Genea-learning and touring

We’re not long home from a week of genealogy indulgence…what’s not to like about genie-adventures? Especially when they take you on a road trip!

First up was two days at the Unlock the Past Roadshow in Brisbane with Scottish/Irish guru Chris Paton, German expert, Dirk Weissleder and local speakers. Learning new strategies and sources for research is always fun and even better when you get to catch up with genimates. The Roadshow is heading to other cities too, so you might want to consider booking.

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Image from Wikipedia.

From Brisbane we ventured west towards Toowoomba and the Darling Downs. We were no sooner on the Darren Lockyer Way[i] when my spirits soared with the wide open vistas of the Lockyer Valley and the sense of moving away from the urban coastal belt. Don’t get me wrong – we love where we live near the coast, but this trip made me realise how much I’ve missed being away from the open spaces we used to enjoy in the Northern Territory.

We made our way up the Range via the obligatory ancestral route through Murphy’s Creek and a wander through the cemetery saying g’day to my Kunkel 2xgreat-grandparents and great-grandfather.

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The renovated Kunkel grave at Murphy’s Creek.

However, on this trip we also made time to lunch at Spring Bluff Railway Station. Of course we’ve known forever that it’s there, but there always seemed to be other priorities. I imagine it’s busy on the weekends but it was tranquil on a lovely mid-week Spring-like day. With the burst of warm weather, the flowers are coming into bloom early.

On Friday, I toddled off to the Catholic Diocesan Archives in Toowoomba where I’d made an appointment. I’ve rattled on many times about the benefits of checking parish registers for additional information…it’s amazing how much you can discover.

Lockyer and Toowoomba

This Google map could be called “Ancestral Pathways” as it lists so many towns and settlements where my family lived, worked and died.

Golf (or surf) widows are a common phenomenon, but for a few days Mr Cassmob got another large dose of being a genealogy widower. His Aussie ancestry is all from Victoria so there was nothing specific for him to follow up. However, he’s had lots of practice with my meanderings and this just one more. We tried to balance some of the genea-obsessiveness with touring options we haven’t taken up before. Our wander through the Japanese Garden at the University of Southern Queensland was a delight! Some of the trees were already in blossom, azaleas were starting to peek out and the landscaping is beautiful – definitely on the agenda to see it again a different season.

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Japanese Gardens at USQ.

Saturday was spent at the Toowoomba and Darling Downs Family History Society. I love that it’s aptly located adjacent to the enormous Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery (search burials here). The Society launched its third volume of Our Backyard, containing stories of those buried in the cemetery. Most are submitted by family members but some have been researched by society members. My submissions for Kunkel and Gavin family members, plus a few Germans, are in Volume 1. The Society has some great publications if you have Darling Downs ancestry. They are also very good at catering for their remote members.

After the book launch, and morning tea, we were treated to a very thought-provoking presentation by Queensland local and family historian, Janice Cooper. Janice encouraged us to think about scrutinising our sources and their merits, as well as seeking the content and analysing them for our conclusions. Very much worth listening to and something I’ll be revisiting.

A speedy AGM was followed by lunch. I was the post-lunch speaker and presented on The Marriage of Family and Local History as applied to Murphy’s Creek and using a variety of sources, of which it’s impossible to cover the whole spectrum. Like most marriages there might be offspring – and a One Place Study is one of them. I found it interesting to talk to a group familiar with the township and my mention of the former publican, Mr Bloom, certainly grabbed one member’s attention. My thanks to the society for giving me this opportunity.

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After our few days in Toowoomba we’d decided to stay out of town for the next couple of nights and booked a delightful cottage adjacent to the Ravensbourne National Park. It was chilly at night but we were cosy inside with a gas fire and it was a pleasure to wake up to the sound of kookaburras and honeyeaters in the grevilleas beside the deck.

Touring the area, we visited the Woolshed at Jondaryan as it was decades since we’d last been there. I’d known for some time that some of my relatives had worked there but we met up with the historian to see if he had any new information – strangely that included the letter I’d sent him with Kunkel and Gavin details many years ago <smile>. I’ve brought away some print-outs so that I can send him further information on some of my other interests eg Stephen and Mark Gavin. The station ledgers have been preserved for long periods of time, especially in the earlier times, largely because the property was in the same hands for a long time. You can check out the list of names in Mr Eggleston’s book or write to him at the Woolshed if you think your ancestor worked there. Don’t forget to provide him with some details of your family to add to his database.

