Crazy month of May 2020 meme: pandemic experiences

Image by Devanath from Pixabay

In the past we’ve done the May Music Meme 2012 and the May Movie Meme 2016. It occurred to me that perhaps we should have a meme which captures our response to the hopefully-once-in-a-lifetime May that we’ve just navigated….it might be a way to preserve the tip of our experiences. Remember that many blogs are being archived in Pandora so perhaps this is a way for our descendants to learn about our experiences during the covid-19 crisis.

If you’re so inclined, why not join me in completing this meme. Be as brief or lengthy as you like and feel free to add more than one response to a question.

What are you most grateful for during this covid-19 crisis?

What have you missed most during the full or partial lock-down?

Has your hobby sustained you during this time?

What changes have you seen in your life over May 2020?

Have you been exercising more or less?

Has the refrigerator been your friend or foe?

Have you been participating in virtual gatherings with friends or family?

Have you taken up new hobbies during the lockdowns?

Are you cooking or gardening more?

Have you shopped more or less? Online or offline?

What have you found to be the strangest change to your life?

Have you found the changes and experience stressful/anxious/worrying?

How have the closures affected your local community?

Have in-person meetings been replaced with virtual meetings via Zoom, Skype etc?

Do you enjoy the virtual meeting format?

Are you working from home instead of in your usual place of work?

Have your habits changed over the past months?

Have you had to cancel travel plans for pleasure or family?

Do you think you’ll be able to travel in 2020?

Have you/others been wearing masks when out and about in your area?

Will you change your lifestyle after this experience?

Since it seems I conjure up one of these memes every four years, you and I will be free now until 2024. I’ll collate the responses into a blog post next week. If possible please link back so I know you’ve memed along with me.

Serendipity, Skills and Talents

S2020Serendipity (that magic conjunction of different thoughts and outcomes) has been a gift for which I’m very grateful. How else to explain my start in family history? I had been visiting a historical-themed event in William St, Brisbane with our youngest daughter when we came across a tent promoting the Genealogical Society of Queensland. On a whim I decided to join up – I think mainly because I was curious about the origin of my Germanic surname. And there, in that moment of serendipity, commenced a thirty-year love affair with discovering the stories of my ancestors. It’s kept me sane in difficult times and has always presented a challenge or two along the way. Even within this journey there are moments of serendipity where one person’s snippet of information marries up with another and a whole new discovery is made. A whole circle of friendship around the world has come from this journey, as has the opportunity to connect with cousins and family I’d known nothing about previously. What’s not to love?

Serendipity is the stardust sprinkling our research.

P McSherry Longreach brass bandSerendipity is one of the chief joys of our wonderful Trove. Now we can discover family stories that we’d have had no chance of knowing. Previously our newspaper searches, via microfilm, were targeted at the big-ticket events in our families’ lives: births, engagements, marriages, deaths, funerals, obituaries. Suddenly hidden pockets of our ancestors’ lives came out of obscurity. Today I want to share with you some of the skills or talents of my ancestors that I’ve uncovered. Thinking about this topic has made me realise how little we know even about quite recent ancestors like grandparents. I know with mine, they were “elderly” when I knew them (ie about my age now). Even though one set were neighbours, I realise how little I am aware of their hobbies or special things they liked to do. Perhaps I was just being a self-centred child/teenager, or perhaps after decades of working hard they just didn’t have the energy for hobbies.

The concept of serendipity often crops up in research. Serendipity is the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things that were not being sought. I believe that all researchers can be serendipitous. Akira Suzuki, Japanese scientist.

Serendipity, skills and talents

Are you already tired of hearing about my 2xgreat grandfather, George Mathias Kunkel? We’ve learned that he made wine, was a skilled pork butcher and grew export-quality oranges. But really, how much of that is personal? You’ve read in this series that I interviewed his granddaughter Annie and the stories she’d shared. Imagine how surprised I was when transcribing her oral history interview with Cameron McKee to learn something entirely new about George.

He was a clever man and he could take a pocket knife and carve a thing. We had a pen handle carved from a bone. It was a perfect thing with a folded hand on the end of it like that on the end of it.[i]

It’s a small thing but I was thrilled to discover it. My imagination takes me on a journey to think he may have learned this while on the sea voyage to Australia – or even if he’d been a crew member. Maybe one day another round of digitisation will reveal all.

Cameron asked Annie about their parties and who would provide the music:

Tom Kunkel …. they were up north on the cane farms but the crushing would be finished and they could come down for Christmas. The oldest, Bernard…Tom’s oldest brother, Bernard Kunkel, he played the accordion. Mr Chapman (a local from the earliest days pioneering Murphy’s Creek) played the violin generally.

Annie also mentioned that Tom Kunkelhad a terrific memory and he had an amazing store of good clean jokes, humorous things that happened in his life”. Even recounting this she was chuckling at the memories.

Another of the Kunkels (but which, and where is that note?) was also reputed to tell stories and give poetry sessions at various functions.

Partridge William colonial timbers Qlder 17 Dec 1870 p12

Newspaper reports of Agricultural Exhibitions (sometimes called Shows in Queensland) can often provide insights into an ancestor’s talents, skills or interests. This can be helpful for the women in our ancestry as the displays usually included “women’s work”.

I was quite tickled to find this story about William Partridge which evoked memories of a ruler I had at school, made up from different timbers:

Mr. Partridge’s colonial woods were exhibited in a handsome glass case (quite likely also made by him, as he was a carpenter). They were forty-five in number, and represented nearly all the woods of Queensland, and were most tastefully arranged and varnished. One piece of scrub vine particularly attracted our attention; it is twisted, and forms a pretty fancy stand for the table.[ii]

Stephen Melvin often garnered attention for his shop displays or entries in an Agricultural Exhibition:

Of preserves there were but few, mostly well gotten up in small glass tumblers with metal capsules, and looking quite tempting. The successful exhibitors were Mrs. J. Scott, J. A. Jackes, and Sophia Spressar and 8. G. Melvin.[iii]

Mr. Melvin had a very enticing display of confectionery- about the best ever seen here-and there was no lack of purchasers of his toothsome compounds[iv].

MELVIN Laura Nth Qld Reg 5 June 1899 p27

Aunty Mary's tiny doll

This tiny doll is in an “egg” about 3inches long.

At the annual exhibition of the Towers Pastoral, Agricultural and Mining Association, my grandmother, Laura Melvin, then a young girl of 11, was highly commended for her doll with handmade sailor dress and cap.[v] Making doll’s clothes was a love she shared with my aunt who maintained her interest throughout her life and had a wide collection of dolls whose faces she’d “made up” and the outfits she’d sewed. I’m not a fan of decorated dolls but I do like this tiny one that came to me from Aunty Mary – can you imagine the patience that the clothes took to crochet?

