John Hughes Van Cooten arrived in Australia on 20 Dec 1874 – almost 133 years ago. But it is highly likely that he wasn’t the first of Hendrik Van Cooten’s descendants to arrive in Australia!
Three seemingly unconnected pieces of information were the clues that led me put this story together. The first was the discovery in 1999 in the International Genealogical Index (IGI) maintained by the Mormons at their FamilySearch site of the marriage of a Jane Vancooten to a John Wilson on 20 Sep 1836 in Old Cumnock, Ayr, Scotland. I was unaware at that time of any Van Cooten connection to Scotland for this time period, so I filed the information away for future reference.
The second piece of information was the discovery on the Victorian Public Record Office Unassisted Shipping Index of Inward Passenger Lists or British and Foreign Ports 1852-1889 of a J Cooten, aged 40, arriving in June 1853 on the “Sarah Hooper”. I have come across the occasional Cooten surname that is probably a variation of Cotton or Cotten and isn’t related. I also had no idea how I might pursue this further, so I filed it away for future reference. There were no Wilsons aboard.
The third piece of information was the discovery on a clandestine copy of an Australian Vital Records Index CD produced by the Mormons (and not for sale in Australia) of the death of a Jane Van Cooten in Victoria in 1879, aged 80, born in Scotland. This was enough to prompt me to order a copy of the death certificate to try to find out who this person was.
The death certificate was a mine of information, as most Australian certificates are. Jane Van Cooten died on 6 July 1879 at Barry St, South Yarra, aged 80 years (born about 1799). Her parents were Alexander McGlashan and Abigail nee Patrick. The informant was her grandson Hilbert Wilson, and she was buried on 8 July 1879 in St Kilda Cemetery. She was born in Old Cumnock in Scotland and had been in Victoria for 29 years (arriving about 1850). She was married at the age of 19 (about 1818) in Old Cumnock to Hilbert Van Cooten, and had one child, Jane aged 61 (born about 1818). At this point I had no idea who Hilbert Van Cooten was.
Based on the information above, it seemed as though looking for a Wilson family arriving in Victoria, with husband Jane and wife John might be sensible. Trawling through the shipping registers I found a set of Wilsons arriving in September 1852 on the “Europa”. They were Anna M aged 8, Dorathea aged 10, Hubert (an understandable misreading of Hilbert) aged 5, Jane aged 14, Jane aged 34, and John aged 42. At this stage I was still not convinced of a connection.
In 2002 I came across a site transcribing Scottish births and Marriages. In the Wilson transcriptions for Cumnock I found the following births to parents John Wilson and Jane Vancooten: Jane Vancooten, christened 11 Mar 1838, Dorthea Nicols, christened 6 Feb 1842, Anna Maria born 26 Jan 1844 and Hilbert Herminu? born 20 Aug 1846. These names match so well to Hendrik Van Cooten’s family that I was now convinced of a connection. About the same time on the Scots Origins transcripts of Parish Registers I found a birth date for Jean Vancooten christened 24 Apr 1818, child of Hilbert Vancooten and Jean nee McGlashan in Old Cumnock, and also confirmation for the marriage date of Jane Vancooten and John Wilson.
I then dredged the CD-ROMS of Victorian Births, Marriages and Deaths held in the State Library. I found: the death of Dorothea Wilson daughter of John Wilson & Jane Van Cooten, in 1891 age 49 (born about 1820); the death of John Wilson son of Hilbert Van Cooten and Jane, in 1897 age 79 (born about 1818); The death of Jane Wilson, daughter of John Wilson & Jane Van Cooten, in 1912 aged 73 (born about 1840); and the death of Hilbert Wilson, son of Jno (sic) Wilson and Jane Cooten, in 1911 aged 65 (born about 1846). I didn’t find the death of Ann, or John, nor did I find any obviously connected births or marriages.
I proceeded to order the death certificate for Hilbert Wilson. It told me that he died on 23 Dec 1911 at 43 Perth St, Prahran, age 65. He was a retired grocer. He was the son of John Wilson, School Teacher, and Jane formerly Cooten. He was buried on 24 Dec 1911 a St Kilda Cemetery, was born in Ayrshire Scotland, had been in the colony 59 years, and had never been married. I then decided to see if any St Kilda cemetery records would tell me more. I consulted the St Kilda Cemetery headstone transcripts held be the Genealogical Society of Victoria, but drew a blank.
