Tracing my ancestors’ arrivals in Australia

Tracing my Ancestors’ Arrivals

by Grahame Thom

This article was published in the magazine Australian Family Tree Connection, October 2003, pages 36-38. This magazine is no longer published. In 2023 I deleted Wardle ans Little and added Byrnes and Lattin because of DNA matches process on

One of our objectives, as family historians, is to establish details of how, when, and why our ancestors came to Australia. The “why” is usually difficult, unless they were convicts, in the army or the colonial administration. But “how” and “when” can usually be established unless they are part of ship’s passengers in steerage and not named. As I have been fortunate in established such details for all 27 of my ancestors who came to Australia, I would like to share my success with AFTC readers. All my ancestors arrived prior to 1900.

Sarah and Obadiah IKIN

Sarah’s burial entry in 1813 states she arrived on the Surprize 1st. As Obadiah was an NCO in the New South Wales Corps I searched the pay musters and found that he was in Captain Hill’s Company, which embarked in England on the Surprize in November 1789 (PRO War Office 12, Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) Reel 417). Charles Bateson’s The Convict Ships then provided the details with the Surprize arriving in Sydney Cove on 26 June 1790. A very good reference book on the NSW Corps is A Colonial Regiment by Pamela Statham.

John MANNING and Margaret BEYNON (nee LLEWELLYN)

These two convicts came separately to Sydney from England and Wales and finding their arrival details was similar as soon after arrival they lived together for the next 49 years. On checking the 1828 Census I found that John had arrived in Sydney on the Royal Admiral in 1800 and Margaret on the Nile in 1801. I then progressed along standard lines for researching convicts by checking The Convict Ships, musters, and transportation registers in the PRO Home Office records on the AJCP reels. John arrived in Sydney on 20 November 1800 and Margaret arrived on 14 December 1801.

John and Ann TURNBULL and their son Ralph

John’s burial entry in 1834 states he arrived on the Coromandel – free migrant and settler. This was supported by the 1828 Census and The Convict Ships states the Coromandel arrived at Sydney on 13 June 1802 and this was confirmed by the Historical Records of Australia (HRA), Series 1, Vol 3, page 383. I recommend that all researchers of early Australia check the indexes of the many HRA volumes. I found information about this voyage in the Pioneers of Portland Head by R M Arndell. For further information on this family see Turnbulls on the Coromandel 1802 by Dorothy and Roy Turnbull.

Thomas and Sarah ANDERSON (alias ANDREWS) and their son Thomas

My most difficult arrival challenge. For many years I and others could not find anything about the background of Thomas ANDERSON the younger. The earliest record was his marriage when 24 years of age in 1829. His death certificate (1873) indicates he arrived from England as a small child in the early 1800s and that he had died in the Parramatta Lunatic Asylum. A search at the State Records of NSW of the asylum records established he had previously been admitted to the Gladsville Asylum. On checking for his admission to Gladsville we found that he was from Oxfordshire, England.

Next I set about checking all Thomas ANDERSONs in the records around 1800. One source was the Genealogical Society of Victoria’s Convict Index which listed a convict Thomas ANDERSON alias ANDREWS sentenced in Oxfordshire in 1805 and arrived in Sydney on either the Fortune or the Alexander in 1806. But how to prove a connection. The breakthrough came about by reading David T Hawkings’ book Bound for Australia. David had researched both the Fortune and Alexander and made reference to the fact that in the UK Public Record Office “the records of the Admiralty Transport Department sometimes named convicts to be transported”. I hurried to the National Library of Australia and asked for AJCP Reel 4400, ADM 108/20, Transport Department, and found documents stating that Thomas ANDERSON (alias ANDREWS) convict, his wife Sarah and children James aged 3 years and Thomas aged 1 year had embarked on the Alexander – what excitement. The Alexander arrived in Sydney on 20 August 1806.

Charles James BULLIVANT

I had become aware from several sources that Charles had been in the British Army, so I checked the indexes of HRA (Series 1, Vol 9, page 56) and found in a despatch by Governor MACQUARIE to Earl Bathurst that Charles had commanded the guard on the convict transport Ocean. The Convict Ships states that the Ocean arrived in Sydney on 30 January 1816.

John and Ann REILLY and their daughter Mary Anne

Mary Anne married Ralph TURNBULL at Portland Head, NSW, in 1829 and a witness was John REILEY (sic) of Windsor. The 1828 Census states that a Mary REILEY (sic) and her sister Sarah had arrived on the Orpheus in 1826. The Orpheus had carried soldiers of the NSW Veterans Corps and on looking at the pay musters in the PRO War Office records on the AJCP I established that on board was a Private John REILLY. The Sydney Gazette of 16 September 1826 advised that the Orpheus had carried 213 men, women and children of the NSW Veteran Corps. But more evidence was needed linking Mary Anne to John and Sarah. In 1828 in Windsor Private John REILLY of the NSW Veteran Corps and his daughter Mary gave evidence in a murder trial and the 1841 Census returns revealed that John and his wife Ann were living on Mud Island on the Hawkesbury River with Mary Anne and Ralph TURNBULL. It was reasonable to conclude that John and Ann, and daughters Mary Anne and Sarah had arrived in Sydney on the Orpheus on 13 September 1826.