My mother did some crocheting and embroidery but she preferred sewing and other crafts like decoupage and flower KUNKEL Joan recipe prize WWarranging. Her attention to detail was precise and every seam (clothes or decoupage) had to be perfectly aligned and matched. She later turned her skills to home handywoman activities like painting and wallpapering. I have plenty of patience for family history, but none at all for DIY.

I was intrigued to find that mum had won a prize when her recipe was published in the Australian Women’s Weekly – thanks Trove![vi]

Without Trove, our family would never have known that Peter McSherry played brass instruments and taught the Longreach band. Similarly, some of the Partridge family also played instruments – yet another skill or talent that hasn’t reached me, sadly.

I’ll leave you with this story of a massive cake made by Melvin and Sons in Charters Towers in 1919…most likely by the sons, since Stephen Melvin had relocated to Sydney by then. Sadly, the text is hard to read but there’s no doubt it was a whopper! Just imagine – six tiers of which the bottom tier was 15 inches in height, and weighed 420lbs. The whole cake was decorated with icing and flags (presumably a patriotic note after the war).  Mr Melvin (which?) claimed it as a record for Queensland having only been surpassed nation-wide by Sargent’s of Sydney. Interested residents were invited to see the cake within the shop because it was too large for the window.

MELVIN record cake 13 Dec 1919 p4 Nth Miner

Absurd quantities of eggs and fruit went into this super cake.

 

Also true: In reality, serendipity accounts for one percent of the blessings we receive in life, work and love. The other 99 percent is due to our efforts. Peter McWilliams, American Writer.

Have you made intriguing discoveries thanks to Trove or other digitised newspapers?

Did you inherit your ancestors’ skills or talents or have they passed you by?

 

Quotes from brainyquotes.com

[i] Oral history interview Annie Kunkel with local historian Cameron McKee c1984.

[ii] Mr. Partridge’s colonial woods were exhibited in a handsome glass case. They were forty-five in number, and represented nearly all the wood* of Queensland, and were most taste fully arranged and varnished. One piece of scrub vme particularly attracted our attention ; it is twisted, and forms a pretty fan<y stand f r the table.

[iii] The Ipswich Show. (1882, December 16). The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), p. 856. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19788354

[iv] IPSWICH. (1882, December 25). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 5. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3409131

[v] TOWERS. PASTORAL, AGRICULTURAL, AND MINING ASSOCIATION. (1899, June 5). The North Queensland Register (Townsville, Qld. : 1892 – 1905), p. 27. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84407477

[vi] Prize recipes (1952, June 18). The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), p. 38. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51595521

Of Reading and Religion

R2020Reading for me is like food and water – an essential experience in life, and one I can’t imagine being without. I’m so grateful to my dad for sharing his love of reading with me. Not because we shared books but because I saw his example of reading being a pleasure even though, in retrospect, I suspect he was somewhat dyslexic. Similarly, I love seeing my grandson being immersed in a book and not lifting his eyes when the end is in sight.

My mother was never much of a reader which is strange because she liked to write some poetry and little children’s stories. To her, reading was a waste of time away from tasks and hobbies, unless it was reading something religious. Dad combined both by bringing me bible story comics when I was sick.

Religion is a hot button topic for many people and a source of great contention for many people. These days I’m sitting on the barbed wire fence on the topic even though (or because) I was firmly embedded in the Catholic religion when growing up.

Pauleen newspapers 1980s (2)

Weekend reading in the pre-digital era.

 

Ancestors and Reading

Maryborough Chronicle 17 Oct 1878

Nord Australischer Glaubenseifer. (1878, October 17). Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), p. 3. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article148529577

I wonder whether reading was important to any of my ancestors. I can’t imagine not being able to read as many of my early Irish ancestors couldn’t. It seems likely George Kunkel could have read at least the news because he was a regular signatory to government petitions, yet would he have had any German literature available to him? Did he subscribe to the German language newspaper, Die Nord Australische Zeitung, which was published in Australia or could he not afford it? Luckily at least some articles found their way into the local English newspapers. Did family members perhaps send him a book or two? Was there a German-language lending library anywhere or did he bring a couple of books with him when he emigrated? So many questions and so few answers. The reality is probably that all of my immigrant ancestors were so busy working long hours to establish themselves that the hobby and pleasure of reading just didn’t fit into their day.

I think, too, that they cultivated the power of memory more than perhaps we do. Dad could rattle off verses of poetry, whereas that was a skill beyond me. Did they learn them at school and never forget?

We never stop reading, although every book comes to an end, just as we never stop living, although death is certain. Roberto Bolano, Chilean writer

Ancestors and Religion

Sandon church and pub

Sandon Church of England where my Kent ancestors worshipped,  and the old Six Bells public house © Pauleen Cass 1992

Mostly religion is much more clear-cut for my ancestors: they fitted neatly into mainly two categories. The Irish were Roman Catholics and the Scots were Church of Scotland or later Presbyterian. A couple wavered between Baptist, Methodist and Church of England. Ironically, my maternal, Catholic, branch includes as many non-Catholics as Catholics, while my non-Catholic paternal side has just as much representation of Catholics.

True religion is real living; living with all one’s soul, with all one’s goodness and righteousness. Albert Einstein, German physicist.

Kilmorich Parish Church.

Kilmorich Parish Church at Cairndow where my McCorkindale ancestors worshipped. My great-grandmother Isabella’s grave is on the right side of the path.

The truly sad thing is how religion could divide families. My father was a non-Catholic and I am appalled now to think how much he was humbugged, including by me, to come to the Catholic church with us and how his entire home environment was filled with Catholic iconography. On his death bed he told me he wasn’t religious but he had faith. Amen! My grandfather refused to attend his daughter’s wedding in the Methodist church in Brisbane, Dad’s cousins reportedly would not attend his wedding in the Catholic church or act as groomsmen. My paternal grandfather, from a long line of Catholics, lost contact with most of his siblings after he left the church so that while I have myriad second cousins on that line I knew nothing about them until, by coincidence, one was in my class at high school and recognised my surname. Similarly visits by my grandmother’s Presbyterian siblings and children generated angst if I jumped the fence (literally and figuratively) to go and see them. I’m so grateful that second cousins on both my Catholic and Presbyterian lines have reached out over the years and we’ve regenerated the links and friendships that were lost. If all that reads very cynically you can see why I sit on that barbed wire fence today.

Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair. G.K. Chesterton, British writer.

Ancestors, Religion and Community

New and Old Catholic church Murphys Creek DDG 15 June 1895 p5 and 6

FUNCTION AT MURPHY’S CREEK. (1895, June 15). Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1881 – 1922), p. 5. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article171383494

In those very early days of pioneering settlement, families played a huge role in bringing churches to their communities. Similarly, the clergy of all denominations rode long miles across the colony to visit their parishioners, sometimes marrying couples and baptising their children at the same time. Oftentimes, the members of all churches contributed to funds for the building of another church…they were all in it together to develop their communities.

