Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Free settlers in the Antipodes

Australia Day is an appropriate moment to commemorate my ancestral relative Thomas Rose [1749-1833] from Dorset. Aboard the Bellona, Thomas and his wife Jane Topp [1757-1827] were the first free settlers to arrive in New South Wales, on 15 January 1793. While not a direct ancestor of mine, Thomas was a close cousin of my ancestor Elizabeth Rose [1728-1774]. The Rose family came from the village of Sturminster Newton in Dorset. The following map indicates the location of this village with respect to Blandford Forum, the main town in this part of Dorset:

The following chart presents the family context of Thomas Rose:

Thomas's parents were married at Sturminster Newton. The four offspring were born and/or christened there, and Thomas and Jane were also married there. Here is the church of St Mary's at Sturminster Newton:

Let me turn now to my direct Skivington and Rose ancestors:

Elizabeth Rose, my 6-times-great-grandmother, was the eldest child in the Rose family.

Her father William Rose was christened in Sturminster Newton. Later, he moved to the nearby village of Okeford Fitzpaine where he married Repentance Ridout [1708-1774], and where their four offspring were christened. In the map near the top of this article, other neighboring villages associated with my Skivington ancestors are highlighted: Belchalwell, Shillingstone and Iwerne Courtney.

Comparing the two Rose charts, I would imagine that the respective grandfathers of the Antipodean settler Thomas Rose and my ancestor Elizabeth Rose—that's to say, the elder Christopher Rose and James Rose—were brothers in Sturminster Newton. In one branch of the family, an audacious grandson, Thomas, decided to leave for Australia in 1793. In the other branch, a granddaughter, Elizabeth, stayed in Dorset and married a local fellow named Charles Skivington [1728-1778].

Over a century later, one of their descendants—my grandfather Ernest Skyvington [1891-1985]—would venture out to Australia. After becoming interested in genealogy, I discovered (through the Internet) that we Skyvingtons had an 18th-century ancestor named Elizabeth Rose. More recently, I heard about Elizabeth's second cousin Thomas during an excursion to Blandford Forum in August 2007, described in my article entitled Dorset ancestral anecdotes [display].

The name Sturminster means "monastic church (minster) on the River Stour", while Newton means "new town". There's a beautiful old stone bridge over the Stour at this place.

An ancient sign on the bridge warns that vandals found "injuring" the bridge might be transported.

So, out in New South Wales, Thomas Rose could have run into former adolescent friends from Sturminster Newton who had traveled there in rather different circumstances to those of the free settlers.

Today, I'm tempted to compare the quiet and beautiful environment of England's West Country with the somewhat dramatic lifestyle in Australia… expressed famously by Dorothea Mackellar [1885-1968].

She was a romantically-minded lass… but I haven't always shared her enthusiasm for the Down Under landscapes, climate and meteorology.

I often wonder which of the Rose cousins got "the better deal": those who left for the exotic Antipodes, like Thomas, or those who stayed in the traditional Old World, like Elizabeth. My personal reaction to that interesting question is betrayed by my current address…

There's another intriguing anecdote, in a quite different context, concerning my discovery of ancestors named Rose. In Israel, in 1989, I visited the splendid Billy Rose Sculpture Garden in the Holy City, near the Knesset, funded by a US philanthropist.

After this memorable visit, I had imagined that Rose was surely a Jewish surname. I discovered much later that the full name of the famous showman Billy Rose [1899-1966] was in fact William Rosenberg. Meanwhile, I had started to write my Israeli novel, which would finally become All the Earth is Mine (published as an iBook).

The hero of my novel is an Australian-born engineer, resembling myself in certain ways. Since he was Jewish (which is not my case), and since his professional and human destiny would coincide with that of the modern state of Israel, I thought of the above-mentioned Jerusalem benefactor and decided to name my hero Jacob Rose. He would arrive in the Holy Land and perform various engineering miracles there. So, I liked the expression "Jacob Rose in Israel", which evoked the Biblical-sounding declaration: "Jacob arose in Israel". Later, having completed my tale of Jacob Rose, I was surprised to learn that I actually had ancestors named Rose. But all this is purely anecdotal and coincidental, and I'm not suggesting that my fictional character has anything in common with my English Rose ancestors.

Today, I'm thrilled and proud, of course, to realize that a member of my ancestral Dorset family named Rose was the first free settler in the land that would become Australia. I was equally enthusiastic about having my fictional Australian alter-ego named Jacob Rose settle in Israel. Between genealogical facts and imaginative fiction, the differences are of little significance. Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose (Gertude Stein). And by any other name would smell as sweet (William Shakespeare). That's how I see this celebration of our past and present: Australia Day.


  1. Another excellent post! What a great way to spend Australia Day.

  2. Carole: Thanks for your comment. I believe that Shelley has hit onto a great idea in launching her Australia Day blog challenge, which will surely become a regular and significant annual event for the blogging community concerned with Australia. The contexts in which our earliest ancestors were brought into contact with Australia are questions that every Australian surely thinks about on this national day. And I say "contexts" (in the plural) because many of us had quite a few distinct ancestors who reached Australia in different circumstances, at different epochs. In any case, we bloggers have probably participated in a pioneering happening.

