The Douglas Archives

A collection of historical and genalogical records

My branch of the Douglas family. Part 1.

Hello readers,

Well, after years of research and frustrating roadblocks I have finally pieced together my first article documenting my branch of the Douglas family. This is only part 1, I'm sure in time I'll add more to the story and what I'm documenting here has been a remarkable personal journey. 

I hope for the reader you may find some take away advice if you're currently or planning to do research into your own family history. I am not a genealogical researcher by any stretch of the imagination, but as an amateur researcher I hope you can find some sound advice to prepare you for your own journey. 

So, sit back, and enjoy the story. 

Tracing our ancestors. 

My primary focus up to this point has been on my ‘paternal’ side, and follow a direct line back up the tree as far as I could go. Trust me, it’s no easy feat. I’ll move onto the ‘maternal’  hopefully by the end of the year. What I do know about my mothers side of the tree is that her paternal family line can be traced back to 1649. That’s thanks largely to people who I have no idea who they are that have shared their research online. 

I was given a pretty good head-start when I began this project thanks to my mothers own research that I inherited from her. Also, being the history nerd that I am I’ve been interested in our genealogy for quite a long time, starting with an interest in our clan name and our origins.

The sad events that has impacted our family over recent years has compelled me to start recording everything we know before all that information is lost forever and at the very least provide information about our history that we can pass down to future generations.

Firstly, let’s examine the name ‘Douglas’ and how it came to be. From there we can gather an understanding about our origins.

The following is a research article I wrote and had published online last year. All the information is gathered from official sources and lays the foundation to start from a beginning.


To everyone who is familiar with our clan history, it is impossible to pinpoint exactly when the family name ‘Douglas’ started. Although the ‘where’ is comfortably beyond dispute.

Let’s examine the name ‘Douglas’.

‘Douglas’ in modern translation, is actually two ancient Gaelic words that have merged together to create a name. ‘Douglas’ originates in Scottish Gaelic; ‘dubh‘ means ‘Black’ or ‘Dark’ and ‘ghlas’ meaning ‘water’, ‘stream’ or ‘river’.

There is only one body of water in Scotland that bares the old name ‘dubh ghlas’ and that is ‘Douglas Water’ – Scottish Gaelic today names it  ‘Dùghlas’.

Dùghlas (Douglas Water) is a river, a tributary of the River Clyde that flows entirely through South Lanarkshire, Scotland.

Located on the banks of Dùghlas are the ancient villages of ‘Douglas‘ and nearby ‘Douglas Water‘; both of these villages and their associated river lay within a valley known as ‘Douglasdale’. It is widely accepted from every source on this subject, that the area around Dùghlas is the area that the family name and Clan Douglas was born.

The use of ‘fixed’ or ‘surnames’ is relatively new in human history, surnames only started to appear in Scottish history from the 10th century and still wasn’t used with any consistency until the 16th century.

Prior to the common use of surnames, and in some cases right up until the early 19th century in some parts of Scotland people were simply given a single name (or a ‘given name’). The use of a ‘surname’ or a ‘fixed’ name added to a ‘given’ name at birth was dependent on territory or location, occupation or relational (adding the fathers name to one’s own given name – such as, ‘Caitlin of Douglas’).

Originally fixed names where used along with the words like ‘of the’ or simply ‘of’. These were inserted between the given and surnames. It was done so a person could identify themselves by name and location, in my instance, ‘Andrew of Douglas’; or in Scots Gaelic, ‘Anndra de Dùghlas’. ‘De’ in Scottish Gaelic means ‘of’ in English – a word within a name used again in history repeatedly, usually to link the two names together to explain the person’s location, occupation or relation.

Given the meaning of the name ‘dubh ghlas’ is derived from a physical location it is reasonable to assume that at some point between the 7th and 11th centuries when surnames started to be used, a family took the name of the river that flowed through their land. In those early days it was only the nobility or people who actually owned the land could adopt a fixed name or surname to their given name.

So the first recorded use of Douglas as a surname appeared in 1198 by William de Douglas, First Lord of Douglas. His descendants also adopted Douglas as a fixed name because of their right of nobility. These owners of lands became known as Clan Chiefs, the head of the name whose clan represents.

As the clan system evolved many people who lived within the clan lands were not related to the Chief and only took the chief’s surname as their own to either show solidarity, loyalty, obtain basic protection or for much needed sustenance. These were harsh times, so belonging to a community as we know it today means a matter of survival.

In time many people took the chief’s surname as their own because they didn’t possess a surname of their own and as surnames came into common use in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries so too did the need for shared identity and descent. Eventually authorities and society itself insisted on given and surnames for all individuals for identity reasons.

