Who do I think Iam? Well, Im discovering that now.
Author: John Macvean
Fifteen years ago all I knew about my family history was that The Macveans had money from running cattle and sheep properties in the Riverina. That The Nicolls, my maternal line were big names in the Steamship industry in Sydney in the late 1800s and that the money all dried up by the time I came along. That was it. Then a chance discovery online put me in contact with a distant Cousin who opened the door to discovering where I came from. Over the years I have accumulated a lot of information and pieced together a lot of the lost history of my family. I started this blog as a place to store all those lost stories in the hopes that my family and future family might find them as valuable as me in helping to discover who they are.
This is an incredible photo for my family history and one that I thought I would never see properly and in such focus. I literally stumbled onto this one at the Mitchell library. I called up a batch of historic photos on Sydney in a bit of a fishing expedition without even realising that this photo was part of the collection. I had seen a very grainy copy of this photo before in an online mention of the history of Sydney’s theatre’s and also in Trove in an article on the history of Castlereagh Street. So you can imagine my thrill when I turned the page and this was staring back at me. Below is a copy of the Trove article.
Look at the difference between the two. When you read on you will see how that difference can really determine the amount of information you can glean from a photo. The article written in 1912 confirms without a doubt where Skinner’s Books was in 1882, and it also shows the building where my Great Grandmother Grace Nicoll née Blackwood was born.
What’s fascinating about this map is that it has nearly all the vendor names that appear in the article above. Skinner’s is not here yet. They will move into no. 73 Davidson Jeweller position on the left of the covered passage.
Incidentally, I found a book by Isadore Brodsky called “Sydney’s Phantom Bookstalls” buried in a second-hand bookstall in Ulmarra, on a recent trip to the North Coast of NSW, and it had a copy of this photo in it as well. Talk about pouring when it rains. You know what I mean.
Of course when I first picked up this gem I didn’t know what to expect. I was hopeful that there might be some mention of Skinners or Harry Blackwood, the Skinner’s sticker pictured on the back cover had me very excited. Apart from finding the photo as above, I found this too.
And there he is, my Great-Great Grandfather, Henry John Blackwood, (Harry) and his business partner Robert William Skinner. And in a bizarre twist of, I don’t know why, Harry after Skinner passes away takes on his persona and becomes known as Skinner as well. I can find no information as to why and can only think that he must have thought that it was good for business to continue on as Skinner.
That is a picture of Harry Blackwood not R W Skinner.
Now back to the photograph from 1882. What is really incredible, is that the quality is so sharp and so clear that I was able to zoom in to show the detail on the signage of the building. It clearly shows a sign for Skinner’s Bookstall. The first part of the sign is obscured, but you can see the “Sk” mirrored in the reflection of the store window. Then if you look below on the ground you will notice the baskets of books that Skinner’s (Harry Blackwood) was known for.
Now check out the neighbours.
The detail on this lot is also incredible. The clothes, the hats and the attitude. It would be wonderful to know who they were, but I suspect their identities are long forgotten.
According to the Dictonary of Sydney, the Sydney Punch was an, “…Illustrated satirical periodical with various publishers from 1864 until 1888. Modelled on the English Punch magazine, Sydney Punch was established in 1864 by Edgar Ray, one of the founders of the older Melbourne Punch.“https://dictionaryofsydney.org/artefact/sydney_punch
The Victoria Hotel is 105 Castlereagh St at this time, and for a while I thought this was the building where my Great Grandmother was born. Grace Blackwood daughter of Harry Blackwood and Jane Grace Skinner née Vaughan. Yep you read that correctly, Skinner not Blackwood. I have a copy of her birth certificate below, check it out.
No father’s name listed, yet Grace is named Blackwood. This remained a mystery for my family for decades. No one knew where Grace or Nanna Nic as she was known was born or when until I stumbled onto some company records at State Archives which then lead me to the above birth record. But first, the photo below shows the actual building where Grace was born. The whole Victoria Hall site was demolished in 1890 and Skinner’s had to move to the new 105 Castlereagh Street site, which incidentally was just a couple of doors up the street, as the numbering changed as well. https://aussietheatre.com.au/features/venue-histories/the-tivoli-theatre
In family history terms, we are so lucky to have this photo. It is the only one I can find of the 105 site and it, of course, is where Grace was born which is significant but it is also the house she grew up in presumably, as they don’t move to their next premises, 119-121 Castlereagh St until 1906 when Grace is 18 years old. But wait, before I show you how I solved this mystery of Grace’s birth and we explore the next Skinners site at 119-121 I have to finish off the story of the Victoria Hall site.
The last of the Neighbours to show you.
Then this next article is from 1933 and is a retrospective on D’Arcy and the photo and confirms that it is actually him in that top window. What a find.
As I stated earlier, the Victoria Hall was demolished in 1890 and the Garrick Theatre rose in its place.
Its a crappy copy of the photo, sorry about that, it is the only one available at the moment. The interesting thing to note is that the Coach builders, Jenners are still there on the right. Where the number 77 is on the awning above, was where the 103 is in the original photo, (look back up to the earlier photos) and the building on the left in this photo is the original Imperial Arcade facade.
This photo had no date on it but looking at the dress on the woman on the right it looked early 1900s. I couldn’t help myself I checked out the artist names appearing on the advert boards and look what I found. Trove delivered. Some great stuff and then a quick slap of that, oh yes we are dealing with attitudes 115 years in the past. You’ll see what I mean.
Then here comes the slap.
See what I mean? I was literally shocked when I read it. I had no idea the racist terms were used so easily until I saw this. I’m so glad that I found some wonderful information on Cassie and a great couple of photos of her to share with you.
Cassie lived till she was 92, passing away in 1980. If you want to know more about her click the link below her photo, Find a Grave have a great bio on her.
Back to the Tivoli, it operated until 1929 when it too was demolished.
In its place the Embassy Theatre was built which opened in 1934 and operated until the late 1970s. Keep in mind we are still on the Skinner’s Books site still.
Now the original, beautiful Imperial Arcade built in 1891 is torn down in 1961 and the modern version put up in 1965.
The above picture shows that the Embassy is long gone, not sure when that happened. But then in November 2008 the Imperial closed and the whole site was swallowed into what has now become the Westfield commercial towers today.
So a little off the topic of Skinner’s but like I have said numerous times, you get more bang for your buck on this blog. I’ll finish off for now with a quick comparison for you of the site 136 years apart and pick up the rest of the Skinner’s story in another post.
While writing this post I had the very creative title of “The Micro-cremator part 2” but after going with the flow of the writing this title above seems more appropriate. Don’t worry more of the micro-cremator is coming.
So, no more of the usual beating about the bush, lets get straight into where we left off. If you read my last post, you know we have a scarcity of any hard facts to tell us what motivates Kate to invent the Micro-cremator and to expose herself to the ridicule that she must have known would have been aimed at her, considering the time she was living in. But there are some pretty big clues that I know will help us. This would be Kate’s first motivating factor. (refer photo to the right)
Her Mum and her own life experiences. (By the way, how is that for a photo?) Rob Tunnock who so generously shared it with me just happened to stumble onto my blog late last year and sent me a message. His Great Grandfather was our Kate’s cousin, how awesome is that. Back to Kate’s mum, I have discussed in an earlier post some of the traits that were attributed to her from her small obituary but since then I have also discovered a little more about Kate Hooppell (Kate senior). I was stunned to find her listed in the 1841 Census, she is two years of age.
Now if this 1851 Census is the correct census listing for Kate senior, (I’m fairly certain it is) then she is still living with her father Robert, as well as two other family members, two cousins. Catherine, performing as the housekeeper and the other, Anne acting as Kate’s Governess. You will note that Kate’s father Robert is listed as a “…Landed Proprietor…”. This and the fact they also have a servant living in the household lets us safely assume they have money.
My reasoning behind my certainty this is their census?, we have quite a few points that are lining up. The area they are from, Ringmore, Bigbury and Devon all match with the 1841 listing. Kate’s age, she is now 12, 10 years older than 1841. The fact that Ellen is not listed and also the fact that there are no other children listed. I can confirm that Kate senior was an only child.
Next factor that adds to Kate seniors story, her father dies 3 years later in 1854, she is just 15 years of age. I’m not sure what happens to her immediately after this, but amazingly I found her in the 1861 census.
Kate senior is now living with George and Catherine Andrews and Kate is listed as cousin. Looking back at the 1851 census we see Robert’s niece Catherine (i.e. Kate’s Cousin) listed as Housekeeper. I bet this is the same Catherine who is now married to George Andrews and who names one of their daughters “…Kate Hooppell Andrews…” listed above. What a wonderful way to show how close they all were. Note also that Kate is 22 years of age and listed as “…Landed Property…” further facts lining up with the previous census.
At this time Kate senior is a wealthy independent young woman who is 9 years away from marrying Ebenezer Thorne, so what does she do? Well her obituary gives us a great clue. It explains that she aligns herself with the ideals of a long forgotten hero of Birmingham, that great industrial city of 19th century England, George Dawson.
Remember, I’m talking about clues as to what motivates our Kate, and I’m suggesting her own mother’s history is the number one motivating factor. This is why we are taking this very shallow dive into this relationship with George Dawson. He was a “…non conformist preacher, lecturer and politician.” He was also know to be an “…advocate of free education and also served on the school board.” (https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/directory_record/112144/george_dawson_1821_to_1876)
George I can only imagine must have been a huge influencing figure for Kate Senior. A young orphaned, unmarried woman who has the means at hand to provide assistance. Her obituary again gives us a great clue as to her civic character. It states that she had…, on second thoughts have a look yourself.
I know I have shared this with you a few posts back now, but I don’t expect you to remember, and I think this gives good context to the discussion. See how it states that Kate has the “…purse and personal efforts…” in maintaining the schools set up by Dawson and that she devoted herself to assisting with the education of the factory girls. I would expect no mean feat for a young woman in the mid-1860s. Imagine the manuscript Kate senior might have written and her collection of correspondence, which most likely was all destroyed once she had passed. There is that ache again for what is lost.
Dawson was known for his philosophy of “Civic Gospel” This explanation from Wikipedia, “…a town is a solemn organism through which shall flow, and in which shall be shaped, all the highest, loftiest and truest ends of man’s moral nature…”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civic_Gospel Dawson obviously passed this on to Kate Senior who has then passed it on to her own daughter. This is most evident to me, in the fact that in 1904 our Kate offers over the patent for the Microcremator to the NSW Government for free, so everyone might benefit from it. This article below is a rare find as it is a letter written for the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald from someone who I suspect had no connection to Kate or the micro-cremator but had an opinion they needed to express about it.
I only gave you a clipped excerpt of the article. Click the link if you are interested in reading the whole thing. Mr J. Martin Cleary talks about in his “Letter to the Editor” the fact that at the time, the government had put out the tenders to build a National Library and the lowest one that came back was 77 000 pounds and that if they were considering this sum to house books, certainly they could cover the cost of actually doing something about Consumption? How wonderful for us that he took the time to mention Kate and the Micro-cremator and to mention that they were successful trials that she conducted. I haven’t come across any resources discussing the outcome of the trials as yet, so this is gold. (I know I say that often.) Can you see how were are getting some good data here to support my original hypothesis way back at the beginning of my last post?
Now, just going back for a minute. Scroll back up and check out Kate Senior’s headstone. That wonderful quote from Reverend Mitchell. They are pretty powerful words to be reading about your own mother from our Kate’s point of view. I mean that quote is a story in itself, isn’t it. Why does Reverend Mitchell have the privilege of having his quote engraved on here and there is nothing from Ebenezer her husband or any other family members? It just makes me want to know more.
I was lucky enough to stumble on to a couple of lines about Rev’ Mitchell that just highlights again the type of thinking that our Kate was exposed to. This following quote comes from a blog on the history of Churches in Brisbane. “… D. F. Mitchell was a tall, active Scot, not much of a preacher, but well loved over at the Park Presbyterian Church in South Brisbane, and a very familiar figure. On an occasion I heard the remark that he instinctively knew where there was want for sickness, and that he did not care a two penny – (something not at all clerical) whether they were Christians, Jews, pagans, or “Freethinkers.” ” http://www.chapelhill.homeip.net/FamilyHistory/Other/QueenslandHistory/browne5.htm There is a real trend here with the type of people that our Kate is being exposed to. Reverend Mitchell fits perfectly with the ethos Kate senior came from.
And talking about wanting to know more, the Park Presbyterian Church is still standing. Wow! This I’m sure will be the same church where Kate senior and Kate would have attended. Our Kate was born in Woolloongabba a 20-minute walk from the church or 10-minute sulky ride.
I believe the other main motivation for Kate is the number of people suffering from disease in her life. I know it doesn’t state specifically but her mother’s obit indicates that she was a “…long time sufferer“. We haven’t received the death certificate yet to confirm, but I suspect that she was battling consumption. You’ll remember I have shared a few times the article of Kate and her best friend, Thirza Zahel, George’s cousin living in Sydney and battling life’s battles. I think those battles were with consumption. Then there are also a few articles that state that Kate had consumption and that at one stage her father Ebenezer leaves Brisbane to come down to reside in Sydney to take care of her.
The final thoughts I have on Kate’s motivations are a bit harder to put into words. A bit of a problem as this is a blog that really relies on me being able to do that to some success so that you might have a chance of understanding me. A big ask each time I sit down to this screen, I know, for me that is. Anyhow, here goes.
I think another influencing factor on her motivations might have been the mix of the time that Kate was living in with the societal expectations that were on any woman at that time and really the person that Kate had become because of the exposure of the different civic and social duty philosophies that she had been exposed to. To roll into that, she came from wealth which afforded her the luxury of having her basic needs meet to enable her to work on these higher-order needs. How did I go? Hopefully I’m making sense.
I’m getting into a bit of a routine with my research now in trying to find some supporting literature to fill out what I’m actually talking about in these blog posts. This time this particular gem of a book is really what has got me thinking like this about Kate. Again it is purely my speculation, but it feels like the pieces might fit.
