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The remarkably fertile William Triffitt was the first son of Thomas, born on the 27th February 1817 and named after his great-grandfather – William of Whixley. He had two wives and a staggering twenty-five children.

Little Willy joined his cousin Ann in the world just six months after she was born to his Uncle James. Ann and Willy both grew and flourished in their separate families, taking charge of the growing band of siblings that followed, working on their neighbouring farms. While the fathers kept their distance the children, despite their parents censure, grew to like each other. They were contemporaries in a tiny pod of humanity on Back River.

Barely aware of any outside world at they lived their childhood together. By adolescence the liaison began to have more depth to it, became dangerous, needed to be denied. Each, like a new born chick, had set eyes on the other and were impelled to follow their instinct. Neither had time or the inclination to alter fate as they saw it – nor were they aware of any alternate possibility. Their world was two families and the grandparents in an isolated clump of valley somewhere up the Derwent Valley. A trip to Hobart took days. The available prospects were few and far between. There was only the offspring of their parent’s generation, all from Norfolk Island, all brute and bullshit. Slim pickings.

Ann was fifteen and ready to start a family, so her parents maintained. They were blankly aware of their daughter’s continued illicit meeting with Will, but not of the surprising chasteness of their encounters. Unlike everybody else of their age the two had not yet discovered sex. They held quaint notions based on the clergyman’s occasional rant, harbored finer feelings – the devil had not yet come into their lives. They continued to meet illicitly and things developed from a fleeting moment, to a touch of the hair, to a kiss and then, in a rush, the whole catastrophy. The two tumbled into the abyss.


He was nineteen when he did the deed with  his first cousin Ann – setting a precedent for generations of his offspring – in February 1836, she was a year younger. Perhaps it was a present for his nineteenth birthday, because exactly nine months later young Solomon was born.

It didn’t take long for their secret to be exposed.

She waited till she was sure she was pregnant then took the news to her mother first. Elizabeth Barnes was the fountainhead of all known wisdom for the girl. Just where said Lizzie Barnes got her acquired wisdom from was another thing entirely. Elizabeth espoused a unique quasi-Georgian law of the streets, a strange amalgam of fact and folk wisdom preserved and strangled into senselessness through deprivation, through the rigors of Newgate, across oceans to Norfolk Island, then Van Diemen’s Land – her street wisdom had become brutalized, mixed with a certain base fellowship as hardships were faced together, a reluctant community grew. Here, deep in theDerwentValley, old thoughts died very hard. Elizabeth, raised feral in a brutal paradise, carried warped wisdom from some street in London half a century ago. It was a kind of heart felt ignorance that stumbled on truth, proclaimed crudely in a loud voice.

Ann’s mother wasn’t in the least fussed about the fact of the girl’s predicament. To her sex at the age of anything after 12 was completely normal. She couldn’t take the higher moral ground, if she even knew there was such an elevated place in the world. The higher moral ground was for those that could afford the luxury. No, the more babies the merrier forElizabethand the earlier the better. The problem they both faced was how to tell Papa.

A gentle course must be steered. Mrs. Thomas Triffitt set off over the hill to see Mrs. James Triffitt and work out a plan of attack. Both women had managed to maintain their relationship in a devious way over the years. Country living was too lonely to persevere with an enmity on someone else’s behalf. They needed each other so, when their husband’s minds were elsewhere, sewing circles would be attended, the girls would chat.

Eventually, of course the fathers were told in a carefully synchronized dual farmhouse attack. Their separate rages were wondrous to see but they were cleverly contained and brief. It was all in the timing. The fact was staring them in the face. The girl was pregnant and that was that. Pragmatism and brandy forced their hand and with a rueful acceptance of the natural law, the two brothers reluctantly shook hands and a wedding was proclaimed. The deathly silence as the young couple walked down the aisle on the 26th April that year can only be imagined.

Once freed from furtive fumbling Will became like a dog on heat finally unleashed. He was a young man with a twinkle in his eye that had discovered a startling enthusiasm for sex. The two of them set about it hammer and tongs for years, easing up only for the final stages of pregnancy, menstruation or birth. They were a devastating combination, buried deep in their straw mattress, managing to procreate in private in a room increasingly filling with children. I don’t know how they found the time but find it they regularly did. Ann quickly assumed the ‘long suffering’ stance. She grew larger, more centered with each baby, seemed to become Mother Earth, all fecundity and life. William loved her in a passionate tangle of bedclothes and sweat leaving both of them gasping. Then she would become pregnant and the whole cycle would begin again.

