Thursday, 22 October 2020

Epidemics across the years...

The inspiration for this post came while I was researching my Quaker ancestors in Ireland. The comprehensive records kept by the Quakers have allowed me to trace back to my 7x great grandmother Mary Sparrow who married in Wexford in 1662.  The marriage record tells me her father was Richard Sparrow and her mother Jane.  Searching for further information on the Sparrow family led me to the records for St Stephens parish in Norwich, England, where a Richard Sparrow, baker, and his wife Joan/Joane/Jane began baptising their children in 1644.  I don't think these records belong to 'my' Sparrow family, but they may do.

Norwich, England 1666 - Bubonic Plague

May 15 - the burial register for St. Stephen's parish in Norwich records the first death attributed to "the plague".  

Bubonic plague is a bacterial infection transmitted by fleas which live on small mammals such as rats. It was Bubonic Plague that was "The Great Plague" of London in 1665, estimated to be responsible for the deaths of up to 100,000 people.  Norwich, a provincial city situated between London and the Norfolk coastal town of Yarmouth also succumbed to the plague.  The crowded streets and lack of sanitation typical of the times meant that the plague spread rapidly.

There is no marriage record for Richard and Joan in the St. Stephen's register, but the first baptism for a child of theirs is for Mary in 1644.  If Joan was from a neighbouring parish then it is likely that the marriage took place there. I also suspect that there may have been an older child also named Mary, as there are two burials for Mary, daughter of Richard Sparrow the baker in 1644 and 1645.  There was also another Mary born to the couple in 1659. This is why I think it unlikely that this is the family of my Mary Sparrow.

By the time the plague hit Norwich in 1666, Richard and Joan were the parents of six surviving children. Unfortunately the highly infectious disease hit their little family hard and in the space of three weeks four of their children were dead. The first was 12 year old Margaret on the 20th October, followed by 7 year old Mary on 3rd November, 14 year old Rose on 5th November and 2 year old Thomas on 7th November.  Only James aged 16 and Richard aged 11 and their parents survived. It is impossible to imagine the heartache and grief Richard and Joan must have gone through at the time.

Page after page in the St. Stephens register records the deaths of townspeople, with the notation 'of the plague'.  At the end of March* the Church Wardens recorded in the register: Buryed this year, of the plague 246. Of all illnesses 291. 

* at that time the calendar year commenced on 1st April, so March 1666 was later than December 1666.

from the burial register of St Stephen's parish, Norwich
for the year 1666

Ennis, Ireland 1832 - Cholera

August 16 - Dr. Charles Keane lay on his death bed in his rented rooms in Ennis, county Clare.  With him were his young wife Sarah, and various family and friends including his younger sister Charlotte. It is thanks to Charlotte recording the events surrounding his death in her journal that we have this record.

Waterford Chronicle 9 June 1832

Charles Robert Keane was the eldest son of Robert Keane of Beechpark, county Clare, and brother of my 2x great grandmother Anne Keane Pilkington. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin before graduating with his medical degree from University of Edinburgh in August 1831.  Back in Ireland he commenced practice in Limerick at the Nunnery Hospital. 

The cholera epidemic of 1832 had spread across Europe over the preceding couple of years, with the first cases recorded in Ireland in March.  Charlotte records the first case in Ennis on the 8th June, when she writes of driving in to Ennis that day and being turned back. She reports seeing the Miltown road full of cars laden with luggage - all fleeing the cholera.  

On the 10 June, the Board of Health sent a delegation to Dublin requesting doctors to come and assist in Ennis. Charles Keane met up with the delegation when they stopped in Limerick to change coaches.  He caught the return coach to Ennis to investigate the situation in his home town first hand.  On his arrival he went directly to the fever hospital where he found 6 dead bodies and no physician to care for the living and dying.  Newspaper reports of the day state that the local physicians refused to attend the hospital, so Dr Charles Keane took charge himself. 

For the next 2 months, Charles spent every night at the hospital tending to the sick and dying, returning to his rooms to snatch a few hours sleep each morning.  On the 10 July he visited his family at Beechpark.  Charlotte writes when he said good bye, little did they know it would be the last words he would speak in the family home.

On Sunday 12 August Charlotte went in to Ennis to attend church, after which she called to see Charles and Sarah. She had received a message saying Charles was ill.  The following day, word came that Charles was very much better.  Plans were commenced to arrange a break at Miltown to allow Charles to rest and recover.  However this was not to be - on the 15th her brother Giles came and told Charlotte that Charles had taken a relapse that afternoon and was now very ill. Charlotte went to him at once and finding him very unwell, stayed all night.  Her graphic description of that night is harrowing, it being obvious to all that he was dying.  She writes of his unquenchable thirst, severe stomach cramps, and the cold beads of perspiration which she constantly wiped from his brow.  

Charles was visited throughout the night by a steady stream of family and friends, some staying for a while, others too upset at the sight of him to remain.  Charles took great comfort from the presence of the minister Mr. Young, as he made his peace with the world and prepared to meet his Maker.  He dictated messages to Charlotte to pass on.  He even shared a last pinch of snuff with his brother-in-law Tom Pilkington, my 2x great grandfather.

