52 Ancestors …. Week 13.

This week’s theme is Light A Candle.

Light a candle in memory of …. whom? Just about any and all my ancestors … No, no, that would be rather too many (!)

So I chose to interpret the theme as something which any one of my Great Grandparents would most likely have said many, many times in those pre-electricity days. Something which we say occasionally even now when wanting to create a romantic atmosphere … or perhaps when the mosquitoes and sandflies become annoying.

Consulting Mrs. Google:
“Artificial light in the 1800s changed concepts of time, work, leisure activities, and consumption. Lighting systems shifted from candles, to whale and other oils, to coal gas…The first electric light used in a home in England was in Swan’s electrical workshop in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1881.”

And .. “Before gas or electric lighting were invented, the greatest light source indoors usually came from the fixed fire in the grate. Home activities revolved around the hearth, with candlelight or oil lamps providing dim (but mobile) light around the home. Move an arm’s length from the candle, however, and you couldn’t read, draw or mend.”

And …“While the rich used candles (probably made from beeswax or spermaceti wax extracted from the head of the sperm whale), others were not so fortunate. The less wealthy commonly lit their houses with stinking, smoky, dripping tallow candles which gave out very little light. The poor mostly used even feebler and fast-burning rushlights, usually dipped in smelly animal fat. The average 40cm rushlight only burned for about an hour. “

So what did my Great Grandparents use? Fortunately most of them came from homes where their father had a trade or profession – my paternal GGGFs were a shoemaker, a schoolteacher, a doctor, a merchant tailor, a shopkeeper, another schoolteacher, a Welsh farmer and one mysterious very wealthy young man who turned up in Australia in 1840 and became a grazier (wealthy land and stock owner). Apart from the Welsh farmer, all would have received a regular income and most likely have been able to afford reasonable candles which burnt for long hours.

Nowadays we just flick a switch, or when there is a power outage use a generator or resort to battery-fed torches or LEDlights. I wonder what my ancestors would think of me in our modern caravan with lights fed by solar panels, and bottled gas to cook by. Come to think of it we do still carry candles – the small round insect-repelling sort.

52 Ancestors in 52 weeks – Week 12.

Theme for this week: Membership.

My first foray into genealogical research in the 1990s was at a local Family History society where I was amazed at the number of old records still existing (or so I thought), but when computers and then the internet and email became available the scope exploded. Eventually I discovered e-mail lists and the Rootsweb lists in particular, wonderful international communities of like-minded people all focussed on a particular area or subject, eager to help with research enquiries, happy to discuss theories, and keen to gossip about aspects of life within those areas. The Lanark-List in particular – and best of all Membership was free. The only limit on the number of Lists I could join was the amount of time I had available. This was of course before Ancestry and MyHeritage and ScotlandsPeople, when parish registers and Census records were difficult to access unless one went to the local LDS Centre or joined a family history society. I shall never forget the camaraderie of those early Rootsweb lists, and also of a private group for people with cochlear implants – which eventually led to me meeting my husband – but that is another story.

52 Ancestors ….. Week 11.

The theme for this week is LUCKY.

My Great Uncle George Johnston 1855-1885 was born in Launceston, Tasmania a few weeks after his Glasgow-born emigrant parents arrived on the “Storm Cloud” in 1855 after a voyage of 71 days through the stormiest seas in the world. Perhaps that is why the sea fascinated him. He became a merchant sailor at an early age, the first seaman in the extended Johnston family for generations. He spent many years on cargo and passenger boats, both sail and stream, plying between the Far East, the UK, The Americas, New Zealand and Australia.

George loved his family and wrote frequent letters home, of which about 20 survive. In January 1877 he was visiting his uncle and family in London and wrote of a walk to the docks with his cousin and how he was lucky to secure a late berth on the 3-masted “Loch Ard”. He was still on that boat in November 1877 from Shanghai en route to Sydney then going on to Twatow and Amoy, and wrote of how they were lucky to evade a typhoon and how “the other ship which I at one time thought of shipping in came up 4 days ago with her topgallant masts gone – she lost them in a typhoon.”

