An Australian family history

Inspired by AndThen’s recent post about his family history, I thought I’d write a bit about my own. My family history is quite colourful. My great-great-great-great-grandfather was some kind of representative for Germany in a trade dispute in Cape Town, South Africa. His name was Maximilian Thalwitzer and he was born in Germany but later emigrated to Cape Town. The picture below is supposed to be of him. I don’t know all that much m500047_0998597uev401snq72b5fbore about him except that he was declared insolvent in 1855.

One of his children, Diedrich Pallas Thaliwtzer, moved to Australia in 1852 on the steamer Phoenix. Family rumour has it that Diedrich was racist and didn’t like the blacks in South Africa, hence the move. He was a bit of a prick anyway because he disowned his daughter, Maria, my great-great-grandmother, when she married because he felt she married beneath her. 

Which brings me to the convict. Maria married the descendant of a convict – someone called Michael Burns who was sentenced in Lancaster, England and arrived in Australia in 1828 aboard the Marquis of Hastings. He was pardoned five years later and went on to do quite well for himself. While he was a convict though, he helped to build the Old Great North Road in New South Wales. According to his Certificate of Freedom – of which I have a copy – his crime was stealing jewellery.

Maria and her husband only had one child – Charles Dudley Pallas Thalwitzer Burnes – my great-grandfather. He was a very successful patent attorney in Sydney who was adored by all his grandchildren. He loved kids, was very generous, and quite eccentric. My aunt told me that he once employed a secretary simply because her name was Petsy Pert. He was wealthy and one of the first people to own a car in his area. I think this says something about Australia and how wonderfully classless it was when you can go from convict to successful patent attorney in just three generations. When given the opportunity, people can thrive.

My grandfather on the other side of the family – Henry “Harry” Shelton – had a farm in South East Queensland which he inherited from his father. Henry was the brother of William Haswell Shelton who died at the shoreline of Gallipoli. This didn’t put my own grandfather off joining the forces in WWII and fighting for his country, which he did, in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. He survived. Henry’s father was also called Henry Shelton and his father another Henry Shelton. There are lots of Henry Sheltons in that side of the familiy. Here’s a pic of me (on the left) with my Dad and sister at my Grandfather’s farm in South East Queensland, taken many years ago.


I also have ancestors from Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.