Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Seven Dead Babies in Ten Years

Family history came into sharp focus for me last week when Kathleen Folbigg made the news again. In 2003 she was found guilty of the murder of three of her infant children and the manslaughter of a fourth, for which she is serving a sentence of 30 years imprisonment. Damning evidence against her claimed there had never been three or more infant deaths in the same family attributed to unidentified natural causes. Smothering was suspected. Following appeals by her legal team over the forensic evidence offered in her trial, the NSW Attorney-General has now ordered a judicial inquiry into her convictions.

History tells us that women can be serial killers and a long list of candidates has been compiled to prove it. Several books have been written about Kathleen's dastardly crimes, but is she Australia's worst female serial killer .... or not a serial killer at all? Have authorities in NSW considered the experience of Martha Nicholls, who lost seven infants in quick succession back in the 1880s and 1890s? If confronted by her maternal record today, what would the authorities do with poor Martha?

Martha Margaret Buttsworth was born at Wilberforce NSW on 15 January 1858. In 1883 she married local farmer George Nicholls of Freemans Reach. Nicholls was a great-grandson of the First Fleeter, Robert Forrester via his daughter Ann and granddaughter Jane Martin and was therefore a distant relation of mine. From information on the public record, here is the heart-breaking series of infant births and deaths for the children born to Martha and George Nicholls:
  1. Ella May Nicholls was born in Mar 1884 and died on 24 Nov 1884, aged 8 months.
  2. Arthur George Nicholls was born in Mar 1885 and died on 21 Apr 1885, aged 4 weeks, 2 days.
  3. Martha Nicholls was born in Nov 1886 and died on 16 Nov 1886, aged 9 days.
  4. Florrie Alice Nicholls was born in Feb 1888 and died on 6 Mar 1888, aged 1 month.
  5. Minnie (or Millie) Myrtle Ridge Nicholls was born in Apr 1890 and died on 6 Aug 1890, aged 4 months.
  6. Elsie Jane Nicholls was born in Apr 1892 and died on 16 May 1892, aged 5 weeks 4 days.
  7. Alfred Ernest Nicholls was born in Mar 1894 and died on 7 Apr 1894, aged 3 weeks. His demise was the only reference made by the local paper to the extraordinary events in this family: "A child of Mr George Nicholls died last week. Mr and Mrs Nicholls are deeply sympathised with in their sad bereavement." ('Wilberforce', Windsor & Richmond Gazette, Sat 14 Apr 1894, p 10)
  8. Martha’s eighth and youngest child survived her infancy and childhood. Essie Margaret Nicholls was born in 1896. She married Ernest Roy Rutter in 1921 at Rockdale in Sydney and it's believed they had three children. She died on 11 December 1988.
As part of their review of the Folbigg case, the NSW authorities would do well to examine the death certificates for the Nicholls babies, all of whom are buried at the Wilberforce Cemetery, where their parents later joined them. No suspicion surrounding these infant deaths seems to exist and they were buried in what was then a consecrated Church of England cemetery. It's a beautiful, peaceful resting place but unfortunately, as I live in Melbourne, I don't have a picture of their specific grave, just this picture of nearby headstones. (Essie and Roy Rutter are buried in the churchyard of St Matthew's, Windsor.)

