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COVID-19: Family tree reveals highwayman ties

Written by Margot Taylor
on April 28, 2020

With extra time on their hands, a number of residents at our villages are diving into the world of online genealogy by tracing their family tree.

Nellie Melba Retirement Village resident Geoff Fitzpatrick says his family history research has taught him to expect the unexpected. 


"Put your hands up, this is a highway robbery."

It’s not a line Geoff Fitzpatrick has uttered before, but discoveries made while working on his family tree have revealed at least two family members are likely to have spoken those words.

Geoff said he was “astounded” when he learnt of one convict ancestor, however he could not believe it when he discovered another two.


“It was certainly not something I was expecting to discover,” he laughed.

Geoff said his interest in family history started more than 30 years ago.

“I was able to research my mother’s side of the family because their surname was unusual, so I was able to do quite a bit of research before the internet.”

However, with three John Fitzpatrick’s on his father’s side and feeling that “half of Ireland was named John Fitzpatrick”, it was only recently that Geoff discovered the colourful pasts of his paternal relatives.

“I started to get inspired again in recent times because I was looking for something to do.

“I decided to bite the bullet and join Ancestry.com, which was a bit of a risk because it was $150, but it has really paid off.”

By building his family tree on the website Geoff learnt of family members Richard Hurst, Robert Scarborough and Philip Clarke, who were all sent to Australia in the 19th century for highway robbery and burglary.

“Richard Hurst and his son were each charged with burglary and transported to what is now called Tasmania.

“He left a wife and eight other children who eventually came and settled with them in Tasmania.

“Richard lived to 90, which is very impressive for the 19th century, particularly because of the labour he would have had to do.”

Geoff said while he was not aware of other criminals in the family, his research had taught him to expect surprises. 

“I got my DNA tested by Ancestry.com and I discovered I am 3% Indian.

“Goodness knows how long ago that relation was alive!”

The research had offered a “fascinating insight” into the lives of his relatives, including details as specific as the hair colour and height of some, he said.

“Having access to the internet has made it so much easier because before you had to jump on a tram and go into the city and trawl through microfiche.”

Since joining the ancestry website a number of fourth and fifth cousins had been in contact with Geoff remarking at how amazing it was they could trace their relation back to one ancestor.

His quest to “see where I came from” did not look like it would end anytime soon, with Geoff expecting to make “lots of use” of his six-month membership on the website.

“I would say to people prepare yourself for surprises because what has been told in a family is not always accurate.

“But I would definitely recommend doing this, there is an awful lot of information out there about who you are and where you come from.”

During COVID-19 Victorian residents with a State Library membership can get free access to the Ancestry.com Library Edition.

The collection includes 1.5 billion names and records including the Australian Convict index, Australian electoral roles and British Army World War 1 pension records.

To access the database click here

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