32 READER STORY
After unravelling his grandfather’s identity, Mark Dawson discovered a decorated soldier and early colonists
ark Dawson’s journey into his family’s past began with an enigma. Solving this has opened up a colourful family tree that spans continents and cultures. “One Christmas, I asked my Dad if we had a family tree and the reply was an emphatic ‘no’,” Mark explains. “The problem was Dad wasn’t sure of his father’s real name. He’d known him as Joseph Dawson and that is the name put on my father’s birth certificate. However, Joseph’s death certificate bore a different surname.
“Dad knew Joseph was born on 30 January 1890, in the East End of London, within the sound of Bow Bells. However, he couldn’t find any trace of him in the records. I started searching in 2010 and met with the same brick wall.
“I asked professional genealogist Stephen Taylor to help and he found an important clue. The informant on the death certificate had the same surname that was used on Joseph’s death certificate and he had the unusual middle name of Schaverien. On a hunch, Stephen searched for Joseph using Schaverien as a surname and found him, born on the right date in the right place, the youngest son of Dutch Jews Aaron Schaverien and Sarah Coon.”
Splitting up the family
So why had Joseph changed his name from Schaverien to Dawson? The answer lay in a sensitive family secret. “We found out that Joseph had left his wife and six children to live with a woman in Bristol with whom he had a child.
“Joseph then left that family to live with my grandmother, Anne Emily, and they had three children together. This time he used Anne’s surname of Dawson, which he kept until his death in 1950.
“Dad was only eight when Joseph died and he remembers him with fondness. The discovery of his identity tore down the brick wall. A couple of cousins had already done some groundwork on our tree, so very quickly we went from having only dead ends to literally thousands of ancestors. Many of them were Dutch Jews, some of whom had to hide from the Nazis during the Second World War. I’ve even discovered 16th-century Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition and settled in the Netherlands.”
Mark’s grandmother Anne Emily, Joseph’s third partner, was the daughter of Edith Tuckey who was born in County Kildare, Ireland, in 1886. Tracing the Tuckey line was to lead to further astonishing revelations for Mark. “I signed up to ancestry.co.uk and started combing back through the Tuckey family tree. I was intrigued to spot that John Tuckey – my 4x great uncle – died in Mandurah, near Perth, Western Australia.
“At the time I didn’t know of any Australian connection in the family. I wondered if he might have been a convict, but what I discovered was far more interesting.”
Mark struck it lucky with a search on Trove, the Australian government’s online archive of newspapers, maps and books. “I was excited to discover a newspaper report stating that John Tuckey fought at the Battle of Waterloo. Also, the family had a prized heirloom in his Peninsular War medal.
“I didn’t want to get carried away, though, and doubled-checked his medal record online. To my astonishment, I discovered we did indeed have a Napoleonic War veteran on our family tree. At the age of 24, John fought with the 43rd Foot at the Battle of Vittoria under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington. He was a red coat who probably carried a musket that fired balls. His Peninsular War medal has five clasps, marking his service in the battles of Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive and Toulouse.
“He was at home during the Battle of Waterloo, so the newspaper was mistaken there. However, it was still a thrilling moment for me to know that he played a part in one of the most dramatic eras in military history.”
John was born around 1789 in Cocking, Surrey, to a family of agricultural labourers. Mark was fascinated by what may have prompted John to buck the trend of his forebears and join the Army. “I posted this query on a forum and a few people suggested that John may have been drawn by the promise of better pay. The family struggled and his father was listed as a ‘pauper’ on one of the censuses. There may also have been a local recruitment drive that appealed to a young man keen on making something of himself.
“It’s hard to imagine the sweat, dirt and bloodshed of the battles that John would have fought in. He would have charged towards the enemy on foot, fighting hand-to-hand, with only his musket to protect him. All around, men would have been falling with horrific or fatal injuries. I’ve watched televised re-enactments of Peninsular War skirmishes, which have given some flavour of the
John Tuckey fought under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington
drama, but we can never truly understand what these soldiers faced. It’s astonishing that he survived five epic battles.”
