Tag Archives: family history

Maitland Thomas Butler WWI – The Brother Who Missed The Boat.

The research road continues today as we meet up with Maitland Thomas Butler, Maud Butler’s older brother. I introduced you to Maud Butler in a previous post: Jack and Maud.

As you may recall, my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy served in France during WWI and a few months ago I set out to gain a better understanding of what he went through. A sense of moderate urgency was given to the project, because our son will be visiting Europe in a few months’ time on a school history excursion. They’ll be spending ANZAC Day at Villers Bretonneau and I wanted him to be fully informed about our family members who’d served. There were quite a few, especially Geoff’s Great Uncle Ralph French who was killed in action and he is also part of this project.

Jack Quealy WWI

Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy

My attention initially honed onto an entry in GG Uncle Jack’s service records, which showed he was wounded in action in France on the 28th August, 1916. No further details were given and naturally I wanted to know where he was. This seemed relatively simple at the time with all the resources of the World Wide Web at my fingertips.

However, working this out was a lot harder than I’d expected. The information captured in service records is very scant, and doesn’t include the more detailed information a researcher like myself desperately craves. I wanted to know exactly where he was. Find that X marks the spot imprinted the very spot where it happened. To my way of thinking, I also assumed he had to be injured in a battle, and I wanted to know more about that too, along with who he was with and finding tales from or about his mates. The old adage “somewhere in France” simply wasn’t enough. I had to know more. Not getting terribly far, I widened my search and soon found myself swimming well out to sea without a paddle. However, finally, all this research is starting to develop some perimeters, and is taking shape.

Maud Butler AWM Robert Fletcher

Maud Butler in uniform on board the Suevic 1915.

It was this wider search which introduced me to an entire cast of fascinating characters,  including  ship stowaway, Maud Butler, who I’ve already explored in previous posts. On 22nd December, 1915 she stowed away on board HMAT A26 Suevic dressed as a soldier as a desperate effort to get to  the front and serve as a nurse.  I’d hoped GG Uncle Jack had caught the same ship. However, as I’ve already explained, he’d already left on board the Aeneas two days before…another detail which wasn’t easy to come by via the route I used. Much to my disappointment, Maud and Jack weren’t even two ships passing in the night.

While Maud Butler’s story is gripping and also has a complexity which draws me in, I was going to put her to one side and continue my research into the troops themselves. However, not wanting to leave a stone unturned, I wanted to check out her brother’s service records. You never know. I thought he could also have a story to tell.

Indeed, when you read accounts of Maud’s “adventure”, her brother is almost pivotal to the story. Private Les Spriggs mentioned them both in a letter dated 25th January, 1916 from the Aerodrome Camp, Heliopolis, which was published on Wednesday 22 March 1916 in the Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette :

“…The first day out at sea there was a girl discovered on board dressed in a uniform. She was trying to get to Egypt to see her brother who was wounded in a hospital. She was put off on to a passing steamer[1].

Maud’s brother was also mentioned in a message in a bottle, which was thrown overboard from the Suevic on the way to the front. The following message was written by Mr. Ted Blakey, of Manly, to his mother and found off the Victorian coast.

“At sea, Saturday, December 25, 1915, 4 p.m. My dear Mum,—I am sending this note by bottle from the Victorian coast. I hope you will get this O.K. We have just finished our Christmas dinner—turkey and pork. Everyone on board is O.K. A girl was found on board dressed as a soldier; she was going to fight with her brother at Gallipoli, Oh, well, good-bye for the present.—I am, your loving son, Ted.[2]

Maud openly denied she was simply going to the front to see her brother. Rather, she spoke about her plans to serve as a nurse after her valiant attempts to sign up with the Red Cross and at Victoria Barracks failed due to inexperience. However, she mentions that her brother is at the front:

“It is not correct that I joined the ship just in sport, to see my brother who is at the front,” said Miss Maud Butler. “My object was to do what I could to help. I wanted to join the Red Cross, and I tried very hard to get accepted. When I failed I bought a khaki suit and stowed away…In fact, it was before my brother went away at all,” continued Miss Butler, who was seen yesterday at the rooms of the Young Women’s Christian Association, “that I wanted to go. He has been at the front for six months.[3]

However, as it turns out, Maud Butler’s brother, Maitland Thomas Butler, was nowhere near the front in December, 1915. While I can’t be sure of his exact whereabouts, I suspect he was living at home with Mum and Dad in Cessnock and working as a miner locally. Born 10th June, 1897 at Coen, Far North Queensland, he was only 18 years old at the time and underage. The legal enlistment age was 21 and men needed to be 19 years of age to go overseas. However, they could get parental consent.

