Series 1, Episode 5

Jack Thompson

Jack Thompson

Jack Thompson is an icon of Australian television and cinema.

He was born John Hadley Pain. At the age of six, mother Marjorie died and his father Harold was unable to look after him so he was sent off to boarding school. It was here that he befriended fellow boarder Peter Thompson whose family adopted Jack who then became known as Jack Thompson.

At the start of his Who Do You Think You Are?® Journey, Jack consequently knows very little about his biological family. His Aunt Beverley travels to Australia from Los Angeles to help fill in some of the blanks. Beverley shows Jack a photograph of Captain Thomas Pain, his great grandfather. Jack wants to find out more about him and meets with Jon Simpson of the Sydney Heritage Fleet aboard the James Craig, an historic barque moored in Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

Scouring through records, Jack discovers that in 1887 Tom Pain lost his wife and a son leaving him with three children to support. At that point he gave up his sea-faring life and came ashore to work on the docks as a wharfinger, or wharf manager.

Jack is next introduced to Captain Pain’s son, Dr Albert Pain, Beverley’s father, who married Vera Lee, in 1916. Beverley takes Jack back to her own childhood home and tells him about her mother whom she lost to suicide.

Next Jack travels up the family tree to great grandparents Katie and German Lee. Katie was born Katie Byrnes. The Byrnes lived at Nambucca on the NSW north coast where they were cedar cutters, and Katie had later come down to Sydney to marry. Beverley suggests that there was some rift in German Lee’s family, as he and his brother didn’t ever speak in later life, and that her grandmother had told her that the Lees didn’t think she was good enough for German. The oldest of German Lee’s estranged brothers was Alfred Lee. And here the story confronts Jack with a family mystery to solve.

The search for more information about great Uncle Alfred takes Jack to Sydney’s Mitchell Library, where he finds out that Alfred Lee was a famous and significant individual in Australia’s nineteenth century history. A successful self-made man, he was also a founding father of the Royal Australian Historical Society, along with Sir Thomas Mitchell after whom the library itself is named.

Alfred was an energetic collector of books and pamphlets chronicling the lead up to Federation as well as arguably the most important book in Australian history: Joseph Banks’ journal of the Endeavour voyage with Captain James Cook 1768-1771.

Jack acquires a copy of the marriage certificate of Katie and German Lee. Listed also on the certificate as a ‘contractor’ is Katie Byrnes’ father, Elisha Byrnes.

Jack contacts June Matthews of the Nambucca Historical Society, who lives close to his home in the rainforest and learns that she has already traced her ancestry to Elisha Byrnes and to the next important figure in the hunt, Elisha’s father and Jack’s great, great, great grandfather, Patrick Byrnes. At this point Jack solves the puzzle as to why there was a family rift. The Lees were proud Protestants and their son German married a Catholic, Katie Byrnes.

Patrick Byrnes worked as a saw miller, timber cutter and surveyor’s assistant. Jack catches up with distant cousins Judith and Tom Byrnes who have documents that include a ticket of leave, an indent record and a conditional pardon which reveal that Patrick Byrnes was a convict convicted in 1836 of highway robbery in County Cork, Ireland and sentenced to death. This was later commuted to transportation for life to Australia.

Jack travels to Ireland to find out more about his ancestor’s life. Here, in a green quarter of rural Ireland, he gets a sense of the place Patrick Byrnes left behind.

He stands on the same soil that had given birth to Patrick Byrnes in 1816. The same soil that was too poor to support many poor Irish people leading them to crime and misdemeanour for the sake of their survival. He muses on his own ancestry. Whatever else happened, Patrick survived his early hardships, and brought his genes to Australia. And without that young man who, for whatever reason, had once turned to highway robbery, Jack himself would have never come to exist.

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