Tag Archives: family history

Weekend Coffee Share… 17th July, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

This week, I’m retracting all my boasts about the balmy warmth of a Sydney Winter, and will let you know you’d better bring a big thick woolly blanket when you come to visit me this week. Indeed, last night, I not only dug the scout blanket out of storage, I put a beanie and woolen gloves on before going to bed AND jacked my electric blanket up to high. It only warms the bottom side and cool air was chilling my head through the window and one blanket and a doona were no longer enough over the top. I think I saw that it was actually 18°C today. So, you probably take me for an absolute wimp. However, the houses here aren’t central heated or prepared for the cold and are better suited to letting out the heat. That’s great for about 10-11 months in the year but then there’s that last month of Winter that really reminds you you’re alive and Winter isn’t such a myth after all.

So, what have you been up to?

Last week, I headed up to Blackheath in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney to stay with a cousin. We’re not exactly first cousins. Rather, we’re what I call “family history cousins” and my 4 x Great Grandfather and her Great Grandfather were brothers who came from the island of Islay in the Scottish Hebrides. I contacted her recently to fill her in on all my discoveries of bigamy, divorce and other intrigues, and she told me a cousin had dropped off two albums of photos dating back to the 1880s and invited me to stay. I was off. Didn’t need to be asked twice. I don’t like leaving people without a name, especially when such old photos are so rare and precious.

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A page from the historic family photo album showing Angus Rutherford Johnston & James Campbell.

Blackheath is in the Upper Blue Mountains and Sydney-siders have called it Bleakheath due to its “freezing” temperatures for generations. Blackheath locals call themselves “Blackheathens”. They sound like a dangerous bunch but are actually rather harmless. Indeed, there’s a strong creative community thriving in the area, along with an outpost of one of my favourite bookshops: Glee Books. Yes, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I spotted that and of course I bought a stack more books despite having piles and piles of books back here at home that I’ve never read.

Above:A family visit to the Paragon Cafe in 2011 Continue reading

Off To Join The Blackheathens…

When I first heard about being a “Blackheathen”, I thought it sounded like joining a Satanic cult. However, Blackheath is actually a town in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney and the locals call themselves “Blackheathens”, while throughout it’s history, visitors have dubbed it: “Bleakheath”. It is freezing. Well, at least by more wimpy standards where 18°C is considered “frozen” and we’re wrapped up in so many layers of jumpers, blankets, coats and overcoats, that we look more rugged up than Eskimos.

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Any way the wind blows, Henry goes with the flow…

Last week, I loaded up the little red car and drove up to Blackheath to stay with a cousin for four days. This was no ordinary “cousin” either. My 4 x Great Grandfather, John Johnston was her Great Grandfather’s older brother. We first met about 20 years ago when I was researching the bridge they built, the North Sydney Suspension Bridge, and I came across her name in a newspaper article in the local history file at the library. We met up back them, along with another cousin who was in her 80s at the time, and we formed a sort of inner circle of this vast outer circle of this Johnston family hailing back to the island of Islay in the Scottish Hebrides.

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Angus Rutherford Johnston my 4th Great Uncle and James Campbell in Seattle, USA. The photo album itself was a work of art.

When I got back in touch a few weeks ago, it turned out that a cousin had dropped off two family photo albums dating back to the 1880s and she invited to to come up to stay, copy of the photos and catch up.

Govetts Leap

 

As it turned out, copying the photos was the tip of the iceberg and I was brought deep into the Blackheath fold and not only taken to local lookouts, but also inside Blackheath. I watched a local musical theatre production on DVD called something along the lines of: “A Hot Time in Blackheath”. Blackheath used to be a popular destination for not only honeymoons back in the day, but also a “dirty weekend”. As I’d toured the lookouts in the past, such history had never crossed my mind. So, it was quite interesting to get this inside perspective.

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Zooming in on a rock face over Govett’s Leap. I have always been astounded by the tenacity of Australian plants to grow in such challenging locations.

Before I left for Blackheath, I had been planning to indulge in food the entire week without any thought of ballooning into twice my size or blowing the budget. I was wanted to indulge. However, while we did stop at the Ivanhoe Pub for a magnificent pie, I actually indulged more in books as I found out that one of my favourite all time bookshops, Gleebooks, had a store in Blackheath and I fell deep down that precarious slippery slope back into book addiction.

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Meanwhile, in the nearby carpark, I spotted an amazing mural designed by Jenny Kee,  a well known Australian fashion and event designer and writer and Blackheath local on the side of the historic Victory Theatre. The mural features bold and colourful representations of Australian plants and wildlife in Jenny Kee’s typical style.

Of course, my time in Blackheath was over way too soon. However, I did spend a few hours in Katoomba, breaking the homeward journey. So, stay tuned.

Have you ever been to Blackheath?

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

A Shocking Case of Bigamy.

“Mr Justice Richmond: You have been convicted of the offence of bigamy…Your present effrontery shows that you richly merit the punishment which I shall inflict upon you. I hope that the punishment will have the effect of awakening you more fully than you now appear to be, to a sense of your actual guilt in the sight of God…The sentence upon you is that you be imprisoned for two years…”  

Otago Daily Times, Issue 769, 4 June 1864

On the 8th December, 1864, Alexander John Johnston was found guilty of bigamy in Dunedin’s  Supreme Court, after marrying Maria Bridget Flanagan while still married to Jane Ellen Johnston (formerly Jones). The judgement quoted above wasn’t metered out to Alexander John Johnston. However, it could well have been.  However, because the marriage certificate provided had no official seal of authenticity and there was also a question of Jane Ellen being under age, Johnston was fined and spared the worst.

In hindsight, someone should’ve thrown the book at Alexander John Johnston, and I’m not talking about a lightweight paperback either. More something like one of those huge, leather-bound, Victorian Bibles. Indeed, that would’ve whacked him on the head like a flying brick, and might’ve knocked some sense into him. Not that I’m inclined to violence, but to quote the words of Monty Python: “He’s not the Messiah—he’s a very naughty boy!”

Of course, this is all water under the bridge these days. Well, it would be if John Johnston (as we know him), wasn’t my Great Grandmother’s Grandfather, and we’re descended from the Maria Bridget Flanagan side of the equation. That made it relevant.

This was all very recent news to me. As far as we knew, John Johnston had only ever married Maria Bridget Flanagan on the 14th April, 1864 in Invercargill, New Zealand. His only children were THEIR children. Originally, family stories said that he’d built the North Sydney Suspension Bridge, although that turned out to be his youngest brother, Alexander Campbell Johnston, who also had the contract to build the Bungendore to Queanbeyan Railway in NSW, while John was the licensee of Queanbeyan’s Union Club Hotel before going insolvent. Yet, John’s death certificate stated that he was a “Contractor” suggesting that he did indeed work alongside his brother. So, while John Johnston might not have been a high achiever, our John Johnston was respectable and seemingly a “family man”. As far as I can tell, there were no court appearances, changes of drunkenness. Nothing.

On the other hand, THAT “Alexander John” Johnston was a scoundrel. A cad. He’d even threatened his wife with a knife.

Clearly, the situation demanded further investigation. I am still struggling to see them as anything but two different people…a John Hyde and an Alexander John Jekyll.

Marriage 1 – Jane Ellen Jones, Liverpool, November 1855.

Details about Alexander John’s first family are still coming to light. However, there’s now no  doubt that Alexander John Johnston married Ellen Jane Jones in November 1855 at St James Church, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, England. On the marriage certificate, her father was given as Thomas Jones, Master Mariner, and the witness was Margaret Jones, Jane Ellen’s sister. During the bigamy trial, it was mentioned that a James Munro and John Grey also attended the wedding. A Charles Macquarie, seaman, also testified that he was in Liverpool around January or February, 1856 and used to go and see them[1].

