52 weeks of Genealogy Records: Internal Migration

libraryShauna Hicks has initiated a new 52 week series of prompts, Genealogy Records. We’re only into Week 3 but there have already been some interesting topics: Military Medals, Internal Migration and Probate.

Over the past few years I’ve done several 52 week series: Personal Genealogy and History (2011), Abundant Genealogy (2012) and my own Beyond the Internet (2012). I’m currently signed up for Angler’s Rest’s Book of Me 15 month series as well, with which I’m very much behind. Combined with various A to Z April posts and other daily or monthly posts I’m reluctant to get involved in more as it starts to feel like I’ve got a tiger by the tail.

However Shauna’s topic is a great opportunity to personalise my own stories to her theme so I will probably join in from time to time where the topic is relevant to my own history.  I have such a migration mania that I couldn’t possibly not participate in her second topic, Internal Migration. Whenever I get on the topic of migration it turns into a long yarn, so grab a coffee and a comfy chair, and read on for a while.

THE McSHARRY/McSHERRY FAMILIES

With so many railway people in my family tree, it’s inevitable that they’d be a peripatetic lot. Some moved across vast distances, others only relatively short postings when in their early years.

Image from Office online.

Image from Office online.

My greatest internal migrants would be the Sherry family who arrived in Rockhampton, Queensland, from Ireland where they also worked on the railway: the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway line judging on their progressive movement through those counties. On arrival, the patriarch James Sherry, changed most of the family’s name to McSharry. Oral history suggests this may have been to piggy-back on the fame of James McSharry from the railway construction firm, O’Rourke and McSharry.  Who knows whether this is fact or fiction. I suppose it’s also possible that the two families may have been connected but that’s an exploration I’ve yet to undertake.  Whatever the reality it has certainly caused immense confusion when trying to unravel what happened to my own family over the years, especially the mystery of what happened to my James McSharry.

The McSharry family moved from Rockhampton where they arrived, to Maryborough (why?) for a number of years, then back to Rockhampton where wife/widow, Bridget McSharry, settled and ran a boarding house until her death in 1900.

The adult children of this family moved around Queensland in response to work. Early family events revealed at least some of these through death certificates, police staff files, Post Office Directories, electoral rolls, and marriage records.

The eldest son of the family, Peter Sherry, arrived with his family a year after the rest of the Sherry family. Strangely he changed his name to McSherry rather than McSharry. Within weeks of arriving in Rockhampton he had been recruited to Queensland Government Railways and so began his migration around the state. The family spent a long time in Longreach, then moved on to Hughenden and Townsville before being transferred to Rockhampton where they put down roots.

Tracing this family’s internal migration has been greatly facilitated by Trove as it has revealed stories that would otherwise never have been known. I have a full copy of Peter’s railway staff record which tells the bare bones of his positions and postings over the years: a great base for knowing where they migrated internally.

Obviously the children of this family moved with Peter and Mary McSherry in their childhood, but even in their adulthood, the migrations continued. My grandfather James, worked in Hughenden then later Townsville before moving to Brisbane so his children could obtain jobs, or so the oral history goes. Given the move occurred in 1942, mid-war, in the thick of the Brisbane Line concept, I have to wonder whether it was because he was needed to build the railway carriages further from risk of Japanese invasion.

Once again my sources are: railway staff files, Trove, oral history.

THE KUNKEL FAMILY

George and Mary Kunkel, of whom you’ve all heard often, settled in Ipswich after their marriage there in 1857. While there George worked in a number of occupations: servant (pre-marriage), pork butcher and boarding house keeper. To all extents and purposes he was there all the time, after all there were children being born at regular intervals.

Cobb & Co coach from National Library Australia, out of copyright.

Cobb & Co coach from National Library Australia, out of copyright.

It was a court report, that enlightened me differently. While the family was settled, George was also working on the Tooloom goldfields in northern NSW as a butcher. Further reading on Trove revealed that there were regular coaches between Tooloom and Ipswich so plainly he could get home fairly often, perhaps to restock his supplies.

Recently I posted how he’d had a financial setback and this may have prompted their move westward, reportedly working on the railway, or perhaps again supplying meat. The next precise confirmation of where they lived was at Highfields, via the school admission registers and through church baptisms and birth certificates.

A Queensland railway camp, possibly Fountain's Camp at Murphy's Creek.

A Queensland railway camp, possibly Fountain’s Camp at Murphy’s Creek.

A few years later and the family would move a short distance to the Fifteen Mile between Highfields and Murphys Creek where they would take up farming and settle. George supplemented the farm income by working for the railway as a labourer.

Kunkel descendants, many of them railway workers, also moved around south-east Queensland and west as far as Roma with postings as the railway was constructed. One family branch moved to Mackay in northern Queensland and set down roots cane farming.

Records: court reports, school admission records, baptisms and birth certificates, railway staff files, land selection records.

THE GAVIN FAMILY

The Gavins were short-migration people. Denis came from Kildare in Ireland and his wife, Ellen, from Wicklow. They married in Dublin before they emigrated though it’s not known when they each made that internal move.

Bullock dray loaded with wool, Qld 1898. Image from Qld State Archives, out of copyright.

Bullock dray loaded with wool, Qld 1898. Image from Qld State Archives, out of copyright.

On arrival Denis went to Binbian Downs station (per his obituary) as a carrier, then to Dalby, Toowoomba and Crows Nest. Although the distances are short by Australian standards he would have covered a lot of ground carrying wool on the bullock dray from Binbian Downs which is out near Wallumbilla.

Like the other Gavan/Gavin families with whom they interweave, but are unrelated, they remained on the Darling Downs.

Records: Convict records (the Galway Gavins), birth certificates, employment records, death certificates, re-marriage certificates, obituaries, maps, Trove.

THE KENT, PARTRIDGE AND McCORKINDALE FAMILIES

These families were my stay-at-homes. The Kents and Partridges both went straight to Ipswich on arrival as far as I can tell. There they remained until their deaths, though descendants moved around the state.

