Dawsons and disaster

The Dawson surname is a new find in my father’s tree. We thought his grandfather was Robert Edward Smith, son of a half Samoan whaling captain William Smith who I have done a lot of research on. But neither dad nor I had any Polynesian ethnicity, while all dad’s cousins on the Smith side did. I tested another Smith relative who came down the line of a sibling of Robert Edward. Dad and I didn’t match her at all yet all dad’s Smith cousins did.

Dad also had a person in his DNA matches that was a 1st or 2nd cousin but we had no idea where he linked in. He wasn’t on dad’s paternal side as we have a half brother to dad tested and any matches with both of them will be the paternal side. So this high match must be maternal, but he doesn’t match any of dad’s Smith cousins, so who is he? I checked his tree back to his  great grandparents – Alexander and Hannah Dawson  nee Sutton. Lots of dad’s matches come through this couple or their siblings. So which of Alexander and Hannah’s sons is going to be my dad’s grandfather? I am still not exactly sure but have it down to three possibilities.

But how does the Dawson family feature in a post about a disaster? My post from last week was about my great great grandfather Thomas Somers, a miner in the North East of Tasmania; the Dawsons were miners on the West coast of Tasmania.

West Coast mining

The west coast of Tasmania but particularly the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area, has some areas still not explored by humans; you can only get in there by boat, very few walking tracks and you would need to bash through scrub to get anywhere. But the mining area around Queenstown and Zeehan does have road linkages unless snowed in. There is an airport at Strahan but only small planes. There are many mines in the district but the most famous is the Mount Lyell Mines in Queenstown. It is here where a huge disaster happened in 1912 and members of my Dawson family were involved. In total 170 men entered the mine that morning and 42 did not come out alive. Luckily my relatives did. When rescuing the miners, the company had to wait for more smoke helmets to be steamered over Bass Strait from Melbourne taking a bit over 13 hours.

Dawson involvement

Dad’s great grandfather Alexander Dawson died in 1901 but he also had a son called Alexander. In 1909 when dad’s mother was born on Bruny Island, Tasmania, Alexander Dawson was still living in Queenstown as a single man. In 1912 he married Sarah Jane Hawkins Griffiths and in mid September, their first child Alexander Charles was born. He died three weeks later on 7th October. Only 5 days after his son’s death,  Alexander was involved in the fire at Mt Lyell Mines. He had only been working in the mine for about a year.

Alexander Dawson deposition about 1912 Mt Lyell mining disaster

Here is the first newspaper report of the fire including names of those rescued. The next day another report also mentions that Alexander’s younger brother Henry is also one of those still entombed. At 3.30 on Wednesday 16 October, Harry Dawson walked out of the mine. According to the newspaper article:

Henry Dawson appeared to be very weak as he walked from the drive to the change house.

Also mentioned in the 16 October paper was that Alexander Dawson and Albert William Dawson were alive on the 1000ft level in the number 40 stope.

A comment about the Dawson brothers in the same newspaper article:

The Dawson brothers, both comparatively lads, are spoken of as maintaining great cheerfulness all through the awful ordeal that was experienced from Saturday through Wednesday.

These three Dawson brothers are the possibles for being my father’s grandfather. Albert born about 1883, Alexander born 1884 and Henry born 1891. My dad’s grandmother was born in 1889, so age wise she could have been seeing any one of the three Dawson brothers. I will have to keep checking the DNA matches to try and prove which one is most likely but dad has a match of 346 cMs across 17 segments with a grandson of Alexander and a match of 136cMs across 6 segments with a great granddaughter of Henry.

6 thoughts on “Dawsons and disaster

  1. Wow, love the newspaper clippings giving his actual words. I need to keep sifting my DNA relatives to see if I’m interpreting them right. There is so much we can learn.

  2. There is so much to learn …I have had little luck with my Smith family with dna testing….Have had to do it twice now…in 2010…and Ancestry changed the markers they test…and then finally broke down and redid it in 2019..so far I am still just a carrot in the smith veggie soup!

    Great blog by the way….Jan

  3. Hi Sue, I’m a decendent of Alexander Dawson (born circa 1860) through Alexander Dawson (born 11 Feb 1884 Gladstone) son Ronald (born 2 Dec 1913 Queenstown), my grandfather. I may have information which helps. Regards, Adrian.

    • G’day cousin Adrian,
      Would love to know more especially if Alexander born 1884 could be my father’s grandfather. Have you done a DNA test? Feel free to email me by using the email address on the front of my blog.

  4. Hi Sue,

    I don’t have all of my info on hand but here’s a brief Dawson history off the top of my head which might help.

    William Dawson, convict, baker, arrived VDL per, ‘Maria Somes’, 1850, Robbery, 10 years. His wife, Catherine McKay, convict, book folder, arrived per ‘Cadet’, 1849, 7 years, Robbery. They lived at Gladstone, NE Tas where she had a businesss.

    One of their children, Alexander, born circa 1860, Gladstone, married Hannah Sutton, born 9/7/1861, Lymington, Evandale, daughter of convicts, Mathew Sutton, per ‘Mandarin’, arrived 1840 and Mary McCreery, per ‘Kinnear’, arrived 1848.

    Alexander & Hannah had eight children that I can identify. Alexander, John, George, Catherine, William, Henry, Olive & Myrtle (twins).

    Alexander, born 11 Feb 1884, Gladstone, last known survivor of the Mt Lyell disaster, married Sarah Griffiths, born 3 March 1893, Launceston, (died of a bee sting). They had 4 children, Alexander (or Alexandra?) who died soon after birth, Ronald (my grandfather), Olive & Eileen.

    I have more basic tree details but my Mum has in depth info that I can’t access as easily. Email me if you have any questions and I’ll see if I can help.

    Cheers! Adrian.

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