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Spooky: I was writing my ancestor's history when they dug up his grave at Central

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28.06.2019

Joseph Thompson has been thrust into the limelight 161 years after his death, with the discovery of his remains in a named coffin under Sydney's Central Station. It’s a curious way to achieve historical fame – not one that my great-great-great-grandfather would have relished.

Joseph Thomson (centre, number 87) whose grave has just been discovered under Central Station.Credit:The Cyclopedia of NSW

I’m a historian of colonial life and manners, of family and social mores. And for some years now I’ve been working on a book about Joseph Thompson, and the remarkable decision he took in 1833, when aged in his mid-50s, as a draper of 30 years' standing in Shadwell, East London, to emigrate to New South Wales with his wife, their 12 surviving children, his brother, a nephew, a servant and a cow in tow.

I have been blending history with genealogy – writing my own history of Sydney and boldly placing Joseph Thompson at its heart. So it was delightful, extraordinary, and really quite spooky to read in the papers on Tuesday of the discovery of his grave.

Many bodies have been found in the course of recent excavations on the site of the old Devonshire Street cemetery. Only Joseph Thompson’s has been identified, by the name plate still attached to the remnants of his coffin. The name, rather than the bones, has stirred curiosity. There’s a call for descendants of this little-known man to come forward, to make a decision about the disposal of his remains.

A name, once found, demands stories to anchor it in place. But for me – one among thousands of........

© WA Today