The long night finally came to an end, and with the dawn light streaming through the window came the sound of Irish keening for a man in the house directly opposite.  Throughout the morning, Charles lapsed into unconsciousness and by midday there was a large crowd gathered in the street outside, as the townspeople learned that their popular young doctor was dying.  Shortly before 2 pm, Charles roused briefly, then breathed his last and passed away.

Cholera continued its devastation in Ennis over the next few weeks, but by mid-October the worst had passed and the fever hospital closed.  Across Ireland, it is estimated that 50,000 people died during this epidemic.

Charles Kean Obituary
Limerick Chronicle 22 August 1832

Melbourne, Australia 2020 - COVID-19

March 6th - almost eight months ago now, and actually the last time I went anywhere.  Anywhere, that is, other than going to work or to the local shops to buy food and household supplies.

On that day we went into the city for an appointment, catching the train in early to make a day of it. We wandered the streets amongst the crowds of city workers, shoppers and sightseers, enjoyed a leisurely lunch in an arcade cafe, then crossed the Yarra to Southbank, where we took in the spectacular 360-degree views of Melbourne and surrounds from Skydeck on the 88th floor of Eureka Tower. We spent a couple of hours in that confined space, packed with visitors from across the globe, as evidenced by the variety of languages and accents.  Along with everyone else we touched the glass as we pointed out landmarks, held onto the rails on the viewing deck, and bumped into people as we made our way around the room.  Leaving there we made our way home, standing room only on the crowded commuter train.

View from Skydeck
©K. Vincent 2020

Little did we know how quickly things were to change! Our news bulletins over December and January had been filled with the horrors of the summer bushfires, but in amongst these stories were reports of a mystery respiratory illness causing concern somewhere in China.  Living under a blanket of bushfire smoke, it didn't really seem relevant to us at the time, and hey - who'd even heard of Wuhan anyway?

February brought stories of the cruise ship Diamond Princess, quarantined off the coast of Japan with growing numbers of sick passengers.  Our nightly current affairs show brought us a video diary recorded by an Australian couple on board, telling the story of their isolation.  Poor buggers, we thought.

On the 11 March, the World Health Organisation declared the corona virus outbreak a pandemic, and on 16 March the Victorian Government declared a State of Emergency.  By the 20th, Australia had closed its national border to all except returning residents.  The advice from our state Health Department was to ensure we had enough food and supplies to last for 2 weeks, in case we had to self-quarantine. So began the panic buying, although it seemed that the item in highest demand was toilet paper, which disappeared off the shelves as fast as the supermarkets could stack it. 

Then the restrictions - if you can stay at home, you must stay home. Four reasons to leave home - food & essential supplies, seeking or giving care, work or education if it cant be done at home, and one hour of exercise per day.  Social media was full of hashtags #flatten the curve #stayathome, memes and song parodies based on corona virus. It was all mildly humorous and a bit of an adventure really.  Three weeks, they said. Three weeks to flatten the curve, and then we'd be right. Our Prime Minister recommended we all go out and buy jigsaw puzzles to pass the time.

©K. Vincent 2020

Well, here we are in October and it's not over yet, not anywhere near it.  We did indeed flatten the curve, but perhaps we got a bit complacent because then we got the 2nd wave.  Certainly there have been mistakes, and things that would have been done differently with the benefit of hindsight.  But amongst all the name-calling, back-stabbing and finger-pointing, one clear fact remains - if people could be trusted to follow the guidelines - ie self-isolate at home when required, we never would have needed hotel quarantine or security guards, and 905 people including dozens of vulnerable elderly in our community would not have lost their lives. If anything good can come out of this, it is the exposure of the absolute disgrace that is our aged care industry.

I'm one of the lucky ones - as a health care worker, I still have a job and I get to leave home each day and interact with people.  On the other hand, I am unlucky in that I am exposed everyday to other people who may not treat this as seriously as I do, and risk not only catching the virus myself but also transporting it home to my loved ones.  Telehealth, Webex and PPE are now part of our normal routine, as is communicating from behind a face mask and fogged-up plastic face shield across a distance of 1.5 metres while trying to use only your eyes to instil some meaning into your conversation.  Currently it is estimated 1.13 million people worldwide have died from Covid-19. Thank goodness we have not (yet) seen the horror of overwhelmed and overrun hospitals that we see from overseas.  I hope we never do.

© K. Vincent 2020

Monday, 27 April 2020

Family History Month 2019 …

I wrote this post back in August last year, which was Family History Month, but didn't post it because I was waiting for my certificate to arrive in the mail. Then, when it did arrive, I just forgot...

What could possibly be a better way to celebrate Family History Month than graduating with a Diploma of Family History?  Not that I ever set out to do the Diploma, it just sort of happened!

I’ve always wanted to write about my family history.  We have such a rich collection of family memorabilia in the form of letters, diaries and photographs, dating back 150 years or more.  With each successive generation though, these resources are becoming more scattered as they are passed down in various branches of the family.  I wanted to use these as a basis for presenting our family story in a format that would not only be accessible, but also informative and interesting to the reader. But where and how to start?