By the eighteenth century the myth had arisen that the whole clan was descended from one ancestor, with the Gaelic word ‘clann’ meaning ‘children’ or ‘offspring’. Unfortunately this is not true and it’s near on impossible to pinpoint ancestors beyond the 17th century where surnames were not in common use; unless you’re among the lucky few descended from nobility whose names appear in historic records going right back to medieval times.


In what will become evident later on in this piece there are the spelling variations to our name. During the middle ages, spelling and translation were not yet regulated by any general rules. Spelling variations in names were common even among members of one family unit. Douglas has appeared Duglas, Douglass, Dougliss, Dougless, Dowglas, Duglas, Duglass and many more.

The reason for the variations could be explained through the lack of general education at the time, particularly the skill of spelling. In times gone by, indeed even today, people would write a name as it sounded or is pronounced. Some of the Douglas spelling variants still exist today, although in far less numbers than the officially accepted spelling of the name. 

In summary, at some point in our distant past, perhaps sometime around the 17th  or 18th century an ancestor of mine adopted the name ‘Douglas’ to his given name for the reasons outlined in my article. Unfortunately pinpointing who exactly that was and when is going to be a very difficult task.

So to begin the journey of family research I needed to start at the earliest known (and least known) paternal ancestor, and that start point begins from when my forefather arrived in Australia. In what ‘should’ have been a fairly simple process turned into years of frustrating research to find the truth, but a remarkable journey nonetheless. Let me explain:

Let the evidence tell the story.

To any researcher, validating information provided is crucial to uncovering true events. This evidence is either documented or through eye-witness accounts. Of course eye-witness accounts are impossible when researching information that is over 160 years old and this information when passed down over the generations, otherwise known as ‘oral history’ is unreliable at best. The truth can very easily be blurred in the mists of time or indeed even covered up to conceal a deep, dark family secret. Something that is not uncommon in societies of the past.

I decided to begin from our origins in the UK and work forward from there to present day, and also to use that start point in the UK for a journey further into the past. Tantalising clues provided through Mums research indicated that my Great Grandfather Edward Douglas was born in Birmingham, England in 1824. His father was named ‘James Douglas’ from ‘Maidenhead’, Scotland, and from what I could gather through my mothers records James was born about 1800. Unfortunately there is no record of Edwards’ mother or any record of any siblings.

I could only assume that this information was verbally passed down over the years and my mother only recorded what was told to her. I hadn’t seen or heard of any evidence existing that confirms what she recorded.

So when I started out researching, I was immediately hit with a road block and found it impossible to pinpoint exactly the details surrounding my Great, Great Grandfather James. For starters ‘Maidenhead’ does not exist in Scotland – it is a city to the west of London. Unless the information is incorrect or blurred over time the location of James ‘could’ be at a town called ‘Maidens’ or around the vicinity of a small coastal cove called ‘Maidenhead Bay’. Both of these locations are on Scotland’s lower west coast. This could make sense as the lowlands and borders of Scotland is the location of the Douglas clan lands and the Douglas name features heavily throughout these regions.

But, to dig any deeper I need more information, which is something I just did not have or could find. Also, to research archives from that period I can only rely on Parish records. The British government didn’t start archiving records until 1837. So the discovery of any written record from half a world away that clearly identified both Edward and his father James is next to impossible in the absence of more detailed and accurate information.

It is possible to search Parish records online, a lot has been digitised by now, but to do that costs a lot of time and money. Then of course there is that chance that the records I need may not even be available online yet. So in any event hours of labouring over any records I could find online did not provide any fruit.

To compound matters further the information my mother provided about Edward’s arrival in Australia proved to be false. She recorded – and I don’t know where the information came from – that Edward arrived in Australia about 1851 as a free settler aboard the migrant ship Malacca.

While it was true that there was an Edward Douglas aboard this ship, he was accompanying his brother ‘John Douglas’. This seemed to corroborate an oral history suggesting that a group of Douglas brothers decided to immigrate to Australia, but at the last minute one of them changed his mind and migrated to Canada instead.

As I researched this particular Edward Douglas I learned that his brother John later went on to become a politician and eventually the Premier of the Colony of Queensland. Port Douglas in far north Queensland is named in his honour.

I happily announced my findings to the world only for a short time later a descendent of John Douglas contacted me and informed me that I have the wrong ‘Edward Douglas’. I verified what she said by validating my findings and learned that this Edward Douglas actually sailed back to Scotland after a failed business venture with his brother in NSW.

This man was not our Edward. Our forefather was proving to be somewhat of an enigma and I was back to square one trying to figure him out. To complicate matters further, I now lost confidence that Edward’s father was indeed named ‘James’ or that he had any connection with ‘Maidenhead’.

