Guest post: Kate Cole on Local and Family History

Today’s guest post is by my friend, Kate Cole, in England who I met doing an online course several years ago. Kate’s just published her first local history book on the town of Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire. We had a virtual conversation about how she came to research and publish her book. I posed some questions, and these are Kate’s replies. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I have.

The correlation between local history and family history

Firstly, I would like to give my thanks to Pauleen Cass for inviting me to talk about my local history research on her blog.  This is Day 4 of my week-long tour of blogs around the internet where I’m talking about various aspects of writing history to celebrate the publication of my first local history book Bishop’s Stortford Through Time.

 How did you start on local history?

I originally started as a very traditional genealogist in the days long before the internet.  By a “traditional” genealogist, I mean that I started by trying to find names and vital dates of my ancestors, and then painstakingly tracing each line back using births/deaths/marriages certificates, along with census returns and parish records.  But the more genealogical research I undertook, the more I became interested in the history of the areas each ancestor lived in.  Through my genealogical research into my paternal family, I very quickly discovered that I’d come from an extremely long line of Londoners from the east-end.  Thus my first “local history” research projects were based around London – particularly east London history.  Yes, “local history” can include London’s history!

The marriage certificate of my great-grandparents – uncovering this certificate was one of my first purely genealogical pieces of research. However, the name and address of the bride has led me to 30 years historical research which has combined my own family history with local history in Wales, London and Suffolk, along with international history (the Crimean War) and even tales of Jack the Ripper’s London.

How did you build up your knowledge and skills?

In the early days of my research, I built up my skills and knowledge through pure leg-work of traipsing around and researching in the main London record offices and genealogical research repositories.  Always reading and researching, and always trying to learn from my (many!) mistakes.  Even now, after 30 years of research, I always find my first few visits to a new (to me) record office very daunting – navigating “their” systems, working out what they hold, viewing many (wrong) documents.  But I also get a tremendous thrill when I’ve got the “right” primary source and I start reading a document which I know will add to my research.

More recently, my chief way of building up my skills and knowledge as a historian was doing history undergraduate and then postgraduate degrees as a mature student.  I signed up with the Open University just before I became pregnant with my 3rd child and there followed about 4 or 5 years of studying for my BA in history.  I remember one of my second year assignments was due when my last child was about 6 weeks old.  Looking after a small baby whilst writing history undergraduate essays taught me very quickly how to skim read vast quantities of historical information, whilst writing the resulting undergraduate essays in double-quick time!

Whilst I don’t advocate that everyone interested in historical research (be it family or local history) should undertake a degree, for me, it was exactly the right thing to do.  My degree taught me how to undertake rigorous and professional historical research, along with turning research into good-quality written output by way of essays and dissertations.

Some of the 16th century primary sources I used for my masters’ degree in local history.  It was extremely thrilling to work with these documents: handling them, analysing them and understanding what they could be telling me about an English 16th century rural town.

In all, I studied for about 10 years as a mature student, finishing up with a master’s in local history at Cambridge University.  I was working full-time in the City of London and bringing up my 3 children.  Therefore, outside of my studies, I had little time for independent research projects or continuing my family history research.  But, to support my studies, I read avidly all the history books I could lay my hands on for the various history modules I studied.  From this, I quickly came to the conclusion that medieval and Tudor England, along with the social (home-front) and military history of the First World War, were “my” periods of interest and expertise.

 What’s the benefit of doing a course?

One of the biggest benefits of doing my degrees was to give me self-confidence and belief in my own academic abilities.  I am severely dyslexic – one of the very first children to have been diagnosed in England back in the ‘70s.  But, although diagnosed, I was unsupported at school so had underachieved and left with crippling self-doubt and zero confidence.  Doing my degrees in my 40s made me realise that even such an intensive academic/research based discipline as history was achievable for a severe dyslexic such as me.

The confidence I gained whilst doing my academic courses was incredible.  I also came to realise that, despite my dyslexia, I actually really enjoyed writing.  Writing for me is often absolute agony and a very slow painful process (thank goodness for computers and spell check…) but I do find it intensely rewarding.  I have love/hate relationship with writing – I’d much rather be washing the dishes then writing.  But the sense of achievement when I’ve finally got my thoughts down onto paper (and corrected all the mistakes) is remarkable.

Of course, the other benefits of doing courses was learning from wonderful tutors how to conduct professional rigorous historical research.  The Open University is extremely rigorous in its approach to teaching mature students the discipline of history, and I learnt more about the craft of being a historian on their courses then any of the other courses I have undertaken.

Although my academic days are now over (no, I’m not going to be doing a PhD!), I still greatly enjoy courses.  But now I take shorter courses and am currently working my way through some of the Guardian newspaper’s Master Classes in Writing held in London.  Although very short courses (normally an intensive weekend), I find that these master-classes immensely useful and they help keep my writing on track.  To carry on honing my research abilities, I use various family/local history courses – particularly the Pharos family history courses.  All these non-academic courses are intensely valuable to a family or local historian as they teach new techniques and approaches, along with putting students in touch with excellent tutors – who are often absolute experts and masters of their crafts.

 What’s the relevance to family history? Are you interested in Family History?

I am very interested in family history.  During my time studying, my interest in family history had to stop.  But then when I started writing my blog, Essex Voices Past, and was asked to write posts on other blogs, I’ve found myself writing a great many posts about family history.  I am a great believer in the “Great Men of history” theory – that it is men (and, of course, women) who shape history.  Therefore, to me, family history is a very important part within the entire discipline of “history”.  People and their families are the absolute building blocks leading to our understanding of the near-past.  After all, it has been feuding “families” (admittedly, dynastic families) who have caused some of the biggest battles, wars, and upsets for all our nations’ histories.

Family history is a great way for people to connect with history.  Very often, people who found history difficult at school (“all those dates and battles? Nah – not for me!”) don’t think that history is for them.  But then they start their research into their own families and, all of a sudden, history comes to life for them.  Their family’s history is their connection with the past.

Also, with the centenary of the First World War, now, more than ever, has become a time to look into a family’s past.  With just about every single family of all the combatant nations involved one way or another in the events of 1914-1919 (yes, I do mean 1919), “family history” has even more resonance with today’s people.

Robert Andrew Cole – my great-great grandfather – in the 1860s.  One of my oldest photographs in my family’s collection.  Born in 1819, he was a grocer and tea-dealer in the east end of London for over 40 years, at Spitalfields Market

What benefits are there to combining family history and local history?

Whatever happened to our ancestors in the past, didn’t happen in isolation.  They were a product of their time, their environment and their culture – just as today, we are products of our times.  Understanding the locality where our ancestors lived and worked can help with our understanding of their past. Moreover, researching “local history” adds new dimensions, or layers of interest and understanding into “family history”.   Indeed, I would argue that for anyone researching a family who lived in an industrialised/industrialising country, local history MUST be looked at to help understand a family in the context of their times.

For example, in my recent book on the east Hertfordshire town of Bishop’s Stortford, I explored the town’s river, and the pioneers who made it navigable to industrial barges in the eighteenth century.  This played an important part in the occupations of most of the town’s people during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With a navigable river, barges were able to have access to the very heart of the town and thus move great quantities of raw goods and finished products to and from the town.  Not surprisingly, nineteenth century census returns show many of the town’s population were somehow effected by the navigable river: they were maltsters, millers, brewers, publicans or working in related trades.

I would also argue that “family history” research should not just include “local history” but also (inter)national history.  For example, one of my main family research lines, the Parnalls of Wales/London/Suffolk, became fantastically wealthy during the Victorian age.  They were merchant haberdashers and clothes-makers who had a relatively successful business from the 1830s onwards.  However, their business went to new levels of success during the Crimean War (1853-1856) when they supplied uniforms to most of the British army.  On another line, the Gurney’s of east and south London: my great-great grandparents went to Australia in the 1850s – where they had three children, after which they returned back to south London and went on to have another dozen or so children.  Again, the Crimean War paid its part in the Gurney family history because (allegedly – I haven’t found anything concrete to substantiate it, yet!) they went to Australia to be the bricklayers on the building of Fort Denison in Sydney Harbour – a fortification built with the aim of stopping the Russian navy attacking Sydney.