It appears that Alexander John and Jane Ellen had two children while living in Liverpool. While I am yet to find the names of all their children, it would appear that their eldest child, Thomas James Johnston was born around 1856-57. They also seemed to have two children born in New Zealand. Jane Ann was born in 1862 and their youngest daughter, Ellen Overton Johnston, was born around 1864 and died in tragic circumstances on the 8th February, 1866 aged 15mths/2 years.

Finding out these details of his first marriage, also revealed that John had been living in Liverpool for at least five years before immigrating to New Zealand, which also placed him alongside the thousands of Irish fleeing the Irish Famine. A Famine which had also hit Scotland hard, including the island of Islay where John Johnston was born on the 12th February, 1826 to Angus and Mary (Campbell) . At this point, his father had been a Whisky Distiller, most likely at the Tallent Distillery on Islay. It seems they could well have been evicted to make way for sheep, which were more profitable.

Alexander John came out to New Zealand probably not long before gold was discovered in Gabriel’s Gully in 1861. Three months later, Jane Ellen and the children came out.  

As time went by, the marriage clearly wasn’t a happy one. In court, Jane Ellen said: “I have not been on very good terms with the prisoner.” This is clearly an understatement because on the 13th June, 1863, she charged him with threatening to stab her with a knife:

“Threatening to Stab—Jane Ellen Johnston I charged her husband, Alexander John Johnston with threatening to stab her with a knife on the 13th inst. The defendant was required to give bond to keep the peace towards her for six months, fined in the amount of £1O, and to find two sureties tor £2O each[2].”

However, there were a few references to the couple going out to lunch or socialising together. So, perhaps it wasn’t all bad…

At the time of the court case, Jane Ellen Johnston and their children were living out in the Leith Valley in Dunedin, beyond the Waters of Leith. I suspect this might have been the family home before Alexander John went off to “Hokitika”[3].

Alexander John Johnston Caught Out.

Being something of a Sherlock Holmes myself, there’s nothing better than tracking the scent of a good story back to the source and its very beginnings.

It surprises me that Jane Ellen Johnston wasn’t the one who dobbed Alexander John into  police. Rather, it was Charles Bond, Baker of Rees Street Queenstown & Arthur’s Point Shotover, and a Mrs Jenkins, who could well have been a hotel owner in Queenstown. Mr John Foster, formerly a publican at The Arrow Goldfields, near Queenstown was also involved, and it almost seems like a citizens’ arrest.

On the 3rd September, 1864 Detective Constable Robert Lambert, who was stationed in Queenstown, arrested Alexander John Johnston in King Street, Dunedin on a charge of bigamy. He was accompanied by a Mr John Foster, formerly a publican at The Arrow Goldfields, near Queenstown. Johnston then asked him to accompany him to a woman’s house in the Leith Valley, Dunedin. There were two children playing outside and Lambert asked Johnston whether they were his. He said they were. When they arrived at the house, he said: “Jane, I am taken in charge. I am going to gaol.” She asked what for. Detective-Constable Lambert replied: “It was for bigamy, and I further explained the charge to her.” Lambert pointed to Alexander John Johnston (the prisoner), and asked if he was her husband. She said he was. Lambert asked if she had a marriage certificate, and Jane Ellen handed him the document she’d been given when she married Johnston. Alexander John, seemingly being quite the smooth talker, tried to sweet talk Jane into letting him off. Indeed, he repeatedly asked: “Jane, my girl, you won’t prosecute me.” Detective Constable Lambert replied that if she is his wife, she can’t give evidence against him. Lambert then went outside with Alexander John where he denied that the woman was his wife. So, he took him inside again and asked Jane Ellen again if she was his wife. Again, she repeated that she really was married to the prisoner. On the way to the station, the prisoner again denied that the woman was his wife. Detective Constable Robert Lambert took Johnston to the watchhouse where he gave the name of Alexander John Johnston.

Supreme Court on the 8th December, 1864

The case ended up in the Supreme Court on the 8th December, 1864 before His Honour Justice Richmond. Alexander John Johnston was indicted for bigamy, by intermarrying with Maria Flanagan, while his wife Jane Ellen Jones was alive. Mr Howorth conducted the prosecution; and Mr Wilson appeared for the prisoner.

Here are the various witness statements:

Ann Rugg (formerly Jones) – Jane Ellen Johnston’s Sister & wife of James Rugg, carpenter, Dunedin:

“My maiden name was Ann Jones. In 1855, I was living in Liverpool with my father and mother. There were three brothers and two sisters besides. One sister was named Jane Ellen and the other Margaret. Jane Ellen is now sitting here in Court. I knew the prisoner in England. About nine years ago, in a November, he and Jane Ellen left father’s house to get married. My sister Margaret, James Munro, and John Grey went with them. They went about ten and returned about twelve o’clock. I asked my sister if she was married, and she said “Yes,” and kissed me. The prisoner lived in father and mother’s house for four months and always acknowledged Jane Ellen as his wife. My sister Margaret is not here. St James’s Church, Toxteth Park, is in Liverpool. The prisoner was here before Gabriel’s digging broke out; and three months after that, he sent for my sister. They have four children.—By Mr Wilson : I am now 22 years old.”

Charles Macquarie, Seaman:

 “I know the prisoner and Mrs Johnston. I was in Liverpool about January or February, 1856, and I was accustomed to go and see them. They were living as man and wife. The prisoner often admitted to me, at that time, that he was married. They had then been recently married.”

 Rev Benjamin Drake : Congregational Independents, Invercargill

“I am a minister of the body called Congregational Independents, at Invercargill. I am the Benjamin Drake mentioned in this Gazette notice, as authorised to solemnise marriages. On the 14th April last, at Invercargill, I married the prisoner and Bridget Maria Flannagan, who is the woman now called before me. What is handed to me, is a copy of the register which I myself made. Mr Wilson objected that the indictment charged marriage with Maria Flanagan ; while the evidence and the certificate showed the name to be Bridget Maria. The Judge: That is amendable, and I should allow amendment[4].

Mr John Foster, formerly a publican at The Arrow Goldfields, near Queenstown.

Foster generally corroborated the evidence of Lambert. He had known the prisoner for about two years; and had known him living with Jane Ellen, the woman in Court, as man and wife. By Mr Wilson: Out of the woman’s presence, the prisoner had denied that she was his wife.

Dunedin Gaol

Dunedin Gaol -Alexander John Johnston’s home away from home.

The Verdict

On the 8th December, 1864, the jury found Alexander John Johnston guilty of bigamy. However, sentencing was postponed until the 12th December, 1864. The Judge said he should not pass sentence because the “document produced, and admitted by the Court, was not admissible in proof of the first marriage, inasmuch as it did not purport to be a copy of an original register, signed by the person authorised to make it; and that cohabitation being only presumptive evidence of marriage, was not admissible in a case of bigamy. He (the Judge) should therefore reserve a case for the opinion of the Court of Appeal as to the sufficiency of the evidence on which the prisoner was convicted. He should take bail Johnston in the sum of £1OO, and two sureties in £5O each. The condition would be, as prescribed by the Court of Appeal Act, that Johnston should surrender in the judgment of the Court when called upon. Johnston would be remanded to custody until he had completed the recognisances.[5]

The Second Wife…Maria Bridget Flanagan.