Jondaryan was an enormous property back in its day and you can read some of its history on the website. Merino sheep were its forte and my great-grandfather George Michael Kunkel worked as a lamber for a few months in 1875, paid £1 a week. Lambs were valuable assets and hence the role of the lamber was important -he had to watch over them to protect them from animal marauders, help the ewes if there were difficulties with birthing and generally ensure the lambs well-being.

The Woolshed has some wonderful old buildings, not least being the woolshed itself which is the largest oldest still operating anywhere in the world. However, I was most interested in the shepherd’s hut since this is the type of accommodation inhabited by some of the early Dorfprozelten immigrants during their first employment contracts.

Along with sightseeing we enjoyed a yummy lunch at the Woolshed’s cafe: meals with bush tucker ingredients. We’ve also flagged Jondaryan as somewhere it would be good to camp – but perhaps not at a busy time. Nearby, the little Anglican church, St Anne’s, is simple yet beautiful so of course I had to buy the book on its history.

An error in navigation took us back to Murphy’s Creek which was fine as we wanted to check out the Fifteen Mile again. It was interesting to see that the old Kunkel property seems to be being expanded and now I’m dying of curiosity to know what’s happening and if it’s changed hands again.

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The old Horrocks’ barn – in a state of collapse, and the brick chimney of the house behind.

I also took a current photo of the old Horrocks’ barn, which appeared in my slideshow for the presentation. It is now “on its last legs” so I was pleased to take some photos while I could. As always the nearby cows looked on suspiciously, as they’ve done on every occasion when I’ve driven there.

All in all, a wonderful short holiday: learning + genealogy + genimates, balanced with touring on the Downs and chill-out time with Mr Cassmob.

[i] Named after a popular footballer who shares his surname with the region. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/rugby-league-legend-darren-lockyer-honoured-with-a-stretch-of-road/news-story/dee213cd3bb5c255d5430b3e6405a9e4

The orphaned Kunkel children

NFHM AlexIn Week 2 of Family Tree Frog’s NFHM Blogging Challenge, Alex asks us if there were secrets in our families, or were there tales of the Depression. However, as this week’s book, Careful He Might Hear You, focuses on an orphan and what happens when his aunt comes to take care of him, my thoughts immediately turned to my Kunkel orphans.

In November 1901, my great grandmother, Julia Celia Kunkel nee Gavin, died of a post-natal complication.  Just six weeks later, on Christmas Day 1901, her husband George Michael Kunkel died of a heart attack. All of a sudden their ten surviving children were left orphaned.

george &amp; julia possiblyADJ

I believe this MAY be a photo of Julia Gavin and George Michael Kunkel, based on dress styles, family resemblances and that it was with a group of Kunkel family photos.

The children and their age at the time they were orphaned were:

Denis Joseph Kunkel born 23 September 1880 at the 40 Mile Camp, Dalby (my grandfather), 21 years

Mary Ellen Kunkel born 7 December 1881, 20 years

Julia Beatrice Kunkel born 9 July 1883, 18 years

George Michael Kunkel born 18 October 1884 died Jimboomba 1 May 1899

Bridget Rose Kunkel born 9 July 1886, 15 years

James Edward (Jim) Kunkel born 6 June 1889, 12 years

Elizabeth Ann (Lily) Kunkel baptised 26 January 1891, 10 years

William Thomas (Bill) Kunkel born 7 November 1892, 9 years

Matthew David John (John) Kunkel born 28 April 1894, 7 years

Kenneth Norman (Ken) Kunkel born 27 August 1896, 5 years

May Camellia Kunkel born 30 April 1899, 2 years.

