Family stories 3 — About the Whitfields: from convict days

NOTE 6 January 2014: This page has been cleaned up and lightly revised but not rewritten. It remains more or less “as is” — something that grew by accretion around a core going back to 2000-2001.

Do note the comments at the end. Many of them are important reflections on the material, or modifications. I also alert you whenever I make a relevant post on my current blogs.

Note that Robert Starling has collected two volumes of Thames immigration ship Cork Ireland to Port Jackson Sydney 1825 – 1826 : family stories related by descendants of families that emigrated on the Thames 2012 available at the Society of Australian Genealogists (SAG), and in 2011 he published Jacob Whitfield’s journey from Cootehill County Cavan Northern Ireland to the land down-under : embracing the Whitfield family history.

The “Thames” was the ship bringing William Whitfield aged 10/14 (see below) to Australia. Unfortunately the passenger list I referred to is no longer online but IS findable via Wayback! The “Thames” was the first immigration ship to carry families directly from Ireland.

Note too the recent contact I had with Lilian Lee, the granddaughter of Susan Caroline Whitfield — my grandfather Tom’s older sister.

  • I can’t guarantee all the links below work — some are quite old now. But I have been able to repair some via The Wayback Machine — and if you really want to follow a “dead” link, try running it through Wayback. Very often it will work!


A distant cousin, Bob Starling of Wangi Wangi, has researched the Whitfield family story very thoroughly. In the Christmas-New Year period 2005-6 I received a CD-ROM from Bob containing the results of this research, some of it in a 190-page Word document. Accordingly, I have revised some of the family history as it stands here. Thanks to Bob Starling there are some new historical pictures of William Whitfield (born 1812), William J J Whitfield (1836-1925) and his son, my grandfather T D S Whitfield. There is also one of one of the old Whitfield homes in the Picton area. For this revision I have also taken a couple of document extracts and a picture of my uncle Ken Whitfield. Thanks again, Bob Starling.

am 029

Family early 1970s

Left to Right Back: James Heard, Robert Heard, Jeff Whitfield, Jean Whitfield, Fay Christison, Neil Christison

Left to Right Front: Janine Christison, Beth Heard, Lloyd Christison


My original post.

convictsI commend Irish Convicts to New South Wales 1791-1831.

A fascinating site for anyone interested in Australian History, and closely connecting to the material I just gave you about my own family, is The Diary of Felton Mathew, a government surveyor in colonial New South Wales, with topics including:

– Voyage to NSW (1829)
– Sydney and surrounds (1830–1832)
– Treatment of the indigenous people.

My niece Christine and my brother Ian both expressed interest in my research into the Whitfield family, and also into the Christisons. In this entry I am posting an updated and edited version of what was on Angelfire as “Floating Life, family memories.”

Please note that while affectionate, as they should be, these memoirs are also “warts and all” where required. The aim is truthfulness, rather than whitewashing, as that serves the family best, don’t you think?

Augmented and edited October 2008.

See also: About the Whitfields 2; About the Whitfields 3: for my brother; About the Whitfields 4: Wandering Willie’s Tales.

Piecing it together

This is the first part of a puzzle, as I try to understand this man, my father, whom I did not know in so many ways. Where did he come from? Why was he, for good or ill, the way he was? They have left me some clues, and I have tracked down a few more. I know my father, in marrying the daughter of a schoolmaster, was in a sense marrying “above himself” — or so he seemed sometimes to think — yet his father was an Alderman at one time in Shellharbour Municipality, the little fishing village, as it was then, about 100 kilometres south of Sydney.

He seemed to spend much of his life, as it were, to prove something to his father (even after his father was dead) and his siblings, in fact perhaps to all Shellharbour.

am 024Grandfather Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield (right) was born in Picton NSW in 1867 and died in 1948, so I was five years old when he died, and can just remember him as a benign but deaf old man with white hair, approximately as wide as he was tall. Mind you, in earlier days he seems by some accounts to have been a tyrant and a bit of a bastard, and I base that on incidents my father and mother told me about. To be fair, it was also a characteristic of the times.