Wilberforce Cemetery, NSW
Happily for her, Martha had become a grandmother when she herself died suddenly on 24 July 1929, aged 71. Excerpts from her obituary in the local paper indicate that she was well-regarded in her community:
Much sympathy was expressed throughout the Hawkesbury district when it became known on Wednesday that Mrs. Martha Margaret Nicholls, wife of Mr. George Nicholls, a well-known identity of Freeman's Reach, had passed away that morning. Apparently in good health, the late Mrs. Nicholls visited Windsor last week to make arrangements in connection with some property which she owned, and her sudden passing caused a shock in the community.
Born at Wilberforce, the deceased was a member of a well-known Hawkesbury family, the late William and Margaret Buttsworth. She was married in Sydney 46 years ago to Mr. George Nicholls, a well-known and highly respected Freeman's Reach farmer and one of the original members of the Hawkesbury District Agricultural Association. The issue of the marriage was eight children, only one of whom (Mrs. Roy Rutter, of Freeman's Reach) is living.
The late Mrs. Nicholls, who had reached the allotted span of three score years and ten, was beloved and respected by all who knew her. Possessing a quiet and unassuming disposition, she was a true Christian woman, and was a great help to her husband on the farm. We join with many friends in expressing heartfelt sympathy with the bereaved widower. ('Obituary',  Windsor & Richmond Gazette, Fri 26 Jul 1929, p 3)
George was also described as an exemplary citizen when he died in 1941. The first part of his lengthy obituary states:
Few there are whose public service and personal merit over a long period of years gains them such standing in their district as to cause their passing to be looked upon almost as the loss of a cherished institution, but such a one was George Nicholls, estimable district citizen and resident of Freeman's Reach, whose death in the Hawkesbury District Hospital on Tuesday of last week, at the age of 87 years, has since been the subject of general and sincere expressions of regret throughout the Hawkesbury.
One of that select band who are prepared unselfishly, to give up a great proportion of their time to the service of their fellow men without expectation of reward, and withal an exemplary neighbor and kindly and generous friend, the late Mr. Nicholls throughout his long lifetime set an example for all to emulate, and for few to excel. Himself the fortunate possessor of robust health and the capacity to overcome these difficulties which beset every path of human endeavor, his readiness at all times to extend a helping hand to those not so well endowed, earned him a circle of staunch friends such as is granted only to such personalities, and his memory will be cherished for many years to come in the district of which he was always so proud.
A son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Nicholls, of Freeman's Reach, where he was born and remained throughout his life, the deceased came of a sturdy pioneer stock whose influence was reflected in his character. Even as a young man he took a close interest in various public bodies in his own centre and the district generally, and throughout his more mature years a great deal of his leisure from the farming activities in which he was engaged throughout his life was devoted to the public duties which he voluntarily undertook from a sense of citizenship which was always one of his most prominent traits.
('Obituary', Windsor & Richmond Gazette, Fri 13 Jun 1941, p 4)
It's clear that the parents George and Martha Nicholls lived a normal lifespan, even if Martha died suddenly and unexpectedly. Her death certificate, as well as those for her babies, might throw possible light on what was wrong with the Nicholls children. Does this family history case offer fresh food for thought for Kathleen Folbigg's legal team?

Monday, June 11, 2018

William Norris and daughter Nellie Norris - Update

Be patient - the 'juicy bits' of this story come later in this post.

Subsequent to the publication in August 2012 of my prize-winning book about the life of Charles Homer Martin, Ann Forrester and their children, Southwark Luck, many more newspapers have been digitised by the National Library of Australia, with their content accessible via that marvellous online resource Trove - so aptly named, being every researcher's treasure trove.

This meant I was able to confirm certain matters about Susannah Martin's husband William Norris, published in a blog story on 13 June 2013. This new post updates that original post.

In the five years since then, one of William's distant relatives by marriage, Carol Roberts of Windsor, has come into possession of an old family photo album. In November 1916 we met at Windsor and discussed the photos therein and, now that identities have been sorted out,  I'm happy to publish this photo of William Norris, 1840-1887, by courtesy of Carol Roberts.

The obituary for William & Susannah's daughter Nellie (Windsor & Richmond Gazette, Fri 16 Mar 1928, p 3, col b) states that her father was licensee of the Railway Hotel in Windsor for a period. Therefore the William Norris life events I described on pages 282-285 of my book Southwark Luck definitely applied to Nellie's father and not a different man by that name.

Finding Nellie's published obituary also allowed me to correct the details about her date of death, as published on page 292 of Southwark Luck. She died on 9 March 1928, as Nellie Dowling. Her new name points to a much more important aspect of Nellie's life and times. Please read on.

She was Nellie Dowling because two years earlier, on 27 February 1926, at St Mary Immaculate Church in the Sydney suburb of Manly where her new mother-in-law lived, Nellie had married Charles Edward Dowling. He'd gone to war in 1916 over-stating his age and claiming to be a 21-year-old farmer, but his marriage record ten years later declared his true age (28 years) and gave his occupation as linesman.

Pianist Nellie, on the other hand, was now 46 years old but she stated her age as 31 years. It was true, she looked youthful in her photo (taken at an unknown date) but it's often hard for women to disguise their age to that extent.

Why did she do this? Did Charles know, or ever learn, the truth? By all accounts the Dowlings were a devoted couple during their short married life, and young Charles mourned the loss of his wife. He honoured her with 'In Memoriam' notices in 1929 and 1930 before his own death in Queensland in 1935.

Carol Roberts of Windsor has also recently discovered a wonderful photograph of Nellie, taken in Sydney much later in her life. Despite the poor quality of this old photo, Nellie did look much younger than her age! 

Later press coverage suggests that no-one from Windsor was present at the 1926 wedding ceremony - the witnesses were young Manly-based friends of the groom (William Patrick Daley and his brother Fred). If deliberate deception was intended, the marriage venue and choice of witnesses might have suited Nellie very well, as Windsor-ites might have let slip that she'd 'been around' for many years. But the groom no doubt knew this, as he'd been living locally, at Pitt Town, prior to the marriage.

