Name Variations Rachael
Father Thomas aka William WILLIS b.c. 18101 m. 1844 d. aft.1859
Mother Eliza aka Elizabeth alias Mary KENNEDY b. 18282 m. 18443 d. unknown
Brother William WILLIS b. 18464 m. none - d. 18585
Brother Thomas WILLIS b. 18476 m. none - d. bef. 1860
Sister Mary Ann WILLIS b. 18477 & c.18508 m. 18709 John CHAPMAN d. 188610
Brother James WILLIS b. 185111 m. d. aft. 1860
Sister unknown WILLIS b.c. 185312 m. none - d. bef. 186013
Sister Anastasia WILLIS b. 185414 & c. 185215 m. 187016 John Bromley CROFT d. 192317
Sister unknown WILLIS b.c. 185518 m. none - d. bef. 186019
Brother unknown WILLIS b.c. 185620 m. none - d. bef. 186021
Brother Robert WILLIS b. 185822 m. none - d. 186123
Inmate Rachel aka Margaret WILLIS b. 186024 m. 187825 (see below) d. 189326
Husband Andrew Mackie WILSON b. 185427 m. 187828 d. 194229
Daughter Margaret Eliza WILSON b. 187930 m. 190031 Roland SHARPE d. 197032
Daughter Ethel Isabel WILSON b. 188233 m. 190534 Thomas W. LAURENCE d. 197035
Son William James WILSON b. 188536 m. none - d. 188537
Son Andrew Mackie WILSON b. 188838 m. 192439 Gladys ROBBINS d. 194540
Relationship Name Age Height Hair Eyes Complexion Build Distinguishing features
Mother Eliza KENNEDY41 40 5' 2½" brown grey fair stout
Sister Mary WILLIS42 18 5' 4½" brown grey fair stout

The Entrance Book recorded that Rachel was an eleven-year-old Catholic who was able to read the first book and write on slate when she was admitted to Newcastle on 8 July 1868.43 She was actually younger than this. Her age had been variously recorded in the newspapers as, about five months earlier, on 24 February 1868, an initial attempt to admit her to Newcastle had been made.44 Rachel's age was recorded at this time as about nine or ten and this age is considered more likely. Rachel had been taken from a brothel:

near Abbott Street [Maitland] where she resided with her mother and sister, who [were] reputedly prostitutes, was discharged to the mother as to her future practices. The bench was not satisfied that the evidence as to the character of the mother and sister to justify them in sending the child to the Industrial School.45

A second court appearance occurred some months later on 2 July when Rachel was again brought before the bench by constable McGUIRE. At this appearance she was described as aged about eight.46 By this date her mother and sister were undergoing a sentence of sixteen months for keeping a disorderly house in Maitland. McGUIRE stated that Rachel’s father was unknown to him and it was not known whether he was alive. McGUIRE reported that Rachel had been cared for by a person named DUNN, who was now unable to keep her so had reported her to the police.47 The bench decided that as Rachel had been taken from a house and had not been found wandering about, they had no power to deal with the case under the Industrial Schools Act so the case was withdrawn. Four days later Rachel again appeared before the same bench after having been arrested by senior-sergeant KERRIGAN in Sempill Street, West Maitland. KERRIGAN stated that he believed Rachel was entirely destitute because her mother and sister were undergoing a sentence in Maitland gaol for keeping a disorderly house in a lane between Abbott and Sparke streets, West Maitland.48 Rachel was charged with having no means of support, no place to go and was finally admitted to Newcastle.

Nearly three years later, on 13 April 1871, and just before the transfer to Biloela, Rachel was apprenticed from Newcastle49 to her brother-in-law, Mr John CROFT,50 of Newcastle. The apprenticeship was for five years, beginning at a rate of two shillings a week and increasing over the five year period by one shilling a week each year. The length of the apprenticeship strongly suggested that at this stage Rachel was either twelve or thirteen. The application was made by Anastasia CROFT, John's wife, directly to LUCAS to allow her to employ her sister. References accompany the application. Mr P. MALONEY, a tailor, or Hunter Street, wrote that

Mrs Croft has lived in my family for several years before her marriage during which time she conducted herself in a becomeing manner and always found her honest and industrious. I know her from her childhood and I am shure that her and husband are fit and proper people to take charge of her sister now in your institution.

