Leaving Plymouth

The paternal history of the Stone Family in Australia starts with a story about John STONE. John was a dockworker cum ‘plate layer’ and railway ‘ganger’1 born in Mothecombe Village near Plymouth, Devon in the United Kingdom in 1836. John’s descendants made Australia home. John’s father was a master carpenter from a nearby village called Holbeton. John married Harriet LOWDER, a master carpenter’s daughter from Honiton Devon in 1860. They moved to Plymouth where John gained jobs around the docks ranging from ‘cart man’ to ‘plate layer’ . The story of John and Harriet is cast in a time of migration on a large scale from the British Isles to the ‘new world’.

Why Australia in preference to Canada or the United States of America, New Zealand or South Africa? We don’t have all the answers but instead are left to wonder, speculate and romanticize a little as to why a man with a young family would take them half way round the world to an uncertain future to a land not yet a country. This was a land mass governed as a number of Crown Colonies on a short leash from Whitehall2 sharing the one continent of Australia styled ‘the great southern land’.3 Having travelled to the South Hams and the villages of South Pool, Mothecombe, Nethecombe and Holbeton I was struck by the picture postcard appearance of this part of England; these are quaint settlements near the coast set in one of the most picturesque parts of England.

The countryside around Flete House near Holbeton Devon England.

The climate is not as oppressive compared with the north of England although most Australians would struggle with the locals idea of a ‘nice day’; nor was the south caught up or ravaged by the Industrial Revolution in the same way as the north notwithstanding the decline country wide of village life in the late 18th Century. All of the foregoing begs the dual question – why and was it worth it?

Over five successive generations we the STONE Family have played our part in building the nation the Commonwealth of Australia; we have done ‘our bit’ to put it colloquially – railway workers, iron moulders, plumbers, ‘wharfies’, teachers, boot clickers, brewery workers, fruit vendors, soldiers, lawyers, civic leaders, members of parliament; activists on both sides of the political divide, trade unionists, wool classers, factory workers, postal clerks, businessmen and women, mothers and wives.

The question remains - why come to Australia in the first place?

John and Harriett applied for their passports in 18614; that was before the birth of William Henry, Emma and Edwin in Plymouth. That might suggest their subsequent migration was not on an impulse but rather considered and planned. I have stood on the Barbican Plymouth where they departed from – twice I have been drawn to that place where they would have embarked, to walk in their footsteps – a man and his wife and 3 toddlers. What were they thinking; what did they expect to find in this new land? Why did they leave? Four years on John, Harriet and their 3 young children arrived in Moreton Bay in 1865. I have viewed the three sites of their possible landings; Peel Island, Dunwich and North Stradbroke Island where new arrivals were held in quarantine before passengers were conveyed into Brisbane the capital of the fledgling Crown Colony of Queensland.

Today Brisbane is a modern city and one of Australia’s most liveable where the quality of life is the envy of many Australians. This desirability in contemporary terms is borne out by the migration from interstate to the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast of retirees and young families looking for new opportunities and a gentler climate. It was not like that in the mid 1800’s; I have pictured John and his family travelling up the bay traversing the Brisbane River snaking its way to the open sea with its thick mangroves and biting midges.

Etching of Kangaroo Point on the Brisbane River circa mid 1800's

I wonder what John and Harriet must have been thinking of their new home. They had left behind the Port of Plymouth with its buildings and infrastructure spanning the centuries for a place comprised of makeshift residences and teeming migrants chasing a dream. In leaving England Harriet at 27 years had in reality severed links with her family in Honiton and John at 29 years had done likewise with his family in Holbeton.

Devonshire to their bootstraps

With the assistance of British Ancestors I have researched different lateral families dating from the 1600’s in England however my focus has been on John, his son Edwin (great grandfather of Shan e STONE) and their descendants to present day – my direct line of descent5. There are many STONE families in Australia and a number pre date John’s arrival in Australia. At the time of publication I have not been able to confirm any connection other than by way of marriage between the various families that today bear the same surname. Others of the STONE name should not feel that I have been presumptive in using the title The STONE Family in Australia.

Holbeton Village looking down from the front of All Saints Church

As would be evident from the preamble a complete family history does not turn on births, deaths and marriages alone – an understanding of a family ancestry is best achieved in context of the life and times of family members. A family history in context is a far more compelling and interesting tale.

Our time line dates from present day 2014 as at the time of publication to the late 1500’s commencing with Jack and Madeleine – Shane – Leslie – William – Edwin – John – Nicholas – John – Josias – Richard – Richard – Peter – Anthony – Anthonye; 14 generations spanning 400 years thereabouts – 6 generations in Australia and 8 in England.

Our research ends rather than starts (given we worked backwards from the present generation and from what we knew) in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s in a small village in the South Hams Devon called South Pool.6 The village by relative English terms is recent:7

‘The present fabric is mainly late 15th century in date, but the core of the church may be that of the building consecrated by Bishop Stapeldon on 24 August 1318’.