Lists of donations to church building were published in the newspapers and while I was lucky enough to find some pre-digitisation, Trove has certainly made it so much easier to find them and get a sense of where they fitted in the community’s financial structure.

Community gatherings celebrated the opening of churches and of course the women were pivotal in organising and feeding people at these events.

DSC_0237

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

I was surprised how often I’ve blogged about religion over the past 10 years but you can find any by entering “religion” in the search bar on the top right of the page. Perhaps the most relevant is another post here or religion in Papua New Guinea here.

When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator. Mahatma Gandhi, Indian leader.

 Religion played a pivotal role in my life for many years and reading has been a constant thread thoughout my life.

Was religion an important part of your ancestors’ lives?

And for the family historians who love to unearth an epitaph for their ancestors – an amusing, ironic quote:

Reading the epitaphs, our only salvation lies in resurrecting the dead and burying the living. Paul Eldridge, American educator.

 

 

 

No glory for the Melvin family

NFHM AlexThis week is the finale in Family Tree Frog’s NFHM blog challenge and the theme is “Power without Glory”. Sadly, my family branches are singularly lacking in powerful people – at least beyond their own kin. So let me tell you another story about last week’s ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin, and the events that would turn 1887 into his family’s annus horibilis.

In last week’s post we saw how Stephen had been rescued from the flooded Bremer River in Ipswich on 22 January 1887 by Thomas Shedrick Livermore. We also learned that by mid-year his business was in liquidation. What came between those two events and indeed what followed?

MELVIN Qld Times 23 Sept 1886 p8

1886 ‘Advertising’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 23 September, p. 8. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122559893

In September 1886 Stephen G Melvin had instructed Elias Harding Jnr to offer the contents of his confectionery plant and sawmill for sale[i], due to the expiry of his lease. Was he already feeling a financial pinch? Had he over-extended himself? How would he continue his business without these assets? It doesn’t quite make sense.

Stephen meanwhile advertised a property for rent[ii] and his wife Emily advertised for a general housekeeper[iii]. Perhaps the family was living beyond their means and SGM (as I call him) had over-extended himself financially.

By March 1887, the case of Hunter v Melvin and Finch[iv] was about to be heard in civil sittings of the Queensland Supreme Court on a claim “that partnership accounts be taken”. This case was to be heard by His Honour Sir Charles Lilley. Little did SGM realise that he was now on a very slippery downward legal slope.

The proceedings of the court case were extensively reported in the newspapers – one of the benefits of reporting on legal matters is that the journalist has to record accurate details. The jury found in favour of the plaintiff, J Hunter. Based on the decision and the testimony heard, Justice Lilley declared “he was strongly disposed to exercise my summary power by committing them for perjury – very strongly indeed.”[v]

MELVIN Qld Times 31 Mar 1887 p5 crop

1887 ‘BRISBANE.’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 31 March, p. 5. , viewed 22 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122819744

The “them” to whom the judge referred were all those who had sworn to their testimony, now found to be invalid: the defendants Samuel Finch and Stephen Gillespie Melvin and witnesses Harry Jackson, Stephen Wilson and Susan Wallace. They were bound over on recognizance of £100 to appear in court the next day on a charge of perjury. The ground must have felt like it moved under their feet, and perhaps SGM felt he was back in the maelstrom of a flood, though this time is was a flood of legal issues.

The perjury case became a cause célèbre, widely reported in newspapers around the country. It was interesting that it was in Ipswich that those charged seemed to have a lot of support.

MELVIN Qld Times 27 Sept 1887 p5

1887 ‘THE PERJURY CASES.’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 27 September, p. 5. , viewed 22 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122824946

The individual cases were heard in the Supreme Court in September 1887[vi]. I was particularly interested that Melvin’s barrister, Mr Lilley (not the judge) had submitted testimonials from 13 ships from when Stephen first went to sea at age 16, until he came to Ipswich. These testified to Stephen’s good character – how I wish I could see those documents but they don’t appear to have been retained by the court. Lilley also stated that he had been requested by those who knew the prisoner to extend to Melvin, and one other prisoner, the provisions of the Offenders’ Probation Act[vii].  Notwithstanding this, at the completion of the trials His Honour, Mr Justice Harding, passed the following sentences: Finch five years, Melvin five years and six months, and Jackson three years. Wilson and Wallace had been found not guilty[viii].

As you might imagine, at this point I was thinking “but what on earth happened?” Within that sentence period of 5.5 years Stephen Melvin’s wife had four children including my own grandmother. Something must have transpired as I also knew he’d been in Charters Towers within that time frame, so I kept hunting.

MELVIN Oct 8 1887 p8 extract The Week

1887 ‘The Perjury Trials.’, The Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934), 8 October, p. 8. , viewed 22 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182629807(extract only)

No sooner had the judge’s sentence been passed than a petition was circulated in Ipswich to gain a remission of the sentences[ix]. This arose because there were jury members common to the cases, who believed that they had been provided with different testimony across the five trials. Ultimately the petition went to the Queensland Executive Council[x].

And then on 12 December 1887, the judgement was passed: After a careful consideration of the petition praying for a remission of the sentences on Melvin, Finch and Jackson, recently convicted of perjury, the Governor in Council yesterday decided to accede to the prayer of the petition. The prisoners will therefore be released forthwith[xi]. The prisoners were then brought up from St Helena prison and released. St Helena is an island in Moreton Bay, a short distance from Peel Island where Stephen’s first wife, Janet Peterkin Melvin had died on arrival in 1877. As best as I can ascertain, the remission of their sentences did not come with the overturning of the guilty verdict, which must have been a difficult shame to carry, but at least Stephen was free and could go home.

Plan of St Helena 1887

Queensland. Parliament. Legislative Assembly. Votes and proceedings of the Legislative Assembly during the session of 1887 1887, Plan of the island of St. Helena, H.M. Penal Establishment, Queensland, Government Printer, [Brisbane] (Click to enlarge)

What a Christmas present that must have been for all the Melvin family! The arrival of my grandmother, Laura, nine months later is probably a clue <smile>. It had been a torrid year for the family and I’m sure a lot of pressure fell on the shoulders of Stephen’s wife Emily with the support of her father, William Partridge: parallel to the trials, they were dealing with liquidation of the business and the award of the bronze medal to Mr Livermore.

MELVIN July 16 1888 p6 Courier

1888 ‘SUPREME COURT.’, The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 16 July, p. 6. , viewed 21 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3480414

The legal process of sorting out contracts continued progressively through 1888[xii].  William Partridge provided financial support to the family as evidenced in news reports.