Back in about October or November of 2015, I heard of a free, on-line study unit at University of Tasmania, titled “Writing Family History”.  This caught my interest, and I enrolled. Over the next few weeks we explored different writing styles and were given a selection of topics for which we had to write a weekly 250 word piece. These were submitted and critiqued by our fellow students.  Our final assessment task was a 1000 word story.  I loved writing those short weekly stories.   Grandfather’s Violin and New Beginnings, previously published on this blog, are two of my stories. 
Six months later, another unit became available – “Writing the Family Saga”.  This followed a similar format, building on the skills learnt in the first unit, but requiring us to link different generations of family using a common theme. In  addition to the short weekly stories, there were two longer assessments.  Both of these have been previous blog posts – Kilbaha – Here and There and Mary Emily Way – my 2x Great Grandmother.

The following year (2017) another unit “Place, Image, Object” became available.  This was the unit I enjoyed the most, and  learned a lot from.  In reality it was three different subjects combined into one unit.  The Place component involved mapping skills, the Image part taught skills in dating old photographs, and Object required researching a family heirloom to trace history and provenance.  Grandmother’s Teapot is my assessment piece for this unit.

By now, I had been notified by University of Tasmania that they had combined these units with others to offer the Diploma in Family History.  I wasn’t really interested at this stage, but continued to enrol for units that interested me, or assisted me in my own research.
Next up was “Convict Ancestors”.  I thought this might be a good chance for me to prove conclusively whether my 3x great grandfather William Humphries, born about 1796 in Shropshire, England, was or was not the convict William Humphries who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1819.  Unfortunately, there is just not enough evidence to make a convincing argument either way.  Instead, I found Richard Pilkington from county Clare, Ireland, who might or might not be a relative, but was definitely a convict.  So Richard’s story became my assignment, in Transported for Ten Years.

Continuing the convict theme was “Convicts in Context”, the only compulsory unit in the Diploma.  The unit looked at the wider convict experience rather than just one person. Whether because I didn’t have my own convict relative, or because I subconsciously rebelled at ‘having to do it’, I found this unit an effort.

“Families at War” focused on the First World War. Once again, I didn’t have a family member of my own to write about, instead choosing my husband’s grandfather James Joshua Perry.  In the Service of his Country tells of his war experience and post war civilian life.  This unit was probably the heaviest in terms of the research involved and the volume of material available, but I really enjoyed it and learned so much from my research.

It was about this point that I suddenly realised I had completed 6 units and only needed 2 more to obtain the Diploma –  that was when I made the decision to actually keep going!  So then followed “Photo Essay” and “Oral History”, both of which gave me some useful techniques for recording and presenting family stories.  I also managed to sneak in an extra subject - “Introduction to Family History”.

Having completed all units by the end of 2018, it was a long wait until 17th August this year for Graduation Day.  I didn't travel to Tasmania to attend in person, so am now looking forward to the postman delivering my certificate in due course.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

1835 - Alfred Haughton's Eventful Year ...

One of the things I love about family history is finding previously unknown “cousins”, and sharing information.  You just never know what precious items might be tucked away in a shoebox at the back of a cupboard somewhere else in the world.

A couple of years ago, I connected with a third cousin. We share great-great grandparents Alfred Haughton (1808-1858) and Henrietta nee Osburne (1802 -1878). The Haughtons were Quakers, and lived at Ardreigh, near Athy in county Kildare, Ireland, where Alfred owned the mill on the River Barrow. I have written about my adventures exploring my Haughton ancestors in an earlier post.

I was able to give my new-found cousin some Haughton photographs from my family collection, and in return she shared a document recently found among some old family papers. What a treasure that turned out to be!

Alfred Haughton
photo from the Pilkington Family Collection, kindly shared by Tom Pilkington

1835 was an eventful year for the Haughton family. At the end of the year, Alfred sat down and wrote his review of the year’s events.  How amazing that we are able to read his own words now, almost 185 years later.

Review of the year 1835, by Alfred Haughton
Oh help me dear memory to count over the Lord’s love to me during the past year – & may my gratitude be daily increased & shown both by obedience to His commands & acceptance of His love.

In the Spring of the year a ruffian came into my house at night and would have killed me, but the Omnipotent enabled me to trust in Him and gave me courage & firmness, & made the other a trembling coward & no harm happened for the Lord protected me & mine

In the Summer when going to the sea with my wife and child, the horse fell under the car. I was thrown off with my boy in my arms but no harm happened for the Lord protected us. The same season I went to bathe, saw what I deemed to be deep water, dived down, came with force against a rock – but no harm happened for the Lord protected me.

In the Autumn my wife after giving birth to my daughter was on the brink of expiring but the Lord turned from the fierceness of His wrath – no harm happened for the Lord had mercy on me!!!