John returned to Britain after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and settled in Cowden, Kent. He married local girl Mary Everest and they had two children, James and Charlotte. The family must have fallen on hard times, though, because in December 1816, John sought relief from the parish. He was refused and the Petty Sessions removed him to his home village of Cocking. “This was such unfair treatment for a soldier who had risked everything in battle for his country. However, it is a pattern that repeats through history.”
Poverty and heartbreak
Tragedy followed for John as his wife Mary died in 1820 at the age of only 20. “We think that he might have remarried and been widowed again, but I can’t be sure.”
Poverty, heartbreak and the hard times of the era may have prompted the next dramatic move in John’s life.
“In 1830, John and his children leave the Tuckey family behind and set sail for Australia on the Rockingham. You can understand why. Life is miserable in Britain and John sees the opportunity for a fresh start in a land of opportunity.”
John emigrated to Australia indentured to Thomas Peel, a nephew of Robert Peel, the 19th century Home Secretary and Prime Minister. An indentured servant was contracted to work for a specified period of time, usually unpaid and in exchange for free passage to a new country.
The deal was that John would work for Thomas for five years, then he would receive 50 acres of land. “This was an Australia that was not made up of convicts and offered hope of a future for the family.”
The venture was dramatic from their first sight of Australia.stralia. After sailing halfway across the world, the Rockingham overturned in a gale and all the passengers spent a night without shelter on the beach, the darkness only illuminated by lightning flashes. Food stores were soaked with seawater and their clothes were ruined. Cattle swam ashore but wandered off, as there was no enclosure.
“The Tuckeys had come to a barren land and suffered many hardships. It was hard to grow crops on the land and the weather was extreme. There were also skirmishes with the Aborigines which led to a battle in 1834.
“Thomas Peel gained his position purely through nepotism and turned out to be an incompetent man. Just a few months after landing, the colony was in disarray and many men sought release from their indentures.
John was one of a few servants left with Peel, who ordered them to Mandurah where they were told to select 50 acres of land and settle. John is documented as respecting Thomas Peel, but fearing and hating him in equal measure.”
Peel and his men were the earliest settlers in this area so records of their experiences have been carefully archived in the local museum. This has helped Mark ‘colour in’ a picture of the Tuckeys’ lives in those challenging, pioneering times.
“Mandurah Community Museum was a goldmine of information. They had a whole section on the Tuckey family. John began the arduous task of clearing the land on his 50 acres, so he could cultivate it and build a home. They grew wheat and vegetables but the land was so unforgiving that the family had to diversify. John and his son James began running a ferry transporting passengers along the Mandurah coast. They also bought a fish cannery business and a 29-tonne schooner for coastal fishing of herring and mullet. Later, the Tuckeys established a trade route to Singapore and joined the gold rush. “The family established timber industries in Mandurah and helped to develop education, tourism and the road network. To achieve all this must have taken determination, an entrepreneurial spirit and a lot of hard work.
“John paved the way for future generations, who helped to build a new community where there was once only barren land. No matter what you think about colonialism, they were pioneers taking a huge risk and they left an enduring legacy.
“John died in 1872 and his family stayed on, marrying locals and having children. His grandson Charles Tuckey became a pillar of the community – a kind, upright, respected businessman. He was savvy enough to realise that he needed to work with the Aborigines and was one of the few European settlers who traded food with them. He used to take them out on his boat and they would dive for pearl oysters. Charles was also involved in a brave rescue of sailors who were shipwrecked when the Austro-Hungarian barque Stefano went aground on a coral reef in 1875.”
John’s descendants still live in Mandurah today. There’s even a street named after the Tuckey family, which highlights their contribution to the town. “One of his descendants is a rather controversial politician, Wilson Tuckey.
“I’m very proud of John’s achievements, as a Napoleonic war veteran and as a pioneer. His brother William, my direct ancestor, stayed in Britain and fell on hard times. He died in the workhouse. There’s a marked contrast in the two brothers’ fortunes and I wonder sometimes if John stayed in touch with his family back home and tried to persuade them to emigrate to Australia.
“John was an adventurer and an opportunist – a real ‘ have a go’ character’. It’s wonderful to have such an ancestor on our tree and I know that his entrepreneurial spirit lives on in our family today.”
John Tuckey, shown left, pictured with his grandsons John and Charles