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My passion is genealogy and family history. I host a podcast about Australian family history, Genies Down Under. In my day job, I work as a lecturer and a researcher in higher education, teaching pre-service teachers.

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Monday, 28 December 2015

Land grants of Private William Northcote (1878 and 1880) in the New South Wales, Australia, Land Grants, 1788-1963 records

This blogpost provides a possible (small) revelation about Walter William NORTHCOTE (or whatever name he chooses to use).

Every little bit counts ... especially when it comes to elusive ancestors, like my great-grandfather, William Walter NORTHCOTE, also known by many other first names. Just like many details about the life of this man, the information provided below doesn't necessarily prove that the land records I found recently relate to my ancestor, WW Northcote, but it provides some interesting clues. Let me know what you think.


In a nutshell, this is the process my research took on this small point:

  • Frustration with WW Northcote. My 25+ years of frustration with this ancestor has been quite productive. Because he appeared to be hiding something during his life, he is a difficult ancestor to track. For this reason, I have become hungry for any small clue about him.
  • Ancestry.com new records. Every now and again, I open the regular email I receive from Ancestry about the new records they have added to their site. In this case, I found a reference to a "Private William Northcote" in 1878 and 1880 in Warialda, NSW in the New South Wales, Australia, Land Grants, 1788-1963 set of records. 
  • Tried to decipher the land grant records. The two records I found seemed to be:
    1) a record of a grant of land in Warialda being made to Private William Northcote in 1878; and
    2) a record of the land grant being transferred or sold in 1878.
  • Asked a researcher for help. See below for what I found out from Neil Smith, a military researcher when I asked him for help in deciphering the land records I found on Ancestry.

And now for the longer version ...

For the record, here is a little more info about this annoying and fascinating ancestor.

New South Wales, Australia, Land Grants, 1788-1963

Back in April 2015, I did a search in the New South Wales, Australia, Land Grants, 1788-1963 set of records and found the following two entries:

Since the two most common first names used by my elusive ancestor are either William or Walter, I tend to refer to him as WW Northcote in my research notes. So, when I saw "Private William Northcote" show up in my seach results, they got my attention. Also, the reference to Warialda in NSW rang some bells because one of WW Northcote's stepsons, Thomas NEWTON died in Warialda in 1926. This showed some possibly connection between our family and the town of Warialda.

Also, the town of Bingara is about 40km from Warialda and Bingara is the place WW Northcote listed as his place of marriage on one of his son's, Alfred’s, birth certificates in 1876.

Warialda to Bingara, NSW
Source: Googlemaps

Excerpt from Alfred Northcote's birth certificate, showing parents' date and place of marriage
Source: Alfred Joseph NORTHCOTE's birth certificate, NSW BDM, no. 76 22146 

Although we have not been able to find any record of WW Northcote's marriage to Margaret Riley at anytime, let alone in 1861, it does appear that he may have been at least familiar with Bingara, since he listed it as the place of his marriage on one of his son's birth certificates. So, with these links between Warialda and some people in the family, I thought it was worth investigating these records of "Private William NORTHCOTE", just in case this person was "our" Walter William or William Walter Northcote.

The two records I found in the New South Wales, Australia, Land Grants, 1788-1963 set of records that related to "Private William NORTHCOTE" appeared to be a land grant and a sale or transfer of that land grant.

The first record I found, dated 1878, listed Private William Northcote in the Headquarters Band.

Extract from 1878 NSW Land Grants 1788-1963, page 82

The information provided in the first record (on page 82 of the records) is as follows:

  • Reg. No.: 2880
  • Corps: Head Quarters Band.
  • Rank and Names: Private, Northcote, William
  • Date of issue: 22 Mar 1878

In 1878, WW NORTHCOTE would have been about 35 years of age, if he was born in 1843. William and his wife, Margaret, would have had the following children:

  • Walter John, born at Bodangara near Wellington in 1871 (about 7 years old)
  • William Montgomery, born at Bodangara near Wellington in 1875 (about 3 years old)
  • Alfred, born at Bodangara near Wellington in 1876 (about 2 years old)

So, the Private William NORTHCOTE mentioned in these records may or may not have been my great grandfather. As he was listed in the Head Quarters Band, this may link up with the only photograph that we have of WW Northcote, provided to me by one of his descendants, Vivienne Northcote. He appears to be in a bandmaster's type of uniform.

Photocopy of only known photograph of William Walter Northcote
Source: Vivienne Northcote

Information about the photograph above, provided by Neil Smith: 

"The subject does not appear to be wearing a military uniform in the photograph provided. This is not surprising, as he would no doubt have also performed in civil bands as well as military."

Apart from a photograph that shows William Walter Northcote's eldest son, Walter John Northcote, as a bandmaster in the Cobar Boys Band (see below), I don't have any other information about WW Northcote being in a band.

