2016 Wollongong Local History Competition Prize Winner

After working on a research project about female prisoners in Wollongong Gaol from 1859 - 1915, I had the honour of being awarded first place in Wollongong's Inaugural Local History Writing Competition. Over the next couple of Blogs I will publish excerpts from my paper for those who are interested in reading it. If you would like to be emailed a full PDF copy to read, please subscribe and we will send it to you. I hope you enjoy reading the entries as much as I enjoyed researching them. Cheers.

image © Caz Nowaczyk @exposurearts.com.au

image © Caz Nowaczyk @exposurearts.com.au

Gaol Records - Alice Hanson, Darlinghurst Gaol

After researching some old gaol records, I have come across some very interesting, albeit often tragic events, that lead to the incarceration of those on trial. There were a variety of offences that constituted a range of sentences and charges. Examples such as, indecent language, riotous behaviour, drunkenness, theft, or vagrancy, usually incurred imprisonment of weeks, to months, at a time. Crimes considered more serious such as rape or murder, generally received years and occasionally, death.

Alice Hanson was a woman who had been sent to Darlinghurst Gaol on two occasions. The first in 1896 was for ‘attempting suicide’. Alice explained in court that she decided to poison herself following ‘some cross words with her husband’. After swallowing a quantity of ‘oxalic acid, partly by mistake and partly with intent’ to kill herself, she was found in her bed by Sergeant Brennan. Brennan induced vomiting and reported that ‘the accused’ would survive, therefore she was ordered to be imprisoned until the ‘rising of the court’.[1]

Alice, who was a nurse, was back in court for performing three abortions in 1907. At the time, it was illegal to terminate a pregnancy as it contravened the ‘Offences Against the Person Act 1861’. Alice was charged with ‘unlawfully using an instrument, with a view to procuring a certain event’. Unfortunately for Alice’s patients, two became seriously ill as a result of septicemia.[2] There was an application for bail but this was refused as Alice’s previous suicide conviction came to the fore. It was believed if she was released, she might try to harm herself as she had done so previously.[3] Therefore, Alice was ordered to serve 18 months and upon the completion of her sentence, she was instructed to find a fifty pound surety to ‘keep the peace and be of good behaviour for three years’, otherwise she would be sent back to prison.[4]

[1] The Inquirer and Commercial News, 24 Jan. 1896, p.15.

[2] The Australian Star, 25 Jan. 1907, p.6.

[3] SMH, 22 Jan. 1907, p.11.

[4] SRNSW: Photographic Description Books Darlinghurst Gaol (1818-1930), NRS2138, Roll 5112.


SRNSW: Photographic Description Books Darlinghurst Gaol (1818-1930), NRS2138, Roll 5112.

James Francis Gettings 1905-1928

Researching your family can often uncover events that can be quite emotional. It’s amazing how invested we can become in someone that we have never met, or who lived many years prior to us even being born. This was the case with James Francis Gettings, a young man who took his own life at the age of 23. James had joined the Army around 1924 and was a member of the Border Regiment that was attached to the Machine Gun Corps, during the inter-war years. At this time, the Battalion was on garrison duties in countries such as Malta, India, Sudan and China and it was while serving in China, that James contracted malaria.

James had been corresponding with a young lady named Lilian Braithwaite for quite sometime and her testimony would be used to deliver the verdict at the inquest into James’ death. In March of 1928, James was on three days leave and had decided to stay with his sister Jane and her husband, in Salford. In his letters to Lilian, he wanted to meet up with her and asked her if she ever felt depressed. She replied that she new what that felt like and James took this as the impetus to ask if she would “like to make it a double event of it?” Lilian thought James was asking her to go away with him and as this was not the done thing for the time, replied that she did not want her “name coupling with his”. James told her she would not be here to hear it mentioned so why did it matter, and then went on to state that she would not see him again. Lilian had testified that she was relieved that she had not gone to Salford to meet him that day.

James took his service revolver and shot himself on the steps to the Salford Infirmary on his 23rd birthday. He was quickly taken to theatre and operated on but did not regain consciousness and died the next day. While we can only speculate as to the reasons for James’ decisions, or the state of his mental health, it is a very sad and tragic end to a young mans life.

James Gettings on left, man on right, unknown.

James Gettings on left, man on right, unknown.

James Gettings, centre front. Border Regiment, about 1926.

James Gettings, centre front. Border Regiment, about 1926.

