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!


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


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….


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 Much of this demographic growth was based on the availability of one food item and when this was withdrawn not just once, but on successive occasions, it resulted in widespread destitution.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.


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.

13 – 1885 – Whitfields, Bursills

Posted originally on January 27, 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.

According to the older version of the Whitfield family tree prepared by Bob Starling that I have on my computer, my grandfather Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield (1866-1948) married Henrietta Bursill (1874-1931) on 9 November 1892. Now that makes sense when you realise Henrietta must have been 18. But there is this curious item I just found on Trove:


That is from the Kiama Independent of 15 November 1882. I know for sure that Henrietta Bursill was born in 1874:

The chances of her being the “Ettie Bursill” in that 1882 story are thus very remote: 8 years old?  That Henrietta’s mother was also Henrietta, as I note in this 2013 post. Yet an obituary for Henrietta Senior dated 1921 – reproduced in that post – states that she was survived by two sons (including Charles) and ONE daughter “Elizabeth, Mrs. Whitfield.”  That of course should be “Henrietta”.  There is another obituary for Henrietta Senior in the Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal 6 July 1921.

On 28th June, 1921, at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. Thos. Whitfield,of Shellharbour, one of our best beloved and most highly esteemed residents passed quietly away to her rest in her 85th year. Mrs. Bursill was born at Bradfeld, England, in 1837, and at the age of 18 years took passage for Australia by the sailing ship “Asiatic,” and after sailing 97 days, entered Sydney Heads, 24th May, 1855. When 21 years of age she married Thomas Bursill, and they came to Illawarra in search of a new home. They settled on a small farm near Shellharbour over 62 years ago. Mr. Bursill passed away many years ago, leaving his partner the care of five children, three sons and two daughters. The two elder sons, Mr.E. Bursill, builder, of Robertson, and Mr. Chas. Bursill, builder, of Shellharbour, and are both highly esteemed and respected residents of both districts, the third son, George, passed away, from heart failure.It is safe to say we have never had  a resident more universally beloved and esteemed than was Mrs. Bursill,always bright and cheerful, and ready to help, going about doing good. The district is better for the lives and examples of such as she, and very much poorer for their loss.The Rev. Gallop, of Jamberoo, con-ducted the funeral service, at Shellharbour cemetery on 29th June, and spoke of the good she had done and of her kind way of doing, of a long life of usefulness, then entering into rest.

You may have noticed that the “two daughters” left when Thomas B died could not have included my grandmother Henrietta Jr. Do the Maths and study that birth certificate extract carefully.

George Bursill, by the way, died in the middle of a cricket match at Dunmore near Shellharbour in 1913.

So I am just puzzled. My initial thought that the wedding I was reading about was my grandfather’s (with a typo of F for T in his initial) can’t be right then, but Thirlmere is certainly family territory. Who were “F. Whitfield” and “Ettie Bursill” of that 1882 wedding? I am not sure.


I read in the Sydney Evening News for 10 November 1899:

The marriage of Mr. W. Whitfield, of Thirlmere, to Miss Eliza Wilkinson, of Bargo, was solemnised on Tuesday evening, 31st ultimo, at the residence tit. the bride’s mother, the Rev. D. H. Dillon officiating. The bride was attended by her two sisters as bridesmaids,and was given away by her brother, Mr. Geo. Wilkinson. Mr. Geo. Whitfield, brother to the bridegroom, acted as best man. A large gathering of friends assembled to witness the ceremony. After the wedding breakfast was partaken of, dancing was kept up with vigor until morning. Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield were the recipients of many congratulations.

That is my dad’s Uncle Bill, and I remember him well and their house in Upper Picton. Cheese and tomato on Sao biscuits in a gorgeous old country kitchen.


Cedar Creek, Thirlmere, New South Wales, 18 September 1887, Robert Hunt, Albumen print.

UPDATE 28 January:

Mystery solved: the true date at the top of that Kiama Independent story (“Wedding Bells”) is 15 November 1892!  So it is an account of my grandfather’s wedding!

13a — Whitfields 1880s-1930s

This post fills in background in preparation for the next going back through my family story to 1885. Consider these reposts. Apologies for a degree of repetition from posts here recently:

Wollongong High’s centenary, my family history, WW1

In December is the 100th birthday of what is now Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts….

