Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Owen Smith, Shoemaker.... and Drunkard

A brick begins to fall from my wall 

To date, Owen Smith has been my most difficult ancestor to trace in Australia. At last a clue has appeared as to the death of my elusive paternal Great, Great Grandfather, with my scant knowledge of him being that he was a shoemaker on the station “Boorolong” located near Armidale in New South Wales. I can now add that he was a drunkard!

The only clue to Owen’s existence had been his name, occupation and place of residence, which appeared on the Baptismal certificate of his son, William Smith, born on May 11, 1854





Quality or profession


Christiana SMITH



Received after requesting certificate registration number: V18541034 40/1854
Name: William Smith
From: NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages – Historical Index

However recently, I discovered a list of deaths dealt with by the NSW coroner from 11 October 1853, where an Owen Smith died in the Armidale district of “Excessive drinking”; the inquest taking place on the 30th of November 1853. No other information as to age, occupation or any other identifying clues are included, but it does fit the timeline and location. 

Owen Smith, number 95, 3rd from bottom
Although, again, there is no record of their marriage, this would have left his widowed wife, Christiana Matheson, pregnant and a single mother for three years before she remarried Jabez Smith (no relation), a worker on the same property, on February 17, 1857, giving her status as “Shoemaker’s widow”. I ask myself why though was Owen not noted as deceased on the baptismal certificate?

Portion of marriage certificate between Christiana Smith (Matheson) and Jabez Smith

Searching the death indexes of the NSW Births Deaths and Marriages Registrations for that year with for “Owen Smith” returns no results. Searching with just the surname “Smith” returns 61 results. Checking this list carefully finds that there are no Ewan’s, or anything other likely name that may indicate a misspelling.

Checking Trove (Australian Digitized newspapers) reveals only four mentions of an “Owen Smith” during 1853, none of them relevant to my search; though it is possible that the newspapers covering the New England area for period in question have yet to be added to Trove. I also checked the NSW Police Gazettes, which, as far as I can, tell only began in 1854, but perhaps that is just the digitized version.

There are only a few people named “Owen Smith” whom appear in the arrival search results. One, a child aged 15, who was allowed to come to Australia from Ireland with his family to be reunited with his convict father, Patrick Smith on the "William Jardine" in 1838, seemed the most likely candidate, however this Owen has a well documented life and family, and is definitely not my Owen. There were also at least four convicts with the same name, transported from Ireland and England during the years previous to 1853. Without tracing each of their lives and time in the colony, in would be impossible to say which, if any were my Owen. There are also no recorded births for an "Owen Smith" in NSW up to 1840.

I am unsure where to search next and would appreciate any advice as to finding a death certificate for my elusive Great, Great Grandfather, so that I can gather some information that may lead to discovering how and when he came to the colony or where and when he was born; when he was married and when he died. What is really needed is a trip to Armidale to check local records, but that is impossibility for me in my current circumstances. If there are any local researchers, I would be willing to pay for your time, so please contact me.

But there are tingles running up and down my spine, and I feel that now that a brick has come loose, it will not be long before the wall comes tumbling down


Certificates held by self
NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages; Historical indexes
State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia. Registers of Coroners’ Inquests and Magisterial Inquiries, 1834–1942 (microfilm, NRS 343, rolls 2921–2925, 2225, 2763–2769).

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