Highland Gathering Acton Flats: Duncan McCorkindale was a judge of the dancers. National Archives of Australia: A3560, 2882

Highland Gathering Acton Flats: Duncan McCorkindale was a judge of the dancers. National Archives of Australia: A3560, 2882

The McCorkindale exodus from Glasgow commenced with Peter and Duncan’s arrival in Sydney in 1900. Well actually I eventually discovered it commenced with an uncle’s arrival quite a bit earlier. After the death of their father, their mother (Annie Sim McCorkindale) emigrated with the rest of the family excluding one stay-put son, Thomas Sim McCorkindale who’d moved to London. Close analysis of the shipping lists showed that other family members had arrived as well.

Once settled in Brisbane on arrival, Peter joined them, and the family remained there except for country excursions to decimate the opposite in bagpipe and Highland Dance competitions. Duncan McCorkindale moved between Sydney and Canberra where he was part of the teams that built the nation’s capital, and their Caledonian Society.

Records: Trove, shipping lists, BDM certificates, church registers.

 THE MELVIN FAMILY

Stephen Gillespie Melvin’s family was tied to the sea, with generations of merchant seamen. No surprise then that they were born to be migrants, both internal and international.

After the death of his wife, Janet, soon after arrival SGM settled in Ipswich, Queensland where he promptly established a well-regarded confectionery shop. He must have gadded around a bit though because his land portfolio was scattered around the south east of Queensland. But it was his foray into mining that brought him undone, resulting in insolvency and a little jaunt to jail.

Not long after being released from jail, the family moved to Charters Towers which was then experiencing a gold boom. No doubt escaping his notoriety would have been on his mind as well, though the coverage of the trial was so extensive that it would have been known in Charters Towers as well.

Around the time of his second wife’s Emily’s death, SGM started acquiring businesses and land in Sydney and thus the younger members of his family set down their roots in New South Wales. Meanwhile he continued his migrations on a temporary basis, as he travelled back and forth to the UK for business. One such migration became permanent however when he died in London.

Records: BDM certificates, church registers, shipping records, Trove, court reports, gaol records, insolvency records, wills.

THE O’BRIEN WIDDUP FAMILY

I know from my Irish research that the emigrants were keen to follow their own destiny even at the expense of family connections, but the internal migration of Bridget O’Brien (later Widdup) is one that puzzles me.

Bridget (O'Brien) Widdup's grave in the Urana cemetery.

Bridget (O’Brien) Widdup’s grave in the Urana cemetery.

If Bridget was in Ipswich with her sister Mary after their long emigration journey, why did she decide to move south to the Albury area, and to Urana? This has always mystified me, since I knew from her death certificate that she’d spent one year in Queensland.

The possibilities seem to be:

  • She didn’t like the Queensland environment or climate
  • Friends were moving interstate
  • She had met her future husband, John Widdup, on the ship as the story goes so she moved to be with him.
  • Her employer in Queensland relocated and offered her a position elsewhere.

It’s the Whys of family history research that keep us on our toes.

Records: Death certificates, oral history, Trove

So there you have it…the peripatetic wanderings of my families over the years. It has always seemed to me that having made the long journey to Australia, rather than the comparatively short hop across the Atlantic, they were not daunted by further moves if they satisfied their occupation or life goals.

Sepia Saturday 201: History Slips Away

2013.10W.07This week’s topic for Sepia Saturday 201 is houses and fits perfectly with a story I’ve been contemplating for some time. It will also link to my Book of Me stories about my childhood house.

Image from Google Earth, street view: my parents' (left) and grandparents' (right) houses.

Image from Google Earth, street view: my parents’ (left) and grandparents’ (right) houses.

Back in July 2013 my mother sold the house my parents lived in virtually all of their married lives – they’d lived next door with my grandparents for a year before I was born.

Map AG2 40 chains to the inch.

Map AG2 40 chains to the inch.

With that simple move to a retirement unit, all shiny and new, a tiny piece of Brisbane history slipped away. Yes, definitely a piece of my own family’s history, but also an unnoticed change in a near-city suburb. The sale of my childhood home was the final break in our family’s link to the street, after nearly 96 years. In Australian terms this is a quite an extensive association with an area, especially in an urban environment.

Brisbane and Suburbs Sheet S 1917, scale 8 chains to the inch, courtesy Museum of Lands Surveying and Mapping.

Brisbane and Suburbs Sheet S 1917, scale 8 chains to the inch, courtesy Museum of Lands Surveying and Mapping. The Recreation Reserve adjacent became Ballymore Park, home of Queensland Rugby from the 1960s.

You see, back in September 1917, my paternal grandfather was relocated back to Brisbane by the Queensland Government Railways. His railway employment card makes it clear he’d been in Gympie since mid-1911. (I was very lucky to find that card in the old railway offices in Ipswich back in the late 1980s). Family anecdotes tell that Grandad had boarded his young brother Ken with a woman in Kelvin Grove, after all the children had been orphaned in 1901. The carer was later said by Ken to have been quite cruel or at least demanding, but if any of the anecdotes hold water, I’m sure my grandfather can’t have known this or he’d have moved Ken elsewhere. My concern with the stories is that the timelines don’t quite gel for me.

Mackellar Sheet 4 dated 1895 from Museum of Lands Surveying and Mapping.

Mackellar Sheet 4 dated 1895 from Museum of Lands Surveying and Mapping.

At any rate when Grandad moved back to Brisbane he bought a block of land in Bally Street, so perhaps this was indeed were Ken had been living, and how Grandad came to know of it. The Ballymore estate had only been subdivided for resale in 1912 and before that had been called Ballimore – the large block of land where Ballimore House had been remains intact but the house is no more, supposedly destroyed by fire.

A section of the title deeds for my grandfather's first land purchase in 1917.

A section of the title deeds for my grandfather’s first land purchase in 1917.

Grandad’s purchase and title deeds are documented as 13th September 1917 and the block he purchased was re-subdivision 29 of subdivisions 22 and 23 from the original Portion 270 granted to John and George Harris.  The block of land was 16 perches and it was this block that my grandparents gave to my parents after my birth. On 22 October 1917 my grandfather enlisted in the Railway Unit and headed off to northern France.