I taught there 1975-1980, with a hiatus for secondment to Sydney University 1977-1978. My Uncle Keith Christison and Aunt Beth Christison (Heard) went to WHS in the 1930s. I had an Uncle, Colin Whitfield, who was part of the founding intake. He was born in 1901, but I never met him.  This may be seen in Shellharbour Cemetery:


For the sad story behind these see Neil’s personal decades: 20 – Shellharbour Whitfields 1905 and Neil’s personal decades 26: Whitfields, Christisons, and more — 1915.

Family history and mystery–the Indigenous connection

…And this is my grandmother:


Henrietta Bursill (Whitfield) 1874-1931

That’s my father’s mother, who had a very sad life. According to stories my father and mother told me it is through Henrietta that the family has some Aboriginal ancestry, as I noted back in 2000-2001:

Now Henrietta has been something of a family secret; one story, told me by my father and mother, says she was the illegitimate offspring of an Aboriginal (or part-Aboriginal) farm worker and a widow. You will note my father was nineteen or twenty when she died. My nephew Warren not long ago met a Tharawal Elder named Les Bursill at a gathering in Canberra; Henrietta was a Bursill (variant “Bursell” on some records). So it is possible they were all descendants of the First Australians… That’s Henrietta on the right. About Warren: my brother married his first wife Aileen, Warren’s mother, in 1955. It turns out she too was of Aboriginal descent. See Warren’s excellent account of that family in A Guringai Family’s Story.

There is no doubt about my sister-in-law’s descent from the family of Sophy Bungaree, that is of the family of Bungaree of considerable fame in early colonial history. But what about the Whitfields and the Bursills? I see that Henrietta’s birth certificate names no father, and if then the story I heard is true – and I am quite sure it is – then of course she wasn’t a Bursill at all, which does rather complicate matters. For the moment then we are all assuming Dharawal, but that father could have come from further afield…

Possibly we’ll never know exactly where Henrietta’s natural father came from. The story about her birth was raised with my maternal grandfather, Roy Hampton Christison, when my mother and father became engaged. As my mother told the story, old Charlie  Bursill came and told grandfather Roy about the “touch of the tarbrush” via Henrietta. I do note that Grenville’s 1872 Post Office Directory lists a MRS Bursill as a farmer in Shellharbour. The story is that she had an Aboriginal assistant working for her, and that he, in 1874, was the actual father of Henrietta. He is said to have (wisely?) disappeared. Grandfather Christison told C Bursill to jump into Lake Illawarra, I believe, and of course the engagement and marriage went ahead in 1935.

What I do know is that as a kid I always sensed something as I wandered the bush around the Woronora valley, or on a hill in Sutherland West then known as The Devil’s Back but now just a mundane suburb. It was a presence that lived in the rock shelters and in high places with views of surrounding country. I can’t explain it…

Update 18 July 2021

There are significant additions and corrections to Henrietta’s story at Family history and mystery–the Indigenous connection.

What a treasury of family history!

For the first time I have been over the last few days trawling through the recently digitised Kiama Independent on Trove checking Whitfield and Christison and other family-related names. I have far from finished my trawl, but what treasures I have already found!


That’s my grandfather, Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield, born in Picton NSW in 1867 (or 21 December 1866) and died in 1948. I can just remember him. By the way, he always dropped or denied the “Sweeney” bit as having “Daniel Sweeney” in his name was a rather too poignant reminder of the family’s origins.  When I wrote that some years ago I was still venting my anger with some aspects of old Tom’s treatment of my father in the past, even if the old Tom I remember vaguely was a fairly benign deaf octogenarian with white hair…

And here is something about Tom’s mother-in-law:


…her daughter, Henrietta, was Tom’s first wife. She had a hard life.



See also an account I gave some years back, one element of which is contradicted by the newspaper record. It seems Henrietta II died at home in Shellharbour.

There were five sons in my father’s family, and a daughter, Ella. The oldest son, Aubry (or Aubrey), died in 1906 at the age of twelve. Then another brother, Colin, died probably around 1915 at the age of about fourteen; I have heard this story, but am not sure of dates; I know when I was at school I used an algebra book belonging to Colin from around 1914 at Wollongong High. Information provided by Bob Starling in April 2005 has clarified this.

