Disaster – Week 9


In February, 1931, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake levelled almost every building in the town of Napier, New Zealand. Aftershocks in the following weeks brought the rest of the buildings down. Over 250 people died.

Nell Farr, a Queensland local and former nurse at the Cairns District Hospital, had arrived in New Zealand the year before, pursuing her nursing career. On the day of the quake, doctors and nurses rushed from places all over the North Island. Nell was one of those from Palmerston North. They travelled the 116 miles to the Hawke’s Bay area.

“On the day of the earthquake, a wireless message came through for six doctors and some nurses to go to Napier as soon as possible, and I was one of the nurses... we did the journey at the rate of 50 miles an hour.” Nell Farr

Policemen cleared their way to prevent hindrance through the small towns. On arrival at Napier, Nell’s group found they were most needed at the temporary medical ward set up at the Hastings Racecourse where there were 2000 patients. The earthquake had flattened the Napier Hospital.

Temporary Hospital at Hastings Racecourse 1931
Temporary Hospital at Hastings Racecourse 1931 Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 New Zealand

By 10 pm, tents housed all patients. Sailors from the HMS Veronica, fortuitously in port, provided hot soup and tea to the victims.

Two iron buildings substituted for operating theatres, with Nell’s theatre experience prompting a supervisory role of one of them for the night shift. Here the medical staff performed amputations, splinted fractures, and sutured tendons under difficult conditions. A generator provided light, but aftershocks forced some operations outside under car headlights. Sterile water was not available; in fact, any water at all was scarce because of burst pipes. Firefighters were helpless to quell the fires raging in town.

After 10 hours without a break, Nell had a cup of tea and a biscuit. Then it was back to Palmerston North to accompany patients evacuated by ambulances, lorries, and cars, before returning to the makeshift hospital for another night in charge of the theatre. After being occupied for over 48 hours, Nell stole away to a car for some rest.

I had two hours’ sleep, after which I wakened hearing that Sister Farr was wanted for night duty at the public hospital at Palmerston. Off I went, accompanied by one of the nurses and arrived in Palmerston just in time to change clothes for the 1st time in three days

After six days, a nun asked Nell Farr to be matron of the Convent Hospital, a temporary home for earthquake victims.

“1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=1931_Hawke%27s_Bay_earthquake&oldid=941896498.
“At Port Ahuriri.” Manawatu Standard, February 10, 1931, Volume LI, Issue 60 edition. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/MS19310210.2.6
CAIRNS AND NAPIER. (1931, March 11). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41121789
Napier Earthquke. (1931, March 19). The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), p. 39. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23136600
SCENES OF HORROR (1931, March 14). Glen Innes Examiner (NSW : 1908 – 1954), p. 8 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18588858
Temporary Hospital in Hawke’s Bay. (1931, February 16). Waikato Times, Volume 109, Issue 18254, p. 3. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/WT19310216.2.20.3

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Alma Ellen (Nell) Farr (1907-1981)
Parents: Herbert Farr (1880-1955) and Mary Ellen Barrett (1886-1971) 
Surnames: Farr, Barrett
Relationship to Chris: Nell is Chris’s aunt

  1. Father
  2. Chris

Prosperity – Week 8


Several of my paternal ancestors sought prosperity in mining. Though I don’t think any became prosperous.

Gold Headlines

The article below appeared in an English newspaper about the time my ancestors came to Australia in the mid-19th century.

The Victoria Gold Mines. Berrows Worcester Journal. Thursday, May 20 1852.

“What will the nuggetts (sic) grow to? The one I sent you, weighing 1 3/4 lb., was thought well of till the 5 lb. lump threw it into the shade;”

All my paternal ancestors highlighted in the pedigree chart below were miners, mining families, or worked in a mine. Mining in Victoria attracted six out of eight 2x great grandparents (or their parents). Three of four of my great grandparents were born in a mining town, as were both my paternal grandparents.