In December 1920, on his return from overseas, Denis purchased the adjoining allotments, 30 and 31, a combined block of 32 perches block from the woman who was said to have been Ken’s carer. Denis built his house in the middle of the three blocks, but the date of construction is something I still don’t know, though Brisbane Council valuations may help as the valuations should increase around the time of building. My guesstimate is that it was built before my grandparents’ wedding in April 1922.

My grandparents’ house was sold, some years after Grandma’s death, c1980, so around sixty years after Grandad took ownership of the block. It has been substantially upgraded since then, though superficially is recognisable as the same house. I wrote in some detail about it in 2011, as part of the 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series, and also here in terms of the red tape surrounding houses. I also worked the electoral rolls over to analyse the history of the street, its residents, and their occupations. You can read the two stories here and here.

1932 Sewerage maps from Brisbane City Council.

1932 Sewerage maps from Brisbane City Council.

I’ve mentioned before that sewerage maps can be incredibly useful – a tip I learned from a talk given by Susie Zada. This area of Brisbane was sewered quite early: the Council approved a budget of £19,167 in February 1939 (thank you Trove!) However the maps themselves predate this by seven years, and since many of the houses in the street are indicated by their names, it will make it easier to link the people on the electoral roll to them, an unexpected benefit. Who’d have thought it was interesting to know where one’s grandparents’ dunny was?

After my parents took ownership of the block initially purchased in 1917, my grandparents’ house was moved a few metres to the right, and my childhood home was built. Over the decades the house was extended slightly, to include a front verandah and carport, and an extension at the rear for a sunroom.

And so, with the sale of all three blocks of land, and the two houses, a link was broken with the establishment of this Brisbane suburb. A small, unremarked part of personal and local history disappeared along with the family’s 90+ year residence in the street. Or as Mr Cassmob puts it succinctly “there goes the last of the originals”.

Meanwhile the mango tree, planted when my father was born 90 years ago, remains sentinel to the family’s erstwhile presence.

This photo of my grandparents' house was given to me recently by my mother. I estimate that it would be in the 1930s as the backyard toilets are still in evidence.

This photo of my grandparents’ house was given to me recently by my mother. I estimate that it would be in the 1930s as the backyard toilets are still in evidence.

There has been a local history published of the area, Herston, Recollections and Reminscences. It adds valuable background to the area’s history something which is lacking for many suburbs. However it also suffers from a lack of footnotes, and a typical omissions of local histories: the tendency to source information from a familiar section of the community. So it’s ironic that my father, who at the time had lived in the area for over 70 years, was not consulted,when he could have added so much.

For example he would easily have corrected what I believe to be an error on page 15, where it is stated that Ballymore House “would probably have suffered several floods before a fire reputedly damaged the interior….and it has since been demolished”. My conversations with Dad confirm that as far as he was aware, the street had never been flooded, making in fact highly unlikely that Ballymore House had suffered flooding since it was on the higher side of the street. The error probably arose because while the tributary of Breakfast Creek is very close in horizontal distance, the height above the creek means any flood waters are absorbed into the parks across the river.

My criticisms are probably churlish given the depth of information provided on the suburb, but it remains frustrating that more could have been added. The wonderful resource of Trove would no doubt have added all sorts of little snippets that would once have been nigh on impossible to find in the newspapers.

Herston, Recollections and Reminiscences, DJ Hacker, DR Hallam, M Spinaze, Brisbane 1995.

Sepia Saturday 192: A life in railway service

Sepia Saturday 192 smallToday’s Sepia Saturday image is “men in braces”, or perhaps working clothes, or newspapers.

In a way my post combines all of these elements. Among my photo collection is a photo of my grandfather taken for a news story.

James Joseph McSherry 1956

James Joseph McSherry 1956

James Joseph McSherry was an incredibly hard worker, having notched up a normal lifetime’s service with the Queensland Railways, building the old red rattlers at the Ipswich Railway Workshops and before that in the Townsville Workshops. Not content to just take his ease on official retirement, he signed up with Commonwealth Engineering (ComEng) to repair 1500 wagons in three years, completing the task (with his team) in two years. I suspect he was a demanding boss probably having high expectations of his working team.

News article JJ McSherry

By the time of this story he was 74 years old and had a staff of 254. Unfortunately the newspaper clipping is not identified by date or name but I suspect it may have been in The Telegraph and would have been sometime in 1956.

It wasn’t as if this was all he was doing either, because as an active member of the Hibernian Society he did lots of carpentry jobs for them and people in need. Even in his late 70s he was painting St Mary’s church West End in Brisbane and the Legion of Mary hostel in Indooroopilly. He was a dedicated worker for the Catholic church all his life, yet on his death there was very little representation at his funeral….sad.

Fab Feb Photo Collage: 2 Feb – Cats, Kittens, Maggie & Cyclones

4 x 7UP collageAnother of my photo favourites! I’m a huge devotee of cats and kittens and have been since I was a little girl, thanks to my father’s equal addiction. All my life we’ve shared our homes with one or more cats. Each one has a special place in my memory. When I was a child, one would always walk to the end of the street with us, and another would come all the way down a couple of blocks to the public phone booth.  Small wonder that Mr Cassmob also met this vital selection criterion for a future partner…neither of us can walk past a cat without saying hello and asking politely for a pat.pauleen norm at picnic bay

A man after my own heart

A man after my own heart

In this early photograph my father and I are in the back yard of the flats where we were holidaying at Picnic Bay on Magnetic Island in 1956. Presumably the kittens just happened to be nearby and we couldn’t resist them. Magnetic Island was one of our semi-regular holiday places, partly because we could get there using Dad’s railway pass, and partly because my mother still had friends there, including her closest friend. I talked about my love for the place in the 52 weeks series.

