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For those who know me you know I am a public health microbiologist, a scientist. I have done a number of presentations for Scientists in Schools and had the interesting experience of a young lad about 11 years old very upset with his teacher as he thought they were getting “a proper scientist! Girls can’t be scientists!”
It is hugely important that people can see that girls can be scientists, plumbers, doctors, teachers etc and also that this is also true for different ethnicities, people of different backgrounds etc.
I can hear you saying but what does this have to do with family history?
Quite a lot actually. Many of our ancestors emigrated due to chain migration, someone in the family, church or village emigrated and sent word back and then others believed it was possible to also emigrate and succeed.
Housing affordability has been a major topic over the last few years because it is feared that the upcoming generation will not be able to attain the great Australian Dream of home ownership.
It is important to realise that for many Queenslanders in the early 1900s home ownership was not attainable.
It was the introduction, by William Kidston of the “Act to Enable the Government to Assist Persons in Receipt of Small Incomes to Provide Homes for Themselves”, (generally known as the Workers’ Dwelling Act of 1909) that this became even achievable. The idea was to assist workers, encourage thrift and provide health benefits as people would be in their own homes and also to assist the economy as homes were to be built rather than buying existing homes.
The government provided low interest loans (5%) over 20 years to low income earners who already owned land. The Government also regulated the type of home that could be built.
Requirements: Had to earn less than £200 gross income per annum, to own a piece freehold land free of encumbrances, or hold a miner’s homestead lease, or residence as granted under ‘The Mining Act 1898’ or a Town Lease. Had to be a British subject over 21 years. Could not own another dwelling in Queensland or elsewhere. Only then could the person then apply for a loan to build the house. The loan had to be used to build a home. It could not be used to buy a pre-existing home. The home had to be chosen from a set of standard plans. (You can download a booklet of approved designs from 1930 from Internet Archive at www.internet.org which has been digitised and placed online by the State Library of Queensland. Do a search for State Library of Queensland AND house).
If successful the client had to maintain land and house in tenantable condition for the life of the loan. This meant the house needed to be painted every five years with two coats of the approved paint and within the approved colour range.
The client had to pay all rates, taxes and other expenses relating to the land & dwelling and had to insure the property.
The client had to pay the monthly instalments and, in the event, they defaulted on a payment there was a penalty for failing to pay on time and arrears were charged at 10% interest.
It was considered in 1909 that the living wage for an unskilled labourer with three children was estimated to be £114 per annum in 1911. An engine driver, a skilled occupation but not a trade was listed as earning £187 per annum, both amounts well below the £200 maximum income for the scheme.
Over 30 years it is known that 19 058 workers’ dwellings were erected, 612 discharged soldiers’ dwelling (under a variant of the scheme that was then taken over by the Commonwealth returned Soldiers scheme) and 2 294 workers’ homes giving a total of 21 964 known loans for dwellings.
There were amendments to the scheme during the time period raising the maximum amount that could be loaned, raising the maximum income that could be earned, allowing the wife’s income to be used in calculating whether the applicant could repay the loan changing the interest rate and in 1934 changing the loan term to 30 years which decreased the monthly repayment amounts.
Finding out that your ancestor had one of these loans can sometimes be done by looking through Trove. The Board placed ‘Notices of Tenders’ for the building of the homes in the newspapers and often notices that the tenders had been accepted and who was the successful builder for the home.
Housing loan 225
The Queensland State Archives have register books of indexes to the loan files. Unfortunately, it appears the actual files were not considered archival material and were not retained but you can obtain a fair amount of information relating to the loan from the loan books. There is an index book to the loans and then this tells you the loan number which tells you in which book your entry is listed. A search for “Workers Dwelling Board” as the Agency will take you to the numbers for the index (item ID 663720) and loan registers.
It is hard to determine exactly how many people got homes, but over 30 years there were 19058 workers’ dwellings, 612 discharged soldiers’ dwellings and 2294 workers homes erected totalling 21964 dwellings.
The scheme did not provide everybody with a home and there were strict eligibility requirements and when you remember that some of this time frame was during the Depression it is pretty amazing that around 17% of Queenslanders were helped to become home owners.
So, what does this have to do with today’s theme?
Don’t just look for your ancestor as what I have found is, that if one member of an extended family had a chance under the scheme, you will also find other family members, sometimes siblings but more often cousins. These may be cousins by birth or by marriage. In one family I researched, there were eleven members of the extended family that obtained loans under this scheme and paid off their home.
The hosue at Red Hill on the corner of Cochrane and Craig Streets
One of my family who took out a loan was Rupert George Weeks. His was loan number 225, taken out on 22 December 1910 for £187. It was for a home to be built on the corner of Cochrane and Craig Streets Red Hill, (interestingly in 1913 this was considered country as far as the Queensland Registry of Births was concerned but by the 1917 birth it was considered Brisbane). Rupert and Violet had married on the 7 April 1909. The loan was paid off on the 3 May 1921. Sadly, Rupert only had a couple of months to enjoy being a homeowner as he died of tuberculosis on the 29 July 1921, however his widow and two small children aged seven and four had a roof over their heads.
Sometimes it is a just a case of seeing that something can be possible.
It all started with allowing myself to be deflected off course. I had been looking for a possible reference in Trove to an aunt who had done some pottery in the 1930s and had been associated with L. J. Harvey and the Harvey School. I was not successful in finding a mention of her, but I noticed the names of many Queensland artists listed, some of whose works we had collected over the years. On a whim I searched for the name C. Beven which was the signature on two much loved watercolours of St John’s Cathedral purchased from an antique shop about thirty years ago. Previous searches of the internet and Australian Art sites had failed to reveal any information about the artist. Through the newspapers of the day, however, a fascinating story unfolded.
St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane. Painting by Cicely Beven, owned by Lyn Irvine
Cicely Beven was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1913. She came to Brisbane with her parents in the late 1920s and the family lived at Ellerslie Crescent, Toowong. Her father, Harry, had been a police magistrate at Matara in Ceylon and was from a well-known and respected family. Her mother, Constance Davey, was the daughter of the Hon A.A. Davey, a boot manufacturer and foundation member of the Queensland Commercial Travellers’ Association. He was also a member of the Queensland Legislative Council during the term of the Kidston Government, remaining there until 1922 when the Upper House was abolished. Cicely attended Taringa State School and later All Hallows. After leaving school, she went on to study art at the Brisbane Central Technical College.
During her time at the Technical College, Cicely won acclaim for her art. In November 1934 a review of the college’s annual art exhibition in the Telegraph noted:
Miss Beven with pen and watercolour is happy in her presentation of that picturesque landmark, Old St. Stephen’s Cathedral, an interior view of St John’s Cathedral, a landscape and drawings from life.
In December of the same year, reviewing the same display, D. R. McConnel wrote:
Cicely Beven has a fine solemn interior of an aisle in St John’s Cathedral.
St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane. Second painting by Cicely Beven, owned by Lyn Irvine
In 1936, at the age of 22 and in the fifth year of her studies, Cicely was accepted into the famous University College London Slade School of Fine Art, on samples of her work. She acknowledged that there were many better students than herself at the Technical College who could not afford to go, but that she was fortunate in being able to travel and continue her studies independently. Her plan was to concentrate on developing her talent as a line draughtsman with a view to doing figure work.