John, who worked as a horse driver and storehand for George REDMAN, a cordial manufacturer, of Newcastle, was described as a good, honest and steady man.51 Rachel's relationship to the CROFT family is not recorded in LUCAS's April 1872 list52 but is noted in the Entrance Book.53

On 24 December 1878,54 at Derwent Street, Glebe, Rachel, a servant, married Andrew WILSON, a carpenter. The ceremony was performed by the Presbyterian minister, Andrew GARDINER. No ages or parents were recorded for either couple on the marriage registration but the marriage notice in the newspaper recorded that Rachel's father was named William and that he was deceased. Andrew's father was also named William. No copy of this record has yet been located in the SAG church register records to see whether any parents were identified. The registration indicated that Rachel's given name had been corrected from Rachael and the consent of Mrs Annie CROSS [sic], Rachel’s guardian, was given because Rachel was under twenty-one. Mrs Annie CROSS is almost certainly a mis-transcription of Mrs Annie (Anastasia) CROFT, Rachel’s sister, where the 'ft' was probably interpreted as a 'ss.' The births of four children were recorded to Andrew and Rachel. The funeral notice for their son, William James WILSON, recorded that the family lived at Midlothian, 39 Derwent Street, Glebe.55 Rachel WILSON died on the 14 January 1893. Only her mother, as Mary, was recorded on her death registration but the Funeral Notice in 189356 and the In Memoriam notice of 1894 recorded that she was thirty-five.57 Rachel was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery, Rookwood.58 Andrew died on 31 March 1942.59


Rachel's headstone at Rookwood Old Presbyterian Cemetery
Photograph courtesy of Australian Cemeteries Index (http://austcemindex.com)


Identification of the WILLIS family is complex owing to missing and/or contradictory records. It is possible that these contradictory records were a result of the illiteracy of Rachel's mother who had to rely on her memory to complete official documents but this cannot be confirmed. The Entrance Book recorded that Rachel's father was William WILLIS and noted that he had been away from his family for 'about six years'.60 This entry has been proved to have been an error made at the time the record was created. There was no identification of her mother but the record documented that she was in gaol.

Reports of Rachel's age varied indicating that she had been born anywhere between 1857 and 1860. She must have been born after 1857 because she needed to get permission to marry at the very end of 1878. The NSW BDM Index identified no registration for a birth for a child with this name but the index did indicate a baptism in 1860 for a child in the correct location with the correct surname. The parents on this record were Thomas and Elizabeth WILLIS.61 This was a baptism by J. T. LYNCH, in the Roman Catholic parish of West Maitland. Rachel had been born on 22 April 1860, and had been baptised on 27 May 1860. Her father was identified as Thomas WILLIS and because it was a Catholic baptism, her mother's maiden name was recorded as Elizabeth KENNEDY. Both Thomas and Elizabeth were from Maitland. Rachel's sponsors were Thomas ROGERS and Elizabeth HARRIS. While the NSW BDM Index suggested that Rachel and her apparent sister, Margaret, were born in the same year, the details of the registration of Margaret WILLIS in 1860 identified that both girls were born on 22 April 1860. They shared the same parents and Eliza and Elizabeth WILLIS had the same maiden surname. Thomas and Eliza had married on the same date but the year recorded on Margaret's birth registration was two years earlier than the actual year.62 There can be little doubt that a month after her birth the child registered as Margaret WILLIS had been baptised as Rachel WILLIS.

Rachel's birth registration identified that her father was 50-year-old, Thomas WILLIS who had been born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, and her mother was 29-year-old, Eliza KENNEDY who had been born in Limerick City, Ireland. Thomas WILLIS and Eliza (X) KENNEDY were married on 17 June 1844, at St Mary's Catholic Church, Sydney, by William BENSON. Only Eliza was Catholic. Although the marriage occurred in Sydney, both were residents of the Liverpool Plains. The witnesses were John MAGUIRE and Margaret KENNEDY, who were both from Sydney.63 The couple baptised and registered children from 1844 in Sydney, Maitland and on the Liverpool Plains. Rachel's mother was recorded as either Eliza or Elizabeth, although Eliza was the more common given name used on these registrations.

