On this web site, you will find information on, stories about and photos of those of my forebears (and their descendants) who first came to Australia, either alone or with their families. Most of these first arrivals came as assisted emigrants although two, Samuel Hickmott and John Cheeseman, were transported to Van Diemen's Land and New South Wales respectively.

elsie hickmottlaurie cheesemanThe first arrivals on my father, Laurie Cheeseman's side were: Benjamin Cheeseman and Clara Jane Cheeseman (nee Bass) from Kent in England, John Saunders Wright and Sarah Wright (nee Bodger) from Huntingdonshire, Thomas John Kersley from Hampshire, Bridget Buckley from County Cork in Ireland, and Alexander and Catherine Laurence (place of origin unknown but probably Ireland). To see Laurie's known forebears, click here.

The first arrivals on the side of my mother, Elsie Cheeseman nee Hickmott (pictured on the left), were Samuel Hickmott, Henry Hickmott and Sophia Hickmott (nee Goldsmith) all from Kent, William Free and Eliza Flavell from Cambridgeshire, Elizabeth Ann Owen from Wales, John Shepherd from Devonshire, and Johanna Mulchay from County Galway in Ireland. My mother's known forebears are shown here.

All arrived in Australia in the 1840s or 1850s. Some were forced by economic necessity to move from their loved ones and familiar surroundings and try their luck on the other side of the world. Some were lured by the stories of the gold rushes and the prospect of making their fortunes. All came from the labouring classes and, as such, had to work hard to support themselves and their families. It is likely that none had any real idea of what lay ahead of them, or of the hardships and heartaches they would have to endure. While none made a fortune, all remained in Australia and became part of the pioneering families of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

To find out more about each 'first family', just click on the links listed below:

Or click here to see a full listing of the web pages contained on this site, and here to see some of the newly received photographs.

You can also use the box below to search the site for names, places or any other information.

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As you will see, the website and the information it contains are 'works-in-progress'. If you see anything that is wrong or missing, can identify any of the unknown photographs, have any extra information, stories or photos you would like to see added, or would like, simply, to say hello, please send me an e-mail at

Other websites containing information about one or more of our 'first families' are shown at Useful Links.

Listings of births, deaths and marriages, compiled for some of these and related families from various parish registers in the United Kingdom, are shown here.

In September 2011 the 'First Families' website was included by the Australian National Library on its Pandora web archive. This comprises a growing collection of Australia's online publications and involves such other collection partners as the Australian War Memorial, National Film and Sound Archive and the various State Libraries. The webside has been re-archived each year since 2013 ensuring that the people, photos and stories described within it will be available for public viewing well into the future.

kate middleton bri and sunny

What do these two women have in common? Answer: they are both the 4xgreat granddaughters of
John and Rebecca Goldsmith of Maidstone in Kent. Click here for more details.

Recent additions and updates

June-July 2020

Using information provided by Chris Roche and other sources, we are updating what we know about Andrew Bolger (1869-1953) and Emily Jane Kersley (1873-1946) and their family and descendants. Married at 'Rosemount' near Trangie in western NSW in 1896, Emily and Andrew lived most of their married lives at 'Fontenoy', Andrew's farming and grazing property at Wallendbeen south of Young. They had four children: Edward Andrew (Pat) Bolger (1898-1977), Murray James Bolger (1900-62), Noreen Bevan (1907-2000) and Mary Margaret Dixon (1911-97).

Photos and information provided by Gloria Reilly have been used to add to what we know about William Augustine Reilly (1832-1922) and Mary Dodd (1836-1930) who were married at Warrnambool in Victoria in 1861 and selected land at Corack East in the Victorian Wimmera in 1873. Their son, Edmond Reilly (1877-1945), married Annie Florence Shepherd (1881-1947), youngest daughter of John Shepherd (1842-1918) and Johanna Mulchay (1841-1900), at Corack in 1911 and had three children: Annie Florence Morgan (1913-2000), Daisy Alexandrina Campbell (1915-88) and Edmond Lance Reilly (1919-99).

Information and photos being provided by two of his descendants, Pete Fennell and Anni Barnett, are enabling us to add to what we have on Alfred Hickmott (1869-1956), fifth son of Henry Hickmott (1825-1914) and his second wife, Harriet Waters (1834-77), and his family and descendants some of whom are living in the United States.

We have updated what we know about:

the English siblings of William Free (1829-90) and their families and descendants, some of whom also emigrated to Australia while others went to Canada, New Zealand and the United States; and

the descendants of Emma Hickmott (1847-1914), eldest daughter of Henry Hickmott (1825-1914) and his first wife, Sophia Goldsmith (1828-53). Emma emigrated with her parents and younger sister from London to South Australia in 1849 and married a Cornishman, Richard Mitchell (1835-1927), at Clunes in Victoria in 1866. She and Richard had eight children between then and 1889: Mary Sophia Jenkyn (1867-1925), Emma Edwards (1870-1940), Richard Mitchell (1872-1938), John Henry Mitchell (1874-1942), Alice Elizabeth Williams (1880-1953), Florence Louisa Holland (1883-1970), Eliza Ruby Dew (1886-1973) and William James Mitchell (1889-1955).