Sailing on the Orontes from Sydney on the 23 February 1936, Cicely reached London where she attended the Slade for a time and then moved to St. Martin’s School of Art where she studied under Leon Underwood. Leon mainly taught wood engraving, with an emphasis on life drawing. Henry Moore was one of his most famous students.
It was whilst Cicely was studying in London that she met and fell in love with a Polish man by the name of Bronislaw Oyrzanowski. Their engagement was announced in the Brisbane papers at the end of May 1937 and they were married on 10 June at St Pancras Town Hall. As neither the bride nor groom had relatives in London, the wedding was a very quiet one, after which they left for two weeks honeymoon in Guernsey, returning to London for Bronislaw to finish his studies in Economics.
Cicely Beven and Mr Bronislaw Oyrzanowski Engagement photo. The Telegraph (Bne) 25 May 1937 p14 ‘Artist Engaged’
The couple left London for Warsaw, Poland, at the beginning of August 1937, and went to Bronislaw’s family home at Kutno, 60 miles from Warsaw where they lived until the start of 1939 when Bronislaw took up an appointment at Cracow. Life in Warsaw was very interesting for Cicely, who apart from learning the language herself and negotiating housekeeping in a foreign country, was also occupied giving lessons in English to a number of very keen students, including one of Warsaw’s principal heart specialists, and another academic who was a highly qualified engineer.During this time also, Cicely wrote articles for the Brisbane Telegraph about her life in Poland. Her artist’s eye was in evidence as she charmingly described the manners and customs of the peasant folk of Lowicz 50 miles west of Warsaw, painting a word picture of the colourful hand woven skirts of the women and children. The vertical stripes of red, orange, black and vivid pink of these stiff full skirts stood out against the great white-washed and green-garlanded interior of the “ugly red brick church” where they were attending mass. They were “so brilliant that they seemed unsubstantial – like light shattered in a piece of glass, or a spray of water”.
But this was 1939 and there were dark clouds on the horizon. On the 1st September, in the early hours of the morning, some 1.5 million German troops invaded Poland all along its 1,750-mile border with German-controlled territory. Simultaneously, the German Luftwaffe bombed Polish airfields, and German warships and U-boats attacked Polish naval forces in the Baltic Sea. At that moment in time, Cicely and Bronislaw were spending a summer holiday at Gdynia, a lovely seaside town and port which was invaded and blockaded by the Germans. Letters home prior to invasion had shown that while like the rest of Poland Cicely was fully alive to the gravity of the situation, she felt no trace of fear, and although Bronislaw had wanted her to return to Australia out of harm’s way, she elected to stay and do what she could to assist the Polish people.
Following the German invasion, Cicely’s family in Brisbane had no further contact and did not know whether she had been killed or taken prisoner. The Foreign Office reported that Madame Oyrzanowski had not been heard of and that it had no means of making enquiries in Poland. The Polish committee inquiring into war victims was endeavouring to ascertain whether she had been made a prisoner by the Nazis. However there was no news.
The Universities of Poland were a particular target of the Germans. Their aim was a complete annihilation of Polish intellectual life. The University of Cracow where Bronislaw taught, was an important centre and was singled out for destruction. One hundred and seventy academics were summoned to University Hall, and addressed by the chief of Gestapo in German. He declared that since they had tried to reopen the University without authority and were arranging examinations of undergraduates without German permission, all professors in the hall would be arrested. They were deported to concentration camps where they were cruelly treated and many died.
It was not until March 1940 that a postcard written by Bronislaw in Cracow and forwarded through the International Red Cross reached Cicely’s mother in Brisbane stating that they had been in Cracow when it was bombed but had escaped injury. His parents had also survived. There was no further contact until May 1942, when again there was word through the Red Cross Missing Friend’s Section, this time written in French by Bronislaw’s mother, that they were well and working.Information dried up again until July 1943, when a letter arrived typewritten by the International Red Cross but signed by Cicely, saying that her husband was working in an office, and she was “as usual” which her mother understood to be teaching English, as that was her previous occupation.
Wonderful as it was to receive these infrequent messages, anxiety did not abate concerning Cicely and her husband in war ravaged Poland. Over two more years passed before any further word was heard, even for a considerable time after the war ended. The family feared the worst. Then came news that they were indeed still alive but that during the German occupation both Bronislaw and Cicely had suffered greatly. She had been arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned for twelve months. Bronislaw was also imprisoned for many months for helping prisoners who had escaped a concentration camp. But there was good news as well for Cicely’s mother. Early in 1945 Cicely and Bronislaw had become the parents of a baby girl. Out of darkness, hope.
By March 1947, things were starting to return to some degree of normality. Cicely wrote that jobs were plentiful in Poland. She herself was translating from Polish into English a book by a blood specialist. She was also teaching languages to adults at the YMCA and, under the auspices of that same association, had started a kindergarten for children aged from three and a half to six years, all of whom were learning English. Her husband Bronislaw had become assistant Professor of Economics at Cracow University. By the second half of 1948, Cicely’s mother had been able to visit the family and acquaint herself with her new granddaughter, Elzbieta, a visit which she repeated in 1949, staying with the family for six months and enjoying Polish cuisine and the resurgent live theatre, including seeing “Much Ado About Nothing” performed in Polish!
Bronislaw Oyrzanowski died on November 11 1997 in Cracow. He had a distinguished international career in Economics, including working for the United Nations in Addis Ababa and Dakar. He was made professor of Economic Sciences at the University of Cracow in 1976, and after his retirement from there in 1983, went on to lecture at the University of Wisconsin. He was very widely published. Cicely died in 2000. She had continued teaching English for many years and had co-authored a book entitled I learn English.There is no record of her having continued with her art, but I would like to think that in quiet times and for her own pleasure, she did so. Those paintings of St John’s Cathedral that I have always loved are now made more precious by the revelation of the fascinating life story of the artist, a story that like the art itself, will be passed on down the line as part of my own family history.
 Death of Mr A.A. Davey, Former M.L.C. Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), Saturday 28 June 1941, page 15 Death of Mr A.A. Davey, Former M.L.C. Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), Saturday 28 June 1941, page 15
 Students’ Art Efforts, Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld: 1872-1947) Wednesday 28 November 1934, page 17
 “YOUNG ART in BRISBANE” The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954) 14 December 1934: 16. Web. 17 May 2019 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35627533
Many of us can often be heard complaining bitterly about the erroneous information in family trees on Ancestry and MyHeritage and elsewhere. We are all too aware that once one person gets a date wrong or has an ancestor marrying the wrong person, that information is copied across numerous trees without any further checking to determine its veracity or otherwise. These kinds of mistakes can easily be made by beginners who may lack an understanding about the evidence process.
However, you would not expect these same mistakes to be made in what one would assume to be a reputable publication, one with the title of Burkes Landed Gentry: The Kingdom in Scotland, edited by someone who has been in practice as a genealogist and research consultant since 1965. But numerous errors are exactly what I found when researching the death of my great great grandmother, Mary Anne Phillips/Paulovich, who I wrote about in a previous blog post.
Sometimes in our research, names appear which take us off on a tangent. We often take these paths because the circumstances are just so unusual or fascinating, they cannot be ignored. On the 27 September 1876, at the age of 52, Mary Anne died at Bona Vista Cottage in Grey Street, South Brisbane. She was buried in the South Brisbane Cemetery and witnesses at her burial, listed on the death certificate, were B Hogarth and E Gore Jones.