He was a builder, and all the family up to him seem to have been carpenters, bush workers, small farmers or bullock drivers and timber getters, though many served in their communities in other ways. There was one brother, John, who was a policeman though, for a time in Shellharbour; my brother remembers him. I do remember some of Thomas’s siblings; one, Bill (William) continued to live at Picton and died in his nineties in 1957. We used to visit him and his unmarried daughter Ruth (died 1999) fairly regularly.

His youngest sister Annie was born 25/12/1875. She was alive and well at the celebrations for my cousin Beverly’s Olympic Games gold medal in Shellharbour in 1972, when five generations of the family came together. Annie’s husband, Tiberio Vacchini, “was born in NSW and therefore was NOT an Italian” as Stuart Daniels, a descendant, informed me in June 2004. There was talk of a connection with Garibaldi’s Red Shirts somewhere way back when though. Fact is Vacchini is a long-established name in NSW; I recall an Inspector of Schools by that name in the 1960s and 70s, Ian Vacchini. The name is certainly Italian. It turns out that Tiberio Vacchini, who worked for the New South Wales railways at Picton, was accidentally killed in 1916.

I had the opportunity to probe Aunt Annie’s memory not long before she died, but she was somewhat vague about exact details, though she did remember sitting on the knee of an old man with a long white beard when she was five years old; that man, her great-grandfather perhaps, she swore had been a redcoat in Ireland. It very likely was William Whitfield (1812-1897), the son of Jacob, a convict. You see, Annie was right about the Irish connection, but it seems to have gone as follows.

The following is a good story, but appears to be wrong. I leave it though as the “Three Bees” story is worth it! It appears I had the wrong Daniel Sweeney here; the one in question arrived on the Daphne in 1819.

Did you note my grandfather’s name? On May 6 1814 the ship Three Bees, a transport of 494 tons, arrived from Cork. One of the convicts on board was a Daniel Sweeney, sentenced to seven years. It was something of a hell ship, and within a week of arrival it blew up, bits of it landing in King Street.

By 1822, Daniel Sweeney seems to have prospered.

2014 addendum: I note that in 1825 he is listed as employed by Dr James Bowman, a pioneer in the Hunter region. His status is Free by Servitude. “When convicts had served the period of their sentence and therefore became free they  were recorded as being ‘free by servitude’.  Men and women sentenced to life could never be freed by servitude in time they would be granted a pardon.” Daniel Sweeney was back in Sydney by the 1828 census.

Four years after Jacob arrived on the Isabella 1, the Thames arrived (11 April 1826) with 37 free women and 107 children, one of whom was a ten-year-old (sic), but it appears he was really 13 or 14, named William Whitfield. Also on the ship was his older sister, Mary, who subsequently married Daniel Sweeney at St Matthew’s Church at Windsor in 1827. Here is a complete passenger list for the Thames.) In the 1828 census, William Whitfield is recorded as residing with Daniel Sweeney in Kent Street Sydney, and in 1833, Jacob Whitfield is recorded as assigned to Daniel Sweeney.


Extract from the marriage record of Daniel Sweeney and Mary Whitfield at St Matthew’s Windsor. 15 January 1827.

The relation of Jacob Whitfield (see below) to William and Mary (such Protestant names!) now seems established: he was their father. Certainly he witnessed the wedding on 20 June 1836 at St Andrews Presbyterian Church of William Whitfield and Caroline Philadelphia West, along with the other witnesses Maria Burgess and William Burgess. On 18 September 1836 (yes, I can count!) the baptism is recorded at St James Church, King Street, of William Joseph John Whitfield, son of William and Philadelphia. William gave his profession as carpenter, and his address as Elizabeth Street. The child had been born on August 14. (By the way, it snowed in Sydney on June 28 1836.)


Hyde Park Barracks

On 9 March 1822 the Isabella I arrived from Cork with 200 prisoners, among whom was a sixty-year-old (sic) man on a life sentence named Jacob Whitfield. After a time in the Hyde Park Convict Barracks, Jacob was assigned to Mr Cable of Windsor. He later worked on construction of the Great North Road.


Jacob Whitfield was allegedly aged 80 years old when he was granted permission to marry Elizabeth Smith aged 49 in 1840. He was obviously a much more hardy specimen than this descendant.