A further by-product of the trial was the amendment of legislation….now if only I could locate my notes. While I have used newspaper articles to tell this story, I have also traced the clues through a myriad archival sources at Queensland State Archives. Although I reviewed these documents with an open mind, I felt the initial case seemed very much a case of “he said, she said” so I can only assume there was some non-verbal indications of guilt. How I sometimes long for an Aussie Legal Genealogist to demystify the legalese.

A family case of minimal power and no glory at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] 1886 ‘Advertising’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 23 September, p. 8. , viewed 21 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122559893

[ii] 1887 ‘Advertising’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 26 March, p. 2. , viewed 21 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122823758

[iii] 1887 ‘Advertising’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 1 March, p. 2. , viewed 21 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122824339

[iv] 1887 ‘The Brisbane Courier.’, The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 21 March, p. 4. , viewed 21 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3465267

[v] 1887 ‘BRISBANE.’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 31 March, p. 5. , viewed 21 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122819744

[vi] 1887 ‘Perjury Trials.’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 27 September, p. 4. , viewed 21 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201025066

[vii] 1887 ‘SUPREME COURT.’, The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 16 September, p. 3. , viewed 22 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3478852

[viii] 1887 ‘THE PERJURY CASES.’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 27 September, p. 5. , viewed 22 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122824946

[ix] 1887 ‘The Perjury Trials.’, The Week (Brisbane, Qld. : 1876 – 1934), 8 October, p. 8. , viewed 21 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article182629807

[x] 1887 ‘LAST NIGHT’S PARLIAMENT.’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 8 December, p. 3. , viewed 22 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122819651

[xi] 1887 ‘The Perjury Cases.’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 13 December, p. 4. , viewed 22 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article174766614

[xii] 1888 ‘SUPREME COURT.’, The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 16 July, p. 6. , viewed 22 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3480414

Beyond the Internet

During my presentation at the Gold Coast Conference, Footsteps in Time, I used dot points to provide way finders for offline research.

These are the points listed during the talk, by life heading.

Please note this file is copyrighted to me and cannot be reproduced elsewhere.

Beyond the internet checklist 2 of 2017

You can contact me using the Contact Me tab above, or by commenting on this post.

Australia Day and My Immigrant Ancestors

58 green and gold flowers

On Australia Day 2017 we reflect on our pride in our country and also, for many of us, our status as descendants of immigrants. Some will have First Australians, others will have early convicts. Some will be part of the early settlers in the colony of New South Wales or Van Dieman’s Land. For me, being Australian is not about flying a flag or wearing one draped round my shoulders, it’s about the country, its open land and horizons, the skies with the Southern Cross among the stars.

Last year I was acknowledged by Queensland Family History Society as having Pre-Separation ancestors. In this context it meant submitting my genealogical data (certificates of all sorts), to the society to prove my various ancestors were living in the colony before Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859. The proclamation of Separation was read by Governor Bowen on 10 December 1859. I was very surprised to discover I had eleven pre-Separation ancestors, eight of whom were immigrants, and three were first-generation Australian-born. The rest of my immigrant ancestors were “Johnny come lately” types.

immigrant-ancestors-countryI thought it would be interesting to see how my immigrant ancestors broke down in terms of generations and also country of origin. While I think of myself as mostly Irish-Scottish descent, I was suprised how dominant my English ancestry was at the immigrant level, especially pre-Separation (4). One branch of my Irish (5) came in the early 1880s and my Scottish in the 1870s (1) and 1910 (2).

With the current focus on genetic genealogy all this becomes pertinent, because these are the ancestors, and their ancestors, who I need to focus on to make kin-connections. Place is, I think, almost as important as names – after all if your ancestral families never left Argyll in Scotland, you’re unlikely to match someone with that name who never left Ayrshire, or Nottinghamshire. However, never say never, people did migrate internally as well as internationally, but even so my starting point is usually place of origin.

immigrant-ancestors-generationsA number of my immigrant ancestors came as family groups, some even as three generations eg my 1880s Irish and my 1850s English.I looked at this a few years back – you can read about it here.

I’m including some graphs to show visually the distribution across the generations and also country of origin. In my Ancestry family tree, I have the immigrants shown with two flags -one with their country of origin and one for Australia.

On Australia Day let’s consider our First Australians, and the impact of the arrival of all those convict and immigrant ships on their lives, survival and culture. Let’s also recognise the impact each generation of our immigrant ancestors has had on the development of Australia….one of the reasons I’m so proud of my early pre-Separation Pioneers: George Mathias Kunkel (Bavaria); George’s wife-to-be Mary O’Brien (Ireland); Richard and Mary Kent and daughter Hannah (England); Hannah’s husband-to-be, William Partridge (England); Denis and Ellen Gavin (Ireland).

who-s-going-green-question-mark-md

And if anyone ever finds my James Sherry aka McSharry (not the railway contractor), I’d love to know where he got to within a few years of his arrival in 1883. That’s one brick wall that refuses to topple.

A near miss in Coolangatta: Sepia Saturday 243

Sepia Saturday 243This week’s Sepia Saturday 243 is one of those topics where a personal theme leaps to mind. Every family has its story traditions and family anecdotes, perhaps even about get-rich schemes and near misses.

Unidentified (1914). Illustrated advertisement from The Queenslander, December 5, 1914, p. 59. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1914). Illustrated advertisement from The Queenslander, December 5, 1914, p. 59. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

All my life Dad used to tell the story of “the one that got away” in our family. My grandfather who I’ve written about before, worked for the railway all his working life. At one stage, perhaps around 1900-1910, he worked on the rail line that went from Brisbane city to the interstate border at Coolangatta. I don’t know about other countries, but here in Oz, a twin town (as opposed to towns twinned with overseas), is one that has a matching town on the opposite side of the (state) border. Coolangatta is one such town, sitting right on the border of Queensland while across the Tweed River sits its twin, Tweed Heads. One of the quirks of these twin towns becomes obvious with the start of daylight saving each year. Queensland doesn’t “do” daylight saving (no, I’m not going there with that topic!) so for six months or so, Coolangatta is 30 minutes behind Tweed Head. Could be handy if you urgently need shops which close promptly at 5pm.

Tweed Heads, showing railway passengers walking down Bay Street into Wharf Street. Queensland (or Federal) Hotel, Coolangatta, is on the right. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, 1905

Tweed Heads, showing railway passengers walking down Bay Street into Wharf Street. Queensland (or Federal) Hotel, Coolangatta, is on the right. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, 1905. http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1914). 18 residential and business sites at Coolangatta for sale by auction in the Tweed Heads Hall on Easter Saturday, Queensland, 1914. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1914). 18 residential and business sites at Coolangatta for sale by auction in the Tweed Heads Hall on Easter Saturday, Queensland, 1914. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

Dad told me that while Grandad was working on the Gold Coast railway line they used to fish for stingrays in the river using star pickets…those long metals poles with three sides. Personally I think that was a bit unfair on the fish, to say the least, but it is still a part of local lore.

