Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Walkerville … a Trove Tuesday post.

Tucked away in comparative isolation on Victoria’s southern coastline is Walkerville – one of my favorite places to visit.  Walkerville lies in the north-western curve of Waratah Bay, sheltered from the prevailing westerlies and providing a spectacular view across the bay to Wilson’s Promontory. 

This was where my grandmother grew up, and the place has always been special to me.  I doubt if there has been a single summer in my life which has not included a visit to Walkerville for picnics, beach rambles or a bushwalk. 

But Walkerville hasn’t always been a quiet place.  For a period of about 50 years in the late 19th & early 20th centuries, Walkerville was a thriving little community based on the important lime-burning trade.

Walkerville 2015 © K. Vincent

In October 1874, the following small paragraph appeared in The Age newspaper:

1874 article
NEWS OF THE DAY. (1874, October 12). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 2.
                                                                    Retrieved February 4, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201532936

The article heralded the beginning of a new industry for the colony of Victoria.  Lime was in high demand for the building industry, and marble was mostly imported.  The area had been surveyed in 1868 by Lieutenant H. J. Stanley of the Admiralty & Colonial Marine Survey.  He had reported good anchorage in this south-west corner of Waratah Bay, except during south & south-easterly gales.

1868 map Waratah Bay SLV
      Stanley, H. J. (Henry James) (1868). Australia, South coast, Victoria. Waratah Bay. Hydrographic Office, [London] http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/8396398

Consequently, the ‘township’ of Waratah was proclaimed in February 1874, with a view to the area’s suitability as a port for servicing the gold diggings at Stockyard Creek (now Foster).
In May of 1875, a group of enterprising businessmen from Melbourne chartered the steamer Williams, leaving from Sandridge Pier for Waratah Bay to inspect the location.

1875 article
NEWS OF THE DAY. (1875, May 3). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 2.
Retrieved February 4, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202135764

The full account of the trip, in the same edition, can be read here:  WARATAH BAY AND ITS LIMESTONE DEPOSITS

Marble Cliffs 

Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers (Melbourne, Vic. : 1867 - 1875), p. 84.
Retrieved February 4, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60446295

The group wasted no time in commencing operations, with the formation of the Waratah Bay Lime & Marble Company – just four months later, in September, Melbourne newspapers carried advertisements calling for tenders for the erection of lime kilns at Waratah Bay.
Advertising (1875, September 7). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 3.
Retrieved February 4, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article7419065

The following year, Bright Brothers & Co., shipping agents, advertise for a vessel for the shipment of lime from Waratah Bay to Melbourne.

ad for ship 1876
                                      Advertising (1876, October 9). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 1.
Retrieved February 5, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article5905249

(1879). Loading lime, Waratah Bay. Alfred May and Alfred Martin Ebsworth, Melbourne  from SLV, originally published in Australasian Sketcher

Transporting lime by sea was not without danger, as the risk of fire was significant if the cargo should become wet.   The process of burning limestone in the kilns produces quicklime, a highly caustic powder which generates high temperatures when in contact with water.  The quicklime produced in the Waratah kilns was bagged for shipment to Melbourne, and if the ship encountered heavy weather at sea, the risk of water entering the hold and triggering the chemical reaction which would cause spontaneous combustion was significant. 

The history of the lime industry at Waratah is peppered with stories of fires on board ship.  The first recorded was that of the Phoenix in November 1876, shortly after Bright Bros. placed the above advertisement.

Phoenix fire 1876
LOSS OF THE KETCH PHOENLY (1876, November 18). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 - 1954), p. 15.
Retrieved February 5, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article220460919

Other similar events occurred over the following years:
1884 Gazelle  nla.news-article70043636
1886 John & May  nla.news-article9119108
1908 Meeinderry  nla.news-article10655073
1913 Centurion  nla.news-article7290275
1918 Wyrallah  nla.news-article7290275
1927 Defender  nla.news-article140800200

An article in The Age 5 February 1877, reporting on the voyage of HMCS Victoria to Sydney and return, mentions the jetty at Waratah being under construction.  

Walkerville jetty
from Pilkington family collection

My great-grandfather, James Dewar, was appointed manager of the new lime works.  The exact date of his appointment is not known, but first reference I have found to him at Waratah is 1878.

