Source Citation for Australia Birth Index, 1788-1922
We use the name, Burgess but our ancestor's real name was Crawford. Robert Burges, a nailmaker, supposedly migrated to Australia in 1838 with his wife Margaret Marshall. He married Margaret Marshall in Calton,Glasgow in 1826, and in the years after, at least 3 children were born in Calton, Glasgow.
Passenger records for the migrant ship, "Duncan" indicate Robert and Margaret migrated as Mr and Mrs Burges with 2 of their children (Robert & Duncan)in 1838.
However, this was not the real situation. A diary written by a passenger onboard the same 1838 voyage to Australia exposed the truth and a scandal concerning the Burgess family. The man onboard, known as Robert Burges, was accused of being a man named Crawford who was running off to the colonies with a married woman, the wife of Robert Burges, a nailmaker of Calton. The diary claimed that Mrs Margaret Burges had left her real husband, Robert Burges behind in Scotland, absconding with her lover, Mr Crawford.
On arriving in Sydney in June, 1838, 'Robert' continued the pretence of being Mr Robert Burges. Using this name, he worked in Sydney as a blacksmith, and later ran a nailmaking business under the name of Mr Robert Burges. He and Margaret had 3 children in Sydney but sadly they all died as infants.
These deaths may have put an intolerable strain on their "defacto" relationship. By 1843, five years after leaving Scotland, they separated. In 1843 Mrs Margaret Burges remarried. (Her new husband was Thomas Box.) On her 1843 marriage certificate she referred to herself as 'Margaret Marshall or Burgess, widow.'
Our ancestor, Robert remained in Sydney and in 1846,also 're-married'. We descend from the marriage to this new bride, Margaret Dempsey, an Irish emigrant, recently widowed. In order for their marriage to legally occur, a change of identity was crucial. Any possible accusations of bigamy needed to be carefully avoided as a bigamy conviction at the time carried a lengthy jail sentence.
So,in 1846, he reverted to his real name, 'Crawford' and married as 'Robert Crawford'. He also baptised his first 2 children born from this marriage as 'Crawford'. They were Robert (my G G Grandfather) and his sister Jane. Although both were officially baptised 'Crawford', on most subsequent official records the Crawford name was not used. Mysteriously, it was only Jane as an adult who referred to herself as "Jane Crawford". It appears, for unknown reasons, she later hid her 'Burgess' name from her descendants.
When the family moved from Sydney to the Victorian goldfields, sometime after 1852, all records show the Burgess name was only used. References to "Crawford" almost totally disappear. In 1853, another daughter, Annie Burgess was born at Long Gully on the Bendigo Diggings. Thereafter all baptism,newspaper, hospital and police records refer to the family only as Burgess. The family lived at Sebastian, near Bendigo until Robert's death there in 1875.
Conclusive prove of the rumour/accusation that Robert Burgess was really Robert Crawford, has been obtained through DNA testing. See the story, "A DNA TEST PROVES CRAWFORD ANCESTRY"
The real mystery still exists as to why our ancestor continued to use the 'Burgess' name after marrying as Robert Crawford. In Sydney he chose to revert back to the Crawford name in order to avoid scandal and possible charges of bigamy when he married Margaret Dempsey. But when Robert and his new wife left Sydney for Victoria (in about 1852), it would seem logical that he should maintain the Crawford name. For some unknown reason, however, he went back to the Burgess name and hid his 'Crawford' identity so well that it was lost to all following generations . (The only exception was the Jane Crawford aka Burgess family branch.)
As Robert Burges and his family disembarked from the Duncan on 30th June, 1838 after almost 6 months at sea, they must have been overwhelmed by feelings of excitement and relief . However, their first reaction to their new homeland must also have been tainted with strong feelings of nervous apprehension. They were entering a new world, a convict society, very different from the life they had known in the overcrowed slums of Glasgow.
