in 2006 — and if anything his conviction has grown since.

I was sceptical about climate change. I was cautious about crying wolf. I am always cautious about crying wolf. I think conservationists have to be careful in saying things are catastrophic when, in fact, they are less than catastrophic.

I have seen my job at the BBC as a presenter to produce programmes about natural history, just as the Natural History Museum would be interested in showing a range of birds of paradise – that’s the sort of thing I’ve been doing. And in almost every big series I’ve made, the most recent one being Planet Earth, I’ve ended up by talking about the future, and possible dangers. But, with climate change, I was sceptical. That is true….

But I’m no longer sceptical. Now I do not have any doubt at all. I think climate change is the major challenge facing the world. I have waited until the proof was conclusive that it was humanity changing the climate. The thing that really convinced me was the graphs connecting the increase of carbon dioxide in the environment and the rise in temperature, with the growth of human population and industrialisation. The coincidence of the curves made it perfectly clear we have left the period of natural climatic oscillation behind and have begun on a steep curve, in terms of temperature rise, beyond anything in terms of increases that we have seen over many thousands of years.

People say, everything will be all right in the end. But it’s not the case. We may be facing major disasters on a global scale.

And here under the rubric FACTS from NASA is something from the present:


As I said on Facebook:  I fear I have become even more intolerant of self-styled “climate change skepticism” in recent times. I cannot even imagine why anyone in the light of so much evidence can even contemplate such an idea! But of course people are entitled to their opinions…

See also Skeptical Science, and browse extensively there!

Hey you! That might be my great X3 grandfather!

Bizarre story from the Sydney Light Rail project a few days ago.

Screenshot (201)

In short:

Days after human remains were discovered during digging for the light rail project between Sydney’s CBD and eastern suburbs, disturbing footage has emerged that shows a construction worker cracking jokes about the bones as he dug them up and tossed them out of the hole.

After the grisly find on Monday, a spokeswoman for the consortium of Alstom, Acciona, Transdev and Capella Capital (ALTRAC) building the light rail project told Fairfax Media that the bones – believed to be remnants from the old Devonshire Street Cemetery – were “respectfully removed by heritage experts” before further analysis confirmed them to be human….

Here is that cemetery prior to closure:


My great-great-great grandfather Jacob Whitfield was buried there. Or so we believe. See my series of family history posts, particularly on Jacob.

There is a Wiki Tree page on Jacob too. I first accessed it last Friday. An extract:

Death date and place unknown – Jacob is found still living in 1851 according to a news article. This would make him 92 years old !

Death and Burials : Friends Burial Ground – Old Devonshire Street Sandhills Cemetery, reference : “Burial Notes missing : Jacob Whitfield” no indication of his date of death or burial….

Friends Burial Ground – Old Devonshire Street Sandhills Cemetery, reference : “Burial Notes missing : Jacob Whitfield” no indication of his date of death or burial. Burials took place in the Friends Burial Ground from after 1851 ..

The Devonshire Street Cemetery (also known incorrectly as the Brickfield Cemetery or Sandhills Cemetery) was located between Eddy Avenue and Elizabeth Street, and between Chalmers and Devonshire Streets, at Brickfield Hill, in Sydney, Australia. It was consecrated in 1820.[1] The Jewish section was used from 1832.[2] By 1860, the cemetery was full, and it was closed in 1867….

That Wiki Tree page has lots of information congruent with the researches of Bob Starling and other family historians, and some that isn’t. Interesting. See also my Family stories 3 — About the Whitfields: from convict days which features quite a few contributions by those family historians. On the subject of Jacob’s age, for example:

Thanks to the amazing Internet I have actually been able to trace my father’s family further back to the father of convict Jacob, to a John Whitfield who was born in County Kildare, Ireland, in 1735, but there is a bit of a mystery now about Jacob’s age. The puzzle about Jacob’s real age remains, but probably he was in his forties rather than his sixties when he arrived in Australia. That story I found on the Net about Jacob’s (third, it now appears) marriage would require him to have been born around 1760, and I had always understood he was about 60 when he arrived in the colony. Stuart Daniels writes (3 June 2004): “William was born in Cootehill, Co. Cavan and came out to NSW ? and died ? as he can’t be found in the NSW records. I found the Jacob in the shipping records and that he came out here at the age of 60 years, and if he was 60 at his arrival date means that he was born in about 1762?” I thought perhaps the 1774 Jacob was a different Jacob at first, but not according to the very thorough Genealogy of the Leslie Family of Innisfail, the source too for Mary Gowrie’s dates — except the Leslies keep on working on that genealogy, it seems, wrecking the links each time they do; they work now (December 2006) but I guess I will have to check from time to time. [2011: no longer fully available to the public.] The Jacob there is definitely the right one, father of Mary, William, and three other siblings. 1774 better fits the marriage record pictured above.

Further information in a comment below from Kathryn Whitfield arrived in December 2007:

Jacob Whitfield (per Isabella I, 1822) is often said to have had six children with Mary Gowrie in Ireland. I can find no record of what happened to two of the children and to Mary herself, yet Bob and Linda are mistaken to think that only Mary and William came to Australia. Jacob requested that four children be allowed to come to Australia and the four were on the Thames (1826). You will find that 16- and 17-year-old Judith and Catherine were already married and do not, therefore, appear on the list as Whitfields. The shipping list for the Thames shows the four siblings as Catherine Aaron, 16; Judith Doyle, 17; William Whitfield, 10 (true we think he could have been aged 14); and Mary Whitfield, 18.

Bob Starling has traced Jacob back to an earlier John Whitfield, born in 1695 in County Tyrone.


William Whitfield 1812-1897

# Perhaps this really is the final answer: William WHITFIELD (above) & Caroline Philadelphia WEST: William WHITFIELD Born: 16 Mar 1812 – , Parish of Drumgoon, Cootehill, Co. Cavan, Ireland. Died: 12 Oct 1897 Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Buried: Rookwood, New South Wales, Australia. Father: Jacob WHITFIELD (1774- ? ) Mother: Mary GOWRIE (1781-1841) Married: 20 Jun 1836 – , St Andrews Church of Scotland, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Wife Caroline Philadelphia WEST: Born: 12 Jul 1817 – Seven Oaks, Kent, England. Died: 21 Oct 1881 – Picton, New South Wales, Australia. Buried: Redbank Cemetery, Upper Picton, New South Wales, Australia. See also Jacob WHITFIELD & Mary GOWRIE. Convict Jacob is given this birthdate: Born: May 1774 – Ballyhagen, Co. Kildare, Ireland, and Mary died in Co. Tyrone, Ireland in 1841. Mary, the wife of Daniel Sweeney, was the daughter of these two, and William (above) their son. Curious though that we don’t know when Jacob died.

We also are intrigued by the possibility Jacob was a Quaker. A Ph.D. thesis I am currently reading sheds much light on the nature of Ulster Protestantism, beyond the rather cliched picture we probably all have: Philomena Sutherland (2010 UK, Open University), The role of Evangelicalism in the formation of nineteenth-century Ulster Protestant cultural identity. While that thesis deals with  the Ulster Revival (1859), disestablishment of the Church of Ireland (1869) and the threat of home rule (1880s), for none of which were any of my ancestors still in Ireland, it does hark back to King Billy and all that, which I know from my father’s testimony still exercised the minds of his grandparents — that is, of convict Jacob’s children and grandchildren.