At this point, I haven’t read the actual court transcripts to see whether Maria Bridget Flanagan appeared in court. However, she gave birth to their first child, Angus Johnston, on the 6th January, 1865 in Dunedin. So, while this court case was in progress, she was heavily pregnant, which must’ve made a rather strong statement to the court. Moreover, while she was concerned about “her husband” who could well have been sent to gaol for up to seven years, she would also have been very concerned for the future of her and her child. As it turned out, the judge didn’t throw the book at Alexander John Johnston. However, while he was only fined, he was kept in jail because they couldn’t pay the fine and I currently don’t know how long he was there.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Maria Johnston heavied William Christian, whom they’d been living with in Invercargill, to pay the fine. He refused. So, on the 10th December, 1864 Maria took him to court accusing him of stealing a wooden box containing a silk parasol, a piece of silk and a petticoat which she had left in his care. However, the truth of the matter came out in court and the case was dismissed:

Charge of Theft.— William Christian, a colored man, was charged, on the information of Maria Flanigan, with stealing one parasol, one petticoat, and one piece of silk her property, on or about the month of September last — Maria Flanigan, or Johnston, stated that she was married in Invercargill about eight months ago to Mr Johnston ; they were living with the prisoner. She and her husband left for Queenstown, leaving in the prisoner’s care a box, in which were a quantity of articles, including one silk parasol, one petticoat, and one piece of silk. A few days ago she met the prisoner in Dunedin, and when she asked about her box, he said it was left in Invercargill. _ she had reason to believe that the goods were in Dunedin, and, a search warrant having been served, the petticoat and piece of silk were found in prisoner’s house, but in a box which had formerly belonged to Johnston. Detective Farrell stated that he put the warrant into execution, and found the goods produced in an unlocked box in prisoner’s home. There was no attempt at concealment. Prisoner’s wife stated that she kept the goods as she had a loan on them; Johnston having been due her money. Mr Ward, for the prisoner, stated that the facts of the case were that Johnston left his boxes in Invercargill in prisoner’s charge as he owed him £l5. When Johnston was apprehended on a charge of bigamy, Maria Flanigan asked prisoner to became bail for him, and when he refused she threatened to do something to him and when Johnston was convicted she trumped up the present charge against the prisoner. The Magistrate said the charge was a trumpery affair. There was clearly no felonious intent on the prisoner’s part. He was discharged.” Otago Witness, 17 December 1864.

New Zealand’s Divorce Laws in 1864.

When you think about this case of bigamy these days,  you naturally ask why he didn’t get a divorce. While we might be aware that divorces weren’t so easy to obtain in years gone by, prior to 1867, anyone wishing to divorce in New Zealand had to apply to the English courts. Of course, you don’t need to be Einstein to realize that you’re looking at mission impossible.

In 1867 New Zealand passed its first divorce law: the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act. The act allowed either husband or wife to seek a divorce, but the grounds on which they could apply were very different. To gain a divorce, a man only needed to prove adultery on the part of his wife. But for a wife to get a divorce, her husband had to commit adultery plus sodomy, incest, bestiality, bigamy, rape or extreme cruelty[6].

While we’re on the subject of divorce in 1864, I thought just throw in this snippet about the duties of marriage in New Zealand in 1850:

“In 1850, the duties associated with marriage appeared to exist largely to protect the institution of marriage itself and the morals of society, rather than the individuals involved in the union. A husband had a duty to maintain his wife, they had a duty to live together, and sexual intercourse was a duty.[30] Each party also had a duty not to have sexual relations outside the marriage.[31] After marriage, a woman lost her identity in that she could not own property, enter into contracts, or sue or be sued; this indicates that marriage was about more than simply regulation of sexual relations.[32] There were also more consequences for a woman who committed adultery, on the rationale that if she had children that were not her husband’s, they may inherit his property wrongfully.[33] The stark contrasts to the twenty-first century notions of individual choice are captured in Matthew Bacon’s             Abridgement, which states that:[34] …marriage is a compact between a man and a woman for the procreation and education of children; and it seems to have been instituted as necessary to the very being of society; for, without the distinction of families, there can be no encouragement to industry, or any foundation for the care of acquiring riches.”http://www.nzlii.org/nz/journals/NZLawStuJl/2014/9.html

What Became of Jane Ellen Johnston?

Alexander John’s departure left Jane Ellen Johnston as a single mother with four young children under ten living on the outskirts of Dunedin.

On the 8th February, 1866 while Jane Ellen was weeding the garden with her two other children, their eldest son, Thomas James Johnston aged nine, climbed up high and reached for her gun, which she kept loaded for her own protection. Indeed, she’d only had it a week, a gift from a concerned friend.  Jane Ellen hears the explosion, and sees Thomas running towards her. In a scene she no doubt replayed for the rest of her life, she finds Thomas has accidentally shot his baby sister, Ellen Overton Johnston and she is dying. Desperately, Jane Ellen somehow gets the baby to the hospital, but is told the situation is hopeless. So, she bundles her up and takes her to die at the home of a friend.  At the inquest, Jane Ellen referred to herself as “Jane Ellen Johnston” and said that her husband had “gone to Hokitika”.  That, in other words, he’d gone off to the diggings. No one challenged her with the truth.

In 1873, Jane Ellen Johnston married Edward Williams. He appears to have been an Insurance worker at York Place, Dunedin, 1883-91. They went on to have at least two children. I would like to think they lived happily ever after.

Jane Ellen Williams passed away at Christchurch Hospital on October 8th, 1921. While her notice in the paper says she was aged 72, online she was said to be 85 which seems to be more likely:

WILLIAMS—On October 8th, at the Christchurch Hospital, Jane Williams, late of Oxford street, Lyttelton; aged 72 years. Press, Volume LVII, Issue 17290, 31 October 192

John Johnston & Maria Bridget Flanagan

In 1865, Alexander John Johnston became the Licensee of the Argyle Hotel in the Arcade, Dunedin, and it seems that they lived on the premises. The Argyle Hotel was more like a bar, and unlike most hotels at the time, didn’t have accommodation for travellers. However, it did have “concert rooms”[7].

It is starting to look like Alexander John Johnston and possibly Maria Bridget, could well have been entertainers and were involved in something like the Minstrel Shows they were later involved in at Queanbeyan. I don’t know if they operated the concert rooms at the Arcade Hotel or whether theirs was separate, but this reference could well describe the nature of their concerts:

Cunningham G Boyd was the licensee of the Arcade Hotel, which had music and dancing. The Arcade Hotel was described: At the Resident Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday morning, Mr Commissioner Branigan applied to the Bench to withdraw the permission previously granted by Mr Strode to Mr C. G. Boyd, of the Arcade Hotel, to allow singing and dancing in his licensed house. The evidence of several witnesses went to prove that the noisy nature of the “negro entertainments” given at this house, combined with the disorderly character of the persons who resorted to them, made it a serious cause of complaint in the neighbourhood. The application was granted[8].

At this point in time, trouble seemed to follow Alexander John. After already being found guilty of bigamy and doing stint in gaol while raising bail, In August 1865, He sentenced to 14 days’ imprisonment with hard labour without the alternative of a fine for assaulting DT Dyer who was executing his duty as a bailiff of the Resident’s Magistrate’s court. Indeed, he threatened him with a pocket knife.

9th August, Alexander John sold his interest in the Argyle Hotel and like hordes of other hopefuls; they headed to the Hokitika gold fields. By this stage, the son Angus had died aged three months and a daughter, Margaret Ellen was born in 1865.

From this point on, they are living on the West Coast in between Greymouth and Reefton. I am still trying to nut out what they were doing there. However, I did find a letter written to the Editor of the Grey River Argus dated 4th December 1866:

A SERIES. OF GRIEVANCES.