But the one that got away wasn’t a monster fish, rather the real estate deal that might have made the family fortune. The story goes that he was offered a beach front block of land at Coolangatta for a tiny sum, £100 springs to mind. Given that property on the Gold Coast now sells for seven figure amounts, we were dazzled by what might have been, not to mention the sheer bliss of living within sight and sound of the surf and the ocean. But it was not to be, and perhaps even if it had, Grandad would no longer have had the money to buy the land that our family lived on for 96 years….the turn of the fate wheel.

Unidentified (1900). Greenmount Beach, Gold Coast, 1900-1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, www.trove.nla.gov.au

Unidentified (1900). Greenmount Beach, Gold Coast, 1900-1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, http://www.trove.nla.gov.au

Coolangatta has never been the glitzy, glamour (tarty?) queen of the Gold Coast, that role was left to Surfers Paradise. That didn’t stop Coolangatta’s nearby beach, Greenmount, being a big hit with families as a holiday destination. I recall that we had only one holiday at Greenmount, compared with the several we took up the coast a little at sedate but beautiful Currumbin.

Pauleen at the Porpoise Pool, Snapper Rocks.

Pauleen at the Porpoise Pool, Snapper Rocks.

Apart from the attraction of sun, sand and surf at Greenmount, one of the big “pulls” during the 1960s was the Porpoise Pool run by Jack Evans at nearby Snapper Rock. It was de rigeur to visit the attraction and see the trained dolphins leap from the pool to catch their fish. (You can see a video here). Afterwards it was almost inevitable to have a photo taken with Sammy the Seal, another feature of the attraction. In this photo of me I would have been about 12.  I remember that rainbow top, which Mum sewed, very vividly especially the texture of the fabric.

Part of the reason our family was able to visit the border towns was because of the railway line. Dad’s annual railway pass made it possible for us to travel close to our destination – an important factor as we had no family car. The lack of a car was unfortunate also because, dare I say it as a loyal Queenslander, there’s some spectacular scenery and beaches just south of the border….an area our own family grew very fond of in later decades… I wrote this story about it a while ago.

It’s always good to know that families aren’t the only ones to have near-misses…Queensland Rail closed the line to Tweed Heads in 1961 and to Southport in 1964, no doubt due in part to the increased numbers of people who owned their own cars. Decades later they had to rebuild the same line to cope with just some of the burgeoning commuter traffic. The one that got away indeed.

Don’t forget to visit the other Sepians to see which beaches they’ve visited or how they interpreted the image.

PS: I’ve just noticed something my sub-conscious may have latched on to earlier. The man in the suit in the foreground reminds me of a photo I have of my grandfather.

 

Was it all fun and games on Florentia?

The sailing ship Florentia. Image from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and reproduced with permission. Image PW 7704

The sailing ship Florentia. Image from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and reproduced with permission. Image PW 7704

In my previous post I mentioned the newspaper remarks of problems on board the barque Florentia, and my hopes of getting to the bottom of the mystery…and finding reference to Mary O’Brien.

Only a matter of hours after disembarking from Voyager of the Seas in Sydney I was ensconced in the reading room at State Records New South Wales, at Kingswood following up the Colonial Secretary (Col Sec) records for the period, as well as the Immigration Board etc. I’d anticipated having more problems as they can be so convoluted to follow with their top-numbering system but I was lucky as the Florentia papers were easily found.

The Immigration Board in Moreton Bay submitted their report, dated 19 May 1853, to the Agent for Immigration[i], and forwarded by the Health Officer. It included statements by the Surgeon Superintendent, Dr William Clegg, and the matron, Bess McLoughlin, also one of the assisted immigrants listed on the manifest.

If the scenes on Florentia were as lively as shown in this image, one can see why there might have been a kerfuffle.

The essence of the problem was that the captain (Banks) had been in breach of the rules in the Charter Party, a new term to me, but apparently rather like a modern day memorandum of understanding, setting out the terms and conditions under which the ship was to sail, the obligations of those in authority, and presumably the remuneration involved. The Investigation found “the Captain was in the habit of playing with the females on the poop for about a month or five weeks after sailing”. The game referred to was Blind Man’s Bluff.[ii]

Image from Wikipedia. Blind-Man's Buff [sic], published by Paul Jarrard & Sons (London, England). This print was made within the lifetime of King George IV of England (12 August 1762 – 26 June 1830), hence copyright (if any) has long since expired.

Image from Wikipedia. Blind-Man’s Buff [sic], published by Paul Jarrard & Sons (London, England). This print was made within the lifetime of King George IV of England (12 August 1762 – 26 June 1830), hence copyright (if any) has long since expired. If the scenes on board Florentia were half as lively one can see why there might have been a kerfuffle.

Captain Thomas Hopper Banks was charged with having inappropriate “intercourse” (not as we understand it today) with the single women and permitting the crew to do the same. Warnings by the Surgeon had no impact on the captain’s and second mate’s behaviour. This in turn influenced how the ordinary seamen behaved.

Rather than have the single women locked below after dark, the key to their quarters mysteriously disappeared soon after departure[iii]. When it was found, the hinges of the door were taken off. The Captain claimed the matron was being cruel forcing the women to stay below, even though this was the custom, and requirement.

The consequence of the report was that Captain Banks and the Second Mate were refused their payments for the voyage and it was recommended that Banks not be employed in the colonial service again. The matron and the schoolmaster were paid their remuneration as was the Surgeon, Dr William Clegg.

Under the circumstances I was quite pleased to find no specific mention of my Mary O’Brien or her sister Bridget, though it also fits with the oral histories that they both met their future husbands on the voyage out. One young woman features in the story however, and that is Ann Drew who plainly had a close relationship of some sort with the captain. Two illegitimate children had been born on the voyage but they would have had nothing to do with the shenanigans on board. One of the babies had been stillborn and was hidden, but the mother had been discovered and she was cautioned on arrival…unfortunately her name is not mentioned.

Through the archive documents and/or the newspapers I’ve found specific mention of some of the passengers on the ship:

James Massy of Limerick, complained against the surgeon “for not paying sufficient attention to his wife during her illness and by…causing her death”.[iv] Later in the report the Surgeon Superintendent, Clegg, was exonerated from blame as the ship had been in very severe weather at the time. James would have had an uphill battle with three children to take care of, which no doubt made gaining employment more difficult.
Mary Massy and Cath Ryan were the two married women who died on board, deduced from the details on the Board reports.

