K is for . . .

K is for King. No, I don’t have an ancestor or relative called King, but the latin for King is Rex and Rex will be the subject of my post today.

My grandfather was officially named Edward Rex Starr but everyone knew him by the name of Rex. Rex was born 8 April 1931 at the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington NSW. When he was just eleven days old, his mother Doris died from childbed fever. I never had the chance to know Rex as he died nearly a decade before I was born but people who knew him well relate stories of a hard childhood.

Rex’s father remarried not long after his wife’s death in order to give Rex and his two elder brothers a mother figure, but apparently she wasn’t very mothering towards the three boys. I don’t know the truth of this, but the same source relate how Rex’s father was a very hard, military man who ruled his home with rigid discipline.

Now, I know it is true that Rex’s father was a military man who was involved with the Citizen Military Forces as early as the 1920s and also served in WWII. I also have had hints of his rigidness in a letter contained in a divorce packet. so perhaps this was why Rex’s stepmother didn’t feel very mothering towards him and his brothers.

Another family story is that around the age of eight (give or take a year or two) Rex was fostered out through Barnados Australia. According to the family member who told me this rumour, Rex himself told them this story but gave no reason as to why he was fostered out. This is something which I have yet to confirm, but will have to look into Barnados and what records they keep from previous decades and how accessible they are.

Rex (front left) on his wedding day in 1957

Whatever the case, by 1954 Rex was living with his father and stepmother number 2 in North Sydney. Although his father died in May 1956, Rex continued to live at the same residence with his stepmother until his marriage in January 1957. After his marriage, Rex and his wife lived in North Sydney before moving to Western Sydney in the early 1960s where they rented and eventually bought a 3 bedroom Department of Housing house in Mount Druitt.

During this time, Rex had a successful career as a shop salesman at a mens clothing store in Sydney. However, Rex’s health began to decline when he was still relatively young and he was forced to retire early from work when his health declined even further. On 30 September 1979, Rex died at the age of 48 years old from Diffuse Scleroderma. Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease which affects the connective tissue of the body. Over time, the skin hardens and circulation becomes increasingly poor leading to cold fingers and toes that turn red white or blue. In later stages of the disease, the internal organs are affected as the arteries harden.


Knowing what he was suffering from, it is little wonder that he was forced to retire from work as he would no doubt have been suffering from a great deal of pain. I have to wonder in the circumstances, it would have been somewhat of a relief to no longer be in constant pain.I think it would have been sad knowing that he was leaving a wife and four children behind, in a way I am glad that he eventually had a release from his pain.

Rex Starr holding his first born child in 1958

Rex later in life

J is for . . .

J is for James Bishop Bradshaw. James Bishop Bradshaw was the second husband of my third great grandmother and as such not directly related to me by blood. But has such an interesting background that I just can’t help but research him.

James was born around 1829 in Madras, India to Matthew and Ann Bradshaw. James was the second surviving child born to the couple, with James’ elder brother Matthew being born in 1827 in Madras, India. I don’t know a lot about the rest of James’ early life, but family stories relate that he was orphaned at an early age and he and his brother Matthew were placed in the Fort St. George Orphanage in Madras. Apparently, when James was aged 12 and Matthew aged 14 the orphanage put out a call for any boys of use European descent willing to emigrate to Australia. James and Matthew volunteered and left India on 30 October 1841 on board the British Sovereign.

Copy of the Baptism Register showing James’s baptism in Arnee, Madras

On their arrival, the boys were placed in the orphan school at Liverpool before being apprenticed out. Apparently, the boys were treated badly by their master. James’ obituary relates that the two boys decided they would not put up with their maltreatment any longer and ran away into the bush. Despite separating from each other in an attempt to make it harder for the authorities to catch them, the boys were eventually caught. However, they pleaded their case before the judge and the judge found that the master had been unusually cruel to the two boys and they received no punishment fro running away.

They were apprenticed again and this time all ended happily, with James being employed by one person for half his life before moving on to another employer. James went on to marry later in life and raised a family with my third great grandmother before dying at the age of 73.

James Bishop Bradshaw (Cattel family collection)

I think perhaps the two boys must have heard stories about Australia and its charms to willingly volunteer to emigrate to a country so different from the one they knew in India. Or perhaps they thought it couldn’t be any worse than the orphanage in which they were living at the time. Whatever the case, I believe they were better off for coming to Australia. Had they remained in India, who knows where they would have ended up. Yes, there may have been a chance that a British family in India would have adopted one or both of them but conversely as orphans they may have ended up conscripted into the British army.

