The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

SEWELL Co-ordinator's Report November 1993

by Geoff Sewell


Work has progressed steadily with the SEWELL material and a little more information has been sent in.

It is particularly useful when our overseas members supply information regarding their English immigrant ancestor. This can be absolutely vital, as it is usually easier for them to trace their UK connection than it is for us to trace an overseas branch. How often are we confronted with the question ' "What happened to him? Where did he go to?" Many people's immediate thoughts are: "Maybe he went abroad or even "Perhaps he was transported."

The following letter from Mrs Pat Fitzgerald of Darwin, Australia illustrates my point very well. I quote: "My great­great‑grandfather, George SEWELL ' was transported to Australia for life in 1813. His details are as follows:

George SEWELL Blacksmith

Age 31 years. Height 5ft 8 1/4 ins

Pale complexion. Black hair. Hazel eyes.

Crime Unknown."

Mrs Fitzgerald has not given us the source of her information, but she says that George was convicted at the York Assizes on 31 July 1813. His native place was Durham. He sailed on the Somersetshire from Spithead (the anchorage just outside Portsmouth harbour) on 10 May 1814 and arrived in Sydney on 15 Oct 1814. The following year his wife Eleanor (Ellen) aged 35 years, and children Jane 16 years, Thomas 21 years, John 24 years, and George 23 years, arrived as free emigrants on the Northampton.

Now there is clearly something wrong here. Eleanor could not have had a child at 11. A possible explanation could be that only Jane was Eleanor's child, the others being her husband's children by a previous marriage. However, if Eleanor was George's wife he was even younger and, born in 1782, would be only 8 when John was born in 1790!

The explanation is that these ages are taken not from a passenger list ‑ these did not start until 1826 ‑ or even from a newspaper account detailing the ship's arrival, which rarely gave this kind of detail. They can only have come from the 1828 census of New South Wales.

This is a unique record because, of course, in England, apart from a few odd parishes, we have no surviving census returns before 1841. That Australia should have a surviving earlier complete census than England, is ironic because Australia, along with New Zealand has been rightly execrated by historians for the wanton and systematic destruction of its census returns, a policy reversed in New Zealand in 1970 but never rescinded in Australia. The 1828 census is an exception. It was discovered in the Public Record Office in London in 1931, transcribed by Edward Dwelly, a professional genealogist, now perhaps best known for his work on transcribing and publishing West Country records, who made a pencil copy and two carbons, one of which was sent to the Mitchell Library in Sydney. Another copy made at the time, was in an old trunk at the Registrar­ General's Department, Sydney, but the few who knew of its existence were sworn to secrecy. It was only after the Dwelly transcript in the Mitchell Library in Sydney became increasingly known, that the Australian version became accessible to searchers in the mid 1970s.

Both copies were used when the Library of Australian History published the Census in 1980.

The Census shows:

George, aged 47 holder of a conditional pardon who came on the Somersetshire in 1814. He was sentenced for life, a Protestant and his occupation is given as Landholder His residence is given as S. Forest.

Eleanor, aged 50. Came free on the Northampton in 1815. Protestant. No residence given. Doubtless the S. Forest is meant to apply to this entry also.

Jane, aged 16. ditto.

Thomas, aged 21. ditto

Separated by a Joseph Sewell, aged 30, living elsewhere is what appears to be another household group consisting of….

John 24. Born in the Colony. Protestant, a blacksmith, also living in S. Forest.

Sarah 22 Born in the Colony, Protestant. No residence given but presumably the S. Forest is still applicable.

Jane 20 months ditto.

The final SEWELL entry is for:

George (Jun) 23 . Came free on the Northampton. Protestant. Farmer. Living at Sunderland Forest.

The mystery with regard to the ages is now explained. George was born about 1782 and Eleanor about 1778 or 9. Their son John was born about 1804, George c. 1805, Thomas c. 1807, and Jane c. 1812.

No problem there, but John 24, was described in 1828 as born in the Colony. If Mrs Fitzgerald has documentary evidence that he was George's son ‑ the fact that he was also a blacksmith and living at "S. Forest would also suggest this ‑ then in his case the "Born in the Colony" must be an error.

