Monday, October 29, 2012

Trove Tuesday: In which Isabella drowns

This is the story about what happened to Isabella Brown*. When she was about 15 years old she went to work for the Stack family who were farmers at South Purrumbete and she had been there for almost a year. Her older brother, David, had drowned a few years earlier in the same district. (I told his story in a previous blog.)

On Christmas Day, 1880, Isabella went out to the well to get some water and apparently fell in and drowned. She was 'quite dead' when her body was brought up from the well. The local newspaper published the proceedings of the inquest in great detail and I was able to access it on the Trove website. Isabella's mother had been widowed five years earlier and Isabella was the fifth of her twelve children to die. This was the fourth inquest held for a member of her family. I'll write about the others another time.

Camperdown Chronicle, 31 Dec 1880
This is the full transcript of the newspaper report.
A magisterial enquiry was held at South Purrumbete on Sunday, the 26th of December, on the body of Isabella Brown, domestic, servant, who was drowned on Christmas Day by falling down a well.
The following evidence was taken:
Bridget Fitzgerald Stack deposed :—I am a married woman living with my husband at Purrumbete. I know the deceased, Isabella Brown; she has been living with me as a servant for the last eleven months. I last saw her alive between 4 and 5 p.m. yesterday (Christmas Day.) I had occasion to go into the garden, as the pigs had got in and were damaging the garden; the gate was left open. I called out for deceased, as I did not see her. Looked round by the well, which is about 50 yards from the garden gate. I saw but one bucket at the well, when it is usual for the deceased to take two for water. The bucket was full of water. I looked down the well, and saw the deceased's bonnet floating in the water. I then ran for my husband, who was about 200 yards, away in the paddock driving calves to water. He came, we looked down, but could not see her. He went for help, and I remained. Deceased must have been about 30 minutes gone for the water from the time she went to the well till I went to look for her. She is about 15 years of age. Her parents reside at Scott's Creek, near Cobden.
John Stack deposed :—I am a farmer residing at Purrumbete—husband to the previous witness. I know the deceased; she has been living with us for the past 11 months. I last saw her alive about 4 p.m. on Christmas Day last. About this time I went into the paddock to drive the calves to water, when I heard my wife screaming out that the deceased was drowned down the well. I looked into the well, which is covered with loose slabs, and is about 25 feet deep, and contains at present fifteen feet of water. I could not see anything of the deceased but her bonnet on the top of the water. I then ran for assistance to my nearest neighbour, Michael Nehill and James Forster, farmers, and then assisted to get her up with a long pole. Mr. Forster put a nail through the top, and hooked her dress by the side. She was quite dead, and in my opinion must have been drowned half an hour.
Michael Nehill deposed:—l am a farmer residing at Punumbete, near Mr. Brown, since she came to Mr. Stack's. I last saw her alive two days before Christmas Day last. About 5 p.m. yesterday John Stack came to my place, and appeared to be in a depressed state. He said the girl was in the waterhole. I told him to go and get James Forster, and I would go across to the hole or well. I did so, and saw Mrs. Stack standing there. I saw no sign of the deceased except a bonnet. Stack and Forster came, and I assisted them to get her up. She was quite dead.
James Forster deposed:—l am a farmer residing near Stack's, at Purrumbete. I have known the deceased for the past eleven months. I last saw her alive about three weeks ago. Between 5 and 6 p.m. yesterday John Stack came to my place and said the girl was drowned in the well—that the bucket was on the bank and she was not there. I immediately went with Stack, and tied three poles together and put a large nail at the top, and pulled her up out of the bottom of the well. She was quite dead. We did not use any means to restore life, as I knew from experience that she had been drowned too long.
The presiding magistrate (Mr. Thomas Shenfield, J.P.) returned a verdict that the deceased was "accidentally drowned,'' and at the same time drew attention to the unsafe condition of the covering of Mr. Stack's well.

Camperdown Chronicle, 31 December 1880, p2

*Isabella BROWN, daughter of John BROWN and Mary Ann HOWE was born on 11 Nov 1866 in Cobden, Victoria, Australia. She died on 25 Dec 1880 in Purrumbete, Victoria, Australia. Inquest: 31 Dec 1875. (On Christmas Day Isabella, aged 15, drowned in a well when she was getting water. She was working as a domestic servant at John and Bridget Stack's house at Purrumbete. She had been working there for eleven months.) Father: John BROWN was born in 1815 in Tyrone, Ireland. He died on 29 Dec 1875 in Scotts Creek, Cooriejong, Victoria, Australia. Mother: Mary Ann HOWE, was born in 1834 in Dublin, Ireland. She died on 13 Jan 1907 in South Ecklin, Victoria, Australia.

