Uncovering scandal and tragedy

Stephen Curry with historian Marjorie Theobald, Forest Creek Gold Diggings.

Actor and writer Stephen Curry, famously known for his role in the iconic film The Castle, recently made his way to Chewton for the SBS series Who Do You Think You Are?

Born and bred in Melbourne, Stephen, with his wife and two boys, recently moved to rural Victoria. With his boys fast growing up, Stephen was keen to discover the long-forgotten stories and characters of his family’s past.

“I would say DNA has a massive part of determining your personality. I am bursting at the seams to learn about my family history,” Stephen said.

Beginning with his maternal family, Stephen wanted to find out whether the scandalous rumours of a bigamist in the family were true. Consulting a genealogist, Stephen got more than he bargained for when he learnt that not only were the bigamy rumours true, but he also had a child-bride abducting ancestor as well.

Hoping to find more respectable forebears, the Australian actor travels to Forrest Creek where he meets with local historian Marjorie Theobald, who helps him on his journey to learn about his great-great grandfather Thomas Hodgens.

With Marjorie’s help, Stephen learns that Thomas, who emigrated to Australia from Ireland in 1852, quickly established himself as a storekeeper and gold merchant in Chewton, right at the heart of the action.

“Your ancestor Thomas, he came at the most amazing time,” Marjorie told Stephen.

“It was like nothing else on earth. It was the largest alluvial goldfields ever found, then or now.”

Stephen learnt that soon after moving, Thomas became the mayor of Chewton, and was appointed local manager of one of the British Empire’s biggest banks, the Oriental Bank.

Through historic articles published in the Mount Alexander Mail and The Age, Stephen discovers that his two-times great grandfather became privy to a scandal at the Oriental Bank, and in 1864, made the courageous decision to call it out, despite the adverse impact it has on his own career.

Delighted to learn that his ancestor was a whistle-blower, Stephen was devastated to learn that in the same year, Thomas lost his young wife, aged 30, leaving him with three young children.

Following Thomas’s trail to Daylesford, Stephen learnt that despite his travails in Chewton, his ancestor salvaged his fortunes, remaking his life as a landholder. Thomas remarried Stephen’s two-times great grandmother, Mary Jane Hunter.

The second half of the show is dedicated to Stephen’s paternal ancestors. A journey that led the actor to Beechworth, where his three-times great grandfather, John Flower, came to seek his fortune in the mid-1850s. After the tragedy of losing two children, John Flower was committed to a lunatic asylum in Melbourne and ultimately died in the Beechworth Asylum in 1877.

Stephen believes that the beauty of the experience is that he has resurrected the stories of ancestors who otherwise would have been forgotten and, whether their actions were good or bad, their lives need to be acknowledged.

Season 15 – episode 7 of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Stephen Curry will be released tonight at 7.30pm on SBS and SBS on Demand.