Fast-forwarding to 11th April, 1917, Maitland Thomas Butler enlisted, putting up his age to 21 years one month and also incorrectly stated that “Weston NSW” was his place of birth. However, on 12th April he was “discharged underage” from the Sydney Showgrounds. The stated cause was “letter written by mother”. It looks like his mother had hotfooted it down to Sydney and submitted a statutory declaration stating that “my son Maitland Butler is only 18 years of age. He will be 19 years of age on the 10th June 1917.” It seems a bit rough that a letter from Mum could end the dreams of  a grown man. However, having had her young daughter try to flee overseas to the front, Mrs Rose Butler was clearly putting her foot down. Getting her own troops back in order. As a parent of teenagers myself, I have a great deal of empathy for Rose and Thomas Butler and I can’t help sensing the same iron will and determination in the mother, which was found in the kids.

However, just like sister Maud who didn’t give up on her first attempt and boarded a second troopship in uniform, Maitland Butler didn’t give up on his dream of getting to the front either. On 19th September, 1917 he enlisted again. This time he was more inventive and signed up as “Frank Emerson” at West Maitland. On 19th December, 1917 he embarked for the front onboard A38 Ulysses from Sydney and disembarked on the 13th February, 1918 at Southampton, England.  On 7th July, 1918 he was taken on strength in France by the 2nd Battalion from the 26th reinforcements.

During his time with the 2nd Battalion, Maitland participated in the Allies’ own offensive, launched to the east of Amiens on 8 August 1918. This advance by British and Empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as “the black day of the German Army in this war”. In Mid-September they fought around Menin Road, Belgium which formed part of the wider Third Battle of Ypres. Maitland Butler was later gassed on the 25th September, 1918 rejoining his company on 1st October, 1918. I will expand on his war service at a later date.

Up until this point, you could probably say that Maitland Butler’s service record, while not without its moments, fell inside what you could call the range of “normal soldier behaviour” (a variation on what the kids’ high school refers to as “normal teenage behaviour”). However, not unlike his famous sister and her voyage leaving Australia, Maitland Butler landed in hot water coming home.

ss_euripides_lsOn 6th September, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked for Sydney onboard the Euripides. All went well until he went on shore leave in Durban,  South Africa and failed to return at the end of shore leave on the 1st October. A day later, he was reported AWOL when his ship sailed for Australia at 1318. Almost two weeks later, on 13th October, 1919 he reported to the AIF Office and was charged with:

Charge 1. Neglected to obey troopship orders in that he was not on board HT Euripides at 1318 2.10.19 when she sailed for Australia.

2.AWL from 2200 1.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19

He was awarded 168 hours detention & forfeit 28 days pay AA.46.2d by Lt Beveridge in Durban. However, he escaped from escort while being taken to civil gaol for safe custody 1200 and was captured a day later and charged with gambling by the civil police. 12th November, 1919 he embarked in Arrest on S.S. “Chepatow Castle” for Cape Town and four days later he disembaked ex CHEPSTOW CASTLE CAPETOWN & reported to the AIF Depot. Finally, on 20th November, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked onboard HT Nestor for continuation of voyage to Australia & demobilisation.

He was home at last.

After touching base with Maud and Maitland Butler to some extent while out on Research Road, I couldn’t help but parallel their contrasting experiences of travelling to and from the front. Maud went to very great lengths to stowaway on board HMAT 26 Suevic masquerading as a man in soldier’s uniform. Then, there’s her older brother, Maitland Butler, going to equally great lengths to avoid getting onto his ship in Durban and coming home. Either way, the two of them no doubt gave their parents some hefty headaches and they could’ve used a Bex and a good lie down. Or, at the very least, a very strong cup of tea.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

References

[1] Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette (NSW : 1900 – 1928), Wednesday 22 March 1916, page 2

[2] Koroit Sentinel and Tower Hill Advocate (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), Saturday 22 January 1916, page 2

[3] Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), Wednesday 29 December 1915, page 5

Services records Maitland Thomas Butler.

Wikipaedia.

Weekend Coffee Share – October 28, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

How are you? How has your week been? It’s now Monday morning here for me, which is my usual time for checking in with you after the weekend is done and dusted. I don’t really have much to offer you this morning unless you like a fresh roll with butter and Vegemite on top. Otherwise, you might have to come back later. I’m currently sipping on my cup of English Breakfast Tea, which I re-heated in the microwave after dropping the kids at school and running through the chemist and supermarket. Turns out yet another prescription’s expired. Humph! This is all too much for a Monday morning, especially after things on the home front blew up last night. Like all families, stuff brews for a bit them blows, but it’s not good when more than one person blows at the same time. It’s hard to know how to divide my attention, and not ignore somebody.