(To the Editor- of the Grey River Angus,) Sir — From your well known reputation as a defender of the injured, I beg to trouble you with a grievance, or rather a combination of them. I am a carpenter and .contractor, and have been well known to many persons connected with this and the Canterbury Governments. On a late occasion I saw tenders called for by tho authorities here, for a canvas tent. I tendered in the usual way, and appeared at the time appointed to see if my tender had been accepted. To my surprise the constable in charge coolly told me that my tender was not accepted, adding that if I had tendered £10 lower than anyone else he would not have given me the work. I then .looked out for a stand in the only street surveyed, and I went to the same constable to see if my business license, which I got in October last at Cobden, would give me a right to take up a site, and was told that it would not; but, at the same time, the constable offered to sell me a section which he held; for L3O. By what, right he held it I do not know, but perhaps you might be able to enlighten the public fat this place on the subject;’ as I- and many other businessmen cannot understand members of the police force being allowed, to take advantage of their position to get information and take up not only one but twenty sites, to the detriment of legitimate business men. That this has been done, is well known to every person in this township. A few days ago a man was drowned, the body being afterwards recovered. I and my partners spoke to the constable in charge respecting the burial, and the reply was that I before the Government would spend 5s in matter, they (the police) would bury it in a sack. On my remonstrating, I was told that if I interfered any further I should be locked up. Unfortunately the local head of the Government (Mr Kynnersley) is away, and I and many of my follows are compelled to submit to injustice; I sign my name, and can bring abundance of witnesses to- prove all (and more) than I have stated. A. J. Johnston, Late Undertaker, Greymouth. : Brighton, December 4[9].

Was this my Alexander John Johnston? It very well could be. Later on, he is not only the licensee of a hotel but his death certificate said he was a contractor. Being a carpenter and contractor, could well have brought him into contact with James Angus who also moved from New Zealand to New South Wales in 1879 and went into partnership with Alexander Campbell Johnston, John’s younger brother. The connection almost stitches together now, but not quite.  

In 1879, John and Maria Johnston and their five surviving children boarded a ship bound for Australia. They don’t surface again until 1885 after his brother, Alexander  Johnston, was awarded the contract to build the Bungendore to Michelago Railway section of railway on 27th May 1884. John becomes the licensee of the Union Club Hotel in Queanbeyan. He is 58 years old.

Above: Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1867 – 1904), Tuesday 16 March 1886, page 3

Performance Queanbeyan 1886

An advertisement for a minstrel show held in Queanbeyan on Boxing Day 1886

Much to my delight, I also found that the Johnston family performed in amateur Minstrel Shows in Queanbeyan. It seemed that John Johnston sang, daughter Lizzie played the piano and also acted in a romantic farce and son, John played the violin…a talented family. Of course, this form of entertainment came straight out of America, and it’s been evident they spent time with African Americans in New Zealand who could well have introduced them to this musical form.

1910 circa Suspension Bridge German postcard

The North Sydney Suspension Bridge.

By 1892, John and Maria Johnston were living in Sydney, when his brother Alexander was the contractor who built the North Sydney Suspension Bridge. While it is believed that John Johnston contributed to the bridge in some way, he did write a publicity piece which was published in the newspaper in 1895.

John Johnston died at Sydney Hospital 28th November, 1897 aged 70 years. Cause of death was malignant disease of the oesophagus. He was buried in the Presbyterian Section, Rookwood Cemetery with his sister, Elizabeth White.

Maria Bridget Johnston died on the 19th November, 1915 at her home in 42 Colin Street, North Sydney. She was 79 years old. Cause of death was Diabetes and exhaustion. She was buried in the Roman Catholic Section, Gore Hill Cemetery, St Leonards.

Knowing what I know now, I can’t help wondering whether it was poetic justice. That John Johnston and Maria Bridget who went to such great lengths to be together in life, have been permanently separated in death. It’s just a thought.  

Conclusion

“In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind.”  

Edmund Burke

Clearly, the case for Alexander John Johnston isn’t good. He was a bastard. A cad. He not only married Maria Bridget Flanagan while still married to Jane Ellen, he flatly denied Jane Ellen was his wife, even in court. Yet, he wasn’t above rolling on the charm, and asking her not to prosecute him and send him to gaol. In hindsight, I think he missed his calling. Alexander John would’ve made the consummate politician…just deny, deny, deny and the mud will fly away.

This isn’t the man our family knew, and despite all of this pulling  apart and peering into every nook and cranny, I still don’t want to let go of the illusion. Or, at least the hope, that he might have changed his ways.  

Personally, finding out about this second family over in New Zealand, has opened up  Pandora’s Box. Maybe, it shouldn’t. After all, this all happened over 150 years ago. The water has flowed under the bridge and it is gone. However, when it comes to these Kiwi cousins, I feel there’s something of a scar, or even a wound, which needs to be acknowledged. Just because he left that family more than a husband and fifty years ago, that’s not to say the consequences didn’t trickle down through the family for many years afterwards, especially given the very tragic death of Baby Ellen. After all, these people aren’t characters in a novel. They were real.

Naturally, I also have to spare a thought for Maria Bridget being heavily pregnant with her husband in court and in gaol. The stress would’ve been phenomenal, and money was clearly very tight. No luxury of decorating the nursery for the baby. I also have to question her role in all of this. Did she know about “the other wife” when they got married? Maria strikes me as a strong character, and I doubt Alexander John could pull the wool over her eyes. Then again…

Strangely, I’ve even spared a thought for Alexander John languishing away in gaol not knowing where the money was going to come from to get him out. Do I feel sorry for him? Not at all, and yet there’s still this little niggle. Perhaps, it’s because despite all evidence to the contrary, I still don’t believe he did it and this entire situation still feels more like a novel than anything from my own family’s past. 

Yet, I am also conscious that everyone has made mistakes. That each of us sinks deeply into our imperfection, and has crimes of our own. They might not be so monumental and impact on the lives of so many people in such a big way, but does that give us the right to play judge and jury when those around us stumble or even fall? I think not. However, we need to learn from these collective mistakes, and refine the rough diamond which dwells within each of us to produce a gem. That radiant spark which is incredibly tough, but ever so beautiful.

That is my dream.  

References

[1] Otago Daily Times, Issue 792, 9 December 1864.

[2] Otago Daily Times, Issue 464, 16 June 1863

[3] Otago Witness, Issue 742, 17 February 1866

[4] Otago Daily Times, Issue 792, 9 December 1864

[5] Otago Witness, 17 December 1864

[6] https://teara.govt.nz/en/divorce-and-separation/page-1

[7] Otago Daily Times, Issue 1121, 25 July 1865

[8] Otago Witness, Issue 717, 25 August 1865

[9] Grey River Argus, Volume III, Issue 142, 8 December 1866

 

The Journey Home…A Personal Quest.

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”

– Matsuo Basho

For those of you who have been following my blog for awhile, you’ve probably sensed that I’ve been grappling with something. Something like a whole lot of random puzzle pieces, and wondering why they won’t all fit together. Arranging and rearranging them and then darting down another wombat tunnel (these are rather long and extensive by the way) searching for another missing piece, hoping that this time, I’ll finally be able to see the entire picture. Or, at the very least, have all four corners and the edge pieces in place.

Fueling this quest has been a sense that something isn’t quite right, which might’ve been blown off as anxiety or misplaced perfectionism if the story had been a little different.

Scan10098

The Good Little Girl.

Of course, the general recommendation was “to go with the flow”. The only trouble being, that I was beyond the flow. Moreover, nobody ever presented me with a map or gave me any directions whatsoever to try to find the flow, let alone a lift. Indeed, since whenever, I’ve never gone with the flow or even known what it was.  Hence, why I’ve called my blog “Beyond the Flow”.

Rowena 1981

Here I am in Year 6 aged 12. The Serious Student.

Lately, this sense of not going with the flow re-positioned itself, and I felt more like I was living in between the lines where I perhaps don’t belong to either group but see something in between that other people miss. This perspective is also rather interesting when you look at it from a visual perspective, as you’re inhabiting that white space between two sentences. Not that I can actually read either sentence, as I’m up too close. It’s all a blur. I’m just there. Indeed, I could well be fast asleep, and quite at peace in what actually seems an uncomfortable, or even isolating position.