April-May 2020

We have also updated the life and descendants of Rebecca Louisa Collett nee Free (1849-91), only daughter of William Free (1829-90) and his first wife, Louisa Chapman (1831-53) who died in Melbourne three weeks after arriving there with William and their two children on the sailing ship LADY KENNEWAY. Rebecca married Tasmanian-born George Collett (c1838-95) at Beaufort in Victoria in 1875 and had ten children: Frederick (1874-1945), John Henry (1876-1941), George (1878-78), Florence Louisa Smith (1880-1969), William James (1881-1976), George Alfred (1883-4), Benjamin Charles (1885-1959), Sarah Ann Elizabeth Johnston (1887-1969), Alice Eliza Wilson (1888-1910) and Samuel Job Collett (1890-1961).

We have updated what we know about the life, children and descendants of two further children of William Free (1829-90) and his second wife, Eliza Flavell (1840-1925).

William Free (1860-1951) who married Margaret Barbour (1858-1932) at Emerald Hill in Melbourne in 1883 and farmed land at Corack East in Victoria and then Pingelly in Western Australia. They had two boys and a girl who all died young and five girls who grew into adulthood and married: Mary Ann Flavell Mann later McCulloch (1883-1963), Eliza Ada Hickmott (1885-1958), Emily Alice Leslie (1887-1977), Sarah Sylvia Chaplin (1889-1982) and Annie Wilson Price (1892-1983). These provided their parents with 19 grandchildren and at least 38 great grandchildren we know of.

Mary Ann (Polly) Free (1878-1948) who married John William Donnan (1869-1941) at Watchem in Victoria in 1899 and had nine children between then and 1911: Hugh William (1900-86), Ernest John (1902-65), James Samuel (10-3-79), Robert (1905-9), Leonard Harold (1907-71), Arthur Harold (1909-81), Mary (1914-14), Eliza Mary (1919-2004) and George Donnan (1911-2000). These produced 15 grandchildren and at least 36 great grandchildren we know of.

Brick walls

Described below are some of the members of our extended family who
we have not been able to trace beyond a certain period or date.

Samuel Hickmott

Samuel Hickmott was transported with his brother, Thomas, to Van Diemen's Land in 1840. After being granted a certificate of freedom in January 1850, he travelled from Tasmania to South Australia where his son, Henry Hickmott, was then living. In around 1856 Samuel left South Australia for the Victorian goldfields (we think he may have accompanied Henry and some of his colleagues on their overland journey to Bendigo but have no evidence for this). Our last sighting of Samuel was in January 1872 when he was admitted to Victoria's Maryborough and District Hospital (Henry was registered as living at Maryborough late in 1871 prior to taking up land at nearby Charlton). The hospital records don't indicate how long Samuel remained a patient, merely stating that, on discharge, he was 'sent to his friends'. We have not been able to trace Samuel after this or ascertain when and where he died and was buried. It is possible he joined Henry at Charlton, or went to Warrnambool to where his brother Thomas had moved in the 1860s (Thomas died and was buried at Warrnambool in August 1871. Or he may have gone somewhere else entirely. The search continues.

Benjamin Cheeseman

Together with his wife, Jane, and three small children, Benjamin Cheeseman emigrated from England to Australia in 1853. He was contracted to work for a James Egan of the Major's Line station near Heathcote in central Victoria for a period of six months. It seems that after completing their contract with Egan, Benjamin and Jane left Heathcote for the Maryborough and later the Ararat goldfields. Some time between 1854 and 1866, Benjamin died where the versions of what happened to him differ slightly. Some in the family thought he died of thirst on the 'Old Man's Plains' while trying to walk to the Orange goldfields in New South Wales. Others thought he was found wandering in a state of delirium on the 'Emu Plains' and was taken to the Ararat mental asylum where he died soon after admission (this was more likely Jane's second husband, William Henry Robinson). Whatever the truth of the matter, we have found no official record of Benjamin's death or of his burial - his final whereabouts remains a mystery.

Emily Grace Cheeseman

One of Benjamin and Jane's grand-daughters, Emily Grace Cheeseman was born near Morchup in central Victoria in 1889 and married Victor James Mills in Melbourne in 1911. They had had two boys by the time Victor enlisted in the First AIF and departed for overseas service in 1916. Emily and her boys lived with her family at Beaufort during the war. On hearing Victor was coming home, Emily took the boys to her mother-in-law's at Ballarat and left them there. According to her niece she feared resuming her life with Victor and saw leaving him as her only way out of 'a bad marriage'. Sadly her decision also led her to be separated from, and ostracised by, members of her own family. 'Aunty Ada was the last of the family to see her, long after we went to the Mallee, Ada just shut the door on her, said she was with an Army officer and was well dressed'. Some in the family believe Emily had a daughter, Shiela Grace Cheeseman, who was born after the war although we have been unable to confirm it.

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