Was it Margaret or was it the Registrar?

>On 5 October 1857 Mrs Margaret Thomson went to the Parramatta Registry Office where Percy Simpson took down the details of the birth of her son. William Thomson was born on 18 September 1857 at Parramatta. Margaret couldn’t write, but the Registrar recorded the name of the medical attendant and witness to the birth, Dr Bassett and Mrs Scales, and family details provided by Margaret.

William’s parents, John Thomson and Margaret D’Arcy, were married in January 1841 in Sydney. John was 55, a dealer, born in London, while Margaret stated she was 35 and born in Dublin, Ireland. They had 2 male and 4 female children living, and 4 male and 3 female deceased. One of the living children, Mary Ann, was my great-great-grandmother. By the end of 1857, like so many of his siblings, William had died.

There is nothing remarkable in this event – aside from the possibility of a woman having had 13 children by the age of 35. Nor is there anything odd in the fact that Margaret returned in 1861 to register the birth of another child, Peter (this time with the surname spelt Thompson). Margaret marked the register again with a cross, but this time the same Registrar wrote down a series of different details. John Findley Thompson was now 62, and born in Spittlefield (sic), England. The couple were stated to have married in 1843 in Sydney, with 3 male and 4 female children. Margaret was 38, but bizarrely gave her birthplace as New York, America.

Which version was right? We still don’t know. John Finlay Thomson, widower, married Margaret Dawsey, widow, in 1847 in Sydney. My ancestor Mary Ann was baptised in the Methodist circuit later that year, having been born at Luny, near Bathurst (or as she put it in later life, on the Macquarie River).

We don’t know when either party came to Australia, when and where they were actually born, and above all, what happened to them. John was still alive in Parramatta in 1865, and Margaret gave consent to her daughter’s Registry Office wedding in 1869, but nothing more is known. No death certificate clearly points to them, nor can any other children besides Mary Ann be traced.

This is another case where family memory dries up. Mary Ann’s children, the Spratts, evidently knew her parents’ names as they appear on her death certificate in 1932, but the memory wasn’t passed down.

The family is full of dead ends. How is it that such a large family, with distinctive names, can fall out of the historical record in a colony renowned for the breadth of its record-keeping?

John and Margaret remain a mystery, and the Parramatta Registrar’s diligence in writing down the details of births every few years only adds to our sense of ignorance about the past.


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