There's a hint that community disapproval was behind Nellie's startling claim - definitely at Windsor (as will be seen), but possibly also among the groom's young friends. Maybe as a couple the Dowlings decided to maintain this public image, to avoid being objects of ridicule, because they immediately moved to live 'out west', far from both Windsor and Manly.

Let's step back to Nellie's character. Her photos do not suggest a flamboyant, 'Auntie Mame' type of personality, trying to be 'mutton dressed up as lamb', as that old saying goes. Indeed, she looks rather earnest, prim and proper in her younger photo and rather intelligent and thoughtful in the second photo, which probably indicates the way she presented herself to the world as a professional singer. And on page 288 of Southwark Luck I did not do her justice in describing her selfless community-mindedness, an attitude apparently absorbed from her mother. I'll redeem myself by re-publishing her obituary (Windsor & Richmond Gazette, Fri 16 Mar 1928, p 3, col b), which tells Nellie's story very well:

The Hawkesbury district was shocked on Friday last when the news became known that Mrs. Charles Dowling (nee Miss Nellie Norris) had passed away in Jenner Private Hospital, Sydney, after a short illness. The deceased was well-known throughout the district, where she did wonderful philanthropic work for many years. She was an accomplished pianiste, and. as Nellie Norris, as she was always affectionately called, carried on the profession of a musician in Windsor from girlhood. A wonderful organiser, she was one of the foremost workers at the farewell and welcome home functions to the soldiers during the war. She also arranged numerous entertainments for the District Hospital, and other local institutions, and with the tact and ability she displayed they were always a huge success.

Deceased was a native of Windsor, a daughter of the late William Norris, who was a successful farmer at Cornwallis for a number of years, and later the licensee of the Railway Hotel, Windsor. After the death of her parents, the subject of this notice lived with her brother-in-law, Mr. John Lamond, senr., the well-known Windsor hairdresser. About two years ago she married Mr. Charles Dowling, of Pitt Town Bottoms, and the couple subsequently took over the license of the Coolabah Hotel, at Coolabah, where they met with outstanding success. The late Mrs. Dowling continued her charitable work in the Nyngan district, and she and her husband, to whom she was greatly attached, became popular residents.

She had, however, not been in the best of health for some time past, and about a month ago entered Nyngan Hospital suffering from internal trouble. About a fort night ago she was brought to Sydney for treatment, but the case was a hopeless one and she passed away on Friday. At the time of death she was 48 years of age. The funeral took place on Saturday afternoon, the remains being laid to rest in St. Matthew's Catholic cemetery, Windsor, Rev. Father McNally performing the last sad rites.

Nellie's unconventional marriage must have shocked the citizens of her home town because two weeks after her death a local resident complained of the districts' ingratitude for Nellie's decades of community service and the show of indifference at her passing:

Being one who frequently admired the public spirit and charitable disposition of the late Mrs. Dowling (nee Nellie Norris), I was somewhat surprised that a public farewell was not tendered to her on the occasion of her marriage and departure from Windsor two years ago. For a period of about 35 years the deceased figured prominently at numerous entertainments in the old town, which never could claim a musician of a higher standard. I am led to believe that upon one occasion about £30 was raised from her own efforts in aid of the Windsor District Hospital, and with the Government subsidy that institution received approximately £60.

At all the functions in honor of 'The Boys' who went to the war, or returned home, Nellie Norris did her part and did it well. At different times her talents, her time, were freely given for the benefit of anyone or any public body that needed assistance yet when the time came for her to leave the old town where she had spent so many years of her life for the benefit of others, she was allowed to go without even the slightest recognition for all the valuable assistance so freely given. Surely she was worthy of some kind of testimonial of public farewell, just to show that her many years of service were valued and appreciated. Should not the hospital committee of the day and the general public hang their heads in shame!

This was not all. When the news filtered through the town and district that the Grim Reaper had claimed her as a victim in the noon day of her life, under circumstances both sudden and sad, what respect did Windsor public show when her remains were brought to her native town for burial? One could almost count on their finger tips the number who joined in that sad cortege at the graveyard. Should not the public of Windsor be doubly ashamed for the cold indifference manifested towards one of the finest musicians and citizens the town ever possessed?

