Af­ter un­rav­el­ling his grand­fa­ther’s iden­tity, Mark Daw­son dis­cov­ered a dec­o­rated sol­dier and early colonists

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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

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