Newton Family.JPG

Last week, we drove up to Queensland for my sister-in-law’s wedding on the Gold Coast. It was a beautiful wedding, especially because they’ve both been through a lot and against the odds, they’ve found love again. We had the wedding ceremony on Saturday at 6.00pm and on the Sunday we had what could be described as a post-wedding wake where we met up for lunch at this historic mill site with a large sprawling cafe and an animal farm. It was not only an occasion of catching up with family. I also had some rather deep and probing conversations with a few people, and experienced that sense of delight and disappointment when you meet someone you connect with but doubt you’ll see again. Meanwhile, we were staying with Geoff’s other sister just South of the border at Nureybar, in the hinterland behind stunning Byron Bay. What with going up for the wedding, we didn’t get to go anywhere else, although it was novel to be in the country listening to fruit bats fighting in the fruit trees at night, which to the city person to me sounded rather sinister and macabre.

Lady at Ocean Beach

Lady at Ocean Beach, NSW.

Talking about not getting out and about, that reminds me that our so-called “holiday” was cut short a day after two of the dogs got out and Lady was missing overnight. Geoff had been working on the car to get it ready for the trip and didn’t quite latch the back gate properly. When our daughter went to feed them, she found the gate wide open and Rosie and Lady were gone. Just to compound the difficulties, Lady’s tag had fallen off a few weeks ago and I’ve had a chest infection and hadn’t quite managed to get a new tag. So, while she is microchipped, she didn’t have a tag. Rosie had a tag, but as we later found out, she refused to be caught. So, when they were found on the road, they managed to catch Lady and they dropped her at the vet in the morning and we picked her up. Meanwhile, Rosie arrived back at home about 11.00pm looking absolutely exhausted. She’s a border collie x kelpie and she looked like she’d been running all that time and had well and truly overdone it. While the two dogs were at large, my daughter and I were driving around the streets and stopping off at the beach trying to think like a dog so we could find them. Geoff hit the streets with our other dog, Zac, hoping he’d draw them out. They walked about 10 kilometres without finding any trace of them at all.  It was so eerie being out there. The whole place was just silent. There were very few cars or people out and about although we saw quite a few cats roaming about, their eyes glowing in the headlights. It was like we’d escaped from planet Earth and landed on “Planet of the Cats”. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but it certainly wasn’t “Planet of the Dogs”. Ours were nowhere to be found.

That was enough excitement.

Bridget O'Donnell and children

Meanwhile, I’ve been digging deeper into my family history research along with pursuing that burning question…how did they survive the horrors of the Irish Famine? This branch of my family, the Quealy’s, came from Lisheenfroor, Moyarta, Kilrush, County Clare. I don’t blame you if that all means nothing. Lisheenfroor sounded like somewhere out of an Irish fairytale when I first heard about it too. To put it simply, we’re talking about West Clare and if you’re familiar with the famous etchings of the Famine which appeared in The Illustrated London News, 1849-50 that’s the area I’m talking about. It’s been pretty confronting knowing my ancestors went through all of that and I dread to think of what they saw and experienced themselves, and yet this is what I need to know. I can’t turn my back on what happened. It is a part of me.

miss_kennedy_medium

However, none of that pays the bills. It doesn’t help organize the family and keep the household running smoothly either. Indeed, it has quite the opposite effect. It sends me into my research tunnel and the world around me could disappear. Moreover, to be able to write this all up in any meaningful fashion, I need to go into this tunnel and nut things out. Distraction is clearly distracting, unproductive and to put so much energy into the research without grabbling with all and writing it up is somehow self-destructive. I don’t know if you agree with that. Yet, the cost of getting to the end and getting it all finished, if that is even possible, is very high.

If you’re a writer yourself, perhaps that rings true to you too.

That constant tension between survival in the real world versus knowing what you’re made of and striving towards that elusive creative or storytelling goal.

Anyway, perhaps I should’ve stuck to offering you tea, coffee and a Vegemite roll. Perhaps, you’re chilled, relaxed and don’t grapple with these tensions. Indeed, I could easy walk down to the beach and post a very pretty photo of the golden sand and rolling ocean glistening in the sun. Some times, it’s not a good idea to think. Worse to dream. Just stay in your rat-run and not take the blinkers off.

