S is for Stevengraphs Bookmarks


When I was a child we had in our possession a bookmark embroidered with a poem called ‘The Old Arm Chair”, by Eliza Cook.  I thought  my grandmother told me that it was a sampler made by one of my great grandmothers and I admired the tiny letters, marvelling at the detail.

One day I took it to school to show the sewing teacher.  She held it in front of her critically and announced that it was machine made.  To make matters worse she accidentally ripped it in half.  She quickly stuck it together with sticky tape and handed it back in a hurry.  Too scared to tell my mother I hid it away in a book.

The funny thing is I found it the other day when searching through memorabilia.  Taking another look I realised it was machine made so now with the benefit of Google I was able to find out its origin.

It was made by weavers in Coventry who made silk ribbon pictures.  This made me think it could have belonged to Emma Moore who lived in Bedworth.  The interesting thing about silk weaving is that the industry crashed in 1860 after employing 45% of Coventry’s population.  Thousands left the area because of unemployment but it was a young master weaver called Thomas Stevens who set up his own factory producing bookmarks, cards, badges etc.  The bookmarks first appeared in August 1862.

old rocking chair

Whatever the story behind the bookmark the people who bought it have long gone but it is funny how some things stay in the family and are never discarded.  I will have to make sure it doesn’t disappear into a book for another forty years.

R is for Reuben Benjamin Lock

I knew little  about my great grandfather Reuben Benjamin Lock when I started the A to Z.  Two Royal Doulton Whisky containers are the only  visible reminder of his existence.   Why is he buried in an unmarked grave?  Why are there no photos of him in the old family albums?

On the right is “Admiral of the Fleet” and the other is Tony Weller’s “Beware of the Viddeys” – Tony marries an uncommon pleasant widder but lives to regret his imprudence and warns other to beware of the Vidders (widows).

My grandmother said her father brought home the Royal Doulton Whisky containers full of Dewar’s blended whiskies each Christmas.  They were presents from clients and have stayed in the family for over a hundred years.

Reuben was the fifth son of Emma Moore and Henry Lock, born in Warracknabeal, Victoria in 1872. Although I have been told almost nothing about him I have been able to trace his whereabouts from Census records, Sands City Directory and Trove.  My grandmother Myrtle (known as Kay) followed him around Victoria along with her mother, brothers and sisters until she left home to marry Walter Hall.

Reuben’s unusual name makes it easier to find him in historical records.  In 1895 he married Christina Cameron Robbie, daughter of the artist William Robbie.  She was 20 so had obviously left her home in Mount Gambier after her father went off to Western Australia to find gold.

Reuben is listed as a Fishmonger in Stawell at the time of his marriage.  It must have quite humiliating for the young bride Christina when the following incident occurred, recorded in the Victoria Police Gazette, July 31, 1885.

Reuben Lock._ A warrant of commitment has been issued by the Stawell Bench against Reuben Lock for 14 day’s imprisonment, in default of payment of 20s., fine, for furious driving.

Description:- Fish hawker, about 26 years of age, 6 feet 2 inches high, medium build, fair complexion, dark hair, dark moustache and sideboards, erect gait, very loud voice; generally wears dark clothes and a black soft felt hat; drives a spring cart.  Is supposed to have gone to Nhill.

I had to smile when I read that he was speeding in a “spring cart”.  I wonder did he have to serve that sentence of 14 days imprisonment?  Also, although I don’t have a photograph the police description is almost as good.

The next year my grandmother was born in Elmhurst, Victoria, some 53 kilometres from Stawell.  Much to my surprise I found the next child Daphne, was born in  Glanville, South Australia.  This was where William Robbie lived in 1884 and Christina had attended school for seven months.  Maybe she had happy memories of the time she lived there and suggested to Reuben they try their luck in a new place or more likely she had family in the area.   Sadly Daphne died when she was a year old.  The place of death is listed as Glanville but Reuben’s residence is St Arnaud which is back in Victoria 75 kilometres from Stawell.

In 1900 when Ruby was born they were living in or near Benalla, Victoria which is some 335 kilometres east of Stawell.  Charles, the next child, was born in Ararat, Victoria, 31 kilometres south of Stawell in 1902. In 1903 both Reuben and Christina are listed as fishmongers in Camperdown, 159 kilometres south of Stawell.

