Author Archives: The Incidental Genealogist

About The Incidental Genealogist

Currently living and working in Switzerland, where I teach English in a Swiss University, I am fascinated by the social history of London - in particular South London where my branch of the Skelton lived for two centuries after moving from Wensleydale in North Yorkshire. As a fiction writer with short story publications, I'm excited to be exploring the possibilities of a non-fiction project through the art of blogging. I love the flexibilty this medium gives me (particularly with use of images, and links) and the way I can interact with my readers. Thank you for visiting my blog and feel free to get it touch, particularly if you have any information about my elusive ancestors or the places in which they lived.

Portrait of my Grandfather as a Soldier

The children of the street are equally different from one another in character and appearance, and are often startlingly good-looking. They have shrill voices, clumsy clothes, the look of being small for their age, and they are liable to be comfortably dirty, but there the characteristics they have in common cease. They may be wonderfully fair, with delicate skins and pale hair; they may have red hair with snub-nosed, freckled faces; or they may be dark and intense, with long, thick eyelashes and slender, lithe bodies. Some are apathetic, some are restless. They are often intelligent; but while some are able to bring their intelligence to bear on their daily life, others seem quite unable to do so. They are abnormally noisy. Had they been well housed, well fed, well clothed and well tended, from birth, what kind of raw material would they have shown themselves to be?

Maud Pember Reeves, Round About a Pound a Week, (1913)

GRANDAD SMy paternal grandfather, Sidney Skelton, c1908

As November marks the centenary of the end of the First World War and the signing of the Armistice, I have decided to devote this month’s post to the early life of my English grandfather, Sidney Skelton, who fought in France and Flanders during the Great War. Sidney was always referred to in our family as ‘Grandad Skelton’, whereas our younger Scottish grandfather (whom we saw more regularly by dint of basic geography) was simply called ‘Grandad’. As a child, this difference in appellation used to worry me – I always thought that my English grandparents would feel that they had been relegated to second-best. Thus I hope by writing this post I can make amends for the fact that I never really knew my English grandfather well enough to learn to love him.

As a working-class Londoner who was born at the tail end of the Victorian period, not only did Sidney experience two world wars – firstly as a soldier, then as a working civilian –  but also the resulting social changes which swept through the 20th century.  I have written about my grandfather before (see Of Lost Toys and Mothers), and those who have followed my genealogical quest from the beginning may recall that he has cropped up at various points throughout my story, most notably in connection with his father and oldest brother, both of whom were named Arthur (see The Two Arthurs). Arthur Senior’s  mustachioed face can be seen in my grandparent’s wedding photograph in the banner image above, looking like a leftover from another era. Known as ‘Grandad Arthur’, his jolly-looking countenance belied the harsh life he had led – when this photograph was taken he’d already lost two wives and had endured periods of great poverty that would seem Dickensian today.

Perhaps Sidney had not expected his father to still be around for his wedding day in the autumn of 1924, when he himself was already a relatively mature man (for those days) of thirty-two. Perhaps he’d not even expected to have survived to that age – he had spent many years as a professional soldier, serving in the Great War, and had suffered the loss of an older brother and step-brother in the conflict. For my grandfather, the marriage must have been a bittersweet moment as his thoughts turned to those of his family who could not be there, including his own mother who had died when he was just three, and his step-mother whom he’d lost the year previously.

P1060932 (2)Sidney and Edith on their wedding day, 25th October, 1924

Despite his unease in his borrowed wedding suit (it surely couldn’t have been made for him), he does appear to look vaguely triumphant in his wedding photograph. Perhaps this is not as much in evidence as in the portrait taken to mark his official entry into the 19th Royal Hussars – after all, by 1924 he was no longer an innocent young man who was excited by the prospect a life of adventure, having finally experienced what real war meant. However, on that mild October day, when he married the daughter of his Brixton landlady, he was surely a contented man. His new bride, twenty-six year old Edith Matilda Stops (a name I’m ashamed to say I found ridiculously old-fashioned as a child), was an outgoing young woman who’d started work as a telephonist towards the end of the war, while no doubt still helping her widowed mother out around the house. As both her older brothers had served in the war, she was no stranger to the emotional impact of the conflict, something which was perhaps a comfort to my grandfather.

Whenever I think about my grandparents, it seems hard to reconcile their older selves with the young couple in the photograph above. By the time I came along, Grandma Skelton was already a dumpy women with thick grey hair tied back in a bun (strands of which still kept slipping out) and long, yellow teeth. She had a strange line in pork-pie hats and shiny dresses, and walked in her ugly lace-up shoes with a peculiar flat-footed gait. But I can also remember her lively dark eyes and olive complexion, her easy smile and wonderful cackling laugh. As I child I sensed that she was a happy person, despite the hardships I later discovered she’d endured. In contrast, my grandfather was thin and wiry with pale gnarled limbs and a sunken face, and always seemed to be on the verge of a bad mood. He was also rarely without a hand-rolled cigarette drooping from a corner of his mouth, which was slightly off-putting for the children of non-smokers. So we turned to our plumpish grandmother for hugs instead.

P1040821 (2)With Grandad Skelton, Christmas 1967

Thus poor Grandad suffered by comparison to his easy-going wife. It was a while after his death before I realised how varied his talents were – for woodworking, knitting, growing fruit and vegetables, and anything else he put his mind to. He was the sharp ‘brains’ of the family, but also the most tortured of all my grandparents. As my father inherited many of his characteristics (both good and bad), I know it is too simplistic to blame his experiences on the Western Front for his grumpiness in later life. But it breaks my heart to think that such a talented man ended up spending more than half his working life as a tram (and later, bus) conductor. This is not to denigrate such a job – he’d been delighted to be given such an opportunity in the lean years after the war – it is more that I believe he was the type of young man who would have greatly benefited from a recognised apprenticeship (as my Scottish grandfather did). However, his father was not in any position to support him in such a way.

When Sidney Skelton was born in Lambeth on 12th February 1892, Grandad Arthur and his first wife, Elisabeth (neé Holton), were living in rented rooms at 78, Cator street, near the Surrey Canal. A year later, when Sidney was baptised at the brand new church of All Saints, North Peckham (since dismantled), they had already moved to number 116, where they rented two unfurnished upstairs rooms from the live-in downstairs owner. This part of London was heavily bombed in WW2, resulting in a large area being turned into Burgess Park after the war (see A Tale of Two Parks), a process that took several decades to complete (and is still ongoing). Although these Cator Street houses no longer exist, the last remaining ones in the last remaining part of the street are now very much sought after residences. These period houses have a cottagey feel, yet it is also possible to imagine rows and rows of such identical multi-occupancy terraced houses, grimy in the soot-laden air, and understand why post-war planners were itching to eradicate them.

CATOR STREET (2).pngOriginal houses in Cator Street, Peckham, today

I have a strong feeling that Sidney’s mother was already ailing when she gave birth to him, her fifth child, that winter. Three years later she would be dead from cirrhosis of the liver, her new-born son, Frederick Edward, following her to the grave shortly afterwards. His malnourished rickety body was simply too weak to carry on without her. So little Sidney already had a rocky start in life, which possibly became even rockier when his father quickly remarried a widow with her own children, and the new patchwork family continued to move around south London, the youngest members being registered in different board schools every few months. Although Arthur was a shoemaker by trade, he’d never attained the level of master (as his own father had with his tailoring business), so led a more precarious existence as a journeyman, mending his customers’ shoes in whatever home the Skelton family happened to be living at the time. This would explain why my grandfather once told my aunt that he and his brothers had to walk long distances over south London in order to collect and deliver shoes for their father.

In the 1911 census, I was rather surprised to find that 52 year-old Grandad Arthur was found to be staying at Rowton House (at the Elephant and Castle), which was a fee-paying – albeit philanthropic – hostel for impoverished men. He was still married to his second wife, a widow named Harriet Pushman, but had possibly separated from her at this point (divorce being only for the wealthy). Unfortunately, after having been later used as a hotel and then a hostel, the old Rowton House building was demolished in 2007 after falling into disrepair, so I was unable to see it for myself. Yet, in 1897, when it was newly built, it was described as an impressive six-storey building, housing over 800 men, each of whom had their own small sleeping cubicle, open at the top. In addition, there were cooking facilities, opportunities to buy food and hot drinks, as well as communal living rooms, games rooms and libraries, alongside toilets and washing facilities. As one night cost around six old pence – although a room could also be booked on a weekly basis – the hostel was designed for ‘bona-fide working men’ who happened to be down on their luck. Residents who were tailors, shoemakers and barbers also offered their services, and I wonder whether Grandad Arthur was able to pick up some work while staying there.

ROWTON HOUSE (2)Rowton House, Newington Butts, c1900

By then, Arthur Skelton’s youngest son Sidney was already enlisted in the army and was most likely out of the country at that time (as he cannot be found on the 1911 census). Years later he told my father that before the Great War he had served overseas ‘somewhere hot’ (my mother thinks it was India, although it could have been in the Middle East) and there he had worn a special hat with a fold down part at the nape of the neck to protect against the sun – a style that is commonplace today due to increased concerns about UV radiation. However, in those days this issue was not people’s chief concern, and when my father was sent out to Africa with the air force in the early 1950s, my grandfather’s advised him to get out in the sun as much as possible right away, so he would quickly become acclimatised. As my father had inherited the olive skin tone of his mother, this was not a problem for him, and it seemed to me as a child that he was forever looking tanned and healthy. In fact, after years of living overseas, one of his major gripes about Scotland (and Britain as a whole – that damp dreary island in the North Atlantic) was the awful weather. So from an early age, I was picking up subliminal messages that life might be warmer and more exciting elsewhere.

My grandfather’s decision to join the British army was most likely financial. Prior to that, he had only been able to take short-term labouring jobs (as did his brothers), and years later told my parents about how he used to have to go down to the docks (possibly the Surrey Docks) to try to find daily work. As my mother once remarked, being small and wiry, Sidney might not have immediately stood out as one of the obvious men to employ for physically demanding work, and he often had to return home empty-handed. So signing up to the army gave working-class boys like Sidney a chance to have paid regular employment, to be housed, clothed and fed, and to be trained in various skills. My mother remembers how surprised she was to once come across Sidney knitting an intricate aran pullover as an old man, an unexpected benefit of being in the army.

It was only when I recently accessed the war diaries from Sidney’s regiment, the 19th Hussars, that I realised why the soldiers would have learnt such skills as knitting. Despite how I imagined life at the Western Front, it seems that in between the skirmishes there was a certain amount of time waiting and preparing for the next stage of warfare, so keeping busy would have been paramount. From 17th October 1915 (when Sidney arrived in Wardrecques, France, as part of one-hundred strong reinforcements) there are many entries which describe several days staying in billets (while waiting on commands), interspersed with trench digging, reconnoissance parties, transporting weapons etc.

In addition, soldiers constantly had to undertake bayonet and rifle drills, as well as keeping their horses fit and trained, and most unexpectedly, regularly playing football. In fact, while reading the diaries for 1916, I actually began to think that ‘playing football’ was a euphemism for some sort of military tactic. But of course, such ‘games’ would not only have improved physical skills, but also increased cohesion within the battalion and improved the soldiers’ morale. There were also descriptions of church visits, inspections, parades and horse shows (which the local population often came to watch), some of which had to be cancelled due to last-minute manoeuvres, and soldiers occasionally helped local farmers with harvests, in return for food and grazing.

74300666_3Horse show behind the lines (c) National Libraries of Scotland

The British army war diaries, which have only been available for the general public since 2014, can be read in situ at the National Archives in Kew, or can be ordered on-line for the price of a pint of beer. They are not always easy to decipher as some of the entries have been written (or scrawled) in pencil, and individual officers varied in how much information they recorded. Without prior military knowledge, it can also be challenging to follow many of the manoeuvres described, and the very matter-of-fact descriptions sometimes makes it difficult to work out when the important events are taking place. But to anyone wanting to know more about an ancestor’s movements during that period, they are certainly worthwhile reading, particularly if key battle dates are known. It is also relatively easy to plot the movements of troops if a detailed map of the area described can be accessed at the same time. Thus the diaries are an invaluable guide to visiting the battlefields, something I hope to do at some point in the future.

74300538_3British cavalry waiting for the order to move up (c) SNL

57_3British cavalry preparing to advance (c) SNL

And so it was that I found myself honing in on the 8th August 1918, when  I saw (with a horrible thrill) that for the first time in the diary the officer in charge had simply written Battle Front in the space designated for the name of the town or village in which the 19th Hussars were billeted. To follow the Battle of Amiens in ‘real time’ was an uncanny feeling, particularly in light of the fact that we know what those who were fighting cannot. I am able to read about the conflict, knowing that the war would soon come to an end and my grandfather would survive. Yet, how harrowing it must be for those who are following the hour-by-hour descriptions of a battle where their ancestors lost their lives.