I cannot find a reference to South Pool in the Doomsday Book of 1085/86.8 The main population center nearest would have be Exeter an historic city, the most south-westerly Roman fortified settlement in Britain.

Who were the Devonish?

As to where the STONEs came from before South Pool is a matter of conjecture; by reason of their geographic location it is a matter of speculation whether they were of Saxon, Celt, remnant Viking stock from the eighth to the eleventh century incursions or direct descendants of the original Danmonii, Belgic or Cimbri peoples. I found persuasive evidence of the name being well established in South Pool and the surrounding areas during the 15th Century. From South Pool we travel to the village of Holbeton , 12 miles west northwest and hereafter briefly to Plymouth and to Australia (Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, Australia’s Northern Territory and back to Queensland in five generations).

Most Australians will have heard of Devon or Devonshire and many people from this region over the generations have made Australia home. Devon has an ancient history. ‘Devon was called Dunan by the Cornish Britons; Deuffneynt by the Welsh; and Devnascyre by the Anglo-Saxons. It is supposed that it was inhabited at a very remote period, and that its inhabitants had commercial transactions in tin, &c., with the Phoenicians and Greeks. Polwhele says that its aborigines were the Danmonii; but Whitaker supposes the latter were the Belgic invaders, and that the first inhabitants were the Cimbri, some of whom, after the invasion of the Belgae from Gaul, emigrated to Ireland, and others continued in the north-west parts of Devonshire. Caesar tells us that when he landed in Britain he found the Belgae occupying the sea coast; but Richard of Cirencester says the Cimbri were on the north and the Danmonii on the south coast of Devon. The county was included with Cornwall, under the name of Danmonium, which is supposed to be derived from the Phoenician words dan or dun, a hill; and moina, mines; or from Welsh words signifying deep valleys. Under the Roman domination, Devon was included in that large and important division of the island called Britannia Prima; and by the Saxons it was made part of the kingdom of Wessex, and so continued till the incorporation of the seven Saxon Kingdoms into one monarchy, in the time of Egbert; as will be seen……, where most of the momentous events relating to the general history of Devon, are necessarily incorporated with the history of the city of Exeter. There has been nothing peculiar in the government of Devonshire, except that of the Stannary Laws, which have been in force from a very early period in the mining districts. The ‘STANNARY PARLIAMENTS’ were anciently held in the open air, on an elevated spot called Crockentor, in Dartmoor. Polwhele, who wrote about 1795, says that the president’s chair, the jurors’ seats, &c., cut in the rude stone, remained entire nearly till that period, though it had been customary for a very long time only to open the commission and swear in the jury on the site of the ancient court, and then to adjourn to the court house of one of the stannary towns, viz., Ashburton, Chagford, Plympton, and Tavistock. The stannary prison was a miserable dungeon at Lidford Castle. The custom of opening the court at Crockerntor, has been many years disused’.9

Who were the STONEs?

STONE is a common surname in Southern England:

‘From Old English stan ‘stone’… most commonly a topographic name, for someone who lived either on stony ground or by a notable outcrop of rock or stone boundary-marker or monument…also found as a metonymic occupational name for someone who worked in stone, a mason or stone cutter..’ .

The name endures in various parts of the United Kingdom including Devon, Cornwall, Hampshire, Buckinghamshire and Norfolk. In the City of Newport 5% of the population share the surname . It is not such a common surname in Australia; growing up in Wodonga in country Victoria in the 50’s and 60’s I never met another STONE.

Surnames and their study have become a discrete area of genealogy . Throughout my research I encountered variations of the surname, some intended others inadvertent that gained usage over generations. Further I had to contend with curates and clerks who in some cases barely literate themselves wrote down what they heard rather than what was intended. In the course of the narrative I refer to various villages and settlements in Devon. A Little further on I have produced historical descriptions of both Holbeton and South Pool as a prelude to setting out the STONE Family connection. Throughout my research I tracked the family in Devonshire through the generations and not once in the first 300 years did I venture beyond the Devon boundaries in my pursuit. That being the case I can with some certainty claim the STONEs are emphatically ‘Devonian’ in contemporary historical terms.

Leaving South Pool

In addition to South Pool and Holbeton there are a number of adjoining hamlets and small settlements that figure prominently in my research. Mothecombe I have already referred to; also Nethecombe and Gipps Village (a small grouping of stone houses on the edge of Holbeton situated on the rise behind and above the school). The Flete Estate was a place of accommodation and employment for STONE family members. Today it is a prime tourism destination; the former stately Flete House has been turned into a retirement village . Mothecombe Farm (including Mothecombe House) survives to this day.10

Mothecombe House across the fields Devon

Various UK Census returns dating from 1841 distinguishes between the various hamlets and I have cross referenced as many of those that follow in terms of residency and occupation where the records exist. Other places of relevance to the family include Plymouth , Devonport, Stoke Damerel and St. Leonards Island (later renamed Drake’s Island) . Family members still reside in Plymouth; also Cornwall and Birmingham.