Favourite Discovery – Week 7


“He had a brother, Bill.” And with that comment began one of the biggest searches in my family history journey. I alluded to the fruitless hunt for my great grandfather’s brother when I wrote of their mother in Our Annie. Since then, I may have hit the jackpot. A relative gave me scanned copies of several letters exchanged between two of Anne Willis’s grandsons in the 1970s and ’80s. They discussed the origins of their grandmother, Ann Willis.

“I then thought of Rube Willis. She was the wife of Bill Willis – a grandson”

Letter excerpt mentioning Ruby Willis nee Polgreen
Letter excerpt mentioning Bill and Ruby Willis

One letter mentioned a grandson – Bill Willis, and also his wife Rube. And granddaughters! This was a whole new family I knew nothing about.

I traced this couple to William Joseph Willis and Ruby Polgreen. William was the son of William Joseph Willis and Eliza Spain. Was this William (the father) the long-searched-for brother of my great grandfather? I sent away to Victoria for the marriage certificate to establish William’s parents.

Another interesting part of this story is that the letter confirms that Ann had at least six children.

Letter excerpt mentioning Ann’s children
Letter excerpt mentioning Ann’s children
Part of marriage certificate for William Willis and Eliza Spain
Part of marriage certificate for William Willis and Eliza Spain

Details from the certificate (1888) –
Age 22
Born – Adelaide, South Australia
Father – Thomas Willis
Mother – Annie Morris

Hmm, not what I was hoping.

But according to the birth indexes, the parents of the only William Willis born in South Australia around that time were Ann Willis and Richard Morrison. Could this be him? The marriage certificate for John Willis, my great grandfather, identified his father as John Willis, when in fact it was George Gubbins. It is likely Ann Willis told a number of untruths.

Although the marriage certificate didn’t reveal what I wanted, I’m still convinced that this William Willis is John’s brother. Proof? Eventually I hope to show it by DNA. Any descendants out there?

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: John Joseph Willis (1869-1926)
Parents: Ann Willis (abt 1841-1929) and George Gubbins (abt 1853-1933) 
Spouse: Emmeline Dulcinea Ann Grenfell (1874-1956)
Spouse’s Parents: Richard Grenfell (1839-1909) and Sarah Eleanor (“Ellen”) Pryor (1849-1916)
Surnames: Willis, Gubbins, Grenfell, Pryor
Relationship to Shelley: John is Shelley’s great grandfather

  1. John Joseph Willis (1869-1926) (great grandfather)
  2. Olive Ann Willis (1896-1970) (grandmother)
  3. Father
  4. Shelley

Same Name – Week 6



Izetta is an old English name that means ‘renowned for her beauty.’

The first Izetta in the family that I know of was Izetta Jones, born about 1782 in Cheshire, England. She married musician William Wrenshall in Liverpool, Lancashire. They had a daughter Izetta in 1815 and two granddaughters with Izetta as first or second name. One more generation and there was another with Izetta as a first name.

After that, there were no more Izettas as a first name, but the tradition has lived on with several descendants having their middle name as Izetta. The most recent that I am aware of was Chris’s aunt, Nancy Izetta Burden.

Baptism Certificate – Nancy Izetta Burden 1922

Izetta Jones abt 1783- 1st generation
Izetta Wrenshall 1815 – 2nd generation
Selina Izetta Wrenshall 1836 – 3rd generation
Izetta Selina Jones abt 1849 – 3rd generation
Izetta Jones Peers 1882 – 4th generation
Mary Izetta Watters 1890 – 5th generation
Mary Izetta Peers 1902 – 5th generation
Nancy Izetta Burden 1922 – 6th generation

The last five were born in Australia.

