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Expert Q&A :: State Library of NSW on goldfields and the Holtermann collection

Q. From Kim: My 3 x great grandfather. Henry Jackson Motrram was transported to VDL from Wales, After gaining his freedom he then went California in search of gold. I don’t know if he had failure or success, but he then went to Sydney and held the license and ran the Coach and Horses hotel in Cumberland Street. After his wife died, family story has it that he headed off to a goldfield and was never heard from again. Any ideas where I should begin to look? I have no clue as to which goldfield he went to and I have hit a brick wall.
A. Carmel: Kim, have you tried records in each state and NZ? also Trove and Papers Past.
A. SLNSW: @Carmel We’ll take this offline and answer this tomorrow – Megan
A. IHM: @Kim Have you tried the State Records NSW Publicans’ licences 1830-61 Index? – there is a MOTTRAIN at the Coach Horses in 1848 :: – is that your man?
A. Liz: Thanks for the link to the publican’s licenses. I found mention of my great great great (I think) grandfather Walter Rotten, who had the Woolpack near Maitland. I also found elsewhere on the state library’s site, that his letters are in the Library’s collection: might have to come and read them.
A. Kim: Yes, that’s him, thank you 🙂 Trove has a number of articles pertaining to him Carmel, I have used Trove to track his progress as a convict, his time as a shop owner in Hobart, his affair with his neighbour’s wife and the death of his own wife. I even managed to glean his home address, which was in Lower Fort Street, Sydney, it was demolished to make way for the road leading up to the Harbour Bridge. As great as the available nsw records and Trove are, he has just dropped off the radar, and I wondered if he was in a photo collection or even records in another state. I had not considered NZ.
A. Gary: @ Kim, My ancestors were neighbours of your family Ha! The family home still stands ‘Montana’ @ Glebe and the original ‘Montana’ @ Cremorne Point (Montana flats).
A. Kim: @ Gary. I’m fascinated, please elaborate! I tried to message you, but it failed. Please feel free to message me and fill me in on the details

Q. From William: Did the early photographs of the period include Lucklow?
A. SLNSW: @William Yes, we have 18 in the Holtermann collection
A. William: Thanks Alan. My grandmother family the Bryants were Welsh miners in Lucknow. Great Uncle Morgan was referred to as a Captain in one of these mines. I hoped the Lucknow field dated back to Holtermann.

Q. From Anne: Where’s the best place to find records for gg grandfather whose place of residence was at Ballarat when he married a recently arrived Irish girl at the chapel in Pentridge (I’m assuming it wasn’t a prison). They later moved to Lambing Flat (Young) in NSW e.g. miner’s licences or any other records other than BDM that might be useful. Thank you.
A. Carmel: Anne, Combar Pentridge is the original name for Coburg where the prison was. they changed the name as most people instantly thought the prison.
A. SLNSW: @Anne In terms of looking for information on miners you could start with records held by the Public Record Office in Victoria and State Records NSW. They provide information on the records they hold at and We have a good list of family history resources on our eresources page at – Megan
A. Carmel: unless a licence was kept in the family there is no record of them. They were basically just written out on a piece of paper like a receipt. You could try petitions etc that he may have signed. Births and deaths of children, etc
A. Anne: Thanks very much to the State Library for their help with my question. 🙂
A. SLNSW: @Anne Some more information.  Other records that might be useful include electoral rolls and post office directories.  Have a look at some of the resources on our eresources page – Megan

Q. From IHM: Hi Alan, is it possible to find individual miners in the Holtermann collection?
A. SLNSW: Yes, we have 1700 portraits in the Holtermann collection all available online on our catalogue. A hint for searching put in your family name and the keywords American Australasian Photographic – Alan
A. SLNSW: Here’s an example of a portrait from the Holtermann collection – Alan