James Dewar 1829 - 1907
Manager of Waratah lime works
from Pilkington family collection

James Dewar was a Scotsman who came to Australia in the 1850’s, and probably spent time on the Central Victorian goldfields.  On his marriage certificate in Geelong in 1859, he is listed as a quarryman.  By the time my grandmother’s birth was registered in Tootgarook in 1874, his occupation was lime burner.  It is reasonable to assume he was at that time employed at the lime kilns in Rye. 

James Dewar continued as manager of the Waratah kilns until his death in 1907.  During that time, he also served as post-master, electoral officer and registrar for the little community.  Upon his death, his son Alexander Dewar succeeded as manager, and when he went off to World War 1, brother Jim took over.

Over the course of its history, the Waratah kilns changed hands several times.  The name of the original township of Waratah was changed in about 1890 to Walkerville, named after William Froggatt Walker, Commissioner for Customs, who was part of a consortium which took over the kilns from Bright Bros. in 1884.  Later, in 1892, ownership changed again to Andrew A. McCrae.  

Walkerville kilns & jetty c1900
from Pilkington family collection

Increasing transport costs and competition from railways, combined with reduced demand from the building trade, eventually made production of lime at Walkerville uneconomical.  The kilns closed finally in 1926, although the nearby kiln at Bell Point struggled on for another year or so.  Following closure, and with no other employment opportunities in the immediate area, the workers and their families moved away, leaving Walkerville deserted.   Gradually, the bush reclaimed the surrounding area, and the jetty and kilns deteriorated.

deteriorating jetty - date unknown

from Pilkington family collection
Today, Walkerville is a quiet little holiday destination, popular with campers and fishing enthusiasts.  Homes change hands rarely, and for premium prices when they do.  Apart from the ruins of the kilns which dominate the beach, and the little cemetery up on the cliff, there are only small reminders of the industry and activity which once took place.

Walkerville township from jetty 1928
from Pilkington family collection ©

One stone wall containing the fireplace and chimney is all that remains of James Dewar’s residence, and now forms part of the retaining wall on the roadside.  A few patches of nasturtiums and some pea-flowered climbers among the bush are relicts of the former cottage gardens.  Just a single timber pylon survives from the jetty which once curved 300 feet out into the bay.

great-great-granddaughters of James Dewar, with last remaining jetty pylon
© K. Vincent 2012
In recent years, efforts have been made to protect the remains of the kilns and prevent further deterioration.  Signage has been created to inform the visitor of the history and significance of the area.  A short climb along a steep path leads to the little cemetery where James & Margaret Dewar lie at rest with others from the early settlement.


Walkerville kiln 2015  © K. Vincent

Saturday, 28 January 2017

A Tale of Two Fishes …

Walking along the beach has always been a favourite thing to do.  The sea in all its moods holds a fascination for me, whether it’s a wild southern gale in winter, or watching a spectacular sky in summer as the sun sets over the water in the west.  I love exploring the myriad objects cast up by the sea – shells, sea creatures, seaweed, weathered driftwood, as well as varied other objects resulting from nautical activity.

Back in December, a post on a cousins Facebook page Doonagatha caught my attention.  Doonagatha  (from the Irish "Dún an geata" (translation – " close the gate ") is the name of the property originally farmed by my great uncle Dan, who came out to Australia from Ireland in 1895.  The property is still farmed by his grandson & family today.  The Doonagatha page chronicles daily life on a working beef farm, and is a good read.

So, a typical day on the farm winds up with a run on the Waratah Bay beach for the dogs.  In this particular post, an out of the ordinary discovery is made during the daily walk, of a dead whale washed up on the shore.  I followed with interest over the next few days as attempts were made to identify the species.  Eventually, it was confirmed as a pygmy sperm whale, and the carcass removed by authorities.

doonagatha whale 2
©Doonagatha Facebook page 2016.
Used with permission

Reading about this unfortunate creature sent me back to the diary of my great uncle Fred, where in 1905 he records the discovery of another whale on a beach across the other side of the world in county Clare, Ireland.

On Thursday 25th May 1905 he writes:
Cycled up to Fodra to see a monster fish that was washed ashore last night, and stranded on the rocks.  Walked up again with the girls and Hay after dinner, bringing a tape with me.  It measures 31 feet with a girth of 16. Lacey, the light keeper, took a photo of it.
Saturday 27th May:
Went up to Fodra and took some further measurements of the fish.
Tuesday 30th May:
Amy & I cycled to Fodra to see the fish, but the tide was over it.  Rode up again in the evening & saw it.  Dr. Studdert & others up there.  He says it must be buried or it will spread sickness in the place.
Wednesday 31st May:
Wrote a small account to the Clare Journal re the fish washed ashore at Fodra.
From Pilkington family collection

Monday 5th June:
My account of the fish in Saturday’s “Record”.

