Thursday, 1 January 2015

Some fiction based on life in early Australia

I'm a huge fan of the website Goodreads for recording everything I've read, or am currently reading, or would like to read. It has an app so I can be in a bookshop or library and see yet another book I'd love to read (so many books, so little time) and all I have to do is scan the book's barcode and Goodreads adds it to my Want To Read list. I can also connect with other readers who like similar things, or with existing friends through a link that uses my Facebook profile to find my friends.

I work in a library as my day job (I know, it's a tough life for some), and see so many books as I'm shelving, as well as getting recommendations from patrons and colleagues. When I'm shelving I have to discipline myself not to read the blurbs on all the books, because there will be too many I'd like to borrow, and I know I don't have enough time to read them all. Maybe if I didn't do any family history I could fit in all the reading, but that's not going to happen!! A month ago I liked the look of a cover I was about to shelve (yes, I know the saying, but if it were true then publishing companies wouldn't need marketing departments) but when I came back from my lunch break it had already been borrowed, & I couldn't for the life of me remember the title or author, just the first line of the blurb. I typed my dilemma into the Goodreads discussion group called What's The Name Of That Book??? and within a few days I had a reply with the exact book I was after. So I found it, read it, and loved it. Result!! Thanks Goodreads community.

The other good thing about Goodreads is the way I can categorise my books into whatever shelving system I like. I created one called Convict/Colonial to gather together everything I've read/want to read/currently reading about my favourite genre, fiction based on Australian convict lives and stories. I find that reading these books helps me envisage my convict/colonial ancestor's lives much better then reading a textbook about the times. My all-time favourite is The Secret River by Kate Grenville, and also the book she wrote about her research process called Searching for the Secret River. When I read the second one I realised how much work it takes to write a good book, not just in the massive amounts of research involved, but the editing process as well. Other favourites are The Burial by Courtney Collins (no relation), and the Convict Girls series by Deborah Challinor. If I read a book I love I try and contact the author to thank them, and ended up corresponding a little with both Courtney Collins and Deborah Challinor. I asked Deborah if she could include a map in the next book so I could refer to it and really know where things were in Sydney in the 1830's as she describes the main characters walking around the fledgling city. She said she'd ask the publisher, and voila! there was a map in the front of Book #3, The Silk Thief. Thanks Deborah!!

If you're looking for some fiction based on convict or early settler's life in Australia here is a list of the books I've read and enjoyed that fall into that category:

  • Surviving Sydney Cove: The Diary of Elizabeth Harvey, Sydney, 1790 - Alexander Goldie
  • An Irresistible Temptation - Carol Baxter
  • Kitty, Amber, then Band of Gold (trilogy) - Deborah Challinor 
  • Behind the Sun, Girl of Shadows, then The Silk Thief (trilogy) - Deborah Challinor
  • For the Term of His Natural Life - Marcus Clarke
  • The Burial - Courtney Collins
  • A Place Called Freedom - Ken Follett (set in Scotland then the USA, but similar vintage)
  • Tom Appleby, Convict Boy - Jackie French
  • The Secret River, Searching for The Secret River, Sarah Thornhill - Kate Grenville
  • The Lieutenant - Kate Grenville (fiction roughly based on the life of Lieutenant William Dawes)
  • To Love Anew, Longings of the Heart, and Enduring Love (trilogy) - Bonnie Leon
  • The Colour of Milk - Nell Leyshon
  • South of Darkness - John Marsden
  • Playing Beattie Bow - Ruth Park
  • The Quietness - Alison Rattle
  • Currency Lass - Margaret Leeson
  • A Woman Transported - Sharon Robards
  • Women on the Rocks: A Tale of Two Convicts - Kristin Williamson
  • The Currency Lads - Peter Yeldham
If anyone has any others to add to the list, please mention them in the Comments below. I'd love to hear of some more!

PS Once I pressed Publish on this post I went to the National Library of Australia's website and searched by subject, coming away with probably 50 new titles to add to my list, some of which I have already read but forgotten to add to Goodreads, like the Potato Factory series by Bryce Courtenay, Sara Dane by Catherine Gaskin, and The Australians series by William/Vivian Stuart Long. My list is 73 books long. Again, so many books, so little time.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Above The Fold

Today I had the honour of meeting Aussie author and screenwriter, Peter Yeldham, at Tuggerah Library as he launched his latest novel 'Above The Fold'. I first discovered his writing when I found his book The Currency Lads, about two boys in 1830's Sydney. Early Australian historical fiction is my favourite genre, and this book is wonderful, as are all of his novels. Each one teaches me about a period in history or historical figures that I didn't know much about previously. He was an engaging speaker, and signed my copy which is next on the very tall "to read" pile.