Mappy Monday: Seil Island

Old Parochial Record (from showing Sarah McPherson's baptism in 1793.
I wish I'd know this before I visited this area of Scotland two years ago. The baptism record of Sarah McPherson* provided me with an exact location, Camislaich, in the parish of Kilbrandon and Kilchattan in the old county of Argyleshire, Scotland. And an old map pinpoints the spot, a small group of houses on the island of Seil. Gotta love those Old Parochial Records.
Map from

*  Sarah McPHERSON b: 1793 in Kilbrandon, Argyle, Scotland, Baptised: 17 Apr 1793 in Kilbrandon, Argyleshire, Scotland, d: Aft. 1851 Father: Donald McPHERSON Mother: Mary CAMPBELL. Married 08 Apr 1813 in Craignish, Argyll, Scotland John BLAIR b: Abt. 1791 in Argyleshire, Scotland, d: Abt. 1845 in Argyleshire, Scotland.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Finding Gabriel's house

We started with a 'mud map', a rough sketch that had been drawn by someone at some stage to show where the old Duckett family home was in Wedderburn, Victoria.

Then we found an old map that showed that Gabriel Duckett* had owned a block of land in an area that matched the mud map.

Map of Part of Wedderburn, Duckett block indicated.
 [Source of map unknown because when I copied it I didn't know about noting sources!!]
Next we studied a family photograph, taken in about 1910, of some of the family standing on the front verandah of the house that they lived in. Note the verandah decoration and in particular the missing section.

Gabriel Duckett with his wife Elizabeth (nee Perryman) and his daughter Myrtle (my grandmother).
Armed with all of the above my Uncle Arthur went to have a look in 2010. And, to his surprise and mine, found that the house was still there - complete with damaged verandah decoration!

The same house 100 years later.

 *Gabriel DUCKETT, son of Benjamin DUCKETT and Jane REDMAN was born on 05 Dec 1843 in Heath House, Somerset, England. Baptised: 03 Jan 1844 in Wedmore, SOM, England. He died on 11 Jun 1917 in Wedderburn, Victoria, Australia. Inquest: 12 Jun 1917 at Wedderburn finding 'Syncope the result of chronic heart disease. He married Elizabeth PERRYMAN, daughter of Zachary PERRYMAN and Ellen STOCK on 08 Dec 1870 in Inglewood, Victoria, Australia. She was born on 10 Sep 1849 in 'Cheapside' ship, off South Africa. She died on 06 Apr 1916 in Wedderburn, Victoria, Australia.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trove Tuesday: Private Leed K.I.A.

 Bendigonian 14 Sep 1916, p2
We know quite a lot about great-uncle David Ray Leed*, or Ray as he was known, because we have letters he wrote home from Egypt and France in WW1 as well as his enlistment papers from the National Archives of Australia.

But it seems there's always more. When I typed his name into the search box at Trove today I discovered that two months after his death two articles appeared in a Bendigo paper - one (above) included a photo and the other (below) a brief biography. His family lived at Central Mologa north of Bendigo. 

Bendigonian, 14 Sep 1916, p24
The telegram received by Ray Leed's mother.

P.S. The name RAY is actually a family name. It's the surname of his great-grandmother, Susannah RAY who was born in 1804 in Denford, Northhamptonshire, England.

*David Ray LEED, son of David LEED and Mary Ann ANDREW was born on 10 Aug 1893. He died on 16 Jul 1916 in France.
Military record: Enlisted 17 Jul 1915; Private 23 Battalion, 7th Reinforcement; Embarked 26 Nov 1915 on 'Commonwealth'; Killed in Action at Pozieres, Somme, France 15 Jul 1916; Buried Rue-Du-Bois Cemetery (Plot I, Row F, Grave 7), Fleurbaix, France.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A country ball

Margaret (Maggie) McKernan
When she was 23, in 1896, Maggie* attended a Military Ball in the small town of Violet Town in Victoria, and kept the little program card as a memento. It's now in my care.

Military Ball programme (front)
Military Ball program (back)
I chanced upon it today, when I was looking for something else, and decided to do some research following the clues on the card. A couple of hours later and I'd found out quite a lot.

