Photo Essay: A walk with George

George Fuller Recollections of Launceston
As an adult in the 1890s, George Fuller sat down and recalled ‘from memory’ the places, buildings and people of his youth during the 1830s and 40s in Launceston, Tasmania.
With a copy of his written recollections in hand, I take a walk with George along a section of St John Street, discovering – through his eyes – just how much has changed.

 

St John’s Church
As we stroll along the east side, George describes the entire square between Elizabeth and Frederick Streets as being open land. The only building, St John’s Church, stood all alone surrounded by a white picket fence. Today, the original Church is upstaged by its newer, more ornate companion.

 

Nelumi Dr Pugh Launceston
Reaching the corner, we’re delighted to discover a row of buildings still standing. George recalls Dr Pugh’s private residence having an adjoining Chemist shop, and that Miss Waddell’s two-storey Lady’s School was located next door.

 

chalmers-hall-launceston
Continuing on, we take our first steps along the stretch of ‘open land’ from George’s younger years. Far from empty, the first of many intruders appears to stare at us from above.

 

quality-row-launceston
Further on, the newer residents favour a fresh, classic look.  With style and colour-schemes duplicated row upon row and reaching Canning Street, it’s easy to wonder if George would have be impressed by the additions to the then-vacant land.

 

150-st-john-street
Crossing the street to the east where orchards once stood, a splash of blue beckons us closer. Tempted to stay, we instead head back – our walk together almost at an end.

 

chalmers-church-launceston
As we approach the corner of Frederick Street, George describes what to expect. Looking for the late Mr Wheedon’s place, then a private residence ‘stood back’, we are instead met by a tower of limestone, brick and iron reaching for the sky.

 

chalmers-church-st-john-street-launceston
Chalmers Church was built after George’s time in Launceston, and officially opened in 1860. Still standing strong today, the gothic-style and peeling paintwork make it one of St John Street’s most recognisable structures.

 

dr-pugh-statue-princes-square
Leaving Chalmers, we make our way toward the open land that was – and still is – Prince’s Square.  Joining Dr Pugh as he descends the stairs immortalised in bronze, we enter our final destination.

 

princes-square-launceston
As we make our way toward the fountain, George recalls that the Military would muster here on the Queen’s birthday to go through their drill and fire a salute. No doubt an exciting occasion for a young boy, he even remembered that Colonel Cumberland was in charge of the 96th Regiment.
Stopping to take in our lush surrounds, we silently contemplate where our next walk together through the streets of Launceston may be.

__________________________________________________________________

A walk with George was created as part of The Photo Essay unit through the University of Tasmania. Using 7-10 photos, each with a caption of 1-3 sentences, the idea was to use images and words to tell a story.

Recollections of Launceston‘ (1836-1847) is an Indexed Transcription of an unpublished collection of notes and letters dated 1897 by George Samuel Fuller (‘from memory’), transcribed by Margaret Szalay (NSW, 2003) from original material held in the Manuscripts Collection at the Mitchell Library, Sydney, NSW.

The section of St John Street I have photographed (using iPhone 5s) for this essay appears on pages 17 and 19.

The 13-year-old convict

Johanna Finlay was only nine years old when her family received the dreaded news; her brother, Archibald, had been caught pick-pocketing in the streets of Glasgow. Barely a teenager, the future for this fair-haired, blue-eyed Scottish lad had taken a dramatic, uncertain turn. Sentenced to transportation for 14 years for his crime, Archie no doubt thought he would never see his family again. The year was 1828, and his term was lengthy.

We’ll never know if Archie was able to farewell his entire family, or receive one final hug from little sister Johanna before leaving them behind, but it would be nice to think so. Or perhaps nicer still to include a scenario where the Finlays all stood on the docks with ‘their Archie’ – not saying goodbye, but rather, until we meet again. As the eldest son, he would no doubt be missed.

It’s hard to imagine how a boy of only 13 would have felt or even coped with being taken away from his home at such a young age. No doubt apprehensive, and likely a little frightened. Picking pockets as a ‘skill’ took a fair dose of courage and determination, so perhaps Archie also clung onto this as he made his way into an unknown future.