  • WHITFIELD Aubrey R 1893-1906 (13)
  • WHITFIELD Thomas W L (1906-1906)
  • WHITFIELD Colin C 1901-1915 (14)

So one died in infancy, and another accidentally. A third son died as a teenager nine years later. I was told one died in a riding accident, the other in a shooting accident. Certainly, my grandmother Henrietta went mad, and, among other things, chased my father round with an axe at one time, and another time tried to burn the house down. She died in Parramatta Asylum in 1931. Curiously, I was able to ascertain in the 1970s that she had died of tertiary syphilis, of GPI (General Paralysis of the Insane) as it was then called; my father was in the 1970s being checked for Huntington’s Chorea, an hereditary form of dementia, and this fact came to light. Fortunately it was also established that my father did not have this problem. Evidence for all this came from the specialist at Prince Henry Hospital who actually tracked down the doctor, still alive at the time, who had signed my grandmother’s death certificate.

It appears, from what I have been told, that my grandfather tended to blame his wife for the death of the first-born son, and that this compounded with the death of the second. Her decline into madness coincided with my father’s childhood and adolescence, but was not his only problem. My father was apparently quite a talented artist, and I have seen evidence of this from World War II, when he sent a number of sketches home from Papua. One was of a Scotch thistle and was drawn especially for my sister. There was a colony of well- known Sydney artists who frequented Shellharbour at that time and they encouraged his talent, and indeed wanted him to go back to Sydney with them. Well, his father was having none of that, and demanded that he destroy all his artworks and paraphernalia. He in fact hid a lot of it in a cave on Native Dog Hill (now Mount Warrigal), where it may well be to this day. He was also taken out of school at the minimum age, and apprenticed to his father. My father told me these stories at various times.

My mother tells me that even after she and my father married in 1935, my father had one day made a set of window frames involving some very fine finishing work. He was very proud of them and showed them to old Tom, who promptly told him they were shit, smashed them, and got him to start over. Later my mother, who refused to be cowed by the old man, said to Tom that they seemed good to her. “They were,” old Tom said. “They were fine, nothing wrong with them, but I don’t want him getting a big head.”

So after such childhood experiences, after such a family, after the Depression and the struggle to establish himself, after the Second World War, my father’s dreams in some ways died in the grave with my sister.

The stories there in the main came from my father and mother.


* Or was she? This whole Bursill business is getting complicated.  Until 28 June that is! Another newspaper, the Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal, has more detail in its obituary on Mrs Henrietta Bursill (Senior).


Certainly my grandfather Thomas was married to Hetty/Henrietta Bursill/Bursell who was born in the Kiama District in 1874 and died in 1931.  So Henrietta I (died 1921) is definitely my great-grandmother. I have also ascertained that she was married to Thomas R Bursill in Chippendale in 1858 and that her maiden name was Henrietta Woodley.

But is the story my mother and father told me true: that Henrietta II was born rather a long time after Thomas R Bursill died? Is this what Charlie Bursill apparently told my mother’s father Roy Christison around 1934-5, only to be rebuked good and proper by Roy H? (Think “tarbrush”.) The articles are vague, and openly available material online has not helped me out. I can’t find a year of death for Thomas R Bursill yet, but I do note that in 1872 Greville’s Post Office Directory of Shell Harbour only lists a Mrs Bursill as a farmer in Shell Harbour.  But this may be the clincher:


When you think about it, especially given the rather wonderful obituary Henrietta I scored in the Kiama Reporter, it is rather touching that she named this, her last and probably unexpected, child after herself. She seems to have been quite a woman!


Charles Bursill’s place in Shellharbour in 1895

“’Seaside’ was the home of the Bursill Family. Charles Bursill was the first and last harbour master at Shellharbour. He was a builder, carpenter, undertaker and Sunday school teacher actively involved with St Paul’s Church of England. The house site was formerly owned by Captain William Wilson. It was demolished and replaced by the Ocean Beach Hotel which opened in 1929.” – Shellharbour Images

But meanwhile I have found a nice court case from 1897. Henrietta II  is “Betty” there but that is obviously wrong. It concerns the proprietor of the Steam Packet Hotel**, Abraham Winsor, who was accused of shooting at James Dennis Condon with intent to murder. Henrietta was a witness.