I was a bit perplexed that we held a belief for so many years that this particular Edward Douglas was our Great Grandfather who migrated to Australia. I suppose it could have been a simple mistake, before the age of the information super-highway, piecing together a family tree across generations and continents was an almost impossible task for someone without the right skills. Or could it be that this was a deliberate attempt at a cover-up?

For months endless trawling of family history and social history websites brought me no closer to the truth. I was well and truly stumped with what little incomplete and incorrect information I had to go on and was just about ready to give up. That was until I was asked for the umpteenth time as to who my ancestor was that came to Australia; I then finally reprised my old account and began to dig again.

A breakthrough!

Much to my delight my cousin, Peter Douglas, also held an ancestry account and through his good work the case of ‘Edward the Enigma’ was cracked!

Most shockingly I learned that my Great, Grandfather was a convict!

The investigative mind in me was a bit perplexed that there is nothing concrete that links our Edward Douglas to a convict past. Just a name; but on the strong balance of probabilities he is our man. And I should point out that there are just three convicts recorded on a complete convict database that bears the name Edward Douglas, all three of them arrived in Australia between 1839 and 1852. Only one of them came from Birmingham.

The only evidence I had to go on was the records that were uncovered identified him by name, birthplace and approximate birth year which came very close to corroborating some of the information we already have, importantly, his place of birth (Birmingham). Also further corroboration came from another genealogical researcher who described him as an ‘emancipated convict’.

What have been most frustrating are the inconsistencies in relation to his birth year. My mother, my cousin Peter and at least one other researcher pins his year of birth as 1824; however through my own research I have found that this could not be right. Through records uncovered I can pinpoint his birth year to be 1821.

So, with the limited information that I have that ties Edward to a convict past, but with the circumstantial evidence that I have uncovered, I am confident that I am on the right track and the man I am about to record here is our Great Grandfather Edward Douglas.

Tracing Edward.

I can confirm that Edward was born in the Birmingham area; I know this through records that I’ll provide here in which this information can only be provided by Edward himself. It’s also recorded in family research papers held by my mother that Edward was born in Birmingham as well as through every other researcher I have been in contact with. Although the accuracy of Mums research papers is cast in a shadow of doubt, I’m reasonably confident that at least his birthplace is accurate. Armed with the information on a convict database there is only one Edward Douglas transported to Australia who was recorded as being born in Birmingham and his birth year is close to what we already knew.

Birmingham was the epicentre of the Industrial Revolution in the UK.  As early as 1791 Birmingham was being described by the economist Arthur Young as "the first manufacturing town in the world".

By the turn of the 18th century the city was considered 'the greatest industrial city in the world', 'the city of a thousand trades' and the 'fastest-growing city of the 19th century'. Spurred on by a combination of civic investment, scientific achievement, and commercial innovation a steady influx of migrant workers into its suburbs made Birmingham the place to be.

Although the country and in particular Birmingham was riding on an unprecedented boom, life for the working class was still very poor. Wages were intolerably low, working conditions were brutal and the rapid expansion of the city population created overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions. In the absence of any public education, health care or welfare, petty crime rose.

We have very limited information about Edwards’s father or his family. We don’t know what life was like for them. But we do know that the city they resided in was awash with industry, mixed with abstract poverty. Through educated guessing and historical research of that particular time period, I’m reasonably confident in the knowledge that Edwards family were living through very tough times, even though they worked in trade industries.

Unfortunately for our forefather (or in hindsight, fortunately for his descendants – depending which way you look at it), Edward was caught up in petty crime. We don’t know what life was like for him exactly but going by historical records of the time he must have experienced a difficult early life. Sadly a hard life would not ease on him throughout his days.  

By 1838 Edward was in trouble with the law. He was convicted of ‘Larceny’ (theft) at the County of Warwickshire (of which Birmingham falls within). But amazingly, in a time when criminal punishments were harsh, the Magistrate must have taken pity on Edward and only sentenced him to 14 days.

Edward is listed at the bottom. Note the year of publication compared to his age listed. This information pinpoints his birth year to be 1821.

This early form of ‘scaring them straight’ – a modern-day program for young offenders to dissuade them from a life of crime, didn’t work out well for Edward.

On the 27th of October 1838 the Birmingham Journal reported:

Edward Douglas and William Williams were charged with entering and robbing the dwelling house of Mr. Downs, of Northwood Street.

Mr Downs stated that, on the morning of the 17th last, he left home and did not return until evening, when he found the front door of his house open, and no one within. He went upstairs and discovered that a box in his bedroom had been broken open, and the contents, consisting of a quantity of wearing apparel, had been stolen. Information was given at the pawnbrokers’ shops; and on the following day the prisoner Douglas went to the shop of Mrs Parker, in Bartholomew Street, and offered a woman’s cloak, his property, in pledge.