Archie turned 14 on the voyage from Glasgow to England, where he was received on the ‘floating prison’ Retribution at Woolwich. After being washed, inspected and issued with clothing and other ‘essentials’ including a blanket and eating utensils, he was transferred to the Euryalus – a convict hulk specifically for boys. The youngest to take up residence on this particular hulk was recorded as being aged only nine. Difficult to comprehend, but a harsh reality of the time. Like Archie, many of these boys were also awaiting transportation to Australia for their crimes.

Convict Hulk Euryalus
Model of the ship Euryalus from http://www.euryalus.org.uk/hist-1st.htm

Moored at Chatham, conditions on the Euryalus were less than ideal and often reported as being a cause for concern. Regardless, it remained Archie’s new ‘home’ for the next two years. His days would have likely been spent labouring on shore in a work gang for 10-12 hours a day; possibly stone collecting, cleaning the river, or general dockyard work.

With many boys from the Euryalus being described as leaving the hulk ‘more hardened than they arrived’, it’s easy to speculate that Archie may have been included among these, and perhaps that this was also how he came about the scars on his forehead that would later appear on convict records.

Description of Archibald Finlay from his Convict Indent Record; ship Lady Harewood (Ancestry)
Description of Archibald Finlay from his Convict Indent Record; ship Lady Harewood (Ancestry)

After almost three years since his conviction, Archibald Finlay finally arrived in Sydney Cove, New South Wales on 4 March 1831. Disembarking the ship Lady Harewood and promptly marched toward Hyde Park Barracks to commence the next stage of his convict assignment, he no doubt took in the starting differences in his surroundings. He was indeed a long way from home.

Just two months’ shy of his 17th birthday, the boy from Glasgow was by now almost a man.

 

Part two to come: The sister left behind

Sources

The strongly-maybe pile

We all have them, I’m sure; records, clippings, and snippets of information put aside that seem to belong to our family history, that seem to fit nicely into our family trees.  The details add up, our gut instincts kick in, we have a good feeling about it etc, etc – but just not quite all of the information to be certain…yet.

When those extra pieces to puzzle are discovered, the strongly-maybe turns into excitedly-definitely in a flash. It takes patience and persistence, but can be so rewarding.

On my strongly-maybe pile for a while now has been the possible family of Peter Oluff Carlsen in Denmark.  I have his date of birth in 1841 from a naturalisation record, but have been unable to locate a birth or baptism to match.

Tackling the Danish Census records, I narrowed down, ruled out, filled in the gaps, followed their paths, ruled out further, and finally came up with Peter’s strongly-maybe parents – Ole Carlsen and Ane Marie Petersen (Pedersdr).  Not only were they most likely, but among the children of this couple were names including Wilhelmine, Wilhelm and Frederikke – the same names appearing in those of Peter’s own children.

Nothing concrete, but worthy of a further look.

Children of Ole Carlsen and Ane Marie Petersen:

  • Christian Wilhelm Carlsen, born 1836
  • Bolette Amalie Carlsen, born 1839
  • Peter Ole Carlsen, born 1841
  • Olsine Wilhelmine Carlsen, born 1843
  • Frederikke Olivia Carlsen, born 1846

So when a recently-discovered letter written by Peter Ole Carlsen in 1876 mentioned a sister, “Mrs F Brandt, Tordenskjoldsgade No. 29, Copenhagen”, my thoughts immediately went to Frederikke. Was she the Mrs Brandt?

“Mrs F Brandt, Tordenskjoldsgade No. 29, Copenhagen”
“Mrs F Brandt, Tordenskjoldsgade No. 29, Copenhagen”

 

*Cue excited searching*

Using surnames of simply Brandt and Carlsen, a possible match came back:

Marriage Index via familysearch.org
Marriage Index via familysearch.org

 

This Frederikke Olivia ‘Karlsen’ was a few years younger than mine, so onto the pile it went.  I was unable to find the Brandts on Census records at Tordenskjoldsgade No. 29, so put it to the side for a while and decided to focus on having the letter translated.