The children were therefore split roughly into two groups, with the eldest three being of working age and the younger six ranging from toddlers to being almost of an age to work. There are some variations compared to the ages on the death certificate but that’s unsurprising given the level of stress and grief. What on earth happened to all these young children? Their father left an estate of £433, thanks largely to a life insurance policy, which must have helped a little.

dinny jim &amp; friend

James (left), Denis (Centre) and unknown friend/relative c1917.

My grandfather Denis never talked about these horrible early days, though oral history from my parents said that he had contributed to the children’s upkeep (debated by others) and that he had maintained young Ken at a woman’s house next to the block of land Denis bought in Kelvin Grove. Ken’s descendant told me that she had treated Ken poorly and he’d run away. Having said that, I remember Ken visiting my grandfather in his old age – he would turn up in his van, covered in health food signage so he obviously still felt some affinity with his eldest brother.

What else could I learn? I turned to the school indexes prepared by Queensland Family History Society which are also available through Find My Past. While I had some of this information, even more is being indexed, which is very helpful when you haven’t a clue where the family might have gone. Even better, many of the school admission books are being digitised by the Queensland State Archives, as I’ve discovered today.

My earlier notes record that Jim Kunkel was enrolled at Wallumbilla State School[i] in January 1902 and left in Sept 1902. This suggests to me that he had been taken in by his aunts and uncles, either the Paterson or the Lee family who lived at Pickenjennie and Wallumbilla respectively. I’ve also been told that Jim worked for them on their farms as he would have done at home. Oral history revealed that Denis helped Jim get a position as a lad porter with the railway in 1911. Around the same time, Jim would become a part-time competitive boxer, before marrying and having a large family.

Julia Kunkel

Julia Kunkel

Mary Ellen Kunkel had married in June 1901, before her parents died. She had three children but the marriage was not a success.

Julia Kunkel worked as a domestic and in a hotel though she also lived with her grandparents at Murphy’s Creek for some time and her wedding reception was held there. I wonder whether some of the smaller children also lived there with them, at least some of the time. Unfortunately, the Murphy’s Creek School Admission Registers are only available from 1907 so we can’t know for sure. Julia married in 1910 and had a very large, happy family.

Although Bridget Kunkel was 15 when her parents died, she no doubt missed her mother’s guidance. She worked in hotels and sadly had two children out of wedlock, one of whom died in a baby farm at New Farm in Brisbane. Family secrets have a way of coming out when one visits the archives and explores the indexes for civil registrations.

While Bill Kunkel was enrolled, with his siblings, at the Geham State School in the final year of his parents’ life, there is no indication of whether he continued his education beyond 1901 and if so, where. Nor do we know with whom he lived until of age to go out to work. He too joined the railway (the family business), as a lad porter in Warwick in 1913, aged 21 (seems old?). He remained with the railway for the rest of his life, but tragedy struck when his son Robert (William Rudolph) Kunkel was reported Missing in Action in Korea in 1952. Bill and his wife Rosetta never got over their loss. Bill was one of the few siblings to stay in touch with brother Denis, who had some sort of falling out with the rest of them, reportedly over religion.

ken kunkel

Ken Kunkel

There is a mystery surrounding the younger children, Lily, John, Ken and May. Lily, John and Ken are enrolled at Laidley state school[ii] in 1902, but no family members are known to have lived there, and the registers didn’t enlighten me when I looked at them years ago. The only familiar name I could find was that of Elizabeth Marks, who had been named Executrix of their father’s will. Young May appears in the index of Laidley admissions in 1904 and John in 1906. Who were they living with? Time for some more research.

In between times May appears in the registers for Crow’s Nest[iii] school (1905 and 1908) and also Pechey[iv] school (1905). Lily also appears on the Crow’s Nest admissions register in 1902 and John at Geham[v] in 1903 and 1905. These seem more able to be explained. The children’s maternal grandfather, Denis Gavin, lived at Crow’s Nest around this time, and their uncle James Gavin, worked for the railway (yes, again!) in Pechey.

john kunkel off to war

John Kunkel

I have no record of where young Ken went to school though if the oral history is correct I would expect at least some of his education would have been at Kelvin Grove state school.

John’s daughter told me that her father hadn’t received “any” education and had no shoes until he was 14. John had been fostered out and worked hard as a dairyman for his foster parents, though we have no idea who they were.