Rowena Pearl Beach 2018

Here’s a relaxed outdoor shot I prepared earlier. It’s me on the rocks at Pearl Beach, NSW and that beach in the distance is home. 

Meanwhile, Lady our fluffy Border Collie x Cavalier who is losing black clouds of fur as we head into Summer has plonked herself under my desk and on my feet. She tells me not to grapple with anything and sleeping through life in your bed is okay, as long as a cat doesn’t move into your territory. She tells me that it’s okay to plunder food off the table or the bench and that being in a little bit of trouble is worth a tasty morsel in your belly. She also tells me that life is too short to wait until you get it right to tell a story. Start telling and the story will tell itself if it wants to be told.

Deary me. I would never have thought that Lady could be such a fountain of wisdom. Trust me. She keeps it a closely guarded secret stashed behind her gorgeous floppy ears and fluffy coat.

I think that just about covers things here. How about you? What have you been up to lately? I look forward to hearing from you.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Rosie and ball

PS Rosie insisted I included photo of her. 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share – 14th October, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Tonight, I can offer you a slice of apple pie, which my husband Geoff brought back from Bilpin today. Bilpin, which is known as “Land of the Mountain Apple” is a small town in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

Above: Sunrise at the campground, Bathurst.

Geoff stopped at Bilpin on his way home from Bathurst Supercars Championship. Geoff and our son had met up with family and camped near the track and had grand stand seats.  They were only metres away from the start of the race and the atmosphere must’ve been electric. Nothing beats being there.

Meanwhile, my daughter and I were back home. She had dance commitments and car racing isn’t my scene for that length of time and the cost involved.

 

However, the car-racing contingent had a fabulous time.  Our son was apparently in seventh heaven and gets off on the stench of burning rubber and the roaring thunder of all those V8 Supercars zooming round the track. The oldies were taking a bit too long to get moving in the mornings. So, he’d make his own way down to the track and catch a few extra races. As you can see from the photo, he also managed to meet up with his favourite driver, David Reynolds.

Jon & Dave Reynolds

Unfortunately, the results of the race are currently in limbo after stewards slapped the winning team with a team orders rule breach charge.

Meanwhile, on Saturday our daughter was appearing in her dance school’s dance team production. The production had three different acts and our daughter appeared in two. The first act was their rendition of George Ballanchine’s Serenade. It was so incredible that it almost made me tremble inside. I was mesmerized simply by the way the flowing dresses almost glowed with a luminescence under lights. So much of our modern word is fast moving, but this was much more serene with the movement seemingly slowed down. Unfortunately, after only seeing it once, I can’t remember details only the emotions it roused and this sense of being in absolute awe of how well these young women could dance. I have since watched the New York Ballet perform Serenade (on Youtube of course) and these young women can hold their heads high. Unfortunately, I don’t have any footage to share from our production, but you can click Here to see it performed by the New York City Ballet.

Margaret & Edward Quailey

Margaret O’Neill and Edward Quealy/Quailey. They’re my Great Great Grandparents. 

Meanwhile, in between driving our daughter to rehearsals, I have thrown myself back into my family history research. A few months ago, the son of my grandfather’s cousin got in touch and when I checked my notes, they were in a terrible mess. I’d managed to trace this side of the family back to an Edward Quailey/Quealy who married Margaret O’Neil in New Zealand in 1881 and they moved to Sydney in the next year or so. Anyway, I ordered Edward’s death certificate, and this showed he came from Lisheenfroor, Moyarta, Kilrush County Clare. It also showed that his parents were Thomas Quealy and Bridget Haugh. So, I was able to spend a few days deeply immersed in data without really finding out terribly much. However, it does feel like I got to meet every other Quealy family in the district.

I don’t know what all this research tells me. With this particular branch of the family, they seemingly moved into an Irish enclave in Sydney and their children mostly married people of Irish descent. This makes sense in a way. However, I also have Aboriginal family members and that puts a different slant on things. This Ireland which was transplanted onto the the Antipodes, was Aboriginal land. Well, at least it used to be. BTW we also have an Irish Famine orphan who was brought out to Australia, Bridget Donovan. She married and Englishman and two of her sons partnered with Aboriginal women. So, it’s interesting to see how the immigrant experience can vary. That we’re all individuals. That said, some go with the flow, while others blaze their own trail.

Meanwhile, it’s meant to be Spring here, but the only signs of Spring, seem to be the dogs losing their coats. The pups are largely short-haired and the damage isn’t too bad. On the other hand, we’re surprised Lady still has any fur left. In the last week alone, we’ve brushed off enough fur to create a second dog and what with the cold snaps, I thought she might be wanting it all back. It’s actually been uncharacteristically cold and the guys were freezing up at Bathurst. No doubt, I’ll be complaining about the heat soon enough. It’s no doubt just waiting round the corner.

