Through the Looking Glass

I confess. I have an uncontrollable urge to check indexes and databases, even when they seem irrelevant to my family or my research. I blame my parents for this … mostly my father, who endowed me with the very rare surname spelling of JEAYES. As a child, whenever we travelled anywhere, we always checked the phone book for any others with that name but never found any. For me, this progressed to any books with indexes …anything to find someone else who was part of our family. I wanted to know we were not alone!

Roll on to the mid 1990s when I began to look at my family history. We had family stories, we actually had a couple of unusual names, with unusual spellings. I was working in a bank and was pedantic with surnames being spelt correctly on our passbooks, ATM cards and databases – it comes, I think, from having to spell my surname, slowly, my whole life. My maternal grandmother was a TINCKNELL, another unusual name …what were the origins of these names I used to wonder. One day I served a Mr Tincnell – I asked if his name was actually spelt correctly on his ATM card. He was astounded and said he had never noticed and how did I know??? A conversation ensued and that was how I found out about the LDS Family History Centre and you can guess the rest.

But back to my story. The other day I saw on Facebook mention of the Prosecution Project  The site sounded fascinating and although I wasn’t really expecting to find anyone or anything new, I could not resist my childhood compulsion. It has grown into checking any names on my family tree at any opportunity and, sometimes, other people’s as well. Perhaps, I mused, just like there is on the Old Bailey site there might be a family member mentioned as a victim or witness.

Like a lot of Australians, I have a couple of convicts in my family tree that married each other. They are Matthew CONNELLY alias Michael (Lord Sidmouth 2) and Ellen DAWSON (Elizabeth 5) alias DOYLE who lived at Emu Plains. Matthew died in 1857 and from then on I lost Ellen and their children, except for my 4 x Great Grandmother, Mary Ann. She had married Alfred WALKER in 1866 in Sydney and I knew what happened with her. The other five surviving children and Ellen were an enigma. Ellen hadn’t died or remarried and was apparently still alive and kicking at nearly 200 years old. Years passed…

Then, out of the blue one day, I received an email from someone researching a James Connelly whose parents, it was said, were James Connelly and Ellen Dawson. Hmmm …that was interesting but I had no child called James and there was only one Dawson who married any Connelly or variation during the 1820s to 1860s in Sydney. James, the son, lived at Dalby. That was also interesting. So, in an effort to help the lady, I decided to investigate for myself in Queensland records to see if I could find anything to explain why the name Matthew, who was also known on unofficial documents as Michael, could possibly morph into James as well. No explanation was forthcoming but I found something else. Was it serendipity?? In the Qld death indexes, and at that time only available on microfiche, was an Ellen Connelly who died in 1881 in Mackay!! Of all places! The certificate subsequently bought proved it was her. Eventually I made contact with descendants of her son Peter who, by now, had changed the spelling of their surname to CONNOLLY. Peter had married in northern NSW in 1877, so it appeared the family had travelled up the coast, probably chasing work, land or both I supposed. Peter had taken up a land grant in Mackay but perhaps it was actually something more than chasing work or land that made them move on to Mackay.

One day, while filling in time at Qld State Archives waiting for documents, I picked up from a shelf an index to prisoners at St Helena Island prison. Well, what do you know? There in black and white was Peter Connelly. They had a copy of the judge’s book so I ordered it and read through the trial … although not all the way through … the judge ran out of pages and started a new book half way through the trial. Just like finding the last page of a novel torn out, the next book was missing. Oh no! It was enough for me to get the gist of the story though. Peter and his brother-in-law Richard GRIFFITHS were convicted of stealing a cow from the neighbour and burying the skin. So, they were probably hungry, I told myself, and trying to make a go of it on the land Peter had taken up. Richard, I discovered from this, had married the youngest Connelly daughter, Ellen in 1879.

I did half wonder whether Peter’s trial would come up in the Prosecution Project but it didn’t and I wasn’t all that disappointed since I had plenty of information on that. I was more than a little surprised though, and when I think about, really, heaven knows why, to see

ELLEN CONNELLY 29 Sep 1865 Receiving Rockhampton Qld

At the side, under the column Trove, was a little looking glass symbol. I clicked and it took me to Trove and to a newspaper article in the Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser dated 8 July 1865, p.2

