In the summer of 2017 I underwent a tour of industrial sites in England in preparation for my forthcoming book, The Nonconformist Revolution. Here are some of the highlights …
17 – 19 August
The tour began in earnest with three extraordinary days visiting the museums and industrial buildings at Ironbridge in Shropshire.
World of Wedgwood
A fascinating day discovering more about the history of Wedgwood and its world-famous pottery.
Quarry Bank Mill
"Education - without this you are nothing. You may possess all other things, and yet without this one you may be wanting everything."
So said Unitarian Samuel Greg Jnr. (1804 – 1876) in The Condition of the Working Classes, 1857. Greg’s father, also Samuel (1758 – 1834), established Quarry Bank Mill near Manchester and by the early nineteenth century it was the largest textile mill in Britain.
Break for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Darlington – Head of Steam Railway Museum
My Industrial Revolution tour recommences at the Head of Steam Railway Museum in Darlington investigating the Stockton and Darlington railway and the origins of the passenger railway system in Britain. The history of the line is fascinating and it would not have been built at all had it not been for the visionary Quakers who realised how the line could revolutionise their businesses. Little did they know it would revolutionise the world!
The Masson Mills, Matlock, and Cromford
The tour continues in Derbyshire’s Derwent Valley. Pictured below is Cromford Mill and the site of Sir Richard Arkwright's cotton mill. Arkwright was one of the few industrialists who wasn't a Nonconformist - but many of his partners and contemporaries were. Just like John Snow (see my cholera books) Arkwright did not fare well in the social minefield of the eighteenth century. The least he could have done was to have become a Methodist! It would have helped with the writing of The Nonconformist Revolution enormously.
The tour ends at the River Derwent. It was the harnessing of water power – and the development of the steam engine – which were crucial in the Industrial Revolution. This and the minds of some brave visionaries who stuck to their guns and changed the world. In their own minds things had already changed as they also challenged the accepted belief system. All of this – and more - is included in The Nonconformist Revolution for Pen and Sword.
You can see the anticipation - and sheer exhaustion - on my face!
In 2012 Tessa Towner, my colleague at the Friends of Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre (FOMA), responded to an advertisement in the Medway Messenger newspaper. The notice had been placed by a Dutch gentleman named Henk van der Linden and asked for information about a group of Medway men killed at the beginning of World War One. These young men were on board three ships - HMS Aboukir, HMS Cressy and HMS Hogue – the so-called Live Bait Squadron. The ships were sunk between 6.20am and 7.55am by the German U-boat U9 and of the 2,296 men on board, 1,459 drowned and only 837 men survived.
At this time Tessa was working on the research of the late Michael de Caville who had begun compiling an index of Medway men killed in World War One some twenty-five years earlier. Before his premature death in 2010, Tessa promised him that FOMA would finish his work and publish it. The Index was launched on the FOMA website at midnight on 4 August 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. At its launch it contained some 4,000 names and personal details, but it has since grown and will continue to grow as more information is added.
When Henk initially made contact with Tessa, she was therefore in the perfect position to begin helping in his quest to discover the names and stories of all the Live Bait Squadron dead and create a lasting memorial to them. The following article was published in The Clock Tower in November 2014 and explains what happened next.
Photographs: www.corkuyvenhoven.com .
FOMA's commemorations of World War One continued at the end of September as Tessa Towner and I joined the much anticipated gathering of descendants of the Live Bait Squadron.
Many of you will now be familiar with the name Henk van der Linden, a Dutch economist, who one day in 2004 strayed into the war graves cemetery in The Hague. He was on his way to a meeting but could not find a parking space and parked near to the cemetery. This chance decision led him to discover the story of Chatham's three cruisers: HMS Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy.
Henk calls this the start of Our Road to Chatham, and on 21 September 2014 the end of that long road was almost in sight. It was a beautiful late summer's afternoon when guests began to arrive at the St. George's Centre, Pembroke Barracks, at Chatham Historic Dockyard. This was to be the first day of commemorations and celebrations of the lives of the 1,459 men and boys who perished in the space of a few hours in the North Sea on the morning of 22 September 1914.