The last child, Claude, was born in Warracknabeal in 1905.  This is 262 kilometres north of Camperdown so Reuben must have moved again in that period between 1903 and 1905.  He was listed in the Sands City Directory in Camperdown again in 1906 and ’07.

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1.  Warracknabeal  2. Stawell  3. Elmhurst  4. Glanville 5. St Arnaud 6. Benalla  7. Ararat  8. Camperdown  9.Ballarat  10. Dimboola  11. Terang  12. Wodonga  13. George Street Melbourne 14. Kooyong  15 Surrey Hills

In 1909 he was a fishmonger in Warracknabeal but in 1914 he is living in Stawell and is now listed as a “dealer”. The Stawell News and Pleasant Creek Chronicle of 25 July 1916 reports that Reuben is fined 10/- after a verbal fight with a neighbour who was also fined 10/-.  Mention is made of his wife, two sons (who were accused of using their shanghais against the neighbour) and a daughter, whose presence resulted in toning down of the language.  This is the year my grandmother Kay married Walter Sydney Hall and escaped the tumultuous life of Reuben Benjamin for the peace and quiet of 80 Railway Parade, Williamstown.

The Argus of 20 Feb 1917 reports on “Fires in the Country”

Stawell, Monday.-In Stawell West, at 11 o’clock this morning, an eight roomed dwelling with detached kitchen and breakfast room, owned and occupied by Mr Reuben Benjamin Lock, was gutted by fire.  Mrs Lock smelt something burning in the kitchen and gave the alarm, but owing to no water being available, the flames could not be checked.  The brigade, in putting the hydrant on a 12in. main, broke the lug off the main, and could only get a stream of water for some time.  Had they got a supply of water at first, it would have prevented the flames getting into the main building.  The house was insured for £200 in the Norwich Union, and the furniture for £150 in the New Zealand Company.

After reading this I recall my grandmother talking about the “Great Fire” that burned the family Bible with all its family history.

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Christina aged 51- one year before her death.

1920 sees Reuben in Ballarat as an “agent” and 1921 to ‘23 in Dimboola, also as an “agent”.  1924 sees a change in occupation.  He is now a “fruiterer” in Terang.  Christina dies in 1926 while still living in Terang.  Reuben goes  back to his old stamping ground of Camperdown and is again a fishmonger.

1931 sees him as a “fisherman” in Wodonga, which is on the Victorian/NSW border opposite Albury, divided from it by the Murray River.  It was while living here that a court case “A Domestic Tangle – Hopes of Peace” was reported in the Wodonga and Towong Sentinel on 25 April 1930.  I was astonished to find  that Reuben had married again after his wife’s death.  Christina died on 21st January, 1926.  According to the courtcase Reuben married Rosemary Emma Lock on the 11 Sep 1926.  Rosemary testified that they went to reside at Terang.  A month later she left on account of his treatment and went back to work.  She said they had disagreements on private matters.  About six weeks before the court case she met him in Albury and asked to let bygones be bygones.  She wanted to move back in with him but he said this might be awkward as he had a woman living at his house.  A few days later the woman agreed to leave and Rosemary returned.  Reuben refused to take down the photo of the woman who had just left.  At this stage the judge decided to continue the case behind closed doors.  Apparently the two left the court together.

In 1937 at the age of 65 he is a labourer and living in George Street, Melbourne.  One would hope that he was able to retire soon after as he is listed as a pensioner in Kooyong in 1943.  He died later that year at the age of 72.  His Death Certificate states he was a fishmonger, dying from Arteriosclerosis and Coronary Thrombosis.  He is buried in the Church of England Section of the Box Hill Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

Looking over Reuben’s life it is possible to imagine why the family ignored him in death.  My grandmother wrote in my autograph book when I was a child:

I cannot help who my relations are

But I can pick my friends.


Q is for Queen Victoria’s Stockings

My maternal grandmother may have had an artist on her side but my other grandmother had Queen Victoria’s Stockings!