I is for . . .

I is for Isabella. Isabella Fairlie was the first wife of my second great grandfather Edward Biddle. Now, I know she isn’t a direct ancestor but I enjoy finding outmode about so called collateral ancestors who aren’t directly related to me. I first came across Isabella’s name on the death certificate of Edward Biddle and I became interested in her life and death, especially as the couple had children together who would have been an integral part of the lives of my Biddle family.

I found that Isabella had been born around 1871 in Ayrshire, Scotland. I don’t know anything about her life in Scotland or indeed if she even grew up in Scotland or if she grew up elsewhere. I knew that she was living in Australia by 1889, when she was married to Edward Biddle at the age of 18. Being under the age of 21 parental permission was required, and it was given by her father. So that confirmed that her father at least had come to Australia with her. However, she couldn’t have lived in Australia all that long before her marriage as on her death certificate it states that she has only been in New South Wales for 8 years. If correct, this would put her year of arrival at 1889.

It seems that there were other members of the Fairlie family living in New South Wales at the time, as the marriage took place at the residence of a William Fairlie and one of the witnesses was a David Fairlie. But Isabella’s father was John Fairlie. How were these men related to Isabelle? Were they cousins? An uncle? Or maybe even elder brothers? these are all questions which may be answered in the future with further research.

The couple had their first child in 1890, followed by a second in 1892 and a third and final child in 1896. But by 1897, Isabella was dead from Phthisis (Respiratory Tuberculosis) and Exhaustion having suffered from the former for two years. At this time in history tuberculosis was fairly widespread around the world and was the leading cause of death for 25% of the adult population in many European countries. Although Australia is not a European country, but it seems that we had similar statistics with 150,000 people dying from Tuberculosis in the years 1856 – 1906.

What makes me so interested in Isabella is the fact that her three children were still so young when she died, aged six, five, and one and a half years old. But she had suffered from the disease for two years. That means that she well and truly had the disease whilst pregnant with her final child. How hard must this have been to carry a child to term and then go through childbirth all whilst suffering such a debilitating and wasting disease.

From what I know of tuberculosis, individuals often had the disease for some time before showing the most well known symptoms such as the coughing up of bloody sputum. So Isabella probably had tuberculosis for more than two years, but regardless of how long she actually had the illness I think it would have been difficult for her children to remember her as not being sick especially as they were so young when she died. Her youngest child wouldn’t have remembered her at all, being only one and a half when his mother died.

To me, this is incredibly sad as family is something that is important to me and I am unable to imagine how hard it must be to grow up without a mother that you only remember distantly or perhaps not even at all. And I imaging also that it would have been sad for Isabella when she knew that she had tuberculosis and was unlikely to live to see her children grow up.

N. B. Tuberculosis statistics obtained from:

de Looper, Michael Willem “Death registration and mortality trends in Australia 1856-1906”, A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of The Australian National University, May 2014, https://openresearchrepository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/16791/1/De%20Looper%20Thesis%202015.pdf 

H is for . . .

H is for Harriet. Rather than focus on one ancestor for this post, I am focusing on a name and the popularity of it. In my family tree, there are no less than 16 individuals who bear the name of Harriet or Harriett. So, I decided to do a bit of research about the name Harriet and its meaning.

According to Wikipedia, Harriet is the English version of the French name Henriette which in turn is the female version of Henri. Henri itself is a derivative of Henrik which in turn is derived from Heimreiric which is a Germanic name. This original name gives us the meaning for it’s derivatives, including Harriet. Heim means “home” and ric meaning “ruler”. Indeed, modern baby name sites define Harriet (along with it’s derivatives) as ruler of the house. I find this definition somewhat amusing as traditionally men have been thought of as the head of the household. Imagine the reaction of some men if they knew this!!

But as all us family historians know, people have a bit of a habit of using nicknames at different stages and it can be tricky to figure out where some nicknames come from. So what are some variations of Harriet? They include: Harriott; Henriette; Henrietta; Harrietta; Hattie; Hettie; Hennie; Harry/Harri(e); Etta and Ettie. Now these variations all seem to make sense to me, but when you look a bit further there are some stranger variations out there. Some of the more different variations I found include Yettie or Yetta (English); Hatsy (English); Hani (Australian); and Halle (English).


G is for . . .

G is for George. George Cole Milne was my 4th great grandfather and is one of the naughtiest ancestors I have come across.