Again luck favoured him and he did not remain on the “Loch Ard” much longer, as seven months later she was wrecked off Cape Otway on a voyage from London to Melbourne with the loss of 52 lives in a total of 54 passengers and crew.

George obtained his First Mate’s ticket on 25 October 1883 in London. Perhaps he decided then that he was tired of sailing the world and wanted to be closer to home and his family. He signed on with the SS “Cahors”, a new powerful screw steamer which carried about 200 passengers and cargo between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, making several record-breaking runs. In 1884 George became the Second Officer.

His family in Tasmania were doubtless happy to know he was relatively closer to home and no longer subject to the perils of the open sea.

But on 10 June 1885 George’s luck ran out. The “Cahors” ran onto a reef just 13 miles out of land, in a relatively calm sea. As reported in the Launceston Daily Telegraph some months later:

“ Mr. Johnston and the crew worked all night, aiding the passengers, who were at last transhipped to the steamer “Burwah” and landed safely. He was lightly clad in his under-clothing, wet and exhausted from over-exertion, but he went ashore in charge of the mails, which he landed safely at Clarence Head, and remained there during the night. Next day, the 12th of June, he was going back in a launch to the captain and part of the crew who remained in charge of the wreck, when a heavy sea struck the launch and she nearly foundered. Mr. Johnston was washed overboard, and as the launch could not be brought to or turned, he perished in sight of those who admired his gallantry and unselfish labours to save others, and who were most anxious to rescue him. The launch had, in fact, put out contrary to law, as the danger flag was flying at Clarence Head at the time.”

Photo: It is thought that the young man sitting in the foreground was George Johnston.

A fuller version of George’s story is at www.nancyvada.me/George-Johnston-sailor-boy

52 Ancestors – Week 10.

This week’s theme is ‘Translation’.

I have a mysterious Great great grandfather named Thomas Darchy who was born in Augsburg, Bavaria in 1820 but lived the first eleven or so years of his life with a Prussian-born guardian in Neuchatel, Switzlerland. When he was aged 10 the guardian received a letter from someone apparently connected with Thomas’ mother’s family, saying the boy was to be collected and taken …. where? The guardian was most upset and drafted a reply in archaic French – not his native language – full of crossed-out words and other words added above and below – and by the greatest good fortune that draft has been was found in the Neuchatel archives, along with some other legal papers.

Over the years several translations have been made by a variety of people, including me using an on-line translator. Not all agree. The general consensus is that the distraught guardian wrote, in part:

“And what do you want to do with him? Send him to boarding school? Or in other words, abandon him, because you do not want to look after him and his mother will continue to watch him from a distance at her pleasure”. … “Regarding the rest, I do not understand how Madam L. was able so easily to consent to this arrangement, which is precisely the opposite of what she told me two years ago in Geneva, when she seemed to fear his presence in England (deleted…. and assured me she wanted to leave him here for better hiding him). She said in her own words that he would never know his mother and that the mother’s family would forever ignore his existence. She told me her final wish for her son, and she gave me her express wish, to raise him entirely as Swiss.” … “ I would like to remind you that this child is here under the protection of the government and that I am his guarantor…”

“ Personally, I am deeply worried about the consequences that this change will have for my dear child, for who shall he count on in the future. On you? Alas! You live with 200-300 livres of him, you are married, a public servant. (deleted …and you have no interest to see him prosper and to make his way). Or his mother? Much less than on you, because she doesn’t want him and as she says, she cannot look after him. Thus, he will be abandoned and alone, continually in boarding schools and he will become what he can.”

