Without a doubt, we all owe a debt of gratitude to our immigrant ancestors, because without their courage either we would not be here or our lives would be completely different. There are many characteristics we might associate with them: integrity, inspiration, intelligence, independence or initiative. Unless they were “doctors, lawyers, or Indian chiefs”, as the old saying goes, it’s easy to assume they had little influence on the world. However, looked at more closely, they often did. Perhaps not in grand ways in court or parliament or medical discoveries or military achievements, but in more nuanced ways that affected the communities they lived in and perhaps the broader community.
I think this was particularly the case with immigrants who arrived in a new colony where the social infrastructure was minimal. They had it within their capacity to make changes that would last over the decades. My roots are firmly established in Queensland. Eight of my direct ancestors arrived in the mid-1850s, before the Moreton Bay Colony separated from New South Wales in 1859, becoming the colony of Queensland. Another three, great-grandparents, were born here before 1859. This meant they could play a fundamental role in building up their communities over time. While none of these influences were earth-shattering or headline news, an excavation of the news stories on Trove lets me get a sense of their more pragmatic and subtle influences.
My McSherry/McSharry ancestors were heavily involved with the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society (HACBS) and were lifelong members wherever they lived. My great-grandfather Peter McSherry was a founding member and Treasurer of the HACBS in Longreach.
Peter’s son, James McSherry, was also involved as an active member and position holder through his life. Back when I first started my family history I wrote to the society in Brisbane to see what information they might hold, and to my delight was given some of his sashes that had been stored there long past his death.
Similarly, R Kent was an inaugural member of the Hope of Ipswich tent of the Independent Order of Rechabites. What we don’t know is whether this was my 3xgreat grandfather, Richard Kent, or his son.
My maternal grandfather, J J McSherry, was an active member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) as evidenced by newspaper advertisements.
He also put his name forward for election as an ALP candidate (he was unsuccessful).
And then he was also active as the Queensland Railway Union secretary….was he ever home I wonder?
Meanwhile my paternal grandfather, D J Kunkel, also served with railway associations as a young man.
RAILWAY DEPARTMENT. (1909, June 28). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 2. Retrieved April 10, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176131985
When you touch the life of a man of this generation, that influence is felt through generations yet to come. Gordon B Hinckley, clergyman
Cultural and Sporting Influences
One of the most surprising things I’ve learned about my McSherry ancestors was their engagement in what might be called cultural activities. Peter McSherry was the bandmaster for the Longreach Brass Band conducting the band and teaching pupils to play. Even my mother was astonished as this involvement with music was unknown to her entirely, and yet her father was also secretary to the Townsville Railway Band. Newspapers can reveal so many unexpected stories.
My McCorkindale kin brought the sounds of Scotland to Australia with their piping and Highland dance as well as engagement with Highland Societies and Burns Club. My grandmother’s brother, Duncan McCorkindale, was an early member in Canberra and judged some of the competitions. His brothers, Peter and Malcolm competed throughout Queensland and Peter also performed on radio and volunteered with various charity performances.
While I knew of the family’s Highland traditions I was surprised to discover that D McCorkindale was also involved with soccer in early Canberra…perhaps it was his son, my grandmother’s nephew.
Political and Civic Influences
If we look to the heart of the nation’s capital, what could be more pivotal than being involved with the construction of Old Parliament House. Duncan McCorkindale was Foreman of the Joiners’ Workshop for the Federal Capital Commission. Perhaps if you’ve visited, you’ve touched some of his work, or that of the men he supervised.
My 2xgreat grandfather, George Mathias Kunkel, was actively involved in civic matters from the early days, voting in elections and also signing petitions for a variety of topics from one to support Ipswich becoming a municipality to objecting to Johann Heussler as Continental Immigration Agent for Queensland.
But by far, the one I’m most impressed by is the signature of Hannah Partridge (nee Kent, my 2xgreat grandmother) on the Women’s Christian Temperance Union petition for female suffrage in Queensland. From my searches, none of my other male or female ancestors had signed the petition, either by intent or circumstance. See https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/explore/history/suffrage/Signatories
While this story has focused on the men in my family line and how they’ve influenced their society, we cannot ignore the women. The men may have been in the public domain “making a difference” but the women were home, taking care of the family and influencing their children, and so society, in a more indirect but no less significant way. They were also often catering for and promoting the activities their menfolk were engaged with. It’s obvious that their husbands would not have been able to be involved with public life without the vast support of the “hand that rocks the cradle”.
What have you found out about your family’s influence, great or small?