Edward Gore Jones
Edward Gore Jones was Mary Anne’s son-in-law, married to Lydia, her third daughter and fifth child. B Hogarth, however, was a mystery to me until I found Mary Anne’s intestacy records at the Queensland State Archives. One of the documents in the bundle attested that James William Phillips, my great grandfather and Mary Anne’s eldest son, together with Bohun Hogarth, gentleman, bound themselves for £100 to be used to pay any debts owing by Mary Anne. In a second document, Bohun Hogarth agreed to be surety for James William Phillips.
So, now I had a name and my search began to find out just who was this mysterious Bohun Hogarth. I took the easiest route and Googled his name and had numerous hits on Herbert de Bohun Hogarth. Great, I thought that was really easy! Even more exciting was that from the Google search results, I found that a Catherine Thompson Hogarth was the wife of Charles Dickens, the celebrated novelist and she was related to Herbert de Bohun Hogarth. The Hogarths were also related to William Hogarth, the English painter. Now I had a link to two famous families, albeit a tentative one (but a long bow could be drawn – couldn’t it?). Even better, one of the sources was Burke’s Landed Gentry in Great Britain: The Kingdom in Scotland. You couldn’t go wrong – could you?
Further investigation revealed that Herbert de Bohun Hogarth was the son of the Reverend David Hogarth and his wife Lucretia. Herbert’s wife was also referred to as either Hazel or Lucretia and Herbert died in 1904 in Nigeria. See the following example from one very detailed web site.
But, being the sceptic that I am (the Genealogical Proof Standard is ever-present), I knew that I would have to do my own research and verify what I had found in the Landed Gentry publication as well as in numerous trees such as those above which showed Herbert as the son of the Reverend David Hogarth.
Now this was not a search that took weeks or even days. Within a few hours, I found that Bohun Hogarth (not Herbert) was the son of the Reverend David Hogarth, Rector of Portland, and his wife Hannah Prudence Bohun. Bohun had an older brother, David Francis Hogarth, known as Frank, who was a civil engineer. Frank married Lucretia Bull in India in 1869 and the couple had three children – Herbert de Bohun born in 1871, Gerald de Bohun born in 1872 and Hazel de Bohun born in 1882.
Herbert de Bohun Hogarth was actually the nephew of Bohun Hogarth, the man who witnessed my great great grandmother’s burial in Brisbane in 1876 and provided surety for my great grandfather. Bohun left Australia in March of 1877 and travelled to India to visit his brother and it was where he died on the 7 June, 1877. Lucretia Hogarth was not Herbert’s wife but his mother and Hazel was not his child but his sister.
But what was the Dickens connection I hear you ask? Well, Bohun Hogarth and Catherine Thompson Hogarth, the wife of Charles Dickens, were second cousins once removed. Her grandfather Robert and Bohun’s great grandfather, David, were brothers and it was Catherine’s sister, Georgina, who was at Dickens’ bedside when he died having resided with him for many years following his separation from Catherine. Alfred and Edward Dickens, two of Charles and Catherine’s sons, both came to Australia, in 1865 and 1868 respectively; Alfred lived in Australia for 45 years and died on tour in America in 1912, while Edward died in 1902, having been the MP for Wilcannia for five years.
Questions still remain for me – ones which may never be answered. How did my great grandfather James William Phillips meet Bohun Hogarth and why did Bohun agree to act as surety for James? At the time of Mary Anne’s death, James was living in Maryborough and was a timber getter while Bohun Hogarth was a gentleman living on his own means.
I did find a John Hogarth who had owned Dykehead Station near Gayndah in the late 1860s. My grandmother’s eldest sister was born on the station in 1869. Perhaps that was the connection? There were also Hogarths on the Darling Downs and this family and those on Dykehead Station were related to Bohun, albeit distantly. Mary Anne Phillips/Paulovich ran what is now the Ship Inn Hotel in South Brisbane as a boarding house until early 1876. Did Bohun stay there?
While I may never know the answer any of these questions, I do know that what started as a simple search to find out more about the man named on my great great grandmother’s death certificate became much more.
My investigations confirmed two things for me; firstly, that going off on a tangent can lead to interesting finds. Secondly, you can never really rely on research done by others, whether it be the great aunt who was supposedly meticulous about her research nor those who are considered to be an expert in their field and the author of numerous genealogical books.
At its June meeting, the GSQ Writing Group discussed the positives and pitfalls of publishing a family history book. Group member Anne had circulated a long list of things she had learnt from experience and demonstrated the various points with books she had published on members of her own family. Other group members had also published books and they contributed their ideas. The following combines the details in Anne’s list with points raised during the discussion.
Before reaching the stage when you’re ready to publish, it is well worth determining the likely audience for your book. This will then help you with other decisions, such as binding, cover, size, number of copies, whether to self-publish or employ a commercial company, whether to employ specialists, such as an editor or graphic designer, as these will ultimately impact on the cost of an individual copy of the book. Having pre-orders helps to reduce the anxiety of whether you will sell all the copies you have printed. If publishing primarily for the family you may wish to rely on the skills of family and friends instead of employing specialists. Whether you are publishing for the family or, hopefully, a broader market, then an attractive presentation goes a long way towards establishing a positive mindset before a reader goes into the actual text.
Let’s look at some of the issues raised above.
Binding and paper: If, like Anne, you have done many decades of research and you want it to last, a hardback bound book is the preferred option. Sewn is the longest lasting of the different types of binding, but is much more expensive; also the pages are printed in multiples of 16 and folded. Round-backed fan glued hardback binding, is still not cheap but it enables the book to lie flat. Square-backed is cheaper still but the book will not stay open. If you decide on a hardback, you may want a dust cover. Good quality paper lasts longer, is less likely to tear, it won’t yellow so quickly and gives better reproduction of photos.
As far as photos of people are concerned, it is preferable to make these as big as possible, so readers can see what the person actually looked like.
Printing options: Colour costs 4 times as much as black and white. Be mindful to use ‘theme black’ rather than ‘auto-black’. ‘Auto-black’ is actually made up of colours, and so the whole page will be printed in colour. (The printer may have different terms for the two types of black.)
Page size: A4 is a good size for a family history book as it allows sufficient space to include photos, maps, or documents such as certificates so they are readable. ‘American letter’ is a slightly different size and this may impact on size of margins for example. Your word-processsing program may default to US settings, so it is worth watching out for this. The inside margins have to be wider than the outside margins to allow for binding.
Layout: Put page numbers in the centre at bottom to avoid any layout problems, especially if you wish to include a header which runs through the book or a particular chapter. The right hand side of an open spread always has odd numbers. It is where your text begins, and is also the side people look at first, handy to know when placing images.
It can be extremely helpful to make a plan for the first few pages, to ensure correct placement of additional material such as Table of Contents, Introduction, printing and publishing information. The number of extra pages required will vary depending upon what is included. Here is Anne’s example:
LEFT SIDE (even page numbers)
RIGHT SIDE (odd page numbers)
half title page
full title page
Table of Contents
Introduction / Author’s Note
story starts on a right-side page
An important addition at the end of the book is an index. Again there are specialists who will undertake this task, but you may prefer to do this yourself to reduce the overall cost. Anne also added several blank pages at the back in a different type of paper to provide space for readers to add extra information, corrections, even material about the other sides of their family.