There was not a seat to spare in the old Dockyard church and once Henk had welcomed everyone in Dutch and English, he called out the name of each of the cruisers, to which descendants were to respond, 'Here!' Each response was unexpectedly emotional, for it was as if the voices of those who had perished a hundred years before were calling out to us, the dead making themselves present at our gathering. Cllr. Barry Kemp, the Mayor of Medway, and Mrs. Ann West, Deputy Lieutenant of Kent, representing HM The Queen, were invited to speak, and then Henk returned to the lectern to begin his presentation. Henk spoke about the early years of his research, the highs and the lows, and then the breakthrough moment in 2008 when he began writing his book, Live Bait Squadron (ISBN 978-9461532602) and realised that it should be the men on the cruisers who 'should tell the story, should be the heart of the book.'
The original Dutch version of the book was to be launched at a special commemoration on 16 September 2010 at the Municipal Cemetery in The Hague, the place Henk had found himself back in 2004 and where the story had begun. A member of the Mayor's staff who had contacted Henk to organise the commemoration recognised him as one of his personal heroes, the author of the much-admired school books Henk had written on economics. The tide began to turn. Dutch radio and the press started to take an interest and as a result the descendants were found of Captains Roelof Voorham and Joop Berhout, the respective masters of the rescue vessels SS Flora and SS Titan. Momentum grew and the book launch became a far more formal commemoration ceremony than had originally been anticipated.
From this moment on Henk began to receive correspondence from more Live Bait descendants, but not all the information he received was good. In 2010 reports began to emerge of metal salvagers on the wrecks of the three cruisers at the bottom of the sea.
In 2011, the second edition of the book was printed, this version having been translated from Dutch into English. At about this time Henk was to discover that diving was permitted at the wreck site and it was through the Duik de Noordzee Schoon (Dive the North Sea Clean) that he learnt there was a budget available for filming and they could make a documentary about the cruisers. From that moment on a camera crew, led by diving enthusiast Klaudie Bartelink, was to follow him along his Road.
At the end of this same year, Henk received an email from Alice Barrigan regarding her ancestor, 15 year old midshipman Duncan Stubbs, who had perished on board HMS Aboukir and whose remains have never been found. Then in January 2012 Henk was contacted by Barry and Brenda Mack about Gunner William James Shrubsall RN, aged 40, who had also perished on board HMS Aboukir.
These descendants were to become a driving force for the dissemination of the Live Bait Squadron story. Alice's family had inherited Duncan Stubbs' sea chest which he had been prevented from taking on board the Aboukir as it was too large. The box contained many treasures including written evidence of Stubbs' friendship with Shrubshall, something Barry Mack was not aware of. Duncan's father, Major Stubbs had written:
'Duncan and the gunner Mr. Shrubsole [sic] were great friends and took the watch together. Lt. Hughes wanted to change Duncan’s watch for some reason but Mr. Shrubsole would not hear of it; he liked to hear Duncan talk at night and would not have any other midshipman with him. Hughes said that when he was in his hammock he could hear the two talking on watch and Duncan’s laugh could be heard all over the ship.'
Descendants continued to join Henk on his Road which was to take an interesting turn when it came to organising the book launch for the English imprint. Henk had placed an advertisement in the Medway Messenger asking for information and it was this which Tessa Towner, FOMA's Chairman, responded to and which began our own involvement. Tessa told Henk about her work on the De Caville index which included many of those who had served on the three cruisers. Thanks to this and FOMA's help, some 80 relatives representing 20 cruiser crew members eventually attended Henk's book presentation at the St. George's Centre in 2012 and the Turning the Page Ceremony at Rochester Cathedral (see The Clock Tower, Issue 28, November 2012.)
