Thursday, February 7, 2013

Expats in the family tree

An expat is someone who lives in a foreign country, right? And an immigrant is one who lives in a foreign country until it’s his home and not foreign to him any more. Those are my definitions, and they’ll have to do.

Linda and I have several families of expats and immigrants among our ancestors. She & I began as Australians, and have ourselves been expats in England, Canada, Bahamas, New Hebrides and Cayman. Technically, we morphed into immigrants some time during our 35 years in Cayman, but we’re not sure when. Ever since this blog began, I’ve written about the native-born Caymanian community’s resentment of incomers, and it’s hard to feel at home when you don’t feel welcome.

We were 37 and 38 when we came here. Our son Ross in his 37 years has been an expat in Cayman, England, Australia, Mexico, Guatemala and Norway. For the past nine years he has lived the life of a Norwegian father. If the Government of Norway weren’t so stingy with its citizenship grants, he would be a Norski by now.

Linda’s mother was an English immigrant in Australia; my Barlow grandfather was too, after a stint as an expat in New Zealand. He had two brothers who had earlier died in Madagascar and Queensland, respectively – as expats, not immigrants. Another brother stayed in South Africa after the Boer War, and eventually settled there; his child moved to Zimbabwe and her grandchildren are now immigrants in Texas.

Linda’s sister was an expat in Canada and Bahamas before settling in Monaco as a Permanent Resident. (Monaco doesn’t grant new citizenships.) One of my brothers was an immigrant in Malaysia before returning to Oz. My mother emigrated to England at age 70. We’re an international bunch.

Further up my family tree, off on some of the branches, were English expats in Britain’s Indian Empire. Cousin Arthur was a “political” in the Indian Civil Service (it would be MI6, today) in Calcutta, Persia and Sinkiang for 20 years until the creation of Pakistan and India Bharat. His Uncle Harry had been the official tutor to the son of the Maharaja of one of the smaller Princely States up near the Himalayas. He married a Branson girl from Bombay and died of cholera on his way down from the hills in 1909.

In the 1790s there were an Andrews and an Atkinson ancestor, brothers-in-law, in Trincomalee, Ceylon, in charge of the East India Company’s pearl-fishing fleet. It was a thrill finding the draft transcript of Atkinson’s trial for falsification of accounts to the tune of 31,512 Pagodas (12,000 pounds), in The India Office archives in London. He had diverted some of the pearl-harvest to his own account. In his defence, he claimed that the proceeds were (in these exact words) "an allowable though not an avowed emolument". The court made him pay back half the money, and demoted him to a judge-ship. Oh, the disgrace!

Sherlock Holmes in A Scandal in Bohemia made a passing reference to "the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee." I wish I knew where Conan Doyle got that bit of intelligence from, and why he bothered to mention it.

One day our Norwegian grandchildren are going to ask Linda and me, “What was wrong with you both, that you kept moving, when you were young?” I’ll tell them, “It’s in the blood.” Our 19th-Century British ancestors upped sticks and left for one or more of the Australian colonies – all as free settlers, to the best of our knowledge. I’m not 100% convinced that my Hickeys’ departure from Ireland was voluntary, but I like to give them the benefit of the doubt.