Trove Tuesday: Joseph Francis Kunkel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[i] Synchronous with acute massive liver necrosis.

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

(iii) Queensland State Arhives, Intestacy JF Kunkel.

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

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

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

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

Villers-Brettoneux © P Cass 1992

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Beyond the Internet Week 13: Lest we forget: War Memorials

This is Week 13 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week’s topic is War Memorial and Plaques.  I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your thoughts on this topic. If possible please provide a link to your post on this page.

Of the Beyond the Internet topics, this is probably one of the most obvious. It’s likely that if you had ancestors or relatives who served in a war, you will have tried to find some memorial to them. In Australia there would hardly be a town, no matter how small, that doesn’t have a memorial to the men (and some women) of the district who served and especially for those who gave their lives. Depending on the size of the town you may find the servicemen on one side of the memorial and those who died on another. There is often a commonality to the type of monument with the Digger, arms at rest, on the top. Still there are others which show a different stylistic approach.

Roma's Avenue of Heroes: a row of bottle trees.

The town of Roma in western Queensland chose to honour its fallen men by an avenue of bottle trees, called the Heroes Avenue. One of my grandfather’s cousins, James Paterson, is honoured in the Avenue. The historic Gallipoli Memorial near the Roma St Transit centre in Brisbane has certainly not registered with me. More recent memorials take a less stylised structure than the World War I structures. The ultimate memorial is of course the Australian War Memorial’s bronze Rolls of Honour near the Hall of Memory.

How did these memorials become such an important architectural feature of our townscapes? The impact of the war affected every town, and directly or indirectly, almost every family. The Australian War Memorialsays that from a population of less than five million, 416,809 men enlisted and 60,000 were killed while 156,000 were wounded gassed or taken prisoner. In practical terms this means that about 15 men in every hundred men served, and of these half were killed, injured etc.

Returned soldiers in uniform surrounding the Digger War Memorial in Chinchilla ca. 1920 SLQ image 4579, copyright expired.

At the recent talk by Dr Tom Lewis, he suggested that these monuments were a way for families to honour their men-folk whose graves they were unlikely to ever see. This seems quite a logical conclusion to me, but perhaps they also served another purpose: to give the families some practical way to ensure their dead would not be forgotten.

If you’re unable to visit your Australian ancestral town in person right now, the internet does provide an alternative way of seeing these memorials. Picture Australiaand Google both provide a way of seeing these iconic features. The notes on the photographs may also tell you more. For example I’ve learnt that the War Memorial in Chinchilla includes the original base while the Digger has been moved to the RSL Club…shame I didn’t know that when I visited.

The updated Chinchilla War Memorial photographed in 2011.

Without a doubt using the internet to help us locate these memorials can be invaluable and we’d be foolish to forgo that complementary process.  For example I’ve just found there is a huge memorial to all Toowoomba Railway employees who served in World War I: something to add to my “to do” list for the next visit. Queensland has a War Memorials Register as I’ve just discovered and it would be an invaluable tool. Other states seem to have similar resources.

A word of caution: there are plaques I’m aware of that are that I’m not finding on the register. There is/was an honour board at Central Railway Station for WWI railway employees which I’ve not found in situor on the register (another “to do” activity). Wallumbilla’s honour board does not appear nor does the small one for Murphys Creek.

The Murphys Creek (Qld) World War I Memorial Board taken P Cass c1988.

Some of these only come to light by reading local or occupation histories, and may include your relative’s name.

As we move into April and Australia’s remembrance of Anzac Day, you might like to research your family’s presence on a memorial, either in person, or if that’s impossible, then online.

Wallumbilla Roll of Honour. Murphys Creek is really a small hamlet while Wallumbilla is a small rural town. Despite this their wartime contributions were significant.

Murphys Creek WWII War memorial

International Women’s Day – Ellen Gavin, Julia Kunkel and Johanna Gavan

This is possibly George & Julia Kunkel on their wedding day  Today is the centenary of International Women’s Day and an appropriate day to honour our female ancestors. I have chosen to highlight the lives of my great-great-grandmother Ellen (Murphy) Gavin and great-grandmother Julia (Gavin) Kunkel as well as an unrelated friend.  Their lives were so much harder, and stoic, than ours and I thank them for their contribution to our family and our country.