It would have been only a fitting tribute of respect to her memory had all the public institutions flown flap [sic] at half mast high, and the public joined in hundreds at the graveside in loving memory of one who did so much for the slow, sleepy old town of Windsor. (Windsor & Richmond Gazette, Fri 30 Mar 1928, p 6, col a)

A subsequent article suggested that ‘it is not too late to perpetuate her memory by obtaining a life-size portrait and have same nicely framed, suitably inscribed, and hung, in some public place’. (Windsor & Richmond Gazette, Fri 20 Apr 1928, p 12, col d)

Nearly a century later, the above-mentioned Carol Roberts, whose short article about Nellie was published in the Hawkesbury Gazette on 29 May 2013, thinks it's possible that a plaque was eventually dedicated to Nellie's memory.

Today, nothing is known of either a portrait or a plaque honouring one of Windsor's premier, if unconventional, female citizens. At least we now have this second picture of Nellie. The story reminds us that back then, and often today, it's acceptable for a man to marry a woman many years younger than himself, but not vice-versa.

Friday, December 29, 2017

On the Trail of the Forresters in Cumberland

I haven't forgotten Robert Forrester and his family, despite the infrequent posts on this blog. Far from it. I’ve just spent a month in England, including four days in and around Carlisle, trying to work out whether he originated in Cumberland, an English county on the border with Scotland.

Having eliminated a number of other possible options for his home district in Appendix 1 of my book 'Robert Forrester, First Fleeter', published early in 2009, on page 324 I flagged Cumberland as worthy of further investigation. Was he, in fact, the Robert Forster who was born at Kingfield, Nicholforest and baptised at Kirkandrews upon Esk on 13 November 1757? (There'll be more on the Forster vs Forrester surname later in this post.) This was a baptism complying exactly with the right range of dates for the First Fleeter's birth, according to his early prison records and his age at death. The Robert born at Kingfield seemed to be the youngest member of a Forster family living at Kingfield at that time, with an older brother named William and another possible brother named John.
Location of Nicholforest, Cumberland, from

I started my research in the Carlisle Archives with the idea of tracing all the men with a name like Robert’s (Forrester/Forester/Forster/Foster) to see which of them might have disappeared out of the district, just as Robert’s partner Isabella Ramsay had disappeared from hers after her trial at nearby Carlisle. But during the 1780s and 1790s a number of Roberts remained in the Kirkandrews and Nicholforest area, marrying, having children and being buried, and there was no way of telling one from the other.

During the three days I spent in the Carlisle Archives I was fortunate to meet Chester Forster, the former Chairman of the Friends of Cumbria Archives and a local expert on the Forrester/Forester/Forster/Foster families of the specific parishes I was researching. I was able to tap into his years of research. He kindly emailed me his parish records of these families. Now that I am back in Melbourne, I need to do much more cross-checking within these parish records, especially the death records.

More importantly, Chester offered to show me round the district on the fourth day, Saturday. My marvellous Yorkshire friends and hosts Sir Stephen & Lady Pamela Brown and myself, in one car, followed Chester and his wife in their car to all the places mentioned in the parish records I’d just spent days poring over. It was invaluable as an experience and I’m very grateful to Chester - and the Browns.
Chester Forster (left) explains local history to Sir Stephen Brown

We started with the church of Saint Andrews beside the river Esk (Kirkandrews upon Esk), today located within Scotland. The church is a surprise package in itself, so Spartan on the outside, yet so Mozartian on the inside.
Kirkandrews upon Esk
Interior of Kirkandrews upon Esk

Further along the valley we crossed the river back into England and moved on to Kingfield. Even Kingfield’s ‘gatehouse’ was impressive.
Kingfield Lodge

Our wonderful guide Chester came from this area so he walked up the driveway to the main house and spoke to the owner, Mr James Thomson-Schwab, who readily gave permission for us to enter and photograph his property. This was despite the presence of the local gentry who happened to be gathered there that day for a ‘shoot’. It was exceedingly obliging of the owner.
Evidence of the Pheasant Shoot

We drove in and I was astonished. Surely Kingfield had not once been Robert’s home? It was far too grand.
Kingfield House

The parish church for the Robert Forrester born here in 1757 was at Kirkandrews, but close to Kingfield was the chapel of ease known as Nicholforest. We stopped at Nicholforest, which was not a separate parish back in 1757, nor was this church building in existence at that time.
Church of St Nicholas, Nicholforest

The road took us onwards past The Nook, where other Forresters had lived.
Signpost for The Nook (Nuik)

Once again, Chester walked down a laneway and once again obtained permission from the owners for me to take photographs.
The Nook Farmhouse

We ended up at Stonegarthside (sometimes written as Stingerside, always pronounced Sting-aside!) which Chester says is generally acknowledged as ‘the ancestral seat of the Forsters and that Forrester is interchangeable, depending upon the hearing of the vicar.’ (This spelling variation is also apparent in the early convict records for Robert Forrester.)

