25 January 2011

Campbell immigration 1839: my earliest Australian document

Graphic by Shelley
To celebrate Australia Day (26 January), Shelley at Twigs of Yore invited us to write about the earliest piece of documentation we have for an ancestor in Australia.

The earliest Australian document I have is an immigration record for my great-great-great-grandmother, Ellen (Helen) CAMPBELL. On 28 Feb 1839, Ellen and her thirteen children arrived at Sydney NSW on the British King. (NSW Immigration Department: Persons on Government Ships, 1839. State Records NSW: 4/4780, pages 230-231.)

The ship sailed from Tobermory in Scotland, but the family came from the Isle of Tiree. Ellen was a widow aged 49. Her children's ages ranged from 3 to 24. One daughter (Anne) was accompanied by her husband, Dr. Donald Rankin MACDONALD, and an infant who died on the voyage.

Helen CAMPBELL, in a letter dated July 1839 (NSW Colonial Secretary In Letters 39/7892 and enclosure; AONSW ref. 4/2454.3) says that her elder daughters obtained situations on arrival, but one was attacked with fever, which obliged one of her sisters to leave her situation to nurse her, and she being also attacked with the same disorder, another sister was also obliged to relinquish her situation to nurse her sick sisters. She 'arrived in this Colony without funds' and 'what little money she has been able to obtain by her own exertions and that of her other children, is now expended and she has no further means of assisting her child who is lying very dangerously ill, and in a state of wretched destitution'.

Ellen's three sons (John, Malcolm John and Archibald) became well known pioneers of Gippsland, Victoria. I have some information about most of Ellen's daughters, who married COCKBURN, COULSON, HOLMES, LAMONT, MACDONALD, McKENZIE, McNAUGHTON, WEBSTER and WELLS.

Believe it or not, Ellen's youngest daughter was named Duncan (her late father's name). She remains a mystery. A Scottish baptism register, NSW shipping records and NSW Colonial Secretary's Office correspondence all say that Duncan was a girl. Her mother's death certificate, 26 Apr 1858, lists Duncan as 'living'. If you are related to a Miss Duncan CAMPBELL born about 1835, please contact me!


  1. Yours is the first Australia Day post I've read - thanks for sharing.

    I am always impressed by the fortitude and courage of our ancestors who made the perilous voyage to an unknown land.

  2. Yes, it must have been very scary in 1839! While you were commenting (just moments after I posted this), I was in the process of adding an extra paragraph that highlights the hardships after Ellen arrived.

  3. Thanks for sharing this story Judy! I envy you your Colonial Secretary's correspondence, in fact i seem to have a lot to envy you for today!

  4. Thanks for your contribution to the Australia Day blog posts Judy, it is very interesting to read about others earliest Australian ancestors!

  5. Thanks for contributing this story to the Australia Day posts, Judy. Also for your very kind comments on my blog!

    I can't imagine living the kind of life our ancestors did. It seems hard enough to me when you have two kids and are fighting off a cold!

  6. Hello Judy

    Just wanted to let you know that I have nominated your blog for the One Lovely Blog Award. Please visit my blog at GenWestUK (http://www.genwestuk.blogspot.com/)
    for your badge and acceptance rules.

    Best wishes

    Ros Haywood

  7. Ros, thank you so much for the nomination. I will follow up on this when I get back from overseas.


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