GREEK AUSTRALIANS IN THEIR OWN IMAGE: John Peters - One of the first ‘free’ Greek settlers in Australia (1830s)

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Greek City Times is proud to present a weekly historical snapshot
from the archives of the ‘In Their Own Image: Greek Australians’  national project
by photographer Effy Alexakis and historian Leonard Janiszewski.

John Peters and Descendants

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John Peters  c. 1870s, place unknown. (Photo of John Peters © R. Nichols)

John Peters and descendants

The story this week focuses on the descendants of a very early Greek settler to Australia, John Peters. There was an attitude in the past that people would not speak about their forebears if they were 'foreign'. This is also a reason that it is difficult for researchers to identify Greek connections to the past.

John Peters is a very early ‘free’ Greek settler in Australia. He probably came from the island of Samos. His Greek name is thought to have been ‘Ioannis Iakoumis’. This portrait was found amongst his personal papers, and his descendants believe it to be of him. John seems to have arrived during the late 1830s, though it may have been earlier. In December 1841, he married fourteen-year-old Sarah McCue from Dublin, at St John’s Church, Parramatta.

John and Sarah had nine sons, and six daughters. Towards the end of the 1850s, Peters was employed as a ‘boatman’, probably on the Parramatta River, or perhaps even on a coastal vessel. Before 1861, the family resided in Sydney and Parramatta. He later worked as a shepherd on the Bedervale property, near Braidwood, New South Wales, and then became a gold prospector at nearby Little River. He died in Sydney in 1887 and is buried at Rookwood Cemetery.


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Ida McHale (née Godfrey), Sydney, 1988

Ida McHale was born in 1893 and is a descendant of John Peters. The facial similarity between Ida and John Peters is dramatically striking. Ida passed away in 1990.

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Joan Clarke, Sydney, 1988

Joan Clarke (née Willmott) was born in Sydney, in 1920. She commenced writing during her school days and went on to author a variety of books, articles, reviews and scripts (for radio and theatre), as well as having actively participated in the Australian Society of Authors and the Sydney Centre of International PEN. Joan is a great-granddaughter of John Peters. She had commenced researching her Greek forebear in the early 1980s with the intention of writing a historical novel based upon Peters’ experiences. Regrettably Joan Clarke passed away in 2004, with her intention unrealised.

Joan: ‘Though basically a generous, loving person, my mother was a strong-willed disciplinarian with a hasty temper. Everyone said it was “the Greek in her”. I later discovered they were referring to Gran’s father who had come from Greece in the 1830s… I had never heard Gran mention her father. Mum said Grandad had forbidden her to talk about him because he didn’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry knowing that his family had foreign blood in them… I’m a hotchpotch Australian, as most Australians are. In my family there is Scottish, English, Greek, and on both sides of the family, a strong Irish connection, particularly maternal. A long way back, there may be some French.’


Research: Leonard Janiszewski
Photos:  Effy Alexakis
© In Their Own Image: Greek-Australians National Project Archives


Since the early 1980s, Effy Alexakis, a photographer, along with historian researcher Leonard Janiszewski, have been travelling around Australia photographing and collecting stories. They have also photographed Greek-Australians in Greece and documented some amazing histories. The images and text provide personal, diverse and powerfully moving insights, about opportunities, hopes and challenges. Collectively, these stories provide personal perspectives of a diasporic Hellenic identity. Their archive encompasses photography, both historical and contemporary, taped interviews and literary materials.

They have published 3 books and numerous articles, and their projects are ongoing. The photographs have been widely exhibited throughout Australia and in Greece.

VISIT THEIR LATEST PROJECT:  Greek Cafés & Milk Bars of Australia | Facebook




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