Y yearns for Yass and Young


I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). 

Y is for Young and yearning for gold (New South Wales)

Chinese lions guard the entrance. © P Cass 2011

Many years ago my father told me that his great-grandfather George Kunkel was at the goldfields of Lambing Flat or Captains Flat in far south-eastern New South Wales. When I started researching my family history, this was one of my early investigations. I soon found that the discovery of gold at Captains Flat didn’t occur until 1882 and it seemed impossible that he would have been gold-digging as the family would have been busy establishing their farm at the time.

Lambing Flat near Young might have been more of a possibility as it had opened earlier, 1860, but even so the family were then in Ipswich with George working as a pork butcher and Mary was having a child most years. Now much as I loved my father he wasn’t always what you could call a “reliable witness”, as he had a tendency to either tell you nothing at all, or turn the story around. On the other hand, he was the only child of his father, who in turn was George Kunkel’s eldest grandchild, so perhaps there was truth in there somewhere.

Lambing Flat Chinese Tribute Garden, Young. © P Cass 2011

On a driving trip in 1994, I visited the Lambing Flat Museum in Young and finding nothing, mentally filed this story as improbable if not impossible. Perhaps George really had been on the Victorian goldfields which would have fitted with his approximate arrival in Australia.

Some years later, new indexes were created of Queensland’s earliest Equity cases in the Supreme Court. Accustomed to searching indexes and finding nary a mention of the Kunkel surname, I nearly fell off my chair to find him mentioned. Soon after I visited Queensland State Archives to look at the relevant documents and was thrilled to find that not only was George Kunkel a witness to the case, but the defendant, Carl Diflo, also mentions that he knew George in the old country (Bavaria) and that he was a pork butcher on the Tooloom goldfields not far over the border in New South Wales[i]. Eureka!

The Galloping Horse overlooks the tranquil lake. It is a replica of an original found in a Han Dynasty tomb. © P Cass 2011

It seemed I had the root of the story about George’s adventures on the goldfields. He hadn’t been digging for gold but was pork butchering for the men, probably a more reliable way of earning money. On top of which, this had all occurred in 1859, when birth records etc suggest he was safely ensconced in Ipswich. Another interesting by-product from this court case, is that while the other Germans needed translators, there is no indication that George was given or required one. I doubt his English was so much better after being married to an Irish woman for only two years, so perhaps he’d been able to speak some English when he arrived. Questions, questions.

The birds at the Lambing Flat Gardens were keen for a feed and this black swan followed us around. I thought his tail feathers were just gorgeous. © P Cass 2011.

Perhaps George really had been at some of the other goldfields but I’ll probably never know. Still the family stories stay in my mind, so when we X-Trailled into Young last year en route to Canberra we made a point of visiting the Lambing Flat Chinese Tribute Garden on the outskirts of the town. The site commemorates the Lambing Flat Riots when the European miners turned against the Chinese who were on the goldfields in one of Australia’s most severe race riots. Nowadays it is a peaceful park perfect for families to spend a few hours relaxing. However there is another perspective put forward in this article which I found most interesting albeit somewhat strident.

Y is for Yass (New South Wales)

I have no genealogical connection of my own to Yass but I do have an interest in the Irish Orphan Girls who came from East Clare to Australia around the end of the Great Famine. The community and authorities of New South Wales were already objecting to being sent Britain’s rejects from its workhouses and especially these young Irish girls who were perceived to be ignorant and dirty Irish peasants with loose morals. So as the Thomas Arbuthnot arrived in Sydney on 3 February 1850, with its 193 Irish orphan girls, there was already great deal of resistance and antipathy to them. In this context, the achievements of the ship’s Surgeon Superintendent, Charles Edward Strutt, and the girls he’d delivered safely to their new country, were even more remarkable. Strutt had insisted that cleanliness was vital and also ensured the girls were well treated on the long voyage. Such was their affection and respect for him, that when he asked for volunteers to accompany him to Yass where there was a need for 105 servants, 130 girls wanted to go with him. And so they set forth on yet another long journey, loaded on 15 drays with their belongings[ii]. One of the girls on the dray may have been Mary Hurley who was employed at nearby Burrowa. Her sea chest made the journey from the Gort Workhouse in Galway to Sydney, probably on the drays to Yass thence to Burrowa, and 161 years later was an iconic feature in the Not Just Ned exhibition in Canberra.

As the girls and Strutt steadily made their way to Yass, all the newspaper commentary was negative: they did not want these ignorant Irish Catholic peasants in their community. Strutt was clever though, they stopped before they came into the town and the girls got into their best clean clothes so that when they arrived they looked the picture of cleanliness and tidiness. Within days, the community tide had turned and the girls were welcomed whole-heartedly.  Even then Strutt continued his care for the girls, ensuring they were placed with good employers and visited them all before leaving. What a remarkable man! No doubt these young women form the foundation of many an Irish-descended family in the Yass area.

In writing this synopsis of Yass and the orphan girls I’ve drawn heavily on two books, Richard Reid’s Farewell my children and Barefoot and Pregnant Volume 2, by Trevor McLaughlin. If you have an interest in these immigrants, these books are essential reading. There is also an online database for all these orphan immigrants here.

I’d be interested in hearing from descendants of any of the orphans from East Clare in particular eg Scariff, Bodyke, Sixmilebridge, or Kilseily/Broadford.


[i] Kiesar v Diflo. Queensland State Archives, Supreme Court records. SCT/U1 1859-1860

[ii] Reid R, Farewell my children, pages 150-152

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6 thoughts on “Y yearns for Yass and Young

    • Thanks Joan. I’ve just finished the Z story but you’ll have to wait to Monday and the end of the challenge ;-) Thanks for following along with me on this adventure….great commitment.

  1. It’s amazing that you were able to figure out your great great grandfather’s role in the gold fields. Who would have guessed that he was a pork butcher?–yet once you found the information–it all seems so logical.

  2. A nice bit of detective work! I’m trying to visit all the A-Z Challenge Blogs this month. My alphabet is at myqualityday.blogspot.com

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