Ever since I was a small child the stockings filled my imagination.  Ella said that one of her Willoughby ancestors was a Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria.  A little bit of research revealed to me that the only people to fill those positions were Duchesses, Countesses and Baronesses.  I did read that the Queen’s undergarments were distributed to various members of the household, including servants, housemaids etc. so it is possible that the stockings came into the family that way.

The next step is to determine if they are genuine.  I have a photo of a pair of stockings from the Victoriana Magazine and compared it to mine. What do you think?

The stockings above are mine and the extract from an online article in Victoriana Magazine is below. http://www.victoriana.com/Royalty/queenvictoriaunderwear.htm

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My stockings have a V on them, not a VR so who knows?  Only an expert could tell.  The feet also look awfully big!  I was told the brown marks were from oils the queen rubbed on her legs but there are a lot more brown marks than there used to be!  Also they were the white stockings worn before the death of Albert as she wore black from then on.

What is of more interest to me is the woman who brought the stockings to Australia.  Her name was Mary Willoughby and she was born in Andover, Hampshire, England in 1836.  The 1841 Census has her living in Winchester Street with her parents Charles, 45 (Labourer), Sarah, 35, and siblings Sarah,10, Daniel,6, Martha,2 and Rebecca,8 months.

The next time she appears is at her wedding in 1857.  It was significant that she married on 24 March because it was only three week’s later that she and her new husband John Ridgway left England forever on the ship “Aloe” bound for Sydney.

John Ridgway appears in the 1841 Census aged 5, living with his parents, John and Joanna, sister Kezia,13 and brother George aged 8 who incidentally left on the “Aloe” with the newlyweds 16 years later.  Their house is in Nash, Whaddon, Buckinghamshire.  He is hard to find in 1851 but is now living with his married sister Charlotte Tims, her husband and son and is an agricultural labourer.

The wedding took place in Nash, Buckinghamshire.  Where was Mary Willoughby in 1851?  She wasn’t at home and would have been 15 years old.  Was she in service at some great house?  Is that how she came by the stockings?

Life for the couple after their arrival in Sydney can be mapped by the birthplaces of their children.  Between 1858 and 1861 three children, Alfred, William and Frederick were born in Campbelltown, a village 57 kilometres south west of Sydney. They then moved to Picton, another even smaller village 93 kilometres south west of Sydney.  Here Adelaide, Arthur, Beatrice, Charles, Sydney and Ella (my grandmother) were born.  There was only one more child after Ella, a boy named Sydney as the other Sydney died at age 3.


I found that John leased his property in Picton so he didn’t own land.  He was able to secure a contract with the Picton Railway Station to supply billets for a number of years.  I imagine this would involve felling and sawing timber.  Whether it was used for sleepers or for fuelling the steam engines I’m not sure.  John died at the age of 60 but his wife, Mary lived to be 95.

Mary W
Mary Ridgway nee Willoughby

In shaky handwriting on the back of this photo is written, “To my Dear Daughter  With love December 26 1921.  Mary would have been 85.

Andove High street

Mary’s daughter Adelaide was probably the first in the family to return to “The Old Country”.  She sent several postcards to her mother dated August, 1928 of High Street, London Street and St Mary’s Church Andover.  She wrote:

Dear Mother, I am spending a few days in the little town you were born.  And as I walk through the place I wonder if you have walked there too.

London Street

Mary never returned to England.  I wonder how different her life would have been if she had stayed in Buckinghamshire with her new husband instead of jumping on a ship?   Australia did not offer the easy life some might have imagined but the next generation included an engine driver, stationmaster and  a baker who travelled with CSR to Fiji for 18 years.  I think some of the family stayed in the Picton area but that is an area for further research.





P is for Panorama

In her letter to my mother regarding the family pedigree Kay said of William Robbie.

“He was a wonderful artist with paintings in the Adelaide Art Gallery.  He toured Australia with the first Moving Picture Panorama, carving every figure and hand painting the scenes.  The figures moved and it was lit by a mill lamp.”

My grandmother continued, “He toured Australia for two years and coined money – then sold the lot for $1,500.  His great failing was drink.  He would stay sober for months and then go on a spree.  He was a terrible man in drink.  He would sit at the fireside and light his pipe with five pound notes just to upset his wife.”