Annie Kunkel, a younger cousin to all these Kunkel orphans, told me that Bill Kunkel had spent a “good bit of time with the grandparents” at the Fifteen Mile, Murphy’s Creek, and perhaps all of them came and went at some time.

Lily and May Kunkel

Lily and May Kunkel

May Kunkel would have been only 13 when she was enrolled at the Cooran state school[vi] near Pomona in 1912. Her guardian was a baker in Cooran and the only entry on the electoral rolls for a baker in Cooran is a James Hubert Jordan. This name means nothing to me in the broader family context so I’m left wondering if she had been sent to work there. At the time he would have been 66 years old and appears not to have had a wife living with him. A mystery indeed. May married at only 17 years old but her marriage failed fairly quickly…hardly surprising given the emotional turmoil she’d lived through at such a young age.

The death of their parents had a significant impact on these Kunkel orphans. The younger ones seemed to have been taken care of by relatives mostly but moved around regularly – hardly a settled life. Apparently the older ones survived with fewer emotional scars, but the younger group certainly did it tough. Ken and John remained good mates throughout their lives, enlisting in World War I together alongside their Gavin cousins.

[i] Queensland State Archives Item ID637218, Register – admissions, state school

[ii] Queensland State Archives Item ID635275, Register – admissions, state school

[iii] Queensland State Archives Item ID625192, Register – admissions, state school

[iv] Queensland State Archives Item ID639187, Register – admissions, state school

[v] Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 28004

[vi] Queensland State Archives Item ID639824, Register – admissions, state school

 

 

 

 

 

Trove Tuesday: The Kunkel family leaves Ipswich

Kunkel book cover cropThe people had to go where there was work for them and where there was a living. Wages were six shillings a day. They followed the establishment of the railway line right through. It’s been said that it’s a pity they ever left Ipswich because they could have bought something in Ipswich. But then there wasn’t the work.”

This is Anne Kunkel talking in 1988 about her grandparents, George and Mary Kunkel. In fact George had been quite busy in Ipswich in the early years, some of which I’ve been able to piece together from certificates, news stories and archives documents.

Over the years I’ve often wondered why the couple had left Ipswich, given their early activity there. However, I put it down to the wish for land, perhaps more so on the part of Mary Kunkel, coming as she did from a farm in Ballykelly townland, Co Clare. George Kunkel perhaps might have felt more comfortable in the small township of Ipswich, with its community echoing, a little, his home village of Dorfprozelten.

I knew from my timeline that George and Mary were both servants when they married in 1857. When daughter Catherine (Kate) was born in 1861 George was working as a pork butcher and they were living in Union Street. George’s occupation was further confirmed by discoveries in the Supreme Court records when he was a witness to the court case involving Carl Diflo[i]. It transpires George had been working as a pork butcher on the goldfields at Tooloom in northern New South Wales in 1859.

Newspapers further reveal that George had initiated a court case against Richard Gill for stealing three fowls. The paper refers to him as the “well known proprietor of a highly operative sausage-machine in this town[ii]. A later report states “No plea had been filed in this case, but the irresistible eloquence of the postmaster melted the obduracy of the Bench; the case was heard, and dismissed”[iii]. Behind those two statements lies a story I’d love to know but unfortunately have been unable to trace.

Two years later, in March 1864, when George and Mary’s daughter Louisa (registered as Elizabeth) was born, George stated his occupation as a boarding house keeper. Again, finding out more on this has proven challenging. It seemed he was doing okay, so what precipitated the move away from Ipswich.

Once again Trove solves a mystery. Firstly there’s two brief mentions in the Queensland Times of 8 July 1866 relating to the Petty Debts Court, Ipswich:[iv]

Charles Wilson v. Kunkel.–£6, dishonoured promissory note; costs, 5s. 

Charles Wilson v. Kunkel.-£8 2s. 6d., goods sold; costs, 5s. 

