a good missus

"First Impressions" Sandstone relief sculpture symbolises the origins and settlement of the colony. Playfair Street, The Rocks, Sydney, NSW Australia
“First Impressions” Sandstone relief sculpture symbolises the origins and settlement of the colony. Playfair Street, The Rocks, Sydney, NSW Australia

One of the quainter ways the G.O. expresses his appreciation of me is the by the reassuring accolade “you’re a good missus”… However, I’m not even remotely in the league of one of his great-great-great-great grandmothers, Harriet Hodgetts.

While the convicts of the Second Fleet were waiting to depart England the Home Secretary, William Grenville sent a letter to Lieutenant John Shapcote aboard the Neptune advising due to vacant berths there was some capacity for prisoners wives to have passage to the colony. Ordinarily not allowed, however Thomas Hodgetts and his wife listed as Harriet Hodgetts were beneficiaries of this circumstance. Harriet was one of six free women allowed to travel in this instance as convict spouses to New South Wales.

Her husband Thomas Hodgetts was convicted of theft in 1788 and sentenced to death, the sentence being commuted to seven years imprisonment and transportation to New South Wales. Thomas and Harriett Hodgetts arrived at Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, New South Wales, Australia in June 1790 on ships of the Second Fleet. Thomas as a convict on board the “Scarborough” and Harriet as a free woman on board the “Neptune”.

If the times and life Thomas and Harriett left behind in England were harsh, their journey to the other side of the world was more so, with the mortality rate of the Second Fleet the highest in the history of transportation to Australia. The ships were contracted to private businesses who kept the convicts in awful conditions, treating them brutally. Of the 1026 convicts due to disembark in NSW 267 died. Of those who managed to complete the journey 486 were described as lean and emaciated many needing medical attention, with 124 dying shortly after.

Thomas and Harriet are described in the book The Brave Old Pioneers. A History of the Hodgetts Family In Australia.

“Convict Thomas Hodgetts & his wife Harriet, who was one of the first free women to come to Australia, survived the notorious Second Fleet to become respectable citizens and pioneers in a strange and challenging land.”

Such was the beginning of Thomas & Harriet’s new life together. They remained in Sydney until Thomas’ sentence expired in March 1795, thereafter he was free to work and apply for land grants. In July 1800 they moved to Norfolk Island, returned to Sydney in July 1805, in 1810 moved to Pitt Town on the Hawkesbury River, and finally to Tasmania in 1819 where they remained. During this time Thomas and Harriet had 10 children.

Thomas died suddenly in 1823, age 62 leaving his wife, eight children and fourteen grandchildren. Harriet stayed on at the farm at Longford where she died at 85 years of age in 1850.

The life Thomas and Harriet began anew was up summed by Tom Keneally in his book The Commonwealth of Thieves.

“Male convicts were suddenly told that they could bring their wives on the voyage, if they chose, but only three women and three children turned up at Portsmouth by 21 December. Three of four other women embarked in the following days, interesting volunteers, lovers of various convicts, willing to take the step, on the eve of Christmas, into the void.

Amongst them was Harriet Hodgetts, wife of a 24-year-old blacksmith-cum-burglar from Staffordshire, Thomas Hodgetts. She had followed her husband down from Staffordshire to London, where she lived with their three small children in acute squalor in Whitechapel. It seems that the church wardens and overseers of the parish of St Mary’s Whitechapel took an interest in her case and were anxious to get Harriet aboard, since she had no other prospects at all.

That made her fit for New South Wales. Her revenge was to live till 1850 and to give birth to nine colonial children.”

With grandchildren of his own the G.O.’s family has 8 generations born in Australia descended from Thomas & Harriet.

Generation 1: Thomas & Harriet’s eldest living daughter Mary Maria (1795-1844) married Thomas Graham (1794-1862), son of the G.O.’s other 2 convict ancestors Eupham (sometimes referred to as Elizabeth) Graham and Matthias (often referred to as Matthew) Lock and who were described in one bit of research as “Australian Royalty“.