He disappeared off to the Western Australian goldfields and according to my grandmother died of typhoid.

But what of the Australian Panorama? On the 2nd April 1890, “The Border Watch” of Mount Gambier reported:

Mr William Robbie, assisted by his son Mr J C Robbie, has just completed a series of 22 panoramic views of Australian scenes… four Mt Gambier views, four of Broken Hill mines, and one each of Adelaide, Port Darwin, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart, the Frenchman’s Pass, the Wreck of the Admella, Black Thursday etc. They are each 14ft by 7 1/2 feet.  Arrangements are being made for their exhibition throughout the colonies.  Judging from a preliminary view we are able to say that the Panorama will be well worth a visit.  It is quite equal to anything we have seen in the colonies.

It goes on to say:

Mr Robbie mentioned that the Panorama, as it stood, had been sold to an Adelaide gentleman for one thousand, two hundred and fifty pounds and when it was completed the purchase money would amount to about two thousand pounds.  The Panorama was exhibited again on Monday evening to a large house.  On each evening several oil paintings were given away as presents.

I wondered about my grandmother’s description of it as a “Moving Picture Panorama” and found further information in the Border Watch, 9 Apr 1890.

The views were well lighted and the machinery for their display worked satisfactorily…As each view was presented, Mr H Barlow as lecturer gave a few interesting facts connected with it, which enhanced the interest in the view.  When Mr Robbie and his son Mr JC Robbie appeared on the platform… they were loudly cheered.

In 1891 things were going well for William.  In the South Eastern Star of 24 Nov 1891 a correspondent writes:

Mr Robbie of your town has several contracts for painting here and has now a staff of men employed carrying out the work.  Work is pretty brisk here just now in the building trade and all hands are fully employed.

My grandmother’s reference to William’s great failing – drink,  is hinted at in a report in 1882 that he was charged for using indecent language.  It seems his son George went into William’s house but was ordered out.  He came back with a police constable to stop a disturbance in the house.  The policeman heard William using abusive language to various members of the family.  The two daughters went out the front door. William testified that he was perfectly sober and the judge dismissed the case.  It certainly sounds like the Robbie household was not a happy one.

Elizabeth, William’s long suffering wife

Alas, this was the beginning of the end, as William had creditors knocking at the door and the much publicised sale of the Panorama did not eventuate.  The Panorama was used as security for the payment of his creditors in full.  In 1896 he left his family  and went to Western Australia looking for gold.  He died in the Perth suburb of Guildford of asthma and chronic alcoholism.

Very little of William’s work remains and he is not listed as one of Australia’s great artists, but there is no doubt he was industrious and tried very hard to make a living using his various skills.  On reflection it would seem he had grand ideas and over-extended himself too many times to make a comfortable living.  Had he stayed in Mt Gambier he may have lived much longer than his 62 years as he was respected by the community and was even nominated for Mayor in 1889!

Searching on Trove I found this reproduction of a Robbie painting which was painted from a photograph.

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Butcher’s Shop in Mount Gambier

Oil painting of a butcher’s shop in Mount Gambier, with the inscription ‘W. Robbie / Mt. G. S.A. / 1887 (No. 2)’ in the bottom right hand corner.  From the back of a photographic copy we get the following information: ‘Schinckel and Milton’s butcher’s shop. Said to have been the first butcher’s shop in Mount Gambier.  Reproduced in 1926 from a painting in the possession of Mr. J.C. Meldrum, Commercial Street, Mount Gambier. The painting was executed in 1887 from a photograph taken in the eighteen sixties’.

O is for Oil Painting

William Robbie from Aberdeen was my favourite ancestor as a child.  According to my grandmother he married Elizabeth Steven who disgraced her very good family by running away with an artist, marrying secretly and coming to Australia with him. 

A few years ago we visited Mt Gambier and saw one of William Robbie’s painting in the house of Robert and Ethel Smith in Naracoorte.  The painting is called “The First Hunt”, and was painted at Comaum near Naracoorte around 1867.

w robbie hunt

 The couple told me he had painted the  living room ceiling of Hynam House,  on a property belonging to their family.  One hundred years to the day an earthquake cracked the ceiling.  Repairs necessitated the removal of the painting but they have still kept William Robbie’s signature exposed in one corner.

