Final essay for diploma of family history

After 3 years of online study, I have now completed the 8 units required for the Diploma of Family History at the University of Tasmania. Here is my final essay as part of the Families at War unit.

My feedback included that I had not used enough scholarly secondary sources, that a thesis statement was not mentioned and there were some errors with the footnotes. I agree with most of the feedback. I received a score of 30/50 giving me an overall score of 74/100 for the whole unit including the quizzes.

I would like to thank all those students who have been on this journey with me over the last three years and hopefully I will meet you in person at the August or December graduation in Hobart.

Family history bloggers

As part of the Diploma of Family History course at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) I am again showing my video about using your blog to present your family history. This is in the unit called ‘Introduction to Family History.’ The original version had many clicking sounds whenever I turned my head and spoke, so I have now created version 3. (Version 2 had too many blank spaces)

I was also going to include lots of links to other bloggers but felt the students might think they had to visit and read every post on every blog. So instead I am going to mention the bloggers here in this post.

Visit some other blogs written by students from previous Introduction to Family History units. Some have been blogging for a while, others are very new to this way of presenting their research. Many are also mentioned on my sidebar as links.

Some of the more well known Australian bloggers

Links to international bloggers from the Rockstars created by John Reid in Canada

Canada, Gold superstars 2015, Silver/bronze superstars 2015,

Readers: Did you find an interesting post in one of the blogs? Whose blog and what was the post about?

New family history course

The University of Tasmania is now running their introduction to family history course again. They have taken note of many things mentioned by those of us who did it over the Christmas break in 2014/2015.  I was invited by Dianne Snowden to be a moderator for this course, so I can see the tremendous changes that have been made.

1. They have allowed a two week orientation program where students get the chance to learn the terminology for online learning, as well as having a chance to navigate around the MyLO platform which is used at the Uni. This also means those who enrol late still get a chance to learn the computer skills needed before heading into the actual family history learning. Included in this learning is a practice dropbox activity and a practice quiz which they must pass with at least 50% correct before going onto the family history modules.

2. The course is over a longer period of time which allows for more detailed learning on those areas of family history which might be different to normal history eg referencing and citing of sources.

3. There is only one major assignment and that is a research plan rather than the report we did in our course. Assessment also includes a quiz every two weeks and discussions in your groups. These discussions are assessed on quantity rather than quality as we had. Students have to start 8 discussions and reply to at least 16. Each module completed will mean chances to start your own discussions on topics of interest but also based on the research you want to do.

4. Students put themselves into discussion groups with a maximum of 50 students per group. There are three skill levels and these were explained before students decided which one they put themselves into.

It has been interesting to follow conversations in the Facebook group as well. The same worries we had in our course are also found with this new group of students. Many of them though, were champing at the bit to get started with the first module of true family history learning.

As I am a moderator of three beginner groups, I often give them the link to my blog and the links we used in our previous course. These have come in handy especially for storage of information.

As the actual course gets going I will be adding further posts to the blog and further points to this post.

Presenting William Smith

After completing the Uni course on Introduction to Family History, Ann Ricketts, one of the other students, invited me to give a presentation at the Sandy Bay Historical Society on my research person, William Smith. I created the presentation in Google Slides and then saved as a powerpoint to upload into slideshare. The notes for each slide are in the main body of the post.

Slide 1 Over the summer period, I enrolled in a University of Tasmania free online course entitled An Introduction to Family History. One of the aims of the course was to research someone in your family tree.  Ann, who was also on the course, invited me to talk about my main research person who was William Smith. What a troublesome name, so how do I start?

Slide 2  I had been following family history principles of researching by starting with myself and verifying data at each new generation. Of course, I didn’t need to verify my father, Bob or his mother Irene as they were still alive when I began this task over 30 years ago. Nan could tell me a bit about her father Robert and his father William.