The house looks formidable and well evokes its local history. The district has a long history over many centuries of border clashes, as Scottish reivers (raiders) swept in from the north. Back in the sixteenth century the Forster/Forrester clan chief’s daughter married into the Armstrong clan which Chester described as ‘the most notorious of the Scottish reiving clans’.

The extensive farmyard lies between the house and the road, somewhat shielding the main house from view.
Stonegarthside Farmyard

Stonegarthside's bird life was also impressive.
Puffed up like a turkey – local pride at Stonegarthside

As we left the district for a very late lunch at Longtown we passed by Netherstonegarthside or Nether Stonegarthside, half a mile from the main property.

My first reaction to seeing Kingfield and Stonegarthside was to doubt that ‘our’ Robert was the 1757-born son of Arthur. The Forresters seemed to have been local gentry and the housing seemed far too grand to be the former home of the man we have always pictured as a humble First Fleeter.

However many other clues pointed to this district as Robert’s place of origin. For a start, in his new country Robert took up with Isabella Ramsay almost as soon as they met, although both were married to others. Did their bond form so quickly because they shared the same home district and regional accents, powerful comforts in the alien land of Australia to which they had both been banished?

Second, Robert bestowed upon his sons the given names which were very common in the parish of Kirkandrews upon Esk - Robert (after himself), John, Henry and William. A grandson was named George. These very traditional English names were not common in other potential places of his birth, including Scotland and America, or even among Forrester families living in London, where Robert said in 1783 that he was ‘a stranger’.

Third, when I spent a day driving around the geographically quite large parish of Kirkandrews upon Esk and its ‘offspring’ Nicholforest, I was struck by how similar was the landscape to the Hawkesbury Valley at Windsor. Both areas were once heavily-forested, and the evidence remains. There is a strong emphasis on farming and it seems it was ever thus, with the population of this affluent rural area seemingly as thinly spread as it would have been at the Hawkesbury in Robert’s day.
Rural Scene near Stonegarthside, with river in view

And there was the local parish church Kirkandrews, perched high above the river Esk just like the church of St Matthew overlooking the Hawkesbury River.
Kirkandrews is built on high ground beside the River Esk

As we drove along and I gazed at the landscape, my intuition kicked in – ‘If Robert came from here, no wonder he loved his farm by the Hawkesbury so much and wouldn’t give it up, no matter how many floods he endured. The district reminded him of home.’

There was a major stumbling block however, a giant flaw in the logic of my theory. The Robert Forrester baptised at Kirkandrews upon Esk in 1757 was the son of a man named Arthur, another very English name. Following naming traditions common at that time, any son of the Robert born here in 1757 should have been named Arthur, in honour of his grandfather. But First Fleeter Robert had no son named Arthur. I hung onto one shred of hope – Robert may have rejected long-standing cultural traditions if there was bad blood between him and his father.

And therein lay a possible explanation. As well as the Scottish reiving families, some English families living along the border were reivers too, causing feuds within and between English families. Were father and son on opposite sides of a clan-related feud? Did this explain the First Fleeter’s choice of names for his four sons and the absence of a son named Arthur?

In 1783 Robert was arrested in the company of a Chelsea pensioner, a soldier wounded in the American War of Independence. It’s likely that Robert too went off to this war to fight for the English cause, as many loyal young men of good families did. Chester told me that the local regiment at the time was the 34th Regiment of Foot. But unless the First Fleeter was an officer, or a Chelsea pensioner like his co-accused, there is little chance that his name could be found in army records. I have yet to follow up that avenue of investigation at the State Library of Victoria.

To conclude, my research in Cumberland came to nothing as I still haven’t proved anything about Robert’s origins. He wasn’t literate but I don’t know (yet) whether the Kingfield Forsters were literate either. More research into parish records is needed and is underway.

As for his other qualities and attributes, I do know he was regarded as responsible because he was placed on the night watch in Sydney. He was a good shot with a gun, suggesting military service  ... or much practice at pheasant shooting! He proved himself in Australia as a good farmer, against the odds. He raised his children well, to become upstanding citizens in their own right. He was very independent of government assistance and handouts compared with many other early settlers. It’s possible that these attributes all mean he came from a good family, something never before regarded as a possibility for him.

Having now absorbed the atmosphere pervading the parishes of Kirkandrews upon Esk and Nicholforest, I’m simply left with the gut feeling that somehow this district was Robert's 'place'. A lot more delving and checking will occur before I publish my final conclusions in the Second Edition of ‘Robert Forrester, First Fleeter’, which I hope to publish around Easter 2018.