It all sounds quite plausible, but was William the impoverished artist who spirited away the wealthy Elizabeth from her privileged life? 

A Robbie Family History, written by Roslyn Brown of Bundoora, Victoria, shows that William and Elizabeth were married in 1859 at St Nicholas Church, Aberdeen.  He was a Seaman in the Merchant Service and she was  a Domestic Servant.  His father, George,  was a Wood Sawyer while Elizabeth’s  father’s occupation is listed as a House Carpenter.  There goes the story of the maiden seduced from her wealthy family by the dashing artist.

Thus, in 1865 William aged 28 and Elizabeth aged 33 departed Liverpool with three children aged 5, 3 and less than one year on the ship “Western Ocean”.

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1. Penola  2. Naracoorte  3.  Mt Gambier 4. Adelaide 5. Melbourne

After arriving in Melbourne they travelled to Penola in South Australia where they had twin boys, two more sons and then my great grandmother Christina.  Between 1876 and 1880 the family lived in Penola and operated a shop in Market Square. In 1877 another child, Williamena was born. William expanded from the small town of Penola to the larger Mount Gambier where he opened a shop, advertising his services as a house, sign and coach painter, paper-hanger, gilder, grainer and scenic artist.  Opening a second shop in Mount Gambier he must have closed the Penola shop but still kept the house, which he rented out.

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For some reason William decided to sell the contents of both shops and the businesses.  He sold the property in Penola in 1882  and moved to Glanville in Adelaide where he commenced business as a painter.  I  assumed this was as a house painter until I found the following articles in the Port Adelaide News, 17 July 1883 and the Port Adelaide News and LeFevre’s Peninsula Advertiser, 22 Aug 1884, respectively.

Despite the glowing accolades in these articles he was declared insolvent in 1884.    The girls Christina and Williamena enrolled at the local Le Fevre Primary School but were only there seven months when William took the whole family back to Mount Gambier.

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The move  to Adelaide and back

William may have been defeated but he did not stay down for long.  On the 17th November, 1885 he appears again in the local Mt Gambier newspaper with reference to the “Olde English Fayre” held at the Institute Hall in aid of the Holy Church.

“The Fayre will comprise every description of Old English Sports, organ and piano recitals, the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice, amongst other forms of entertainment… together with the OLD ENGLISH STREET, designed and executed by Mr William Robbie where goods of every description will be offered for sale.

William really put a tremendous amount of effort into his street of “Merry Englande” as the newspaper article of 20 Nov 1865 states:

The period was the 16th century and the buildings were all fashioned after the antique style of architecture in vogue in that period…the houses were designed to represent brick buildings touched with plaster and the ingenuity and special ability of the artist were specially noticeable in his attention to details.  The artist it should be mentioned was Mr W Robbie of Mt Gambier, whose work had obviously been a source of pleasure and to whom no higher praise can be awarded than that he acquitted himself most creditably of a difficult task.

in 1886 William lived in Mt Gambier and was listed as a painter.  He is reported in the newspaper as falling off his horse when colliding with a buggy one Sunday evening.  Dazed and shaken he was attended by the chemist who advised a few day’s rest.

The South Eastern Star reported on the play, “The Lady of the Lake” performed on four consecutive nights at The People’s Hall in September 1886.  It was directed by William Robbie and he also played the lead character, “Fitzjames”.  The newspaper reports diplomatically that it was no easy play for amateurs but as far as the scenery was concerned it was a great success.  There were eight scenes representing Lake Katrine, mountain passes, rocky dells and Loch Vennachar…where Roderich Dhu is slain by Fitzjames in mortal combat.

A newspaper review from around that time gives us an idea of the sort of man he was.

The concert in aid of the (Penola) institute took place on Monday evening last.  The hall has lately been painted and the scenery redecorated by Mr Robbie, and that gentleman, as is usual with him on occasions of this kind, offered his services in getting up an entertainment to assist the Committee in defraying the expense of the improvements.