Sydney in 1838 had a population of just 23,000 citizens. The Colony was only 50 years old and still very much a prison settlement. Over half its population were convicted criminals or the children of criminals. Prison ships were still arriving regularly from Britain. Crime was a major problem. The crime rate for 1835 is recorded as being more than 8 times that of England and rising rapidly. Street and community life were also very different to anything Robert and his family had known in Scotland. Throughout the colony there was a strong military presence. Males greatly outnumbered females. As yet families were not common. Governor Bourke, a frustrated reformer, had just quit the colony in disgust. As well there were frequent reports from the bush of bloody battles with Aboriginals. In 1838, two months prior to the Burges family’s arrival, 150 Aboriginal warriors attacked 18 drovers, killing 11, at the present site of Benalla, while in May 1838, the Myall Creek Massacre had occurred.
Adjusting to colonial life therefore presented many challenges. Especially acute must have been the feeling of isolation that came from the realization that they were now thousands of kilometresfrom their birthplace and home. Their experiences on the perilous, 6 month voyage of the Duncan had made the probability of a return voyage very unlikely. When they left the “Duncan”, on 30th June,1838, Robert and his wife, Margaret, left behind their last tangible link with Scotland. Now the only contact with home, family and friends, was to be by mail, and letters to Britain took a minimum of 5 months each way. Sometimes it would take a year to receive a reply.
On arrival in Sydney, bounty immigrants, such as Robert and his family, were taken to the government depot. Here they were permitted only one week's free lodging. Employment and accommodation, therefore, had to be found quickly. Records show that Robert, and another passenger from Calton, Robert Lightbody, also a nailer, were immediately employed by an ex-convict who owned a blacksmith shop at No.2 Windmill Street, Miller’s Point. His name was Mr John (Jock) McMillan. It must have been a substantial business as 1832 records indicate he employed 3 freemen and 2 convicts. Nearby, at the corner of Windmill and Fort Street was the Blacksmith Arms, which, in 1838, John McMillan also held the licence for . Today the oldest pub in Sydney still in existence, the Hero of Waterloo, stands on the corner of Fort and Windmill Streets. Its appearance today has changed little from the time when Robert worked in Windmill Street.
Jock McMillan was also from Calton where he had worked as a nailer before being transported to Australia. It is therefore very probable that Robert had known him back in Scotland. Most certainly he would have heard of him. In 1820, John McMillan also had become well known among Glasgow’s working class due to his involvement in the 5 day Radical War of 1820 (as described in Chapter 1 of "He Brought us Here"). As one of the leaders of the uprising, he was arrested at the Bonnymuir cavalry charge and later transported from Calton to N.S.W. for treason.
Robert worked for John McMillan for wages of 6 shillings and sixpence per day, (i.e. 39 shillings per week). This was below the average wage and would have allowed only a basic standard of living for the Burges family. In 1838 the average wage for “a skilled tradesman such as a mason was 42s”.
The Burges family’s first 4 years in Australia were heavily laden with sadness. Only 7 months after their arrival in Sydney, Robert’s wife gave birth to their first Australian born child on 4th March 1839. Named Henry, possibly after Margaret's father, he was christened by Rev McGarvie at St.Andrews Scots Church on 21st April. Regrettably, his short life ended in that same year. On 31st August, 1840, a daughter, was born, and was baptised “Margaret” at St Andrews. Sadly this child also died only 11 months later. Her burial is recorded on 20th June, 1841. Another child, Alexander was born on 23rd May, 1842. He was baptised into the Presbyterian Church on the 3rd July,1842. As no further records of Alexander’s life exist, it may be surmised that he also died as a baby. This tragic loss of three children in a short period of time, as the family attempted to adjust to their new life in the colony, while battling homesickness, must have been a devastating experience, especially for Margaret. Her decision to leave her legal husband in Scotland must have now been perceived as very ill-fated.
The strain on the family may have had serious consequences. Robert and Margaret's defacto relationship crumbled. Sometime after July 1842, Margaret left Robert. In May 1843, she is living elsewhere as indicated by a notice in the Sydney Morning Herald which advised “Mrs Burgis of Sussex Street” that there are unclaimed letters awaiting her at the Sydney Post Office. Perhaps it was the pressure and sadness of losing 3 children in their first 4 years in Sydney that caused them to part.