James Christie Speirs (1873-1946) and Mary McDonald (1873-1961)

Sometimes we are lucky enough to have a photo of our ancestors but don’t really know who it is. Often, looking through a family’s life and working out birthdates, can give us a clue as to who people are. The photo attached to this story is of James and Mary Speirs with three of their children. James was a military man and served in varying conflicts. He originally signed up for the Scots Guard in 1890, however after six months he was discharged as it was found he lied about his age, being only 16. This did not deter James as he reenlisted numerous times throughout his life. In 1897 he was again in the Scots Guard where he was deployed to Dublin and by 1899 James was fighting in the Boer War, South Africa. Ten years later he was working in general services with the Army Reserve as a member of the Military Foot Police, but with the outbreak of WW1, he was sent to fight in France. James and Mary’s two eldest sons, John and James (jnr.) also fought in WW1, with James (jnr.) being killed in France.

There was a fifteen-year gap between the births of their sons and their other children. The couple adopted a son in 1905 and went on to have three daughters, one of whom died in infancy. Going back to the photo, I always presumed the boy was the eldest son John, but I realised I was wrong, as the time frame did not fit. His sisters were not alive when he was a young boy therefore the lad in the photo was their adopted son Francis. Looking closely at the photo I could see how the girls eyes were very much like their parents, whereby Francis’ were much darker, thus reinforcing his identity. This is one photo where we have been fortunate to pinpoint everyone in it and I just love it when that happens!   

James, Francis Henry Stewart Speirs, Alice, Elizabeth and Mary McDonald Speirs about 1914. Glasgow, Scotland.

James, Francis Henry Stewart Speirs, Alice, Elizabeth and Mary McDonald Speirs about 1914. Glasgow, Scotland.

'Intercolonial Amateur Bicycle Meeting' - Sep. 1884.

Cycling was beginning to gain popularity throughout the Colony after the introduction of bicycles in the 1860s. Moore Park Cricket Ground in Sydney, was the venue for the first ‘intercolonial, Amateur Bicycle Champion Meeting in 1884. It was reported that the Sydney Bicycle Club had organised cycling races that were ‘unequalled in the annals of colonial cycling’. This event was incredibly popular, attracting a crowd of 15,000 spectators, who displayed ‘enormous enthusiasm’ along with a sense of great excitement at the finish line. The races were categorised into distances of one mile and ten miles. The winner of the one-mile race, C.W. Bennett was described as a ‘grass demon’ owing to his ‘superiority’ of riding on the grass! English born Bennett had an impressive track record for winning races prior to his arrival in Australia and there was an expectation he would continue to be successful. Bennett competed in the ten-mile race however he was beaten by his rival, F.H. Shackleton. The crowd was thrilled to see the native Victorian win the race. Shackleton had been rising through the ranks of amateur cycling due to an ‘indomitable amount of perseverance and pluck.’ Looking at the illustration of the winners and their bikes it is hard to imagine riding such a contraption, let alone racing one!

Illustrated Australian News, Wednesday 3 September 1884, page 138.

Illustrated Australian News, Wednesday 3 September 1884, page 138.

Family History: George Tucker 1865-1918.

Family history is fascinating for most of us but it takes on a new dimension when a family is lucky enough to have a written account from an ancestor. For those who are fortunate to have a photo, it gives little insight to the smiling faces looking back at us. Primary sources are a valuable way to show where our ancestors lived, or how many children they had, etc. but oral history is an interesting perspective from someone who lived at the time.

This was the case for George Tucker’s life. The 1891 census shows that George was the Hotel Proprietor of The Lamb Inn, in Boutport Street, Barnstaple. A recollection, written by George’s grandson Fred, in the early 1900s, does not paint a particularly nice picture of Mr Tucker. He states George was a drinker. First, last and all the time. He saved up some money and bought an Inn on the corner of Bear and Boutport St. in Barnstaple. Well, after George had drunk all the beer he drank the stock as well, and then he drank up all the money and furniture and he and his wife, Clara Mary and a lot of kids were homeless and penniless. After a time the family moved into a disused pub in Lynbridge. It was no longer used as an pub but had all of the fittings still installed and an underground beer cellar. Fred recalls how he was often locked in that cellar as a child by one of George’s bloody awful children, my uncle, and how he was scared stiff of his grandfather always, everyday of his young life.  

George died when Fred was just a little boy, but he recollects the funeral tea was in the upstairs sitting room and that there were picture frames made of red velvet, holding photos of his grandfather. Fred’s writings relating to various members of his family and their ancestors were an absolute pleasure to read and made me wish my own family had a written story tucked away somewhere. Perhaps we should all start to jot down the things we remember about our parents, grandparents, or even our own lives. They might seem inconsequential to us now but who knows, in the future our grandchildren or great children might like a first had account of the lives of their ancestors!

