Family of 19th century Hitchin schoolmaster return to ancestor’s birthplace

The Old School House. Photo: Hitchin Museum

The Old School House. Photo: Hitchin Museum - Credit: Archant

THE family of a 19th century schoolmaster travelled the 10,000 plus miles from their native Tasmania to learn about their ancestor’s roots.

Thomas Dimsey's family outside the display dedicated to him

Thomas Dimsey's family outside the display dedicated to him - Credit: Archant

Shane Dimsey and his family visited the British Schools Museum in Hitchin to find out more about Shane’s great-great-great-great grandfather, Thomas.

Thomas was the first master of the Lancasterian school – where the museum now stands – when it opened in 1810.

Shane brought wife Helen and children Luke, 16, Adam, 14, Heath, 11, and Josh, six, to the museum, where they watched a re-enactment of the teaching methods used by their ancestor in 1810.

The family were also given a letter written by Thomas’ grandson William Thomas, who recalled his emigration journey to Australia, aged 14.


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He later followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and became a notable schoolmaster himself.

The letter read: “When I was 14 years of age, I left England for Australia.

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“We were on the sea for three months. The captain of the ship and I had great fun. He used to chase me. I would climb the rigging and so get out of his reach. Then the folks would laugh.

“But, my father was afraid I would fall. He would call out ‘Be careful. Be careful’.”

The Dimsey family left England when Thomas’ son William, the village police constable in Ashwell, moved his family to Victoria, Australia.

They left at the height of the Australian Gold Rush in 1854, when migrants moved to areas in the country which had discoveries of gold deposits.

Museum trustee Terry Ransome said: “When Shane arrived he told us the highlight of his visit to the UK had been a canal narrowboat trip, a lifetime ambition. But by the time he left he had changed his mind, he’d learned so much about his family history at the British Schools – with a warm welcome and so much more than the quick museum visit he’d imagined.

“Our visitor book so far this year has entries from New Zealand, China, Sudan, USA and Israel as well as Australia and several European countries. We’re delighted the story of the British Schools Museum is travelling worldwide, and that we are attracting visitors from so far afield.”

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