Mrs Parker, knowing from the hand-bill she had received, that the article had been stolen, detained it and gave the prisoner into custody.

Hall, the officer stated that when Douglas was brought into the prison, he asked him where he got the cloak; upon which he told him that he received it from Prisoner Williams, who gave it to him to pledge. He then apprehended Williams, who acknowledged that he did give it to Douglas, and said he found it in the street.

The prisoners were committed to the sessions.’

It’s clear by these repeat offences Edward must have been doing it tough to survive, as did many people throughout the UK and they found themselves chained up in ships, exiled from their native land for the benefit of the Empire.

The following record details Edward’s conviction. On both of the records provided the place of birth is recorded as Birmingham, it can only be reasonably assumed that Edward himself provided this information to the record keeper.

This record displays Edwards conviction, his mate William Williams didn’t receive as a harsh penalty as Edward; probably because this was his first-time offence.

And so, it was recorded on New Year’s Day 1839 Edward was imprisoned for ten years, and on 31 July he was transported as a convict to the colony of New South Wales aboard the transport ship ‘Barossa’. He arrived at Port Jackson on 8 December 1839.

The images provided here is of a convict indenture that provides for a fascinating description of my forefather.

It can be difficult to read the images above, so to start from the top image the following is recorded:

Convict number: 237. Full name: Douglas, Edward. Age: 19. Read or Write? Read. Religion: Protestant. Marital status: Single. Place of birth: Birmingham. Occupation: Blacksmith. Offence: Housebreaking. Court: Warwick Quarter Session.

The second image provides the following information: Date of conviction: 1 January 1839. Sentence: 10 years. Previous sentence: 14 days. Height: 5 feet, 5 1/4 inches. Complexion: Ruddy. Hair colour: Brown. Eye colour: Hazel.  Description: ‘Large scar over left ear, small scar outside left eye, anchor on upper right arm, M heart, D on back of right wrist’ (?), nine dots inside same, blue ring on middle finger of right hand.

We can only have faith that the information provided on this record is as close to the truth as possible. The first thing I want to point out is that this record was created in 1839. Edward provided his age as 19, he skipped a whole year since his last conviction the year before in 1838 where he is recorded as 17.

So if Edward was truthful about his age at the time of this record then his birth year can now be confirmed without a doubt to be about 1820 - 1821.

Another interesting piece of information was his occupation; a Blacksmith. Either he was an apprentice or a qualified Blacksmith it can’t be confirmed but for a trade that was in such high demand at the time it seems strange that he would turn to crime. Particularly breaking into someone’s house and stealing clothes.

Considering that there is no further record discovered since his arrival in Australia that describes his employment as a Blacksmith I hold reservations that this information provided on his indenture record is accurate.

But what I found most interesting what his description. The young man appeared to be a fairly tough character with a number of scars, tattoos and a ‘ruddy’ appearance. This indicates to me that he was living rough in the West Midlands. But what I found most intriguing was his tattoos. 

An anchor indicating an interest in sailing perhaps and what do the letters M and D mean to him that required tattooing to his wrist? And the nine dots within the same tattoo, what’s that about? So many questions to ask that sadly can never be answered. 

Upon his conviction at Warwick Quarter Sessions Edward was conveyed to the Prison Hulk ‘Fortitude’, located at Chatham to the south east of the country. The Fortitude was formerly known as HMS Cumberland, a 74-gun warship of the Royal Navy and was launched in 1807. She was converted to a Prison Hulk in 1830 and was renamed the Fortitude in 1833.

Living conditions for the prisoners aboard a Prison Hulk.

The following image provides for his record aboard the Fortitude.

In summary, Edward boarded the Fortitude on 8 February 1839, over a month after his conviction and remained aboard her until July 1839. It is well documented that the reason why former ships were used as prisons was because of the overcrowding in British prisons. This was a direct result of the extreme poverty experienced in the UK along with a very strict criminal law. Some suggest that the reason for the strict laws was to disperse the population throughout the empire through prison transportation to the British colonies. 

At the age of 18, Edward found himself locked up in an overcrowded, unsanitary and unsafe environment of a prison hulk. The experience must have been terrifying.

Going further back in time

For years our family was led to believe that Edward’s father was named James. But, there is absolutely no evidence to confirm his name. No one really knows how the name James Douglas came to be identified as Edward’s father and I can now confidently claim that I have discovered the true name of our ancestor. 

With the information we now we have on Edward as a start point we can confirm that Edward Douglas was born in Birmingham about 1820 or 1821. So I did a search for births on and I was given a return of two possible candidates at the top of the list. These are the only two with the name ‘Edward Douglas’, being born in Birmingham about 1820-21. One of them died in infancy.  