So I began filling in a pedigree or ancestor chart, then family group sheets including siblings of my grandmother then another family group sheet with siblings of Robert Edward, her father. All the dates and places were found at the archives where I searched through microfilms and microfiche to fill in the data on the sheets. I have samples of pedigree and family group sheets in my folders.

But I wanted to know more than just birth, marriage and death dates and places. I noticed William Smith was a mariner on many of his children’s birth certificates. Did this mean he was a sailor, or maybe an important captain of a boat. I wanted to flesh out the story of William Smith.

Slide 3 After getting some basic information from my grandmother, and verifying the information I had found about her siblings and other relatives, I decided to head to the archives in Hobart.

At that stage, they were only just starting to create CDROMs with databases on them, but they did have a card catalogue of images they had in store. I found this one under Captain William Smith. There were quite a few William Smiths in Hobart during the 1850-1900 period so could this possibly be him? Could this smartly dressed individual be my relative?

Slide 4  Back to my grandmother, showed her the picture, she verified it was her grandfather. I had done some research looking through books about whaling and found a Black Billy the Samoan mentioned. Could this be William Smith from Recherche Bay?

I said to my grandmother that he was a very dark man but she said he was sunburnt because he had been on the whaling boats too long. She then showed me another picture of him on a boat. What a difference from well dressed in a shirt and tie, to clothing suited for sailing on a boat as a member of the crew.

Slide 5 I was now intrigued. I wanted to find more. Back again to the archives, talk with the archivists. Did they have any information about a Captain William Smith who was whaling during the 1850-1900 period around Tasmanian waters? They gave me lots of different sources to find more information including books written by locals, photos from the Crowther Collection, visit to the Maritime Museum and a folder they had out the back on the Smith family.

Slide 6 Inside the folder was one single typed page. Not much to go on I thought.

Slide 7 More questioning of the archivists. Where did this person find the information? What are those letters and numbers next to the information? Can I see the original of this information? Do you have a photo of the Marie Laure? Do you need to qualify to be a captain? As you can tell I was very inquisitive and wanted to know everything.

Slide 8 This application for a certificate of service enabling William to serve as master of a foreign going ship gave me so much more information to follow up. I now knew where he was born – Navigators Island – where was that? I knew his birthdate and age to follow up on once I knew where Navigators Island was.

He had been in the whaling trade continuously since 1852 – I knew the names of all the ships he had sailed on, even if I couldn’t read them all, I knew the positions he held on board. Maybe I could find out more about each of these voyages. More research needed.

Slide 9 At this stage I began the uni course. Most people were starting from the beginning of their research and using for a lot of information or online databases. I had 4 main questions.

  1. What is Captain William Smith’s Samoan name?
  2. What ships did he serve on before 1876 and what was his role onboard?
  3. What dates were these whaling voyages?
  4. What was life like on these whaling trips?

Why couldn’t my research have been online? So I headed back to the archives, showed them the certificate and asked where to next. Answer was crew agreements.

Working backwards from the Marie Laure in 1877 I could follow in reverse order his journey as a whaler from the time he first joined in 1852 as a cabin boy through to the time he received his captaincy on the Marie Laure.  Whenever he signed on to a new whaling ship he had to fill in the date he was discharged from his previous ship and give the name of that ship. This allowed me to work backwards one ship at a time as long as there was a crew agreement available for that voyage.

Slide 10 He crewed on these ships between 1852 and 1860, but as I have not found crew agreements yet none of these can be verified. Those listed in blue is a ship name that I can’t easily decipher on his certificate so will need to check out all three of them.

I will also use Trove, the online newspapers of Australia, website to find out the names of whaling boats coming in and out of Hobart in the early 1850’s to try to work out this ship’s name.