What a find this book was. I have literally made it in 30 pages and already can see so many potential links with what I suspect might have been occurring for Kate. The frustrating thing for me so far is that there is little that I can find that focuses on Australian Women Chemists of the time. This is wonderful even if it is a British focus and I mean technically Kate is at this stage very much British and under the same system only 11 000 miles away.
The Rayner-Canham’s set out in their first 30 pages a fantastic picture of what challenges these pioneer women, such as Kate really faced and that was, the patriarchal view. Whether that be from men or other women who thought they were breaking the bonds of tradition. I know, jam packed first 30 pages but wait there is more. (Rayner-Canham & Rayner-Canham 2009)
Some issues they highlight were even starting back at the school level. Having teaching staff that allowed girls the opportunity of studying stem subjects in the first place. This was not the norm. There were male teaching staff that were absolutely opposed to the idea of allowing this to happen for girls let alone to allow them to make it into higher education. (Rayner-Canham & Rayner-Canham 2009)
They then describe how the big debate that consumed faculties when women were begrudgingly allowed into these higher education settings was whether their studies focused on pure scientific outcomes such as men were afforded or should it be curtailed to a domestic brand of science to assist women in their duties at home. I mean it is even uncomfortable typing this now in 2021 but also frustrating knowing that women still face many challenges like these today, 120 years later. (Rayner-Canham & Rayner-Canham 2009)
The Rayner-Canhams also managed to fit into these 30 pages that there were some factors assisting women as well. Many men at the time were also allies and fought for women to have a place beside them. I think we can probably safely say that Ebenezer, George and his brother’s and father would all have fit into this bracket for Kate and her aspirations. They also suggested that in their research an interesting trend presented itself, that in a lot of the cases it was the women’s complete lack of rivalry for their male counterparts that enabled them to just get on with the job of learning and that they were grateful for whatever assistance these males were able to give them. (Rayner-Canham & Rayner-Canham 2009) I have a feeling that Kate may not have fit into this category, but my reasoning for that will become more evident in our next post.
This next clipping from Trove gives in a small way an example of what I have been trying to express to you above and also explains further the title of this post.
So I feel that with this accumulation of evidence and my ramblings above that we can be confident in knowing what Kate’s motivations were for doggedly pursuing her studies, her research and putting herself to the task of inventing and developing the micro-cremator. She wanted to do good for her community and the people suffering in it and use the skills and knowledge she had in making that come about. She was very much a product of her mother and the attitudes and values she had developed over her life. And I think we can optimistically assume that with what I have shared already in my previous posts of Kate’s story and the micro-cremator that she was successful in her endeavours. The next post will celebrate that success but also show that it came with a cost.
Like so many points on this journey of Kate’s, I will be hypothesising from the sliver of insights that have been left behind as to why a young woman born into the paternal restraints of late Victorian society would think that she would have the confidence and skills to invent this machine and then put herself in a position of vulnerability and ridicule by putting her work out there for public scrutiny. And, damn, if it wasn’t an avalanche of ridicule that was heaped on her, and it was very much in the public eye.
In order to support these hypotheses I will share with you the wonderful collection of articles and information that I have uncovered or more like, stumbled upon. Articles which I have given you small glimpses of in previous posts, that show an amazingly confident woman who had no fear of meeting her critics head on. What is more amazing is that her words were even given a platform. And in a few examples, to be heard without any sarcasm attached and even a number that outright lent Kate’s opinions support.
Wow, so that was reminiscent of the start of a uni essay, not sure where that came from, but we will go with it.
Figure 1 is page 3 of the application, but I think this is an opportune time to share with you as it gives us a clear idea of what Kate’s invention actually looks like. Kate’s hand drawn diagrams of her invention. You’ll note there are 3 components to the micro-cremator drawn separately and then Kate has drawn them together at the bottom of the page to see how they work in conjunction with the other. The following is a copy of Kate’s typed application.
There is another example of that wonderfully flourished signature, and a fantastically detailed description of the workings of the machine. Have to say the chamber “…packed with asbestos…” is a bit of a surprise considering our knowledge of the dire effects of asbestos on respiratory functioning now. Although at the time I’m sure that Kate was using it for its thermal stability and insulating properties. Yes, I’m admitting my ignorance here, I had to do a quick Google to find this out. https://mesowatch.com/asbestos/composition/
The other fascinating thing Kate confirms for us is in this document is that she refers to herself in that opening paragraph as a “…pharmacy student…”. Which is great to read as these are Kate’s own words. So we now know that when Kate makes this application on the 24th October 1902, 18 months after finishing the Materia Medica course in 1900, she is still studying pharmacy. But wait, the questions are forming, here is that double edge sword again.
So does that mean that Kate is studying another course component? If so there are no records of this as I have stripped NSW Archives bare on my last visit. Maybe it means that Kate did take up an apprenticeship position with a registered Pharmacist. This was one of the stipulations of the course that was stated in the new Pharmacy Act, that I uncovered a couple of posts back. Perhaps there is merit to my suggestion that she might be working with Mr J H Barnett (her examiner) at his shop in Lewisham. (Last post) See what I mean? Double edge sword, so happy to uncover that bit of new info, but it then poses so many more questions.
Now here is a real treat for us, check out the photo below! What an absolute gem!
Yes, that is Kate’s Dad, Ebenezer demonstrating the use of his daughters invention. How proud he must have been. And look how good Kate’s diagrams are now that they can be seen in real life. I know digital version of IRL but still its close.
This random bit of gold turned up for me first on Paul Granville’s blog, about the history of Highgate Hill. He initially had it listed as “Ebby with a strange apparatus…” and I assumed he didn’t know what it was. I, on the other hand knew what it was straight away. It had to be Kate’s micro-cremator. At that time the National Archives files hadn’t been released, but I just knew it, I mean look at it.
I had mentioned a few posts back that I would be sharing some information on Ebenezer but let me just say with what I have uncovered, he needs his own separate post. I will share now but as it relates to Kate’s story. The provenance of the photo and how I confirmed that it was the micro-cremator? Lots of Googling, which led me to a folder of court documents in relation to Ebenezer on the New Plymouth District Council site in New Zeland. New Zeland?
Long story short, Ebenezer ends up in New Zealand in 1907 living under the assumed name of Benjamin Enroth (anagram of Thorne) and married to a Clare Berridge. He is at this time still married to Kate’s Step-mother in Queensland and get this, also to another woman in England, who he married on his last trip back to England in 1900, which was to promote a book he had authored and published on the Heresy of Teetotalism.
The photo of Ebenezer with the micro-cremator was part of court proceeding documents in relation to trying to work out his estate in 1911 when his bigamy was uncovered. See what I mean? His story is frankly nuts and could be a BBC period drama for sure.
I made contact with New Plymouth District Council and received a wonderfully warm response from one of their Archivists informing me that they were very happy for me to use any information they had on Ebenezer and the family.
Back to the date of Kate’s application, 24th of October 1902. We can be sure of this application date as the National Archives also had a second file to share in relation to Kate’s Letters Patent. That is the correspondence file I’ve mentioned previously. Now, I have to say that this is the one that I was most excited about seeing. I was hoping that within it there might be some gems of letters from Kate. It is filled with some great finds, but it is not quite what I was expecting. The following example explains it clearer and confirms the date of the application.
It is a correspondence archive of the times that Kate and the office have communicated and noting also when some action was taken in relation to Kate’s application. Below is just a bit of a collage of some of the files it contains.
I love the note under point 8 above, “…ask Miss Thorne to be kind enough to call at this office…“
From what I have been able to put together, Kate applied for provisional patent protection on the 24th October 1902, which she was given and then the application moved through a number of assessments to ascertain whether it was viable in its functioning and whether there was anything already in existence that was comparable.
This report is one of those gems. The report confirming that there is no other invention out there with a similar patent. Again the language used is so interesting. “…find no direct nor complete anticipation of the invention…” a bit of Googling once again reveals that it is a well known legal phrase used in patent law referring to the invention itself and whether there is anything like it in existence.
I think the application must have taken awhile as Kate pays another 3 pounds on the 23rd October 1903, 12 months later to keep the provisional protection in place.
The Letter of Patents is approved 28th December 1903, 2 and a half weeks after George and Kate marry.
This is a fascinating document as it bears the signature of the Governor of NSW, Sir Harry H Rawson and the Chief Secretary/Premier of NSW Sir John See. There is also another family link here. Sir John is also a long time contemporary of Kate’s father-in-law, Bruce Baird Nicoll and his brother George Wallace Nicoll.
Sir John See, had his own steamship company in the 90s, Nipper & See, in competition with the Nicoll Brothers. He also was a member of the Steamship Association at the same time as Bruce (Kate’s F-i-L) and I found an amazing photo of them together at a function in Cremorne. Sir John is the gentleman seated on the right with the white top hat. Bruce is the last man on the right, top row with the moe and black top hat. (This was actually the first photo of two that I have discovered of Bruce.)
Sir John sells his interests in Nipper & See and becomes Managing Director of the North Coast Steam Navigation Company and negotiates the sale of the last of the Nicoll business interest when George Wallace Nicoll, Bruce’s brother and our George’s uncle, becomes gravely ill in 1906.
This phenomenal scrap of carbon paper of a letter penned over 114 years ago took me about 4 hours to find in the North Coast Steam Navigation Company’s letter book at the Mitchell Library. I had no idea it was there it was purely a fishing trip for information.
So the letter from Sir John See’s office confirming the issue of the patents is sent to the Patents office and then this one below must be confirming the individual patents ready to send out to the Petitioners. I’m assuming here.
There is no actual copy of a patent certificate in the folder dated with 1904. There is one dated 24th October 1902 when Kate lodges the application. I wonder if the Letters Patent is back dated to the original application date once the approval comes through to show there is no gap just in case someone else tries to come in with a similar invention in that time period.
I was hoping that there was going to be some letters from Kate in the correspondence file. There wasn’t, but there was the next best thing, a detailed description of the Micro-cremator in Kate’s own words and hand.
If you look at the photo of Ebenezer using the machine and then read Kate’s description there is no doubt that it is the micro-cremator, if the diagrams weren’t enough to convince. And how about that wonderful Easter egg just sitting on the page there. Look who signs Kate’s description as witnesses. Her future Father in law, Bruce Baird Nicoll and Brother in law, Charles Bruce Nicoll.
They are such slivers of information, but they mean so much to Kate and George’s story. I think we can safely lock in another fixed point in their timeline, that George and Kate know each other in October 1902. And that George’s family very much approve of his choice of bride to be. They are 13 months out from their wedding at this point and here is Kate’s future family already involved in her life and publicly demonstrating that they support a young woman breaking out of those male dominated societal restraints. How amazing is that? Just from those two signatures. The thought now is, why doesn’t George’s signature appear there? One for the never to know box.
You might have realised that I haven’t actually answered as yet one of the main questions I posed at the beginning of this post. What actually motivates Kate to pursue her studies and give her the confidence to not only think that she might know how to help treat consumption but then to invent and manufacture a machine to do it? And then to put herself under the scrutiny of public examination? It’s a two parter really, and I know I haven’t come to the avalanche of criticism as yet that Kate faced, but it is Kate’s motivation that really interest me here.
I wish I could say, ” …guess what? I found this trove of letters of Kate’s that answer these questions…” but the chances of that? I’m reading this book at the moment:
What a fascinating read! Jennifer Isaacs has sourced some, what can only be described as exceedingly rare resources from the female perspective and in it, she shares some heartbreaking information.
That in many cases when a female relative died her treasure trove of correspondence, clippings, articles or diaries that she had accumulated were given little importance and simply destroyed or thrown away. Certainly when there were no relatives involved it was a given they would be lost.
Kate’s collection must have been impressive. And like in the case of so many of my other female ancestors I actually ache a little for their loss. I can imagine that any of Kate’s collection that survived would have been with George after her death. Then this leads me to wonder, where are both Kate’s and George’s when George is killed in April 1915?
Unfortunately, anyone that might have known is long gone. So I can only speculate as to what Kate’s motivation might have been but there are a few clues left behind that might help in fleshing out that speculation.
Hope you can join me in the next post when I will share these clues and also continue on with the next chapter of the micro-cremator, the storm it creates, and catch up on what has been happening for George.
Kate Carina May Thorne, we are family by marriage, but I couldn’t feel any prouder of her than if we were blood kin. The more I discover of this amazing person, and as I have mentioned previously, when you consider the time she was living in, straddling the Victorian and Edwardian age, the more my admiration deepens.
We left Kate in the last post with her words to the Council of Sydney ringing out offering suggestions on dealing with the dust problem in Sydney town. She is in her early 20s, either finished or in the final stages of her Pharmacy Diploma and developing a budding relationship with the young St George’s Rifleman, George Alfred Nicoll. Who is eager to demonstrate his honour to his country and Queen by attesting to fight the Boer in South Africa.
We are, (I promise) going to delve into the story of Kate’s amazing invention, the Micro-Cremator, but once again, I just have a couple of thing to discuss with you before we do, one of those things, Kate’s writing.
In uncovering Kate’s voice we now have a carpetbag full of treasures to choose from thanks to discovering Kate’s poetry on Trove and the Queensland publications who initially printed them. I’m confident from what I have read so far that I can identify those moments in her life or world events around her that might have been responsible for their creation and will present them to you as we continue our journey.
In preparation for that delve into that bag I think this article below is a pretty poignant find. A brief review, a mention really, of Kate and her poetry undertaken in the 1930s, by a Henry Arthur Kellow. Eighteen years after her death.
This whisper of a mention of course spurred me on to see if it was possible to find Mr Kellow’s book somewhere in order to add it to the family collection. I had the incredible luck of finding an original copy in a bookstore in Melbourne, $27.00 and a week later it was on the doorstep. I got a bit creative and did a collage for you below.
The little white copy on the bottom left, of The Morning Bulletin, is the excerpt from the article above discussing Mr Kellow’s book and also describes what category Kate’s style of poetry fits into. The one to the right of that is pretty self-explanatory, it’s the page Kate appears on within the book which is pictured behind it. The wonderful old battered slip of folio to the left is an original copy of Kate’s booklet held in the National Library, photographed as it is too fragile to handle any longer.
