A family history mystery – who is the 2nd Annie Priscilla Wilson?

Thomas Wilson

In a previous post, I wrote about my great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Wilson (who was transported to Australia as a convict in 1834). He had been sentenced to 7 years transportation for highway robbery. In researching his descendants, I documented a granddaughter Annie Priscilla Wilson, who was born in 1880 to his son Thomas Wilson (1847-1923) and wife Frances Oliver (1852-1893). Annie Priscilla married John Fitzgerald in Manly in 1900 and they moved to Wollongong. She died in 1964, I have seen the death certificate, and she is buried in the Wollongong Cemetery (Sect. RC Row: Nth 25 Site: 26). I have been contacted by one of her grand-daughters who has confirmed all these details.

This is where it gets interesting. In searching for information on Thomas Wilson and his family, who lived at Church Point, Pittwater north of Manly in Sydney, I came across a website with the following information. It described the rediscovery of the graveyard associated with the first St John’s Anglican Church in Mona Vale, about 5 km from Church Point, where the Wilson family lived. This church was a small weatherboard structure built in 1871 overlooking Mona Vale Beach, which was moved to a new site in Bayview in 1888.  One of the gravestones uncovered was for “Annie Priscilla Wilson Aged 2 Years (1880-1882) Dearly loved daughter of Frances and Thomas Wilson”. I have also found a photograph of the Memorial Plaque erected on the site in her memory. There is only one birth “Annie Priscilla Wilson” registered in NSW for anyone with the names Annie, Ann, Anne, Priscilla and parents Thomas and Frances Wilson in the date range 1865-1900. So this is a complete mystery. Although her gravestone has been found saying she died in 1882, she also got married to John Fitzgerald in 1900. I also cannot find a death certificate for Annie Priscilla Wilson in 1882.

Commemorative plaque for the relocated grave stones.

The finding of these graves in 1958 is described in more detail in a listing on the NSW Government’s State Heritage Listing.

On the western elevation there are three sandstone gravestones. One commemorates the death of William F Stark and was “erected by his fellow workmen as a mark of respect” and inscribed “accidentally killed during the erection of the New Lighthouse at Barrenjoey, Wednesday 16th February 1881”. The other two headstones and are actually two pieces of a headstone for Priscilla Wilson, died aged 2, daughter of Frances and Thomas Wilson.

The graves marked by the headstones were closer to the former church. It was reported in 1946 that early Pittwater pioneers were buried near the church site but the graves were neglected and the headstones had disappeared. William Stark and George Cobb both of whom were killed in the erection of Barrenjoey Lighthouse were buried here and also John Morris a fisherman of Broken Bay who died 19 April 1878, aged 45 years. In 1958, the headstones were re discovered in excavations on properties on the south side of Grandview Parade, Mona Vale. They were removed to the present St John’s Church site in Pittwater Road, Mona Vale. The remains of William Stark were removed to Manly cemetery.”

I’ve searched the records and the family tree for another girl born in 1880 to a relative, who might have been adopted and had her name changed to Annie, but could not find any. It would seem bizarre that another girl would have been adopted and had her name changed to match, particularly as they continued to live in the same community. It also seems odd that a gravestone with matching dates and parents names could be a complete coincidence. Particularly as there is no record of another Thomas and Frances Wilson in that period.  I have no idea what the explanation for this is. I hope someone who knows more may read this and contact me.

Marriage Certificate for Annie Priscilla Wilson and John Fitzgerald

11 thoughts on “A family history mystery – who is the 2nd Annie Priscilla Wilson?

  1. Hello Colin – I run a FB group called Northern Beaches Cemeteries, Burial Sites and Memorials. In researching the St John’s graveyard that was on the Mona Vale headland I too have run into the vexed question of Annie. I was just wondering if you have any updates? Also would you mind if I was to publish this blog to my FB group? Kind regards Ross Downie

    • Ross, great to hear from you. I’ve not had any feedback or updates. The weirdness of it really got to me, and I must have spent quite a few hours scouring the birth and death records for any clue. I also spent quite a bit of time scanning side branches of the family around that period, thinking that they might have taken in a small girl of the same age who was a cousin or some kind of relative. But I could not find any plausible candidate, or anyone born with similar name. And it would seem weird to adopt someone and change their name to the dead daughter of the same age. But I also can’t imagine how someone else could end up buried under a false name of someone still alive.

      Absolutely fine for you to publish this blog to your FB group. That’s why I wrote the story up here, in the hope someone else who had solved the mystery would get in contact, and the more who know about it the better. If you do find out anything more, I would love to hear anything more. Its weird. Something that is of essentially absolutely no consequence for any of us, except to perhaps to honour the memory of a life cut short, but that bugs me not to know. In my more out there moments, I wonder whether I have stumbled across an early glitch in the matrix. Regards. Colin

      • Hi Colin – I managed to find online the St Matthews, Manly burial register for the period 1869 to 1894. The parish of St Matthews covered the whole of the Northern Beaches. In the register on page 19 in hand written notes opposite the “”official”” records (ie on the opposite page) someone has written about Annie’s headstone being found, and then notes the following “”Baptism register St Matthews Manly – Baptised 22 (or 27) April 1880 by Rev R S Willis. Born 11 February 1880 daughter of Thomas and Frances Wilson – farmers. The official burials recorded on the other page are nearly all 1880.