74408646_3Cavalry patrols advancing over open countryside (c) SNL

74407759_3 (2)Cavalry passing Albert Cathedral, August 1918, Tom Aitken (c) SNL

Some of the notes taken during the battle were particularly descriptive. For example, at 7pm on the evening of the 8th of August, the officer in charge wrote: Enemy aeroplanes appeared in large numbers, as many as 20 or 30 being in the air above us at the same time, and commenced shooting at our horses, no damage. A few of our Scouts (S.E.5’s) were in among them, and we had the satisfaction of seeing one machine burst into flames at a height of about 1,500 feet, and fall rapidly down on the west side of the valley in which the horses were standing. The pilot jumped out and fell a little further looking like a little rag.

74407355_3British scouting planes (S.E.5s), France 1918, David McLellan (c) SNL

But perhaps the notes that enthralled me the most were those which captured the often petty-sounding (but obviously important for discipline and morale) issues of everyday life on the Western Front. Soldiers were admonished for smoking while on horseback, for shooting rabbits in the French countryside, for not changing their socks within a 24 hour period. And so the list of regulations and demeanours went on. Food was also an important topic for the troops; for example, on the 2nd of May, 1918, the reporting officer wrote the following: Information received that the peanut cake now being issued, is better boiled, this producing a less irritating and purging effect. Day passed quietly. I don’t think he realised the unintended humour of these two, possibly unrelated, statements!

74406582_3Cavalry soldiers relaxing, while their horses graze (c) SNL

A family anecdote relating to my grandfather’s time in the army which I have always found particularly fascinating is an event which took place on a cold winter’s morning when my grandfather was coming home on leave. As Sidney was walking through the suburban streets of south London in his cavalry uniform, there was a commotion when the local milkman’s horse slipped on the ice and fell over. Knowing that a fallen horse is in a difficult situation – especially on ice – and that it needs to be helped up onto its feet before it does any damage to itself, Sidney ran over to the horse and kneeled on its neck. This was presumably to prevent the animal struggling, and would have been second nature to him after his army training – as to lose a horse in wartime is obviously a grave concern. However, it would appear that the milkman was not best pleased to see this soldier diving onto his horse, and used some choice swearwords to show his disapproval.

img004Edwardian milkman, Norwood Dairies, South London

4f02678fe8e81fda7a561677109e2816--war-horses-climbingHorse falling down railway embankment, Western Front 1917-18,

Although everyone in the family seemed to find this tale quite funny, I have always thought it rather sad. I wonder if this is because it illustrates the different worlds that the two men inhabited. Sidney would have been proud of his equine skills and no doubt believed that his role in the army was for the greater good; the milkman may have felt that he was being shown up by this younger serviceman, and may have had conflicted emotions about not actively fighting in the war himself (despite the fact he may have been too old for service). For soldiers coming home on leave from the front, it must have been a strange, unsettling experience.

But perhaps it was even harder when the war was finally over.

74408227_3 (3)A cavalry patrol (c) SNL

To be continued next month in Portrait of my Grandfather as a Civilian.

The Incidental Genealogist, November 2018

Advertisements

A Riverside Rest

South London is almost crippled by these monstrous growths, unrealized by the traveller tearing along in his daily train. Whole areas have been choked by overhead rail-tracks on these wasteful brick arches, and to get a true appreciation of the sort of thing that can happen, one should pay a visit to Loughborough junction, where three of these monsters meet, or to Southwark Cathedral, where the main line track seems to hold down an area of a small country town.

South London, Harry Williams, 1949

 aerial-view-01693-750London Bridge (with Southwark Cathedral) c1920 (c) Ideal Homes

It’s mid-September and I’m back in London again. I haven’t visited the capital for a year now, although it doesn’t feel like that. Perhaps because I’m surrounded with my research it often seems as if the city is coming to me through my books and papers. But of course that is no substitute for the real thing, so it was good last month to stride out along the South Bank towards Greenwich, with the first scent of early autumn in the air.

And just as the seasons are edging towards the end of the year, I sense my story drawing to its natural conclusion. I’m moving closer to the centre now – soon out of London (again) and up, up to North Yorkshire. But before I do that I would like to pause at the Thames for a while; catch my breath after all those recent excursions to the far ends of the Victorian Empire. To Australia, to Hong Kong, to Belize, and of course last month, by means of Charles Skelton Tyler’s delightful photographs, to Earls Colne in Essex.

I stop at the old watermen’s stairs at the bottom of Horsleydown Lane, the place where my ancestors would have crossed the river a whole lifetime before the iconic bridge would link the Surrey-side to the Middlesex-side at the Pool of London. And while it is clear to me that Tower Bridge is the odd man out – a fancy-pants of a crossing in amongst all the more functional ones – I still find it a struggle to imagine the great river as my great-great grandfather first saw it when he arrived in London from Yorkshire sometime around 1820. 

P1040281 (2)Horsleydown Old Stairs and foreshore today

Horsleydown Foreshore c1850

Horsleydown foreshore, c1850 (c) Guildhall Library & Art Gallery etc.

Not only would the Thames have been heaving with boats, including those of the watermen and lightermen, but none of the bridges which span the river today would have been there two hundred years ago – at least not in their current incarnations. At that time the crossings closest to Central London were limited to London Bridge, Old Blackfriars Bridge, and Waterloo Bridge, along with the lesser-known iron Queen Street Bridge (replaced by Southwark Bridge) and the iron Regent’s Bridge (soon after renamed Vauxhall Bridge). In fact, depending on when he actually arrived in the capital, James Skelton may have even been witness to the opening of these latter three toll bridges at Southwark (1819), Waterloo (1817), and Vauxhall (1816).

Although I cannot determine exactly when my great-great grandfather made that all-important move to London, I do know he was born in 1799 in Darlington and grew up in North Yorkshire. As a young man he obviously undertook an apprenticeship in tailoring, and by the time he was in his twenties had settled down in the riverside parish of St John’s Horsleydown, now in Bermondsey (see The Tailor of Horsleydown). London Bridge would therefore have been his closest crossing, had he needed to go to the City by road. And he would certainly have witnessed the ‘new’ London Bridge in the process of being constructed next to the old one in the 1820s, and not completed until 1831 when he was already a father of four young children (with another on the way).

Would my great-great grandfather have been excited at this idea of progress? Was it the opening of this improved bridge which helped him decide to move much farther out to leafy Brixton over a decade later, commuting to his new tailor’s shop in East Cheap, near St Paul’s? Or was it the coming of the railways in 1836, spreading out over South London throughout the 19th century, like a spider spinning a slow and stealthy web, which caused him to flee his adopted parish?

The_Construction_of_New_London_Bridge_alongside_the_old_bridge_by_Gideon_Yates,_1828.png‘New’ and Old London Bridge, by Gideon Yates, 1828

I have always been fascinated by the history of London’s first railway line, the London and Greenwich Railway, which opened in 1836 (but did not reach Greenwich until 1838) and ran on a viaduct consisting of 878 brick arches, due to the number of streets that it had to cross. Walking through Bermondsey today, it is hard to ignore this structure, which appears to dominate the neighbourhoods through which it passes. If you add in the noise and pollution the early locomotives would have generated – not to mention the carriages on the rudimentary rail system – it must have been a traumatic change to the area for the residents, particularly those in the more outer-lying parts that were still in open countryside.

Several months prior to the railway line’s opening, The Times of September 3rd, 1835 stated: This enormous mass of brickwork, of which the first stone was laid in last April twelvemonth, is advancing rapidly to its completion . . . It is expected that the railroad to Greenwich will be finished in the course of another twelvemonth, and that the passage of steam omnibuses, &c., will then commence; that they will carry passengers from London-bridge to Greenwich in 12 minutes, and that the charge of conveyance will be only 6d. Whether or not this rapidity of transport will be pleasurable or otherwise, must depend on the tastes of those who ride on the railway. It will no doubt be advantageous to the inhabitants of the metropolis to enjoy rural scenery at a cheap rate and without much loss of time.

London-and-greenwich-railway-1837London and Greenwich Railway, 1837 The Illustrated London News

Three years later, the new London and Croydon Railway opened, sharing the initial section of the line for two miles, the high-level pedestrian boulevards which ran alongside the tracks being utilised for this expansion. On Sundays (when trains did not run) these walkways had been a popular one-penny stroll, and perhaps my great-great grandfather and some of his family had dressed up in their smart Sunday best clothes to perambulate along them, wanting to see what all the fuss was about. I also think they would have taken an early train journey, even just to experience this novel form of transport, especially as the family remained in the area until 1844.

In those days of relatively low-rise buildings, the long railway viaduct would have been an impressive sight. A few days after The Times article in 1835, the Mechanics Magazine stated that: The London and Greenwich Railway viaduct is now fast approaching completion, and presents a very imposing appearance. It forms a highly interesting object from the summit of Nunhead Hill, at the back of Peckham, from which the whole range of arches, seen in nearly its entire length, appears like the “counterfeit presentment” of a Roman aqueduct. Nunhead Hill is decidedly the best point from which to obtain a general view of this magnificent work, which there forms a part of the foreground to an exquisite and comprehensive panorama of the metropolis, in its whole enormous length from Chelsea to Greenwich, with all its “domes and spires and pinnacles”, amongst which those of Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s are of course the most conspicuous.

Several years later, Nunhead Hill would become the site of the new ‘monster’ cemetery of All Saints – one of the ‘magnificent seven’ that were constructed in a ring around the capital in an effort to prevent the overcrowding in the London parish churchyards, and intended as a Victorian capitalist venture (albeit an unsustainable one). Today Nunhead Cemetery makes for a pleasant wooded stroll, as well a place of historical interest. And eventually James Skelton was himself laid to rest here in the ‘new’ family grave, situated at the highest point of the hill, the closest spot both to God and the fabulous views of the London skyline.

nunhead-cemetery-00585-640Nunhead Cemetery c1850

When the burial site was initially chosen for his oldest daughter in 1844 (see Present at the Death), the vista of London with which the family would have been confronted was obviously very different from that of today. But St Paul’s would have still been the dominant feature. Somehow this feels very comforting to me, as the cathedral has come to symbolise my times in London. This is because I usually stay at the YHA hostel in the old choir boys’ accommodation in Carter Lane, and from every dorm room the bells can be heard chiming the hours throughout night. Despite what some of the guests say in the morning, for me it is nothing but a soothing sound which seems to be saying that all is right with the world.

FROM NUNHEADSt Paul’s Cathedral from Nunhead today

St Paul’s also symbolises family holidays in London as a child in the 1970s (all Londoners who have experienced the blitz seem to be forever drawn to this special place). I think, too, of my great-great grandfather, who eventually moved out of Bermondsey and set up his tailoring business just a stone’s throw away at 15 East Cheap; of my paternal great-great grandmother who was born in one of the slum courts in the shadow of the great cathedral. She would have grown up with the sound of the bells, while her future husband would have heard them as he travelled into the City each day. And if it hadn’t been for those two bodies lying cold under the earth up on Nunhead Hill (James Skelton’s oldest daughter and his first wife), this young poverty-stricken teenager would never have been able to set up home in South London with my fifty year old grieving great-great grandfather. Such is the way the world turns!

So I see and I feel connections as I walk the streets and parks of London. I feel privileged to know about my ancestors’ lives through technology they could never have imagined, yet despite this knowledge I’m aware that as I tread in their faded footsteps I can never truly recreate their world. Sometimes, however, the city allows me a brief glimpse of a timeless space. The smell of roasting chestnuts on a winter’s day; a windy bridge crossing in early spring, grit stinging my eyes, while the brown-grey waters of the Thames roil and churn below; ghost signs on a wall advertising an obsolete product that was once regarded as commonplace. And for a brief moment I feel my ancestors calling to me over the years.

On that Saturday when I sat on the steps at Horsleydown, watching two separate sets of wedding photographs taking place on the ‘beach’ below me, I thought about the bridges and the railway lines – which had marched on step-by-step alongside the speculative building ventures. And it was inevitable that one day it would all eventually reach sleepy Brixton, far away from the bustle of the river, where my great-great grandfather had moved in respectable middle age. (The new family home on Coldharbour Lane – near present-day Loughborough Junction – was constructed when the street was surrounded by trees and market gardens).

What would James Skelton make of his old riverside neighbourhood of now? There is the fancy-pants bridge on his doorstep, looking like it has been there for hundreds of years; yet the family home no longer exists, bombed along with Horsleydown parish church in some unimaginable future-past war from the sky. Even the Victorian warehouses which tourists come to view would be regarded as  modern interlopers, having replaced  the original timber ones from earlier in the century with which my great-great grandfather would have been familiar. And if he did venture down the old watermen’s stairs to the foreshore and gaze out across the river, would he regard the current City skyline as progess?