The mention in Mr Kellow’s book is slight, not even a full page of the book. The poignancy for me comes from the fact that this is due to Kate dying at such a young age, thirty-six. Her writing has certainly made an impression on me, we can only imagine what impression Mr Kellow might have had, had he been reviewing the work of a poet with another 18 years of creation behind her.
One of Kate’s earlier works was published in 1895, the subject, her mother Kate Thorne, née Hooppell who had died 2 years earlier. There is a note on the article suggesting that our Kate penned it from an earlier age.
Kate’s mother was born in Devon England in June 1838 but came from an ancient French Huguenot family which is evident in the recollections. Kate SNR was 10 when the Second French Republic is declared after King Louis-Phillipe I flees to Great Britain when the economic and social climate turns tense. She is then in her thirties when the last Emperor of France, Napoleon III is arrested with his army in the Franco Prussian War of Sept 1870. I wonder which Empress Fair our Kate is referring to in her poem? https://royalcentral.co.uk/features/what-happened-to-frances-monarchy-110579/
In 1899 Kate creates a poem in honour of the recently deceased Queensland Premier Thomas Joseph Byrnes.
I don’t think this was a random act of public compassion. A quick scan of Mr Byrne’s bio reveals that he was born in Spring Hill, virtually neighbours to the Thorne’s. That he and his siblings went to school in the same area as Kate and even though older than Kate by 16 years I suspect that she was a cohort of his younger sister, Matilda. Thomas leaves a piece of land in Camp Hill to Matilda in his will, she sells the land to the Catholic Church in 1918 and then bequeaths on her death £300 towards the cost of a church. St Thomas’s now stands as a monument to the memory of her brother. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Joseph_Byrnes#Early_life
Hopefully you don’t think I have strayed too far from the path here? But I feel these supporting pictures and information just add so much to Kate’s story in lieu of pictures of herself. The fact that Kate knew Thomas and looked at that face, like we are now, for me, just brings her into greater focus.
I know interpretation is at play here as well, especially with her poems and fitting the pieces together. I found another piece of her writing that I think fits with a major milestone in history albeit a long forgotten one. Kate is 22 years of age at the time.
I’m fairly sure that this poem of Kate’s is referring to the Spanish-American war of 1898. In a quick nutshell, the war came about from Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spanish rule. There was a large amount of American press about how cruel the Spanish were being in trying to quell the Cuban’s and this resulted in numerous calls for American intervention. The USS Main was sunk in Santiago harbour inexplicably and by the end of April 1898 war had been declared by both sides. https://www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/spanish-american-war
Wow, what you can learn with a few strokes of the keys and Google’s search engine. Not just about the war but also returning to Kate’s poem. Columbia as Kate references above in the poem is the female personification of the United States. Technically it is a new Latin toponym and referenced the original 13 colonies that would go on to form the United States. “Columb” is in honour of Christopher Columbus and “ia” was a common Latin suffixes for names of countries. Therefore, Columbus’s country. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbia_(personification)
The other references that also lock the topic in place are, Kate’s use of “…the spangled banner…” which of course is a reference to the American flag and “…our sister land, vast empire across the brine…” referencing their shared English history, the enormous continent of the United States and finally, the brine, is the Atlantic. What I find really of interest here is the strong example of British patriotism that Kate is displaying loud and clear. Read that last quote above, and it is though Kate is sitting somewhere on the South West Coast of the UK looking longingly out over the North Atlantic with no thought of the fact of where she is actually sitting, Brisbane Queensland, roughly 16500kms away.
What a wonderful example of Kate’s poetic skill, thinking and state of mind. I can only imagine that the majority of women of the time would only have been expected to be thinking about the skills they might be acquiring to keep house and find and keep a husband but here is Kate ruminating on world events and being so motivated by them to put pen to paper and then to seek to have it published. I suspect that there were many other women like Kate who were shaking off that limited expectation, look at the era. It was the time that Australian Suffragettes were working so hard for political franchise.
I think it is easy to see that this sense of social conscience and patriotism was evident from an early age in Kate especially when you view this published piece. Kate pens “The Soldiers Dream” and has it published in Oct 1893 when she is only seventeen.
How prophetic these words must have seemed to Kate and George when seven years after this publication George is engaging with the Boer and is the one who is dreaming and Kate is the lass waiting but thankfully as it turns out, not in vain. It will be a very different story in 1915. The Soldier, will have been “…waiting in vain…” for 2 years and 3 months with no hope of his lass coming back again, as Kate has already passed. A reunion takes place in late April of that year, when the Soldier “…will never come again…” and his family are the one’s, “…waiting in vain…”.
This is actually the earliest example of Kate’s writing I can find so far. Published 136 years, 11 months and 25 days ago. It is the 11th of September 2020 today. For us the 19th anniversary of the Twin Towers terrorist attack in New York City.
By the way, just to give us some closure, the Spanish-American war ends around August 1889, one month after “A Song of War” is published. The whole Spanish Caribbean fleet was laid to waste. By December ’89, Spain has relinquished any claim over Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico and America has gained sovereignty over the Philippines for a $20 million payment to Spain. The Philippine-American war begins in February 1899 and lasts until 1902. https://www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/spanish-american-war
Since European invasion this young collection of colonies up until Kate and George’s time, had seen a number of world conflicts erupt. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica no less than thirty-four not counting the Philippine-American that had just started and fourteen of those since Kate’s birth. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/list-of-wars-2031197)
A quick delve into Trove and the Boer, British, Germans and Portuguese and their constant simmering tensions feature regularly throughout the ’90s intensifying in the latter part of the decade and exploding into the start of the 2nd Boer War on the 11th Oct 1899.
Is it any wonder that war and its associated loss featured in Kate’s work. The next two poems leave no doubt in my mind that they are about George and his impending departure for Sout Africa. The first published on 16 Dec 1899 two months after the declaration of war and four months before he boards the Armenian at Cowper Wharf at Woolloomooloo. (I know, spoilers, but it fits with Kate’s story, so I had to share where George departs from. This was a journey in itself getting that information and I will share it with you shortly.)
The hopeless romantic in me so hopes that Kate is clutching a copy of this in her gloved hand waving furiously from the wharf to George who will have one slipped into his inner top pocket standing on the deck of the Armenian. Oh man, I can literally see the film of this in my head.
Am I right or am I right? I mean correct of course. They are so pointed. The first poem, yes, maybe you might interpret it in a different light, I wouldn’t, but I can see how it might be fixed on some other topic, but this second one is on the money. There is an elephant in the room though. Kate’s, what can only be described in today’s term as, contemptuous use of the shockingly racist term, “…distant Kaffir lands…” The urbandictionary.com describes the word as being of Arabic origin and originally referring to an infidel or unbeliever of any skin pigment. It further states that it has been adopted into the Afrikaans language and is used as an insulting term for someone of African descent. (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=kaffir)
This is one of those classic, bumps up against the uncomfortable truths of past held opinions and beliefs. Apart from the fact that Kate’s use of the term confirms that we are definitely talking about the war happening in Africa, it is not enough to assume if she held the same contempt for the people it refers to. I’m hoping against all hopes she didn’t but without that direct quote from her stating so, I can only keep hoping. The sentiment of that final piece is so simple and direct and speaks to the heartache felt by those left behind when the call of duty is answered.
I’m really sorry to have to inform you that we will wrestle with this issue again very soon, but it will be George’s father, Kate’s future father-in-law who will be in the hot seat, and we are left in no doubt as to his beliefs as they are in big bold quotes. And, oh, those beliefs sting, sting bad like a slap-up the side of the head.
But before that, I know this post has been all over the place time wise for Kate and George especially when you consider my last post finished on Kate’s Dust article published in 1902. But let’s face it folks, amateur writer at best here and my focus was on the topics that were raised and not how they fit chronologically. That’s my explanation, and I’m loving it. One of the issues that I have noticed when looking at this time period, late 90s to 1900, especially in Kate’s case, that it is almost impossible to work out where she was actually living and with whom. There is so much seemingly conflicting information but also some fantastic finds buried amongst them. Let me share.
The Best way to do that, I will show you how I have been putting all of this information for Kate together. I have been doing this for all the cast of characters or should I say my family or our family if you’re one of the 150 years in the future lot.
What we can state first off with no confusion is that Ebenezer Thorne, Kate’s father owned numerous properties in the Brisbane area. Carina Farm, mentioned at the top of Kate’s timeline, is the original property that I presented to you in the Quiet Couple Revealed post. It is referred to as the Old Cleveland road property in numerous listings. It was originally on 238 acres of land when listed in 1881 and obviously is sold off piece by piece as it is then listed for lease or sale in 1895 with only 50 acres of land remaining. The only reason I discovered any of this information was due to the fact that I stumbled upon this poem of Kate’s very recently.
Oh, bugger! Sooner than I thought bumping up against those old uncomfortable beliefs. Look at the end of that second line Kate has written, damn! I hadn’t really paid much attention to the content of this poem it was more the footnote that took my interest plus having read it now, I still have no idea what it is about without further digging. Back to the discovery, Highgate Hill.
I thought I had mined Trove dry for any of Carina Thorne’s poetry, this was her published name. I’m assuming Kate used this because there was another verse writer with the name of Kate Thorne in Queensland at the time. (Just my assumption.) But of course, the National Library is working away continually updating and adding new content to Trove and assuming again, this is how this poem came up. So the footnote, Highgate Hill, I hadn’t seen that on any other poem. This piqued my interest.
This according to Google, “…Highgate is an inner southern suburb of Brisbane…”
You might not remember but Woolloongabba in the right of the map above is where Kate is born in 1876. The other highlighted section there is Gertrude Street, this will be explained soon. At this stage, I still don’t know where exactly Kate is in Highgate Hill. So I broaden my search and put into Google search Highgate Hill and Thorne, it was one of those moments again. Check out what came up in the results below.
Delving into these two sites are the proverbial mother load in relation to the information I have uncovered on Kate and the family. I will be sharing with you of course but for the purposes of this issue, of where Kate was living let me just drill down to that for the moment. The heritage.brisbane listing above, is an historical study on Carina. A property at no 1 Gertrude Street, Highgate Hill which is still standing and as I was soon to discover in the accompanying PDF where Kate and Ebenezer were living from 1893-1896. This correlates to the Highgate Hill printed at the bottom of Kate’s published poems and here it is.
The Study confirms that the house was not on the site in 1886 and that it most likely was built the following year in 1887. Ebenezer had built it initially as an investment property to rent out. Post Office directories for that year list occupants in the house. The house was then left vacant after a bank crash in the 1890s. Interestingly Ebenezer passes the title of the house into his wife’s name and has his whole estate liquidated. (Maybe this was as a result of the crash.) Then of course Kate dies in 1892. Again hypothesising here, but I think Kate’s death is probably the reason why Kate and Ebenezer move into Gertrude St. https://heritage.brisbane.qld.gov.au/heritage-places/2228
The poor old thing looks pretty dilapidated now, but it has been there for over 130 years. In Kate’s day it would have been grand. The study reports it as having, “…six rooms, including two attic rooms, bathroom, kitchen and two brick chimneys. Verandahs encircled the house, taking advantage of the panoramic views then available from the ridge line of Gertrude Street.” https://heritage.brisbane.qld.gov.au/heritage-places/2228
A quick sidebar here. I recently received a comment on the previous post on Kate & George from a woman whose property backs onto Kate and Ebeneezer’s Carina property in Highgate Hill. Her name was Carmel, and she stumbled onto my blog whilst doing some research on Kate and the property.
I received a response from Carmel an extract from it below.
How lucky am I? I never dreamed when I started writing about Kate and George that anybody outside the family or friends on Facebook who follow the blog would be interested in what I put up. I’m so happy that what I have shared, particularly about Kate’s story has made an impact on others. Sidebar concluded.
Once again I love to suppose what Kate might have looked like here. With no specific photo of Kate and Ebenezer at Carina I turned to Google again. Queensland State Library had a wonderful example of a family taking tea on their Queenslander verandah in 1900, only a few years out from Kate and Ebenezer’s time.
Ebenezer meets and marries Sarah Lane, Kate’s Stepmother in 1893 and then according to the historic study they then make their next move in 1896 as a family out to “Thornemere” in Belmont. This is when things get a bit tricky in terms of where Kate was. I haven’t been able to link Kate to the Thornemere property, but I found these two listings for Ebenezer confirming he was there at least until 1900.
Going back to Kate’s timeline that I created we can see that she has multiple pieces published in the Queensland press from the time she moves to Thornemere right up until 1900. We know that Kate attends the Government House reception in 1897 when she possibly meets her future mother-in-law, Georges mother, Jane Nicoll. But then we are also surmising that in order for her to get her published exam results in January 1901 in Sydney, that she potentially needs to be starting the course in 1897.
And then to further confuse the mix, we have the report that Kate is going on an extended visit to Brisbane to stay with her Aunt & Uncle in December 1898. How does this work? I suspect what was happening is that Kate had lodgings in Sydney somewhere whilst working on her studies and then travelling back to Queensland regularly. I think if you read into the extended stay with Aunt and Uncle and see it as her travelling from Sydney, it makes more sense, especially in light of the fact that it is almost Christmas.
A couple of other points that lend weight to this theory of Kate having a base in Sydney, two we already know. The Dust Fiend article that I finished the last post on, when Kate was writing to the council about potentially hosing the streets of Sydney with seawater? That was published in June 1902 and then the other, the fact that she has to be in Sydney and for a fairly regularly amount of time as she develops her acquaintance with George to the point that they get married in December 1903. This we can be certain of and now the other thing we can be certain of is this brand-new information that has just revealed itself, an actual address in Sydney.
Yes in the time I have been working on this latest instalment of Kate and George’s story the information on Kate’s patent application for the Micro-cremator held by the National Archives has become available. What a stunning pack of information it contains too. I can’t wait to share it with you in the next post but for now I will share this document that confirms an address for Kate in Sydney.
