1a — Unexpected connections — Whitfields

Recent family history research has William Whitfield aged 10 on arrival in the colony, as indeed he is in the “Thames” passenger list. Also, it appears Jacob Whitfield’s first wife, Mary, was Goss not Gowrie.

Posted originally on January 10, 2014 by Neil.

This series of posts is the most comprehensive I have done on family history. I am doing them backwards here so that in due course they will appear sequentially.

As you may know I do from time to time visit The Illawarra Brewery, which overlooks grounds that once were the Catholic cemetery.

See The Illawarra Brewery–and pioneer cemetery! See also my 2011 posts Pioneers: Wollongong’s Old Roman Catholic Cemetery — 1, Pioneers: Wollongong’s Old Roman Catholic Cemetery — 2, Pioneers: Wollongong’s Old Roman Catholic Cemetery — 3.

Recently I have also been revising my main family history page: Family stories 3 — About the Whitfields: from convict days. That, in summary, is:

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.

Jacob Whitfield was transported to Australia 1821-22 from Cork in the convict ship Isabella 1

‘ISABELLA I’ Built 1818 at London. Wood ship of 579 Tons. She carried 200 male convicts to Sydney and had no deaths en-route. She departed Cork, Ireland on the 4th of November 1821 and arrived in Sydney on the 9th of March 1822. Master: Captain John Wallis. Surgeon: W. Price.

Jacob’s son William and his daughter Mary arrived as free settlers on the Thames in 1826. To quote family historian Robert Starling (2011):

My interest is the Irish immigration ship the Thames which brought wives and children from Cork Ireland to Sydney to unite with their husband/father who had been transported prior to 1826. The Thames was the first immigration ship to carry families direct from Ireland. My connection with the Thames is through my wife’s line. Her Grandmother was a Whitfield with her line back to Jacob Whitfield who was transported with his family immigrating on the Thames.

Researching the families that immigrated on the Thames is a challenging undertaking as there is no official passenger list existing in the NSW State Archives, the National Archives in Canberra or the National Archives in Dublin Ireland. Fortunately a researcher named Lyn Vincent of Lyndon Genealogy has managed to reconstruct a passenger list through using the 1828 Census, the Ship Surgeon’s Report, Birth, Death and Marriage Indexes and the Australian Biographical & Genealogical Record.

A Constable Michael Sheedy in the 1830s, who may be linked to the Costello family, also compiled a list of family names that travelled on the Thames. I believe the interest by Constable Sheedy may have been that he married one of the passengers on the Thames. I hold a copy of Lyn Vincent’s, Michael Sheedy’s and The Thames Surgeon’s Reports which all reveal interesting facts about the families which made their way to Sydney. Unfortunately there were 16 deaths on the voyage (3 wives and 13 children). Close analysis of the Surgeon’s Report (Dr. Lynton) has identified 2 of the wives and 8 children) on a microfilm held by the Mitchell Library. I have asked the library to try and find the original report as it would seem that not all of the Surgeon’s report has been copied to microfilm….

The Thames carried 37 wives and 107 children. There were also 16 paying passengers and crew captained by Robert Frazier. Apart from the reference material referred to above which has produced a reasonably creditable passenger list, the internet resources, mainly the State Archives of NSW and the Society of Genealogy has been a valuable source of gathering initial data to make contact with the descendants of the passengers on the Thames…

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.

There is a grave in the Wollongong old Catholic cemetery:


As best as I can judge from this and this, it would appear this is someone who arrived, along with my great-great-great-great-grandfather Jacob Whitfield, on the Isabella 1 in 1822! That is the unexpected connection of my title, but there’s more! Seems there is also a connection to the Thames (1826)! That is the context for Bob Starling’s remarks above. Another contributor to that thread notes: “Mary and Catherine Smith were passengers on the “Thames” which also carried Mary and William Whitfield, children of Jacob Whitfield who had been transported on the “Isabella I” with William Smith.”

13a — Whitfields 1880s-1930s

This post fills in background in preparation for the next going back through my family story to 1885. Consider these reposts. Apologies for a degree of repetition from posts here recently:

Wollongong High’s centenary, my family history, WW1

In December is the 100th birthday of what is now Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts….