Henk realised that the descendants needed a focus for their stories and a means to find each other to share information, and thus the Live Bait Squadron Society was formed (www.livebaitsqn-soc.info/). Barry Mack and John Tice (the grandson of survivor William (Billy) Tice, a Petty Officer Stoker on HMS Hogue) wrote to the Daily Mail. The publicity which this generated uncovered even more descendants, including those of Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen, captain of the U-boat U9, which had fired the torpedoes at the cruisers that fateful September morning. For this, Weddigen had been awarded the Orden Pour le Mérite medal, or the Blue Max, Prussia's highest military award.
In 2013 Henk received a letter from the Lord Lieutenant of Kent and Chatham Historic Dockyard. Plans to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the sinkings were being considered, but to move things forward they needed Henk to be part of the Centennial Team. Whilst all of this was going on, Klaudie Bartelink and her team had continued work on the documentary with a view to screening it at the commemorations. Everything was falling into place.
At this point in Henk's talk at the St. George's Centre the lights were dimmed for the inaugural screening of the documentary. Narrated by Roger Thurman, the film is to be shown on Dutch television in October or November. The film tells the story of the Live Bait Squadron, focussing in large part on the stories of individuals, none of which would have been possible had the descendants of those people not got in touch with Henk. Whilst Otto Weddigen's story proved fascinating, it was the story of Duncan Stubbs and his friend W.H. Wykeham-Musgrave, known as Kit, which took centre stage. The 15 year old cadets from Dartmouth Naval College survived all three sinkings only to be drowned attempting to save the life of another, older man. The story was taken up by Stubbs' great nephew and Alice Barrigan's son, also named Duncan, a keen diver who was filmed diving down to the wrecks with the rest of the team. The documentary was breathtaking and there were few dry eyes in the St. George's Centre as the titles rolled to loud applause.
Klaudie Bartelink then took questions from the floor and this gave the descendants a further opportunity to tell their individual stories and ask others for lost pieces of information. There was also much discussion about the salvage work going on in the North Sea and the desecration of the graves of the crews of the cruisers, all of which had been highlighted in the documentary. Archaeologist, Andy Brockman, took to the floor and explained how the wheels were in motion to recognise the site as an official war grave. As yet no official announcement had been made, but there was some considerable pressure for this to happen as quickly as possible. This was a subject to which everyone would return over the next few days.
At the close of Sunday's proceedings, Henk made his concluding remarks:
'Someone picked me to take this road. I don't know who. It is what it is.'
Guests remained in the Centre for refreshments and an opportunity to talk and look at the photographs of the crew members Tessa Towner had put on display. Many of the guests were staying at the Ramada Hotel in the Historic Dockyard and here discussions continued well into the evening.
The following day, 22 September, and the one hundredth anniversary of the sinkings, guests were hushed over breakfast at the Ramada. It was not that everything had been said the previous day or that they were tired, but the anniversary was upon us and the morning was a time to reflect. The Dockyard was open at 10 am for everyone with a ticket for the commemoration ceremony to be able to look around free of charge. Visitors arriving for a day out and unaware of what was going on were also thrilled to discover that entry was free. Tessa and I were joined by Elaine Gardner and after lunch we and the other thousand guests made our way to the No.5 Covered Slip for the commemorative Drumhead Service. All the descendants had been given enamel badges to wear by the Historic Dockyard to indicate their affiliation with each cruiser: yellow for HMS Hogue, blue for HMS Cressy, and red for HMS Aboukir. Some wore more than one badge as many of the men had swum from vessel to vessel in an attempt to save themselves.
Around us were many familiar faces, but we were particularly thrilled when the VIPs began to enter to spy FOMA Vice President Sue Haydock arrive with Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, the husband of Anne, the Princess Royal. Then we heard The Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines (Commando Training Centre Royal Marines) Lympstone as they began their progress into the Covered Slip. It was an exciting moment. Their entrance was followed by HRH The Duke of Kent, The Lord Lieutenant of Kent, The Viscount De L’Isle MBE and Admiral Sir Ian Garnett, Chairman of Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.
