Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Darby and Joan of Bath – Happiness and Heartbreak

It was a cool, crisp September Autumn morning in 1935. The photographer moved around the backyard looking for the perfect spot. He moved two seats in front of the rose garden and set up his camera.

Oliver and Harriet Butt were celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary the next day (30th September) and the Bath Chronicle had asked for a photograph to go with a story about the Butts. Oliver was a well respected Police Constable, having lived and worked throughout the Somerset county, and they were both very active in the local Methodist Church.

Oliver had bought a new suit for the occasion, had a rose from the garden in his lapel and his hands were crossed softly in his lap. Harriet was in her Sunday best and she gently held a large bunch of roses in her lap.

Although they looked to be comfortable in front of the camera, it would actually have been a very unusual and out of character position for them to be in. Oliver and Harriet had an air of happiness and contentment about them with shy smiles on their faces. And so they should after 50 years together.

However, Oliver had not always been happy as heartbreak had plagued him throughout his life.

Oliver’s parents were John Butt (born 18th May 1818 in Burnham, Somerset) and Susan Dampier (born c1826 in Yarcombe, Devon) who married on 20th May 1851 at Burnham On Sea, Somerset. By 1861, John was listed as a Chelsea Pensioner in the England Census and in January 1865, John passed away and was buried on 11th January 1865. Oliver was only 6.5 years old when his father passed away. Susan then remarried (George Emery) in the December of that same year. By the 1871 England Census, Oliver was working in the local silk factory and living with his mother and step father at 1 Albert Place “Rose Cottage” Taunton.

At the age of 20, Oliver married Emma Tuck at the Parish Church in Aisholt, Somerset. Emma was 5/6 years older than Oliver and there appears to be no issue from this marriage. The next tragedy struck with Emma passing away in the February of 1882. She was buried on 20th February in the Parish of Aisholt. Three years later, Oliver married Harriet Normal Bourne on 30th September 1885 at Rook Lane Meeting, United Methodist in the District of Frome, Somerset. By this time, Oliver was a police constable. Oliver and Harriet had three children: Gilbert George who migrated to Canada and died there in 1915 aged 28 years; Beatrice who married George Kirby McArthur, migrated to Australia, and died there in 1931 aged 41 years; and Rowland who migrated for a while but returned to Bath and died there in 1922 aged 29 years. Oliver and Harriet had survived their three children. Heartbreak indeed.

Through all of this, Oliver and Harriet enjoyed a loving and stable marriage and tomorrow, 30th September, they would be celebrating with the rest of their extended family, brothers and sisters and, of course, they would go to Church to give thanks.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

A Letter – Never to be Sent, Never to be Read ...

Dear Arthur

I have been looking for you for about 9 years! Please help as I’m sick of looking frustratingly at the computer and doing hundreds of searches of every database I can find. Seriously though. I know a lot about you but I don’t really know you. So, it’s really quite simple!

Who are you?
Where did you go and what happened to you?

Were you born Arthur McArthur in 1840 at 12 Robert Street, St Andrew, Holborn (above the Bars) in London and baptised on 18 May at St Andrew Western, Holborn? This is the only reference I can find of an Arthur McArthur who was born in London between 1835 and 1855. If this is you, then your parents were Sechibald McArthur and Martha Morris – did they ever marry and where were they born? Sechibald was a tailor and you all lived Above the Bars in Holborn which I believe was a place where solicitors had their offices. As a tailor, did your father work for the solicitors. Did he also make suits and clothes for doctors at Guys Hospital because a family story says that “Arthur walked the halls of Guys Hospital”. Were you delivering your father’s wares?

If all this is wrong, then who were your parents and where/when were you born?

When did you come to Australia and why? I cannot find a shipping record of when you arrived in Australia, or none that I’m absolutely certain is you.

You were on the Electoral Rolls for The Bogan in 1876 with a residence in Forbes. But you were not on the Rolls for 1875. Were you living at Esther’s place in 1876? If so, how did you meet and why was Esther in Forbes?

You married Esther Kirby on 18th August 1877 at Esther’s residence In Forbes although your Marriage Certificate gives me no clue as to who you are. You and Esther had three children:
·      Florence, born 1 December 1871 in Stokes Hill, Forbes (3.5 months after your marriage)
·      George Kirby, born 28 January 1880 in Forbes
·      Victoria Sylvia, born 3 March 1886 in O’Connell Street, Parramatta
When Florence was born, you gave your age as 39 years and born in London which would give you a birth year of 1838. But when Victoria Sylvia was born 9 years later, you said you were 35!! For a bookkeeper, your figures leave a lot to be desired.