Elizabeth had arrived four years previously on the Henry Wellesley and Jacob had arrived in 1822 on the Isabella 1. He had received a Life sentence, which also meant he could never return to the Old Country.

It appears Jacob had a wife already in Ireland, and then, as was customary at the time, married again in Sydney in 1832.

Note “age 60 years”, referring to 1832, not 1822. I suspect it is a rounded figure anyway. The first wife, Mary Gowrie, died 12 Mar 1841 in Finnelly, Co. Tyrone, Ireland, so I guess “widower” in the document below, recording the second marriage to Jean in 1832, may be a technicality?

NOTE: read carefully through this page and you will see how clarifying Jacob’s marriage status and what happened to all his children have been rather knotty issues for family historians, not to mention the question of where and when he died and where he was buried.


The wife in the story above is then his third one. I also found he had been granted his Ticket of Leave in 1834. (An indulgence given at the Governor’s discretion, which entitled convicts to work for wages, though they were required to report for regular musters.  The minimum period before which a ticket could be granted  was generally related to the length of the convict’s sentence.) 

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.

Come to think about it (2014) Daniel Sweeney — the real one not the “Three Bees” one — was my grandfather Tom’s great-uncle, a pretty amazing thought put that way as I have grand-nephews and grandnieces of my own now!

The 1841 census records: Whitfield, William – Elizabeth Street, Parish Alexandria, County Cumberland, District Sydney. It turns out that William lived within 500 metres of where I now live and am writing this!   See Looking for Jacob 11 — Found! for where Jacob was; William was not far away, but both are nearer the Hyde Park end of Surry Hills than I had thought.

I have sighted the documents mentioned here in the State Library of NSW.


William Joseph John, seen above in his old age, married Elizabeth Ratcliffe at Picton in 1861. (His brother Jacob married Eliza Ratcliffe in 1864, and another brother, Richard, married Mary Ratcliffe in 1874.) (Information from records on microfiche in the State Library of NSW.) Stuart Daniels (3 June 2004) adds: “The first child was baptised as Joseph RADCLIFFE not as a Whitfield.”

tdsThe third (fourth, following Stuart Daniels) child of that marriage was Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield (right), my grandfather who eventually moved to Shellharbour on the coast. He built up a good reputation as a carpenter, doing some fine work in red cedar in the Anglican Church which is there to this day.

And more! See 2013 posts What a treasury of family history and Continuing my trawl through Trove and family history.

There were twelve children in that family, most of whom survived. The Olympic swimmer Beverly Whitfield (Gold Medal at Munich 1972) was the great-grand-daughter of Thomas through my Uncle Ken, my father’s older brother. Ken was born in 1897 and died in 1967; he was a soldier in both World Wars.


My uncle Ken in World War I uniform. I was told he put his age up for WWI and down for WWII. The former seems not to be true.

My father, Jeffrey Noel, was born in 1911 or 1912 (yes there is some confusion) and died in 1989. It was obviously a late and unexpected present for Thomas and his wife Henrietta (1874-1931). They had married on the 9th of November 1892. Now Henrietta has been something of a family secret; one story, henriettatold me by my father and mother, says she was the illegitimate offspring of an Aboriginal (or part-Aboriginal) farm worker and a widow. You will note my father was nineteen or twenty when she died. My nephew Warren not long ago met a Tharawal Elder named Les Bursill at a gathering in Canberra; Henrietta was a Bursill (variant “Bursell” on some records). So it is possible they were all descendants of the First Australians… That’s Henrietta on the right. About Warren: my brother married his first wife Aileen, Warren’s mother, in 1955. It turns out she too was of Aboriginal descent. See Warren’s excellent account of that family in A Guringai Family’s Story.

Update 9 December 2011: see my post Family history and mystery–the Indigenous connection.

There is no doubt about my sister-in-law’s descent from the family of Sophy Bungaree, that is of the family of Bungaree of considerable fame in early colonial history. But what about the Whitfields and the Bursills? I see that Henrietta’s birth certificate names no father, and if then the story I heard is true – and I am quite sure it is – then of course she wasn’t a Bursill at all, which does rather complicate matters. For the moment then we are all assuming Dharawal, but that father could have come from further afield. It is also worth noting that Les Bursill does not trace his Aboriginal roots through his father, but rather through his mother.