Fish story
"The Saturday Record"  3rd June 1905.

                                       used with permission of Clare Local Studies Centre,
                                                              Ennis, co Clare, Ireland

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Kilbaha–here and there.

Kilbaha, County Clare, Ireland, 1871

It was one of those perfect mid-summer days in July. The balmy air was full of the sounds of summer – the hum of bees, the song of the larks as they soared high above, the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore of Kilbaha Bay, and in the distance the voices of the people gathering hay in the surrounding fields.

Anna Keane Pilkington shifted her large bulk in the chair, and rearranged her voluminous black skirts. She was enjoying the warmth of the sun against the wall of the house behind her, while in front on the lawn her grandchildren played. They had all come for the annual family holiday at Kiltrellig, the lodge her husband Thomas had built for her forty years ago.

Around her, with much jostling and rearranging of positions, her extended family gathered for a group photograph. The photographer had come from Limerick, and Anna wasn’t sure what she thought about this new-fangled contraption which would reproduce her image on paper. She wished they would just get on with it and leave her to enjoy the sunshine in peace.

Finally everyone was in place, and with an admonition to all to stay still, the photographer disappeared under the black drape of his camera and took the picture. The resulting image showed Anna staring rigidly out of the centre of the picture, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews.

Family group Kilbaha 1871

To the extended family group – Pilkington, Haughton, Griffin and Keane – this was a special place. They had spent summers here in West Clare for years; long, lazy days spent exploring the rocky coastline, swimming and fishing in the Shannon, boating trips and endless picnics. At night time they gathered in one or other of the homes for a musical evening, each taking turns to perform a song or play a piece.

The children were off exploring all day, with a freedom not known to them in their ordinary lives. Holiday friendships with the local children were renewed each year and reinforced by shared interests and activity. The boys would help with the ricking or other farming chores, and the girls try their hand at the spinning, or baking a soda loaf over the fire in a nearby cabin.

As the years passed, those children grew up, their lives leading them on different paths around the world, taking the memories of those halcyon days in the West with them.

Kilbaha & Kiltrellig, co Clare, Ireland 2014
©Katrina Vincent

‘Kilbaha’, Sandy Point, Victoria, Australia, 2013

One hundred and forty-two years later, in another sea-side location on the other side of the world, I sat at the kitchen bench in a rustic holiday cottage. With me were my sisters and several cousins of varying degrees of kinship. Just back from an invigorating walk along the beach, the hot cup of tea in my hand was welcome in the cool of the late afternoon. In a frame on the wall behind us hung a faded old sepia photograph in which a large group of people posed in front of the wall of a house. A stern-looking old lady dressed in black glared out from the centre of the picture, surrounded by bearded men, women holding babies, and children of all ages.
Among those children were four small boys who grew up and journeyed half a world away to make homes and raise families in this special place.

There was much about Sandy Point to remind those men of their home in Ireland. The sea and the wild isolation of the place in all its seasons drew them and kept them here. They worked the land, battling the tides and the encroaching scrub to make a life for themselves which they could not have had in Ireland. The families supported each other through good times and bad, their children cousins and playmates. In time, the children grew up, and they too moved out into the world to follow their destinies.

Throughout the years, Sandy Point remained the focal point which drew everyone together. Families returned every year, holiday homes were built, and summers were spent swimming, fishing and boating, with picnics in favourite locations. The next generation roamed the beach and the bush without restriction. City kids joined their country cousins for the hay-making and other farm chores, while evenings were spent at one or other of the homes for barbecues or games nights. The link with the west of Clare is reflected in the names of the family homes – Ennisvale, Kiltrellig, Kilbaha.

Times have changed and Sandy Point is no longer the isolated place it was fifty years ago. Others have discovered its secrets and in summer now it becomes a bustling, crowded holiday centre. The freedom we had as children is no more. But still, our children have established their own traditions and Sandy Point continues to be the place to go to relax, refresh and recharge.

On this weekend, descendants of the four Irish men had travelled from all over Australia for a family reunion on one of the original Sandy Point farms. The autumn weather was perfect and the weekend had been full of camaraderie and reminiscence, renewing connections and celebrating the lives and traditions of all those who came before. Displayed on a large table, precious items of family memorabilia told us the tales of yesteryear - the diary of ‘Aunt Charlotte’, Anna’s youngest sister, was written in beautiful copperplate writing and was full of family adventures in West Clare.