The First Edition of the book has already been reprinted twice but supplies are once again running out and I plan to take this opportunity to update the book. Apart from the conclusions arising from this current blog post, there will be a new interpretation of 'the crime', more precise definitions of the location of Robert's grant on Norfolk Island and his 1794 grant beside the Hawkesbury, plus updates on Sydney's 'orgy myth' and Robert's interactions with the local Aborigines. Please email me if you'd like to join the waiting list for the Second Edition of this book.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Dark Emu

Every Australian should read Dark Emu, Black Seeds: agriculture or accident? At the very least, this mind-blowing book should be on the compulsory reading list for all secondary schools. It overturns all of our ignorant assumptions about pre-colonial times in Australia.

The book has received an overwhelmingly positive response on the Goodreads website, with a very high average rating of 4.5 out of 5, far in excess of most other books on this site. Nearly everyone leaving a comment agrees that this well-written, easy-to-read and relatively short book is essential reading for all Australians.

I was privileged to hear the author, Dr Bruce Pascoe, speak at the Melbourne Writers' Festival a few months ago. His emotion was obvious when he referred to archaeologists discovering grindstones proving that the Australian aborigine was grinding seeds more than 30,000 years ago. Being the first bakers of bread is an accolade usually given to the Egyptians around 17,000 BC. But as Pascoe says in his book, it was the Australian aborigines who were ‘the bakers of antiquity. Why don’t our hearts fill with wonder and pride?’ (Read more in the article The world's first baker: Australian indigenous innovation.)

As Pascoe spoke, I wondered whether our community’s entrenched views of Aborigines could be blamed on the first European settlement being beside Sydney Harbour, a heavily-wooded area on thin soils. It was not farming country, as the incoming settlers soon discovered. With sandstone caves providing a natural shelter for the indigenous population there was little need for housing structures. Many of the First Fleet journal keepers referred to the nakedness of the natives, but we forget that the incoming Europeans arrived at the height of summer, a time of year when many of today’s citizens of Sydney would wear no clothes, if they could get away with it. The first but false impression that the Aborigines were hunter-gatherers took firm hold.

Bruce Pascoe is from Victoria but well aware that Captain John Hunter reported in 1788 that ‘the people around Sydney were dependent on their yam gardens’. The word ‘garden’ is telling, its significant implication of permanent settlement having been ignored. Yams, a highly-nutritious form of sweet potato, were cultivated by a resident tribe, not gathered by wandering tribes. And, as Pascoe pointed out, the cattle imported in 1788 had escaped to the Camden region, where they prospered on these yam gardens until 1795, when exploring parties came across the escapee cattle, in prime condition. The area was promptly named as the Cowpastures.

After 1788 it took decades before European explorers found a way across the Blue Mountains and discovered that Aborigines lived in villages and towns and, aside from their yam gardens, they cared for a grain belt across most of inland Australia. His amazing map of this grain belt is produced in the article The world's first baker: Australian indigenous innovation. Today we heard news from the Flinders Ranges that shifted back by 10,000 years our knowledge of Aboriginal occupation of arid inland Australia, to 49,000 years ago. They possessed amazing technologies much earlier than we thought.

The back cover of Bruce Pascoe's book quotes him as saying "If we look at the evidence presented to us by the explorers and explain to our children that Aboriginal people did build houses, did build dams, did sow, irrigate and till the land, did alter the course of rivers, did sew their clothes, and did construct a system of pan-continental government that generated peace and prosperity, then it is likely we will admire and love our land all the more.'

Now that I’ve read Bruce Pascoe’s book I fully accept the startling truths he espouses. The full range of his evidence is presented in chapters headed 'Agriculture', 'Aquaculture', 'Population and Housing', 'Storage and Preservation', 'Fire', 'The Heavens, Language and the Law', 'Australian Agricultural Revolution'.

But it was his closing chapter, 'Accepting History and Creating the Future', which really made me think. I’m sometimes irritated by the strident calls that we should change the day we celebrate as Australia Day because it was ‘Invasion Day’. From my perspective, Australia was always going to be invaded by someone. While the Aboriginal tribes had their own territorial boundaries they were not organised as a group to defend this large continent, whereas all other human societies fought strongly to protect territorial interests. Aborigines just weren't aggressive enough. It never occurred to me, until I read this book, that the age-old Aboriginal society might have evolved to a level of enlightened self-interest, mutual co-operation and steady-state economic welfare operating on a higher plane than existed elsewhere on this planet. In a way, the Aborigines were psychologically unprepared for people who did not play by their advanced rules.

The old ways of Aboriginal society tantalise us with a vision for a different more sustainable future for the world. Thus one of Pascoe’s closing remarks resonated with me: ‘It seems improbable that a country can continue to hide from the actuality of its history in order to validate that fact that having said sorry we refuse to say thanks’.