George was born in 1814 in Kent, England and arrived in NSW as a free immigrant in 1839. During his time in Sydney, George worked as a clerk for the colonial government and got married. But the marriage certificate is the first and last record of the marriage in the archives. There have been no children found to be born to the marriage and the death of his wife has yet to be confirmed, although there is a big clue pointing to when it occurred.

Whatever the case with this marriage, by 1853 the marriage had obviously begun to break down as his first child to Margaret Blakeney was born in Sydney in that year. By 1857, George has relocated to the Goulburn area and was working as a school teacher along with Margaret (also a school teacher). In the years following, from 1857 to 1867, the couple had a further five children. It’s important to note here that these births all occurred out of wedlock. Legally, George was still married to his first wife and Margaret also was married to someone else at the time.

I have been unable to find a record of the death of either George or Margaret’s previous spouses but presumably both had died by 1869, when George and Margaret were at last married after having six children together. They were married in the manse of the Goulburn Presbyterian Church, which was about 20km away from their usual residence of Kippilaw. Following the marriage, there was a mass baptism of all the children, barring the eldest.

The Kippilaw Schoolhouse today (image courtesy of stayz.com.au)

What interest me is the level of secrecy they would have had to had about the fact that they weren’t married. Especially being employed as a school teacher, George would have been expected to be above reproach so it would have been essential that no one find out that he was not legally married to the woman he claimed to be his wife. In keeping with staying under the radar, none of the couple’s children born before their marriage were registered at any time with the NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriage. I presume that this was so the wouldn’t have to provide a marriage date for a non existent marriage and be caught out by the local community.

F is for . . .

F is for Francis Rippingale. Francis Rippingale was my 4th great grandfather and for many years he represented one of my biggest brick walls, although I didn’t know his name at the time. In fact, this was one of the first times iI had seen what was blatantly false information on a certificate.

Francis’s son Henry Flear Rippingale (aka Trueman) emigrated to Australia and married literally days after his arrival under the surname Trueman. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he provided a false father’s name when registering the marriage. As soon as I saw the father’s name I began to have suspicions about the likelihood of their being a Romeo Trueman floating around back in England.

However, I was able to verify that his mother was the person who was listed on his marriage record. So by researching the mother Harriet Flear I persisted and persisted looking for a marriage between her and anyone with the surname Trueman to no avail. However, I did find that she had married a Francis Rippingale. I thought that was rather curious and out it to one side. Then I had the though that perhaps Romeo Trueman and Harriet Flear weren’t married. So I searched ancestry for any reference to a Romeo Trueman and returned with zero good matches.

Francis’s signature from his marriage record

So I dutifully returned to examine Mr Francis Rippingale and his wife Harriet Flear. I traced them after their marriage through English census records and left it at that for a while. Then one day, I was going back through the information I had on the couple and noticed that they had a son called Henry Flear Rippingale. I cross checked the age against the census year to get an approximate year of birth and it was a match with my Trueman in Australia.

Many sources later, I confirmed that these two individuals were in fact the one person and that Francis Rippingale was indeed my 4th great grandfather. As a result, one huge brick wall came crumbling down after many years of research.


E is for . . .

E is for Edmund. Edmund Albert Hartley was my 2nd great uncle, the younger brother of my great grandmother. And his story his interesting to me because if it hadn’t been for world events at the time, his story could have ended so differently.

Edmund was born 28 October 1900 in Penrith, New South Wales. He spent his growing up years on the family property at Jamisontown near Penrith, which in those days was still ‘in the bush’. Presumably, he had a childhood similar to that of other children his age but the year he turned fourteen his relatively quiet life was to be shaken up with the start of World War I.

Having heard many stories about boys aged fourteen or even younger being caught up with the fever of ‘defending the empire’ and changing their ages so they were old enough to go away to war I can imagine that Edmund would have ben infected with the same fervour. Perhaps he nagged and nagged his parents to be allowed to go to war or perhaps he even tried to lie about his age. Whether he did either of these things or not, he didn’t succeed in enlisting until he reached the age of 18.

At 18, he was still under age as the age of majority was 21 in those days so he would have needed permission from a parent and his father’s permission is recorded on his enlistment form. How he must have been excited to finally have his chance to go and ‘fight the Hun’ but before being deployed he had to undergo basic training in Australia. I can imagine that Edmund chafed at not being deployed overseas immediately now that he had finally been able to enlist.

