DAWSON, Cheshunt, early 19th century

January, 2012




Kerryn Ferraro of Perth, Australia, writes: I have been searching for my great great grandfather John Dawson born around 1806-1811.  He was the son of Joseph Dawson, Farmer b possibly around 1780. Our John was indentured as a farm servant to a Dubois Aggett from Cheshunt, Hertfordshire and our John emigrated to Australia with his employer 1829 on board the Egyptian, sailing from London.

We did find a record to a John Dawson born
[christened] 29 Oct 1809 to a Joseph Dawson and a Cecilia Lee. Joseph and Cecilia married 20 Jun 1805 Cheshunt. There was a Joseph Dawson that appeared to pass away in the Cheshunt poorhouse a couple of years after this 15 Dec 1816. (Births index PO1783-1 Source film 496802; marriage index MO7225-3 source film 991372; Death index IO4644-8 source film 1537786.)  However, we can find no other information on his wife Cecelia, son John or any other siblings.

I'm wondering if you can help find proof that our John is the son of this Joseph and Cecelia Dawson and where Joseph and Cecelia originated from.

Later Kerryn provided more information from the ship's manifest and information in Western Australian records including the following, and I have edited my initial comments to include this additional information.:

Our John did not marry until his mid forties (for want of available women I am sure).  However, he did end up marrying a girl off an Irish Bride-ship and her name was Mary Dooley (possibly Mary Ann).  Their children starting from the eldest child were Mary Jane (known as Janie), Catherine, Elizabeth Magdalene, eldest son John Joseph, Susan, Rose Anne and youngest son Edward. There was a infant that passed away in there, not sure of dates. We know that the youngest son was named after his mother's father Edward and although we haven't found the siblings or mother of John's wife Mary, we do have her cousins names which could account for most of the other names, even Catherine...although Magdalene is a wild card.   

With regard to DuBois Aggett:  We think that our John must have been with DuBois for some time, because on the ship’s manifest was another servant, a carpenter by trade, whom we think must have taught our John some skills in carpentry.  John spent most of his formative years in Australia doing carpentry and odd jobs, including whaling.  He didn’t seem to have much interest in farming until much later in life.  We did look at Dubois Aggett and we found out he didn’t spend all his years in Cheshunt.  He had previously been in Surrey and I’m not sure where else.  However, we did look to Surrey and where ever to find our John and Joseph without success.    On the ship’s manifest, it just mentions John Dawson as a farm servant and his father is listed as just Joseph Dawson, farmer.  In all information sourced from the WA historical society ... there doesn’t seem to be much else to be found.  Perhaps I will take your email in with me. 

I have heard it said that Dubois Aggett tried to sue our John from breach of contract, as John left his employ a short time after arrival.  Apparently old Mrs Aggett was a monster to the employees, which I won’t go into detail about.  But this reminds me ... I should look for the origins of the other servants on the Ship’s Manifest.  My cousin has a book which tells of the brutality towards one of the servant girls at the hands of Mrs Aggett ... and we know the carpenter jumped ship in Africa on route to Australia.

The other hint was John named his property here in Western Australia ‘Newbury’ supposedly after his home village ... our family always thought it was in England.  However, we a branch of the family who said he originated from Ireland.  We have looked to Newbury in Berkshire without success.  There is also a Newberry Street named after our John and his property.  Our John was described as barely literate...he was able to sign his name etc

Proof is an ideal which it is often very difficult to establish the further you go back, particularly with the poorer members of society.  What you need to do is to establish what the options are, and eliminate those which do not fit. This may well mean checking up on many people who turn out not to be close relatives. In some cases there will only be one "looks likely" alternative which falls well short of being positively proved. In such cases you have to treat it as a good working assumption - but always be on the lookout for further information to strengthen, or weaken, the support for your assumption. Some of the problems are described in Where to look before 1837 when the Parish Registers don't help

In your case what I say is predicated on the assumption that he came from Cheshunt - which is not certain will start with what I consider the foundation information, which I assume all comes from records relating to John Dawson journey to Australia and to records created once he got there.  I will also assume the Australian records are accurate - which I know isn't always the case - see Sources and Reliability.

