After my previous slightly light-hearted post about Thomas Wilson ( an-odd-fellow ), I thought I should tell his real story, his transportation to Sydney in the Lady Nugent in 1835 and his later role in the Mona Vale Outrages.
Back in 2011, I discovered that one of my great-great- great-grandfathers (on grandpa Baker’s side) Thomas Wilson (1817-1890) had been transported to Australia in 1835 as a convict. He and two others had committed a highway robbery.
Just recently, I came across convict records that gave more information and a description of him. He was aged 21, single, a Protestant who could read and write. He came from Kent, and was a skinner and poulterer. According to the convict records, he was 5 feet 4¾ inches tall, with ruddy and freckled complexion, brown hair and grey eyes, his eyebrows partially meeting. Among various marks and scars, he had (presumably tattooed) a sun, half moon, seven stars and a crucifix inside his lower left arm. At this point, I realized I was out of my depth, and called in the renowned symbologist, Professor Robert Langdon of Harvard, who told me that the sun, moon and seven stars were a set of symbols used by Freemasons and were also adopted by the Order of Oddfellows, founded in the eighteenth century. The Oddfellows modelled themselves on freemasons though were dedicated more to people of modest lifestyle, labourers and artisans. For the Oddfellows, the “sun, moon and stars” collectively might represent all God’s creation, all that is wonderful and admirable. The seven stars recalls The Pleaides constellation representing the “seven liberal arts”, and for a skinner and poulterer would probably translate to literacy and numeracy.
Langdon concluded that a literate 19 year old working class boy who was already a member of the Oddfellows and had a distinctive set of symbols tattooed on his arm was unlikely to have been a simple highway robber. Could he have deliberately set out on a course of action that would result in him being transported to NSW? Was there any significance that after he was given his ticket of leave, he bought substantial land holdings in the Manly area in 1853? Land now worth $300 million. And in 1869 became tenants of the “Mona Vale” property belonging to William Charles Wentworth, one of the three explorers who found the first route across the Blue Mountains in 1813. Was it significant that when he arrived in Australia in 1835, Wilson was first sent to Paramatta to work for William Lawson one of the other three explorers. Could it be another coincidence that Thomas Wilson sold his land in 1877, exactly one year before the foundation stone was laid for the first Oddfellows Hall at Manly.
Langdon immediately flew to Geneva and interviewed Mathers, seeking any evidence of Oddfellows involvement in his life. Mathers was surprised at the turn this research had taken, and unwilling to believe that the location of the Oddfellows Hall in Casino just half a block from where he lived as a child was anything more than coincidence. Or that one of father’s close colleagues was the Warden of the local Oddfellows Lodge. And why did the Lodge reach out and offer Mathers a scholarship as a teenager that enabled him to visit New Zealand. Why did they try to bend his interest in astronomy towards astrology and more occult concerns? Clearly Langdon would have to follow the leads in New Zealand to see what connections were found.
Discussions with Mathers also revealed that in the 1940s, his grandfather had applied considerable pressure on his mother to get her to visit two elderly women in Mosman, the granddaughers of Thomas Wilson. Why was it so important that this contact be made? Could the Oddfellows really have had a plan, a vision, reaching centuries ahead. And what could it possibly be?
My Dad is a person I have admired from before the time I first knew him. My Dad had a wonderful sense of humour. His childhood and university days were full of harmless pranks and the nicest sound I can remember is my Dad reading or listening to the radio when something would tickle his sense of humour making him laugh out loud, infecting anyone within hearing.
In a recent post, I described the descent of my great-aunt Boodie (Florence Teasdale Smith) from an Indian Princess. Princess Budhson (was the daughter of Raja Shahu II Bhonsle (1763 – 3 May 1808), who was the titular Chhatrapati (emperor) of the Maratha Empire, and his third wife Rani Shrimant Akhand S Gunwatabai.
The Ancestry database India, Select Births and Baptisms, 1786-1947 (1) contains an index entry for the marriage of Henry Crawshay Teasdale to “Native Woman Buh’Hson”. The same name is cited on the birth certificate for her daughter Emma. Her name is also variously given as Budhson or Bakshan in various sources and family trees. I did a google search for names in the district of Satara in the Maharashtra state in Western India and found “Bakshan” but no mention of the other two variants. So perhaps Bakshan was the currect version of her name.
Major Henry Crawshay Teasdale(1801-1843) and Princess Buh’Hson (1803-1831) had three children Ellen Teasdale (1825-1895), Emma Mary Teasdale (1825-) and Henry Jackson Teasdale (1830-1870). As Emma was born in May 1825, it is likely that she and Ellen (from whom my Aunty Boodie is descended) were twins.
My great-aunt Boodie (Florence Teasdale Smith) was born around 1892 in Melbourne and was descended from Irish quakers and an Indian Maharajah (see ancestral-tales-a-theosophist-a-thief-and-an-indian-princess).
Boodie and her mother were theosophists, and Boodie was a vegetarian who never ate meat. She was involved in funding the construction of an amphitheatre at Balmoral to watch for the coming of Krishnamurti. Another family recollection was that “her money bought a house in Balmoral for the theosophists”. This note gives a brief overview of theosophy in Australia and sheds some light on the “house” and amphitheatre in Mosman.
My father had three uncles and an aunt on his father’s side and they were an important part of his formative years. I met them all as a young child, and my father told me many stories about them. In particular, I remember Aunt Boodie, the wife of his uncle Robert, as an eccentric old lady. She continued to send birthday and Christmas presents to me and my sister until we were in our teens, but they were things suitable for very young children. My father certainly thought she was very eccentric, particularly because she was a theosophist.
So in the internet age, I used the power of the internet to research her background, and to contact people who knew about some of her ancestors. And what stories I discovered. A famous poet who committed suicide, a bank robber, and an Indian princess among other things. If I had been researching in the pre-internet days (as recently as early 1990s), there is no way I would ever have discovered some of these stories or contacted descendents with some knowledge of them. Continue reading
A comprehensive list of publications relating to my professional work is available at www.colinmathers.com
Colin Mathers. Shall I try Australia? A history of the Mathers family in Ireland, Scotland and Australia from the 17th to the 21st century. Lulu.com, Australia, 2010 (148 pages).
My great-grandfather, James Mathers, was born in Armagh, Ireland, in 1852 and moved to Scotland in the 1860s where he married Margaret Melrose. They migrated to Australia with their six surviving children in 1897. This book documents the history of the family in Australia, and traces the Mathers and Melrose ancestors in Ireland and Scotland back to the 1700s and earlier. The previous generation, born around the 1820s, were almost all illiterate labourers and coalminers. The subsequent history of the Mathers family encapsulates the dramatic changes in the educational, cultural and economic opportunities brought by the Industrial Revolution in Britain.
This edition of the book was available only to Mathers family members, and a second edition is planned. The second edition will include substantial additions and new information, not least because it has recently been discovered that James Mathers had an older sister, who migrated to Australia earlier, and whose existence was unknown to his descendents. Continue reading