Rachel aka Margaret was Thomas and Eliza's last recorded child. Her birth registration named her surviving siblings and recorded that Thomas and Eliza had also had three sons and two daughters who had died before 1860.64 The only siblings that have been positively linked to Rachel in other records are the two sisters – Mary and Anastasia aka Ann – whose births or baptisms were not recorded. Thomas and Eliza's first recorded child, Thomas, was born on 12 May 1847, and was baptised on 29 November that year by Rev. McROACH of St James Catholic Church, Sydney. The baptism of Rachel's older brother, James, occurred on 2 September 1851. This record and Rachel's baptism are the only records for this family that appear in the HVPRI. The birth of John was registered in Warialda but when he died the following year, the death was registered in Maitland. At the time of his birth, the child, Robert WILLIS, may have been referred to in a Family Notice that was reported in the Maitland Mercury of 4 September 1858, to have been on 1 September. At this time Thomas WILLIS and his unnamed wife, were living at John Street, West Maitland.65 The only birth of a male child in Maitland on the NSW BDM Index was that of Robert WILLIS and the HVPRI confirmed that this baptism was not relevant to this family as he was the son of James and Mary Ann WILLIS and had been born at Gundy.

Because no accurate parents were recorded in the Entrance Book, proving that this was the correct family of the Newcastle admission was a complex task but what follows is almost certainly entirely correct. Rachel's mother can be identified in numerous reports in the Maitland Mercury that outline her imprisonment shortly before Rachel's admission to Newcastle. There is no doubt that she used an alias on at least one occasion. From as early as 1864, as Mary WILLIS, she appeared in court for drunkenness66 or prostitution.67 Mary WILLIS appeared until about 1866 and Eliza WILLIS appeared from about 1868. The different given names for Rachel's mother never occur together. It seems likely that many of Eliza's children were fostered out for others to care for as Anastasia was sent to Newcastle to Mr P. MALONEY and Rachel lived with the DUNN family in Maitland. It is likely that Eliza had little choice in the occupation she undertook to support her family as she had been either abandoned by her husband or widowed. Depositions indicate that in November 1865, as Mary WILLIS senior, she was charged with keeping a bawdy house in Upper Hunter Street,68 Maitland. This document has not been read.69 As Mary WILLIS, she was sentenced to a year with hard labour at the Quarter Sessions at Maitland Gaol on 5 February 1866.70 Her daughter, Mary, also appeared in court time but it wasn’t able to be proved at this time that she was also a prostitute. During her time in Maitland gaol, Mary charged a fellow inmate with attempting to stab her with a pair of scissors. This woman, Margaret O'BRIEN, was committed to a lunatic asylum.71 Maitland Quarter Session reports from March 1868, eighteen months after this gaol admission, show that as Eliza WILLIS she was again sent to Maitland gaol for operating a disorderly house in Maitland.72 Depositions dated 26 March 1868, exist for Mary and Eliza WILLIS.73 The Quarter Sessions report in the Maitland Mercury stated that a 'previous conviction against the elder prisoner, for a similar offence, was proved.' It was further stated that the younger woman, Mary, had been convicted of indecent and disorderly conduct and this almost without doubt refers to an incident in October 1867 when Mary WILLIS received fourteen days for disorderly conduct.74 Eliza was sentenced to sixteen months in Maitland and Mary, her daughter, received ten months but the Police Gazette recorded the opposite sentences.75 The women had already spent ten weeks in Maitland Gaol awaiting trial. Newspapers and the Police Gazette variously named her as Mary, Mary Eliza,76 Eliza77 or Ellen WILLIS.78 Her given name also varied in the Police Gazette suggesting that the given names were provided and were not reporting or transmission errors. Comparisons of these gaol admissions indicate that Eliza aka Elizabeth aka Mary was a 'married woman' who had been born in Ireland in about 1828 and had arrived on the Albatross in 1841.79 The Albatross carried Bounty Immigrants. Eliza had been born in about 1826 in Limerick, Ireland, and was a Catholic.80

