Originally from Sussex, England, four Southwell brothers settled in Australia in 1838. William, the eldest brother settled in Victoria, while the rest of his siblings all settled on the outskirts of what is now the Canberra district.
Thomas and his family spent some time around Cobbitty in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales before settling on the banks of Ginninderra Creek. Thomas purchased an area of 987 acres in 1854 and named the property Parkwood. After the death of Eliza Southwell in 1852, Thomas married Mary Croxton. The two marriages produced 19 surviving children. Thomas was followed to Australia by three of his brothers, and a nephew.
Two of the brothers settled in the Ginninderra area. In this era families tended to be large. It was estimated that by 1938 there were 1,300 descendants. Members of the Southwell family were particularly active and successful in agriculture – primarily sheep and wool production, and also in other endeavours, such as the military, church, law, business, education, local government, and many other fields.
First and second generation Southwell’s followed in the steps of the Patriarch, and were especially active in the establishment and growth of the Methodist church. Southwell family members also married into other settler families on a prodigious scale, such that the Southwell family story is deeply intertwined with many other local settler families. The family is now represented through to the eighth generation.
The year 1988 marked the 150th anniversary of the family’s arrival in Australia, and a committee of family members was formed to organise a family reunion and celebration.
The event occurred over the weekend of 12th and 13th of March 1988, with over 2,000 people attending. The organising committee went on to form the Southwell Family Society Australia Inc., which adopted a constitution and was incorporated.
The Society has continued with the primary purpose of maintaining the genealogy and other records and memorabilia of the family.
Family gatherings have occurred in 1938, 1988 and 2013 to celebrate anniversaries of the family’s arrival in Australia.
A well-known local historian, Lyall Gillespie produced a Southwell family history: The Southwell Family – Pioneers of the Canberra District: 1838 – 1988, which was launched at the 1988 gathering. A full family genealogy was published in 2008: The Southwell Family in Australia – Pioneers of the Canberra District – 1838 – 2007, and an updated version published in 2019. This latest version contains over 16,000 names.
A further publication was launched at the 2013 family gathering: Stories from Parkwood and Beyond – The Southwell Family. Membership is currently close to 200 and the Society produces three newsletters per annum for its members.
The Society also continues to maintain the stone chapel built by Thomas in 1880 at Parkwood. The chapel is opened to the public by the Society annually as part of the Canberra and Region Heritage Festival.
In 2019 the Society and the Hall School Museum and Heritage Centre (HSMHC) successfully applied for a grant from ACT Heritage, which was used to establish a Southwell Family Archive.
The Society has entered into an arrangement with HSMHC, which provides the Society with storage, work areas and other associated services, including preservation expertise.
The aim of this activity to catalogue, preserve and digitise material held by the Society and various family members, and make it available to descendants, researchers and the general community.
The Society will continue to record the family genealogy and collect material relating to the family’s history and ensure that this record of one family’s contribution to the fabric of Australian society continues to be available.
Parkwood Chapel, 2022