I tried to see both sides of the settlement story when writing Robert Forrester, First Fleeter but the need to revise the book in the light of Pascoe’s insights has taken on a new urgency. A Second Edition will also include other research which has come to light in the eight years since the Forrester book first went to print. For example, it will consider another interpretation of the 1783 scam; it will correct reference to the non-existent orgy in February 1788; it will show the true position of Robert's 1794 land grant; and it will review new research into his involvement in the Frontier War with the Aborigines pre-1800.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Legacy of Andrew Goodwin & Lydia Munro

Books about Australia’s earliest days of European settlement are becoming thick on the shelves, so it’s rewarding to find one containing a new angle on the accepted version of events.

The Legacy of Andrew Goodwin & Lydia Munro by Patricia Kennedy corrected my understanding of the supposed foundation 'orgy story' of 6 February 1788 and, after meeting the author at an event in Melbourne in May 2016, I wrote a blog post about it. On pages 22-25 of Patricia’s book, the conventional views about Lydia Munro and her rape charge against William Boggis in September 1788 are also challenged, if briefly.

Writing family history is perhaps the most difficult genre for any writer to tackle. In part this is because its story line usually does not begin with a coherent overview but emerges in bits and pieces, as research progresses. Then comes the challenge of deciding on a meaningful structure. Patricia has settled on the structure I used in 2008 when writing about my Dennis forebears from Cornwall, this being to start with the founding couple, move to a chapter on all of their children and then select the child of personal interest to the author and repeat this process down through the generations.  This approach somewhat limits the eventual ‘market’ for the book, but works if the opening chapters appeal to all descendants of the founding couple.

This book should please all Goodwin descendants, as a lengthy chapter covers the Goodwins’ nine children, the first born in Sydney in 1789 and the others born on Norfolk Island. With only two sons and seven daughters, the Goodwin surname, with any number of spelling variations, struggles to survive in subsequent generations. Patricia, researching her husband John’s family, chose to follow the Goodwins’ second child Sarah, born on Norfolk Island in 1791, and then the line Sarah and her husband Benjamin Briscoe created through their son William Briscoe.

The book interested me because my own forebear Robert Forrester came with Andrew Goodwin on the First Fleet vessel Scarborough, and also went to Norfolk Island, but returned to Sydney after 18 months. This meant that my knowledge of the settlers’ enforced move after 1807, from Norfolk Island to the newly-established settlement around Hobart in Van Diemens Land (Tasmania), was rather sketchy.  It was helpful for me to read Patricia’s summary of Collins’ attempt to settle Port Phillip Bay at Sorrento in 1803 and the change of plans dictated by the lack of its supply of fresh water, with Collins moving south to ‘create’ Hobart.

The Goodwin family’s adventures in Tasmania then become a series of ‘Days of Our Lives’ cameos, with multiple marriages, name changes, some divorces, children born to different or unknown fathers, most of whom were fresh convicts arriving from England, activities on the wrong side of the law, drinking problems and stories of gritty, often long-lived women making their choices and enduring everything that life could throw at them. Tracking all of these events through the various name changes was clearly challenging and quite an undertaking.

Should there ever be a Second Edition, some of the detail in the Family Charts, so valuable to readers in following any family history, needs to be slightly amended. While the correct names are there, dates and places do not always match the written text.

Patricia describes her genealogical credentials on the inside back cover of her book, which fulfils all of the requirements for the Alexander Henderson Award offered by the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies. It contains a ‘pre-Australia’ chapter on Andrew’s and Lydia’s lives in England, a clear table of contents, family charts, some interesting illustrations,  eight pages of appendices, a five page bibliography, twelve pages of endnotes and a seven page index. 

The research effort involved, its cost and the time expended is not for everyone, and descendants of Andrew Goodwin & Lydia Munro should be very grateful for Patricia’s hard work and the clear presentation in her book, available here.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Bullocks, not Bollocks

Sometimes it takes a while before a 'brilliant idea' for a post becomes a reality. But, as the cliché goes, 'better late than never'. And another cliché tells us that 'a picture tells a thousand words'. It's true. I want you to know there's now a 'moving picture' version of the word picture I struggled to convey back in 2012 in my book Southwark Luck, although I tried my best in the 'Sawyer' chapter.  It involved bullocks.

Last summer, on ABC TV, a wonderful modern-day depiction allowed me to step back in time to Charlie Martin's strenuous life as a timber-getter, bullock-wagon driver and bush sawyer in the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s of New South Wales. It's hard to conceive of a man raised in the heart of London at Southwark, conscious of fashion, with the bright lights of the Royal Circus round the corner, becoming such an isolated worker during his long years of exile in Australia.

