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Friday, March 18, 2011

Claims of aristocracy ... hidden by an early death

I'm sure that many families have stories about earlier links to aristocracy. While some of these are more than likely made up of storylines that have been stretched and enhanced by the years, I'm sure that some of these stories contain a small kernel of truth. Whether or not the following story is one of these or not, I still can't tell.

My great-grandfather, my father's father's father, was known by various names throughout his life of 45 years. He was born in 1843, supposedly in Exeter, Devon in the south west of England. Some of the first names he used between 1843 and 1888, when he died, included:
  • Walter
  • Walter William
  • Walter Henry
  • William
  • William Walter
  • William Walter John
  • Walter John
  • Walter Stafford
Despite his creativity when it came to his first name, Walter William, as I have come to refer to him in my research, always kept his surname consistent: Northcote.

According to my father and my grandfather, and other family stories, Walter William Northcote always claimed links to the Earls of Iddlesleigh in Devon. He promised that he would reveal a big secret about his family in England before he died. He even joked with friends and family during his life that his wife in Australia should be known as "Lady Northcote". Unfortunately for both his family at the time and for his descendants today, Walter William died in 1888 before he could reveal this so-called secret. He died in the far west NSW town of Bourke. He left a wife, Margaret Northcote (nee Riley) and nine sons, seven from Walter William and two from Margaret's previous marriage.

As you can imagine, many family stories have been considered as explanations for his arrival in Australia in about 1866. Many believe he was a remittance man, being sent to Australia to save his family's reputation from some deed he had committed in his homeland of England. Although much supposition exists about his life and his background, one thing is for sure, the way in which he named his seven sons certainly suggests links, or at least knowledge of, the Northcotes in the UK. Here are his sons' names:
  • Walter John Northcote (1871 – 1954)
  • William Montgomery Northcote (1875 – 1933)
  • Alfred Joseph Northcote (1876 – 1961)
  • Aloysius Carew Standish Northcote (1879 – 1937)
  • Percival Ernest Phil Northcote (1881 – 1958)
  • Arthur Francis Northcote (1884 – 1960)
  • Leo Bertie Bede or George Bede Northcote (1887-1970)
We have a photograph that is thought to be him. He is dressed in a bandmaster's uniform and some members of the family believe the photograph was taken in Bourke or another western NSW town where his sons where born (either Dubbo, Bondangora, Warren or Girilambone).


So, whether or not Walter William Northcote descended from the English aristocracy is still a mystery. One thing is for sure, he certainly was creative with his use of first names throughout his life. I really don't mind if our family is related to an aristocratic family or not but what I would dearly love to find out is which Northcote family Walter William descended from in England. This link to the UK has yet to be established, despite much research since 1990 conducted by me and many other family members. His death certificate records his father's name as William Northcote, a bookkeeper, but is mother was stated as "unknown". That is about the extent of our knowledge of Walter William's link to his family in England.

If any of these names or any part of this story sounds familiar to you, I'd love to hear from you. Please email me at maria.seddon@gmail.com.

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