Rowena Dressing up

I used to love dressing up and performing. My brother and I put on little shows at home.

By the way, I didn’t say that I was alone. I’m not. Indeed, I’m actually starting to wonder just how many of us hover in between worlds not really knowing where we belong and yearning to find our home. Or, perhaps we/they have reached a point of acceptance, or even giving up, and have pitched a tent where they are and set up camp.

For many of us, there’s a complicating factor which heightens this sense of living in between the lines. Of not going with the flow. Even, grappling to know who we are within our own skin, before we can even attempt to work out how we can find our place in the outside world.

Scan10439

The Irrepressible University Student. You can see I’ve jumped right out of my box by now.

Personally, my struggle to know and understand myself raised up into something of a tsunami wave, after I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain when I was 26. Apparently, it had been there since birth, but randomly became symptomatic in my mid-20s. Suddenly, thanks to my diagnosis, I had an explanation for being quirky, uncoordinated, and not fitting in. Better still, I had a cure. A magic fix. I had brain surgery and was given a shunt, which not only reduced the pressure in my brain and improved my coordination, it also felt for a time like the lights had gone out. Indeed, I started to believe that the theatrical, extroverted independent woman I had always been, was largely the fabrication of this disease. That all this pressure in my head, had made me disinhibited. That at least some percentage of who I thought was me, was in actual fact the disease stepping into my shoes and even inside my very skin and taking over.

Poetry Reading

Performing My Poetry in Paris in 1992.

This, of course, left the door open for way too many questions, and they not only moved in, but also made themselves at home.

Indeed, it left many doors and pathways open as I grappled to find some rock solid sense of myself. That core at the very centre of my being. The bit that is left, when you remove and take off all the layers and external forces and just is.

“To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.”

Eckhart Tolle

Much of this exploration has either been unconscious, or going on in the background while I’m getting on with the realities of life. If you’ve lived with this , you’ll know what I mean when I say the front screen is running but there’s another screen running behind closed doors, behind the curtain, or even somewhere at the back of your eyeballs (the eyes being the window of your soul). I never intended to live and operate like this, and I must admit it’s been very frustrating. I’ve really struggled to know quite who I am, and then to confound it further, I developed a debilitating auto-immune disease, which side-swiped me like a massive monster truck. Of course, it didn’t stop to see if I’m okay, or to even help me get my bearings. It just kept going.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Aristotle

Anyway, as I said, I’ve been niggling with this in the background and moving very much by feel. I feel comfortable, belong and really thrive in some settings, but in others, I shrivel up and am almost screaming in my skin to escape. I feel awful. There doesn’t need to be an explanation. Indeed, there often isn’t one.

Performance Queanbeyan 1886

 

I am coming to wonder whether it’s been this struggle within myself, which has taken me so deeply inside my family history. Indeed, now that I’ve found the missing piece of the puzzle, it feels like this is what I’ve been searching for my entire life. It wasn’t a coincidence that I wanted to swing from the chandelier. Or, that I wanted the be an actress right through high school (in addition to being a journalist). There was this pull from somewhere deep within my DNA, which didn’t connect with Mum and Dad or anybody in the near vicinity. However, deep within the lines of historic newspaper text, there it was. My grandmother’s grandmother performed in an amateur Minstrel Show in Queanbeyan, near Canberra. While it wasn’t New York, the programme was printed in the newspaper, and she wasn’t only the pianist. She was also acting. Indeed, Lizzie Johnston was playing Louisa in a romantic farce: The Rival Lovers. Finally, I had permission and acknowledgement of who I’ve always been. A constant beyond the ups and downs of life and collisions with life-threatening illnesses. An extrovert who doesn’t need a stage to perform, and can even perform in words upon the page, just like my kids sing and dance across the stage. Indeed, I don’t need a drink to perform a on stage either. Rather, I need someone to tie me to my seat in the audience.

Of course, that is not to say we’re pre-determined by our genes. However, personally I found it very encouraging that someone else in my family has been down this road, and I’m not crazy. That it wasn’t the result of too much pressure on the brain. It’s simply me. Moreover, there are quite a few performers on both sides of my extended family tree.

Aunty Rose & Kookaburra.JPG

My Great Great Aunt, Rose Bruhn, owned an elite hair and beauty salon in Brisbane but could also make kookaburras laugh on command, had a budgie who recited reams of Shakespeare. She appeared with them at charity fundraisers where she also performed poetry and she played the violin.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost.

Rowena Lizottes

The humble violinist. I was actually a rank beginner when this photo was taken, but I have an in-built sense of theatre.

However, I’m not sure that this discovery is going to change a hell of a lot. These days, I’m pretty content with what I’ll call “my lot”. I’ve been doing some performances on my violin, which isn’t quite the same as jumping out of a cake or swinging from a chandelier, but I now understand a little better why I wanted to perform, and wasn’t content to only play alone at home.

While this journey is incredibly personal, and having problems with your brain isn’t something to brag about, it was a story that needed to be shared. While it’s been a catharsis for myself, I wanted to reach out to people grappling with similar issues, and hold your hand. We are not alone.

The Missing Piece

Lastly, I wanted to share an animation of a favourite book of mine by Shel Silverstein: The Missing Piece . It might be simple, but it’s very profound.

If this post connects with you in any way, I would love to hear from you via the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Digging Up More Family Bones.

The Case of Maria Bridget “Whosywhatsitmecallher”

If I could jump in a time machine right this minute and go back to any moment in history, I’d set the dial for the 19th November, 1915. Or, to be on the safe side, even a day earlier. The place would be 42 Colin Street, North Sydney (Now in modern Cammeray. By the way, the house is still standing).

Obviously, this seems like a totally random time and place to go back to. Indeed, I’m sure many of you would choose to back to a much more significant point in history, and rewrite events for the greater good. Perhaps, you might go back to the 4th April, 1968, fighting to prevent the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Or, perhaps you’d go back to the 28th June, 1914 in Sarajevo and deal with Gavrilo Princip, the man who assassinated  Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife. As you may recall from your high school history lessons, their assassination was the final spark which triggered World War I.

Above: Perhaps you’d like to go back in time and prevent these events.

These are noble gestures, and I commend you. Normally, I would be more concerned about making a valuable contribution to the greater good. However, right now, my needs are simple.

I’d just like to ask my 3rd Great Grandmother to fill out her own death certificate, instead of leaving such an important family document in the hands of her daughter. Unfortunately, she not only left out some significant details, but also included misinformation. Not that I’d go so far as saying she lied. However, the people filling out these forms need to consider the people following in their footsteps, who not only need answers, but also the truth. After all, filling out a death certificate is NOT a creative writing exercise!

wind-from-the-sea

Andrew Wyeth, The Wind From The Sea, which conjures up images of ghosts, absent friends etc.

This brings me back to Maria Bridget Flanagan, who went on to marry John Alexander Johnston and gain another surname. Recently, I posted a story about how a vagrant set fire to her house , after being inspired by the actions of the Mosman Bomber. However, while I was thrilled to bits to stumble across this story, in so many very basic areas of family history research, Maria or Bridget (this seems to vary with the wind) is a very slippery fish and she’s determined not to get caught. The questions remain.

Getting back to her death certificate, it states that she was 79 years old, making her year of birth around 1836. Her father is given as Martin Flanagan. She was born in County Clare, Ireland. She spent 6 years in Victoria before leaving for New Zealand. After returning to Australia, she spent 32 years in NSW, putting their arrival in NSW around 1879. Age at first marriage is unknown and his name is given as __Flanagan. Age at second marriage was 26. Spouse: John Johnston.  These details conflict a little with her marriage certificate, which said she as 23, making her date of birth closer to 1841.

map New Zealand

Maria Bridget Flanagan immigrated from Victoria to New Zeland and Married John Alexander Johnston at Invercargill in 1864.