There is our second picture of Kate, not an image of her but her signature. Check out how confident it is with the flourishes. That is the signature of a woman who is comfortable in her own skin, in my opinion.
So another fixed point in the timeline, 24th October 1902 Kate is living at 17 Forsythe Street, Glebe Point. Now check this out, look what is still standing:
How fantastic is that? Of course there is no listing for Kate in the Sands Directory.
I can imagine that it must have been a pretty rare occurrence a single woman listed by herself in this era. I did a quick scan for the whole Glebe listing and there are only six Misses listed. The above listing shows 17 Forsyth listed in 1902 to a Mr Dennis William. This would have been a great spot for Kate to be situated in. The University of Sydney is only a 30min walk up Glebe point road and across Victoria Park. It is also only a 2.5 mile carriage ride away from George’s family residence, Hillview in Petersham. To date a picture of Hillview still evades me.
We can now add another fixed point in Kate’s story, I just discovered another Patent Application in the bundle of info from National Archives and this second one is dated October 23rd, 1903. Just two months before she and George marry.
I feel confident that I have pieced together a pretty good supposition of how Kate was living in this time, of course realising it could be completely blown apart by the next discovery. The other interesting things to note on Kate’s whereabouts at this time are that when she starts to receive some press about her invention in early 1903 she is reported in the press as being from Lewisham. Now I can find no listing for Kate in Lewisham. Lewisham is only 10mins away from Glebe so was thinking that the writer might have been taking some liberties, which we are all too aware can happen even today.
I really do enjoy that detective work and trying to piece together an accurate picture or as close to, as I can get with the information I have discovered. The final instalment to share with you in this post relates to Kate’s exam results published in 1901. I previously shared that in my communication with Helen at TAFE she suggested contacting State Archives and doing a deep dive of their records in relation to Kate’s results. I did this and one of their amazingly patient and very helpful Archivists named Jennifer put together some records for me to search on my next visit. I took a day trip down to Sydney in early November 2020 and this is what I found. A 120-year-old Index book of exam results from Sydney Technical College for 1900.
Just holding this thing was incredible. It was so fragile and a cloud of dust and detritus ballooned from it when I placed it on the pillow. The index book, luckily was in alphabetical order, so I turned to T and hoped that something might be there. Remember this was just fishing there was no listing that said Kate would be here.
I just sat there beaming! Of course, I looked a complete dickhead and definitely scared a few of my fellow researchers away. But wow! There was Kate’s faded name along with my next task, Volume 2 page 378. I had over 40 items requested that day and because of Covid-19 and social distancing rules, Jennifer had preselected them all for me in advance and had them stacked on a huge rolling shelved cage which I had sitting behind me. Do you think I could find Volume 2? Then finally.
There she was, Kate listed with her Grade 2 pass in Materia Medica. Jennifer found one other item for me to check the actual Department papers of individual marks with the list of Examiners names for each of the courses.
Kate’s examiner, J H Burnet was a Chemist who lived in Croydon and had a shop in Lewisham. It is complete supposition on my part, but I’m wondering if J H Burnet could have been a family friend and maybe have offered Kate a place to reside whilst she was studying in Sydney. The whole Lewisham link mentioned earlier is playing in my mind.
I found a mention of Mr Burnet being involved in a murder case in Sydney reported in November 1901.
Back to the Examination Results book. After carefully searching through these centuries old pieces of paper I came upon this one below.
Look at that, Kate’s actual marks for the course, 64 out of 100 earning her a 2nd Grade. The only woman enrolled in that year and exactly 120 years ago.
If you have read any of my posts on this blog you will be aware of my passion for trying to uncover and highlight in whatever small way I can the history of the female experience which has so largely been forgotten or not even bothered with in so many instances. In this quest, I uncovered some wonderful old tomes from a recent visit to the historic Ulmarra Bookshop near Grafton on exactly this issue.
This one from Eve Pownall published in 1959 speaks for so many of the female members of my family.
If you have an interest “…from the female perspective”, this is an amazing read and gives a wonderfully rich glimpse into what so many of our female ancestors would most probably have experienced, in the 19th century, early 20th …if they were white that is. Of course, this book is a product of it’s time. Pownall mentions or refers to indigenous women regularly, but as “…blacks” or “gins”, describing how they are helping these white women and their husbands to in effect, conquer their ancient culture and land. There is a sense of sympathy for their situation in many instances in the book, but I feel it is an absolute must to keep this disposition of culture and land in mind while reading. I’m sure if there was an indigenous version of this book it would paint a very different picture to Pownall’s.
For Kate’s story I found a chapter of Pownall’s that may as well come straight from Kate’s personal journal. It highlights the very world she was inhabiting and the prejudices she was facing on a daily basis as a woman.
There is no supposing here. There it is in black and white, admittedly 60 years after Kate earned her 2nd Grade from Mr J H Burnet, but there it is. The struggle, the hostility and the limited and cloistering expectation forced on women, forced on Kate, acknowledged. And what a coincidence, Kate too dies of TB in her early 30s just 12 years after Dr Berne. Perhaps this was the cost of being ahead of their time.
George Alfred Nicoll, my 1st Cousin, 3 x removed. I hear him loud and clear now despite the fact that everything we have been able to discover about him has really been the equivalent to chasing him into a room, just missing him and learning about him from those that were there. Don’t get me wrong, that is fantastic and it will continue in this post but we will also have the amazing chance of hearing George’s own voice. I know, I was so thrilled to discover an actual letter from George that he writes to his father Bruce, from South Africa, whilst fighting in the Boer War. “Spoilers Sweetie!” (If you are one of my 3x Great Grandchildren or Nieces or Nephews? Welcome, nice that you found me after all this time. That little reference probably won’t mean much to you. Look up, River Song, a character on an ancient TV sci-fi show. You will thank me! I would never have admitted it alive, Oh who am I kidding, of course I would have, I’m a Whovian. Watched it religiously when I was a kid in the ’70s. My first Dr was Tom Baker, the fourth. Enough of me, back to George and more importantly for the moment, his wife, Kate.
Kate’s voice wasn’t as loud in the last post but we will be hearing her loud and clear in this one and yes, I’m so excited again, I managed to uncover a letter of Kates’. So we will be hearing Kate’s own voice as well but before we get to that little gift, just a reminder, this is Kate.
I do wish that I could uncover the original of this photo. (It does happen on rare occasions, I’ve had it happen once with one of my 2x Great Grandfathers. Checkout my posts on the family Roadtrip.)
That pose, and what looks like an evening cape with a fur-trimmed hood, the choker necklace, and the jeweled hair clip. This is a woman who appears comfortable in her own skin and unlike so many others of her time, accustomed to money, privilege, and independence. Another quick reminder, Kate is the daughter of a wealthy landowner and longtime local council member. Her Uncle and Aunt are the Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Brisbane at the end of the 19th century. Kate is a published poetess and if that picture above is a clue to anything, that is, that she is a performer. This is the world Kate is accustomed to.
Here is another of those kismet moments in Kate and Georges’s story. It is 1897 when Kate attends the reception above. She is 21 years old, her’s and George’s wedding is about 6 years away but look who is also attending the reception at the same time as Kate.
Mrs B. B. Nicoll,or if you prefer her own name, Mrs. Jane Nicoll, George’s mother, and aunt to Kate’s best friend Thirza Zahel. Maybe it’s just a coincidence or perhaps this might have been their first meeting where Jane is so taken with this young friend of her niece’s who is talking of studying medicine, that the idea is planted that this could be a good match for her middle son. I’m sure she couldn’t have imagined at this moment, that her other son, 12-year-old Gordon, would end up marrying her niece Thirza. Now that is another story I would love to uncover.
Now you might remember I mentioned in my last post and the one before that about the fact that I had uncovered a report of Kate inventing a machine that helped with the treatment of Consumption and that it was being tested on a large group of patients. Just to refresh your memory here it is again.
Here we find ourselves in 1903 again, it is a significant year for George and Kate. So before we can delve into what this invention is I want to look back again so that we can uncover how Kate got to this point. To do that, you all know the drill by now, I hit Trove. This was actually the first article that I discovered that mentioned anything about Kate studying.
This was next to reveal itself.
It is wonderful to see that “…she had many friends…” and that she “…wrote pretty verses…”, it just has that tone for me of the time, it’s almost paternalistic and yes, I know I’m judging it with my 2020 hindsight. I, of course, had no idea what materia medica was and hadn’t seen the Sydney Herald article mentioned above. Next tasks set. Found it…
This has some really interesting information in it to unpack but it is very obvious to me that there are some major themes starting to reveal themselves. Not least of them being that we are discussing exam results from 120 years ago. I mean I would be hard-pressed to find a report card of mine from 35 years ago let alone these tiny scratchings of print that are just pure gold that flesh out Kate’s existence and could so easily have been overlooked. The major theme for me though is, that we are talking about the fact that Kate’s name is even there on the list. Yes, a woman studying a science course, (I did find out what Materia Medica was, I will share very soon) in a technical college 120 years ago. I’m no historical expert but I start to think to myself, this surely must be at a time when this is out of the norm and must have taken an enormous amount of strength on Kate’s part to make it happen.
Kate, like every other woman living in the 1900s New South Wales, had no political rights and very few legal rights. Once a woman married these rights were further eroded. If Kate was to have married George in 1900 she would have been legally obliged to surrender all of her property holdings and any wages she earned over to him. Any children they might have, he would be the sole legal guardian of, not Kate. George would also have the right to remove the children from her care at any time he liked and also would have had the right to legally bequeath their care to someone other than Kate in the event of his death. (https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/womens-suffrage)
It is really important for me to mention here that the above paragraph did not relate to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island women at all. The issue of the history of their rights both politically and legally are enormosly complex. I have just done a couple of hours of reading on the issue and I would encourage you to seek out the information so you can inform yourself. I hope if you are a descendent of mine in the future that you are now living in an Australia that is vastly more progressive and inclusive in relation to our treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island People than either mine or Kate and George’s worlds have been.
But here is Kate, in 1900 studying at the Sydney Technical College and when you take a closer look at the original examination listing of the extract above, it extends over 4 columns of a full-size broadsheet. In that listing, Kate’s is the only female name printed there in the science courses. The only other female names and there is only a smattering, appear in the life drawing and cooking courses.
I did a search of the examination listings for the four years prior to this list that Kate appears in and in 1899 there is an Annie Praed who gains a 2nd-grade pass in Advance Chemistry and then two women in 1896 who gain 2nd grade passes in Theoretical Chemistry, Alice M Jordan and Laura M Hall and that is it. I know it seems strange but mentioning their names just seems like the right thing to do. I haven’t been able to confirm if these listings are all the enrolments for that time or just a listing of the people that obtained these marks, so it may be that there were more women enrolled but still Kate’s name being the only female one listed is still very telling of the struggle that women were enduring.
I did found out the meaning of materia medica. This from Wikipedia: “…is a Latin term from the history of pharmacy for the body of collected knowledge about the therapeutic properties of any substance used for healing.” This means that Kate has passed her pharmacology studies at this time. I also discovered from the Sydney University Medical Museum that this is the same year that Dagmar Berne passes away. She was the first woman to study medicine in Australia in 1885, she was 35 years of age. She is also the 2nd woman ever to register with the Medical Board of NSW in 1895 only 5 years earlier than Kate’s exam results.
These really were pioneering times for women, women like Kate. The museum has the most wonderful picture of some of these women pictured in 1897.
I look at this and think, might one of them be Kate? Or did she know these women, or they her? I know, its a long shot but this could be the year she starts her study, 1897. How do I know this? Well, you didn’t think that I wasn’t going to try and research the hell out of this, did you? I jumped straight onto the web and looked up the Sydney Technical College. Found out they are still operating, under the TAFE NSW banner now and they had a Museum. I shot off a message.
Basically the ghist was, do you have any historical records of past admissions, extract below.
I’m referring to an amazingly inspirational women named “Kate Carina May Thorne”. She married my 1st Cousin 3x removed in 1903 and became “Mrs George Alfred Nicoll” after that. She was a Poetess, Author, Playwright and Doctor. She apparently developed a new treatment for “consumptive diseases” not long after marrying George and received a huge amount of notoriety which is evident when you do a quick search on National Library’s Trove sight.
Yes, Playwright is new, just discovered that she wrote a play as well. I received this wonderfully generous reply from Helen an Archivist Librarian at TAFE. It is not often that someone will go to this level of trouble for you and I am so appreciative of her efforts.
How amazing was that? I know, unfortunately, no historical records relating to Kate directly but some great general info on the College and how it related to Kate and her studies. Also another door open for potential records with State Archives. I received this follow up message the following week.
I didn’t tear up but I was feeling a wash of emotion for Kate. I’m so happy that a bit of digging on my part has inspired someone else to help keep Kates story alive. I shared everything I had accumulated on Kate with Helen. This is some of the information Helen shared with me. The college where Kate studied.
This is a window directly into Kate’s world at the very time she was there. Picture 8 above is the Laboratory, I’m looking at it imagining Kate working there and willing an image of her to appear.
This is Building A where the Pharmacology course was taught. The lower right hand side is where Kate would have spent her time.
The course outline below actually poses more questions about Kate and her studies but it also sheds light on what she potentially was doing.
This is a great share from Helen at TAFE. It shows that the subject that Kate completed was actually a third-year subject of the complete Pharmacy course. So this enables us to suggest that Kate started studying in 1897 which comfortably puts her in the cohort of the group of pioneering women in the earlier photo. Check out the volume of work that was required in the Syllabus below, this is what Kate would have undertaken to get to her Materia Medica results in 1900.
I think it safe to assume from this outline and the 1st and 2nd-grade results she achieved that Kate was an intelligent, competent, and modern woman of her time, pushing the misogynistic boundaries that governed her life. (I was soon to learn just how correct I was in this assumption.)
