1 — 1815 — Christisons, Whitfields

Recent family history research has William Whitfield aged 10 on arrival in the colony, as indeed he is in the “Thames” passenger list. Also, it appears Jacob Whitfield’s first wife, Mary, was Goss not Gowrie.

Posted originally on 6 January, 2015 by Neil.

This series of posts is the most comprehensive I have done on family history. I am doing them backwards here so that in due course they will appear sequentially. Now it is finished, and you can just keep scrolling down to get a continuous set of posts!

I have decided to start a series going back through my “personal” decades – that is mentioning things from family history – starting with 1815, when most of my family connections were elsewhere. One exception — my former sister-in-law’s family: see Family stories 4 — A Guringai Family Story — Warren Whitfield. My former sister-in-law is a descendant of the family of Bungaree.

Sydney was a tad different c.1815:

C 359 Joseph Lycett's painting of Natives and the North Shore of Sydney Harbour, courtesy of Mitchell Library.lightbox

1815

Jane Brooks writes of how Koorie people live in the Domain ‘in their gunyahs made of bushes.’ She also remembers seeing ‘the very tiny canoes with a gin (Koorie woman) fishing in them, quite alone, sometimes with a streak of smoke from it, and we supposed she was cooking.’ (Karskens, p. 209)

See also Bungaree and the George’s Head Settlement: 31 January 1815

On Tuesday last, at an early hour, HIS EXCELLENCY the GOVERNOR and Mrs. MACQUARIE, accompanied by a large party of Ladies and Gentlemen, proceeded in boats down the Harbour to George’s Head. The object of this excursion, we understand, was to form an establishment for a certain number of Natives who had shewn a desire to settle on some favourable spot of land, with a view to proceed to the cultivation of it; — The ground assigned them for this purpose (the peninsular of George’s Head) appears to have been judiciously chosen, as well from the fertility of the soil as from its requiring little exertions of labour to clear and cultivate; added to which, it possesses a peculiar advantage of situation; from being nearly surrounded on all sides by the sea; thereby affording its new possessors the constant opportunity of pursuing their favorite occupation of fishing, which has always furnished the principal source of their subsistence.

On this occasion, sixteen of the Natives, with their wives and families were assembled, and HIS EXCELLENCY the GOVERNOR, in consideration of the general wish previously expressed by them, appointed Boongaree (who has been long known as one of the most friendly of this race, and well acquainted with our language), to be their Chief, at the same time presenting him with a badge distinguishing his quality as “Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe,” and the more effectually to promote the objects of this establishment, each of them was furnished with a full suit of slop clothing, together with a variety of useful articles and implements of husbandry, by which they would be enabled to proceed in the necessary pursuits of agriculture; — A boat (called the Boongaree was likewise presented them for the purpose of fishing.

About noon, after the foregoing ceremony had been concluded, HIS EXCELLENCY and party returned to Sydney, having left the Natives with their Chief in possession of their newly assigned settlement, evidently much pleased with it, and the kindness they experienced on the occasion.

We Whitfields were presumably in this part of the world in 1815:

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Near Drumgoon, Cavan, Ireland

Before the next decade the first one of them would arrive in Sydney involuntarily. I note a new family history source, by the way, on Wikitree, maintained by a distant relative, Sandra Green, which reminds us that my great-great-grandfather William Whitfield was born 16 Mar 1812 , Parish of Drumgoon, Cootehill, Co. Cavan, Ireland, arrived on the “Thames” from Cork via Brazil and Cape Horn, age 14, married Caroline Philadelphia West 1836, died  Sydney 1897. The Wikitree page includes copies of the inquest finding into his death and his death certificate, and this portrait with his wife Caroline:

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On my mother’s side of my family – the Christisons – I note my great-great-great-grandfather David was a teenager in 1815, having been born in 1799 in Fettercairn, Kincardine. Seems the poor old sod died in the poorhouse July 21, 1860 of chronic bronchitis. His wife had also died July 2, 1859 in Poorhouse, Luthermuir, Marykirk, Kincardine.  That I’d never known before. Note Poorhouses in Scotland “provided medical and nursing care of the elderly and the sick, at a time when there were few hospitals and private medical treatment was beyond the means of the poor.”