Among the unmarked graves in the Old Roman Catholic section of the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery is one where my women ancestors from the Gavin family are buried: Ellen Gavin and her daughter Julia Kunkel née Gavin. Also buried with them is an unrelated friend, Johanna Gavin (aka Gavan)[1]. Despite the sacrifices they made for their families and the roles they played in the development of their new country, their lives have passed unremarked by posterity.

 Ellen Gavin, with her husband Denis Gavin, and daughter Mary Gavin aged 2, arrived in Moreton Bay on the Fortune on 18 December 1855 having left Liverpool on 3 September 1855. Eleanor (aka Ellen) Gavin was 24, a Catholic whose native place was Wicklow. Her parents were James and Annie Murphy. Her father was dead but her mother was living in Wicklow. Her husband Denis was a farm labourer, aged 23 and a Catholic. His native place was Kildare, where his mother was still living. His parents were Denis and Mary Gavin.  Ellen could read but Denis was illiterate. Information on her death certificate indicates she was born in Davidstown, County Kildare.  Their daughter Mary Gavin, born in Dublin, was two years old. From her husband’s obituary and her first child’s birth, it is believed that Denis, and probably Ellen, were employed to work for Mr Gordon at Wallumbilla station out near Roma. In 1855 this area was near the edge of European settlement so the isolation must have been quite a shock to the new immigrants. Denis was employed as a carrier travelling between Wallumbilla and Ipswich so he would have been away for many weeks at a time. Unless Ellen was able to travel with him on his journeys, a rough and demanding life, it is likely that she was often left alone on the property to take care of the children, and possibly had responsibilities to the station owner. Their first Australian-born child, James, was born at Binbian Downs station on 3 June 1857 and baptised by Father McGinty in Dalby in 1858.

 The family must have moved into Dalby soon after this, probably when his employment contract finished, as Denis’s name appears there on various records. Denis continued to work as a carrier while they were in Dalby and their second daughter Julia Gavin was born there on 15 November 1859. Another daughter Rosanna Ellen Gavin was born 20 December 1864 and died 27 March 1865. Like many of our women ancestors, Ellen’s life is not visible in official records. Throughout she would have supported her husband and children, helping to establish a family life for them in their new home while reconciling herself to her infant’s death. As her children were devout Catholics it must be assumed that their mother played an important part in their religious training.

The family were living in Toowoomba by 1876 and Denis worked for a while as a gardener. On 28 March 1896, Ellen Gavin died at her residence in Seaton Street, Toowoomba. The death notice refers to her as the “beloved wife of Denis Gavin” and “mother of Mr James Gavin of Pechey and Mrs Kunkel of Jimboomba”. She was 74 years old and “formerly an old and respected resident of Dalby”.[2] Her death certificate indicates that she had given birth to 2 males and 5 female children, although we know only of the son and 3 daughters. Ellen was buried in the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery on 29 March 1896.

Julia Gavin, Ellen and Denis’s daughter, was baptised in Dalby by Father McGinty on 25 June 1860 in front of witnesses John Healey and Barbara Ross. She married George Michael Kunkel at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Dalby on 17 August 1879. George had commenced employment with Queensland Railways as a ganger in August 1878. Throughout their married life they moved around southern Queensland, working on the railway line near Dalby, Beaudesert (1896), Jimboomba, Highfields (1899), Grantham and Geham (1901). Julia and George had eleven children whose birth places reflect the family’s railway postings. My grandfather, Denis Joseph Kunkel, the couple’s eldest child, was born at the Forty Mile Camp near Dalby in 1883. His birth in a railway camp highlights the huge challenges and risks that our women ancestors faced in delivering their children and caring for their families. As time progressed Julia also worked as a gate-keeper for the railway at Gowrie (1886) and at the 27 Mile on the Beaudesert line (1890).[3] 