The service was led by The Right Reverend Dr. Stephen Venner DL and The Reverend Scott Brown, Chaplain of the Fleet and following an introductory prayer, the congregation sang 'Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us.' The drumhead was built and the standards were presented. The Bishop introduced the service, reminding us all why we were there:
'...to remember all those who were caught up in the courageous but tragic events of the First World war, especially for the crews of HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy, three Chatham Division Cruisers. We remember all those who were killed in action, or by disease, the bereaved, the lost, the families who were shattered, the wounded, maimed and injured, those who held in silence unspeakable memories of warfare...we remember those who fought and those who remained anxiously at home in this community...'
The Duke of Kent unveiled a plaque to commemorate the sinking of the cruisers and we then listened to a reading by Julie Cook, the granddaughter of John Richard Back who was lost in HMS Cressy. Julie read extracts from a contemporary account of the action. Admiral Sir George Zambellas, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff rose next to read from Ecclesiaticus. More hymns and prayers followed and then Henk van der Linden got to his feet.:
'I call upon the Mayor of Medway to pass a traditional commemorative poppy wreath to the Mayor of the Hague with the request that this wreath be taken by him and laid on behalf of the people of Medway at the Municipal Cemetery, Den Haag on Wednesday 24th September in remembrance of the loss of the three cruisers HMS Aboukir, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy.
The mayor of Medway represents the people of Medway who recognise and thank the Dutch people for their rescue of and kind acts in caring for the survivors from His Majesty's Ships Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy and also to remember the 1,459 men lost in the action of 22nd September 1914 of which 1,264 were from the Chatham Port Division.
The handing of this wreath to the Mayor of The Hague symbolises the connection between the people of Medway and the people of The Hague today, a connection made stronger by the history of one hundred years ago.'
The final moments of the ceremony were the most moving. The Act of Remembrance was read by Cllr. Barry Kemp the Mayor of Medway and the Mayor of The Hague's representative. Poppy petals fell, the Last Post was played and the Covered Slip fell completely silent.
Following the service guests mingled again over refreshments and to bring the day to a close everyone gathered on Museum Square for Beat Retreat by the Royal Marines Band which had so brilliantly played at the ceremony.
Tuesday 23 September was Travel Day according to Henk's itinerary. Tessa and I met early at St Pancras International Station, ready to board the Eurostar train for Brussels where we would change for The Hague. Thanks to a broken down locomotive we arrived at our destination, the coastal resort of Scheveningen, slightly later than anticipated, but it didn't matter as we were excited to have arrived, buoyed by the bracing sea air and the many wonderful people we had met on the journey.
Wednesday 24 September was the final day of the commemorations. Not all of those who had attended in Chatham had decided to come on to Holland, and those who had made the journey were scattered across the area in different hotels. It was therefore a slightly strange experience to arrive at Muzee Scheveningen to be greeted by familiar faces. The Muzee was a fabulous showcase for local history and we were greeted most warmly by everyone, including Henk, of course. The Live Bait commemorations had taken over much of the museum and we were ushered into a lovely room set for lunch. The Dutch hospitality was overwhelming, and straight away we were presented with a wonderful selection of rolls and open sandwiches full of Dutch ham and cheese, jugs of milk and fresh orange juice, followed by fruit and steaming coffee. It was exactly what everyone needed.
We were all sitting in quite different groups to how we had been on Sunday at the St. George's Centre, as by now everyone knew everyone else. However we very soon became aware that the occupants of one of the tables were only recognisable from the documentary, as these were the descendants of the U9 Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen.
