FAMILY FOLKLORE & Misinformation
“Pierre Barreau, the bold pirate from Bordeaux”. That is the story I heard as a child, told to my grandmother by my grandfather, or so I was told. “Pierre Barreau” was her grandfather.
That is about the only information my family had about my great great grandfather, the first member of our Barreau family to come toAustralia. That and the story that he had ‘jumped ship’ while in Adelaide.
Family folklore stories sometimes bear some resemblance to the truth, and at other times don’t. Was he a pirate? Probably not. Did he jump ship? Possibly. Did he come from Bordeaux, or did that just sound good with ‘Barreau’? Did he even come fromFrance, and was he called Pierre?
My grandmother was Clara Bertha Barreau. It turns out that her grandfather, the first Barreau inAustralia, was not “Pierre” but was Alexander.
So, where does “Pierre” come from? Is this just a teasing taunt from my grandfather to his wife? Or a story that went down to the children in my family only? Other branches of the Barreau family have not heard the “Pierre” story.
However, it is interesting to note that my uncle, the first born son of my grandparents, was always known as “Peter” although he had a different actual given name. My uncle was told he was dubbed “Peter” by the nurses in the hospital when he was born, after the currently popular singer Peter Dawson. But in 2008 I had contact from someone in France (via the internet) whose maiden name was ‘Barreau’. She wondered if we might be connected. No connection between us has been found (as yet) but she did say that in her grandfather’s family it was the tradition to give to all the first born sons the nickname “Pierre”. Perhaps it is a French thing? Although she did not indicate it was a general French tradition but rather a family tradition.
She sent a photo of her grandfather, and there was a similar look in the face to my own father. Who knows?
If this were the case, it could indicate that Alexander Barreau could have been the first born (or only) son. The index for his marriage record states his father’s name was also ‘Alexander’, which could indicate he was the first born son. He also named his first born son ‘Alexander’.
His nickname could have stuck and stayed with him from childhood (as happened to my uncle, who has always been known as ‘Peter’) and he himself chose to use, even once far away from home. However, in the death notice in the South Australian Register there is no mention of him being known as “Pierre”.
Was he a pirate? Well, probably not. Was he a seaman who “jumped ship”? One branch of the family had the story that he had jumped ship in Victoria, looked for gold, then traveled overland to South Australia.
This story no doubt came from the common occurrence of people doing this in Victoria during the gold rushes. However, the gold rushes started in Victoria in 1851. Alexander and Elizabeth’s first child was born in South Australia in 1847, so it would seem at least she was in South Australia by that date.
There has been no record found so far of Alexander Barreau’s arrival in an Australian colony. He is listed in his death notice, in 1876, as having been a colonist for 29 years, which means he would have arrived here in 1847.
Not all shipping passenger lists are complete, especially before the 1850s. But most importantly, ships did not list crew members. His listed occupation (mariner) would indicate he did work on a ship. There are virtually no records of mariners on ships, only passengers. There are SA records of naturalizations for non-British immigrants. I haven’t found him yet in these. This does lend weight to him ‘jumping ship’. However these records may not be complete. It could also mean that he may not have been French but may well have been British. I have searched illegal immigrants for people who jumped ship for that period and have found nothing. Of course these records are probably not complete.
Arrival in South Australia
Alexander married Elizabeth Catherine Hamilton in 1845 in Singapore. He had been working there in a hotel and Elizabeth’s first husband probably had some link with Singapore. Elizabeth had already came to SA on the Katherine Stewart Forbes with her parents in 1837 and married her first husband in South Australia. There is a modern record of Alexander’s name connected with the ship the Hamilton’s came to South Australia on. This connection only happened because a compiler from the pre-internet days found his name connected with Elizabeth Hamilton (this information can be found at the shipping lists on the Family History SA Website). There is no other connection with him and that trip. As stated earlier Alexander’s death notice says he had been a colonist since 1847, so that also indicated he did not come out with Elizabeth in 1837.
The death notice also mentions he was a ‘waterman’ for 15 years in SA. As this is an occupation connected with shipping, it possibly indicates he did not ‘jump ship’ but continued to work in shipping once living inAdelaide.
If crew members are not listed on incoming ships, it is very difficult to ascertain just when and how he arrived in the colony.
But one last comment, his death notice says he “left many friends”, and that flags in Port Adelaide were left at half mast to “show the respect in which he was held”. Would they do that for a pirate?
updated: April 2012