So it is recorded in the England and Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Register that our most likely candidate is Edward Douglas, born on 20th March 1821, Baptised on the 8th of April 1821 at Carrs Lane, an Independent Chapel in Birmingham.

In that document Edwards father is named William Douglas and his mother is named Hannah Douglas.  

Now we have the names of our most likely ancestors. I did another search for the marriage of William and Hannah and I found that our Great, Great Grandfather William Douglas married Hannah Bacon on the 18th of June 1820 at St Martin Church of England in Birmingham, in the presence of Matthew Douglas and Samuel Wright.

The information I found here tells me that my hunch was right and Edward was born into a poor family living in harsh conditions. I demonstrate this by William and Hannah’s marriage entry where Hannah signed her name with an ‘X’. This indicates that she was unable to write, a sad reflection on women at the time, indeed most people were not afforded an education in the lower classes.

Secondly where Edward was Baptised, Carrs Lane Chapel, when researching historical records of the site it was described follows: ‘It lay between Carrs Lane and New Meeting Street, shut in by buildings on all sides and surrounded with about forty families of paupers'.

I have since been able to verify my findings with researchers in the UK who have validated this information and even provided more tantalising clues going deeper into our past. The work they have done in a short period of time has been incredible, and they have provided startling discoveries I never thought would be possible.

A clue to dig deeper

I was intrigued to learn that one of the witnesses to William and Hannah’s wedding was a Matthew Douglas. I have been able to confirm that Matthew was a brother to William. Matthew was born on Christmas Day 1793 at Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire. His brother, our Great-Great Grandfather, William was born on the 9th of October 1796 at the same town.  

Through contacts in the UK researching Parish records I can now confirm that Matthew and William’s parents, our Great, Great, Great Grandparents, were Edward and Frances Douglas. Edward’s occupation was recorded as a ‘Patten Ring Maker’, it sounds like a Jewellers job, but in fact it is a kind of shoe maker. Pattens were rough wooden clogs with high heels, or heel attachments, they were an early version of ‘safety boots’.  A patten maker is also someone who constructs the mould assembly in metal works. Interestingly, research has revealed that there were two brothers, Edward and William; both were Patten Ring Makers and both married two sisters, Frances and Mary Wright. Edward married Frances in 1790 and William married Mary in 1799.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to establish if our Great, Great, Great Grandparents Edward and Frances had any more children other than William and Matthew, it’s likely they did, but we’re yet to find any more information. I’m also unable to pinpoint any more information about Edward and Frances. That’s something I’ll work on later. But to complicate matters the spelling variation for our line here is spelled as ‘Duglas’ in some Parish records. A feat mercifully not repeated since the birth of William in 1796.

Sometime before 1820 William and Matthew moved 30 miles away to Birmingham. Both of the lads took up the family trade of Patten Ring Maker but later William was recorded as an ‘Augur Maker Journeyman’. I had absolutely no idea what that even is and after a bit of research I can best establish that he made carpenters drill bits. A trade that is now long extinct, but it was interesting to find out what the trade name actually meant considering the word ‘Augur’ has so many different meanings.

While I have been in contact with researchers over in the UK through a forum and found that after Hannah and William were married in 1820, they were living in Bailey Street, Birmingham, and there Hannah died in May 1823. Hannah was born in 1796, making her 27 when she passed away. I don’t know the cause of death; my instinct tells me that she may have died during child birth, which was common at the time and is something that I will follow up. She was buried in St. Mary’s, Birmingham. Our Great Grandfather Edward was just two years old when his mother passed away and as far as I know he and his father remained (possibly with help from Matthew). Unfortunately St Mary’s was demolished in 1925 to make way for a hospital and Hannah’s remains were reinterred at an unknown location elsewhere in the Parish.

Bailey Street is flanked on either side by tightly packed townhouses. Viewing the street today it’s not too hard to imagine that the scene would be very similar to the early 1800’s, but probably much more crowded.

Through the same research forum I did learn of William’s fate. At some time after Hannah passed away William remarried to a lady by the name of ‘Anne’ and they had two sons and two daughters; Eliza, John, William and Mary Ann and were living in Pritchett St, Birmingham. This information was obtained through the 1841 census.

William died late in December 1847, he was still living in Pritchett Street. His cause of death is unknown for now, and he was recorded as aged 58. This would pinpoint his birth year to be about 1791, however according to a researcher his birth year is recorded on a Parish record as 9 October 1796. He was living literally stone-throws away from the city centre. I’m assuming this was an industrial area because observing Google Street View, there isn’t anything left from his day but the industrial zone is still very much there. William was buried at St Paul, Birmingham on 2 January 1848. 

