Miss Jessie May Hill, FSAG (1915-1995)

Miss Hill joined the Society in November 1964 and became actively involved in its activities within a short time. We believe Jess Hill to have been our longest serving Assistant in the Society’s library as she worked with us on a weekly basis in the Australian Library continuously for more than 28 years until a short time before her death.

Born in Perth on 11 April 1915, Jess was the daughter of George Hill and Clarice (nee Halliday). She left Western Australia when in her early twenties and worked as a clerk and typist in Sydney and then in Queensland. She was in Townsville when she enlisted in the Australian Women’s Army Service and served for three years in the Postal Division in Brisbane during World War II.

When one of her father’s cousins died and left behind a wealth of family papers, Jess agreed to look at these before they were destroyed. This sparked her interest in her family’s history. She soon set about tracing the genealogy of her convict ancestor, Isaac Payten (1759-1829) a stonemason and later a publican who arrived in Sydney in 1798 and his common law wife Susannah Harrison who arrived in April 1800, and she also researched the Shaw, Hughes, Hill and Hamilton families.

From this initial personal interest in family history, Jess developed a particular interest in convict women, and it is for this work that she will best be remembered. She placed with the Society her unpublished works Miscellaneous Musters and Lists up to 1805, Miscellaneous Shipping for the years 1832, 1836 & 1837 and the Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-1796 together with a card index to Female Convicts in NSW. Jess also bequeathed the research notes on ‘her girls’ to the Society and these will become available to researchers in due course.

Jess Hill at work at Richmond Villa, Photo from Society of Australian Genealogists Archives

Jess Hill was appointed Assistant Honorary Research Secretary in 1976 and served in this capacity until 1982. During this period the burgeoning interest in family history and the Society’s much publicised move to Richmond Villa ensured a constant stream of research enquiries, and this role became increasing onerous and time-consuming. When Certificates of Merit were initiated by the Society in 1982, Jess Hill was one of the first to be so honoured, and in 1994 she was elected a Fellow of the Society for outstanding service and her contribution to genealogical scholarship.

A quiet, unassuming, and independent woman, Jess was never one to make a fuss and certainly never enjoyed being the centre of attention. There are countless hundreds of Society members and other researchers who owe much to her wide-ranging knowledge and all-encompassing understanding of the Society’s Australian book collection. Many a new member was pointed in the right direction to commence their research by Miss Jess Hill when she was on duty in the Australian Library on a Tuesday.

Jess died after a short illness on 13 May 1995 at Royal North Shore Hospital at the age of 80 and a private family service was held a few days later. Her ashes have been scattered with those of her parents in the Rose Garden at Karrakatta Cemetery, in Perth, Western Australia.

Obituary for Jessica Hill, by Heather Garnsey
DESCENT SEPTEMBER 1995, pages 122-123