The National Library of Australia (Trove) has put the local newspaper online and I was able to find a very detailed newspaper report about the ball and the associated sporting tournament held the same day.

Euroa Advertiser 1 May 1896
I discovered that V.M.R. stands for Victorian Mounted Rifles and the National Archives of Australia has holdings associated with the various companies that were established.
Mounted Rifles and Victorian Rangers – The Victorian Mounted Rifles (not to be confused with similarly named contingents to the Boer War) were first formed in December 1885, with companies recruited in rural centres. The Victorian Rangers, an infantry equivalent, were raised in 1888. A small allowance only was paid to members, and Mounted Riflemen were required to provide their own mount. Members of country rifle clubs formed significant components of both corps. No service records are held for these units, but information may be found in correspondence records for the period.
I found photos of uniformed men mounted on their horses in Museum Victoria's collection here, Victorian Mounted Rifles, and in uniform here.

And at the ALH (Australian Light Horse Studies Centre) I found this: 
This regiment [8th/16th/8th Australian Light Horse] sprung from the Victorian Mounted Rifles a volunteer unit raised i 1885. Detachments existed at Euroa, Longwood, Violet Town, Benalla, Thoona, Wangaratta, Rutherglen and Beechworth and formed part of the 1st Battalion Victorian Mounted Rifles until 1901. During the Federal organisation of 1903, these detachments were formed into a separate unit style 8th Australian Light Horse Regiment (Victorian Mounted Rifles). The regiment continued under this title until 1912 when four squadrons of the 8th were designated the 16th Light Horse (Victorian Mounted Rifles). In the following year, 1913, it became the 16th (Indi) Light Horse, reverting to the 8th (Indi) Light Horse in 1918, this was later altered to 8th Light Horse Regiment (Indi Light Horse). Extracted from RK Peacock, Evolution of Australian Light Horse Regiments 1841-1935, p. 8. Australian Light Horse Studies Centre

*MARGARET ANNE (MAGGIE) MCKERNAN was born on 20 Jan 1873 in Balmattum, Victoria, Australia, the daughter of Daniel McKERNAN and Christina GORDON. She died on 24 Nov 1939 in West Preston, Victoria, Australia. She married William Robert PHELAN, son of Daniel PHELAN and Jane WELSH on 05 Jan 1897 in Balmattum, Victoria, Australia. He was born on 01 Jun 1861 (Pentridge, Victoria, Australia). He died on 04 Dec 1946 in West Preston, Victoria, Australia.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Flirting with Flickr

Another hobby of mine is photography and I love to upload to the online photograph community at Flickr. It's a very big community, with millions of members worldwide,  but I love it because I can join groups on Flickr that are specific in nature. So my macro photos of insects go into the Insects of Australia group, my close-ups of native plants go into the plant groups and so on. And the thing I really enjoy is that the other Flickrites are so friendly - we comment on each others photos, we help to identify species, we make suggestions.

As well as my own photos I've been uploading scanned copies of photos from my family's old albums and attaching them to to Flickr groups specific to old photos. I make sure they have tags identifying people and place when I can. And from a family history point of view I've been rewarded by distant relatives making contact with me, or historians interested in local history or researchers after particular images.

Chas Sims (centre) and unknown friends, Mitiamo
Last week I was contacted by a local history group currently putting together a calendar for next year. They want to use one of my old photos (above) for their 'then and now' theme. Don't they look great in their woollen bathers? I imagine the bathing costumes sagged in the water though!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Who would have thought? From 1836 the government of the state of Victoria, Australia published official information in the Victorian Government Gazette, and it's a goldmine for family historians.

It has always been available in, amongst other places, public libraries but now the State Library of Victoria has put digitised gazettes online, and it's free. And, even better, has a very user-friendly search page that has 'advanced' options.

Here's one result I unexpectedly found. I had no idea my great-grandfather, Robert Wyllie, was a cemetery trustee. And ironically he is now buried in the same cemetery.