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Izetta Jones (abt 1782-1864)
Parents:possibly George Jones and Mary Wilkinson
Spouse: William Wrenshall (1783-1854)
Spouse’s Parents:Joseph Wrenshall and Mary Hargraves 
Surnames: Jones, Wrenshall, Wilkinson, Hargraves, Watters
Relationship to Chris: 4x great grandmother

  1. Izetta Jones (abt 1782-1864) (4x great grandmother)
  2. Caroline Wrenshall (1813-1869) 3x great grandmother
  3. Henry Russell Jones (abt 1840-1890) (great, great grandfather)
  4. Caroline Jones (1866-1942) ( great grandmother)
  5. Mary Izetta Watters (1890-1966)
  6. Mother
  7. Chris

So Far Away – Week 5


Any descendant of immigrants to Australia can understand the sensation of their ancestors being ‘so far away’ from their homelands, their loved ones, their customs, their familiar climate, plants, and animals.

For Richard Grenfell and his wife Ann Nicholls, their move from Cornwall to Burra in South Australia was so far away from what they were accustomed to.

Each step of their journey from St Just in Penwith near Land’s End in England to the ‘end of the world’ in Burra was a move farther and farther away. First, they travelled to Plymouth with their relatives and neighbours, mainly miners, to board the ship William Money. Next, they crossed oceans and hemispheres. Shipboard life was an unfamiliar encounter. Even arrival at Port Adelaide did not signal the end. Here they hired any transport – bullock dray, mail coach – if they could afford it; or walked if they could not. Burra lay a hundred miles away.

Once in Burra, the Grenfells excavated a home for themselves in the banks of Burra Creek, along with many other miners and their families.

Petition to South Australian Colonial Secretary for school teacher at Burra 1849
Petition to South Australian Colonial Secretary for a school teacher at Burra 1849 – note the residence for Richard Grenfell (Burra Creek) – State Library of South Australia

For more stories on the Grenfells and their journeys, visit my other blogSailing on the William Money (a 3-part series); Living in the Burra Creek; When things go wrong.

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Richard Grenfell (1808-1866)
Parents:  Richard Grenfell and Catherine Harry
Spouse: Ann Warren Nicholls (1815-1897)
Spouse’s Parents: Cyprian Nicholls (1782-1839) and Ann Warren (1792-1842)
Surnames: Grenfell, Nicholls, Harry, Warren
Relationship to Shelley: great, great, great, grandfather (3x great grandfather) Richard is Shelley’s 3x great grandfather

  1. Richard Grenfell (1809-1866) great, great, great, grandfather (3x great grandfather)
  2. Richard Grenfell (1839-1909) great, great, grandfather (2x great grandfather)
  3. Emmeline Dulcinea Ann Grenfell (1874-1956) (great grandmother)
  4. Olive Ann Willis (1896-1970) (grandmother)
  5. Father
  6. Shelley

Close to Home – Week 4


Not close to home, but there is a connection between Chris’s extended family to where we once lived in Zeehan, Tasmania. A nephew of his 3x great grandmother was the headmaster at Zeehan State School in the late 19th century.

Born in Liverpool in 1845, Louis Arthur Peers came to Victoria with his parents and siblings when he was seven years old, his family eventually settling in the New South Wales town of Deniliquin some years later. With a penchant for plant breeding and the study of the natural world, Louis spent an abundance of time in those pursuits. For several years, he worked as a specimen collector for natural science museums, sometimes associated with Ferdinand von Mueller, a distinguished scientist, and Victorian Government Botanist for 43 years.

In Deniliquin, Louis had a property where he grew fruit, developing his own early apricot, and studied horticultural pests and diseases. His gardens of vegetables and flowers were renowned in the district.

The mild climate of Tasmania called to Louis Peers in 1885, and he moved there with his Tasmanian wife and their son, Victor. Undeterred by lack of qualifications, Louis applied for a teaching position in the North-West town of Black River. His examination wasn’t that successful. Though he showed a satisfactory reading standard, his arithmetic was barely passable. For the unexpected tests in grammar and geography, his results were a failure. However, he assured the examiner that he could improve his skills in these subjects before his pupils were likely to require them.