Generation 2: Frederick Albert Graham, son of Thomas Graham and Mary Maria Hodgetts was born at Wilberforce in 1841. He married Annie Maria Organ (1842-1905) in 1862 at Bukkulla. They had 12 children. Frederick died in 1924, age 82 and is buried at Inverell, as is Annie Maria.

Generation 3: Ernest Richmond Graham, son of Frederick Albert Graham and Annie Maria Organ was born at Inverell in 1885. In 1906 Ernest married Amanda Maria (sometimes recorded as Marie) Kachel (1886-1968) of German free settlers, who the G.O. remembers and refers to as Old Mummy. They also had 12 children most of them known to the G.O. Ernest died in 1960 age 75 and is buried at Urunga with Old Mummy.

Generation 4: Thelma May Graham (1906-1992), is the G.O.’s grandmother. May is buried at Coffs Harbour with the G.O.’s grandfather, Vincent who died in 1963 age 59 years.

There is some mystery attached to this story. One of the crimes Thomas was convicted of was reported as stealing a cotton gown valued at ten shillings, being the property of William and Ann Duce at Wednsbury in Staffordshire, purportedly his in-laws as there are suggestions that Thomas may have been married to a woman named Ann Duce at the time of his conviction, and had 3 children, who did not accompany them on the voyage. Harriet’s name has been recorded variously as “Duce”, Henrietta Ann (Harriet) Luce and Harriet Henrietta. Her headstone records her name as Henaretta Hodgetts.

In A Great Second Fleet Mystery-the Hodgetts Family Nola Mackey, a Historian whose husband’s family is also descended from Thomas and Harriett Hodgetts writes:

“Similarly I have been able to identify his wife, Ann, and their reputed children. By tracing these forward in time, I found no evidence they emigrated to Australia at a later time. In fact they remained in their native place and some of them can be found in the census records, some sixty years later.

It has been suggested Thomas’s wife Ann, changed her name to ‘Harriet’ and came to Australia leaving the children behind. As I can now prove this was not the case, it raises the question, who was the woman who came on the Second Fleet, and later claimed to be ‘Harriet Hodgetts’ the wife of Thomas Hodgetts?”


With the advent of the internet and various ancestry and genealogy websites, depending on the depth of research you want to undertake, web searches can offer up information previously only obtainable via considerable effort, research and cost. It was during a period of Google-based family history research on my mother’s family which morphed into the G.O.’s paternal grandmother May’s ancestry that I stumbled across what many Australians consider family history gold – convicts. Should you endeavour to undertake this type of research be prepared to get side tracked and spend endless time clicking on links and sources leading you to snippets of various information which do not necessarily exactly correlate necessitating the approximation and cobbling together of a story. With more material coming to light be prepared for revisions, updates and sometimes conflicting & varying information and versions.














37 thoughts on “a good missus

  1. What a fascinating story. The G.O. must be quite proud of his heritage from early settlers. Has the research into your mother’s tree thrown up anything interesting? I had a great deal of fun with mine but the one side I wanted to take back came to an end in Ireland in 1785 as I can’t find record of his birth and therefore of the family whom I’m sure came from England. It’s the why they were in Ireland I’m interested in as they were obviously not absentee landlords.
    Doing Ju’s tree on the other hand was amazing and unexpectedly went waaaaaay back and had an interesting link to the throne of Hungary. She made me bow before speaking to her for days.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx Nadolig Llawen dear friend.


    1. Thank you 🙂 The G.O. is very pleased about his convict ancestry, 3 no less! I find the ancestry hunt fun too, and on Mum’s side there are a few interesting bits and pieces, my favorite a Prussian ancestor named Voss who apparently fought on Napoleon’s side.


  2. I can understand why you followed this trail! How fascinating and exciting and – back to what you said about the article on the woman in America living in poverty – I don’t even want to try to walk in Harriet’s shoes and couldn’t begin to. Wow. What a woman.(I’m resisting ancestry stuff, too many distractions already!).