The age and location of this William appears to be correct, but in the absence of any further evidence that he is our Great, Great Grandfather it is not possible for now to confirm. As you can imagine corroborating evidence from almost 200 years ago is a very hard task. To complicate matters further not all records have been digitised and uploaded online, so I am certain there is more to discover, all in good time.

However, William’s son, John, it looks like he may be the easiest to trace. He was a thimble maker and married a Harriet Davis on 17 Aug 1857 at St Jude's. I’ll follow-up enquiries about this in the hope we may find surviving relatives alive today.

So for now, I am at a roadblock to research further back into our Paternal past, the earliest known record for now is our Great, Great, Great Grandfather Edward marrying Frances in 1790. More will be revealed in time I’m sure and I will update you as information comes in. But for now, I’m able to piece together a rough paternal family tree armed with the information I gathered. The following starts from our Grandfather to our 4X Grandfather.

My focus now is to trace our Great Grandfather Edwards’s movements in Australia. Tracing the family he left behind will have to come later as time allows.   

Convict times.

Finding records of his time as a convict in Australia has been hard to come by. Amazingly, the only record I can find on Edward through the New South Wales State Archives is his Ticket of Leave.

So, the only thing that I have to go on is through known history of convict servitude in the colonies during this period. But timing could not have been worse for Edward. Just over one year on from Edward’s conviction Queen Victoria signed an order ceasing convict transportation to New South Wales on 22 May 1840.

However, what we do know is that Edward sailed to New South Wales aboard the Barossa in August 1839 and through the excellent work by Jen Willetts’ research into convict ships; I can share the following with you that explains his arrival here in greater detail.


The Barossa was built in Bengal in 1811. She made six voyages for the British East India Company; during this period she also made one voyage carrying immigrants to South Africa. After the East India Company gave up its maritime activities in 1833-1834, Barossa became a transport. She made three voyages transporting convicts to Australia. She was lost in 1847, without loss of life, while transporting coolies from Madras to Jamaica.

The prisoners embarked on the Barossa were convicted in counties in England and Scotland - Warwick, Birmingham, Buckinghamshire, Gloucester, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Wiltshire, Lancashire and Middlesex. Crimes ranged from picking pockets and insubordination to highway robbery and manslaughter.  They were transferred from city and county gaols to various prison Hulks to await transportation

A number of prisoners who were tried at the Old Bailey on 17th September 1838 were received on to the Fortitude hulk at Chatham from Newgate prison on 2nd October 1838 and transferred to the Barossa on 26th July 1839.

Sixteen year old James Cotterell had been convicted of stealing from the person on 16th October 1838 in Staffordshire. He was received on to the Ganymede hulk on 14th December where he was described as having bad habits and connexions, a sullen disposition and had been convicted four times before. He was transferred to the Barossa on 22 July 1839.

James Cotterell was one of five prisoners under the age of 16 the others being David Agg (15), William Bradshaw (16), John Keefe (15) and John Moore (15).

The Barossa sailed from Sheerness on 3rd August 1839. This was her first voyage to Australia, having embarked a total of 336 male convicts, a 31-strong military guard along with their wives and children and free passengers consisting of a family of four.  Two convicts and a child to one of the military guards died during the voyage.

The Barossa arrived in Port Jackson on 8 December 1839. The convicts were landed at the dockyard and marched to Hyde Park Barracks on Friday 13th December. Two or three who were sick were conveyed in hand barrows.

They were inspected by Governor Sir George Gipps at the Barracks where His Excellency delivered to them the usual address upon the occasion.

Two weeks later, the Australasian Chronicle reported that the convicts who arrived by the Barossa were removed on Monday 16th December to the Cook's River station, and Mr. Jones, late Assistant Chief constable of Sydney was appointed superintendent of the works which were in progress there.

They may have been set to work on the Cook's River Dam. This was a project to build a Dam to supply fresh water to Sydney. The Dam has since been demolished but it was located on the Cooks River nearby to the present day International Airport. The Princess Highway Bridge crossing at the Cooks River is the approximate location of the Dam. 


What we do know is that Edward only served five out of his ten year sentence. Would this indicate that he may have been on good conduct and this secured him an early parole?

He was granted a ‘ticket of leave’ on the 18th of June 1844 and was ‘allowed to remain in the district of Mudgee’.

What’s interesting about Edward being in Mudgee is that on 1 January 1839, the very day Edward was convicted back in England, the New South Wales Governor ceased the assignment of convicts to regional towns throughout the colony. So how did Edward end up in Mudgee?

One possibility is that he may have been assigned to a farmer in the area, which could explain Edwards later occupation in farming.