It seems George had cash flow problems as there’s nothing to suggest he typically reneged on his debts. The sequel to this ruling indicates he couldn’t, or didn’t, pay the debt. From the Queensland Times of 14 July 1866:

Wilson v Kunkel article123331889-3-001THIS DAY-AT 2 O’CLOCK. In the Court of Requests, District of Ipswich. WILSON v. KUNKEL. TAKE Notice that HUGHES & CAMERON have received instructions from the Bailiff of the Court of Requests to sell by Public Auction, at the Residence of the Defendant, East-street, THIS DAY (SATURDAY), the 14th Instant, at 2 o’clock sharp, 

The following GOODS and CHATTELS, the property of the Defendant in the above cause, seized under execution, unless the claim be previously satisfied :  1 handsome Carriage, 1 Cedar Table (Pine Top), 5 Chairs, 2 Forms, 1 Dressing Table and Cover, 2 Clocks, 2 Pictures, 1 Decanter, 1 Cruet Stand, 6 Tumblers, 1 Butter Basin and Glass, 3 Chimney Ornaments, 1 Double Cedar Bedstead, 1 Single Cedar Bedstead, 1 Box. 10 Stretchers, 1 Toilet Table, 3 Looking-glasses, 1 Jug and Basin, 2 Washstands, 2 Dressing Tables, 6 Mattresses, 4 Pillows, 2 Blankets, 1 Counterpane, 2 Plates, 4 Dishes, 1 Pine Table, 1 Pine Bedstead and Mattress, Crockery, Household and Kitchen Utensils, &c., &c.Terms: Cash on the fall of the hammer. No Reserve. Sale at 2 o’clock. 269

The couple had obviously worked hard over the nine years since their marriage as their property looks quite substantial for the time. There’s nothing to indicate whether the sale went ahead, though it seems likely to have done so. Surely if George had the money to pay the debts, a total of £14/12/6, he would have done so.

One of Fountain's Camps, possibly at Murphys Creek.

One of Fountain’s Camps, possibly at Murphys Creek.

It seems likely that this is the reason the Kunkel family left Ipswich and joined the movement on the railway line west. It’s also quite likely that George’s economic demise was related to the financial crisis in Queensland in 1866 given small businesses often take the hit first. This article tells the story of the economy of the time.

Ultimately this move led to the family settling on land at the Fifteen Mile on the outskirts of Murphys Creek. However, there’s one thing I’d still like to know, but likely never will: was George Kunkel the person referred to in this news story about Fountain’s Camp?

not only are there five stores, three butchers’ shops (another one just setting up), and two bakers, but we have actually a full-blown sausage-maker and tripe dealer, whilst vegetable carts are arriving every week from Ipswich and Toowoomba”. (Courier, 26 Jan 1866)

In my flights of fancy I’d like to think so – but the timing is wrong when compared to the events above. He certainly had the skills as further stories from Annie Kunkel reveal.

He (grandfather) went down to the creek which was quite close, just down the bottom of the hill where there was running water and he cleaned them thoroughly there – let the water run on them and turn them inside out and everything until they were thoroughly cleaned and then put them in a bucket over night and probably put salt with them and the next day the performance of making sausages! Grandfather made the sausages and he used to put mace and salt and different things like that in it. In the white puddings he put oatmeal and liver and that I think. The big oval boiler was where they’d be cooked on the open fire. You could hang them in the smoke house for weeks in the cold weather

How I wish George Kunkel hadn’t died in 1916, in the midst of the WWI anti-German sentiment – perhaps there’d have been an obituary to reveal a little more of his and Mary’s story.

Sources: Birth Certificates for Catherine and Elizabeth Kunkel; oral history recording with Anne Kunkel. Others as per endnotes.

[i] PRV11583-1-1 Queensland State Archives, now Item 94875. Equity Files, Supreme Court.

[ii] Queensland Times, Ipswich, 18 December 1861

[iii] Courier, Brisbane, 10 January 1862.

[iv] Queensland Times, Ipswich, 7 July 1866

Men of the Queensland Bush: Sepia Saturday 249

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

F is for the Fifteen Mile, Fromelles and Fleurbaix

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).