The same season the Lord put it into the hearts of my three brothers to make me a present of some hundreds of pounds – “for the silver and gold are His and He gives them to whomsoever He pleases” – and he tries every way to win me to His love. ----- -----

In this month Dick my first born, my darling boy was seized with fever – my beloved wife was so uneasy about him the milk she was nursing my baby daughter with became poisonous & had she given it her any longer my baby would have died – the dear infant suffered much from the want of the nourishment the Lord had so tenderly supplied. He shewed me His love by sending quickly a proper nurse for my child – my darling boy is recovering – no harm has happened in this chastening – Therefore “what shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me. I will take the cup of Salvation and call upon the Lord.”


Alfred was the youngest son of Samuel Pierson Haughton (1748-1828) and his third wife Mary Pim (1762-1832).  The three brothers he refers to were likely his full siblings James, John and William, although he also had two older half-brothers.  All three were well established in their chosen careers by the time Alfred wrote this review. ‘Some hundreds of pounds’ would have been a considerable sum in 1835.

James Haughton (1795-1873)                 
Merchant and noted social reformer,     
active in the Temperance movement 
and anti-slavery cause. Often referred 
to as ‘Vegetable’ Haughton due to his 
vegetarian lifestyle.
By BPL - James Haughton, Public Domain,

John Haughton (1796-1845)                               
Miller – owned Barrow Mills in Graigue, 
Queen's county, (now county Laois).  
John Haughton’s wife was Louisa Courtauld 
Osburne, sister of Alfred’s wife Henrietta.

Silhouette picture of John Haughton. 
Kindly shared by Anita Hansen, Iowa, USA

William Haughton (1799-1877) 
Partner with his brother James in 
Haughton Merchants & Flour Factors 
based in Dublin.  Also Chairman of 
Great Southern & Western Railway 
Company of Ireland.

William Haughton. Picture shared on by Theo Haughton 2008

The baby daughter born in Autumn was my great grandmother Mary Haughton, who I have written about in Ordinary Women.  Her birthdate was 29th August, according to her baptism record.  Her brother, the little boy sick with fever, was named John, so perhaps Dick was a nickname used within the family.  John, Mary and their younger brother Henry were all baptised together in Painestown, Carlow on 7 March 1838.  

my great grandmother, Mary Haughton
photo from the Pilkington Family Collection


2 May 1835 - Belfast Commercial Chronicle - Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland 
From Irish Newspapers at

It was also an eventful year for the ‘ruffian’ identified as Henry Rainsford.  As reported in the newspapers, Henry was charged and convicted on 9th July 1835 at the Kildare Assizes.  According to the harsh justice of the times he was sentenced to death by hanging, but records show that was later commuted to transportation for life. 

16 July 1835 - Mayo Constitution - Castlebar, Mayo, Republic of Ireland
From Irish newspapers at

                                                                                                  14 August 1835 - Athlone Sentinel - Athlone, Westmeath, Republic of Ireland 
                                           From Irish Newspapers at

Henry Rainsford (sometimes recorded as Ransford) was transported to New South Wales on the ship Hive, departing Cove on 24th August with 250 male convicts on board.  At least poor Henry didn’t have to spend months or years in prison before departing.  He left behind his wife Bridget and two children – 4 year old Elizabeth and 1 year old John. I wonder how Bridget fared with 2 small children to bring up on her own?

Henry’s arrival in NSW was a dramatic one, with the Hive running aground in the sand near Jervis Bay south of Sydney during the night of the 9th December.  After making it to shore with the loss of only one crew member, the remaining travelers had to await rescue from Sydney, finally reaching their destination on 24th December.

ANOTHER SHIPWRECK. (1835, December 14). The Sydney Herald (NSW : 1831 - 1842), p. 3. 
Retrieved July 6, 2019, from

The story of the convicts on board Hive has been told in the book “The Luck of the Irish” by Babette Smith (Allen & Unwin 2014)

From the convict records, Henry was 36 years old, married with 2 children.  He was Roman Catholic and could read and write.  His former employment was as a boatman and labourer.  His convict record appears unremarkable, achieving a ticket-of-leave on 15th April 1844, the conditions of which confined him to the district of Penrith.  This was amended on 8th June to allow him to travel between Liverpool Plains and Penrith in the service of his employer Mr. John Single.  Henry was granted his conditional pardon on 9th June 1849, after which I have found no further record of him.  He may have moved to another colony, or even changed his name to conceal his convict background.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

A Picnic When Cars Were Few ... a Trove Tuesday post.

If the internet had been around 50 or 60 years ago, I’m sure my mother would have been a blogger.  She loved to write, and for a few years when we children were small, she wrote a weekly column in a national church newspaper chronicling our family life.  I intend to share extracts of those in future posts. 

In 1961, mum had an article published in the Literary Supplement which came with The Age newspaper every Saturday.  She received a cheque in the amount of £6/6/- as payment, a sum which would have been a welcome addition to the household income.  Here is her story, a recollection of her own childhood days in the 1920s-30s.


by Dorothy Pilkington

It is generally accepted as the prerogative of double chins, walking sticks and snowy hair to reflect upon bygone days.  The excusable exception is surely when one’s eight-year-old pride and joy naively inquires, “Mummy, did you live in the olden days?”  “What olden days?” I exploded, as a plate I was wiping crashed to the floor in profound sympathy.  Yes, what indeed?

