Wednesday, April 25, 2012

At the Broadmeadows Army Training Camp in the First World War

My grandfather was a coachbuilder. He was keen to serve his country during the First World War so volunteered for service on 12 June 1915 at Victoria Barracks, Melbourne.  He was assigned as a Private in the 8th Reinforcements, 22nd Infantry Battalion which he joined on 22 June. He was sent to the Broadmeadows army training camp, Melbourne, where this photo was taken.

Trainees at the Broadmeadows Army Training Camp, Melbourne in about July 1915

My grandfather is second from left in the back row. I would love to know who the others were and I think I have found a clue to their identity in my grandfather's notebook which contains the following list of names: Gus Sterling, Bill Serties, Bill Liston, Frank Tribe, Malcolm, Norm, Harry.

I have confirmed that William Ferrier Liston joined the same battalion at about the same time as my grandfather, so suspect that he is the Bill Liston in the notebook. I have written about Bill Liston in A First World War soldier who suffered years later. I think that the list of names in the notebook is probably the list of the others in the photo.

Within a few weeks of enlisting an old knee injury was aggravated when my grandfather slipped in the mud and twisted his leg, and two days later caught his foot in some wire. He was sent to a Clearing hospital and then to the Base hospital on 31 July. He was found to have a displaced cartilage in his left knee. He was discharged from hospital on 4 August but was told that he would need to rest before having an operation on the knee in September.

Meanwhile, on 26 August, his Battalion embarked for overseas service. On 20 September he was re-admitted to hospital for a knee operation and was discharged two weeks later and sent on leave. He was bitterly disappointed that he had not been able to disembark with his battalion. The disappointment was heightened when he returned for a medical examination on 3 December. There was still some stiffness in his knee joint. He could walk fairly well, but the Medical Board considered that he could not march and he was discharged as permanently unfit for service.

He tried again to enlist in October 1916 , but once again was found to be unfit. He always carried his Medical Certificate of Unfitness together with the photo at the Broadmeadows training camp with him in his wallet until he died in 1962.

Further information about Bill Liston, including an excellent article by Rod Martin, can be found on Lenore Frost's website.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Irish convicts nearly burned alive on Norfolk Island

I came across this interesting story whilst researching the voyage of the East India Company fleet from England to China in 1804.

HMS Athenienne, a 64 gun warship under the command of Captain Francis Fayerman, left England with nine ships of the East India Company bound for China in June 1804. A homeward bound fleet from China had been attacked by the French Admiral Linois as the fleet entered the Straits of Malacca earlier in the year. It was therefore decided that instead of sailing via the shortest route across the Indian Ocean this fleet would sail via the southern coast of Australia then via the Pacific Ocean to China to avoid confrontation with the French.

In a heavy fog whilst crossing the Southern Atlantic Ocean three of the ships separated from the remainder of the fleet. Two of missing ships rejoined the fleet a month later, but one ship, the Taunton Castle, remained missing. Captain Fayerman decided to make an unscheduled visit to Norfolk Island to ask whether the Taunton Castle had been sighted.

In 1804 Norfolk Island was a penal colony. Many of the convicts on the island were Irish who, it was thought, could be sympathetic to the French if the island was attacked by a French force.

The Athenienne and the accompanying ships arrived off Norfolk Island at 3.30 pm on 9th November. On seeing the fleet of ships approaching the island, the commandant, Captain Piper, reported that he was ‘very much alarmed’. Fearing that they were French ships, he had the Irish convicts locked in the gaol and mustered his forces ready for an invasion. According to one of the convicts, wood was stacked around the gaol (apparently without the knowledge of the commandant) with the intention of setting it alight and burning all of the Irish convicts alive if the ships turned out to be French.

Captain Fayerman sent a boat with Lieutenant Little on shore to inform the commandant who they were and to enquire about the Taunton Castle. The relieved commandant said that the missing ship had not been seen.

The Taunton Castle called in at the island three days later after the remainder of the convoy had departed. She arrived at Harlem Bay, China on 5th January 1805 after having been separated from the rest of the convoy for nearly four months.

My ancestor, Joseph Ashmore, was a midshipman on HMS Athenienne.

Opium ships at Lintin in China, 1824

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Agricultural labourers found in old newspapers

There were nearly 1.5 million agricultural labourers, farm servants and shepherds listed in the 1851 English census - the most common occupation group. Agricultural labourers were often described as "Ag Labs" in the census. I had always pictured my agricultural labourers from Somerset as wearing smocks and floppy hats, drinking cider and working for the local Squire.

I was searching in the online British Newspaper Archive and decided to try looking for my Napper family from the South Petherton area of Somerset. I had previously searched without success in other British online newspaper sites. Much to my surprise I found some of my Napper relations in the Western Flying Post, Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury.

In the edition of October 20 1849, for example, there is a report of the annual meeting of the Chard, Crewekerne and Ilminster Labourers Friend Society at which awards were presented to "deserving labourers". According to the report:

"One of the prizemen was deserving of particular notice, his name was Charles Napper of Lopen, he had brought up twelve children without parochial relief, for which on a former occasion he received a prize from the Society: he now received a prize for long service. His wages averaged about eight or nine shillings a week."

In another article in the November 10 1849 edition of the same newspaper there is a report of the annual meeting of the South Petherton Agricultural Society. In this report over twenty labourers who won prizes are listed together with the names of their employees.

My ancestor James Napper, who was described as an agricultural labourer in the 1851 census, was found in an advertisement for a land auction at South Petherton in the September 3 1850 edition of the Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury. Details were given of four pieces of land that he was leasing at Watergore.

I've found the British Newspaper Archive to be a great resource and I'm sure that there are many more "Ag Labs" waiting to be found.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Back from the Adelaide Genealogy Congress

I've just returned home from the 13th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry held in Adelaide. I thought that it was a great success.

This was my sixth Australasian Congress, the first being the Sydney Congress in in 1988. Back then  personal computers were just starting to become popular and the internet had not become accessible to the public. Now virtually all presenters use computers of some description, frequently connected to the internet. Many of those attending talks use notebooks, tablets and smart phones to take notes, check websites and tweet the latest words of wisdom and their thoughts about the talks on Twitter. I even tweeted a few times myself.

As usual, the Congress provided the chance to make new connections with other family historians, enjoy some time with old friends and visit the exhibitors stands.

Congratulations to the organizers of a great Congress, and I'm looking forward to the next one in Canberra in 2015.

The Adelaide Congress organizers