A significant amount of research has been published about the most effective fonts for reading material. A font with serifs, such as Times New Roman is easier to read. Also 1.5 spacing, size 12 type, clear black (not pale black) ink also enhances the reading experience, especially if readers are likely to be older.
Legal essentials: To fulfil legal deposit requirements authors must donate a copy to the National Library of Australia (NLA), and Queenslanders also give one to State Library of Queensland (SLQ) and another one to Qld Parliamentary library. These requirements may change from time to time so it’s worth checking the current situation. Email Thorpe Bowker for an ISBN. A barcode is useful, especially if your book will be on the market.
Copyright: The issue of copyright has been discussed previously on this blog. Suffice to say that care must be taken with reproducing material which may be subject to copyright. Seek appropriate approvals prior to publication. Your transcriptions of information, rather than the documents themselves, generally do not require approval.
Proofreading, editing, typesetting and more: We have discussed editing and proofreading within the Writing Group. Creating a Style Sheet helps a writer to avoid formatting variations. Errors creep into the majority of written materials. It is almost inevitable that, even if you have been through a document multiple times, a mistake will appear when the book is published. Your eyes will often see what you expect to see rather than what’s there, so it’s worth going through your proof copy carefully when you get it back from the printer.
Costs: Set-up costs are part of the printing costs, so consider how many copies to get printed. Under-ordering results in paying the set-up costs again if you require more copies; over-ordering can lead to left-over copies sitting in a garage. It is likely to be a cheaper option in the first situation to get a few extra copies printed first time and only pay to get the required number bound; the extras could be bound later if needed. As mentioned earlier, having pre-ordered copies helps to avoid under- or over-ordering. Printing costs depend on the total number of pages, how many pages have colour, the type of paper used, and the number of copies printed. In general, the larger the order, the cheaper the book.
Ask questions: It is important to shop around, and ask questions to ensure that you understand exactly what services printers and/or publishers are offering, and what these will cost. Also ask for definitions of technical terms to avoid any unmet expectations. Personal recommendations go a long way towards choosing a company that will deliver what you want.
Last, but not least: If you are producing the book for a family reunion, or significant anniversary, develop a plan for the time required for each stages of producing the book, working back from your deadline. This will help you achieve your end result within desired timeframes.
Good luck with your writing and publishing endeavours!
I had always thought if I had convict ancestry I would have liked to be a descendent of someone who arrived on the First Fleet and be part of the Fellowship of First Fleeters. So when I found a convict, Sarah Chapman, in my lineage I was slightly disappointed that she did not arrive until December 1801 on the Nile which was 13 years after the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove.
I wrote about Sarah Chapman in the June 2018 Generation. During my research I found out that she had given birth to a daughter in 1802 (Elizabeth Chapman from whom I am descended) and the father listed on her baptism record is a John Harris. At the time, I was focused on Sarah and Elizabeth’s stories so did not investigate him but I did note he was a member of the NSW Corps and came out on the Second Fleet (1790) as the Surgeon’s Mate. Well it wasn’t the First Fleet, but close!
I formed a rather poor opinion of this John Harris when I was writing about Sarah Chapman, my 3x great grandmother, because although he appears on the baptism certificate as Elizabeth’s father, he never married Sarah and probably did not support her. She went on to have 10 children living with three men until she married the last one, Richard Francis, in 1818. In 1801 when she arrived in NSW there was no Female Factory which, although a tough place, was somewhere women could seek refuge. Sarah was alone and trying to make her own way in the colony.
The John Harris we believe was Elizabeth Chapman’s father was born at Moneymore, Londonderry, Ireland in 1754 and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He became a naval surgeon in India for 10 years and then was appointed as a surgeon with the NSW Corps in 1789.  He came to NSW as surgeon’s mate on the Surprize one of six ships of the infamous Second Fleet which arrived in Sydney in June 1790. John and Elizabeth Macarthur also came on the Second Fleet and John Harris was present, because he was a surgeon, when a bloodless duel took place between John Macarthur and Thomas Gilbert, the master of the largest ship the Neptune, before the ship left Portsmouth. John Macarthur had complained strongly about his family’s accommodation on the ship which bought him into conflict with Gilbert. He was eventually transferred to another ship of the Fleet.
The Second Fleet became known as ‘The Death Fleet’. The Surprize, Neptune and Scarborough had the highest mortality rate in the history of penal transportation. The Surprize had 256 convicts and a crew of around 40 men which included the surgeon William Waters and John Harris. One soldier and 36 convicts perished during the voyage to NSW, 126 required hospitalisation on arrival and many died in the months after disembarkation. John Harris spoke about the ‘…great cruelty that, was practised towards the convicts that were on board…[which]…. turned my blood cold…They were often up to their waists in water, and the irons on their legs were barbarous.’
Experiment Farm at Parramatta in 2014
His job on arrival in NSW was to attend to all military personnel so he was posted to the military barracks at Parramatta and promoted to surgeon in 1792. When a sick Governor Phillip left the colony in 1792, Francis Grose, commandant of the NSW Corps, took over the colony for two years and, unlike Governor Phillip, he was amenable to offering land to officers in the NSW Corps. Hence John Harris was granted 100 acres at Parramatta in April 1793 and in October of that year he bought Experiment Farm, also at Parramatta, from James Ruse which extended his holdings. James Ruse was a convict and had been granted the land by Governor Philip in order to prove that he could be self sufficient by farming the land. John Harris built the cottage, which stands on this site today, in about 1835.
In 1801, John Harris moved to Sydney to become the Naval Officer of the colony when William Balmain left but he also continued the role of surgeon to the military. In addition he accompanied James Grant, as the surgeon, when he explored the Williams and Paterson Rivers in 1801.
It was at this time he must have met Sarah Chapman, my 3 x great grandmother. Perhaps she had been assigned to him when she arrived on the Nile on 14 December 1801. Sarah gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, sometime in 1802 who was baptised at St Philip’s, Sydney on 19 December 1802 and John Harris is listed as the father and the birth date as 19 April 1802.  The birth date would mean that Sarah became pregnant on the Nile on the way to NSW but John Harris was not on that ship so the date is inaccurate. At this time baptisms usually occurred a couple of months after the birth so Elizabeth was probably born in October/November 1802. A convict Francis Harris, who became known in the colony as John Harris, was on the Scarborough one of the ships of the Second Fleet but current research appears to favour the surgeon John Harris as the father.
There is some evidence John Harris did ‘look out’ for Sarah Chapman and his daughter. In the muster (a census) of 1806, Sarah was living in Sydney with Aaron Peckham who was a constable. John Harris doubtless knew Aaron Cook (alias Peckham and Heathcote) as Cook came to NSW as a convict on the Surprize, the same ship as John Harris. Aaron Cook had been transported for 7 years in Winchester, Hampshire on 6 March 1787  but by this time he probably would have had his freedom and perhaps Sarah had been assigned to him.  At the time of the census they had two children, Elizabeth who would have been four years old and Mary Ann Heathcote (the name of one of Aaron Cook’s aliases).  Sarah had already had a baby, George, who died in 1804 and she had two more children with Aaron Peckham, Louisa and Thomas.