Joining a facebook group dedicated to genealogy translations, I tentatively posted Peter’s letter and sat back with fingers crossed. Unfortunately, my little Danish window to the past went unnoticed.

Undeterred, I contacted a research service in Denmark a few days ago. Explaining that I would like the letter translated, Niels at My Danish Roots was happy to help.  I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask him to search for Peter’s baptism as well, and after agreeing on a fee for both, sent him off the information I had. I mentioned Peter’s sister, Mrs F Brandt, as an aside – perhaps he could look into her as a way to find my Peter?

Shortly after, Niels came back with a reply:

“I just made a quick search and found that in May 1876, these two people were living on the first floor at Tordenskjoldsgade 29:

Johannes Hegelund Brandt, 29 years, clerk.

Frederikke Sigfride Brandt, 25 years, wife.”

*cue very excited thoughts and other stuff*

Frederikke was Mrs Brandt!!

For some reason she appears to have dropped the ‘Olivia’ middle name, but it did appear to be the same person.

Looking further, I then found Frederikke and Johannes Brandt on the 1885 and 1906 Census in Copenhagen. In 1906, living with them and listed as a relative was…*drumroll*:

Wilhelmine Rasmussen, Widow, born 1843.

It just so happens Olsine Wilhelmine Carlsen married Lauritz Rasmussen in 1863. Yet another link to the family!

Strongly-maybe to excited-definitely?  I think so.

I’ll be interested to see if a baptism for Peter can be located, and am anxiously awaiting the letter translation.  Niels hasn’t ‘officially’ stared my request just yet, so I do need to be a little bit patient.

But thanks to a letter in 1876, a name and address of Peter’s sister in Copenhagen all of those years ago, and my new best friend a researcher in Denmark, I do believe we may have just found my 4x great-grandparents.

So hello, Ole Carlsen and Ane Marie Patersen – welcome to the family.  🙂

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 http://www.presse-citron.net
The Human Alarm Clock – image from http://www.presse-citron.net

 

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
Ancestry.com. 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.

percy-gladys-evans
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.

The Princess and the Drejer

In 1876 as Peter Oluff Carlsen sat down to write a letter to the Royal War Ministry in Denmark, he had no idea of the excitement it would generate 140 years later. Filled with snippets of his former life back in his native country, Peter also included details of his Danish military service, how it ended, his profession as a Drejer [a turner and shaper of wood], and why the Carlsen family emigrated to Tasmania.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of all contained within its pages appeared to be the words another son in Denmark’.

Written in Danish, this section appears to read: ‘endnu en Søn i Danmark’ which translates to ‘another son in Denmark’.
Written in Danish, this section appears to read: ‘endnu en Søn i Danmark’ which translates to ‘another son in Denmark’.

This new discovery immediately rang a few bells. Another child?  I’d heard that somewhere before…

Then I remembered reading about a family rumour involving Otto Albert Carlsen (a son of Peter’s) who apparently ‘got the princess pregnant’ back in Denmark.  There was confusion surrounding this though, as Otto had been born in Tasmania in 1880 and then moved to Western Australia where he married, therefore it couldn’t be true. Speculation then led to perhaps the rumour relating to not Otto, but his father – Peter Oluff Carlsen.

So as you can imagine, I quickly put two and two together and came up with a scenario somehow involving me wearing a tiara and rubbing shoulders with Princess Mary of Denmark (she’s a Tasmanian too, so it was bound to happen, right?). A connection to ROYALTY.  How exciting!

But alas, my research failed to turn anything up. As with many juicy good family rumours, the story of the Princess and the Drejer appears to be just that.  Rumours have to start somewhere though, and I’d love to find out more one day.

What this new information did lead to, however, was one more potential piece to the puzzle.  As Peter Oluff Carlsen and his wife, Ane Jensen, had their first child in Denmark in 1869, I’d assumed they married around that time.  I had been unable to find their marriage, but armed with the possibility of another child, the search was broadened.  The letter Peter wrote in 1876 also provided a new clue – he wrote this as Peter Ole Carlsen, a variation of his name I hadn’t seen before.