  3. Thanks for your contribution, and for your enthusiasm for the idea.

    I wonder what drove them to become the first free settlers at a penal colony? It can't have been an easy life.

    Thanks again for participating.

  4. Shelley: You ask why free English citizens might have decided, at the end of 1792, to abandon their homeland in Dorset and move to a penal colony on the other side of the planet. It's a good question… and we only have to look at the European political situation in 1792 to find a plausible answer. The French Revolutionary Wars can be thought of as having started in April 1792, when France declared war on Austria. Meanwhile, England was still being ruled by the clinically-insane monarch George III, who persisted in believing that the French Revolution of 1789 had been "divine punishment" meted out to the Bourbon dynasty for their role in supporting rebels in the French colonies of the New World. There were several major French military victories starting September 1792 (Battle of Valmy against the Prussians). With the thud of French military boots sounding on the horizon, I can well imagine that Thomas Rose and Jane Topp (who were probably relatively prosperous rural folk) were tempted to dream of moving away to a distant island. Even today, countless Europeans continue to imagine Australia as a place where all is calm and beautiful. Besides, we know now that Thomas and Jane made a wise decision because, just a few months after their arrival in New South Wales, England was dragged into the war with France. And this conflict continued, on and off, for over two decades, up until Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. It was a good period not to be hanging around in Europe.

  5. Shelley: While typing my blog reply mentioning the French Revolutionary Wars, another part of my computer was tuned permanently to the video news coming out of Egypt. It's a great atmosphere in which to reflect upon social history. When examining genealogical situations, we must never forget that many big decisions were made against terrible backgrounds of warfare, poverty, famine, etc.

  6. Stuff one finds... My Mum's Father left Sturminster Newton in Dorset & settled in {Old} South Wales. Such a small village, surely they're related to the family mentioned on this page? Interesting to see Thomas Hardy lived & wrote there for a while too.

  7. Hi there, Just thought you might be interested in helping me trace more of my family. The Elizabeth Rose mentioned above is my 1st cousin 9x removed. would be very keen to find out any info you might have on her or the family. Thanks Michelle Spawforth.

  8. Hi Michelle. My 6-great-grandmother Elizabeth Rose [1728-] is one of my Dorset ancestors presented in chapter 3 of my document They Sought the Last of Lands. This chapter can be downloaded from this web page.

  9. I am a direct line of Thomas and Jane my grandmother was Mary Elizabeth Rose is my grand mother her father George rose his father Alfred, his father Thomas, his father William, his father Thomas the son of Thomas and Jane toppe. And of course I love learning my family history. I have just learnt Christopher's Mother and father and am currently going through to find his father, but at this point I am just happy to have found Christopher's Father. I just want to thank you for showing me these photos living on the central coast near rose cottage I have never seen anywhere outside of Australia. it helps me to understand why I find the english country side so appealing. It is truly beautiful. I am so interested in your 6th great grandmother and will downloading I am hoping to have the Rose family So big so my many children know where they come from. When I download your document I am hoping it would be okay to add it to Ancestry.com as well as my own person tree as a reference. I must say that I was very surprised to find out that I am a Lancaster as I love the. King Edward is a personal favorite as was his wife Elizabeth. apart from that shock I must say that everything else is as I would expect. again thanks so very much for these pictures they are stunning.

  10. I am a direct descendant of Reuben and Hannah Rose who were free settlers in the Free Colony of South Australia. Reuben is the son of Benjamin and Sarah Fish, and Benjamin is the son of Robert and Sarah Nott/Knott.Benjamin was a farmer on Hill Farm Belchawell. Okeford Fitzpaine is mentioned in many of their records as is Sturminster Newton. I'm having difficulty sorting out the many Roses with the same first name and who were born around the same time and area. My mother amused the locals when she went into the post office in Sturminster Newton and asked if anyone knew any Roses. We visited Okeford Fitpaine church and stayed in Hinton St Mary. On arriving in South Australia,

    Reuben and his family worked as farm laborers for a wealthy landlord, Sir Samuel Davenport in the Mount Lofty ranges. before long they moved to Moonta where the copper mining industry was being established.

    I am sure your Roses are connected to mine. I tried to open Chapter 3 but was unable to do so. Very interesting topic. Jennifer Harris, nee Rose

    1. If you're interested in my two family-history books or my novel on Israel, you can purchase them rapidly through an Amazon web site, anywhere in the world, or you can browse through them on your computer screen at the following addresses:

      — http://issuu.com/gamone/docs/last

      — http://issuu.com/gamone/docs/irish

      — http://issuu.com/gamone/docs/earth

      To insert comments here in my Antipodes blog, the ideal method consists of owning a free personal gmail address.