Francis and Fanny Eliza Burleton – the role of fiction in family history research

Gateway to Eastwood Manor where Francis lived with his wealthier relatives

Once upon a time I completed a course in genealogy which included some units in writing fictional accounts of our ancestors’ lives.

This was very hard for me to do, after years of diligently verifying each fact a minimum of three different ways before including it in my tree.  My very first piece of flash fiction felt wrong, as if I were disrespecting my ancestors’ memories. It was like gossiping about a neighbour, spreading false ideas about their motives and personality traits. 

Since then I’ve discovered that hypothesis is a useful tool. The trick is to ensure that anything fictional is clearly labelled as such. Of course, the canny genealogist considers every piece of information as fictional until proven otherwise, but to be complicit in creating fiction – well, that’s a whole new uncomfortable ball game.

In the past few years, though, I’ve seen it used quite effectively. One example is in the late Nigel Triffitt’s wonderful blog about the Triffitts of Tasmania.  He mixes facts with speculation and uses his prodigious writing talent to bring that early settler family to well rounded life.  I’ve also found that some respected researchers create suppositional trees while trying to sort family groups from a specific record set – such as all the baptisms of a particular church. Again, the trick is to ensure that nobody with access to that tree thinks it’s the final result.  And as already stated, the seasoned family researcher doesn’t believe other people’s trees ever.  We all do the research over again ourselves to see if we come to the same conclusions.

So that’s the preamble.  Most of this post is flash fiction about my 3x great grandparents Francis and Fanny Eliza Burleton.  The question I set out to answer in my fiction was how they could leave their first born (only) infant son in his lonely grave and move all the way to the southern hemisphere. How did they feel about that?  

While it’s not ‘true’, I incorporated as many facts as I could.  The family relations are correct. The cemetery is the correct cemetery.  The personalities of Francis and Fanny Eliza are as correct as I can make them using their own voice via family papers and wills.

I like this couple so much that I wanted to share my vision of them with the rest of the world.  Their story makes an epic tale of success in Australia tied up neatly with the success of Bowna and the beginnings of the iconic Hume Highway. 

Two courageous young adults of good intellect.  Both were poor relations amidst the solid wealth of their cousins in the Somerset village of East Harptree.  Both had the capacity to be so much more.  It must have been tough. 

Eastwood Manor – home of the Burletons in the mid 18th Century

I’ve covered some ancestral background of this couple in previous blogs.  William Burleton and Thomas Wookey are the fathers of Francis and Fanny Eliza respectively.  I’ve written a little about Fanny Eliza and I’ve also touched on William’s father John Burleton.   After marrying in East Harptree, Francis and Fanny lived in nearby Coley where their daughter Mary Anne and son Albert Edward were born. Albert lived for eight months.  This fictional piece is set at his burial in East Harptree. 

Fictional Piece – A Burial at East Harptree

On a balmy morning in spring when new leaves budded on the trees and robins fossicked for twigs to make their nests, Francis Burleton followed slowly behind a tiny coffin destined for the East Harptree churchyard.

Fanny Eliza, black clad and very contained, walked at his side carrying their daughter. His wife’s haunted poise wrenched the breath from his chest. Mary was settled deep into her mother’s arms, very aware that catastrophe of some sort had struck the family.  She was good as gold this day, quiet as an old woman with her little toddler fingers wrapped in black mittens against the cold.

At the churchyard he waited with his wife and his brother Will, lost in thought.  Would the sunny girl he had married emerge again? Or was she now a different creature? Could any of them be the same again?

Here was the grave of John Burleton, his grandfather.  He remembered a solid man of stoic demeanor and poker face, the last of the old style of yeoman farmers.  Church warden, local magistrate and of impeccable reputation. John Burleton had even entertained aristocracy at Eastwood Farm. His excellent husbandry added wealth to local importance. It meant something here in Somerset to be a Burleton.

But Francis remembered that time when he was just a boy where he had no place to be, overhearing a tirade of abuse hurled at his Papa by this great man. John Burleton with florid cheeks and booming voice in the parlour at Eastwood Farm.  And his own Papa, six inches taller but cowed and silent, accepting the abuse.

“A bankrupt! A Burleton in the bankruptcy courts?  How DARE you show your face on this property now! I might have known you’d throw it all away, boy,  but I’ll be damned if I’ll permit you to take us with you.”

Even then, afraid to move for fear of being spotted, Francis had marvelled at the difference between the two men. His grandpapa so black and stiff. His father so ethereal, tall and thin with light wispy hair.  His grandpapa with rigid routines and his papa with a new grand scheme every day.  But Francis did not, back then, know what bankruptcy was.

That was just before the move to Wales escaping whispers and recriminations. Mamma  staunchly supported Papa, as always. The Burletons never had approved of her and she was happier in Wales. Until the dreadful day that Papa was transported to the colonies as a common criminal. That day shattered all the family’s hopes, silenced their dreams and forced them to reassess their whole world.

It really was not Papa’s fault. He had set the Welsh town against him with his criticism and grand schemes, had upset the natural order of things as he always did. He wasn’t a criminal, but he had disrespected the property of others.  They’d taken action, got him shipped off.  It was a stitch up.

Francis and Will were brought back to Somerset, placed at Eastwood Farm with their Uncle Robert to learn good management. They were servants on the property that might have been their own had their father not been who he was. It was a heavy enough trial to endure.  But how could they blame Papa for being himself?  Papa was born that way, with some odd twist in his brain that denied him the gift of foresight.  Papa’s dreams were more real to him than reality.   And the fact was that Uncle Robert had taught them a great deal. They could now do what their father could not – keep a farm and family together, make it work for them.

As a bitterly cold drizzle settled over the churchyard, Francis caught the eye of his brother.  Now Will was heeding the call for emigrants and leaving them.  Heading off to the wild lands of New South Wales in search of gold and pastoral land. The thought pulled him back to the present and Francis looked round at the rest of the mourners waiting with him. 

Uncle Robert stood alone, solid and poker faced just like a Burleton of old. He wasn’t happy with the funeral arrangements.  Little Albert should have been buried in the Burleton plot, but Fanny Eliza had put her foot down and she was a Wollen.  

Wollen. An old name, true aristocracy.  They’d daughtered out now and Fanny’s mother had been one of the last. Francis had married her for herself, not her family name.  Yet, she had a power over the Burletons that he could never have imagined and she was not in awe of them at all. 

He watched her move quietly to her mother’s grave and place a finger lightly on the headstone as she always did.  Just a quiet ‘hello Mamma’ to the woman who had died before her babies could come to know her. It was Fanny Eliza’s decree that her first born son would be buried here, with his grandmother to watch over him for all eternity.  

St Laurence at East Harptree Rodw [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

The tiny coffin was lowered.  Francis and Fanny Eliza cast the first sod. They watched their cherished son vanish from view forever.  Francis had the distinct impression that Fan was burying her innocence in that little grave with her boy.  When it was done she looked at him. Silver droplets of rain shimmered on her smooth dark hair. Serene. Peaceful. Determined. Changed.

“Will has the right idea.” She said.  “We have nothing here. Mamma will care for Albert now.”

Francis looked at her in puzzlement.  

Fanny Eliza looked across the churchyard.  “I want to move to the colonies. This place is not good for children.”

Move to the colonies. Will had suggested it weeks ago and he now felt a stirring of curiosity. What might it be like?

But if Fanny Eliza had decided there was no question.

“Yes.” He looked solemnly at her.  “Let’s do that.”

They walked across the churchyard to rejoin the mourners.

Thomas Wookey 1789-1846 : A man in search of belonging?

Christian Ladies Magazine 1851

Image of motherhood from Christian Ladies Magazine 1851. Unsigned, no attribution. Publication by the Religious Tract Society, London.

From the perspective of research, Thomas Wookey has been one of the most troublesome ancestors ever.  Coming from a nice, orderly section of the tree where everyone lived quietly and methodically in the same village for centuries, he issued a challenge to my assumptions.  Which is most welcome of course, family research would be boring if the ancestors all did the same thing. But I do like to find the answers after a reasonable search. I think I have the truth this time.

Thomas was the father of Fanny Eliza Wookey, my four times great grandmother.  I’ve written about her here and I have more of her story to write in future posts.  

Originally, I thought he was the Thomas Wookey born 1800 who married Ann Bowles.  That one lined up perfectly to be the second wife of a grieving young widower with two babies, as my Thomas became.  But no, I later conclusively found my Thomas in the 1841 census born in the 1780s.  So he wasn’t the man who married Ann Bowles.  I next decided he had to be the son of George and Martha Wookey born 1780 in East Harptree. Very logical, made heaps of sense.  There was no other Thomas Wookey born in that twenty year period.

Then I gained access to his digitized marriage record with Fanny Eliza’s mother stating he was a widower – a detail missing from the previously available transcription.   That missing first wife was the biggest puzzle yet. Then I found two death records for Thomas Wookeys of the same age in East Harptree.  We had one baptism and two burials.  One of them had come from elsewhere.  Only one lived long enough for the 1851 census, and that one said he was born in East Harptree and he was unmarried, not widowed.  So I looked out of the Harptrees altogether and found my man.

His story begins in Congresbury in Somerset. 

Congresbury in Somerset – Thomas Wookey’s actual birthplace

Sometime in very late 1788 or early 1789, 19 year old Ann Wookey gave birth to an illegitimate son who she named Thomas.  He was baptised in Congresbury on the 18th January 1789.

Portion of baptism record: Somerset Heritage Service; Taunton, Somerset, record D\P\con/2/1/4

Ann was the fourth daughter of George and Mary Wookey of Hinton Blewitt.  She may have been staying with relatives for the birth for the sake of propriety,  that sort of thing did happen.  Or maybe she was working in Congresbury, perhaps as a domestic servant, and chose not to go home until after the birth.

I have no idea what happened next to Ann Wookey.  I don’t believe she is the one who married Thomas Athay. There is an Ann Wookey from East Harptree who was buried in Stanton Drew in 1836 and she’s a good fit. If that’s ours, she possibly did not marry.

Thomas grew to adulthood out of the records and I found him next in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, as an adult involved with a religious group called the Moravians.  It’s this occurrence that leads me to wonder if he was seeking a place in the world to belong to.

The Moravians were a European version of Christianity who believed in open air services.  There were only a few groups of them in England.  They called each other brethren and Thomas was probably very happy in their midst. 

A couple of surnames dominate the Malmesbury Moravian Parish Register.  One of those names is Robertson. It may have been his meeting with Elizabeth Robertson that brought Thomas into the fold. Or maybe he came in and then met Elizabeth?  The pair were married in the Malmesbury Anglican church in 1821.

Marriage record of Thomas Wookey and Elizabeth Robertson 6th August 1821 via 
Wiltshire History Centre

I haven’t located Elizabeth’s birthplace or parents but one of the witnesses to this marriage was Matthew Robertson.

Thomas and Elizabeth had only the one child that I can discover.  A daughter, Fanny Elizabeth baptised in Calne in 1823.  Fanny Elizabeth was buried a year later. 

Portion of baptism of Fanny Elizabeth Wookey in Calne. 
Wiltshire History Centre record 2176/1

Fanny Elizabeth was buried on 12 Mar 1824 and her record has been out there for years in transcription form.  I’ve looked at it in the past, mistakenly thinking it referred to my Fanny Eliza.  I once added the baptism record then realized that it came too far before the marriage to be right.  But somehow, because it was in Wiltshire not Somerset and because I’d fixed on the wrong Thomas in the first place, it never even occurred that this could have been the sister of my own Fanny Eliza.  It must have been a terrible time for Thomas.  I may be wrong again, but I get the impression that he didn’t deal well with death.  He certainly saw more of it than many families did.  

He had two more months with his wife before she, too, lost her struggle with life and passed away.

Portion of burial of Elizabeth Wookey Non-parochial Register RG 4; Piece Number: 3061

It was after this that Thomas found his way to East Harptree. He was a Wookey of Rowberrow not of Harptree, so what took him there?  My guess is that he met young Hannah Wollen somewhere else while she was visiting relatives.

Thomas’ mother Ann Wookey was the younger sister of Walter Clarke Wookey who by this time had married Mary Wollen.  It’s likely that Mary Wollen was a relative of Hannah’s, though I haven’t found the exact connection.   Hannah lived with her mother and stepfather, her own father having died when she was a baby.  The Wollens were of good name and her father was listed as ‘Esquire’ in her baptism record. She had a moderate amount of money from her father’s will to help keep them.  

On 9th June 1825, Thomas Wookey and Hannah Wollen were married at the church of St Laurence in East Harptree.  Thomas was 37 years old, Hannah was 18.  They settled in West Harptree and a year after their marriage a daughter was born to the couple.  The little girl was baptised Fanny Eliza on 15 Oct 1825 and she was my four times great grandmother.  Two years later in 1828, a son named Alfred Wollen Wookey joined the little family.

Then in August 1830 Hannah died, apparently of pregnancy complications.  She was buried in West Harptree.

St Marys Cemetery West Harptree

Thomas never tried again to have a family of his own.  His two children were sent to private boarding schools from a rather young age.  In the 1841 census he can be found living with his mother-in-law’s widowed second husband (Hannah’s stepfather) and he is shown as an invalid labourer. 

He lived long enough to attend (presumably) the wedding of his daughter Fanny Eliza with Francis Burleton in 1844, but not long enough to meet any of his known grandchildren. After their marriage, Francis and Fanny moved to Bristol and it looks as though Thomas went with them, so his final few years were possibly in just the sort of family group that I think he always wanted.

On 29 Oct 1845 Thomas Wookey died probably in Bristol and was buried in the cemetery at West Harptree with his second wife Hannah.  His two surviving children each married and raised families of their own, but for some strange reason neither gave any son his name.  

There are still a lot of holes in my research regarding Thomas Wookey, but everything I have now fits together very well.  So hopefully this sets the story straight.  