Coming across a marriage entry for a Peter Ole Carlsen and ‘Maren’ Jensdr [Jensen] on 29 January 1864, it was quickly assigned to the ‘strongly-maybe’ pile.  They married in Grenaa, Randers, Denmark, where ‘my’ Peter and Ann were from.

Could this be them? Perhaps Ane’s real name was Maren?  Or maybe this was an earlier marriage of Peter’s?

I had no idea, but was keen to find more.

And then I found a birth of a child!  Niels Oluf Martin Carlsen was born in Grenaa only five months later to (who appear to be) the same couple.

Was Niels the son left behind?

Not knowing a lot about Danish Genealogy or where to go next to find the original marriage or baptism records, the new information stayed on the ‘strongly-maybe’ pile for months. In the meantime, I enlisted someone to help have the letter properly translated. Unfortunately this fell through, with life and stuff and other things getting in the way at their end.

So revisiting the Carlsen’s again recently, I decided to focus on finding the marriage record of Peter and Maren. Digging into the depths of the Danish Church Registers, and viewing image after image of records, I found this:

Marriage entry for Peter Ole Carlsen, Grenå Sogn, 1864.
Marriage entry for Peter Ole Carlsen, Grenå Sogn,1864.
  • Age 23 – check!
  • Born in Kobenhavn – check!
  • Residence Grenaa – check!
  • Occupation kunstdrejersvend – excited check!!

Recognising ‘drejer’ in amongst all of those letters immediately, I took to trusty Google for further help and found reference to ‘kunst-drejer’ meaning art turner as an occupation. Svend translates to ‘companion’, and ‘vend’ also translates to ‘turn’. So at marriage it appears that this Peter was either a turner of art, or a turner’s companion.  Either way, it does look very likely to be our Drejer. We also know that Peter continued turning wood as a hobby in Tasmania, and had several creations displayed at the Melbourne and Philadelphia Exhibitions in 1875.

The corresponding entry for Maren Jensdatter recorded her as aged 28, also residing in Grenaa, and born in Voldby. Voldby is in Randers (where our Ane was born according to her naturalisation record), however in 1864 she would have been 18.  The record also lists Maren as ‘Girl’, so perhaps this was an error in transcription?  It’s also possible that Maren was a different person.

So far I’ve been unable to locate the original birth or baptism record of Niels, or find any details on what may have happened to him. If he was ‘another son in Denmark’, there is a chance that his descendants are out there searching for answers as well. It may be wishful thinking, but you just never know how and when new information may turn up.

Of course, there is another possibility that there was no son left behind, and that perhaps Niels died as a child before the family departed for Australia.

Revisiting my original (clunky) translation of the letter and including a couple of additional words changed things slightly. Updated, the line now translates to “but the gardens have a son in Denmark.”

While it reads like an amusing secret code, perhaps rather than writing of a son left behind, Peter was actually trying to convey that while now considered an English subject, his roots were in Denmark.  That he was the son, and Denmark was his home?

‘men haver endnu en Søn i Danmark’. Google Translate = ‘the watermelon is in the refrigerator’. ;)
‘men haver endnu en Søn i Danmark’. Google Translate = ‘the watermelon is in the refrigerator’. 😉

Without having the letter translated properly it’s hard to say, but the path The Princess and the Drejer took me down has been enjoyable to say the least.

Seeing Peter’s writing and reading his words, I can almost ‘hear’ his voice from the past.

Signature of P.O Carlsen, Officer at Port Arthur, Tasmania
Signature of P.O Carlsen, Officer at Port Arthur, Tasmania

It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever wear a diamond-crusted tiara or inherit any royal jewels, but thanks to my 3x great grandfather putting pen to paper over a century ago, now have a treasure of a different kind.

Paper beats ‘rock’ every time.

______________________

Archive Collection: The wars in 1848 and 1864.

Archive Creator: Defence Archives (FOARK) Archive funtion medal cases.

