Posts filed under ‘Newspapers’

Attitude to convicts (1937)

Another historic newspaper report, this time in response to the Celebration Committee’s plans for the 150-year anniversary celebrations of the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney. The Committee decided that for the re-enactment of the landing, and the subsequent parade of floats, there would be no convicts!

THEY PLAYED THEIR PART.

The Celebrations Committee has …decided to ban the birthstain, so far as next year’s pageantry is concerned. No convicts will disembark at Farm Cove, nor in the subsequent procession will there be the slightest reminder that there would have been no Landing except for the need to find a new home for Britain’s surplus prison population. This impressive feat in the bowdlerisation of history has been greeted with varying degrees of derision by correspondent s of the “Herald” and others. Mr. H. J Rumsey, who has boldly called his roll-call of the First Fleet “The Pioneers of Sydney Cove,” suggests that the representation of the settlement without mention of the two thirds who involuntarily participated in it is comparable to the story of Hamlet without the Prince.

…”Conspicuous by their absence,” indeed, will be the “true patriots” who, if they left their country for their country’s good, did a vast amount of good work in the land of their enforced adoption. By discreetly leaving this family skeleton in the cupboard the committee has ensured its attendance at the feast.

…The morals of some of the convicts were in as poor case as their garments. No amount of sentimental whitewashing, by way of reaction to the excessive fastidiousness of the Celebrations Committee can disguise the fact that the convict pioneers included a number of “complete villains,” as even Phillip, who was a humane man for his times and wished to befriend his charges, was forced to admit.

…He [Phillip] pronounced the great body of them “quiet and contented,” and Hunter was able to say in 1812 that “there are many men who have been convicts, and are now settlers, who are as respectable as any people who have gone from this country.” It is a curious commentary on the present ban that convicts were permitted to join in public celebrations from the earliest times, and themselves staged a dramatic performance as early as 1789; 

…The truth is that, not merely was Australia founded on account of the convicts, but that it would have made scant progress in its first 50 years without them. We have, perhaps, more to be ashamed of in our treatment of the aborigines, some of whose pathetic remnants, will stage a corroboree at Farm Cove, than of the penal origins of our country. The brutal transportation system reflected at least as much discredit upon its authors and some of its operators as upon the majority of its victims. It belongs to the old unhappy, far-off things of another age. Yet, as Dr. John Dunmore Lang, whose words are recalled by a correspondent today, wrote in 1875, it is a great historical fact which cannot be ignored. The effort to do so is likely to provoke more ridicule than a candid recognition of circumstances, which, so far from being discreditable to Australia, emphasise the magnitude of our achievement in building up a vigorous, independent, and freedom-loving nation from such unlikely beginnings at Sydney Cove. It would be the poorest sort of snobbery to deny that many men and women who were brought to this country under degrading conditions rose superior to their misdoings and misfortunes, and played their part in laying the foundations of the Commonwealth.

THEY PLAYED THEIR PART. (1937, December 11). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17435749

9 June, 2011 at 4:45 pm 1 comment

Attitude to convicts (1891)

Why is it that we are now proud to claim convict ancestors? I was looking in historic newspapers for evidence of earlier views about convict heritage. I found the following remarkable piece in The Queenslander of 7 March 1891:

Whatever changes may be introduced by the advance of Social Democracy, it is doubtful whether pride of birth will ever be eliminated from human nature. There is no sign of it disappearing now at any rate. In Republican France it is just as strong as it was before the Revolution. In America, where there is no titled aristocracy, people are as proud of being descended from somebody who came over in the Mayflower as the Beauforts are of having come over, in the person of an ancestor, with William the Conqueror. In Australia folks have not yet begun to boast of the fact that their forebears came over with the Sirius, or in one of the transports that accompanied that epoch-making vessel. But I have no doubt that will come in time. Most noble origins, from the founding of Rome to the Norman conquest, start from violence and crime, and in a couple of hundred years the convict taint will be blue blood. 

 

8 June, 2011 at 8:56 am 1 comment

Australia Day, past and present

Today is Australia Day and I am thinking how our attitudes to our history have changed over time. My childhood history book referred to Captain Cook ‘discovering Australia’ in 1770. That completely discounted the presence of indigenous Australians here for at least 40,000 years, not to mention all the European sightings of our continent long before Cook.

Then there is the changed attitude to a convict past. Not so many years ago it would have been a dreadful shame to have convict forebears. Now such ancestors are much sought after, as it associates us with pioneers, and we are amused by some of the rogues and think the Kelly gang bushrangers were forced into their crimes. Perhaps some people rewrite their history a bit by glossing over their ancestor’s ‘crime’ (“they were hungry so stole a loaf of bread”). I wonder what misrepresentations our descendants will accuse us of making?

