Trove Tuesday: The hazards of well-sinking

TOOWOOMBA. (1866, July 7). The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), p. 8. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20308490

I’d venture that well-sinking isn’t something most of us think too much about these days. In the pioneering days ensuring that your farm had sufficient water was critical to survival.  With no piped water for humans or stock, buying a block near running water like a creek (but not too close because of floods), was often a key consideration. Alternatively you might have to build a dam or a well.  Trove stories reveal that accidents to well-sinkers were frequent and often fatal.

Thanks to the indexes of the Toowoomba and Darling Downs Family History Society many years ago I found the story of the death of young Peter Conroy which I mentioned recently in my MI post. Of course these days it’s easier to find the same story via Trove. The newspapers in those days tended to graphic prose with all the gory details so I read how Peter’s brains were hanging out and his bones broken when the jumper they were using faulted.

Stephen Gavin was able to get his leg into the bucket so that he could be pulled up to the surface when help arrived. Peter died of his injuries but Stephen survived though his health was affected.

I suspect that Stephen Gavin was Peter’s relation, possibly his cousin, nephew or brother-in-law. My working hypothesis is that Peter is the brother or nephew of Annie Gavin nee Conroy, with whom he’s buried.[i]

Importantly, the newspaper story, and a nearly illegible inscription on the grave shared with the Gavin family, are the only traces of his death. Peter’s burial does not appear in the Drayton cemetery burial registers which commence later than his death, nor can I find his death indexed in the Qld BDMs. Without the work of TDDFHS, and later Trove, this man’s life in Australia would have gone completely unremarked.

Peter Conroy is not the only man to lose his life in this way and a quick search of Trove brings up other fatalities from well-sinking.

CORONER’S INQUEST. (1859, February 28). Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. : 1855 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved September 25, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87987337


[i] I told the story of this gravestone in the TDDFHS publication Drayton and Toowoomba Cemetery, Our Backyard, 2009, page 85.

Beyond the Internet: Week 18 Benevolent Asylums

This is Week 18 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week the topic is Benevolent Asylums. I’m going to talk primarily about the situation in Queensland as this is where my research has taken me. If you have used these records in other locations, please do share your story with a link to this page. In the case of Queensland the benevolent asylum was situated on Stradbroke Island in Moreton Bay (off Brisbane), in some ways an idyllic location.

Dunwich Benevolent Asylum c1890s State Library Qld Image picqld-2003-01-28-16-43 Copyright expired.

So what was the benevolent asylum? To quote from Queensland State Archives (QSA), “the function of Dunwich Benevolent Asylum as defined by the “Benevolent Asylum Wards Act of 1861” was to provide for poor people who because of age, accident, infirmity or otherwise, were unable to care for themselves”.[i] This particular asylum was open from 1865 to 1946 when the inmates were transferred to Eventide at Sandgate.

While this definition applies to Queensland’s benevolent asylum, circumstances were probably similar in other states. On the face of it, this makes the asylum sound very much like a UK workhouse. My own feeling is that it was less oppressive than the British equivalent with a more tolerant approach to its inmates. Perhaps there was an acceptance that having come half way round the world, the elderly and infirm may not have had anyone to fall back on for support. Nevertheless the bureaucratic process generated lots of information as they decided whether someone was truly eligible or was perhaps malingering, or more pertinently, if they had any family member who could take them in. For this reason it’s not surprising to find that family members may be “forgotten” when it came time to apply for admission. If you visit QSA, you will have the opportunity to check the card indexes and review admission books, letters, registers of discharges or deaths: in short lots of biographical information to round out your family history.

Trove once again enlightens us with photos, and other sources, regarding Dunwich Benevolent Asylum. I was also pleased to find a thesis on the asylum which is available online here.

My experience with the records have been limited as none of my direct family entered the asylum. However I have followed up another Gavin family which had several members admitted over the years. What I’ve found is that the information contained in the admission papers can be incredibly useful in rounding out what I know about the person, confirming hunches, and revealing marital and family separations. I’ll give you some examples of what I’ve learned from the records.

