Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sigrid Thornton and Who Do You Think You Are

Tonight's SBS program Who Do you Think You Are featured Australian actress Sigrid Thornton. This is a series that follows people tracing their family back. 

While we greatly enjoyed the UK version of the program, there were just so many good stories well told, the first Australian series turned us off. It turned what should have been very interesting into the mundane. We watched tonight because of a linkage via Sigrid's brother.

We both thought that this was remarkably good TV. We will now watch future episodes.

Unexpectedly from my viewpoint, the two ancestors  especially featured - one on each side of Sigrid's family - sat bang smack in the middle of the history of New England that I am trying to write.

I keep saying that history is about people. I had no idea that Sigrid's family came from Northern New South Wales. I have always thought of the Thorntons in a Queensland context, so was taken by surprise and was left without a pen or paper to take notes on simple things like names.

We can break the story into two themes. One theme goes from the Hunter to the Clarence and to Copmanhurst, up-river from Grafton. The second from England via the convict ship Marquis of Huntley and then through the convict barracks to William Dumaresq's estate in the Hunter.

The names and stories lap and over-lap in ways beyond the scope of the program. There was a whole stream of Scottish migration organised, among others by the irascible Scottish clergyman John Dunmore Lang that went from the Hunter to the Clarence.

Lang wrote of Dumaresq:

One of the best-regulated estates in the colony is that of Colonel Dumaresq ...the law on his estate is the law of kindness, and incitement to industry and good conduct are rewards, not punishments. The convict labourers reside in whitewashed cottages, each having a little garden in front. Prizes are awarded to those who keep their cottages in the best order … The result of such a system is just what might be expected; the men are sober, industrious and contented. 

This is what Sigrid's convict ancestor found.

Insolvency featured on both sides of Sigrid's family. The risk of going broke was a constant feature of the period. Insolvency was common.

The documentary captured at a personal level so many features of colonial New England life. Of course, it was not expressed in those terms. I am the one writing about New England.

As I watched, I thought what a wonderful teaching resource that documentary would be, assuming of course that I can ever get the bloody book finished. The things that I am writing about cover just about every feature of the story as shown; showing the documentary in class would be a wonderful way of bringing elements of the New England story alive.             

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