Possibly we’ll never know exactly where Henrietta’s natural father came from. The story about her birth was raised with my maternal grandfather, Roy Hampton Christison, when my mother and father became engaged. As my mother told the story, old Charlie Bursill came and told grandfather Roy about the “touch of the tarbrush” via Henrietta. I do note that Grenville’s 1872 Post Office Directory lists a MRS Bursill as a farmer in Shellharbour. The story is that she had an Aboriginal assistant working for her, and that he, in 1874, was the actual father of Henrietta. He is said to have (wisely?) disappeared. Grandfather Christison told C Bursill to jump into Lake Illawarra, I believe, and of course the engagement and marriage went ahead in 1935.

What I do know is that as a kid I always sensed something as I wandered the bush around the Woronora valley, or on a hill in Sutherland West then known as The Devil’s Back but now just a mundane suburb. It was a presence that lived in the rock shelters and in high places with views of surrounding country. I can’t explain it. But I do know my nephews Jeffrey and Warren had the same feelings when they lived as kids at Bundeena, because Warren has told me that.


Old Whitfield home in Tahmoor near Picton


Stratford House, Tahmoor

In the latter part of the 19th century, we are told, Stratford House in Tahmoor was William J J Whitfield’s home. Many years ago on a drive to Picton, my father took us there. I’m afraid we were sceptical about it having been a family home: but for a while it was, according to Bob Starling’s sources. Yet Marlene Fairfax, local Tahmoor historian, tells quite a different story. According to her:

This very imposing residence was built circa 1889 for Napoleon Jean Lisson as a country retreat by Picton builder, William Pritchard. In 1898 Mrs Emma Lisson and her young sons together with her parents, became permanent residents following the conviction of her husband for the murder of her younger sister. Emma Lisson reverted to her maiden name of Gorrick. From 1914 to 1916 the residence was leased by Mr Percival Campbell Johnstone as a boarding and day school for boys under the name ‘Picton College’. The College closed on Mr Johnstone’s death. A public school was conducted out of part of the building from 1917 until the end of 1919…”

The perils of family history!

Well, that may be solved when you see this:

Jessie Winifred Ethel WHITFIELD
Born 21 March 1882 Picton
Died 29 August 1912 aged 30
Married 1910 Albert Ormonde W GORRICK Born 1884 Died 1950

So does this Gorrick connection explain the family story? William Joseph John Whitfield lived until 1925 after all. How long might he have lived at Stratford House? He certainly lived here:


That Picton House was built for him by Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield, my grandfather.


ABOVE: Sydney in the 1820s

UPDATE October 2008.

I am so often asked about this that I have decided to upload Bob Starling’s excellent family tree as a PDF file: whitfield-pedigree-chart.pdf. You would need to get in touch with Bob for any updated version, and for the excellent history, photo album, and much more on his CD-ROM. I won’t publicise Bob’s address here, but will email it to genuine seekers. I gratefully acknowledge Bob’s CD-ROM as the source of some of the photos below. Please note again that this is an outdated version of the family tree. Contact Bob for the latest.

The material on this page was never intended to be a definitive history. It began as some notes for some of my own immediate family, written some years ago now and based on research I had done at the State Library of NSW and at the Hyde Park Convict Barracks. My nephew Warren had been independently researching his family on his father’s side (Whitfield) and his mother’s (Lees). He shared what he had found with me. The body of the original post above, then, I have decided to leave mostly as it was, speculation and all. The tone is right for its original purpose, but do take the following information as important correctives.

I received the following email on 15 July 2008:

The Whitfield pedigree tree seems to be wrong.

I had looked up 3 years ago that Jacob Whitfield “ploughman” transported on the Isabella is out of Thomas Whitfield and Elizabeth Marshall — not out of John Whitfield and Susanna Pearson.

The Jacob Whitfield of MAY 1774 Of Ballyhagen, Kildare, Ireland from both Bob Starling and the Leslie family tree appears wrong. The Jacob Whitfield of the Isabella should be from Grange MM*, Tyrone, Ireland born Feb 1759.

