Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Trove Tuesday - Mr Spatch's Recollections

I haven't blogged much this year as I seem to be spending all my out of work hours finishing more work. However, I managed to spend some time searching Trove over Easter and found this gem from The Glen Innes Examiner on Thursday 8th February 1923.

The Glen Innes Examiner Thursday 8th February 1923, p. 4

The Early Days
First Child on Clarevaulx
Drew First Wheat
Mr Spatch's Recollections

With a surprisingly clear memory and a particularly active body for his seventy years of life, Mr William Spatch sen - father of Mr W. Spatch of Bald Nob - is a very interesting human link with the early days of this district.

Mr Spatch was born on Clarevaulx Station, Captain Philip Ditman, stood as his godfather - a distinction he might well have prized, since the baby Spatch was the first white child born on the station. The parents were employed on the property, and so were themselves amongst the very earliest pioneers of the district. Mr Spatch recalls as a boy, that his father possessed a bullock dray and ten bullocks, and thus, as things went in those days, was passing rich even more than Goldsmith's parson on £40 a year.


The old veteran gives interesting impressions of early Glen-Innes. He recalls clearly the first store - where Mackenzie's now stands, also "Johnny Davidson's" blacksmith's shop, near the site of Tattersell's. He tells, too, of the first hotel (Regan's), the predecessor of the (Central) and depicts the gold old Australian hitching post which stood in front, consisting of a massive peppermint stump with horse shoes attached there to.


In due course Mr Spatch became a teamster, gaining a lot of experience as "off-sider" to Messrs. Maxwell and Robert Hutton, who travelled on the Grafton road for many years. Mr Spatch drew the foundation stone for the original Holy Trinity Church, built by Rev J. H. Johnson, B.A., in 1868. These stones came from close to Dunbar's, on the Grafton road, He also drew the first load of wheat gristed at Henderson's flour mill (in the Mill Paddock). This was grown by the late William Gould, at Stonehenge. For many years, Mr Spatch plied between Glen Innes and Grafton - long before there was cutting on the road. Teams travelled down via the Guy Fawkes and returned up Newton Boyd, until in due course the road was put through by Houlson. The teamster's life in those days was essentially one of the open air, and for seven years on end Mr Spatch never once slept outdoors. As an example of prevailing conditions in this matter of wages, it is interesting to record that for over four years he was employed as a bullock-driver at Stonehenge at the rate of 4/- a week!


Vivid recollections of hordes of aboriginals in the district are also retrained by Mr Spatch. On Blanket Day (May 24) when the Queen's bounty was manifested in the distribution of blankets to the natives, he recalls seeing as many as 500, men, women and children, making from Glen Innes toward their camping grounds at Ben Lomond, and stringing themselves out along the track for three miles. As a boy he also saw Thunderbolt, and camped with him at the foot of the Big Hill, while he was acquainted with Thunderbolt's brother, Robert Ward, who was shepherd on Stonehenge for nearly 30 years and often provided shelter for Fred.

The Glen Innes Examiner Thursday 8th February 1923, p. 4

What to do next? Although there are many leads to investigate from this article, here are my top four.

1. Where specifically is Clarevaulx? (I know the location of Stonehenge.)
2. Who was Captain Philip Ditman?
3. Read Hauling the loads - A history of Australia's working horses and bullocks by Malcolm J Kennedy. (All I need to do is take it off my bookshelf and make time to read it.)
4. Next time I travel from Glen Innes to Grafton, take a good look at the country and admire the work of these pioneer teamsters.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Criminal Ancestors?

Yesterday I received an email from Aoife O'Connor, a PhD student with Sheffield University based in Dublin. Aoife is hoping to contact genealogists and family historians with criminal ancestors to fill in a survey or take part in an interview to assist with her research.

Aoife's message is printed below with her permission. 

A Criminal Ancestor 

Are you descended from convict ancestors transported far from home or did great, great, great uncle John end up in court for squabbling with the neighbours?  If your ancestor was a hardened criminal, a victim of a miscarriage of justice, a political prisoner, or in court for not paying their dog licence a new study is looking to hear from you.

Criminals in the family have always fascinated family historians and it seems more of us are discovering more of them all of the time.  The digitisation of the records of the criminal justice system and newspapers are bringing to light a side of our ancestors that may have previously been kept secret.  

The crimes themselves range from the minor, even amusing, to the serious, and tragic.  From a few cows wandering unsupervised along a country lane resulting in an appearance at the petty sessions court and a 2 shilling fine, to a young girl stealing some lace and being transported for 7 years to Australia, a sentence which really meant a lifetime exiled from her native land.  A young boy imprisoned for vagrancy.  A rebel.  A highwayman.  A murderer.   

The documents which record their crimes often have amazingly rich details not found in birth, marriage, or even census records.  From prison registers we can get physical descriptions of someone who lived long before the invention of photography, we can learn their height, weight, eye and hair colour, and any distinguishing scars or features such as tattoos.   From newspaper accounts of trials we hear their voices as they give evidence.   

But how do we feel when we come across an ancestor who broke the law?  And how do they shape how we view our family’s history?  Is a criminal ancestor someone to be ashamed of, to celebrate, or part of a larger story?  What do their crimes, and the punishments they received tell us about them as people, and about the time and society they lived in?  You can help provide the answers. 

As part of the Digital Panopticon project, Aoife O Connor of the University of Sheffield wants to hear from family historians across the globe who have discovered ancestors who were connected to a crime.  She is conducting short anonymous online surveys.

Aoife is based in Dublin, Ireland and is studying for her PhD part-time.  Her own family history includes, among others, one ancestor aged 18 imprisoned in 1821 for thirteen days on suspicion of stealing a frame saw (the same ancestor was fined for excise duty evasion to the tune of £12 10 shillings in 1838), and another who was fined two shillings at the Petty Sessions Court on the 24 December 1855 for driving a horse and cart with no reins.   

Why not fill in the survey or contact Aoife for an interview?