Names and identities

One challenge many of us encounter in researching our family history is to clarify the identities of individuals who have the same name.  Certainly it has been an issue for me.

The use of the given name of Thomas for the inheriting sons over seven generations descending from Robert Crowe of Ennis (born about 1710) is a case in point.

The same given names across family lines has also been been confusing. James Crowe, brother of the above mentioned Robert Crowe, named his first son Robert; and the aforesaid Robert Crowe named his second son James. This son James qualified as an attorney and joined the legal practice of his uncle James.  So there was James the elder and James the younger in the firm, but they weren’t father and son!

Sometimes the duplication of names occurs with unrelated people whose paths happen to come together by sheer coincidence.  Let me give you an example which concerns my great grandfather John Carroll.

The murderous Clarke brothers, Thomas and John, are said to have been Australia’s worst bushrangers – worse even than Ned Kelly, Ben Hall, Captain Lightning and Frank Gardiner.  The Clarkes were descendants of former convicts who settled in mountainous country in the southern highlands of NSW, east of what today is Canberra.  During the 1860s, the gang was responsible for multiple murders and robberies.

The authorities were alarmed and frustrated that this gang could not be brought to justice.  It seems many people in the area were sympathetic to these outlaws and provided them with material support and intelligence.  Even the local police seemed uninterested in bringing them to justice.

Late in 1866, the premier of NSW, Sir Henry Parkes, ordered that undercover investigators be appointed to track down the gang and bring them in, dead or alive.  A party of four ‘special constables’ was recruited.  It was led by John Carroll, a Senior Warder at Darlinghurst Gaol.  They pretended to be a party of surveyors, but their main ‘tool’ was cash to encourage locals to inform on the Clarkes.

In January 1867, the party was ambushed and killed near Jinden Station.  All four had been tied to trees and then shot.  A blood-soaked one-pound note was pinned to John Carroll’s clothing, clearly a warning to any who might consider cooperating with the authorities.

Hang on!  Didn’t my ancestor John Carroll become Deputy Governor of Darlinghurst Gaol, retire on a pension in 1892, and die peacefully in his bed at the age of 73 years?  Yes he did.  It turns out that there were two warders at Darlinghurst Gaol named John Carroll, at the same time, about the same age and both were warders.

Identity can be a slippery beast.

The Clarke brothers were tried on 28 May 1867 for a long list of crimes.  The jury took just 67 minutes to find them both ‘guilty’.  The sentencing judge, Sir Alfred Stephen, stated that they would be executed, not as retribution, but to promote the peace, good order, safety and welfare of society. It seems to have worked because the execution of the Clarkes marked the end of the bushranger era in NSW.

Thomas and John Clarke were hanged from twin gallows at Darlinghurst Gaol on 25 June 1867.  My ancestor John Carroll appears in the records as an official witness at four executions during his years at Darlinghurst Gaol, but apparently he was not present when the killers of his namesake met their fate.

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