Information expanded 3 hours after first posting.
On that day in 1911 in the Shellharbour/Kiama area this woman had a child, not her first.
That child was my father. Her name, before marriage, was Henrietta Bursill. She passed away in 1931. There had been many dark events in her life, including this.
As I explained in an earlier post my grandfather and grandmother had already lost two other sons, Aubrey (1893-1906) and Thomas W (1906-1906). Another son, Kenneth Ross Whitfield, served on the Western Front from 1917 and survived. I remember Uncle Ken fondly. And so my father, Jeffrey Noel Whitfield, was born 25th November 1911, passing away in December 1989.
My Dad and mother told me about his mother. It appears her birth had been a touch irregular.
That Henrietta’s mother was also Henrietta, as I note in this 2013 post. Yet an obituary for Henrietta Senior dated 1921 – reproduced in that post – states that she was survived by two sons (including Charles) and ONE daughter “Elizabeth, Mrs. Whitfield.” That of course should be “Henrietta”. There is another obituary for Henrietta Senior in the Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal 6 July 1921.
On 28th June, 1921, at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. Thos. Whitfield,of Shellharbour, one of our best beloved and most highly esteemed residents passed quietly away to her rest in her 85th year. Mrs. Bursill was born at Bradfeld, England, in 1837, and at the age of 18 years took passage for Australia by the sailing ship “Asiatic,” and after sailing 97 days, entered Sydney Heads, 24th May, 1855. When 21 years of age she married Thomas Bursill, and they came to Illawarra in search of a new home. They settled on a small farm near Shellharbour over 62 years ago. Mr. Bursill passed away many years ago, leaving his partner the care of five children, three sons and two daughters. The two elder sons, Mr.E. Bursill, builder, of Robertson, and Mr. Chas. Bursill, builder, of Shellharbour, and are both highly esteemed and respected residents of both districts, the third son, George, passed away, from heart failure.It is safe to say we have never had a resident more universally beloved and esteemed than was Mrs. Bursill,always bright and cheerful, and ready to help, going about doing good. The district is better for the lives and examples of such as she, and very much poorer for their loss.The Rev. Gallop, of Jamberoo, con-ducted the funeral service, at Shellharbour cemetery on 29th June, and spoke of the good she had done and of her kind way of doing, of a long life of usefulness, then entering into rest.
You may have noticed that the “two daughters” left when Thomas B died could not have included my grandmother Henrietta Jr. Do the Maths and study this birth certificate extract carefully.
The page on the Bursill family at the Shellharbour Museum glosses over some things but is still informative.
Thomas and Henrietta’s daughter, also named Henrietta, married Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield, another well-known builder in the area. Thomas worked on occasion with his brother-in-law Charles Bursill. Thomas and Henrietta suffered much tragedy in their life, losing three children. Their eldest son, Aubrey died in 1906, the result of blood poisoning from lock jaw, the result of a kick from a pony. Just one week earlier, they had lost their infant son, Thomas. Nine years later in 1915, their son Colin was fatally shot while on a visit to Albion Park; he was 14 years old.
Question: Am I of Aboriginal descent?
Answer: Possibly, even probably. And no, I have not had a DNA test. But the story is in a way simple. I have (as you do) eight great-grandparents. I can account for all but one of them. In the case of my grandmother’s parentage — and a fine woman but troubled she was by all accounts — the father is unknown. That is, my father’s mother’s father.
The story — which I heard from my father and mother themselves — is that this grandmother was the daughter of an Aboriginal man, probably Dharawal (or maybe Yuin). We know nothing much about him.
But it is enough to make me look at Merrigong from my window with different eyes. The story was enough for Aboriginal actress Kristina Nehm, knowing the story, to always introduce me to Aboriginal people thus: “This is Neil. He is family.”
This is apart from the story of my brother’s wife, who is a descendant of the family of Bungaree.