  1. Stephen Gavin #1, with his wife Honora, applied to be admitted to Dunwich Benevolent Asylum on 2 February 1889 when he became too frail to work and Honora was suffering from blindness. They had been living in western Queensland with a daughter and son-in-law who were no longer able to look after them. The couple died on Dunwich and were buried in an unmarked grave. Some 100 years laters a descendant and friend of mine, Carmel, erected gravestones in their memory. Stephen and Honora had survived the Great Potato Famine in Ireland and the drowning of their son early in their Queensland life.
  2. Carmel had also found that Honora had regular absences from Dunwich, presumably to visit with family.
  3. The Dunwich records helped me to confirm that an illegitimate child, registered as Stephen Telford, was indeed the son of Stephen Gavin junior (#2 and son of Mark Gavin) . The admission record also confirmed the children of Stephen Gavin and his wife/de facto Johanna even though their marriage is not registered in the civil indexes and provided information on their residences. This had been a “brick wall” ambiguity.
  4. It helped to confirm that Stephen’s (#2) father, Mark, was known as both Mark and Matthew -presumably to disguise Mark’s convict past. This too had been a “brick wall” ambiguity.

Stephen and Honora Gavin are the only migrants who I’ve found returning to Ireland then re-emigrating. For all that they were in an asylum, I’m pleased that their environment was so pleasant and they were well cared for. They would have been amazed by the successes of their descendants.

If your research interests are in other states, can I suggest that you google the relevant state and the term “benevolent asylum”. Meanwhile Cora Web provides a convenient gateway to asylums and hospitals here.

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

Battle of Fromelles: In Memoriam L/Cpl James Augustus Gavin KIA

Last night most of us slept peacefully in our beds, but ninety-five years ago a fierce and bloody battle was raging in France. That night Australia suffered a truly terrible loss of its young men akin to that at Gallipoli. Among the Australians readying for action on the evening of 19 July 1916 were my grandfather’s cousin, 30-year old, Lance Corporal James Gavin of the 31stBattalion and Lieutenant Colonel Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass (54th Battalion), my husband’s grandfather’s brother (ie his great-uncle). Before the night was over James Augustus Gavin would be dead and Walter Cass would be emotionally damaged by all he’d seen, despite being a professional soldier and survivor of Gallipoli.

Capt Dexter (left) and Lt Col WEH Cass (right) at Gallipoli. Photo J02530 from Australian War Memorial no longer in copyright. Walter Cass looks remarkably like my brother-in-law in this photo (or vice versa).

This battle on 19th/20th July 1916 became known as the Battle of Fromelles. This quote from HR Williams of the 56th Battalion is indicative of this battle’s ferocity in which 5533 men were killed, wounded or missing:

“Men who had fought on Gallipoli from the Landing to the Evacuation, admitted freely that Fromelles was the severest test they had seen.”[i]

James Augustus Gavin was 29 years and 3 months and a stockman when he enlisted on 9 July 1915. He was 5 feet 11 inches with a dark complexion, gray eyes and dark hair. He was the son of James Gavin and Mary Elizabeth Drift and was born at Jondaryan on the Darling Downs on 20 March 1886. Five of their sons, including James, joined up and served in World War I, along with four of the boys’ cousins from the Kunkel family. Four of the younger cousins (Stephen & Patrick Gavin and John & Ken Kunkel) travelled together to Europe on the same ship the Port Sydney in 1917. This family seemed to have good networks with the newspapers and snippets would regularly appear in The Toowoomba Chronicle or the Darling Downs Gazette.

Enlistment photo of Photograph of James Gavin in The Queenslander of 2 October 1915, page 24.

Disembarking in Marseilles only a month earlier, Fromelles was to be James’s first and last battle: his service record lists him as “Killed in action” in the field, France. His family was perhaps fortunate that his body was recovered unlike many in massed graves whose names are only now being identified through DNA. James Gavin was buried in the Rue Petillon cemetery by Rev James Green, a Methodist chaplain attached to the 14th Brigade (of which Cass was part). Although coming from a staunchly Catholic family it’s likely his parents would have been grateful that his interment was prayerful and blessed.

Captain Green referred to the Battle of Fleurbaix (his name) saying it “will probably be found to be the most expensive battle ever fought by the AIF and the most desperate”. He describes the 20th July as follows: “our bearers at the risk of their lives, were bringing in our men…we had a sad day of helping the wounded and burying the dead”. It seems likely that James Gavin’s body was among those recovered and interred that day.[iii]

Trove has again revealed the news in The Brisbane Courier 12 August 1916, page 7: CROW’S NEST, August 11. Cablegrams have been received through the Defence Department stating that Private Eddy Richardson, of Glenaven, was killed in France on July 6, and Private James Gavin, of Pechey, near Crow’s Nest, was also killed. Both lads were well known and most popular in the district. The late Private Gavin was one of three brothers who enlisted.