I taught there 1975-1980, with a hiatus for secondment to Sydney University 1977-1978. My Uncle Keith Christison and Aunt Beth Christison (Heard) went to WHS in the 1930s. I had an Uncle, Colin Whitfield, who was part of the founding intake. He was born in 1901, but I never met him.  This may be seen in Shellharbour Cemetery:


For the sad story behind these see Neil’s personal decades: 20 – Shellharbour Whitfields 1905 and Neil’s personal decades 26: Whitfields, Christisons, and more — 1915.

Family history and mystery–the Indigenous connection

…And this is my grandmother:


Henrietta Bursill (Whitfield) 1874-1931

That’s my father’s mother, who had a very sad life. According to stories my father and mother told me it is through Henrietta that the family has some Aboriginal ancestry, as I noted back in 2000-2001:

Now Henrietta has been something of a family secret; one story, told 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.

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…

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…

Update 18 July 2021

There are significant additions and corrections to Henrietta’s story at Family history and mystery–the Indigenous connection.

What a treasury of family history!

For the first time I have been over the last few days trawling through the recently digitised Kiama Independent on Trove checking Whitfield and Christison and other family-related names. I have far from finished my trawl, but what treasures I have already found!


That’s my grandfather, Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield, born in Picton NSW in 1867 (or 21 December 1866) and died in 1948. I can just remember him. By the way, he always dropped or denied the “Sweeney” bit as having “Daniel Sweeney” in his name was a rather too poignant reminder of the family’s origins.  When I wrote that some years ago I was still venting my anger with some aspects of old Tom’s treatment of my father in the past, even if the old Tom I remember vaguely was a fairly benign deaf octogenarian with white hair…

And here is something about Tom’s mother-in-law:


…her daughter, Henrietta, was Tom’s first wife. She had a hard life.



See also an account I gave some years back, one element of which is contradicted by the newspaper record. It seems Henrietta II died at home in Shellharbour.

There were five sons in my father’s family, and a daughter, Ella. The oldest son, Aubry (or Aubrey), died in 1906 at the age of twelve. Then another brother, Colin, died probably around 1915 at the age of about fourteen; I have heard this story, but am not sure of dates; I know when I was at school I used an algebra book belonging to Colin from around 1914 at Wollongong High. Information provided by Bob Starling in April 2005 has clarified this.

  • WHITFIELD Aubrey R 1893-1906 (13)
  • WHITFIELD Thomas W L (1906-1906)
  • WHITFIELD Colin C 1901-1915 (14)

So one died in infancy, and another accidentally. A third son died as a teenager nine years later. I was told one died in a riding accident, the other in a shooting accident. Certainly, my grandmother Henrietta went mad, and, among other things, chased my father round with an axe at one time, and another time tried to burn the house down. She died in Parramatta Asylum in 1931. Curiously, I was able to ascertain in the 1970s that she had died of tertiary syphilis, of GPI (General Paralysis of the Insane) as it was then called; my father was in the 1970s being checked for Huntington’s Chorea, an hereditary form of dementia, and this fact came to light. Fortunately it was also established that my father did not have this problem. Evidence for all this came from the specialist at Prince Henry Hospital who actually tracked down the doctor, still alive at the time, who had signed my grandmother’s death certificate.

It appears, from what I have been told, that my grandfather tended to blame his wife for the death of the first-born son, and that this compounded with the death of the second. Her decline into madness coincided with my father’s childhood and adolescence, but was not his only problem. My father was apparently quite a talented artist, and I have seen evidence of this from World War II, when he sent a number of sketches home from Papua. One was of a Scotch thistle and was drawn especially for my sister. There was a colony of well- known Sydney artists who frequented Shellharbour at that time and they encouraged his talent, and indeed wanted him to go back to Sydney with them. Well, his father was having none of that, and demanded that he destroy all his artworks and paraphernalia. He in fact hid a lot of it in a cave on Native Dog Hill (now Mount Warrigal), where it may well be to this day. He was also taken out of school at the minimum age, and apprenticed to his father. My father told me these stories at various times.

My mother tells me that even after she and my father married in 1935, my father had one day made a set of window frames involving some very fine finishing work. He was very proud of them and showed them to old Tom, who promptly told him they were shit, smashed them, and got him to start over. Later my mother, who refused to be cowed by the old man, said to Tom that they seemed good to her. “They were,” old Tom said. “They were fine, nothing wrong with them, but I don’t want him getting a big head.”