There is a family story that you abandoned your family after your father-in-law’s Will was read in mid 1894 as he left quite a bit of real estate and personal estate to his daughter Esther, his son and his grandsons for their sole use. Is this true? Did you leave your family because you were not to inherit anything?

You disappeared off the face of this earth! Where did you go and what did you do? What were the circumstances of you leaving the family?

Your living family would really like to know about you. There are just so many questions that we would like answers to. So, please come and sit on my shoulder and have a chat! It’ll be quick, just a few questions. Maybe 4 to 5 hours!!  That’s not much time to ask for.
Thank you.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

He Could Ride, and Shoot

It was freezing on the veld as the Australian troops rode night after night to enforce British policy across the Boer territories of the Orange Free State and eastern Transvaal. This was what we now know as The Boer War.

Their mission was to “Sweep” the country to cut the Boer guerrillas off from the support of their families and farms. They rode at night and attacked the Boer farmhouses or encampments at dawn, destroying the farms, confiscating horses, cattle and wagons, and rounding up inhabitants, usually women and children who were taken to concentration camps where thousands died due to malnutrition and contagious diseases.

Horses and riders were exhausted from spending long periods in the saddle, trekking almost 3000kms and with little opportunity to bathe or change their clothes. Lice were a constant problem and temperatures on the veld ranged from relentlessly hot during the day and freezing cold at night.

George was an ideal recruit, having grown up on the outskirts of Sydney on land in the Kenthurst area. He was both good with a rifle and could rise a horse superbly, In fact, he was an amateur jockey at one point in his life. (We also know that during enlistment for WWI, he did the riding test for some of his mates). For enlistment, the troops needed to be aged between 20 and 40, 5’6” or taller, have a chest measurement of 34” or larger, and be unmarried.

George had enlisted with the Imperial 3rd Regiment N.S.Wales Mounted Rifles in Sydney on 27 February 1901. His Regimental Number was 2136 and he was a Trooper with B Squadron. His pay was 4 shillings a day or £6 – £6 4s per month (the national basic wage of £2 2s was introduced in 1907) and was assigned to Mrs Esther McArthur, his mother of Kenthurst via Parramatta. He was noted as being 19 years (he was actually 21), 5’8”, fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair with no marks or scars. The Regiment consisted of 37 officers, 980 other ranks and 1000 horses.

The Imperial 3rd Regiment N.S.Wales Mounted Rifles had embarked at Sydney on the transport “Maplemore” on 15 March 1901 and had arrived at Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on 12 April 1901 with 8 officers and 251 others troops. They saw just over 12 months service, leaving Cape Town on 4 May 1902 and reaching Sydney on 3 June. A total of 7 had been killed or died of wounds and 32 died of disease.

George was discharged on 13 June 1902. He was awarded the Queen’s South African Medal and was eligible for 3 clasps: Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal.

The British acquired the southern tip of Africa during the Napoleonic Wars which caused ongoing tension between them and the independent republics of Dutch-Afrikaner settlers who were known as Boers. The Boers moved north to settle new lands which became known as the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Tensions continued throughout the 1800’s and in 1880/81, the two sides fought a war in which British army suffered several costly defeats. With the discovery of gold and diamonds in the Boer republics, tensions again rose with many British subjects flocking to the area seeking wealth. This tension led to the Boers attacking the British in 1899 to stop the influx and the possibly takeover of their republics. This second war was known as the Boer War, starting on 11 October 1899 and ending on 31 May 1902.
As part of the British Empire, Australia offered troops who were mainly mounted units but they were poorly trained. Our first contingents were raised by the Australian colonies and were made up mainly of men in the militia. The second contingents were bushmen, recruited from the public ad paid for by public subscription or wealthy individuals. The third were imperial bushmen were paid by the imperial Government in London. Then there were contingents raised by state governments after Federation and finally, close to the end of the war, the Australian Commonwealth Horse contingents were raised by the new government.
The conflict was divided into three phases: October to December 1899 when the British infantry army was defeated by the mobile Boer mounted troops; December 1899 to September 1900 with a British counter-offensive capturing most of the major towns and cities of South Africa; then the longest from September 1900 to May 1902 with guerrilla warfare between the British mounted troops and Boer irregulars.
Approximately 16,000 Australians took part in the Boer War.