Helen shared another great resource that expands this view of the time that Kate was living in. Joan Cobb explains in her book Sweet Road to Progress: The History of State Technical Education In NSW to 1949, that at the time Kate was embarking on her studies a new Pharmacy Act was passed in 1897. The new Act provided for the creation of the NSW Pharmacy Board and stipulated the conditions of registration. To be registered Kate would have had to complete an apprenticeship and have attained a diploma recognised by the Board. The new questions raised, did Kate become an apprentice chemist? If so at what establishment and how did she go about getting that apprenticeship?
I obtained a copy of the 1897 Act and in it this is part of what it stipulated.
Just jump to that last line, “…if he…” just clarifies what Kate was up against. This sentiment is evident in so much of the material from the time. In the Joan Cobb book mentioned above, she explains that there was an issue between the Board and a gentleman she only identifies in the pages I have as Curruthers. I’m assuming he is a Government official. Cobb presents a quote of Curruthers’ where he is talking about whether a Board suggestion of Government funding to help people enter the profession has merit. He states “…it is not the duty of the State to train people up…I totally differ with you as to it being the duty of the State to help these young men you speak of…”
Back to the Pharmacy Act excerpt above, item 10 referring to the list of Pharmacists to be published. I have searched all of the listings from 1900 -1910 under both Thorne and Nicoll and nothing comes up for Kate. Why? I have put in a request to the NSW Pharmacy Board to see if they have any historical records other than those published in Trove. I can’t imagine that Kate practices without being registered as she comes under some very close scrutiny when she puts out her Consumption treatment in 1903. The new Act also made provision for penalties for fraudulent registration or representation as a Pharmacist either vocally or written. £20 for every offense or imprisonment for 12 months. I have not come across any records to suggest that this course of action ever happened for Kate. The apprenticeship questions will remain unanswered at this time unfortunately but what a treasure trove of info we now have considering we started with that one Trove article.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that we would be hearing from George and Kate themselves and we will Kate but we are going to push George back for the moment. Let’s face it he had the whole of the last post to himself so I’m sure he won’t mind. I have also had some unexpected feedback that my posts might be a little long, thank you and I am taking that on board. So instead of the usual 30 odd pictures, I will stop it at 16 for now. This picture below the first of two examples I have been able to uncover of Kates own voice.
That is pretty fantastic in my estimates. Kate’s voice is loud and clear now. Here is a 25-year-old woman from undeniable privilege and her main concern is for people working the service industries of her day and the households and shopkeepers of Sydney. It is a big assumption but one I feel confident in making.
This is an opportune segue (did you like that? See 18 posts in, still can’t spell but I’m flexing my oratory skills, booya! people, booya!) into the topic of our next post, Kate’s invention, “The Micro-Cremator”. I have a folder load of gold to share with you and Kate’s Dad, Ebenezer features heavily. No other way to describe him other than, larger than life and I will call it now, obviously very supportive of his young, modern, pioneering daughter. As always, hope to see you then.
I know, I know, cheesy as with the title but guess what? That is me! I’m not fighting it anymore. And while we are at it, I can’t spell. Grammarly works overtime on this site and sometimes I even break that. After publishing the last post, realised that I had spelled Quiet and Revealed incorrectly in the title of the post no less. Damn, will try to keep on top of it but I did say way back in the first post to please excuse me if this happens, so hopefully you do.
Back to Kate and George and their story. So I have no way of knowing when they actually met but I think we know especially from the connections revealed in the last post that they had plenty of potential catalysts that could have put them in each others path. The one thing we can be certian of is that they marry in 1903.
Wow, gobsmacked much? The last column there stating that the PDF is readily available, indicates that the certificate has been ordered previously by someone else. In all my time researching I have never seen this at this stage, only after I have paid for a certificate. Very curious as to who else is interested in Kate and George, but no way of knowing.
Now don’t get too excited this is not Kate & George, unfortunately, but still very lucky to find a photograph of an unknown couple from Ballarat who are posing for their wedding photo in 1903. I know, we have the date, place but no names. From my extensive research of 20min’s Googling, this is very much the style of that early Edwardian. Again it is great to get that sense of what Kate & George may have looked like.
Now, I am going to put the breaks on here for a moment because before we move forward from this point in 1903 there are a few things that we need to circle back to for both George and Kate, not least of them going back to the article that suggests that Kate has become some medicinal inventor, and healer of hordes of consumptives. But first George…
As I revealed in the last post, records of his earlier life are non-existent but there were a couple of clues just sitting on his attestation paper from enlisting in the AIF in 1914 ready for me to pick up on.
Question 11 on the paper refers to any past service George might have had and George gives two answers:
St George’s Rifles, New South Wales, resigned leaving the country.
Bethune’s Mounted Infantry, South Africa, completion of service.
So six days have passed since I typed the above 2 lines. I have been down a deep rabbit hole of information and come up with heaps of knowledge on these two topics and had some really generous help on the way. I will explain when we get to those moments.
I think it is a good idea first, to put up some context, just to help us pin where this information sits in George’s timeline. Of course, we are talking about some type of military service, in case you didn’t read the fine print in question 11 of George’s attestation paper above. A quick reminder, George was born in 1879. In 1899 when the Boer War starts in South Africa he is 20 years of age. At the time we are still a collection of Colonies not yet federated. In relation to the history of the defense of Australia by the British, from the time of invasion in 1788 until 1870, Australia had been garrisoned by British Troops. From 1870/71 the colony was without regular troops, its defense being entirely in the hands of the regular and volunteer forces around the colonies.(https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/71374239)
The Imperial Troops were removed due to the cost of garrisoning and the fact that the Imperial Govt was charging the Colonies a capitation payment for the service. The increasing costs for both the Imperial and Colonial Governments is what led to the withdrawal and the colonies becoming responsible for their own defense. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_forces_of_Australia)
George is 15 years old at this stage, turning 16 in June of 1895. The next mention I can find of this reserve force is in April 1896. Not to confuse you too much but the article above coincidentally is discussing the issue of feeding into a reserve force and it just happens to be that the organisation they are discussing is called the St. Georges Rifle Club after the area of Sydney it was formed in. The St. George’s Rifle regiment that our George joins and discussed in the article below, is named for the patron Saint of England, chosen by King Edward III in 1350. (https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/st-georges-day-2019-why-2787321)
The Scottish company had been around the longest, the Irish one had just been formed not long before this notice went out and from the reading I have done so far, the English company, the “St. George’s Rifles” was the brainchild of the eventual leader of the company, John Cash Neild. He was an Insurance Commission Agent who embarked on a political career at age 30. He was elected to the Woollahra Municipal Council in Sydney and twice served as Mayor. He also had careers as a writer, sectarian and of course citizen-soldier. (Craig Wilcox, 2000, https://biography.senate.gov.au/john-cash-neild/)
The article below is an excerpt from the proceedings of the Town Hall public meeting that was advertised in the article above. No mention of Neild at this stage but the description of the “…military ardour of the citizens…” and what follows is gold.
Wilcox, 2000, explains in his biography piece on Neild for the senate history page: “…Stung by the establishment of an Irish–Australian unit in New South Wales’ tiny part-time citizen army early in 1896, Neild raised what became the St George’s English Rifles…” Wilcoxs’ piece is accompanied by the most fantastic photo of Neild held in the National Library of Australia.
What a face, I so hope that George had some interaction with him. I can find no mention of Nicoll linked with the regiment anywhere, other than his note on his WW1 attestation papers. There is the barest of mentions about the Officers and a photo of the Non Commissioned Officers but no mention of the rank and file anywhere except in general as a group.
Neild seems to be way ahead of his time in relation to his progressive thinking he demonstrates. Wilcox, 2000, also states that Neild wanted the St. George’s Rifle to be for men of any ethnic background, “…who wished to demonstrate their love of Britain’s flag.” (https://biography.senate.gov.au/john-cash-neild/)
I unearthed a couple of small military notices from the Evening News printed just a couple of days after the Town Hall meeting that support this thinking.
I know this is not George that we are discussing directly here but I think it is the closest thing to giving a picture of the world he was inhabiting and I believe, that it is a rich picture of colonial Sydney one that surprisingly, despite wanting to establish itself as a new player on the world stage is very much still wanting to show its support to the motherland.
Wilcox, 2000 gives a wonderfully colorful picture of Neild and the regiment from this time, again from his piece on Neild for the Senate History listing, “…Sydney soon became accustomed to the sight of Neild’s men, attired in a theatrical version of the uniform of Britain’s regular soldiers, marching from Circular Quay to the Domain to a musical arrangement combining the tunes of ‘The British Grenadiers’ and ‘The English Gentleman’. They were led by Neild himself, tall, broad-chested and affecting a fierce moustache.” I can just see it, especially with seeing the photo of the ‘tache above. Wilcox also shares that Neild was apparently one of only 2 Commonwealth Parliamentarians, along with a Senator Cameron who at the opening of Parliament in May 1901 wore full military dress.(https://biography.senate.gov.au/john-cash-neild/)
I found the Gazette piece for the regiment formation on Trove from June 1896, just a month after the Town Hall public meeting. George has just turned 17 years old.
There is no way to be certain but with no age restrictions, I wonder if George joined the Corps at this early stage, or did he wait another year until he was 18? There must have been some change in the thinking in relation to who was enlisting as there were some restrictions that came in to play evident in this later notice from 1898.
George certainly had no problem with height restriction as his attestation papers from WW1 show rather specifically.
What a fascinating look into Australia, Sydney, and George’s past in the closing stages of the 19th century. I was ignorant of this rich colonial military history and of course George’s part in it but Trove once again delivered in truckloads in helping to flesh out George’s story.
First and foremost, a 4-page pictorial piece from Australian Town & Country Journal, (AT&CJ) dated, Sat 6 Jan 1900. That is 120 years ago! The pictures are phenomenal despite the fact they are digitised copies from an ancient news copy and very grainy, they still manage to give a splendid view of Georges’ world. The pictorial piece was titled, “NEW SOUTH WALES CITIZEN SOLDIERS.–THE VOLUNTEER INFANTRY FORCES.” and gives the reader an in-depth insight into the current military holdings of the Colony at the beginning of the new century and guides the reader through the journey of the recruit (George) into the Corps, specifically in relation to the Scottish, Irish and English (St. George’s Rifles) Companys.
Remember these three Companys made up the Union Regiment which had been in existence for just on one and a half years by the beginning of 1898 when the St. George’s Rifles were moved out of the Union. At the time of the AT&CJ piece, the Companies were well and truly formed into their own regiments. I was lucky enough to find this gazetted notice explaining these changes.
You will note the Scottish and Irish stay together and become the 5th(Union) Volunteer Infantry Regiment. We have the addition of the 6th Infantry Regiment, being the (Australian Rifles) and of course George’s regiment which is now known by its new title, the 7th Volunteer Infantry Regiment (St. George’s Rifles) along with the addition of the 1st Aust’ Volunteer Horse, National Guard and Railway Corps.
So back to the AT&CJ spread and George who is now 19 and half years old in Jan 1900. I think this is a good spot to share with you the introduction to the spread, (copy below) I feel it gives context to Georges’ present story as well as giving an insight into the decision he makes, like so many others, to support the Empire and ultimately honouring the new Commonwealth of Australia by fighting in the Boer War.
Did George feel this wave of patriotism for the Empire? It is interesting to muse if he held a lone sentiment apart from the rest of his family, to support the war effort. I can find no mention of either of his brother’s joining the Volunteer Regiments, or engaging with the Boer, and none of his Cousin’s either. Mind you, the ones still surviving, attest in 1914/15 for the war to end all wars.
The certainty here, that George is part of the 7th Volunteer Infantry Regiment (St. George’s Rifles) I can imagine him attesting just like these well-dressed gentlemen below in the field opposite St Mary’s, in the Domain or at the regimental field office at Victoria Barracks. The article doesn’t specify their location.
As part of the recruiting process George would have then had to have completed some drills with arms, to assess his suitability to join.
Once his suitablility was confirmed, which obviously it was, George needed to partake in the swearing-in ceremony. This section of the article shares the actual words that George would have spoken.
I am currently trying to source that document, the attestation paper that George signed, from the Colonial Secretaries records at NSW archives but no luck as yet. The “…embryo citizen soldier…” what a description, George that is, would have looked exactly like this completing his musketry.
This time the article doesn’t confirm what part of the forces are depicted in this photo, the uniform does however look very similar to these ones below who’s wearer’s are identified as members of the St. George’s Rifles.
I had an amazing bit of luck sourcing a picture of what the actual uniform looked like from The Mitchell library collection at the State Library of NSW. Check this out,
A hand-drawn watercolor. I am unable to find any other photograph of the uniform other than the two above this beautiful painting. This is still fantastic to have. Both of the pictures above are taken at the Victoria Barracks, which would have featured heavily in George’s day to day life by this stage. Explanation coming.
This next picture from the AT&CJ pictorial that I would like to share depicts a section of the Regiment formed up in quarter column formation at the rear of the Garrison hospital at Victoria Barracks. Again no way of proving that George was even here, but it is the 7th Infantry in the picture according to the label.
From the numerous parade and drill notices on Trove from 1896-1900 it is easy to come to the assumption that for George to be part of the Corps it required a huge commitment of his time. In addition to the 3months of compulsory training in the beginning of his service, George was expected to give up 3 nights a week of drill training at the Barracks. George was living at Petersham at the time, there was a tram service but not one out to the Barracks.
The following photos shared from the NSW Archives site are as clear as a bell compared to the newsprint copies above. Unfortunately they are not labelled as to what regiment are drilling but it is bang on George’s time, 1900, at Victoria Barracks in Paddington and it even features the band and members of the public watching.
We are so lucky that they are at such a high resolution, look at the detail when you zoom in on the photo.
As you know, I have 5min’s of knowledge on this subject but comparing these uniforms with the other illustrated uniforms I sourced from the State Library, I wonder if they could be one of these options?
This phenomenal little resource also had this to offer, what the Officer’s who commanded George would have looked like.