The Albatross indent identified that fifteen-year-old Eliza KENNEDY had travelling with her sister, Margaret, and brother, William. Margaret KENNEDY was the same woman who had been witness at Eliza's marriage in 1844. She was six years older than Eliza. They were the children of Michael KENNEDY and Mary. Their mother had died before they had left Ireland.81 Margaret went on to marry George BULL82 and spent some time in Newcastle gaol in 1852 before being admitted to Tarban Creek due to lunacy. She died in West Maitland in July83 1857.84 William may possibly have died in Maitland at the age of 50 in 1864.85

No trace of Eliza can be confirmed after Rachel's admission to Newcastle. She was unlikely to have been the woman who operated as a midwife in Sydney in 1870 as this woman was born in about 1857.86 She was unlikely to be the Mary WILLIS who signed a letter of thanks to a teacher who was leaving the Maitland area in 1863.87 An online tree has indicated that she died as Elizabeth WILLS at the age of seventy-nine on 17 November 1897, in Rothbury88 but this record is almost without doubt not the death of Rachel's mother, Eliza, as the date of birth attributed to Elizabeth differs considerably from what is known of Eliza KENNEDY. No maiden name was recorded for Elizabeth and the researchers of this family have located her place of birth as Yorkshire. The tree indicated only one sibling for Rachel – Eliza Jane WILLS – but Eliza Jane and Rachel were not sisters.

No positive identification has yet been made for Rachel's father. While the Entrance Book identified that he was called William, this has been proved to have been an error. It is possible that William was the name of a second partner of Eliza and Rachel was partially correct in her statement in the Entrance Book. It is also possible that the identification of her father's name was based on a recollection of her mother's brother, William. It is considered unlikely and is also unable to be confirmed, that 'Thomas WILLIS' was an alias assumed by William WILLIS and this assumption cannot be made using any available records. Descendants of Rachel's sister, Anastasia, have been unable to further identify their ancestor.

Rachel's father was Thomas WILLIS and proving his identity is difficult and ongoing. Birth registrations for his children, Robert in 1858 and Rachel aka Margaret in 1860, were made by Eliza. She declared that Thomas had been born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, somewhere between 1810 and 1818.89 This birth location almost certainly confirmed that he was a Protestant as was suggested in his 1844 marriage record. No assisted immigrants to NSW match the birth details provided in the 1860 registration. Some online trees have identified that Thomas died in Rothbury, near Maitland, at the age of eighty, on 11 December 1897, as Thomas WILLS90 and attribute to him the second name of Henry. This death is not correct but probably referred to the man identified in Note 2 below.

A Thomas WILLIS was selling his house in Maitland in the early 1860s. Prior to this event positive references appear in the Maitland Mercury for a man of this name. This man was probably the Thomas WILLIS who was declared insolvent in the early 1860s and who after about 1860 disappeared from the Maitland newspapers. There is nothing that has yet been found to link this man to Rachel's family but it may be that the family was respectable prior to his leaving as evidenced by Eliza adopting the name Mary for her initial court and gaol appearances.

While there is no proof, Rachel's father may very well have been a convict or the descendant of convicts but there are no appropriate Permissions to Marry for either Thomas WILLIS or William WILLIS and no convicts who matched those details known about Thomas have been found arriving to NSW.

