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Amanda Keller travels through the “Gates of Hell” to uncover convict past

Wednesday, July 09, 2014
“This will be the most important thing I have ever done for the family” – Amanda Keller 

Popular radio and television presenter Amanda Keller discovers her bloodline has survived against all odds. In the new Australian series of Who Do You Think You Are? 7:30pm Tuesday 5 August on SBS ONE Amanda finds an ancestor who faced hell on earth in Australia’s most brutal prison and a mother fighting to save her family in the face of tragedy.


With help from her father, Arthur, Amanda discovers her Great Great Great Grandfather John Edwards was living in Tasmania in 1843. John was a convict transported to Macquarie Harbour Penal Station – one of the most brutal places in the British Empire.


Amanda is astonished to learn that John was incarcerated on Sarah Island. Amanda takes a boat to Sarah Island where the colony detained the most violent and monstrous criminals, via the notorious waterway the “Gates of Hell”. She discovers that it is very rare to have an ancestor from there as only 1,152 prisoners ever served time there. Amanda is shocked by its remoteness and the brutal treatment dealt out to the convicts.


Back in Hobart, Amanda learns that her Great Great Great Grandmother, Charlotte Woolf was one of the passengers on the Princess Royal, a bride ship, which arrived in September 1832. John Edwards gained his freedom in 1833, and despite his convict background and lack of resources, he and Charlotte married. But despite having ten children together there was no happy ever after for Amanda’s Great Great Great Grandparents. In 1864 John was charged with threatening to take Charlotte’s life.


"I was forgiving of John Edwards indiscretions that got him on to Sarah Island. It’s not as easy to be forgiving of his final actions against his wife” – Amanda Keller


Amanda’s father had told her about there being a Cobb and Co coach driver somewhere on his maternal line. Amanda travels to Toowoomba and at the Cobb and Co Museum she finds out her Great Grandfather Harry Bruce worked for the iconic company and was known as ‘Flash Harry’.


Amanda meets Flash Harry’s granddaughters who help her uncover more information about the Bruce family. She discovers that William and Mary Clark were the first of this line to come to Australia. In March 1837, the Clark family boarded the ship John Barry; bound for Sydney, part of an immigration scheme for skilled workers. After 111 days the John Barry arrived in Australian shores with disease on board and immediately went into quarantine. 


At the Quarantine Station on North Head, Manly, Amanda learns her ancestors survived the voyage but William Clark died of typhus fever during quarantine.


Amanda’s Great Great Great Grandmother Mary and her four children were left without their breadwinner. Mary was forced to send two of her children to Orphan School and to take employment far away. Amanda learns of the hardships Mary and her children faced, and her resilience and determination to reunite her family.


“When you look at the near misses along the way: John Edwards, Mary and William, to have survived all that, to go on. To think that’s why I’m here, and that’s why my children are here, it’s extraordinary,” - Amanda Keller.


Who Do You Think You Are? is produced by Artemis International and Serendipity Productions
for SBS.

Amanda Keller’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? airs 7:30pm Tuesday 5 August on
SBS ONE.

The sixth series cast of acclaimed genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are also stars
Andrew Denton, Rebecca Gibney, Jacki Weaver, Richard Roxburgh, Adam Goodes, Lisa
McCune, and Paul McDermott.

Twitter: #WDYTYA
For further information please contact:
Jessica Parry PH: 02 9430 3786 E: jessica.parry@sbs.com.au