F is for the Fifteen Mile (Queensland)

The Fifteen Mile in Queensland would be unknown to most people except locals. Part way up the road between Murphys Creek and the Crows Nest road, it is mostly scrubby bush with little apparent activity. You can get a sense of its geography by clicking here. You can see that in amongst the trees and scrub, there is a cleared semi-valley and a smattering of buildings. This inconspicuous spot is where my 2xgreat grandparents Kunkel selected their land in 1874, paying it off over five years until the total £19/5/- was reached[i]. They had very nearly lost out on the land in a bureaucratic glitch when George Kunkel filed his claim in the Ipswich Lands office while Mr Pechey filed his in Toowoomba. By the time their land purchase was finalised in 1879, they had ringbarked 154 acres, cleared two acres and cultivated it with maize, stocked the land with cattle branded GK9, and a four room house had been built and was occupied by the “selector’s wife and family” while George himself was earning cash on the railways.

The old road down to the Kunkel property at the Fifteen Mile c1988 © P Cass 2010

Early land maps[ii] of the area from the Queensland State Archives, revealed the settlers who lived in the area. I was struck by the correlation of the names with some of those I knew had emigrated from Dorfprozelten. Further research proved this to be a small settlement of former Dorfprozelten people and their descendants. I doubt it was a deliberate ploy to settle together, rather that the land became available when they were eligible and they had saved some money. It was also not a well known area, but more likely to be known to those who had worked on the railway line through Murphys Creek.

George Kunkel had been clever in his selection of land because the creek ran below his property (you can see it if you enlarge the map – a snake like curve marks his boundary) but stepped down from his buildings. This gave him natural irrigation for his fruit orchards and grape vines. In recent decades the creek had dried up in the drought and bush fires were a very real hazard. However the drastic January 2011 floods affected the Fifteen Mile in a way I hadn’t fully understood until we drove through in July last year. I couldn’t believe my eyes to see trees up in trees and debris scattered high up the creek banks.

The old Horrocks property at the Fifteen Mile is now semi-derelict. Photo taken 1988 © P Cass

This small community gathered with those close by to play tennis and hold dances in the Horrocks’s barn, and shared their excess produce[iii]. Few people live in the area now and the names of old are gone: Horrocks, McLean, Stack, Jerrard, Zoller, Bodmann, Ganzer, Kunkel.

F is for Fromelles and Fleurbaix (France)

Rue Petillon cemetery, Fleurbaix.

Last year on the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles I wrote about my grandfather’s cousin, James Augustus Gavin. James was also the grandson of Denis and Ellen Gavin who you’ve met in the “D is for…” post ( I think they’re following me at present). Fromelles is also a pivotal battle for my husband’s great uncle. Despite participating in Gallipoli, it was the Battle of Fromelles which destabilised him with the shock of the huge losses of his men. I won’t go into more detail here but if you have time, please read a little more about this fierce battle in which 5533 Australian soldiers lost their lives or were wounded or missing.

The muddy fields of Flanders 1992. © P Cass

In recent years DNA sampling has been used to identify Australian Diggers (soldiers) buried in mass graves after the Battle of Fromelles…an amazing and sobering use of modern technology to bring closure to families, and allow these soldiers to be laid to rest under a named gravestone, no longer missing.

Our James Gavin was fortunate in a sense (if you can say that) in as much as he died early in the battle, perhaps even before it officially commenced. Consequently he was laid to rest in a known grave in the Rue Petillon cemetery at Fleurbaix (about 5kms from Amentieres). In November 1992, my husband and I made a pilgrimage to see his grave, and that of another of my grandfather’s cousins (James Paterson) at Villers Brettoneux.

Rue Petillon Cemetery, Fleurbaix, amidst the farm lands of Flanders. © P Cass 1992.

The cemetery at Fleurbaix is so peaceful, set amidst French farm land. As we parked the car, a local farmer gave us a nod of acknowledgement…they take their debt of loyalty quite seriously, it seems to me.  All was tranquil with birds singing and the distant sound of farm machinery. Farm buildings lie across the road and beside the cemetery. If you must die at war, then surely this is a place where you can truly lie at peace.

Across the road, the agricultural fields gave a clue of just how difficult it would have been to fight in those conditions at any time, let alone as winter approached. The deep plough furrows showed just how clay-y and sludgey the soil was as it took on water. I couldn’t begin to truly imagine what it would be like to try to advance the German front line in those conditions.