Recently, I came across this message online:

“Any lister with knowledge of Bridget Maria Flanaghan nee Docherty, aged 23 years, possibly employed in or around Invercargill c.1864. She was the widow of one Quintin Flanaghan and was Ireland-born (County unknown). Not known if he came to NZ or she arrived as a widow. She married from the home of Richard Pilkington, Dee Street, and witnesses were Louis and Alice Cramer, hotelkeeper of Tay Street. Any advice appreciated. https://lists.rootsweb.ancestry.com/hyperkitty/list/new-zealand@rootsweb.com/thread/USLOAJOWTWJWECJU2ABMXTX3FCIKGWQE/

Well, you would think this message provided great hope, insight, a Eureka moment worthy of jumping out of the bathtub and running naked down the street. Well, I would’ve run naked down the street, if only I’d been able to confirm the details of the message. I haven’t been able to find a Quintin Flanagan, but I have managed to find a Bridget Doherty with a father Martin, but they were living in Kerry. That said, this Bridget’s brother was later living in Ennis, County Clare. It might not be all wrong, but surely Mary Ann Wilson, her own daughter, would’ve known which county her mother came from. Then again, so many things fly under the radar in a busy household, but I would’ve thought it’s an odd thing to get wrong.

Map of ireland_1808

Map of Ireland 1808

In the meantime, I started looking for a Bridget Doherty with a father called Martin who fitted into the right time framework and I did find somebody. There as a Bridget Doherty christened 15th February, 1841 in Currow, Kerry, Ireland and her parents were Martin Doherty and Ellenora O’Brien who were married at the Roman Catholic Church, Castle Island, Kerry. Following on from this, I found an arrival of a Bridget Doherty as an Unassisted Immigrant  onboard The Sultana arriving in Melbourne 1st April, 1858. She was 18 years old, which places her date of birth as around 1840 and in the picture.

However, if you’ve ever tried your hand at this family detective business, you should know that 1 +1 doesn’t necessarily = 2. Indeed, a myriad of random details all need to align. Even then, you might have doubts, and end up with a “cold case”. Of course, you don’t throw your hands in the air and chuck all your research out. However, you also need to switch off, or at least shift, that stubbornly obsessive detective focus. Or else, you’ll go mad. After all, we’ve all heard about those cops who turn to drink after being unable to solve that elusive case of the crim who got away.We don’t want to be next.

When I get stuck like this on one of my people, I usually start sniffing around their known haunts for clues, looking for even the scantest hint of a scent. Sometimes, I’ve been lucky and I’ve found the missing piece. However, there have been a few particularly slippery fish determined to slip out of my grasp. There’s also a point where the records run out. Then, you simply have to accept, that you’ve reached the end of the road.

So, still intent on finding out what I could about this Bridget Doherty, I set the ship into reverse and sailed back across the seas to Curnow, a very pretty town on the Ring of Kerry. I must admit that I felt a bit lost arriving in Curnow, and wasn’t entirely comfortable in my new-found shoes as a “Doherty”. Did they really fit? To be honest, it felt like plucking names out of a hat, and goodness knows which name I’ll be looking for down the track if I’ve got my Bridget wrong. It’s moments like this, that I ask why women change their names just to get married? It makes them very hard to track down, and more often than not, it deletes their personal history altogether. After all, Bridget was a someone long before she became a Mrs!

Anyway, thanks to Google, I found myself in this gorgeous Irish town of Curnow, where she was Christened, and then onto Kenmare where some of her siblings got married. It was in Kenmare that I was in for quite a surprise, although it had nothing to do with finding Bridget’s origins. Rather, it was a case of seeing an almost identical twin.

Above- The Cammeray Suspension Bridge, Sydney, completed in 1892. Below:Kenmare Suspension Bridge Completed in 1841. Perhaps, not identical twins on closer inspection but pretty close.

Kenmare Suspension Bridge

You see, the Kenmare Suspension Bridge, which was completed in 1841, was almost identical to the Cammeray Suspension Bridge built by Maria Bridget Johnston’s brother-in-law, Alexander Johnston, and her husband. Indeed, while Maria as living at The Boulevard, she was only a stone throw away. If this is indeed the right Bridget, isn’t that incredible that she travelled all the way from Ireland to Sydney and then gets to see a piece of home appear stone by stone before her very eyes. Of course, I love the pure poetry of that. The sense of that beautiful bridge, which has provided a link between numerous descendants here in Australia, now connecting Bridget and her descendants in Australia back to her home in Ireland.

If only I could be sure that it’s true!

Just to add insult to injury, I’ve also been able to find out so much about this Doherty family. Details which have eluded me with other branches of the family, where I know who’s who, and equally who is not. This just added salt to the wound, and I can’t tell you how much I was wanting this Bridget Doherty to me mine. Indeed, I was even thinking of bending the facts ever so slightly to make them fit, which is an unforgivable sin for even a novice researcher.

Dromore Castle

Dromore Castle, Templenoe, Kerry.

In the Griffiths Valuation, I actually found Martin Doherty living at Templenoe and his landlord was a Reverend Denis Mahony, who was a rector of the Church of Ireland. He also owned and built Dromore Castle in Templenoe, looking out over the Kenmare River. A keen proselytiser, he set up a soup kitchen at Dromore during the Irish Potato Famine, and preached to the hungry, who came for food at the chapel at Dromore. His proselytizing activities made him rather unpopular. In 1850, he was attacked in his church at Templenoe. On returning to Dromore, he found another angry mob had uprooted flower beds, felled trees and were about to set fire to the castle. It is claimed, that they were only stopped by the intervention of the local priest[1].

As you can see, without any confirmation that she was my Bridget, the story was running away all by itself, and I was like that poor dog owner being pulled along by their dog at an alarming rate, and almost becoming airborne. The story had me by  the short and curlies.

Of course, I had to put on the brakes. Take stock. Find the line between fact and fiction, and not let myself be lured over into dark side. Reject this evil temptation to fabricate the evidence, and do that boring, methodical Police work… going over and over the data again.

“Yes, it is very true, that. And it is just what some people will not do. They conceive a certain theory, and everything has to fit into that theory. If one little fact will not fit it, they throw it aside. But it is always the facts that will not fit in that are significant.”
Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile

What was it going to take to find those missing pieces, which would complete Maria Bridget’s story and discern our Flanagans, from our Docherty/Doherties?

Moreover, why does it matter? Is it only the thrill of the chase that leads me on, and nothing to do with who I am, my DNA and genetic heritage? Am I something of a sham?

I don’t know. Hoever, I’ve come so far in such a short time, surely this mystery will be kind to me and let go of her secrets.

Maria Bridget Flanagan, Doherty, Docherty…Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Writing all these details up has indeed been rather helpful. I’m now thinking that more information may have been captured when she married John Johnston. Although I ordered the marriage certificate, it contains very little information. Indeed, it doesn’t contain enough information for a legal marriage. I think that information is out there somewhere. That’s my next port of call. Wish me luck!

 

[1] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/2014/06/dromore-castle.html

Fire North Sydney… Grandma & the Mosman Bombing.

Recently, I’ve posted a few stories I’ve come across while researching my family history. This story concerns my third Great Grandmother Maria Bridget Johnston who was living in

On the 12th January, 1907 vagrant Charles McCallum set fire to the home of my third Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget Johnston, while they were asleep. This serious crime was said to be inspired by the recent Mosman Bombing Case, and was taken rather seriously by Police. Moreover, it also appeared in newspapers at the time providing all sorts of details not only about the case, but also a snapshot of her life at the time. Naturally, my interest was sparked, and I had to follow the story through from its fledgling beginnings, right through to its combustible finale.