But back to this particular holiday which has become part of our family’s folklore. You see while we were there in 1956 Cyclone Agnes came through and threatened to blow us all away. The flats were only fairly flimsy fibro buildings with corrugated iron roofs so we were certainly at risk. My most distinct memory is asking Dad to take me to the backyard toilet in the midst of the storm. Why on earth he was willing to do that I don’t know, because I’m sure I’d just have told my kids to use a bucket! I remember the palm trees bending in the wind, like ballerinas touching their toes. Dad always said that the wind gauges at the Garbutt Air Force base snapped in the strength of the wind which fits with the news stories of the day.

Afterwards we were trapped on the island for a few days and I’m told there were no fresh supplies of milk or bread. My memory says that we were evacuated by Army amphibious duck to Townsville but Mum doesn’t recall that at all, so did I imagine it? Soon after we trained up to Cairns where I have a vivid memory of the Barron Falls in full spate, and then travelled to Green Island where the seas were so rough I can still remember the boat dipping into the waves on each side. Story goes that only Dad and the engineer weren’t sick on the voyage. Everyone else was hanging over the side of the boat. Or, as Mum always said, “green on the way over and green coming back”.

R and L asleep at Magnetic Is

Many years later we would take our girls for a visit to Maggie, on a day that was much more tranquil.

On the return trip to Brisbane the Sunlander train waded across the flooded Burdekin River where the waters were lapping the sleepers on the bridge as we crossed. Dad used to say that the fireman pushed away a log that was up against the sleepers only to discover it was a crocodile. A tall tale or true? I don’t have a clue! Mind you, being a fellow railwayman, Dad ofter heard stories that weren’t shared with all the passengers.

Pauleen and cats c1960

Socks' mother was fully-wild, but Socks was the most beautiful cat.

Socks’ mother was fully-wild, but Socks was the most beautiful cat.

This post is dedicated to all my feline friends who’ve given me so much love and affection over the years: Chips, Tammy, Sooty, Tabitha, Pedro, Brandy, Socks, Ginger Megs, Kizzle and Springer. Each had their own distinct personality, but I could wish Springer, my current young furry-friend, would extend himself to a few more cuddles….maybe he’s still in that teenage phase where boys won’t cuddle their families <smile>.

Fab Feb image

Unfortunately Pedro was chased away when we moved to our 2nd Goroka house- by our next cat! We never found out if he wound up as a fur hat or in the cooking pot in a village because we never found him.

Unfortunately Pedro was chased away when we moved to our 2nd Goroka house- by our next cat! We never knew if he wound up as a fur hat or in the cooking pot in a village because we never found him.

Beyond the Internet: Week 47 Police and Railway Staff records

This week I’m writing Week 47 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and this week’s topic is Police and Railway Staff records.

Archives can be a rich source of occupational records, ranging from publicans to police, railways or business, mariners or teachers. As always which records survive for your area of interest is variable and dependent on historical chance.

RAILWAY STAFF RECORDS

Firstly a word of warning: not all railway workers will have been employed by the government-owned railway even in Australia. Lengthsmen and gangers, the labourers of the railway line, may have been employed directly by large railway contractors such as O’Rourke & McSharry.

Overseas where the railway infrastructure and operations were undertaken by different companies it will be necessary to see if those business records have survived. Findmypast UK has some railway staff records online but others may remain elusive.

The steam train arrives at Murphys Creek station.

The steam train arrives at Murphys Creek station.

Where they exist, railway staff records can be rich in detail. My ancestral ones include dates of birth, commencement of service, progression through the ranks, commendations or penalties, relocations around the region and illness. Some of mine came directly from Queensland State Archives but others were obtained from dusty old card systems in Ipswich long before the Railway Museum was built.

There are also some excellent indexes to Queensland Railway staff and these may highlight the employment of women as gatekeepers or cleaners. It was not uncommon for married women whose husbands had a responsible role at a particular station to take on these duties, or for them to be given this type of work if a husband died at an early age. Government gazettes and parliamentary papers may also list railway workers.

Time does indeed make the heart grow fonder for Qld Rail as it seems the closer in time we are to the person the less likely we are to find staff records. While I have some from my 2xgreat grandfather, two great-grandfathers and my grandfather, my own father’s records were destroyed some time ago even though he retired less than 40 years ago!

Roma St Railway Station -the old shunting yards extended up to and beyond the right corner of this image. Photo taken P Cass about 2006.

Roma St Railway Station -the old shunting yards extended up to and beyond the right corner of this image. Photo taken P Cass about 2006.

These staff records can be used in conjunction with other sources to reveal more detailed information about their specific location location eg while posted to South East maintenance, a man might actually be working in a number of places in that area. School admission records are a great way to track movements within a region. Similarly Trove may provide useful tidbits about their lives.

Other Sources: If you want to know a little more about what life was life as a railway employee, or a member of their family member, this book, Living on the Line, provides first hand oral histories of railway life. You can also search my blog (top right hand corner) for search terms “railway” or “Queensland Rail” for my own experiences in a railway family. Also don’t forget to see if you ancestor was involved with railway operations during either World War I or World War II.

POLICE STAFF RECORDS

 Police staff files are generally even more valuable to family historians than railway staff records (especially if you have policemen in your family!). They include much of the same detail but are more likely to include pages of documents rather than just a card index summary.DSC_1877

I have made significant finds in police files so I’m pleased that some of my family members diverted from serving the railway to the police.

 Character references had to be obtained when applying to enter the police and one for Thomas Kunkel is elusively enlightening. A letter from Patrick O’Sullivan, MLA in Ipswich states that he had known my 2xgreat grandparents “so long and so well”. Had it perhaps been Patrick for whom George Kunkel had worked as a servant in his hotel? Or is this just my imaginings? Ironically nearly 100 years later I would know Patrick’s great-grandson who was the Jesuit priest with responsibility for the Newman Society at The University of Queensland.

Spouse checks: In the old days (not sure when it ended), Police had to obtain permission to marry. They advised the name of the woman they wanted to marry and there was then a character check on that person and her family.  One can only assume that he must have asked his bride-to-be before sending off her name, otherwise the proposal would hardly have come as a surprise!