Burial of Thomas Wookey at West Harptree, showing his residence as Bristol

The Early Years of Elizabeth Butler

Elizabeth Butler

Elizabeth Butler (1874-1951) taken in England before her marriage c 1898

This photograph of my great grandmother Elizabeth Butler has hung on a wall in my grandparents’ house probably since their house was built in 1936.  Her theatrical costume and her beautiful figure are familiar to us all.  So familiar, in fact, that it was years before I ever wondered what else there was to be known about her.

Then I discovered that her paper trail was very hard to locate.  After ten years of searching, this blog covers just about everything I have found.


Elizabeth’s father was Laurence (or Lawrence) Cecil Butler . He was born around 1840 in Ireland – possibly Dublin – and came from a very good family who had fallen on hard times.  This is almost my entire knowledge of Lawrence’s early life and came through oral history within the family.  It’s very hard to verify a story like this, but I faithfully include it in the family story, pending confirmation.

Laurence worked on ships and in later verifiable records he was a seaman of different roles.  Unfortunately there are several men named ‘Laurence Butler’ who worked in shipping.  They may have all been related, but picking our Laurence in early years is hard.

The first definite record of Laurence is his marriage to Mary Jones in Ruabon, Denbighshire, Wales in October 1867.

At this time he was a single father with a toddler son named James.  The child was born around 1864 in Ireland according to a later census.  I have not discovered the mother of that child, but there are a few female Butler deaths in Ruabon which might be a mother and newborn daughter in 1866.

Laurence’s presumably second wife – Mary Jones of Wrexham, Denbighshire – remains a shadowy figure.  Her name is no help whatsoever.



View from Ruabon Mountain, near Wrexham © Copyright Expresso Addict, used under . No changes made.

Laurence and Mary settled near Wrexham and a year later their daughter Harriet was born.

After the birth of Harriet the small family moved to Lancashire, England and settled in Liverpool. Laurence can be found here in various shipping records, receiving five pounds a week in wages as a regular employee on the ‘City of Richmond’.  He worked on this ship for several years.

City of Richmond

The ‘City of Richmond’  , copyrighted to and reproduced here in accordance with their conditons. NB This is a fantastic site for shipping images and ship details.

The ‘City of Richmond’ traveled regularly between Liverpool and New York.  It was a round trip of about eighteen days, so Laurence was probably home for a few days every three weeks or so.

A son Richard was born in 1870.  Sarah Ann followed in early 1873, baptised in Ruabon, then finally came our Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Butler was born on 12th July 1874 in Liverpool. Her baptism was 16 days later (28th July) at Our Lady of Reconciliation de La Salette in Liverpool.  Her godfather was John Price and there is no godmother in the record.


Church in which Elizabeth Butler was baptised. This was a new church at the time of her birth. By Rept0n1x [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons. No changes made.

At least one more child was born to Laurence and Mary – Thomas in about 1877.  Then in 1878, young Richard died and was buried in Liverpool. The family at this time lived in Tatlock Street in Merseyside.  They were still living in Tatlock St for the 1881 census.

Lawrence Butler 35 Head general labourer born Ireland married
Mary Butler 37 wife born Wales married
James Butler 17 son dockyard labourer born Ireland single
Harriet Butler 13 daughter scholar born Wales single
Sarah Butler 8 daughter scholar born Wales single
Elizabeth Butler 6 daughter scholar born Wales single (actually born in Liverpool)
Thomas Butler 4 son born Liverpool single

What was life like for Elizabeth growing up in an urban place like Merseyside?  Her father’s wage never changed. He earned five pounds a week for most of his working life. Money probably became tight for the family.

At some point they moved to Everton.  The 1891 census shows them living at Sampson St, Everton.  Note that Elizabeth is recorded as ‘Lizzie’.

Lawrence Butler 48 Head Seaman born Ireland married
Mary Butler 46 wife born Wales married
Harriet Butler 22 daughter Confectioner sweets born Wales single
Sarah Ann Butler 18 daughter Confectioner sweets born Wales single
Lizzie Butler 16 daughter Confectioner sweets born Liverpool single
Thomas Butler 14 son scholar born Liverpool single

The family was not wealthy, but in 1892 Laurence at last secured a better job at a higher pay rate. He became a steward on board a brand new freight vessel, the ‘Naronic’.


The beginning of an article in the ‘Western Times’ from 01 June 1892. Laurence may have worked on this ship from about this date.

At the end of January 1893 the Naronic landed in Liverpool delivering 700 head of cattle and an assortment of containers. By 2nd February it was loading for the trip out.  By the 3rd February it had sailed with Laurence on board. On 4th of February it passed the Old Head of Kinsale near Cork.

She was never seen again.

The papers scarcely mention the ship through the month of February.  For the first fortnight it would just have been an absence of sightings or telegraph – a cause for concern, but not necessarily alarm. Business would be severely affected if word got out that a ship was missing, so it seems the Captains of that company’s ships were asked to keep a close lookout but no one else was informed.


SS Naronic circa 1892.

The first official word seems to have been around 3rd March when the Naronic was a month overdue.

No news has yet been received at the White Star office in Liverpool of the overdue steamer Naronic, and although the officials of the company have no doubt as to her safety, they do not conceal their anxiety for some information.  The vessel is now eleven days overdue. It is believed that one of the screws of the Naronic has become disabled and she is drifting. She carries about fifty hands and a general cargo.

Dundee Courier 03 March 1893 page 3 ‘The Overdue Naronic’

While ships did become disabled, get blown miles off their course by cyclones or have fires that required docking at minor ports for long periods of time, this was more common for older ships than new ones.  The Naronic was just a year old, equipped with telegraph and all mod cons.  The Butler family must have hoped for the best but feared the worst.

Reports began to trickle in from arriving ships … no sighting anywhere. A lifeboat found. Debris found. No, the lifeboat wasn’t from the Naronic after all. The debris wasn’t from the Naronic either. A rumour that all crew had been picked up by a Norwegian vessel.  What Norwegian vessel?  No, it was a German ship. Extensive resources uncovered the ship and they had picked up from a different ship altogether. Still no word on the Naronic.

At a new rumour of rescued crew, the Yorkshire Evening Post concluded on 20th March:

Much excitement exists among the relatives of the crew, many of whom belonged to Liverpool, and news is awaited with painful anxiety.

What could it have been like for 19 year old Lizzie Butler?  Did she continue in her tedious employment, wrapping boiled sweets individually into cellophane paper? A job like that allows too much time to think.  Perhaps the girls were excused work to wait with their mother,  but the ugly matter of finances would have been a terrible stress. Without Laurence’s five pounds a week – plus the extra from his new job – how were they surviving?

Stories grew wilder and wilder. A dynamite plot where explosives had been smuggled on board. A hijack.  A message in a bottle signed by one John Olsen was apparently discovered a long way away stating that the ship had been struck by an iceberg and was sinking. However, there was nobody by that name on board so the letter was believed fake.

Finally on 20th March came the inevitable conclusion:

Vessels arriving at British and American ports having seen nothing of the missing steamer Naronic, and the vessel being now long past due, all hope of her safety has been abandoned. Considering the great traffic on the Atlantic, and the capacity of modern ships to and float for a time at least after receiving even somewhat serious damage by collision, it is surprising that the Naronic should have disappeared without any definite trace being left as to her fate. The chances are, however, that her loss has been due not to any instability or inherent defect of the vessel, but to an explosion among the cargo.

York Herald 29 March 1893 page 4

Life changed now for the family. They were not alone – in fact, it seems that they found themselves strongly supported by their maritime companions in Merseyside, as happens in all seafarer communities. One of their supports was young Robert Heron, a mariner who was perhaps already very close to the family.

On 17th June 1894 Harriet Butler, eldest daughter of Laurence and Mary, married Robert Heron in Liverpool.  Robert’s occupation was given as mariner.  Elizabeth Butler – still known as Lizzie – was one of the witnesses.


Portion of marriage record of Robert Heron and Harriet Butler, showing my great grandmother as a witness. Liverpool Record Office; Liverpool, England; Reference Number: 283-PET-3-109

The Butler family remained close despite Harriet’s marriage. Two children were born to Robert and Harriet – Marion in 1895 and Robert junior in 1898.

It was at about this time that the above photograph of Elizabeth was taken.  Elizabeth had a great love of theatre and theatrical productions.  She was also an accomplished dressmaker, though she is never recorded as one. She made the dress that she is wearing in that photograph.  The family also has many photographs of costumes that she made in later years.  She was also an excellent dancer and very light on her feet.

There can’t have been any money in dressmaking, since she is always recorded as a confectioner’s assistant.

The 1901 census shows a whole new family structure for my Elizabeth.

Robert Heron 31 Head Telegraph Wire Mender born Liverpool married
Harriet Heron 31 Wife born N. Wales, Ruabon married
Marion Heron 6 daughter born Liverpool single
Robert E Heron 3 son born Liverpool single
Elizabeth Butler 26 sister in law Confectionery worker born Liverpool single
Sarah Butler 28 sister in law Confecionery worker born N. Wales, Ruabon single

I’m not sure what happened to Mary.  She may have died. She may have been living with Thomas who I also haven’t located.

With the benefit of family stories and a knowledge of Elizabeth’s movements in later years, I have been able to track her in each census.  But as the others drop away from her immediate vicinity I lose sight of them. I have no idea where James or Thomas are in 1901, and this is the last record I have of Harriet or Sarah.

To conclude this post, on 17 Jun 1905 at the church of St Chrysostom, Lancashire, England, Elizabeth Butler was married to a police officer named Thomas Maitland.  Elizabeth was a confectioner’s assistant.  It is on Elizabeth’s marriage certificate that we find her father’s full name – Lawrence Cecil Butler, ship’s steward. I think she may have built up his status a little. When the Naronic went down he was employed as a greaser.

Thomas Maitland in 1905 was a stable, responsible man who looked very professional in his policeman’s uniform.  We know from later years that he was hugely supportive of Elizabeth’s dressmaking and her involvement with society theatre.

The couple emigrated to Australia and lived for many years.







William Burleton 1783-1842 – The Pride Before the Fall

Farmland at East Harptree

East Harptree in Somerset England, the ancestral region of the Burletons and Wookeys

William strikes me as a sort of tragic character.  He could have been the most illustrious of his family.  I’m willing to bet that was his intention. His ambitions might have been realized had he lived just forty years earlier before the industrial revolution really kicked off.  Large scale manufacture swept the rug from under William’s feet just as he risked all of his family’s wealth in one massive business speculation.  With the failure of that business, he lost almost everything – his wealth, his home, the respect of his neighbours, the support of his extended family and we can’t know for sure, but he probably also lost the trust of his immediate family, his wife and children.

It was going to happen to the family anyway – the industrial revolution was very tough on provincial yeomen who were not placed to take on the hard nosed role of factory or franchise owner.  There wasn’t much call for that in the isolated central regions of Somerset in England.  The outside world was still passing these people by.  They were a step back in time, living by rules which had ceased to apply in most of England by the turn of the 19th century.  But though with hindsight we know that it was probably going to happen – at the time, it all looked like the fault of William Burleton, eldest son and heir to a moderate but sufficient livelihood built up by the generations before him.


Flour Mill Equipment

William was baptised on 25 Dec 1783 at East Harptree, Somersetshire, the eldest known son of John Burleton and Sarah Butler.  He had two elder sisters, Elizabeth and Ann.  There is room for another child between the two girls but no more records have been found.

Both of his parents came from yeomen families.  John Burleton’s father was a Burleton of Motcombe, Dorset, a family who had owned land there for generations.  John’s wife Sarah was a Butler from Witham Friary.  They and their relatives were local magistrates, church wardens and large scale benefactors of local charities.  Their credit was good, their standing was very good.  William was born into a world of advantage.

I have found no records regarding their education, but the children all reached adulthood with the ability to read and do accounts, even the girls which was not always the case in those years.  After William came Robert, Joseph, Sarah and John. (There is a slight discrepancy in John’s records, he may have been older).

He reached adulthood without entering into any official record and became a miller and dealer in meal.


Church of St Margaret at Hinton Blewett By Rodw [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons . No changes made.

William married Elizabeth Dudden at St Margaret’s in Hinton Blewitt, Somerset on 18th June 1807.

For years, I had the wrong Elizabeth Dudden.  There were two and they were second cousins.  I thought he had married the daughter of Parsons Dudden who was born in 1788.  It turns out he married the daughter of George Dudden who was born in 1784.

Which is the first indication, really, that William was headstrong and that he lacked the conservative practicality of his family.

It’s the reason I hit on the wrong Elizabeth.  The Duddens were yeomen of the past. By 1800 most of them were struggling labourers but with a few lines of descent which held on to small properties and local prestige.  Parsons Dudden was one of those. George Dudden was not. It made perfect economic sense that a Burleton would marry a daughter of Parsons Dudden.  But he married the daughter of George.


Chew Magna, the home of Elizabeth Dudden’s mother Mary. By Robert Cutts from Bristol, England, UK (St Andrew’s Church, Chew Magna, Somerset) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Not that I wish to denigrate George and his family. They were honest hardworking folk as far as I can tell. But they were landless labourers and Elizabeth made a startlingly good marriage, in the Jane Austin sense.  I have a feeling she must have been very pretty.

The comparison to the Bennett girls of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ can be taken further, though this family was in a different social sphere entirely.  Elizabeth Dudden was the daughter of George Dudden and Mary Harvey.  George was from the less successful branch of a respectable Dudden family – admittedly a surname which only had meaning in the highlands of Somerset – while Mary Harvey was a girl from a labouring family.  At the marriage of George and Mary, he signed the register while she marked with an ‘X’.  What she was able to teach her daughter about good household management and the dull, self-important world of respectable yeomanry is uncertain.