Following lunch, the room was rearranged so that we could sit in rows. We were welcomed by the Chairman and CEO of the Muzee, Henk Grootveld and Paul de Kievit, and Henk van der Linden, who also introduced the start of the mini conference. Tessa was the first to speak and explained how FOMA's work on the De Caville Index had played a key role in the story of the past few years and the discovery of so many of the descendants who had come to the ceremonies in Chatham and The Hague. Next to speak were Dr. Richard Porter and Dr. Jane Harrold, Curator and Deputy Curator and Archivist respectively of The Britannia Museum, Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. Together they told the story of the teenage boys, the so-called Lost Term from Dartmouth, who had been called up and were lost on the three cruisers. From Aboukir there were Cadets J.D. Stubbs, G. Gore-Brown, G.B. Barchard, A.V.G. Allsopp, H.L. Riley, and A.D.C Robertson. From Cressy there were Midshipmen C.P. Dalmege, V.H. Corbyn, F.G. Matthews, and J.A. Froude, and from Hogue there were Midshipmen H.H. Ward, G.C. Harold, and C.W. Holt.
Henk Grootveld and Paul de Kievit were swiftly on their feet again to announce the official opening of the Live Bait Squadron exposition. Henk was presented with a silk tie to commemorate the occasion and guests then progressed to the upper level of the Muzee to see for the first time the artifacts, displays and information associated with every aspect of the Live Bait story.
At 3 pm, following wine, canapés and more coffee, we were all on the move again, boarding coaches outside the Muzee to take us all to the Den Haag Municipal Cemetery. Here we were escorted to another reception area where cakes and more drinks were waiting for us. We could not have been made to feel more welcome. Speeches were given by dignitaries from The Hague, including the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, Sir Geoffrey Adams, the Deputy Mayor of The Hague Tom de Bruijn, and Cllr. Barry Kemp the Mayor of Medway.
Sadly as we listened to Barry Kemp's words we were all aware that the light had dimmed and the rain had begun to fall outside. However, no matter, as Henk van der Linden was on hand with umbrellas for everyone and we slowly progressed outside for the laying of the wreaths. The rain added to the sombre atmosphere as wreath after wreath was brought to the spot where some of men of the Live Bait Squadron now lie: wreaths from the people of Britain, the Netherlands, from Germany, and of course the wreath from Medway, which had been brought from Chatham. Then with bunches of flowers came the descendants of the fallen, and perhaps most poignantly, the Wennigen family. We stood in the rain for the Last Post and contemplated the past few days as silence fell.
More food and drink arrived when we returned to the reception area of the cemetery and then we all boarded the coach back to the Muzee where we said our final farewells. There was to be a screening of the documentary in the evening, but most of those attending would be the Dutch who had not yet seen it, and the Barrigans.
It had been an extraordinary few days and the beginning of the healing process for the descendants. Henk van der Linden had given them the opportunity to share their stories and their grief. They had been able to meet and thank the families of the SS Flora and SS Titan , but also discover that they too had grieved over the years in the knowledge that the crews of their ancestors' boats had had to choose who to save from the sea. Finally, everyone had had the opportunity to meet the family of Otto Wennigen. For some it was too much to bear, but for others it was important and necessary and they were able to forgive and even start to forget.
“It is difficult to ascertain exactly who was the first victim of Asiatic cholera in Britain, though contemporary commentators believed it to have been 12-year-old Isabella Hazard, who died in Sunderland in October 1831. In his 1832 account of the outbreak, Sunderland surgeon Dr William Reid Clanny recounted how he had visited Isabella at her home, a public house in Low Street, Fish Quay. At the time, the area consisted of densely populated, narrow, dirty alleyways. The district was the hub of local commerce and industry and by 1820 Low Street had around 41 public houses.”
First published in The Clock Tower, Issue 24, November 2011,
The Journal of The Friends of Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre (FOMA).
Much is made of the sacrifice of our forebears in the First World War, yet little is known in Britain about that of our cousins, uncles and family members in the Commonwealth. Many of those boys who signed up in the great wars of the Twentieth Century did so because they still felt a strong allegiance to the land of their ancestors, and in many cases, their birth. In pre Common Market days, the ties between the Commonwealth and Britain were far stronger than today and in 1914, Australian men in particular were swift to sign up and ‘do their bit’. At the time, future Australian Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher declared, “Australia will stand by to defend (Great Britain) to our last man and our last shilling.”