Willoughby Fire Station

Of course, you’d expect such a dramatic story to have been passed down through the family. However, the first I heard of it, was more than one hundred years later, while trawling through old newspapers online. So, now I’m now finding myself reassembling the pieces of what was, dare I say, an explosive story.

Maria Bridget Johnston

Maria Bridget Johnston (Docherty?) was my third Great Great Grandmother, and she was living in The Boulevard, North Sydney near the Cammeray Suspension Bridge at the time. Theoretically, she was born around 1841 in County Clare, Ireland and arrived in Victoria around 1858 where she allegedly married Quintin Flanagan, who passed away. Next, she turns up in Invercargill on New Zealand’s South Island, where she married John Johnston a Publican originally from Islay in the Hebrides, the son of a Whiskey Distiller. The Johnstons and their five children moved to Australia around 1879, and turned up next in Queanbeyan where John Johnston was the Publican of the Union Hotel while his brother, Alexander built the Goulburn to Queanbeyan Railway Station. John, along with numerous other relatives, also had a hand in that. Alexander Johnston then went on to become the Contractor for the construction of the Cammeray Suspension Bridge, which is colloquially known as “Northbridge”. However, by the time the bridge was completed in 1892, the North Shore Land and Investment Company which had hired Alexander, went bust, leaving him unpaid and in possession of the bridge to nowhere. Northbridge was hardly populated at the time.

1910 circa Suspension Bridge German postcard

The Cammeray Suspension Bridge in the early days.

By the way, the Suspension Bridge is a story in its own right. However, as beautiful and as riveting she might be, she’s only getting a fleeting mention here. Family stories have it that John Johnston was also involved in constructing the bridge, and the Sands Directory shows that he did go on to be a Contractor in his own right, although I haven’t come across any of his works.

As I mentioned, Alexander Johnston wasn’t paid for the Bridge, and to recoup some of the costs, they charged a toll for people to walk across it. While it can be difficult to pull apart the difference between family myth and what really happened, there has been talk that Maria collected the toll to walk across the bridge. There’s also been talk, that my Great Grandmother, Ruby McNamara used to collect the toll during the school holidays. There are also others who have been acknowledged in this role. So, it is hard to peel back fact from fiction.

Atlas Suburbs of Sydney 1893-94

Map of North Sydney taken from the Atlas of Sydney Suburbs Published 1893-94. The Suspension Bridge is marked on the map with a red dotted line which is just under the H of Willoughby. Maria Bridget Johnston lived in The Boulevard, just to the right of the bridge. You can also see that the land on the other side of the bridge was completely undeveloped at the time. 

Before we go too much further into the details of the case itself, we need to jump into our time machine and wind the clock back to 1907, when Sydney was a very different place. While at the time of the 2016 census, the suburb of Northbridge recorded a population of 6,347, back in 1907 it was still largely bush. Indeed, at the start of 1913, it only had 25 houses and 112 residents[1]. So, we really are talking about a very small, isolated settlement which was barely a village, let alone a town. Moreover, this Northbridge was far removed from the omnipresent snarls of traffic snaking their way through the modern, urban landscape.

Charles McCallum Sets Fire to Maria Johnston’s Dwelling House.

On the 12th January, 1907 Charles McCallum (77) set fire to the dwelling house of Maria Johnston at Boulevard Street, North Sydney. McCallum, who came from Glasgow, had been living in a nearby camp for about 11 years and worked for several local residents as a gardener. He also used to visit locals, reading the paper to them and discussing current affairs. While he was described as living in a cave, he is also described as living in a tent where he had a table where four kerosene tins were used to make the legs, and also provided storage. The kerosene tins were important in the case, as McCallum pleaded not guilty and Police had to build their case, which was reported in detail in the paper.

While trying to set fire to a house with three people sleeping inside was a serious offence in itself, the gravity of the situation was intensified by a recent bombing in nearby Mosman and there were initial concerns that something sinister was afoot.

The evidence against McCallum went that Police went to Mrs Johnston’s house near the Suspension Bridge:

“The building was a wooden one, and under the floor of the front part of it he found a piece of bagging, a piece of wood, pieces of a pyjama coat, portion of a white shirt, and some handkerchiefs, oil partly burnt, and saturated with kerosene. The weatherboards and lining-boards near the window were burnt, also the blind and curtain. He examined the articles found, and on the piece of white shirt, he saw the name “H. Irving-near the neck. Witness then went to M’Callum’s camp, which was under a rock about 266ds. from the house. He saw accused in bed, and asked him if H. Irving was camped there. He said, “No: he never camped here. He used to live at Redfern, and has been dead four or five mouths.” Witness said, “Did he ever give you any clothing?” and accused replied, “All he ever gave me was two white shirts.” Witness asked accused how did he know the shirts were Irving’s. Accused said, “They had his name on them.” Accused also said that the shirts had been worn out and destroyed long ago. Witness picked up a billy-can and a bag in the camp, and both smelt of kerosene. Accused said they were his, but did not understand how the kerosene got on them, as he never used it. Witness also found a white shirt with “H. Irving” marked on the neck of it, and a handkerchief, both corresponding with the articles found under the house. He picked up a pair of pyjama trousers in a corner, which accused said were his, and had been given to him by Mr. Ricardi. He said the coat had been worn out and destroyed. The pattern and material of these were the same as in the coat. When charged at the police station, accused said he knew nothing at all about the matter, and it was a mystery to him. When witness got to the camp there was another man there, named Henry Rowley. Accused answered ail questions freely. Maria Johnston deposed that she had known accused for nine or 10 years. He had been in the habit of coming to her house every evening, unless it was wet. One night, they had been talking about the bomb sensation at Mosman, and accused said, “There are three or four I would like to do the same to!” He was at her house on the night of the fire, and left about twenty minutes to 10. Since the election he had been talking queerly. Witness went to bed on the night of the fire at 11 o’clock. She woke up at 1 o’clock in the morning, and noticed a lot of smoke. Her daughter pulled her out of bed, and witness saw the fire going up the front window. Afterwards she saw the articles produced lying under the house. She did not see them there before. Witness had trouble with accused about eight years ago. Accused reserved his defence, and was committed for trial[2].”

Ultimately, McCallum was found not guilty and released.

This brings me to the Mosman Bombing Case.

The Mosman Bombing Case.

On January 3, 1907 William Bingham placed explosives under the house belonging to Mrs Mary Rich. Bingham had packed the explosives in a paint tin, which he’d left it in a bag under their house. He had been working for the Rich’s for about five years, but had been fired just before Christmas for misbehaviour. It was noted during his trial, that his actions had led to a similar case in North Sydney (the fire at Maria Johnston’s house). Consequently, he was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, with hard labor, in Goulburn Gaol.