So Mary had made a good marriage by uniting herself with George Dudden, and Elizabeth then made a good marriage by uniting with William Burleton – which brings us back to William himself.

The marriage record is in the name of William Burlington.


William Burlington and Elizabeth Dudden, both of this parish, were married in this Church by Banns this Eighteenth day of June in the Year One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seven by me, Hugh Lewis, Curate.

This marriage was solemnized between Us :

William Burleton (signed his name as Burleton)

Elizabeth Dudden (signed her name)

In the presence of Samuel Hand and Hester Lewis.

They became the parents of a large family:

William 19 Apr 1809 Hinton Blewett
Eliza 01 Jul 1810 Hinton Blewett
Sarah 17 May 1812 Litton
Francis 31 Jul 1814 Litton
Elizabeth 30 May 1816 Litton
William 19 Jul 1818 Chewton Mendip
George 6 Jan 1820 Chewton Mendip
John 4 Oct 1821 Chewton Mendip
Robert 1 Dec 1823 Chewton Mendip
Eliza 13 Sep 1824 Chewton Mendip

It was in Litton that William made the mistake which changed the whole course of his life.

On his own land, William built a brand new flour mill, putting himself into debt with the expectation that the business would prosper and enable him to pay back the money. He built the finest mill that he could, filled with new equipment. Litton was very proud of it.


Litton in Somerset

With the benefit of hindsight, the first indication of financial trouble appeared in 1815 with a notice in the Bath Chronicle (1):


TO be LET, in the parish of LITTON near Chewton-Mendip, for one year, five or seven and entered upon at Lady Day next, a New-built and Well-accustomed WATER GRIST-MILL, working two pair of stones together, adjoining with a neat Dwelling-house, Bake-house, two Gardens, large Orchard, barns, stables, pig-houses, and all other offices, suitable for any respectable person who wishes to enter into the Meal and Baking business – for a view of the premises apply to Mr Wm Burleton, the proprietor, of Litton aforesaid.

The notice reappeared in the Bath chronicle in September 1816 in almost identical words.

Another notice appeared in the Bristol Mirror in 1820:


TO be SOLD by Private Contract, with immediate possession, a newly-erected FLOUR MILL, called Litton Mill, working two pair of Stones; with a good substantial DWELLING HOUSE, Bake-house, Barn, Stable, and other Outhouses, Gardens and Orchard adjoining; situate at LITTON near Chewton-Mendip, in the county of Somerset; distant from Wells 6 miles, Shepton-Mallet 7 miles, and Bristol 13 miles.

The above Premises are part of the Manor of Litton, and held by Copy of Court Toll for three young healthy lives.

For further particulars, and to treat for the purchase, apply to Mr WILLIAM BURLETON, of Chewton-Mendip, or to Mr DOWLING, Solicitor, Chew-Magna.

N.B. If the above Premises are not sold before the 1st of May, the same will be then to be Let. (2)

In 1823, William’s eldest daughter Eliza died at the age of thirteen. Her cause of death is not known. It must have added to an already troubled time for the family.

family scene 1826

Scene of family from ‘The Fairchild Family’ by Mrs Sherwood, 1826 edition.

A further notice in the Bristol Mirror in 1824 for the sale of a property belonging to William Burleton.


On MONDAY NEXT, the 12th day of January, at the Mitre Inn, WELLS, at five o’clock in the afternoon, (unless in the meantime disposed of by Private Contract).

A COMPACT FARM,consisting of Five Closes of Arable and Pasture Land, adjoining each other, containing together 105 Acres (more or less), situate on MENDIP, near Green Ore Farm, in the parish of St. Cuthbert, Wells, near the turnpike road, and adjoining lands of John Davis and Edward Tuson, Esquires.

Of the above Premises, 74A. 3R. 24P. are held by lease, under the Bishop of Bath and Wells, for three lives; and the Residue is Freehold.

There is a good Limekiln and an excellent Spring of Water on the Freehold part of the Premises, which abound with Limestone and Stone for Building.

N.B. The above Premises, if not sold, will be to be LET.

For a view of the Premises, apply to Mr. William Burleton, Chewton-Mendip, and for further particulars, and to treat by Private Contract, to Messrs DOWLING AND MARSHALL, solicitors, Chew-Magna. (3)

It all came to a head in 1826.  A  suspicion of mine is that William’s creditors were assuming that he would inherit from the estate of his very elderly father.  John Burleton was almost forty at the time of William’s birth.  Now he was about to turn eighty and was probably ailing.  But at John’s death in November 1825, his property – Eastwood in East Harptree – was left to his second son Robert, skipping over the elder William.

The family probably knew more about William’s character than we can deduce today through the records.  The creditors waited no longer. It was game over for William Burleton.



W. Burleton, Litton, Somersetshire, mealman (4)


Landscape around Monmouthshire. Public Domain photograph.

There was something of a rift within the family from this point.  Whether it was William removing himself from them or vice versa is unclear.  William’s brother Robert – a highly responsible, sensible, solid chip off the old block if ever there was one – rendered assistance to the family by taking Joseph and Francis under his employ.  Looking at the generations ahead, this was something we can be very grateful for. But it probably didn’t feel like much to William.

William and the rest of his family moved to Monmouthshire.  Two children – William and Eliza – were deceased.  Joseph and Francis stayed in Somerset.  The other seven went to Monmouthshire with their parents.

Maybe there was family there that I haven’t discovered. Maybe they just got the hell out of the home town with its pity and recriminations and sideways glances and memories.  Perhaps Monmouthshire seemed like the place for a new beginning where nobody knew them.  Perhaps it was brother Robert’s doing.

William took employment at a country mill, working for a Mr John James.  It was a chance for a new start – not easy for a man in his forties who until now had had all the luxuries and conveniences that he could desire.

But at least he had a fresh beginning and he still had his family.  Perhaps it wasn’t game over after all.

Story of William continues here.

    1. ‘SOMERSET’,Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette 23 November 1815 p.3
    1. TO MILLERS AND BAKERS, The Bristol Mirror 15 Apr 1820 p.1
    2. ‘TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION’, The Bristol Mirror 10 January 1824 p.1
  1. ‘BANKRUPTS FROM THE LONDON GAZETTE’, The Caledonian Mercury 25 Sep 1826, p6

Herbert Dunstall – Optimism Against the Odds – #52Ancestors Week 12 – Misfortune

Templers pic

Between Bethel and Templers 2016

William Herbert Dunstall was born in harsh summer’s heat on 26th February 1873 in the Midnorth district of South Australia.  At the time of his birth his brother John was aged five and his brother Charles was three.  Another brother, Kenneth Norman, had been born two years earlier but died as a baby.

Herbert’s father James Dunstall was a struggling farmer, the son of a more successful farmer from Yankalilla.  James knew how to farm, but unfortunately he had made a bad speculation – he headed inland for land to the harsh, dry salinated regions thinking he could make a go of it.

Herbert’s mother was a Scottish woman named Annie McLeod.  She was an orphan, brought to South Australia by her married sister after the death of her parents in North Uist.  She was an intelligent woman, able to read and write and a hard worker, but plagued with ill health seemingly from birth.  The South Australian climate was tough on her.

Despite their struggles, the children in the family all gained an education.  The parents managed to raise highly literate, community minded children.

Dunstall locations SA

Dunstall locations in South Australia. This is a modified version of User:Fikri’s GNU-licensed road map of South Australia on Wikipedia under conditions of .

Herbert was still a baby when the family left Templers and moved to Warooka on the Yorke Peninsula.  They lived at Orrie Cowie station.  I’m not sure of the circumstances – if they were employees or if they owned or sharefarmed there.  They lived at Orrie Cowie for the rest of Herbert’s childhood.

Approach to Warooka

Herbert was aged 2 when his little brother Ernest was born, and just 3 when Lewis came along. The older boys probably helped their father on the farm, while the younger ones may have helped their mother around the house.  It is hard to see when they had time to be educated but we know that they were.

Members of an Aboriginal group lived on the property and may have helped, but were not employed by the Dunstalls.  Herbert played with the Aboriginal children and learned a lot from them, skills which may have helped him survive at later times.  These were probably Narungga people, who suffered greatly from white settlement in their territory.  Annie had experienced the domination of British white autocrats herself, as a member of the McLeod clan who were forced by England to leave their home in the 1850s.  She was no friend to oppression and it seems tried to pass her native Gaelic on to her children despite a British attempt to remove it from their colonies.

As I said in my last blog post, Herbert was a very gentle soul, an extremely quiet and meek person.  He comes across as having a belief in strength through community.  He gave, wherever he went.

The youngest two members of the family were born in 1879 and 1882.  After all those boys, finally there were two daughters, Annie and Martha (Mattie).  The family was complete.

Uniting church

Uniting Church at Warooka 2015

There probably would have been more children had the family not lost their father after Mattie’s birth.  His death was devastating, depriving them of their breadwinner as well as of a much loved family member. He died on 17th May 1883 when Herbert was aged 10.

James Dunstall death again

“Family Notices” Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 – 1912) 19 May 1883: 2. Web. 1 May 2018 <>.

John and Charles took over management of the farm and the family continued to live at Orrie Cowie.  But things were tough.  Their mother sickened and did not regain her strength.  She developed tuberculosis. She wrote a will where her great concern over the future of her children was her principal concern.  Mrs Annie Dunstall passed away on 9th June 1887 when Herbert was aged fourteen.

No announcement was placed in the papers upon Annie’s death.  I suspect the young orphans were too distressed to think about such a thing.

John Dunstall was aged 20 in the year of his mother’s death, still not at the legal age of adulthood and now the legal guardian of a whole family.  This is exactly the circumstance of his aunt Mary McVicar nee McLeod, who brought her orphan siblings with her to South Australia in the 1850s.   There must have been some assistance, but it’s a puzzle. The family continued to live near Warooka, continued to struggle to hold their family together without a legal adult among them.


John James Dunstall grave

Grave of John James Dunstall 1867-1890, eldest son of James and Annie Dunstall of Warooka

But the sickness was still in the family. Tuberculosis had struck several of them and they languished in these harsh years.  The first of the siblings to die was John, the eldest, the guardian of the Dunstall children.  He was only 22 years old. Little Annie followed him to her own grave a year later, aged 11.

These would have been very dark years for Herbert.  With so many deaths he was probably convinced that he, also, would sicken and die.  The five survivors were split up. Nine year old Mattie went to Dunstall relatives who seem to have been living on the Yorke Peninsula at that point.  The boys continued to live in Warooka until Lewis’s death at the age of 18 in 1894.  Herbert was now aged 21 and had reached the official age of adulthood.

You certainly can’t blame them for leaving.  Three young men still with their health having watched their family slowly die of tuberculosis.  Charles was 26, Herbert was 21 and Ernest was 19.  The brothers packed their things and headed for the goldfields of Western Australia.

The years had been tough on Herbert, but even now he had hopes. He had a dream of finding gold and becoming rich.  He had worked hard all his life, he knew he could do that. He had watched his father put every ounce of strength into farming and it is clear that Herbert had no belief in farming as a means to safety and security.  Gold was the answer – it was either there or it wasn’t, and if it was there then wealth was to be made.

Misfortune had not defeated him.


At Port Augusta on the logical route from Warooka to Kalgoorlie. ‘Bob, the railway dog’ at Port Augusta, State Library of South Australia, B 6422

Adventurous Alice Part Four – A Single Young Woman in Kalgoorlie 1897-1899

Back to Adventurous Alice Part Three – A Single Young Woman in Western Australia

Back to Alice’s Train Journey Part Three – Southern Cross to Kalgoorlie

Golden Horse-shoe Gold Mine

Golden Horse-shoe Gold Mine circa 1900, Kalgoorlie  (Public Domain)

In 1897, Florrie and Alice Head arrived at Kalgoorlie, probably with several other women from the ‘Port Phillip’.  There was good money to be made as a domestic servant in the goldfields. It was also an exciting place to see for two single young women from London.

I don’t know exactly what work they did this year, but with the benefit of hindsight it is very likely that they were employed in boarding houses or hotels.

Kalgoorlie was a new city at this time.  I found an excellent summary of the Kalgoorlie’s history from 1898.  I really couldn’t phrase it any better:

Probably no more potent illustration of the colonising power of gold can be found anywhere in the world than is afforded by Kalgoorlie and the Boulder cities, where, in the short space of five years, a population of 25,000 persons has settled down, every soul entirely dependent for existence, upon the gold-producing capabilities of a narrow strip of ground smaller in area than many a South Australian farm. 
Five years and a half ago Hannan lost his horses in a dense bush ; in the search for them he found gold, and the “dense bush ” was immediately tramped out of being by intrepid men, two fair cities were planted on the soil, hundreds of homes were founded, and the close co-operation of energy and capital brought into existence a new force -a centre of industrial operations unsurpassed in the mining world, and a mighty and prodigal contributor to the wealth of the Australian Continent. 
Although there may be a flavour of romance, there has been precious little poetry about the growth of Kalgoorlie. Nature does not surrender her golden treasures too easily, and Kalgoorlie did not find an abiding place without a desperate struggle and a persistent fight against terrible odds.
… Organisation, however, is a ruling principle in the ethics of British colonisation, and where two or three Britishers are gathered together there shall a Progress Committee be found. So it was in the early days of the Kalgoorlie gold hunt. A Progress Committee was formed, and necessary public work was carried out for twelve months ; streets were roughly shaped, roads opened up, sanitary conditions observed as far as practicable; and a virile community soon had firm footing on what had been regarded for half a century as a worthless and uninhabitable sand and spinifex tract of country.(1)
This is what Florrie and Alice came to. A brand new city with a busy, bustling population and the neighbouring city of Boulder, just a few miles further down the road. The train from Perth stopped at Kalgoorlie.  There was another local line, a very busy line, between Kalgoorlie and Boulder.
Kalgoorlie in 1897 was a small city with extra wide streets of hard packed dirt surrounded by mining infrastructure.  Camels and horses were common modes of long distance transport, but bicycles were the most common.  Bicycles did not suffer from dehydration in dry spells, did not need feeding and could cope with extreme heat without requiring shelter.  Men and women of all ages rode bicycles.  I fully expect that both Florrie and Alice had bicycles.

bicycle again

Bicycles were obtainable second hand in Kalgoorlie “Advertising” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 11 August 1898: 8. Web. 30 Apr 2018 .