He worked with a few mates (usually his brothers-in-law) in the forests of the lower Blue Mountains, in the area extending behind Wilberforce towards Kurrajong. Via claims made in the Court of Requests (pp 80-82 of Southwark Luck), there are hints that he was contracted at one point to help clear the track up the steep escarpment to Kurrajong Heights, prior to the construction of the Bell's Line of Road. 

My time travel came courtesy of a repeat showing of that wonderful ABC program, Landline. The scenes showed, more than my words could manage, the whole process of Charlie's bullocky (muscle-bound) occupation and the skill involved in training and managing a team of bullocks. Watch it here. It's well worth it. Definitely not bollocks.

Note: If you're a descendant of the Charles Martin who arrived in Sydney Cove on the General Stuart on 31 December 1818, and you don't yet have a copy of my award-winning book Southwark Luck: the story of Charles Homer Martin, Ann Forrester and their children, then you should have a copy. Of course you should! Get it here.

As a descendant of Charlie's you're also the descendant of a First Fleeter, Ann's father Robert Forrester of Scarborough fame, and you'll need his story too, available here. Postage costs are cheaper overall if you order both at the same time.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Revisiting Robert Forrester's 1794 Grant

It’s seven years since Robert Forrester, First Fleeter was published. In that time technology has overtaken our lives and Google Earth has become a godsend to many, including family historians. I love Google Earth even if it has proved me wrong in my understanding of Robert Forrester’s first land grant of 1794

I have to fess up. Robert’s first land grant was not where I thought it was. It did not lie alongside Deerubbin Park but was further along Cornwallis Road. 

I was alerted to this fact by that excellent researcher Michael Flynn, as he compared the old parish map with today’s view from space. Here’s the original parish map: 
And here’s much that same view today, courtesy of Google Earth. The view is slightly extended at the bottom edge to show the location of St Matthew's Church, just to the left of the word Google. It's hard to get your bearings when you drive along Cornwallis Road, but close examination of the Google Earth map of Robert’s original land grant reveals a shed complex close to its northern boundary. Michael Doyle’s old grant has a shed complex with a shiny roof relatively close to its southern boundary. My objective was to find this combination of features at ground level.
Recently I spent a fascinating hour of detective work, simulating a drive down Cornwallis Road, Windsor, NSW while sitting at my desk in Melbourne. It was fun. I could turn my imaginary car around and drive back the other way, and turn sideways to look at individual properties.  Amazing stuff.

What was I looking for? As explained above, I wanted to locate adjoining properties with the correct building configurations as viewed from space. Eventually I worked out that the address of Robert’s property today is 104 Cornwallis Road.

Next I asked myself - by what landmark can this property be identified when driving along Cornwallis Road from Windsor?  Here's an easy guide. Drive past the avenue of palm trees and the ‘Windsor Turf’ sign on your left, and stop when you reach the large spreading tree seen in the background of the following picture.
Opposite the tree is the sign commemorating members of the Eather family drowned in the 1867 floods.  The sign fronts their old block (originally the Lachlin Ross grant). Next door, beyond the Eather farm gates, was Robert’s land, the property with the green grass in the middle distance of the next photo.
Drive on a short distance down Cornwallis Road, either in reality or via Google Earth, across the land which was once Robert’s original grant. His northerly boundary is marked by the fence post between two driveways leading towards the Hawkesbury River. The property on the right hand side of the fence post belonged to Robert in 1794.
Robert’s original grant was always bisected by Cornwallis Road. Turning 180 degrees from the fence post and looking across the road, the remaining section of his property faces the lower Blue Mountains. The whole property is now as level as a bowling green and apparently used for growing turf.
Beyond the large green shed on his former block, another section of the paddock is screened from the river by a high levee bank. Oh for that degree of flood protection in his day! 

The view of the river when standing on this levee bank is today obscured by trees and tall shrubs, but it’s still possible to see the tower of St Matthew’s through the foliage. Robert spent the last few years of his life living back on his original grant, in the abode beside the river, enjoying this same view of the church tower. Don't forget that his son-in-law Charles Homer Martin was punished for his part in the building scam involving St Matthew’s Church. (More details are in my book Southwark Luck.)
Steep river banks, lush foliage and rampant weeds make life difficult for photographers, but here’s another view of the Hawkesbury River taken while standing on Robert’s old land. The river flows from left to right.
Should I ever get to revise the Forrester book, pages 114-117 will need to be amended in line with this 'virtual tour'. Meanwhile, copies of Robert Forrester, First Fleeter can be purchased through BookPOD.