The first comment I have relates to his father being said to be a farmer. In many Australian records there is upwards mobility relating to both what you did, and your father did when it came to describing your background (which no one would have been able to check). If your father was an agricultural labourer, possibly with a small holding attached to his cottage big enough to grow vegetables for the family, he would very often be described as a farmer. If he (and possibly the whole family) ended up in the poorhouse you would not want that to be recorded on your Australian records. So all we can assume from the statement that "Joseph Dawson was a farmer" is that John's father was probably associated with the land - which perhaps 90% of the inhabitants of Hertfordshire were at the time. After all Australia was a place of great opportunities to bury the past.

There is a big difference (which the records would not show) between John calling his Australian Farm "Newbury" or "New Bury". Nearly every village in Hertfordshire (and in many other parts) had a big farm (sometimes the old manor house) called "The Bury."  So if John called his farm "New Bury" it gives no information as to where in Southern England he came from. It was just a big new farm like the one in the village at home. However if John's father Joseph had a farm in Hertfordshire big enough to be called "The Bury"  it is unlikely that Joseph came from a family of labourers - see paragraph on Militia Lists below.)

The second comment I have relates to his employer at the time he entered Australia. Dubois is not an English name (There was only one man with the Christian name Dubois in the whole of England in 1851 - and he was born in the Netherlands). Aggett (and many possible commoner spelling variations) appears to be an unknown surname in Hertfordshire in the early 19th century. Unless you have found definite English records to say that John Dawson was working with Dubois Aggett in England for some time the indenture may have been arranged so that Dubois could take a servant with him to Australia. It may be that Dubois Aggett was a foreigner who moved through several places in England, including Cheshunt and assuming he was there for several years owning or renting a property there may be a record in the Land Tax records at HALS.

As you have noted the new familysearch online index has the following entries which are possibly relevant:

A similar search will also show that a couple called Charles and Mary Dawson were also in Cheshunt at about the same period, and if the records of their family are complete, they did not have a child called John. As Mary died in Southwark, Surrey and was buried in Cheshunt (possibly with her husband) the Charles/Mary family must have had some money to have the body moved - so may not have been closely related to John, who the earliest occupation was an indentured farm labourer.  Evidence from the Hertfordshire Militia Ballot Lists suggests that Charles may have been a peruke (Wig) maker and barber.


Names run in families (see The Inheritance of Single Christian Names) and Cecelia is a very uncommon name - so if any of John's Australian descendants were called Cecelia this could be a big bonus point. Lydia is somewhat more common, but if this name turn up in the Australian family it is a positive sign. However the presence of the name Charles coupled with the absence of Cecelia, Lydia and Harry could be a negative point, unless there was a Charles in John's wife's family.


The Hertfordshire Militia Ballot Lists also shows that in the second half of the 18th century there were people called John, Joseph, Thomas and William Dawson (in addition to Charles, mentioned above) living in Cheshunt and where an occupation was given they were all labourers or servants.  The Joseph Dawson listed in 1801 lived in Woodside Ward, Cheshunt (no occupation given) could well have been the Joseph who married Cecelia.


There may be unindexed manuscript material at HALS relating to Cheshunt (possibly including manorial rolls) which contains additional information relating to people with the surname Dawson.


On the information above I would consider that IF IT CAN BE PROVED that John came from Cheshunt it would be reasonable (but not proved beyond all possible doubt) to treat your John Dawson as the one who was baptised in Cheshunt in 1809, and that his parents were Joseph and Cecelia.  I would treat it as possible  (but would look for other evidence) that John's grandparents were Harry and Lydia.

If you can add to the information given above tell me.

January 2012   Page created