It started with poor Kitty


We constantly sing the praises of Trove, the free Australian digitised information that leads us to stories of our ancestors. I don’t know about you, but I tag and I add stories to my 67 lists most of which are public. It’s really only research projects in transit that I keep private. Sometimes I even add a reason to my list addition as to why I’ve included that story. What I don’t always do, is write up what I find and include it on my blog or my tree or whatever. I tend to think “well, it will be there when I need it”. Today’s story started with a news article I tagged and listed some time ago, and then found extra information – we know family history is never quite finished.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 4. (1866, August 9). Dalby Herald and Western Queensland Advertiser (Qld. : 1866 – 1879), p. 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article215449120

I confess I haven’t written as much about my Gavin ancestors as I might have other than Irish discoveries or the death of my great-grandmother Julia Kunkel nee Gavin. However, today’s story starts when Julia was still a little girl of about six. Her father had finished his early contract on the Condamine, and the family had moved to Dalby where Julia was born and baptised.

DG is confirmed as the brand for Denis Gavin via the brands index.

Why should I be surprised that the dramas started with a cow, given how passionate the Irish are about their land and assets, and the financial value thereof. However, unlike Famine times, it wasn’t the Irish who were responsible for the “theft of a cow”. Rather it started with the theft of poor Kitty, the family’s milking cow who was in calf. It seems that the men employed by Ross and Gordon, local butchers, decided to take possession of poor Kitty, the cow.

Somehow Julia’s mother, Ellen Gavin, heard on the gossip vine that Kitty had been taken to the slaughter yards where she saw the head and hide of her former pet and milking cow. She was so distressed that she couldn’t even remember the person who showed them to her. Kitty had been fed by Julia’s older sister who came on the Fortune with her parents in 1855. Kitty was a family pet, and was in calf, as well as being needed, no doubt for the family’s milk supply.

Given all this it seems strange that Julia’s mother, Ellen Gavin, couldn’t remember when she’d last seen the cow. After all, dairy cows are milked twice a day to the best of this urban person’s knowledge.However, it is touching that she was “crying and (in) passion, was unable to recognise the man who showed her the hide and head. It’s also interesting that Ellen has responsibility for buying and selling when her husband, Denis is away.

Denis Gavin was away when the case was brought to court but by the Tuesday 7 August 1866, he had returned to Dalby from Toowoomba and was questioned in court. Ross and Gordon were committed for trial at the District Court in September 1866 and remanded in custody until then, bail being denied.

All was not well in the Gavin household, though, and it seems Denis disagreed that his wife should have reported the theft of the cow to the police magistrate.

DALBY POLICE COURT. (1866, August 23). Dalby Herald and Western Queensland Advertiser (Qld. : 1866 – 1879), p. 2. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article215452937

Only two weeks later it was her husband that Ellen reported to the Police magistrate saying she’d been assaulted by her husband “in consequence of having given information about the cattle stealers and she was afraid of her life being taken in consequence of his violence“. I had to smile, ironically, at Denis saying there was no point trying to find the sureties required as “he felt quite certain he should try to break the peace within an hour of his liberation”. Unsurprisingly, the Bench decided he needed some time to cool down. Was this a typical event for the family? I don’t know, not having found (as yet) other similar events? For all that the popular belief was that Irish people were much put upon, there’s no shortage of evidence in Ireland, that defaulting to violence was not uncommon. However, I was sad to think of my great great grandmother being assaulted by her husband, and that he would descend to that level. Somehow I’ve had the impression of him being a “hail fellow well met” sort of person.

What all this means is that there’s the potential for some primary records to be found in the archives when I can find my way there.

Advertising (1867, January 26). Dalby Herald and Western Queensland Advertiser (Qld. : 1866 – 1879), p. 3. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article215450711

The finale to this story of poor Kitty is in two parts. When Ross and Gordon were brought before the court for trial, the evidence was dismissed but there’s no indication why. All I can think is that because they weren’t actively involved they may have been shown leniency. I know that Chief Justice Lutwyche’s record books are at Queensland State Archives, so perhaps I’ll be lucky.

THE UNEMPLOYED. (1866, September 12). The Toowoomba Chronicle and Queensland Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1875), p. 2. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212787324

Meanwhile it might be said that Denis Gavin had the last laugh, as Ross and Gordon filed for insolvency and he applied for two amounts of L26/7/-/

NOTES AND NEWS. (1867, February 9). Dalby Herald and Western Queensland Advertiser (Qld. : 1866 – 1879), p. 2. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article215452699

Denis wasn’t about to be caught a second time by theft of his property and stock.

Advertising (1867, January 26). Dalby Herald and Western Queensland Advertiser (Qld. : 1866 – 1879), p. 3. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article215450711

So the abduction and theft of poor Kitty meant the loss of an asset, a pet, and a food source. It resulted in the insolvency of a Dalby business, contributed to a family domestic, and greater caution from the Gavin family. What a tale/tail!

The original story was reported in both the Dalby Herald and the Darling Downs Gazette, but the former was much clearer.

13 thoughts on “It started with poor Kitty

  1. Is it possible that Ellen’s husband Dennis sold the cow without her knowledge and that is why he was angry she reported the missing cow as being stolen and that is why Ross and Gordon were acquitted? I see though he denied selling cows ever though.

    Nevertheless poor kitty and poor Ellen

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    • It’s possible for sure….or he was cross that she was home on the grog with someone else. I wondered in Ross and Gordon were acquitted because it was their subordinates who were on the frontline. Great story though isn’t it?!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When we milked goats, we would not milk them as they were going to kid. If the cow had dried up, she may have been out to pasture.

    How awful they slaughtered the cow, and she about to calf. Did they have a grudge against the family, I wonder.

    And the violent beating, for shame!

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    • I told you I was a city slicker 😉 It makes eminent sense that they wouldn’t milk her if she was about to calf, but yes, how horrid to slaughter her then. And gruesome to be handing round poor Kitty’s head. I suspect the company was “just” being generally dodgy rather than specific to the Gavins, based on other stories.
      I was quite shocked, and dismayed, by the beating.

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  3. Congratulations! Your blog is included in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
    https://thatmomentintime-crissouli.blogspot.com/2020/08/friday-fossicking-21st-aug-2020.html
    Thank you, Chris
    TROVE surely is a treasure trove, though at times we find some things totally unexpected , and in this case, somewhat revolting, in the killing of the cow and wife bashing… Still, we sure to get to ‘know’ our ancestors far better than any of them could have imagined. Makes me wonder what our descendants will find on us…

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