Trove Tuesday: Joseph Francis Kunkel

This evening I learned through my TDDFHS membership emails that the Western Star and Roma Advertiser newspaper (published in Toowoomba, Queensland) is in the throes of being digitised by Trove. With three branches of my Kunkel family living in that area at the time (Paterson, Kunkel, Lee), I immediately hotfooted it to the computer to check it out.

Today’s post tells the back story to the death of Joseph Francis Kunkel, the second son and second child of George Kunkel and his wife Mary, nee O’Brien. Contrary to the newspaper report, only George was German-born while Mary was Irish. He was indeed born in Ipswich though by this time his parents had been residing in Murphys Creek for some time. A cautionary warning to check multiple sources!

The death of Joseph Francis Kunkel, Western Star and Roma Advertiser, 28 August 1897, page 2.

The death of Joseph Francis Kunkel, Western Star and Roma Advertiser, 28 August 1897, page 2.

The previous information I had from the death certificate was that Joseph had died of “acute parenchymatous hepatitis[i], pyaemia and syncope” and had been ill for 10 days. This certainly appears to contradict the news report which says he died of inflammation of the lungs having caught a cold while on duty. The paper calls him a “fine strong man” whose death is attributable to the adverse condition under which the railway gangers worked. Joseph was only 37 when he died leaving his wife and six children to fend for themselves. It’s quite likely that penicillin would have saved his life, if it had been available at this time.

While Joseph was the first of George and Mary’s children to die, only a few years later his older brother would also die of a heart attack due to “valvular and fatty degeneration of the heart”.

Joseph had been very active in the establishment of a school in the small settlement of Poybah (aka Pickenjennie) and had served as the committee secretary. It’s nice to know that despite his early death, he made his mark on the education of the local children.[ii]

Through my offline research I also know that Joseph’s estate included 149 acres of land with a three bedroom weatherboard house and a three-wire fence, valued at £102. He had only £1 cash, five horses valued at £6, and 10 steers and heifers £2/10/-, a dray and harness £8 and household furniture valued at £5. By the time all the debts were cleared his estate had lost more than half its value.

With each release of newspapers digitised through Trove, more snippets at grassroots level, come to light. Even though I assiduously pursued as many research opportunities as I could only 10 years ago when I wrote this family’s story, every day brings new micro-stories that make that history so much richer. I knew that Joseph had died in Roma and been buried there, but this story would have been a fine complement to the other information I had on him.

I’m looking forward to seeing even more of the stories that are close to being finalised for the Western Star, some that I already know about from other sources, and some new ones.


[i] Synchronous with acute massive liver necrosis.

[ii] Queensland State Archives, Pickenjennie State School PRV8807-1-2209 (Z2204)

(iii) Queensland State Arhives, Intestacy JF Kunkel.

V is for the Valiant of Villers-Bretonneux: Lest we forget

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. Today’s post is both historical and genealogical, as in Australia and New Zealand we celebrate 25 April as Anzac Day, commemorating the landing at Gallipoli and all the Australian and New Zealand military contributions since then. Tying in the with Trans-Tasman Anzac Day challenge I’ll also talk about the effect of one soldier’s death.

Villers-Brettoneux war cemetery and Memorial on a foggy, freezing winter's morning . © P Cass 1992.

On a freezing cold morning in late November 1992, we set forth from Amiens on a pilgrimage to the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. Despite the national significance of the site to both Australia and France, our purpose that day was personal. We’d come to see the name of my grandfather’s cousin, James Thomas Paterson, on the Memorial’s large wall, among the names of those whose bodies were never found.

Villers-Brettoneux © P Cass 1992

So dense was the fog that we drove straight past this immense Memorial without seeing it and had to turn back. Perhaps it was the fog and the crunching of ice underfoot as we walked the cemetery that brought me undone. I sobbed for those men lost so far from home, who had fought in conditions such as these, to which mostly they were unaccustomed, fighting for duty and a cause they believed in, for a people in a foreign land. As we wandered among the immaculately kept graves, the French gardeners worked respectfully to ensure the final resting place of the soldiers buried in the cemetery section was kept immaculate.

Part of the Memorial wall at Villers-Brettoneux which lists the names of the soldiers with no known grave. © P Cass 1992

Slowly we approached the Memorial at the back of the site, and its vast list of engraved names: the one you see in Anzac Day TV broadcasts. There are 10,765 names on that wall[i]; 10,765 Australian Diggers fallen in France but with no known grave; 10,765 men whose names are engraved in the hearts and minds of families who would never be able to visit their grave. Imagine the sheer loss behind those numbers if you can.

Let me tell you a story behind just one of those names. James Thomas Paterson was the grandson of Bavarian-born George Mathias Kunkel and his wife Mary O’Brien. James’s parents were Archibald and Catherine Paterson. When James was a lad, his family moved from Stanthorpe west to Pickenjennie near Wallumbilla where his father purchased land and worked on the railway lines by day. By the time of the big droughts in the 1910s, James was working as a farmer. Times were tough and that may have contributed in some way to his decision to join the war effort in World War I.