How has your week been? I hope it’s gone well.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Retracing the Footsteps of Our Cycling Champion.

On Thursday, I caught the train to Marrickville in Sydney’s Inner West to retrace the footsteps (or should I say wheels tracks) of world cycling champion Cecil Walker, who was my grandfather-in-law’s first cousin. Although I’ve read countless newspaper articles about his career, I also wanted to walk the streets where he walked and cycled to get a sense of the man in his own environment when he was still a fish in his own pond before he leaped into the  big pond of American cycling at the Newark Velodrome.

While reading about his wins was exciting, I’m much more interested in finding out about his early, formative years and what it took to reach the top. How did he do it? Was it just hard work or was he superhuman in some way? I was curious, and this is the sort of insight which could be very helpful to our kids. After all, it’s one thing for a random stranger to be your hero. It’s quite another when someone inspirational shares at least some of your DNA. I thought it could be a mighty encouragement.

Herbert William Brooker Jnr.jpg

Herbert William Brooker, Geoff’s Grandfather with his bike in Tasmania. He seems to look quite a lot like like his cousin, Cecil Walker. 

This is the Cecil Walker I particularly wanted to share with my teenage kids, so they understand that success doesn’t arrive on a silver platter. That it takes hours and hours of grueling hard work, talent, strategy, a solid dose of rat cunning and the X factor to boot whatever that might be. That’s not to overwhelm and discourage them, but its easy for kids to look at adults and not realize what it took to get there. They might not become world champion cyclists but hopefully they won’t end up face down in the mud unable to face another defeat either (Me too!!).

William Joseph Cecil Walker was born in 1898 in Marrickville to parents Catherine O’Maley and Joseph Elezer Walker. His father had a grocery store on the corner of Victoria and Sydenham Roads, Marrickville. Cecil was working in his father’s store and went from making deliveries on his bike to joining the the Marrickville Cycling Club. After a shaky start, success followed success and while he was expected to compete in the 1920 Paris Olympics, he turned professional and left for USA in 1920.

Cecil Walker Maddison Square Gardens

In an interview in 1939, he reflected:

“WHILE I was as keen as a new razor to get a break in the bike racing game in America, I must confess that the main reason for my deciding on a trip to the land of skyscrapers was to escape becoming a “hand” in my dad’s grocery store at Marrickville, Sydney. It was a big gamble. With such mighty Aussies as Alf Goullet, Reg McNamara, Alf Grenda and Frank Corry already holding high places in America, and a brilliant collection of home and European anklers on hand to meet the demands of the cycling fans there, the market of peddling wares seemed very much glutted. However, I figured that if I was eventually to go back to go back to weighing up sugar and butter I would have the satisfaction of knowing that at least I made a valiant attempt to escape such a fate.1.”

Marrickville Station

By the time the train pulled into Marrickville Station, it was early afternoon. As you may be aware, I love going on random walking tours with my camera where I aim for a general direction and follow the lens where it leads. Today, I was aiming to find the location of the grocery store, even though it’s been knocked down. However, I wanted to walk around the block and when I checked out the map, I noticed there was a park across the road. I also wanted to walk along the Cook’s River. Lastly, I’d left a message for a school friend hoping we could shift our friendship out of Facebook and back into the real world. So, even though my trip was rather unstructured, surely something would pan out!!

DSC_3516

More wisdom on the walls of Marrickville than from the mouths of our politicians.

However, as I exited Marrickville Station, the street didn’t look right. I’ve driven through Marrickville before and I’d expected a busy road with loads of multicultural eateries. This wasn’t it. I figured that if I went left I’d end up at the river and if I went right, I’d find the grocery store. However, I didn’t factor in my inimitable capacity for getting lost. Well, not exactly being lost, but not being where I intended to be either. Indeed, I’d got right off the grid.

DSC_3523

These gorgeous pooches from Australia Street Stained Glass eventually posed for the camera.

So, as much as walking around on foot is the best way to explore a place, I was mighty grateful when my friend responded and rescued me from my misguided wanderings in her 4WD. Then, as we’re heading for a cafe, I finally see a familiar site. It’s spot where the grocery store once stood. I recognized it from Google Earth. 

Above: The Henson, Marrickville.

After we stopped off at a cafe for a late lunch, we picked up my friend’s dog and headed off to Beaman Park, which runs alongside the Cook’s River and is actually in the adjacent suburb of Earlwood.