On 16th October, 1843, Margaret married again. Her new husband was Thomas Dixon Box, a free mariner (seaman). They were married in the Scots Church of Sydney by the Rev John Dunmore Lang. Witnessing the wedding was long time friend, Robert Lightbody, a nailer from Calton who had migrated with Robert and Margaret in 1838. On the marriage certificate Margaret claimed she was the widow of Robert Burgess. She signed her name with a cross as Margaret MARSHALL or BURGESS, widow.
Almost 3 years later, on 29th June 1846, Robert also married. His bride was Mrs Margaret Kennedy, nee Dempsey, the very recently widowed wife of blacksmith, William Kennedy. They married in St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Sydney. But Robert did not use the Burgess name. The marriage certificate shows he married as Robert CRAWFORD.
Margaret Kennedy (nee Dempsey) was Irish from a poor working class, Catholic background. Her parents were Charles and Mary Dempsey of Coleraine, Ireland. Her father was a labourer. Margaret received no education and could not read or write. Before immigrating she had worked as a general servant. In about 1839, Margaret had given birth to an illegitimate daughter, Eliza. Approximately a year later she was wed to the blacksmith, William Kennedy. They lived in Belfast where their first child, Patrick was born in 1840. As a young family, the Kennedys successfully applied for passage to New South Wales under the bounty immigration scheme. (James Kirkwood and Alex Withers of Barrack Street, Belfast certified their good character.) On the 3rd September, 1841 they set sail with 225 other passengers on the ‘Wilson’ from Greenoch, Scotland. Their journey took 4 months.
The Kennedys, who had migrated to the colony 5 years before the Burges family, also lived in Sussex Street - perhaps in the same neighbourhood. It is possible that Robert came to know William Kennedy through his work as a blacksmith. In January, 1846, at the age of 30, William Kennedy died suddenly, leaving Margaret a widow with 2 children to provide for. Her relatively quick re-marriage to Robert, less than 6 months after being widowed, is understandable due to the dire predictament she had found herself. Sadly, she would have had nothing to fall back on. Women in similar circumstances often had to admit their children to orphanages or attempt to rely on the generosityof neighbours or her husband’s workmates.
The ‘marriage’ of Robert Burgess/Crawford to Margaret Kennedy was to last 28 years and produce six children. Their first two children, Robert and Janet were born in Sydney. Interestingly they were both baptised with the Crawford name. Baptism records show that on 1st October, 1847, parents Robert Crawford and Margaret Kennedy, of Sussex Street, baptised their son, Robert Crawford, born 10th September,1847. Two years later, a sister, Jane Crawford, daughter of Robert Crawford and Margaret Dempsey, born on 17th September, was baptised.
(Naming their first son, Robert, created a seemingly confusing situation as now there were two sons with the same name. However it is must be noted that the older son, Robert who migrated with Robert Burgess/Crawford and Margaret Marshall was the real son of a man left behind in Scotland.Also choice of names probably followed Scottish custom which decreed that the first son of a marriage should be named after the father's father. If this custom was also followed for their later children, first daughter, Janet was named after Robert’s mother, while, the next children born, Mary and Charles were named after Margaret’s parents.)
The family’s home in Sydney, according to the Sydney Council Assessment Books of 1849 and 1851, was alongside Darling Harbour, in Sussex Street South, somewhere between Market and Druitt Streets. The Sydney Commercial Directory for 1851 places their residence on or near Jacques Wharf, a coastal packet wharf off Sussex Street, close to Druitt Street.