Jim had already served with the Roma Commonwealth Light Horse (a militia force) and there’s no doubt he felt a strong sense of duty to join up, as he made his wife-to-be promise before he married her that she would not stop him joining up. The recruiting train steamed into Wallumbilla en route to Roma on 17 August 1915, and the local men were encouraged to enlist[ii] through meetings and appeals for troops. Jim was not among those who signed up immediately but he left Wallumbilla by train on 27 August to enlist. Days later the small town held its Patriotic Day celebrations, attended by 500 people and raising £140 for the war effort. Paradoxically the Dalby recruiting officer complained that “it was a serious thing that the sinews of the country were going away in such shoals”[iii]when Brisbane men were not pulling their weight.

Wedding photo of James Paterson and his bride, Lizzie Cahill, kindly provided by their grandson.

James married Lizzie Maud Cahill on 1 November 1915, shortly before he was to leave for the front. The Toowoomba Chronicle[iv] reported on their wedding in detail and Jim’s grandson has provided a copy of the wedding photo to the AWM.  Oral history reports that while Jim had some money set aside, Lizzie insisted they splash out a bit.

Initially posted to the 25th Battalion, Jim was absorbed into the 49th on arrival in Egypt and was transferred to the Western Front, via Marseilles, in June 1916.  Jim copped a Blighty, a wounded elbow, at the Battle of Mouquet Farm near Thiepval.  Returning in December 1916, he was probably in time[v] to celebrate Christmas behind the lines with his battalion including snowball fights, building snow kangaroos in lieu of snowmen, and partaking of the Australian Comforts Fund’sgood tucker and treats.

James Thomas Paterson's daughter, grandson and great-grandson at his memorial tree in the Avenue of Heroes, Roma, 2002. Photograph courtesy of the family and used with permission.

It was a shocking winter in northern France in 1916/17 with arctic conditions and thunderstorms. In April the allied forces attacked the German front line and during this battle James Paterson and C Company were attached to the 50th Battalion. During the assault of 5 April 1917, half of C Company were killed or injured, including James Paterson. As Lizzie followed the news at home over that Easter weekend, she would have had no inkling that her husband had been killed. There is no record on the file of when she was advised of his death but it wasn’t until late May that James’s death was confirmed. Lizzie’s nomination for Jim’s Roll of Honour entry says simply “Man’s Duty”.

The couple had a daughter, born in late July 1916. Jim had insisted that she be given a good Aussie nickname, and so Elizabeth Maud (Mary) came to be called Cooee as a young girl. Although Jim never met his daughter his family believes he did see her photograph. Imagine the tragedy of a man never seeing his child before he dies, and his child only knowing her father through his photograph and her mother’s stories.

Lizzie was a petite redhead in appearance but she was strong and determined, supporting her daughter through her hard work as a station cook. She continued to write to the Army seeking further information and any of her husband’s effects for their daughter. How wonderful that although this man died in the service of his country, Jim’s family line continues through his daughter (still alive) and her family.

James Thomas Paterson's plaque in Roma's Avenue of Heroes.

Of course a death like this also affects the whole family. We know nothing of how Jim’s parents took the news of their son’s death but it would have been a great shock and his mother died of cancer six months later. From oral history we know that his grandmother Mary Kunkel was not told of her grandson’s death, protecting her from further sadness as her husband had died only a few months earlier. Jim’s brother Dan Paterson joined up soon after Jim’s death. Dan’s own experience and that of his brother meant that he hated war, and eventually burned his own Light Horse uniform, plumed hat and all.

The town of Roma in western Queensland planted an avenue of bottle trees in honour of its fallen World War I heroes.

Towns throughout western Queensland felt the losses of their men keenly. Every town and village had contributed men to the war effort and most had lost one or many. Each town commemorated them in different ways. Roma’s memorial was different. The town planted rows of bottle trees, one for each soldier lost in the war. James Thomas Paterson was one of those men whose sacrifice was remembered in this way by the community and by his family.


[i] Various numbers are cited in different sources. I have used the number from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

[ii] The Brisbane Courier of 23 August 1915, reported that as of that date 109 fit men had been recruited from this recruiting train.

[iii] The Brisbane Courier, 2 September 1915, page 7.

[iv] The Toowoomba Chronicle, 2 November 1915, page 6

[v] While he left for France on 4 December 1916, the records show him rejoining the unit on 6 January 1917, hence the uncertainty.

Beyond the Internet Week 6: School administration records

This is Week 6 in my Beyond the Internet series of topics in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your own posts on this week’s topic which is school committee papers and administrative records. I’d particularly like to hear how people in other states and countries use these records so we can all learn from each other.