Much later, when the child had long since forgotten the query, it remained with me, an impression searing into my consciousness the realisation that there is now another generation which has the audacity to relegate a 38-year-old to “the olden days” in precisely the same manner in which we regarded our parents in days of yore!

Never will my family experience the thrill of a large family picnic, held twice yearly (Boxing Day and Easter Monday, rain or shine), in horse-drawn furniture vans rattling along the Point Nepean Road to the mecca of all picnic parties of the era, at the Mordialloc Creek.

There were aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and in-laws of all degrees; everyone highly attuned in eager anticipation of the day ahead.  The flappers pioneering the “new look” of the Charleston period, giggling in innocent delight at their daring.  The mothers dressed sombrely in blouse and long skirts, with parasols and big, floppy hats with fly nets attached; the older men with their droopy moustaches and beards, wearing hairy tweeds, heavily steeped in a combined aroma of pipe tobacco and beer.

For the female members of the family the day was the culmination of many weeks’ culinary preparations.  The delightful unpacking of lunch baskets, full of delectable mysteries, never failed to make our child eyes goggle, and set our salivary mechanism working overtime.

We children were critically appraised by the various aunts, while our rate of growth since the last occasion appeared to provide them with much comparative material to aid their wholesome exclamations: “My, hasn’t she grown. She’s getting so like you, dear!”

For the afternoon activities, races of all descriptions were organised by the younger men, with the elder sitting on the sidelines contentedly drawing on their pipes and dozing in the sunshine. Huge quantities of boiled lollies were consumed by the youngsters, vying with each other for the most colorful patterns.

Sunset was the curfew for our departure, tired, sticky, full beyond measure with a sense of happiness complete; snuggling upon the laps of grown-ups in sheer exhaustion; the lusty singing of nostalgic airs to the accompaniment of a piano accordion, wafting us to sleep with the gentle clip-clop, clip-clop of the faithful horses’ shod hooves.

Curses upon the motor car, even then finding favour; spewing oil and grease upon the road until the fateful night when one of the horses slipped …

As I speed along the Nepean Highway today in all the splendour of gleaming chrome and superbly sprung luxury, keeping apace with the modern tempo of living, I hark back in wonder to those leisured days.

Would that my children could experience but one facet of the life we once glimpsed – yet so briefly.

published in The Age, 22nd July 1961.

Mordialloc appears to have been a popular destination for a day at the seaside, being easily accessible by train, or by the Point Nepean Road (now Nepean Highway).  Not only family gatherings, but Sunday School picnics, annual trade and company outings were popular, regularly reported in the newspapers of the day.

"WHERE TO SPEND A HOLIDAY." The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957) 
23 December 1924: 7. Web. 28 Apr 2019 <>. 

Mordialloc was also noted for its annual carnival held over the summer holiday period from 1924 through to 1939.  It featured parades, amusements, side-shows, sporting events and other activities and was a popular holiday attraction.  The history of the Mordialloc Carnival has been written about here in the Kingston Local History website.

"HOLIDAY RESORTS." The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957) 
10 January 1927: 15. Web. 28 Apr 2019 <>. 

Mum’s mother, my grandmother, was one of five daughters of John Grant and Elizabeth nee Duffy.  John’s own grandfather, also John Grant, had settled in Brighton in the 1840’s, and ran a successful carrier business.  The extended Grant family were well established in the district, with four generations all raising families there.  The younger John, and his brother William, both had carrier businesses.  It was likely company vans which ferried the families to their bi-annual picnics.  I have tried to find a newspaper reference to the accident involving the horse slipping on the greasy road, but without a specific date range it has proved unsuccessful.

Postcard of Mordialloc Creek 1919

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Somebody’s Darling …

In keeping with what seems to have become a tradition for my Anzac Day posts, I thought for this year I would use this poem which I found in an album belonging to my grandmother’s sister, my great-aunt Belle Dewar.  

We stumbled across Aunty Belle’s album only a year or so ago, tucked into a bookcase at my brother’s home.  No-one recalls ever seeing it before, and no-one knows how it got there, but it must have been passed on at some time by an older family member.  The album is dated 1884, when Belle would have been about nineteen.  It contains poems and writings which obviously struck a chord with her, as well as sketches and autograph-style entries from family and friends.

This particular poem was entered in the album on 26/09/1885 by “Madge”, who I think was the wife of Belle’s eldest brother Jimmy.  Although it pre-dates the Anzac era, the sentiments expressed are just as relevant today, highlighting the tragedy that is war.  Somebody’s Darling was written during the American Civil War by Marie Ravenal de la Coste, a nurse in Savannah, Georgia whose own fiance had been killed while fighting with the Confederate army. It was first published in 1864.


Into a ward of the white washed walls,
Where the dead and dying lay,
Wounded by bayonets, shells and balls,
Somebody’s darling was borne one day.

Somebody’s darling so young and brave
Wearing yet on his pale sweet face,
Soon to be hid by the dust of the grave,
The lingering light of his boyhood’s grace.