Within the cosy warmth of ‘Kilbaha’ cottage, the ghosts of long ago mingled among us giving their blessings to this family occasion. The smell of wood smoke from the open fire replaced the salty tang of the air outside as the evening sea mist closed in. Two little girls, Anna’s four-times-great grandchildren, played quietly together on the rug, while the room echoed with the laughter and conversation of the adults. As Anna Keane Pilkington and her four small grandsons watched silently from their place on the wall, I could almost imagine a nod of her head and a softening of her gaze.
©Katrina Vincent 2016.  Written for Writing the Family Saga unit, University of Tasmania.

Anna Pilkington nee Keane 1802-1875
my 2x great grandmother

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Getting to know Grandma

Evelyn Maude Dewar 1907

This is my beautiful grandmother, Evelyn Maud Pilkington (nee Dewar).  I never met her or knew her because she died just seven months before I was born.  I was given her name as my second name, an honour which was completely lost on me as a child.  Evelyn was not a name in popular usage during the 1960’s & 70’s, and I tried everything to disown it.  Why, oh why couldn’t I have been given a perfectly normal second name like Anne or Elizabeth, the second names of my sisters? 

My father’s family consisted of a large, extended network of 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins with whom we maintain close ties to this day.  But I don’t recall my father speaking of his parents very much – and I, thoughtless child that I was, never thought to ask about them while I had the opportunity. 

Eve was born in Rye, Victoria in 1874.  She was the youngest of eight children of James and Margaret Dewar.  The family had moved from Geelong in about 1871, with James working as a lime-burner in the kilns at Rye. Sometime after Eve was born, likely around 1877, James was appointed the manager of a new lime venture along the southern coast at Waratah Bay.  So the family moved to the remote location where the little township of Waratah (now Walkerville) sprang up in response to the demand for lime. 

This was where Eve grew up, among the bush and beside the sea.  The settlement was only accessible by sea, and the community relied on the coastal steamers which plied the Victorian coast for all their requirements. Occasionally, Eve would travel on the steamer on its voyage east, being dropped home again on the return journey. 

Somehow, she acquired a small butterfly tattoo on her ankle, something which she apparently took great care to hide in her later years. 

As a young woman, Eve spent 4 years in Western Australia, where she went to housekeep for her brother Ted.  When she returned to Waratah after Ted’s marriage, she met my grandfather Charles Osburne Pilkington, who had recently arrived from Ireland to join his brothers in a farming venture at nearby Sandy Point.  They married in 1907.

When I was about nineteen, my father retired and my parents moved house.  Among the boxes which accompanied them was one containing a pile of old notebooks – my grandmother’s diaries!  I remember my mother saying dismissively, “Oh those old things – there’s nothing in there of any interest, all she talks about is the weather and what they ate for dinner.”  So the box of diaries was relegated to the back of a cupboard where they remained for the next 30 years, only being rediscovered when we cleared out Mum’s house after she passed away.

I took the box home with me, thinking I should have a look before just tossing them out.  And then I spent the next few weeks getting to know my grandma!  Yes, she started each days entry with the weather, and yes, she often commented on what they ate, but along with that was a wonderful treasure trove of her thoughts and feelings, friendships, family occasions and much more.

Through her diaries I learned of her anguish at losing her beautiful little baby – see A Little Bush Grave.  I read of her hopes and worries for her other children, my father and his two sisters, her heartache when  her beloved Carl, my grandfather, died in 1947.  I discovered a family rift I’d never heard about and how much that upset her, her joy when her children married, and when the first grandchildren came along.  Then her struggle to maintain the house and garden on her own as she aged, the inevitable decision to leave the home my grandfather had built for her, and her reliance on the kindness and generosity of family friends.  Throughout it all, her strong faith was evident, and her belief that the good and bad were all part of God’s plan must have helped sustain her through the difficult times.  Her last diary entry was just a few days before she died.

I now have a connection with my grandma that goes beyond sharing her name, and I know I would have loved her.