Talking of what people looked like. The public watching the parade give some great examples of what George might have been wearing when not in uniform. Keeping in mind that he is the son of a prominent family at the time. His father is a member of the legislative council and working alongside Edmund Barton and other famous political figures of the time who were working on the Federation agenda. He came from money as the family business, remembering was shipping and steamships in particular. I can imagine that George might have had these particular suits and hats in his collection.
In addition to the nightly drill sessions throughout the week, there were the weekend parade’s through the town which as mentioned previously, were advertised regularly in the newspapers of the day. The notice following is in relation to the Corps very first public parade. I’m choosing to believe that George was already enlisted and partaking in the event. This is 6 months from the time the Corps was established.
Georges’ parents, Bruce and Jane are very much still alive at the time. His elder brother, Charles is 25 and his younger brother Gordon is just 15 years of age. I can just imagine how proud they might have been of George and his service. I hope they were in the crowd watching maybe with my 2x Great Grandparents, Georges’ Aunt and Uncle, and the rest of the family. The article below was another great find, it is the day after the first parade and describes in the writers words what they thought of the event.
And then to top that off, there was a photo in the Australian Town and Country Journal. The Crown Studios took a photo to mark the occasion. This grainy digitised copy shows the parade that took place 123 years in the past, a photo depicting Georges’ present. That is very special.
Not only did the Regiment train, parade and drill together but they also socialised as a group.
Once again how brilliant is it to have a photo? Like all the earlier instances, there is no way to be certain that George even attended this event but it is so close that it is enough for me that I can almost imagine him there. I wonder if he had already made the acquaintance of the intelligent young poetess wanting to study to be a Doctor. Had Kate already started her studies? One thing I can be sure of at this time, is that she visited Sydney in May of 1899, I found this note on Trove.
There is no other mention that I can find for Kate in 1899 appearing in a social setting. She did however have a number of poems published in the Queensland press. Fifteen pieces in 1899 that I can find so far. If you are interested in reading some of her work I have created a list on Trove. The link below this title will take you there.
I was excited to see another link appear in the families for Kate and George when I was doing this final search for Kate in 1899.
It is a small mention on the Belmont Board meeting. Remember Kate’s father Ebeneezer sits on the board, obviously, as this note confirms but check out who else is mentioned, Mr. J A Zahel. George’s uncle on his mother’s side and father to Kate’s best friend Thirza Zahel who marries George’s brother Gordon. Yeah, it was one of those runs again. Hopefully you are still with me. I feel that fate must have intervened by this stage and helped Kate and George become aware of each other.
This feels like a good spot to take a pause. I know this post has focused mainly on George and his journey into and through the St George Rifles with the barest of mentions of Kate but I wasn’t expecting the volume of information that I was able to uncover for George. This post has taken a fair bit of time digging into different sites and pulling out what was really the odd line of information but then once I pieced together the main facts and the main players the information just poured out. It is amazing to me what I was able to discover from that one line of George’s handwritten print.
My main focus here is to really take the time and weave this information into a cohesive story so that it won’t be lost again. I promise that Kates’ story will continue in the next post as will our dive into George’s time in the Boer War. And of course, George’s story will continue in what I think at this stage will be another separate post, in which we will follow George as he takes those fateful steps that lead him inevitably to his destiny in the hills of Anzac Cove.
I chose the above title as this is how I felt about this couple when I first started my research. They were almost silent in fact. George Alfred Nicoll and his wife, Kate Carina May Nicoll nee Thorne. Like so many on my family tree, they were a complete mystery to me until I started digging.
George is my 1st Cousin 3 x removed. Youngest son of Bruce Baird Nicoll and Jane Anne Zahel. Cousin to my Great Grandfather William Norman Rupert Nicoll.
Kate is the youngest daughter of Ebeneezer Thorne and Kate Hooppell. Her father was a famous journalist and her uncle was Mayor of Brisbane at the end of the 19th century. Her mother like so many other pioneer women of her time, is virtually non-existent when it comes to the male-dominated historic records.
These pictures are the only ones I have uncovered of George and Kate to date. They are very precious as I stumbled upon them by chance on one of my many Trove dives. From what I have uncovered so far, theirs is an intense, passionate, and short-lived tale. They found each other late in life, married in their late 20’s, had 9 amazing years together, and then both of them were dead by their mid 30’s leaving no children behind to carry on their legacy or memory.
How is that for a start?
It is 105 years and 2 months since George passed on and 107 years and 7 months since Kate but I have been extraordinarily fortunate in the amount of information that I have been able to uncover on them. I have found myself immersed in their world for the last couple of weeks searching, reading, and trying to knit together a cohesive story. But as always, the struggle is how to present it to you. I have decided, their stories can’t be separated so it will definitely be a two-parter.
As you have probably guessed from the photo of George, he served his country and what a service it was.
The above picture is just the top part of George’s Attestation Papers. When I first saw this I was completely ignorant of the significance of the information presented there. Now my heart just swells with pride and at the same time sadness for George as I have come to learn the meaning behind them. Of course the big red “Missing” emblazened on the top is pretty hard to miss but I will come back to that.
The next thing I want to direct your attention to is the date that George enlisted: 23rd August 1914. This is significant as it is only 19 days after Britain and therefore Australia as one of its colonies, declared war on Germany on the 4th of August. This was after Germany ignored Britains written ultimatum that it not violate Belgium’s neutrality (established in the Treaty of 1838) by marching troops through her. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/58200/wwi-centennial-britain-declares-war-germany
The next thing to note is the Battalion that George is assigned to, the 9th. This along with the note on his photo, “B Co.”, place George right at the center of one of our defining moments as a nation. It also enshrines him as one of the many silent heroes who’s legacy, Alex, Xander, Calan and I celebrated this year at the end of our driveway, in pandemic lockdown. Also the 115th anniversary of Georges’ death.
Kate’s own story is no less enthralling than that of George’s. I was really saddened to learn though, that at the time of George signing his attestation papers on the 23rd August, Kate had been dead for 20 months.
Kate Carina May Thorne was born 31st of May 1876 in Queensland, the only daughter and child to Ebeneezer Thorne and Kate Hooppell.
They had one other daughter born in 1874 but she died before her 1st birthday. I mentioned at the beginning of this post that history is so often light on with the details of women in the past and the marking of their life milestones. Despite this, I did manage to come across an obituary for Kate Hooppell, Kates’ mother.
I just love that style of phrasing that turns up in so much of the written content of this time, “… well-known excellencies of her personal character, elicited the sympathies…” Also interesting to note the use of the male honorific once again, in relation to Kate. No mention of her name at all, just Mrs. E Thorne. Did you also notice just how much was packed into Kates’ obit? I could spend pages discussing and unpacking those couple of lines. I won’t, as I have to have a limit as to how far out of the tree I venture but it is by no means any less interesting. I just did a bit of a Google surf and got lost for about an hour. Hugenot family, Bigbury, George Dawson, Factory Girls, and the night and Sunday schools. I believe Mrs. Kate Thorne, nee Hooppell would have been an amazing person to spend some time with. From what I have been able to discover about Kate Carina May, her daughter, it seems like the “…excellencies of her personal character.” of her mother were certainly passed on. Kate is 15 when she loses her Mother.
Kate’s Father, Ebeneezer Thorne is described as a journalist in some of the journals in the 1880s. He was an editor for a Brisbane periodical focusing on agricultural issues. He is rumored to have owned the “Wide Bay News” in the 1870s and he published his own book, “Queen of the Colonies” which discussed the types of assets that Queensland had at the time. He was a longtime representative on the Belmont Divisional Board, the predecessor of the Belmont Council and known to have championed many shared issues for the residents of the Belmont area. (John Godfrey, http://www.members.optusnet.com.au/belmont.history/Ebenezer%20&%20Kate%20Carina%20Thorne-Progenitors%20of%20Carina.htm)
I searched for a picture of the school to see what it might have looked like at the time but no luck. This was the closest I could come to, bit sad hey?
I did however find a wonderful photo of the Walker Family posing out the front of the Belmont Shire Hall in 1900 which is situated on Thorne Street in Carina. Can you see there is a bit of a theme happening here?
I know this is about 15 years out of Kate’s time but I can imagine that she and her father would have been very well acquainted with this building and it provides a great idea of what they might have looked like at the time. Mr. Walker pictured above was the Town Clerk.
The running theme? The notoriety of the family. Thorne street where the hall is located, named after Ebeneezer and of course this part of Belmont changes its name to Carina named for his daughter, Kate Carina May Thorne, our Kate and the original family homestead.
Carina the homestead was situated on Creek road Belmont. In a Belmont and Bulima Creek Heritage Page post, author John Godfrey shares the reminiscience of an early resident.
“Mrs. Grace Mischlewski nee Keenan remembers seeing the home in the 1920s-30s which by then was unoccupied. As a child Mrs. Mischlewski used to play in the grounds which occupied several acres. She recalls a large grove of bamboo, a Moreton Bay Fig and a couple of Bunya trees from which she and her playmates would take the nuts to eat . Grace remembers the home as a large sprawling building of a dirty white colour, from which several later houses were to be built when the home was eventually demolished.” (John Godfrey, http://www.members.optusnet.com.au/belmont.history/Ebenezer%20&%20Kate%20Carina%20Thorne-Progenitors%20of%20Carina.htm)
Carina the homestead remains lost to time as well but I did find a home called Springfield in the same area and of the same vintage. I could imagine that it looked very similar to this.
This is the site today. Intersection of Creek Road and Nancatta Road. Carina stood somewhere behind that tree line.
Records of George’s early history are virtually nonexsistant. There are no mentions of his school life or any life events in the press until he is in his mid-20s. (No spoilers yet) He writes on his attestation papers that he was born in Bowral, NSW.
It is interesting to note that the Attestation Papers don’t ask for a date of birth, just age. Which is very frustrating. Unfortunately for us, there are no records of Georges’ birth that I can find. I have tried every variable of the spelling of Nicoll with no luck.
We can reverse engineer an approximate date of birth from the age George states on the paper. If he is 35years and 2 months on the 23 Aug’ 1914, that means his birth most likely was in June 1879. Trove comes up blank as well. I was surprised to discover that none of George’s siblings had a birth announcement. The only notice I could find was one marking the passing of Georges’ sister Lucy.
George was born to Bruce Baird Nicoll and Jane Anne Zahel. Fun fact, the Zahel’s and the Nicoll’s have quite a few connections in their shared histories. Janes’ brother Captain Charles Zahel works with Georges’ Dad, Bruce and his brother, George Wallace Nicoll. He sails out the steamship Australia from Scotland to Australia for their steamship company. He, unfortunately, dies shortly after arriving in Australia when a gear from a winch that is being used to unload a steam engine at the dock comes loose, breaks free and strikes him, and a deckhand in the head.
In a sad coincidence, on the same day, Georges’ mother, Jane, Capt’ Zahels’ sister is knocked of the ship and falls overboard at the dock.
The Mr See mentioned at the end of that article becomes Sir John See, Premier of NSW and also Chairman of the Australasian Steam Navigation Company and negotiates the final sale of all of George’s Dad’s and his Uncles Steam ship holdings on their deaths in 1905. See you get more bang for your buck with this blog, excuse the pun. And wait there is more. Georges’ other Uncle on his Mums side, John Alfred Zahel transfers the licence to the original Belle Vue Hotel in Brisbane to his Dads’ brother, George Wallace Nicoll in 1881.
This Uncle of Georges’ (J. A. Zahel) is married to a woman named Thirza Vick, (who actually established the original Belle Vue building as a School for Girls before they married) and they have a daughter named Thirza Vick Zahel and I discovered her name in a random article mentioned with someone else of importance to George.
Just a reminder, Carina is of course our Kate. What a find this was, to have all those details confirmed in one small article. 1903 is also the year that George and Kate get married. I know it might not seem like much but when you start with no knowledge at all and then eventually over time and many hours of searching you start making all of these connections, well it is just great. Mind you though they only came about after I finally realise, “…oh I have seen that name somewhere before.” It’s lucky with a name like Zahel, it stands out. Oh, and don’t worry I haven’t missed the whole “…medical student, …treating 80 consumptives and …developing an unknown treatment,” thing. I mean come on, this is an amazing article. We will circle back to these gems soon.
Now the final connection and with a twist, look at who Georges’ brother, Gordon Bruce Baird Nicoll marries the year after George and Kate marry.
Yep, Miss Thornes’ “…inseparable companion.” Miss Zahel, and the twist? Gordons’ mother (ie. Georges’ mother) Jane Anne Zahel and Thirzas’ father, John Alfred Zahel are brother and sister. Ewwww,… no sorry, no judgment. This is not the first time I have come across 1st cousins marrying in the tree.
See, I was right, George and Kates’ stories are very much interwoven and there is still heaps more to share. I will, however, give you a break for now, hopefully see you in the next post when Kate and George’s stories really take off.
This post continues on from my last about how the figure of my 3x Great Grandmother, Christina Russell, Brookman, Strachan was starting to emerge from the dust of time due to the information I was starting to piece together about her life. I mentioned at the end of that post that finding the name of Strachan in the death index from NSW Birth Deaths & Marriages was really a key to unlocking a bit of a waterfall of information. The first wave arriving with her death certificate.
There is a lot of information there to unpack but first and foremost in the last two columns, this is the main thing I was looking for. Second last column list Christina’s marriages, two of them, the first one in Scotland and second in NSW. Her age wasn’t known for either of them and then there are the names of her Husbands. First one Samuel Brookman, second one James Strachan. Then the names of her children and their status as living or deceased matches with the information I already have in Ancestry. So that confirms it officially, this is my 3x Great Grandmother, Christina Russell.
You might recall if you read my previous post, I mentioned that Christina’s earlier life seemed very sad, look at that last column from her first marriage to Samuel they had 7 children one of them being my 2x Great Grandmother, Agnes Brookman who marries George Cox, and out of all 7 at the time of her death only one remains living. She outlives a son and 5 daughters. Then her second marriage she loses another daughter. I can only imagine the pain she must have been carrying. I know it was a different time and in general, people were much more resilient when it came to losing family members but 7 children in your lifetime? Alex and I lost our second baby, Orson to miscarriage, and I still feel his loss like the day we found out he was gone.