Louis Arthur Peers - teaching application 1885
Louis Arthur Peers – teaching application 1885 – page 1 (Louis had the wrong year for his birthday) https://stors.tas.gov.au/AI/ED2-1-784

The people of Black River regretted his departure after almost six years when the department promoted Louis to headteacher of the larger State school in Zeehan, a mining town on the west coast. Here, Peers continued with growing vegetables and breeding plants. Louis achieved prizes for his flowers, chrysanthemums in particular, and he was noted in Zeehan as the ‘school Burbank,’ after the well-known American horticulturist Luther Burbank.

When he left Black River, the newspaper reported that the community respected Louis’s teaching abilities and referred to him as a ‘perfect encyclopaedia,’ owing to his widespread general knowledge. At a function to celebrate 25 years of service as a teacher in Zeehan, many past students praised his work and attributed their own successes to the efforts of their teacher.

I previously wrote about Louis Peers’ son and grandson here and here.

‘Black River Notes.’ Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette (Tas. : 1890 – 1897). 8 August 1891. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65248594 

‘LATE MR L. A. PEERS.’ Zeehan and Dundas Herald (Tas. : 1890 – 1922). 11 February 1921. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83963452

Tasmanian Education Department. ‘Applications for Teaching Positions and associated Correspondence (ED2)’. Libraries Tasmania, 1885. https://stors.tas.gov.au/AI/ED2-1-784

‘VETERAN ZEEHAN SCHOOLMASTER’. Zeehan and Dundas Herald (Tas. : 1890 – 1922). 5 September 1916. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84070075

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Louis Arthur Peers (1845-1921)
Parents: James Peers (abt 1825-1857) and Frances Diana Wrenshall (1826-1879)
Spouse 1: Mary Ayris Young (abt 1858-1889)
Spouse 2: Emily Amelia Pegg (1864-1928)
Surnames: Peers, Wrenshall
Relationship to Chris: Louis is Chris’s 1st cousin 4 times removed. Louis’s mother and Chris’s 3x great grandmother are sisters.

  1. Caroline Wrenshall (1813-1869) 3x great grandmother
  2. Henry Russell Jones (1840-1890) great, great, grandfather (2x great grandfather)
  3. Caroline Jones (1866-1942) (great grandmother)
  4. Mary Izetta Watters (1890-1966) (grandmother)
  5. Mother
  6. Chris

Long Line – Week 3


This week I’m writing about a long line of gold and silversmiths in the family. The earliest I have found so far is Robert Jones who was born about 1727. He married Maria Kenyon in Scarborough, Yorkshire in 1749. There seem to be several Jones goldsmiths in Hull, Yorkshire. Robert and Maria moved to Liverpool, Lancashire or perhaps it was only Maria and their children after Robert’s death. Their son, Robert, established himself as a goldsmith there.

Robert Jones and Sons - Anglo-American Times 20 Jan 1888
Robert Jones and Sons – Anglo-American Times 20 Jan 1888
Robert Jones and Sons - Castle Street - London Morning Post 22 Mar 1823
Robert Jones and Sons – Castle Street – London Morning Post 22 Mar 1823
2 Castle Street Liverpool - built for Robert Jones & Sons 1882
2 Castle Street Liverpool – built for Robert Jones & Sons 1882
Photo Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Even Charles Jones, great grandson of Robert, carried on with this business when he first emigrated to Australia.

Charles Jones - Watch Manufacturer - Melbourne1841
Charles Jones – Watch Manufacturer – Melbourne 1841. From Port Philip Gazette, 21 Apr 1841. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article225011402

I wrote about Christopher Hird Jones in this blog post here. Christopher’s brothers carried on in the business after his death in 1866, and then their sons (and possibly grandsons).

The company in Liverpool continued until at least into the 20th Century.