Eve & Charlie Pilkington

Eve stood in the doorway for the last time. She’d first come here as a bride 45 years ago. Built by her beloved Carl, it was a simple country house, weatherboard walls and corrugated iron roof containing a lifetime of memories. A widow now for five years, she knew it was time to go, but oh! the leaving was hard.
She wandered through the rooms, pausing here and there as memories arose. There was the old range, which had cooked so many meals for family and friends. There the cosy fireplace, around which cold winter evenings were spent. She remembered the musical evenings shared with the other families, and church services, held when the visiting minister made his rounds. Over here, the little room which had been classroom for the children before the men had built the school.
Standing on the verandah, scene of many summer gatherings, she looked out over her garden. It had become too much for her to manage on her own. The yard was sheltered by big cypress trees, planted by the children on a long ago Arbour Day as protection from the fierce easterly winds.
Her eyes were drawn to the path leading into the bush. Never again would she visit the little wooden cross marking the burial place of her darling baby.
Eve knew she would never return to this house. If she came back, it would be as a guest of neighbouring relatives. Resolutely, she picked up her bag and walked out the gate to the waiting car. No more was this home.
© Katrina Vincent 2016. Written for “Writing Family History” unit, University of Tasmania.
"Ennisvale", Sandy Point.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Accentuate the Positive Geneameme 2016

Researching family history is a time-consuming and rewarding pastime. Sometimes little snippets of information are discovered by chance, while others are the result of painstaking research over a period of time.  One little clue will lead to another, until eventually the trail goes cold and the brick wall is reached.  At this point it is easy to become disheartened, and to forget about all the progress which has been made.

So today, prompted by Jill Ball who blogs at GeniAus, I’ve decided to take up her challenge and review my successes over the past year using the template she provides at Accentuate the Positive Geneameme 2016.  Here is my list of positives:

1.  An elusive ancestor I found was:  my 4th great grandmother on my maternal line was Christiana Epton (1796-1875) of South Petherton, Somerset, England.  Although I’d had her name for some time, I knew very little about her.  Thanks to the newly on-line Somerset parish registers, I was able to add a lot of information, including identifying her parents Elias Epton & Jenny Dean, finding a 2nd marriage late in life, and locating her death and place of burial.

2.  A precious family photo I found was:  at a family gathering in March, a third cousin produced a wonderful old leather-bound photo album full of family photos taken in the late 1800’s.  My sister arranged to meet again soon afterwards to copy them, but unfortunately our cousin was concerned about scanning them, so we had to settle for iphone photos.  Not ideal, but better than nothing!

3.  An ancestors grave I found was:  a whole graveyard full of Griffins, my grandfather’s close cousins, in Kilfearagh, county Clare, Ireland.  I hadn’t been able to locate them on a previous visit, so it was exciting to find so many of them all together.

4.  An important vital record I found was:  the 1804 baptism record of my 4th great grandfather, James Miller Way, in the Oxfordshire parish records.  This enabled me to identify his parents, and so take this line back another generation.

5.  A newly-found family member shared: a previously unknown third cousin-once-removed contacted me via my blog after reading about my 2014 adventures in Athy, county Kildare, Ireland, where our mutual ancestors originated.  She is also a blogger, and her blogs filled in information for me about her line of the family, including a photo of my grandfather’s double first cousin.

Thomas Charles Haughton & his wife Margaret
photo courtesy of Cilla Sparkes

6.  A geneasurprise I received was:  finding some of my family in the Irish Roman Catholic parish records.  Given that my family were not catholics, I hadn’t really expected to find anything, but actually found several entries which allowed me to ‘tidy up’ some of the branches on my family tree.

7.  My 2016 blogpost that I was particularly proud of was:  The Stranding of the Strathgryfe.  This was written as a Trove Tuesday post.  I particularly liked doing this one because of the family connection, and also because it drew on information from a variety of sources to tell the overall story.

8.  I made a new genemate who: helped me to navigate and make a bit of sense out of land titles, freeholds and leaseholds, thus allowing me to confirm exactly where land once held by my grandfather is located.  Thank you Susie Zada!

Waratah North Subdivision
Grandfathers land in green

9.  A new piece of software I mastered was:  well I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve mastered it, but I have achieved a greater level of understanding of Blogger, thanks to the help and advice received from Jill Ball and others at Australian & Local Family History Bloggers.

10.  A social media tool I enjoyed using for genealogy was:  Facebook, without a doubt!  So many great groups for sharing research and information from all around the world.

11.  A genealogy conference/seminar/webinar from which I learned something new was: Diaspora of the Wild Atlantic Way, the Clare Roots Society conference in Ennis, county Clare, Ireland, in September 2016.  This was a great opportunity to make new acquaintances and renew old ones.

