Finding hidden treasure

The secret story of a convict who married Melton's beloved midwife Hannah 'Grannie' Watts has been penned in a historical biography by John Watts pictured with Rebecca Hart and holding portraits of Grannie Watts and William Rose Watts. PIc Marco De Luca

By Ewen McRae

The secret history of a convict who married a beloved Melton icon has been penned, shedding new light on a famous name.

Author John Watts launched his book Six Stolen Mugs last month, detailing the life of his ancestor William Rose Watts, who married Melton midwife Hannah ‘Grannie’ Watts more than 150 years ago.

Hannah Watts is well known in Melton for establishing the first hospital in the area, where she delivered more than 400 babies between 1886 and 1921.

The connection of William to the famous Melton family was previously hidden for generations due to shame over the family’s convict history.

It was uncovered when John researched his ancestry ahead of a family reunion.

“Going back to my grandparents, they never acknowledged the convict history, because it was a thing to be ashamed of back then,” John said.

“It’s certainly not now. In fact there’s people out there hunting through family histories trying to find convict ancestors.”

William Watts was born in Essex in 1811, and was sentenced to 14 years transportation for stealing six ceramic mugs from his employer in his late teens.

He arrived in Tasmania in 1831, where he worked for a man called Thomas Reibey. Thomas’s mother Mary Reibey now appears on the Australian $20 note, and helped set up the country’s first bank.

William married in Tasmania, and had five children, from whom John is descended from.

When his first wife died in 1863, William moved to the Melton region and within three months was married to Hannah.

William and Hannah had two more children.

“It was all new to me to find out about this part of the family history and also the work that Hannah did in Melton,” John said.

“It’s nice to know that there are people in your family that have done a lot of good things.”

The book was launched at the Melton Library on July 5, with Hannah’s great-great-granddaughter, Rebecca Hart – also now a midwife – speaking about the impact of her ancestor.