My husband Greg’s great grandfather Ebenezer Henry Sullivan, known as Henry Sullivan, was born on 7 August 1863 at Gheringhap, a small settlement near Geelong, Victoria.

Henry’s birth was registered by Matilda Hughes, his maternal grandmother. According to the birth certificate, his father was a labourer named William Sullivan, about 24 years old, born in London. His mother was recorded as Matilda Sullivan, maiden surname Hughes (but actually born Darby), aged 18, born in New Zealand. William and Matilda had been married in 1862, the previous year. Matilda had another child, Eleazar Hughes, born in 1861 to a different father, unnamed.

Birth certificate of Ebenezer Henry Sullivan

The 1862 marriage of William Sullivan and Matilda Frances Hughes took place on 6 October 1862 in Herne Hill, a suburb of Geelong, at the residence of the Reverend Mr James Apperley. The marriage certificate records William as 23, labourer, a bachelor, born in London, living at Gheringhap. William’s parents were named as William Sullivan, painter and glazier, and his wife Mary Barry.

1862 marriage certificate of William Sullivan and Matilda Hughes

On 12 June 1865 at Ashby, Geelong, William and Matilda had a daughter, Margaret Maria Sullivan. The informant on the birth certificate was her maternal grandmother Matilda Hughes. The father was named as William Sullivan, farmer, deceased, aged about 25, born in London.

On 20 November 1865 Margaret Maria Sullivan died, five months old. A Coronial inquest was held, where it was revealed that six months after their marriage, a few months before Henry was born, Matilda was deserted by her new husband William. Matilda Sullivan maintained that the father of the baby Margaret Maria was William Sullivan, who had visited her twice since their separation. At the time of the baby’s death Matilda Sullivan worked at Geelong Hospital. Her two younger children were cared for by their grandmother.

The inquest heard medical opinion that the baby had starved to death. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against the grandmother [Matilda Hughes], and the mother [Matilda Sullivan], as being an accessory to it.

In April 1866 Matilda Hughes and her daughter Matilda Sullivan were called upon to surrender to their bail, but they did not answer to their names.

On the 15th May 1866 the ‘Geelong Advertiser‘ reported on court proceedings relating to the abandonment of two year old Henry Sullivan. It was said of his mother, Matilda, that “her husband had left her, and was supposed to have gone to New Zealand, whence no tidings were heard of him, and she had recently left Geelong with some man with whom she had formed an intimacy, and had deserted her children”. The child, Henry Sullivan, was admitted to the orphanage.

I have found no subsequent trace of William and Matilda. Nor have I found any record in London of William Sullivan before he arrived in Australia. I have also not been able to trace his parents William Sullivan, painter and glazier, and his mother Mary Barry.

Moreover, other than as descendants of Henry Sullivan, neither Greg nor any of his Sullivan cousins have any Sullivan relatives among their DNA matches.

When Greg first tested his DNA he had a strong match to Helen F. from New Zealand and also to her great uncle Alan W. Since 2016 I have been in correspondence with Helen who, with me, is attempting to discover how we are related. Helen has a comprehensive family tree. We have since narrowed the relationship to her McNamara Durham line.

Helen recently wrote to tell me that she had noticed some matches descended from a William Durham, son of a Patrick Durham. Patrick Durham, it seems, was the brother of Joanna NcNamara nee Durham, Helen’s 3rd great grandmother.

I have placed the matches in DNAPainter’s ‘What are the odds?’ tool. It appears likely that Greg and his Sullivan cousins are descended from Patrick Durham. We don’t yet have quite enough data to be sure whether they descend from William Durham or one of his cousins.

What are the Odds tree (tool by with shared DNA matches of Greg with descendants of Joanna Durham; at the moment we do not have a great enough number of sufficiently large matches to form a definite conclusion. The cousin connections are a bit too distant.

William Durham was born about 1840 in Finsbury, Middlesex, England, to Patrick Durham and Mary Durham née Barry. When William Durham married Jemima Flower on 9 April 1860, he stated that his father was William Durham, a painter and glazier. (There are several other records where Patrick Durham is recorded as William Durham but is clearly the same man.)

1860 marriage of William Durham to Jemima Flowers
Comparing the signatures of William Durham on the 1860 marriage certificate to William Sullivan on the 1862 marriage certificate. They seem to be similar.

William and Jemima had two children together, one of whom appears to have died in infancy. The other, also called William Durham, left descendants, and some of these share DNA with Greg and his Sullivan cousins and also with Helen and her Durham cousins.

On 19 October 1861 William Durham, his wife and two children, were subject to a poor law removal. The record mentions his parents.

London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; London Poor Law Registers; Reference: BEBG/267/019 retrieved through

Jemima died about a week later and was buried 27 October 1861 at Victoria Park Cemetery, Hackney.

I have found no trace of William Durham after the Poor Law removal. Did he emigrate to Australia and change his name?

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