However, before he could complete his training and be deployed overseas World War I ended. This resulted in Edmund being discharged from the army without making it overseas let alone seeing any action. Whilst I can imagine that as a young man, he would have been frustrated that it was all over before he could be involved. On the other side of the coin, I can imagine that his mother must have felt enormous relief that her son would be safe.

Edmund was fortunate in that he never made it overseas to fight, as he avoided suffering the physical and mental scarring that so many young men suffered during World War I. Interestingly, he never enlisted for World War II even though he would have still been young enough. Whether he realised what he had been cared by not being deployed overseas or he didn’t enlist for other reasons, I don’t know. But what I do know is that his life would have turned out so differently if he had enlisted earlier in the war instead of right before it ended.

     Edmund Hartley with his daughter Lorna.

D is for . . .

D is for Doris. Another great-grandmother, this time on my paternal side and with a bit of a sad twist. 

Doris was born in Liverpool, Sydney in the year of Federation 1901. At the time of her birth, her father was working as a bricklayer but just a few years later he was the proprietor of  a confectionist and tobacconist. So, presumably Doris’s life followed the same course as most girls of that era which culminated in her marriage shortly before her twenty-first birthday.

The couple’s first child followed the year after their marriage and four years later Doris gave birth to a section child. All seems normal up to this point, a young couple with two young children. But life was to change for the young family when Doris became pregnant with the couple’s third child. I don’t know whether Doris had a difficult pregnancy from the very start or if her troubles developed later. However by March 1931, just one month prior to giving birth, by all accounts Doris was suffering more and more which made it hard to care for the two young children she had at home.

I know that things must have bene looking dire, because in March of that year her husband Herbert Samuel Starr was caught stealing grocery items from the Officers’ Mess at the local army base. The case went to court in May and it is mentioned in the defence that at the time he was caught, Herbert first denied stealing the items then when it became apparent denials wouldn’t do he pleaded his wife’s illness resulting in him taking time off work. This resulted in him resorting to stealing grocery items to feed his sick wife and two young sons.

But back to March, when Doris was suffering through her third pregnancy. On 8 April 1931, she gave birth to her third son (my grandfather). Apparently, he was born small but healthy which must have seemed a relief after such an illness riddled pregnancy. But the relief was to be short lived.

Doris developed an in infection called Puerperal Pyaemia also known as childbed fever. As I understand it, the condition develops during situations such as childbirth through a lack of sterilisation of the medical environment which allows germs and bacteria to enter the body of the patient through bodily fluids. It is likely that Doris contracted childbed fever either during or shortly after the birth. Whatever the case, just eleven days after the birth of her child Doris died from Puerperal Pyaemia or childbed fever. She left behind two small children, a newborn and a husband.

Now, I had heard of childbed fever before but it astounded me that it was still prevalent in relatively modern times. When I first read Puerperal Pyeamia as the cause of Doris’s death, I didn’t know what it meant. But when I read that she had had the illness for eleven days and that her youngest child was also listed as being eleven days old, I started to get a sinking feeling in my stomach about what the unfamiliar term meant. I dutifully looked it up in google, and sadly had my suspicions confirmed.

I feel so sad to think about that she barely had time to hold her new baby before she was overtaken with sickness that she ultimately died from. And to think that it could likely have been prevented had proper sterilisation been carried out. As a result, my grandfather never got to know his mother at all which seems such a sad way to grow up.

C is for . . .

C is for Charlotte. Charlotte Maude Nichols was my great grandmother, the mother of my maternal grandfather who I never knew.

I first came across Charlotte’s name on the marriage certificate of my grandparents and then on the death and birth certificates of my grandfather. From there, I was able to find out a bit about Charlotte beyond just a name on a piece of paper.

Charlotte was born 3 May 1894 in Katoomba, New South Wales to parents Robert George Nichols and May Henderson. She was the couple’s first child, and spent much of her childhood in the shale oil mining town of Joadja Creek in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Her parents marriage had also occurred at Joadja Creek in 1893. So how did she end up being born in Katoomba?

Well, after much research into the to town of Joadja Creek and the mining operation there I discovered a reference to a shale oil operation at Katoomba and thought ‘perhaps that’s it’. As they were both shale oil operations and they were also both located in mountainous terrain. So perhaps it was some sort of worker exchange? Whatever the reason, it was only a brief visit as Charlotte’s both was registered a month later on Joadja Creek.

But the most interesting event, at least from a family history point of view, was yet to come.  By the time Charlotte was ten years old, the family had relocated to the Newcastle area and certificates for Charlotte’s siblings indicate that they were still living there in 1910 when Charlotte was 16 years old.