12.  I am proud of the presentation I gave at/to:  no, I don’t qualify for this one!

13.  A journal/magazine article I had published was:  I can’t really claim to have been published, but I did have my blogpost A Little Bush Grave reproduced in the local community newsletter.

14.  I taught a friend how to:  I helped a young friend begin her family history journey by introducing her to ancestry.com and teaching her how to use it to best advantage while being aware of  the pitfalls for the unwary.  She’s found information previously unknown to her, including some great historical family photos.

15.  A genealogy book that taught me something new was:  Carol Baxter’s Help! Historical and Genealogical Truth. How do I separate Fact from Fiction?  Carol has a great writing style which is easy to read.

16.  A great repository/archive/library I visited was:  Cambridge Archives in England.  I found a document a year or so ago in their on-line catalogue which I believed related to my husband’s 2x great grandmother.  We took the opportunity on our UK trip to visit the Archive and obtain a copy of the document.  The staff were really helpful and we were able to research some other useful information while we were there.

17.  A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was:  Figures in a Famine Landscape by Ciarán Ó Murchadha.  This book contains a chapter about my infamous 2x great uncle Marcus Keane, who was given the dubious honour of the title Exterminator-General during famine times in Ireland.  I had provided a photo of the man for the publication, so meeting the author and receiving a signed copy of his book was a highlight.

18.  It was exciting to finally meet:  Tom & Peggy Pilkington in Ennis, county Clare, Ireland.  I had been briefly introduced to them at a presentation I did in 2014 for Kilrush & District Historical Society, but had no time to follow up on the meeting as I was leaving Ireland the next morning.  Tom is very likely a distant cousin – all available clues would suggest so, but the vital link which would confirm it has not yet been located!  I’ve been in email contact with Tom & Peggy since 2014 but it was wonderful to finally meet them properly in September 2016.  They very kindly showed us around the old Pilkington farmlands and pointed out various landmarks and places of family interest.

19.  A geneadventure I enjoyed was:  visiting Ardreigh House near Athy, county Kildare, Ireland.  Ardreigh House was the family home of my great grandmother Mary Haughton, whose father Alfred Haughton owned the local mill.  The current owner Frank is a keen local historian, and he has restored the home to its former glory (or better, with all the advantages of modern technology!)  Frank and his wife were very welcoming, and I did so appreciate them showing us their beautiful home.

Ardreigh House 1863
Sketch by Sarah Anne Haughton 

20.   Another positive I would like to share is:  completing the Writing Family History and Writing the Family Saga units offered by University of Tasmania.  This was such a fun thing to do, and helped develop important writing skills to tell the family story.  I really appreciated the support and encouragement I received from another genemate, Chris Goopy, who did the first unit with me.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Stranding of the ‘Strathgryfe’ … a Trove Tuesday post.

The barque Strathgryfe
Brodie Collection, La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria

Captain Donald McIntyre stood studying the chart in front of him, following an imaginary line along which he had plotted their course.  This was his first voyage as master of the Strathgryfe, although he had previously sailed on her as first mate.  The ship had made a good run in ballast from Table Bay, enroute to Newcastle where she was to load a cargo of coal. 

The Strathgryfe was a 4-masted steel barque, of 2,200 tons, built in 1890 in Greenock, Scotland, for the Strathgryfe Shipping Company.  She carried a crew of 28, several of whom had been signed on in Cape Town.

They had passed Cape Otway at 10:30 that morning, where Captain McIntyre had taken his bearings and set a course through the notorious Bass Strait.  He’d taken into account the 7 degree variation in the ships compass, and expected to pass Wilson’s Promontory by sailing to the north of Curtis Island.  There had been a steady sou’sou’wester blowing all day, and now at midnight it was dark and blustery.  Hearing the look-out calling “land ahead”, Captain McIntyre tapped his finger on the dot on the map that was Curtis Island, before making his way on deck. 

Directing the helmsman to alter course around the island, he peered into the gloom, expecting to see the Promontory light off to his north.  With no light visible, his momentary confusion quickly changed to alarm when breakers became evident on the port side. Realising the danger, he made a quick assessment of his options, and took the decision to turn the ship into the breakers and head for the mainland beach.  With a lurch, the Strathgryfe ran aground in the sands of Waratah Bay.

With the light of day, Captain McIntyre and his crew were able to assess the situation and recognise their error.  The island in front of them had not been Curtis Island at all, but in fact Shellback Island, some 13 miles north of their expected position.  The ship had come to rest high on the beach, but at least she was upright, and there was no loss of life or serious injury.