The following is a letter to the editor published in the Sydney Morning Herald  on Thursday 9 December 1937 (page 3, see it  in Trove) in response to preparations for the upcoming 150th anniversary of ‘Australia Day’. At that reenactment of the landing, they chose to gloss over even the presence of convicts in the First Fleet!

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD,

Sir,-Dr. Mackaness, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Australian Historical Society last week, said that the 150th celebrations had done much for historical work and research. That may be so. It is interesting to note, however, that Dr. Mackaness made no protest against the inaccurate presentation of Australian history about to be made at the forthcoming celebrations. The landing of Governor Phillip without reference to the convicts, as decided by the 150th Anniversary celebration committee, is in conflict with Dr. Mackaness’s book, “Admiral Arthur Phillip,” just published, and here quoted . . .

“On 25th January at daylight, the Supply, with a company of marines and forty convicts on board, had weighed anchor, but could not leave the bay (Botany) till noon … anchoring the same evening at 7 o’clock, being obliged to turn up … At daylight on 26th January … the marines and convicts were landed from the Supply … The convicts were immediately set to work clearing a piece of land on which to erect the tents … After noon the Union Jack was hoisted on shore and the marines being drawn up to it, the Governor and officers to the right, and the convicts to the left, their Majesties and the Prince of Wales’s health, with success to the colony, was drank, in four glasses of porter, after which a feu de joie was fired and the whole (sic) gave three cheers …”

Here then is the landing scene. Take away reference to the convicts and you have the skeleton which is to be presented at the coming clebrations. Where are the protests of Dr. Mackaness, or the Royal Australian Historical Society? The silence of this society, which aims at historical accuracy, is astounding, while its motto, “Not unmindful of the past,” would appear to be a misnomer, at least as regards the convicts. The official voice of this society is dumb regarding the decision of the celebration committee to ban references to the convict pioneers, when this society’s protest should be loudest.

I am, etc.,

B. T. DOWD. Waverley, Dec. 7.

26 January, 2011 at 10:26 am Leave a comment

Trove: hidden treasures

Preparing for a class this week I had another look at Trove. Trove is an initiative of the National Library of Australia, designed to “provide a single point of access to the resources of the deep web”, focused on Australia and Australians. Trove’s byline is “one search … a wealth of information”.

Trove itself was first released in May 2009 however some parts of the collections have been available for years, perhaps under other titles. Now they are brought together under a single search. Some are the results of digitisation projects undertaken by the National Library of Australia (perhaps in conjunction with others), but others are links into other collections (such as Open Library or Google Books).

You can log in to the site, in order to personalise the way you search and results found. You can create and save your own lists of useful items, list libraries you are affiliated with, tag or comment (on books, photographs,etc), correct electronically generated newspaper text – and more.

A recent survey showed that about half the users of Trove are family historians (equal to all the other categories combined). There is good reason for that – Trove provides access to information invaluable to family historians who want more than just names and dates.

The Australian newspaper digitisation project has been underway since 2007, making available newspapers published in Australia from 1803  to 1954, covering a range of titles from every state and territory. Now this collection is accessed via Trove. Family historians can search for articles about a family name of interest, or the first reports of a new settlement, ships’ passengers named on their arrival – or anything else you can think of. Searches can be narrowed by location, date, publication, article category – or even whether or not the article is illustrated.

Newspapers often reported on distant events, if those stories were deemed likely to be of interest to readers. In “The Canberra Times” of 1946 I found an article reporting on a fire at the home of my grandparents in the northern suburbs of Sydney. (A reminder not to be too hasty to narrow the location of  the search.)

The “Pictures and photos” collection within Trove includes even more than the Picture Australia collection. Family historians might search for an ancestor by name or a historic photograph of the town where they lived, or even photos of an event witnessed by a family member.

The “Books, journals, magazines, articles” collection provides access to the full text of some books (those held in collections like Project Gutenberg and Open Library). In addition users can search by subject or title for a book, and then find out which libraries in Australia hold that book. Such books can then be ordered by inter-library loan to the user’s local library – often even when the holding library is not itself a lending library.

“Archived websites” provides access to the Pandora collection, in which the National Library has been archiving Australian websites since 1996 – thus perhaps providing access even to pages no longer on the web. (I found a 2001 obituary of an ancestor published in an architecture magazine.) (If you don’t find the page you want in Pandora, also have a look at The Wayback machine.)