I'm particularly looking forward to reading this novel as Peter's character is a journalist covering issues such as the British nuclear testing in South Australia, which my grandmother's brother was involved in as a Squadron Leader for the Royal Australian Air Force. Uncle Geoffrey Tuck was ordered by the British to fly through the mushroom clouds and follow their drift. He refused to let his men do this, but followed orders himself, and died only a few years later from a rare form of cancer. I'll be writing more about this war hero in the near future.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Love over time is the same

I just love this picture. It just goes to show that our ancestors weren't all stuffy and serious all the time, even if their photos make it look like they were (well, maybe some actually were, but that's their problem). I wonder what they'd make of the silly faces we pull nowadays for our phone cameras.

Love doesn't change over time, just how we record it.

From the Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches Facebook page

Sign here

I've recently discovered a new addition to Ancestry, the New South Wales Land Grants 1788 - 1963. They are provided to Ancestry through the awesome State Records NSW. Much as I love visiting their facility, it's great to not have to trek to Kingswood, and be able to look these records up from my lounge room. I have several ancestors and their partners who received land grants, including Thomas Dixon, Richard Brownlow, Esther Spencer, James Brackenreg, and Joseph Bigge. These records are fantastic for helping me figure out exactly where these parcels of land were, and other little snippets of information. Eg, one of my ancestors (Esther's daughter and my 4x great grandmother) was born Mary Ann Spencer. Spencer was her mother's surname, and even though she had Thomas Stubbs as her partner and father of her child, because they weren't married Mary Ann was christened as a Spencer. Thomas does get a mention on the christening record, though. So Mary Ann grew up and married Charles James Brackenreg, named after his father, James Brackenreg, who was a soldier on the Second Fleet. Charles was almost always known as James, which makes it nice and confusing of course. These land grant records showed me two things that I love: one is that Mary Ann was known as Marian, and secondly, these grants were all signed by the Purchaser, so now I have actual signatures for some of my people!! By comparing the signatures on land grants to Charles James and grants to James, I could tell that the grant was to the same man, the son of the soldier, because the signature was the same on each record. I find it thrilling to see these people's names hand written on the page. It really brings them to life for me. I was happy to see Marian's name as that, to help differentiate her from her daughter-in-law who was also Mary Ann, but also to know that she had a pet name within the family, like a lot of us do.

Esther wasn't literate, as far as I can tell, and/or maybe they didn't ask for the spouse's signature on documents back in the 1830's, so I've never seen anything signed by her. I would love to have faces to put to these names, but sadly they had all died before photography took hold. Having their signatures is the next best thing!

Charles James Brackenreg 1797 - 1878

Thomas Dixon 1801 - 1847

Richard Brownlow 1794 - 1845
Joseph Bigge 1768 - 1833

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

This ends all world confusion - well, about the British Isles at least

I've often wondered about which label was the correct one when describing various countries or groups of countries in the British Isles, and thanks to the Grammar Girl Facebook page there's an easy to follow diagram.

In a nutshell:

The Channel Islands are Guernsey and Jersey.
The Crown Dependencies are the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands (above).
Great Britain is a combination of England, Scotland and Wales.
The United Kingdom is Great Britain plus Northern Ireland.
The British Islands are the United Kingdom plus the Crown Dependencies.
Ireland consists of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The British Isles is all of the above!


The British Government were a busy lot when you also add in their British Overseas Territories of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands. On top of that they also have the 53 Commonwealth of Nations countries (usually ex-territories), which includes Australia and Botswana among many others.

So in case you were you know!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

One lovely nomination, and an interview with a Genie Down Under

In early September I was thrilled to be included in Geniaus Jill Ball's nominations for the One Lovely Blog award. Thanks Jill! I haven't had time to nominate others as we've been away for 3 weeks touring NSW in a campervan during the school holidays - travelling 5,000 kilometres!! I'm creating a separate blog for our family travels, which of course includes many cemetery visits, even if none of my people are buried there. The cemeteries I photographed this trip will be coming up on this blog, but the travel photos and maps will be on the new one.

Before we left I was interviewed my the lovely Maria Northcote, who is the genealogical genius behind the Genies Down Under podcasts. Maria's podcasts and blog feature all things genealogical, but with an Australian twist. This particular episode is 39+ minutes long, but my interview doesn't take up the whole amount of time. 