Thanks to this, I learned that one of my grandfather’s uncle applied to marry a particular woman, whose family provided a glowing reference from Archbishop Dunne, previously their parish priest. What went wrong after that is lost to time, but Thomas never did marry her. Adding insult to injury she married his brother Edward not long afterwards.  Thomas’s performance record had been of a good standard before that but all of a sudden he was going AWOL, being drunk on duty, losing prisoners. Coincidence, I hardly think so.police hat and cuffs

Another relative’s file reveals his problem of “borrowing” a small amount of official money – when he volunteered this information and was repaying it, he was promptly discharged. I can imagine him confessing his sin to the priest and being told to make restitution only to then be tossed out – entirely justifiably, but no doubt distressing for all the family. The timing of this event coincides with his mother, Bridget McSharry, moving to Rockhampton and setting up a boarding house. Around this time or a little earlier, his father, James Sherry, entirely disappears from view – did he desert the family (not in police gazettes) or did he die but his death not get recorded? Was the timing a coincidence? Not sure.

Police staff files are subject to closure periods which may affect your ability to look at all or part of the file.

 Other sources: once again try Trove to learn about arrests or events your ancestor may have been involved with and also look at Police Gazettes or Government Gazettes.

I think you’ll find these sources to be very helpful if you are lucky enough to have railwaymen or police on your family tree.

Labour Day: the workaday life of a Queensland Rail numbertaker

Regular readers of this blog know of my families’ long association with the railways in Queensland. Today is the Labour Day public holiday in my home state, Queensland, and I’ve been reflecting on this topic since Labour Day itself on 1 May.

Roma St Railway Station -the old shunting yards extended up to and beyond the right corner of this image. Photo taken P Cass about 2006.

My father Norman Kunkel worked for the railway from when he was a young lad. Strange to say, although I can access the railway personnel files back through the generations, the current ones have apparently been largely destroyed, and only the staff history card survives with its minimal detail. Consequently what I can tell you will be largely anecdotal or from my own personal experience living in a railway family.

Norman left school at 16 and joined the railway as a lad porter. Initially he worked at Landsborough but it wasn’t long before he was back in Brisbane where he remained for the rest of his life.  I’d love to give you the details but without the records I’m stuck….he was never one to share much of his personal history apart from an occasional funny story (he was a good yarn-teller albeit keen on tall tales). He was working in the Roma Street shunting yards by the time he met my mother, a typist in the Goods Office. At the time there were a number of his extended family members working in or around Roma St station.

Norman worked for the Queensland Railways, in its various incarnations, all of his working life: some 43 years. Throughout much of this time he was classified as a numbertaker. “A what” you say? An undertaker? Oh, and what pray tell is a numbertaker? Well let me give you my simplistic explanation of the job: the numbertaker (aka tally clerk) adds up the freight on each goods train, tallying the loads, the destination of each carriage, and how to ensure that the relevant carriage is linked in the right sequence so it can be shunted off easily when it reaches its destination. It’s easy to see that there are safety consequences too in ensuring the freight is distributed appropriately. I have seen him in my girlhood, add long four digit columns of numbers faster than you or I could use a calculator. When I was a very small girl, then struggling with arithmetic, my father helped me until I understood how maths worked. I have no recollection of how he explained it to me, but from then on it made sense.

There is also a post on Rootsweb which responded to someone questioning the role of numbertakers having found an ancestor so documented on an English census report. While the book extract quoted provides insights, it is more UK-specific, as they had multiple rail companies unlike Australia where the railways were state government owned and so there was less need to monitor whose carriages were in another state. Certainly I had never understood this aspect of their duties until I read this extract but the application I mention below makes it clear that there were aspects of this in the job done by Queensland Rail numbertakers. What was extremely familiar was the description of the men’s abilities:

The number takers must be capable of bearing exposure to all kinds of hard weather and possess the requisite amount of smartness and intelligence to enable them to perform their different duties with the utmost accuracy and dispatch.

A view of Roma Street shunting yards 1931, John Oxley Library Image 63242. Copyright expired. The numbertakers’ shed was near the bottom right of this picture.

How very true this is. The sheer physical demands on the men were significant: walking miles every day, from Roma St station itself through the Normanyby to the Exhibition grounds and back, in rail, hail or shine, night and day. Add to that their work environment was hazardous in the extreme with potentially lethal trains criss-crossing the yard throughout their eight hour shift. Add to that, in the days of steam trains, they were breathing coal-dust laden air throughout their shift. Add to that the noise of the yard causing industrial deafness. Add to that again, that they were provided with the merest levels of safety, no high-visibility vests, no reflectors anywhere on their dark blue serge uniforms[i], only a couple of overhead lights over the yard (I kid you not!), and all work done to the light of a kerosene lamp or later a torch. Add to that, in the early 1970s Dad was regularly asked to work 12 or 16 hour shifts. Unfortunately numbertakers belonged to a small union which lacked much muscle consequently their working conditions didn’t get nearly enough attention and their pay was worse than the garbos’. All that shoe leather, his hard work and my mother’s financial management meant that I was able to go to a good secondary school and on to university -the first in our family to do so. For this alone I owe them an untold debt of gratitude.

No wonder that every day as Dad rode his push bike (no gears) to the end of the street and turned and waved as he headed up the steep hill, we really never knew whether he would return home safely. Too often he came home silent and shocked and later we’d learn that some young shunter had lost his leg, or his life, or been incapacitated by being caught between the train’s buffers. I learnt early that the worst sign was when a bloke reached down to feel for his leg, meaning at a minimum he had been severely injured. If a numbertaker’s job was hazardous, the shunter’s was the worst in the industry. Would you be surprised to learn that shunting is second in danger only to mining[ii]? I remember in the early 1970s there was a shocking accident in the yards, under the Normanby bridge to Brisbane Grammar when one of the railwaymen was beheaded. The risks were shocking in their consequences. A quick search of Trove using “accident railway shunter” generates 3545 hits.

This photograph of the shunting yards c1960 by Leonard John Mathews is reproduced from Flickr under Creative Commons. Thanks Len!