Copy from our family history records

Copy from IBEW website

The second land record I found in association with Private William Northcote, dated 1880, from the New South Wales, Australia, Land Grants, 1788-1963 set of records, appears to be related to the first record I found from 1878 (described above), based on the common 2880 catalogue number. The second record appears to be the transfer of the original land grant to two other parties.

Extract from 1878 NSW Land Grants 1788-1963, page 96
Volunteer Land Order Selections, page 96
Year: 1878
No. 126
Cat. No. 2880, C760 1880
Name: Northcote William (Private)
Head quarters Band Warialda
Transferred to W. G. Barren Portion 61 Parish Windoondilla
Transferred to Hughes (?) Smith Co. Courallie
Certificate with 80 675 Abn. 15 Deeds Branch 6.5.81
Deed preposed (?) 11.7.81 Portion 61 Joh Windoondilla, Co. Courallie (?)
Area: 50
Date of selection: 13.1.80
Correspondence: [??????]

Asking for help from a professional military researchers

Early in 2014, while on a genealogical cruise, I met Neil Smith of Mostly Unsung, his military research business. His business is described as "a unique research facility into Australian Military History from the First Fleet to the present day". Neil is someone with many years of Australian Regular Army experience and, because of his background and research skills, he provides "a unique Australian Military History Research Service".

So, because the land grant and WW Northcote's uniform seemed to be related to the military, I asked Neil Smith for some help. Here is what Neil reported to me.

He could not locate WW Northcote positively in any British Army or Navy resources between 1850-1870. However, he did find records of a solder named William Northcote who came to Australia with the 12th Regiment of Foot (East Suffolk) Regiment circa 1854. This soldier remained in Australia but there is no surviving dossier for him. Neil also noted that, interestingly, the Regiment maintained a Band in NSW and was closely related to the Volunteer Forces movement. The regiment returned to the United Kingdom in 1867.

From me: Although the soldier mentioned above would have been too old to be "our" WW Northcote (since our WW Northcote was born about 1843, he would have been about 11 years old in 1854), the William Northcote in this Regiment may have been a relative of our WW Northcote. At a long shot, it may have been his father who is listed as William Northcote on WW Northcote's death certificate. Note also that we have estimated our WW Northcote coming to Australia around 1866, close to the time that this Regiment returned to the UK.

Neil also noted that he could not locate our WW Northcote in any Australian Army or Navy resources, apart from the Volunteer Land Order Selection records held by Ancestry.com.

Neil provided the following information about the Local Volunteer Force:

"Circa 1854 New South Wales commenced raising a Local Volunteer Force in Sydney and elsewhere. This was done in view of unknown French and Russian intentions and the likelihood of British Garrison troops being withdrawn. Duty was part time and unpaid. Troops were mustered into Infantry and Artillery groups with some support elements including a Headquarter Band. Full time soldiers then available were from the British Army garrisoned in Australia who remained until circa 1870.
As an enticement to the Volunteers, those with five years service were granted land selections from about 1868. The scheme ultimately failed. Records remain for many of the grants in Volunteer Land Order registers held by the Department of Lands, New South Wales. The ancestry.com references are related to this series but NORTHCOTE is not to be found in the related records, which give further such as date of enlistment. It is possible that the ancestry.com entries do not encompass the many 'grants' which were declared void. This was especially the case in situations where soldiers attempted to sell the land allocated to them. "
The following is Neil's interpretation of the 1878 and 1880 land records that mention Private William Northcote, in light of the information about the NSW Local Volunteer Force above:

"Not withstanding the above, it can be concluded that NORTHCOTE served as a Private Number 2200 with the Headquarters Band of the New South Wales Volunteer Land Forces circa 1867-1878 or even later. Note the date of issue of his grant was 22nd March 1878. His service was part time and based in Sydney with frequent performances at Randwick and Victoria Barracks, often with British garrison Bandsmen from the 12th Regiment (on full time duty).
Noted Land Grants in areas such as Cooma, Murrurundi, Rylstone, Tamworth, Goulburn, Wagga Wagga and Casino. It is likely therefore that NORTHCOTE's grant was in Warialda as evidenced by notes on the ancestry.com records.
There is no evidence of any other surviving records for NORTHCOTE. Conflicts of note at the time were in New Zealand (Maori Wars) for which many Australians were deployed."
Neil's charges are very reasonable and I was more than appreciative of his services.

So, where to from here?

My findings on Ancestry, in conjunction with Neil's research, has shown me that this Private William Northcote could have been our WW Northcote. However, I'd like more proof to confirm this idea.

I have found a book by Laurel Burge, titled The New South Wales military volunteer land grants, published in 1976. This book might shine some more light on the Local Volunteer Force. 

To work out if my ancestor and the man described above in the land grant records are one and the same person, or not, I need more information about my ancestor, WW Northcote, and then I need to compare this information to the information above about Private William Northcote.

If you have any other ideas, I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading this far.

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