The listing of the convict in the 1822 Isabella ship’s log is below from online records:-

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

Had a phone call from Bob Starling to Colin Whitfield in Perth a couple of weeks ago…which prompted me to look it up again.

– John Van Luyn

*Does “reb” mean rebel? If so, it the first clue about the nature of his crime that I have ever seen. It would certainly fit into the troubled times in Ireland. A life sentence was serious, even in those days. This new information still makes his age seem quite extraordinary, especially if he is, as we have assumed, the father and not the grandfather of William and Mary, and there is still the 1832 marriage certificate below, giving his age as “60 years” which would fit better with the 1770s scenario. It is still a bit of a mystery; we are on firmer ground from William onwards…

Update 2014: I now realise the “Reb” is merely a heading and the space beside it is blank. We are now reasonably sure Jacob was sent out for horse thieving. Also it does seem his DOB was 1774.

Anyone know any more?

*You can find a Google map of Grange and surrounds here. It is in Northern Ireland.

Jacob was certainly not a Quaker, but Grange features in Irish Quaker history. See Grange Meeting: a Historical Sketch. It’s very interesting.

Since then I have had several more emails, and some leads via the comments below; interested people may want to follow them up.

Recent emails to October 2008

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.

See An Important Convict Pottery Discovery – John Moreton and his Colonial Wine Cooler for much information about the Pottery and about Jonathan Leak.


An 1842 map.

Some suggest the pottery was not far from the Carters’ Barracks. You may also see the Devonshire Street Cemetery there. The Government Paddocks in the top left approximate to Prince Alfred Park, Surry Hills.


1854 map

See also the Looking for Jacob posts 2008


Footnotes, feedback and afterthoughts

NSW Police Gazette 1869

William J WHITFIELD & George WHITFIELD were tried at Braidwood Quarter Sessions , 5th July, 1869 with the offence of stealing a bullock, from George GRENVILLE.
William J WHITFIELD was sentenced with 5 years roads.
George WHITFIELD was sentenced to 3 years roads.

Wal Storer writes:

Got your address from your website… George was my ancestor – is this William J yours?

They were so uninventive with names! I am not sure about who this William belongs to, but am fairly certain he is one of the “Braidwood Whitfields”; but I do recall being told tales of bullock-driving around Braidwood and Araluen. This incident connects clearly with the Braidwood Gaol Register 1856-1899 where George (the same one?) is said to have been born in Shellharbour. Since my Grandfather Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield was born in Picton NSW in 1867 (and thus was two years old in 1869) and his father William JJ was born in 1836 and therefore 33 and living in Picton, I doubt he is the William involved. George, you will note, was a teenager at the time the crime was committed; so probably was William.

Late additions

William Joseph John’s father William (who lived in the 1830s in Elizabeth Street Strawberry Hills) ended sadly, it seems.

On 11 October 1897 in the waters of Port Jackson, Rushcutter’s Bay William Whitfield carpenter, took his own life and drowned aged 86 years. The informant for the death notice was E Whitfield his daughter of 42 Norton Street Leichhardt. William was buried on 13 October 1897 in the Church of England section, Rookwood cemetery – section CCC grave No. 2149 (no headstone) after being 71 years in the Colony.

Given his age, his wandering into Rushcutters Bay could have all sorts of reasons… Good heavens, he was 86 after all! The wording of that item also supports his being about 14 years old when he arrived in Sydney.

I wonder too how the family was affected by the bank crashes of 1893?

Was Jacob a bit naughty?


See also my 2012 post Respectability achieved and rapscallions left behind? for some ideas.