About 1819, her eldest daughter Elizabeth Chapman, my 2 x great grandmother, now aged 17 travelled to Hobart to marry Charles Hardwicke. He had arrived in Sydney on 7 February 1814 as third officer on the convict ship General Hewitt. The captain of this ship had treated everyone very harshly so Hardwicke requested permission from Governor Macquarie to stay in NSW. John Harris recommended that Charles Hardwicke should be permitted to remain in NSW  so he must have known him. Charles Hardwicke moved to Launceston around 1817 to take up a land grant so he may have fallen for Elizabeth before his departure or his friend John Harris arranged for his daughter to move to Van Diemen’s Land.
During this time John Harris was given another grant of 34 acres by Governor King on the Pyrmont-Ultimo Peninsula. The estate was called Ultimo and was named after the clerical error which had been made in a legal case against John Harris. His offence was noted as occurring on the ‘ultimo’ (the previous month) rather than ‘instant’ (same month) and this mistake saved him from being court-martialled.  He built Ultimo House on this land in 1804 a stately two-storey country residence which stood on a rise overlooking Cockle Bay, which is one of the bays in Darling Harbour.
He returned to England, aged 56, in 1810, to give evidence in the court martial of George Johnston for his role in the Rum Rebellion, and also visited his family in Ireland. He married Eliza Jones on 17 August 1813 at Saint Paul, Covent Garden who would have been 21 (he would have been 59) and they returned to Australia in 1814. He resigned his commission with the army and was given permission to become a private settler.
On their return to Sydney, John Harris and his wife lived at Ultimo and a Mrs Cox’s reminiscences of this time which were published in 1921, provide some insight into their life.
I must not forget to mention a Dr. Harris, who made one of the pleasant society in Sydney. In the first place, all Ultimo belonged to him, and there was a good house on it when he returned to this colony from England, where he had been summoned as a witness in the Bligh business, when he had married. He was a very merry man, and sang pleasant songs. He had been in the army from his youth. He had suffered from a paralytic stroke before we knew him, but he used to walk to old St. Philip’s from Ultimo House very frequently. He kept no carriage. Mrs. Harris was a fine busy woman. She had no family, but a young nephew named John Harris used to reside with them, and she liked to have young people of his own age out in large parties. Dr. Harris, although lame took it into his head that he would go out with Mr. Oxley  and other gentlemen to explore the North of Bathurst… He returned to Sydney before the rest of the party, and found that his wife had added extensively to Ultimo House. As he did not like living in so large a house, he let it, and retired to Shanes Park, a lovely spot on South Creek, where they both ended, their days. Dr Harris was a great reader and a gentleman.
John Harris was buried in St John’s Cemetery in a vault which is one of the oldest in the cemetery.
As she recalled, they moved to Shane’s Park at St Marys in 1821 and Ultimo was leased. During this period he was on many committees and was one of the first directors of the Bank of NSW in February 1817. On his death in 1838, he had extensive landholdings in Parramatta, Ultimo and Five Dock.
John Harris has an interesting story but I cannot help but think of Sarah Chapman struggling with her 10 children while he lived a very privileged life on his vast land holdings. It does appear that he may have helped her in a small way but perhaps if he had acknowledged his daughter he may have been surrounded by grandchildren in his old age. But then that would have been another story.
 I was unable to find a certificate of freedom for this period but Aaron Cook/Peckham/Heathcote did eventually receive one in 1824: New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, 1827-1867, Aaron Cook alias Aaron Peckham, 211/2801, 30 September 1824 ancestry.com Accessed 14 April 2018.
I would see our family name on the Toowoomba Mother’s Memorial and ask, “Who was GH Maag?” The answer was always the same. “That’s Uncle George.” As a family, however, we knew little more than that you fought in WW1 and the family story that your life had been saved during fierce fighting in The Great War because a bullet had struck a cigarette case in your breast pocket instead of lodging directly in your heart. But Uncle George, who were you?
I have images of you in my mind, you as a child, having inherited the long, lean look of your Swiss German ancestors. I can see you running through the streets and fields of Meringandan, your skin browned by the hot Queensland sun and the soles of your feet hardened as they rhythmically came into contact with the richly fertile Queensland soil for which the Darling Downs is still known. Did you enjoy playing games with your friends at the small school you attended or were you more academically inclined? Did the gap in your education, between grades 2 and 4, impact your ability to read and write and do ‘rithmatic?
What were the joys and challenges of your childhood, being born and raised in the late 1890s in a rural community that relied strongly on agriculture? Did you pull your sister’s pigtails and annoy her as younger brothers tend to do? Were you close as the only two surviving siblings of your father’s first marriage? Were you ever told of your older brother’s existence? Did you know his name, that he was three years older than you or that he died at the age of 5 months from convulsions caused by teething? How, or even did, your father or grandparents explain the death of your brother or that your mother died during your first year of life? What impact did these losses have on you as you grew into the man you became?
How did you react when your father remarried to a woman whose Scottish family was well respected in your local community? Did you like her? Did a maternal instinct she may have had extend to you and your sister? Did you like your step siblings? Was yours a harmonious household or did these new relationships bring with them their own set of struggles? There is a family story that you would send one of your younger step brothers on errands to purchase packets of cigarettes for you. You would never be able to ask this of a minor today but then the world has changed very much from the one that you knew.
Your paternal father and grandfather were carpenters, responsible for building local schools and churches and both paternal and maternal relatives made donations to the building fund for the German Lutheran Church in Djuan. When asked about your religion you always indicated Presbyterian or Lutheran, the faith of your fathers. What impact did their faith have on you? As a carpenter by trade, could you have known you would be one of many Maags, five generations to date, of ‘tradies’ who are well respected for the quality of their work, and that being apprenticed to your father would not be unique? Did the manual labour this job required leave you strong and fit and physically ready for the days to come?
The Queenslander, 02 March 1918, p26
The Queenslander, 30 March 1918, p24
When my brother and I look at your WW1 enlistment photographs, my brother questions whether the subject of each image is the same person. I see, in the first, a man youthful in appearance. Could the second have been taken during or after military training, showing a man slightly more hardened by life, perhaps as a result of becoming proficient in the use of weapons and being mentally conditioned to take the life of other human beings? Did your family look proudly at these photographs and at you in your uniform, your clean shaven, 5 foot 9 inch tall self? Were they, were you, proud to see you serve God, King and newly adopted county? As recently arrived Germans were they concerned that you were returning to the Mother Land? Did they experience a sense of divided loyalty? Did you? Were they worried about your safety? Were you? Or was the whole experience seen as a Boy’s Own Adventure, a chance to fire a gun, muck in with the lads and see a world far away from the rural vistas of the Darling Downs? Did the journey to Sydney, the city itself and the Ormond loom large in your ‘country boy’s eyes’? Was the voyage rough or calm? Was it relaxing or were you kept busy with drill and exercise?
After landing in England and travelling to Suez, what did you make of the ancient sights, fragrant aromas and raucous sounds of Egypt? Did you really contract measles or were you quarantined, along with others, to limit an outbreak among Australia’s Imperial Forces? As you saw action, did you grieve the loss of mates with whom you bonded closely or did you thrill at the excitement of war? Were you increasingly disillusioned as you encountered the mud of the trenches and the blood, injuries and death you saw around you or, to the end, were you convinced of the rightness of Britain’s cause?