Records for tracing convicts are beautifully set out in David T Hawkings Bound for Australia, published by Phillimore in 1987. As George had a conditional pardon he should appear in the lists of conditional pardons among the Colonial Office records at the Public Record Office at Kew, London, and also in the Register of Conditional Pardons in the Archives Office of New South Wales. The original conviction should appear in the records of York Assizes at the Public Record Office. Maybe the details Mrs Fitzgerald has sent came from there but if so it is puzzling why the offence should not be recorded. We look forward to receiving more details. Mrs Fitzgerald says that George was "assigned" to his wife in 1815. This means that she, a free immigrant, was the employer to whom he, a convict, was assigned to work. Clearly it was something of a legal fiction and doubtless George actually ran the farm, just as sometimes a business man puts the business in his wife's name. Mrs Fitzgerald says they took up land at Sutton Forest, south of Sydney, clearly the "S Forest of the census. Perhaps the "Sunderland Forest given as the residence of the younger George, was, like John's "Born in the colony", an error.

So we are now looking for the birth of a George Sewell about 1791, perhaps in the City of Durham but maybe only the County was meant, which widens the field. We are also seeking his marriage to an Eleanor and the baptisms of his children. This is much easier than speculating what might have happened to a George, Eleanor, and children who appear on an English Sewell family tree and then vanish. See what I mean?

More about the Somersetshire can be found in Charles Bateson's The Convict Ships 1787‑1868. Despite its name, it was built in 1810 on the Thames, the master was Alexander Scott, and it sailed from Spithead on 10 May 1814. The ship went via Madeira and Rio de Janeiro, and arrived at Port Jackson (Sydney) on 16 October having taken 159 days which was about the average. The sailing date agrees with that given by Mrs Fitzgerald, the arrival date is one day different. There were 200 male convicts and no women. One died on board and 199 landed at Sydney, a good death rate for the time, though the 36 out of two hundred on the Surrey which arrived the same year was exceptional. On a later voyage in 1841 the Somersetshire was the scene of an attempted mutiny by some convicts in association with some of the soldiers. It put into the Cape and the ringleaders were tried and executed. But the 1814 voyage seems to have been unexceptionable.

As we assemble material from a variety of sources, some first hand, some second hand, the important thing is that everything is checked and double checked or bizarre (and potential genealogically lethal) errors can creep in like the misunderstanding over the ages.

George and his family account for every Sewell in New South Wales in 1828 except for two.

James, 19, came on the M Hastings  in 1828 as a Government Servant. He was a Protestant, a brick maker employed by David Hayes and residing at George St., Sydney. The Convict Ships 1787‑1868 tells us that the Marquis of Hastings was a very fast ship, completing the 1828 voyage in 104 days. It sailed from London.

Joseph, 30, a "free settler" arrived on the L Eldon in 1817. He was Catholic and a shepherd employed by Thomas Arkell and living in Bathurst. Strangely, although Joseph came over as a free settler, there is a 7 in the sentence column indicating seven years. The Convict Ships shows that the Lord Eldon was a convict transport which arrived in Port Jackson on 3 Sept 1817. So here the error is the "free settler" not the 7.

On the face of it, James does not seem to be related to George, but Joseph just conceivably might. The Lord Eldon sailed from "Shields". i.e. South Shields, in County Durham. George was described as coming from Durham, so we must look in County Durham for both him and Joseph. But, unless there was another error in the census, Joseph was a Catholic and George a Protestant, so the relationship is unlikely to be close.

Progress has also been made on other fronts. Entries for all our surnames have been abstracted from the printed indexes for Wills at Chelmsford, 1400‑1858. These include wills for parts of Hertfordshire and Suffolk as well as Essex. In the period 1400‑1619, there are more SAWELLs than SEWELLs, which raises the possibility of overlap with SAVELL or SAVILL. In the period 1721‑1858, there are 48 SEWELs, one SEAWELL (1722), and one SEYWELL (1757), which shows the way the SEWELL spelling displaced earlier ones. A more detailed analysis of the various spellings will appear in the second part of this All Souls Collage article.

The SEWELLs have also been abstracted from the printed Norwich Wills 1370­-1550. Most are SEWALE; nearly all the rest are SEWALL. There is not a single SEWELL, though there are a few for SUELL. Again, their distribution will be analysed.

As I have said in the Computer Report, I have started the job of inputting data into the PEDIGREE program and have used this to construct family trees, starting with my family and the SEWELLs of Bottisham, Cambridgshire. I am very impressed with the initial results.

Once again, can I make a plea? We are short of SEWELL‑orientated articles for Soul Search. Hopefully this will be put right in a journal or two's time with a SEWELL bias. If you have some material you think would be suitable for Soul Search, however short, please forward it to me as soon as possible.

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