Then if he continued to follow the riverside path beyond London Bridge and the Shard, past the hemmed-in but spruced-up Southwark Cathedral – which he’d have known as a simple parish church, and to whose long-demolished grammar school he’d sent his only son, what would his impressions be? The industry has all gone, and the resulting space opened up to pedestrians in pure pursuit of pleasure, as it once was, centuries ago. No doubt he would marvel at the new-old Globe Theatre, looking like something transported from the past to the future, missing out all the generations in between.

He might then wonder who and what had shaped this strange modern London which perplexed him so.

TOWER BRIDGETower Bridge c1971 (Horsleydown is on the right) (c) Skelton family

The Incidental Genealogist, October 2018

Three Sisters: Helen

High Street Earles ColneOne of Charles Skelton Tyler’s last views of the High Street in Earls Colne was taken in 1907, showing his re-built shop, with the pair of upper bay windows, and the new houses on the corner of York Road. He retired in 1915 and leased the pharmacy to Alex Spafford (below).

wp7d26c234_06

Mr Spafford continued the photographic side of the business and applied to the Magistrates Court for a licence to sell tonic water wine, describing himself as ‘an optician and pharmacist’. The magistrate asked sarcastically why an optician needed to sell alcoholic drinks. Mr Spafford was most indignant – “I am also a chemist and I object to being called an optician when my principal business is that of a chemist!” The licence application was refused on the grounds that Earls Colne already had more than its fair share of licensed premises – three fully-licensed pubs, three beer houses and one off-licence. But, even without tonic wine on offer, Mr Spafford continued in business until 1945.

Extract from Earls Colne Heritage Museum (ECHM) Website

This month I turn to the story of Helen Ann, the second youngest of James Skelton’s five children with his first wife, Sarah Vaughan. Those readers who have followed my genealogical quest from the beginning will know that it is this ‘lost family’ of my great-great grandfather with which I am particularly fascinated, most of them having led the kind of swash-buckling lives that my own direct ancestors were denied through poverty and lack education.

Out of the four children who lived long enough to establish their own independent lives, Helen was the only one who remained in England. (James Skelton’s oldest daughter, Margaret Sarah died at home in Brixton at the age of 24 – see Present at the Death). In my most recent posts I have described the lives of her two other sisters, Sarah and Ann, who emigrated from London to Australia and Hong Kong respectively (where they met their deaths in the same untimely way as their oldest sister, namely by contracting tuberculosis). And in A Tale of Exploitation I set out the story of their brother James William, who had already established a successful mahogany export business in British Honduras (now Belize), with an office in  London,  by the time he was in his twenties. It is for these reasons that I regard this family as true ‘children of the Empire’, even though I am not completely comfortable with that jingoistic-sounding term.

Unsurprisingly, the least adventurous of the children went on to live the longest. Helen survived the death of two husbands and was the only one of the siblings to make it into the 20th century, dying in Colchester in 1909 one week shy of her 80th birthday. She was also mentioned in both the will of her wealthy older brother, James William, and that of her sister Sarah’s husband (the Hong Kong judge, Henry John Ball), although the amount of money she was left in each case was relatively paltry.

Helen married the widowed Charles Tyler in 1855, exactly a year after he had lost his first wife. Despite having a young family to support, as a carpenter who owned his own business in Lambeth which employed six men, Charles was possibly seen as a ‘good catch’. More than a decade older than his new bride, he had been married for almost fifteen years before his wife Marianne died, along with his oldest child, and only son, Charles George. Both young Charles and his mother were buried in nearby West Norwood Cemetery, one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ I described in connection with the Skelton family grave, located in Nunhead Cemetery in South London. The fact that they were both interred in the same year, makes me think that it was one of the common infectious diseases of the time which resulted in their early demise.

After her marriage, Helen moved into the Tyler family home in Pratt Street, Lambeth, taking on the role of step-mother to the younger of Charles’ four daughters, and eventually went on to have two children of her own  – a daughter, Helen Westle Tyler, and a son, Charles Skelton Tyler. Unfortunately for the family, the 1861 census appears to show a change in their fortunes – Charles senior is now described simply as a case and crate maker, and only the youngest step-daughter is still living at home – the others have all been sent out to work as domestic servants. The following census seems to indicate further misfortunes throughout the 1860s*: by 1871 Helen is to be found residing in the High Street in Harlow (now called Old Harlow) in Essex, minus her husband, but with the second one waiting in the wings while a ‘lodger’ in the family home.

*As both Charles and Helen junior were born in Lambeth it would appear as if the Tyler family’s move to Harlow had been made shortly before the 1871 census. Whether it was for work or retirement or to be close to relatives, it is impossible to know. But the fact that Charles Senior died there in 1870, may point to the fact that he was already ailing previous to that, and thus the relocation to Essex might have been in connection with this.

harlow-high-street-old-harlow-c1905_h22503Old Harlow High Street c1900 (c) The Frances Frith Collection

Helen’s mysterious ‘lodger’ in the 1871 census describes himself as a chemist-pharmacist from York by the name of William S. Chrispin, a man who turns out to have (perhaps even unbeknown to Helen herself) connections with her own roots. As mentioned previously, Helen’s father, James Skelton, was originally from North Yorkshire and had arrived in London during the 1820s, whereupon he set up a tailoring business in riverside Bermondsey (see The Tailor of Horsleydown). So it is interesting to note that not only does Helen’s new husband hail from the county of her forebears (more about these Ur-Skeltons later this year), but he also calls himself William Skelton Chrispin on their marriage certificate, and forever after.

While the surname Skelton is relatively unusual, it is not uncommon in the north of England (from where it originates) and in major cities, such as London, due to economic migration. However, as William does not appear to baptised with this name (nor was it his mother’s maiden name) I suspect he has taken it on solely to please Helen, and perhaps to create a link with his step-son, who was baptised with the middle name of Skelton. So I do not think it is a family connection, although William was born in the hamlet of Osgodby (spelled Osgoodby in the census return of 1841) in the parish of Thirkleby in North Yorkshire, a place that is relatively near to the Wensleydale area from which ‘my’ Skelton family originated.

We have no idea how William Chrispin ended up in his forties (and unmarried) far from home, living in Harlow with the newly-widowed Helen (stated to be of no occupation) and her young son, Charles. But William’s addition of that enigmatic middle ‘S’ on the census form perhaps shows that he and Helen were already viewing themselves as a couple. And as they wed only a few months after this date, it is more than likely this is the case. I still do wonder if they originally met when he lodged in their house (just as my grandparents did when my great-grandmother rented out a room in the family home in Brixton to a returning WW1 soldier – see I Remember, I Remember); or whether the situation had more in common with my great-great grandfather’s relationship with his second wife, where the much younger Mary Ann Hawkins described herself as Housekeeper on the census of 1861 (while having already several children with James Skelton)!

But however they met, the Tyler-Chrispin marriage took place in the local parish church with Helen’s brother, James William Skelton, as one of the witnesses. Whether it was solely due to the presence of this social climber, both bride and bridegroom were somewhat creative when it came to listing their own and their fathers’ professions. William stated that his deceased father Thomas Chrispin was a Merchant (it is true that he’d once been some sort of merchant, but he had turned to farming by the time  William was born); and Helen described James Skelton as a Gentleman, a neat Victorian catch-all phrase for someone who has no need to work, which other members of the family had previously used when referring to their father (despite the fact that he was actually retired and bringing up a second family with his young mistress). In addition to this, William called himself a Surgeon; but was all this simply for the benefit of Helen’s older brother, whose wealth and success may have intimidated the new bridegroom?

In any case, the marriage must have been a relative success as the couple were to stay together for other 30 years before William died in 1904, five years before Helen. While organising my research notes several days ago, it came as something of a surprise to realise that I still had not yet applied for the death certificates of this branch of the family, despite my intentions to do so. However, I am assuming that Helen and William died of old-age related illnesses and it is perhaps the death of Charles Tyler senior* which will give more clues as to how the family ended up in Harlow.

*A search in the BMD records several months ago proved inconclusive, before I realised Charles had probably died in Harlow, not Lambeth. Such is the nature of the silly mistakes we can make while carrying out research. What appears to be his death certificate has now been duly applied for.

Just to confuse matters more, William Chrispin had a younger cousin who not only was called William Chrispin, but was also a chemist-pharmacist, operating a pharmacy in King Street, Huddersfield. Was William Chrispin the younger encouraged in his career path by William Chrispin the elder? If so, he is not the only younger relative that our William influenced as his step-son Charles was eventually apprenticed to a chemist in Cambridge. And shortly before Charles left home to start his studies, William had established a pharmacy in the small coastal community of Walton, Suffolk (next to Felixstowe), perhaps with plans for his step-son to take over the business when he eventually retired.

Walton-High-Street-Felixstowe-Horse-Cart-unused

But this event did not appear to come to pass: in 1887, at the age of 23, Charles Skelton Tyler married a local girl, Annie Archer, and set up his own chemist’s shop in neighbouring Felixstowe (in competition with his step-father?), before moving to Earls Colne in Essex in 1892. He was to remain in this part of the country for over two decades, successfully running the local pharmacy and bringing up his family of four until his ‘retirement’ in 1915, when for some inexplicable reason he went to Australia for a long vacation with his wife and two daughters.

In contrast, Helen’s daughter, called Helen Westle (that family name again!) remained unmarried all her life, and continued to live with the Chrispins (with no discernible job) until their deaths in the first decade of the new century. She herself died in 1940 at the age of 82, several weeks after her brother Charles, a man who I have become rather fond of in the course of my research. This is mainly because, unlike other family members, he appears to have left his mark on the world in a way that did not involve the exploitation of people or resources.

wp8e8b2cc0_06

Bill Jones, the local blacksmith, c1900, by Charles Tyler (c) ECHM

While running the Earls Colne pharmacy, it would seem that Charles also had a sideline in developing photographs (for himself and others), going on to create a good number of prize-winning pictures of the village and its inhabitants – including the above image, which was published in several national newspapers – some of which can be seen in the local history museum. As the C.S. Tyler pharmacy was situated in the middle of the High Street, this gave Charles the chance to readily document daily life in Earls Colne. And when I gaze in admiration at some of his photographs, I cannot help but wonder if any of his own family feature in them.

wp749d510d_06High Street, Earls Colne, by Charles Tyler, c1900 (C) ECHM

To come across these wonderful photographs taken by an ancestor (however distant) gave my enthusiasm for my genealogical quest a much-needed boost. While researching and writing this post I had become rather dispirited by my lack of progress, as well as annoyed at myself for neglecting to order the death certificates of Helen Ann and her two husbands. But this discovery of Charles’ photographs reminded me again of how family history can throw up these unexpected twists and turns to feed the addiction.

Yet how many more of these images are out there somewhere, perhaps languishing in a battered box belonging to one of Charles’ descendants, similar to those that my mother is fortunate  to  have inherited (see Begin Again)? And might Charles Tyler have taken pictures of his own elderly mother or her surviving relatives? Just when I was almost ready to hang up my genealogy hat, I find I’m enthused once more by the idea of tracking down a living descendant of Charles Skelton Tyler – someone who may be a repository of his ‘lost’ photographs from the turn of the last century.

Chalkney Mill by Charles Tyler (2)Chalkney Mill, Earls Colne, 1897, by Charles Tyler (c) ECHM

This may, however, prove to be a more difficult task as 20th century genealogy can be notoriously tricky due to the lack of published records, although the 1939 register has certainly been a boon to family historians. And to make things more complicated, not only do the two girls appear to have remained childless after they married in their thirties, both boys (with their relatively common names, coupled with the number of ‘Tylers’ increasing as the population booms) seem to vanish after 1911. Did Edward and William Tyler die during the Great War? They would have been in their early twenties when the conflict broke out, most likely still single, and at the age where signing up through patriotic bravado was common.

When I imagine that somewhere in England there might be a cache of Charles Skelton Tyler’s lost images in an attic or cupboard, I also wonder if in this same household there is a velvet-lined box containing the jewellery the teenage Helen Westle Tyler inherited from her Westle namesake aunt, Sarah. On her death in 1871, the possessions of Sarah Westle Maria Ball (neé Skelton) went directly to her husband, the Hong Kong judge Henry John Ball. And when he died three years later, his will stated that: I bequeath all the jewellery and trinkets formerly belonging to my late dear wife excepting such as I may otherwise in my life dispose of to Helen Tyler the niece of my said wife absolutely. Did the young Helen appreciate these gifts, or were they perhaps pushed to the back of a drawer and later deemed to be the outdated objects of a middle-aged woman she’d barely known?