As your battalion began to advance on their objective in the morning of your last day on earth, was the dawn breaking or were you forging ahead in predawn darkness? Were your ears assaulted by the sound of gun and cannon fire or was there an eerie silence? Could you smell, even taste, the odour of smoke or was there only the breathing in and out of crisp European air? Did you feel any pain, was your sight blinded, by the shell that exploded around you? The shell that hit at least one other private, completely severing one of your legs and shattering the other. Were you in pain as stretcher bearers carried you to the Dressing Station? The cheeky sense of humour for which you were known seemed to carry you through, one mate describing you as quite a lad. “I’ve got a Blighty this time”, you said, considering your wounds not to be fatal but severe enough to be removed from the fighting. Those who knew of your death were surprised to learn these wounds did claim your life.
What would you think, if I could ask you now, of being buried beside the road in the sort of make shift cemetery used in times of war or that your remains were reinterred in a military cemetery where your final resting place is marked by a headstone with the simple outline of a cross?
How did your family feel to see your name in black and white, Died Of Wounds, Geo. Henry Maag, Toowoomba, 1/9/18, to mourn with no question of your returning to them? Could you have known that your name would appear on the Mother’s Memorial in Toowoomba, honour rolls at Kingsthorpe, ANZAC Square in Brisbane city, the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and St Andrews Presbyterian Church? Could you have known about the family story that would develop that your name was originally omitted from the Soldier’s Memorial Hall Honour Roll but was added later as a result of your stepmother storming in and demanding your name be included? Would you be proud to know your name still shines brightly in gold against the polished dark brown wood along with other local boys who paid the ultimate price?
Finally Uncle George, was the story of the cigarette case true or a case of Chinese Whispers, a story that had grown from a small kernel to take firm root in Maag family lore? Would you have been surprised to know that the Australian Imperial Force sent a list of your belongings to your father as your Next of Kin? A testament and two religious books, a purse and coins, a knife and your unit colours but listed among these and other particularly unremarkable effects was a cigarette holder and one metal cigarette case. Did your family receive these effects after your passing? Did they receive the cigarette case? Was it marked or dinted by the impact of the now legendary bullet? Is this story more true than some of your nephews know?
My great grandfather Helgi Julius Jónsson was a man of the ocean, just as his father and countless generations before him were. He was an Icelander and they were bred tough, especially in the region where he was born – the Westfjörds, one of the most remote and rugged regions of Iceland.
Helgi was a born and bred fisherman. He knew that the ocean was something to respect and gives thanks for. It gave life with the sustenance of fish and provided an income for many, and yet it could snatch life away in the blink of an eye. One mistake or a sudden turn of the weather could mean never returning to land and to the embrace of loved ones. The following story is one that was told by Helgi and is remembered by his many descendants.
In 1924, Helgi graduated from the Stýrimannaskóla in Reykjavík, which gave Helgi the ability to work in the position of Helmsman, and Ship´s Captain on a ship. Wikipedia states “The Helmsman was responsible for maintaining a steady course, properly executing all rudder orders, and communicating to the officer on the bridge using navigational terms relating to ship’s heading and steering.”
Helgi worked on a ship named Max Pemperton RE278 for fourteen years as a helmsman. This was an English manufactured ship by Cochrane and Sons Ltd in Selby England in 1917, however by 1935 the ship was owned by H/F Reykjavík.
In January 1944, nearing the end of the World War II, 44-year-old Helgi was scheduled to work on the ship, and would be heading out to sea. However, on the day he was due on board his hand broke out in a strange rash and was so swollen that he had to see a doctor. The doctor requested that he remain behind from this trip so that they could investigate this reaction further. He was given leave from this journey and another man was called to take his place on the ship.
No sooner than the ship had left the harbour, the swelling in Helgi´s hand disappeared. It was such an odd occurrence, but how could Helgi have known then that this would be the last time that the ship Max Pemperton was ever seen.
The ship perished with all 29 men on board. It is believed that the ship sunk at Malarifi at Snæfellsnesi on the 11th of January, on the north west coast of Iceland. It could have been subject to military aggravation around at the time or bad weather had played a hand in its demise, but no one can really be certain.
Helgi was married at the time and had four children to his first wife Þorbjörg Kristjánsdóttir. His oldest daughter Elín Helgadóttir was my grandmother. Lucky for Helgi he had escaped an early death and his young family were spared the hardship of life without their father and the livelihood he provided them. I can’t imagine what he must have felt after the incident. Perhaps relief at being spared, but I imagine there came with it sense of guilt to be the one who escaped death when so many of his comrades lost their lives.
Helgi sailed all through the war years to England with fish. From 1948 he was the number one helmsman on the ship Ísborg from Ísafirðir in the north west of Iceland and from 1956 he worked for a net manufacturing company called Hampiðjunni in Reykjavík. He retired from working life in 1987 at the age of 88 years old and died in 1996 at the age of 97 years old.
May 1919 is the 100 year anniversary of “Spanish Flu” hitting Brisbane then spreading throughout Queensland. “Spanish Flu” does not come from Spain but was first majorly publicised there as Spain was a neutral country in WW1 and the press was not censored so it acquired that name and it has stuck. It had been a long four years of war. The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than did World War I, at somewhere between 40 and 100 million people. Most of its victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks which predominantly affect the young and the elderly, or otherwise weakened immune-system patients. Most deaths from this pandemic were primarily in those aged 15-35, with 99% of deaths in those under 65. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four years of the Black Death bubonic plague from 1347 to 1351.
The pneumonic influenza had first hit down south after having been kept initially at bay by Commonwealth quarantine but in January 1919 the first case was officially notified from New South Wales of a soldier who had come up by train to Sydney from Melbourne (Victoria notified of cases the day after New South Wales).
On 29 January, Queensland declared pneumonic influenza an infectious disease, within the meaning of the Health Act, and introduced the pneumonic influenza regulations. This meant that all local authorities had to notify the Queensland Government of any cases of pneumonic influenza. The authorised medical practitioners would diagnose and notify the government of cases. The regulations gave particular powers to the doctors of being able to force a patient into isolation at home or in hospital. They also were given the authority to detain someone if they were at risk of influenza, and forcibly treat them by a ten-minute session in an inhalation chamber on three consecutive days and by inoculation with an anti-influenza vaccine.
The closure of the border left many Queenslanders stranded in New South Wales. Tents were set up in Tenterfield which was where the railway did the changeover. (Queensland railway was a different gauge track to New South Wales). Initially a tent city was established at Tenterfield showgrounds. However with 450 people there and another 150 expected Tenterfield only agreed to this for a short time then the camp was set up at Wallangarra with another set up at Coolangatta (8 February). People had to apply to the Government to be allowed back to Queensland. There is a listing of the people who went through the Wallangarra Quarantine Station at the Queensland State Archives.
The closure of the border left many Queenslanders stranded in New South Wales. Tents were set up in Tenterfield which was where the railway did the changeover. (Queensland railway was a different gauge track to New South Wales). Initially a tent city was established at Tenterfield showgrounds. However, with 450 people there and another 150 expected Tenterfield only agreed to this for a short time then the camp was set up at Wallangarra with another set up at Coolangatta (8 February). People had to apply to the Government to be allowed back to Queensland.