So the other really interesting information here apart from confirming the old reliables we already knew, Germanton, Hillside, 1912, William Russell and Rebecca Barr as her Parents, is that she was 83 years of age when she passed. Christina kicked that life expectancy of 42 years from the last post out of the park. She died of heart failure and senile decay. (I hope that it wasn’t a long time of suffering for her or her family.) That her father, my 4x Great Grandfather was a Contractor. No idea what the specifics of that relates to, will have to investigate. That she was in the Colony for 54 years, this means that she and Samuel immigrated to Australia in 1858. (With this information I have once again scoured the passenger lists for that year and nothing. I cannot match them to any vessel listed.) And finally, Christina still had three children alive at the time of her death, Jean Ross, Martha Lawson from her 2nd marriage to James Strachan and William Brookman, brother to my 2x Great Grandmother Agnes from her first marriage to Samuel Brookman.
Jean Strachan marries James Ross in 1885:
Martha Strachan marries Alexander Lawson in 1889:
Christina’s residency, Lela Villa is the venue for both weddings. I so wish there was a photo to show what it looked like but nothing has turned up on this as yet.
Kildrummie, on the other hand, the Lawson family property mentioned above is still in exsistence. The original homestead is long gone but the present one was commissioned in 1944 by the famous writer, collector and historian, Margaret Carnegie. Who also commissions Edna Walling, the infamous Australian Garden Designer to install a walled garden feature that still stands today. Margaret and her Husband, Douglas go on to establish Kildrummie as a prize winning Poll Hereford stud. (https://cdn.csu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/628754/Carnegie-Margaret-Frances.pdf)
I know we have strayed a little from Christina’s story here but it is interesting to suppose that she probably visited this property many times in her life. There is another family link to Kildrummie apart from Martha her daughter marrying Alexander Lawson. Christina’s great-grandson, Alexander Douglas Macvean, brother to my grandfather John Hugh Macvean marries a great-granddaughter of James Lawson, Grace Stewart. Note the incorrect name for Kildrummie in the notice below.
So, back to the information on Christina. Now that we have it confirmed that she becomes Mrs James Strachan from her death certificate I needed to find when this happened. Remember nothing came up on my online search for a marriage from 1877 onward, when Samuel Brookman dies, so I decide to just put in the search parameters from the time I now know that they arrive in Australia, 1858. Take a look below at what appeared.
1865? Now that is very interesting. Accounting for mistakes, that is years earlier than the death year of 1877 for Samuel Brookman that comes up in NSW BDM. It might be a coincidence but exactly the same name combination and in the correct district, Wagga, Wagga? Obviously I think to myself that I must have the wrong Samuel Brookman from the death index. If this is the correct record it means that Christina is marrying James Strachan 12 years before her first husband is dead. The best way to try and confirm this is to just order the certificates for Samuel’s death and James and Christina’s marriage. But bloody hell the $33 dollars for an email extract just burns.
With the magic of technology, the certificate has arrived. I’m shocked, it only took 2 days to arrive in the inbox. The last time I ordered it was 3 months.
Widow? What the hell? No birthplaces, parents names or occupation and it is definitely 12 years before the 1877 death date of Samuel, if he is ours. The more I try to pin down details the more they keep pouring out at me. Just because I can, I did a bit of digging on Kyeamba and what Inn’s might have been there at the time. Kyeamba is only 30km north of Little Billabong and 46km from Germanton (Holbrook). I found this advertisement from 1866 in regards to the local Inn.
Amazing bit of luck again that James is named in the ad. Christina and James have been married nearly 9 months by this date. The Inn was built by one of the original European invaders of the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri People, John Smith who is named and obviously placing the advertisement above. Smith was an immigrant engineer who converted his home into the Inn in the late 1830s early 1840s. (Dr Sue Rosen, https://culturallandscapesandroutesnsc.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/hume-highway-northern-final.pdf)
Incredibly the inn is still standing today but is a private property again. This is where Christina and James were living out their lives from the early 1860s to the late 1870s.
I was still no closer to answering what happened to Samuel and why was Christina remarried and living in Kyeamba? My next stop was to just hit Trove and widen the search parameters again. Posted below is a screenshot of the search results from Trove with Brookman and Strachan in the mix.
Wow, just bloody wow! I know I hadn’t even opened these articles to check but in my mind they were already part of the family, a Boy Bushranger? And what are the odds, just in those couple of lines there are a few of my main details, James Strachan & Mrs. Brookman, married and Inn. I spent probably the best part of the next 48 hours going through all the information this next wave hit me with. I estimate there were 15 -20 separate articles on Christina and the Boy Bushranger. Understanding how the story is relevant and then weaving it into the family story is the tricky part especially when you are making assumptions on lots of sections of it. And as I’m sure you have already guessed, this turned out not to be a problem here. I was soon to discover that this would be the motherload in blowing some more of the dust of time off Christina’s story. (I know, cheesy, but I had to do it.)
Below is the first section of the top article in the above search results.
As if the Bushranging thing wasn’t excitement enough, sentenced to hang! What a story. Now the problem for me is how to share this story with you. As we all know we don’t live our lives in a bubble where our narrative just continues along in a linear manner. Other narratives intertwine with ours just as we intertwine with theirs. I think it might be appropriate to share with you what the outcome was from all this research and then back it up with the information rather than taking you on the journey of my discovery of it here. That journey I’m thinking really deserves its own post. Having said that the Boy Bushranger referred to is my 3x Great Uncle, William Brookman, brother to my 2x Great Grandmother, Agnes Brookman who marries George Cox.
As I was soon to discover there is much written about William and his case but probably the best piece of information for me in relation to confirming the details of Christina’s story, was this first article I stumbled upon. It is pure gold and I think I will have to retire my often-used phrase, “and you just don’t get this type of detail normally” as I seem to be stumbling on to this type of detail, all the time.
This article presents a number of pieces of correspondence penned by someone with the initials of JS who is part of the community, Kyeamba where we now know Christina and Samuel are living. I initially thought it might have been James Strachan but JS refers to James Strachan in the third person in the article and in a not very flattering light. Then it hits me, the most logical explanation is that it is John Smith the immigrant engineer who settled the area and who’s name appears in the advertisement in Figure 6a.1 above. I also just realised if you take a second look at James and Christina’s marriage certificate in Figure 6a, the top witness signature I think reads John Smith.
I am so grateful to JS for the level of detail he goes into as it just breathes life into Christina at what I can only imagine must have been a devastatingly scary time of her life.
Before I present the article with these pieces of correspondence from JS, I think it would be beneficial to read this earlier article from mid-December 1867, some six weeks before. It gives a great description of the incident as well as providing some context for the content of the correspondence.
I feel like I’m reading a movie or tv script. These words were written and describe a situation 153 years ago but I feel like I’m right there. The information it contains that helps confirm that this is Christina and her son?, the alias that William uses, William Russell. Russell is Christina’s maiden name.
Now I will take you back to the first article that I mentioned above with JS’s correspondence, here is the copy of the first letter the paper reproduced:
The section missing in the top reads. “…he resisted the constables and shot one in the hand or wrist.” I can only hypothesize that it must have been mortifying for the family to have all these details published in the paper for all to see. Interesting to note the phrase, “…our little community…” and naming Christina from “…our inn…” . I think this adds weight to the fact that John Smith is the author of this correspondence.
Also the fact that JS opinions that James Strachan will do nothing to assist in getting a petition started to have the death sentence commuted. This speaks volumes about James’s temperament and the troubling nature of his relationship with William. The other detail here that wasn’t in the first article is that William was severely wounded. A bullet was fired and hit the ground and ricocheted up and struck William in the neck. Some articles state that it was the Constable who fired and others that it was the other Bushranger, John Williams who fired as he was set upon.
The second piece of correspondence the Empire printed is quite extraordinary. JS talks about Christina directly and what her state of mind must have been. He also gives the most amazing account of Christina’s and the families history which cements all of these whirling details into her story.
See what I mean? How incredible was that. The level of detail he has about Williams situation and the job situations he has been in don’t come from a casual passing. This is someone who knows of the family intimately. Of course knowing how Christina was feeling and what she was trying to do now that her son was under the death sentence is incredible but to now have that level of insight into what their history was is priceless.
Abandoned 6 years ago, means that Samuel left them sometime in 1861/62, this is only 3 or 4 years after arriving in the colony. At this stage William is 10 years of age, his sister Mary is 5, and Samuel and Christina’s 5th child, Margaret has just died, either in childbirth or before her 1st birthday sometime. Their 4th child, Christina died in 1860 before her 1st birthday. The pain must have been unbearable. The other main detail that also confirms this is my Christina, is JS revealing her marriage details to James Strachan and so specific they are too. February 1865, which of course matches with the info from the index search and certificate I purchased, copy above.
How strong Christina must have been, her story sounds so desperate. She has basically given up her 10-year-old Son to strangers in the street. Her youngest Daughter dies and she has to give up her only other Daughter so that she can go out and work. But through all of these bleak newsprint lines, what shines out at me is Christina’s love and loyalty to her family. She is obviously still in contact with both of her children, the fact that she is able to send for her daughter to live with her when she settles at the Inn and the fact that she has communicated what she wants William to do in his situation just shows the type of woman she must have been.
I was able to confirm the death of Christina and Samuel’s Daughters through Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria.
You’ll notice another surprise on the death list above. This William Brookman listed at the end is Samuel’s Brother. Agnes Montgomery and Thomas Brookman are Samuel’s parents as well, of course.
Surprisingly the daughter that Christina had to put into care in Melbourne was not my 2x Great Grandmother Agnes but rather another daughter Mary who was born in Scotland and must have made the journey out with Christina and Samuel. I have been unable to find any marriage or death records for Mary. Of course Christina’s death certificate confirms that she has died before her Mother as all 5 daughters are listed as deceased.
You will recall how I stated earlier that the more I try to confirm the details of Christina’s life the more information I seem to uncover. This has happened again in this case of trying to answer why was Agnes not with the family in Melbourne when Samuel leaves them? This will be one of the big unanswered questions in Agnes, Christina, and Samuels lives. But what I can confirm is that Agnes and her brother, Thomas who is older by 5 years were left in Scotland with Samuels mother and step-father. Yes you read that correctly, Samuels parents. I discovered these details in the Census information from 1851 and 1861.
George and Thomasina above are Samuel’s brother and sister. Their father, my 4x Great Grandfather, Thomas Brookman passed away in March of 1834, 6 months before Thomasina was born. I think it would be safe to assume that she was named for her dad. Agnes has remarried to a much younger man Thomas Jones.
I just did a quick Google search and the Canal Inn, not Carol Inn is still standing just up from Lock 16 Camelon.
The big question the census document above raises for me is, why is Thomas, who is only 2 years of age, living with his grandparents when his parents are married and still in Scotland? They don’t immigrate to Australia until 1858. I found a census listing for Samuel and Christina, the ages match and they are living at Lock 16 in the vicinity of Camelon on the opposite side of the canal to the Canal Inn.
There of course is no way to be certain this is my Christina and Samuel but the coincidences are compelling as far as I’m concerned to argue that it is.
Below is a wonderful picture of the Lock from the early 20th century. This picture matches up with Figure 6j above. The building on the right of this picture is the building on the left of 6j only 100 years apart.
The copy of the 1861 Census below shows that Thomas and his sister Agnes my 2x Great Grandmother who is now born, are both living with their grandmother and step grandfather. Christina and Samuel have been gone for just on two or three years at this stage depending on when they left in 1858. From my research so far Agnes doesn’t see her father ever again and doesn’t see her mother, Christina for another 22 years when she immigrates to Australia with her husband George Cox and daughter, Christina.
Note that they are now in the Union Hotel and amazingly again, this one is still standing too.
This map shows you just how close they were. It is fascinating to think, Samuel was a shipowner employing 11 people, what happened for him to give this up and move he and Christina and some of their family to Australia?
Another mind-blowing fact for me is that 16785km’s away from Forster, NSW, (I just Googled it) two homes where my family’s lives played out over 170 years ago are still standing. I hope I never get Blaise about that fact.
So we now have a picture emerging of Christina and Samuel and their early life in Falkirk, still lots of unanswered questions but what a gift to actually see where they lived and not just have to imagine it. We have confirmed that Christina ends up destitute in Melbourne with 3 children, one child dies, one moves on to a family who can provide for him and one, Christina has to put into care so she can work. She then ends up married to James Strachan and then has to manage the whole bushranging and death sentence issue with William her son. But what of Samuel, Christina’s husband and my 4x Great Grandfather?
I know from my previous searching that the online death index for Samuel Brookman in 1877 lists the death being registered in Hay, which is on the western outskirts of the Riverina district, so still in the area of the family, just. Trove delivered, a number of variations of the same article which start to appear in late February 1877 in the area of Maude and Nap Nap. The map below gives you a bit of an idea of the area. These of course were huge distances back in the late 19th Century. Days of travel compared to the 4-hour trip now.
This article below describes a very tragic set of circumstances but is absolutely jammed packed with information.
What a story. It reads as though it has come straight from the pen of Henry Lawson or Banjo Patterson but how do I confirm that this is my 3x Great Grandfather? I’m missing that link. I decide to go through all the articles in the different publications to see if there is any additional information in some that may have been left out of this one. In my experience so far with comparing articles like this from this era, there can be lots of information condensed down or cut out completely. I notice in two of the other publications this line appears at the end of the article that doesn’t in the one I have above.
That one line, “Brookman is said to have stated that he was the father of the bushranger of that name.” What stories were told so that it reached the ear of this correspondent who then decides to mention it in the article? There is no way they could even concieve that 143 years later those few words would be so important to me.
You can just imagine Samuel laying beside a bush like this trying to take shelter from the scorching sun. I think seeing this picture just gives Samuel’s story so much more meaning for me. You can also imagine that this might have been what he and Charles Hopper set out on for really what was to become their death ride.