Clara Mary Tucker nee Holloway.

Class:  RG12 ; Piece:  1774 ; Folio:  11 ; Page:  16 ; GSU roll:  6096884

Class: RG12; Piece: 1774; Folio: 11; Page: 16; GSU roll: 6096884

The Little Things You Find.

Sometimes family history research can be incredibly frustrating when you hit a dead end. You are desperate to get to that next generation but can't seem to find any concrete information that gets you that step further. This was the case with Kendall Thomas George who lived in New South Wales, Australia. I had been able to find information of his descendants and their children but had no idea where Kendall had been born. There was no luck with looking through Australian births and I thought perhaps he was an immigrant but this was pure speculation. There were plenty of shipping records for Mr K. George, or just Mr George, but without knowing anything else, this too would be speculative.

Where to look next? It was a stroke of luck that I found a small article titled 'Missing Friends' in the 'World's News' in 1926, where a Kendall Thomas George was looking for a Ewart Carvossa George. Brothers? Surely? I must say it was exciting, particularly as Ewart Carvossa was such an unusual name. Further searching found that they were indeed brothers and had immigrated to Australia from England. English census records showed them living together with their parents. Another generation! Yay! Searching on Trove (Australia's digitised newspapers) is useful for finding small details that are often not available from larger sources, and this example shows that often the little things you find, are the most valuable!

Missing Friends Kendall George 1926 jpg.jpg

100 years young!!!

This fabulous lady turns 100 years old today!! Norah Elsie Kelly was born on Wednesday the 2nd of February 1916, in Pendleton, England.  Elsie was born in the middle of the First World War, and it is amazing to think of all the incredible things that happened or developed in the 20th Century. The 1920s saw women get the vote in England, the first talking film was made, car radio was invented and for the children, bubble gum was developed. The Great Depression affected millions in the 1930s and World War 2 started in 1939 through to 1945. The first non-stop flight around the world took place in 1949. The 1950s saw the invention of colour television, computers and mass immigration of the English to Australia. Norah Elsie Kelly was a part of this migration scheme.

The 1960s were a time of great social change. Rebellion, love ins, along with the fight for freedom and equality. Importantly in Australia, Indigenous Australians were finally recognised as citizens. Andy Warhol exhibited his Campbell Soup Can and Man walked on the Moon. Australia changed to decimal currency and Dr Who aired for the first time.

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head by B.J Thomas and Bridge Over trouble Water by Simon and Garfunkel were number one hits in 1970. The first test tube baby was born in 1978. The 1980s saw John Lennon assassinated and attempted assassinations on Ronald Reagan and The Pope. Millions died as a result of a new plague known as Aids. The World Wide Web was in full development and The Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

The 1990s saw Nelson Mandela freed from prison, the official end of the Cold War and the Euro became the new currency in Europe. Boyz to Men were one of the highest grossing musical groups of the 90s. This is just a minute snippet of the amazing things that have happened over the last century.

The 21st century has seen Elsie become the great grandmother to 6 beautiful great granddaughters. 



Elsie about 1950.

Elsie about 1950.

Elsie 2013

Elsie 2013

Family History: The Irish Kellys

The photo attached to this story shows three members of the Kelly family from Ireland. George Kelly married Elizabeth Holmes on 12 July 1869 in Portarlington, Laois, and they went on to have ten children over an 18-year period. The Irish Census of 1901 and 1911 gives us a snap shot of the lives of the family at the time. In 1901 George and Elizabeth are renting their home. George is a tailor and five of their children reside with them. By 1911, life seems to have improved for the family as they own their home and George, still a tailor, is now farming as well. At this time only two of their children still live with them, but they are also caring for their grandson Joseph. All the family can read and write and the children, who are now young adults, all have employment.

Lucy Kelly, born in 1883, married in Ireland but moved to England around 1910. Lucy and her husband James went on to have 5 children, losing one daughter in infancy. They had only been married for 13 years when James died of a heart attack in 1923. Lucy raised her children without remarrying, dying in 1942. All of their children ended up emigrating to Australia.

Michael Cyprian Kelly was born in 1872 and entered the Congregation as a Christian Brother in 1888, at age 16. ‘Brother Kelly was formerly Superior of the Order’s school in Kilcock and of the other Orphanages at Glin, Co. Limerick, and Letterfrack, Co. Galway’.[1] He celebrated his Diamond Jubilee as a Christian Brother on the 19 March 1948, an event that was commemorated in St Patrick’s with Mass and Benediction. The Irish Independent reported that Kelly was a popular and kind member of the Congregation who ‘endeared himself to his pupils and their families’. Brother Kelly died on 27 March 1950. His funeral was at St. Patrick’s, Baldoyle. He had served 62 years in religious pursuit. Interestingly, Cyprian was not the only family member to choose a religious path. His brother Joseph Alphonsus also became a Christian Brother and their sister Elizabeth became a Nun.