Slide 11 This was the first cruise of the Waterwitch as a whale boat.  It left Hobart Town March 1860 and returned in February 1861 with 30 tuns of oil worth 95 pound per tun in England. William’s lay was Black Oil  50 @12, Sperm Oil  70@40, Whale Bone  50@40  Wages advanced 4 pounds

Black oil was found in southern right whales blubber, sperm oil from the blubber of sperm whales and whalebone was the baleen from right whales The oil was used for lighting street lamps and the whalebone in corsets, umbrellas, back scratchers and collar stiffeners. Read poem.

Slide 12 William served continuously on the Maid of Erin from 1864 until 1873, gradually moving up in the hierarchy until he became the master. He is mentioned often in reports in Trove about being a kind captain who looked after his crew including giving half rest time so they were refreshed when cutting up the whale the next day.

One voyage in 1871 shows the rations in a logbook kept by William Thomas Morley. Rations consumed: 21 casks beef, 8 casks pork, 5 casks and 1 barrel of biscuits, 2 chests of tea, 3 barrels and 2 hogsheads of sugar, 6 casks of flour.

Slide 13 While doing the uni course, many students helped each other finding sources for their information. One student who worked at a Queensland University had found mention of Black Bill in a catalogue from the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau. I contacted them and they kindly sent a copy of the manuscript written by Alfred William Martin in 1862 while a seaman on the Southern Cross. In his diary he mentions my great great grandfather as a half caste Samoan, so this so far is the earliest mention I have verified of his birth in Samoa.

More reading of a book by Bruce Poulsen from the Huon Valley, mentions William Smith being given that name when he comes up the Derwent River in a small whale boat in the 1850’s. I would love to find his Samoan name. Now who could his father and mother be?  Maybe a white whaling captain and a Samoan princess as the family story has been passed down ….

Slide 14 Trove report 10 May 1875:The Othello left here on 2nd November 1874, and proceeded to the Middle Ground, cruising there for about five months. Five whales were captured, and they yielded 16 tuns. According to Trove report on November 1, 1875 the Othello had lost three whales. One of her hands was unfortunately lost. The Middle Ground is the area of the Tasman Sea where sperm whales were hunted often during summer months.

Slide 15 But further research finds him mentioned in the book ‘Harpoons ahoy!’ by Will Lawson, published 1938 on page 18.  “Dat’s notting,” Larsen broke in.  “I remember de Marie Laure, when Black Billy de Samoan had her. Something lak a sheep she vos.  Black Billy done no good in her.  She vos a hoodoo with him, lak de Maid of Erin vos too, when he had her.  De whales dey keep avay from her.”

Another part of family history research is interviewing relatives who might have more knowledge of the person. I had created a website which included the information I had about William and his family, when I noticed some comments left by my unknown cousin Kim McDermott from Rosebery, Tasmania.

Maryanne Smith, William’s first daughter, learned to walk aboard the rolling decks of  the Marie Laurie  and was eighteen months old when she first set foot on dry land!

The whales teeth are two of a set of four that were scrimshawed by a seaman aboard the Marie Laurie with the high fashion of the day depicting women in fur coats. They were also polished with resin, hence the dark amber colour of the teeth.

It is not known what became of the larger two teeth, but it is believed they were stolen during the time Maryanne was living at Recherche Bay, southern Tasmania. The whales teeth were given to Maryanne’s granddaughter, Phyllis McDermott, who lived with Maryanne, at Strahan until she was married in 1950. In August 2002, the whales teeth were handed over to Phyllis’  son, Kim McDermott, for safe keeping.

Slide 16 So we come to the end of my research as at May 14 2015. I know about William’s life after marriage to Sarah Ann Tedman in 1874. Also married on the same date and place was Domingo Jose Everall and Sarah Ann’s sister Rosetta Caroline. Domingo had been on many ships with William and was also a dark fellow but from the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off Africa.

But I still don’t know William’s Samoan name nor his parents. If I follow the naming pattern used by most families back in the 19th century, then why was William’s oldest son named James Henry? In my reading I have found a Captain James Smith born 1819 Clarence plains taken by bushrangers when a youth, then by South sea savages later in life. Could these have been Samoans? Could this be where William Smith was conceived? Further research is necessary.