Ann Drew: a single woman who was plainly in the Captain’s favour. Ann Drew’s mess (group of women sharing the cooking etc responsibilities) were said to have disrespected the matron’s orders.

John Hockings, a gardener from Devon, declared that he never saw the Captain give preference to Ann Drew or any of the other girls, or make indelicate remarks to them. He was also a constable on board ship.[v]

Frances Bransfield, a laundress from Cork, gave a statement that she declined to go to the hospital –it’s unclear whether her complaint was against the surgeon or the captain, though it follows an examination of the Captain by Dr Clegg.

Denis Kelly: a single man who was a schoolteacher from Limerick and so presumably the teacher on board.

Bess (Elizabeth) McLoughlin, a 40 year old laundress from Londonderry was the matron.

Daniel Brian (or Breen) a 34 year old married man from Glamorganshire in South Wales, and a plaster, was one of the constables, mentioned in a case of stealing on board ship. [vi] Although Daniel O’Brien from Tipperary, a blacksmith, would also be a possibility, overall I’m inclined to think it was the former.

Frederick Pierce (or Pearce), 33 year old smith from Cornwall, a married man with four children was another constable mentioned in the above court case.[vii]

William Henry Cox charged with having stolen a quantity of wine on board the Florentia on 19 January 1853, was sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment in Brisbane gaol.

Joseph Pinch, supernumary seaman was a witness in this case[viii].

Nearly 100 years later, another Florentia causes problems with luggage. "RIOT" SHIP GOES TO Queensland Times (Ipswich), 4 June 1951 p. 1  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article124609224

Nearly 100 years later, another Florentia passenger causes problems with luggage. Queensland Times (Ipswich), 4 June 1951 p. 1 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article124609224

After arrival George Parsons was charged, on 12 May 1853, by Mr. Tooth, his employer, with refusing to go on to the station (property owned by Tooth). The reason alleged for this refusal was that Mr.Tooth would not provide conveyance for the whole of defendant’s luggage; but as the Bench did not think this sufficient, they passed a sentence of one month’s imprisonment.  Heaven help us! What a punishment to hand down to this poor immigrant who’d tolerated that six month voyage to get to Moreton Bay. And what happened to his wife Maria and their four children including infant George?

Although news stories report that seamen absconded from the Florentia in Hobart[ix] , when a crew of 24 is listed on the immigration documents. In Brisbane, at least one crew member absconded and who stole a ship’s boat[x] but neither he nor the Hobart escapees are mentioned by name. The Hobart documents list a crew of 24 on the ship. However, when indentured apprentice  James Murphy; native of Cork; height, about 5 feet 8 inches; age, 16 years jumped ship in Sydney, a reward of £5 was offered for his imprisonment.[xi] Poor young bloke!

Reviewing the complaints listed by the immigrants many of the same people are mentioned[xii]. Those complaining against the Matron were Hanah Todd, Frances Bransfield, Anne Drew, Hannah Gale, and Harriet and Mary Roger (perhaps Anne Drew’s Mess group?). The only complaint against the Doctor was the one mentioned by James Massy. Margaret McMullin, a 37 year old ladies maid from Meath complained of the conduct of the Captain and some his officers. Unsurprisingly Bess McLoughlin, the matron also complained against the Captain. John Hughes’ complaint is hard to read but may refer to morality. James Ryan complained that his mother-less child did not receive the milk ordered by the doctor. There was a long queue of complaints from the married men about the lack of provisions, bread and water: John Cuddihy, James Cherry, John Green, Cornelius Halloran, Thomas Madden, Michael Nowlan, Daniel O’Brien and Thomas Cherry. Interestingly they were all Irish emigrants.

Classified Advertising. (1853, May 7). The Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 - 1861),p2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710117

Classified Advertising. (1853, May 7). The Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861),p2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710117

Despite all the complaints and the withdrawal of the Captain’s gratuity, some ninety-eight of the passengers signed a testimonial, published in the newspaper, stating they were “fully convinced of his general and lasting friendship, as well as his willingness and cheerfulness to render all the assistance he possibly could to us at large-being to us, in need or trouble, like a father and a friend and never failing to visit us in danger; whose presence we always beheld with the greatest delight…”

And after all that, not a mention of unassisted passengers and no reference to Mary or Bridget O’Brien. In the coming days I’ll be weighing up the merits of the case for or against their being on the Florentia and whether there’s any chance of fitting that glass slipper.

And a bit of trivia for fellow cruisers on Voyager of the Seas: the modern day cruise liner has a tonnage of 138,000 compared to poor little Florentia’s 453 tons.

Voyage of the Seas dwarfs most other ships, just imagine it beside a barque like Florentia.

Voyage of the Seas dwarfs most other ships, just imagine it beside a barque like Florentia.

[i] Reference SRNSW 53/5645

[ii] Minutes of Investigate held 6 May 1853 before J C Wickham Esq and W A Duncan by members of the Immigration Board at Brisbane re ship Florentia. SRNSW 53/1679 in batch 86/6858.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] SRNSW 53/5645, Government Resident Moreton Bay.

[v] Minutes of Investigate held 6 May 1853 before J C Wickham Esq and W A Duncan by members of the Immigration Board at Brisbane re ship Florentia. SRNSW 53/1679 in batch 86/6858.

[vi] Moreton Bay Courier, 7 May 1853, page 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710112

[vii] ibid

[viii] ibid

[ix] Moreton Bay Courier, 30 April 1853, page 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710533

[x] Moreton Bay Courier, 27 August 1853, page 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3713574

[xi] Sydney Morning Herald, 2 August 1853, page 2, supplement. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12947703

[xii] Queensland State Archives Item ID339031, Passenger lists. Microfilm Z598.

Mixing my metaphors: Macadamias and Glass Slippers

Queensland nuts or Macadamias on the tree. Image from wikipedia.

Queensland nuts or Macadamias on the tree. Image from wikipedia.

Growing up as a child in Queensland, we had a large Queensland nut tree in our back garden.  Now known as macadamias, these nuts make you work hard to get to their delicious centres (unless you buy them stripped bare). First you have to work through the hard protective casing around the nut, unless it’s so ripened that the exterior has turned brown and ready to fall off. Then you are still left with the rock-hard shell itself. This is no dainty nut, ready to be cracked with a graceful pair of nut crackers on the Christmas table. No, you need a hammer, the perfect spot in the concrete path and a firm stroke and a good aim for the seam in the shell. Hit too hard and you’ll demolish the nut itself, hit too softly and that delicious nut will continue to elude you. Or you just use your grandfather’s vice from “under the house”.

It struck me last night that’s a pretty good analogy to some family history research, especially the focus I’ve had lately on exploring all things relating to the little barque, Florentia, on which my ancestor Mary O’Brien may have arrived in 1853.

