Looking to the past for love

Great love stories discovered looking through family history

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DISCOVERING THE PAST: Ann Lennie discovered a treasure trove of information about her great-great grandmother Esther Sutton and her husband Thomas Knowles.

DISCOVERING THE PAST: Ann Lennie discovered a treasure trove of information about her great-great grandmother Esther Sutton and her husband Thomas Knowles.


The greatest of love stories found by searching the family tree.


GREAT loves have their ups and downs - and it was similar for our ancestors.

Ann Lennie, from Melbourne, has learnt relationships take a lot of work from her great-great grandfather, convict Thomas Knowles after delving into her family tree on Ancestry.

Born into the street gangs of Stockport in Manchester in 1830, Thomas was received 50 lashes and was sent to the colony of Australia after he was caught stealing a handkerchief as a 10-year-old.

But Thomas turned his life around after meeting his soulmate Esther Sutton in Adelaide.

"Thomas didn't have any sort of family life before. I think he learnt about family life from her family," Ann said.

The pair married when Esther was 14 and four months and Thomas was 28. They had 19 children together in 25 years, but only six survived into adulthood.

From what Ann has pieced together by examining convict records, court cases, marriage indexes and death notices, they faced many challenges together but persevered.

"No matter what the era, the same basic rules for life and the heart apply: to make a relationship last, work is the magic word," she said.

"We all have our differences, but we have to learn to live with small insignificant irritations; such as sorting dirty socks and doing the dishes but in the end, trust, openness and communication is paramount."

Thomas and Esther headed to the Goldfields and were living on Moolooloo Station, north of Flinder's Ranges. Here, Thomas worked as a station manager and Esther worked as the cook.

While they were here, they hosted Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart. Esther gave Stuart, now famed for trekking from Adelaide to Darwin and discovering the centre of Australia, a flag to erect in the country's middle. Instead of taking payment for the flag, Esther insisted he named something after her.

"Twelve miles north of Mt Stuart is a small hill named Mount Esther," said Ann.

Ann was delighted when she discovered these details about Thomas' and Esther's life together.

"We knew about Esther but no one knew anything about Thomas except his death certificate.

"I was over the moon when I found all this information. You get such a wonderful feeling when you've made a discovery."

The things we do for love

Tony Paul discovered his great-great grandfather George Childs fell in love with Mary Gergison in Hobart in the early 19th century. But the problem was, she was already married to a convict named James Littlejohn.

George Childs was born 1831 in England and at 20 years old he become a private solider, a career choice that brought him to Australia and the love of his life Mary Gergison.

"I believe Mary, who was 17 when she got married, found life married to a 44-year-old convict wasn't her cup of tea," Tony said.

He believes the marriage was either an act of rebellion or an attempt by Mary's family to acquire more land. After a year of marriage, Mary left Hobart in 1856 - the same time George also left the city - which makes Tony think the pair ran away together.

After further research, Tony found out that the two finally married in 1869.

"By this stage they had five children, but on their marriage certificate it said they were both widowed so their children weren't deemed illegitimate," he said.

"The times when George and Mary were living would have been extremely tough, but through the good times and the bad, they stuck together and it made me realise that commitment and patience is fundamental for a long-lasting relationship."