My research on William SMITH

What is Captain William Smith’s Samoan name?

What ships did he serve on before 1876 and what was his role onboard?

What dates were these whaling voyages?

What was life like on these whaling trips?

Primary Sources: (P)

  1. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB2/62/2 p116, application for certificate of service as master of foreign going ship
  2. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB 2/33/1/250 Maid of Erin, crew agreement
  3. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB 2/33/1/310 Othello, crew agreement
  4. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB 2/33/1/374 Southern Cross, crew agreement
  5. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB2/33/1/194 Highlander, crew agreement
  6. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB 2/33/1/417 Waterwitch, crew agreement
  7. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB2/33/1/146 Flying Childers, crew agreement
  8. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB2/33/1/333 Prince Regent, crew agreement
  9. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB 2/33/1/54 Calypso, crew agreement
  10. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB2/33/1/403 Venus, crew agreement
  11. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB2/33/1/301 Offley , crew agreement
  12. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), MB2/33/1/170 Grecian, crew agreement
  13. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), CUS36/1/403 Offley, shipping clearance
  14. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), CUS36/1/88 Calypso, shipping clearance
  15. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), CUS36/1/431 Prince Regent, shipping clearance
  16. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), CUS36/1/213 Flying Childers, shipping clearance
  17. Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (TAHO), CUS36/1/354 Maid of Erin, shipping clearance
  18. National Library Australia (NLA), 1870 ‘SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE.’, The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 13 December, p. 2, viewed 13 February, 2014,
  19. LINC Hobart, W.L.Crowther Collection, Log book of the barque Water Witch on a whaling voyage, John McArthur master, commencing March 17th 1860 – January 24th 1861 : [Incomplete] (Book), Logs Box 13, viewed 5 February 2015
  20. National Library Australia (NLA), 1860 ‘[No heading].’, The Hobart Town Daily Mercury (Tas. : 1858 – 1860), 1 March, p. 2, viewed 7 February, 2015,


Secondary Sources: (S)

  1. Philp, JE. 1936, Whaling ways of Hobart Town, Walch,  TL R 639.22 PHI
  2. Nicholson, Ian Hawkins. 1990,  Log of logs : a catalogue of logs, journals, shipboard diaries, letters, and all forms of voyage narratives, 1788 to 1988, for Australia and New Zealand and surrounding oceans / by Ian Nicholson  The Author jointly with the Australian Association for Maritime History Yaroomba, Q. [i.e. Qld.]
  3. Poulson, Bruce. 2004, Recherche Bay : a short history, Southport Community Centre, Southport, Tas

Biographical Report

This research was about the early years of the life of my great great grandfather William Smith. In 1876, he applied for a certificate of service as master of a foreign going ship.(P1) On this document William noted that he had had ongoing service in the whaling trade since 1852. He also mentioned he was born in the Navigator Islands on 25 March 1840.

The application was the starting point and the most useful source used to complete the research aims. On it was noted the names of all ships he had served on prior to his captaincy on Marie Laure on 18 September 1877. By deciphering these names, a chronological timeline of his whaling voyages between 1852 and 1876 was created.

The next step was to look for the crew agreements as these would give the dates he left a voyage on one ship and began another on a different ship. The crew agreements also gave his role onboard and the names of the captains which were later used to search Trove for related newspaper articles.

Using the Tasmanian Archives search database, some shipping clearance documents were found for the earlier voyages but, unfortunately, these gave a nil return and did not fill in any gaps left from the crew agreements (P13-P17).

Below is a table outlining the information found using the crew agreements (P2-P12). It was disappointing that agreements for the earlier voyages were not found, as hopefully, one of those sources would have given his Samoan name.