Cape Otway
Sandy Point
stranding of Strathgryfe
Shellback Island
Cleft Island
Curtis Island
Wilsons Promontory Lightstation
Port Phillip Heads

THE STRANDED BARQUE. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957)
12 April 1902: 16. Retrieved 28 Jun 2016

Fred Pilkington woke early as usual on Tuesday 8th April. After re-kindling the stove and placing the kettle on to boil, he left his brother Dan and cousin Charlie asleep and headed over the dunes to the beach for his customary morning swim.  It was a fine morning with the crispness of autumn in the air, and calm after the previous day’s blustery south-westerly.  The tide was out and he sprinted the length of the sand to the water.

After diving into the waves three or four times, he left the water and jogged east along the beach to dry off. Suddenly, he pulled up short, and stared ahead, hand shading his eyes as he looked into the early morning sun.  Quickly, he retraced his steps, pulling on his clothes as he ran, arriving back at the house just as the kettle boiled over on the stove.  Waking the lads, he shouted, “Wake up you lazy lubbers! There’s a full rigger ashore, under the hummocks, this side of the Darby River.”
Two days later, at the opposite end of the bay, the S.S. Whyralla tied up at the long jetty in the lime-burning settlement of Waratah.  The coastal steamer was a regular visitor, bring supplies to the little township and surrounding district, and transporting the bagged lime back to Melbourne. 

Today in addition to her usual cargo, the Whyralla brought a newspaper man, “special reporter” for The Argus, sent down from Melbourne to get the story firsthand.  Jim Dewar, son of the mine manager, was on the jetty that morning, overseeing the loading of the lime.  The paperman approached him, seeking transport around the bay to the site of the wreck.  Jim made some arrangement with him and the two set off along the beach, calling at Sandy Point on the way where Fred joined them.  Jim would need Fred for the row across Shallow Inlet entrance against the in-coming tide.  Once across the inlet, the trio had a good six-mile hike along the beach to reach the stranded ship. 

While the paperman made his way out to the ship to complete his mission, Fred stretched out on the dunes and lit his pipe, surveying the scene of activity in front of him.  Presently he was joined by one of the sailors, a fair, stocky Englishman of about his own age. Introducing himself as Jack Bridges, the man pulled a letter out of his pocket and asked Fred if he would see it posted to his wife in Cape Town.  Fred tucked the letter inside his jacket, ready to post with his own mail the next day. The two men exchanged some conversation, Jack relating his story of joining the Strathgryfe in Cape Town, where he and his wife owned a small hotel.  Jack had been struggling against the ongoing temptations of alcohol. He and his wife had decided time at sea might be just what he needed to remove himself from such temptations, and Jack was feeling and looking the better for it.  Alas for poor Jack, being set loose in Melbourne later was to prove too much for him!

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), , p. 6. Retrieved June 28, 2016,

Captain McIntyre was confident that by stripping her down, his ship could be re-floated without too much difficulty using the assistance of steam tugs.   He’d telegrammed the ship’s agents in Melbourne, and the owners in Greenock, seeking the necessary authorisation and assistance to achieve this.  The task proved to be not so straightforward, and it was not until the end of June that the Strathgryfe was eventually re-floated and towed back to Melbourne by the steam tug Albatross.  

THE BARQUE STRATHGRYFE. (1902, June 30). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), , p. 6. Retrieved June 28, 2016,

In the meantime, leaving three men behind with the ship, the Captain and remainder of the crew were transported to Melbourne, where the crew were paid off, and poor Jack met his fate. 

On the 14th May, Captain McIntyre faced a Court of Marine Inquiry into the incident.  The  Marine Board found him guilty of serious misconduct and careless navigation, concluding that he had not taken into account the compass error when calculating his course.  His Masters Certificate was suspended for 2 months, and he was fined £15 for expenses of the inquiry. 

The Strathgryfe underwent a refit during the months of July and August.  When she eventually sailed on 2nd September for San Francisco via Newcastle, Captain McIntyre was once more in command.

Donald McIntyre's Masters Certificate 1892

Ancestry.com. UK and Ireland, Masters and Mates Certificates, 1850-1927 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.                 
Original data: Master's Certificates. Greenwich, London, UK: National Maritime Museum.

Fred Pilkington and Jim Dewar were to become my great-uncles, when Fred's brother Charlie married Jim's sister Eve in 1907.

