I bought a house and discovered my ancestor was a convict

When Wendy Hill, 57, purchased a century-old beach house “Chez Nous” on Sydney’s Northern Beaches she knew she was buying in to a slice of history. Prominent pioneering family the Chisholms had developed the residence, after all.

A summer residence for a famous family

In the early 1900s the Chisholms, who lived on their rural homestead in Goulburn, would spend their summers at the Chez Nous. With its spectacular water views and vast landscape the summer residence was a popular setting for social occasions and parties, as well.

But it wasn’t until Wendy trawled through her ancestry records that she would discover the beach house would also hold the clues to her own past.

“We bought the house in Collaroy in 2012. I didn’t know of the connection then, just that the Chisholms were graziers and large land-holders from the Goulburn area,” Wendy said, referring to the “Kippilaw” homestead, which was considered the Chisholm family headquarters in Goulburn during the mid to late 1800s to mid 1900s.

A settler past

After using Ancestry.com.au, Wendy discovered her settler past. Her family on her father’s side were given land around Collector, and they were quite prominent in the Goulburn community.

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What an adorable bunch! Mr Ranger's kids

“I grew up in Goulburn and we moved to Canberra when I was in Grade 5. We frequently travelled between Goulburn and Canberra, but I didn’t know about the history with Collector until I started doing research via Ancestry.com.au. My father’s grandfather owned large land leases around Collector and Lake George and was a prominent grazier in the area,” Wendy said.

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The history of the Collector

While Wendy came from a line of pioneers and settlers, it was the story of a certain convict ancestor that provided the missing link of how Wendy’s ancestors met the Chisholms.

“Robert Bodel was born in Belfast in 1813 and travelled to Australia as a convict in 1835.  He died in 1885 in Gurrundah, near Goulburn and was buried at Kippilaw, the property owned by the Chisholm family,” Wendy explained.

It is well documented that the Chisholm family built Kippilaw using convict labour.

“He [Robert] was one of the convicts engaged by the Chisholm family to build the property. They almost certainly knew each other,” said Wendy.

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Kippilaw building that was built using convict labour

Family connection to a sporting great

After digging a little deeper Wendy also discovered another family connection that peaked her interest.

Public records and Ancestry.com.au revealed that Wendy is a descendant of first-class cricketer and tennis player Leslie “Les” Oswald Sheridan Poidiven, which could explain the good sporting genes exhibited by Wendy’s children and grandchildren.

“Cricket particularly was always played in our family. I had three brothers, and we spent a lot of time playing in the yard, although none of my family played the sport as part of a local team.  My grandson Thomas is showing particular promise though. He was swinging a cricket bat before he could walk. He’s also quite a good golfer for a two year old,” according to Wendy.

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Too cute! Wendy's grandson Thomas playing golf and cricket

Les Poidiven is credited for the invention of the 'Poidevin grip' by which forehands and backhands were played with the same side of the racquet. He played competition tennis, winning the Sydney University singles championship in 1899 and the Queensland men's singles title in 1899 and 1900.

Not content to rest on his sporting abilities Poidevin went to England in 1902 to continue his medical studies at the Victoria University of Manchester. By 1908 he qualified as a licentiate of the Royal colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, Edinburgh, and of the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow.

Poidevin played county cricket for Lancashire and made over 1200 runs in his first year, and by 1905 he was acknowledged as a first-rank batsman. Meanwhile he continued to play competition tennis, going on to win the Swiss open singles championship in 1906 and the European championship doubles with H.A. Parker in 1909. He also represented Australasia in the 1906 Davis Cup.

In 1915 Poidevin was appointed medical officer in the Department of Public Instruction, and he resumed playing cricket for New South Wales and captained Waverley Cricket Club, leading the side to victory for three successive years in 1920-23.

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Poidevin's old building

According to public records, Wallaby great and team captain Simon Paul Poidevin OAM is also a descendant of Leslie. Despite the connection, Wendy says she didn’t know about the Poidevins until she started exploring her family tree.

“When I started taking an interest in Ancestry.com.au, I knew very little about my ancestors – nothing really. I started with the Births Deaths and Marriages site to find my grandparents parents and siblings. It became quite addictive,” said Wendy. 

Wendy traced the Poidevins back to one of her ancestors Rebecca Sheridan.

In 1843, Rebecca Sheridan married Pierre le Poidevin, who was born 1797 in Cherbourg, France. He had arrived in Australia on the 28th September 1838 as a convict. According to Wendy the only person who could pass sentence on Pierre during that era was the King, as his crime was against the crown of England. He was sentenced to seven years transportation to NSW.

He purchased land from Sir Terrence Aubrey Murray at Collector, NSW in 1841, where he built his first Inn. A second Inn, known as the "Old Collector Inn" was erected shortly before his death. After his death, this Inn was operated by Rebecca until 1880. Pierre and Rebecca had five sons and two daughters.

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Rebecca's gravestone

Napolean Richard Poidevin (1852-1922) married Emma Crowther, and they had one son – Leslie Oswald Sheridan Poidevin.

Wendy, who first created an Ancestry.com.au account in 2004, says the service has come along way since its inception.

“When Ancestry.com.au first launched, I thought I’d have a look at it as I’ve always been very curious about my family, but didn’t know anything at all past my immediate grandparents. So I set up an account in 2004, and have done research every now and then. Now that records are being digitised it’s a lot easier to find records,” she said.

Have you researched into your family history? Is it on your bucket list?