Woman_cycling_in_Brisbane,_ca.1900_(26871293536). Public Domain, held by State Library of Queensland, Australia

Actually, Alice did not stay in Kalgoorlie.  She was in Boulder.  And I think she was employed at Mulcahy’s Grand Hotel on Burt Street in Boulder. I can’t be sure, but it makes a lot of sense.

Barmaid ads

Employment in domestic service in Kalgoorlie and Boulder. “Advertising” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 11 August 1898: 8. Web. 30 Apr 2018 .

I can’t find an image of Mulcahy’s Hotel which allows me to copy it so I’ll link to a news story about the hotel instead.  You can see the hotel behind the then owner.

Mulcahy’s Hotel – as it was known – was a big place, commonly used by local groups to hold meetings.  Local groups, for example, like the Independent Order of Oddfellows, Boulder City Lodge.

IOOF Boulder

“Advertising” The Evening Star (Boulder, WA : 1898 – 1921) 11 August 1898: 3. Web. 30 Apr 2018

Of the five ‘Port Phillip’ girls known to have travelled to Kalgoorlie as single women, the first to marry was Jean Christison.  In 1897 she married an Italian man named Vincent Caleo.  The other girls may have attended the wedding.

Some events at Kalgoorlie were creating a stir. In 1897, new streaks of alluvial gold were discovered around the town, particularly in Boulder.  Miners who had been doing it tough found new hope and set to work.

This is only an approximate explanation. A government injunction forbade miners with an alluvial mining license to go below 10 feet. But the gold went deeper. It was a tough situation, very unfair on impoverished, even starving miners who were putting up with awful living conditions. Some ignored the injunction. Others obeyed but fumed.

The day of the riot

“THE RIOT AT KALGOORLIE.” Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918) 16 April 1898: 5. Web. 30 Apr 2018 <>.

29 January 1898: The Golden Horseshoe mine was pegged today by alluvial diggers. It seems that the sinking of a telephone pole below the cement revealed matter, containing good gold, in consequence of which the diggers have taken possession of the larger portion of the area. (2)
31 January 1898: A mass meeting of alluvial miners was held yesterday on the Ivanhoe Venture lease to consider the action to be taken in reference to the new regulation passed by the Executive Council precluding alluvial miners from sinking more than 10 ft …  Mr. Vosper received an ovation on rising to address the meeting. He vigorously condemned the action of the Government, and stigmatized the new regulation as an act of the grossest injustice. He recommended the miners to send a deputation to Perth, and in the meanwhile to totally ignore the regulation. He said that he had obtained legal advice that the new regulations were “ultra vires” … A resolution was passed condemning the regulation, as it was calculated to destroy the alluvial industry of the colony. The meeting decided to send a deputation, consisting of representatives of the different fields, to Perth. (3)
18 February 1898: Owing to developments at Kalgoorlie to connection with the alluvial question, three police officers and fourteen constables were despatched thither from Perth within the past few days. (4)
12 March 1898:  To-day cases were called on at the Warden’s Court against two men for having disobeyed the warden’s injunctions not to work on the Ivanhoe Venture lease. The men did not appear, but Mr. Hare, who appeared for the company, stated that they they had been unable to procure a solicitor, and on their behalf he asked for an adjournment. This was agreed to and the cases will come before the court next Friday.  About 30 additional summonses are being issued, and will be heard on Friday. Some of the men express anxiety to resist the police, and it requires all the efforts of their leaders to prevent a disturbance. Many fear that the affair will not end without a serious outbreak, as the diggers are determined at all costs to maintain what they believe to be their rights, no matter how many are sent to gaol. (5)
The whole thing seems reminiscent of the Eureka Stockade.  Both Florrie and Alice were in the middle of this.  On 24th March 1898, the Premier Sir John Forrest came to Kalgoorlie to hear the deputation and address the miners. It went very badly.


Sir John Forrest 1894. Image extracted from page 73 of The Coming Colony. Practical notes on Western Australia … Second edition, by MENNELL, Philip. Original held and digitised by the British Library.

25 March 1898: During the day immense crowds arrived from the outside districts -1,500  from Kanowna, 300 from Bulong, and 200 from Coolgardie. A band and banners headed a procession, and all-sorts of devices were displayed. One of the illustrations showed Mr. Wittenoom, the Minister of Mines, being kicked in the rear by 10 feet -signifying contempt for his proposed legislation. (6)
29 March 1898: A serious riot occurred at Kalgoorlie goldfield, West Australia, on Thursday, The Premier, Sir John Forrest, arrived there by train and proceeded to Wilkie’s Hotel, to receive a deputation from the alluvial diggers, but while crossing-the street he was hooted by a large crowd. A deputation of 20 miners waited upon the Premier in the hotel, and requested that the 10ft. regulation be repealed, and the men imprisoned for disobeying the Warden’s injunction be released at once.
The Premier was conciliatory, but said the men would have to purge their contempt and apologise before they could be released. While the Premier was addressing the deputation some police entered the room and asked the deputies to go out and pacify the crowd, which was becoming unmanageable.
The Premier shortly afterwards left the hotel, to proceed to the railway station, but though he was surrounded by police and others he was jostled by the crowd, hit in the face, and bruised on the side. He tried to regain the hotel, but was unable to do so, and after half an hour’s buffetting he managed to reach the railway station door; but this was found to be locked, and before it could be burst open he was much knocked about. 
The Riot Act was read and the mounted police rode the crowd down in an effort to get to the barracks to secure their arms. The Premier was hustled off the platform on to the rails, but with the assistance of friends and the police he managed at last to get into a train and escape from the mob.
The disturbance is regarded as the most serious that has occurred since the Eureka Stockade riots, and much indignation is felt by the law-abiding population at the violence offered to the Premier and those who tried to help him. (7)
After all the fuss, things began to settle again.  There were arrests and evictions and cancellation of mining licenses.  It took five months to ship all the prisoners out of town.
Alice and the others were presumably carrying on life as usual through all of this.   Thanks to the local Kalgoorlie papers we have a few references to both Florrie and Alice during these years.  They were social girls and attended local balls, including fancy dress balls which seem to have been popular in those years.  I’ve plucked relevant names out of the very long list of attendees:
The Boulder Bicycle Club’s fancy dress ball, which took place in the Mechanics’ Institute on Tuesday night, proved a great success socially, but as a spectacular event it was not quite up to expectations, the young men and women of the district being apparently too prosaical to go to the trouble and expense of getting a costume expressly for one night’s pleasure. Evening dress was the rule amongst the sterner sex, though the sombre black was relieved by the showy apparel of a pair of ancient courtiers, while a fantastically accoutred coloured gentleman was to be seen manoeuvring round the room.
The ladies’ dresses were not very showy, and Miss Knuckey, whose costume was evidence of some artistic efforts, had no trouble in securing the prize offered. She was attired as “Westralia,” and looked very neat and pretty. The prize for the best decorated bicycle was won by Miss Dingle.
Jackson’s Band supplied the music, and Mr McLaren made an efficient M.C. Mr Stubbing, of Messrs Brennan Bros, excelled all previous efforts at stage decoration, the platform from the rear of the hall looking like a fairy bower. 
The following left cards:- Miss M. Brown, blue satin bodice, white and blue ribbons to match, black silk skirt; … Miss Florrie Head, “Schoolgirl,” pale blue and white, large white hat; …  Miss Alice Head, “Schoolgirl,” pale blue and white, large white hat (8)


.Florrie and Alice’s dresses might not have been this elaborate – but you never know! 1890s ball dresses. (Public domain).

And again:
“The most successful gathering of the season” was the verdict passed by the happy crowd that attended the social on Wednesday evening in the Mechanics’ Institute, Boulder City. The scene was one of pleasure and gaiety, happiness and good humor reigning throughout. The endeavors of the sub-committee appointed to make the necessary arrangements for the successful carrying out of the function … were amply recompensed by the large number of local residents and visitors who put in an attendance to enjoy themselves with a few hours’ terpsichore.

The music, which was all that could be desired, was supplied by Messrs Jackson and R. Thomas. A special feature and attraction of the evening was the stage decorations. The drapings were kindly donated by Messrs Brennan Bros., with the result that a highly effective and admirable display of the several clubs’ colors were strikingly portrayed.
Various articles of cricketware were hung among the drapings as emblems of the favorite summer pastime, and Mr T. Potton is deserving of a mede of praise from the association for his able management in adorning the stage so tastefully. It should be a pleasure for the committee to report that there was such a jovial and representative gathering, and it is a foregone conclusion that the result financially should be most satisfactory.
Special mention should be made of the generous and willing assistance given to the committee by the leading business people of the city and others, and to the ladies who were instrumental in no small degree in rendering the necessary assistance which is always so requisite at gatherings of this nature. It is mentioned that a similar social, under the auspices of the association, will be held during the course of a month.
The following is a description of some of the dresses worn by the ladies on Wednesday evening : 
Miss Alice Head, blue and white nun’s veiling, trimmed blue chiffon and pearl ornaments ; … Miss Florrie Head, blue and white nun’s veiling, trimmed with blue chiffon and pearl ornaments (9)


If it were not for these social descriptions I’d not have known that Florrie was in Kalgoorlie at all.  It’s hard to tell if both girls were dressed identically or if they fashioned very different dresses out of shared material.
They were obviously a part of Kalgoorlie society.  I have a suspicion that Alice was making decent money here, and that she was saving very hard.
In 1898, another of the five single ‘Port Phillip’ girls became a wife.  Jessie Gray married police constable Henry Kuhlmann in Coolgardie.


Example picture

Also in 1898, Vincent and Jean Caleo’s first child was born, a baby boy named Vincent.  Sadly, he was with them for a very short time before they lost him.  He was buried in Kalgoorlie in 1898.
As those who have researched Alice will know, my earlier newspaper advertisement regarding the IOOF meetings was not random.  The treasurer of that organisation was one Herbert Dunstall.  By the end of 1898, Alice and Herbert must have become better than friends.  He is not referenced at those balls but he was probably there.
Herbert Dunstall was aged 25 in 1898, three years older than Alice.  It seems to me that he was a very mild, very gentle person – probably too gentle for the harsh world of Kalgoorlie.  He was a dreamer with a sense of community and a willingness to commit himself to projects for the good of the town.
I’m going to give him his own blog post but in summary he came to Kalgoorlie from South Australia with his elder brother, searching for gold. He worked tirelessly and with good spirit but was not very practical.  His dream was to have his own mine and make it rich.  In the meantime he was employed in town.  He had a turn for literature and was a very bright young man.

Alice Head's marriage

“Family Notices” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 11 April 1899: 4. Web. 1 May 2018 .

On 8th April 1899, Alice Head became the third of the five women to be married when she and Herbert became husband and wife. They settled in Boulder.


(1) “Kalgoorlie.” Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954)16 December 1898: 106. Web. 30 Apr 2018 <>.
(2) “THE GOLDEN HORSESHOE PEGGED FOR ALLUVIAL.” Coolgardie Miner (WA : 1894 – 1911) 29 January 1898: 7. Web. 30 Apr 2018 <>.
(3) “THE MINING REGULATIONS IN THE WEST.” Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 – 1912) 31 January 1898: 3 (ONE O’CLOCK EDITION). Web. 30 Apr 2018 <>.
 (4) “INTERPROVINCIAL.” The Pilbarra Goldfield News (Marble Bar, WA : 1897 – 1923) 18 February 1898: 3. Web. 30 Apr 2018 <>.
(5) “THE ALLUVIAL QUESTION.” Albany Advertiser (WA : 1897 – 1950) 12 March 1898: 3. Web. 30 Apr 2018 <>.
(6) “RIOT AT KALGOORLIE.” The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946) 26 March 1898: 41. Web. 1 May 2018 <>.
(7) “Riot at Kalgoorlie.” The Muswellbrook Chronicle (NSW : 1898 – 1955) 26 March 1898: 2. Web. 1 May 2018 <>.
(8) “BALL AT THE BOULDER.” Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916) 2 June 1898: 14. Web. 30 Apr 2018 <>.
(9) “BOULDER DISTRICT CRICKET ASSOCIATION.” Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916) 20 October 1898: 21. Web. 1 May 2018 <>.

Alice Head’s Train Journey Part Three – Southern Cross to Kalgoorlie

Back to Adventurous Alice Part Three – A Single Young Woman in Western Australia

Back to Alice Head’s Train Journey Part Two – Northam to Southern Cross

Forward to Adventurous Alice Part Four – A Single Young Woman in Kalgoorlie


Celebrating the newly opened rail line to Kalgoorlie.

This post concludes the experience of travel by rail from Perth to Kalgoorlie as taken by Florrie and Alice Head in 1897.

Now at Southern Cross station, Florrie and Alice were able to leave the train for a short time to freshen up and eat a meal on solid ground.  Even if they had travelled first class and slept on the train, they would be feeling stiff and probably a bit tired.  If they had slept in their seats, or if they had started on the early train from Perth and were now at Southern Cross at midnight, they would be feeling quite weary.