But I like to think that once these two worlds might have collided, and alongside the portraits Charles took of local characters (such as Miss Jane Sadd, below), that there is, in a stranger’s attic or family album, a photograph of Charles’ unmarried sister. I can just imagine Helen, posing for her little brother in her Edwardian finery, while on a much anticipated visit to see her beloved nephews and nieces.

Perhaps she is even wearing one of her own aunt’s jewelled brooches.

Miss Jane Sadd by Chatles TylerMiss Jane Sadd, landlady of The Castle, Earls Colne, by Charles Tyler c1900 (c) ECHM

The Incidental Genealogist, September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Sisters: Sarah

Both it (Hong Kong) and the native inhabitants have undergone marvellous changes within the last twenty-five years. A splendid town has been built out of its barren rocks; and the hill-sides are covered with trees, which not only enhance the picturesqueness of the place, but are of great value in purifying the air, and improving the health of the population. In morality, too, it has undergone a change; though perhaps not quite so marked, as the organization of the police has become more perfect, while the good feeling and interest of the wealthy and respectable class of native residents have been enlisted in the suppression of crime.

John Thomson, Illustrations of China and its People, (1873-4)

View_of_Hong_Kong_HarbourHong Kong Harbour 1860s, Marciano Antonio Baptista (1826–96)

There is much more of a mystery surrounding the life of the multi-named Sarah Westle Maria Skelton than that of any of her four siblings. The second child of my great-great grandfather, the Yorkshire-born master tailor James Skelton (see The Tailor of Horsleydown), and his first wife, Sarah Vaughan, Sarah jnr. was born in June 1826 in Printers’ Place*, in the parish of Horsleydown, in riverside Bermondsey, two years after her older sister, Margaret Sarah. The couple’s first daughter was presumably named after James’ own mother, Margaret Bowes, who had brought up her two young children after the death of her second husband (also named James Skelton) in 1799 at the terribly young age of 22. However, it does seem rather unusual to have the name Sarah popping up again so soon in the family after it had already been given as a middle name. Yet, what is perhaps more interesting is that Sarah is the only one of the five children to have two middle names, one of which is obviously a surname.

* Printers’ Place was just a temporary address for the family as the following year they were living in Broad Street, before moving round the corner into Horsleydown Lane, where they were to remain until 1844.  English Heritage describes Printers Place thus: In 1819 Printers’ Place was made up of 12 houses. These were mainly of one type, a three-storey, brick-built dwelling of six rooms with a kitchen ‘in the garden’, except for a larger house at the east end containing a broker’s shop on the ground floor and four rooms on the first floor. More humble accommodation existed in the form of two brick tenements at the rear of the row, each with three rooms.

The name Westle, may have come from the Vaughan side of the family, of whom I know little about, although research in that direction has proved inconclusive. However, it has obviously been important to the family as Sarah’s brother, James William, named his palatial Croydon residence ‘Westle House’, unless this was purely in homage to his sister. I have written about this once wonderful house before (see The Story So Far), which was one of a handful of villas erected along Morland Road when the area was first being developed. The building and subsequent decline of this property (the last original one still standing in the street) appears to be a very apt analogy for the spectacular economic rise and fall that many Victorian families – and the country as a whole – experienced throughout the 19th century.

westle-houseWestle House in the 21st Century

With the middle names of Westle Maria, I expected Sarah jnr. to be relatively easy to trace, but apart from the delightful discovery of the connection to the Croydon house, this soon appeared not be the case. She is there in 1841 in Horsleydown Lane along with the rest of the family and their sole domestic help on the first proper census. But by the next census of 1851, when the newly widowed James was living in the upmarket parish of Brixton with his two youngest unmarried daughters, Ann and Helen Ann (just to confuse things again), she is nowhere to be found.

The most obvious Victorian answer to this was that she’d died young, or had married. But while I soon discovered the death and burial records of her older sister, Margaret Sarah (from TB), shortly after their mother’s demise (an emotional blow that sent James into the arms of the teenage Mary Ann Hawkins, from whom I am descended), Sarah turns up alive and unmarried as a witness on her sister Ann’s marriage to William Haydon in 1851. Ann’s Australian gold rush adventure with William and their children has been described in detail over the last three posts, so regular readers will know what happened to Sarah’s adventurous younger sister throughout the 1850s. But did Ann perhaps unwittingly spur her older single sister on to exotic travels of her own, or was it in fact the reverse?

Two years after I began searching for Sarah, I found a very unusual marriage notice describing her betrothal at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Hong Kong to the Honourable Henry John Ball, the Acting Chief Justice (of Hong Kong) in 1866. This piece of information was another one of the highlights of my genealogical research. Could it really be that out of the four living children of James Skelton, three of them had gone to set up home in distinctly different far-flung colonies? Only Helen Ann (whose story will be told next month) stayed in England, eventually settling down in Ipswich and leading a suburban middle-class life with her second husband, a pharmacist. Knowing the risks of illness and disease, both at sea and in foreign climes, these offspring of James must have been gutsy risk-takers, whose own father’s migration from the Yorkshire Dales to the capital earlier in the century, pales in comparison.

P1070231 (3)

batgung-lcsd-1860s-catholic-cathedralDistant Twin Domes (left) of the Old Cathedral in Hong Kong, 1865

However, this appearance of Sarah’s in Hong Kong at the mature age of forty in 1866 does rather beg the question: where was she and what was she doing in the twenty years previous to that? Like her brother, the mahogany merchant, James William (see A Tale of Exploitation), she is missing from both the 1851 and 1861 census, making me wonder if she had also been living overseas during these periods. And when I dug a little deeper into the life of her judge husband, I realised that there was a good chance that she, too, had set sail for foreign climes long before she ended up in the burgeoning British colony of Hong Kong.

1414689559814_wps_3_Saltire_News_and_Sport_LtHong Kong Waterfront, 1860s, John Thomson

Henry John Ball is ‘famous’ enough to have his own (rather basic) Wikipedia entry here, probably written by a relative. As mentioned, he was the son of a barrister who then became a barrister himself, after studying for both a BA at the University of London and then at Oxford. After graduating from Oxford in 1845 he became a ‘special pleader’, before being called to the bar in 1853, where he was affiliated to the Inner Temple. It would then appear that he was appointed attorney-general of British Honduras in 1855, remaining in that post until 1862, for a yearly stipend of £500 (while no doubt carrying on private legal work). And I think it is fair to say that it was most likely while in British Honduras that he made the acquaintance of James William Skelton, a successful mahogany dealer, and only brother of Sarah Westle Maria Skelton.

Did James William introduce Henry and Sarah to each other when he returned to London in the 1860s, or did Sarah in fact work for James William in British Honduras and meet her future husband that way? Her absence from the census of 1851 and 1861 makes me wonder if she did not decide to join her brother out in the Caribbean to help with his growing export business. As a single woman who was not quite wealthy enough to be a lady of leisure, and who had been brought up to find an occupation for herself, she perhaps wanted to take on a task which would allow her to escape the family situation in London. Not only were her two little sisters finding husbands for themselves, but her father had taken up with an impoverished single mother, younger even than herself, and had begun to create a second family with his new mistress. Thus, suddenly finding herself unable to fulfil the role of dutiful unmarried daughter to her widowed father, she may have wanted some kind of escape from the type of mundane roles which were open to middle class women in mid-Victorian England.  

I hope one day to be able to discover what Sarah actually did in the two decades between her mother’s death in 1846, and her marriage to Henry John Ball in Hong Kong in 1866. Somehow I think she would not have drifted into the life of a provincial governess or shopkeeper, and I wonder if James William was not also keeping an eye on his spinster sister. As I have mentioned in earlier chapters, it would seem that once my great-great grandfather set up home with his young mistress, the older children of the first marriage rallied around each other, no doubt horrified at their father’s lifestyle choice. James William even went as far as to try to protect his father’s reputation, describing him on official documents as Esquire and Gentleman, and stating he was of Brixton (then an upmarket suburb) as opposed to the less salubrious area of Kennington/Walworth (where he had moved with Mary Ann Hawkins and their growing brood).

Whenever and wherever Henry John Ball actually did meet Sarah Westle Maria Skelton, on the 5th of August 1862, The London Gazette announced that: The Queen has been pleased to appoint Henry John Ball, esq. to be Judge of the Court of Summary Jurisdiction for the colony of Hong Kong. As Ball’s Wikipedia entry points out, he was to remain in the colony until 1873, reprising a number of legislative and executive roles over the period, many of them filling in for those who were absent or on sick leave, including Acting Chief Justice. While I initially thought this rather strange, it turns out that a good many of these officials were often not able to perform their duties due to illness brought on by the demands of the climate, in addition to the need to return home on a regular basis to fulfil personal and professional goals.

Establishing the jurisdiction for such a far-flung colony was certainly a very challenging task, particularly in light of the fact that not only had the Chinese inhabitants a very different ‘legal’ system (following Confucianism), but the colonial government  had to deal with unfamiliar local crimes, such as piracy and kidnapping. And as more immigrants arrived in Hong Kong from other parts of China, the territory was put under further strain.

1414690451606_wps_14_Saltire_News_and_Sport_LtHong Kong Street (note sedan chairs) 1860s, by John Thomson

We cannot ascertain for sure if it was illness or personal reasons that led the Balls to undertake the voyage back to England in the summer of 1873 on the SS Pekin, but given that Sarah was obviously sick before she set sail from the colony, I suspect it was the former. Entries from the archives of the Hongkong Government Gazette (online search facilities here) show that Henry John Ball was absent (on leave) from government meetings from June 1873. This would tally with the fact that he had remained in England after the dreadful event on the 22nd of August 1873, when his wife of eight years became fatally ill at sea, suffering from what was described in the ship’s records as Tubercular Diarrhea. Sadly, she was not the only one to succumb to illness on board as two others were reported to have lost their lives during the voyage (a not uncommon occurrence at that time). But for Henry John Ball it was possibly too much to bear: almost exactly a year later, on the 20th of August 1874, Sarah’s newly widowed husband himself died in London at his residency in Half Moon Street, Picadilly at the age of 54 from Cirrhosis of the Liver and Exhaustion.

Henry John Ball never returned to Hong Kong after losing Sarah. And one month after his own death, in September 1874, in a terrible twist of fate, the Ball’s large Hong Kong house, named Ball’s Court, which was situated in the wealthy enclave of the Western Mid-Levels above Victoria Harbour, was severely damaged by a devastating local typhoon in which over 2,000 lives were lost. 

Vol3_Fig-6_10     Ball’s Court after the Typhoon of 1874

Henry John Ball’s last will and testament, made out on 7th August 1874, just a few days before he died, included an estate of only five thousands pounds, an amount which seems surprisingly low (unless undeclared monies were tied up overseas). Of personal interest to me was the mention that Sarah’s jewellery and trinkets should be given to her niece, Helen Tyler (the daughter of her younger surviving sister, Helen Ann), in addition to the fact that Henry John Ball’s large Chinese cabinet should be given to his friend, James William Skelton. As Sarah’s brother is described as a ‘friend’, rather than a relative, then I believe this points to the fact that it was James who brought Sarah and Henry together (perhaps inadvertently), thus granting them a few years of (unplanned?) happiness together later in life. Interestingly, Henry John Ball’s will also mentions that his white tropical garb should be sent to a friend in British Honduras, a detail which made me feel quite unexpectedly melancholy.

1414690465837_wps_17_Saltire_News_and_Sport_Lt (3)

This wonderful Image of William Mercer (far left) in Hong Kong in the 1860s, taken by Scottish photographer John Thomson, illustrates the type of white clothing that the Victorian colonialists wore. Mercer was the colonial secretary of Hong Kong from 1854 to 1868 (he had been in the government for ten years previous to that), a position Henry John Ball took over in 1867 during Mercer’s absence. This photograph (along with others above) comes from a recently discovered album of Thomson’s Hong Kong images which belonged to the Mercer family, and which sold at auction for just under £50,000. Although the album only contains 27 photographs, I do wonder if there might actually be one in which an image of Mr and Mrs Henry Ball in their heyday can be seen.

As regular readers will know, in early 2016 I took a trip to Australia, in part to research the life of Sarah’s sister, Ann Haydon, and her family on the Central Victorian goldfields in the 1850s. Flying via Hong Kong, I touched down for several hours in the ‘new’ international airport of Chep Lap Kok, which afforded me glimpses of the surrounding water and spectacular mountain landscape. Of course, it was then I realised with a certain degree of frustration that I should have tried to incorporate a stopover in Hong Kong in order to undertake some extra research. And as I sat in the departure lounge, waiting for my connecting flight to Melbourne, wondering where my head had been when I’d planned my trip, memories of my first and only visit to Hong Kong almost twenty-five years previously came flooding back.