Other headings on the Trove gateway provide access to “Diaries, letters, Archives”, Maps, “Music, sound and video” and “About people and organisations”.

This is indeed a treasure trove of information, easily and freely available to anyone prepared to look.

10 October, 2010 at 12:33 pm 1 comment

Family funeral

I attended a family funeral today and such occasions prompt thoughts about others “no longer with us”.

In the eulogy we heard about the life of the deceased as well as how they touched the lives of those present. The wake afterwards prompted lots of “do you remember” stories. We looked at old photos and shared recent family photos. We promised to get together before the occasion is another funeral.

Somehow a funeral or wake doesn’t seem the occasion to be taking notes. (I will however be recording tonight what I remember that I learned today.)

The occasion set me thinking about records associated with deaths. Not only death certificates or inquests, but also newspaper announcements of deaths and funerals, as well as obituaries and memorials, monumental inscriptions and cemetery records.

Undertakers / Funeral Directors records can be a source of information not often tapped by family historians. Newspaper death and funeral notices often name the undertaker, and large libraries and genealogy societies often hold Undertakers Records amongst their collections.

Last year I was able to spend some time in the Family Records Centre of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists. That society has a wonderful collection of Undertakers Records (which can be borrowed by members).  This was one entry I recorded in my notebook from the records of C.H. Barker Ltd, Funeral Directors, Onehunga, Auckland, funeral records 1943-1979.

WARD, James Louis d 9-Apr-1947. Residence Milford. Age 79. Mangere Cemetery. Father: James WARD, Mother: Louisa TOOP, Spouse: Harriett RICHES

Another entry I recorded that day was from a 1999 funeral – too recent for me to be allowed to obtain a death certificate.

Registering a death in New Zealand (and in many other places, including Australia) involves filling out forms including about the parents and birth of the deceased. Undertakers books are a source of such information that is often overlooked by genealogists.

So tonight I am sitting thinking about family members “no longer with us”.

RIP Stuart

6 October, 2010 at 5:31 pm Leave a comment

Debtors Prison

According to the Research Guide “Bankrupts and Insolvent Debtors:1710-1869″ on the website of The National Archives (UK):

Until 1841, the legal status of being a bankrupt was confined to traders owing more than 100 pounds (reduced to 50 pounds in 1842). Debtors who were not traders did not qualify to become bankrupt, but stayed as insolvent debtors. Responsible for their debts but unable to pay them, they remained subject to common law proceedings and indefinite imprisonment, if their creditors so wished. … Insolvent debtors were held in local prisons, and often spent the rest of their lives there: imprisonment for debt did not stop until 1869.

Another ancestor of mine, Abraham WOOLF was imprisoned in the Debtors Prison, as this entry from the London Gazette of 1841 shows:

London Gazette 12 March 1841

London Gazette, 12 March 1841, p692

Shortly afterwards he came to trial, and fortunately his petition for release was granted. The following entry in the London Gazette gives more background about him – that he was currently a “General Dealer and Cigar Maker” and formerly a “Cigar Dealer and Ladies’ Shoe Maker”, as well as recent addresses:

London Gazette 30 April 1841

London Gazette, 30 April 1841, p1135

In the documents at the National Archives in Kew, London, I could follow the progress of his imprisonment, petitions and release, however even the information available online on websites like The National Archives (UK) and The London Gazette tell me more about the life of this ancestor.

29 September, 2010 at 10:40 am 1 comment

Google News Archive Search

I have used Google News for some time, but only recently discovered Google News Archive Search – available at http://news.google.com.au/archivesearch/

An Advanced Archive Search allows you to select a particular date range. You can choose a particular publication (or even just enter the word ‘Sydney’, to check publications with that word in the title). Once you have the search results, a timeline lets you focus on the particular decade of interest.

I searched for “hay simpson” – an ancestor who played Ned Kelly (in the 1934 film When the Kellys Rode) and then was lost at sea when he tried to sail from Lord Howe Island to Sydney. Most of the results found were from The Sydney Morning Herald in the 1930s, reviews of performances and then the search for the missing yacht. However one article was from 2003, when Simpson’s niece found a suitcase of film photographs during a renovation.

Another useful search was  for all of the words scriven and cooperstown. My husband descends from the SCRIVEN family, and one of that family (Elizabeth SCRIVEN) married Alfred Corning CLARK of Cooperstown (son of the founder of the Singer Foundation) and I thought that family were likely to be well-reported in the press.

You don’t need celebrity ancestors to find them mentioned in newspapers, and Google’s News Archive Search is another way to find interesting background stories about family members.

28 September, 2010 at 8:58 am 1 comment


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