The final piece in this story, Samuel’s death certificate.
It confirms the details of the article and revels how nothing was known about Samuel at the time of his death. What a sad, lonely and painful way to die. But like so many other times on this journey of discovering who Christina and her family were, my family, this emailed digital certificate raises so many more questions than it answers. And we are still left pondering why did Christina and Samuel immigrate to Australia? Why did they leave two of their children behind with their Grandparents? Why did Samuel abandon Christina and his children in Melbourne? Was Christina aware that Samuel was still alive when she married James Strachan and did Samuel ever try to see William when hearing of his death sentence? I suspect the answers will remain deeply buried in the dust of time.
Now that seems like a good place to end this post, doesn’t it? But I haven’t shared what happened to Christina’s son William, the Boy Bushranger. You might have worked out that he was listed as living on Christina’s death certificate in 1912 and noted as 60 years of age, so safe to assume the death sentence was commuted. How this occured I will share in the future post I mentioned earlier about William and how I came about discovering his story.
As addictive and enjoyable as this family history research is it can be on many occasions the most frustrating annoying time waster. When you hit that brick wall and feel that you just can’t go anymore, that there is nothing else to uncover and the trail is dead cold, just sometimes, I have come to learn that this is not the case. You just need to find a different way of approaching the situation or asking the question in a different form. This was definitely the case in discovering Christina Russell, my 3 times Great Grandmother.
The first I heard of Christina or read of her, was finding a mention of her in an article on my 2 x Great Grandmother, Agnes Brookman Cox’s death. Again noting that I say this with some frequency, like always, but this is an amazing find. It is such a sad little article but the detail that it gives is gold in terms of family history.
Look at all that information just sitting there about my family since 1896. Information on my 2x Great Grandfather, his profession, their children, what my 3 x Great Grandmother was doing immediately before she died, how she died, what she died from, and where she was from. This is so out of the ordinary, most of the death notices I have found mention date of death and that is it. To have an article like this is wonderful. What was ordinary and is so frustrating to me in 2020 is that there is no mention of Agnes’s name. She is only mentioned as an extension of her husband, “Mrs Cox”. This is one of my biggest struggles in researching, trying not to judge other past social norms from my ivory tower of hindsight. I’m crap at it.
You”ll note the mention of Agne’s Mother being sent for from NSW. This is Christina. When I first read this I wasn’t even aware of what her name was. I was amazed first, that her mother was still alive. Life expectancy back then was not great. (According to the UK Office for National Statistics a newborn baby girl in 1841 only 11 years after Christina was born was not expected to live past the age of 43.) And secondly, that she was in NSW. This meant that Christina had immigrated to Australia as well and not stayed in Scotland. My first stop was Ancestry.com.au to see if there was anything listed. I found this note in Christina’s life details.
Now I should explain here that in Ancestry some information automatically populates in when you confirm information from someone else’s tree. I had never seen this entry before but what was really interesting to me was the fact that she was buried at Holbrook, where the Macvean’s were settled and the very curious listing for her place of death, somewhere called “Little Billabong”. You might remember I mentioned in an earlier post this name and that it would have some significance in relation to Christina. Boom! That is my subtle approach showing again, just in case you missed it.
Another thing I wasn’t aware of at this moment was that my Great Grandparents, Alexander and Agnes Macvean had their property, Rooksdale on the banks of Little Billabong. That discovery came as a result of delving into Christina’s story. The link here is that Agnes Macvean, maiden name, Agnes Brookman Cox is Daughter to George and Mrs Cox in the death article above therefor Christina’s Granddaughter. This means that Christina was living in her later life in the same district as her family which is so heartwarming to me as I was soon to discover that Christina’s early life was heartbreaking.
I searched for Little Billabong and found out that it was in the Germanton area (Holbrook). I began my search of NSW Birth Deaths and Marriages and came up with nothing. There was no listing for Christina Brookman or Russell her maiden name. I tried different spellings and still nothing. I searched the Ryerson Index (listing of funeral and death notices) not a mention anywhere. I went back to Ancestry, whoever had entered the details of Little Billabong as the Death place had no source listed for this information. This is where the brick wall came up and stayed there for a while.
There are many reasons why the information might not be coming up, spelling, information wasn’t ever recorded or the records were destroyed. I remember reading about the records that were kept in The Garden Palace complex in Macquarie Street in Sydney that were lost when it burnt to the ground.
This is an amazing story of Sydney’s past which has just been forgotten much too like Christina’s story until I imagine I started digging. I tried searching the Immigrant passenger list in State records. I found only one entry for a Christina Brookman and it clearly didn’t match our Christina’s details. I then thought to myself, did she remarry, did something happen to Samuel, my 3x Great Grandfather. I searched for him in BDM NSW and look what I stumbled onto.
The question was how could I be certain it was my Samuel Brookman? The age fitted with what dates I had for his birth record in Ancestry. This is sort of confirmed from a census record I found that matches with his siblings names and parents.
This confirms Samuel’s age as 14 in 1841 which puts his birth in 1827. We are only 5 years out with the BDM note of 45years but that is nothing for the time. We are looking good. So poor old Samuel is gone by 1877. Again making a big assumption that my Samuel even immigrated to Australia. We definitely know that his Wife Christina did because she died here but the only way to be certain is to find their immigration details. Now I have scoured every passenger list and put in every different way of spelling Brookman and there is not a skerrik of information on them at all. Another damn brick wall.
Back to BDM, search for Marriage after 1877, Bride name, Brookman.
Argghhh! Nothing. Now I must admit I left this one for a while until I discovered a new function on BDM, well I thought it was new but then I thought I had never tried it. When searching for details one of the “must be filled details” on their site was the surname of the person you want to search. I wanted to search for any deaths, first name Christina without a surname and see what would turn up. I put it in for deaths between 1911-1913 and it searched. I couldn’t believe it, it started searching. My idea was that if Christina had remarried I could catch her new name this way and match her to her place of death, Little Billabong, and her parent’s names. Big, big long shot but it might work.
Of course, over 10 pages of results as you can see from above. It was potentially going to take some time. I did this sitting in the car one night having just dropped Xander and Calan to Scouts and just started searching. 7 pages in look what jumped out at me.
A Christina, last name Strachan, death 1912 in Germanton, not Little Billabong but right locale and Parents names listed and they matched with my Christina.
It is hard to describe the bolt of electrical excitement that runs through you when you make a discovery like this. After months of searching and those damn brick walls and bang it falls into place. It is also the fact that you made the connection by yourself. I didn’t have to pay for someone else’s assistance it was all me. I know, you are probably rolling your eyes but you have to take the wins when they come along.
I ordered a copy of the certificate right there and then in the car, what a time we live in. I then started the searches again this time with Strachan in the mix.
Wow!, so much information that just confirms that this is my 3x Great Grandmother. Right off there is “Little Billabong”, “Germanton”, the date of death and the mention of a “Mr J Cox” attending the funeral. Remember Christina’s Daughter Agnes Brookman, my 2x Great Grandmother from earlier in this post?, she marries George Cox. This “Mr J Cox” is Josiah Cox their Son, Christina’s Grandson and Brother to my Great Grandmother, Agnes Brookman Cox who marries Alexander Ballantyne Macvean. All these details come together to confirm Christina’s place as my 3x Great Grandmother just from this one obituary article.
I know these are but the bearest of details when you compare them to a peson’s life and the experience’s they live through but this is why I titled this post the way I did. It is like a gradual emergence. You start with barely an outline of the person, Christina in this example and all of a sudden the smallest of details start to coalese into an outline, giving you a starting to point to try and build upon.
I have on many occasions sat with my Nan in her unit, “4B Links House” over the years, and she would disappear into the middle room or her bedroom and return with a wrapped plastic bag of what can only be described as a gift bag of family history.
I never knew where she kept them they just appeared and they always had a musty smell to them and would always have a covering of dust that would stay on your hands after handling these treasures. This is the dust of time to me and the smell that comes to me when I am doing this research. I know, weird but I love it and it is such a lovely link back to my Nan now she is gone.
So back to Christina, the next big questions, Strachan, who is he? Why did she marry him, when did she marry him and who are the children they had? I know that none of Christina’s children from her marriage to Samuel Brookman married a Ross so there is obviously another undiscovered branch of the family out there.
And let me tell you there is, the name Strachan, has been the key to some amazing discoveries but wait, spoilers! The rest of Christina’s story, the Brookman’s, and the Strachan’s in the next post.
This story I am about to share with you is very special to me and really has changed me as a person. For so long I have felt that I am on this lone journey of discovery in relation to my family, god this sounds so cliched I know but it is true. I’m basically the last in the line that I can find in both the Macvean’s and the Nicoll’s or so I thought. Did you pick up on that hint? Subtle is what they call it.
So going to my old friend Trove, they have this awesome feature where by once you sign up with an account you can start creating lists of information you have found from anywhere on their site. I have set up multiple lists for a lot of the different branches of the family tree. The Nicoll list by far is the most prevelant with over 500 articles saved. One of the additional awesome features I discovered is that you can create a description heading for the list describing what the list is about for other user’s who might be interested. Remember I have said before, family history research is like fishing, you put out the bait and you see what bites. This is a copy below.
The only catch to this that I wasn’t aware of, is that if anyone does make a comment on your List, there is no notification that comes through. You can see where this is going cant’ you?
So fast forward to a year later and I get this what I think is a pretty dodgy message on Facebook. I immediately thought it was one of those phishing messages, I don’t have a copy of it to show you but it was from a name I didn’t recognise but the message said that they were researching immigration history to Australia. This stopped me from deleting and I then sent this message.
I mean come on, why would a Emerita Professor be messaging me? This was the response I received on the 24th April 2019.
You can probably imagine the excitement that was building for me after reading this. I jumped straight on to Trove to have a look.
I couldn’t believe it, over a month since Viv sent the message on Trove and I had no idea that it was there. This was when she decided to try and track me down on Facebook and I am so thankful that she did. I jumped straight back into Messenger and so it began. An amazing wonderful dialogue of shared discoveries, (again sounds so trite but this is definitely how I feel) about our family. There were no brakes or anything engaged we just both jumped straight in. Often when someone connects with you on Ancestry, in the few experiences I have had, it can be quite impersonal and bit standoffish but with Viv there was nothing like this. Viv is a descendant of James Robertson Nicoll Brother to my 3x Great Grandfather George Robertson Nicoll of the Nicoll Manuscript fame.
How incredible is that? a picture of James. Now I’m jumping the gun a bit here but Sherrel is now another Cousin we have welcomed into the fold thanks to Viv but I will return to this story at a later stage.
It didn’t take too long to put Viv into the Family Tree and according to Ancestry.com.au she is officially my 5th Cousin. Viv has shared that she has been researching the Family for decades and that it was her wish to set up a Facebook page for others who might be interested in the Family and the immigration aspect. Viv did this and more Nicoll descendants have been discovered.
Viv also shared that she was writing an academic blog on George and his Wife Sarah and their immigration journey. Unlike this blog which is at best gossip mag like and visual, (speaks volumes of the author), Viv’s is very much an academic and sociological view on the impacts of immigration through the lens of our shared ancestors George, Sarah and the rest of the Nicoll’s who followed. It is a fascinating read. Copy below and the link. Hopefully you will still be able to find this in 2169.
I received this message from Viv in October 2019. She and her partner Alan had booked their flights and would be in Sydney late Oct’ early November.
We organised to meet. I sent out a message on Ancestry to see if anyone else was interested in coming along. I didn’t let Viv know just incase no one made contact. Had a few responses from people who are actually based overseas and couldn’t make it. No committment right?
I have organised a get together for Saturday 2nd November 10am at Rookwood Cemetery Cafe, right opposite the Function Center. (Just inside the Weeroona Road entrance immediately on the left on Memorial Drive)
Vivienne Cree who is a desendent of James Robertson Nicoll, George Robertson Nicoll’s Brother is visiting from Scotland and would love to meet as many of the Australian Nicoll’s and descendents as possible. Viv is writing an academic paper on Emmigration to Australia in the 19th Century focussing on the Nicoll Family’s journey. Below is the link to her blog on the subject.
You might be thinking that it was a strange place to meet, Rookwood, Australia’s oldest burial ground but Cemeteries have undergone a transformation recently. Most now have Cafe’s and function centres. The Village at Rookwood is a fantastic spot to catch up.
Jan Bond is my Maternal Aunt, Greg Nicoll is her Cousin. He is the Son of my Grandfather’s Brother Douglas Nicoll. Shirley and Lea are descendents of Annie Schofield who married Bruce Randolf Nicoll one of George and Sarah Nicoll’s Great Grandsons. They still live in Earlwood where Blink Bonnie George Wallace Nicoll’s estate was situated. Shirley has vivid memories of visiting the home as to does my Aunty Jan. Such a shame that the home is now demolished and gone.
No wait, Xander had a couple more photos from the day and had one of all of us. So will sneak another one in.
The reunion was fantastic! That Saturday was a beautiful day and we sat and had coffee and bacon and egg rolls and chatted for about 3 hours. We worked out that it is about 118 years since the two sides of the family had seen each other. Viv shared that George and his Brother James were very close from what she had been able to uncover. It was not lost on us the significance of this reunion and how it occured by happen chance.
We then toured around to all the Nicoll graves, they had money back in their day and most have fantastic marbled monuments.
After that we went to a little Cafe on Sydney Harbor and had a late lunch and you guessed it, kept talking.
It really was an amazing experience and all of us reported back that we couldn’t believe how everyone just seemed to click.
It certainly has had an amazing effect on me, a physical connection to that history that really to that point has been a digital experience.
Viv and Alan have very kindly invited us to visit them in Scotland, which was going to happen at the end of this year but the Covid 19 pandemic has put that on hold for the moment. Now that the family has been reunited it will happen.
This wasn’t the only family reunion 2019 offered up. Backtracking to March when I turned 50 another amazing reunion happened but this time the link was with the Macvean side of the family. This story coming in a future post.