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

German migration news: From Dorfprozelten to Australia

After the recent blogging drought, I’ve been doing some research into my Dorfprozelten families from Bavaria, with a focus on discoveries from the digitised German newspapers from Google books.

Researchers with German ancestry might find today’s posts on my much-neglected From Dorfprozelten to Australia blog worth a read in case they can apply the results to their own family history.

I will be trying to upload stories of my Dorfprozelten families in the coming weeks.

Library Loot: Migration experiences and learning Gaelic

Once again I’m following in the footsteps of Julie from Angler’s Rest and reporting in on my recent Library Loot.

When I pick books up from the library I’m less selective than when I’m splashing my own cash: I figure that I can try something new and even if I’m not rapt in it, then it doesn’t really matter. On the other hand sometimes I get lucky and discover something that really appeals to me.

Two books from the Palmerston Library which I’ve read recently  might be of some interest to my readers and fellow family history junkies.

Titanic Lives

Titanic Lives may seem like it will be yet another beat-up about the well-known sinking of the Titanic, but it actually offers a much deeper perspective.  The author, Richard Davenport-Hines, is an historian and biographer and his skills shine through as he writes about how the passengers on Titanic, and their lives, were a microcosm of, and reflection of, life in the era. He also documents the sources behind his story. What I most liked about the book is that it personalises the saved and the lost: they become real people not just “steerage” or “rich”. I wasn’t especially interested in the wealthy Astors, Wideners or Guggenheims but there were riches indeed in the stories of those in 2nd class or steerage/3rd class passengers.

If your ancestors emigrated in this time frame (early 20th century) there is much in this book to illuminate your ancestor’s travel and migration experience as well as the challenges of gaining entry to the USA through Ellis Island. The author also devotes a chapter to the crew of the Titanic, providing great insights into the working lives, and safety hazards, of the merchant seaman. As I have several of these in my family this chapter was very interesting on the responsibilities of stewards and firemen. Admittedly my ancestors were working on rather less glamorous ships than the Titanic but nonetheless there’s useful information there.  I found this book very interesting and learnt a good deal from it. This is not just another reiteration of the story of a major tragedy.

Home with Alice: A Journey in Gaelic Ireland

This book might be of interest to my readers who are keen Irish researchers with its exploration of Gaelic-speaking Ireland and the role, and threats to long-term survival, of the language.

When I picked the book up at the library I thought it might be another version of Brigid by Australian author, Jill Blee, which I had enjoyed for its focus on Co Clare. In fact this story had little in common with Brigid, despite the nominal role of the author’s aunt Alice in his journeying to Ireland’s Gaeltacht districts. I personally found Alice’s interventions contrived and unnecessary other than to explain the author’s initial decision to learn Irish.

Author Steve Fallon is a journalist and, inter alia, a travel writer for Lonely Planet, and at times the book takes on the tenor of a guide book. However I enjoyed learning more about the challenges of Irish as a language, especially as at one point I’d thought of learning it myself.  If anything the book convinced me this was a delusional aspiration due to the language’s complexity. I learnt that there were differences between the various dialects within the Gaeltacht regions, the new acceptance of Irish as a fashionable language with the rise of the Celtic Tiger, and the invasiveness of English into the Gaelic expressions.

It’s always a pleasure, too, reading a book which describes places you may have visited so that you can visualise where he’s talking about, whether Connemara, Kerry or Donegal. The impact of Gaelic television and radio also reminded me of the significance of Australia’s own ethnic broadcaster, SBS.

I do find the Irish-American tendency to identify as “Irish” a bit strange. While I too have an Irish passport like the author, and have many branches of Irish ancestry as well as a love of Ireland, my mongrel Australian ancestry means I feel it would be inaccurate and presumptuous to call myself Irish. Apart from the significance of the Catholic church to Irish emigrants in both countries, the experience of being a descendant of Irish emigrants in Australia seems to me to be quite different from that in “America”.

O is for Oceans and Oban

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). The focus today is on migration to Australia.

O is for OCEANS

A sketch showing life on board for emigrants in the 1870s. State Library of Victoria IAN24/03/75/40 copyright expired. Searching Picture Australia for emigrant+ship will give you images of ships of the era.

My ancestors crossed the oceans wide to come to Australia braving the oceans’ hazards, health risks on board, and a new world. We can’t really imagine what they went through, cheek by jowl in the sleeping quarters, mixed with people of other nationalities and even counties, with whom they’d had no exposure prior to the emigration depot with all its own challenges. Just imagine the Babel, or babble, of the different dialects, including Gaelic, Irish, and English regional accents. Then put them all together on one small ship (averaging around 600 tons in the 1850s) and expect them to negotiate their mess arrangements and sleep in a hammock with others so close. Throw in the wild seas, anxiety and excitement about their future lives, and the potential for boredom and its surprising there wasn’t more dissension.

It was certainly one way to prepare them for what was ahead. For all that the emigrants to Australia had so much further to go, they were actually well looked after by the arrangements put in place by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners (CLEC) with required lists of clothing, specified dietary standards, a surgeon to supervise their health and a matron to take care of their other welfare. Education was often offered but not always availed.

The Irish were unusual in that Irish women were as likely to emigrate as men, atypical compared to other nationalities which either exported single men or families. Even where these women appeared to travel alone, a closer look at the shipping records will reveal there may have been cousins or neighbours on board. In the later years of emigration, they would have family in Australia who may have sent their remittance for emigration. It pays to look beyond just the name you’re researching to see who they may have travelled with…they weren’t as alone as we sometimes think.

