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.

Lottah – town of prosperity

Looking at the occupation of many of my  direct male relatives, I find that farmer and miner were the most common. Those who were miners were either in the north east of Tasmania or on the west coast of Tasmania. This week I will look at one person in the north east where you can find a trail of the tin dragon between Launceston and St Helens.

Tin was the main mineral found in this area of Tasmania but there was some gold and coal as well. By the mid 1870’s, there were over a dozen towns built up around tin mining. The most important of these was Derby and the Briseis Tin Mine which closed in 1956. But in 1929, there was a terrible mining disaster in Derby.

In the 1870’s, tin was fetching £40 – £50 per ton. In 1927 it was up to £297/18/11 but a year later had dropped to £227/11 per ton. Prosperous tin mining was now in decline.

Personal memories

Whenever our family stayed at St Helens for holidays, we would always head to Derby for the day to look over the school house museum and check out the history of mining in the area at the tin mine centre. Or we would  check out Gould Country and the Blue Tier, bashing our way through ferns and scrub to where dad thought some mining equipment, especially stampers, could be found.

 

Relatives in the North East at Lottah

But for my family history it was the area of the Blue Tier and Lottah township that was important as that is where my supposed great great grandfather Thomas Somers/Summers worked as a miner according to the birth certificate of my great grandmother Nellie Somers and her siblings. Georges Bay is now known as St Helens in the district of Portland.

The only time Thomas is mentioned in person is on the above certificate; the siblings certificates do not have a fathers name mentioned except Kate’s. So there is some confusion as to who might be the true father of Nellie’s siblings –  is it Thomas Somers or John West Clark? What happened in the four years between Nellie’s birth in 1889 and Kate’s in 1893? Why the name change for father?

  • Kate Clarke born 4 Feb 1893 parents as West Clarke and Alice O’Keefe Clarke then baptised as Kate Clarke on 28 March 1893 with parents John Clarke and Alice Clarke
  • William Henry Somers born 6 Dec 1894 but baptised as William Henry Clark on 28 Jan 1895 parents as Wes Clark and Alice Somers
  • Jessie May Somers born 15 May 1897 but baptised as Jessie May Clark on 14 Dec 1898 parents as John West Clark and Alice O’Keefe
  • Joseph Edward Somers born 30 Oct 1898 but baptised as Joseph Edward Clark on 14 Dec 1898 parents as John West Clark and Alice O’Keefe
  • Herbert Francis Somers born 4 Feb 1901 with mother as Alice Somers O’Keefe and her having been married in 1885 in Melbourne but no father for Herbert.

DNA has proved my father is related to William Henry Somers/Clark and at least four of his descendants as full 2nd cousins or 2C1R or the amount of cMs also mean they could be half cousins. So with Alice O’Keefe/Somers/Clark as the common parent we still can’t be sure of the fathers.

I can’t find any marriage for Alice O’Keefe to either Thomas Somers/Summers or John West Clark(e) in Melbourne or anywhere else in Australia.

According to Kate Crellin nee Clark’s death notice she had 4 sisters and 3 brothers. So who are Alice Clark, Mary Clark and Emily Clark? Who are their parents and where were they born?

Present day Lottah

Lottah nowadays is a ghost town, seen here in this ABC radio article. But at one point in time the wheel at the Anchor mine near Lottah was the largest in the world and the actual township had about 40 houses, hotels, churches, school and a thriving community.

 

All photos are copyrighted to my father.

Readers: Have any of your relatives been miners? Where and when?

Visiting National Archives in England

Whenever I travel to England, I try to get a lot of family history research done as well as touring the counties of my ancestors.

So while at the National Archives UK at Kew in 2005, I made a great discovery. It was the first time I had visited the archives so wanted to make the best use of my time there.  I asked for anything about John ENGLAND from Yorkshire.  After a while I was sent downstairs to the large document area. Not sure if this is still there or not.

They had found a document from York Castle about my great great grandfather’s crime which had him sent to Van Diemens Land back in 1846. I have written about John in a few other posts here, here and here.

This was an extremely long parchment document. I knew I wouldn’t have time to transcribe it there and then, so asked permission to make a copy using my ipad. It took 23 images to get the complete document as I unrolled it very carefully. The document was about a metre wide. Every 60-90cm or every 2-3 feet I would take a photo. I had only had my ipad for a short time, so the images came out very dark. When I was back in Australia, I adjusted the brightness so I could read the document more easily and saved those new images as well.

Here is one of the pages and below is the beginning of the transcription:

 

… Yorkshire to wit: The Jurors for our Lady the Queen upon their oath present that hereby to wit on the nineteenth day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty six at the Parish of Rotherham in the West Riding of the County of York John Fullarton Esquire then being one of the Justices of our Lady the Queen assigned to keep the peace of the said Lady the Queen within the said West Riding of the County of York …

My convict’s name is not mentioned until the eleventh line of the document. Imagine having to transcribe 23 pages of said language. I might eventually get around to it. Some pages of the document also has other writing crossed over the original as seen in this image. There is virtually no punctuation in the entire document.

Readers: What is the most difficult document you have had to try and read? How successful were you?

Passing names down the generations

I knew I had Francis Colgrave as a name passed down at least three generations as he is one of my direct ancestors.  But I had to check my home database to find out some statistics for this post to see if names passed down happened in other branches of my trees. I’ve only included those with three or more names the same.

