Things our ancestors said (#2)

There are many examples of the things our ancestors said through history’s pages that were actually pretty reasonable at the time, but would no doubt seem a bit strange or out of place today. While quite often amusing, they help to tell the stories, highlight some of the challenges faced, and show just how much things have changed through the ages.

Like these:

I can’t stay long, sorry. I need to get up early tomorrow and bash a stick against a bunch of windows.

In the days before alarm clocks, a ‘Knocker-Up (or Knocker Upper) was an actual profession in parts of Britain and Ireland. Rising early, the Knocker Up’s job was to rouse the town-folk by knocking on windows – ensuring they got to work on time.

As you do.

The Human Alarm Clock - image from
The Human Alarm Clock – image from


Stop that man, he’s…walking upright!

According to a description of my 3x great grandfather, William Saunders, from 1861, he was 5 foot 5 (or 6) inches tall with a fair complexion and light brown hair that curled out from under his billy-cock hat.

He also had legs…and used them to walk.  Upright of all things!

william-saunders-and-fanny-harrex AU6103-1861 Tasmania Reports of Crime 1861. Original data: Gould Genealogy & History.

I was quite amused by this inclusion. Did it mean an upright man? One of religious standing, maybe? Google tells me that, “The upright person has a great respect for god and his commandments. The upright has a secure walk or lifestyle and is guided by integrity and avoids crooked paths.”

Given that this notice appeared in the Tasmanian Reports of Crime, I think that’s highly unlikely. So I’m thinking others on the run may have been described as ‘walks with a limp’ or ‘walks with a slouch’…maybe.


We need to build more pubs! There are only one for every 166 people for goodness sake – a man could die of thirst!

In 1848, one pub for every 166 inhabitants of Tasmania was considered quite the norm, apparently.   With colourful names including The Lamb and Flag, The Help Me Through the World and Good Woman, our ancestors were spoiled for choice.

The Examiner (Launceston, Tas), 1 March 1946 (Trove).
The Examiner (Launceston, Tas), 1 March 1946 (Trove).


You return it.

No, you return it!

Let’s just keep it – maybe they will never find out.

Whether urban legend or truth, the story behind the Val d’Osne fountain in Prince’s Square in Launceston, Tasmania, has been shared far and wide.  Apparently it was meant to be delivered to Launceston, Cornwall, England but somehow made its way here instead – just slightly off track by around 11,000 miles.

The effort and cost of returning it was deemed too much (and too troublesome) at the time, so it stayed.

Fair enough.

Val d'Osne Fountain, Prince's Square, Launceston, Tasmania; Unknown; c
Val d’Osne Fountain, Prince’s Square, Launceston, Tasmania; Unknown


I would like to register the birth of a child please.

Child’s name?

Percy Gladys Evans

Can you repeat that?

Percy Gladys Evans

Why, that’s an unusual middle name for a boy, but OK then…

This one is not so much what our ancestors said, but how they said it. Registered by a friend of the Evans family, Lucy Gladys Evans was recorded as a boy in 1899.

Excerpt of Birth Record for Percy Gladys Evans, 1899, Queenstown (TAHO).

I can only imagine that this may have been as a result of the friend having an extremely strong accent of some kind. Or perhaps the registrar was hard of hearing?  I guess we may never know, but it did make me chuckle at how easily mistakes like these must have been made. Not like our system today!


How times have changed, indeed.


For Things our Ancestors Said #1, click here.

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