David’s son, also David (b May 1828), ended up in Australia when his son, John Hampton Christison, brought him here from Brechin in Scotland. Or did he? Is this Brechin David the same as Fettercairn David? The family pictured below are definitely my ancestors and in the later 19th century for sure they were in Brechin. That is surely J H Christison’s parents and siblings.

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David Hampton Christison, father of of my grandfather John, in Scotland. Exactly when and where  was he born?

The photo is from Arbroath near Brechin.

Fettercairn David Senior married a Hampton or Hanton; this suggests that they are my maternal family: the Hampton name persists to this day.   The date on David Junior’s gravestone is one year out though. So I am left wondering if we have two families here…  Mind you, Fettercairn and Brechin are not all that far apart. That poorhouse is halfway between. Perhaps the family just moved a bit south.

The Niven Family Tree claims David Hampton Christison was born July 13 1829 in Fife,Ceres Scotland. That makes even less sense of the gravestone! And Fife doesn’t seem right, given the photo above.

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See also Fascinated still by (family) history (November 2013) and My great-grandfather: “morally dubious to say the least.” (October 2013).

Meantime in the big world in July 1815:

Napoleon on board the "Bellerophon".  Illustration from Highroads of History series (Thomas Nelson, c 1920). NB: Scan of small illustration.

Sir William Quiller Orchardson — “Napoleon on Board the Bellerophon”

 

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7 – more 1845 — Whitfields, Christisons

Posted originally on January 19, 2015 by Neil.

This series of posts is the most comprehensive I have done on family history. I am doing them backwards here so that in due course they will appear sequentially.

It was about this time William and Caroline Whitfield left Sydney, eventually settling in Picton. That remnant housing in Surry Hills from the 1840s at McElhone Place shown in the last post looked like this earlier in the 20th century – pre-trendy!

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The Harbour was of course already splendid, as this 1845 painting by Jacob Janssen in the Art Gallery of South Australia shows.

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That is on the My Place site – an excellent resource for background decade by decade, designed originally to support the excellent ABC children’s television series My Place based on the book by Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins.

I wonder if the Whitfields of the 1840s kept any kind of contact with their old country, Ulster, which they had left in 1821 (Jacob) and 1825 (William). I also wonder what they would have sounded like, those old Ulstermen….

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There’s County Cavan on the left. Not such a good place to have been in 1845, it would appear. See The Great Famine in Cavan.

The Great Irish Famine was, to quote a cliché, a disaster waiting to happen. Between 1750 and 1850 Ireland’s population grew beyond a level at which it could sustain itself. Much of this demographic growth was based on the availability of one food item and when this was withdrawn not just once, but on successive occasions, it resulted in widespread destitution. This was worsened by the structural and ideological failure of those in authority to provide for their sustenance and to prevent the resultant spread of disease.

The population of Ireland on the eve of the Famine stood in excess of 8 millions. The population of Co. Cavan alone was just short of 250,000 – nearly five times its present population. The reasons for this demographic ballooning, which had occurred in the space of little over a century, can be traced to the availability of the potato which provided food security for peasant farmers with little land of indifferent quality. Not surprisingly the potato was adopted with alacrity throughout Ireland, unlike the hostile reception it initially received elsewhere in Europe.

In Cavan and throughout the northern half of Ireland the advent of flax cultivation and domestic linen production had augmented a further security. Areas supplying linen markets like Cootehill became semi-industrialised, as cottages and cabins were modified to deal with the various processes involved in the process of turning flax fibres into cloth. This was sometimes accompanied by the neglect of farm-based food production. When, after 1825 the cottage linen industry collapsed in the face of mechanised production in factories near Belfast, many areas of Ireland, including Co. Cavan, experienced widespread destitution. Ireland lacked industries which could have absorbed surplus agricultural populations, as was the case in the north of England. However there was a growth in urban populations as towns, including Cavan and Cootehill (amongst others) attracted settlers from their rural hinterlands in search of greater though non-existent prosperity of the towns who were confined to unhealthy yet extensive shanty-towns on their peripheries.