    1. Regardless of the mystery, what inspired me to finalize the draft of this story was the timing, on the eve of Christmas 226 years ago Harriet chose to take her chances, to begin something she had no idea would have such long term effect. And the G.O. and his family exist a large part thanks to that. Every now and then I amuse myself casting my net for family history snippets and find something I might make a story of 🙂


      1. The in-house academic tells me that he has a colleague who is looking at convict transportation, with a view to understanding how healthy they were when they set off, where they originated (rural seemed healthier) how many died etc. I’ll let you know if I find out he does anything relevant. 🙂


        1. Very good, thank you. It’s one of the things I find very interesting, the convicts’ backgrounds and lives in those times. In Kate Grenville’s novel The Secret River, Sal Thornhill holds onto the idea of returning to England, despite the harshness of the life she left there.


  3. What a fabulous history. So there’s a possibility that Harriet was in fact someone else entirely. I can’t see her coming to Australia back then for the fun of it so perhaps she was a lover who loved too much. Go Harriet!


    1. There’s no doubt Harriet, whoever she was, had spirit! I’m a big fan of Harriet, and looking although looking forward to the unraveling of the mystery will miss the entertainment of speculation 🙂


    1. Nola has responded and indicated she is putting together a Harriet book, so it seems there is a story there, and a good one. But for any of our ancestors their stories are all inspiring, and our lives the gift that goes on giving all these years later.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🙂 I thought I learned at school about Australian history but family history has shown me there’s so much more to it than described in educational texts a few decades ago. The internet makes information so much more accessible, and virtual visits possible!


  4. Firstly thanks for mentioning my blog. However, since writing this blog I have had a trip to England and have researched the Hodgett story further, including at the National Archives at Kew. I am gradually putting in together into a book I’ve called ‘Harriet’. Although I haven’t advertised it yet, I’m hoping to complete it in the next few months. The trouble is that I have many books on family and local history all at various stages, all of which people are pushing me to complete in the next few months. This is one reason I haven’t been able to get back to blogging and get all this new material out.


    1. Thank you for the update – I can only imagine how much you have on your plate(s)… and I only see a small part via your blog posts I’m sure.
      Harriet’s story has been living in my head for a while but as Christmas approaches the timing occurred to me, and I wanted to share it.
      Whoever she was, Harriet was a remarkable woman and along with her counterparts created an amazing legacy 🙂


  5. What a story! So much material there for your next work 🙂 It makes a mockery of the Stay At Home Little Woman, trussed up in her corset. Your Harriet reminds me of Mary Bryant, another feisty woman from the early days of the colony.


    1. I think my next family history story will be about Harriet’s husband Thomas, industrious and enterprising, making the best of it courtesy of the opportunity bestowed upon him having served the punishment of the English government. I anyone who managed in those early days would have been fairly feisty and resilient. Even some of those with privilege but without the other didn’t have what it takes.


  6. Interesting story and a mystery too! Imagine the courage of those women to step into the unknown like that in an effort to have a better or different life…


    1. They definitely got a different life, and eventually better! I imagine desperation fuelled their courage, and I wonder was it faith and foresight also. It will be very interesting to see what information Nola found in the UK.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve learned family history delivers another aspect of modern history, a very real perspective. I keep thinking of Harriet mid December 1788, and how much her life changed in the space of days.


  7. Very interesting tale EllaDee. And what a wonderful list of references! I have no doubt you are a ‘good missus’, the GO is a lucky man! You must have worked on this post for quite a while, thank you so much.


    1. Thank you 🙂 I worked on the post ‘for quite a while’ only in that it’s been in my head for quite some time… otherwise it came together quickly (once I gave up trying to perfectly correlate the some of the info) inspired by the anniversary of the women embarking on the Neptune. There are so many slightly varying references, the sources are essential.