So after such childhood experiences, after such a family, after the Depression and the struggle to establish himself, after the Second World War, my father’s dreams in some ways died in the grave with my sister.

The stories there in the main came from my father and mother.


* Or was she? This whole Bursill business is getting complicated.  Until 28 June that is! Another newspaper, the Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal, has more detail in its obituary on Mrs Henrietta Bursill (Senior).


Certainly my grandfather Thomas was married to Hetty/Henrietta Bursill/Bursell who was born in the Kiama District in 1874 and died in 1931.  So Henrietta I (died 1921) is definitely my great-grandmother. I have also ascertained that she was married to Thomas R Bursill in Chippendale in 1858 and that her maiden name was Henrietta Woodley.

But is the story my mother and father told me true: that Henrietta II was born rather a long time after Thomas R Bursill died? Is this what Charlie Bursill apparently told my mother’s father Roy Christison around 1934-5, only to be rebuked good and proper by Roy H? (Think “tarbrush”.) The articles are vague, and openly available material online has not helped me out. I can’t find a year of death for Thomas R Bursill yet, but I do note that in 1872 Greville’s Post Office Directory of Shell Harbour only lists a Mrs Bursill as a farmer in Shell Harbour.  But this may be the clincher:


When you think about it, especially given the rather wonderful obituary Henrietta I scored in the Kiama Reporter, it is rather touching that she named this, her last and probably unexpected, child after herself. She seems to have been quite a woman!


Charles Bursill’s place in Shellharbour in 1895

“’Seaside’ was the home of the Bursill Family. Charles Bursill was the first and last harbour master at Shellharbour. He was a builder, carpenter, undertaker and Sunday school teacher actively involved with St Paul’s Church of England. The house site was formerly owned by Captain William Wilson. It was demolished and replaced by the Ocean Beach Hotel which opened in 1929.” – Shellharbour Images

But meanwhile I have found a nice court case from 1897. Henrietta II  is “Betty” there but that is obviously wrong. It concerns the proprietor of the Steam Packet Hotel**, Abraham Winsor, who was accused of shooting at James Dennis Condon with intent to murder. Henrietta was a witness.


** “Campbell Mercer built the Steam Packet Hotel in 1855 on land purchased from T A Reddall. Mercer leased the building to David Moon who obtained a Publican’s License and opened the Steam Packet Hotel in April 1856. The hotel was sold to Thomas Cosgrove in 1861 and was known locally as Cosgrove’s Inn. The hotel was a centre for social life and public meetings, as well as a base for travellers. The Condon Family owned the hotel from 1868 until the 1880s. The hotel continued under a succession of licensees until the early 1900s when it became Beazley’s General Store, followed by the Gethings Store. The building was demolished in the late 1970s.” – Shellharbour Images  I remember it as a store; almost certainly bought ice creams and soft drinks there! Seems, reading between the lines, there may have been reasons for a Condon to be shooting in the general direction of the proprietor of the Steam Packet in 1897!


The Steam Packet

19 – 1890s – T D Whitfield

Posted originally on February 2, 2015 by Neil

This series of posts is the most comprehensive I have done on family history. I am doing them backwards here so that in due course they will appear sequentially.

I have shown you this item before: “SWAN SONG” OF MR. T. D. WHITFIELD. Here is about half of it:


For more on the great fire of 1899 see Kiama Library.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, 1st October, 1899, a fire broke out that was to be the most extensive and destructive fire that had ever visited the township of Kiama and would change the face of Terralong Street forever.

The fire started in Wood Brothers general store and within minutes the place was ablaze. With the help of a strong southerly breeze, the fire soon spread to adjoining buildings and according to William H Bayley, author of Bluehaven: History of Kiama Municipality, “half the block of shops fronting Terralong Street from Collins Street towards Shoalhaven Street caught fire at 2 a.m. and was destroyed soon after dawn.”…

Fortunately there was no loss of life but 12 families were left homeless. Sixteen shops and the Royal Hotel were destroyed. Business people reopened businesses in sheds and all types of rooms and premises in other locations whilst their stores were rebuilt in brick….

I had noted the work my grandfather T D Whitfield did repairing Tory’s Hotel, which still stands. What escaped my notice is that it seems my grandfather built the Mount Kembla Hotel – now the oldest weatherboard hotel in the Illawarra (1898).

NOTE 30 Jan 2021: Been meaning to update this — rather than “built” it should be, I think, “painted and repaired” in the 1890s.