A report in the Daily Telegraph dated Friday 15 March, 1907, provides additional details:

“Mr. Pollock, Crown Prosecutor, in opening the case to the Jury, said the charge against Bingham was that he placed explosives in a dwelling-house, with intent to injure the occupants. If the tin containing them had been knocked there would have been a terrific explosion. Certainly great destruction of property would have resulted, if not loss of life. Bingham had worked for Mr. Rich, of Mosman Bay, for a number of years, but five weeks before Christmas he was discharged for misbehaviour. Previously he had been abusive to Mrs. Rich, who was threatened by him, and she complained to the Police. On January 4 last Mr. Rich, on leaving his premises, saw a bag under the house. He took no further notice of it, but on returning at night his daughter drew his attention to the bag again, and he found it contained a paint tin, which contained several detonators. He removed the tin from the bag to a safe distance from the house, and then with a pair of pincers removed the lid. The tin contained a pound of blasting powder, some sticks of dynamite, and a quantity of gelignite. On January 9, the police arrested Bingham at Neutral Bay, where he was working. Bingham wanted to go into his room, and made a rush to get there. He was forcibly prevented from doing so, and an examination of the room disclosed a revolver, some cartridges, and a length of fuse. Bingham denied all knowledge of the fuse. He complained that Mrs. Rich had threatened to shoot him, and was a dead shot with the rifle. When dismissed, Bingham told an acquaintance that Mrs. Rich had behaved shamefully, and he would do for her. In his defence, Bingham made a statement. He said that he had been persecuted by the police, he admitted that he had been abusive to Mrs. Rich, because he had been drinking. He apologised, and with regard to a threat be only said. “This is my last appeal.” He did not place the dynamite under the house. He had an enemy somewhere. He would like to know who he was. He knew that he made noises when drunk, but he did not put that thing under the house. He was not made of that kind of stuff. The jury, after a retirement of some hours, found Bingham guilty, with a strong recommendation to mercy on the ground that at the time of the offence he was not responsible for his action. Asked if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon him. Bingham said, “I’m innocent. I never put it there. I never saw a stick of dynamite in my life.” Only one offence, a minor one, under the Vagrancy Act, was recorded against the prisoner. His Honor said the crime was a stupid one. The term of imprisonment might be a very long one, and he would have imposed it if the prisoner’s character had not been such as it was, and if he had not been assisted by the jury’s recommendation. In the circumstances, he would not pass a heavy sentence, but be hoped the one he would impose would prevent him from attempting to revenge himself for some fancied wrong. He hoped, too, it would act as deterrent to others. After the outrage someone had attempted a somewhat similar one at North Sydney by setting fire to a house. Bingham was then sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, with hard labor, in Goulburn Gaol. The prisoner, as he was removed, said, “You have sentenced an innocent man.[3]

…..

Reflecting on these happenings just over 110 years into the future, I’m very grateful, indeed, ecstatic to find these details about my Grandmother’s Great Grandmother. They were an absolute surprise, and in so many ways a gift and yet also a reward for many, many years of searching, without knowing what I might find at the end of the proverbial rainbow.  While I don’t believe I have a photo of her and have no idea what she looked like, finding these snippets in the paper has, at least, composed something of a sketch of the world around her, and taken me back to where she lived. Still, I only know where she was at a particular moment in time, and little more. The rest I’ve teased out from the whereabouts of her husband and the births of her children. However, in this scene, she stands alone. After all, it is her house. She owns it. It is a beautiful thing, at least for me, to be able to paint a kind of story portrait of an unknown, almost anonymous woman one hundred and eleven years into the future, and almost give her the breath of life.  It is something that I will cherish, not only as an echo from the past, but also because she is a part of me, and my children will be taking her journey forward. She is in us.

 

[1] http://www.willoughbydhs.org.au/History/Suburbs/Suburbs-Northbridge.html

2. Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1923), Tuesday 22 January 1907, page 10

[3] Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1923), Friday 15 March 1907, page 10

Weekend Coffee Share… 11th June, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

It’s well after midnight here and the dog who was parked underneath my desk, somehow relocated without catching my attention, and another dog, Zac, is parked beside me. Raindrops pitter-patter on  a tin section of roof overhead. Meanwhile, outside the backyard has become something of a wetland, submerged in water. Sitting here at my desk, it doesn’t take much imagination to believe I’m onboard some kind of house boat. Well, the only except being that the ground is steady underfoot and not lilting with the waves.  Thank goodness for that! By the way, the waves aren’t that far from here…just at the end of the street about 700 metres away.

Needless to say, I should be snuggled away in bed asleep, basking away in the warmth of my electric blanket. However, it’s a long weekend and I slept in this morning and had a nap this afternoon. So, I set myself up for this post-midnight moment with you, a cup of herbal tea, my computer screen and the dogs.

It’s so easy to feel reflective, out in the elements with the rain falling all around me. Our house is built more for Summer. So, there’s a fine line between inside and out. Moreover, with the dogs needing to go in, these boundaries merge even closer . Indeed, the back door is open beside me, and I know I should be cold. That it should be closed.Yet, there’s something very refreshing merging with the rain in semi-darkness.

Or, perhaps I’ve finally crossed that fine line into madness, delirium. Drunk on too much poetic thought. A case of Keats.

Oops, I just got sprung. My son just appeared in his dressing gown and found me awake. I’m in trouble. So, I’m needing to pause our coffee til the morning, which could very well extend into the afternoon. I have a feeling that it’s going to be hard to sneak into bed without alerting my husband about just how late I’ve stayed up. But it’s hard. The raindrops almost sound like music and like the pied piper, they’re luring me off into some sort of trance. A trance that should be sending me to sleep, but is actually doing the reverse. I’m firing up on all cylinders. Oh oh!

However, before I head off to the land of nod, what did you get up to last week? How was it for you? I hope it’s been good.

……

It’s now Monday afternoon, and I swear my backside has barely touched my seat after walking the dogs with the family, and already I’m being called away. Last weekend, I bought some daffodil bulbs and my husband’s informed me that they’ve already started to sprout AND he’s putting some good soil in the pot and it looks like the only thing missing now, is me. Humph!

Last week was quite reflective for me. Last week, I shared about my friend’s funeral, and that’s not something you just throw off like a blanket on a hot night. Indeed, I was in the supermarket on Friday and suddenly had this intense awareness of both her presence and her absence, which kind of gripped me. It was strange, too, because I don’t recall ever seeing her in the supermarket. It was just one of those things. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to have this conscious awareness of the fleetingness of life, but there’s that temptation or even expectation just to get on with it, and even not to talk about her anymore. Yet, I don’t want to be like that with people I care about, even more so with people I love. Moreover, when I go, I don’t want my loved ones to be crippled, but I don’t want them to pretend I didn’t exist. I want them to build a statue…a place for birds to stop and chat. Perhaps, that’s going a bit too far.

Famous Fights

Anyway, this week I’ve been uncovering all sorts of secrets researching my family history through the online newspapers. I shared two of these stories on the blog. The first was about a fight between Thomas Waterhouse & One-Eyed Bourke in 1857 and the other was  the fractured love story of Ivy and Jack, which ended up in court for breach of promise. That story provided quite an insight into dating around 1910, which was much more supervised that today. Of course, we know that, but it was interesting to see how that all played out.

Valentine 1910

This week, I also contributed to Friday Fictioneers. My take on the prompt, Lover’s Potion was rather influenced by reading the love letters of Ivy and Jack and his betrayal.

Yesterday, I also wrote a post questioning whether most of us feel different and that we don’t belong in some way and also whether that sense of difference and not conforming to the perceived norm was actually a good thing. Had benefits. I put this out there more to get feedback and generate some kind of discussion, so I’d love you to check it out. I’ve just thrown different ideas out there, and haven’t really formed a strong conclusion. Here’s The Struggle to Belong…Or not.

Roti.JPG

Hot Roti made by yours truly and served with babaganoush.

Lastly, I did want to mention that we’re engrossed in Masterchef Australia 2018. We LOVE it and all sit around the TV watching it every night it’s on. While I don’t try to replicate the dishes from the show, I tend to pick out new ingredients or elements to add to what I already make. I was particularly proud of myself on Friday night for making roti or flatbread. I’d watched them making it on the show, and it seemed so easy that I thought I’d have a go. Much to my amazement, it worked and I was so proud of myself. I am very quick to doubt my abilities and really should have more faith in myself. Do you find that?

Anyway, being a public holiday here in Australia and having my husband and kids home, sitting here and the dogs running around, isn’t doing much for my capacity to write. So, I’m heading off., not doubt just in time for them all to take off. They have Gang Show rehearsals this afternoon.

I hope you have a great week ahead and I look forward to popping round to your place for coffee too.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali

Best wishes,

Rowena