Forster First Fleet descendent

Terry and Anita Chapman at a charity fundraiser in Tuncurry.

Terry and Anita Chapman at a charity fundraiser in Tuncurry.

As Forster’s Terry Chapman watched television’s Married at First Sight finale in March, which drew a record-breaking national audience of 2.4 million to make it the most watched program of 2018, he thought about his great-great-great-great-great grandparents who could posthumously argue they introduced this concept Down Under 230 years ago.

“I wonder if I could claim royalties for that show or even stand for parliament,” mused Terry, a seventh generation Australian and a member of the Federation of First Fleeters.

“Given the recent fiasco in our Federal Parliament, it’s possible that my citizenship could come into question because both my First Fleet convict ancestors were born in England and sentenced to be ‘transported beyond the seas for seven years’, but I would never renounce my family history.

“It’s a great story, although they arrived unwillingly at Sydney Cove on the same day in 1788, they never knew each other and were on different boats no larger than a Manly ferry: John Herbert on the Charlotte, and Deborah Ellam on The Prince of Wales.

“But on April 2, 1788 – just nine weeks and four days after the ships dropped anchor – they were married by the Reverend Richard Johnson.”

Terry contends their love story constitutes being married at first sight; but without the television cameras, make-up, expensive wedding clothes, grandstanding and bed-hopping.

And they stayed married and bore a son, for which descendent Terry is most grateful.

A copy of The Chapman Family History in Australia 1788 to 1993, painstakingly compiled and printed privately by Terry’s father Arthur, can be found at the Australian National Library, and the Heraldry and Genealogy Society, both in Canberra.

The Chapman family coat of arms bears the family motto of Fortitudine et Prudentia (By Fortitude and Prudence) which was selected by a motto used by the Herbert family way back in the 13th  century.

The Chapman family history reveals insights into the life and times of seven generations with direct lineage to the First Fleet, a historically significant document given that their research suggests no European person has longer roots in Australia than Terry’s mother’s descendants.

Married to Anita for 55 years and with four children and six grandchildren, Terry says there are now nine generations with direct links to the couple who was married at first sight.

“Researching our own family history has also been a window to the evolution of justice and social reform over the past 230 years.

“The youngest female convict in the First Fleet was only 13, the youngest male convict just 12, both little children in today’s world.

“And consider the harshness of punishment in 18th  century old England.

“John Herbert was originally sentenced in Exeter to be hanged but granted mercy and sent to Australia, for robbery of a watch, case, pruning knife and cask.

“Deborah Ellam was convicted in Chester of stealing one cotton gown, one silk gown and six yards of cotton cloth.

“She just wanted to look nice.”

After many years teaching in Papua New Guinea, the compelling story continues as Terry recounts the ‘six degrees of separation’ conversation he had on September 12, 1991 at Government House, Sydney with the then Governor Peter Sinclair.

Terry was being presented with an Order of Australia (OAM) medal for service to education through the Association of Independent Schools, NSW.

“Everyone thought we were talking about the award but Peter asked me if I was the Terry Chapman, descendent of a First Fleeter, because he was also a First Fleet descendent.

“Peter made me smile when he said the only difference between us was that one suffered below decks while the other was on the top deck. I smiled back in agreement.”

Yet another chapter in Terry’s fascinating life story plays out on Thursday, August 2 at Club Forster when he has a cameo role as his great-great-great-great-great convict grandfather John Herbert in an original play The True Blue Story being performed by fellow members of the Forster District Combined Probus Club, and which story starts with First Fleet diaries.

Anyone interested in more information could contact Frances Crampton on 0418 615 337.