The letter from Peter Ole Carlsen in 1876 was an application for a commemorative medal.    Interestingly, it also mentions a sister, Mrs F Brandt, residing in Copenhagen. Another clue in the puzzle, and another angle to pursue!

Peter Oluff Carlsen was also known as Peter Olaff Carlsen.

 

The fallen Anzac

James was in big trouble.  He knew it, the Army officials knew it.  Impersonating an Anzac was a serious offence, and in 1918, one that could result in serious consequences.

To the officials, it all seemed quite cut-and-dried. This ‘imposter’ had certainly been out and about in military uniform – Anzac rosette on display, and four stripes on the arm indicating four years’ service.

An Anzac Rosette, from 'Digger History' website.
An Anzac Rosette, from ‘Digger History’ website.

When approached and questioned, he gave his name as Private James McGee – a returned soldier who according to military records, didn’t exist.

But James was a soldier in the Australian Imperial Forces, having enlisted at the age of 17.  He served in Egypt, Gallipoli and Lemnos, and fought alongside his fellow men in the trenches. He did exist.

Just not under that name; James McGee.  It was his birth name, a name he hadn’t used in years…

…until that day in 1918, when James panicked.  He had a secret that was under threat of being discovered – if they knew who he really was, James faced being discharged. Faced being rejected.

Again.

The first time James was discharged, he was deemed medically unfit.

Night terrors, sweating and palpitations were not uncommon for those exposed to the horror and drudgery of their conditions and duty while on active service – a terrible (and understandable) effect of war.  But sadly, for James these things were not new. Along with bed wetting, they had been a constant, frequent companion in life since childhood. Possibly a medical condition, but perhaps more-so as a result of his upbringing.

Since his time in Egypt and Gallipoli however, things had gotten progressively worse – the night terrors in particular increased in severity as the months passed.  With the addition of heart pains and weight loss, his future was decided. His service ended in 1916.

For a time.

Not to be deterred, James tried again.  This time falsifying his details and advising that he had not served previously (nor had ever been declared unfit). He was soon found out, however, and discharged once more.

Re-enlisting for home duties a few months later, James began yet another stint in the armed forces, only to be discharged again – his services ‘no longer required.

Taking a different tact, he applied to the 3rd District Guard in Victoria and enlisted again.  It was during this time – at the age of 21 – James ‘McGee’ stood facing charges of being a Bogus Anzac.

As James awaited his fate, it’s easy to wonder what may have been going through his mind.  Perhaps he thought of his father, who took him and his younger siblings from Tasmania to Victoria when he was only seven…and then abandoned them to fend for themselves.  Perhaps he even thought of the day they were discovered in terrible conditions, charged as State wards, and handed over to the Department for Neglected Children.

It’s possible he also thought of his mother, who knew where he was, but during the 10 years he was in state care, never came to get him back.

More likely though, he thought of his ‘secret’ – the one he was trying to protect.  That he, Private James Adams, had just been released from a short stint in prison, charged with presenting a false cheque.  Faced with the possibility that he may be found out and discharged – again – giving a ‘false’ name was a risk he appeared to have been willing to take.

Why was the military so important to James?  For a young man who never knew a real home, and who possibly never felt like he belonged, the Army may have provided just that.  A sense of being needed, useful…even important.  Something young James perhaps never felt.  The sense of belonging, of contributing, of mateship and comradery, is possibly the reason why every time he was discharged, he simply re-enlisted – clawing his way back into the fold again and again.

Realising that this time things were more serious – that he could be discharged and sent to prison – James pleaded his case in a letter. Along with outlining his service, he explained why he panicked and gave a false name.  He was not a “bogus Anzac” – he just wanted to keep his mistake hidden. To keep his good character intact.

“…I was granted leave to proceed to Korumburra and was arrested there for False Pretences and was sentenced to 3 months Hard Labour.  That was my only reason for denying my previous service when I was recognised by the Corporal who checked my attestation. I am fit in every way and am anxious to wipe out the only stain on my character by going away to the front. I am sorry for causing everybody so much trouble but I did not want anybody to know that I was in prison. I have always had to battle around for myself. My mother has never looked after me. I have been in the care of the Neglected Children’s Dept. I ask to be allowed to soldier and if so allowed I am prepared to go away with first Reinforcements. I want to get my good character back.  James Adams.”

