The Australian Branch of the Harmer Family Association

The Australian branch of the Harmer Family Association (HFA) was formed in May 1983 with nine foundation members. Over the years a substantial Harmer historical records collection has been put together. Much of this has been contributed by HFA members who have generously shared their family stories and precious family memorabilia with the HFA. This unique archive includes over 1,200 documents including newspaper clippings, certificates and photographs. A database which details over 4,000 Harmers in Australia is available. The database entries date from the Harmer convicts who arrived in the early 1800s to entries for contemporary Harmers contributed by members of the HFA. This Australian records collection compliments the extensive records collection held by the HFA in England.

A Brief History of Harmers in Australia

Today there are Harmers in every state and territory of Australia. The name Harmer is not evident in many of our Australian history books or on the lists of famous Australians. The early Harmers emigrants were among the thousands of average, hard working families who emigrated to a new land to re-establish themselves and build a better future for themselves and their children. Their contribution to the new nation should never be underestimated. They braved harsh and hostile environments to establish farms and businesses. Harmers worked as sawyers, miners, bricklayers, labourers, farmers, shop keepers, butchers, confectioners, coach drivers, engine drivers, clergymen, mariners and photographers. The Harmer women were supportive wives and devoted mothers, often enduring lonely and very primitive living conditions.

Initially in the 1980s it was thought that Isaac Harmer, a convict who arrived in Sydney aboard the second fleet ship Neptune on 28 June 1790 was the first Harmer arrival but subsequent research has revealed that Isaac's name was actually Farmer. The earliest arrival was Samuel Harmer, a bricklayer and plasterer, who arrived in Sydney on 11 June 1813 aboard the ship Fortune, aged 23 years. He was one of twelve Harmer Convicts that the HFA have documented who arrived in Australia between 1813 and 1851. One was convicted of fraud and all of the others were convicted of varying degrees of theft. Items stolen included money, a watch, woollen cloth and a variety of animals including ducks, fowl, pigeons, two mares, a chestnut gelding, a donkey and even grandma's ducks.

The earliest recorded 'free' Harmer is Augustus Harmer who was second officer on the convict ship Princess Royal that arrived in Sydney on 2 March 1823. He was discharged in Sydney on 23 March amid controversy that he, and the captain of the ship, had mistreated the crew during the voyage. Subsequent references to Augustus are under the surname Warner so it is uncertain whether he was a Harmer or not. He did not stay in Sydney long and he is recorded, as Augustus Warner, departing Sydney for Hull on the ship Denmark Hill in April 1823. 

Another 'free' Harmer visitor to Australia was a Lieutenant Harmer R.N. who is recorded in the Sydney Gazette of 25 Oct 1826 as being a juror in a court case held in Sydney. This case was against the editor and proprietor of the Sydney Gazette, Robert Howe for libel on Sax Bannister late attorney general of the colony. Lieutenant Harmer has been identified as Samuel Fielding Harmer (5742) Tree NFK 11/91.1. He was born at Lowestoft, Suffolk on 2 October 1793 and entered into service in the Royal Navy on 16 May 1806, aged 13 years. On 8 August 1826 he commenced service as a Senior Lieutenant on HM Warspite which arrived in Sydney on 19 October 1826. This warship ship of 74 guns and 500 men arrived in Sydney from Trincomalee, a port city on the east coast of Sri Lanka and it remained in Sydney until 6 Jan 1827 when it sailed for South America.

By the 1830s many free Harmer settlers were arriving in the new colony. They were attracted to South Australia by the various government schemes offering free passages to labourers and their families. On 24 June 1838 William Harmer (9909) arrived in the new colony of South Australia aboard the ship Eden. He was joined later by his brother Edward (9901) who arrived in Adelaide aboard the Orleana on 11 June 1840 with his wife and children.  This family came from County Sussex and they head the Australian branch of the Sussex Harmers that is detailed on the HFA's Sussex tree, pages A1-A32. Some of Edward's children moved to Victoria in search of gold and they eventually settled there. Their descendants today are scattered throughout Australia.

Harmer families from County Norfolk followed a similar pattern, migrating initially to South Australia and moving to Victoria in search of gold and taking up selections of land in that state.  Many of these families originated from the Norfolk parishes of Brinton, Kelling, Salthouse and Thornage. The christian names Elias, Francis and Robert are names that were commonly used by these Norfolk Harmers. There are several Norfolk trees that document these families.

New South Wales attracted Harmer labourers and they tended to remain in the state. Many settled in the towns and cities while others selected land and established farms. We find Harmer descendants in Sydney, Tumut, West Wyalong, Goulburn, Canberra, Temora, Wagga Wagga and Albury. The HFA in Australia has a comprehensive set of NSW Harmer trees and work is continuing to link these trees to the established Sussex, Norfolk and Gloucestershire trees.

Harmers to Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have also been documented. Work on Harmers to New Zealand is ongoing.

The Australian branch of the HFA is always pleased to receive any Harmer family information, photos, certificates or newspaper clippings even if they do not relate to your family. The HFA would like to thank those who have contributed generously over the years to our record collection.

Article Written by Cora Num HFA Australia

The Australian branch of the HFA is always pleased to receive any Harmer family information, photos, certificates or newspaper clippings even if they do not relate to your family. The HFA would like to thank those who have contributed generously over the years to our record collection.

Article Written by Cora Num HFA Australia                      Page updated 22nd October 2009

For Membership of the Australian Branch of the HFA Contact Cora Num

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