The government decided they would also charge a daily fee of seven shillings six pence a day (reduced to half that amount for children aged 2-12, while children under two were not charged). Each person had to sign a form agreeing to this. They were given three months to pay the fee. There are files at Queensland State Archives (QSA) regarding the money recovery efforts. 5321 people had spent time in the quarantine camps, with 3715 of them at Wallangarra. By 25th April Queensland people were still clear of infection but there had been 19000 cases in Victoria.
Queensland held off the incursion of disease from the south until May by closing their borders and enforcing quarantine at the border. Ships were quarantined at Lytton and there were a number of deaths prior to May from infected ships.
Finally, on 2 May, the Acting Premier Edward Theodore announced there were cases of influenza at the Brisbane General Hospital.
Everyone in the community was affected by the new regulations that came into force on the 9th May:
From and after the date hereof, until and including the 31st day of July, 1919, or such later date as may be prescribed, by any subsequent order, every church, Sunday school, school, or college, place of public amusement or resort, theatre, hall, dancing-room, gymnasium, or other place or premises where persons regularly or occasionally congregate or assemble for worship, education, meeting, amusement, entertainment, dancing, physical culture t or athletics, shall be closed to the public : Provided that this order shall not apply to churches under and subject to*the following conditions :— (1) That services are limited to three quarters of an hour. (2) That no overcrowding is permitted, and that every alternate seat only is allowed to be occupied. (3) That no person suffering from a cold or coughing, or any other sickness, be allowed to attend service. Provided further that this order shall not apply to any church service, Sunday school, school or college, meeting, amusement, performance, entertainment, or any congregation or assemblage of persons in the open air or in any building without a roof, but no person suffering from a cold or coughing or any other sickness shall be allowed to be present. Provided further than this order shall not apply to any local authority meeting, meetings of committees of associations, societies, or other similar institutions, or boards of directors, or to any meeting at which there are present not more than 20 person*. (2) This order shall apply to the area* of the cities of Brisbane and South Brisbane, the towns of Hamilton, Ithaca, Sandgate, Toowong, Windsor, and Wynnum, and the shires of Balmoral, Belmont, Coorparoo, Enoggera, Kedron, Sherwood, Stephens, Taringa, Toombul, and Yeerongpilly. Dated this 9th day of May, 1919.
Notice of the new regulations had been released and almost straight away the Boxing Stadium in Brisbane announced it would be removing its roof to allow for continued activities!
The number of cases in Brisbane rose quickly and from 7th – 15th May there were 1100 cases notified and 462 patients in hospital. By 27 May, 4452 cases of influenza had been notified within the metropolitan region. The Health Department provided information leaflets and SOS emergency cards which had SOS on one side and Food on the other. When households required help, they placed the SOS cards in a window showing the appropriate side. These were distributed in each area. In Toowong they were distributed by the senior male students of Toowong State School over the whole area within two days.
Where a member of a family was infected, the house was isolated and quarantine rules were applied. Only the most serious went to hospital. It was the local community efforts that helped feed and nurse people. The ambulance service could not cope, and it was not uncommon for patients to be transported by private vehicle. The Red Cross Women’s Emergency Corps, which had worked hard throughout the war years, swung back into action. The Toowong branch started operations at Dr Helen Shaw’s residence. They provided beef tea, barley water, and other food for people suffering from influenza. With so many men away the bulk of the work fell upon the women and the general community.
So many people were ill that services such as gas and transport were rationed. The influenza spread rapidly throughout Queensland. Our Indigenous communities were particularly hard hit and Thursday Island and the Torres Strait Islands were hit early in 1920.
Matthew Wengert has recently published a book of research called City in Masks, funded by Brisbane City Council (Lord Mayor’s Helen Taylor History Research Award) of how the influenza outbreak affected Brisbane. I recommend the book to get a feel of how your ancestor was affected during this difficult time. ISBN: 9780648068730. Publication Date: 09-Feb-2019.
I have several ancestors in my family who could be considered troublemakers or ne’er-do wells; the problem is deciding who would be the one to write about for this blog post. It must be William Nelson McCann, aka William McCann Neilson, he is fascinating, but I need to sort through the pile of newspaper clippings I have on William to write coherently.
William Nelson McCann (my 2nd great-granduncle) was born on 27 September 1837 in Launceston, Tasmania, the son of Nicholas McCann and Catherine Nelson. The family moved to Geelong, Victoria by 1840 and established a quarry, stonemason and cement business. William married Lois Louisa Jenner on 25 April 1861 at the home of Louisa’s brother, John Adolphus Jenner, in Ballarat, Victoria (The Star (Ballarat) 26 April 1861, page 2).
At the time of his marriage, William was a town Councillor in Geelong, Victoria and the co-owner of the Geelong Advertiser newspaper. In 1864 William was elected as a Member of Parliament (MLA) in Victoria for the electorate of South Grant (an area near Geelong). Life seemed to be progressing well for the young couple, until…
The Illustrated Sydney News, Monday 16 September 1867, page 6 noted:
At the late Criminal Sessions at Geelong, William N. McCann, M.L.A. was charged with having forged the signature of Thomas Sunderland, deputy registrar-general, to a receipt for a stock mortgage. The receipt was in the following words : Received into the office of the Registrar-General of Victoria, at Melbourne, at twelve o’clock noon, on the twenty-fourth day of April, in year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, a memorial of the within written deed, duly verified by William Nelson McCann, of Geelong, No. 1,210, book 127. THOS. SUTHERLAND, pro-Registrar-General. On this mortgage, McCann contrived to obtain advances both from Mr Gillespie, the manager of the National Bank, Geelong, and Captain McMahon, the leader of the Opposition. The jury found the prisoner guilty, and a sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment was pronounced on the ex-legislator.
Isn’t Trove wonderful? So, here is William in 1867, son of a prominent Geelong family, sentenced to seven years imprisonment. You might think that is the end of the story. I thought so for many years as William seemed to have disappeared.
Earlier last year, around January, I decided to have another look in Trove for William and had a Eureka moment. It an article I found, it appeared that William was a resident in San Francisco, California and not only that but with a different name, William McCann Neilson. Again, thank you Trove.
So armed with this new clue I started digging. Questions that I needed to answer were: Why the change of name? When did he go to San Francisco?
There he was in the Sacramento Daily Union, dated August 1870, as an Englishman from Australia, one of the local reporters on the Alta (another San Francisco newspaper). He is listed in the 1870 and 1880 United States Federal Census along with his wife, Louisa Neilson. Louisa does not appear in the 1890 Census, and I have not been able to track her after that date in the United States. Did she return to England perhaps? This raised more questions than answers. Wait a minute, 1870? He was sentenced to 7 years prison in 1867 in Victoria, wasn’t he? When did he enter the US?
I knew he had been sentenced to seven-year imprisonment in Victoria in 1867, so how was he in San Francisco in 1870? Searching the voter’s register in California, I found he had first entered the United States in 1868 – wait a minute – 1868?
So, a search the Public Records Office of Victoria Register of Male Prisoners finds a gem. William Nelson McCann, prisoner 8077, has a notation – Freedom by order of His Excellency the Governor 7 December 1868. Of course, as you see on the right his page has a water stain or some such – would be on that page, wouldn’t it?