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Robert Jones (abt 1727-)
Spouse: Maria Kenyon (abt 1728-1795)
Spouse’s Parents: 
Surnames: Jones, Kenyon, Watters
Relationship to Chris: 6x great grandfather

  1. Robert Jones (abt 1727-) (6x great grandfather)
  2. Robert Jones (abt 1752-1833) (5x great grandfather)
  3. Christopher Hird Jones (1782-1866) (4x great grandfather)
  4. Charles Jones (1814-1850) (3x great grandfather)
  5. Henry Russell Jones (abt 1840-1890) (great, great grandfather)
  6. Caroline Jones (1866-1942) ( great grandmother)
  7. Mary Izetta Watters (1890-1966)
  8. Mother
  9. Chris

Favourite Photo – Week 2


This week’s 52 ancestors prompt is ‘favourite photo.’ That’s a tough one. How do you pick a favourite?

This photo is one of my favourites for several reasons. The foremost is because I gained it through the collaboration of my mother with a relative. Mum was always a proponent of my digging around for genealogy information, and in this case, it wasn’t even her family!

Another reason I like it is that it represents a bit of old-fashioned photoshopping for the 4-generation photo, necessary as the older lady wasn’t in the studio but on the other side of the country.​ Last week, I wrote about Isabella and James Bennett moving to Western Australia for a fresh start (Isabella is the one on the left). 

The four people in the photo (from oldest to youngest) are Jessie Bainbridge (then Smith), Isabella Purcell (then Bell), Walter Henry Bennett, and my Uncle Wal. It is one of the very few photos I have of Jessie.

Jessie Bainbridge came from the coal mining area of Northumberland in England to Victoria, Australia as a young girl. She survived the sudden death of her husband with eight offspring to look after, remarried and had four more children. She died in 1938 aged 91.

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Elizabeth Jessie Bainbridge (Jessie) (abt 1847-1938)
Parents: John Bainbridge (abt 1818-1885) and Isabella Short (abt 1821-1901) 
Spouse: William Patrick Purcell (1845-1879)
Spouse’s Parents: John Purcell (?-bef 1849) and Ellen Fitzgibbon (abt 1823-1898)
Surnames: Bainbridge, Short, Purcell, Fitzgibbon, Bennett
Relationship to Shelley: Jessie is Shelley’s 2x great grandmother

  1. Elizabeth Jessie Bainbridge (Jessie) (abt 1847-1938) (great, great grandmother)
  2. Isabella Purcell (1875-1936) (great grandmother)
  3. Walter Henry Bennett (1896-1934) (grandfather)
  4. Father
  5. Shelley

Fresh Start – Week 1


Most descendants of emigrants to the Australian Colonies can expect that their ancestors came here to make a fresh start.

With James and Isabella Bennett, both born in Sebastopol, Victoria, the fresh start was when they moved to Western Australia after suffering a great loss. Two of their sons died in tragic accidents, only eighteen months apart. I wrote about those accidents here. This couple was the beginning of the paternal side of my West Australian ancestors.

Their third son, Walter Henry Bennett, my grandfather, was born in 1896. About the turn of the century, the family made the trip to the West Australian goldfields near Kalgoorlie, probably by ship and then overland from Albany or Fremantle. Two of James’s half brothers and families went as well, all eager for the fresh start that the gold might bring them.

Walter Henry Bennett
Walter Henry Bennett – photo was taken in Melbourne, possibly when the Bennetts were about to depart for WA

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Walter Henry Bennett (1896-1934)
Parents: James Bennett (1872-1914) and Isabella Purcell (1875-1936) 
Spouse: Olive Willis (1896-1970)
Spouse’s Parents: John Willis (1869-1926) and Emmeline Grenfell (1874-1956)
Surnames: Bennett, Purcell, Willis, Grenfell
Relationship to Shelley: Walter is Shelley’s grandfather

  1. Walter Henry Bennett (1896-1934) (grandfather)
  2. Father
  3. Shelley

52 Ancestors in 2020


This year I will again take part in a fun genealogy meme called 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, promoted by Amy Johnson Crow. Amy provides a prompt for each week. The idea is for everyone to get the stories of our ancestors out there and involves writing a blog, Facebook post, tweet, email – whatever makes the information available to our relatives. I did this previously in 2018.