Understanding the times in which our ancestors lived in – in the context of local and national history – turns the raw data of our ancestors (i.e. their births, marriages, and deaths) into something much more interesting.  I could recite you the bare dates of all my Cole ancestors with their vital dates all the way back to the 1760s.  But far more interestingly, I could tell you that all my Cole ancestors lived, worked, married, died and were buried in east London.  With the furthest Cole generation I have discovered thus far – John Cole and his wife Catherine – I can tell you he was a master cooper working in one of the earliest industrialising docks of east London, where he, his wife and children worshipped at the same parish church as Captain James Cook.  I would not be able to tell you any of that information, if I hadn’t done some “local history” research in collaboration with “family history” research.

The War Memorial in my home town.  The First World War is one event in history when international, national, local and family history all merge together to give a multi-faceted insight into the past.

 How does local history help with a One Place Study?

One Place Studies and Local History go hand in hand with each other.  I personally find one-place studies fascinating and can give a real insight into the past.

The exquisite leather-bound book containing Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts. Made in the early 1500s and regularly written in until the 18th century, the book is the financial “reckonings” of an English parish church. But it can be used to answer questions about the town’s experience of Henry VIII’s English Reformation.

During my Cambridge University masters’ research, my major primary source was the churchwardens’ (financial) accounts of a tiny Essex town of Great Dunmow.  Within these churchwardens’ accounts are the meticulous details of when the pre-Reformation parish church had raised at least 7 separate forms of “tax” on all the people in the town during the 1520s-1540s.  Being ever cautious of recriminations, our Tudor ancestors had precisely itemised every single household in the town together with the amount of their compulsory “donations” to their parish church.  Some of these lists of “taxes” were documented in socio-hierarchy order – so the names of the great and the good at the top, with the paupers at the bottom.  Some taxes also listed street names of each house-holder.  It is primary sources like this that absolutely thrill me because using them in connection with other primary sources (i.e. church records, or Henry VIII’s tax surveys), you can reconstruct a community from 500 years ago. Maybe not technically a true One Place Study – but fascinating nevertheless.

I also find it fascinating that when studying just one tiny area, the same families and their names get repeated over and over again.  Eventually, with good quality data, all sorts of historical questions can be asked of individual communities and societies from the past.  With my Cambridge University masters’ and Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts, I was able to ask very precise questions about one East Anglian town’s experience of Henry VIII’s English Reformation and the impact his religious policies had on this tiny local community.  Whilst what happened in one community can never be the entire representation of all communities, it can give great us insight into the past.

Thank you, Pauleen, for asking me these questions.

I’ve read Kate’s book in e-book format and I find it so interesting to hear the stories of long-distant times past, but also to see traces of the history in its current buildings and geography. It’s frustrating to think how much we destroy our heritage here in Australia, even down to the lie of the land. I also agree with Kate on the joys of churchwarden’s accounts – they can be gold mines!

Thanks for sharing your story with us Kate!

Kate Cole’s blog tour
You can catch Kate on the following dates and blogs discussing “all things history”, along with explaining about her recent book, Bishop’s Stortford Through Time, on the following dates and sites

About Kate Cole
Kate has a MSt in Local and Regional History (Cantab); a BA History (Open University) and an Advanced Diploma in Local History (Oxon) – all gained as a mature student. Having been a business technologist in the City of London for the last 30 years, she is currently taking time away from her City career to write. Her first history book, Bishop’s Stortford Through Time, was published by Amberley Publishing in September 2014. She has been commissioned to write a further three history books for them:-

  • Sudbury, Lavenham and Long Melford Through Time (due to be published summer 2015);
  • Saffron Walden Through Time (due to be published summer 2015); and
  • Postcards from the Front: Britain 1914-1919(due to be published summer 2016).

She lives in Essex, England, and regularly write about the local history of Essex and East Anglia on her blog, Essex Voices Past.

Please do click on the image below to buy her book.

Bishop's Stortford Through Time

© Essex Voices Past 2014.

 

Men of the Queensland Bush: Sepia Saturday 249

Sepia Saturday 249This week’s Sepia Saturday is about the horse, the cart and the drivers. While my Denis Gavin from Kildare and Dublin worked as a bullocky out west when he first arrived in Queensland I have no photos of him, or his bullock dray. Many of my ancestors also rode the iron rails but today’s photo is of none of these.

This photo is one I included in my Kunkel family history. It was given to me by Dad’s cousin and shows a bunch of dodgy looking blokes hanging around the 20th century cart and horse…a truck. I know my grandfather’s brothers worked as carriers but the cousin couldn’t identify which was her father, Matthew David John (John) Kunkel. If I was guessing I’d say it was the bloke on the front right, and strangely she wasn’t sure…or perhaps he was the photographer. Actually I’d have expected John’s brother Ken to have been with him as they were very close.qld mafiosi men incl john kunkel

But isn’t it a great photo?! All dressed in their Driza-bones and wearing hats with character. The front row are crouched in the typical bushie pose that Dad always took up when waiting for something. Time was I could do it too, but sadly I’m no longer that flexible or agile. The pipes remind me of my grandad who would sit on the back steps of their house tapping the tobacco out, refilling the pipe then having a quiet smoke, looking over the back yard.

The Darling Downs is the lime green area on the bottom right.

The Darling Downs is the lime green area on the bottom right.

While these men would have probably given anyone in need a hand, you can’t help feeling you wouldn’t want to meet them on a dark night. I’d place a good bet too that many, if not all of them, were returned service men from World War I. If you recognise anyone in this group, please do comment as I’d love to know about it.

It looks to me like a silo behind the men, which would fit with it likely being taken on the Darling Downs. To the right is a typical old Queenslander house, on stilts, with its two tanks and no doubt a slow combustion stove to cope with the chilly weather typical of winter on the Downs.

Gallop over to see how other Sepians transported themselves this week.

A near miss in Coolangatta: Sepia Saturday 243

Sepia Saturday 243This week’s Sepia Saturday 243 is one of those topics where a personal theme leaps to mind. Every family has its story traditions and family anecdotes, perhaps even about get-rich schemes and near misses.

Unidentified (1914). Illustrated advertisement from The Queenslander, December 5, 1914, p. 59. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1914). Illustrated advertisement from The Queenslander, December 5, 1914, p. 59. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

All my life Dad used to tell the story of “the one that got away” in our family. My grandfather who I’ve written about before, worked for the railway all his working life. At one stage, perhaps around 1900-1910, he worked on the rail line that went from Brisbane city to the interstate border at Coolangatta. I don’t know about other countries, but here in Oz, a twin town (as opposed to towns twinned with overseas), is one that has a matching town on the opposite side of the (state) border. Coolangatta is one such town, sitting right on the border of Queensland while across the Tweed River sits its twin, Tweed Heads. One of the quirks of these twin towns becomes obvious with the start of daylight saving each year. Queensland doesn’t “do” daylight saving (no, I’m not going there with that topic!) so for six months or so, Coolangatta is 30 minutes behind Tweed Head. Could be handy if you urgently need shops which close promptly at 5pm.

Tweed Heads, showing railway passengers walking down Bay Street into Wharf Street. Queensland (or Federal) Hotel, Coolangatta, is on the right. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, 1905

Tweed Heads, showing railway passengers walking down Bay Street into Wharf Street. Queensland (or Federal) Hotel, Coolangatta, is on the right. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, 1905. http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1914). 18 residential and business sites at Coolangatta for sale by auction in the Tweed Heads Hall on Easter Saturday, Queensland, 1914. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1914). 18 residential and business sites at Coolangatta for sale by auction in the Tweed Heads Hall on Easter Saturday, Queensland, 1914. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

Dad told me that while Grandad was working on the Gold Coast railway line they used to fish for stingrays in the river using star pickets…those long metals poles with three sides. Personally I think that was a bit unfair on the fish, to say the least, but it is still a part of local lore.

But the one that got away wasn’t a monster fish, rather the real estate deal that might have made the family fortune. The story goes that he was offered a beach front block of land at Coolangatta for a tiny sum, £100 springs to mind. Given that property on the Gold Coast now sells for seven figure amounts, we were dazzled by what might have been, not to mention the sheer bliss of living within sight and sound of the surf and the ocean. But it was not to be, and perhaps even if it had, Grandad would no longer have had the money to buy the land that our family lived on for 96 years….the turn of the fate wheel.

