Hugh Muirhead was my husband’s grandfather. He rarely made the newspapers because he was not a “colourful” character like some of my raffish ancestors. He did however make a huge difference to the people around him whether it was his family or the people trying to build homes in his neighbourhood
Hugh’s grandfather was also Hugh. He was born in Glasgow in 1834 and came to Australia to settle in Clarencetown, where one of his children, Robert, and Elizabeth Burns had a son called Hugh Burns, born in 1889. In later life Hugh was mortified to discover that his parents married the year after he was born. Elizabeth was the daughter of the Master Mariner James Burns and Isabella Muirhead. The Muirhead name comes from two different parts of the family and it seems way back they were related.
Hugh married Sarah Jane Barrett in 1911. She was the youngest and ninth child of John Barrett and Sidney Walbran who came out to Australia on the “Nineveh” in 1879.
Hugh’s father was a carpenter but for the first nine and a half years of his working life Hugh was a sawyer at the Neath Colliery. The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate 18 Feb 1914 said:
Mr Hugh Muirhead … was entertained prior to his departure by the mechanics of Neath Colliery at a social evening in the Denman Hotel, Abermain. Mr W Ross, on behalf of the mechanics, presented Mr Muirhead with a travelling bag and spoke in eulogistic terms of him, both as a citizen and a workman. They were sorry he was going from their midst, but wished him every success in his business undertaking… Mr Muirhead, in reply, thanked them for their kindly remarks and handsome present, and would always remember the happy times at Neath. He was going to Thirlmere to start a business in which he hoped to better himself.
Family lore talks of a sawmill at Bargo (near Thirlmere). Hugh had been married for three years and had a son Sidney, born in 1913, before he headed off to new territory to try his luck.
Florence Leona (John’s mother) was born in the Cessnock area in 1916 so the family had returned from the sawmill venture by that time.
Benita was born in 1919, Jean in 1925 and Roberta in 1933. Betty joined the family in 1929.
I can find no further record of Hugh’s whereabouts until 1934 where he is living in Burwood Street, Kahibah with his wife and son Sidney who is listed with them on the electoral rolls. Not mentioned but at home would be Flo, Nita, Jean, Betty and Bobbie.
In 1934,’35,’36,’37 Hugh lives in Kahibah and is a carpenter. From 1949 onwards he lives at 46 Wollombi Road, Cessnock.
My husband talks of the house in Kahibah where he and his brother lived in the 1950s. Hugh and Florence’s husband Wallace Curry built the house from the ground up. They felled the trees and milled them before transporting them to the block and using them to build a two bedroom plus sunroom weatherboard house.
I mentioned earlier that Betty arrived in 1929. She was a baby and had just lost her mother, who was a distant relative of the Sarah Jane. Her father, Jim O’Connell, was the subject of a newspaper article in the Sydney Sun, 7 May 1929.
Betty became part of the Muirhead family and was one of very close band of sisters who grew up together in the tough times of Newcastle in the 1930s and 1940s.
Below I have one of my rare photos of Hugh Muirhead with Betty and Janey on Betty’s wedding day, supplied by John’s cousin Suzanne. It seems he was more often behind the camera than in front of it.
There are so many people who go unrecognised and pass on, largely forgotten. Hopefully this blog will continue the legacy of Hugh Muirhead for many generations to come.