After describing the lack of publicity, the haste in which the event was organised, the cold, wet and dark evening and the moderate attendance at the concert, the author, known as “Our Fat Contributor” wrote:

Mr Robbie as the bold outlaw, arrayed in the garb of Old Gaul, with kilt and sporran and eagle feathers, gave a recitation in capital style, and looked the character to perfection, so much so, indeed, that timid individuals might have taken him for the veritable Roderick Dhu himself.

In 1889 money must have been scarce as Elizabeth was advertising as a seamstress.  William was still trying to sell his paintings and came up with the idea of an Art Union.

The Border Watch of 24 August 1889 has the following advertisement:

Art Union of Robbie’s Works of Art, consisting of 51 oil paintings of European and Australian scenery.  Beautifully mounted in massive gilded frames, valued at 250 pounds…pictures now on view at the Art Gallery Institute.  Drawing to take place in the Institute Hall on January 8th 1890.  Tickets 2/6 each may be obtained from W Robbie & Son.

On the 7 Feb 1890 it was announced that Mr Eager, an employee on the railway, had won first prize.  Mr C Smith of Mt Gambier  was second.  The fifty winning numbers were listed in the in the newspaper.

Maybe life was looking up for the hapless artist William and his long suffering wife, Elizabeth.  Find out more in the next post – P is for Panorama.

N is for Norfolk Island

Ball Bay
Picture used for first postage stamp 1949

I always understood that Ella Price (my paternal grandmother) and Mr Munro spent the War Years on Norfolk Island, 1,670 kilometres north west of Sydney.  The only proof I have of their time on the island are the photos my grandmother took, the postcards she bought, her copies of the Norfolk Island Weekly that are still in my possession and the letters sent from friends who remained on the island after they left.

I really don’t know if they had been there before but my grandmother kept copies of the Norfolk Island Weekly from Christmas 1932 and 1933.  Significantly in 1932 the first cruise ship to leave Sydney Harbour, the “Strathaird”, is commemorated in the Dec 1932 issue of the “Weekly News”.



Knowing Alfred Munro’s excessive care with money I doubt they would have splurged on a cruise, but I remain eternally grateful for the financial help he gave my father.

In the March, 1939 edition of the Norfolk Island Weekly  the following announcement was made:

The Morinda arrived from Sydney yesterday with 85 bags of mail, 142 tons of cargo and the following passengers:-

Mrs Adams, child and infant, Misses C & M Barr, Mr D Buffett, Miss M Brett, Mr A Carter, Mr E C Fahey, Mr J W Jenkins, Mrs H Kelly, Mr and Mrs L Michaelis, Mr W Maher, Mrs G Menzies, Mr A Munro, Mr and Mrs J Part and infant, Mrs E Price, Mr K Robinson, Mrs R Raff, Mr and Mrs W Thornton, and child.

arrival norfolk

Note that Alfred and Ella were discretely separate.  The landing at Norfolk Island was tricky to say the least.  Depending on the prevailing winds the ships would send smaller boats (lighters) to either Kingston Pier or Cascade Landing on the opposite side of the island.


Cascade Pier       The ship is the Morinda

Until the Americans built a landing strip during World War 2 this was the only way to get on the island.

Norfolk Island has an amazing history.  The island was  settled by Polynesian Seafarers who came and went around the 14th Century.  When Captain Cook arrived on his second voyage in 1774 he was impressed by the tall pine trees and the flax plants.  The first convict settlement at Botany Bay wasted no time in establishing a penal settlement on Norfolk Island.  Alas no-one was skilled to process the flax and the pines proved unsuitable for masts.  Eventually the convicts were moved out so that the island lay abandoned to nature between 1814 and 1825.

In 1824 the British Government gave instructions to send “the worst description of convicts” to the island. This was a period of well documented harsh treatment and brutality.  The last convicts were moved to Tasmania in 1855 as convict transportation from Britain ceased.

convict ruins NI

Norfolk Island was peaceful again.

A new wave of settlers arrived in 1856 from Pitcairn Island.  These were the descendants of the Bounty Mutineers and the Tahitian men and women who accompanied them. One hundred and ninety four people moved from their remote tiny island in the South Pacific after petitioning the British Government for help.