A Ticket of Leave is a permission to the individual to employ himself for his own benefit, and to acquire property, (this did change) on condition of residing within the district therein specified; of presenting himself and producing his Ticket before the Magistrates at the periods prescribed by the regulations; and of attending Divine Worship weekly if performed within a reasonable distance. But he is not allowed to remove to another district without the express sanction of Government entered on the face of his Ticket; the Ticket itself is liable to be resumed at any time at the pleasure of the Governor; and, in that case, the individual reverts to the situation of a prisoner of the Crown in every respect.

This record gives us a tantalising clue as to his whereabouts in the colony. Mudgee at the time was a tiny village serving vast farming estates staffed by convicts who were charged with farming chores to the wealthy landowners. Others were tasked to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Clearly Edward was not seen as a risk and his conduct must have been at a level that he could be trusted to do his sentence with minimum supervision. This could only explain his early ticket of leave. In those days it was a form of parole and the convict had to apply for a ticket of leave at the local courthouse in the location where they were assigned.

Life after Convict times

We don’t know his movements immediately after his release. He was sentenced to ten years, so maybe he had to remain in the Mudgee area until 1849 at least to see out his time. I did find an entry in the NSW Register of Pardons (1842 – 1845) via indicating that he was pardoned in 1845. However, as the record shows it doesn’t necessarily indicate the exact date of his pardon. Considering that this Pardon register is dated between 1842 to 1845, and that Edward was granted his Ticket of Leave in 1844, then it is reasonable to assume that Edward was pardoned in 1845.

So the best guess we have is that Edward remained in Mudgee after his Ticket of Leave for at least one year. Unfortunately for the next 12 years there is no further record found on Edward, so we have no idea where he was or what he did to get by.

The best source of information to trace Edwards movements would be census records, but sadly in 1882 a fire destroyed the New South Wales census records for 1846, 1851, 1856, 1861, 1871 and 1881, including the detailed household forms from 1861, 1871 and 1881.  So a wealth of information went up in smoke and no doubt it has been a bane to every researcher ever since.

There is a more of information out there from various sources, and in time it will be found.


The next time Edward appears on the radar is in 1857.

Though perseverance what I have found is an index to deeds dated 1857 where Edward is recorded three times possessing land at Bendemeer. The ‘R’ represents the term ‘Rood’ which is a measure of land area equal to a quarter of an acre. So on the deed listed below Edward was in possession of about 1 ½ acres.  

But why Bendemeer? Why did he move from Mudgee to the Tamworth area? One possible clue could be that nearby Tamworth could have provided him with some tangible reminder of the home he was exiled. I refer you to a map of the Birmingham area and there is a town north east of the city called ‘Tamworth’. It seems too much of a coincidence to ignore.

The area that we now know as Bendemeer was fist settled by Europeans in 1834 when a sheep station was set up near the banks of the McDonald River that flows through the site. A small settlement at the river crossing for the northern road was initially called ‘McDonald River’ but it was changed to ‘Bendemeer’ in 1854.

Bendemeer became a stop-over for travellers making their way north (or south) along the Great North Road between Armidale/Uralla to the north and Tamworth to the south. Of course during Edward’s time the Great North Road was nothing more than a rough track.

We now know that Edward took up a number of land selections in or near the village in 1856, thanks to an entry in a local historical record. And it appears that years later he again selected a larger piece of land and called it ‘Douglas Park’.

A year or so after arriving in Bendemeer Edward met, fell in love and married Susannah Miller on 26 July 1859. Their happiness was cut short when tragically their first born died the following year.

Not much is known about Susannah, other than she was born in Kent, England in 1838. She was the eldest of three daughters to Richard and Susannah Miller. Sadly the middle child died at childbirth. Susannah, her little sister Harriet and her parents are believed to have migrated to Australia sometime in the early 1850’s and settled at Bendemeer.

We don’t really know a lot about Edward and Susannah’s life, other than what’s already well documented in local historical records. From what we could establish Edward only held small selections of land, clearly too small to hold large numbers of livestock. On an historical record he was mentioned as a ‘Gardiner’, so perhaps he grew crops.

Despite the sad loss of their first child Eliza, Edward and Susanna founded a huge family starting with Betsy in 1861 (tragically died in 1864), Edward (1864 – 1941), Alice (1867 – 1941), Robert (1871 – 1944), William (1872 – 1941), Joseph (1874 – 1951), George, my Grandfather (1877 – 1936), Frank 1879 – 1930 and finally Alfred (1881 – 1943). Most of their kids went on to have big families of their own and today it’s near on impossible to have at a guess at exactly how many descendants can attribute their existence to Edward and Susanna. Indeed the entire New England region features the name 'Douglas' very heavily. 

The following image with accompanying information was provided by one of Edward and Susanna’s grandchildren, Beverley Tearle, and provides us with our first and only image of Edward and Susanna Douglas.  