I was fortunate recently to travel to Australia with my daughter: a reward for months of A Level study and a respite before heading off to university. For me it was a necessary voyage and one which I will discuss in more detail in the next issue of The Clock Tower. Part of our trip was spent in Australia’s capital, Canberra, a well kept secret. Most Australians warn tourists away from this gem in New South Wales, that it is ‘boring’ and ‘full of bureaucrats.’ The latter is correct, but the first comment could not be further from the truth, particularly as Canberra is home to one of the best museums in the world, the Australian War Memorial.
The War Memorial is a striking building and displays at its entrance the names of Australia’s fallen heroes; it is also the site of Australia’s Remembrance Day Service. It is a solemn edifice housing some of the most interesting displays and artefacts on modern warfare I have ever seen, including fascinating dioramas and the stunning aircraft hall with a wrap-around film screen. Dare I say, the place outshines London’s Imperial War Museum and I would urge anyone visiting Australia to pay a visit.
The museum was conceived by Charles Bean, a man with some considerable vision, spurred on by the need to commemorate the deaths of over 60,000 Australians killed in WWI. Considering the population of Australia at this time was less than five million, the effect of so many deaths from the 420,000 young men and women who enlisted was considerable. They became known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZACs, and many signed up so that they might see England again. Sadly this was not to be the case as the British training camps were already full and so the Anzacs were sent to Egypt.
In April 1915, the conscripts were sent into battle at Gallipoli to fight against the Turks who were allied with Germany. The troops landed on shore on 25 April (now a public holiday in Australia called Anzac Day) but not on the flat beach they had been expecting, but rather at the foot of treacherous cliffs. They were easy targets for the Turks and by the end of the day around 2,000 Anzacs had perished. Gallipoli proved to be as fruitless a battle as those which were being played out in the trenches in Northern Europe, and eight months later with the loss of over 11,000 men, the Anzacs were given the order to withdraw. News of the bloodshed only encouraged more young boys back home to enlist and in July 1915 over 36,000 signed up. These men became known as the ‘fair dinkums’.
Newly enlisted Anzacs and some Gallipoli veterans were sent to the Western Front where they took part in several notable battles: Fromelles, Pozières (in the Somme), Bullecourt, Dernacourt and Villers-Bretonneux; fighting also continued against the Turks in defence of the Suez Canal at Romani, and at Gaza and Beersheba in Palestine.
Sadly in Australia today, and as amongst many young people, there seems to be a lack of awareness for the sacrifice made by those brave men. Whilst Australians have fought more recently in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, we saw very few Australians wearing poppies during our time there prior to 11 November. The only poppies we saw on sale were at the War Memorial in Canberra, however, we paid our dollar and wore our poppies with pride for we, at least, would never forget those brave Anzacs.
’Don’t Forget Me Cobber’ Australia and the First World War, Anderson, Matt; Anzac Day Commemoration Committee, 2006.
Further information in this article is from the above publication and the Australian War Memorial Guide, 2011.
First published in The Clock Tower, Issue 25, February 2012,
The Journal of The Friends of Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre (FOMA).
Readers will recall how last autumn I travelled to Australia with my daughter, Georgie, where we visited the wonderful War Memorial museum in Canberra (see The Clock Tower, Issue 24, November 2011). Our trip was a welcome break from everyday life, but it was also a poignant reminder of the importance of family ties across thousands of miles of land and sea, a tie which many share in the UK today.
Many Kentish folk have emigrated over the years, some of their own accord, others not. Transportation was set up not just to ease overcrowding in British prisons but also as a means of populating Australia, and for this reason, transportation was often the punishment for the most trivial of offences. Convicted criminals began their journey on one of the prison hulks moored on the Thames and Medway where they suffered the most appalling conditions. A good number did not survive their time on board, as the insanitary state of the hulks was the perfect breeding ground for disease, in particular for cholera which ravaged the hulks throughout the mid nineteenth century. Many convict records are now online and they are a fascinating resource and insight into how transportation was not merely a life changing event for the individual concerned but for their entire family.
