The Veness Family Origins

The Veness family has its origins in Normandy, that part of France fronting the Channel and settled in the 9th century by Vikings who, progressively, adopted French speech and customs.

They take their name from Venoix, once a village 2 km southwest of Caen, William’s capital, but now a "quartier" of that town. Men from this village accompanied the Conqueror on his grand adventure in 1066. Some of them, after settling in parts of southern England (including Hampshire, Warwickshire, and especially Sussex), were known by their Norman origin "de Venoiz". In English the stress was placed on the first syllable, so that the second syllable was slurred in speech and written in various ways (Venuiz, 1130; Venuz, 1197; Venoiz, 1205; Venus, 1230, 1611, 1857; Venice, 1578, 1701). The spelling, Veness, appears in 1745 (Burwash marriage register). In our family the pronunciation to rhyme with "dress" was not adopted until the 1880s.

The Normans, led by William, Duke of Normandy, defeated the English near the Sussex town of Battle, and it was in that district that our Venesses eventually settled.

The Norman Stone, Battle Abbey, Sussex
Their new home differed little from the land they left behind in Normandy. The rolling chalk hills of Sussex were formed in the late Cretaceous (65 to 100 million years ago) by the action of Coccolithophores, single-celled golden brown algae (Chrysophyta), who lived in the warm, shallow (50-300m) seas that flooded much of Europe at that time.

Right: The Norman Stone, Battle Abbey, Sussex:

(Worldwide the Cretaceous had been a time of marine transgressions, due to the formation of extensive mid-ocean ridges and a surge in sea-floor spreading. Australia, too, was bisected by a shallow epicontinental sea.) These algae built minute plates of calcium carbonate into their cell walls. Dying, their tiny bodies accumulated over 30 million years to build up the massive chalk beds that form much of southern England and northern France.

The light shallow soil of the chalk Downs (hills), and the absence of surface water, ruled out the dense oak woods of elsewhere in southern England. Instead a mixed open forest of oak, beech (especially on the clay-capped hill-tops), ash and juniper predominated, representing the climax stage of vegetation regrowth after the last ice age, a climax reached about 5000 BC.

Grazing animals, such as deer, created and maintained open grassy areas here, which Neolithic man settled early, and easily cleared the remaining trees. Moreover, the light soil was easily worked by these first farmers. By the end of the Neolithic, some 3700 years ago, South-East England was largely deforested and used for grazing pigs and cattle. During the Iron Age, Celtic settlers introduced sheep, which became pasture animal there, while agriculture was practised in the arable valleys. The earliest villages were sited at the foot of scarps and along spring lines. Later villages were built higher up the slopes.

One such later village was Brightling (OE Beorhtelingham), set amid hilly wooded country 8 km north-west of Battle. It is located on a clay-capped ridge and surrounded by beech trees.
Brightling was the home of Richard Venice, who was born around 1675 (great-great-grandfather to Frank William Veness).


Richard Venice of Brightling was born about 1675 and married Mary Muggridge in nearby Burwash on 20 January, 1701. It is most likely that she had come from Burwash, while he was from Brightling. There were other Venices in Brightling at the time, presumably Richard’s brothers and a sister:

Thomas, who married Mary and had a daughter Susanna in 1704;
Ann, who married Thomas Reed in 1703;
John, who married Hannah Bodle in 1709 and died in 1740.

Richard and Mary had the following children baptised in the 13th and 14th century church of St Thomas a Beckett:

Elizabeth, c. 25 Oct 1702, m. James Venes 14 Feb 1728;
Mary, c. 30 Apr 1704;
Isaac, c. 17 Feb 1705/6, m. Mary;
John, c. 24 Sep 1710, d. 17 Apr 1715;
Katherine, c. 17 Aug 1712;
Ann, c, 15 Aug 1714;
Thomas, c. 11 Jan 1717, m. Mary Grant 15 Oct 1739;
Sarah, c. 9 Aug 1719, d. 9 July 1721;
Samuel, c. 6 Feb 1725/6.

Richard’s eldest son, Isaac (1706), married Mary about 1725; their children, too, were baptised in Brightling:

Isaac, c. 3 Mar 1726/7;
Elizabeth, c. 29 Sep 1728;
John, c. 16 Dec 1730, m. Ann;
Joseph, c. Nov 1732 (shipowner in Deptford, London where he had moved to work in the dockyard);
Thomas, c. 22 Sep 1734, d. May 1813 at Deptford;
Mary, c. 1736, m. Mr Gear;
Richard, c. 19 Mar 1737/8.

The eldest son, Isaac (1727) married Sarah about 1750. On 9 October 1752 a Settlement Certificate was issued, allowing "Isaac Veness and family" to move from Brightling to Battle.
Whether this means 25-year-old Isaac, his wife and infant son, or includes his father’s family, we cannot tell.

The Venesses come to Battle

The Venesses came to the agricultural area surrounding the town of Battle in 1752. Isaac (1727) and Sarah’s children were baptised there in the Norman church of St. Mary’s:
The Abbey, Battle

John, c. 5 Jun 1752, d. 1829;
Isaac, c. 12 Oct 1753;
Ann, c. 17 Jan 1755;
Mary, c. 19 Jul 1756, d. May 1771;
Elizabeth, c. 26 Jan 1758;
Sarah, c. 29 Aug 1759, d. Oct 1759;
Hannah, 8 Oct 1760;
Thomas, c. 26 Nov 1762, d. Apr 1845;
Jane, c. 2 Oct 1765;
Lucy, c. 10 Feb 1768;
Philadelphia, c. 16 Aug 1769.

