The last week has proven to be a highly productive period, allowing me to knock further walls down in my primary goal which is in determining the genesis of my paternal line’s surname in Australia.
Like with every generation, the first born male in my family is named John. I’m John, my father is, and so on and so forth, to my great grandfather, John James PATTEN (1874 – 1942). My great grandfather’s story is one that I knew from an early age, but only in time ravaged snippets, which do little to maintain and preserve the truth of his tale.
The story went that my great grandfather was a well known ‘black tracker’, and was commonly known to the Anglo-Celtic community as ‘Tracker Patten.’ However, a distortion emerged very early on, warping my great grandfather’s exploits, to the extent that he was thought to have lived at an earlier time, and had been responsible for tracking, and capturing one of the better known bushrangers in Western New South Wales. This however was not the case.
Tracker Patten was born in the Victorian high country of the Upper Murray, and as given on his marriage certificate, his parents were John PATTEN and Maggie SIMMS. Until this week, I was sceptical about there being any records that still exist for this particular union, but luckily there are.
Maggie, as I had suspected, was an Aboriginal woman, born in the Upper Murray. This I believed for the fact that SIMMS is a name that is a well known one in at least two distinct Aboriginal families, and I then, as I do now, believe that there should be a way to connect her to one of those, if I continue to unearth the right records. Also, that PATTEN is not a name found among Aboriginal people, prior to the birth of Maggie’s son. The SIMMS hypothesis of course was an educated guess, but was one also based upon the fact that in official government records my great grandfather had always been labelled with the now increasingly offensive term “halfcaste”, ergo Maggie stood with high probability to be the Aboriginal candidate in the partnership.
So, with great surprise, I checked the Genealogical Society of Victoria’s records, searching for Aboriginals in the Upper Murray, and the first and only 3 records to appear in the vicinity were a perfect match. They were Maggie, and listed with her – two daughters, whose names also happened to be the same as what my great grandfather had named his first two daughters.
Upon further research, I found that Maggie had been allowed to place her two daughters into the local school, in the 1870’s only to then be forced from her tribal homeland, to an Aboriginal reserve on the other side of the state.
Maggie was ordered by government decree to be placed at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station in 1878, along with her four children: Isabella, Minnie, John and Jacob.
I was stunned. Sometimes genealogy drops a million tonnes on top of us, and we just don’t know what to do next, at least until we’ve had time for all the details to sink in.
I’d considered the possibility that my great grandfather had siblings, but now that I know he had at least three, I’m finding it hard to regroup my thoughts, to find them in the tangle of myriad archival documents.
Coranderrk is a story unto itself, which I will visit in a later post. But briefly, it is a place like many other reserves and mission stations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The life expectancy and birth rate of Aboriginal people on such reserves plummeted massively.
I have anecdotal evidence that my great grandfather’s sister Isabella survived her time at Coranderrk, but I don’t hold great hopes for Minnie, or young Jacob, who was 7 months old at the time he was incarcerated there. Even my great grandfather found matters very tough, as he was listed by the age of 10 as an orphan and by 11 was recovering from typhoid.
John petitioned to be able to leave Coranderrk in 1887, at the age of 14, but of course this was refused, because his labour was required. However, appealing to a higher government authority, John was granted leave the following year. Where he went in the next decade I don’t know, as he only resurfaced in 1889, not long before marrying and establishing himself as a tracker of note, with the Wyalong police force, in Western New South Wales.
My question now however is, whilst I’ve determined the truth behind the name Maggie, I now must ask, who was “John Patten”?
So far, I have found no evidence that a man by that name has ever lived in the region in question, nor does there appear to be a family in the region, bearing that particular surname. I have however found numerous people with the surname “PATON” there and with one particular candidate being more likely than the rest.
Keeping in mind, that the area in question (Towong, Corryong, Mitta Mitta etc), during the 1860’s was sparsely populated, it would seem exceedingly unlikely that there is not a correlation between my great grandfather and those with the surname PATON. What do you think?