My ancestral migration to Australia is spread from the 1850s through to 1911. This graph gives some indication of the family pattern -only two people travelled without known family/friends. © P Cass 2012.

Pondering on my post from Saturday about the precious packages my ancestors would have brought with them, I decided to have a look at their travel and migration status: who they arrived with, and whether they had family in the colony. Even this is deceptive because it only looks at their relatives, not at their broader social connections such as people from their home village. George Kunkel, for example, is not known to have had any family here before he arrived, nor did any arrive after him (chain migration) that I know of. However there were quite a few people from his home village living quite close by in Queensland. Did he arrive after them or before? Either way he wasn’t entirely alone, there was the solace of some compatriots.

How did your families arrive, alone or in a family group? Did it change depending on when they arrived?

To quote an unknown immigrant Mary Anne, writing home:

There are no backdoors in Australia to creep out as you must take everything as it comes when you get here.”[i]

O is for OCEANS OF CONSOLATION

Important reference books for migration research to Australia in particular.

If you have Irish ancestry in Australia there are two books you really must beg, borrow or steal (just kidding!). They are Oceans of Consolation by David Fitzpatrick, an analysis of letters from Irish immigrants and Richard Reid’s Farewell my Children which I posted about last year. Also worth looking at are any of the little Invisible Immigrant series by Eric Richards with chapters by Richard Reid.

Fitzpatrick uses the emigrants’ own letters to tell their story of settling into a new land. I particularly liked some of the comments from Biddy Burke, an immigrant from Galway to Moreton Bay. She commented “you must think it was hot when the plaits (sic) on the dresser should be handled with a cloth[ii] She was intrigued rather than horrified by the mixture of religions and races[iii], showing the adventurousness of those who made this journey.

Fitzpatrick argues that the migration decision was a family one, but my research suggests this may not always have been so. Wills tend to indicate that at least some emigrants went where they thought it would suit them best. The decision by some emigrants to come to Australia even though other family members had already emigrated to America suggests they were clear about what opportunities they wanted to pursue.

O is for OBAN (Argyll, Scotland)

Early morning over Oban's harbour, March 2006. © P Cass

Back in March 2006 we were in Oban, planning to visit Mull the next day. In the middle of the night we got a phone call from daughter #2 to tell us that my mother-in-law was dying. Now a B&B is not the best place to get this kind of news (is anywhere?) so we had to skulk down to the harbour to make calls on the public phone to get the whole story and try to arrange flights before the B&B came to life. Suffice to say that those who helped us on that occasion have our gratitude: the B&B owners who didn’t hold us to our three day booking, the staff member on the desk at one of the harbour-side posh hotels who helped us with internet links, and Emirates who made and held our booking until we got to Glasgow, unlike our national carrier. That morning at sunrise we saw seals in the harbour and as we made our way back into Glasgow, the skies were clear blue and the snow on the hills was magnificent…a blessing in a strange kind of way.

The Scots may not be effusive but we couldn’t fault their wonderful support. We were home within 48 hours and could have made it sooner had we not been a bit far from Glasgow airport, and thankfully we made it in time to say our goodbyes. Sure this is recent history, but as I want to publish this series of posts for our family and descendants, I wanted to tell this story, and checked my husband agreed.

Imagine what it would have been like for our ancestors to finally receive a letter telling them of a parent’s death, months after it had happened. Would they have sensed something pivotal had happened or would that barrier have passed when they left their family behind in the homeland?

In the A to Z challenge, Julie at Anglers Rest is continuing the story of her 20th century travel to Australia and her family’s links to the land Down Under.


[i] Haines, R. Life and death in the age of sail, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2003, page 190

[ii] Fitzpatrick D. Oceans of Consolation, Melbourne University Press, 1994, page 149.

[iii] Ibid, page 148

JSTOR @ NLA: finding the historical context for family history

It’s likely that most Australian family historians are familiar with the National Library of Australia’s Trove site as a source for family research.  It’s also been well promoted that anyone in Australia can apply for a library card with NLA which then lets you access their eResources remotely. The Times Digital Archives and 19th Century British newspapers have been popular with family historians.

But did you know there’s another invaluable resource you can use for your research? JSTOR is typically used by academics and tertiary students to locate relevant journal articles published in their area of interest. The promo states: With more than a thousand academic journals and over 1 million images, letters, and other primary sources, JSTOR is one of the world’s most trusted sources for academic content.

Sounds a bit heavy-duty? Well some articles may be but there are plenty that will provide you with that valuable framework for your family’s local history, living and social conditions. Silly me, I knew JSTOR was available but somehow it had dropped off my mental radar in recent months.

This morning I had a fun couple of hours looking for information about Irish family life and inheritance patterns. Some of my readings included:

 Marriage and fertility in post-Famine Ireland

The Changing Irish Family

The Potato Famine and the transformation of Irish peasant society.

Whatever the family-history topic you want to know more about, I suggest you’ll find it here with careful searching.

HOW TO FIND IT:

Go to the NLA site

Assuming you’ve already got your library card

Click on the eResources tab at the top right hand side of the web page

Key in your card number and surname

Select “J” from the menu and pick JSTOR

Read and accept their terms and conditions

Start searching using a few keywords eg Scottish illegitimacy, Irish migration etc

Remember you can download the articles

Remember you must cite the article if you use it

Happy hunting!