Right: The Abbey, Battle

Possibly some of these children were farmed out to other relatives. Ann was taken in at one stage by a wealthy aunt in Lewes, where she married on 26 December 1775.

The son Isaac (1753) married an Elizabeth about 1774 and had the following children:

Ann, c. 13 Jan 1775;
Isaac, c. 10 Jan 1777;
Unknown, 1779;
Unknown, 1781;
Sarah, c. 13 Mar 1783;
Henry, c. 1785.

(This last son, Henry, appears on the 1841 Census for Hastings, married to a Charlotte. Significantly, he is a lime-burner.)

Isaac’s wife, Elizabeth, died in February 1803, and Isaac died in sep 1835 aged 82 years.

Isaac Veness (1777) and Sarah

Isaac Veness was baptised in Battle on 10 January 1777, son of Isaac Veness (1727) and his wife Elizabeth.

He worked as a limeburner, mining the local chalk rock and burning it in a limekiln to produce lime for mortar.

Sarah (surname not known) was born in nearby Ashburnham in 1778. The couple married about 1805 and had the following children:

Thomas, c. 14 Jan 1807, d. Jan 1812;
Edward, c. 14 Jan 1808, m. Charlotte Veness;
John, c. 30 Nov 1810, m. Frances Forward, 31 Aug 1833;
William, c. 21 Oct 1812, came to NSW where he m. Sarah Riglesford;
Sarah, c. 1 Mar 1815, unmarried on census;
Frederick, c. 17 oct 1817, m. Sophia Cook, 23 May 1839, emigrated to NSW, died here 1896;
Ann, c. 5 Dec 1821;
Mary, c. 19 Apr 1824;
Elizabeth, c. 1828.

It is possible that Ann and Elizabeth may have been grandchildren living with Isaac and Sarah at the 1851 census for Battle.

William Veness and Sarah Rigelsford

William Veness was baptised in the church of St Mary’s, Battle, on 21 October 1812, the son of Isaac Veness, a limeburner, and his wife, Sarah. He learnt the trade of stonemason.
Sarah Riglesford was born in Mountfield on 5th February 1822 (and baptised 31 March 1822), daughter of George Riglesford, who was also a limeburner, and his wife, Sophia Funnell. Her mother died when she was five.

The couple knew each other apparently because their fathers both engaged in the same work.
The Dormitory, Battle Abbey

In 1839 a Veness family group had decided to come to Australia, and Sarah embarked with them; the records state:

William Veness, farm labourer, 26, engaged by Mr Bucknell of Morpeth for 30 pounds ($60) a year.

Sarah Rigelsford, house servant, 17, engaged by Mr John Clarke of Sydney for 12 pounds ($24) a year.

Right: The Dormitory, Battle Abbey

Frederick Veness, farm labourer, 22, engaged by Mr. Warrener of Reiby for 32 pounds ($64) a year.

Sophia Veness, servant, 20. (This was Frederick’s wife, the daughter of Robert and Sophia Cook of Battle. They were accompanied by their daughter, Harriet, 4.)

John Veness, farm labourer, 32, engaged by Mr Sargent of Cowpastures (Camden) for one pound four shillings ($2.40) a week. He was a distant cousin of Williams, his parents being Thomas and Mary Veness of Battle.

Ann Veness, dairy maid, 32, John’s wife. Also their two daughters, Sarah, who died on the voyage, 18 September 1839, of whooping cough, aged 2; and Elizabeth, aged 12 months.
Edward Brett, Ann’s father, a widower.

In all, this was a party of seven adults and three children. Their vessel was the barque, "Florist", under Captain Andrews, which sailed from Gravesend on the Thames Estuary with 208 government emigrants aboard. It called at Plymouth, and the last sight of England was of the rolling green hills around that city on 29 June 1839. "Florist" dropped anchor in Sydney Harbour on 26 October 1839.

While his brother and cousin took employment in the Camden district as arranged for them, it is doubtful that William Veness took up his engagement at Morpeth for any length of time, if at all. Rather, it appears he stayed in Sydney, marrying Sarah Rigelsford on 3 August 1840 in St Peter’s Church of England, Petersham. In 1841 they were living in Hill Street, Surrey Hills; in the late 1840s and early 1850s they were living in Ultimo, where their children were born:

Isaac, b. 9 Jun 1847, m. Mary Ann Wilday, 1870;
James, b. 23 Nov 1848, m. Monica Woodward in 1873;
William, b. 9 Nov 1850, d. 1851;
Ann, b. 2 Apr 1854, m. William Simpson in 1875;
Elizabeth, b. 2 Oct 1856, m. James Grant Dick in 1881;
Charles, b. 23 June 1858, m. Amelia Woodward in 1879;
Thomas, b. 31 July 1860, m. Susan Maria Warren in 1880.

In addition there were two other children who seem to have died at an early age, a son and a daughter.

William died in Glebe, Sydney, NSW, on 2 December 1871, while Sarah died on 25 October 1906. They are buried in Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney.

Above: On these Green fields, in the year 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, defeated and killed King Harold of England in the Battle of Hastings,
thus ensuring the final success of the Norman Conquest.




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