We do not know for certain what happened during the next ten years, but in 1840 Thomas turned up on a ship in Australian waters, a wealthy young man aged just 20. He went on to found an Australian grazing empire – at one stage the family owned or leased vast tracts of sheep and cattle pasturage. Sadly much was lost in the depression of the 1890s. Most of his sons including my own great grandfather became drovers. One became an outback postman.

But nobody has ever managed to discover just who he was!! We have a baptismal certificate from Augsburg but it is suspected that his parents’ names were falsified. Family stories abound – he was the illegitimate son of a French noblewoman emigree and a Scottish nobleman, or a Prussian princess, or an Englishwoman who was one of George IV’s mistresses …. So the draft letter in the Neuchatel archives is important since it mentions his mother but does not of course give her name apart from referring to her as “Madame L”.

A much fuller account of Thomas’ early years is at https://nancyvada.me/the-mysterious-advent-of-thomas-darchy/

52 Ancestors – Week Nine.

The theme for this week is Gone Too Soon.

My maternal grandmother Lily Hunt was the tenth and last child of school teachers Edwin Hunt and Margaret Morgan who married in Reading, Berkshire in 1862. The seventh and ninth children, unfortunately, did not survive early childhood. The ninth only survived a few months, but the seventh lived for two years and her death was never forgotten, even in such a straight-laced Victorian family, and my Aunt Betty remembered hearing about her in the 1930s.

Alice Katherine Hunt, known as “Eulalie” or “Little Lallie”, was a real Christmas present, a much-loved child born on 25 December 1870 in Reading. She died two months before her third birthday. I do not know the cause of her death.

My aunt passed on to me a lovely little Memento Mori, a brooch of amethyst and seed pearls containing a lock of golden hair and inscribed on the back EH.

52 Ancestors …. Week 8.

The theme for this week is “I can identify…”

Or rather, I can’t. So frustrating! Trying to identify all the family members in several photos of my father in law’s funeral in August 1953.

Squadron Leader Wiliam Frederick Hoffmann AFC (“Bill”) remained in the British Air Force after WW2, and was on holiday at Penzance in Cornwall with his wife and small son aged 6 when on the 26 August 1953 he saw a woman who seemed to be in difficulties in the water and swam out to rescue her. He lost his life but the woman was rescued.

He was given a full Royal Air Force funeral. Curiously while the funeral was reported in the newspapers, only his widow’s and his father’s names were included among the long list of Air Force dignitaries who attended. (His full story is elsewhere on this website).

So here is one of the photos and an enlargement of the family group.
I can identify some of those in the front row:

In the top photo, In the front row is Bill’s mother Dorothy “Daisy” (Darragh) Hoffmann (1891-1972) and Bill’s widow Joyce “Joy” (Attrill) Hoffmann (1921-1983) with Joy’s father Syd Attrill immediately behind them. Syd is easily identified from other family photos, as are Daisy and Joy. The man to Joy’s left is most likely Bill’s father William Hoffmann (1899-1955), a Belfast hairdresser, and almost obscured behind him, Bill’s sister Yvonne (1918 – 1977) who never married – all are in the front row again in the second photo.

So that’s Bill’s immediate family sorted.

But – who is next? Who is the tall baldish man in the second photo, in a prominent position almost next to Daisy, with a woman (his wife?) beside him. They could be Pearl and Charles Hoffmann (1892-after 1958), Bll’s Uncle, who was a dentist in Leeds. They had no children. But they are wide apart in the second photo, and the woman seems to be more with the tall man with abundant hair – perhaps he is Charles? Less likely one of these men could be Bill’s eldest brother Frederick Hoffman (1886-1975) (he dropped the second n), who went to the USA in 1916. His wife died in 1949. His son Frederick Jay Hoffman (1922-1973) and daughter Marcia were Bill’s only close cousins. I think it unlikely these cousins would travel from USA for the funeral but perhaps their father would?

Or it could be Daisy’s brother William Kendall Darragh (1883-1979) and his wife Charlotte; Bill would have spent his childhood with them. Their granddaughter thinks it is not them, nor their son Brian Kendall Darragh.

