An underage bride, desertion, divorce, larceny and fraud made for fascinating viewing as Shane Bourne explored the ins and outs of his grandparent’s lives in the latest episode of Who Do You Think You Are. This episode takes place in Victoria, Sydney and Canberra,  featuring the collections of the State Library of Victoria, Public Record Office Victoria and the National Film and Sound Archive.

Shane was raised solely by his mother from the age of 7, with visits from his father occurring about once a year. With a history of absent fathers on both sides of his family, Shane described it is as “almost a theme”. This is a startling contrast to Shane’s own close relationship with his daughter Ruby.

Shane began his family history journey by looking through the life of his absent grandfather Arthur Pericival ‘Percy’ Freeman.  Percy and Shane’s grandmother Dorothy divorced early on in their marriage. Their two children were raised by Dorothy and with the exception of one meeting, they never saw their father. Shane’s journey takes him through the “dodgy” and more legitimate elements of Percy life.

Through the State Library’s newspaper collection, Shane was able to discover fascinating articles about Percy’s performing and criminal life. Shane found the Argus article concerning Percy’s sentence for larceny, particularly amusing. This part of the episode was filmed in the library’s breathtaking Domed Reading Room and if you look closely you may even spot some Genealogy staff members in the background!

Shane’s trip to the Public Record Office Victoria, supplied him with Percy’s prison records, including the name of his alias and mugshot. Shane replied with my favourite quote of the episode “he’s got an alias? my god what a dodgy dude”.
And what was Percy’s crime? He rented a piano and then sold it to an auction house for 6 pounds! This proved a fairly minor incident compared with his later fraudulent dealings.

Following up on his grandmother’s life, Shane traveled to the National Film and Sound Archive to investigate her acting past. Dorothy starred in such films as How Mcdougal topped the score a cricketing comedy in 1924 and a melodrama called Environment. The performing gene seems to run rampant in Shane’s family with himself, his daughter, his father and grandparents all being (or had been) talented performers.

The episode ended with a touching scene between Shane and his daughter Ruby, showing that the theme of absent fathers has finally come to an end.

This article has 5 comments

  1. I found this series on Percy Freeman very interesting as I knew him when I was a young child hewas married to my Aunt Mary Jean Chapman. Myself, my brother and sister spent many enjoyable hours sitting with Uncle Jimmy as we knew him on the verandah at the guest house at Kurrajong Heights. He would sing with us and tell us stories. We all enjoyed our time with him and thought he was great. Even later in life I used to visit him and Aunty Mary when they were living at Bondi. My sister and I just wanted to get in touch because we remember him as a great guy Your story was very touching and we really enjoyed discovering the ancestry of your grandfather.

  2. I was contacted by a researcher for the programme some time ago as I am connected to the policeman George Freeman mentioned in the programme at the very end. He was married to my mother’s great gramd aunt but sadly none of the large amount of information about George or his son Frederick Neville Freeman who went to Australia was included in the programme. However I saw that there is a photograph of George now in the hands of Shane. I would dearly love to have a copy of this as I do not have any such record. I would gladly send another copy of all thee info which I have on George and his other descendants in England, and indeed on the aristocratic ancestord of George as a counterbalance to the dodginess in return.

    • Hi Marie,

      Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, we don’t have contact details for Shane Bourne. I would suggest contacting SBS to see if the Who Do You Think You Are team can pass on your information. You can find their contact details at


      • Many thanks Carmen. I have now made contact again with the programme researcher who has very kindly sent me information and copies of photos of my relatives which Shane’s great great grandfather must have taken with him when he went to the goldfields. No photos were kept by the English descendants and it is fascinating to have them returned in this way.

  3. Jennifer Biddle

    I found this programme very interesting but I feel there may be a few errors made by those researching. I by chance located Supreme Court of Australia Court documents on the National Australian Archives site for Arthur Percival Freeman. He was being taken to court by a a Daisy Oliphant for money re a promisary note signed by Arthur Percival Freeman in which he promised to pay certain monies for the use of Daisy and her illegitimate child Shirley Oliphant his daughter by her. The mother was a minor. This could be the reason for his divorce.

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