Follett's of Australia & New Zealand
Synopsis: A one-name study of Folletts of Australia & New Zealand

Surname Index Page Powell Genealogy Follett Genealogy William Follett of South Australia Other Folletts of Australia & New Zealand Sources

The primary goal of this project has been to research the family of William Follett (and his wife Maria Hooper) who emigrated to South Australia in 1840 as free settlers. The family name effectively ended with the death of Edward Follett in 1959. William had only one great-grandson bearing the family name and that child was illegitimate and whilst he bore the name Follett later in his life, his birth records the father as 'unknown', so it is by no means certain that he was in truth a Follett. A great-grand-daughter (still alive as of 2012) resumed her maiden name after a divorce, but she only had daughters. Attempts to trace William's ancestry have to date proven fruitless. The earliest record of the family is the birth of the second (known) child in 1838 in the village of Littleham, near Exmouth, Co Devon. No trace of William & Maria's marriage has been found, nor any trace of their parentage. Maria (or Mary) Hooper is a common name in the south-west of England and tracing just which one was the Maria who married William has proven impossible, assuming she was a native of the region, which is not certain. Several possibilities for the birth of William are known, but which, if any, is the right one is likewise impossible to determine. Equally frustrating is the fate of William - in 1867 he left home in the evening "on business" and was never seen again. Did he abscond from his family, changing his name, or was he perhaps the victim of foul play, his corpse never being discovered (there were no 'John Doe's' near to the date William vanished). Family lore suggests that he left the country, perhaps going to India. It is hoped that with the transcription & publication of additional parish registers from south-west England that answers to some of these questions may one day be known.

The chart linked above labelled "William Follett of South Australia" charts this family. In addition to charting the descendants of James, I have also undertaken a one-name study on Folletts of New Zealand and Australia (the surname is rather rare). With one exception all of these families were from England and most from South-West England. The one exception was a Follett family from France who resided in Australia for about a decade before returning to Europe (the head of the family was a French diplomat). I have also included several families with names phonetically similar to 'Follett'. The results of this research can be found in the chart, linked above, "Other Folletts of Australia & New Zealand". The "Sources" page is a master list of all sources for the various charts listed above. If you are a descendent of James & Penelope (or have researched this family), please email me if you wish to share information. If you are connected to an unrelated Powell family with South Australian connections and would like to submit corrections, additions or a previously unlisted family, please email me.
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Whilst the surname Follett is often claimed to be of French origin due to its sound, it appears to be of English origin. The surname is rather rare - there are only 687 Follett's listed in the 1881 UK census, roughly 0.002% of the population. That figure remains consistent today and a similar percentage can be found in both Australia (0.003%) and the USA (0.001%). The majority of Folletts historically can be found in the South-West of the UK, specifically in the neighbouring counties of Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Glamorgan. Other counties where Folletts could be found included Hampshire, Surrey, Kent, London (Middlesex) and Lancashire, all of which are known for their maritime connection, as are the counties in the south-west. It is perhaps no surprise that many of the British Follett families had strong maritime connections, including one family that operated a seizable fleet of ships from Co Devon for many centuries. The origin of the surname is unknown, although one suggestion is that the "surname derives from the word 'folet', a diminutive of the Old French word 'fol,' meaning eccentric or foolish. This in turn comes from the Latin word 'follis' which formerly referred to anything filled with air, but which later took on metaphorical connotation of vanity. As a surname, it was most likely a nickname for a free-spirited or eccentric person, which was later adopted as a hereditary surname."[Surname Database, House of Names, Geneanet] The theory does not offer an explanation as to how English families from the south-west of England could have adopted such an uncomplimentary French word as their surname. English surnames generally derived from personal descriptions (eg: Brown), trades (eg: Smith), forenames of ancestors (eg: Johnson), topographical (eg: Banks) or locative names where the person took on the name of where they previously came from. This was true even of the nobility who usually took the name of their primary estate (the husband of a wealthy heiress typically took on her name and became known, for example, as the next Lord Montagu, a title previously held by his father-in-law). Few of these offer much promise for a possible origin of the surname Follett (unless all Folletts were named after a fool!). Follett does not have any obvious connection with Old English (or other ancient English languages), it (or a variation) is not association with a particular trade or occupation, it does not bear any obvious connection with known forenames (including obsolete names), nor does it appear to have any obvious topographical or geographical meaning. It has, however, been suggested that Follett is an occupational name for an actor who traditionally played the part of a comedian or joker in the famous travelling theatres of the medieval England (see [Surname Database]), although this would seem to be too recent for an origin. Another possible source for English surnames is in the identification of an individual as a servant of a Lord bearing that name. Just as someone could have been known as John of (the village of) Bilton, one may have been known as John of (the estate belonging to Lord) Ingham, especially when the Lord in question was an absentee landlord. In this context the Norman use of Follett as a surname dates back to at least the invasion of England in 1066, with several variants of Follett listed amongst those who accompanied William of Normandy on his conquest. It is of couse also possible that some of today's Folletts directly descend from those early Norman Folletts, although reliable attempts to trace any lineage back to these 11th century Normans have all failed. There are numerous known variations of the surname including Folet, Follet, Folliott, Follit, Folioth and Follit.