Going further back in the first photo, there is an older man with silver hair. He seems to be part of the immediate family group. The older man could not be either of Bill’s grandfathers as both died earlier, in 1933 and 1939 respectively. Could HE be one of the brothers Frederick or Charles??

I think I will leave it there. Below is a composite family tree.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week Seven.

Topic: Outcast.

I have chosen a broad interpretation – “someone different from the others” but without the usual connotations of being cast out as a pariah.

My Great Uncle George Johnston (1855-1885) certainly fits this bill. With 12 close uncles and aunts and almost 40 first cousins in Scotland, he was the first seaman in his extended family.

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that he was born in Tasmania, Australia a few weeks after his parents Alexander Johnston and Margaret Lyle arrived from Glasgow on the Storm Cloud in 1855 after a voyage of 71 days in the stormiest seas of the world.

He must have started at sea before he was aged 20. A number of letters George wrote to his family in Tasmania show that he spent many years on cargo and passenger boats, both sail and steam, plying between the Far East, The British Isles, North and South America and Australasia. He visited his extended family in Glasgow whenever possible and often mentioned them in letters home, making the letters a great treasure trove for this family historian!

Sadly George lost his life at sea when he was only 29. Not on the high seas in a howling storm, but off the Australian coast in reasonable weather when the powerful screw steamer on which he was second mate ran aground. He was posthumously awarded a gold medal for bravery.

His full story is at https://nancyvada.me/sailing/george-johnston-sailor-boy/

52 Ancestors … Week 6.

Topic; Social media

The advent of the Internet was one of the most significant events in my life, coming at the same time as my interest in genealogy was awakened. Early Rootsweb discussion lists (In the days before Ancestry) were rich sources of information, assistance and camaderie on a scale I had never experienced with childhood penfriends. My family trees grew and grew…

But it was more .. An Australian, I joined several international discussion lists for people with cochlear implants – at that time still a fairly innovative device – and ‘met’ Bev B., a Canadian, who invited me to make a joint presentation with her at an international conference in the USA. With the help of a Quota scholarship I travelled all over the US, attended several other conferences and met many of the people with whom I had chatted on-line. A few years later Bev planned to attend an Australian conference and asked if I knew anyone with a cochlear implant in New Zealand … yes, there was this guy on another of my lists … Bev visited him, played matchmaker and several years later there I was living in New Zealand with my wonderful new husband!

52 Ancestors ….. Week 5.

the subject for this week is Oops.

I had finished a family history book and published it with Blurb. Luckily I only ordered one copy. A cousin, proof reader par excellence, noticed a discrepancy in the Preview on Blurb and also asked if I could include a little more information which had arrived too late to be included originally. So I fixed everything, wrote a better Acknowledgement, and as a final touch decided to move the title of a painting on the back cover to the inside, to go with the description of the painting on the front cover.

On the back of the book is a painting of the Tamar River in early Tasmania, painted by my grandfather. Off to Blurb went the corrected pdf, and in due course a new edition of the book arrived. Some weeks later my cousin contacted me again. Errrr had I noticed the spelling of the river’s name? And sure enough somehow it had morphed into the “Tamara” River. …

52 Ancestors …. Week 4.

The subject for this week is Education.

There are many schoolteachers in my extended family but one was a real trailblazer – my Great Aunt Fanny Elizabeth Hunt 1863-1941. In 1888 Fanny became the University of Sydney’s first woman Science graduate and only the second in Australia. (Fanny was a perfectly acceptable name in those days, despite what Bradley Walsh thinks!)

She taught at a number of girls’ schools in Sydney for some years then became the inaugural headmistress of Ipswich Girls Grammar School just outside Brisbane, Queensland in 1891. Later she founded another school, Girton College in Toowoomba Queensland, in 1903.

I was to follow in her footsteps many years later, proudly wearing Fanny’s academic hood at my own graduation.