DSC_3580

By this stage, I had no idea where I was. You know how it is when you’re sitting in the passenger seat nodding your head. However, my friend was doing a superb job of taking care of Paddington Bear and showing me around pointing out how these seemingly disparate bits of Marrickville fitted together.

DSC_3627

That was how I found myself deposited at Sydenham Station to make my way home. By this stage it was dark and a large, all but full moon was rising above the tracks and into the night sky.

It had been a wonderful day, even if it went to prove one of my favourite quotes:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

John Lennon & Allen Saunders 

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

  1. Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), Saturday 21 January 1939, page 8

Mother & the Stolen Roses…Friday Fictioneers.

“Put those flowers back you dirty, little thief!” screeched the elderly widow, praying at her husband’s grave. “Nothing’s sacred. Little guttersnipe stealing from the dead! Where are her parents?”

I ran as fast as my little legs would go, clutching the porcelain roses close to my chest determined they wouldn’t break. We couldn’t even afford a stone for Mother’s grave, and father had made the wooden cross himself. Yet, Mother deserved the very best, and I fully intended to give her a proper stone etched with all our love when I grew up.

Meanwhile, the stolen roses were it.

….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields, where we write up to 100 words to a provided photo prompt.PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

When Two Ships Collide…Stumbling Across the Wyrallah Disaster 1924.

On Tuesday 8th April, 1924, two ships collided in a treacherous stretch of water near the entrance of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, known as The Rip.  Five crew members and one passenger drowned when a massive coal steamer, the Dilkera, ploughed into a small coastal steamer, the Wyrallah, which had strayed across its path. The Wyrallah sank like a stone in less than ten minutes, and the heartbreaking cries of the drowning men could be heard from the Dilkera until there was nothing but silence.

Survivors Wyrallah Age April 10 1924

For the survivors, there was the dampened joy of a “miracle”. Meanwhile, for the families of the lost, there was only devastating heartbreak, and in many cases, also serious financial hardship. Widows were left without husbands, and children without fathers. With the victims being Melbourne men, the tragedy would have hit the city hard. With those few degrees of separation, many would have known the families and been touched by the Wyrallah Disaster in quite a personal way. Indeed, I can almost hear people talking in the streets about someone they knew. Yet, that pain was obviously most acute for the little ones who’d lost their dads. I keep thinking of those little children all tucked into their beds on that ill-fated night, sleeping soundly and not knowing Daddy wasn’t coming home. It breaks my heart. I’m also conscious that my grandmother and her brother were also sleeping in their beds at home in Sydney’s Bondi, equally oblivious to the tragedy. However, lucky for them, their father came back. Well, at least, he did that time.

My Great Grandfather, Reuben William Gardiner, was Second Mate onboard the Dilkera, and that’s what initially drew me into this story. While you’d expect that some reference to the collision would have passed down through the family, the first I knew about it, was spotting a reference in the online newspaper repository, Trove. I am something of a shadow hunter, relentlessly pursuing the lost tales of my ancestors through the online newspapers. Naturally, finding a reference to something this monumental, was something I had to pursue at full throttle and naturally, I wanted to know more about his role in the tragedy. I donned my Sherlock Holmes hat and cloak and set to work.

Reuben Gardiner

Second Mate Reuben William Gardiner

Unfortunately, when it came to knowing Reuben William Gardiner on any personal level, I’d barely seen the tip of the ice berg. He died more than thirty years before I was born, and had become little more than a photograph on my grandmother’s shelf, and a few snippets of story.  He was still quite a young looking man in the photo, and he was wearing his officer’s cap. Although he’d qualified as a Master Mariner, he was working as Second Mate with the Adelaide Steamship Company. Apparently, from a technical perspective, that meant he was responsible for navigation onboard. However, that doesn’t take into account his love of the sea, the comraderie with his mates, or that knowledge that the fate of the ship rested in the Lord’s hands. Or, perhaps it was all just down to luck. I’m actually surprised more philosophers weren’t created out sailing on ships, rather than hanging out in the relative safety of Paris cafes.

Ruby & Reuben Gardiner

Reub & Rube…Reuben William Gardiner & Ruby May McNamara 1910.