From this location in this year, journey descriptions are more obtainable.  This first one is from 1896. The ‘terminus’ referred to is that of the Government owned railway – the continuation to Coolgardie was still under control of private contractors Wilkie Bros. :

Southern Cross is a lively place when the trains are in. All the available population is on the platform to meet us … Being now at the present terminus of the Government railways, there is an exodus from the train. The platform is crowded with swags and water bags awaiting the arrival of the contractors’ train.  [My friend] who “knows the ropes ” on this route of travel helps me across a barren open space to the Railway Hotel, where a wash and a good  breakfast revive me. I got a better meal  here than I ever got in Perth, and am  very well waited on by attentive hand maidens … The whole talk is of gold. You  hear of the mines in the immediate neighborhood – of the “Golden Pig,” of “Frasers”, of ” Hope’s Hill”, of ” Mount Jackson.”  …  The Alpha and Omega of Southern Cross are gold.

At Southern Cross I recognise how little the inhabitants of West Australia have to do with its present development. The people I meet are all from abroad or from the other colonies, New Zealand being specially well represented. (1)

After a refreshment, Florrie and Alice returned to their seats on the train and the journey continued.


Train at Boorabbin circa 1905.  This may have been the very train that Florrie and Alice travelled on, but a few years later.By Passey Collection Of Photographs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The country traversed by the line is of the usual type of our inland plains ; but it has one characteristic which is happily not general, an entire absence of permanent fresh water. In order to meet the wants of the public travelling on the old coach route five tanks have been constructed between Southern Cross and Coolgardie by the Goldfields Water Supply Branch, and it is only necessary to recall the ‘scares’ which took place when the head of the line reached Boorabbin and Woolgangie, and the special measures which were taken to avert a water famine at the latter place to be certain that, if not an impossible, it would have been a very expensive task to construct the railway had the tanks not been in existence. It is pleasing, therefore, to record that two more large tanks have now been satisfactorily completed at Karalee and Boorabbin. While to more fully equip the line for running purposes with this necessary, at least four more are contemplated, and will, it is hoped, be shortly put in hand.(2)
 The line was slow from Southern Cross to Kalgoorlie.  It was single track and crossing country difficult for maintenance crews to access.  Something which surprised me in reading reports of the journey was the number of bodies they found near the tracks. This included article implies a situation which we today will find macabre, that the trains were not stopping to see if the injured party might still be alive:
September 1897:  The adjourned inquest on the body of Patrick O’Toole, found dead near the railway, a mile and a half from town on August 31, was resumed to day. Thos Carter, engine-driver of the train to Southern Cross on the night of August 30, said he heard a rattle on the ballast. He reported the occurrence later on to the driver of an incoming train. He did not see anything on the track. Thos Stephenson, driver, stated that while driving a train from Southern Cross to Coo!gardie on 31st he saw a man on the side of the track. He did not stop, but reported the matter at Coolgardie. Dr McNeil, medial officer … held a post mortem examination … The injuries could be caused by a train. Neil Douglas, District Superintendent of Railways, said the first duty of the engine-driver was to see to the safety of the passengers. There were no specific duties laid down for him when he saw a body beside the rails. There was nothing in the regulations to prevent him pulling up. The jury returned a verdict that the deceased came to his death by being knocked down by a train. They recommended that the departmental instructions to be given to the engine-drivers when seeing a body near the line should be more clearly defined (3)

Largest Condenser in World

Coolgardie in 1906. Public Domain.

As an article in my previous post reported, the night trains ran without lights through unlit country.  They could not be seen.  They might be heard, but one would not know from whence the sound was coming.  The trains ran on 2-ft gauge tracks which gave them a large overhang each side of the rails.  Even if a night walker found the tracks and moved away from them, if their sense of direction was poor they might not take enough steps to clear the oncoming carriages.
All reports are regarding white deaths.  There is no indication as to Aboriginal persons accidentally killed, or animal kills.
Railway accidents of course were not the only cause of death. Snakebite, heatstroke and dehydration featured strongly too.
BOORABBIN, January 3 1897
It is reported this morning that a man named O’Dea, said to he suffering from delirium tremens, has been lost from the ballast pit, two miles west of Boorabbin, since Friday last. He has been traced to a mile from the tanks, where the recent storm and rain have obliterated his tracks. The police are now doing their best to obtain a black tracker from Coolgardie or Southern Cross. (4)
Coolgardie August 1898: A miner wandered into the bush on Saturday night. As he was missing on Sunday morning, a large search party went out. He was found in the afternoon much exhausted, having got as far as the Thirty-Five Mile. A noble feature in the Australian character is that of brotherly help in cases of distress, a feature that will greatly aid the efforts that are being made to build up a great nation. No country can be great and prosperous unless its people are plucky and enterprising, and willing to sacrifice individual interest and comfort for the common weal.(5)
The stations were further apart on this stretch.  There were minor stops, but first main station was Yellowdine, followed by Boorabbin.  This was a journey of sixty miles, about three hours of travel if all went to schedule.
The newspapers of that time are full of hard hitting, shocking events. Despair and death were reported graphically.  I doubt that anyone living in the goldfields in the 1890s could have failed to see those awful sights, but the focus was on finding solutions, to mitigating the suffering where it could be achieved and providing infrastructure to prevent a reoccurrence.
March 1896: Leaving Southern Cross at 12:30 on Monday morning very slow progress was made on the contractors’ line. In consequence of the reported approach of a down train a halt of about three hours was made at a spot fifteen miles from Southern Cross. A fresh start was effected at seven o’clock, and short stays wore made at Boorabbin and Bullabulling en route. At 11.30 the travellers were glad to find that their destination, Coolgardie, was in sight. (6)

Coolgardie. By Richard Riley from Nottingham, England (Coolgardie) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The proximity of the golden city of Coolgardie was soon known after the train had restarted, by the familiar condensing plants and adjacent hessian huts. Then we ran through what appeared to be a goods shed, which was observed in the open and thousands of tons of all descriptions of produce and machinery lying on both sides of the line, waiting to be taken on. A few minutes afterwards the train pulled up at the Coolgardie platform, where there was an enormous crowd waiting, despite the fact that it was barely half-past seven in the morning. There was little or no demonstration of any kind, and the guests quickly disembarked. Some were driven while others walked to the various hotels for breakfast. It was an ideal spring morning, the bright sunshine and cool bracing breeze making things very pleasant, and in no circumstances could strangers have seen Coolgardie to better advantage. (7)

Coolgardie had been the end of the railway until September 1896 and was still a big and bustling town.  Florrie and Alice probably saw little of it, except the part they could see from the train windows.  The train stopped here for at least half an hour.  It was a watering stop and a lot of freight was also loaded and unloaded.


Camel Team at Coolgardie 1900

A passenger complained to one of the papers about overcrowding in the trains, stating that while hundreds of passengers disembarked at Coolgardie, hundreds more boarded for Kalgoorlie.  Other reports confirm this.

February 1897: The traffic between the coast and Coolgardie shows no diminution. Passengers are arriving in hundreds, daily, and merchandise in thousands of tons. (8)
Nov 1899: The District Traffic Superintendent of Railways, Mr Douglas, – yesterday visited Coolgardie to interview a deputation representing the citizens to deal with the unsatisfactoriness of the train service between Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie, and vice versa.

… Their principal grievance was that trains were not ran to the time-table, and in consequence their business was interfered with, and that there was a considerable difference between the times of the clocks at each station, by which any traveller was liable to miss a train.  They also asked that the stoppage under the. bridge should be done away with, and ‘that a shunting engine should be permanently stationed in the Coolgardie yard. They enumerated several instances of the late starting and arrival of trains … 

Mr Douglas’ response: 
The traffic between Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie was now very heavy, and warranted the line being duplicated. In reference to the difference in the clocks, he said that at 1 o’clock each day the’ telegraph operator at Kalgoorlie received the correct time and forwarded it to every station on the line between there and Southern Cross. The clocks were then adjusted, but there was no excuse for anyone opening the clocks except at that hour. (9)


Perth to Kalgoorlie. Circa 700km.

It wasn’t all that far from Coolgardie to Kalgoorlie, considering the length of the total journey.

Shortly after nine o’clock, the last stage of the journey was entered upon. …  the country en route is quite as uninteresting as the other portions are, from a scenic point of view.  As the line had not been ballasted, ‘slow ahead’ was the rule, and a journey of about two hours brought Kalgoorlie into view. (7) – continued from earlier description

Here’s a humorous but elucidating description of the journey between Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie:

July 1897: THE most captious critic of the railway system of this province cannot complain that the drivers of locomotives rush at breakneck speed, regardless of consequences and the cost of coal, over the long, straight, level streaks of track. At the same time the assertion of a boastful citizen, that he would back his grandfather, aged 78 on the 16th of last August, to walk to Kalgoorlie in less time than the train takes to make the journey, must be regarded as an exaggeration. No man of that age could do it. The distance would beat him. and the pace would run him pretty close. The distance is twenty-four miles, which, with everything right and the line clear and the wind dead astern, is sometimes negotiated in two hours, and sometimes in more.
The train is scheduled to leave Kalgoorlie at 6.30 p.m. and arrive at Coolgardie at 8 p.m. Sometimes it does, more times it doesn’t, and the consequence is the reviling of the Department and the responsible officials. Many citizens of this centre whom business attracts to Kalgoorlie several times a week venture to make appointments for the evening in Coolgardie, but they propose and the authorities dispose. The train is rarely on time. Often it is very much behind time, and appointments involving large interests or engagements on which important ventures may depend are perforce broken to the mutual annoyance of the parties. …
We think … the line could be cleared and the stops at many of the by-stations done away with, as at present the engine is halted for no apparent reason at places the population of which is chiefly a wall-eyed man washing a tea-cup and a frantic woman who appears desirous of striking someone on the train with a bottle of beer. Life is too short to crowd much of this kind of entertainment into it. What we want is to do our business and get quickly from place to place in pursuit of the same. 
… On the first day of next month a new time-table is to be instituted, and under it we hope to see a train timed to leave this town at say 8 o’clock in the morning and arrive at Kalgoorlie at the end of one hour. A second one should run in the evening, in addition to the ordinary mail from Perth, and from Kalgoorlie a similar number should be provided. If this is done, a great boom will be given to the people of both centres, and after all the public own the lines, and public convenience should be sometimes studied.(10)


The Nullarbor. Indian Pacific Railway. Kalgoorlie – Adelaide. WA – SA. Loongana WA. Amanda Slater via Flickr. . No changes made.

So at this point, Florrie and Alice’s train will have steamed into Kalgoorlie where a scene of great activity ensued while all passengers collected their belongings and disembarked.  We don’t know if they had arranged accommodation in advance or if they sought out somewhere to stay upon their arrival.  Possibly, it was a large group including Florrie and Alice, Jessie Gray, Jean Christison, Henry and Elizabeth Wilkinson, and Margaret Brown.

This concludes the series of posts about the train journey.  The next post focuses again on the life of Alice Head.

(1) “SOUTHERN CROSS.” Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918) 30 May 1896: 6 (“THE LEADER” SUPPLEMENT). Web. 29 Apr 2018 <>.

(2) “Extension of the Railways.” Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) 2 January 1897: 2. Web. 29 Apr 2018 <>.

(3) “COOLGARDIE.” Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916) 9 September 1897: 24. Web. 29 Apr 2018 <>.

(4) “BOORABBIN.” Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954) 8 January 1897: 15. Web. 29 Apr 2018 <>.

(5) “SOUTHERN CROSS.” The W.A. Record (Perth, WA : 1888 – 1922) 6 August 1898: 14. Web. 29 Apr 2018 <>.

(6) “OPENING OF THE COOLGARDIE RAILWAY.” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 24 March 1896: 3. Web. 29 Apr 2018 <>.

(7) “THE KALGOORLIE RAILWAY.” The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950) 8 September 1896: 3. Web. 29 Apr 2018 <>.

(8) “COOLGARDIE.” Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 – 1912) 16 February 1897: 3 (ONE O’CLOCK EDITION). Web. 29 Apr 2018 <>.

(9)”KALGOORLIE RAILWAY WANTS.” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 7 September 1899: 6. Web. 29 Apr 2018 <>

(10) “Wanted—Steam.” Coolgardie Miner (WA : 1894 – 1911) 14 June 1897: 4. Web. 29 Apr 2018 <>.




Alice’s Train Journey Part Two; Northam to Southern Cross 1897

Back to Alice’s Train Journey Part One – Perth to Northam

Back to Adventurous Alice Part Three – A Single Young Woman in Western Australia

Continue to Alice’s Train Journey Part Three – Southern Cross to Kalgoorlie

Skip Forward to Adventurous Alice – A Single Young Woman in Kalgoorlie


Victorian Railways photograph of New A 398 leading a B class up Glenroy Bank on the Sydney Express, circa 1900.

Now at Northam, Florrie and Alice were ready to board the train to Kalgoorlie.  They may have been travelling on the newly rebranded Kalgoorlie Express (still commonly referred to as the Coolgardie Express) or they may have been travelling on the ‘mixed’ train which stopped at all stations and pulled freight, so was slower – but much cheaper.

A timetable was published in the ‘Northam Advertiser’ in 1896 which seems to have continued till July 1897.


“Alteration in Railway Time Table.” The Northam Advertiser (WA : 1895 – 1918; 1948 – 1955) 14 September 1895: 1 (Supplement to The Northam Advertiser). Web. 23 Apr 2018

The map below shows that Southern Cross was about the halfway point from Northam to Kalgoorlie.  I have finally found a reference to sleeping carriages.  They may have comfortably slept for some of the time.

Following the railway journey is a convenient way to describe the world that Alice was travelling to, so this part is as much about Western Australia at the time than about Alice herself.

The ‘Western Mail‘ in 1913 has a picture of the Northam rail yards.  Due to copyright restrictions I can’t post it in this blog, but it can be accessed here.

Railway to Kalgoorlie

Railway Perth to Kalgoorlie marking in stops referenced in local newspapers at the time as being on the route. It is a little different to the rail line today.