Brother Cyprian, Lucy and George Kelly about 1890.

Brother Cyprian, Lucy and George Kelly about 1890.

[1] Irish Independent, 25 March 1948.

History of the Christmas Tree

The history of the Christmas tree is said to have originated in Germany as a pagan ritual around the 16th century. During the Winter Solstice many families would bring evergreen trees indoors as a way of brightening up their homes and to ward off any evil forces, or the devil. With the growing popularity of Christianity, Germans adorned their trees with apples to represent the Garden of Eden.

Decorating the Christmas tree with ornaments came into vogue around the mid 1800s, and this saw artisans creating beautiful and delicate glass baubles and trinkets. Edward Johnson, an associate of Thomas Edison, invented the Christmas tree lights in 1882 and became known as the ‘father of electric Christmas tree lights’. Ironically, Johnson died some 25 years later, from an electrical accident. Queen Victoria is credited with starting the tradition of Christmas trees in England, after marrying her German husband. Aristocratic families, following the Royal’s every move, soon took to the decorating of trees with gusto and would often try to out do each other with their lights and decorations.

Today, most households in Australia have a Christmas tree that they decorate with cherished decorations that hold special meaning. It is a joy to visit all the houses around our neighbourhoods that are adorned with lights and decorations. The temperature is warm, the air is fragrant, backyard cricket rules supreme (well sometimes..). I think we can all agree, it’s a wonderful time to cherish our family and friends.

Merry Christmas Everyone!!

http://www.australiaentertains.com.au/2010/11/30/christmas-tree-decorations-101 KathrynPorritt

http://www.australiaentertains.com.au/2010/11/30/christmas-tree-decorations-101 KathrynPorritt



Military Records: James McEveney (1830-1880)

Military records are often a great way to obtain information about your descendants that would not necessarily be available elsewhere. Finding the record for my own 3rd great grandfather James McEveney, gave me a wide array of information such as birth date, place of birth, and occupation. The records showed that Private James McEveney, soldier 2671, had served 20 years for Britain; 14 of those spent abroad. He was in Gibraltar for 1 year, The Cape of Good Hope for 3 years and was stationed in the East Indies for 9 years. His family joined him in the East Indies as some of their children were born there. The family originally came from Ireland, however James enlisted in Lanarkshire, Scotland.

These records also contain information relating to James’ appearance. They describe him as 5’ 6”, brown hair with grey eyes, and a fresh complexion, though his face bears the scars of ‘pitting’ as a result of small pox. He is a man of ‘good character’ and is in possession of ‘four good conduct badges”. It also states he is not in possession of a certificate of education and the ‘X’ in place of his signature, shows he is illiterate.

Private McEveney appeared seven times in the Regimental Defaulters Book, and he was tried twice. The records give details about the offences. On the 9th Aug 1852, (he had only served a coupe of months) he was sentenced to one months imprisonment for ‘advising Private Patrick Meath to destroy his drum.’ Subsequent ‘crimes’ were for drunkenness or insubordination and under these circumstances, he would have his pay docked. Overall, James was seen as an effective soldier within Her Majesty's Service.

James was discharged on 11 March 1873. He and his family lived in Salford, England, where he died in 1880.

James McEveney Military Record.jpg

Australia's $20 note

Mary Reibey is the face on our $20 note but do you know anything about her?

Mary Haydock (1777-1855) was convicted of stealing a horse at the age of 13 and transported to Australia in 1791, for seven years. When arrested she was using the alias of James Burrows and it was not until her trial that her gender was discovered. After arriving in Australia she went into domestic service. She met her future husband, Sydney Thomas Reibey, who worked for the East India Co., whilst being transported. Reibey returned to Sydney in 1794 and the two were married and developed a thriving trading business. With her husband’s death in 1811, and having seven children to care for, Mary took over her husband’s business affairs.

Mary was an astute business woman who traded with the Americans, Indians and Chinese. She owned ships, commercial premises and was a hotel keeper. She was a philanthropist who was involved with charity, educational facilities and the Church. Considering the role of women in this era was one of limited social interaction, it would seem Mary was genuinely progressive. She was widely respected and lauded for her success as a businesswoman.[1]

[1] http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/reibey-mary-2583