Julia Kunkel  nee Gavin died from post-natal complications of puerperal fever and a septic embolism. Her obituary reports that she had been operated on without anaesthetic because she had a weak heart, a terrifying and horrendous situation. The doctors deemed her operation a success but her family would disagree.[4] She died aged only 42 years, on 20 November 1901, leaving behind her husband, George Michael Kunkel, and ten children ranging in age from 21 down to 2.  (Julia’s obituary is included at the end of this story). Only a month later the children were orphaned when their father also died suddenly, on Christmas Day 1901. Julia Kunkel was buried from her father’s residence in Seaton Street, Toowoomba and laid to rest with her mother in the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery on 21 November 1901. The full story of Julia and George Michael Kunkel is told in Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel family.

Ellen and Julia are among the many unacknowledged women pioneers of Queensland whose lives have largely passed unnoticed. However their social contribution has not been insignificant with many descendants living in Queensland or around Australia, including some high profile achievers. There is no known photograph of Ellen. The photograph included may be Julia and her husband George, a conclusion based on various factors.

Buried with Ellen and Julia is another unrelated Gavin (or Gavan) woman, Johanna Gavin. Years of research have established no genetic relationship between the women so it must be assumed that there was a link of friendship as they had lived in the same area for many years. Perhaps sharing a surname was a further link. Johanna Gavin nee Mackin or Macken was the estranged wife of Stephen Gavin, son of Mark Gavan, a convict from Galway. Johanna Mackin sailed on the Southesk which departed London on 17 March 1877 and arrived at Moreton Bay on 4 June 1877. She was a single woman of 22, who had paid her own fare and so was classified as “free” not “assisted”. It is unlikely Stephen had paid her fare as Johanna came from Tipperary while Stephen was from Galway. Stephen and Johanna’s marriage does not appear in the indexes but as their children’s births record both parents’ names it is assumed they were married. Their children were Peter Michael Gavin (b 1880), Johanna Gavin (b 1881), Bridget Gavin (b 1884 d 1885) and John Gavin (b 1890). The family were living at Fairy Land, Maida Hill in 1890 but by 1895 when Stephen applied to be admitted to Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, the couple were living apart. Johanna Gavin worked as a cook at the Commercial Hotel in Allora and later in Ruthven Street, Toowoomba, possibly at the Shamrock Hotel. Johanna Gavin died on 17 May 1913, aged 54 years. Her husband Stephen was still alive at the time. Perhaps it was an act of charity that Denis Gavin permitted her to be buried with his wife, Ellen Gavin and daughter Julia Kunkel.

OBITUARY: Darling Downs Gazette 21 November 1901

We sincerely regret to have to record the death of Mrs George Kunkel, wife of the respected railway ganger of Geham, and daughter of Mr Denis Gavan (sic), of this town. The deceased was born in Dalby and was 42 years of age, and leaves a husband and 10 children to mourn the loss of a good wife and mother. Deceased, who had been ailing for some time, came in about a week ago to consult Dr McDonnell, who found her to be suffering from a serious internal disorder and at once pronounced the case to be hopeless. On account of the weak state of her heart, the doctors could not administer chloroform and had to perform an operation without its aid. Although the operation was a success, the patient’s constitution was too weak to make the recovery and she gradually sank and expired at 3.45 on Wednesday morning. The husband is at present also in a poor state of health.  Deceased throughout her life has been a particularly devout adherent of the Roman Catholic Church.  The deepest sympathy is felt for the bereaved husband and children in their terrible loss. The funeral leaves Mr D Gavin’s residence off Seaton St at 2 o’clock this afternoon.


[1] Roman Catholic section 1, block 16, allotments 18 and 19.

[2] The Chronicle, Death notices, 4 April 1896.

[3] Queensland Government Railways: index to staff employed in various departments and stations 1889-1912, Caloundra Family History Research Inc., Caloundra, 2007.

[4] Darling Downs Gazette, 21 November 1901.

[5] Cass, P. Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel family, Darwin, 2003.