2010 – with Sirdan

See Sunday lunch–Mount Kembla Hotel (2010) and First Sunday out of cardiac ward: Mount Kembla Pub (2011). I then had no idea of my grandfather’s connection with the place. UPDATE: Built 1887, opened 1898. T D is ambiguous: he may have built it, or he may (presumably later) have “painted and repaired” as he did the Freemasons, which used to be on the corner of Crown and Keira Streets.

Finally from that rich memoir T D Whitfield left in the year of my birth, consider what he did at Bass Point for G L Fuller.


SS Dunmore and Bass Point Jetty

About this time, Mr. Fuller started large-scale reconstruction work at the quarry at Point Bass. I went there and erected the buildings, including an elevator to take the spawls back to be reduced. While I was on the job, a large sea washed about forty feet out of the centre of the jetty, so I undertook this job,which I consider was the most difficult I have ever done. The jetty was about ten feet wide, and about fifteen feet above the sea. I got a forty foot oregon girder and secured it crosswise to the land end of the broken part to tie guy ropes to, which supported the derrick pole. The latter had to lean over twenty feet to put the piles in place, also to lift the girders across to join the two. parts once more. I was congratulated on my ingenuity in this by the captain of the “Dunmore.” About the time that I finished the jetty, the foundation of the big hopper gave way, with about five hundred tons of metal in it. I raised it up to its original place with a number of hydraulic jacks, estimated to lift about fifty tons each. I gradually worked these a little at a time till I had it high enough to put fresh foundations, girders and piles, after which I gradually lowered it to the new system. It was a difficult and dangerous job, but it was accomplished, without accident; in fact, all through my career I was not instrumental in injuring  anyone. After I  left Mr. G. L. Fuller’s jobs, I did a lot of work for his sons, Mr. Archie Fuller, Dunmore, and  Mr.Bryan Fuller, barrister, Sydney. When I had left the quarry work,the Shellharbour Council called tenders for a new jetty at Shellharbour…

For more on Bass Point see NSW Environment Heritage.

By the 1840s, the colony was experiencing an economic depression and the large landholdings in the region were soon subdivided into smaller tenant farms. Provided rent-free for periods of up to six years, the land was leased to families for the purpose of clearing native vegetation and cultivating crops. Wheat and maize were popular early crops but soon proved to be susceptible to rust and ultimately financially unprofitable for the farmers. By the second half of the nineteenth century however, the dairy industry had been established and was proving to be a successful business for the small landholders in the region.

During this period, 2560 acres of Peterborough Estate (including Bass Point) had been sold by the Wentworth family to George Laurence Fuller who named the property ‘Dunmore Estate’. By 1880, Fuller had negotiated a mining venture and established a basalt ‘blue gold’ quarry to the south of Bass Point including the construction of a new 480-foot jetty to ship the quarried metal. Although the enterprise collapsed within two years, Fuller resumed operations as the proprietor and manager and, by 1890, business was booming. To support the industry, Fuller soon improved and extended the jetty to 500 feet and commissioned the construction of the SS Dunmore to transport the crushed basalt from Bass Point to the markets of Sydney.


Shellharbour Church of England 1890

22 – Whitfields 1915

Posted originally on February 14, 2015 by Neil

This series of posts is the most comprehensive I have done on family history. I am doing them backwards here so that in due course they will appear sequentially.

According to Joan Beaumont’s excellent Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War (2013):

On 6 August [1914], the British government asked the Australian and New Zealand governments to mount expeditions to capture the wireless stations in [German] Samoa, New Guinea, Nauru and Yap, in the Pelew Islands (Palau). Well aware of the strategic and  potential commercial importance of these German colonies, the Australians quickly cobbled together an expeditionary force of some 1000 infantry, 500 naval reservists, and signals and medical personnel. In command was a militia officer, Colonel William Holmes… The navy, whose role in World War I is often overlooked, provided support in the form of the Australia, the new light cruiser Sydney, the cruiser Encounter (on loan from the Royal Navy), three destroyers, Warrego, Parramatta and Yarra, and Australia’s only two submarines, AE1 and AE2.

My father’s cousin Norman Whitfield, then living in Wollongong, was a member of that expedition. I have posted about him several times, including 1914-1918, One hundred years ago or thereabouts…, More Whitfield family history.

My father’s cousin, Norman Harold Whitfield.