Unidentified (1900). Greenmount Beach, Gold Coast, 1900-1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1900). Greenmount Beach, Gold Coast, 1900-1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

Coolangatta has never been the glitzy, glamour (tarty?) queen of the Gold Coast, that role was left to Surfers Paradise. That didn’t stop Coolangatta’s nearby beach, Greenmount, being a big hit with families as a holiday destination. I recall that we had only one holiday at Greenmount, compared with the several we took up the coast a little at sedate but beautiful Currumbin.

Pauleen at the Porpoise Pool, Snapper Rocks.

Pauleen at the Porpoise Pool, Snapper Rocks.

Apart from the attraction of sun, sand and surf at Greenmount, one of the big “pulls” during the 1960s was the Porpoise Pool run by Jack Evans at nearby Snapper Rock. It was de rigeur to visit the attraction and see the trained dolphins leap from the pool to catch their fish. (You can see a video here). Afterwards it was almost inevitable to have a photo taken with Sammy the Seal, another feature of the attraction. In this photo of me I would have been about 12.  I remember that rainbow top, which Mum sewed, very vividly especially the texture of the fabric.

Part of the reason our family was able to visit the border towns was because of the railway line. Dad’s annual railway pass made it possible for us to travel close to our destination – an important factor as we had no family car. The lack of a car was unfortunate also because, dare I say it as a loyal Queenslander, there’s some spectacular scenery and beaches just south of the border….an area our own family grew very fond of in later decades… I wrote this story about it a while ago.

It’s always good to know that families aren’t the only ones to have near-misses…Queensland Rail closed the line to Tweed Heads in 1961 and to Southport in 1964, no doubt due in part to the increased numbers of people who owned their own cars. Decades later they had to rebuild the same line to cope with just some of the burgeoning commuter traffic. The one that got away indeed.

Don’t forget to visit the other Sepians to see which beaches they’ve visited or how they interpreted the image.

PS: I’ve just noticed something my sub-conscious may have latched on to earlier. The man in the suit in the foreground reminds me of a photo I have of my grandfather.

 

Sepia Saturday 242: A costume fan

Sepia Saturday Aug 14Last Saturday’s Sepia Saturday 242 theme was fans, costumes etc in which host and coordinator Alan amused with his comments:I have never been a fan of fans. Whether they are slats of painted paper or those large metallic jobs that whirr around and threaten to lift your hairpiece into space, I would never volunteer to act as secretary of their fan club. 

Some of the fans I've inherited or been given.

Some of the fans I’ve inherited or been given.

Unlike Alan I live in the tropics where overhead fans are a necessary feature of our homes and any sudden absence of power makes you notice they’ve come to a silent standstill. When the humidity builds any hand-held fan works to combat the heat…beautiful hand-held ones or just a piece of paper. So I’m a fan of fans indeed.

I’m also a fan of national costumes having grown up in Brisbane with the influx of post-war migration. The annual Corpus Christi procession would see Catholics from various nations from Poland to Yugoslavia wearing their national dress proudly. Being a serious religious event I have no photos from those days.

70,000 Attend Corpus Christi. (1951, May 28). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), p. 3. Retrieved August 27, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50103012

70,000 Attend Corpus Christi. (1951, May 28). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved August 27, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50103012

Zurich032 copyHowever, today I want to share with you an unexpected event we encountered on our first youthful trip to Europe. We had arrived in Zurich as a natural progression in our “grand tour” and by pure chance, came across their end of winter parade in which the various guilds wore traditional dress. It was an amazing experience seeing these centuries-old traditions still in play. It was equally amazing to hear some young women backpackers, backs to the parade, bemoaning the boredom of Zurich!

Zurich020 editedAs people marched through the streets, family or friends would dash over to present them with bunches of flowers. An Aussie male in those days wouldn’t be seen dead carrying flowers but these men carried their floral gifts with aplomb.

Let me share this procession with you as a slide show – after all that’s the traditional way of sharing photos from a holiday.

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After the parade everyone made their way to a nearby park where an artificial snowman was ceremoniously burned to symbolise the end of winter. I still have the little snowman pin which I got there ….or was I given it? Mr Cassmob made friends somehow with three men from one of the guilds (blacksmiths, perhaps?) who shared their drink with him.Zurich 00snowman edit_edited-1

My poor tattered snowman.

My poor tattered snowman.

Altogether it is such a great memory of our early life together and the grand adventure of our first, but not as anticipated our last, trip to Europe. The internet tells me this festival still exists and is called the Sechseläuten festival and and the snowman is called the Böögg. It is normally held on the third Sunday and Monday in April, so if you’re planning to be in Switzerland in April sometime why not add it to your to-see list.

Why not pop over to the Sepia Saturday site to see whether others are fans of fans or costumes.

 

 

Trove does it again – Bridget Widdup and the Florentia

URANA. (1912, May 25). Wagga Wagga Express (NSW : 1879 - 1920), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145395082

URANA. (1912, May 25). Wagga Wagga Express (NSW : 1879 – 1920), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article145395082

Our good friend Trove has done it again!

I mentioned in my East Clare post last week that I was waiting on a new release news story which looked tantalisingly optimistic. It’s now been released and has exceeded my hopes.

Regular readers will recall my excitement back in late December when I found a clue to my Mary O’Brien’s immigration in an advertisement for her sister, Bridget. Since the family’s oral history has them both arriving in Australia together I thought I’d hit the jackpot.

Hours of research online and in archives in Hobart, Sydney and Brisbane had left me none the wiser in terms of hard evidence, and if anything doubting whether even Bridget had come on this sailing ship. Nowhere was there a mention of her name and my hopes plummeted. I felt like the prince trying to make that glass slipper fit.

O'BRIEN Advert Florentiaarticle13011791-3-004

This new death notice and obituary once again opens up the research and reveals so much more. It tells of:

  • Bridget’s arrival in Queensland (also mentioned on her death notice)
  • Arrival on the Florentia (a confirmation of Mary’s advertisement for her)
  • Relocation to Sydney. Her death certificate mentions 1 year Qld, remainder in NSW, so she probably left Ipswich for Sydney some time in 1854.
  • Arrival in the Urana area with Mr James Broughton to work on Cocketgedong[i] Station, on Billabong/Billybong Creek, near Jerilderie, probably around 1857-58.
  • Arrival in the town of Urana before it was surveyed. “Urana village was laid out in 1859” according to Bayley[ii]. Urana was proclaimed a town on 6 May 1859 and gazetted on 10 May[iii]. This roughly fits with when Bridget was believed to have married John Widdup, who would become the town’s poundkeeper, a role Bridget took on after his death in 1876.
LOWER MURRUMBIDGEE. (1858, May 11). The Sydney Morning Herald, p. 3 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13009895

LOWER MURRUMBIDGEE. (1858, May 11). The Sydney Morning Herald, p. 3 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13009895

There is some oral history that suggests Bridget worked as a children’s nurse which would fit with the birth of Emily Church Broughton in Sydney in May 1858 and Mary B on 25 April 1860. This would tally with Bridget’s move to Cocketgedong especially if she had been working for the Broughtons in Sydney. She’d certainly have been well qualified in this role having been the eldest of the eight O’Brien children. The impact of women arriving in the district was among the subjects discussed in this interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 11 May 1858[iv].

Of course the question remains why Bridget left Ipswich and her sister, having journeyed so far together. To the best of my knowledge there were not yet any relatives in Sydney. Perhaps she just didn’t like the Queensland heat and dryness. Certainly it can’t have been the isolation as Urana was far more isolated.

Link with the Early Days. (1924, October 24). The Burrowa News (NSW : 1874 - 1951), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103199365

Link with the Early Days. (1924, October 24). The Burrowa News (NSW : 1874 – 1951), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103199365

So here I am, back pondering the mysteries of the Florentia migration and again I’m left with the following questions.