They already loved each other like old friends but the sudden ascent into the carnal life had transformed their relationship into a startling, electric thing. At last, there was something other than work, sleep, work – Will and Ann had built-in entertainment and never tired of playing with their new toy. Initially, at least, until the sheer grind of it wore them both down. William and Anne had fourteen children in rapid succession over twenty years.



Saturday 26 June 1841


Solomon William b. 27 Oct 1836  * Thomas Sholto Triffitt  b. 5 Apr 1838 * Jonas Urbin b. 4 Apr 1840 * Elijah E b. 23 Nov 1841


Friday 30 July 1841


Friday 6 August 1841


Fourteen children in a farmhouse embedded in isolation in the hills. No running water, electricity, transport, roads – it’s already a staggering feat . Anne was pregnant every eighteen months for that entire time – nine months on and nine months off. They had two sets of twins. Each time she had a child the load on the household increased but as the years went by she was surrounded by a ready made flock of household helpers. Children were an investment. Cheap labour. Once they were four or five they could all be put to work doing something, even if only small – it was part of the accepted way. Another five years and they were really useful, a few more and they were lifting bales of hay. They were a ready made source of wealth, indirectly, and they guaranteed you in your old age – those that made it through childhood.

Of the fourteen children, three were to die in infancy; Elijah was the first to go, losing his battle with life on New Years Day 1843. His headstone in the Back River Methodist churchyard says he was 11 months old. Ann, the first daughter after 8 sons and named after her dear mother, expired on the 14th July in 1849 in Back River at an uncertain age, probably 15 months or so. I imagine her mother was greatly saddened, but she had just been delivered of her second daughter, Harriet, only two weeks before. Life, birth, death, the whole catastrophy was going on there inBack River and Ann straddled the lot. Her gaping things groaned open with a regularity that had even William gasping.

The twin girls continued the run of females in 1851 then it was Henryette’s turn to go to God, just before her first birthday in late November 1854. Why these children died is not recorded but it was the norm. They were buried and forgotten amidst the great swirling thing that became Will and Ann’s family over the years.

Here’s a glimpse of one of them:

The eleven surviving children clearly came from good stock, despite their closely related parents. Most of them lived to a ripe old age: Solomon was 75 when he died, Thomas 78, Isaac 79, Harriet 78 and Hezekiah was 73. Jonas and Jacob died in their late 50’s, Esau was 61. Only Nathaniel died mysteriously early at just 35, with a wife pregnant with his eighth (and possibly ninth) child. Perhaps he was murdered by bushrangers.

All of them had no hesitation reproducing. There were 76 known grandchildren from the remaining 11  of Will’s brood. Martha and Esau topped the poll with 12 each, followed closely by Harriet, with 11. The Remarkably Fertile William Triffitt had started his own little dynasty. But he wasn’t finished yet.

It’s November 1854 and Will is about to get very unpopular. Let’s try and look at things from his perspective to find out why.

He had the itch. Only men understand. William was 37 when Henryette died and had been with Ann for half his life. Not too many wild oats had been sown before that fateful birthday gift an eternity ago. Will was starting to notice other women.

He’d fathered thirteen children ranging in age from 18 to 3.  By now Solomon’s indiscretions meant that he already three years married and already busily burying his inbred children – but the rest were still at home – ten of them. And his wife had lost more than her figure. She had become a larger woman, her essential plainness rising through as her youth was worked away. No wonder, poor thing. Both their lives would have been one endless drudge, hers caring for children, his farming furiously to make sufficient money for them all to survive. Things weren’t much fun – Will could see his life stretching endlessly in front of him.