The authorities appear to have understood – or perhaps simply needed more soldiers on the front.  Regardless, James Robert Henry Adams, alias McGee, had made it back in once more.

Before he could commence active service, the war ended.  Returning to Australia, James now faced a different future.  Many men in his position found other employment, married, and raised families.  But sadly for James, he chose a different path.

James didn’t fall on the battlefields of Gallipoli like so many of our ancestors, nor did he succumb to the illnesses prevalent in Lemnos. But he was there in the trenches, there in battle, there during the horror, death and sacrifice. He was an Anzac, and he did fall.  Turning to a life of crime when the war was over, he fell further still.

Prisoner No.37109, James Adams (PROV)
Prisoner No.37109, James Adams (PROV)

James Adams died at the age of 37 in Geelong Gaol. He never married or had children, nor did he reunite with his mother in Tasmania.  Mrs Adams had moved on.  No doubt she had her reasons, and times were certainly different back in the early 1900s, but my heart still goes out to James, who struggled all his life to find a place to belong.  To the boy who since the age of seven ‘battled around for himself’ until later finding that place as a soldier.

An Anzac.

Sources and Notes

Flash fiction: writing family history

Learning to write about my ancestors was tougher than I thought it would be. The unit I’ve just completed – Writing Family History – not only taught us different techniques to ‘turn ancestors into characters’, we had to produce a short written narrative (250 words) every week. Following a different prompt each time, we were also encouraged to write fiction to ‘try out’ these techniques – the hook, flashback, dialogue, senses, 1st person…the list goes on.

After a shaky start (who to choose! what to write! how to stick to the word count!), I grew to love it. I loved giving these people a voice, putting myself in their shoes, imagining what it may have been like for them.

Very far removed from the here’s-a-fact…and-here’s-another-fact style I had been used to! The ‘flash fiction’ approached was great, and certainly forced us to sharpen our writing.

One of the activities from the course was to write “an account of a moment in one of your ancestors’ lives where they are in a frightening or menacing place. What is happening? How did they get there? And how will they adjust?”

I chose to write a fictional account of a moment in the life of James and Edward McGee, my great-grandmother’s brothers. Based on an actual event in 1905, I tried to imagine how that moment may have been for them.

A Brother’s Love

The two brothers stood hand-in-hand, shivering from the biting cold in their threadbare clothes. Having just been transferred from the Brunswick Police Station, they were now in Melbourne facing an uncertain future. Ahead of them behind wrought-iron gates loomed a grey-brick building, its façade worn and tired.

“Is that Gaol, Jimmy?” Edward asked quietly, his voice wavering.

James was scared too, but couldn’t let Ed know that. He was the big brother and took that job seriously – he couldn’t let Ed down now.

“Nah, Ed”, he laughed. “We’re not criminals!”

“What’s a word of…state, then? And what’s neg…neglected mean?”

James frowned, glancing at the officers waiting near the gates. Ed was constantly repeating things grownups said, and James wished they wouldn’t say so much in front of him. Ed was only four – he didn’t need to hear it.

“It’s ‘Ward of the State’, Ed. It just means we’re going to stay here for a bit until mum comes to get us. It’ll be great – food and everything!”

“For real? Mum’s coming?”

James kept positive for Ed’s sake, but knew better. Their mother might come, but they had to find her first. He’d overheard the grownups too, when they thought he was out of earshot. Ed may be too young, but not James. He’d be eight soon – almost a man! His dad must have thought so too – why else would he have cleared out weeks ago and left them alone?

Smiling at his little brother, James motioned toward the officers at near the now-opened gate.

“C’mon Ed, race you!”

If you’re in Australia and have the opportunity to do this course, I highly recommend it.

writing family history course

Now the next challenge will be to see if I can put it into practice when writing non-fiction, and keep it up!