The Delights of Detectoring!

One of my favourite things about researching family history is getting to the bottom of a mystery – even if the mystery comes from a find in a record that initially just makes you sit up and go “Mmm?”.

Such as it was when I came across a census entry for a family enumerated as Holbrow-Burgess. A double-barrelled Holborow?! What?! I had never come across this before. Of course, several female-line Holborow families have used it as a middle name, but was this what was happening here?

I assembled my detectoring kit in a bid to find out – and discovered more than I had bargained for …

The story starts – oddly enough – in the 1939 Register where I found a reference to the following family:

John, his wife Florence, and their daughter, also Florence, were living on Eastfield Road, Bristol (in Westbury on Trym, today a Bristol suburb but an ancient Mercian settlement and then a parish that didn’t become subsumed into Bristol until the 1920s).

Florence’s baptism in Westbury on Trym was simple to track down:

The hyphenated surname seems to be in place. However, there is no hyphenated marriage record. The GRO entry showed the mother’s maiden name was Metcalfe. Searching for a marriage for a Florence Metcalfe to any John William provided me with this:

No hyphen, but Holbrow Burgess is present, in the right place and with the right occupation. John’s father is given as William Holbrow Burgess, an insurance agent. Perhaps the 1901 census would help. I knew from the 1939 Register that he was born in the September of 1877. However … No John William Holbrow-Burgess births. Ditto John William Burgess. Perhaps the Burgess came later and he was born a Holb(o)row…?

Could this be his baptism in Stoke Bishop (a ward/suburb of Bristol, neighbouring Westbury on Trym)? Is William recorded as a ‘Gentleman’?

Looking at the 1911 census, things seem to fit together nicely, especially as we have a multi-generational household. The head is recorded as William Burgess, with his wife Frances. Then comes John William, his wife Florence, and their daughter Florence Frances. William is an insurance agent for Pearl Insurance Co (nowadays part of the Phoenix Assurance Group) and John is an assistant teacher.

So far we have a baptism in 1877 under Holbrow, a marriage in 1905 as Holbrow Burgess, a baptism in 1906 as Holbrow-Burgess, and a census in 1911 as Burgess. What of 1901?

Well, here the entire household (William, Frances, John William and an elder daughter, Mary) are all enumerated as “H Burgess”. Presumably for Holbrow Burgess.

We also have the first clue as to William’s origins: in 1911 his birth place is “Unknown”, but in 1901 it is “Chippenham, Wiltshire”. We will come back to this in a moment, but first a quick note on Mary and her occupation. She is listed as a clerk at a Laundry, but not working at home as so many of her female neighbours recorded as Laundresses are. About a mile down the road from Mary was the location of one of Henry Massingham’s Steam Laundries.

Henry Massingham had been a shoemaker, but had retired som years before and decided to take over the running of the steam laundry on Southmead Road, Westbury on Trym, about a mile from where the family was living. He was also a fairly progressive employer for the time: he hired a steam train to take the staff of several shoe shops (known as Beehive Boot Stores) in Bristol and Bath on an outing, placing a sign on the doors which read:

The bees have flown on the wings of steam
This day from toil they borrow
Kind friends to show that you approve
Please call again tomorrow

But I digress. I wanted to find William and Frances’ marriage. Again, from the GRO I could identify Frances’ maiden name as Thorn (or Thorne), and I found a likely marriage in St Philips Church, Bristol:

Of course, none of these include the name Burgess. Frances Thorn can be found living in Almondsbury a village and parish in South Gloucestershire) as a house servant in the 1861 census. Also in the village is one William Burgess, an agricultural labourer. Unfortunately, he has been recorded as having been born in Almondsbury, but otherwise I believe this to be our William and perhaps the head of the household gave the incorrect information to the enumerator.

And talking of William, where did he come from? Several census returns have him as being born in Chippenham, Wiltshire c. 1841. What do the bapstim records show us? Well … actually, only one William Holb(o)row born/baptised around 1841 in all of Wiltshire, and that one in the parish of Luckington – a smidge less than 10 miles from Chippenham. Despite what his marriage certificate states, he was the illegitimate son of Mary Holbrow.

In the 1841 census, William is living with his mother, Mary, and his grandparents, Daniel and Anne, in Luckington.

You may be wondering to yourself, “Hey, Dominic, there could be any number of other William’s around, especially if you make the data points a little more woolly – why are you so sure this is the one?!”

And it’d be right and fair to ask that question. Luckington isn’t Chippenham, and do we take the father’s name on the marriage certificate to be gospel? Good points. However, I raise your good points and play my final card (I don’t know, I don’t play poker). Of the four marriages that take place in Pucklechurch, Gloucestershire, in 1845, the first one is the following:

Mary, the daughter of Daniel Holbrow married Isaac Burgess.