We were pleased to be able to pay our respects to a distant family member, and indirectly to my husband’s relative, Lt Col WEH Cass. Since 1992 I’ve learned a lot about Fromelles, a battle that had long been overshadowed by Gallipoli. If I was to do a battle field tour, it would be to the Western Front, I think, rather than Gallipoli, and definitely not on Armistice Day or Anzac Day so I can have time and peace to reflect on all that happened.


[i] Queensland State Archives PRV9882-1-740 (LAN/AG739) Deed of grant.

[ii] QSA Map Parish of Murphy, County of Cavendish, A3/18 1932.

[iii] Oral history from Anne Kunkel, granddaughter of George and Mary Kunkel.

Fearless Females #10 Religion: Catholic branches in my ancestry.

Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month #10: What role did religion play in your family? How did your female ancestors practice their faith? If they did not, why didn’t they? Did you have any female ancestors who served their churches in some capacity?

Religion played a pivotal role in my family and that of many of my ancestors. Unfortunately sometimes it was a divisive influence in situations where there were mixed marriages (Catholic+Other), or where adult “children” left the church causing separation from siblings or parents. As my family history research has taught me more about my families’ long term religious affiliations, I’ve often found it ironic that my “Catholic branch” actually has a mixed Methodist/Baptist and Catholic ancestry while my nominally “non-Catholic branch” was Catholic through-and-through for generations. Life’s little paradoxes.

The old decommissioned church from Murphys Creek now on a rural block at Upper Laidley. Photo copyright P Cass 2011.

I’ll talk a little about the Catholic branches of my family as I’ve found out more about them, and have a better understanding myself. In the early days of Queensland there were no churches and much depended on gaining the support of the community, Catholic and non-Catholic, to build new churches for the community. My family members were among those who subscribedto these collections to ensure that they could practice their faith in a place of worship. Before churches were built however, they were also said to be among those who had the Mass celebrated in their own home. This oral history was known in Ireland, even 150 years later, which is quite astonishing.

I wonder if they tired of funding one church after the other, as they moved to progressively more rural areas. Thanks to the local historian I learned that the little Catholic church which was built at Murphys Creek (no doubt with the aid of money from the Kunkels), is now a home library on a private block of land not too far away. While there’s quite a lot in the papers about its consecration at the time, I’ve not found a subscription list.

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Consecration of the family to the Sacred Heart: this would have hung in the farmhouse owned by the original Australian Kunkel family.

Father Dunne (later Bishop), who is known to have said Mass in bush homes around Toowoomba where my Kunkel ancestors lived, believed firmly that “in every country, and in every age, the farming districts were the chief abode of Faith, the choicest dwelling place of virtue”. He knew those agricultural areas around Toowoomba “to be studded over with pure and beautiful homes, as is heaven studded over with its silvery stars. In those homes the parents teach their children goodness, and the children repay by their innocence the parent’s care a hundredfold”.[1] I like this quote and the imagery it provides of parents bringing up their children in faith despite their distance from regular worship. Nonetheless I suspect Dunne was also prone to romanticising the rural lifestyle, glossing over the level of sheer hard work involved.

Catholic homes and families would be blessed and dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Very recently I’ve been given one of these Consecration “posters” which hung in my Kunkel ancestors’ first home, possibly when it was rededicated after my 2xgreat grandmother’s death.

Although I have no firm evidence for my view, I believe that it was probably my women ancestors who ensured the faith was carried forward, by teaching the children their prayers and taking them along to Mass when it was held. In those early pioneering days Mass was far from a weekly event but when the priest arrived on horseback, the faithful would gather together to celebrate: shepherds, stockmen, railway workers, wives and children.

My Catholic ancestry includes the following names: Kunkel, O’Brien, Gavin, McSherry/Sherry/McSharry.

My Methodist and Presybterian families remain under-researched, waiting for me to have discretionary time to follow them up in Queensland. One day!

My non-Catholic families are Melvin, Partridge, McCorkindale, Kent.

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[1] Published in the Catholic newspaper of the time, The Australian, 1 March 1884.