  1. Did Mary and Bridget emigrate together?

All the oral history suggests the two young women came together. Annie Kunkel’s usually reliable information fits with what’s now known of the Florentia’s voyage. Furthermore I’ve re-read the notes I took at the time and see that she refers to them on an “old sailing ship”. I’d blipped over the “old” previously but it particularly fits with what’s known of the Florentia which had made voyages to Australia as a convict ship in earlier decades.

  1. Why would Mary advertise for her sister on the Florentia if she didn’t arrive on it?

This question now seems to be answered. I have two different sources citing the Florentia which gives me confidence that Bridget at least arrived on that ship. It only had one voyage to Queensland, in 1853. Earlier ones to other states would have meant the women were too young to travel alone, so I’m now happy to place Bridget on this ship. But why is she not mentioned anywhere in the records?

  1. Were they unassisted passengers?

I can find no evidence or mention anywhere that there were paying passengers on board the ship. It was an old ship and less likely to provide suitable cabin accommodation for anyone other than the captain and surgeon. However, is it still possible that it offered cheap paying accommodation to two young women? The records, as always, are focused on the assisted passengers and there was enough kerfuffle about the voyage that the assisted may have gained no recognition. Or am I clutching at straws?

  1. Were they assisted passengers?

As I mentioned I’ve looked at all available passenger lists for this voyage. There are no single women named O’Brien other than the daughters of Daniel O’Brien who I mentioned in the earlier post. I’d checked them out years ago because of the family’s on-going connection to Mary O’Brien and the Kunkel family. However, once again I married each girl off, and checked their deaths until I was sure none of them were actually our Bridget or Mary. Case closed there.

  1. Were there substitutions or impersonations?

As implausible as this sounds it is not impossible. State Records of New South Wales (SRNSW) makes mention of it:One practice which frequently occurred during this period was the taking on of an alias in order to obtain passage. This happened in cases where passage had been denied under the correct name; in these instances, the assumed name was often the maiden name or the name of a person with whom travelling. In other instances, an immigrant assumed the name of a person to whom a passage certificate had been granted. An example of this is Joseph Golding who came in place of John Mahon. In these cases the lists usually record the person under his/her correct name with a reference to the alias (or assumed) name. (always assuming they actually came to light)

I’ve also found manipulated records, and impersonations, in the East Clare database I’ve built up, though they are only the ones which have come to light, as per the SRNSW examples above.

It seems logical that if the O’Brien girls had taken up other passengers’ tickets/permits that they’d (a) have to have been Irish and (b) most likely have been from Clare or nearby eg Limerick or west Tipperary.

I also eliminated from consideration single women whose married siblings or single brothers were on board, just because that would have required more extensive collaboration.

Similarly two young women in their mid-teens were unlikely to be able to pass themselves off  as women over thirty.

It really does defy logic, and Irish propriety, that the girls would have been languishing on the docks of Plymouth hoping to catch a ship to Australia until some other young girl(s) changed her mind about the voyage.

  1. Checking the single women

Over the past weeks I’ve been researching the single women on the Florentia.

Even eliminating the English and Welsh women from consideration there were still lots to investigate and I set to by looking at potential marriages via Queensland’s online BDM site. If I found one that seemed plausible I traced the death and compared the parents listed with those provided on the shipping lists.

Again and again I hit brick walls, often not even finding marriages at all. I also checked the NSW BDMs, just in case, because some of the immigrants had stated they had relatives interstate. Eventually I had to give this away due to the overall ambiguity, but if any reader had ancestors arrive on this ship I’d love to hear from them.

CONCLUSION

Glass_slippers_at_Dartington_CrystalTo be honest I’m still floundering, though I’m now much more confident that Bridget was on board the Florentia when it arrived in Queensland in 1853. However, was she an assisted or unassisted passenger? Did she/they come out under someone else’s name? There is a suggestion in the local history of Broadford that some young people were assisted to emigrate and perhaps that’s where the clues lie. Perhaps the girls came out as privately funded passengers but on a very old ship, with perhaps a cheap rate.

Frustrating as this is, without Trove I’d still have no clues about their migration as I’d exhausted other avenues many years ago. My gut feeling for some time has been that they came out as unassisted passengers so perhaps that was the case on Florentia.  I’m still walking around with that glass slipper in my hand looking for a perfect fit but will it ever happen? Digitisation has saved my research and perhaps will do so again.

Other posts on this topic:

Have I cracked it?

Bridget Widdup nee O’Brien

Was it all fun and games on the Florentia?

Mixing my metaphors: macadamias and glass slippers.

[One day I may manage a short post!]

[i] Also known as Cocketygong, Cockegong from Trove reports. Cockejedong Creek was a tributary of Billybong or Biallabong Creek: Billabidgee, History of Urana Shire. Bayley, WA. Urana Shire Council 1959, page 59. For overseas readers, the word “station” here does not refer to the railway but an extremely large rural property. In American terms it would be called a ranch.

[ii] ibid, page 75.

[iii] ibid, page 23.

[iv] I was alerted to this by a reference in Bayley, op cit, page 22. Although not referenced in the book, Trove picked it up immediately when I searched by the phrase used.

Two brothers go to war: Les and Fred Fisher

Les and Fred Fisher and Ted Murray were also known as the Paddington Boys.

Les and Fred (aka Snow) Fisher and Ted Murray were also known as the Paddington Boys. You can pick Les out of future photos by the dimpled chin. There is no date on this photo but it is presumably prior to their departure overseas.

In the early months of 1915, two young brothers enlisted to serve their country in the First World War. It’s unlikely they felt they were going to fight to defend “home” and the “motherland” as their grandparents and uncles were German-born, not unlike my own Kunkel relatives. Perhaps they felt they needed to defend their allegiance to Australia and prove their loyalty as did other young men of German ancestry.

Frederick Charles Fisher was 22 years and 3 months when he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) on 24 February 1915. He was allocated to the 19th Battalion, 5th Brigade. A motor mechanic in normal life he had also served with the Colonial Forces. His young brother Leslie Gladstone Fisher, 21, enlisted soon after on 2 March 1915, also with the 19th Battalion. Leslie had served in the school cadets and also with the 12th Battery of the Australian Field Infantry.

Les's daughter believes this relates to his militia service.

Les’s daughter believes this relates to his militia service.

Les and Fred were the sons of Martin and Louisa Fis(c)her of 42 Rennie St, Paddington in Sydney. Martin was born in Australia in 1863 to Gottfried and Victoria Fischer who had arrived in Australia with their German-born children on the barque Caesar[i] in March 1855 under the Vinedresser Bounty Scheme[ii]. The Kopittke indexes, based on the Hamburg shipping lists, reveal that the family came from Harheim in Hessen/Nassau.

This is an embarkation of troops on the HMAT Ceramic in 1915. AWM image H19500 out of copyright.

This is an embarkation of troops on the HMAT Ceramic in 1915. AWM image H19500 out of copyright.

Les and Fred boarded the former White Star liner, HMAT Ceramic (A40), in Sydney and sailed for war on 25 June 1915, along with myriad other troops via Albany in Western Australia. On arrival in Egypt one of their shipmates, Ellis Silas, painted some lovely views while TH Ivers chose Bombay as his subject. While on board Les wrote to his mate Teddy Murray apparently yet to sail for war. I love the old vernacular like “bosker“. Lt Wilfred Emmott Addison (KIA) of the 19th has left a diary of the voyage which can be read here. Les Fisher’s daughter knows that he kept some form of diary himself but destroyed it years later after his return to Australia.

1510 eddy postcard low

There is no date on this card, but it seems to me it was sent to Teddy Murray, the young man in the photo above, while Les was en route to Egypt. They sailed on HMAT Ceramic from Melbourne on 24 June 1915.

The reverse says: Taken in Heliopolis Egypt August 1915. Fred Fisher 218 19th  Les Fisher 550 19th

The reverse says: Taken in Heliopolis Egypt August 1915.
Fred Fisher 218 19th
Les Fisher 550 19th

Like so many of the men, both fascinated and repelled by the sights, smells and sounds of Egypt, Les and Fred had their photos taken for posterity.

In many ways these men’s stories reflect that of so many other Anzacs. What’s unusual about them is that they left a photographic trail that has been lost to many families.  Also unusually their family preserved the records and Les at least shared his story with his children.