Matted and damp are the curls of gold
Kissing the snow of that fair young brow;
Pale are the lips of delicate mold –
Somebody’s darling is dying now.

Back from the beautiful blue-veined brow
Brushed all the wandering waves of gold;
Cross his hands on his bosom now;
Somebody’s darling is still and cold.

Kiss him once for somebody’s sake,
Murmur a prayer soft and low;
One bright curl from it’s fair mates take;
They were somebody’s pride you know.

Somebody’s hand has rested there;
Was it a mother’s soft and white?
And have the lips of a sister fair
Been baptized in the waves of light?

God knows best! He was somebody’s love,
Somebody’s heart enshrined him there.
Somebody wafted his name above,
Night and morn on the wings of prayer.

Somebody wept when he marched away,
Looking so handsome brave and grand;
Somebody’s kiss on his forehead lay;
Somebody clung to his parting hand.

Somebody’s watching and waiting for him,
Yearning to hold him again to her heart;
And there he lies with his blue eyes dim,
And the smiling child-like lips apart.

Tenderly bury the fair young dead,
Pausing to drop on his grave a tear;
Carve on the wooden slab at his head,
“Somebody’s darling slumbers here.”

Marie Ravenal de la Coste,
Savannah, Georgia 1864

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Ordinary Women ...

March is officially designated Women’s History Month, so to mark the occasion I thought I would post information about the lives of some of the women who came before me.  I’ve chosen to honour my four great-grandmothers, women from different backgrounds whose lives were typical of the times they lived in.  Although their lives were unremarkable in that context, they each faced challenging personal circumstances and lived through difficult times.  I am grateful for their lives, and for the strength and resilience passed down the generations. Here are their stories.


Jane was my maternal grandfather’s mother.  She was born at Queenstown (now St. Andrews) in Victoria, the sixth of eleven children of Abraham Postlethwaite and Ann Victoria nee Humphries.  As a child, her family moved to Tarrawarra near Healesville where her father had taken up a selection of land.  Abraham, a carpenter by trade, had emigrated from Cumberland, England as a young man.  Her mother Ann was born in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and came to Victoria as a baby with her parents in the earliest days of Melbourne’s settlement.  I’ve written about Ann’s mother in another post here: The Enterprize Voyage.

I don’t know a lot about Jane’s childhood.  She was part of a large extended family on her mother’s side.    At 23, Jane became a single mum to baby Elsie, born at home in Tarrawarra.  Three years later she married my great grandfather Charles Gardner, in Brighton where he had a blacksmith business.  On her marriage certificate she is described as a “domestic”, but I don’t know if this was paid employment or simply home duties.  

I’d love to be able to say the couple lived happily ever after, but sadly this was not the case.  Their first baby Clara was born the following year but died as an infant. The next child Charles died at age 5.  Then came my grandfather Will, followed by Vera, Emily and Arthur.  Next, another Charles who also died in infancy.  Another baby proved too much for her and Jane passed away eighteen months later, five days after giving birth to her ninth baby, a girl named Jane.  Cause of death was pneumonia and heart failure.  She was thirty-seven years old.

Jane was laid to rest in Brighton Cemetery, her grave unmarked until 100 years later, when my cousin Brendon arranged a plaque and we had a family gathering of Jane’s descendants to mark the occasion.

Left with a young family including newborn baby, widowed Charles found a young woman with a baby of her own to move in as nurse/housekeeper. The arrangement became permanent when Charles married Margaret Fielding four months later in January 1906.  Sadly, baby Jane followed her mother to the grave only four days after the marriage.  Charles and Margaret went on to have another six children together. So, with Jane’s daughter Elsie, Jane & Charles’ four children, Margaret’s daughter Olive, and Margaret & Charles’ six children, it’s clear that blended families are not a new phenomenon!


Elizabeth was my maternal grandmother’s mother.  The daughter of an English mother and an Irish father, she was the only child of both parents’ second marriage.  Born in Brighton, Victoria in 1873, when her father William was 65 years old and her mother 41.  

William was a bootmaker by trade, but was also a lay preacher and Sunday School Superintendent on the Brighton Wesleyan Circuit.  He had emigrated to Port Phillip from Donegal, Ireland, in 1840 with his wife and young baby. Another son was born soon after they arrived.  Her mother, Elizabeth Jennings, was from Atherstone in Warwickshire, England.  She and her first husband left England two weeks after their marriage, arriving in Port Phillip as assisted immigrants in 1852.  Together they had a family of seven children, although the two eldest both died as infants. Her husband died suddenly in 1868, leaving her a widow with her youngest child still a baby.

William and Elizabeth (senior) married in 1871, and two years later young Elizabeth was born. By all accounts her father was well-respected in his community, but given the teachings and customs of the Wesleyan Church at the time, one could imagine she had a fairly strict upbringing.  Her father died when she was only seven years old, and her mother when she was fourteen, leaving her in the care of her older half-sister Emily.