Although, the caption with the image is rather confusing

My apologies for the poor quality, as you can see there are a number of people in the picture that I cannot identify such as Emily, Nettie Fisher, Rose, baby Leslie (possibly Alfred?) and Lillian. I’m assuming it’s a typo that identified Sophie (Susanna) and perhaps Emily is Alice? George is our Grandfather but where are his other brothers?

The caption also incorrectly identified that Edward migrated to Australia in the 1850’s. This error compounded researchers for decades by following this clue only to hit a sudden roadblock much to my own dismay.

Going by the list of children we already know, maybe some of the kids seen here can be correctly identified and maybe others were family friends or relatives.

In that same record Edward was mentioned as being ‘the first teamster in Bendemeer’. A teamster or what was called a ‘Bullocky’ is the man driving what was called a ‘Bullock Train’ or ‘Bullock Teams’.

These were essential for transportation before the arrival of trains and motorised vehicles (and improved road surfaces). Edward was a smart man taking on a Bullocky job because the Great North Road between Tamworth to Armidale was well-travelled as the region grew.

Bendemeer sits atop of the Moonbi mountain range about a day’s ride north from Tamworth in those days and the Moonbi Range provided for the first significant natural obstacle.

It’s recorded in Wikipedia; ‘The Pinch’ was a pass over the First Moonbi Hill near Cory’s Pillar (a large boulder with views south towards Tamworth) which involved a steep climb of about 200 metres. Here teamsters used to hitch several teams together to haul their wagons up this section. Descending the range loaded, they often dragged felled trees behind them to slow their descent down these steep slopes.

It sounded like incredibly dangerous work yet still there was more work for the teamsters to do to help travellers cross the McDonald River to find lodging in Bendemeer for the night.

Life in Bendemeer wasn’t all hard work for Edward and Susannah, the Bushranger Captain Thunderbolt held up a Mail Coach as it was passing through the village in 1864 which no doubt would have caused quite a stir. Indeed life for the Douglas family living during those colonial days was truly 'wild-west' stuff!

A statue of Captain Thunderbolt at nearby Uralla. 

The next record I could locate was another Index of Deeds in 1861. Here Edward was down one Rood, indicating perhaps he sold some of his land. And there is plenty of records to be confirming his occupation, location and land holdings in postal records and land title archives.

Unfortunately the next record I can produce to you is a Coroners entry. Tragically on the 14th of July 1883, Edward died from suicide. A story passed down states that he hung himself from a tree nearby to the family home.

Equally sadly suicide happens again in our family with two of Edwards sons, Frank in 1930, my Grandfather George in 1936 and his Grand Daughter Jenny.

Writing this article has been quite a journey It’s been a long, and at times frustrating experience. But the end result is a knowledge about my family background that none of us has ever known before and that in itself is immensely satisfying.

There are many more stories to tell about our past, that I am sure. In time I’ll uncover more and will duly share my findings with you.

In closing, I want to share a poem with you written by the great Banjo Patterson. The poem was written in 1887 – four years after Edward passed away and is based on the Moonbi Ranges, where Edward settled down to start his family, hard farmed and worked hard.  I feel that this prose is a fitting tribute to Edward. The man who my family can thank for everything.


Little bush maiden, wondering-eyed,

Playing alone in the creek-bed dry,

In the small green flat on every side

Walled in by the Moonbi ranges high;

Tell me the tale of your lonely life

'Mid the great grey forests that know no change.

"I never have left my home," she said,

"I have never been over the Moonbi Range.


"Father and mother are long since dead,

And I live with granny in yon wee place."

"Where are your father and mother?" I said.

She puzzled awhile with thoughtful face,

Then a light came into the shy brown face,

And she smiled, for she thought the question strange

On a thing so certain -- "When people die 

They go to the country over the range."


"And what is this country like, my lass?"

"There are blossoming trees and pretty flowers

And shining creeks where the golden grass

Is fresh and sweet from the summer showers.

They never need work, nor want, nor weep;

No troubles can come their hearts to estrange.

Some summer night I shall fall asleep,

And wake in the country over the range."


Child, you are wise in your simple trust,

For the wisest man knows no more than you.

Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust:

Our views by a range are bounded too;

But we know that God hath this gift in store,

That, when we come to the final change,

We shall meet with our loved ones gone before

To the beautiful country over the range.

- Banjo Patterson

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Comment by William Douglas on May 24, 2019 at 17:46


Making conections

The more information you can give about the people you mention, the more chance there is of someone else connecting with your family.

Dates and places of births, deaths and marriages all help to place families.

Professions also help.

'My great-grandmother mother was a Douglas from Montrose' does not give many clues to follow up! But a bit of flesh on the bones makes further research possible. But if we are told who she married, what his profession was and where the children were baptised, then we can get to work.

Maybe it is time to update the information in your profile?

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