Like many other unsung workers in other industries, these men worked shift work, yet another complication in their lives, and to their safety. You knew with railway families not to knock loudly on the door during the day in case the men were sleeping. You also knew how important it was that they got their sleep so it was relatively quiet in the house when it was a night shift roster. Mealtimes and meals themselves were changed around to accommodate the men’s shifts. Birthdays, Christmas and other holidays were all subject to the demands of shiftwork…that’s just how life was. My father routinely worked three shifts in sequence: 6am to 2pm, 2pm to 10pm and 10pm to 6am. On a periodic basis he worked three weeks of afternoon shifts: 2 to 10. I’ve never known why this change of roster occurred, perhaps to give them a break from the destabilising weekly changeovers.

An extract of an application by the numbertakers for a pay increase, late 1960s judging on references to decimal introduction. I have the carbon copy of this application so I suspect my mother typed it up.

Labour Day was one day when the men didn’t mind working the shifts or being on duty: they got paid triple time for their work, the only day of the year that this occurred. I’ve also talked a bit about my father’s war-time railway service here.

If you live in Brisbane and drive down Countess St heading for the freeway or the city, you will see no sign of the activity that used to be the Roma St Shunting Yards. These days high rise units sit not far from where the numbertakers’ shed was, on the city side of the Normanby bridge. (In the 70s they moved to the other side of the bridge where the interchange is now).  Now also the opposite side of the yards have become the wonderful Roma St Parklands. So much history lost behind the urban renewal.

The goods trains and all that go with them have moved to Rocklea on the southern outskirts of Brisbane.


[i] In 1931, during the Depression years, when my father was a small boy, the men weren’t even issued with uniforms, as an “economy” measure.

[ii] I would love to cite the academic article I found this in, but can’t put my hands on it right now.

T travels to Townsville, Toowoomba and Tullamore

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). Today is about two towns important to my family history in Australia.

The Townsville marina at dawn. © P Cass 2004

T is for Townsville (Queensland, Australia)

Townsville is the hub for Far North Queensland (FNQ) as well as one of my family’s hubs. It was a critical supply point of men and armaments during World War II and many Australian and American military personnel of the era would have been familiar with the town. Townsville also reminds me of Darwin because it is another place where you men in military uniforms form part of everyday life around town because, like Darwin, it is potentially Australia’s front line of defence. Like Darwin it too was bombed during World War II.

In peacetime it used to be one of Queensland’s quiet country towns, with the esplanade bordering the sea and looking across to Magnetic Island. I’d be surprised if anyone born or bred in Townsville never visited Maggie, as it’s known, for it was the local day-trip and holiday spot. These days Townsville is a bustling modern city, with a major university and medical school, and the esplanade has been revamped for outdoor living and dining out in the restaurants. I was very surprised to see the changes when I visited about 6 years ago. Dominating the city, then and now, is Castle Hill, guardian of the city.

Picnic Bay jetty, Magnetic Island. I spent a number of holidays at Picnic Bay and fished off the jetty, and in a dinghy, with my dad. © P Cass 2004

My grandfather was living in Townsville in 1913, before he was married, working as a railway carpenter. My family would continue to live in Townsville for nearly 30 years. My grandfather built the house they lived in at Baxter St, West End and he was, as always, heavily involved with St Mary’s Catholic Church West End and the Hibernian society, with which he held many roles.

In 1941, he decided to move to Brisbane so that his daughters would have more opportunities to get jobs. I’m sure that was the rationale he gave them, but I’ve always felt the real reasons may have been different. The war in the Pacific was gearing up and he may not have wanted his family to be more at risk in the north, and he also may not have wanted them as exposed to an overflow of military people (he was very strict). It’s not impossible that the railway may have wanted him in the south as well, for by then he was a supervisor and a very experienced carpenter, part of a team churning out railway carriages which were important to war effort. His war years were spent as a supervisor in the Railway workshops at Ipswich. We’ll never know the real reason for the relocation now, as his railway service record reveals nothing but his change of workplace.

This move was one of those family history turning points, and quite a recent one. Without the relocation my parents would not have met and I would not have been here. A bit “Sliding Doors”.

T is for Toowoomba (Queensland, Australia)

The Kunkel family reunion 2003 in Toowoomba. © P Cass

Toowoomba is a locus for the Kunkel family after the dispersal from the Fifteen Mile and Murphys Creek. Today it’s possibly one of two places in Australia where the surname, when stated, may not bring a “huh?” from the listener. For a long time, it was from Toowoomba that the Kunkel family’s religious support came, and their children and some grandchildren were baptised or married through/in the Toowoomba Catholic churches. It was in Toowoomba that in 2003 we held the first known reunion of the Kunkel family for close to 100 years and I launched the family history Grassroots Queenslanders, the Kunkel family. For many of the 120 people who attended, Kunkel had ceased to be their surname long ago, so it was a surprise to learn more about the family and make so many family connections. The din in the room was deafening so it seemed everyone had a good time.

I enjoyed the Q150 steam train to Toowoomba with a friend in 2009. We steamed through Murphys Creek where my ancestors had been when the railway was built. © P Cass 2009.

Toowoomba is also close to our hearts because a very good family friend lived there for many years and we visited often, especially while one daughter lived with her for a while during university. And of course there’s all my family history haunts, including the cemetery where I’ve spent many happy hours exploring family graves. A number of my Dorfprozelten emigrants are also laid to rest here, as quite a few relocated to Toowoomba after their first years in Queensland (then called Moreton Bay).

T is for Tullamore (County Offaly, Ireland)

My Furlong ancestors lived in Tullamore from about 1840 though it’s not known when they arrived there, or from whence they came. My 2x great-grandparents, Bridget Furlong and James Sherry (late McSharry) married there and my great-grandfather Peter Sherry (later McSherry) was baptised there. I’ve talked about this family line a few times on my blog, so if you’re interested, just put “Tullamore” in the search box, top right, and the relevant posts will pop up.