The photographs reveal the progressive story of their war. They included photos of mates they met, fought alongside, or furloughed with.

Below: Fred Fisher, Unknown and Les Fisher. The unknown man in the centre is believe to have been machine gunned. There is no date on this photo.

Fred Fisher, Unknown and Les Fisher. The unknown man in the centre is believe to have been machine gunned.

Fred Fisher, Unknown and Les Fisher. The unknown man in the centre is believe to have been machine gunned.

The Australian War Memorial documents that the 19th Battalion was sent to Gallipoli where the troops landed on 21 August 1915. “The Battalion participated in the last action of the August Offensive – the attack on Hill 60 – before settling into defensive routine in the trenches. From mid-September…the 19th Battalion was responsible for the defence of Pope’s Hill.

Les Fisher, undated.

Les Fisher, undated.

For many of the Aussie Anzacs, the Gallipoli snowfalls would have been their first sighting of snow. I imagine the novelty wore off pretty quickly. AWM image C00751 out of copyright.

For many of the Aussie Anzacs, the Gallipoli snowfalls would have been their first sighting of snow. I imagine the novelty wore off pretty quickly. AWM image C00751 out of copyright.

As the months wore on and the weather changed, influenza became a high risk, along with frostbite as the men were under-supplied with appropriate winter clothing. Les’s daughter remembers that he talked of melting snow to obtain water to drink. You can read more about how the men dealt with life on Gallipoli beyond the fighting here.  The 19th battalion was withdrawn from Gallipoli at night on 19 December 1915.

1521 hospital pic low

Les Fisher’s casualty record shows he was taken sick on 14 December and admitted to Heliopolis Number 1 Auxiliary Hospital on 23 December 1915 with “mild frostbite”. Judging on Les’s annotation on the postcard it’s obvious the men called it Luna Park – a tongue-in-cheek nod to the eponymous amusement park in Sydney.

Les was discharged fit for duty until 19 January 1916, but not before he’d spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the Heliopolis hospital. The postcard below is not of good quality but it talks of Les’s stay over Christmas and New Year’s Eve 1915, though like many of us, he muddled his dates in those early days of the year.

Les Fisher (right) taken with a mate.

Les Fisher (right) taken with a mate, unnamed.

1522 hospital Heliopolis back low

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can click on any of the photos to enlarge them. 

After another period of training the men were despatched to France via Marseilles, disembarking there on 25 March 1916.

18th and 19th Battalions, landing at Marseilles from Egypt. AWM Image CO4393 out of copyright.

18th and 19th Battalions, landing at Marseilles from Egypt. AWM Image CO4393 out of copyright.

The AWM’s history again: The 19th took part in its first major offensive around Pozières between late July and the end of August 1916. After a spell in a quieter sector of the front in Belgium, the 2nd Division, which included the 5th Brigade, came south again in October. The 19th Battalion attacked near Flers between 14 and 16 November, in conditions that Charles Bean described as the worst ever encountered by the AIF.1515 Nurses

Les’s fighting service was coming to an end. On 26 July 1916, he was wounded and admitted to 32nd Stationary hospital, Wimereux, France on 27 July with a severe gunshot wound to the right foot. He had copped what the troops knew as a Blighty, an injury which merited evacuation to England. Les was transferred via Boulogne on 30 July 1916 and admitted to Wharncliffe War Hospital in Sheffield where he was to stay for five months.

It is unfortunate that many of the Battalion’s War Diaries from 1916 no longer exist, but digitised copies of those that do can be found here.

This postcard was sent to Les Fisher by his sisters, Dorothy or Dorie (left born 1911), Alma (centre, born 1906) and Vera (born 1902). It says “God be with you until we meet again and Good Luck“. It’s dated 20 September 1920 which I have to think might have been a mistake as Dorie is certainly not 9 in this photo, so perhaps it was sent when the family heard of his injury, given its nursing theme. It was Dorie to whom Les gave his tiny bible which the men were given and which was carried in their breast pocket.

1504 Good luck fm Surry Hills low

A few months later Les was transferred to 2nd Auxiliary Hospital on 18 December so once again he was in hospital for Christmas. A further transfer came in April, to Weymouth hospital.

 

1500 Rust Cadigan Fisher McIlveen 1917 low - Copy

FE Rust 50th Battalion, W Cadigan, Leslie Gladstone Fisher (with cane) 19th, H G McIlveen 13th.

1501 Rust Cadigan Les Fisher and McC 1917 hospital low

Slowly Les’s injuries started to heal and he was given furlough in April 1917. His postcards show that he spent at least some of the time with Ned Kent from Victoria. I wonder where they went? 1509 Ned Kent and Les Fisher 1917 low1508 Ned Kent and Les Fisher low

 

 

 

 

After returning from furlough Les was repatriated to Australia on board the Ayrshire in July 1917, and given an honourable discharge due to injury. His daughter has a copy of his certificate but unfortunately I have not scanned or photographed it, though I saw it some years ago.

1526 Les Fisher low

The inscription on the reverse of this photo says: Monte Video Camp, No 2 Company, Weymouth, Dorset, England. 27-4-17. Note boot cut out for wound on foot, comprie (sic). His daughter said he often used this French expression meaning “understand” even though he’s mis-spelled it here.

On his return to civilian life, Les was no longer able to follow his hope to become a police man like his uncle. The injury to his foot had put paid to that aim, and he went to work at the Sydney Victualling Yards. Les would wear a surgical boot for the rest of his life, and receive regular treatment at the repat hospital.

Fred Fisher and a joyous welcome home.

Fred Fisher and a joyous welcome home.

The family must have been pleased to have one son back at home, but older brother Fred was still serving in France. He would not return until 1919 and the family turned on quite a celebration for him at their home in Lenthall Street, Kensington (Sydney). Fred Fisher is pictured bookmarked by his parents and his brother Les is in the background with girlfriend Norah Keane. Many years later a relative approached the new owner of the property to see if they could look inside the house, and there on the wall was this photo -the new owners had always left it hanging in the hall.

Les and Norah would marry and raise a family. Although Fred also married he had no children. The men would live in adjacent houses in Snape Street, Maroubra for the rest of their lives.  Leslie Gladstone Fisher died in 1956 and Frederick Charles Fisher died in 1937.

This photo was taken in the Sydney Town Hall near the end of the war. Les and Norah are among the crowd.

This photo was taken in the Sydney Town Hall near the end of the war. Les and Norah are among the crowd.

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

Image of poppies from Wikipedia.

This post is my contribution to the 2014 Trans-Tasman Anzac Day Blog Challenge hosted by Seonaid from Kintalk blog in Auckland.

Lest We Forget.

 

 

 

[i] For those interested in this voyage, which resulted in the deaths of 66 passengers due to cholera, this website includes a letter from the doctor on board. http://ubrihienfamilyhistory.webhive.com.au/ship-caeser/

[ii] Jenny Paterson’s excellent articles in Ances-Tree are invaluable reading about the German vinedressers. http://bdfhg.weebly.com/ances-tree-articles-by-date.html

Was it all fun and games on Florentia?

The sailing ship Florentia. Image from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and reproduced with permission. Image PW 7704

The sailing ship Florentia. Image from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and reproduced with permission. Image PW 7704

In my previous post I mentioned the newspaper remarks of problems on board the barque Florentia, and my hopes of getting to the bottom of the mystery…and finding reference to Mary O’Brien.

Only a matter of hours after disembarking from Voyager of the Seas in Sydney I was ensconced in the reading room at State Records New South Wales, at Kingswood following up the Colonial Secretary (Col Sec) records for the period, as well as the Immigration Board etc. I’d anticipated having more problems as they can be so convoluted to follow with their top-numbering system but I was lucky as the Florentia papers were easily found.

The Immigration Board in Moreton Bay submitted their report, dated 19 May 1853, to the Agent for Immigration[i], and forwarded by the Health Officer. It included statements by the Surgeon Superintendent, Dr William Clegg, and the matron, Bess McLoughlin, also one of the assisted immigrants listed on the manifest.

If the scenes on Florentia were as lively as shown in this image, one can see why there might have been a kerfuffle.