Reuben Gardiner was born on 3rd Dec, 1876 in Newtown, Sydney to William Henry Gardiner boot maker and Sarah Ann Baker. A few years later, his younger brother, Frederick, followed. However, in 1884, tragedy struck when his mother and twin brothers died in childbirth leaving nine year old Reuben and brother without a mum. On 1st April, 1891 William Henry Gardiner married Jane Ann Lynch at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church Wollombi. Reuben struggled to adjust to his new step-mother, who he referred to as “Mrs G”. According to my grandmother, when he was around 17, he left home in West Maitland and joined the merchant navy. In 1910, he married piano teacher Ruby May McNamara at Waverley. Ruby was the eldest of eight daughters born at Queanbeyan to John McNamara and Elizabeth Johnston. I knew Ruby as “Gran, but they called each other: “Reub and Rube”.

Reuben Gardiner on ship

Reuben Gardiner far left photographed onboard ship possibly the Arkaba.

What I did know about Reuben Gardiner, was that he died of a heart attack at sea onboard the Arkaba in 1936. Reuben died only four months after my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner, had left for London with her mother onboard the Esperance Bay and neither could attend his funeral held at Sydney’s towering St Mary’s Cathedral.

Pix 1940 May 11 pg 24

Eunice had won a prestigious scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London and was already quite a sensation. A fundraising committee had been established by Lady Gordon and a big testimonial concert was held at Sydney’s Town Hall to finance her studies. However, there was never any question of Eunice going to London alone. Her father was clear: “You might as well throw her to the sharks in Sydney Harbour.”However, this meant that Ruby wasn’t here to bury her husband and make those last goodbyes. That in supporting her daughter’s prodigious talent as she had always done, Ruby had made an incredible personal sacrifice. Reuben’s death also meant that Eunice’s older brother, Dr Les Gardiner, a young doctor at St Vincent’s Hospital, stepped in and supported his mother and sister while putting his own surgical studies on hold and supporting his own wife and family.

So, in a different sense, I have also grown up with this story of a father going off to sea, and not coming home, but for different reasons.

Photos Watson + Wise

Captain Watson of the Dilkera on the right and survivor, Alfred Edward Wise, mate of the Wyrallah (left)

In addition to my personal connection to the collision, I also saw another story emerging from the Wyrallah Disaster. Something about the mysterious twists and turns of fate, which most of us fail to understand, and pause to question from time to time and usually at our peril. These two ships could well have passed each other in the night. Yet, through a series of such twists and turns, they collided. Why was it so? Why did the survivors make it, while the victims perished? Was it God, fate, destiny or just bad luck? Who or what was at the helm of that particular ship? The one which makes all the ultimate decisions over life and death? Was it God? Each of us has a length of string. Some of us have a longer piece of string than others. Moreover, some of us will know when our time is close, while many have no idea at all. They’re suddenly struck down by the equivalent of a cosmic thunderbolt, and that’s it. Game Over.

Captain Bracken

Of course, we can’t live our lives constantly in the shadow of the Grim Reaper. We need to Carpe Diem seize the day. Stretch ourselves out to our full capacity, not knowing whether we’re going to make it. Indeed, there seems to be something innately human about challenging ourselves well beyond our known capabilities, even if it does lead us to our death. In that case, our loved ones stoically celebrate: “At least, they went doing what they loved.”

Map Wyrallah wreck site

However, I wonder how many of us actually consider that it could well be a little, miniscule detail something so small we can barely see it, which in that flash of lightening, that momentary second in time, puts us in the wrong place at the wrong time? Moreover, in some instances the difference between life and death can be a few centimetres either to the left or the right. One person dies, while the other survives. It can all seem so random. In many instances, there were turning points where decisions were made setting all sorts of events in motion. Yet, there is no turning back. After all, we can’t just rewind and “play it again, Sam”. What’s done is done. We can only learn from it, and do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Above: Three of the “missing men who lost their lives onboard the Wyrallah. Engineer John Wighton (on the right) went back in to rescue the firemen and didn’t make it out.

Personally, I find it hard to understand how God’s will, fate, destiny, good and bad luck and miracles all come together. I don’t understand why some people who have been very close to me or people I care about, have died tragically and far too young. However, I do believe that each of us has our lot…our own burden to carry. Yet, at the same time, I also know that in many instances we can make things better or worse for ourselves. Indeed, I’m constantly amazed by how often we shoot ourselves in the foot without any help from anybody else. I do that myself.

Weekly Times 19 April 1924 model boats

It took a long of reading and research before I could even start to understand what happened on that ill-fated night of the Wyrallah Disaster. Moreover, naturally my initial focus was to place my Great Grandfather at the scene and find out what I could about the role he played, if any. However, most of the newspaper coverage focused on the survivors and “missing” from the Wyrallah, and they weren’t interested in the actions of Mr RW Gardiner. However, that didn’t stop me from infusing him into the scene. As I read stories of survivors being wrenched from the wreckage by the grip of a stranger pulling them to safety, I wanted that to be him. I wanted him to be the good guy, the Good Samaritan, the hero.