Email info July 2021 from Rowena Gough
: Hi Neil,
Doing a google search on Bursill trees I’ve come across your website. I think that I can provide you with clearer family tree information for Henrietta Bursill (1874-1931). She was the youngest child of Thomas Russell Bursill (1832-c.1870) and Henrietta Woodley (1837-1921), and named after her mother. Father Thos Edw was bapt. 1832 in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Eng, married Henrietta 7 June 1858 in redfern, Sydney, and died c.1870 at Shellharbour, NSW. Mother Henrietta Woodley cme from a farming family, born 1837 Englefield, Berkshire and died 28 June 1921 Shellharbour, NSW. Your Henrietta had 4 siblings. My great grandfather Edward Bursill was the younger brother of Edward Russell Bursill and he emig to the Maryborough area of Victoria. The parents of Thomas and Edward were Thomas Bursill (1808-1846 and Elizabeth Russell (1812-1888). I’ve spent anout 25 yrs on the family history and am quite sure that this is your family line. The William Busill (convict) line is not as yet, connected to our family, and were from London. Our line is from Cambridge, and Yorkshire. So at the moment the story on you blog re family tree probably needs to be reviewed.
Back Again Neil,
Yes, thinking about it. He [Charlie Bursill, Henrietta Whitfield’s uncle] would have known as an older brother what was happening in his household. Father dead, and mother carrying a baby and then a new little one in the house. They live on a farm with livestock, so would have known what was going on. And of course, the shame of an illegitimate child in those times, and the gossip of local people. Charlie might have had to keep quiet for a long time and then later in life, just needed to release the pressure, so talked to family members. Anyway, it’s Henrietta [Bursill] I admire, and she seemed to have been held in some esteem in the area after a long and hard-working life.
So just to confirm, there is no connection with the convict William Bursill from London. But quite possibly, if you go digging back on all lines in your tree, there’ll be someone in there.
Charles Bursill prior to my parents’ marriage in 1935 had warned Roy Hampton Chrisrison, my maternal grandfather, that through Henrietta my father had “a touch of the tarbrush”. Grandpa Christison replied, I am told, along the lines of Charlie taking a leap into Lake Illawarra!
So here I am today writing this on Dharawal Country, gazing every day at mountains of enormous cultural significance.
I spent the years of my life from 1943, when I was born, through to 1970 when I first came to live in Wollongong also in Dharawal (or Tharawal) Country, the northern part where the Gweagal could be found; around Wollongong you have the Wodi Wodi. The stories there cross over into those we once wrongly regarded as the beginnings of Australian history, at least on the East Coast.
See this video on Facebook — sadly unable to embed, but here is a screen shot showing a rock shelter in the Sutherland Shire.
And I hasten to add that I am not at all a fan of “cancel culture” or anything like it. I am a fan of acknowledging all our national story.
I have posted several times on this theme, most often when such predictable sources as the Sydney Daily Telegraph or Quadrant or some twit of a pundit on Sky News is beating up a story about Captain Cook, or getting stuck into Dark Emu on the grounds its author is not really Aboriginal.
Twits on Sky News have been at it again in the past few days, getting their knickers in a twist over Adam Goodes’s children’s book — which does not pretend to be a systematic history text. The lesson in it, however, is essentially true. This place was peopled before Europeans came.
NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham says a primary school play is attempting to “demonise” Captain Cook by falsely showing he was there when the First Fleet came to Australia.
“There’s one supreme responsibility for teachers in the New South Wales education system and that is to teach facts,” he told Sky News host Paul Murray.
“Teach knowledge and facts rather than political indoctrination.”
Now that Murray and Latham are busily stirring up boring old memes and “controversies” again — this time doing a bit of Goodes-bashing and pursuing woke leftie schoolies yet again, I, while tired of the stupidity involved and having begun my personal journey of recovery around 1988, am moved to share this 2020 blog post which in turn delves back to 1988 and 1788,… And to reflect on my own family story in this post.
I also am able to honour James Cook as the great navigator he was. I do chew gum and walk at the same time as well.