Mary and Isaac went on to have a son together, Joseph, in 1847, but no further children. Sadly, Mary died in 1849. Her death certificate states “paralasis [sic] and diarrhoea” from which we can infer she’d probably had a stroke of some description. Isaac didn’t remarry. In 1851 little Joseph is to be found in the Union Workhouse in Yate, Gloucestershire. He goes on to have a career in the Welsh coal mines, marries, and has several children. Where Isaac and William are in 1851 remains a mystery. As we have already seen, William turns up in Almondsbury at some time before 1861 (although I should point out that there is a William Burgess already present in Almondsbury in 1851 with his parents so this is somewhat of a supposition).

Isaac, however, turns up in another set of records altogether.

I will leave it up to the Cheltenham Journal and Gloucestershire Fashionable Weekly Gazette of Saturday 12 December 1857 to … set the scene.

The Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard of the same date reported the same. Of note (?) he was not the only man charged with bestiality at the Gloucester Winter Assizes, although he was the only one charged.

Looking at the Calendar of Prisoners for Gloucester we have the following (the two dates being the date the warrant was issued and the date received into custody).

Isaac spent three months in prison at the County Gaol in Gloucester before his trial in December 1857. The verdict was 10 years penal servitude, and he pleaded guilty.

The Register of Prisoners for the County Gaol also adds some information about his sentencing:

The fact that he was sent to Millbank Prison led me to my next set of documents. In 1843, Millbank’s status was downgraded and it was solely used to hold prisoners awaiting transportation. Every person sentenced to transportation was sent to Millbank first, where they were held for three months before their final destination was decided. By 1850, around 4,000 people were condemned annually to transportation from the UK. Prisoners awaiting transportation were kept in solitary confinement and restricted to silence for the first half of their sentence. After transportation ceased in 1867, the prison went back to being an ordinary local prison, eventually closing in 1890.

Turning to Australian convict records, it was soon apparent that Isaac was sent to the Swan River Colony in Western Australia which had been settled in 1829. He arrived on the Merchantman on its first voyage to Australia, via Bermuda. The ship left London on 10 October 1862 and arrived in WA on 16 February 1863

The arrival of Merchantman February 1863 from The Inquirer and Commercial News via Trove

Two years after arriving, Isaac was granted his Certificate of Freedom, which granted him “all the rights and privileges” of a free colonist. He achieved this a little early, as they were normally given at the completion of 7, 10 or 14 year sentences and he had only served 8 years by 1865.

Isaac enjoyed another 20 years of freedom before dying in March 1887. I can’t find a published obituary of his death, but the convict records have him dying in “Mt Eliza”. Initially, that was confusing as Mount Eliza is in Victoria, not Western Australia, and he appears to have been buried in Perth. Mount Eliza is a hill that overlooks Perth. However, Mt Eliza (the contraction is important!) was also the site of a convict hiring depot (until 1872 when it was closed), an ‘invalid depot’ and a poorhouse for men remained on the site.

Mt Eliza Invalid Depot at the foot of Mt Eliza on the Swan River

In 1906 a new site was built in Claremont and the inmates were all transferred to the Claremont Old Men’s Home (women were housed elsewhere in Perth or at the asylum in Fremantle), which in turn was renamed Sunset Hospital in 1939 and decommissioned in 1995.

Isaac is listed on Findagrave, which lead me to check the website of the cemetery itself (East Perth Cemetery). Which was an absolute godsend. Sadly there is no monument or headstone.

The Inquirer and Commercial News 09/03/1887 via Trove

I have ordered his death certificate from Western Australia State Archives, and I await its arrival with impatience! Edit: The certificate arrived and … told me nothing more, just the date, cause of death, occupation (labourer) and age.

I would never have thought that the 1939 Register entry would lead me to an otherwise dead branch in my Holborow tree, nor lead me to Western Australia. (I could have done without the “carnally knowing” of a sheep, though …)


  1. Wild, just wild! Great detective work. Aside from the black sheep aspect (no pun intended), this is the kind of research story that makes genealogy so much fun! And just how many Holborow’s ended up in Australia!?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha it was a bit bonkers, I have to say! As for the Holborows who ended up in Aus, there aren’t that many families who went, a few random individuals, and a few who ended up in New Zealand. The vast majority were law abiding citizens ….!!


  2. I bloody love reading your investigations!!!
    I hope you are writing a book with all this info in. I need it altogether so I can read it all again at my leisure

    Liked by 1 person

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