Compare Bob Starling’s 2008 thread:

Many thanks to dj72green for the information on Jacob Whitfield. Jacob did reside at Market Place. The Assessment Books for 1845 and 1852 cetertainly seem to relate to the same Jacob as do the Sydney Gazette articles with his involvement with theft. The outcome of a court case subsequent to 8 October 1839 may give some clue as to what may have happend to him if found guilty but as he appeared in the 1841 Census living in Market Lane now Wentworth Avenue. As Jacob had been given permission to marry Elizabeth Smith on 11/4/1840, it was unlikely that he would have had a conviction hanging over him. The James Whitfield that died n 25/12/1856 at Eastern Creek Windsor, is not the Jacob Whitfield that I am trying to trace. Many thanks again for this additional data. There are many long living Whitfields with many going into the 90s and at least two past 100 so Jacob if his birth year of 1774 is correct, I would not have expected him to go much past the 1860s considering the average length of a life in those days. More research required!! William Whitfield was Jacob’s son.

 Go to Part 2.


    • cedric williams Says:
      December 20, 2006 at 4:29 pmI have updated my website Williams family Stories, first fleeters confirmation. There are some bush style paintings with aboriginal influence and some stories, unpolished and down to earth. Please give your opininion, positive or negative.
    • ninglun Says:
      December 20, 2006 at 4:39 pmThanks, Cedric. I just corrected your link and now it works. ) I will check the site out in detail in the next few weeks.
    • ninglun Says:
      January 1, 2007 at 12:20 pmGood stuff, Cedric. I have added your site to the blog roll under Aussie Interest. Happy New Year!
    • Linda Whitfield Says:
      June 14, 2007 at 10:39 pmis there any chance of getting a copy of the cd-rom that was made by Bob Starling of Wangi Wangi? As I am a Whitfield descendant I find the stories interesting to say the least.
    • ninglun Says:
      June 14, 2007 at 10:52 pmEmailed you, Linda. Bob’s CD has most of the answers. We are descended from the same line, it appears, judging from your comment on another of these pages.
    • Linda Whitfield Says:
      July 1, 2007 at 10:03 pmHello again, could you please resend your last email as I don’t seem to have received it. I have been doing some more digging in the tree roots so to speak and have uncovered more info. It seems I am from the Jacob line of the Whitfield tree. Jacob married Mary Gowrie and had 5 children.Mary b1808 d1872 who married Daniel Sweeney in 1827.
      Catherine b1810 d? who married William Aaron in Ireland and stayed there.
      Judith b1811 d1858 who married Edward Doyle in Ireland and stayed there too.
      William b1812 d1897 who married Caroline Philadelphia West in St Andrews Church Sydney Aus.
      Jacob b1820 d? married…not sure…this is where I think my family line comes in. Unless it’s the father Jacob who then marries Jean Connell in 1832.If you can send me any info i would most appreciate it. Regards
      Linda Whitfield
    • kerry Roach Says:
      August 28, 2007 at 11:20 pmLinda I am also a descendant of the Whitfields. I have a fair bit of info, I’ve been researching for many years. My connection puts a bit of a twist on the family. If you want to contact me my email is kezzroa[at] that to protect you from spam, Kerry. — NW
    • kerry Roach Says:
      August 28, 2007 at 11:33 pmLinda
      It is the father Jacob who marries Jean Connell in 1932*. Jacob the father was my GGGGgrandfather. It would be great to compare notes. Please contact me.* 1832? — N
    • Brit Says:
      September 9, 2007 at 2:00 amhi, my name is brittany burns now but my great grandmother was the great or great great granddaughter of George Whitfield. She had pictures of him and other family members hanging on her walls. i am just trying to find out where she came into the family at. If yall know anything please email me. thanks. She had a brother name Luther….if that helps
    • ninglun Says:
      September 9, 2007 at 10:08 amThanks, Brit, but I gather you are in the USA. I have no knowledge of family members there. Keep in mind our branch has been here in Australia for over 180 years.
    • Kathryn Whitfield Says:
      December 21, 2007 at 5:01 am Hello, unfortunately, we ‘history detectives’ often jump to conclusions about facts and figures we find on the internet in our rush to fill slots on the family tree. While Bob Starling and Linda Whitfield should be commended for their enthusiasm, I would suggest that we, as amateur genaeologists, do not post information as fact, unless we are certain that it is so. For example: 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. It’s great that we all have a common goal, but please share information that you find on the basis of what it is. If you are guessing, then the people who next google our family tree will pick up your mistake and run with it. Happy hunting, Kathryn Whitfield (Braidwood Whitfields, Jacob’s ggggrandaughter
    • ninglun Says:
      December 21, 2007 at 8:19 amThanks, Kathryn, though I would commend Bob Starling too for his professionalism and thoroughness. He clearly did far more than just Google for information. My own initial research began when I found Jacob in the database at Hyde Park Barracks, followed by quite a bit of time at the State Library of NSW. It has been a hard story to recover as at least my branch of the family had — as many others in Australia have done — put a decent veil over their convict past making any information I was told by my own father very selective. That our family was so fertile but also rather uninventive at times in naming their children made the search a touch harder too.
    • Linda Whitfield Says:
      December 22, 2007 at 9:56 pmKathryn,
      Sorry if I have mislead anyone in the family search. As I am a newby at this ancestry thing, I am only going on what my family has told me and from pictures found in family albums.
      I’m still not sure where my line comes in at, as I have been told stories from my Dad Maurice Whitfield 1918-1991 mother being Violet Whitfield 1899-197?. Unmarried daughter at time of birth. Parents were Rose Daemon/Dayman & Wesley Whitfield. If anyone can be of more help I would appreciate it.
    • ninglun Says:
      December 22, 2007 at 10:20 pmHi Linda. The most thorough job anyone has done is still Bob Starling’s. I just kept to my own immediate family line, and at least I knew that solidly back to William Joseph John, but even there — they all had so many kids! — I had my work cut out. It didn’t help either that the old ones were (most of them) rather uninterested in family trees! What my father told me was very patchy.I should add, perhaps, that the story about my grandmother came both from my father and mother, and was confirmed by a medical search at a time my father was thought to have 
      Huntington’s Disease — he didn’t — which is hereditary. The doctor concerned actually traced the doctors who signed my grandmother’s death certificate (this was in the early 1970s and granny had died some 40 years before) and one of them — he was old but lucid — confirmed the story — which helped as it reduced the chances of the Huntington’s Disease issue. What granny diddie of was rather surprising, but that I am keeping to myself. Hers was a very sad story, and my father’s childhood was in some respects quite horrendous.I stand by most of what I have found, but am always happy to change it when fresh evidence comes up; I am in awe at the work Bob Starling has done. Good luck with your own search. I think Bob is your best bet.


