1833 – A Personal History

(C) Julie Boyd

Ainsley Harriott is an African-English chef. Last night on TV I watched him trace his family history back to the time of slavery. It all seemed a little surreal until I looked at some dates that were important to him, and suddenly realised they were also important to me. My son had done a family history for fun some years ago when we were living in Tasmania that I’d just stumbled over again.

In 1825 Harriott’s Great, Great Grandfather was apparently involved in the slave trade and had just sold a four year old child, much to Harriott’s chagrin. GGGrandpa had to stop his trade in 1833 when the Anti-Slave Trade Act was passed.

I’ve recently moved from Tasmania where the house (really a compound) I owned was built in 1833, also the year my Great, Great, Great Grandmother was born.  A psychic told me if I didn’t move I would die, and if I did, I’d get married (again) – or at least have a good time.

A cottage on the same block as my house, had been built eight years previously, in 1825 (the year the slave child was sold), and apparently was where the builder had lived for some time while building the main house.

My place was very large, having been built originally for a wealthy landowner. It had 7 bedrooms, each with an ornate fireplace, and 22 foot ceilings. The ensuite bathrooms were put in only a few years ago by an owner who decided it would make a great upmarket B and B. My kids agreed with him, they loved their own bathrooms. The walls were plastered with a horsehair mix which probably worked well at the time it was built. They didn’t cope too well with a major street running heavy traffic literally along the front of the house though. and most weekends I spent balancing precariously on ladders, patching cracks.

I didn’t think when I bought the house, that when it was built, black slaves were still being sold- although it was in my consciousness that convicts helped to build the place. Their marks could still be seen on some of the bluestone foundations.

The house had many ghosts when I bought it, and a few different ones when I left. One old man used to sit in a rocking chair in the room that became my main office. It was a wonderful room with a large bay window, completely lined with blackwood bookshelves by the previous owner, a barrister, who had used it as his study. The old man used to sit in front of the fire- and on a cold winter’s night if I’d not lit it, there would be an extra cold chill in the room. I wondered if he had been there at the time when the house was an old people’s home in the early 1900’s – clearly for those with some means.

There was also a little girl. I didn’t know she was there but an aboriginal friend, Roz, found her when she and several others offered to ‘smoke’ the house and surrounds for me. The little girl lived in the old stables and carriage house that I turned into a flat for my Mum. Roz was very upset as she believed the girl had been abused in ways too awful to contemplate for a small child, so there was much salt strewn around during the smoking to help her on her way.

Then there was the original cottage which became a storehouse for the books I published. The backyard of the house was a very steep hill, and the cottage was halfway up, quite a climb. It was inhabited by a younger bloke ghost. Apparently there was a man living there because of his asthma in the 1950’s who died from a massive attack. It may have been him.

My GGGGrandma, the one born in 1833, we think, came out from Britain in 1842, on the ‘Great Britain’.  By all accounts it was a very impressive ship that drew the types of crowds we associate with visiting nuclear warships today.  She married a bloke called Joseph in 1866 in a place called Ararat in Victoria. She was from Tipperary and he was from Kilkenny. He was Anglican and his parents disowned him for marrying the Catholic Hannah, so at least I know where my attitude toward religion and authority, and my Irish humour comes from. Someone misread the old English capital F in Joe’s surname as ff, and from then on, one of my family surnames has had a stutter in it – Ffrench. Their eldest son, my Grandfather married his ladylove, Amy in 1922, produced 4 kids, including my Mum and moved to East Gippsland on the other side of Victoria, where Mum met Dad.

Dad’s family was a bit- yours, mine and ours. His Grandad , Dlero, and Grandma ,Rosa, were good Italian stock, from northern Italy, and very prolific. Their name Lucus became anglicised to Lucas at some point. His father, George, was a goldminer. George died when Dad was two years old. Dad had 6 sisters by then, so George’s  wife carried on the family productivity.  Dad’s Mum then married George’s brother who had another couple of kids from his previous marriage. All tolled they ended up with 13. One of Dad’s sisters also had 13 kids.

It’s still a puzzle working out which kid belonged to which father. At one point we realised that Dad’s Mum had produced one baby a year, and there were two years missing. One of them has turned up as a new uncle, we’re still not sure about the other. And it wasn’t until my eldest Aunt became senile that we finally learned that Dad’s youngest sister was in fact her daughter and his niece.

My son and his Japanese wife have just moved to Horsham, near Ararat after 5 years of living in Japan. The historical irony did not escape him when he accepted the new job he was offered, although I’m not sure his wife is up for producing 13 kids.

History can be interesting when it’s yours, sometimes psychics are right and now I know why I named my dog George!

(C) Julie Boyd