AT the Police Court, yesterday, a child. aged fourteen years, named Ellen Connelly, was charged with stealing a gold watch, a gold Albert guard, and a cash-box, all valued at £11, the properly of John Schenk, a water-carrier, living near Denham-street. The evidence was not sufficiently conclusive to convict the child with the charge, and she was discharged. Ellen Connelly, the mother of the child, was next charged with receiving the above-named articles knowing them to be stolen. It appeared that prisoner and her child were acquainted with a girl, seemingly a half-caste, named Annie Casey, who had been in Schenk’s employ, and had been charged with stealing a purse, the property of her employer. The cash-box, containing the articles named, had been taken from the sill of Schenk’s bedroom window while he and his wife were out, in the early part of Saturday night. Shortly after Schenk and his wife went out, the child called at a house next door to Schenk’s, and asked for the girl Annie Casey. On Thursday afternoon Sergeant Judge and Constable Canning went to Mrs. Connelly’s house, in Fitzroy-street, and found the portions of the watch and a key in a glove, behind some books, upon a shelf. In reply to the charge of receiving stolen property, Ellen Connelly, the elder, stated that she knew nothing about the property; Casey had come to her place begging for a lodging, and she allowed her to remain for two nights. She was committed for trial. Annie Casey, who was under remand, charged with being accessory to the stealing, was discharged, there being no evidence to produce against her. One summons case was struck out for want of parties.

Hmmm… My Ellen, the younger, was born, according to her baptismal record, on 7th April in 1852. So in 1865, she would have just turned 13 – a year out. This entry was a distinct possibility. I went back to the Prosecution Project and searched under CONNOLLY this time:


No looking glass for me this time but that didn’t matter, I knew what to do. Off to Trove I went again and what a story was waiting for me! Over ten years or more there were tales of larceny, Police advice to “get out of town for a while”, false pretences in matters of love, as well as finance, a faked marriage, illegitimacy, drunkenness, breach of promise, declarations of love after marrying someone else, inheritances, insulting language …. 10 pages of transcriptions later and that wasn’t everything. I haven’t quite taken in a story in someone else’s trial of Ellen using a tomahawk on a man’s head (fortunately not fatally) to protect her mother! Who needs to watch the soapies or reality TV??

I also have gained an admiration for Judge (Sir) Joseph George Innes, grandson of Thomas and Mary Reibey (of $20 note fame) He was a man, I suspect, that may have been way ahead of his time. What follows, in part, is his instruction and summing up to the jury in the case of breach of promise involving the younger Ellen as reported in Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser 12 September 1868 p.2 :

His Honor then went through the evidence observing that because the plaintiff was the daughter of a woman occupying a not exalted position in the social scale, the jury were not justified in assuming her to be unchaste….

Defendant might have a very good reason for his absence, for he would not only be the laughing- stock but the scorn of every right-minded man in the place. What was the object of the defendant in giving her the rings, portrait, and brooch? It had been argued that plaintiff had been nurtured in vice, and that evidence of it was found in her sentence to three months’ imprisonment; but it was for the jury to consider if it were not in evidence that defendant was cognisant of it, and after that made a promise of marriage. His Honor commented at much further length on the evidence, and directed the jury that as to the question of damages, they were not to confine consideration to mere pecuniary loss, but to the loss of character and honour sustained by plaintiff, as to how her chances of a settlement in life were diminished by being burdened with a child, and being compelled to institute these proceedings ; also the means of the defendant – and they had his representation of his worldly position, it might be a tissue of falsehoods, but why did he so represent himself ? …..

His Honor said he had addressed the jury upon all the circumstances he remembered, and upon the point referred to, but he or anyone – the most virtuous man or woman that adorned society-might be placed in a dock at a period of their lives. The evidence was that plaintiff was there once, she might have been three times, and yet may have reformed. 

I am sure it is my Ellen as in a court case in June 1868, the younger Ellen’s age was given as seventeen on 7th April last and a couple of days later as 8th. While that again means a birth year of 1851, one year out from the baptismal record, the day varies and month are the same so perhaps the date was forgotten over time or the baptismal record is incorrect. She also states on another record that she was born in Penrith. It couldn’t really be a co-incidence!

So, by checking one index on an off chance, I have been led to take another look through the looking glass at different time and place in the world of my ancestors.

© 2015 Lynette Nunn



3 thoughts on “Through the Looking Glass

  1. cassmob says:

    wow! WHat a great story to come from checking an index (as one does). They were certainly a colourful lot and I like how you have overcome the changing names and places.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. crissouli says:

    I thought my inlaws had an interesting background, yours certainly match them… A great story, you’re a born blogger with so many interesting tales to tell.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s