The terrain around Northam is scrub and low hills. Not quite desert, but no longer forested.  I have only found one description of this part of the journey.  It is somewhat biased, but not inaccurate.
SIR,-That portion of the Yilgarn Railway from Northam to Killeberrin, a distance of about 60 miles, is made to pass over some of the most wretched country to be found in the Eastern districts, being mostly sand plains and some miserable thickets where not even a rat could find a living. The contractor who is building this line has carriages attached for the conveyance of passengers as far as Booracoppin, 51 miles from the Cross, at one pound per head. Fortunately this train does not leave Northam until about ten at night, so that the passengers are not able to see the nakedness of the land. It certainly will be advisable when the Government takes over this line to continue running that portion of the line at night so that strangers may not see what a miserable piece of country they are passing through. When travelling down this dreary line of railway one may cast a reflective glance over the distant landscape and see nothing but a vast sandy desert, and would naturally wonder why a railway was built through such a vile piece of country … This line of railway will certainly be a lasting memento of the errors of the present Ministry, who seem to consider that their opinion and knowledge of the country is supreme.
Yours, etc.,
York, February 5. (1)
There were a lot of stations at which the train would stop only if someone needed to get on or off at them, but Meckering seems to have been a scheduled half hour halt.  Which is odd, it being only 25 miles (40km) from Northam.  Perhaps it was just the mixed train which stopped here for so long.


Hay carting to chaff cutting plant, Meckering, 1933, held by State Library of WA. Some rights reserved .  No changes made.

A ‘special correspondent’ for the ‘West Australian’ in 1896/1897 wrote a very interesting series on the lands east of Perth.  His objective was to describe the agricultural possibilities of the land to encourage pastoral settlement.

DECEMBER 1896:  At the time the Northam-Southern Cross railway was in course of construction, somewhere about 300 men were kept constantly employed.  For many miles they worked over some of the richest land in West Australia, and one would naturally expect that some enthusiasm might have come of them … But they were not of that sort. They worked hard and received their pay every fortnight … No desire to settle on the land seemed to possess them … they were men who had worked at navvying jobs nearly all over Australia. Wherever public money was being spent these men rolled up their swags and went to. As soon as the works were done they rolled up their swags and trikked, as the Boers say, for new pastures where big contracts spelt many navvies wanted. 

Wages are high and the labour market until lately was entirely in favour of the workers. The demands for the goldfields alone brought thousands to our shores. Did
they settle on the soil? Not 1 per cent.(2)
I’ve included that quote to show the demographic that Alice would meet upon arrival in Kalgoorlie, and the discussions occurring at the time.
After Meckering, the train went through Tammin to Kellerberrin.


Kellerberrin. Held by Don Pugh via Flickr. Some rights reserved . No changes made.

This region was still heavily wooded.  A response to the ‘West Australian’ highlights a practice that at the time must have seemed progressive, though with hindsight it’s rather horrifying:
I agree that extensive ring-barking by Government should be undoubtedly remunerative;  but not more than two-thirds of the timber should be killed, and only on every second lot of say 1,000 acres ring-barked, and 500 or so left ; selectors to take a portion of each. Besides, in places where there is much stone and little grass all the timber should be left, so as to secure timber for fencing and fuel, shade, and shelter, and to prevent a repetition of an important mistake, frequently made in the Eastern colonies. (3)
There are very few digital images out there of the scenery on that long stretch between Northam and Southern Cross, but a picture emerges of bushland with occasional farming stations and a lot of wandering men on their own.  There was an Aboriginal population too, some of whom were working for the farmers under what were effectively slave conditions.

 In describing the lands in these districts suitable for cultivation, one is met at the outset with a very peculiar difficulty. The nature of the country changes in a few yards. In one minute one is traversing rich red clay soils, the next he is ploughing his way through heavy sand plains. There is no shape or sense of order in the distribution of the various lands. They seem to be scattered about in the greatest of disorder [but]

this area is intersected by the Coolgardie railway, and has a portion of … rich forest … extending between Merredin and Hine’s Hill. The best way of inspecting this area is to travel by train to Hine’s Hill station, where accommodation is procurable at the railway refreshment rooms located there. The rich lands come right up to the station, but the [best] area begins about two miles away. (4)


View of the Doodlakine Store, Station Street, Doodlakine, Western Australia taken 29 december 2014 by Bahnfrend, some rights reserved under . No changes made.

At risk of labouring the point, I have included another description of the region from ten months later.
There is a new agricultural province opening up in tho east that very few have seen. The men who, carrying blankets, are looking for work know all about it, but the railway traveller who pries no further than the view from his carriage window, sees nothing beyond an almost unbroken line of forest that is bare of grass, monotonous and forbidding. But behind those walls of gaunt eucalyptus that jostle each other for standing room there is activity, development, fruition. The new agricultural province is in the rough, and it is only to be seen under difficulties. There are few roads, no hotels.You should not set out without carrying tucker, a waterbag and a rug. 
At the time of the completion of the Coolgardie railway the settlers between  Meckering and Southern Cross could be counted on the fingers of the hands, if not on one hand. These pioneers were graziers whose mainstay was sheep. They had the whole country side under pastoral leasehold, and only grew crop enough for their own needs, for till the line was made they could not cope to sell anything that could not walk to market on four legs. 
When the Lands Department began to survey agricultural areas there was at first a very baiting response on the part of applicants for the blocks … To-day there are only two blocks on the Meckering agricultural area unalienated, and they consist of sand plain, which is considered worthless. 
… It is anticipated that the Minister … will have the territory surveyed and thrown open for application as Free Homestead Farms and conditional purchases. Going further on towards the Cross there is plenty of unoccupied land at Kellerberrin, Doodlekine, and Hine’s Hill, where some farms have already been established, and fruit trees and vines are doing well, particularly in the vicinity of soaks. But at present Tammin, Kellerberrin, Doodlekine, and Hine’s Hill are to Meckering what 
Meckering was to Northam a few years ago, when graziers had a monopoly of the ground that this spring was green with waving corn. Settlers, as a rule, want to see ground proved before they will go out to new country. (5)
After Kellerberrin came Doodlakine, Hine’s Hill and Merredin where the train stopped for water.  It’s hard to tell with all the black and white photos, but Florrie and Alice were passing through an area of vivid daytime colour.  This land was very different to the impenetrable walls of terrace houses they had left behind in England.

Rest area at Hine’s Hill showing the terrain and climate.,_Hines_Hill,_2014.JPGBy Bahnfrend [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons . No changes made.

A resident of Hine’s Hill wrote a complaint to the ‘West Australian’, giving the most intimate description that I have found of this part of the journey:
SIR,-I wish to draw the attention of the heads of the various Government departments to the several inconveniences to the travelling public on the Yilgarn railway. The first Two-refer to is the disgraceful way the Railway Department cater for the second-class passengers. It is a great infliction to anyone travelling eves a short distance in one of tbsir carriages. How must it be to poor women and children to travel from Perth to Coolgardie? No cushions are provided-nothing of any description but the bare, hardboard, as naked and as hard as the cell of a gaol ! The cost of cushions for each train would not be more than £10. It is a common occurrence for the carriages to travel the greater part of the journey at night time without any light, and this gives an opportunity for criminals of desperate character to commit crime. To obviate this I would suggest that relays, of lamps be kept filled and lighted at Hine’s Hill for the passenger trains. The ladies’ waiting-room at Hine’s Hill might as well be at the Gulf of Carpentaria as where it is. It is impossible for a lady to find it unless shown. The waitresses are too busy attending to the tables to show them, and I have often heard ladies asking the men standing on the platform to show them. The waiting room is found by entering, the refreshment room and travelling along its whole length directly behind the chairs of the passengers seated at table, with scarcely room to pass down. Why not have the waiting-room on the platform, with a notice on the door directly opposite where the passengers leave the trains?  … Another question I wish to ask is, Why do not the Postal Department have a telegraph station at Hine’s Hill? The travelling public severely feel the want of this. The passenger train stops half an hour there for refreshments, while at Kellerberrin, where the telegraph station is, the train stays but a very few minutes, and the passengers have to travel about three chains to the office.
-Yours etc,
Hine’s Hill, October 2 1896 (6)
Descriptions of the terrain become more numerous the further from Perth I look.  The goldfields definitely captured the imagination of Western Australians. There is just one more description of this stretch which is worth adding here.
It has come to our knowledge that a deplorable state of affairs exists on the Government railway line between Northam and Southern Cross, and, in all probability, no improvement will be enacted until some disaster takes place. Our informant is a gentleman well known in the city, who has frequent reason to adopt transit by rail over that line. He says that the time-tables have been suspended between those two stations, and it is now a matter of very common occurrence for trains to meet when mid-way between two stations. The result is that one has to back to the station where the line happens to be duplicated, and allow the other to pass it there.(7)
The refreshment stop at Hine’s Hill was the last main stop before Southern Cross Station.  There were still a few smaller stops, but the train only stopped at them for a few minutes.  There are a few descriptions of this section.
Leaving the Bainding Agricultural Area and travelling west immediately on passing the Hine’s Hill railway station, one comes across a salt lake. This will be found, on close examination, to be part of a series of salt lakes from which one of the branches of the Avon River takes its origin. In a devious manner this chain of salt lakes travels south-westerly ,from Hine’s Hill passing immediately under Mt Caroline. Several large patches of first class forest land impinge on to it … Following the old coach road from Hine’s Hill Railway Station and travelling west, a distance of three miles brings the traveller into a fine forest of morrell, gimlet and salmon gum timber … The bed of the lakes in many places is covered with fine salt bush … (8)
The distance from Hine’s Hill to Southern Cross was 129km (80 miles). The track here was reported to be rougher and the danger of derailment greater.  If Florrie and Alice had travelled through the night they would have woken at Hine’s Hill and would now be stirring themselves ready to see the countryside in the dawn light.  If they were travelling at night, out of the window would be a hard wall of unrelenting blackness.  The peak speed of 16 1/2 miles per hour referenced by Mr Piesse in his speech did not apply to night time travel.
After an optimally eight hour journey – which often actually took ten or twelve hours – Florrie and Alice reached the halfway point on their journey to Kalgoorlie. From this point on they were in the land of camel trains and gold mines, prospectors and brand new or half built infrastructure.  They might have been heartily tired of the travel, but it would have been exciting as well.


Southern Cross, along the train line from Perth to Kalgoorlie.

  1. “THE COUNTRY ALONG THE NORTHAM-YILGARN RAILWAY.” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 7 February 1894: 6. Web. 23 Apr 2018 <>.
  2. “OUR AGRICULTURAL RESOURCES” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 14 December 1896: 2. Web. 27 Apr 2018 <>.
  3. “OUR AGRICULTURAL RESOURCES.” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 14 January 1897: 9. Web. 27 Apr 2018 <>.
  4. “OUR AGRICULTURAL RESOURCES.” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 2 January 1897: 7. Web. 27 Apr 2018 <>
  5. “THE WIMMERA OF THE WEST.” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 29 November 1897: 3. Web. 23 Apr 2018 <>.
  6. “RAILWAY TRAVELLERS WANTS.” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 7 October 1896: 9. Web. 27 Apr 2018 <>.
  7. “DISORGANISATION.” The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901) 21 February 1896: 9. Web. 27 Apr 2018 <>.
  8. “OUR AGRICULTURAL RESOURCES.” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 9 January 1897: 11. Web. 27 Apr 2018 <>

Corporal John (Douglas) Brown No. 568 9th Battalion AIF

Warning – this post is a bit grim and graphic in places.

Douglas James Brown of Bothwell, Tasmania enlisted in Maryborough, Queensland under the name of John Brown.  He served for 22 months in a battalion which fought on the front line at Gallipoli, Egypt and France.  During his service period, Doug aka John Brown received no injuries requiring hospitalization.  He was promoted to the rank of Corporal while serving at Anzac Cove.   On 25th July 1916 at Fromelles, France, No. 568 Corporal John Brown was killed in action whilst participating in a planned operation against the enemy.   His name can be found on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in France .

Unfortunately I have no photo of him.

Near Bothwell

Near Bothwell, the home environment of Doug Brown.

Doug was the third of nine children born to John Brown and Sarah Ellen nee Cox.  Born on 18th March 1887 in Bothwell, Tasmania, he was known as ‘Jack’ or ‘Doug’ to his family.  His father was a farm labourer and the family moved often between different properties in the region.  On 14 Feb 1900 when he was thirteen, Doug’s mother died of postpartum haemorrhage.   His father later married Esther Cox, sister to the deceased Sarah.   Three children were born to John and Esther.

Doug was close to his elder sister Esther who married a widower with two children in 1903, and he was a strong influence on Leslie and Doris Reading, his new step-nephew and niece.

Doug’s father could not read or write but the Cox family including his mother and stepmother were literate.  Doug and his siblings could read and write, but there is no evidence of formal schooling.  In adulthood, Doug became a blacksmith.

Doug  volunteered with the pre-war 93rd Derwent Regiment in New Norfolk, Tasmania, where he served for 18 months. This was probably part of the compulsory youth training which occurred in Australia at that time.  He was joined there by his nephew Leslie Reading .  Jack then left the 93rd Derwent Regiment in order to move interstate.


Enoggera Army Camp 1914 By Poulsen, Poul C., 1857-1925 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve lost sight of his movements between his leaving Tasmania and the date of his enlistment.  But he ended up at Maryborough in northern Queensland. Recruitment for the newly created 9th Battalion Infantry opened in August 1914 and Doug signed up at once.  Recruitments were underway for both the Expeditionary Force and the regular infantry.  After attestation and a medical inspection, the new soldiers were all sent on to Enoggera where they undertook the rest of the formalities.

In his attestation papers, Doug stated he had never married.  He was 26 years old, weighed 144 lbs and was 5 feet 6 inches tall. He was brown haired, brown eyed and his complexion was fresh.

On 30 September 1914, Doug’s nephew Leslie Reading joined the 15th Battalion in Hobart, Tasmania.  Leslie’s enlistment was against the wishes of his family. Throughout the war, Doug seems to have felt some responsibility for Les.