Dilkera 2 after collision Argus April 10

However, tough decisions also had to be made and not everyone could be the hero. The Dilkera had also been damaged in the collision and at the time, both ships were within the treacherous waters of The Rip. The Dilkera desperately needed to reach safety to assess her own damage. So, after quickly saving who they could, a decision was made not to stop to save the drowning men… the chilling voices calling out from the sinking vessel. Captain Watson decided that it was “better to save one ship than to lose two”.  Of course, when you’re talking about maneuvering a massive vessel like the Dilkera, swinging into action wouldn’t have been a simple matter, and it was considered too dangerous to send out the lifeboats. There would only be a further loss of life. Yet, there’s still that Good Samaritan in me who can’t understand how anyone could leave those men behind without even throwing them a lifebelt. That said, by all accounts, it seems that the men died very quickly and more than likely, that nothing could be done. However, I wasn’t the only one asking such questions and the newspapers of the day also wanted to know. There was also an inquiry.

Graduating Menzies

A young Sir Robert Gordon Menzies.

Speaking of the inquiry, I thought I might just mention that Sir Robert Gordon Menzies (1894-1978), former Australian Prime Minister twice over (26 April 1939 – 29 August 1941 and19 December 1949 – 26 January 1966) , represented the owners of the Wyrallah at the inquiry. Admitted to the Bar in 1918, he’d already established a name for himself. In 1920, as advocate for the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, he won a case in the High Court of Australia, which proved a landmark in the positive reinterpretation of Commonwealth powers over those of the States[1].

So, already quite a complex story has started taking shape. However, unfortunately even a good story doesn’t come all neatly gift wrapped. I have a lot of hard work ahead but I want to take this story as far as I can. Fingers crossed. I can see this one having a beginning, a middle and an end.

I would be particularly interested to hear from anyone connected with collision of the Wyrallah and the Dilkera. It’s definitely a story which deserves to be retold and it would be lovely to honour those precious men who tragically lost their lives, leaving their families behind.

Best wishes,

Rowena

[1] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/menzies-sir-robert-gordon-bob-11111

 

Sins of the Father…Friday Fictioneers.

Nobody believed me. Not even my own mother. It was 1941. Yet, the Kennedys  were already an institution, inscrutable, and you could sense the Camelot legend peculating in the wings.

Of course, I could never say they’d made a mistake or got it wrong, especially when it came to one of their own. Yet, I’d nursed Rosemary Kennedy before and after the procedure, and knew her as she was. Such a beauty. I’d heard the rumours, but there was no justification. It was a crime.

Every week, I took her flowers, but her father never came. He didn’t make mistakes.

100 Words

….

Please don’t ask me how a photo of an asylum reminded of the tragic story of Rose Mary Kennedy, who was given a lobotomy in 1941 at her father’s request and spent the rest of her life in one. To read more about her story, you can click HERE.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields, where we write up to 100 words to a provided photo prompt. PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll.

Just to account for my absence last week, I stumbled across yet another extraordinary family story and I’ve had to fully immerse myself in the details before I could even begin to understand or explain what happened.

In my last post, I wrote about my grandmother, concert pianist  Eunice Gardiner. Well, I’ve always known that her father was a Merchant Mariner with the Adelaide Steamship Company. However, I’ve known almost nothing about where he went and which ships he served on. So, I was quite excited to find a random newspaper reference online which placed him on a collier called the Dilkera which crashed into a small steamer, the Wyrallah in The Rip off Port Melbourne in 1924. He was Second Mate and a witness at the inquiry. Six men tragically lost their lives when the Wyrallah sank and many of them were married with young kids, so these deaths hit particularly hard. Daddy wasn’t coming home. It’s been quite interesting reading the inquiry reports in the newspapers and realizing just how fine a line there was between those who lived and those who died and even the fact that the accident happened at all. Indeed, if you only tweaked a few details, they would have remained two ships passing in the night.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a crash course on shipping protocols, geography, technology. While Melbourne’s one of Australia’s largest cities, I’ve only been there a couple of times and if I had to describe the city, I would’ve mentioned the trams, the Yarra River, fine dining, art exhibitions and the rag trade. I’d never thought of the sea port, even though we sailed out of Port Phillip two years ago when we caught the Spirit of Tasmania across Bass Strait and through this very same Rip which has claimed quite a few lives over the years.

Now, I’m trying to assemble all of the pieces and write the story.

Best wishes,

Rowena