During World War 2 the island became a key airbase and refuelling depot between Australia, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. It was garrisoned by a New Zealand Army unit known as N Force at a large Army camp. The island proved too remote to come under attack during the war and N Force left the island in between 1944 and 1946.

Anzac day
ANZAC Day early part of WW2

In 1942 the much admired trees in Pine Avenue were sacrificed for an airstrip as the Pacific War escalated.

Postcards from friends on the island show that Mr Munro and Ella must have returned to Australia in 1940.  The War in the Pacific had not started so the airfield and the army camps were a thing of the future.  Mr Munro would have enjoyed the peace, beautiful scenery, friendship and a game of bowls during his time on the island.  My grandmother, Ella, I am sure, would have relished living in an environment far removed from the outback of Australia.

So it looks as though I got it completely wrong  about Ella and Mr Munro spending the war years on Norfolk Island as it appears they arrived in March 1939 before World War 2 began and left before the War in the Pacific started.






M is for Master Mariner

When researching my husband’s family tree the occupation “Master Mariner” caught my eye.  James Burns, husband of Isabella Muirhead, was reported by John’s family to be a Master Mariner and a ship’s captain.  He was said to come from Dundee, Scotland and married Isabella in Sydney in 1861.

Isabella came out to Australia with her parents on the ship “John Bunyan” in October 1857.

That gave her four years to meet James and marry him.  The first record of James I can find is his birth and later baptism in Dundee, Angus, Scotland on 21st September, 1839.  His parents are listed as James Burns and Jean Anderson.  This is important because James Burns is not exactly an uncommon name and I had great difficulty differentiating him from other mariners with the same name.

In 1866, five years after his marriage, he is listed as an AB on the steamer “Auckland” on the Auckland to Sydney run.  An AB or Able Seaman is a naval rating indicating more than two year’s experience at sea and considered “well acquainted with his duty”.

In 1868 he is a “trimmer” on the ship “Black Swan” travelling between Maryborough in Queensland and Sydney.

A coal trimmer or trimmer is a position within the engineering department of a coal-fired ship which involves all coal handling tasks starting with the loading of coal into the ship and ending with the delivery of the coal to the stoker.

The trimmers worked inside the coal bunkers located on top of and between the boilers. Trimmers used shovels and wheelbarrows to move coal around the bunkers in order to keep the coal level, and to shovel the coal down the coal chute to the firemen below, who shoveled it into the furnaces. If too much coal built up on one side of a coal bunker, the ship would actually list to that side.

Trimmers were also involved in extinguishing fires in the coal bunkers. Fires occurred frequently due to spontaneous combustion of the coal. The fires had to be extinguished with fire hoses and by removing the burning coal by feeding it into the furnace. Wikipedia

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The Black Swan State Library of Queensland

The Black Swan was an Iron steamship with two cylinders of 60 horsepower and  two masts, schooner rigged. She was a regular on the Bass Strait run when she collided with the Paddle steamer Luna in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria and sank. However she was raised, repaired and purchased in July 1868 by ASN Co. As a matter of interest she was broken up November 1880.

The following certificates could be those of our James Burns but I do not have enough information to be absolutely sure.

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 An “ONLY MATE” must be nineteen years of age, and have been five years at sea.  In addition to the qualifications required for a Second Mate, an Only Mate must be able to find longitude using a chronometer, use a sextant, understand tides, know how to moor the boat, keep a log, know how to use mortar and rocket lines etc.      

If family lore is correct James received his Certificate of Competency as Master.  In the year 1874 he worked on the “Rebecca and Jane” on the McKay to Sydney route as an Able Seaman.

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Meanwhile he and Isabella had four children, all born in Newcastle.  James was born in 1862, Robert in 1863, Elizabeth in 1866 and Hugh in 1868.

Elizabeth is my husband John’s ancestor.  She married Robert Muirhead.  Her mother’s maiden name was Muirhead so I’m still trying to get my head around that how they are related. Their son Hugh was John’s grandfather so there are quite a few generations descending from James and Isabella.

There are so many unanswered questions.  I have searched but can’t find a record of the deaths of James Burns or his wife Isabella.  Nor can I find any shipping records after 1874 so I still don’t know if James ever became captain of his own ship.