Were some of the Burgess children Aboriginal
The story that two of the children of George Burgess and Ann Haines namely Henry born
1848 and Mary Ann born 1851, were aboriginal has been floating around for a while. The
Burgess Family History book printed around 2002 by professional researcher Annette Banks
mentioned this story. Apparently the information was given to her by a Burgess descendant
but without any evidence to back up his claim. Annette could find nothing to confirm it and
didn't support his story as she states in the Burgess family history book. Personally I feel this
is just a story with no basis in truth.
My reasons are:
1) The births fit perfectly into the birth order of the family. The children are nicely spaced in
the way we always find in large families from this era, indicating they are all born to Ann. If
Henry and Mary Ann were born to an aboriginal woman, you would still expect Ann herself to
be having her regular baby every two or so years. There's no double ups or short pregnancy
dates that would indicate anything odd.
2) If you look at the actual birth registrations, you will find that mother Ann was the
informant for both births. Given the times, if the children were George's illegitimate children
with an Aboriginal woman, it's unlikely that his wife would be the one to register them
claiming to be their mother. It's even more unlikely that Ann, an English woman, would have
one, let alone two children by an Aboriginal man and try to pass them off as her husband's
children without her husband taking some sort of action.
3) What reason would the family have for adopting aboriginal children? They had children of
their own and feelings towards Aboriginal people at the time wasn't exactly positive. In fact 15
years earlier Aboriginals had actually had a bounty on their heads to encourage settlers to
round them up for removal.
4) There is a similar story that appears in one of my other Tasmania families, the Smiths, that
one of the sons or his wife was supposedly aboriginal but again, no evidence to even suggest
it is true. It would be interesting to see how many other families have similar stories. This
particular story originated in New Zealand after the family immigrated there.
5) And this is the saddest fact; in the 1830s the majority of the 200 remaining Aboriginal
people who had not been hunted or killed by disease were 'rounded up' and removed from
mainland Tasmania to the islands. By 1847 there were only about 40 people left alive on
mainland Tasmania and they were moved to Hobart.
How did these stories originate? Here's my theory:
Some of our ancestors might have had dark colouring, dark hair and dark eyes. Did the
whisper start that they were part aboriginal because of their looks? In my family line that
descends from George Burgess junior and Mary Ann Smith, two of the sons had nicknames
'Old Native' and 'Brownie' - again, if you didn't know better you might assume that either or
both of them were aboriginal simply from their nicknames. I do wonder however, if they got
those nicknames because they did have dark features, not necessarily aboriginal, but just
swarthy complexions which are unusual, but not unknown, amongst people of English
heritage. If the same were true for children of the previous generation then perhaps that is
where the rumour comes from.
At this point I will add that if any of the Burgess children's births looks unusual it would be
Martha Burgess born 1864. Martha's birth is recorded with the mother 'Rose' Burgess
formerly Haines. Informant is father George. I'm 99% sure that Martha is actually Ann's
daughter and the name Rose is simply a clerical error but if any of the children were found to
have a different mother, then my money would be on Martha, not Mary Ann or Henry.
Martha Burgess, farmers child, died 27th July 1864 aged 7 weeks. Cause of death influenza.
Mother 'Martha' Burgess of Hilltop was the informant and witness who made her mark.
Again, it may be a clerical error regarding the mothers name but it's a bit odd. Also
remember that Ann Burgess was 46 by this time.
The book "Van Dieman's Land; An Aboriginal History" reported there was a man named
George Burgess who married Julia Mansell, reportedly a part aboriginal woman [daughter of
Edward Mansell, an Englishman, and Judith Thomas aka Black Judy, a part aboriginal
woman according to family trees on Ancestry] This George Burgess lived on Bass Straight
Islands and did not reside on the mainland. Their marriage was in 1877. George gives his
age as 19 and his occupation 'mariner'. There is no doubting there was a Burgess family
living on the Bass Straight islands, but they do not appear to be connected with 'our' Burgess
family. However, it's possible that this is where the story originated; someone hearing of a
George Burgess who married a part aboriginal woman and thought it might be the same
I welcome all questions, comments and suggestions. You can email me HERE
1) Extract from the Launceston Birth Registrations for 1848 for Henry Burgess
2) Launceston Birth Registration for Mary Ann Burgess.