Some of my Australian cousins are descended from the Coulter brothers Samuel and Edwin from Aylesford who were transported to Australia for stealing in 1829 and 1836 respectively. Others in the Coulter family emigrated to join their siblings and cousins in Victoria (Edwin) and New South Wales (Samuel). Only very recently did I discover that Edwin and Samuel were also the uncles of my mother’s great grandmother, Eliza Coulter, and as such are also related to many FOMA members, including Tessa Towner.
As far as I know, my own paternal ancestors arrived in Australia under their own steam in the Gold Rush of the 1850s, but another group journeyed to New South Wales a good decade earlier. I hoped this trip to Australia would uncover more about these two groups of people. In Victoria Georgie and I visited the Castlemaine Historical Society, where we met with third cousin, Noel Howard. Within minutes we were sitting at a desk, laptops out, assaulted on all sides with documents and information from the wonderful group of volunteers. For a minute I thought I was back at MALSC and I would see Alison Cable or Cindy O’Halloran saunter past. Our presence (and accents) caused some interest and the old phrase, “I’m sure I must be related to you!” was soon heard. Unlikely with the surname Jones, but as all family historians know, every hunch must always be investigated.
Our next port of call was close to the New South Wales border and the Alexandra Historical Society. Family History is in its infancy in Australia, as can be seen by the paucity of information on the Australian Ancestry website. However, they are catching on fast and the town of Alexandra is most certainly flying the flag with gusto. My ancestors had been early occupants of this place in the 1840s, but I am sure they did not receive the welcome we had at their newly opened historical hub, Dove Cottage. The entire committee had turned out to show us the restored miner’s cottage lovingly put back to its original state by them, the volunteers, and jam-packed full of artefacts, including a pair of bloomers on the outside washing line – very 1890s. Sadly no historical documents were available, however, the ladies of the committee made teas and coffees and presented us with homemade cakes. We even had our photographs taken for the local paper in the hope of hearing from someone with information on my Clifford and Roberts family.
One of the most frustrating elements of tracing family tree members in Australia is the lack of census information. In Melbourne I visited the Immigration Museum where this is not seen as a barrier to finding lost family members. There I was reminded of the extraordinary amount of information included on Australian death certificates. One of the most useful elements of the certificate is that which states the number of years the deceased had been resident in Australia, and also where they had been born. Spurred on by this, I returned swiftly to our apartment and logged back on to the Melbourne wi-fi to order my great grandfather’s certificate up from the Victorian online archive. My frustration was acute when I realised this was a familiar trail and his certificate was not in their records. At lunch a few days earlier with my uncle, he had related how his grandfather had been a ‘shady character.’ Thoughts returned of the Medway prison hulks moored in waters as muddy and murky as those of the Yarra and I resolved to re-visit the transportation records. But where to begin with the name John Jones?
It was not until I arrived back home in England did I think to ask the Castlemaine Historical Society if they had any information and after just a few days, Hilary Griffith came back to me with a most welcome discovery, that she had found John on their own CD indexes for births, marriages and deaths and I was finally able to confirm exactly when John had arrived in Australia. Hilary also happened to mention a connection of her own - the Dawes family of Faversham.
On Saturday, 26 February 2011, The Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre was voted Archive of the Year by the readers of Your Family History magazine and the presentation was made at the annual Who Do You Think You Are? Live exhibition at London’s Olympia. Friends of Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre (FOMA) Chairman, Tessa Towner, and I were invited to join Alison Cable, Medway Borough Archivist, and Lyn Rainbow, Medway Council Library Services, at a special presentation by Your Family History Editor-in-Chief Nick Barratt and actress and genealogist, Miriam Margolyes OBE.
Copyright Amanda J. Thomas 2020.