Gazette 156: Wednesday, August 27th 1924
It's certainly worth searching by key words such as place names, ship names, company names, and surnames. Here's a quote from the 'About the Gazettes' tab on the website:
They contain information on everything from land transactions, bankruptcies, reward notices and new acts of parliament, to tenders, patent applications, unclaimed letters and monies, shipping and emigration notices, and more.
*Robert WYLLIE, son of William WYLLIE and Ann Megget CRANSTON was born on 19 Mar 1855 in McLaren Vale, South Australia, Australia. He died on 27 Sep 1928 in Parwan, Victoria, Australia. He married Jeannetta COOK, daughter of William COOK and Mary Ann PRICE on 14 Apr 1884 (Cook home, Dunmunkle, Victoria, Australia). She was born on 17 Jul 1861 in Tahara, Victoria, Australia. She died on 11 Sep 1924 in Minyip, Victoria, Australia.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Verdict? Accidental drowning

Some families are accident prone. The Browns certainly were. This account, for Trove Tuesday, is about one of the sons who drowned. The fate of the other family members is a story for another day.

David Brown* was the son of John Brown and Maryanne (nee Howe). Both his parents were Irish but met in Victoria, Australia. They married in Melbourne and moved to Geelong where John worked as a shoemaker. David, the second of  twelve children, was born there in 1852.

In about 1857 the family moved to Camperdown and then Cobden about ten years later. By that time David was about 15 years old and would have begun working as a labourer in the district. Apart from his baptism record, at St Mary of the Angels Roman Catholic church in Geelong, David didn't generate a paper trail ... until he died accidently at the age of 20. Then there are newspaper reports and inquest papers as well as a death certificate.

This is one of the newspaper reports that I found on Trove.


The Camperdown correspondent of the Geelong Advertiser reports the following fatality :-" On Saturday evening, December 14, about 8 o'clock, a young man named David Brown, about 20 years of age, met with a fearfully sudden death, being drowned in Lake Purrumbete, near the residence of the Messrs. Manifolds, about five miles from Camperdown. It appears that Brown, who was an expert swimmer, went out in a flat-bottom boat for a pull. Shortly afterwards, some lads who were fishing near heard screams, but could see nothing but the boat, it being just dark. They at once gave information, and drags have been continually going up to the present time without the body being found. Just about where the boat was seen the water is about 40ft deep, but a little further out it is upwards of 150ft, so that it is probable some considerable difficulty will be experienced in finding it. It is conjectured that Brown must have become cramped, for though the water is deep, it was but a short distance from the bank where the accident occurred."

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956), Saturday 21 December 1872, page 6

I also used Trove to look for pictures of Lake Purrumbete which is a freshwater lake near Camperdown and Cobden in Victoria's Western District. Under the 'Pictures, Photos, Objects' tab I typed 'Purrumbete' in the search box and found thumbnails of several interesting photos including this one and an oil painting (on display in the National Gallery of Australia) by Von Guerard that depicts the lake as it was in 1858, 'Purrumbete from across the lake'. Von Guerard is well-known for the detailed accuracy of his paintings so I can readily imagine the scene of the accident. Here is a photo of what the lake looks like today.

I've also used the Trove website to start a List for the Brown family, called, well, Brown Family. OK, OK. It was my first List. I'll use a more useful title next time. If you've haven't yet started a List (or two or three) on Trove I can fully recommend that you give it a go.

*David BROWN, son of John BROWN and Mary Ann HOWE was born on 19 May 1852 in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Baptised: 10 Jun 1853 (St Mary's Catholic Church, Geelong). He died on 14 Dec 1872 in Lake Purrumbeet, Victoria, Australia. Inquest: 24 Dec 1872 in Camperdown, Victoria, Australia

An interest in death

Wearing my other hat I've been blogging for a while, about natural history. Now it's time to start blogging about another passion of mine, family history.

Many years ago I started researching the history of my family and this interest in deaths, births and marriages and all that happens in between just hasn't gone away. The process of discovering the facts and stories about my ancestors and their families  has been a joy that continues today as more sources become readily available and the internet allows easy communication with other researchers across the globe. It's an exciting hobby.

This week I read a book in which the author has combined his interest in family history research with his writing skills to produce a novel that genealogists will enjoy. A Habit of Dying is a gentle story, slowing moving through the life of Lydia as she travels through the Lake District of England following up on clues derived from an album of photos she bought. Her original aim was to find a family member so she could pass on the album but discovered more than she bargained for.

I really enjoyed reading this story and look forward to reading the author's second that is about to be published, The Subtle Thief of Youth. (I was hoping for a sequel to the first but it looks like it's not to be - Wiseman has headed off in a different direction.) You can read more reviews here.

A Habit of Dying by D J Wiseman, 2010, Troubador


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