BLYTH, Edwin Tabrum – born 1888, 1937, 1961

BOXHALL, Anne – born 1810, 1840, 1959

BOYD, Frederick – born 1855, 1861, 1880

BROWN, Adam – born 1846, 1890, 1894

CHANDLER, William Charles – born 1829, 1863, 1895, 1923

COLGRAVE, Francis – born 1770, 1806, 1843, 1866, 1903, 1925

COLGRAVE, Joshua – born 1859, 1883, 1986

COLGRAVE, Louisa – born 1863, 1881, 1914

COLGRAVE, Samuel – born 1804, 1829, 1847, 1867

COLGRAVE, Thomas – born 1602, 1640, 1663, 1694

DAVEY, George – born 1865, 1898, 1902, 1930

DAVEY, Harry – born 1878, 1908, 1941, 2012

ENGLAND, Elizabeth – born 1830, 1857, 1900

ENGLAND, Mary Ann – born 1805, 1825, 1861

KILPIN, Richard – born 1724, 1790, 1831

MARU, Eliza – born 1829, 1846, 1863

SMITH, William – born 1840, 1883, 1911

SWAIN, Clement – born 1810, 1825, 1831

SWAIN, John – born 1783, 1808, 1815

Any births from about 1840 onwards will probably be in Tasmania also known as Van Diemens Land. Those prior to 1840 would be mainly in England – the COLGRAVE name in Bedfordshire, the ENGLAND name in West Yorkshire around Rotherham, the KILPIN name in Bedfordshire and the SWAIN name in Kent.

Readers: What name has been passed down in your family? Were you named after an ancestor or close relative?

Poland to Tasmania via WWII

My step grandfather or Uncle Mike as we called him, was indeed a long way from home.

We know very little about his life prior to World War Two.

He was born in Luzski in what was Poland around 1914 to parents Basil and Fdokaj. He had two sisters; Olga who was already married at his birth and Elizabeth who was two years older than him. The main town near where he was born was on a large island in the middle of the Minuta River and had 4 different bridges leading off the island. I eventually found this was in present day Belarus.

During the war

He began his Polish war service in 1939 but was one of the unlucky soldiers captured by the Russians and sent to a POW camp. I am not sure where it was as I don’t have uncle Mike’s war records. But on 17 August 1941 after 18 months in the camp, the Russians released all their Polish POWs under an ‘Amnesty’. It was after this that Anders Army was formed and they were under the control of the Polish Government in exile based in England. First Anders Army had to get back towards Britain somehow.

Uncle Mike was one of 115,000  people including women and children who began a long march through Russia, to Guzar in Uzbekistan, cross country to the Caspian Sea and on to Iran. For the members of Anders Army, on to the Middle East to Palestine.  Many died in the process due to cold weather, hunger, disease and exhaustion. The families of the soldiers stayed in Iran and, within the next few months, went to various refugee camps around the world.

The army trained in Iraq and Palestine where Uncle Mike met his cousin Wiktor, who was still alive and serving in the 2nd Polish Corps. While in hospital Uncle Mike had to decide to travel on with Anders Army to fight in Italy or head to another hospital in England to get over the malarial disease he had. He headed to Scotland where the Polish Army was then based.

After surviving malaria, he became part of the 1st Polish Armoured Division in the 8th Battalion Rifle Infantry known as “The Bloody Shirts”.

I began researching some of the fighting of this group and when talking to Uncle Mike about it, he was very proud of the following events:

  • In August 1944 the Polish 1st Armored Division with General Stanislaw Maczek in charge was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Corps
  • August 19 at Falaise Pocket where the division helped close the German escape route via their strategic position on Hill 262
  • 12 April  1945 when they liberated Oberlangen Stalag which held 1728 Polish Home Army women and children
  • on 6 May 1945 when the Division raised the flag over Willhelmshaven which was the main U Boat base in Germany.

After 1945

After the war, the British didn’t know what to do with all the Polish soldiers as many were too afraid to head back to their homeland which was now under Communist rule. So the British government formed the Polish Resettlement Corps where they trained soldiers for life as farmers and workers in their new country. They also organized for many to emigrate. Uncle Mike’s last known address was at Rougham Camp in Surrey in England.

Heading to a new life in Australia

He embarked on 2 July 1948 heading for Australia on board the liner Strathnaver and was settled at Brighton Camp, Tasmania by 9 August. On his incoming passenger card for the Commonwealth of Australia records held at National Archives Australia, he had written single for conjugal condition but this had been crossed out to married. He would never tell us if this was correct or not but this was found in the local newspaper.

 

Uncle Mike spent many years working for the Hydro Electric Commission at Bronte in the Tasmanian highlands.  He and dad returned there often but especially when there were reunions held. I can remember some of them but not when this was taken.

Uncle Mike, Sue, Bob

 

When talking to Uncle Mike he had a very strong Polish accent but spoke very precise English.

He was awarded many medals as can be seen in the top photo. My father and I have tried to work out what they were for. So far we have identified the 1939/45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45, Cross of volunteer combatants(French) plus at least two Polish medals. Uncle Mike travelled to London in 1982 to be presented with medals. Much of his paperwork is in Polish but we have been able to translate some of it.

Readers: Did you have someone in your family who was a long way from their original homeland?