        My guess is her death was not officially recorded. Back then deaths had to be registered after a certain time after the person died at the local police station. I am guessing her parents did not know this, or if they did, the trip from Mona Vale to manly to record the death was simply too hard, as it would have taken some days by horse there and back. When her headstone was found the register did a bit of research and realised her details had not been officially reordered, and made a notation opposite the official 1880 burials (hope that makes sense).

        If you want to provide me with an email address I can email the relevant page to you.

        However, this still does not explain the other Annie Wilson who eventually married – an amazing coincidence there was another Wilson family with the identical names?

      • Hi Colin – some time ago I contacted you about your research into the curious case of little Annie Priscilla Wilson. I have dusted off your research and done a bit more digging but sadly I am unable to provide you with any break throughs in this mystery.

        However, in you blog you state “”The remains of William Stark were removed to Manly cemetery.””
        Can I ask where you sourced this information from, as I can find no record of William Stark being buried at MC. Also, why just William and not the other five burials at the Mona Vale headland cemetery?

        Kind regards

    • Ross, I tried to find the source for the quoted text that William Stark’s remains were moved to Manly Cemetery. The reference given for the quote is the NSW State Heritage Register, but I can no longer find any reference to the St Johns Cemetery or William Stark on their website. I presume I didn’t invent the text quote and it was there on the website at some stage. Not now and I’ve been unable to find any other reference on the web. So if you have found no reference to a burial in MC, I presume whatever the original source was must have been in error. All I can find now is the description of the finding of the two gravestones at https://www.pittwateronlinenews.com/pittwater-fishermen-great-mackerel-wilsons.php and the following 1929 reference to the need to relocate the remains. See https://www.pittwateronlinenews.com/St-Johns-Anglican-Church-Mona-Vale-150-Years.php :

      Years later a mystery over these headstones was solved by stonemason James Booth and an early member of the Manly-Warringah-Pittwater Historical society:


      Sir,-I note Mr James Booth refers to the burial of two men who were accidentally killed in the erection of the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, and that they were buried alongside the Church of St. John the Baptist at Pittwater This church was opened on September 21, 1871, and about the year 1880 two graves at least were alongside the church, and two head-stones were erected; and when the church was removed to Bay View-road, Mona Vale, in 1888, the stones were still standing. After a few years they disappeared, and now the graves referred to are in the backyard of a property situated not far from the 11th milepeg, and should be removed by the authorities to the Church of England portion of the General Cemetery at Gordon-road, Mona Vale, as it is a stigma on our early pioneers that their resting place should be the backyard of a private property. If anyone can enlighten us by the names of these forgotten pioneers the Manly Historical Society would feel grateful.

      I am, etc.,

      P. W. GLEDHILL.
      Hon. Secretary, Manly, Warringah, and Pittwater Historical Society.
      Rockspray, Manly, July 10.

      TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD. (1929, July 11). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16567998

  2. Ross, thanks for that info. The other Annie Wilson is not just an amazing coincidence. She shares the same birth date and the same parent names. I searched and there is only one birth of an Annie Priscilla Wilson registered. I also searched for another couple named Thomas and Francis Wilson around that era and there is no record of another in the State, let alone in the northern suburbs of Sydney. And the Annie Priscilla Wilson who married and lived in Wollongong was real, I’ve located her gravestone in a Wollongong cemetery. I’ve also communicated with a great-granddaughter who did not know her, but said her father told he that his grandmother came from the Manly and Balgowlah area of Sydney, NSW. That makes the coincidence, if it is, even more astonishing.

  3. Hello

    Frances Oliver is a distant cousin of mine, through the Oliver family.

    Would Annie be listed on her parents death certificates.

    Just a thought


    • Michelle, that is an excellent suggestion. I only checked online for the details of Thomas Wilson (d.1923) the father. But I have a full death certificate for his father, which lists all children. I am not sure when NSW death certificates stopped recording the children of the deceased, but recent ones don’t have that. I’ll order a copy of the full death certificate Annie Priscilla’s parents and see what information they have. Regards, Colin

  4. Colin, I am a colleague/ friend of Ross Downie and he has discussed this research with me. I had a quick look and was interested in the mystery and found [have you seen this???] a Bertha Rowena WILSON dau of the above married in 1882 [6 May, Sydney Mail, p.692] to John Munday- BUT the ttwist is that she was the SEVENTH dau of Thomas and Frances of Pittwater. SO if you’d had seven kids and the 7th is old enough to be married I’m thinking the ANNIE we are talking about is the g/child but this doesn’t solve the alive/ dead Annies!!

  5. Beth,
    Annie Priscilla’s parents were Thomas Wilson (1847-1923) and Frances Oliver (1852-1893). Thomas’ father was also called Thomas Wilson (1812-1890), the highway robber transported to Australia as a convict. Bertha Rowena Wilson was one of the daughters of the latter Thomas Wilson, hence the aunt of Annie Priscilla. My ancestry tree “Baker Family Tree” has full details of both generations if you have access. Otherwise, I can send the details if you want them. Thanks for the suggestion though, all ideas are potentially worth exploring, though I am beginning to think the mystery likely will remain unsolved. Regards, Colin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.