At nineteen, Elizabeth met and married John Grant, grandson of Scottish immigrants.  His father and grandfather had well established businesses and property in Brighton.  John was a wood & coal merchant, and the couple lived in Brighton where they raised five daughters including my grandmother Amy. 

Elizabeth died in 1940 as a result of heart disease.  She was 66 years old, and pre-deceased her husband by 8 years.  They are buried together at Brighton Cemetery.


Margaret is my mystery great-grandmother, about whom I know the least.  She was my paternal grandmother’s mother.  Margaret was born in London, England in 1835 – two years before civil registration began.  According to her Australian marriage and death certificates, her parents were John (or James) Hill and Mary (or Margaret) Chipping.  I’m inclined to go with John & Mary as listed on her marriage certificate because it was herself providing that information, rather than James & Margaret listed by her husband for her death certificate.  She also stated her father was a carpenter.

Despite extensive searches, I have not been able to locate a baptism record for Margaret, and have not been able to locate the family on the 1841 or 1851 censuses.  There are one or two possibilities, including a baptism for a child named Margaret Hill in 1836 in the London Foundling Hospital, which needs further investigation. Nor have I been able to locate a marriage for her presumed parents.

Margaret came to Australia as an assisted immigrant in 1856, arriving in Port Phillip (Geelong) on the ship Arthur the Great.  She was aged 20, could read and write, and her occupation was housemaid.  I wonder what trepidation or excitement she must have felt about voyaging alone across the world to a new life in an unknown land.  On arrival, she was employed by a Mr. Anderson of Darneville for a period of three months at wages of 25 shillings.  I haven’t been able to find out if she extended her employment there, or moved on to another position.  

In 1859, Margaret married James Dewar in Geelong.  He was a Scotsman who was working as a quarryman.  The couple spent the next 11 years in the Geelong area where their first six children were born.  James then became involved in the lime-burning industry and they moved across to Rye on the other side of the bay where he was employed in the kilns.  My grandmother and her youngest brother were born there. 

By the mid-1870’s James and Margaret had moved again, this time to Waratah Bay to a new lime-burning venture where James was employed as manager.  This was an isolated location where contact in the early years of the settlement was only by sea.  It must have been quite a challenge for London-raised Margaret, coming from the comparative bustle of gold-rush era Melbourne and Geelong to adapt to this isolation, bringing up her children and educating them herself until a part-time school was established.  There is more about life at Waratah in the posts I wrote about James Dewar and Walkerville.

The only “memory” we have of Margaret comes from a grand-daughter, my father’s older 1st cousin, who wrote some memories of her childhood at Waratah in which she says her grandmother always wore a little lace cap.

Margaret passed away in 1898, after an illness of several days with bronchitis.  She was 63 years old. My great-uncle Fred wrote in his diary about hearing of the death of Mrs Dewar, and riding around the bay to pay his respects.  Margaret was buried in the little bush cemetery on the cliffs at Waratah, where her husband James joined her nine years later.


Mary was my paternal grandfather’s mother.  She was born near Athy, county Kildare in Ireland, the second of six children born to Alfred Haughton and Henrietta nee Osburne.  The Haughton's were part of a large Quaker family, although it doesn’t appear that Alfred and Henrietta were practicing Quakers themselves.  Alfred owned the Ardreigh mill on the River Barrow just outside the market town of Athy, so Mary and her siblings were born into quite a privileged lifestyle.  

Her education would most likely have been at home, provided by a governess, although it is possible she may have attended a nearby Quaker school for some lessons.  Like most girls of her class, her education would have included art , music and embroidery.  A sketchbook belonging to Mary’s sister Sarah Anne is still in the family, and some of her sketches can be seen on this page.

At 23, Mary married Thomas Pilkington of Ennis in county Clare.  Earlier that year, her brother John had married Thomas’s sister Maria.  The Pilkington’s were minor Anglo-Irish gentry and Thomas acted as a land agent for the vast Connyngham estate.  He also served as Magistrate and JP on the local court circuit. 

After their marriage, Mary moved to her husband’s family home Waterpark, in Ennis.  The couple had nine children and unusually for the times, all survived childhood.  Mary’s life as the Lady of a small estate would have revolved around housekeeping, directing the servants, supporting her husband in entertaining, and a regular round of visiting local gentry. She would have also been involved in “good works” distributing charity to the poor.

This lifestyle came to an end for the family with the sudden death of Thomas in 1884, dying in his sleep from heart disease.  Eldest son Tom inherited his fathers estate as was normal for the times, however it transpired that Thomas had been living beyond his means for some time, and left a large debt with minimal assets.  Although the eldest two sons were already established with their own careers at this time, Mary still had three unmarried daughters aged 18 – 23, and four young sons between 7 – 17 years to bring up.  Thomas’s aunt Charlotte describes his passing in her journal, writing  “poor Mary and nine children, in an agony of grief”.
Following her husbands death and the change in her circumstances, Mary’s own health suffered.  She was 48 years old and only six months later, despite seeking treatment in Dublin, she died from an abscess in her kidney caused by a kidney stone.  According to the doctor on her death certificate, the duration of her illness was six months.  Mary was interred in a family grave at Mt Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.  Possibly due to the transport costs involved, she was not reunited with her husband in his resting place in Ennis. 