A couple of years ago I discovered that the St Kilda Cemetery records are now online. A search of these revealed two Wilson plots. In the Presbyterian Monumental Grave Section, Compartment B, Grave 74 are Jane Cooten buried 7 Jul 1879 aged 80, Anne M Wilson buried 6 Feb 1870 aged 25, Jane Wilson buried 9 Feb 1912 aged 73, and John Wilson buried 5 Apr 1876 aged 65. In the Presbyterian Monumental Grave Section, Compartment B, Grave 76 are Dorothea Wilson buried 21 Oct 1891 aged 49, Gilbert Wilson buried 23 Dec 1911 aged 65, and Jane Wilson buried 1 Aug 1897 aged 79. This accounts for the whole family. It would seem that none of the daughters married, and that there were no other children. This is a bit disappointing, as I had hoped that there might be some living descendants. I went to St Kilda cemetery but I couldn’t find any headstones, nor could I work out where the grave plots were. I contacted the Cemetery again and was able to obtain a more precise map of the location. The two grave plots are adjacent to each other. I need to go back with a camera to examine the location again.
In the 1841 census of Scotland on FreeCEN I have found a Wilson household consisting of John age 30, Jane age 20, Jane age 3, Jane Cootan age 40, and Abigail McGlashin age 40. This is consistent with the other information. I suspect that Abigail McGlashin is Jane Cootan (Van Cooten’s) sister. This is confirmed by the death register transcript showing the death of Abigail McGlashan daughter of Alexander McGlashan, (dec) and Abigail Patrick, age 67 on 16 May 1861 at Old Cumnock, Single, Pauper.
I’m fairly convinced that Jane McGlashan was married to Hendrik Van Cooten’s son Theodorus Hermanus Hilbertus. Hendrik’s will of 1825 says:
That my son T.H.Hilbertus shall act as doctor and daily visit the sick and those who have sores he is to prepare and administer the necessary medicines or remedies for which he is to receive eight hundred guilders per annum. The necessary medicines are to be furnished to him by the administrators at the expense of the plantation. He is to have a boy to serve him and the administrators are to take care that his and the overseers clothes are properly washed.
The four sons Nicholas Anthony Lucius and Theodorus Hermanus Hilbertus shall be bound to have the hereafter named coloured children instructed in reading writing arithmetic and a Trade and to maintain them until the age of 18 years viz. Nicholas the Boy Dan born from my slave Mietji, Anthony the Girls Henrietta born from my slave Christina and Petronella born from my slave Brunol Lucius the Boy Edward born from my slave Eve, and Theodorus Hermanus Hilbertus the boy Wilson born from my slave Charlotte.
This is a curiously coincidental name for a slave. Theodorus Hermanus Hilbertus was clearly known more commonly as Hilbertus. His death is reported in the Guiana Chronicle on Wednesday 7 June 1837: Died – On Monday afternoon, on Pl. Vryheid’s Lust T.H.H. VAN COOTEN, Esq., Surgeon. The thing that really clinches it for me is Dorothea Nicols Wilson being named after Hendrik’s wife.
I can’t quite work out what scenarios might match the facts. It would be good to determine if Jane McGlashan resided in Demerara, or if Theodorus Hermanus Hilbertus went to Scotland. There is no mention in Hendrik’s will of him being married at that point, or having descendants, although other sons with known offspring don’t have them mentioned either. It would be understandable if Theodorus Hermanus Hilbertus died in 1837 for his widow to be in Scotland with her family in 1841. What is more puzzling is that his possible daughter Jane Van Cooten was christened in Old Cumnock in 1818. I’m almost totally convinced that the children of Jane Van Cooten and John Wilson were the great grandchildren of Hendrik Van Cooten, and thus the first of Hendrik’s descendants to arrive in Australia in 1852 – 22 years before John Hughes Van Cooten.
It has been fascinating to have some research to do on my own doorstep. There are some small projects to do in obtaining the death certificates for the other Wilsons and confirming that none of them married or had children. It might also be interesting to examine local records to identify occupations and places of residence. I’m not sure how to verify the connection to Theodorus Hermanus Hilbertus Van Cooten.