 The local newspaper published this telegram under “obituary”: Died Flanders: On 19 July No 482, Lance Corporal J Gavin, 31st Battalion. Please break news through Roman Catholic clergyman to Mr J Gavin at Pechey and convey deepest sympathy King, Queen and Commonwealth Government on loss the relatives and army have sustained”. Major Darcy.[iv]

After the war, families were asked to nominate what they wanted on their son’s gravestone. James Gavin senior’s initial nomination was[v]:

L/Cpl James Gavin's gravestone in Rue Petillon cemetery: the family's inscription can be read.

A sorrowing people cried aloud

That they were of their hero proud

He helped to build his country’s name

And died in bringing her to fame.

As this exceeded the army’s maximum letters, the family then nominated:

Though nothing can the loss replace

A dear one taken from our side

Rest in peace.

Even this exceeded the army’s limit so “rest in peace” was removed and the final inscription resolved.

The location of James Gavin's grave in Rue Petillon cemetery November 1992.

In November 1992 my husband and I made a pilgrimage to see the graves of the two family members killed on the Western Front: James Gavin at Fleurbaix and James Paterson remembered on the  Villers Brettoneux memorial. James Gavin’s grave is situated in the Rue Petillon cemetery (formerly called Eaton Hall cemetery) amidst tranquil rural French farms. A farmer passing by nodded as we looked through the cemetery, perhaps an informal acknowledgement of the Australian contribution. Although the location is now so peaceful, the glutinous dirt in the adjacent fields provided an insight into the horrendous conditions the soldiers fought through in many battles. I don’t know whether any of his direct family have had the opportunity to visit his grave but it was a privilege for us to remember him in this way.

James had left his meagre possessions to his sister in a basic army will. When returned to Australia via the Beltana in 1917, his belongings were his identity disc, wallet, photo, metal wrist watch and strap, and a religious book. His mother seemed to be under the impression it had been sent to her as she mentions “a mother is always anxious to fit (?) any little token to remind them of the lost one”. Similarly the family had to follow up the medals which had been issued to James posthumously: the Victory Medal, the 1914-15 Star and the British War medal.

James and his brothers are remembered on the Crows Nest memorial in Queensland. Like many other World War I soldiers from Queensland, his photo was included among those in The Queenslander newspaper (John Oxley library now has an index of these but I don’t believe it’s online).

For many years the Battle of Fromelles was comparatively unknown by the Australian public, perhaps seen as a defeat because of the necessary withdrawal, however over the past twenty or so years I’ve seen it gain a higher profile. Now that DNA is being used to identify the bodies of Australian soldiers in massed graves and they are being laid to rest, it is gaining its rightful place in Australia’s ANZAC history. Anyone with an interest in this battle will gain many insights from Corfield’s book Don’t forget me, cobber with its warts and all analysis.

I haven’t done much on this family for a while and have only just discovered a reference to these brothers on the archived Australian Light Horse forum. Posted by Louise Gavin it says “I have photos of George, James -also of the 5th light horse on the move in Egypt, captured turkish gun and a few more. I also have a print (60 x 40 cm) my

In Memoriam: Crows Nest Memorial to those who gave their lives in World War I.

great uncle George brought back in 1919 of the Shellal Mosaic. I have a War Relatives medal as displayed on the AWM website of the WW1 badge and four bars for the five brothers also- presented to my great grandmother on the Prince of Wales visit to Toowoomba in 1920.” Louise if you’re out there please get in touch, I’d love to make contact and hear more from your side of the family. I have a large group photo which I suspect includes Gavin family members but I can’t identify them though my grandfather, Denis Kunkel, is one of the people in the image.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again,
They sit no more at familiar tables of home,
They have no lot in our labour of the daytime,
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires and hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the night.

As the stars shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are stary in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

                                             Laurence Binyon

Quoted on http://www.lighthorse.org.au/


[i]From his book, The Gallant Company 1933, referenced in Don’t Forget Me Cobber, page 127.

[ii] Australian War Memorial, War Diary 31st Battalion, 8th Brigade, Appendix D, page 9.

[iii] R S Corfield, Don’t forget me Cobber: the Battle of Fromelles 19/20 July 1916: An Inquiry, page 361.

[iv] Darling Downs Gazette 15 August 1916, page 4, column 6.