The essence of the problem was that the captain (Banks) had been in breach of the rules in the Charter Party, a new term to me, but apparently rather like a modern day memorandum of understanding, setting out the terms and conditions under which the ship was to sail, the obligations of those in authority, and presumably the remuneration involved. The Investigation found “the Captain was in the habit of playing with the females on the poop for about a month or five weeks after sailing”. The game referred to was Blind Man’s Bluff.[ii]

Image from Wikipedia. Blind-Man's Buff [sic], published by Paul Jarrard & Sons (London, England). This print was made within the lifetime of King George IV of England (12 August 1762 – 26 June 1830), hence copyright (if any) has long since expired.

Image from Wikipedia. Blind-Man’s Buff [sic], published by Paul Jarrard & Sons (London, England). This print was made within the lifetime of King George IV of England (12 August 1762 – 26 June 1830), hence copyright (if any) has long since expired. If the scenes on board Florentia were half as lively one can see why there might have been a kerfuffle.

Captain Thomas Hopper Banks was charged with having inappropriate “intercourse” (not as we understand it today) with the single women and permitting the crew to do the same. Warnings by the Surgeon had no impact on the captain’s and second mate’s behaviour. This in turn influenced how the ordinary seamen behaved.

Rather than have the single women locked below after dark, the key to their quarters mysteriously disappeared soon after departure[iii]. When it was found, the hinges of the door were taken off. The Captain claimed the matron was being cruel forcing the women to stay below, even though this was the custom, and requirement.

The consequence of the report was that Captain Banks and the Second Mate were refused their payments for the voyage and it was recommended that Banks not be employed in the colonial service again. The matron and the schoolmaster were paid their remuneration as was the Surgeon, Dr William Clegg.

Under the circumstances I was quite pleased to find no specific mention of my Mary O’Brien or her sister Bridget, though it also fits with the oral histories that they both met their future husbands on the voyage out. One young woman features in the story however, and that is Ann Drew who plainly had a close relationship of some sort with the captain. Two illegitimate children had been born on the voyage but they would have had nothing to do with the shenanigans on board. One of the babies had been stillborn and was hidden, but the mother had been discovered and she was cautioned on arrival…unfortunately her name is not mentioned.

Through the archive documents and/or the newspapers I’ve found specific mention of some of the passengers on the ship:

James Massy of Limerick, complained against the surgeon “for not paying sufficient attention to his wife during her illness and by…causing her death”.[iv] Later in the report the Surgeon Superintendent, Clegg, was exonerated from blame as the ship had been in very severe weather at the time. James would have had an uphill battle with three children to take care of, which no doubt made gaining employment more difficult.
Mary Massy and Cath Ryan were the two married women who died on board, deduced from the details on the Board reports.

Ann Drew: a single woman who was plainly in the Captain’s favour. Ann Drew’s mess (group of women sharing the cooking etc responsibilities) were said to have disrespected the matron’s orders.

John Hockings, a gardener from Devon, declared that he never saw the Captain give preference to Ann Drew or any of the other girls, or make indelicate remarks to them. He was also a constable on board ship.[v]

Frances Bransfield, a laundress from Cork, gave a statement that she declined to go to the hospital –it’s unclear whether her complaint was against the surgeon or the captain, though it follows an examination of the Captain by Dr Clegg.

Denis Kelly: a single man who was a schoolteacher from Limerick and so presumably the teacher on board.

Bess (Elizabeth) McLoughlin, a 40 year old laundress from Londonderry was the matron.

Daniel Brian (or Breen) a 34 year old married man from Glamorganshire in South Wales, and a plaster, was one of the constables, mentioned in a case of stealing on board ship. [vi] Although Daniel O’Brien from Tipperary, a blacksmith, would also be a possibility, overall I’m inclined to think it was the former.

Frederick Pierce (or Pearce), 33 year old smith from Cornwall, a married man with four children was another constable mentioned in the above court case.[vii]

William Henry Cox charged with having stolen a quantity of wine on board the Florentia on 19 January 1853, was sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment in Brisbane gaol.

Joseph Pinch, supernumary seaman was a witness in this case[viii].

Nearly 100 years later, another Florentia causes problems with luggage. "RIOT" SHIP GOES TO Queensland Times (Ipswich), 4 June 1951 p. 1  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article124609224

Nearly 100 years later, another Florentia passenger causes problems with luggage. Queensland Times (Ipswich), 4 June 1951 p. 1 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article124609224

After arrival George Parsons was charged, on 12 May 1853, by Mr. Tooth, his employer, with refusing to go on to the station (property owned by Tooth). The reason alleged for this refusal was that Mr.Tooth would not provide conveyance for the whole of defendant’s luggage; but as the Bench did not think this sufficient, they passed a sentence of one month’s imprisonment.  Heaven help us! What a punishment to hand down to this poor immigrant who’d tolerated that six month voyage to get to Moreton Bay. And what happened to his wife Maria and their four children including infant George?

Although news stories report that seamen absconded from the Florentia in Hobart[ix] , when a crew of 24 is listed on the immigration documents. In Brisbane, at least one crew member absconded and who stole a ship’s boat[x] but neither he nor the Hobart escapees are mentioned by name. The Hobart documents list a crew of 24 on the ship. However, when indentured apprentice  James Murphy; native of Cork; height, about 5 feet 8 inches; age, 16 years jumped ship in Sydney, a reward of £5 was offered for his imprisonment.[xi] Poor young bloke!

Reviewing the complaints listed by the immigrants many of the same people are mentioned[xii]. Those complaining against the Matron were Hanah Todd, Frances Bransfield, Anne Drew, Hannah Gale, and Harriet and Mary Roger (perhaps Anne Drew’s Mess group?). The only complaint against the Doctor was the one mentioned by James Massy. Margaret McMullin, a 37 year old ladies maid from Meath complained of the conduct of the Captain and some his officers. Unsurprisingly Bess McLoughlin, the matron also complained against the Captain. John Hughes’ complaint is hard to read but may refer to morality. James Ryan complained that his mother-less child did not receive the milk ordered by the doctor. There was a long queue of complaints from the married men about the lack of provisions, bread and water: John Cuddihy, James Cherry, John Green, Cornelius Halloran, Thomas Madden, Michael Nowlan, Daniel O’Brien and Thomas Cherry. Interestingly they were all Irish emigrants.

Classified Advertising. (1853, May 7). The Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 - 1861),p2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710117

Classified Advertising. (1853, May 7). The Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861),p2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710117

Despite all the complaints and the withdrawal of the Captain’s gratuity, some ninety-eight of the passengers signed a testimonial, published in the newspaper, stating they were “fully convinced of his general and lasting friendship, as well as his willingness and cheerfulness to render all the assistance he possibly could to us at large-being to us, in need or trouble, like a father and a friend and never failing to visit us in danger; whose presence we always beheld with the greatest delight…”

And after all that, not a mention of unassisted passengers and no reference to Mary or Bridget O’Brien. In the coming days I’ll be weighing up the merits of the case for or against their being on the Florentia and whether there’s any chance of fitting that glass slipper.

And a bit of trivia for fellow cruisers on Voyager of the Seas: the modern day cruise liner has a tonnage of 138,000 compared to poor little Florentia’s 453 tons.

Voyage of the Seas dwarfs most other ships, just imagine it beside a barque like Florentia.

Voyage of the Seas dwarfs most other ships, just imagine it beside a barque like Florentia.

[i] Reference SRNSW 53/5645

[ii] Minutes of Investigate held 6 May 1853 before J C Wickham Esq and W A Duncan by members of the Immigration Board at Brisbane re ship Florentia. SRNSW 53/1679 in batch 86/6858.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] SRNSW 53/5645, Government Resident Moreton Bay.

[v] Minutes of Investigate held 6 May 1853 before J C Wickham Esq and W A Duncan by members of the Immigration Board at Brisbane re ship Florentia. SRNSW 53/1679 in batch 86/6858.

[vi] Moreton Bay Courier, 7 May 1853, page 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710112

[vii] ibid

[viii] ibid

[ix] Moreton Bay Courier, 30 April 1853, page 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710533

[x] Moreton Bay Courier, 27 August 1853, page 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3713574

[xi] Sydney Morning Herald, 2 August 1853, page 2, supplement. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12947703

[xii] Queensland State Archives Item ID339031, Passenger lists. Microfilm Z598.