Monday, 25 February 2019

The Shack …

Nearing the end of February, and the official end of summer – although hopefully we will still have several more weeks of summery weather.  This has prompted me to think back to summers past, and childhood memories of “The Shack” which was the base for our summer holidays at Sandy Point.

Sandy Point beach 2018 ©kaypilk 

My father grew up at Sandy Point, on the shores of Waratah Bay in South Gippsland, where his father with two brothers and their cousin, had settled in the 1890’s after emigrating from Ireland.  The four families had grown up together and remained close.  My father’s path in life took him away from the land, and his family property had been sold after the death of my grandfather.  Several of his cousins remained on their family farms, and others returned regularly for holiday visits, so it was natural for my parents to keep the connection.

One of my earliest memories, when I would have been about 3 or 4 years old, is of crawling through tea-tree scrub with Mum & Dad as they checked out the advantages and disadvantages of various blocks in the new Playground Estate, recently developed on the dunes separating the beach from the farmland behind.  Eventually, they chose a block for the view it provided over the farmland, with Shallow Inlet and the South Gippsland hills beyond.  They named this property "Kiltrellig" in memory of the old Pilkington family summer home in the west of county Clare, Ireland.

Then came construction of "The Shack", built by Dad out of Volkswagen packing cases.  This would have been a cheap source of timber to use for the floor and exterior cladding.  The interior of the frame was unlined, but covered with bitumen-impregnanted brown paper sheeting to cover any gaps and reduce damp.  The Shack was built on what Mum referred to as "the leafy lane', which had been the old track connecting the original family homes before the roads were made.

Entertaining relatives at The Shack under construction c1961-2
Me on the deck chair in front.
                                                                                                        Pilkington Family Collection ©

While the Shack was being built, our family stayed with relatives at ‘Gyndahnook’, one of the original homes.  A highlight for me was taking the big brass gong off the wall and ringing it to let Dad know down the paddock that meals were ready.
Brass dinner gong in the kitchen at Gyndahnook
                                                                                                      from Pilkington family collection ©

Although small, the Shack provided all the comforts our family of seven needed. It was a  single room construction, cleverly designed with bunks built in at either end, and shelving units dividing the sleeping areas from the living area. The eight bunks meant that one of us could have a friend come to stay.  Mum used large posters to provide a colourful display on the walls. These posters were put out by Victorian Railways or TAA (airline) to promote tourist destinations.  I seem to recall there was one for wildflowers in WA, another for skiing at Mt. Beauty, and one of the memorial cross at Mount Macedon, among others. The image below is representative of the style of posters of the times.

Victorian Railways, and E.H. Turnor Studio, Artist. Wilson's Promontory, Victoria, Australia [picture] / E.H. Turnor., 1930.

There was no electricity at Sandy Point at that time. We had gas lighting, kerosene fridge, tank water and a little pot-belly wood stove for heating when we needed it. Mum produced our meals on a small gas hotplate and griller, or outside on the barbecue she had made herself from old farm implements. Bathroom facilities were non-existent. Hot water came from the kettle. The toilet was a “long drop” dug by Dad, and enclosed in a hessian frame outside. We cleaned our teeth in a cup of water and washed when required in a plastic tub. Once a week or so, we would head to the caravan park to shower, putting sixpence into the metre for hot water. This was a communal effort – one shower for the girls and one for the boys - as Mum wanted to get the most out of her sixpences.

Our days were spent at the beach, exploring the bush, or with cousins on their farms.  Day trips and picnics to nearby locations, depending on the wind direction.  East wind - off to the Prom, where the beaches would be sheltered.  Westerly - around the coast to Walkerville which would be similarly sheltered.  My memories are of sunburn, insect bites and stubbed toes, all par for the course of an Australian bush summer.  Shoes were unheard of - we trod those gravel roads, hot beach sands and tracks through the scrub in our bare feet without complaint.  We never gave a thought to snakes.  Dad always said we didn't need to worry about snakes because they were more scared of us than we were of them.  I doubt it, but whatever, we rarely saw them even though they must have been plentiful.

At night, we stayed out until dark.  Later, we would visit with relatives, or play scrabble or card games around our little table in the Shack.  Then off to bed, drifting off to sleep to the sound of the surf or the wind through the trees, and the smell of burning mosquito coils in our noses.  Dad could pinpoint the moment the tide turned just by listening to the sound of the surf.

Cleaning out The Shack in 2016 ©kaypilk

In reality, the time we spent in The Shack was only about 7 or 8 years, before Mum & Dad built a more substantial home.  But to me as a small girl it seemed like a lifetime.  After the house was built, the Shack became the domain of my older brothers.  It then served as a storage shed, garden shed and more recently a home to multiple species of wildlife.  The Shack is still there, although now in a state of disrepair.  From time to time we have had half-hearted plans to rejuvenate it, but for the moment it remains as a reminder of the many happy memories created within its walls.

The Shack 2016  ©kaypilk