A further search of the Victorian Parliament revealed: borrowed money to finance a grazing run and convicted of forgery Aug 1867; released after serving a short part of a seven years’ sentence and went abroad. So I guess being part of a prominent Victorian family and an MLA meant that the government and his family wanted him out of the state and out of the country.
William appears in the Daily Alta, California on 18 February 1871 refuting claims of imprisonment with a lengthy discourse on three trials and no conviction. He talks of a severe head injury, a lengthy time bedridden and advice to take a long sea voyage for his health.
William next appears in the California papers of note on 2 February 1874 in the Daily Alta answering the claim of being “convicted in Melbourne of forgery, and sent to the hulks, and afterwards being released on the premise of leaving the country.”
His explanation is amazing and shows how this man had a flair for writing fiction. There is much more about William and his wife to come – we now know his explanation in San Francisco for leaving Australia and establish him in the United States as a journalist and editor.
In 1885 William became a sometime lawyer when he defended Mrs Sarah Althea Sharon against Senator Sharon in messy divorce litigation, Sharon v Sharon (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, Friday 24 April 1885, page 2).
Why exactly Mrs Sharon engaged William as her lawyer and protagonist are unclear, but it seems William certainly had the ‘gift of the gab’. William as a side issue sued Senator Sharon for slander to the tune of $120,000 (South Australian Register, Friday 28 December 1883, page 6).
In 1894 William married Nancy (Nan) McFarland, Nancy was born in 1856 in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, United States, the daughter of Irwin McFarland, a steel mill entrepreneur. They married on 4th December 1894 in San Francisco, California. The following appeared in The San Fransisco Star of Dec 8:
Wm M Neilson, the well-known journalist was married on Wednesday last to Miss Nan McFarland, daughter of Major McFarland a Pennsylvania iron manufacturer. They will continue to reside in Vacaville, where they own a splendid and valuable ranch. They cannot live longer, more prosperously or more happily than their many friends wish.
By 1896, they were separated. On the 15th September 1896, Nancy files a petition in insolvency stating that she owes $2372 and that she has no available assets.
It was a difficult marriage as Nancy had him arrested for insanity on the 19th March 1897 and taken to the Receiving Hospital in San Francisco.
San Francisco Chronicle, Saturday, March 20, 1897 notes:
… Neilsen, once rich, a newspaper man of high standing and lawyer with a lucrative practice, is for the second time since Sharon’s death, a patient at the Receiving Hospital. In February 1894 he was taken there sick, penniless and without a friend. In December of the same year, he married Miss Nan McFarland, and for a time there was for him a return of prosperity. Of late, however, his family life has been full of dissensions, and yesterday the climax was reached, when, a hopeless lunatic, he was taken to the receiving hospital where he is now an inmate of the insane ward.
William appeared before a judge three days later and was declared sane.
San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday, March 23, 1897 notes:
… Judge Belcher said he did not doubt Neilson’s mental soundness. I have not been personally acquainted with him, said the Judge, but I have known him for years as a writer for the press and a man of strong intellect. When he came before me charged with insanity, I gave him a most thorough personal examination but found not the slightest trace of mania, hallucination or delusion. He seemed natural and sound, coherent and sensible …
On the 11th July 1897 William, as assignee of the estate of Nancy Neilson, an insolvent debtor, brings suit against Nan Neilson, Clara McFarland & Agnes Ellen Brock that Nancy Neilson with intent to defraud her creditors executed a deed for land in Solano, California.
Nancy was granted a divorce from William on the 6th January 1898 and was allowed $50 per month alimony. Nancy seems to disappear after 1898.
William is listed in the 1900 United States Federal Census, the San Francisco, California, City Directory, 1901 and the 1902 California, Voter Registrations 1900-1968, and then disappears.
As another interesting side issue, I was contacted by a fellow family historian from Victoria asking for information about a possible child of William. This lady was helping a friend’s cousin with his family history and had come across a possible link to William. The man concerned descended from a Henry (Harry) Hall born in Melbourne in 1868 to Josiah and Elizabeth Hall. Henry’s mother Elizabeth passed away in 1876 and Josiah Hall placed Henry as a state ward. The records show that his father is William Nelson McCann. Another interesting side of William, perhaps? The man concerned has since done a DNA test, autosomal and Y-DNA, and matches to the McCann family in Victoria. Something else to follow up about William.
Recently more records have been added to Ancestry and there finally in the California, County Birth, Marriage, and Death Records, 1849-1980 is the death of William at the City and County Hospital in San Francisco on the 24th March 1903, aged 68 years, cause of death Lobar Pneumonia. William is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery, San Francisco, the cemetery is now defunct, and the last remains were moved to Colma in 1939.
There is still much more to discover about William Nelson McCann AKA William McCann Neilson but now at least I have found his death, and perhaps finally he may rest in peace – a very interesting black sheep indeed.
Recently I was researching my 2nd great uncle, Thomas Baines, an Irish school teacher who emigrated to Queensland. Now, I am one of the ‘new kids on the block’, as far as genealogy is concerned, so the Queensland State Archives (QSA), although not completely unknown to me, was not a place where I felt comfortable to do my research. However, if I was ever going to give a correct account of my ancestor’s life, then that is where I was hoping to find the meat to put on the bones of my basic research and bring him to life on the page. This is my QSA adventure.
I then clicked on Schools, Hospitals & Orphanages. Scrolled down to Teachers 1860 – 1905.
Once again I scrolled down and selected Schools, Hospitals & Orphanages and selected Teachers 1860-1905. Joy oh joy! A full online searchable index.
I downloaded the file and saved it to my computer for future reference (this is optional). So now I was ready to search and find long lost Uncle Thomas.
To find Uncle Thomas in such a large database; there is a search box at the upper corner of the page, so I typed in ‘Baines’ and sure enough, up came all the teachers with the surname of Baines.
Armed with these reference numbers, off I went to search to QSA in search of Uncle Thomas’s teaching record.
Note: You can order the ‘not filmed’ records from the counter when you have the correct reference numbers.
By asking at the counter for a little direction – lo and behold the Microfilms were easy to locate, there were plenty of fiche/film readers available, and quite a number of records to scroll through, but I ‘hit pay dirt’ on my elusive Uncle Thomas – from his teaching record I found a myriad of information.
Date of arrival in Australia
Number of children
Date of Birth
Date admitted into the service
Date resigned from the service
Previous employment history
Authority of Record, Name and Date
School Appointed to, date and position held
Organisation of school
Because I had to look through many names on the microfilm, it was difficult for me not to notice how many teachers were employed at that time. I began to wonder, did any of my ‘brick walls’ become teachers? So, if you have drawn a blank on one of your ancestors in Queensland, you could try an enjoyable day at the Queensland State Archives.
Extract from the Queensland Times article 1876
However, don’t forget your lunch – I’m sure you’ll be amazed at just how much information has not been made available on the ‘web’.
What became of Thomas Baines? Yes, I did search Trove and there he was, large as life. Thomas was a teacher and head master and taught in and around Ipswich from 15 July 1878 to 15 March 1882, he became an auctioneer and ran his own business auctioneering firm in Ipswich. He was a well-respected and civic minded individual who served as a councillor on the Ipswich City Council and became Lord Mayor of Ipswich in 1899. I found a very interesting article following the trail of Uncle Thomas, which clearly sums up how he chose to live his life.