I’ve collected as much possible information as I can including:

Passengers lists from three archives: Tasmanian Archives in Hobart; State Records of New South Wales in Kingswood, Sydney; and Queensland State Archives in Brisbane. A few were available online but there were offline ones as well (thanks to the Unlock the Past cruise I was already going to those places – good timing)

Official Correspondence at the same archives between the various authorities: Colonial Secretary, Immigration Board, Immigration Agent, Brisbane Resident and the Police Magistrate for Brisbane.

News stories from Trove and also the British and Irish newspapers on Find My Past which were largely unproductive, as was a check of the Welsh newspapers online.

JSTOR articles available with my National Library of Australia card, again unproductive.

I’ve compared the data squeezed from each source and analysed places of origin and relations in the colony.

What did I learn?

Length of the voyage and on-board disputes

I already knew this ship had taken an inordinate, and unusual, amount of time to reach Moreton Bay: 156 days or 23 weeks. They’d had an unscheduled stop in Hobart Town after 19+ weeks at sea, because they’d been loaded with only 20 weeks of provisions. Surely all on board must have been getting anxious before they reached Hobart – after all they’d been rationed since passing the Cape of Good Hope.

The Sydney Morning Herald of 11 May 1853, reported a Brisbane story of 22 April: “The Florentia is the next immigrant vessel for this place, and she may now be considered fully due”. Initially I thought this was code for wondering if the ship had been lost, especially as it had only spoken two other vessels[i], both in the early weeks of the voyage. However by the time of the story, the news of the ship’s arrival in Hobart had already been published.

Unsurprisingly the Immigration Board who mustered the passengers in Moreton Bay on 29 April reportedly found the “state of the ship does not appear to be very cleanly.[ii]

As alluded to in the newspapers, the local Immigration Board is now engaged in the investigation of certain charges against the ship’s officers, but what their nature or justice may be remains a mystery”[iii]and “some of the proceedings of the voyage are likely to furnish employment for that mysterious body the ‘Unholy Inquisition.’ We hear that the Surgeon-Superintendent does not appear to be culpable, but more sinned against than sinning. Will the Inquisition stifle this affair also?” [iv]

These newspaper references and the length of the voyage gave me hope that the official correspondence would provide some clues to this enquiry, and indeed it did…but I will keep this for a separate story. The newspaper reporter seems to have been correct in his assumption, too, that the mystery would be stifled. Nothing further is reported in any of the newspapers on Trove, as far as I could find, and as I’ve mentioned nothing in the British, Welsh or Irish newspapers, at least by the ship’s name.

 Mortality and the long voyage

There is contradictory evidence as to how many died on the voyage as well as how many births there were.  The summary information for the Florentia in Hobart lists 9 deaths: 1 married woman, 3 single women, 1 boy under 14, 3 girls under 14 and one infant. In fact the infant was, as far as I can tell a stillborn child. However by the time the ship reached Brisbane, they were reporting 12 births and 17 deaths.[v] It is entirely possible (probable) that four passengers died between Hobart and Moreton Bay as the total number of passengers falls from 249 to 245. This would still leave an anomaly of four deaths, which would reconcile with the additional four births, though not necessarily the same children[vi].

These figures are representative but without a breakdown of the additional deaths cannot be entirely accurate.

These figures are representative but without a breakdown of the additional deaths cannot be entirely accurate.

The most tragic aspect of the deaths is that those people’s names remain unrecorded. One can deduce that two married women died, simply by looking at the details for families, so presumably one died on the final phase of the journey. As the parents’ names are stated for the children in each family, the mothers’ names are revealed even though they are not listed on the manifests as “died on the voyage”, which I’ve seen on other ships. The two married women were Mary Massy (family from Limerick) and Cath Ryan (family from Tipperary).

But what of the children who succumbed on the voyage, or the single women? Sadly, there is no mention of their names anywhere. I wonder if their families ever learnt what happened to them.

With my East Clare database which covers the period 1848-1870, the mortality rate was 1%, very low. On this voyage, the overall rate was 5%, with females being the most at risk category. Girls under 14 were particularly vulnerable, with a 6.98% mortality, and likely more depending on the deaths between Hobart and Moreton Bay. It’s tempting to conclude that this would, in large part, have been down to the reduced provisions, including the lack of water mentioned in passenger complaints, and reiterated in the Immigration Board’s enquiry.[vii] Of itself the long voyage should not have had such an impact but the ship was also a former convict-ship and was probably not as well equipped as some later ones, or as suitable for general emigration.

If ever there was a voyage when one might wish for a copy of the Surgeon’s journal, this would be one of them. Among the SRNSW documents is a letter which indicates that the surgeon’s diary was forwarded to the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners[viii] but sadly it does not appear in the lists of extant diaries on the UK National Archives site. There is also no mention of a passenger diary extant for this voyage in the Log of Logs.

The prince and the glass slipper

My hope from this research voyage was that I’d find any clues at all to suggest there were unassisted passengers on this voyage, and any kind of reference to Mary and her sister. Unfortunately my quest was futile. I know a lot about this ship’s voyage but am none the wiser about Mary. Perhaps my family tree is indeed a Queensland Nut or Macadamia tree…it’s certainly keeping me on my toes.

I’m left feeling like the prince who went from house to house trying to squeeze the glass slipper on each young woman’s foot hoping to find the beautiful girl who’d stolen his heart. I suppose by now I should know better than believe in fairy stories.

 Who was mentioned in the documents? What was the scandal? Come back for the second instalment.

A readable and informative reference book on the conditions of voyages is Robin Haines’ book “Life and death in the age of sail”.[ix] I can highly recommend it to provide a solid understanding of the health aspects of migration.

 

[i] Free Trader, for New York, and the American ship Great Britain. Moreton Bay Courier, 30 April 1853, page 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710533

[ii] Moreton Bay Courier 30 April 1853, page 3.

[iii] Sydney Morning Herald, 11 May 1853, page 2 supplement.

[iv] Moreton Bay Courier 30 April 1853, page 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3710533

[v] Empire, 10 May 1853 page 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61324080.

[vi] The newspaper reports that 12 of the deaths were children.

[vii] SRNSW 53/1419 in batch 53/5645. Immigration Board at Brisbane to the Agent for Immigration, 19 May 1853. The Board comprised Messrs Wickham, Duncan and Swift.

[viii] SRNSW 53/8264.  Agent for Immigration to the Colonial Secretary for forwarding, dated 15 September 1853.

[ix] Life and Death in the Age of Sail. Haines, R. UNSW Press, Sydney 2003

My thoughts on David Malouf’s A First Place

David MaloufI’ve just begun an e-book of short stories, A First Place, by David Malouf. Absorbing stories written by Australians always seem slightly disorienting, so accustomed are we (or is it only me?) to reading books whose settings are elsewhere. Which came first, the sense that “other is better”, leading to the exodus of much of Australia’s talent, or the relative weighting of other and local?