It was in the summer of 1992 at the end of a long sojourn overseas, and  after two and a half years away from home, I was preparing both mentally and physically to head back to my family. My sight-seeing was thus rather half-hearted as I spent most of the week looking for a cheap flight to London, and stocking up on gifts for friends and family (as well as searching for the ubiquitous duty-free camera). However, while I remember taking the ferry to Macau one day, and also travelling out to laid-back Lamma Island to visit a friend, I certainly missed out on many of the ‘must see’ parts of Hong Kong during my short stay there.

HONG KONG HARBOUR 1992View from the Star Ferry terminal, Kowloon, Hong Kong 1992

So , Dear Readers, there is really only one thing left to do – and that is to plan my return trip, while being suitably prepared to carry out the genealogical research that will help illuminate the lost lives of Sarah Westle Maria and her honourable judge.

The Incidental Genealogist, August 2018

Maldon: A Notable Town

This is a proud place, preserved by not having become a part of the ‘progress’ which has overtaken most other old Australian towns. Its people realise they occupy a piece of history which no amount of gold now could buy. At Maldon the air is sweet, the wildflowers flamboyant, the lemons and limes fragrant, the roses brilliant, the wattles and almond blossoms wild against the sky, the elms and white gums gentle screens under the afternoon heat, and the people friendly. The pace, if that is what it should be called, is easy. The rush is over but the secret stays.

John Larkin – Australia’s First Notable Town, Maldon, 1966

DSCN0259

DSCN0230 (2).JPG

DSCN0225 (2).JPGStreet Scenes in Maldon, Victoria

The morning after my fruitful visit to the Castlemaine Historical Society, which I chronicled in last month’s post), I took the local and infrequent bus to the small ex-goldrush  town of Maldon. It was a quiet Wednesday in mid-January with temperatures predicted to rise to almost 40 degrees, and not surprisingly there were only a couple of other people making the twenty-minute journey with me. Unfortunately, the local research centre was only open on a Friday for four hours (unless there was a fire warning). And despite a request from the researchers in Castlemaine, the centre was unable to send out someone to allow me to visit the archives (which can be done for a reasonable price), as the extremely hot and dry weather had led to just such a warning in the area.

Although I was disappointed at this news (to have come this far and been thwarted), part of me felt that after the previous successful research day I’d had in Castlemaine, where I’d discovered so much more about my ancestors than I could ever have imagined, I had probably accessed most of the information available on the Haydons. And so I told myself that anything else the centre might have (books, museum exhibits) would just be a distraction on the only day I had to explore the whole area, which included the out-of-town graveyard where Ann Haydon was buried, and the community of Eaglehawk where the family had lived and worked.

As I woke to another heat-stifling Central Victorian summer day, I had to laugh at my previous idea – to hire a bicycle and cycle the 17 kilometres from Castlemaine out to Maldon (which my new friends talked me out of)! The original idea behind this crazy thought was to allow me more time in the town to explore, freeing me up from having to return on the last bus in the late afternoon. But once on the small local bus, which carried me along long straight roads through typical central Victorian bushland, I realised what a slog the whole journey would have been. And as I looked out from the window at stands of dusty blue-grey gum trees and wattle, I thought about how the Haydons may have made this difficult trip by bullock cart along a dirt track, 160 years earlier.

BUSH NEAR MALDONBushland near Maldon, Victoria

This was a similar sensation to the one I’d had when I first took the local bus from Yeovil through the sunken lanes to East Coker (see In My Beginning is my End), imagining how my immediate family would have felt when they first arrived there from London during the war. What might the Haydons have thought as they approached Maldon in the 1850s? According to a contemporary source: It was recorded that no one could miss their way through the road-less country to the new field at Maldon because the route from Castlemaine was marked with flags or coloured handkerchiefs flown from the beer houses to attract custom. Thousands of adventurers rolled up in bullock wagons and horse-drawn drays, and thousands more walked, carrying on their backs all the paraphernalia required for work at the diggings. Dolly pots, cradles, pans and picks were at a premium at this time.

However, if truth be told, the first journey the family made from Melbourne into the Victorian bush was not to Maldon  itself, but to the nearby goldrush community of Muckleford, about 7 kilometres west of Castlemaine (in the direction of Maldon). Although I had been unable to ascertain what had happened to the Haydons there, I did know that William was recorded as being a glazier/plumber on the birth of the Haydon’s second son, Charles Skelton Haydon, in the summer of 1855, a year after the family arrived at Port Philip. But by the time of the birth of their first daughter, Sarah Ann Haydon, in the spring of 1857, they were living forty kilometres away at Deep Creek in Hepburn, and William was already calling himself a gold miner.

This description from the Emigrants Guide to Australia, published in 1853, gives some idea of what the Haydons’ original journey to Muckleford might have been like: We commence with the digger setting out from Melbourne. Persons going to the Diggings should confine their outfits to a small quantity of clothing and their blankets, as numbers of people are always leaving the Diggings, who sell their stocks at moderate prices. The best mode of travelling is to accompany (on foot) a horse-dray, which will carry the blankets, clothing, and provisions. It will be proper to take provisions for five or six days, as the charges on the road (5 shillings for each meal, 5 shillings for bed, and 30 shillings for a horse) are exorbitant, and besides, the conveyance does not always arrive at night at a house where such accommodation can be procured. A horse-team is preferable to a bullock-team, simply because it performs the journey much sooner; the time taken by the former being five or six days at present, which is the most favourable season, and by a bullock-team ten days. No one should attempt to carry his own goods if he can afford to pay for their conveyance by dray.

347004-small

The bus from Castlemaine to Maldon passes through much of what was once the township of Muckleford near to where the road crosses the Muckleford Creek, although nowadays it is made up of scattered farmsteads, the original and short-lived gold rush community having dispersed. As you may recall, in last month’s chapter (see The Lost Boy on the Bendigo Road), I mentioned that while other gold rush towns soon sank into oblivion, Maldon grew and prospered throughout this period and beyond, due to the presence of underground seams of quartz-bound gold which could be worked with new crushing technology. And it is for precisely this reason that there was still an intact and thriving community at Maldon in the centuries to follow.

After all the pictures I’d seen of Maldon (old and new) and the videos I’d watched, the town itself came as something of a surprise. I had not expected it to be so quiet nor the roads to be so wide. As the bus rattled through the High Street, my first thoughts were that the place looked like a Wild West outpost combined with an English village, with some Australiana thrown in for good measure. If that sounds a rather trite description, then I can only apologise. Whenever I visit somewhere new, my brain constantly rakes through all the impressions and memories of other places I’ve visited, trying to make comparisons. And then I recalled that when I first landed in Australia in 1989, all my twenty-five year old (untravelled) self could think about was: Why is the sun so fierce? Why does the grass look so different?

DSCN0219 (2).JPGMain Street, Maldon, Victoria

But this did set me wondering how the Haydons must have felt when they voyaged into the Australian bush. To see a wombat or a kangaroo for the first time must have been quite an experience in the days before mass produced books  and the growth of public museums. In fact, in the section about animals, the 1853 Emigrants Guide to Australia states that: Opossums are of different sizes, from that of the kangaroo as large as a man to the smallness of a rat they leap on their hind legs, outstripping a horse, and have pouches in their bellies to preserve their young from danger or the weather: one species springs from tree to tree. Here is an animal that the learned term Ornithorynchus paradoxus, found in the mud of swamps and rivers, that has the bill and feet of the duck; the body, habits, and fur of the mole; and the internal structure of a reptile. The eagles are white, and the swans black; the owls screech in the day, the cuckoo at night. The birds are beautiful, but songless, and some have brooms in their mouths instead of tongues. The paragraph continues on this note, but this extract does give a flavour of just how exotic the indigenous wildlife was considered to be!

The bus deposited me right in front of the building which housed the Maldon Museum (staffed by volunteers and thus open only for a few hours at the weekend) and the Visitor Information Centre. Although I was tempted to first explore the town, I decided to go directly to the information office, just in case it had to close early because of the fire risk. And there, in inimitable Australian fashion, I was bombarded with enough curious questions and local information to keep me in Maldon for at least a week. After patiently explaining my situation (and  dire lack of time), I grabbed the most promising-looking leaflets I was proffered and rushed out into the streets with horrified cries of You shouldn’t walk all the way out to the cemetery in this heat! ringing in my ears.

A couple of false starts later (less haste, more speed) I finally found the main road out of the other side of the town, and made my way along the grass verge towards the graveyard, situated just over 3 kilometres outside Maldon. I passed all the lovely little rose-covered colonial style cottages, the deserted golf course, and just when I thought I’d never find the turn-off to the wonderfully named Nuggety, I saw the high security fence of the Tarrangower women’s prison (something the tourist brochures fail to mention) and knew I was almost there.

Earlier that morning I’d made the decision that visiting the graveyard should be my priority. Despite the age of the town, I knew that there were only a few buildings that had survived from my ancestors’ time, as most dated from the boom of the 1860s, after the widowed William Haydon had already returned to London. Even the old market hall which housed the tourist office and archives and museum had only just been erected before William left the colony. So while he might have known that it did not become the success the town had envisaged, due to competition with nearby Castlemaine market, he probably never knew that only a few years later it was turned into regional government offices.

Market_Hall_Extract_Full_Res

DSCN0175 (4)

DSCN0174 (2).JPGMaldon Museum, front and side, and as a market hall in 1859

By the time I walked through the main gates of the cemetery, I was cursing the fact that in my rush to save time I’d neglected to stock up on any food or drink. I finished the last of my measly little bottle of water in the covered wooden seating area near the entrance gate, and then began to search around for a tap (as is commonly found in European graveyards). In the end I decided not to waste too much time on this endeavour (figuring I was too near to civilisation for it to become any more than just an annoyance), and concentrated instead on exploring the cemetery.

The first place I headed to was the pioneers’ section, where the earliest graves were to be found. While some dated from the 1860s, disappointingly I could find none from as early as 1860, and after a while I had to concede that any grave of Ann’s that had once been there (if she had indeed ever had one) was certainly no more. But perhaps it had been nothing more than a simple wooden cross which had soon deteriorated in the harsh climate.

Fascinating as the cemetery was, in particular the section for the Chinese community, I had to give up my search after an hour and head back to town, otherwise I’d run the risk of missing out on exploring what was left of Eagle Hawk (now Eaglehawk). For a rural cemetery, the one at Maldon  was a sprawling place (reported to have over 7,500 graves), and I realised from the leaflet the tourist information had given me that much of what I was viewing, including the main gates and caretaker’s cottage (which gave the place so much charm), had been built several years after Ann’s death.

DSCN0181 (2)

DSCN0183 (2).JPGThe Cemetery at Maldon

Although the first burials in Maldon were held in 1854, it was not until 1860 that detailed records were kept and some sources even state that previous to 1861 citizens may have been interred in other places, such as The Rock of Ages (the hill above the cemetery). Ann’s burial record (held by the Victorian State Archives) showed that she died at the age of 29, on October 8th 1860, in Eagle Hawk, Maldon, from TB and pericarditis, and that the death had been registered by William James Haydon of Eagle Hawk (a painter) the next day. The document also stated that she was buried on October 10th at Maldon by the Scottish-sounding Presbyterian minister, Alexander Robb. Unfortunately, there was no grave or burial number included in the record, even though there were so many other wonderful genealogical details (including the name and profession of Anne’s parents, where she was born, how long she had been in Victoria, and her husband and children’s details). However, I did see some metal site numbers in the oldest part of the cemetery, protruding from spaces where graves might have once been.

DSCN0186 (2)Was someone once buried here?

My map from the tourist office showed me a route back to Maldon through the bush marked ‘Back Cemetery Road’, which sounded a lot more appealing than the long way round via the prison and main road. So I set off along this track, startling kangaroos as I went, and realised that this was possibly the way that the first burial parties would have originally come from Eaglehawk (or more appropriately, Eagle Hawk). As I walked – or rather trudged – I tried to put myself into the head of William James Haydon when faced with his young wife’s death. With no relatives around and the knowledge that he might not be staying in Maldon or even Australia for more than a few months or years (perhaps he had already been formulating plans to leave the colony), he may not have been interested in creating a permanent resting place for Ann out in this wild and inhospitable bush. And I could imagine that in its early days the graveyard would just have been an area of cleared scrub with a picket fence around it. Certainly nothing which could have compared to the grandeur of Nunhead Cemetery in South London where the rest of the Skeltons were buried (see Present at the Death), and where Ann’s name was eventually added to the family gravestone.