Q. From Betty: My great grandfather Robert Davis was married to Mary Alcock in Jan 1839 or 1859 at the Diggings in Indigo Vic. Do you have any info on him? Thank you.
A. Carmel: Betty if it was on the diggings it would be 1859, have you checked the BDMS?
A. SLNSW: @Betty Sorry I didn’t send you a post during the session – have a look at the State Library of Victoria’s family history pages for what resources are available and where to start – Megan

Q. From IHM: 9:30 comes around so quickly! Thanks to Alan and Megan for all their help tonight. We’d love to hear your favourite story from the Holtermann collection to finish.
A. SLNSW: Once a photograph has been researched it is no longer mute – this seemingly ordinary wedding photograph has an extraordinary story. It is a portrait of Dr John O’Connell and his wife Theresa, née Cummins, who married at Hill End on 6th June 1874. She was 24 and he was 71 and had just been appointed medical officer at Hill End Hospital, much to the dismay of the Hill End Observer, which decried “the notorious habit” of Dr O’Connell and his lack of “a firm, steady hand…” Unfortunately she died in childbirth and Dr O’Connell went to Sydney, where he marketed his range of virility pills for men in the 1880s. He had his portrait on the front of the bottle. Here’s the wedding portrait – Alan
A. SLNSW: Thanks for having us – Alan and Megan
A. IHM: Don’t forget that the Holtermann Exhibition – “The Greatest Wonder of the World” – opens on February 23 in Sydney at The State Library of New South Wales but you’ll be able to view and zoom in on the full collection online from anywhere in the world! Stay tuned!
A. Lo: The Hill End & Tambaroora Gathering Group has a new website, only been online for a week and it has lots to interest family historians researching in this area. There is much more material which will be added to the site over the next few months (or even years!) Check it out at


Questions asked before the session: 

Q. From Kay: GG grandfather John Lee was a gold miner. Died Grenfell 1871 from injures in a mine shaft. He lived 11 yrs in colony, arrived in Cowra/Grenfell area 1864 as a policeman, two yrs in Sydney where he trained for the force and paid dep.  for his wife Mary and two children and bro in law John Nethercote to immigrate to Aust from n/Ireland. Before that had two yrs gold mining in Vic. But I can’t find transport ion for him and info of time in Vic in the gold fields. Please help.
A. SLNSW: @Kay You’ve gathered a lot of information about him already.  I’m assuming you’ve checked passenger records for Victoria and NSW already with no luck, and it’s quite a common name which makes it more difficult.  I did a search of the Index to Unassisted Inward Passenger Lists to Victoria 1852-1923 on the Public Record Office Victoria’s website – there are quite a number of John Lee’s listed even narrowing the search by date.  Based on his age are any of these a possibility? Are you Sydney-based?  Our Family History Service holds the microfiche series which this index covers.  For NSW there is an index to unassisted arrivals (1842-1855) on State Records NSW site Unassisted passenger records for NSW are also on  Sometimes the records only have listings such as Mr Lee or J. Lee so you might need to search a few ways.  For goldfield records in Victoria have a look at the Public Record Office Victoria’s site Have you also checked the digitised newspapers on Trove? Good luck! – Megan

Q. From Denise: I will be here I have been trying to find Dennis Mitchell born Greece around 1932 was at Tambaroora from 1866 to around 1870 then Goobang Creek, Forbes, Bathurst from 1870 to around 1876.
A. Denise: Oops he was born 1832 lol
A. SLNSW: @Gail and @Denise The Hill End & Tambaroora Gathering Group has a great website that has gathered together some resources for researching your family in this area of NSW. It’s at

Q. Annette: All those miners had to get “miners rights” or licences before they were allowed to dig on their own behalf – as opposed to working for somebody else for wages. My question is are there records of those licences – particularly in NSW goldfields? My G-G-Grandfather was all over the goldfields for many years until he died in the Conrad Stannite Mine near Inverell in 1908.
A. SLNSW: @Annette Both State Records NSW and the Public Record Office in Victoria do not hold Miner’s Rights, which means to find information about individual miners it may be necessary to search through various records relating to mining.  Both these organisations have produced guides As an aside, we do hold a small number of miners’ rights in the Mitchell Library We also hold some of the records listed in State Records NSW guide – Megan