After three weeks at Enoggera the 9th Battalion embarked at Pinkenbar on the HMAT Omrah for Melbourne.  It was a quick process.  Lieutenant Colonel Harry Lee was the commanding officer.  The commander’s war diary reports

Embarked during morning and sailed at noon. Weather fine. Stats: 32 officers, 999 other ranks, 15 horses


HMAT Omrah (A5), with the 9th Battalion aboard, lying at Pinkenbar on the day of embarkation.Black & white – Glass original half plate negative. 24 September 1914. Public Domain via Australian War Memorial website C02481

Training began immediately.  The men were allocated emergency stations and on the three day journey to Melbourne they undertook fire drills, bomb drills and inspections.  The war diary reports:

25.9.14  Told men off to five stations.  Heavy swell. Many men seasick.

They reached Melbourne on 28th September and anchored at Williamstown.  No shore leave was granted, but the men disembarked most days to undertake marches. In October they shifted into barracks at Albert Park where training became more intense. After a final inspection by General Bridges, the troops embarked again on the Omrah.

Stats:  32 officers 986 other ranks


HM OMRAH By B. Jefferson (Australian War) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This was a journey of five days. They anchored in King George’s Sound near Albany, Western Australia on 24th October 1914.

On 25th October the medical officer reported a case of measles. Just one.  The soldier was transferred to an onshore hospital. Training continued for the rest of the men.  The training exercises had names such as ‘musketry’ and ‘enemy in sight’.  On the 1st November, they left Albany.  This was the real thing at last for this battalion.

The training continued on board. ‘Enemy in sight’ and ‘Sinking Ship’ are exercises referenced now.  The men probably didn’t know where they were going, but they would have realized they were leaving Australian waters.

9.10.14  Message from HMAS Melbourne re ‘Sydney and EMDEN’

This brief entry was regarding the sinking of the German military ship ‘Emden’ by the Australian ‘Sydney’.

On 15th November the HMAT Omrah reached Colombo, giving Doug his first glimpse of foreign lands.

16.10.14 4.30pm Received from HMS ‘Hampshire’ 2 officers, 2 warrant officers and 40 ratings off EMDEN

16.10.14 Colombo  Placed prisoners under armed guard. Capt. MELBOURNE 9th Infantry placed in charge of prisoners. 

The November diary is missing so I don’t know how they spent that month, but by 2nd December they gave the prisoners back to the HMS Hampshire in the Suez Canal.

04.12.14  7am Arrived ALEXANDRIA.   39 Rank and file sent to hospital with measles.

The Battalion reached Alexandria on 4 Dec 1914 and marched to Mena Camp.  The first job upon arrival at camp was always to build it.  The next few weeks were spent digging and erecting structures.

Colonel Ewen George Sinclair-MacLagan was present with the 9th Battalion from August 1914 and would have been a familiar face to Doug by this point, as were Captain Salisbury and Major J C Robertson.  The war diary shows that all three officers remained very involved with leading and training the rank and file of the 9th Battalion.


9th and 10th battalions in Egypt in December. Doug may have been one of the men in this picture.  Australian War Memorial C02588 Public Domain Lent by Chaplain the Reverend E Merrington Australian_9th_and_10th_battalions_Egypt_December_1914_AWM_C02588 via Wikimedia Commons

Christmas Day was spent at Mena. Gifts were distributed to the soldiers.

Across that week between Christmas and New Year, three men died of pneumonia. Six men were sent back to Australia as being ‘ incorrigible or medically unfit‘.

Oh how they trained. Every day they performed exercises, marched, conducted drills.  The following two diary entries are the most relevant in this month.

09.2.14 Reinforcements joined. Strength 32 officers, 1039 Other ranks.

28.2.15 MENA  Received orders to move.  Strength 1081 officers and men.  63 horses. In hospital – 34, In detention – 1, Absent without leave – 8, Effective – 1038

The troops marched to Alexandria and boarded the HMT Ionian.  Then one soldier – Pte J M Davenport – was found with his throat cut.  He was transferred to hospital where he later died.  It’s the first indication of fear in the ranks.  There was no inquiry held so they must have believed it to be self inflicted.

After a three day journey,  9th Batallion arrived at their new camp on the island of Lemnos where they built their camp, a road  and a landing stage. Doug’s first surviving postcard home was sent from Lemnos to his mother in early April.


to Mrs E Brown (From Greece)

Dear Mother,

A line or two to let you know I am alright.  I saw Les the other day, he is quite well. Remember me to all.

D Brown

Anyone with a basic knowledge of war history will know what is coming, but of course Doug and the rest of them did not.  Up until 8th April it was business as usual for the 9th Battalion.

Two relevant diary entries:

8th April 1915 LEMNOS BAY Embarked on MALDA

21.4.1915 6.30pm  Received Brigade inspection order.

I learned through reading the diaries that an inspection precedes action.  Things were about to happen.

On 24-25th April 1915, the 9th Battalion made history by being the first Battalion ashore at Gallipoli, where they unfortunately landed two miles further up the beach than intended. The whole campaign is graphically described in the war diary but it is very long.  I’ll pluck out the relevant bits.

24.4.15-25.4.15   11am . Transferred A + B Coy and Hd 2is Staff to QUEEN steamer slowly to KABE TEPE. C&D Coy travelled per transport MALDA and transferred to KESTRIAN en route. The QUEEN arrived off KABE TEPE at midnight and transferred into lifeboats 1am.

The 3rd Brigade supplied the arriving party which consisted of two Bg from each Bn.  The remaining two Bgs landed half an hour after the convening and were to act as supports. It was decided to land just North of Kabe Tepe.  A Co. on the right and land packs were to be discarded and at trench resupplied.  A & B Cos were to take the truck and afterwards to attack a Bty of guns on Kabe Tepe. The Life Boats towed by a Pinnas(?) moved slowly towards the shore and it was apparent that the N? people has …. keen direction. It was discovered afterwards that we were two miles north of the position intended. The landing was effected under rifle fire and the transfer pressed forward. The enemy gave way and the advance continued.  Turkish reinforcements se.d the rush and our troops were driven back and hastily entrenched on a commanding parter.

Turks attacked again about midnight but were repulsed. The Australians displayed great bravery and held on tenuously. False orders were issued by ..? officers. Attempts were made to reorganize the 3rd Brigade 100 men and 7 officers mustered. The Bn detailed at dusk as covering party for troops entrenching Major J C Rokesbon, Captains Miler, Jackson, Ryder, Fisher, Melbourne. Lieuts Chambers, Paterson, Jones, Brasic, Hounded, Major SB Robertson, Lieuts J Roberts, Heyward, Costain and Rigby killed.

26.4.15   Gallipoli    Whole Division considerably mixed, under heavy rifle and shell fire all day and night, all heavy digging is under fire.  Further attempt to reorganize Bn about 1000 3rd Bn … remained above beach till 1pm.  Bn started as No. 2 … of defence under Col MacLagan Lieut Kev launched.

27.4.15 Strong attack by Turks at 10.30 repulsed

And on it goes, relentlessly, day after day, week after week.  There was no break at all for these guys.  Every day the diary is full of new dead, new attacks.  There was no advance. They held ground, mostly, and their enemy did the same.

13.5.15  Continuous snipering.  1 killed 1 wounded. Total casualties killed 45, wounded 286, missing 179, sick 20. Water Barge sunk with 5 days water supply by shells. 

Doug survived.  His nephew Les Reading in the 15th Batallian lost his life in the first charge and was reported missing on 27th April 1915, but Doug was clearly not aware of this.


A hard hitting photo of Gallipoli. This is what Doug was seeing. Southern Trench in Lone Pine, Gallipoli, 8 August 1915 Archives New Zealand from New Zealand – Southern Trench in Lone Pine, Gallipoli, 8 August 1915 [Graphic Content] By Archives New Zealand from New Zealand [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

19.5.15 Heavy attack by the enemy about midnight repulsed and a renewed attack at 3am. Enemy advanced in close order and some reached our wire entanglements.  At 8am the enemy’s infantry had been driven. A heavy bombardment of our trucks took place until noon.  Casualties 16 killed 25 wounded.  Word received in the evening that more large Turkish transports had landed troops.

20.5.15  At 7pm enemy advanced under cover of white flag and stretcher parties and attacked.  Attack lasted till 8pm.  205 Turkish dead counted in front of our position within 150 yards.   Many were on the forward ridge. Killed estimated 3000 with total casualties 7000.  M G Section, 8th Light Horse attached to 9th Bn.

I’m skipping a lot of entries of similar ilk.  Even with all our movies and books about this time it is hard to get a feel for the true ordeal.  I came closer, reading the handwriting of a man who was in the thick of it.  In this month Colonel Lee was injured and Major Salisbury took charge.

31.5.15 Major Robertson returned to duty and took command.  Strength 835 other, 19 officers no casualties 6 sick.  Two were wounded.

The 9th Battalion spent six months at Anzac Cove, a time of constant shelling, sickness and bad weather.  One postcard survives from this time, dated 8th June 1915.


Dear Mother,

A few lines to let you know I am quite well.  Have not seen Les lately.  We are some distance apart. Hope to see him soon. Hope this will find you all well at home, it is summer here and very warm at times.  Can’t get writing material at present.


We know now that Les was deceased. His body had not been recovered and at about this time the family were informed that he was missing.

australian-troops-charging-a -trench-at-the-battle-of-gallipoli

Australian troops charging a trench at the battle of gallipoli. Public Domain via Shutterstock Photo via Good Free Photos

Further selected entries:

28.6.15  No. 551 Pte J Holloway and No. 1533 Pte J Dowd reported on for meritorious service.  Major Walsh and Capt L Jones wounded, latter seriously.  Lieut Jordan missing.   The missing in B. Co. now almost certain to be killed, it is possible that of the 15 missing in C Co, the party under Lieut Jordan, may be prisoners.

29.6.15 Major J C Robertson appointed Lieut Col whilst in command 9th Bn to date from June 1st.  D.O. No. 11 No. 68 dated 28th June 1915. Arrangements made for parties for recovering dead upset owing to a demonstration against enemy.  Secured five bodies early this morning, shipped off boots and clothing.

7.7.15 23 officers and 368 NCOs and Men are now away at the base wounded. The bulk of these have been away over two months.  The Bn has secured no word of their condition, whereabouts or likelihood of return.  Extension of Y tunnel commenced.

23.7.15  Three cases lately of men cutting off or shooting off fingers the intention being to get sent to hospital.  Case occurred today and arranged with … ambulance to keep the man at ANZAC instead of sending him away. Owing to suspected attack men stand to at the waning of moon and daybreak.

On 12th August 1915, Doug was promoted officially to Lance Corporal.

27.8.15 Effective strength of Bn reduced to 21 officers and 598 other ranks owing to sickness.  Finished up new firing line now building forward bomb pits and entanglements. 

Finally came a day they must all have been waiting for. The end of their scheduled period of active service.

25.10.15 6 months service in firing line completed.

Strength of battalion 19 officers, 536 other ranks including MO  Wounded and missing still absent  11 officers 372 other ranks.  Total casualties since 25.4.15 – 43 officers 1357 other ranks including 9 officers and 142 other ranks killed, 1 officer and 72 missing, 15 officers and 462 other ranks wounded, 18 officers and 661 other ranks sick or injured.

They were still at the front, but their activity began winding down.

29-30.10.15 Both days quiet.  On morning of 30th handed over from T6 to Q1 to 1st Inf Bde Composite.  Co. disbanded and returned to reinforcement camp.  The Bn is now holding from Q1 to Q4.

31.10.15  Quiet. Nothing doing. Completed new snipers dump fort. Strength of Bn 17 officers, other ranks 498, total 515

The record of losses seem pretty dire, but the battalion had  received reinforcements twice during that time.  Of the original 1038, they were actually down to about 200.  Doug was one of those.


14.11.15 At 1000 the 2nd Bn (Lt Col Cass) took over our lines. Bn went into Bivouac on W of Artillery Road.  At 1800 received orders cancelling embarkation of Bn.

I can’t imagine how they felt having embarkation cancelled like that.  But it was only a delay of two days. When the orders came through it was a mad rush.

16.11.15  At 1800 received orders for Bn to be ready to move in 15 minutes.

16.11.15 Marched out of bivouac at 19.30, embarked from no. 8 pier for S S Abassiah.

17.11.15 LEMNOS.  Disembarked at Mudros  at 1000 and marched to Sarpi Camp.

And just like that, they were gone from the front, weak, sick, traumatised and exhausted. It should have been a move for the better.


From the collection ‘Photographs of the Third Australian General Hospital at Lemnos, Egypt & Brighton (Eng.)’ / taken by A. W. Savage 1915-17. via NSW State Library.


Another postcard from Doug. This must have been over two cards but the first one is missing.  He is clearly talking about Les and still does not know that Les is missing.

Mrs E Reading

From Greece – continuation

… but it is a wonder I have not seen him.  I dropped you a PC to your old address a few days before this so you may get the lot at once.  Goodbye from your ever truly brother D Brown

Things were better in one way, but not in others.

18.11.15 Absorbed 8th reinforcements. Began reorganisation of Battalion.

19-24.11.15 Bn employed in easy preliminary training.  Weather very rough and cold.

They were tottering wrecks of human beings at this point and the commanding officers knew it.  This was a time of attempted recuperation.  Were it not for the weather and lack of supplies, it might have worked.

24.11.15 Lemnos   Busy arranging camp.  Bitterly cold weather.

26.11.15 Remaining units of Brigade arrived this afternoon. Bn had route march two miles. Cold gales blowing making work difficult.  Men feeling the want of warm clothing.

27.11.15 2nd Lieut Gray rejoined. Snow falling. Arranged for purchase of 200 pounds of comforts for men from Store ships. Short route march and organizing.