DSCN0191 (2)

DSCN0194 (3)On Back Cemetery Road (with the cemetery behind me)

Ignoring my growing thirst, I decided to look round the suburb of Eaglehawk before heading back to the main street. Back Cemetery Road appeared to come out on that side of town via Church Street (confirming my suspicions that it had once been the main route to the cemetery) and from there I was able to take the self-guided Eaglehawk Walk (in reverse), using the leaflet from the tourist office. Unfortunately many of the historic buildings listed on the walk were not historic enough for the Eaglehawk (or Eagle Hawk) of 1858-61, and it was hard to imagine this quiet lazy country suburb as it had once been, when shops, hotels and other commercial enterprises lined the busy Eagle Hawk Road (now Reef Street).

DSCN0198 (2)Simple 19th Century Cottage in Eaglehawk

Over the years I have learned to accept the fact that I will often be disappointed with my genealogical searches ‘in the field’: I know from past experience that it can be hard to find any semblance of the community that my ancestors had experienced, and the further back in time the more likely this situation will be. However, I really did struggle to imagine Eaglehawk in its heyday as Eagle Hawk, when contemporary descriptions of the township described a booming population in the thousands, and with a myriad of prospering businesses operating around the main thoroughfare, alongside public baths, a theatre (with its own company), numerous hotels and bars, as well as churches of all denominations, including a synagogue.

DSCN0265 (2)Welsh Congregational Church, 1863, Eaglehawk/Maldon

I did feel sad, though, to think that I would never be able to pinpoint the whereabouts of the Billiards Rooms that the Haydons ran. That I could not locate the surgery of the wonderfully-named Dr. Kupferberg (the German doctor who had tended Ann in her illness, and who was much involved with the German Club and Gymnasium, as well as being a celebrated local singer). And I was frustrated by the fact that within all the empty spaces I could not conjure up the true spirit of the wild gold rush past in any way.

DSCN0195 (2).JPGSite of public baths (1860) at Eaglehawk today

The Perseverance Mine (of which William Haydon had a share) never lived up to its name, but the remains of the impressive Beehive mine, nearer to the centre of town, can still be visited. Although the tall chimney stack dates from 1863, after William Haydon had returned to London, it gives a flavour of how the landscape around Maldon was changing at that time. Such constructions (along with the ubiquitous wooden poppet heads – overground structures to support the winches) would have begun protruding from the hills and gullies, along with belching steam and thumping engines, lending the place the air of  a small scale, industrialised town in the English Midlands. 

As local historian, Christopher Creek, points out in A Rich Vein, his book about Maldon’s North and Eaglehawk (Eaglehawk Press, 2015): In the mid to late 19th Century Maldon was a noisy, smelly and industrial eye-sore. Work was physically dangerous and, in some places, very toxic. The noise of batteries operating almost twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, provided a deafening and rhythmic background to daily life for nearby residents. It was a raucous place, with upwards of 20,000 people encamped and more than 60 hotels and grog tents slaking the thitst of the parched. The contrast with today could not be greater. 

Before inspecting the ruins of the Beehive Mine, I sensibly stopped off in the Main Street (which confusingly runs into the High Street!) for some much-needed refreshments. Stumbling into the nearest café and hoarsely crying out for strong tea and a pie, I attracted the curiosity of the woman behind the counter, and in between customers (and gulps of brew) I told her about my walk out to the cemetery and back to the town via Eaglehawk. She was aghast at the fact that I’d allowed myself to become so dehydrated, and as she made me another giant pot of tea (to go with my spinach pie) she sympathised with my fruitless search for Ann’s gravestone.

Would you believe it! she said, shaking her head. Daryl was just in here a moment ago. I looked at her blankly. Daryl Walker – the Superintendent of the graveyard. He knows the name of everyone buried there. You might just catch him if you run out now. I dashed into the street but there was no-one who looked like a Daryl to be seen. (Somehow the name conjured up the image of an Akubra-wearing stockman, climbing into a pick-up and driving away in dust cloud, while chewing down on an Aussie pie). Alas, we would never meet, but when I wrote to him a few weeks later, he very kindly informed me that, just as I’d suspected, there were unfortunately no cemetery records for an Ann Haydon at Maldon.

DSCN0217 (2)

DSCN0220 (2)No-one to be seen on Main Street!

Feeling rejuvenated by my break, I took the trail up to the remains of the Beehive Mine (so-called because miners noticed a swarm of bees near the entrance), which once had one of the highest gold yields in Victoria. Although the actual mine was founded in the 1850s, the chimney stack was not added until 1863, when it was needed to take smoke from the boilers that drove the steam engines that were beginning to be used for extracting and crushing the quartz (and pumping out water). Today the chimney is a monument to all the gold found in Maldon – it was bought for this purpose after the First World War, when the mine closed and the remains were sold off at public auction – and is a key location on the town’s heritage trail. 

DSCN0215 (2).JPGChimney of the Beehive Mine, Maldon (constructed 1863)

Quartz fragments lay scattered around on the ground beside the old mine, and I stuffed a handful in my pocket, wondering if Willam James Haydon had also brought a tangible reminder of his time in Maldon back to the Old World with him (earth from Ann’s grave, or perhaps even some gold?) For a few minutes I allowed my mind to drift off in an attempt to pick up any historical vibrations (for want of a better phrase) that could relate to the Haydons. But I soon realised that I had no time for such indulgences: in just over an hour the last bus was due to depart for Castlemaine and I could not leave without seeing every bit of the town. So I quickly made the decision to finish up my day in Maldon by combining the two historical walks described by the leaflets from the tourist office (the Historic Town Walk and the Historic CBD* Walk). This way I reasoned that I could get an overall feel for the place, and note any buildings that still remained from the Haydons’ time.

*CBD is an (Australian) abbreviation for Central Business District, which in this case was a bit of an anomaly.

DSCN0269 (2)Ghost Signs in Maldon

Fittingly, the final place I visited before I boarded the bus back to Castlemaine was the local hospital, which in 1860 had replaced the original small wooden building designed for this purpose (this became the dispensary), and which ironically was in the process of being built at the time of Ann’s death. Would such a place have helped her to die more peacefully (knowing that it could not have saved her from TB), or would the removal from her family home have only led to more stress for Ann in her final months? What certainly would have been hard for her was the knowledge that she would be leaving behind four motherless children in a strange land on the other side of the world. Did she in fact ask William to take the family back to London in the event of her demise (which she surely realised was upon her)? Sadly, these are the things that, in the absence of personal documents, no amount of genealogical research can uncover.

MALDON HOSPITALMaldon Hospital

DSCN0248 (2).JPGAs the Castlemaine bus came into sight, I pondered these questions, then became distracted by the raucous  screeching in the tree canopy overhead. Rainbow lorikeets and rosellas were gathering for the evening, and  announcing their arrival with the same loud squawking as the feral parakeets which flew high above the gravestones in the wild parts of Nunhead cemtery in South London. I suddenly thought about how Ann had travelled so far from her home by the Thames in search of a new life, only for her crumbling bones to end up lying somewhere unmarked in the dust of the Australian bush. And yet someone had arranged for her name to be carved into the granite of the Skelton grave in Nunhead, possibly years later.

*

Although it has been over two years since my visit, I have never stopped thinking  about Maldon and the fact that I would like one day to return and spend longer in the area. I imagine how wonderful it would be to rent one of the nineteenth century cottages for a week or more (or even a month!) and busy myself with research, while making an effort to get to know the place and its friendly and welcoming people. This time I would linger in the local cafés, hike through the surrounding bushland, as well as taking the time to talk to the local experts and and consult the Maldon archives. Perhaps I might even try to find some gold of my own!

MALDON COTTAGEI could live here . . . Brick Cottage, Maldon, Victoria

The Incidental Genealogist, July 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lost Boy on the Bendigo Road

Oh, who would paint a goldfield,
And limn the picture right,
As we have often seen it
In early morning’s light.
The yellow mounds of mullock
With spots of red and white,
The  scattered quartz that glistened
Like diamonds in  light.

The azure lines of ridges,
The bush of darkest green,
The little homes of calico,
That dotted all the scene.
Oh, they were lion-hearted
Who gave our country birth!
Oh, they were of the stoutest sons
From all the lands on earth!

Henry Lawson The Roaring Days (1889)

size1         Edwin Stocqueler, Australian Gold Diggings c1855

The Tuesday I spent with the Castlemaine Historical Society was one of those perfect research days that made me want to spend the rest of my life buried among boxes of archives. It brought to mind those drama-infused months when I returned to my genealogical quest after twenty years of neglect, and the excitement I felt at discovering new records on a daily basis (see Begin Again). Not only had I two decades of censuses to catch up on then – and all the spin-off research that created – but the digital revolution meant I could usually receive instant answers to my questions. And as I sat at the computer monitor in the old courthouse in Castlemaine clicking through the database of the collections, it felt as if I was reliving that stomach-churning period all over again.

Anyone who thinks that new technology has put an end to research in the field should think again. Like many parochial records, those held in Castlemaine were not all in the public domain, and the knowledge required to interpret them and put them into context was greatly enhanced by the local historians. These volunteers (who also carry out their own research) were more than happy to help me try to reconstruct my ancestors’ lives on the Victorian goldfields.

It felt strange to be bandying place names about in front of people who actually knew the exotic-sounding destinations I’d read about on dreary winter afternoons: Eagle Hawk was not just an early mining settlement to the Castlemaine historians, but a quiet neighbourhood of Maldon with a number of fascinating old mining remains; the cemetery at Tarrangower was a sprawling place, rich in local history, and could be visited from Maldon on a bush hike via the backroads if the weather was not too hot.

MALDON CEMETERYThe sprawling Maldon Cemetery at Tarrangower

I like to think my excitement was infectious on that day, as more researchers popped over to our terminal to see what we were in the process of discovering, offering up advice as well as names of people to contact. They knew of an expert on the Eagle Hawk diggings who had written a book about the early goldrush there – I should go and see him! And I needed to contact the superintendent of the cemetery at Tarrangower to find Ann’s grave record. Plus it would be sensible of me to arrange access to the Maldon Museum and Archives before I left the area.

My head buzzed with ideas and plans. I felt panicked at the thought that I had only one day set aside for exploring Maldon itself. How could I have been so stupid as to think there would be nothing but a quaint little outback town that I would wander around and then leave after a couple of hours? These Australian social historians who were plying me with facts and information along with strong tea and biscuits had an incredible amount of knowledge at their fingertips. It seemed to me that their short colonial history had given them a focus and a passion that extended beyond their local area to the immigrant stories of the ‘old country’.

At times I felt like an ancient traveller from that place, with my funny accent, and accounts of the Victorian London my ancestors left behind when they boarded the Atalante in 1854 lured by reports of gold in the great South Land. Perhaps they had even played the contemporary family board game Race to the Gold Diggings, introduced in the short and interesting clip from the National Library of Australia (below).

The local researchers were lucky in having access to the archives of one of Australia’s oldest still-running newspapers, the Tarrangower Times, which has been published in Maldon since 1858. The archived articles (now digitalised and accessible in Australian state libraries) show how the town’s development accelerated at the close of the 1850s, mimicking on a smaller scale the sudden growth of Melbourne which I described in last month’s chapter.

The name Tarrangower, which is still used today for the region, was confusingly also used to refer to what is now known as Maldon before it was settled by the colonialists. However, all this changed when gold was discovered in 1853, and miners rushed the area from Melbourne and neighbouring goldfields in an attempt to make their fortune. What made the new township of Maldon so successful though, was that once the initial scramble to find surface gold was over, discoveries of quartz gold in underground seams (called reefs) were made. And with the quick introduction of machinery to crush the stone and extract the gold, this meant that Maldon continued to grow while other nearby diggings were abandoned after only a few months.

A contemporary description of this phenomenon is as follows: It was a novel and exciting experience for new-chum inexperienced miners to feast eyes on chunks of gold freely showing in quartz at their feet, and baffling as well, for few if any had the foggiest notion how to go about extracting the bright golden metal from the rock. A number got to work at first with heavy buckhammers, but in the course of time primitive crushing machines were installed, and soon great wealth began pouring into the pocket of numerous lucky miners.*

So it is little wonder that the Haydons settled in the area – being a family with young children they would no doubt have wanted to be in a more stable and growing community. Perhaps they even imagined being there for the rest of their lives, eventually becoming ‘important’ people in the town. As Maldon had some of the richest gold seams in Australia and its intact goldrush architecture gave it the honour of becoming Australia’s first ‘Notable Town’ by the National Trust of Australia in 1966, there have been a number of books and articles written about the place over the years. Most of these also make reference to local worthies and characters from the early days, and there is no reason why the Haydons might not have ended up in a footnote to history somewhere!

mainReplica of an early goldrush township near to Maldon

However, thanks to the Tarrangower Times and the meticulous records of the local court there was a paper trail of sorts which allowed me to put together a story of the Haydons’ lives in Maldon. This was beyond anything I could have imagined before my visit: originally I’d planned to just ‘rock up’ (no pun intended), take a few photographs, check out the local museum and leave to resume the rest of my trip (which would actually mostly be spent in Tasmania). But with the help and patience of the Castlemaine Historical Society and the local public library I was able to understand something of the lives the Haydons led in the Victorian goldfields.