The mid 1840s were years of increased tension in Cavan. Acts of physical violence became common. In May 1845 James Gallagher, the under-agent on the Enerys’ estates at Ballyconnell was badly assaulted and died later the same day with forgiveness on his lips for his assailants. Three months later the unpopular George Bell Booth of Crossdoney was assassinated. December 1847 saw the death of the well-known controversialist Father Thomas Maguire. His passing was widely attributed to poisoning, though as the late Fr Dan Gallogly pointed out, this might have been administered by members of his own erstwhile flock who were dissatisfied with his denunciations of physical force methods…

The Famine in Cavan, in common with the rest of Ireland, had its winners and losers. Alas the latter numerically surpassed the former. Those who were already poor and badly-fed were most vulnerable to the food disruption and attendant diseases, and those who came into contact with them, like doctors, were also prone to fall victim to the lethal cocktail of viruses that escaped from the Famine’s Pandora’s box. Others whose positions in society allowed them to eschew contact with the teeming masses, who could afford better food, enjoy more favourable hygiene and heating were insulated from its effects. It is true that while Ireland was in the grip of famine there was no shortage of food in the country. Profits were also made by merchants who exported agricultural items…

The potato famine also affected Scotland.

The eviction of Highlanders from their homes reached a peak in the 1840s and early 1850s. The decision by landlords to take this course of action was based on the fact that the Highland economy had collapsed, while at the same time the population was still rising.

As income from kelp production and black cattle dried up, the landlords saw sheep as a more profitable alternative. The introduction of sheep meant the removal of people. The crofting population was already relying on a potato diet and when the crop failed in the late 1830s and again in the late 1840s, emigration seemed the only alternative to mass starvation.

The policy of the landlord was to clear the poorest Highlanders from the land and maintain those crofters who were capable of paying rent. The Dukes of Argyll and Sutherland and other large landowners financed emigration schemes. Offers of funding were linked to eviction, which left little choice to the crofter. However, the Emigration Act of 1851 made emigration more freely available to the poorest.

The Highlands and Islands Emigration Society was set up to oversee the process of resettlement. Under the scheme a landlord could secure a passage to Australia for a nominee at the cost of £1. Between 1846 and 1857, around 16,533 people of the poorest types, mainly young men, were assisted to emigrate. The greatest loss occurred in the islands, particularly Skye, Mull, the Long Island and the mainland parishes of the Inner Sound….

My maternal ancestors, the Christisons, were still in this part of their old country in 1845.

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As I previously posted: On my mother’s side of my family – the Christisons – I note my great-great-great-grandfather David was a teenager in 1815, having been born in 1799 in Fettercairn, Kincardine. Seems the poor old sod died in the poorhouse July 21, 1860 of chronic bronchitis. His wife had also died July 2, 1859 in Poorhouse, Luthermuir, Marykirk, Kincardine.  That I’d never known before. Note Poorhouses in Scotland “provided medical and nursing care of the elderly and the sick, at a time when there were few hospitals and private medical treatment was beyond the means of the poor.”

And that brings us back to our local area, to Shellharbour where one branch of the Whitfield family would settle in the late 19th century and in due course marry into the Christison family in 1935.

Caroline Chisholm Park

In 1843 Mrs. Chisholm took up 4 acres at Shellharbour for the settlement of immigrants.  In December, 1843 Mrs. Chisholm left Sydney with thirty families totalling 240 people to settle at Shellharbour.

One hundred years later Sir Joseph Carruthers said “Work such as this great and noble woman did ought never be forgotten, least of all in places like Shell Harbour where she did so much for settlement.”

See also:

Caroline Chisholm ‘The Emigrants Friend’ was renowned for assisting immigrant women and families to settle in Australia.

On the 6th December 1843, Caroline brought 23 families of some 240 persons to the harbour at Shellharbour where Captain Robert Towns (son-in-law of D’Arcy Wentworth) as part of Dr Lang’s immigration scheme offered some 4000 acres of land on the Peterborough Estate for families to settle on clearing leases. This allowed families to live rent-free for 6 to 7 years on the land on the condition they clear the land of trees for future farming.

Caroline Chisholm’s diary relates, that when the families boarded the ‘Wollongong’ steamer for the voyage to Shellharbour on 6 December 1843, all stayed on deck until the ship cleared the darkening Heads, then settled down to sleep, while the sea sick lined the rails. The party awoke to a distant view of the beautiful south coast. Some of the children were sea-sick by the time they landed at Shellharbour, the spot most convenient to the proposed settlement’. ‘Fifty-one Pieces of Wedding Cake’-A Biography of Caroline Chisholm – Mary Hoban.