Solomon William Triffitt b. 27 Oct 1836 in New Norfolk, 

Thomas Sholto Triffitt  b. 5 Apr 1838 in New Norfolk

Jonas Urbin Triffitt b. 4 Apr 1840 in Back River

Elijah E Triffitt  b. 23 Nov 1841 in New Norfolk

Nathaniel Bethel Triffitt  b. 13 Dec 1843 in New Norfolk 

Isaac Elisha Triffitt  b. 1846 in New Norfolk

Jacob Triffitt  b. 3 Apr 1847 in New Norfolk

Esau Triffitt  b. 3 Apr 1847 in New Norfolk

Ann Elizabeth Triffitt  b. 1848 in New Norfolk

Harriet Elizabeth Triffitt  b. 30 Jun 1849 in Back River 

Martha Louisa Triffitt  b. 26 Jun 1851 in New Norfolk

Johannah Elizabeth Triffitt  b. 26 Jun 1851 in New Norfolk

Henryette Triffitt  b. 15 Dec 1853 in Back River

Hezekiah Elijah Triffitt  b. 26 Sep 1855 in New Norfolk


To add to his wandering eye, to stretch the situation to bursting – it was a stressful time. No parent ever gets used to the death of a child, even with practice, and baby Henryette was ailing. Will desperately needed a diversion. It’s equally possible he was just a randy, amoral goat.

It doesn’t take too much of a leap of the imagination to see what might have happened when Catherine Staples caught his eye. She was ten years younger and returned his glances with a look of such calm sensuality he found his breath quite taken away. She was younger, made no demands and came without kids. This rugged, grubby farmer had a crush.

Catherine falls to this earth unencumbered with family detail or any past life at all. She collides with this story in 1854 and burrows herself underneath our William a fortnight before his youngest child gives up the ghost. Given Will’s relentless fertility I don’t think it took too many tries before they hit the jackpot.

Christmas that year was doubtless a nerve-wracking time for all parties. William was performing that time honored balancing act, sleeping with two women at the same time whilst lying to both. His much grieved daughter Henryette was fresh in the ground, Ann was probably smelling a rat and Catherine had just noticed she might be pregnant. Will bounced from situation to situation with an increasingly strained look of calm. He managed somehow to keep the covers on all this, at least till late January 1855, and in a bout of remorse manages to convince himself and his lumpen wife that all is well – he gets Ann pregnant again, for the fourteenth time, doubtless to shut her up.

But no amount of lies would hide the growing bulge in Catherine’s belly. It wasn’t long before the truth found its way to the surface. Even in that warped moral environment the idea of a man screwing his mistress while his child lay dead in the parlour rubbed the family up the wrong way. Will was booted out of the family home, sent on his way by a quivering Ann, her brother and a shotgun. Twenty years of warring family history surfaced in Back River. Even though Tom’s brother James was two years dead the families picked up the cudgel and ran. The forty year feud was reignited and Back River was at war.

William fled to Hamilton (and his father) with his woman in tow to begin the third chapter of his life. In mid August that year Georgina was born to Catherine. Five weeks later Hezekiah was born to Ann. Will was between a rock and a hard place.

Ann was left with eleven children, an almighty rage and a property to run. The James Triffitt clan swarmed in to help her and William was loudly proclaimed a philandering bastard.

With the support of Thomas Triffitt, Will and Catherine set up house in Hamilton and proceeded to further the newest dynasty. They tumbled into being in rapid succession, all eleven of them. William’s dwindling sexual passion returned with a vengeance. He’d spent 20 years making babies with one woman, he was about to do it all again.

Georgina Triffitt b. 16 Aug 1855 in Hamilton

Frances Louisa Sarah Triffitt b. 3 Mar 1856 (?) in Hamilton

John Charles Triffitt b. 12 Feb 1858 in Hamilton

Rowland Jesse Triffitt b. 4 Apr 1860 in Gretna

Kenneth Macquarie Triffitt b. 3 Jan 1862 in Gretna

Josephine Elizabeth Triffitt b. 5 Sep 1863 in New Norfolk

Tasman Gordon Triffitt b. 12 Mar 1865 in Gretna

Eugenie Jessie Triffitt b. 18 Dec 1866 in Gretna

Queenie Betsy Triffitt b. 18 Dec 1866 in Gretna

Lucinda Celestial Triffitt b. 23 Jan 1869 in New Norfolk

William M. Edinburgh Triffitt b. 13 Oct 1875

The couple waited five years for the waters to settle then moved back down south, to Gretna, near New Norfolk and re-established themselves there. There was a rash of marriages from the first family during the 1860’s and a general acceptance of the new state of affairs.

The second family were not quite as forthcoming as the first – only 51 grandchildren came William’s way from this lot but he wasn’t to see all of them. He died in 1895 aged 78, preceded by his first wife Ann, six years earlier. Catherine was on this earth for another 26 years before she too went to God on the 10th of May 1921 in her 94th year. She lies buried, along with William and Ann, in the graveyard at the Back River Methodist Church.

Whether Ann ever forgave him is not a matter of record.


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