** “Campbell Mercer built the Steam Packet Hotel in 1855 on land purchased from T A Reddall. Mercer leased the building to David Moon who obtained a Publican’s License and opened the Steam Packet Hotel in April 1856. The hotel was sold to Thomas Cosgrove in 1861 and was known locally as Cosgrove’s Inn. The hotel was a centre for social life and public meetings, as well as a base for travellers. The Condon Family owned the hotel from 1868 until the 1880s. The hotel continued under a succession of licensees until the early 1900s when it became Beazley’s General Store, followed by the Gethings Store. The building was demolished in the late 1970s.” – Shellharbour Images  I remember it as a store; almost certainly bought ice creams and soft drinks there! Seems, reading between the lines, there may have been reasons for a Condon to be shooting in the general direction of the proprietor of the Steam Packet in 1897!


The Steam Packet

15 – 1895 — Whitfields

Posted originally on January 29, 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 is worth exploring the 1890s in Australia. See for example the My Place site. One aspect:


Between 1890 and1893, a severe economic depression caused the closure and collapse of many banks. The Federal Bank of Australia ran out of money and closed. In April 1893 the Commercial Bank of Australia, one of Australia’s largest banks, suspended operations. Twelve other banks soon followed. Those who had put their savings into building societies, as well as those who had borrowed heavily to fund their own speculative investments, found themselves in desperate straits. Businessmen, pastoralist farmers and land speculators weren’t able to pay their overdrafts, and thousands of small and large investors were ruined.

Is that why we have this from 18 August 1894?


Sure looks like his business is going down the tubes. According to Australian biographical and genealogical record series 1, 1788-1841, with series 2 supplement, 1842-1899 / series 1 edited by John T. Spurway, assistant editor Allison Allen; series 2 edited by Kenneth J. Cable and Jane C. Marchant his Bluegum Saw Mill in the early 1890s employed 34 men. WJJ “during the Great Depression of 1893 … supplied timber for the building of Catholic Schools and piles for the construction of Sydney wharves.” I wonder, oh irony, if Bluegum Lifestyle Resort is anywhere near old William Joseph John’s mill?

Set amongst the shade of scattered eucalyptus trees, Bluegum Lifestyle Resort offers the convenience of retirement living with a touch of affordable luxury.

The resort is located in the beautiful country town of Thirlmere, Wollondilly Shire, nestled in the foothills of the Southern Highlands. In Thirlmere you will find everything you need for enjoyable and convenient day-to-day living, with nearby Picton and Tahmoor providing access to all major facilities.

Now more sadness, I’m afraid.


View from Darling Point across Rushcutters Bay to the Elizabeth Bay mansions 1879

Hat tip Debbie Robson

Remember my great-great-grandfather William who arrived via the “Thames” in 1826, just 14? The sad story that follows I noted some time ago – see Family stories 3 — About the Whitfields: from convict days.


William Whitfield 1812-1897

William Joseph John’s father William (who lived in the 1830s in Elizabeth Street Strawberry Hills) ended sadly, it seems.

On 11 October 1897 in the waters of Port Jackson, Rushcutter’s Bay William Whitfield carpenter, took his own life and drowned aged 86 years. The informant for the death notice was E Whitfield his daughter of 42 Norton Street Leichhardt. William was buried on 13 October 1897 in the Church of England section, Rookwood cemetery – section CCC grave No. 2149 (no headstone) after being 71 years in the Colony.

Given his age, his wandering into Rushcutters Bay could have all sorts of reasons… Good heavens, he was 86 after all!

Now I find more detail.


So sad. I know Yurong Street. It runs from behind the Museum and St Mary’s Cathedral up to Darlinghurst.


See Struggle Streets of Old Sydney

On quite another note see some doings from Shellharbour in 1897 where my grandfather Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield had now settled.

I have found a nice court case from 1897. Henrietta II  is “Betty” there but that is obviously wrong. It concerns the proprietor of the Steam Packet Hotel, Abraham Winsor, who was accused of shooting at James Dennis Condon with intent to murder. Henrietta was a witness.