Jacob the convict did get a life sentence, but the papers detailing the crime are lost. Auntie Annie of course maintained that he (or someone) was a redcoat. That may have been the kind of posthumous rewriting of family history that was common enough when the “convict stain” predominated in our attitudes, or she may have been on to something. Who knows? The politics of late 18th century and early 19th century Ireland were murky indeed. One thing for sure is that the Whitfields were Orange, a tradition that lasted well into the later 19th century.

  • Vicki Allen Says:
    January 6, 2008 at 11:48 amhi there,
    Great site! Could you let me know how to get a copy of Bob Starling’s CD on the Whitfields, please? I’m descended from Martha Whitfield-Crawford, their daughter, Annie Crawford was my g/grandmother. Annie married Frank Allen in Picton in 1890, who was later Sergeant of Police at Berrima Gaol. Annie Allen (born 1872) died in 1976 at the ripe age of 104. She and Frank had eight children (4M, 4F).Kind regards
  • ninglun Says:
    January 6, 2008 at 12:03 pm That’s an interesting extra bit of the story, Vicki. I didn’t know that when I and my father and mother used to sometimes drop into the Berrima pub back in the late 60s and early 70s!
  • More comments below…

122 thoughts on “Family stories 3 — About the Whitfields: from convict days

  1. Hello, I’m a Whitfield descendant. My gg grandfather was Richard Leonard Whitfield, his daughter olive beryl was my great grandmother. I would love to obtain a copy of the CDROM if it is still available please. I’m so very grateful for all the hard work done by others keeping history alive.
    Thanks Alison Smith

  2. Hi Rowena
    That’s my Whitfield family. Still trying to connect the Braidwood branch of the tree. Problem being my great grandad Wesley John Whitfield was born at Braidwood along with a number of babies that died young and are in the Braidwood cemetery. My ggf then moved with his family to Ryde.
    Kind regards
    Linda Whitfield

    • Hi Linda & Rowena
      Is this the same Wesley Whitfield who married Rose Dayman then Rose went on to marry Wesleys brother Russell and moved to Gunnedah.
      I recently found Roses grave in Gunnedah Cemetary.
      I am starting again on the family tree after a lapse of a few years. Rose Dayman was my Grandfathers sister.
      I can be contacted on
      Thanks Rhonda Courtney (nee dayman)

  3. Hi Rowena

    My name is Bob Starling and I am the family historian for the Whitfield family. I have documented 235 pages of history and a substantial pedigree chart. If you would like a copy of my research on CD please give me a call on 02 49755391. Regards Bob.