I recently found on Trove an item from the South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus 12 March 1915: “On Tuesday evening the N.W. L.S.and S. Club [North Wollongong Surf Club] entertained their club members of the New Guinea expedition who have returned to Wollongong at a welcome social. Alderman Lance, President of the Club, presided. The guests of the evening were J. Young, J. Mitchell, N.. Whitfield, G. Walklate, A. Hosking, A. K. Tregear….” (I always find it odd seeing what could be my own name like that!)



NOTE: Norman Whitfield went on to win the Military Cross and bar; I also note 17 May 1917 “WOLLONGONG, Wednesday. Captain Geo. Walklate, who won the Military Cross at the Somme, arrived home last night and was accorded a civic reception in the Town Hall.” See Illawarra Volunteers.

Norman Whitfield had a brother, Thomas Harold Whitfield, also in that New Guinea expedition? Or is that an error?

See also Illawarra Boys in the AN-MEF – first action of WW1 – New Guinea. See Norman Whitfield’s paperwork on Discovering Anzacs: he seems to be the same age as that Thomas. The family tree lists as siblings: Stanley Thomas Whitfield (b. 1888), Elsie Sophia W (b. 1890), Norman Harold W (b. 1896) and Keith Frederick W (b. 1902). No Thomas Harold. 

That mystery I cleared up in a later post.

The matter of Thomas Harold Whitfield was taken up by Kerrie Anne Christian of the Bulli History site Black Diamonds, whose post “Illawarra Boys in the AN-MEF…” I referred to last time. It does seem clear that Thomas Harold and Norman Harold are one and the same – for starters they share the same number, 684.


25 – more on WW1 soldier Norman Whitfield

Posted originally on February 17, 2015 by Neil

This series of posts is the most comprehensive I have done on family history. I am doing them backwards here so that in due course they will appear sequentially.

My father’s cousin, as you may recall. In my last post about him I wrote:

Norman Whitfield went on to win the Military Cross and bar; I also note 17 May 1917 “WOLLONGONG, Wednesday. Captain Geo. Walklate, who won the Military Cross at the Somme, arrived home last night and was accorded a civic reception in the Town Hall.” See Illawarra Volunteers.

Norman Whitfield had a brother, Thomas Harold Whitfield, also in that New Guinea expedition? Or is that an error?

See also Illawarra Boys in the AN-MEF – first action of WW1 – New Guinea. See Norman Whitfield’s paperwork on Discovering Anzacs: he seems to be the same age as that Thomas. The family tree lists as siblings: Stanley Thomas Whitfield (b. 1888), Elsie Sophia W (b. 1890), Norman Harold W (b. 1896) and Keith Frederick W (b. 1902). No Thomas Harold.

The matter of Thomas Harold Whitfield was taken up by Kerrie Anne Christian of the Bulli History site Black Diamonds, whose post “Illawarra Boys in the AN-MEF…” I referred to last time. It does seem clear that Thomas Harold and Norman Harold are one and the same – for starters they share the same number, 684.


Under the name of Thomas Harold we are told he is 20 as at 11 August 1914. So he lied about his age there; maybe also that is the reason for calling himself Thomas! He was actually 17.  In Norman Harold Whitfield’s paperwork is a note from his mum:


So maybe that set things right. Later on the occasion of Norman’s rather bizarre and untimely death in 1950, the Illawarra Mercury reported:


During World War 2 he became Director-General of recruiting. Broken Hill’s Barrier Miner carried a profile of him in 1941.


He had been in that cause even before the war, as this picture from 1938 shows.


So there he is seated at the table in the photo on the left. Finally, I might just mention a connection with Bulli that he probably would rather have forgotten…


Illawarra Mercury 21 June 1929

Some items of interest about Norman Harold Whitfield’s connection with the Australian People’s Party are 6 July 1929 and 18 September 1929. He was its president. He was also in 1935 Captain of The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney.

In response:

Neil, it was wonderful to assist in your uncovering more information of Norman. He, like a number of Wollongong boys, was quick to enlist in WW1 in August 1914. Initially serving with the AN & MEF in New Guinea, before he re-enlisted in 1915, to serve in other theatres, demonstrating leadership and bravery, so rising through the ranks. You must be very proud of him. Kerrie Anne Christian. President Black Diamond Heritage Centre Bulli & Illawarra Family History Group.