I now think that is “Hetty” (corrrect) rather than “Betty”…

19 – 1890s – T D Whitfield

Posted originally on February 2, 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.

I have shown you this item before: “SWAN SONG” OF MR. T. D. WHITFIELD. Here is about half of it:


For more on the great fire of 1899 see Kiama Library.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, 1st October, 1899, a fire broke out that was to be the most extensive and destructive fire that had ever visited the township of Kiama and would change the face of Terralong Street forever.

The fire started in Wood Brothers general store and within minutes the place was ablaze. With the help of a strong southerly breeze, the fire soon spread to adjoining buildings and according to William H Bayley, author of Bluehaven: History of Kiama Municipality, “half the block of shops fronting Terralong Street from Collins Street towards Shoalhaven Street caught fire at 2 a.m. and was destroyed soon after dawn.”…

Fortunately there was no loss of life but 12 families were left homeless. Sixteen shops and the Royal Hotel were destroyed. Business people reopened businesses in sheds and all types of rooms and premises in other locations whilst their stores were rebuilt in brick….

I had noted the work my grandfather T D Whitfield did repairing Tory’s Hotel, which still stands. What escaped my notice is that it seems my grandfather built the Mount Kembla Hotel – now the oldest weatherboard hotel in the Illawarra (1898).

NOTE 30 Jan 2021: Been meaning to update this — rather than “built” it should be, I think, “painted and repaired” in the 1890s.



2010 – with Sirdan

See Sunday lunch–Mount Kembla Hotel (2010) and First Sunday out of cardiac ward: Mount Kembla Pub (2011). I then had no idea of my grandfather’s connection with the place. UPDATE: Built 1887, opened 1898. T D is ambiguous: he may have built it, or he may (presumably later) have “painted and repaired” as he did the Freemasons, which used to be on the corner of Crown and Keira Streets.

Finally from that rich memoir T D Whitfield left in the year of my birth, consider what he did at Bass Point for G L Fuller.


SS Dunmore and Bass Point Jetty

About this time, Mr. Fuller started large-scale reconstruction work at the quarry at Point Bass. I went there and erected the buildings, including an elevator to take the spawls back to be reduced. While I was on the job, a large sea washed about forty feet out of the centre of the jetty, so I undertook this job,which I consider was the most difficult I have ever done. The jetty was about ten feet wide, and about fifteen feet above the sea. I got a forty foot oregon girder and secured it crosswise to the land end of the broken part to tie guy ropes to, which supported the derrick pole. The latter had to lean over twenty feet to put the piles in place, also to lift the girders across to join the two. parts once more. I was congratulated on my ingenuity in this by the captain of the “Dunmore.” About the time that I finished the jetty, the foundation of the big hopper gave way, with about five hundred tons of metal in it. I raised it up to its original place with a number of hydraulic jacks, estimated to lift about fifty tons each. I gradually worked these a little at a time till I had it high enough to put fresh foundations, girders and piles, after which I gradually lowered it to the new system. It was a difficult and dangerous job, but it was accomplished, without accident; in fact, all through my career I was not instrumental in injuring  anyone. After I  left Mr. G. L. Fuller’s jobs, I did a lot of work for his sons, Mr. Archie Fuller, Dunmore, and  Mr.Bryan Fuller, barrister, Sydney. When I had left the quarry work,the Shellharbour Council called tenders for a new jetty at Shellharbour…

For more on Bass Point see NSW Environment Heritage.

By the 1840s, the colony was experiencing an economic depression and the large landholdings in the region were soon subdivided into smaller tenant farms. Provided rent-free for periods of up to six years, the land was leased to families for the purpose of clearing native vegetation and cultivating crops. Wheat and maize were popular early crops but soon proved to be susceptible to rust and ultimately financially unprofitable for the farmers. By the second half of the nineteenth century however, the dairy industry had been established and was proving to be a successful business for the small landholders in the region.