Mixing my metaphors: Macadamias and Glass Slippers

Queensland nuts or Macadamias on the tree. Image from wikipedia.

Queensland nuts or Macadamias on the tree. Image from wikipedia.

Growing up as a child in Queensland, we had a large Queensland nut tree in our back garden.  Now known as macadamias, these nuts make you work hard to get to their delicious centres (unless you buy them stripped bare). First you have to work through the hard protective casing around the nut, unless it’s so ripened that the exterior has turned brown and ready to fall off. Then you are still left with the rock-hard shell itself. This is no dainty nut, ready to be cracked with a graceful pair of nut crackers on the Christmas table. No, you need a hammer, the perfect spot in the concrete path and a firm stroke and a good aim for the seam in the shell. Hit too hard and you’ll demolish the nut itself, hit too softly and that delicious nut will continue to elude you. Or you just use your grandfather’s vice from “under the house”.

It struck me last night that’s a pretty good analogy to some family history research, especially the focus I’ve had lately on exploring all things relating to the little barque, Florentia, on which my ancestor Mary O’Brien may have arrived in 1853.

I’ve collected as much possible information as I can including:

Passengers lists from three archives: Tasmanian Archives in Hobart; State Records of New South Wales in Kingswood, Sydney; and Queensland State Archives in Brisbane. A few were available online but there were offline ones as well (thanks to the Unlock the Past cruise I was already going to those places – good timing)

Official Correspondence at the same archives between the various authorities: Colonial Secretary, Immigration Board, Immigration Agent, Brisbane Resident and the Police Magistrate for Brisbane.

News stories from Trove and also the British and Irish newspapers on Find My Past which were largely unproductive, as was a check of the Welsh newspapers online.

JSTOR articles available with my National Library of Australia card, again unproductive.

I’ve compared the data squeezed from each source and analysed places of origin and relations in the colony.

What did I learn?

Length of the voyage and on-board disputes

I already knew this ship had taken an inordinate, and unusual, amount of time to reach Moreton Bay: 156 days or 23 weeks. They’d had an unscheduled stop in Hobart Town after 19+ weeks at sea, because they’d been loaded with only 20 weeks of provisions. Surely all on board must have been getting anxious before they reached Hobart – after all they’d been rationed since passing the Cape of Good Hope.

The Sydney Morning Herald of 11 May 1853, reported a Brisbane story of 22 April: “The Florentia is the next immigrant vessel for this place, and she may now be considered fully due”. Initially I thought this was code for wondering if the ship had been lost, especially as it had only spoken two other vessels[i], both in the early weeks of the voyage. However by the time of the story, the news of the ship’s arrival in Hobart had already been published.

Unsurprisingly the Immigration Board who mustered the passengers in Moreton Bay on 29 April reportedly found the “state of the ship does not appear to be very cleanly.[ii]

As alluded to in the newspapers, the local Immigration Board is now engaged in the investigation of certain charges against the ship’s officers, but what their nature or justice may be remains a mystery”[iii]and “some of the proceedings of the voyage are likely to furnish employment for that mysterious body the ‘Unholy Inquisition.’ We hear that the Surgeon-Superintendent does not appear to be culpable, but more sinned against than sinning. Will the Inquisition stifle this affair also?” [iv]

These newspaper references and the length of the voyage gave me hope that the official correspondence would provide some clues to this enquiry, and indeed it did…but I will keep this for a separate story. The newspaper reporter seems to have been correct in his assumption, too, that the mystery would be stifled. Nothing further is reported in any of the newspapers on Trove, as far as I could find, and as I’ve mentioned nothing in the British, Welsh or Irish newspapers, at least by the ship’s name.

 Mortality and the long voyage

There is contradictory evidence as to how many died on the voyage as well as how many births there were.  The summary information for the Florentia in Hobart lists 9 deaths: 1 married woman, 3 single women, 1 boy under 14, 3 girls under 14 and one infant. In fact the infant was, as far as I can tell a stillborn child. However by the time the ship reached Brisbane, they were reporting 12 births and 17 deaths.[v] It is entirely possible (probable) that four passengers died between Hobart and Moreton Bay as the total number of passengers falls from 249 to 245. This would still leave an anomaly of four deaths, which would reconcile with the additional four births, though not necessarily the same children[vi].

These figures are representative but without a breakdown of the additional deaths cannot be entirely accurate.

These figures are representative but without a breakdown of the additional deaths cannot be entirely accurate.

The most tragic aspect of the deaths is that those people’s names remain unrecorded. One can deduce that two married women died, simply by looking at the details for families, so presumably one died on the final phase of the journey. As the parents’ names are stated for the children in each family, the mothers’ names are revealed even though they are not listed on the manifests as “died on the voyage”, which I’ve seen on other ships. The two married women were Mary Massy (family from Limerick) and Cath Ryan (family from Tipperary).

But what of the children who succumbed on the voyage, or the single women? Sadly, there is no mention of their names anywhere. I wonder if their families ever learnt what happened to them.

With my East Clare database which covers the period 1848-1870, the mortality rate was 1%, very low. On this voyage, the overall rate was 5%, with females being the most at risk category. Girls under 14 were particularly vulnerable, with a 6.98% mortality, and likely more depending on the deaths between Hobart and Moreton Bay. It’s tempting to conclude that this would, in large part, have been down to the reduced provisions, including the lack of water mentioned in passenger complaints, and reiterated in the Immigration Board’s enquiry.[vii] Of itself the long voyage should not have had such an impact but the ship was also a former convict-ship and was probably not as well equipped as some later ones, or as suitable for general emigration.

If ever there was a voyage when one might wish for a copy of the Surgeon’s journal, this would be one of them. Among the SRNSW documents is a letter which indicates that the surgeon’s diary was forwarded to the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners[viii] but sadly it does not appear in the lists of extant diaries on the UK National Archives site. There is also no mention of a passenger diary extant for this voyage in the Log of Logs.

The prince and the glass slipper

My hope from this research voyage was that I’d find any clues at all to suggest there were unassisted passengers on this voyage, and any kind of reference to Mary and her sister. Unfortunately my quest was futile. I know a lot about this ship’s voyage but am none the wiser about Mary. Perhaps my family tree is indeed a Queensland Nut or Macadamia tree…it’s certainly keeping me on my toes.

I’m left feeling like the prince who went from house to house trying to squeeze the glass slipper on each young woman’s foot hoping to find the beautiful girl who’d stolen his heart. I suppose by now I should know better than believe in fairy stories.

 Who was mentioned in the documents? What was the scandal? Come back for the second instalment.

A readable and informative reference book on the conditions of voyages is Robin Haines’ book “Life and death in the age of sail”.[ix] I can highly recommend it to provide a solid understanding of the health aspects of migration.

 

[i] Free Trader, for New York, and the American ship Great Britain. Moreton Bay Courier, 30 April 1853, page 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710533

[ii] Moreton Bay Courier 30 April 1853, page 3.

[iii] Sydney Morning Herald, 11 May 1853, page 2 supplement.

[iv] Moreton Bay Courier 30 April 1853, page 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710533

[v] Empire, 10 May 1853 page 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61324080.

[vi] The newspaper reports that 12 of the deaths were children.

[vii] SRNSW 53/1419 in batch 53/5645. Immigration Board at Brisbane to the Agent for Immigration, 19 May 1853. The Board comprised Messrs Wickham, Duncan and Swift.

[viii] SRNSW 53/8264.  Agent for Immigration to the Colonial Secretary for forwarding, dated 15 September 1853.

[ix] Life and Death in the Age of Sail. Haines, R. UNSW Press, Sydney 2003

Trove Tuesday: James Morton of Ballymena, County Antrim and Grafton, NSW.