Sometime before 1849, Robert had fulfilled the dream that most bounty immigrants brought with them from Britain. He had left the employment of Jock McMillan and become independently employed. He was not only free of the shackles of wage labour, but, on Jacques Wharf, Sussex Street South, he ran his own nail-making business, employing two servants. It is not difficult to imagine the pride he would have enjoyed when the following entry appeared in the 1851 Sydney Directory -“Burgess Robert, nail manufacturer, Jacques Wharf Sussex-street south”
This area of Sussex Street was then noted for its wharves, cedar timber yards and flour mills. Large stacks of timber stretched to the water’s edge while thousands of pine and cedar logs floated in the water. Boats taking passengers and freight to and from the Woolongong and Shoalhaven areas docked at Jacques Wharf. Unfortunately, also not far away, on the foreshore near Druitt Street, were Sydney’s slaughter houses with their associated boiling down establishments and piggeries. Residents of the area constantly complained about the odour and health problems caused by these slaughter houses. Evidence given to a government Select Committee in 1848 included the following description,“(There is) a disgusting and disgraceful custom of having extensive piggeries attached to the slaughter houses, where hundreds of pigs may sometimes be seen feeding upon, or wallowing in, the blood and other offal which flows from the cutting up places. …The tidal movement is quite insufficient to carry away all the offensive matters…and the refuse being left on the mud flats (is) exposed to nearly a tropical sun.” Further nuisance was created for residents by driving cattle through the busy streets during the day and night. “I can speak from personal experience of the noise and bustle of driving them through the streets being most disagreeable, if not injurious to invalids, and extremely alarming to nervous persons. Within the last week or so, I have encountered two infuriated animals on the public streets.”
According to the Council Rates Assessment Books, in 1849, Robert Burgess/Crawford's home and workplace was a rented, single storey, stone building with a shingled roof. In the neighbourhood, it was the only stone building. Like most worker’s homes of the time, it consisted of only two rooms. Robert had to use one of these as his workshop. Living conditions were incredibly cramped by today’s standards. The total floor space of the building was only 27 feet by 33 feet (approximately 8 metres x 10 metres). However, this compared favourably to many of the other homes in the street as most measured a mere 11.6 feet wide and 26.7 feet deep(3.5m. x 8 m.).
Robert Burges’ neighbourhood can also be re-created from descriptions given in the Council Rates Assessment Books. The area was a mixture of residences and commercial buildings. Most were built of timber or brick. Shingled roofs were common. Two doors away from the Burges home, was a boot and shoemaker, while next door was a blacksmith shop. It is probable that Robert used the blacksmith’s forge for the manufacture of his nails. This was a common practice as nailers often rented a “standing” from a blacksmith or a fellow nailer’s forge. Two pubs, The Labour in Vain, and the Cheshire Cheese Inn were nearby. (Locations are shown on the “1844-48 Map of Commercial Sydney”.)
A more detailed picture of the 1849 Sussex Street South neighbourhood, between Market & Druitt Streets,as revealed by the 1849 Assessment Book, is listed below. 1. Shop: wood, one room (Dennis O’Brien) 2. Timber Merchant: brick, house, 6 rooms (Thomas Boyd) 3. Corn & Bran Store: brick, house, 2 rooms (William Shelley) 4. Corn & Hay Dealer: brick, shop, 2 rooms (Dennis Carroll) 5. Shop: brick, 5 rooms, 2 floors (Alexander..?..) 6. Nailmaker: stone, shop, stable, 2 rooms, shingled (Robert Burges) 7. Blacksmith: wood, one room, shingled (Michael McMann) 8. (Ballast master?): wood, house, 2 rooms, shingled (John McCarthy) 9. Boot & Shoemaker: wood, shop, 6 rooms (Isaac Ray) 10. House: wood, 2 rooms, detached shed & stable (William Miles) 11. House: wood, 2 rooms (David White) 12. House: wood, 2 rooms (James Goody) 13. Public House (“Labour in Vain”?): wood, 8 rooms, kitchen & bakehouse
Sometime in 1850 or 1851, Robert and his family moved to another home a short distance away on or near Head’s Wharf. The wharf was owned by Thomas Head, a timber merchant . This house had its own forge, which may have been the reason for the move. Robert rented the property from Thomas Street (Streets Wharf is located adjacent to Jacques Wharf). The building is described as a house and forge, made of wood and brick with a shingled roof.
EDIT The Mystery Explained
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