30.11.15  Lemnos.  Squad drill under squad commanders from 1000 til 1200. NCOs class in the afternoon.  Shortage of blankets remediated. Arranging an entertainment committee for men.

01.12.15 Lemnos.  Building stone wall to protect cook’s lines.  Whole camp placed in quarantine owing to outbreak of diphtheria.

They couldn’t catch a break, these guys. But this was the lowest point.

7.12.15 Rifle exercise. Marked improvement in health. Bn becoming much stronger physically.

Highly successful entertainment by NCO and men of 9th Bn in YMCA recreation tent.  Items most respectful and topical of ANZAC and Sarpi quarantine camps.

Doug sent a postcard home in mid December.


Mrs E Reading

Just a PC hoping you are and family are quite well and that this PC may find you.  I am in good order and still kicking and be back for a good time for next XMAS I hope.

Yours truly,

Brother (D Brown)

Doug spent Christmas 1915 at the camp at Lemnos.  The Battalion received orders to move on 31st December.

But since we are only halfway through Doug’s war experience and this is a long blog, I’ll leave it here.

Doug was later promoted from Lance Corporal to Corporal and was positioned at the front in both Egypt and France.  He was killed in action in France on 25th July 1916 while taking part in a large scale operation that went horribly wrong, resulting in the deaths of 393 soldiers.  Had he survived that day, he would probably have survived the whole war.

His belongings and medals were sent home to his parents, who also requested a photograph of his grave.

His death, and that of his nephew Les, had a big impact in the family.  Both soldiers are still remembered by the family to this day.



Diary Excerpts from:  Australian Imperial Force Unit War Diaries of the 9th Battalion, AWM4 Subclass 23/26 – 9th Infantry Battalion via Australian War Memorial website, accessed 25 April 2018.


Grave Registration Report, Commonwealth War Graves website, accessed 25 March 2018

Lt. Col J C Robertson, ‘Report on operations carried out by 9th Infantry Battalion Commencing 19th July’, insert in the War Diaries 9th Battalion July 1916

Family postcards and letters

Alice Head’s Train Journey Part One – Perth to Northam

Back to Adventurous Alice Part Three

Continue to Alice’s Train Journey Part Two

Skip forward to Adventurous Alice Part Four – A Single Young Woman in Kalgoorlie


Bayswater railway station, c. 1900. It must have looked much like this when Alice’s train stopped there early in her journey to Kalgoorlie. Public Domain. Original held by State Library of Western Australia via,_c._1900.jpg

In May 1897, Alice’s contracted year of employment was over and she was free to follow whatever life path she chose.  Looking at her fellow passengers, at this point they scattered far and wide.  Some married, some headed for the eastern states, some stayed near Perth or Fremantle as single employed women.  Some returned to England and at least two seem to have headed to the United States.  But a surprising number of them went to Kalgoorlie.

By 1897 the big gold boom was at its height. Men were flocking to the Western Australian inland to stake a claim on a gold mine and make a fortune.  Gold actually was being discovered, enough of it that confidence remained high.  A couple of very big mining operations were underway.  Little camp towns were rapidly turning into major business centres.

Hastily erected huts were being replaced by large stone buildings. Miners who were not making it rich – as yet –  found work as labourers on the many constructions.  The train line was opened from from Perth to Coolgardie in 1896 and that town became a city almost overnight.  Inns and boarding houses thrived.  Built of bluestone with high ceilings and grand entrance foyers, the boarding houses were cool in the heat and built with an elegance we don’t see today.  They contained expansive sleeping quarters and large dining areas.

Obviously, domestic staff were required and the business proprietors could pay top dollar.  It isn’t referenced in the history books much, but single women like Alice were also flocking to the gold fields to make their fortunes.

The whole enterprise of gold mining may have sparked Alice’s imagination.  Like all other entry points to Western Australia, Fremantle was full of prospective miners heading for the goldfields.  It would have been a heady dose of optimism after the gloomy and economically depressed London she had left behind.

Did they respond to an advertisement?  Was it word of mouth that there was a lot of work there?

Florrie and Alice Head, Jean Christison, Jessie Gray and Margaret Brown all went to Boulder via Kalgoorlie. There may have been more of them.
Elizabeth Troup married Henry Ernest Wilkinson in Perth in 1897, but then she and Henry also went to Boulder.  Perhaps the seven of them traveled together.

Perth to Northambypaint

Railway line from Perth to Northam in 1897, an approximation based on newspaper references to the journey.

Railway travel was an adventure in itself in 1890s Western Australia, particularly those long rail lines into the outback.  The papers of that decade are full of stories and complaints.

In 1891, the decision had been made to create a rail line to the goldfields.  Competition was fierce between York and Northam to be the ‘starting point’ for the rail journey.  Northam won.  The line from Northam to Merredin was completed the following year, was extended to Southern Cross in 1894, then to Coolgardie in 1895 and finally to Kalgoorlie in September 1896.  It was a brand new track, still full of mishaps and confusions.

At the time that Alice made this trip, there were two different lines involved.  Passengers caught a train to Northam.  The goldfields train began at Northam and was an entirely separate track.  By the end of 1897 the first direct train from Perth to Kalgoorlie was running, but Alice probably travelled a few months too soon to catch this one.  There was a ‘Kalgoorlie Express’ train but before July 1897 it followed the same track as the others and if caught behind a slow train it had to sit at that slow pace.  It was ‘express’ only in that it stopped at fewer stations.

Train timetable

Train timetable Perth to Midland Junction April 1897 “Advertising” The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950) 5 April 1897: 4. Web. 22 Apr 2018 .

Everyone who wrote about these trains agreed on a couple of points.  They were slow – often running hours if not days behind schedule.  They were crowded.  There is one reference in late 1897 to a train of eighteen passenger carriages full of people arriving in Kalgoorlie.  They were unreliable.  Water was a huge issue for the train which ran on steam.  If at any point water was not to be had, the train had to wait for water to be brought from a nearby place.


This image is from Queensland, but shows the process involved and the style of carriage in use when Alice made her journey.,_Queensland,_1890-1900_(4732501438).jpg held By State Library of Queensland, Australia [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

A very very long speech was given by the Commissioner for Railways, Mr Piesse, at a Railway Picnic in May 1897.  It must have taken him half an hour to give it.  But he did give some useful details for the family historian of a century later.

There was hardly any necessity for saying much in order to demonstrate the advance which the Western Australian Government railways had made during the past five years, but as he had in his possession a few figures which would tell their own tale, he thought he might claim their indulgence while he submitted them … The duplication of
the line from Fremantle to Midland Junction had been in hand for some time, and the work, he was happy to say, was rapidly approaching completion. Already 19 miles had been duplicated, and before long he hoped to see the full 24 miles furnished not only with a double set of rails but also with efficient signalling and interlocking apparatus

…  some people had stigmatised our trains as being too slow for funerals. Well, he noticed that the other colonies had funeral railways, just the same as Western Australian had …  The speed averaged in Western Australia was 16.5 miles per hour … Therefore, considering the width of gauge here as compared with those in the other colonies, and the fact that the colony had been only five years under responsible government, he thought that Western Australia could justly be proud of holding the second place in Australasia in the matter of speed of her railway trains. (1)

Passengers brought pillows and blankets for the journey, since the carriages were not heated and only first class was cushioned.  There is no indication of sleeper carriages, despite the journey being an overnight trip and up to two days long in the event of track issues.  Alice, Florrie and the others probably boarded at 5.50pm as per the above schedule, settled themselves into their seats and waited for luggage to be loaded and for the conductor to blow his whistle to start them on their journey.

I love railway journeys, so I spent some time researching this one.

The first part would have been exciting.  Journeys always are at the start, but the line from Perth to Northam meandered greatly, following tracks laid down over a decade earlier to service what by 1897 were Perth suburbs.

1896: Rising early in the morning of September 7, we packed up a clean shirt, a piece of soap, and a toothbrush, and bustled to the central railway station. There we arrived in time to witness a typical station scene before the departure of the long-distance train. Among the ladies there was a large amount of flutter and genteel squabbling over the berths to which they were entitled, and we felt indeed sorry for Mr. John Davies, the general manager, who, however, fixed matters with tact, and managed to please everyone, even the much distressed ladies. (2)

After leaving Perth it ran northeast through Bayswater (the picture at the start of this blog post).  By the 1890s the region was well settled.  They would have passed through streets of houses with a few paddocks attached, past a lot of new buildings and trees.  After Bayswater the line crossed the Swan River and reached Guildford, then it was just a short distance to Midland Junction where it stopped to pick up more passengers.

Midland Junction

Midland Station, Western Australia, May 1927

Midland Junction Railway Station, Western Australia, May 1927. W.E. Fretwell Collection Photographs of William Edward Fretwell (1874 – 1958)

Feb 1897:  Sir,- Permit me through the column of your widely-circulated journal, to draw attention to the disgraceful way in which the so called Perth-Midland Junction timetable is adhered to; or rather, is not adhered to. For the advertised 8.35 business train from Guildford to Perth to run to time is now, if not a thing of the past, a very rare exception to the rule. It is in most cases from 10 to 15 minutes and very often as much 25 minutes late .  If it is found that the return journey cannot be accomplished within the advertised time, why not run the 7.45 train out from Perth ten or 15 minutes earlier?  Surely this could be managed, now that the duplicate rails extend to within a mile of Guildford, without any danger of collisions.
-Tours, &c, TRAVELLER. 
Guildford, February (3)

After Midland Junction, the train apparently went to Mundaring – a deviation from the present route.  After Mundaring the line turned northwards and they followed the Avon River for roughly 40 miles (64km) to Toodyay.  This was a very picturesque journey.


Grain train on the Eastern Railway, Western Australia alongside the Avon River. Taken .21 January 2006 by Nachoman-au under the terms of the Version 1.2 . No changes made.


1922:  A three hours’ train journey through stately timber country brings the tourist to Toodyay, the centre of an old-established district and one of the earliest surveyed town sites in the State. Situated on the left bank of the Avon river and nestling amid tree covered hills, Toodyay is undoubtedly one of the most charming inland towns in W.A., and affords tourists ample proof of the wisdom of the early pioneers who, almost go years ago, determined to settle in such beautiful surroundings. The clearness of the atmosphere, due to its high position, marks the district as one of the health resorts of the State …  a quaint, little old fashioned village, but with all the advantages of the new world.

The Avon River, crossed by various bridges, enhances the beauty of the valley and, here and there, are beautifully clear swimming pools … (4)

From Toodyay, the train headed directly south, even veering a little back east, till it reached Clackline.



May 1897:  Disgraceful Railway Accommodation.
“The travelling public and the residents of Newcastle and district are complaining bitterly at the accommodation the Railway authorities provide for travellers between Newcastle and Clackline. The train running between these two places is only provided with one small carriage consisting of one first and two second class compartments, giving seating accommodation to 18 persons, 6 first and 12 second class. The first class passengers are the worst treated. . They pay an increased fare for the privilege of travelling with a greater degree of comfort but, for various reasons, they have often to content themselves with the hard and uncomfortable benches of the second class compartments. One reason may be that more than the half-dozen may have purchased tickets, or it may be that some gentleman may wish to have a quiet smoke on the journey but as the compartment may contain a lady or two he must perforce abstain till Clackline is reached , or retire to the second class division in the hope, often a delusive one, that no ladies are travelling there. On every hand complaints are being made, of the general discomfort experienced by travellers and some alteration is absolutely necessary.” (5)

Uncomfortable carriages weren’t the only issue.

May 1897: A Derailed Tender. — During shunting operations at Clackline on Friday last the tender of an engine became derailed. The mishap caused a delay of two hours to the Coolgardie express. (6)

There were also delays due to special trains which were sometimes attached for officials and VIPs.

After Clackline, the tracks turned directly east.  The train stopped at Spencer’s Brook where passengers from Albany met the train.  Once all passengers were loaded, the train continued on.  Just past Spencer’s Brook they again met the Avon River which they crossed, then travelled the last half hour to Northam, the final destination.


Gala in Northam 1907

‘Gala in Northam, W.A. – 1907’. Public Domain. Via Flickr

At one time, Northam had been the goldfield frontier.  In 1897 it hovered between an outback town and a city satellite town.  Nobody could commute from Northam to Perth for work, but one could certainly make it to the city and back in a long day trip, or in an easy overnight visit.  In the 1890s the town was bustling with through traffic.  The railway had only reached Northam in 1886 but the place had boomed in that eleven years.

Northam was a refreshment stop, so everyone disembarked here anyway.   Alice and Florrie either changed trains here, or were just stopped for an hour for a meal and to stretch their legs.

Whichever it was, from this point on they were heading into a very different country.


January 1897: Trains passing through [Northam] daily are crowded with people returning to the goldfields. (5)


1. “RAILWAY PICNIC AND SPORTS GATHERING.” The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901) 14 May 1897: 6. Web. 22 Apr 2018 <>.

2. “TO KALGOORLIE AND BACK.” The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901) 18 September 1896: 6. Web. 29 Apr 2018 <>.

3. “MIDLAND JUNCTION TRAIN SERVICE.” The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) 29 December 1897: 2. Web. 18 Apr 2018 <>.

4. “TOODYAY.” Toodyay Herald (WA : 1912 – 1954) 11 March 1922: 2. Web. 18 Apr 2018 <>.

5. “Disgraceful Railway Accommodation.” The Northam Advertiser (WA : 1895 – 1918; 1948 – 1955) 19 May 1897: 3. Web. 22 Apr 2018 <>.

6.  “GENERAL NEWS.” The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 – 1901) 14 May 1897: 7. Web. 18 Apr 2018 <>.

7. “RAILWAYS.” Coolgardie Mining Review (WA : 1895 – 1897) 26 December 1896: 13. Web. 14 Apr 2018 <>.