    • Hi Bob, Are you referring to the George Whitfield (gunsmith) family?. He was my great great grandfather through the Gardner line. Regards Nita Simpson (nee Moses)

      • Hello Nita, I to am a descendant from George Whitfield (gunmaker in King Street) through the Gardner line. My Mother was through the Gardner line, her father was a Young living in Balmain. I would like to provide you with more information I have collected and have provided my e-mail address hoping you will contact me through this connection.
        Yours faithfully. Tom Brown

  4. Stratford House is now owned by my cousin and her husband. Bill and Gail Douglas. The home has been extensively renovated in traditional style. Grounds now pristine, lawns and trees. A credit to them.

    • Hi there My mother was the granddaughter of Napoleon Jean Lisson who killed his sister in law. Stratford House was built for Napoleon and his family. My grandfather Victor was Napoleon’s oldest son and my mother Zadee was his daughter. Any info about Stratford House would be appreciated. Thank you

      • Hi Louise, I have recently started up again on my Tahmoor research and Stratford House. Have been looking at the newspaper reports on the George Street Tragedy, as it was described in the papers, of the Lisson murder. The Lisson/Gorrick family history is certainly complicated. As you know, Stratford was owned by the Gorricks until 1960 when Ron Traynor and his wife bought it followed by Bill and Gail Douglas in 1971 and I have been told the Douglas’ have recently sold it. I found an article in the Australia Women’s Weekly on Trove of 9 Sept 1960 on the purchase by the Traynors – includes a photo of the house. There is also an article in the Picton Post of July 1960 but I only hold a typed copy of it.
        Albert Gorrick (born 1884 and brother of Emma) did marry WJJ Whitfield’s daughter Jessie and they may well have lived at Stratford House at some point but I don’t think WJJ himself did.

  5. The Quaker Data Base covering some 166 Whitfield names from Quaker Meetings in Grange, Lurgan, Dublin, Lisburn, Richhill, has Jacob Whitfield born 5/1774 residing at Ballyhagen to parents John and Susanna. These 166 records have been transcribed from official Quaker records.

  6. Ok thanks, will wait to hear from Stuart. I asked about the crippling disease as there was no mention of it on his death certificate. he did mean to kill himself as it was his second attempt and he tied his hands behind his back before going into the water according to police reports. Here is the email I received re the sash if you want to follow it up:
    “The regalia which you sent is certainly not Orange Order regalia and I unfortunately have been unable to find anyone who can identify it.
    Sorry for a disappointing reply,
    Dr. David Hume MBE
    Director of Services
    Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland

    regards Kathryn

  7. Hi would stuart be able to post sources for his information? (i.e. state record numbers etc) It would help to be able to verify information that we have and for other family researchers to get copies. Could you also ask him for more information about the Quaker link. Did the records show him as “per isabella”. There was another Jacob Whitfield in Sydney at the time. He did hail from a quaker area in Tyrone, but he is always recorded as Church of Ireland. If he is a quaker, he was definitely not in the orange order. I sent a photograph of the sash that you posted on the blog to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and they confirmed that it was not orange order regalia. Also you also mention that William Whitfield, who drowned himself, was suffering from a crippling disease. Could you let me know where this information has come from? Do you have a doctor’s report? Thanks for your help, regards Kathryn

    • I am sure Stuart will see this so I leave it to him to reply. As to William, that he was suffering does make sense of what he did, but I have no evidence beyond the newspaper story I originally found which gives no motive. Could the Quaker issue be mistaken identity? I really don’t know but my father’s memories favour the Orange Lodge version.

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