My East Clare Emigrants blog has been neglected since the cruise but today I was determined to add a story, and the one I’d selected was about Mary Ann Morton, nee Massy. One thing led to another, as it does, and eventually I also followed up her husband, James Morton. An Irishman born in Ballymena, County Antrim he didn’t fit on the other blog so his story makes a good one for Trove Tuesday, despite the less pleasant aspects of his history on Australia’s frontier. Perhaps he was pre-conditioned by his service with the New York Rifles in the Mexican War of 1847. Which goes to show how Trove can help our American cousins as well as the Aussies. I did like that he had known Fred Ward, aka the bushranger Thunderbolt. Apart from the confronting aspects, wouldn’t you like a family obituary with this much detail, though yet again, puzzlingly, there is no detailed mention of family.

DEATH OF MR. J. MORTON. (1924, March 19). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 14. Retrieved March 18, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16142344

DEATH OF MR. J. MORTON. (1924, March 19). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 14. Retrieved March 18, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16142344

But this obituary is incredibly complex and talks of the conflict between the Aborigines and white settlers on the frontiers of Australia in those early days. The language, and more so, the behaviours are confronting but are a part of our history.

A Great Old Pioneer. (1924, March 18). The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser (NSW : 1886 - 1942), p. 4. Retrieved March 18, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article125965563

A Great Old Pioneer. (1924, March 18). The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser (NSW : 1886 – 1942), p. 4. Retrieved March 18, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article125965563

Continued from the Obituary above.

Continued from the Obituary above.

My thoughts on David Malouf’s A First Place

David MaloufI’ve just begun an e-book of short stories, A First Place, by David Malouf. Absorbing stories written by Australians always seem slightly disorienting, so accustomed are we (or is it only me?) to reading books whose settings are elsewhere. Which came first, the sense that “other is better”, leading to the exodus of much of Australia’s talent, or the relative weighting of other and local?

One story, A First Place, is about growing up in Brisbane and how its particular topography and lifestyle defines not only who we become as adults, but how we think. That certainly gave me pause for thought, and I can’t decide the merits of the case, but is that because it’s part of me?

Brisbane is a hilly city – not mountainous, just hilly, where travelling by car or foot anywhere involves the negotiation of hills. From a large-scale view, the hills are not so obvious, it’s when one is on the ground that it becomes so much more apparent. One of the earliest things a Brisbane learner-driver has to come to terms with is hill starts in a geared car. After nearly two decades of living in flat-as-a-tack Darwin I sometimes forget I have to change gears or use more power when going up a hill. Our geography does change our daily patterns.

Taken from a hotel in the CBD, this view is to the south.

Taken from a hotel in the CBD, this view is to the south.

Malouf posits that the topography of the city means “it shapes in those who grow up there a different sensibility, a cast of mind, creates a different sort of Australian”. The hilliness of the city means that its residents miss the long vistas of flatter cities like Adelaide or Melbourne. They become accustomed to new views at every rise, and this may make them restless in the absence of variety, as well as precluding a clear map of the mind. I’d suggest it might also inculcate a sense of mystery in the same way that a door into a garden, rather than shut you out, makes you more curious what lies behind…or is that, once again, the Brisbane girl in me? He’s certainly correct that it gives the legs a good workout, especially if you grew up relying on Shanks’ pony to get you everywhere – something that’s noticeably absent from Darwin’s flatness, and the laziness that tropical humidity generates.

He also talks about the river’s unusual snake-like twisting through the city: one of the reasons the flooding a few years back caused so much damage, as it has in the past. Add to that the relative lack of bridges forcing the traveller to negotiate twice as many suburbs as a direct route would allow.  The river conspires to shut off vistas as do the hills, but I think it also opens up a sense of a city of two sides on both banks.

Brisbane River snakes through the city and here, the CBD. You can see some of the bridges, two of which are new.

Brisbane River snakes through the city and here, the CBD. You can see some of the bridges -the one in the centre is a new pedestrian bridge, called the Kurilpa Bridge (or the Knitting Needle Bridge as I do).

Now that the river has become an active character in the Brisbane landscape with the arrival of the City Cats (ferries) along with the riverside walkways, it does open up the city in a different way. In much the same way as the hills, it makes you wonder (if you don’t already), what is round the next corner. No wonder a river tour has become so popular over the past decades.1113 Brisbane river and ferry stop

The hills and river combine in a story my father has handed down. I often wondered whether it was something he’d made up, even though it made eminent sense, until a friend whose father was also a born-and-bred old Queenslander confirmed the same story. In the pioneering days, the drays would travel across the city along the ridges of the hills when the river was in flood. My father did much the same when my cousin’s house was in imminent risk of flooding back in 1974, helping him to get his belongings up to the ceiling before the flood hit (reaching very close to the ceiling – two floors).

The Story Bridge at sunset, a city cat, and in the distance my school, one of Brisbane's heritage sites.

The Story Bridge at sunset, a city cat, and in the distance my school, one of Brisbane’s heritage sites.

As Malouf says, Brisbane has a radial design, striking out from the city centre. In the days when few families had their own car, this meant that setting out on a journey could make two suburbs seem immeasurably far apart, and mystifyingly disconnected. This is how I experienced visits to my grandfather at Buranda from Kelvin Grove, or family friends at the outside reaches of Mt Gravatt. It wasn’t until we acquired a car, or until I travelled more by car, that the geography of the city started to make sense in a quite different way. The CBD of the city may be suitably laid out in grid-fashion (and flat) but not the rest of the place. Motorways (and bus lanes) cut through suburbs like knives now, but the new tunnels and underpasses generate a lack of knowledge of the landscape above, until one pops out, bandicoot-like, at the other end, hopefully in the right place, or somewhere you recognise and can navigate from.

Although not in a very hilly street, the home my grandparents lived in is a good example of the Queenslander style of house.

Although not in a hilly street, the home my grandparents once lived in is a good example of the Queenslander style of house.

Malouf also has a theory that Brisbane’s tree-house-like homes, built on stilts to accommodate the hills and introduce breezes, affect the psyche of those who grew up there.  His argument is that their openness, with doors always ajar, introduce an element of not-seeing, not-hearing as appropriate to the circumstances. The timber of the building moves in a way that brick structures do not, and are more vulnerable to climate as well as protecting the family from it. I’m not entirely sure that I agree with his thesis on the effect of Brisbane (or more accurately, tropical, housing). It seems predicated on a particular type of house, the old Queenslander with its encircling verandahs rather even than post-war timber housing, and certainly not on the more modern brick bungalow or two-story house. On the other hand, doors are only shut here because of air-conditioning so perhaps he has a point.

“Under the house” is a different world from that above where all serious living takes place. Home of the household washing machine, tubs, wringer or boiler, Dad’s workbenches and the kids’ play area, it has a sort of wondrousness about it as well as a daily practicality. It offers the chance to explore what Malouf calls “a kind of archaeological site”, hosting as it does all sorts of odds and ends that have found their way to rest there, as well as on-going practical items. This space certainly features prominently in my childhood memories of both my own home and that of my grandparents next door. I used to love using my grandfather’s vice to crack the Queensland nuts (now known as macadamias) which grew on our tree. Usually enclosed by timber battens, “under the house” is both open and yet secure. Surely this experience is different from those for whom a basement may serve similar functions?

Malouf asks himself “what habits of mind such a city may encourage in its citizens, and how, though taken for granted in this place, they may differ from the habits of places where geography declares itself at every point as helpful, reliable, being itself a map”. I suspect it gives your internal GPS such good training that ever after you are more able to understand other places.

The Brisbane River approaches the city from the west.

The Brisbane River flows out to Moreton Bay -you can see the Gateway Bridge here, dwarfed by altitude. Very kind of the pilot to take the river and city route that particular time -doesn’t happen frequently, and then you have to have the camera ready too.

If a good writer’s goal is to make one think, and challenge our internal assumptions, then Malouf has achieved this for me today.

Have you thought about the impact of the geography of where you grew up? Do you think it has affected how you see the world psychologically and emotionally, your habits and sense of the world’s geography.

Book: A First Place, David Malouf. Random House 2014. A collection of personal essays and writing from David Malouf to celebrate his 80th birthday. This includes the following short story: A First Place. 1984 Blakelock Lecture.

Like so many cities, Brisbane has its own sight-seeing ferris wheel. Adjacent is the Cultural Precinct.

Like so many cities, Brisbane has its own sight-seeing ferris wheel. Adjacent is the Cultural Precinct.