In late October last year Maria and I were lucky enough to be drawn from the ballot to do the Tank Stream Tour beneath the streets of Sydney's CBD . Here is Maria's blog post about the trip.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

A day in 'The Big Smoke' - without the smoke

A few Sundays ago I had a fantastic day in Sydney, with a fellow (sister?) genie, my friend Suellen. We started off with at Hyde Park Barracks with a bit of a look around using their audioguide to help us learn about the various displays. We interrupted this with a tour run by the delightful Sydney Living Museums guide Amy Armour around The Mint building next door to the Barracks, where we learned all about how it used to be the southern wing of Governor Macquarie's Rum Hospital before it was used as a Mint.

In the foyer there's a machine to mint an oval-shaped design from, starting with a blank the size and colour of a 1 cent piece (remember them??!), you choose a design, roll the handle and out pops a little thingy that you can keep as a memento of your day at the Barracks. The four designs were: a rat (no thanks), a convict man, the broad arrow (convict symbol), or a design of the Barracks themselves. I chose the building, made two of them, and used them as earrings. Beware that if you choose the image of the convict man, when the hole punch goes through it does line up with his head, which I thought wasn't such a nice look on a man. Or a woman.

The staff were amused at my new fine art jewellery, so Amy took a photo, and now I'm now on their homepage! The new face of Hyde Park Barracks!! Well, until someone else has their photo taken anyway. Fleeting fame.

Amy's article mentions the husband of my ancestor, Esther Spencer. She married Joseph Bigg in 1822 in St Phillip's Church of England. Joseph came out with Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie on the Dromedary as their coachman in 1809. He drove the Governor on his tours of inspection to the Cowpastures in 1810, Bathurst in 1815, Mittagong and Goulburn in 1820, and assisted during the trips to Newcastle in 1818, and Van Dieman's Land, Newcastle, and Port Macquarie in 1821. He'd seen more of the colony than almost everyone in that time. While driving Elizabeth Macquarie in her curricle in George Street in October 1814 a child suddenly ran into the horses and was killed. There was a newspaper article in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser two days later which details the accident, but curiously, makes no mention of the driver or his important passenger, which is why it took me forever to find it on Trove. Elizabeth's PR team must have worked overtime to keep this news quiet.

Thankfully, the inquest gives a lot more information. 

At midday, on 6 October 1814, Joseph Bigg (1768-1833), the Macquaries' coachman, accidentally ran over and killed a small child, named Charles Thomas, in George Street, Sydney while Elizabeth Macquarie was a passenger in the coach. Biggs had observed a group of children playing in the street and had drawn his curricle to a halt. He then proceeded on again, little realising that one of the children had run under the vehicle.
When it was realised what had happened from the cries of the bystanders, Elizabeth Macquarie called out to Bigg to stop, dismounted immediately, and carried the injured child into the nearby Thomas family home. Dr. William Redfern was immediately sent for, however, he was unable to revive the child, and Charles Thomas died soon afterwards.
Eyewitness testimony at the coronial inquest chaired by J.W. Lewin cleared Joseph Bigg of any charge of negligence or recklessness in his driving. However, it should come as no surprise that as a consequence of the accident Elizabeth Macquarie suffered a severe nervous collapse and was confined to her bed for several weeks thereafter.

After lunch at the Barracks cafe we were lucky enough to gatecrash a private tour of St James' Anglican Church opposite the Barracks, in King Street. What a gorgeous building it is too. 

It was designed by convict architect (and forger) Francis Greenway, and a number of my forebears were christened and married there. The church website says: St James’ Church was constructed between 1819 and 1824. It is the oldest church building in the City of Sydney and has been in continuous use from its consecration on 11 February 1824 to the present.
This is the view from the Hyde Park Barracks, which is the eastern elevation of the church. The front faces north.

The altar with a gold-leaf lined dome above. Just stunning.
Our impromptu tour took in some of the marble memorials around the walls, then we took the stairs leading to the choir loft and bell pulling ropes, and it was such a beautiful view from up there. We were invited to the next level again, which houses the bells, but we were in a rush to get to the The Scots Church in Margaret Street, so we couldn't hang around any longer. An organised tour that includes the crypt and the bell tower is a must for me one day.

The Scots Church was the venue for a talk by Heather Garnsey from the Society of Australian Genealogists (of which I am a member) on tracing our London ancestors. The talk was arranged by the Huguenot Society of Australia, who were very welcoming and friendly at the afternoon tea that followed. It was great to learn more resources that are available online, seeing that (sadly) a trip to the UK chasing my English, Irish and Scottish ancestors isn't going to happen for me any time soon.

We ended that part of the day with a few drinks at The Menzies Hotel near Wynyard, which finished the afternoon off nicely. I'm looking forward to another Sunday spent touring the city. If only that lottery win would speed up, then I could immerse myself in it every single day.