On board ship Left ship Ship Role on board Captain Source
    Venus     MB2/33/1/403 1856-1878
    Offley     MB2/33/1/301 1856-1879
    Grecian/Frances/Friends??     MB2/33/1/170 1857-1864
  25 Jan 1858 Calypso Seaman McFARLANE MB 2/33/1/54 1856-1863
    Prince Regent     MB2/33/1/333
    Flying Childers     MB2/33/1/146
  Mar 1860 Maid of Erin 2nd mate REYNOLDS MB 2/33/1/250
15 Mar 1860 16 Feb 1861 Waterwitch Seaman   MB 2/33/1/417
23 Feb 1861 Apr 1862 Highlander 2nd mate Henry EDMONDS MB2/33/1/194
24 May 1862   Southern Cross 3rd mate William MANSFIELD MB 2/33/1/374
5 Jan 1864 28 Dec 1866 Maid of Erin 2nd mate Henry EDMONDS MB 2/33/1/250
28 Dec 1866 31 Jan 1868 Maid of Erin Chief mate William GAFFEN MB 2/33/1/250
16 Oct 1868 Apr 1870 Maid of Erin Chief mate Thomas SHELTON MB 2/33/1/250
9 Apr 1870 12 Dec 1870 Maid of Erin Master William SMITH MB 2/33/1/250
2 Jan 1871 26 Oct 1871 Maid of Erin Master William SMITH MB 2/33/1/250
  May 1873 Maid of Erin Master William SMITH MB 2/33/1/250
15 Jul 1873 1874 Othello Chief Mate Edward COPPING MB 2/33/1/310
2 Nov 1874 6 Jun 1876 Othello Chief mate Edward COPPING MB 2/33/1/310
16 Jun 1876 Sep 1877 Flying Childers Chief mate   MB2/33/1/146


From reading the log of the Water Witch in 1860, life on board the whale boats seemed very boring until a whale was sighted. Then it was all crew ready for lowering the boats, giving chase to the whale, bringing it alongside the vessel ready to start cutting, flensing and trying out the whale over the next couple of days (P19).  Other jobs mentioned in the logbook were knitting yarns, making mats and collecting yams from the islands visited. Most whaling voyages were for eighteen months but the vessels would come into port earlier if they had to offload their whale oil.

One great instance of danger came from a report where Captain Smith took on board the crew of the ship Victoria which wrecked at Port Davey (P18) Wrecks were often caused by bad weather and the chains to the anchors breaking.

William Smith was also involved in a disagreement between crew and Captain Reynolds while on board the Maid of Erin as second mate in 1859. Many of the crew refused to work due to intoxication of the captain when giving orders. This was followed by a court case (P20).

Images were found of four ships he crewed on – Flying Childers, Waterwitch, Marie Laure and Othello(S1). Permission will be needed to publish these images on a public blog.


From the above research, finding documents to help with putting together a chronological timeline of whaling voyages is not easy unless you know what information is found in the various repositories around Australia. Searching further afield than crew agreements and shipping clearances in Tasmania will be the next step.

The National Library of Australia, in particular Trove, is a fantastic resource for fleshing out a story with what life was like during a whaling voyage. Many of the shipping notices only mention the name of the vessel, the captain and how much oil has been brought into port.

The W.L Crowther Collection at LINC Hobart also held many sources regarding whaling in Tasmania, including log books of voyages and books.

Further research will be done looking at Ian Nicholson’s suggestions from Log of logs (S2) This will include logs of voyages that are available and references to further documents.

The Pacific Manuscripts Bureau has also been mentioned as a possible repository to search for further clues to William’s life as a whaler in the 1850’s and 1860’s.

In conclusion, particularly relating to William SMITH’s Samoan name, is that records are needed to get back to the first whaling vessel he registered on, and hope he registered with his Samoan name. Or maybe he arrived in Hobart Town before 1852 in the open boat as mentioned by Poulson (S3) and was given the name William SMITH before he started whaling.

Readers: Do you think I have covered what was needed for this final assignment?