My blogging activity in 2016 has not been great but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been active on the family history front.
Having been invited to join Australian Local and Family History Bloggers, I enrolled in the challenge to produce 4 blogs for Australian History Month and managed to get two away – National Census-Territory Style and Squatter Jones-Farmer. I stumbled on the third however. Intending to highlight the experiences of cousins Frederick Walter and Charles Albert Sexton from the different perspectives of the fledgling Australian Flying Corps and the Australian Army Veterinary Corps, I came across some intriguing events. Hunting down Fred Sexton post war, I learnt a little about his aeronautical engineering career, a lost German Seaplane in the Kimberleys and his World War II RAAF service with a Territory connection. Consequently, I was totally diverted from the Challenge but this will be the stuff of a future blog and, hopefully, publication in Progenitor coinciding with the culmination of Territory Remembers: 75 Years.
The busiest activity in 2016 has been taking on the role as coordinator for the Chung Wah Society Museum. Primarily this involves maintaining the volunteer roster and keeping the museum open six days per week. Given the Museum caters for tourists, I had to develop a couple of patters to introduce them to this small but very interesting venue. This also provides a concentrated opportunity to expand the Chin-Chee Quee Family Tree that I developed several years ago for my mother-in-law and sister-in-law Norma and Katrina Fong Lim. The Fong Lim paternal tree has long been compiled and hangs with the other Darwin family scrolls but there are only a very few references to the Chee Quee family.
I am very intrigued by the character known as Ping Que – several historians have written about him already and I am not sure if I can discover any new ground. The early newspapers never refer to him in the [now] derogatory terms of “Chinaman” or “coolie” – he stands as a man apart. What intrigues me is that Ping Que, John George Knight (initially Secretary to the Government Resident), Lee Hang Gong (married to the Caucasian Sarah Bowman) were each already successful in their fields in Creswick, Victoria, and arrived in Port Darwin around the same time. Knight is famous in his own right in Territory history and was noted for his Chinese sympathies (or at least a lack of hostility); Lee again became a successful businessman and founded a large modern-day Darwin family; Sarah Bowman became the town’s midwife and by the early 1890s, Ping Que controlled around 90% of Top End gold production. Perhaps I am naïve in the history research sense, but it seems to me there something linking these people that hitherto has not been explored.
The erstwhile and former president of the Chung Wah Society, and his wife Roberta, did a magnificent job compiling the newspaper accounts of the early Chinese in Darwin; much of it before the advent of Trove. Since their intense efforts, the National Library has digitised and made available the Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT: 1873-1927). This fills in the period 1873-1883 – my endeavour is to download and index these accounts using the almost useless nomenclature of the time in the hope it can provide clues to those researching their Darwin Chinese roots. By this I mean the ubiquitous practice of naming Chinese people as “Ah”; Ah Soon may be named in a newspaper story but he is probably only one of a dozen named men known as Ah Soon. Who we really are interested in is Fong Hung Soon. The “Ah” has no real meaning and is normally used in addressing friends indicating the next word is the person’s given name – the man’s surname is Fong. In Australia, “Ah” was mistakenly included in documentation as the person’s name.
My efforts with the Northern Territory Genealogical Society (GSNT) have been sporadic and mainly limited to cooking at the Bunnings sausage sizzle funds raiser and helping for a few hours in the transfer to new premises. The GSNT did however publish my blog story about Johann Zerbe, an Australian citizen serving in the German Army during World War I in its September edition of Progenitor (see Delving into Diversions and Deviations: An Australian in the German Army).
Ancestry released a series of Somerset records, and together with Find My Past 1939 Register, I have been able to expand greatly and update the ‘criminal’ Treasure line in my Jones-Sexton tree (see The Young Thief was my Second Great Grandmother). Similarly, Ancestry has recently recent further Suffolk records allowing me to shed more light on one Bell Freeman – who was probably the father of two illegitimate children by my 3 x great grandmother in my Muir-Buirchell tree – and seems to have fathered some 17 children by four different women in South Australia. Just in recent days, with my collaborators Jess and Heather, we welcomed Helen to our family history detective club that is sleuthing this extraordinary aspect of the Head/Solly/Freeman families.
For all this activity, I am no nearer to even eroding let bursting through the brick walls impeding my quest for the origins of Thomas Jones, James Sexton, James Carroll, James Hoban and George Birchall. Two of these – Carroll and Hoban – involve a descent into the murky world of Irish genealogy.
Finally – two weeks ago I spent two full days and three half days as a volunteer at the Australian War Memorial’s Spirit of Anzac: Centenary Experience whilst it was in Darwin. Involving some hard work and plenty of walking nevertheless, a very rewarding experience.