HEATHER, EATHER, ETHER, EITHER
The Family Name:
EATHER, the family name which concerns us here, has it's origin in Australia. Thomas and Samuel, the uncle and nephew who were the progenitors of the Australian EATHER's both arrived with the surname of HEATHER. The subsequent evolution of the family name from HEATHER to EATHER can be attributed to the poor standard of literacy existing in New South Wales during the early years of the colony. It is amongst the HEATHER's of England, therefore, that we must look for the ancestral background of the EATHER family.
The HEATHER family seems to have roots in England going back at least to Norman times. When the convention of family names developed in the twelfth century, the names adopted came from a variety of sources, such as place names, occupations, skills, colours, plants, and others. It does not necessarily follow that the family name HEATHER was derived from the shrub of that spelling. It appears that the family name was not pronounced the same as the name of the shrub, but as "Heether" and sometimes even as "Heefer". This would account for the spelling variations such as "Heyther", "Heither", and "Hether" which appeared from time to time in the period before spelling was standardised in the middle of the eighteenth century. It would also account for the current pronunciation of the EATHER family name in Australia. It is interesting to note that there is a village named Heather a few miles west of the city of Leicester in the English Midlands, and it's name is pronounced "Heether".
The earliest known appearance of the HEATHER family name in English records is to be found in the Subsidy Rolls for the county of Worcestershire, where in the year 1327 the name John Henry le Hether is recorded. This is well back into Feudal times and only a few generations after the convention of family names had become the practice in England. The Heather family name does not figure prominently in English medieval history, so it is likely that the Heathers were people of fairly humble circumstances who did not rate very high in the feudal hierarchy of their day. Nevertheless, one branch of the family did achieve the distinction of Armorial Bearings.
When researching ancestors, be aware of the illiteracy of the previous generations. Names were written as they were pronounced, sometimes on birth and death certificates, often on marriage certificates and in many cases legal documents such as the case before the Supreme Court below (which I have posted merely as a matter of interest).
Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899
Published by the Division of Law Macquarie University
[murder - domestic violence - Wollombi]
R. v. FINNIE
Supreme Court of New South Wales
Stephen J., 6 August 1839
Source: Sydney Herald, 9 August 1839
Before Mr. Justice STEPHEN and a Military Jury.
Thomas FINNIE was indicted for the wilful murder of Elizabeth FINNIE, his wife, at Wollombi, or Cockfighter's Creek, in the district of Hunter's River, on the 23rd of April last.
The prisoner was a small settler at the Wollombi, and having conceived that his wife was in comply with a bullock driver, or some person who was staying at a neighbour's hut occupied by one Samuel Ether, went there and enquired for his wife, who had just escaped out of the back door, having by some means heard that her husband was coming; he went out afterwards and found her about six or seven rods from Ether's hut, beat her with fists for about ten minutes, then returned home, fetched a musket, and beat her about the head and body until he broke the musket; then dragged her by the hair of her head to the threshold of ETHER's house, and dashed her head against it; threw her down again, and lifted up a tub of water standing in the verandah and threw the tub and all over her face, then dragged her by the hair again to an iron-bark tree about seven rods, where his conduct was disgustingly indecent and brutal. After this he beat her dreadfully, and on taking her home threw her down and jumped upon her; ultimately, with assistance, he took her home, where she died.
These facts were sworn to by Ether's wife and her servant LOUGHLIN, and although there were some slight discrepancies, their evidence was corroborative on all the material points. Guilty.
His Honor, in passing sentence, told the prisoner that it was totally impossible that any mercy could be extended towards him.
The prisoner was defended by Messrs. FOSTER and WINDEYER.