Jogging into Jondaryan, Jimbour and Jimboomba

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). These “J” stories come with a genealogue warning.

J is for Jondaryan (Queensland, Australia)

Head west from Toowoomba en route to Dalby and you will come to Jondaryan, a pastoral station which in its heyday of the 1870s was a “colonial colossus of 62,750 hectares (about 155,000 acres)”[i] with a large population of sheep, all of which needed shearing in season, and caring for between times. As I read this excellent article about the station’s history, I looked at the bullock wagon-load of wool and wondered if my Denis Gavin had been among the men who moved the vast quantities of wool towards Brisbane.

Was Jondaryan Pastoral Station the place where my great-grandparents, George Michael Kunkel and Julia Celia Gavin met, perhaps through Julia’s father’s work as a carrier?

We visited Jondaryan in 1989, a few years after I started my family history. This was a working example of re-metalling the wagon wheels -putting new metal bands on the wheels and tightening them.

What is known from the station’s records[ii], is that young George (aged 16) was employed as a lamber for three months from 15 September to 3 December 1875, the year of a big drought. This was when the Kunkels were buying their farm at the Fifteen Mile, so perhaps as the eldest son George was helping to bring in much-needed cash, to supplement his father’s railway earnings. Other members of a Julia’s family and another unrelated Gavin family also worked there: hardly surprising given the scale of the operation and the number of people it employed.

These days Jondaryan’s past history is visible to anyone who wishes to visit: it’s now known as Jondaryan Woolshed and is a regular feature on school excursion itineraries. I wonder how many children have visited without knowing a distant relative worked there.

A key reference book on Jondaryan is Jondaryan Station: the relationship between pastoral capital and pastoral labour 1840-1890, click on the link to see my comments on the book. Picture Australia also has a number of images from the early days. The map below gives you some idea of the distirbution of the places mentioned starting from Jimbour in the north west through to Jimboomba in the south east. (it is about 126 kms from Toowoomba to Brisbane, to give you a sense of scale).

 

J is for Jimbour  (Queensland) 

In the late 1980s I was struggling to unravel the strands of Gavin families all living and working on the Downs in the vicinity of Dalby. I had connected with another researcher by snail mail and slowly but surely we made progress on figuring out these families. Carmel died over twenty years ago but I still think of her and how we collaborated on this challenge…how much easier it would have been via email and with digitised records, but perhaps less fun. We had gone to the same school in Brisbane, some 20+ years apart but somehow we were simpatico.

Among my earliest family history discoveries was the story of two boys who drowned on Jimbour station back in its early days[iii]. The  were cousins aged 12 and 6 and both named Michael Gavin.The inquest[iv] identifies the parents of Bridget and the younger Michael as Stephen and Anna (aka Honora Mulkerrin) Gavin. The twelve year old Michael was the son of Mark and Anna Gavin.

Mark Gavin/Gavan was a convict, one of those known as an exile, who was granted his ticket of leave on arrival in 1849 and sent to Mr Bell at Jimbour to work as a shepherd. Mark’s brothers Thomas and Stephen emigrated as remittance passengers with their families in 1859 and 1862 respectively. One of Mark and Anna’s children emigrated with Thomas and all lived and worked at Jimbour, at least initially. The drowned six year old had arrived as a baby of one. Stephen and his wife Honora are the only family I’ve encountered returning to Ireland, and I feel they must have had some financial support to do so. This only became apparent because the family re-emigrated to Queensland in 1874.

The newspaper story of the “melancholy and fatal accident” was comprehensive.[v] Three children, Michael Gavin 12, Bridget Gavin, 9 and Michael Gavin 6, were playing at bullocky near the water at the Maia Camp outstation on Jimbour on Monday 29 October 1866. They slipped, lost their footing and slid into the water. The little girl, Bridget, managed to escape by grabbing some rushes and could see no sign of her brother and her cousin. Just imagine a nine-year old’s panic as she ran to the hut to fetch her mother, and the distress of her mother as she ran another three miles to the washpool for assistance. The bodies were recovered later by George Perkins and an unnamed Aboriginal man.

The two young lads are remembered on a memorial plaque at Jimbour. These Gavin families had already experienced so many hardships to survive the Great Famine, and then sailing to Australia. Theirs was true pioneer courage. There were new members of Mark’s Gavin’s family born in Australia, baptised by Ipswich’s travelling priest, Fr McGinty who rode many miles across Moreton Bay to care for his own flock.

Jimbour remains a long-standing Queensland property which opens its doors to visitors these days. It’s many years since I looked at the area, but not the house or garden, and it too is on my future visit-list.

J is for Jimboomba (Queensland)

Jimboomba was one of several railway camps and towns where great-grandfather George Michael Kunkel and his family lived and worked. He is known to have started work with Queensland Railways in 1878, aged 20. His wife Julia was also sometimes employed as a carriage cleaner or gate operator. Little is known of their time in Jimboomba and they may have been stationed between Logan Village and Jimboomba. Indications are that two of their children were born in Jimboomba, William Thomas and Matthew David John. Another son, George Michael Kunkel, was reported to have died as a child and been buried there, but I have been unable to get any verification of that.  These days Jimboomba is a village not too far from where we used to live in Brisbane, but in those far-off days, life would have been very basic, as it usually was in the railway camps.

Translation: A station in this context is the equivalent of an American ranch.

Somewhere I have old photos of these three places, or their environments, but they are lost in the maze of my personal photos. The more I scan, the more confused the picture archives become…perhaps a project for May when the A to Z challenge is complete.


[ii] These books were found by John Eggleston in the late 1980s. There is an index of names available at the Genealogical Society of Queensland and also Queensland State Archives (in a book near the door).

[iii] These stories are easy enough to find now that Trove has digitised the newspapers but in the late 1980s, it would have been impossible to find this story without the indexing work of the Toowoomba and Darling Downs Family History Society.

[iv] Page 3, column 6. The inquest into the death of Michael Gavin (12) and Michael Gavin (6) is in Queensland State Archives at JUS/N13 66/174.