The Thomas WILLIS who was transported on the Recovery in 1819 at the age of thirteen91 who was tried in Surrey92 needs more investigation as Surrey and Wiltshire are reasonably close and the ages match reasonably well. This Thomas WILLIS needs further investigation as, even though he was recorded on the 1828C with a wife, Ellen nee GOODWIN, and child, this marriage appeared to have broken down by about 1832.93 The couple did reconcile but Ellen again left in 1837.94 This man was in Newcastle in 1825.95 He had been born in London in about 1802 so it is not very likely to be the correct father.96 No further detailed information about him has been investigated but he had returned to Sydney from about 1826.97

There was a William WILLIS known to be in the Maitland area who had been transported on the Marquis of Hastings and assigned to the A. A. Company. This employer had huge tracts of land on the Liverpool Plains – an area known to have been visited by the WILLIS family. The 1863 death of Thomas WILLIS in Maitland, whose father was recorded as Thomas and whose mother was recorded as unknown, may be connected or may actually record Rachel's father. This certificate has not been viewed.98

A Thomas WILLIS who had arrived free aboard the Roxburgh Castle in 1830 and who was approximately the correct age was admitted to Darlinghurst in 1850 but this man stated that he had been born in County Cork99 so was unlikely to be Rachel's father. While the various copies of the Roxburgh Castle indent identify contradictory religions, the gaol record clearly identified that he was Catholic and it is known that Rachel's father was not Catholic.

The convict transported for seven years aboard the Lady Feversham was identified as coming from Somerset and because Trowbridge is very close to the border of Wiltshire and Somerset, he must be considered as a possible person to be Rachel's father. He had been born in about 1813 and had been tried at Devizes in January 1830.100 He was indentured to R. Fitzgerald in the Capital[?] by 1837.101

The two sisters, Mary Ann and Anastasia, linked by records to Rachel, were both older than her. In 1870, Mary Ann married the widower John CHAPMAN. John appears to have arrived aboard the Lady Kenware [sic] in 1836102 which was almost without any doubt a mistranscription of the transport Lady Kennaway and a man of this name, tried in Derbyshire on 8 October 1835 and sentenced to Life for highway robbery certainly does appear on the 1836 indent. He had been born in Sheffield.103 His description from Maitland Gaol in 1880 matches that of the man described as a blind lunatic in 1885 and who was sent to Gladesville Asylum in December 1885. Both descriptions approximately match that of the transportee in 1836. He was almost without any doubt the man who died in Gladesville in 1886 at the reported age of 80.104 John's marriage to Mary Ann does not appear in the HVPRI. In 1874, Mary WILLIS alias CHAPMAN, appeared in Maitland court charged with being drunk and disorderly. When Mary Ann CHAPMAN died in May 1886, the coroner stated at her inquest that she was a native of the colony.105 The gaol description books for Mary Ann WILLIS and subsequently Mary Ann CHAPMAN, indicated that she had been born in Maitland.106 John and Mary Ann CHAPMAN produced children107 but no registrations for these children have been identified and it is possible that these registrations may not exist. It is believed very likely that the boys Joseph and Charles CHAPMAN admitted to the Vernon in February 1884 at the respective ages of twelve and seven were two of Mary Ann's children. The newspaper article confirmed that these boys had an ill mother; had been abandoned by their father and had been in the care of an aunt.108 The Vernon records have not survived for this period so no confirmation of the parents of the brothers can be made from this source.109

Rachel's eventual guardian, Anastasia, married John Bromley CROFT in Newcastle in 1870. John CROFT, his siblings and his children were baptised in Christchurch, Newcastle, but he and Anastasia married in the Newcastle Registry Office. Helenus SCOTT, the Newcastle Police Magistrate, gave consent for Anastasia to marry as she was under the age of twenty-one. John's mother gave consent for the marriage as he was also under twenty-one.110 It is thought that the marriage occurred in the Registry Office because of Anastasia's Catholicism.

Note (1) A set of letters111 from Mary WILLIS, of Borehole, Newcastle, that commence in 1865, concern moneys paid by her and her unnamed sister for the immigration of the family of James STEPHENSON, from Durham, Northumberland. These letters are unlikely to refer to the mother of Rachel WILLIS.

Note (2) Online trees for Eliza Jane WILLS, who was born in 1850112 and who married William CAMPBELL in 1874113 have suggested that Rachel was Eliza's sibling. There are two families – Thomas and Eliza WILLIS and Thomas and Eliza WILLS. The baptism of Eliza Jane WILLS, which occurred on the same day as her two brothers, James and Thomas, occurred in the Church of England Church at Warialda. This is not Rachel's correct family.

Updated October 2019

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