The first thing that my researcher and I uncovered was the Maldon Court records, kept from 1858 when Maldon first became a municipality. As they fall within the Castlemaine District jurisdiction, we were able to access them from the archives there. My initial thought when I saw that a W. J. Haydon had been up before the local courts several times between 1858 and 1860 was one of trepidation. I felt sure it would turn out to be some mining-related misdemeanour (of which the other researchers assured me there were many). Had William fought someone over a claim? Or even worse: had he stolen someone’s pickings or harmed another miner in the process? In the end I was relieved to see that he was actually the plaintiff – or in other words, the one who had brought the issue to court in the first place. And it turned out that the defendants were actually miners who owed him money for board and lodgings (and goods sold) – a common occurrence where credit was widely accepted in order for businesses to remain competitive. So the first thing I learnt that morning was that William James Haydon was in fact a boarding house keeper as well as being a miner.

This came as a complete surprise to me as this ‘profession’ had not been listed in any of the registration documents I’d received from the Victorian Archives i.e. the births of his children and the death of Ann. Could it be that this had just been a temporary role for William or simply deemed an unimportant one? However, I later discovered that many women on the Australian goldfields did such work, so it is  most likely that the running of this establishment fell to Ann. In fact, in 1858 the Tarrangower Times ran an advertisement for a Servant of all work for Mrs. Hayden at The Billiard Rooms, Eagle Hawk. Despite being a different spelling of the surname, The Billiard Rooms crops up again in association with the Haydons, so I am assuming this must be Ann. For example, another advertisement in January of that year states: Found – on Porcupine Flat, a young kangaroo dog* The owner can have the same by describing it and paying expenses to W. Haydon, Billiards Room, Eagle Hawk.

* This was a cross between and a greyhound and a larger dog (such as a Scottish deerhound) which was used for hunting kangaroos

r819_0_5745_4885_w1200_h678_fmaxThomas Tyrwhitt Balcombe’s ‘Kangaroo Dog’ 1853, from the collection of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

The afore-mentioned reference to Ann seeking help with the running of the boarding house in 1858 is particularly poignant, given that when she died in October 1860 her death certificate stated that she had been suffering from tuberculosis for over two years. And if that wasn’t enough, in September 1859 she gave birth to her fourth and final child – a girl named Elizabeth, whose middle name bore that of her sister, Helen, who had recently married and set up home in London. Even with domestic help (and without illness and pregnancy to contend with), running a boarding house must have been a full-on occupation in those days. No doubt the older children helped as well, which is possibly how the story of The Lost Boy on the Bendigo Road came about.

Of all the documents I have uncovered in the course of my research, that newspaper article was probably the most personal and descriptive. Not only did it help to conjure up a picture of the local goldfields in the 1850s, but it also showed that the Haydon’s were part of a tight-knit community. And when I re-read the article after my return from Australia I smiled to see that in the research centre in Castlemaine I had underlined in pencil the phrase who is a very intelligent boy. Presumably that is why Ann had entrusted William with such an errand in the first place, although it is hard to imagine how a boy who had grown up in such an environment would be anything but ‘streetwise’. Brought out to Australia as a toddler, little William could not have retained any memories of his time in England and would have known nothing but life in the Central Victorian goldfields

I have taken the liberty of reproducing the article in full here (including the original rather idiosyncratic punctuation) as it is such a charming read: LOST AND FOUND. – The neighbourhood of Eagle Hawk was on Saturday evening thrown into a state of painful excitement from the fact of a young child, son of Mr. W. Haydon being missing. It appears that the youngster (who is about 7 years old) had been sent from Eagle Hawk to Bell’s Reef, and performed the journey in safety. The party to whom he had been sent naturally supposing that he would be equally successful in finding his way home, sent him thither towards evening. Mrs. Haydon feeling uneasy at the prolonged absence of the boy, communicated with Bell’s Reef, and to the consternation of all, it was found that he had started for home some hours previous. The neighbours turned out en masse, and the hills and gullies underwent a rigorous examination, but to no purpose. Nothing could be learnt of the absentee save that a woman on Porcupine had seen and spoken to him early in the afternoon. All Saturday night passed – the anguish of the parents may be more readily conceived than described, and the most gloomy forebodings pervaded the breast of all parties. The general idea was that the poor little fellow had fallen down one of the numerous holes on and near Porcupine Flat*, but early on Sunday morning, to the joy of all, the truant was discovered in a tent on the Bendigo road, where he had been taken care of, was soon restored to the bosom of his family. The child, who is a very intelligent boy, and on being found said that he kept the road, and for a long time thought he was right, but at length beginning to doubt, he still thought the best plan would be to keep the beaten track. Too much praise cannot be given to the residents on Eagle Hawk, for the prompt manner in which they turned out in search of the lost one. From the Tarrangower Times, 12th April, 1859.

*Such worries were not unfounded as many children often died falling into waterholes and abandoned pit mines.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Bendigo Road (from Maldon) today

Other less dramatic articles in the newspaper reported William Haydon appealing against a rates assessment in 1859 – which seems to be more or less standard practice in the town at the time. The following year he puts his name to a signatory request for a public meeting concerning the licensing laws. Again this was not an unusual occurrence in the growing colony, where laws were being shaped on an ongoing basis – except for the fact that William does this two weeks after Ann’s death. This might indicate that he expected to remain in the area, but could also be in solidarity with his fellow inn keepers as the community had most likely rallied round the family when Ann was gravely ill and in the dreadful weeks afterwards, However, whatever William’s intentions in those gloomy days after Ann’s death, six months later he was back in Melbourne with his four motherless children, ready to board the Sussex* and make the return trip to England. And this explains why his youngest child Elizabeth Helen, who had been unbaptised in Australia – possibly due to her mother’s ill-health, showed up in the baptism records from Brixton in 1861, confusing me at the outset of my enquiry (see Three Sisters: Ann).

SUSSEX

*The Sussex (left) was a popular emigrant ship which shuttled between England and Australia at the height of the goldrush. In September 1861 it docked at Southampton four months after leaving Melbourne, carrying a large quantity of gold, wool and copper, alongside returning emigrants, including the Haydons. Sadly, the ship was eventually wrecked on rocks off Port Philipp in an accident in 1871.

IEP133Landing Gold from The Australian steam-ship, in the East India Docks Illustrated London News 22 January 1853

I wonder whether William departed Australia with a heavy heart or whether he was pleased to leave the colony behind with its memories of Ann and the hardships of the early goldfields. We know that when he returned to London he lived with his parents, working for his father once again in the building trade, before he remarried in 1864. So at some point the whole seven years in Australia must have felt like a dream – or at the very least a fantastic tale. And as William lived to be on old man, dying on the eve of the outbreak of WW1 (sadly in the same year as William Junior – who by then was 62), his grandchildren possibly plied him with questions about his life as a gold miner ‘in the olden days’. Or perhaps he tried to keep the memories of his time in Australia compartmentalised, out of respect for his new wife and the three younger children they’d had together. But it is quite likely that his first family would have wanted to reminisce about their mother and their formative years, especially as they grew older themselves and had their own families.

Unfortunately we will never know how the Haydons dealt with life on their return to London, especially the children, with their wild ways and colonial burrs, who had known nothing but the hot and dusty Australian bush. Although one thing I did find out was that Charles Skelton Haydon – the first of the children to be born on Australian soil – had once fancifully put in the census of 1881 (when he was newly married), that he was born on the Boat at sea, although on all the other census returns he simply put Australia or Victoria, Australia as his birthplace. Charles at least must have retained some form of connection with the colony as his first-born son, Charles William (no surprise there), emigrated to Australia himself as a young man, becoming a fruit grower until he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1916. He later returned to Britain after the war.

But before I get ahead of myself by racing into the twentieth century with its futuristic wars, I would like to return to the Maldon of 1858. This was the year that William Haydon first advertised a share of a mining claim on Eagle Hawk Reef belonging to Bruce and Coleman, giving his address as the Billiards Rooms. A year later his name crops up again in the mining news section of the Tarrangower Times in relation to a meeting of claimholders on the southside of Eagle Hawk Gully. These miners had decided to amalgamate their claims in order to create a new mining company – which they cheekily named Perseverance (not an uncommon name for a mine at the time). The article goes into some detail about the size of the share, the dimensions of the mine and the working regulations and finally states: This is another step in the right direction taken by the Eagle Hawk miners, who are I am happy to say, beginning to lose faith in the non-combination style of working.

This idea to work more cooperatively on the reefs was a clever move, as once this type of mining took off it was not long before it was commercialised, and many of the work was carried out by companies employing diggers. The technology for quartz crushing soon became more sophisticated, and by the end of the 1850s steam engines had been installed in many of the mines, giving rise to chimney stacks to ventilate the fires which heated the water. Not only did this change the look of the diggings, but the relentless noise and dust from the stamp batteries permeated Maldon and the surrounding townships night and day. This type of extraction was to continue for another 70 years, leaving a permanently scarred landscape which is still visible in the area today, along with remnants of some of the later mine workings.

downloadEarly quartz crushing in Victoria c1861

Once the Castlemaine research centre closed in the mid-afternoon (the heat, the heat), I headed straight over to the public library to read up on the history of the Tarrangower diggings. It all seemed more real and poignant now that I was actually embedded in the locality,  and I took copious notes from the books and pamphlets in the local history section, photocopying as much as I could get away with (and carry).

I was especially surprised to discover that Eagle Hawk had actually developed faster in the goldrush years than Maldon itself. By the early 1860s the township was described thus: Its busy shopping street was lined both sides with trading establishments of every description. There were practising doctors, lawyers and chemists, at least three hotels, two churches, a day school, and a large amusement theatre. The area was surrounded by crushing and puddling machines and a swimming pool proved very popular.*

After reading such a description I was keener than ever to spend as much time as possible in Maldon and Eagle Hawk before I left the area. And that night I fell asleep on my motel bed, surrounded with sheets of A4 paper, dreaming about kangaroo dogs and fantastical steam crushing machines, until I woke up to the distant sound of the early morning traffic thundering along the nearby highway. Blinking in the harsh light already coming through a gap in the curtains I had the sudden delightful realisation that in a couple of hours I would be about to embark on what I hoped would be one of the most exciting excursions of my genealogical quest to date.

To be continued next month in A Notable Town.

*Both extracts above taken from A Concise History of Maldon and the Tarrangower Diggings by A. J. William (1953)

The Incidental Genealogist, June 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Three Sisters: Ann

When first we left old England’s shores
Such yarns as we were told
As how folks in Australia
Could pick up lumps of gold

So when we got to Melbourne Town
We were ready soon to slip
And get even with the captain
We scuttled from the ship

    With My Swag All On My Shoulder (trad. arr.)

Frustratingly, the four daughters of my great-great grandfather’s first marriage seemed to disappear one by one from the records just as the Victorian age began to pick up steam. Unlike their successful middle brother, the mahogany merchant James William Skelton (see A Tale of Exploitation) the paper trail which documented their lives suddenly petered out when they reached their twenties, leaving me to wonder what had happened to all of them.

With Margaret Sarah, James Skelton’s first born, and possibly his favourite child (as she taught music at his tailoring premises in the city), I soon discovered she had died from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four, shortly after her mother’s demise from cancer of the womb (see Present at the Death). These twin tragic events appeared to precipitate James’ dash into the bed of the impoverished teenage Mary Ann (my paternal great-great grandmother), a relationship I have written about at length in another chapter (see When I Grow Rich). Regular readers will know that Mary Ann Hawkin’s story runs through that of my branch of the Skelton family like an earth wire, and although she was the one who is responsible for our existence, she could also be said to be the one responsible for our ‘downfall’.

In the first census shortly after the two deaths, taken in 1851, James Skelton is still recorded as living in Coldharbour Lane in Brixton in the family home with his younger daughters, Ann and Helen. However, we know that Mary Ann was already pregnant with their first child by then, although she was registered along with her infant son William (whose father was not James) at another address. I can imagine that my great-great grandfather had probably been attempting to keep this embarrassing relationship a secret from his adult children. (Although knowing grown-up daughters, they probably would have guessed at his situation, maybe even humouring him by feigning ignorance of his nocturnal wanderings).

