• Andy Robson

Tracing Australian Ancestors

Australian Gold Rush
Roger Hartis and Robert Hepburn

For many of us, our family history research will at some point lead to Australia. We may be tracing convicts who were transported, Irish migrants who fled the Great Hunger, child migrants who arrived via various charitable organisations or the ‘Ten Pound Poms’ who came to Australia in the years after WW2 under an Assisted Passage Migration Scheme. In the case of my ancestor, Roger Hartis, it was the lure of gold.

The Australian Gold Rush began in 1851 in New South Wales and resulted in a massive influx of people from overseas. Australia’s population tripled from 430,000 in 1851 to 1.7 million by 1871.

My 4th Great-Uncle Roger Hartis was from a family of Miners - initially lead miners from Cumbria, but latterly coal miners from Durham. In 1856, 29-year-old Roger and his mate, Robert Hepburn, decided they'd had enough of this dangerous, dirty and unrewarding life, and decided to try their hand at gold prospecting in Australia. So, they jumped on the good ship SALDANHA and arrived in Melbourne that September with ideas of getting rich.

Saldanha Passenger List 1956

There was one problem with this little scheme, however. Roger was married with a young family and his wife, Ann, was left behind in Great Lumley. It seems Roger made some attempt to stay in touch, but eventually the letters dried up and Ann decided she'd had enough. In 1865, without bothering with the formality of waiting for Roger's death, she married the lodger. A pragmatic response to a real-life problem. Another family followed and Ann, as far as I can make out, lived out the rest of her life quite happily, thank you very much.

Things don't seem to have gone so well for poor Roger, however. Hepburn was killed in a mining accident at Beechworth, Victoria just weeks after their arrival and Roger never did make his fortune. He died in the Ballerat goldfields in 1885, no doubt still looking for that big strike

If you’d like to trace Australian Ancestors then there are a number of websites you should bookmark. I’d recommend the following:

NEW SOUTH WALES STATE ARCHIVES & RECORDS: https://www.records.nsw.gov.au

This collection includes the Assisted Immigrants Shipping Lists.

STATE LIBRARY OF QUEENSLAND – Convict Queenslanders: https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/research-collections/family-history/convict-queenslanders If you’re looking for information about British convicts transported to Australia then this collection includes the British Convict Transportation Registers 1787-1879 covering 123,000 convicts transported.

TROVE: https://trove.nla.gov.au

Trove is a collaboration between the National Library of Australia and hundreds of Partner organisations around Australia. It is free to use and you can download digital copies of newspapers, Government Gazettes, maps, magazines, pictures, photographs etc.

THE RYERSON INDEX: http://ryersonindex.org

The Ryerson Index is a free index to death notices appearing in Australian newspapers from 1803 to the present day. The index also includes many funeral notices and also some probate notices and obituaries.

FAMILY SEARCH: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Australia_Genealogy The Family Search Australia Wiki includes guides as well as free access to records.

ANCESTRY: www.ancestry.co.uk/search/places/australia Ancestry has a vast collection of millions of Australian Records. You can access these free via the 14-day free trial link below.