Q. Janice: Where can I find info on my grandfathers older brother employment who was employed in 1859 as a commercial traveller to Araluen goldfield NSW. I found a newspaper report of him being robbed there.
A. IHM: Hi Janice, are you able to send over your grand Uncle’s name?
A. SLNSW: @Janice Have you checked post office directories, electoral rolls, and local newspapers in the area for the period you are interested in?  The Braidwood Independent for 1867 is on Trove though this may be too late for you. Perhaps the Braidwood & District Historical Society could help? – Megan

Q. Lisa: Great idea! My brick-wall is my G G G Grand father. He was an American miner named David Fielden, he was born in the US around 1831. He and my G G G Grandmother, Harriet Woodhead (1816-1878) had a child, Willie, his birth was registered in 1857 at Sandy Creek, Beechworth, VIC. At the time, Harriet was married to Thomas Wardman, so little Willie was registered under his mother’s maiden name, Woodhead. I can find no trace at all of Davis Fielden. Harriet returned to the Hill End area and Willie was raised as Willie Wardman. Any advice would be REALLY appreciated. Cheers, Lisa.
A. SLNSW: @Lisa Sounds like you’ve already done a lot of research with this one.  Sometimes it’s difficult to trace gold miners in the early 1850s – they moved around to different locations. I’m not sure what you have already searched – I’d probably suggest searching large online datasets like electoral rolls, post office directories, digitized newspapers, shipping records (he may have left Australia?), BDM records to see what you can find.  I’m not sure where you are based. Our Ask a Librarian service may be able to offer further advice – Megan

Q. Frances: My great-grandfather, (Thomas) Robert Sandon Wilson, known as the ‘Man of Mystery’ in our family, was at Meroo River, NSW, in the 1850s. At least his daughter, Mary, was born there in 1855. Mary’s death certificate has him as a mining inspector, but he’s also been referred to as a gold buyer. He’s called a mystery because no-one knows where he came from – or where he disappeared to some years later. He may have been a bigamist, married to another woman as well as Sarah Emma Henley (or Dicks). So here’s the big question: have you got any suggestions about where I could find out more about him? The tough bit is that I’m not in Aus so I know it could be a long shot…
A. SLNSW: @Frances There are lots of online resources that might help.  Have a look at our eresources family history page There are a lot of links to publicly available sites.  I’d also check resources like post office directories, shipping records, and electoral rolls on databases like and Find my past.  Have you tried searching the digitized newspapers on Trove? It’s a fairly common name so you may have to narrow your search by date.  Unfortunately most of the records relating to mining are not available online.  Good luck with it – Megan

Comment: IHM: Thanks for your questions everyone, The State Library of New South Wales team will be here at 8:30pm AEDT tonight with your answers & we’ll post a transcript of the Q&A including your answers on our blog.
A. SLNSW: Looking forward to tonight’s session.
A. Janne: Would love to have a similar session about Victorian goldfields as I am looking for my Snell, Hocking and Bishop ancestors from Campbell’s Creek near Castlemaine
A. IHM: Hopefully we can help you tonight Janne and we’ll definitely be doing a similiar session for Victoria soon. Stay tuned.
A. Linda: Hey Janne there is Snell family in Gippsland, where three of the children were known as the Gippsland Giants, and travelled the world “on exhibition”. Belinda Snell, the Australian basketballer, is from the family. Just looked on Trove – no photos, but there are heaps around. They originated from Crediton in Devon, and were later in Exeter. Jim Snell, president of the Heyfield Family History Group is also a descendant and the current expert on them.
A. Janne: Thanks Linda but they are not mine as they came from Cornwall.

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