One story, A First Place, is about growing up in Brisbane and how its particular topography and lifestyle defines not only who we become as adults, but how we think. That certainly gave me pause for thought, and I can’t decide the merits of the case, but is that because it’s part of me?

Brisbane is a hilly city – not mountainous, just hilly, where travelling by car or foot anywhere involves the negotiation of hills. From a large-scale view, the hills are not so obvious, it’s when one is on the ground that it becomes so much more apparent. One of the earliest things a Brisbane learner-driver has to come to terms with is hill starts in a geared car. After nearly two decades of living in flat-as-a-tack Darwin I sometimes forget I have to change gears or use more power when going up a hill. Our geography does change our daily patterns.

Taken from a hotel in the CBD, this view is to the south.

Taken from a hotel in the CBD, this view is to the south.

Malouf posits that the topography of the city means “it shapes in those who grow up there a different sensibility, a cast of mind, creates a different sort of Australian”. The hilliness of the city means that its residents miss the long vistas of flatter cities like Adelaide or Melbourne. They become accustomed to new views at every rise, and this may make them restless in the absence of variety, as well as precluding a clear map of the mind. I’d suggest it might also inculcate a sense of mystery in the same way that a door into a garden, rather than shut you out, makes you more curious what lies behind…or is that, once again, the Brisbane girl in me? He’s certainly correct that it gives the legs a good workout, especially if you grew up relying on Shanks’ pony to get you everywhere – something that’s noticeably absent from Darwin’s flatness, and the laziness that tropical humidity generates.

He also talks about the river’s unusual snake-like twisting through the city: one of the reasons the flooding a few years back caused so much damage, as it has in the past. Add to that the relative lack of bridges forcing the traveller to negotiate twice as many suburbs as a direct route would allow.  The river conspires to shut off vistas as do the hills, but I think it also opens up a sense of a city of two sides on both banks.

Brisbane River snakes through the city and here, the CBD. You can see some of the bridges, two of which are new.

Brisbane River snakes through the city and here, the CBD. You can see some of the bridges -the one in the centre is a new pedestrian bridge, called the Kurilpa Bridge (or the Knitting Needle Bridge as I do).

Now that the river has become an active character in the Brisbane landscape with the arrival of the City Cats (ferries) along with the riverside walkways, it does open up the city in a different way. In much the same way as the hills, it makes you wonder (if you don’t already), what is round the next corner. No wonder a river tour has become so popular over the past decades.1113 Brisbane river and ferry stop

The hills and river combine in a story my father has handed down. I often wondered whether it was something he’d made up, even though it made eminent sense, until a friend whose father was also a born-and-bred old Queenslander confirmed the same story. In the pioneering days, the drays would travel across the city along the ridges of the hills when the river was in flood. My father did much the same when my cousin’s house was in imminent risk of flooding back in 1974, helping him to get his belongings up to the ceiling before the flood hit (reaching very close to the ceiling – two floors).

The Story Bridge at sunset, a city cat, and in the distance my school, one of Brisbane's heritage sites.

The Story Bridge at sunset, a city cat, and in the distance my school, one of Brisbane’s heritage sites.

As Malouf says, Brisbane has a radial design, striking out from the city centre. In the days when few families had their own car, this meant that setting out on a journey could make two suburbs seem immeasurably far apart, and mystifyingly disconnected. This is how I experienced visits to my grandfather at Buranda from Kelvin Grove, or family friends at the outside reaches of Mt Gravatt. It wasn’t until we acquired a car, or until I travelled more by car, that the geography of the city started to make sense in a quite different way. The CBD of the city may be suitably laid out in grid-fashion (and flat) but not the rest of the place. Motorways (and bus lanes) cut through suburbs like knives now, but the new tunnels and underpasses generate a lack of knowledge of the landscape above, until one pops out, bandicoot-like, at the other end, hopefully in the right place, or somewhere you recognise and can navigate from.

Although not in a very hilly street, the home my grandparents lived in is a good example of the Queenslander style of house.

Although not in a hilly street, the home my grandparents once lived in is a good example of the Queenslander style of house.

Malouf also has a theory that Brisbane’s tree-house-like homes, built on stilts to accommodate the hills and introduce breezes, affect the psyche of those who grew up there.  His argument is that their openness, with doors always ajar, introduce an element of not-seeing, not-hearing as appropriate to the circumstances. The timber of the building moves in a way that brick structures do not, and are more vulnerable to climate as well as protecting the family from it. I’m not entirely sure that I agree with his thesis on the effect of Brisbane (or more accurately, tropical, housing). It seems predicated on a particular type of house, the old Queenslander with its encircling verandahs rather even than post-war timber housing, and certainly not on the more modern brick bungalow or two-story house. On the other hand, doors are only shut here because of air-conditioning so perhaps he has a point.

“Under the house” is a different world from that above where all serious living takes place. Home of the household washing machine, tubs, wringer or boiler, Dad’s workbenches and the kids’ play area, it has a sort of wondrousness about it as well as a daily practicality. It offers the chance to explore what Malouf calls “a kind of archaeological site”, hosting as it does all sorts of odds and ends that have found their way to rest there, as well as on-going practical items. This space certainly features prominently in my childhood memories of both my own home and that of my grandparents next door. I used to love using my grandfather’s vice to crack the Queensland nuts (now known as macadamias) which grew on our tree. Usually enclosed by timber battens, “under the house” is both open and yet secure. Surely this experience is different from those for whom a basement may serve similar functions?

Malouf asks himself “what habits of mind such a city may encourage in its citizens, and how, though taken for granted in this place, they may differ from the habits of places where geography declares itself at every point as helpful, reliable, being itself a map”. I suspect it gives your internal GPS such good training that ever after you are more able to understand other places.

The Brisbane River approaches the city from the west.

The Brisbane River flows out to Moreton Bay -you can see the Gateway Bridge here, dwarfed by altitude. Very kind of the pilot to take the river and city route that particular time -doesn’t happen frequently, and then you have to have the camera ready too.

If a good writer’s goal is to make one think, and challenge our internal assumptions, then Malouf has achieved this for me today.

Have you thought about the impact of the geography of where you grew up? Do you think it has affected how you see the world psychologically and emotionally, your habits and sense of the world’s geography.

Book: A First Place, David Malouf. Random House 2014. A collection of personal essays and writing from David Malouf to celebrate his 80th birthday. This includes the following short story: A First Place. 1984 Blakelock Lecture.

Like so many cities, Brisbane has its own sight-seeing ferris wheel. Adjacent is the Cultural Precinct.

Like so many cities, Brisbane has its own sight-seeing ferris wheel. Adjacent is the Cultural Precinct.