  8. What an interesting story! Harriet must have been a hell of a strong woman to survive that trip. When we were doing my family history we found one of my great-great-grandmothers had lost ten children (only ending up with two survivors, the eldest and the youngest). They were certainly tough times back then. The G.O. comes from strong stock (as my older relatives would say) and he certainly has a good missus 😀


    1. “Strong stock” most definitely, to undertake and survive the journey, and make what appears to be a good life from it. Amazing to think what Harriet, and women like your great-great grandmother endured and contributed to their families then and of future generations. I think this is why I’ve come to have a particular affection for these maternal lines 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Err, no 😉 I know so very little. I would love to get my hands on the “Hodgetts book”, and I’m looking forward to reading Nola Mackey’s “Harriet” book, which she is so much more qualified to write that I!
      But thank you. One of the things I love about family history is finding snippets and fleshing them out a little with a story, for my own amusement and the G.O.’s -he tends to relate to that better than me rattling off names, dates and places… go figure! And a couple of family members are a little interested as well.


  9. Finally got a chance to read this and it’s very interesting. How cool that you have this great info on the G.O.’s genealogy, yet still have mysteries to solve. It’s sad how history gets muddled as time goes by and we can never know all the story, or even if we have the whole truth with what we do find.

    My dad wants to hire someone to look back past his grandparents, but he’s finding it very expensive. He’s not very adept in the way of computer skills research, and I’m not so great at it either. All we know is the town his grandparents migrated from in Italy to America. We don’t know anything further back in our history past the migration to America. All of my great-grandparents on both sides came from Italy around the turn of the 20th century. I can’t help but wonder about ancestors further back. All I know is, the ones that migrated were surely peasants (except for one, who let us all know what great stock she came from ;-)).

    Thanks for sharing this fun read.


    1. History is like that sometimes, so many versions, pick the one that suits you best!
      I have heard similar from other people of European descent that its not always easy to trace ancestry, degree of difficulty depending on country of origin. Some families of course passed down the history and stories verbally but with immigration and disconnectedness that can be lost.
      For me, the internet/web opened up a wonderful amount of information, so I’ll only ever explain rather than complain 🙂
      Funny about certain relatives who come from that sort of “good stock”… there are some Australians who wouldn’t be thrilled to have convict ancestry (despite their offences being quite insignificant and endemic to the times) but the G.O. isn’t one of them, he’s proudly “convict blood” and we consider those hardworking people good stock on their own merit.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This was a fascinating and enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing it. It helps to remember these kinds of things I think. Many of our pioneer ancestors (whether lost in obscurity or remembered like Thomas and Harriet), endured things we can barely imagine. It’s good that you are helping preserve their memories.


    1. Thank you. I don’t have a lot of interest in political or event type history/data but I enjoy personal, domestic, societal history both standalone and also as background to novels. Even Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series tagged as Romance genre gives an interesting insight to Scotland’s Jacobite period and life in North Carolina around the American Revolution.


  11. The stuff fascinates me, EllaDee. How incredible that you were able to trace the G.O.’s lineage back to the very beginnings of Australia. He comes from some very strong people. There was nothing easy about the life they began once the boats arrived — not that the voyage was a picnic. I wonder what they would think if they could spend some time in our World.
    I’ve worked on my family’s tree but can only go back so far. We’re relative new-comers to America and no one came from a major metropolitan area in Italy. Most records in these small villages, if there are any, haven’t been digitized and I doubt they ever will. I keep plugging away, though. You never can tell what may turn up. This post is proof of that. 🙂


    1. Thank you. The environment the convicts came from was awful. Britain back then was harsh. Difficult choices to leave all you’ve ever known, risking a voyage and unknown future or stay and likely die.
      While I was checking these links, I found new info on Eupham’s (the other maternal great-great-great-great grandmother) father. He was, as we suspected, Scottish as was the G.O.’s paternal family.
      Both of us have German/Prussian ancestors and also I tried to research German friends of the G.O. and encountered similar issues as you describe about Italy.
      But more and more information is becoming available thanks to interest in it and the internet so like you, I have hope.


  12. Wow. Harriet was a really really good missus. I know her prospects at home were bad, but surviving those conditions on the trip to Australia and managing to carve out a good life for her family. She was one amazing missus.


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