Celebrations open up two centuries of family stories
YARNS were swapped by descendants of convicts and their masters at Woolmers Estate as they celebrated the property’s 200th anniversary last weekend.
Woolmers remains a time capsule from the early days of European settlement, when the workers were convicts and the gentry ruled.
About 100 guests were reminded of the positives of the penal system that enabled enlightened landowners – such as the Archer family who settled at Woolmers in 1817 – to repay better-behaved convicts with trust, respect and a genuine shot at reform.
Nancy Higgins from Victoria and Denise Odgers from Burnie are descendants of convict Joseph Moore.
Their ancestor flourished at Woolmers, starting as a shepherd in 1817 and ending as an overseer in 1827, but the women have found his good fortune came at a cost.
Ms Higgins is a descendant of Moore’s first wife, who had been left behind in England. Ms Odgers is a descendant of Moore’s second wife, whom he married in Tasmania after gaining his freedom.
The two women were put in touch 27 years ago.
“Since then it’s a passion for us”, Ms Higgins said.
A partnership that might have raised eyebrows in the 19th century involves David Boon (not the cricketer) of Beaconsfield, a descendant of Thomas William Birch, a surgeon and prominent land owner whose wife Sarah had an island penal colony in Macquarie Harbour named after her, and Sonya Forsyth, a descendant of Daniel Ellis who was a lowly convict at Woolmers.
Chris Parsons, of Riverside, said her ancestor’s history as a convict at Woolmers had been a family secret and she only learned about it last year.
“It was a huge surprise,’’ she said.
Katrina Archer, whose family are descendants in the fifth and sixth generation of the Archers who settled Woolmers, took on a servant’s role at the function as a volunteer staff member.
“We have learned so much from the discussions between the convict descendants and the farming descendants. We have gained a lot of insight,’’ said Ms Archer, whose family continues to farm nearby.