William and Sarah LANE

Sarah’s burial entry in 1847 states she was the wife of a sergeant of mounted police and had arrived on the ship England. The Convict Ships revealed that the England had made three voyages to Australia transporting convicts in 1826, 1832 and 1835. From the baptism entry of William and Sarah’s son John in 1830 I established that William was at that time in the 39th Regiment. This meant that Sarah and probably the rest of the family had arrived in Sydney on the first voyage of the England on 18 September 1826. I then examined the Medical Journal for the voyage (PRO Admiralty Class 101, AJCP Reel 3195) and found that the surgeon had listed the names of the crew and the guard in addition to the convicts, and there was William and his family.

John and Ann PARKER

Both death certificates state that John and Ann had married in Cornwall, England, and had arrived in Sydney about 1839. I assumed they were not convicts and John was not in the army as he was a grocer in Parramatta for the rest of his working life, and decided to check the bounty ships for 1839. State Records of NSW AO Reel 354 revealed that John and Ann had arrived on the Andromache in Sydney on 31 January 1839. A check of the Sydney Morning Herald shipping lists confirmed the arrival.

Andrew and Sarah McLEAN

A search similar to the PARKERs. Sarah’s death certificate states the couple arrived in 1841. A search of the bounty ships for that year revealed their arrival in Sydney on the Orestes on 14 May 1841. 


It is likely that “our” John arrived on the Commodore Perry in Launceston in April 1855. This large  ship made the voyage from Liverpool in 85 days with 747 passengers including 50 Irish labourers, sent out for the Fingal Road Trust. On board were two young men named John Byrne, including one aged 22 years. This man is likely to be our John Byrne. The ship arrived at the mouth of the Tamar River off George Town on 7 April but passengers had to wait on board until the 13th when a local steamer brought them up the Tamar to Launceston.

Margaret LATTIN

Margaret arrived on 2 December 1856 in Hobart on the ship Sir W F Williams from Liverpool with 336 assisted immigrants on board (21). Margaret was aged 20 years, was described as tall, black brown hair, oval face, eyes gray, could read, native place County Wicklow, gentleman’s servant, cost of voyage £16.


Margaret Lattin’s father -by 1859 John Lattin was in Victoria for the ship Tasmania arrived in Hobart on 23 June 1859 from Melbourne, and the passenger list includes John Lattin. I found this recorded on a 1868 charge sheet in Hobart as it recorded the name of the ship he arrived in Tasmania as a free man. Libraries Tasmania online – Family History – MB2/39/1/24 page 40, There is a possibility that John had arrived first in Adelaide as a John Lattin immigrated to Adelaide on the ship Stebonheath arriving on 11 May 1849 after leaving Plymouth on 31 January 1849, with 373 assisted passengers. This was found in 2023 by searching the old newspapers on Trove.

John Edmund Miller RUSSELL

This search was more difficult, as I had no idea of a year except that John had arrived before his marriage in 1869. Like all good researchers I took the opportunity of talking to distant relatives at my grandmother’s funeral in 1976. To my surprise one said he had several letters written to John by his parents in London. In one letter John’s father recalls that John had left London in November and had arrived in Sydney in February, but no years were mentioned. So I then searched the State Records of NSW reels for the Shipping Master’s Office, Passengers Arriving 1845/1881 backwards from 1869 for ships leaving London and arriving about February. After several hours I found John’s arrival on the Light of Age on 31 January 1861. A check of the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that he had left London on 2 November 1860.

John and Jane WEIR

The ship Oban Bay (1200 tons – Captain Peacock) left Glasgow on 30 March 1883 and arrived at Townsville on 19 September 1883. Amongst the 378 passengers were John Weir aged 45 years, his wife Jane Weir aged 39 years, and their nine children Jane 18, William 14, John 12, Mary 9, Robert 7, Alexander 6, James 4, Archibald 2, and David aged 1 year. This information came from the Commonwealth Archives Office on 10 March 1972

Robert THOM

As my great grandfather’s death certificate (1922) states he had been in Australia for 42 years and as he had married Jeanie WEIR in Townsville in 1886, I wrote to the National Archives in Brisbane asking for a search covering the period 1878 to 1886. They advised that there was no record of his arrival but that as some records had been destroyed by floods in the 1890s my letter had been referred to the Queensland State Archives. Within a week I was advised that Robert THOM had arrived in Brisbane on the SS Warrego on 23 October 1883 after a voyage of 50 days (compare this with the Weir’s voyage in the same year). Later I received information about the Warrego and the Oban Bay from the Queensland Maritime Museum.


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