But for a period in the year of 1910, Charlotte wasn’t living with her family. On 19 November 1910, at sixteen years old

My grandfather George as a young child

and unmarried, Charlotte gave birth to a baby boy at South Sydney’s Womens Hospital. This baby boy was to become my grandfather. Later in life, Charlotte went on to marry and have other children all of whom are listed on her death certificate. Sadly, her first child is not listed on her death certificate presumably due to the fact that he was illegitimate.

This is where one of my major brick walls comes into play: discovering just who was the biological father of my grandfather. To date, I have gone as far as I can with the Nichols family line and have scoured newspapers but to date have found no clues from this line fo research as to who my biological great-grandfather might be. I even had my DNA done a few years ago when it first started getting big but still have had no hints. Here’s hoping that one day I’ll smash through this brick wall.


B is for . . .

B is for Blanche. Blanche Harriet Trueman was my great, great grandmother on my father’s side of the family. She always intrigued me with a name such as Blanche. To me, it seems such a sophisticated name which makes me wonder where she got it from as her life seems to be far from sophisticated.

Blanche was born 3 April 1880 in Bathurst, NSW. As soon as I learned of her birth place, I felt a connection with Blanch straight away. For most of my life I have lived in Bathurst and I loved growing up in a place with such a rich history. The fact that Blanche was born in Bathurst really piqued my interest and I spent a lot of time researching her and her time in Bathurst.

I knew that by 1897, she was residing in Molong NSW (about an hour west of Bathurst) with her family. Molong is listed as her residence on her marriage certificate and as she was only 17 years old at the time (and therefore under the legal age for marriage) she needed permission from her father and it was given. So what happened in the intervening years and how long was the family living in Bathurst?

Blanche Harriet Trueman with her husband Joseph Starr.

To figure this out, I had to backtrack to Blanche’s parents and locate the births of her elder siblings. I found that after their marriage in 1869, Blanche’s parents had lived in Young, NSW until at least 1875 which was where the sibling before Blanche was born. I have bene unable to pinpoint exactly when the family arrived either after the birth of their third child in 1875, or in the intervening years until the birth of Blanch in 1880. However, I have been able to learn some things about their life in Bathurst.

Blanche’s father Henry Flear Trueman appears in the 1886-1887 Bathurst and Western District Directory as residing in Kepple (sic) Street, Bathurst so that confirmed for me that the family was still living there 6-7 years after Blanche’s birth. The entry in the above publication is a simple name and address listing, similar to what we would find in a phone directory (with the omission of a phone number, of course) and doesn’t really tell you anything about the family aside form the street where they lived.

What I found next did flesh out the continuing story of Blanch and her family, and not in a pleasant way. Like any self-respecting family historian, I turned to Trove to see what I could find.  Now, I didn’t expect to find a lot based on my previous experiences with other ancestors. Much to my surprise, I found four whole articles relating to Blanche’s parents. The first article appeared in the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal on Saturday 30 April 1887 and revealed a very unstable family. Appearing on page 2, the article accounts the attempted suicide of Henry Flear Trueman of Bathurst. An article in May of the same year goes into more detail, relating how Henry took an entire bottle of laudanum in order to scare his wife. Later in the article, he admits that he took it due to being so heavily in debt. Whilst Henry didn’t succeed at taking his life, he was charged with attempted suicide. However, the article doesn’t disclose what his sentence was.

As if the attempted suicide of her father wasn’t bad enough, Blanche’s home life was evidently not a particularly happy one as her father is described as being inclined to fits of anger and physical violence towards his wife. In the same edition of the paper as the first article, and article also appears in the legal proceedings section of the paper in which Blanche’s mother Jane presents a claim to the court to preserve her property from her husband’s creditors. The article relates how Jane had been left to support herself and her children after her husband had deserted her. During this time Blanche was still a fairly young child and these articles don’t paint a pretty picture of Blanche’s childhood.

But in the midst of this misery, I did find something interesting. During the period of her husband’s desertion, Jane had managed to support herself and her three daughters by teaching music. Now, this was the first instance i had come across of one of my female ancestors having a skill beyond the traditional ones of mother and homemaker and it intrigued me.

By doing a bit of digging, I found that Jane’s father had been a pianoforte maker in London and presumably this is where Jane learned music or her father made a good enough living that he could pay for lessons. Perhaps it was this background of her mother’s that led to the name of Blanche. I like to think so.