Port of Plymouth date unknown

In this narrative I have made our starting point the surviving STONE family members in Australia. Going forward and back the central figure of reference is Nicholas Goad STONE (1813-1891). From Jack to Nicholas - 7 generations - there is a direct line of eldest with male issue. The line was broken in 1806 with the birth of Nicholas’s older brother John (married Rebecca LEIGHT and on her death Susannah STARLING). John was the eldest son of Josias STONE. John STONE in turn had male issue as did subsequent generations of his line. I initially resisted the temptation not to include Nicholas’s older brother’s descendants in my research however their inclusion became compelling as research has been undertaken and published by the descendants of John STONE. Any thoughts of a convenient ‘fork in the road’ at that juncture dissipated. That said I have not researched and documented in as great a detail those lateral families of John STONE, Rebecca LEIGHT and Susannah STARLING as I have done for my own line of descent. Dating from Nicholas Goad STONE to my son Jack STONE a direct line of eldest with male issue has been established over 5 generations in Australia.

The maternal line

Turning briefly to a maternal line of descent (in the context of Australia) I have traced a direct line to Ellen WAINWRIGHT alias Esther ECCLES a First Fleet Convict who arrived in Botany Bay aboard the Prince of Wales. Relying on the research of a fourth cousin Irene DONALD and her publication ‘Her Blood in Our Veins’ I have been able to authenticate the connection through the DEVINE family – my mother’s family.

The maternal descent from 1788 to 2008 comprises the following WAINWRIGHT (ECCLES) and GUY (GAY) – GUY (GAY) and WHEELER – BILSTON and WHEELER – BILSTON and McELLIGOTT – BILSTON and O’GORMAN (GORMAN0 - SANDIFORD GORMAN (O’GORMAN) – SANDIFORD and DEVINE - DEVINE and STONE.

There is also a direct convict link to the STONE family in the first generation in Australia with the marriage of William Harvey THORP and Elizabeth Ann aka Annie STONE (daughter of John and Harriet). William THORP’s parents Edmund Stephen THORP and Isabel BLACK were both convicts .

In Australia a convict ancestry is highly prized among those interested in such matters. We are able to lay claim to links to convicts on the First, Second and Third Fleets as well as subsequent convict arrivals before ‘transportation’ finally ended. The intermarriage between convicts and their subsequent generations was not uncommon and was driven as much by availability and necessity as any other consideration. The WAINWRIGHT maternal line is dealt with in greater detail under Our Convict Heritage which has its own tab on the website.

We have also separately documented the most recent in time maternal ancestry of my wife Josephine Gabriella STONE nee NOVAK which derives from NOVAK (Slovenia) and MLINARIC (Croatia) later reverted to MUELLER (German). This work was largely undertaken by Josephine’s late eldest sister Rose NOVAK. This maternal line is dealt with in greater detail under Lateral Families which has its own tab on the website.

We are Australian

Australia is a country built on immigration including the original indigenous people. In more recent times successive waves of immigrants dating from 1788 to present day have helped build a nation with a liberal democracy based on the Westminster system in a relative short period; a little over 220 years. The STONE family through both lineal and lateral lines have figured in three important waves of migration to Australia – the initial settlement and colonization of Australia dating from 1788; the period of the Gold Rush era dating from 1851 onwards that witnessed a large influx from Europe and a lesser number from China followed by the establishment of new colonies; a third wave of migrants arriving as refugees after World War II.

Australia has its own folk culture with poems and ballads to help tell the story, many irreverent and immortalizing bushrangers and larrikins alike. From convicts bidding ‘farewell to old England forever’ to shearers ‘shearing sheep as big as whales in New South Wales’ there was a story for every occasion. So it was off to Australia and in the case of John STONE and his young family Queensland - a new country and a new beginning.

  1. John’s job descriptions that appear on the birth certificates his first 3 born children born in and around Plymouth UK

  2. Whitehall is a road in London that houses many of HM Government departments; ‘Whitehall’ was and still is used as a metonym (figure of speech) for government administration in the UK

  3. The way the Australian continent was referred to by early explorers and writers in Europe. The name persists to this day and features in songs and contemporary Australian pop culture. Also called Terra Australis by the Spanish explorer Pedro Fernandez who mistook Vanuatu for Australia; Fernandez named what he thought was Australian for the Austria Hapsburg royal family and later Matthew Flinders perpetuated the name, hence Australia

  4. Passport Applications of John and Harriet Stone see Archives Documents

  5. Permit me to add the disclaimer that I am not an advocate for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons) however I found their professionalism, research and level of service exceptional. In particular I acknowledge the assistance of my ‘case manager’ Wendy Wane and Devon researcher the late Patrick Woodland

  6. Streetmap provide an excellent online map of the UK that lists all the small villages and hamlets Website link to streetmap

  7. Hoskin W.G Devon and It’s People (Exeter: A. Wheaton 1959)

  8. William the Conqueror’s great land survey of England; in effect, the earliest English census of sorts, as only tenants-in-chief and their sub-tenants that is the great landowners, before and after the Conquest, were recorded by name


  10. © Copyright Martin Bodman and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Next: Chapter 3: The Crown Colony of Queensland