COLD HARBOUR LANE HOUSE (2)The house in Brixton where James lived with Ann and Helen in 1851

The child that Mary Ann was pregnant with in 1851 was the first of five children she would go on to have with James. And although they did not marry until shortly before his death in 1867 at the age of 68, by 1861 they were openly living together in Walworth. So sometime in the 1850s James would have had to have ‘the discussion’ with his four living children. By then his only son, James William, was already out in British Honduras and had fathered an illegitimate daughter of his own, so he possibly felt removed from the situation. However, it is fair to say that as a Victorian social climber he was probably not too happy about his father’s sudden drop in status, continuing to refer to him as ‘a gentleman from Brixton’ until his death.

Aldred Rd. (2)Aldred Road in Kennington – where James lived with Mary Ann

For the girls it may have also felt like a betrayal of sorts. Particularly as Mary Ann was the same age as Ann, the youngest daughter. So it is interesting to note that in 1851, only a few months after the census was taken, Ann Skelton married William James Haydon – a 23 year old plumber, painter and decorator who worked for his father’s business. On the marriage certificate, James Skelton (his handwriting shaky) and Ann’s older sister, Sarah Westle Maria Skelton*, were the official witnesses.

*This was the only document to record the presence of Sarah, who had been untraceable since the 1841 census, when as a teenage girl she was living with the rest of the family in Horsleydown Lane.

A son, William, was born in Surbiton ten months after the wedding. A daughter, Elizabeth Helen, must have also been born, for although there is no birth record, this child of Willian and Ann Haydon’s was baptised in Brixton in 1861. There was, however, frustratingly no census return for the young family earlier in that year. It also seemed strange that there was a gap of almost a decade between the birth of the two children. But everything eventually became clear when I discovered William Haydon in the 1871 census, back in South London at the family home in Brixton Road. There he was listed as having six children – three of whom had been born in Australia, including the aforementioned Elizabeth Helen. Yet he was no longer married to Ann, but a woman called Mary Ann from the east London parish of Dalston. It was then – with a jolt – I realised that she must have been William’s second wife. Which in those days usually meant one thing only.

Eventually I began to gradually put together the story of Ann’s short but adventurous life in Australia. And when I turned up in the Victorian outback in January 2016, in the fierce heat of high summer, I was finally able to understand the risks that Ann had taken when she had made the notoriously dangerous voyage ‘down under’ with her young family in search of the immigrant dream over 160 years earlier.

gipsy-jh

I arrived in Melbourne on a balmy Antipodean evening, less than a week into the new year, queasy and disoriented from two long-haul flights, Yet it was the most delicious and strangest feeling to walk out of Tullamarine airport and realise that I was now on the opposite side of the world. What kind of weird magic was it that had taken me there in the space of a day compared to Ann’s three month ordeal? I wanted to reach back through time to tell her all about that marvellous invention that would radically change our lives in the centuries to follow. But I knew that even if I could, it would be too much for her to bear. For she would surely guess that if man could invent such a flying machine they would also have come up with a cure for the disease that was to prove fatal for her and her two older sisters.

*

The wonderful thing about Australian birth records (or at least the Victorian state ones) is the amount of detail each contains. Not only are both parents’ ages given, but also their birthplace, their marriage date and place, the number of children they already have, as well as the father’s profession. And a quick on-line credit card transaction can have these records on your computer a few minutes after locating them in the archives. But on that first warm but windy morning in Melbourne, bleary yet elated, I decided to trek out through the bland northern suburbs to the Victorian Archives Centre, wanting to ascertain for myself if there was anything more to discover. It was more or less a wasted trip (with me shivering in the air conditioning and cursing the fact the cafeteria was unexpectedly closed), although I was at least able to find out more about the ship on which the family arrived in Australia.

The three Haydons set sail from the Port of London on March 20th 1854, travelling with 25 other paying passengers (passage cost £7 and 16 shillings each) in a ‘windjammer’ full of rum, brandy, wine, beer, tobacco, and hardware, bound for Port Philip. After three months at sea they finally landed on the Yarra river on July 24th 1854 – right in the midst of a cool Melbourne winter. The city at that time was booming and a huge ‘canvas town’ had been erected to house the new immigrants who had been arriving daily since gold had been discovered in Victoria three years earlier. Many of those living there were ‘digging widows’ (with their children): women who were waiting to get the message to join their husbands on the goldfields.

459789389c088922b4002626958f058b       Canvas Town, South Melbourne 1850s (c) Gov of Victoria

Whether the Haydons stayed in such a place initially or were lucky to have lodgings in a boarding house, we will, unfortunately, never know. However, throughout that decade Melbourne would use its new-found wealth to transform from a rough and ready frontier town to a grand colonial city. 1854 was the year many great municipal schemes and public buildings were nearing completion. And when William Haydon set sail back to England in 1861 with his four motherless children in tow, he would have found the place as elegant as any old-world city.

Did William make the decision to go ‘down under’ in 1854 primarily to search for gold, or was he just attracted by the many advertisements for passage to this exciting new land that would have been all over London at the time? Being a young man, the idea of the gold rush presumably enthralled him, but perhaps he was canny enough to realise that his tradesman skills would be more likely to create wealth in a country that was going through a fevered expansion. But whatever the reasons, we know that a year after the Haydons’ arrival in Victoria they were living far from Melbourne in the wild and uncharted interior of the state, indicating that gold was the primary motive.

Gold_mining_scene_-_miners_and_familiesGold Miner and Family c1861 by Richard Daintree (c) Victoria State Library

The birth records of their three Australian-born children (their first-born, little William, had made the voyage with them at one and a half) show that they moved from the principal gold-prospecting areas in Victoria: from the settlement of ‘Muckleford’ in The Loddon to ‘Deep Creek’ at Hepburn, and finally to the wonderfully named ‘Eagle Hawk’ at Maldon. In 1855, on the birth of Charles Skelton Haydon, his father is described as being a plumber/glazier by the registrar in Castlemaine. But by 1857, when the first girl, Sarah Ann, was born, he was already described as a ‘Goldminer’. Another daughter was to follow two years later, when William was still described as a miner.

And from this record it is interesting to note that from July to September of 1859 there were only five births in the boomtown Maldon area, and all to miners (few of whom would have had their families with them). I was fascinated by the names of the mining settlements into which these children were born: Sandy Creek, Porcupine Flat, Lister’s Gully, all evocative of the Gold rush landscape – yet their poetic beauty could not obscure the knowldege of the harsh conditions the families would have faced in such places.

45e5dc1313bcf22bab4670c11ee6180bCastlemaine in the 1860s, photographer unknown

Before I left for Australia I had spent some time researching the areas in which the Haydons had lived. Hepburn (or Daylesford) was now a chi-chi spa town, marketing itself through the natural mineral springs it possessed. It didn’t seem to have much connection with its previous incarnation as a gold-rush town. But something about the bleak-sounding Eagle Hawk at a village called Maldon piqued my interest. Perhaps because the family had spent the most time in that area – and Ann had been interred there in 1860 (one of the first burials in the new municipal graveyard).

In addition, the settlement of Muckleford (where the family had initially lived), was located just outside Castlemaine (the administrative centre of the Mount Alexander Diggings region), on the main road to Maldon. So it seemed as if I would manage to see both of those key places. Then what really sold Maldon to me was its description as Australia’s ‘first notable town’, an honour bestowed in 1966 through the National Trust of Australia due to the intact gold rush architecture, and which prevents any alterations to the buildings. A short Victorian state-sponsored tourist video (below) gives a flavour of the town, although on the day I visited there were only a handful of people around as the temperature was almost 40 degrees!

You can perhaps imagine my feelings as I prepared to leave Melbourne after four days exploring the city, and take the train to Castlemaine. I was excited, yet feared disappointment. I’d enjoyed my time in Melbourne, but after first visiting the wonderful Museum of Immigration and doing my usual ‘pounding the streets until my feet bled’ – or in this case burnt to a crisp –  I aready knew that the ‘old’ Melbourne that was so beloved of locals and tourists was just being built when the Haydons arrived. So any attempt to understand how they would have experienced the colony proved futile. Perhaps the closest I felt to them was when I crawled into a replica ‘immigrant ship’ in the museum, trying to imagine how they survived the three months at sea.

DSCN0102 (2)

295395bd1d50ffc3b1bad34b8886db12New (2016) and Old (1854) Melbourne: Swanston St from two different angles.

I even took a long boat trip from the centre of town down the Yarra river and out to the old maritime settlement of Williamstown to try to experience how they might have felt when they sailed into the huge bay of Port Philip. But it seemed like all of Melbourne was there, eating and drinking vast quantities, while lying in the sunshine, and the whole exuberant over-excess made me feel sad and lonely.

DSCN0154 (2)Melbourne Skyline from Williamstown

220px-Fort_Gellibrand

After taking the self-guided historic town trail, I decided to walk out to the old bluestone Williamstown Lighthouse at Gellibrand Point (see left), telling myself that this was possibly the first sight of Australia Ann would have had from on deck the Atalante. But somehow I couldn’t quite conjure up the spirit of the 1850s with all the conspicuous consumption around me, and I was quite relieved when the afternoon finally came to a close, and all the BBQs were packed up and the SUVs driven back to suburbia.

Disembarking from the boat back in the centre of town I thought I saw my cousin and his wife on the other side of the river. I knew they often holidayed in Australia as their youngest son had emigrated there several years previously (although their break was usually over Christmas and New Year – and David was based near Sydney). Nevertheless, I ran over the bridge to catch up with them, and of course it was not Steve and Beverley at all, but two slightly more glamorous look-alikes. It was then I glanced down and saw the glaring red marks all over my feet and ankles – the very place I’d forgotten to put on sunscreen. I was, I surmised, possibly slightly ‘sunstruck’ and so I hurried back to my hotel, pausing to pick up some calamine lotion and a pie en route.

Sprawled on the bed with my notebook computer (is there anything more blissful than returning to a hotel room alone?) I did some last minute research for my trip to Castlemaine. What would the weather be like? What were the exact times of the infrequent Maldon buses? And the official opening hours of the Maldon Visitor Centre and Heritage Museum? And was there any place in Castlemaine itself where I could obtain more information about the Mount Alexander goldfields in general?

Of course, I should not have left all these important tasks until my last night in Melbourne, but in the excitement of being free to explore a strange city I had fallen into my typical unfocused research pattern which revolved around just turning up in a place and walking around to soak up the atmosphere, and hopefully at the same time noticing things and being able to talk to people. And although this is an excellent strategy in some ways (leading to all sorts of unexpected sights and encounters), it really should be combined with a more structured approach. Particularly if it is taking place in a country on the other side of the world!

This was, however, actually my third visit to Australia: the first being on a working holiday visa in 1989; the second being my pre-wedding ‘honeymoon’ in 2005, but which involved me coming out on my own a few weeks earlier ‘just to get a bit of extra travelling in’. However, I had never visited the goldfields region before, and had in fact spent very little time in Victoria at all. So I was looking forward to my trip into the interior of the state, and wondering whether the places would remind me of the old ghost towns I’d visited in California. These were abandoned settlements that had captured my imagination in a way that had taken me by surprise (not being a fan of Wild West tropes), especially when the human stories behind the deserted buildings leapt to the fore.

I was to be in Castlemaine for three nights – plenty of time (or so I thought) to explore the area and visit Maldon. And I had agreed to meet up with an Australian friend later in the week, who had already booked our onward accommodation. Now, looking back, I see that this was perhaps one of the daftest things I could have done. As someone who is almost pathologically afraid of letting people down, one of the most stressful things for me is having to cancel arrangements I’ve already made with others. And so I kept right on with the agreed plan, even though all my instincts were screaming Stay! Stay! Stay!

And the reason for this was pure and simple: I fell in love with the rugged beauty of Central Victoria, the friendliness of the people, the surprisingly cool and arty town of Castlemaine, the open and curious nature of those I told about my research. And I made one very serendiptous connection which brought me much closer to understanding Ann’s life in Malden – and for that alone I will always be grateful to the Castlemaine Historical Society.

This lively group meets in the Old Court House every Tuesday to carry out research for themselves and others. For a small fee, visitors are welcome to use the facilities and pick the brains of the resident researchers. And it just so happened that the day I was due to arrive in Castlemaine coincided with the eve of the first meeting of the Historical Society after the festive break.

31379720 (2)Back of the Old Court House Castlemaine (where the researchers eat their pies)

So shortly before nine o’clock on a Tuesday in mid-January I headed out through the wide Castlemaine streets to the Old Court House, already sweating in the formidable heat. As well as a sun hat and water, I was carrying a slim folder containing my meagre research notes. I did not realise then quite how much they would be augmented by the end of that day.

To be continued next month in The Lost Boy on the Bendigo Road

The Incidental Genealogist, May 2018