I spent a couple of hours at the State Library of NSW today going through old copies of “The Bombala Times”. As part of my family history research, I was keen to find any newspaper references to the period immediately after the return home from World War I service of my maternal grandfather.
“Who cares? Why do you do it?”, my friend Graeme asked me the other week, “what’s the point of it all?”.
On a personal and often intimate level, I guess it helped me go some way in understanding the way in which my parents, grandparents etc have reacted to many of life’s events. And then on a broader level, I guess it’s partly because I’ve spent so much of my life working as a journalist. There’s nothing quite like chasing a good story you actually have a real connection with.
And there are some great stories (in no-particular order)…
10. WAR RECORDS: Mostly, it seems, my family hasn’t been one for going off to war, with one or two notable exceptions, including my maternal grandfather, Charles Henry Dunn. During the First World War, he enlisted as an adult, went to war on the Western Front, was injured a few times and then returned home. I never knew him, but I knew his wife and children, and so I think that personal connection has helped me understand a little more of the individual circumstance of people who fought in World War I.
9 TOWAMBA: I’m absolutely fascinated by the small village of Towamba, near Eden in southern NSW. Quite a few of my ancestors come from the town, a beautiful little village in a very remote location. At the time they were living there, however, it was real “Deliverance Country” with first-cousins getting married and a bizarre shooting over a cricket match.
8 ACCIDENTS AND MURDERS: Ancestors were there for the discovery of the body of the man who became known as Fischer’s Ghost; the accidental shooting on a young man in a remote location; and the sudden death of someone at the workplace. There’s lots of other odd tales too.
7 NOT AN ATTRACTIVE BUNCH: My ancestors weren’t a pretty bunch. Perhaps the best example of this is Mary Ann Goward, my dad’s grandmother.
6. NON-ENGLISH SPEAKERS: The shipping records for Allan McLean and Janet McFarlane who came form the Inner Hebrides in Scotland in 1838, confirm English wasn’t their first language. They confirm that although some of the family, including Allan, could read and write English, they were, for the most part, speakers of Scottish Gaelic.
5. CONVICTS: My convict ancestry includes the following : James Rixon; Amelia Goodwin; John Hoare; Robert Higgins; Anne Owen; James Laing; and Mary Fitzgerald. They were mostly sent to Australia due to crimes of poverty, but there were a couple who were also rebellious Irishmen.
4. THE REBELS: John Hoare, who came originally from Wexford, was a member of the British navy who was transported to Australia over his involvement in “The Great Mutiny” of 1797. At the time, Hoare was on board the aptly-named HMS Defiance and was a member of the United Irishmen, who were lobbying for Irish independence. Another, Robert Higgins was sent to Australia after being court-martialled during “The Walcheren Expedition” (July 30 – December 10, 1809), a very large British military operation (and failure) during the Napoleonic Wars.
3. LOST FORTUNES: John Love came to Australia on the Third Fleet as a member of the NSW Corps whose role was to supervise the convicts. In common with other members of the NSW Corps, John was “given” considerable land-holdings. However, he was also involved in the illegal production of rum, stole cattle, and illegally employed a bushranger. The result of all this was the loss of all of the land he was given and the last years of his life spent as a convict himself.
2. ROOTING AROUND: There’s a LOT of shot gun weddings, and also some occasions where they never married at all, including one where the male went off and started another family. The death record for the aforementioned Robert Higgins also notes he and his wife separated (as early as the 1820s) over an extramarital relationship.
1. WILLIAM AND ELLEN: The most fascinating tale I’ve uncovered concerns the story of my maternal grandmother’s parents, William Rixon and Ellen Laing. They were actually first cousins who had four children together (my grandmother was their second child) in a very small community half-way between Eden and Bombala in Southern NSW. About two years after the birth of the fourth child, he married another woman and moved to a nearby town over the border in Victoria where he died in 1929. Ellen spent most of her adult life living with other family members, including her two daughters, at locations including Bombala, Lismore and Sydney. Ellen spent the end of her life at Newinton State Hospital and Home which had a history of providing support for destitute or aged women.
So yes, lots of fascinating stories which probably also go some way in explaning a bit about me.