I can just about hear you yawning at the topic of school administrative papers….but would you yawn if your ancestors featured in these records? I think not.

Each state and country is bound to have somewhat different records in relation to their school administration and Susan over on Family History Fun made mention of some Scottish Borders sources in last week’s post. Thanks Susan for showing us all the wonderful records you have at Hawick.

What I’ve particularly liked about the records I’ve found are the applications for new schools, the correspondence relating to the opening of the schools, and the general standard of the children’s work when visited by the school inspector. I don’t know about you but I certainly remember how the nuns put the fear of God in us to make sure we were on our mettle when the inspector was due to come round. When I think of that these days I also have a wry smile because my father-in-law was a district inspector in Papua New Guinea and as amiable as he was in private life, his professional assessment would certainly have been rigorous.

New Schools

This is the scenery around Pickenjennie in 2011. No sign of activity remains that I have seen.

My favourite example of these school administration documents are letters from my 2x great-uncle Joseph Francis Kunkel, who you might remember from last week’s post, was one of the earliest students at Highfields School. But now a parent himself he was concerned for his own children’s education. Joseph was one of six parents who submitted an application on 25 February 1895 for a new school to be constructed at Lower Pickenjennie (near Wallumbilla, Queensland). It would benefit 12 children who included Joseph’s and wife Martha’s school-aged children, Bernard (9), Thomas (7) and Mary (5½). The form indicates none of the Kunkel children were at school at that time, emphasising the point I’ve made previously about the impact that living and working on the railway line had on children’s education. The family lived 2.5 miles (about 5kms) from the proposed site. The next person on the application list was Archibald Paterson with three children listed, at least one of whom was attending Gowrie Junction school 2 miles away. The Patersons and Kunkels were neighbours and fellow railway workers but the men were also brothers-in-law whose farms were adjacent to each other.[1]

By 1896 the provisional school had been approved and Joseph was the Acting Secretary and Chairman of the Poybah Provisional School committee and was writing to the “Minister for Public Instruction” to harass him about the prompt opening of the school. Joseph was forthright in his requests that “the building be ceiled as soon as ever practable (sic)”, “appoint a teacher as soon as ever possible” and to “remit the subsidy so as to enable us to clear up our liabilities connected with the building as our pro note is maturing on the 11th proxomo (sic)”. There is a little sense that he is deferring to higher authority but rather insisting that the hard working men and women of Pickenjennie get the school for their children that they’d been putting so much work into. Joseph didn’t get to see much of the benefit from his own hard work as he died a year later in August 1897.

In those early days new school didn’t just happen, the parents had to be proactive and work towards convincing the Department that it was required and they would support it, hence the application forms listing the children who’d attend. The involvement in school committees is one family heritage that has continued in my branch of the family down to the current generation.

There are other snippets to be gleaned from what can be the mundane communication between the school’s representatives (teacher or committee) and the Department. I was much amused by a reference found by Roslyn Stemmler, the local historian, in which the Education Department took exception to the use of the school for a Christmas race ball and the installation of a publican’s booth in the playshed –one assumes during the ball or another event![2]

Although these examples relate to new schools it seems likely that even very long established schools would have significant paperwork revealing more of their daily and yearly operation.

Inspectors’ reports can provide amusing insights into the life of the school, the vagaries of the teaching standards and the attendance at school. For example, the inspector of the Murphys Creek School commented in 1875 that “beside a want of exactness and style there was notably deficient the final ‘g’ of the present participle.”[3] He was also unimpressed with the teacher’s use of the cane and also unsympathetic to the teacher’s complaint about the inadequacy of the school in extremes of weather. The papers also tell us that there were 102 registered pupils and many of these would have travelled significant distances by pony or on foot to get to school. As the Murphys Creek school admission records are missing for this period, these snippets help to give a flavour to the school life of the younger Kunkel children. In August 1872, the teacher reported that no vacation is given during cotton picking season and proposing a holiday from 19 August to allow for the planting of spring crops.[4]

The day before my great-grandfather and siblings enrolled at Highfields School, the teacher reported that the supply of books was insufficient but that the school would be “a great boon here for the children are in a sad state of ignorance”.[5] I doubt that the enrolment of the Kunkel children would have changed his mind.

If you haven’t ever used these documents in an archive near you (or near your ancestral places), then do give them a try. If you’re unlucky the files may be filled with boring administrative bumf but the potential is there for some illuminating facts and background about your ancestors or their relatives.


[1] Queensland State Archives Series ID 12607 Item ID 15830 (old ref PRV8007/1/2209).

[2] Stemmler R. Onward with Honour: Wallumbilla Primary School Centenary 1893-1993. Wallumbilla 1993, page 26.

[3] Queensland State Archives Series ID 10782 Item ID 2547 (old ref PRV5868/1/5).

[4] Queensland State Archives Series ID 12607 Item ID 15618.

[5] Queensland State Archives Series ID 12607 Item ID 14873.