Graham Story

By Stephanie Klempfner (nee Graham)


One day the realisation came to me that I had very little knowledge of the Graham family. I didn’t even know the first name of my grandfather, "Grandaddy" Graham. I knew he had a sister who died in the 1940s and was somewhat eccentric and a daughter Clara who died in her early 30s of consumption. I had been told that Clara was engaged to be married but that when she became ill, her fiancé abandoned her. I knew there were Exleys on my grandmother’s side and I had inherited a sampler done by "Maria Cawthorne", but I didn’t know who she was. My brother Neil had a small Bible of Sarah Stuteley, who we believed to be our great grandmother, from the "Swineshead Sunday School" and I had heard a story that on the boat to Australia Sarah Stuteley had stood up against the poor treatment of the sailors and her one year old child had been tarred and feathered as a punishment. Upon arrival they had lived in a tent by the river Yarra and the child had died of colonial fever. And that was it. Except for a comment my mother used to make, that my father’s grandmother felt that his mother had "married below herself" by marrying into the Grahams. Her own family had all been "clergy and doctors".

So I decided to set out to find what was behind that comment. I wanted to know where the Grahams and Exleys came from in England, when they had traveled to Australia, what ship they had come out on and where they settled after first arriving. And in the process I hoped to find out a little of the lives they led and what forces drove them to leave everything behind in England and to start a new life in an infant colony so far from home. It has been an interesting and enjoyable process, with strange twists and turns and not a few dead ends. On my grandmother’s side there has been the discovery of three distant cousins also interested in family history. But there are no cousins on the Graham side and after 150 years in Australia, only one child carrying on the Graham name.

So let me get started. Firstly, to find out my grandfather’s name and birth details obtained through the Victorian Registry. He was born John George Graham on 18 January 1861 at Ross Street, Toorak. The midwife was a Mrs Halsihan. John’s parents are shown as William Graham, labourer aged 44, born at Thorpe-on-the-Hill, Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England and Sarah nee Stuteley, aged 44, born at Swineshead, Lincolnshire, England. They were married in Boston, England in 1849. The birth certificate shows that two children were born to them in England, Betsy and William Henry, both deceased. Two more children were born in Australia - the eccentric aunt, Sarah Ann and my grandfather John.

Birth Certificate
Birth Certificate
Birth Certificate of John George Graham

So, William Henry must be the son tarred and feathered who died of colonial fever. But here was a sister of Grandaddy Graham’s we had never known about, shown as "Betsy Elizabeth". There are several Swinesheads in England but now I knew it was the one near Boston, in Lincolnshire and I had a place of birth and marriage details for my gt grandparents, William and Sarah.

And so the search took me to Lincoln, via various birth, death and marriage details of which you will hear more later and back to the year 1792 and to my gt gt gt grandfather, another John Graham and his wife Mary...