Interview with Sallie Mulligan ~ Hands of Time Researcher and Historian

When did your interest in history and historical research first begin?
My interest in history began at an early age. I grew up in a family where my parents treated family history and caretaking the family archives with care and respect. They visited and maintained family graves on anniversaries and birthdays, thankfully not too many for a child, but enough to pass on the same values. Photos have also been of great interest as Mum passed on her love of photography; she was a photographic colourist in Launceston in the 1940s.
I created my first family tree as a young teenager on a brown paper bag, sitting under the guidance of an elderly great-aunt. I still have it today.
In high school, I had the opportunity to select History and Geography instead of Social Science and then went on to study two History subjects at college.

Why were you particularly interested in clockmakers and watchmakers?
Graham, my husband, is a horologist in Launceston, and we have run a clock and watchmaking business for over 30 years. Graham is passionate about horology, has collected information, photos, and other bits and pieces for many years, and has dreamed of creating an index of Tasmanian clock and watchmakers for a long time. I have always been interested in researching clocks, clock labels, etc., and in recent years my love of exploring people and piecing families together led to working on this project.

 What skills did you find particularly useful when working on the project?
The skills I learned from the Diploma of Family History with the University of Tasmania have been invaluable: transcribing old-style writing from historical records, analysing convict records, cross-referencing, knowing how and where to access various records, and last but not least, the importance of referencing.
These skills helped me to improve the accuracy of information, for example, cross-referencing and verifying the spelling of names. Convict clock and watchmaker James Puckridge is recorded as ‘Puckridge’ on his English birth record and his father’s death and will in England. But when he arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in September 1817, he is recorded as ‘Puckeridge.’ In this case, we have listed him as Puckridge, aligning with the primary sources from his country of origin. Other listings on our website had multiple name spelling variations and needed more analysing.
Creating timelines is another example I used to help determine an approximate birth year in the absence of a birth or baptism record. For illiterate convicts who may not have known their age, this isn’t always straightforward; ages given often varied. Sometimes on marriage records, a person lowered or raised their age, for instance, to hide large age gaps. And for some death records, the age recorded would likely be an estimate if the deceased had no relatives living. So some entries required quite a lot of perseverance and detective work.

Do you have any favourites or memorable people you researched?
My favourites are the convicts. Researching convict watchmaker and jeweller Henry Mitchell (b. Evans) was one of my most memorable. I was surprised and excited to find he and his convict wife, Maria, and their young family managed to return to England the year after Henry, originally sentenced to life, received his conditional pardon. The family reverted to Henry’s original surname of Evans, and the females used their middle names. Despite five children born in Tasmania, only one is on an English Census with the correct birthplace. It was interesting to find that Henry’s son Samuel (born in Launceston) and a grandson followed in the clock and watchmaking trade in England.
The family’s return to England was unexpected and more difficult to research; the terms of conditional pardons usually prevented convicts from returning to their home country. So I didn’t originally look at English records, but when a whole family disappeared, I wondered where they would want to go. I found a few like this and could not help but think, good on them, especially those who had received seven, ten, and fourteen-year transportation sentences, not life.

Tell us of the challenges you found working on the project or website.
The project came with many challenges. If I’m on a roll, I find it difficult to stop so I don’t lose momentum. The isolation times of COVID gave me more time to spend on research; I did about three days a week, 10-12 hour days, so sore eyes, shoulders, etc., became self-inflicted physical challenges. It had become more important than ever to complete the project and fulfil Graham’s dream when he had an unexpected health scare, a quadruple bypass in 2020.
Ongoing challenges are trying to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzles. The website is a great place to start because it can be updated and corrected as more information becomes available.

Do you have any research tips for budding historians?
Verify your research not just once but two or three times if possible.
Don’t give up; take regular breaks, and revisit difficult research with fresh eyes.
Reference your work; it gives credit where credit is due, plus authenticity and credibility for your work.