Trawling Trove – Peter McSherry –house sale and property auction

I guess there are not many Australian family historians who haven’t discovered the joys of Trove, which get better with each expansion of the program (currently at 5 million pages!).

Even so I was ecstatic at what I discovered through Trove yesterday. My McSherry families were historically concentrated in Queensland especially Townsville and Rockhampton so the online availability of the Townsville Daily Bulletin and the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin has been great for my research (microfilms not available here). I’ve picked up a whole range of snippets about my family, of which more in another post later.

The auction notice for Peter McSherry's estate in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin 10 February 1951 page 9.

Trawling through Trove yesterday I picked up an advertisement in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin which was probably better than finding my great-grandfather’s will. There in an auction notice was a full description of his home and belongings….a bit like hanging your world out for inspection by others. His daughter, Mary Ellen Quinn, was obviously executor of her father’s estate and she had put everything up for auction. Without having yet sighted the will it seems evident that Peter McSherry had left the property to his wife for her use until her death (1950) and then to be sold and the income to be shared between their nine surviving children.

What the advertisement tells me is that they had a good quality home in a traditional Queensland vernacular style made of timber, highset and with verandahs on three sides, battens around the base of the house and a dedicated space downstairs for a laundry. What was a bit unusual was the scale of the house as with four bedrooms this made it above average, especially as they only moved into it with their adult children in their later years. Not surprisingly it was stated to be very close to the railway workshops and railway station in Rockhampton. Ironically it’s only now occurred to me that we went so close to their old property on the Sunlander train heading north several times. Dad would jump off at Rockhampton station just before the train stopped (another railwayman!) and cross the road to buy the world’s best fish and chips. Whether my mother knew where her grandparents had lived I don’t know –I don’t believe she ever mentioned it and she had only very rarely seen her grandparents as they lived in different places.

Peter McSherry had joined Queensland Rail immediately on his arrival from Gorey, Wexford, Ireland with his wife (Mary nee Callaghan) and two small children, one of them my grandfather, James. Peter had probably worked for the railway in Ireland as his father also did. Over the years the family moved around Queensland from Longreach to Townsville, Hughenden and Rockhampton. He worked with the railway for nearly 60 years, right up to the absolute maximum age limit before retiring. (His son James similarly worked until old age). By the end of his career Peter was a Chief Inspector of Railways being responsible for the upkeep and general maintenance of a particular area of the railway lines.

Railways run in the blood lines of many Australians and Queenslanders, perhaps in particular because of the extensiveness of the lines, and the correlation of railway construction with the commencement of the colony of Queensland. My generation is the first of five generations (on both sides of my family) in which no family member works in the railway, though other branches of the family have done so into the fifth generation.

But all this is a diversion. As well as a full description of the house in this advertisement, an earlier one had detailed the property’s allotment number as re-subdivision 2, subdivisions 1 to 3, allotment 5, section 77, City of Rockhampton. Plainly this will need further investigation when next I visit Queensland. However I do know it was on the corner of Alma and South Streets with an address of 32 South Street. Thanks to a Google Earth search and street view, I now know that the house was obviously demolished at some stage and is now occupied by a battery business.  The location is in close proximity to the heritage Railway Roundhouse with its distinctive shape as seen on Google Earth.

Location of the McSherry family home on Google Earth.

In the mostly Queensland wills I’ve found, I’ve very rarely located a very detailed inventory of belongings, though even the “overview” inventory can still be helpful. However where detailed inventories exist they provide such a great insight into the style and standard of living. I have not yet found Peter McSherry’s will –another on my “to do” research list for Queensland visits – but this advertisement is likely to exceed what I’ll find in the will packet, if available.

The comprehensive list of furniture and household belongings being auctioned tells of a solid, working class living standard probably above that of the average worker. The house was kitted out with silky oak furniture, very typical of the times. Although not luxurious the extent of the furnishings tell their own story of a family who had done reasonably well since they’d arrived in Australia 65 years earlier. The items range from the comfortable to the mundane: Bookcase, squatters’ chair, seagrass tables and lounges, ice chest, copper boiler, commode and garden tools. The item on the list which saddened me was the sewing machine because it was regarded as a way of earning an income and therefore generally reserved from being recovered in cases of bankruptcy yet here it was being sold after the death of its owner, Mary McSherry nee Callaghan, about a year after her husband’s death. And what of the zinc lined piano case –had there once been a piano as well?

So this Trove discovery has opened up new research paths and provided me with insights into the family’s living standards. All very exciting!

UPDATE: At a recent (June 2011) visit to the Queensland State Archives, I found his name does not appear in the indices of wills or intestacies for the relevant period. So this Trove find really was a treasure.