December 31st, 2012


Fire and Fleet

Those of you who follow my family maunderings will know that when I went to the British Library in September to research Daniel Southwell's voyage to Australia with the First Fleet, I was surprised to find him referring to a young cousin of his on another of the Fleet ships - a lad named Daniel Butler. This was a shock, as I'd never come across young Dan Butler in my family tree, even though most of the children of that generation are listed. There were several potential Butler uncles for Dan to be the son of, but none had his name attached. Dan is a lively character - not very disciplined, a bit untidy though "a clever little tar" when he puts his mind to it, bad about writing letters home, an artist of sorts, something of a rogue in fact (as my great*4 grandfather Weeden calls him in a letter to Southwell). Southwell - only in his mid-twenties himself - takes him under his wing and is solicitous about him in letters after their paths diverge, but there is never any mention of his having parents, although he is clearly only in his mid-teens. The last sight we have of him - and that's really a non-sighting - is in a letter of June 30th, 1793, from Southwell to Uncle Weeden:

Does my enquiry about Dan. B. slip your memory or has any thing particular come to hand? I have left off to ask my mother, as possibly she might not like to inform me of any mishap but you Uncle need not be sway’d by any such reasons. We know “we’re born to die”. I was going to say particularly soldiers and sailors, and you yourself once did tell me or ask me, if “Botany Bay would not sound as well at the Day as Nicholas Lane or Chelsea.” So also I imagine Africa, or the sea between it and us.

And that's where our story ended in September. Since then, however, I've been contacted by Michael Flynn, an Australian historian currently working on a new edition of The founders of Australia: a biographical dictionary of the First Fleet. He's given me quite a bit of help with the two First Fleet Daniels (and I hope I've given him a little too). The story is now coming together, although it's sadder than I would have liked...
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