F. W. Pilkington, “Memories of Sandy Point”. Private family collection.
Board of Trade Wreck Report for Strathgryfe 1902 ID: 18373 out of copyright.  Portcities Southampton http://www.plimsoll.org/resources/SCCLibraries/WreckReports2002/18373.asp

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A Little Bush Grave…

August 1911 – 24 May 1912

One spring day last year, during a weekend at my family home in Sandy Point, I went on one of my customary walks around the area.  Sandy Point is a quiet little settlement on Victoria’s southern coastline, tucked in the shadow of Wilson’s Promontory.  Come summer, it is a bustling holiday centre, but in early spring the few permanent residents share their home with just the local birds and wildlife, and the pristine beach is almost deserted.  This is how I love it.
Walking along Ryan’s Rise, I stopped to pick a bunch of the fragrant white freesias which grew thickly along the roadside and into the grounds of the neighbouring empty holiday homes.  A lady coming towards me walking her dog paused to exchange a greeting and a comment on my task.
“They’re lovely, aren’t they,” she said. “ You know they are supposed to have come from a baby’s grave?” 
“Yes” I replied, “I do know that…”

Ryan's Rise, Sandy Point
© Katrina Vincent 2015

104 years ago today, little Eric Hastings Pilkington, not quite 9 months old, succumbed to pneumonia and passed away.  In due course, he was laid to rest in a little bush grave lovingly prepared by his father, my grandfather.  A wooden frame surrounded by a strong wire fence was built to mark the spot, and buffalo grass planted in the newly-turned soil.  When my grandmother recovered from the same illness, she planted freesia bulbs from her own garden at the gravesite. 

The site was chosen on Crown bushland adjoining my grandparents home, easily reached by a meandering track from the house.  Over the ensuing years, the freesias and buffalo grass naturalised and spread so that 50 years later, when the Crown land was sold to developers and subdivided for holiday sites, no trace remained of the exact location of the little grave.   My father estimated that the road was constructed over the actual gravesite.

Some months after baby Eric’s death, my grandmother recorded the following in her diary.  Her writing indicates her desire to keep little Eric’s memory alive, and I hope that my tribute will help to preserve this little piece of history.

© Katrina Vincent 2015
September 6th 1912:  In writing this diary I am not pledging myself to write daily or even weekly –     perhaps not monthly. Sometimes life goes on uneventfully for months at a time – at other times events crowd thick and fast, and some of them one wants to remember and if some record is not kept, time dims them and in trying to think back, one is amazed & often sorry to find that much that would have been better remembered has grown faint in ones memory. It might be so with the little life that came into existence in Aug of 1911 & passed away to God again on May 24th 1912, & left such a blank in our lives, we miss him so sadly.  Sometimes I think the pain grows greater as time goes on.  He is never out of my thoughts & some days I have many sad hours & I yearn for him though I know everything that we could give him on earth would be as nothing compared with the full life of Eternity into which he entered almost before his life here was really begun.  He was such a joy such a bonny sturdy brown-eyed smiling little son.  Even through his illness he did not waste at all as our darling Haughton did.  So much that I did not see - the others have told me of spasms of pain & suffering & how for three hours before he died his eyes were fixed above. My little lamb – I was ill when he was dying & strange hands did everything for him.  My last recollection is of the day after Nurse came, 22nd Wednesday, lying in the cot beside my bed with his beautiful brown eyes wide open & his wee hands playing with the fringe of his shawl. The pneumonia had left him then & we all thought he was getting better but God had other plans & that night he changed & sank gradually.  I did not miss him fully until after Belle went home & then oh shall I ever forget the empty rooms & the silences. Haughton was such a mouse in those days, the eruptions on his hands & feet keeping him chained to the couch & I was weak & Carl anything but well, but thank God, we are all in good health once more & Haughton the greatest comfort to us & as merry & chattery as we could wish him. He is so interested in thinking & speaking of Eric in heaven & I want always to keep him in his mind. Eric was within a week of nine months when he went away & was such a big boy. His eyes always had a smile in them & his hair was a sunny brown & was just beginning to curl & he had four little pearly teeth. Some people think that children develop in Heaven but I like to think of him always as my darling brown-eyed baby. I have a great deal of comfort in my deepest grief in knowing that he is safe with Jesus who loves the children & when He was on earth used them to illustrate some of His most beautiful sermons.

"Family Notices" The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954) 25 May 1912: 5. Web. 24 May 2016 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197359089>.