During this period, 2560 acres of Peterborough Estate (including Bass Point) had been sold by the Wentworth family to George Laurence Fuller who named the property ‘Dunmore Estate’. By 1880, Fuller had negotiated a mining venture and established a basalt ‘blue gold’ quarry to the south of Bass Point including the construction of a new 480-foot jetty to ship the quarried metal. Although the enterprise collapsed within two years, Fuller resumed operations as the proprietor and manager and, by 1890, business was booming. To support the industry, Fuller soon improved and extended the jetty to 500 feet and commissioned the construction of the SS Dunmore to transport the crushed basalt from Bass Point to the markets of Sydney.


Shellharbour Church of England 1890

20 – Shellharbour Whitfields 1905

Posted originally on February 4, 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.


Shellharbour in 1970 still resembled the place my grandparents knew in the early 1900s. Today it is almost unrecognisable.

Last we saw of Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield, my grandfather, he was prospering in his new environment in Shellharbour and the Illawarra – and working like mad! I think he was a very driven man. Recent events back in Picton/Thirlmere which saw his father’s very significant timber business collapse may have been behind that.

The Shellharbour he knew in the decade before World War 1 was small. Even fifty years later – well within my memory – the approach from Tongarra Road Albion Park showed what we now call “the village” glimpsed on the sea edge surrounded by paddocks, patches of bush, and wetlands.


Tom was active in council, church and friendly societies.


June 1907


July 1905

Friendly societies or lodges like the Independent Order of Odd Fellows were part of the fabric of society back then.

The Independent Order of Oddfellows (IOOF) was established in NSW in 1836 and Melbourne in 1846. It was originally a mutual benefit society that provided aid to members in times of sickness and unemployment; these benefits were obtained through joining fees and ongoing subscriptions. Upon joining, prospective members had to sign a form stating that they and their wife were of sound health, and pass means, religious and moral tests. Local lodge members then voted on the suitability of the prospective member by placing a black or white ball in the ballot box; if more than three black balls were returned the prospective member was rejected, hence the term blackballing. If a prospective member was blackballed one more vote to assess his suitability was allowed, and those who voted against him the first time were required to state their reasons for doing so.

Competition between friendly societies for members was fierce and there was an intense rivalry between the IOOF and the MUIOOF (Manchester Unity) in Victoria. Both have survived to this day, although the the IOOF has transitioned into a specialist funds management business. Like many other friendly societies, the IOOF had initiation ceremonies, rituals for meetings, and regalia and jewels, which became increasingly elaborate as a member moved through the levels (degrees) of membership or attained offices. The IOOF was one of the few friendly societies that admitted female members – through the Rebekah degree….


St Paul’s Church of England with Shellharbour Jetty in the foreground 1900-1910 – image from Milton East. Search Shellharbour Library collection under the key word “jetty”.

You will recall that among the many jobs T D Whitfield worked on was the rebuilding of Shellharbour Jetty in 1909. Many a time I walked that jetty in the 40s through the 60s, but I don’t recall my grandfather’s connection being mentioned. The Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton) mentions him in 1909, even if they get his name wrong.


Amid all this activity came darker signs, and some of the tragedy that seemed to haunt this family. More was to come.


That’s June 1906. Sadly Aubrey did not survive. Another son is mentioned in another lighter story:


That is September 1909. Colin was to die in 1915, not through war but in a shooting accident. See More Whitfield family history.

24 – Whitfields – 1917-1919

Posted originally on February 16, 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.

This man was for sure my favourite Whitfield uncle – well, the only one I ever met in fact. [There was Uncle George of course, but he was “by marriage”.] But he was a really good man, as I recall, with snowy white hair and a crack shot with a rifle – he had competed in that sport. See my April 2014 post Shellharbour.


Kenneth Ross WHITFIELD (b.1897  d. 1967) m 1920 Esma H. EAST (b. 1895 d. 24 Mar. 1971)

There was a family legend that he lied about his age to get into the army in World War I, but that doesn’t seem to be true; he was 20 when he enlisted. Maybe he had tried before and failed. He did also serve in World War II.

The story I heard too was that he was a machine gunner. That may be true. However, his service with the 3rd Battalion was cut short somewhat by illness. He returned to Australia invalided quite late in 1919.






See Embarkation Roll and Discovering Anzacs, from which the records above are taken.

Things could have been a lot worse for Uncle Ken though:


Gassed Australian soldiers awaiting treatment near Bois de L’Abbe outside Villers-Bretonneux 1918.