One such family, Matthew Dorrough his wife Martha and their children came with Caroline Chisholm and farmed the area known today as Shell Cove. The family spent their first night under the stars, with the children huddled up under the roots of a large fig tree at the edge of the beach. Next morning they were picked up by bullock dray and transported to the site of their proposed farm. Matthew’s house was adjacent to the beach and he was delegated the job of retaining and issuing the stores to the other settlers on the Estate. He was an experienced farmer and their crops were good, and with the help of his eldest children and Martha, the family prospered.

By 1857, many of the Immigrants had secured or leased homes and properties. The settlers turned mainly to dairy farming. By 1861 the population had grown to 1,415 and land began to open up throughout the whole of the new Municipality of Shellharbour.

Hoban, MC ‘Fifty One Pieces of Wedding Cake: A Biography of Caroline Chisholm, Lowden, 1973.

And this article (PDF) by Neroli Pinkerton:

In 1840, NSW was passing into a depression. Sydney was experiencing high rates of unemployment. Rural labour was needed but the government had no plans for dispersing the throngs of assisted immigrants who remained in Sydney without employment. Caroline Chisholm sent circulars to leading country men seeking
information and enlisting help. In November 1843 she spoke to the Select Committee on Distressed Labourers, telling them that most immigrants emigrate to “live and have land” and she outlined a scheme for settling families on the land with long leases. The government, however. was slow to take up the challenge and unwilling to invest in her schemes. Undaunted, she began the arrangements to settle 23 families on land provided by Robert Towns at Shellharbour …

Incidentally those conditions in Sydney  may help to explain why William and Caroline Whitfield left Sydney when they did.

14 – 1885 — Christisons

Posted originally on January 28, 2015 by Neil

This series of posts is the most comprehensive I have done on family history. I am doing them backwards here so that in due course they will appear sequentially.

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Me being atavistic…

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My grandfather, Roy H Christison (1886-1962) — late 1880s

I am not sure whether the marriage of his father John Hampton Christison to Sophia Jane Lillie on 24 May 1880 killed the minister, but…

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Yes, people also called her Sophia Jean. And I actually remember her as she died in 1952.

And here is Brechin, where John H came from:

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That photo actually came with the Christisons from Scotland around 135 years ago!  Nearby in Arbroath is this magnificent ruin:

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In 1772, the famous English diarist, Dr Samuel Johnson, passed through the town, and noted: “The Monastery of Aberbrothock is of great renown in the history of Scotland. Its ruins afford ample testimony of its ancient magnificence. I should scarcely have regretted my journey had it afforded nothing more than a sight of Aberbrothock.”source

When in 1885 John H Christison had a vineyard at Hinton where my grandfather Roy was born he called his property Aberbrothock.

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Quite the Romantic was John H, and a noted Professor of Scottish Dancing (and etiquette).

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January 1880

You can read more about this rather amazing but tricky character in my post My great-grandfather: “morally dubious to say the least.”  My cousin Ray Christison is mentioned quite a bit on that post; he has written a book about John H: Shapeshifter – the strange life of John Hampton Christison, Professor of Dancing. Here is an interesting snippet by Ray from the comment thread on my post:

Neil, I have been trawling through my old notes and have begun writing a full biography of John Hampton Christison (currently about 5,000 words and growing). I will publish it as a small book. You asked about John dancing before Queen Victoria. John listed his major dancing awards in the 1882 Manual of Dancing & Etiquette. He stated this: “at Edzell Castle, 1873 I took first prize, a Highland dirk, at Balmoral Castle in 1875, second against thirty, most of them professional men”. Queen Victoria may or may not have been present when John danced at Balmoral Castle. Given John’s penchant for self-promotion I find it bizarre that he would not have specifically mentioned this in a work as important as his Manual of Dancing & Etiquette. I have a very vague memory of Kathleen Christison telling me that he danced there before one of the other royals, however I can’t find any notes to corroborate this.

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See also October 2016: Two romantic old buildings: Scotland and NSW.

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Victoria Hotel, Hinton NSW: Built in the 1840s it is now one of Australia’s oldest continually licensed hotels.