[v] Darling Downs Gazette of 3 Nov 1866

Beyond the Internet Week 14: War diaries, shipping and photographs

This is Week 14 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week’s topic is War Diaries, shipping and photos.  I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your thoughts on this topic, especially if you live overseas and have a different set of records to tell us about. If possible please provide a link to your post on this page.

This week’s topic is going to be a bit of “dollar each way” because I realise that many of these records are now available online. And yes, it beats having to schedule a trip to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, with all the associated expense, to read the documents themselves..but not always as much fun. Still and all, I suspect war diaries are not something that many people use in their family history, so I’m sitting on the virtual fence with this one.

War diaries

While war diaries can be succinct and uninformative on the day of the battle, the attached operations orders can be immensely useful to really add depth to your family history. This is some of the information I’ve found in them, taken from AWM 4, 23/66/1-37 for the 49th Battalion and AWM 4 15/6/1-18 ABGROC:

  • The men of the 40th walking 40 miles to Serapeum on the Suez Canal carrying full kits, packs and ammunition but limited water, in 110C heat.
  • The men of the 49th  referring to their colour patch as the “soccer ball” because they were moved so often.
  • Arrival of additional troops in the field may not mention names but when put with your family member’s service records you can see whether it was a big intake or only a few men.
  • Men going on leave may be mentioned.
  • Men injured or killed, usually only deaths of officers, otherwise numbers only.
  • Summaries of the battle.
  • Descriptions of the clothes issued to the men (sheepskin jackets, leather waistcoats, thigh-high gumboots).
  • The dispersal of companies across the battle field together with their list of responsibilities.
  • The Railway Operating Division’s nickname of “Right Out of Danger”. I’ve talked about their responsibilities here.
  • How the men spent Christmas, received special food treats, and their behind-the-lines activities.
  • Little asides about how the men dealt with being required to sleep on the ground under canvas while there were empty huts nearby.

If you’ve not yet used the war diaries of the AWM either virtually or in situ, I hope I’ve convinced you that there’s plenty there that will reveal the story of your family member’s service.

Of course this refers to the official war diaries for each unit, perhaps your ancestor left a personal diary or perhaps one of his fellow servicemen did. Just imagine what you might learn from those.

War transportation records

Another rich source is the files on the ship transportation of the men to/from foreign service. The men were probably well enough informed about the world (after all in those days schooling focused on the Empire’s history, not Australia’s) but it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have been amazed by the sights they saw or the opportunity to go dancing or for picnics and motor trips in Capetown. On the way overseas the CO for the men on the Port Sydney[i] commended them for their excellent behaviour while on two days leave in Colombo. On the voyage over they also learned additional military skills but they also had a “fine brass band”, an orchestra and several concert parties. My grandfather returned to Australia on the Karmala[ii] in 1919 and the files report they had an orchestra, daily sports, chess, bridge and drafts competitions as well as a daily newspaper, the Karmala Kuts.

Photographs

J06286 AWM out of copyright. Crossing the line on board Port Sydney November 1917.

This is another fence-sitter as many of these have been digitised, however they’re probably worth mentioning here. Things to look for: names of people, ships to/from field, battle areas.

I was lucky that there was an amateur photographer on board the Port Sydney with my grandfather so I have photos of the Crossing the Line[iii] ceremony on that voyage. There are also quite a lot of my husband’s great-uncle. The photos of Milne Bay or Norieul are certainly much better now in digital form than the old thermal printed ones I got back years ago!

I hope I’ve managed to convince you that there’s lots out there which can enrich your family’s wartime stories, whether in digital or non-digital form.


[i] AWM 7, Port Sydney [5]. This now appears to be item 528138.  Not yet digitised.

[ii] AWM 31, Karmala 306. This now appears to be item 514921. Not yet digitised.

[iii] AWM negative J06286

St Patrick’s Day has many guises

There’s not much happening in Darwin for St Patrick’s Day today but I’ve been reflecting on the day and its role in my family’s history.

My immediate thoughts turned to the St Pat’s Day concerts we would sometimes hold at our school. I remember we would practice all the old Irish songs like When Irish Eyes are Smiling or Glorious St Patrick. We’d be lined up on stools to sing in the classroom that became a hall when required. My mother reminded me that in those days St Patrick’s Day would be a holiday for the Catholic schools though that changed over the years, no doubt due to government funding. It was traditional to wear a little button affair with a simple shamrock on it, and green ribbon underneath. This was done right through my school years if I recollect correctly. When at work I’d try to wear a green dress just to join the fun.

I looked at Trove (troved?) to see what was in The Courier Mail for when I was growing up but the digitisation stops before then so couldn’t add a great deal there. However I did find a story about St Patrick’s Day in Townsville in which my mother and her sister are mentioned as “maids of honour representing the purity of Erin’s daughters”.  My grandfather was a member of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society (HACBS) and one of the members told me that he remembered my grandfather helped to build the floats for the St Patrick’s Day procession. My grandfather was a carpenter with the Railways and always involved in parish activities so I think it’s a safe bet that this story is accurate.

From a different perspective my father witnessed the violence and aggression of the St Patrick’s Day march and Police action when the railway unions were striking in 1948, not long before he and my mother were married. A history of Queensland[i] shows a picture of the event and I would bet a winning lotto ticket that my father is the man sitting on his haunches on the side of the footpath, Gladstone bag by his side and cigarette in his hand. As was typical of him, he wouldn’t give away whether it was him, but I do know that he witnessed the violence because he warned me when the anti-Vietnam, civil liberties marches were front-and-centre in Brisbane in the 1960s. One day I’ll have the opportunity to make it to the Trades and Labour Council archives to see what other photos they have of this dramatic event.

And in a frivolous end to the story, how lucky were our children that when we left Ireland after a holiday in 2006, we didn’t buy a great big green cowboy hat for Paddy’s Day. We’d have loved to have seen their faces when we got off the plane in Australia, but we couldn’t be bothered carrying such awkward and embarrassing items. A shame really.


[i] A history of Queensland from 1915 to the 1980s / Ross Fitzgerald