Posts

Dead Men's Tales (3) James Kirkpatrick

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As with my earlier posts in this series, the research into a single sailor who died in unusual circumstances in 1859 has drawn me into a rabbit warren of other intriguing individuals and historical events about which I had previously known nothing. For me it’s never time-wasting, but a wonderful cornucopia of discovery and education. This time, I’ve delved into the background of one of Africa’s first black bishops, a Liverpool shipowner who was against the slave trade, an Irish captain who started a navigation school in San Francisco, a British colonial administrator who became governor of the Leeward Islands and Newfoundland and, not least, a fair amount of the British Empire’s mid-19th Century gunboat diplomacy. (1) Back to my sailor who had the not uncommon name of James Kirkpatrick. As he died in 1859 and without his age, home address (possibly Liverpool) or easy access to the log book of the vessel in which he served or other shipping company personnel or consulate records of the

Dead Men's Tales (2) Richard Wrankmore

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It is always exciting when genealogical enquiries into a single individual end up providing enough background material for a fabulous (and true!) family saga of international proportions. In this case, my path has led to a former Germanic state to the colonial trading hub of Batavia in the Dutch East Indies, to the Cape of Good Hope in the Napoleonic era where slavery had become intertwined in the business and personal relationships of the day. I lingered a while in Victorian London’s East End and then tracked ships on passages to India and carrying immigrants to Australia and New Zealand. This all culminated in the mysterious disappearance of a vessel carrying gold with the modern equivalent value of at least Five Million Pounds Stg in the lonely expanses of the Southern Ocean. This is the background to the life of Captain Richard Wrankmore, one-time Master of the ship Derwentwater and who was a witness in the 1858 Tasmanian coronial enquiry into the death of the ship’s surgeon, Dr.

Dead Men's Tales (1) John Smith

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On browsing the Register for 1858, one entry caught my eye due to its more expansive than usual explanation as to the cause of death, i.e. lost on a mountain. However, on noticing that the man’s name was the ubiquitous “John Smith” I thought he would be impossible to research but I was swiftly proved wrong.  Entry shows John Smith of the vessel  Derwentwater , ex London on 7 August 1857, was due £7.6s.1d. in wages. This John Smith has a memorial to his passing, high among the rocky slopes of brooding Mount Wellington that towers over the city of Hobart in Tasmania.  An inquest and other reports of his death in  TROVE  and the British Newspapers Archive  give further detail. In particular, this research document by Maria Grist fleshes out the whole sad story. Smith's Monument, copyright Tas Trails Looking into the genealogical resources and with his common name I am unable to confirm with any certainty which John Smith he is born around 1821. His last known address was in  Queen S

Dead Men's Tales

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All family history enthusiasts will be aware that some records make for more interesting study than others. One can plough through long lists of official births, deaths and marriages that show little beyond the names of the individuals, the place and dates of the events and – unless already known to the researcher – one may never get any real sense of the stories behind any of them. However, there are other lists that immediately present intriguing tales on every page and these can be a marvellous distraction into the by-ways of history. One of these is the The Register of Wages and Effects of Deceased Seamen , a component of the UK Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages at Sea 1844-1890.   As the world staggers towards recovery from the Covid pandemic, it is worth reminding ourselves that although modern science and medicine have combined to save millions of lives, humanity will always face risks from infections and diseases, accidents and disasters. Within the pages of the Deaths

The Bookish Baker of Maldon

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As my family and friends know, while waiting to move into my new home I’ve spent several weeks staying in private accommodation attached to the McArthur Building adjacent to the well-known McArthur Bakery here in Maldon, Victoria, and it occurred to me aspects of its history might be of interest to them and others. McArthurs Corner, Maldon, (own photo) Side view from rear courtyard, McArthur Building (own photo) Others far more qualified than me have researched and written about the McArthurs at length, so I won’t duplicate all of that here but have provided links below. For the best history, please do read the article by Hilary Maddocks . Her family had a close association with the McArthurs and it is comprehensive and includes several contemporary photographs. Those photos of the family were taken at another property around the corner in High Street, which was the family’s residence, whereas the building I am currently resident in was built for commercial purposes at the end of the

Postcards from Pennsylvania

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Collectors of American postcards, and especially World War I ephemera, may be interested in three more postcards in the collection of Vintage Merchants Tansley & Co,  Maldon, Victoria, Australia. They also provided enough clues to discover their linked family history. CARD No. 1   This has an indistinct coloured image of the Declaration of Independence, with the handwritten name Ollie Fischer  on the side. It was posted on 28 July 1908 in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, addressed to a Miss Ollie Fischer, Amaranth, Fulton Co., Penn and reads as follows: My own Dear Little Sister. I will send you a Postal for your Little Birthday which is the 28. . I hope everybody is well at home. I am well at present and tell Amber I will write soon. Tell Gilbert to write how is you three Little Sisters of mine getting along [these?] nice days. Ollie can’t you and Jessie write Rachel a letter,  try tell [Moris/Moses?] I got a letter from Mike he is well. I am going out to see him 30 of August. Wel

Just a postcard ...

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My daughter runs a  vintage store in the historic town of Maldon, Victoria, and among the objects she sells are old postcards, also historic family photographs. Some date to the late-19  Century and the most recent is around mid-20  Century. These provide much inspiration for anyone interested in family history and trying to find the stories behind some of these bits of ephemera. Sadly, the family photos often have no clues at all as to who the individuals are and many of the postcards are blank – perhaps purchased by people as souvenirs while on their travels – while others have been written on, sent to families and friends from all sorts of places around the world. Each of these provide tantalising snippets of long-forgotten people and lost lives. Most of the time it is almost impossible to find anything out about that Violet or Edna who dropped a line to “Aunty” or “Mother”, but some cards provide a few clues and with, the aid of online sources, it is possible to tease out a bit