Monday, 11 March 2019

Remembering the story of Agnes Dries on the centenary of the birth of her son, Robert Henry Curry - 11 March 1919

Last year I pieced together the very sad story of Agnes Curry (nee Dries), my 1st cousin 2x removed, and her family.   Agnes was the niece of my great-grandmother, Agnes Cahill, and her namesake.  

While I'm sure that members of the Dries family know the full story, this wasn't shown on any publicly available family trees.  Over some weeks, I worked on the story of Agnes and her family which you can read here.

Until recently, I'd though that Agnes had two children, Claude and Edna, prior to her 1917 marriage to Robert Curry who became the superintendent of Palm Island in 1919.  Their son, Robbie, was born 100 years ago today.

Agnes died on 10 November 1929 in hospital at Townsville with pregnancy complications.  Her husband was grief stricken and under investigation by the Queensland Government into a range of allegations which were subsequently found to be unsubstantiated.  

On the morning of 3 February 1930, he shot his son Robbie and step-daughter Edna and set fire to their home.  He ran amok during the day and was shot at 6pm that evening and died.  Little Robbie was just short of his 11th birthday and Edna was 20.

Claude Dries was 23 and living in Wyong at the time.  He died in 1956 when he was struck a car in Burns Bay Road at Lane Cove in Sydney.

There the story remained until a DNA match came along a couple of months ago which made me look at Agnes and her children again....

On 19 July 1914, Agnes had another child, Margaret Mary Mathers, in Warwick, Queensland.  Agnes older brother, Henry, was living in Warwick at the time of Margaret's birth.  It seems that Margaret was living with Henry and his family before moving to the Maitland area where she lived with an aunt.

Recently, this was verified with Agnes's death certificate.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

How a DNA match led to finding Agnes's older brother, Thomas Cahill. Or is it Carroll?

Thomas John Cahill was born on 26 August 1866 at Black Creek (near Singleton), NSW.  He's the eight of the eleven children of James Cahill and his wife, Eliza Dunn.   Agnes was the next child born.  Cahill family historians have been searching for Thomas for years.  Twelve trees on feature Thomas and, until 2 weeks ago, none included any details of Thomas's life after his birth.  We did think that Thomas was alive at the time of his mother's death in 1890 as he's recorded on Eliza's death certificate as "living" and aged 25.  

Genetic genealogy is a tool that I'm using more and more in my family history research.  Last August, "ER" reported as a match to me and other "Cahill/Dunn cousins" at AncestryDNA.  ER's predicted relationship to me was 4th cousin ie predicted that we shared 3rd great-grandparents.  I messaged "ER" a number of times but, as is too often the case, no response.  "ER" did have a small tree and, when all else fails, you use what's there, build a tree and see where it takes you!  

ER's tree on
Up and down rabbit holes until a search on the NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages register revealed that Isabell Mary Baldwin had married Michael Patrick Carroll in 1936 in Lismore, NSW.  Back to to see what I could find about the family of Isabell and Michael including looking at other people's trees.  I hit gold!  "PaulV_AUS" had a tree showing Thomas John Carroll was the father of Michael.  Thomas was shown as born in 1863 in East Maitland to James Carroll and Elizabeth Dunn.  Surely this was Thomas John Cahill, our missing many times great uncle!!!  

Thomas John Carroll in PaulV_AUS's tree 
This breakthrough tree also shows the need to check and double check everything you find.  It shows a 1863 birth registration for Thomas - "NSW BDM# 1722/1863".  A quick search of the register shows that this is for Thomas Carroll born in 1863 in Sydney to James and Mary - not our Thomas J Cahill (NSW BDM 13343/1866).

An incorrect and correct birth registration
A "Carroll" family historian had purchased the 1907 marriage transcript for Thomas Carroll and Emily Williams (all known as Hookeywin) and Thomas Carroll's 1931 death registration.  Within 2 days, I also had both transcripts.  On the marriage transcript, Thomas Cahill is shown as a 44 year old bachelor born in Maitland to James Carroll (deceased) and Elizabeth Dunn (deceased).  Thomas is shown as a labourer.  We now know that, like his father and brother, James, worked for the NSW Railways which is likely what had taken him to Grafton.

While I'm still researching the family of Thomas and Emily, I'm reasonably confident that they had 12 children.  One child, Thomas J, died as a child and another, James F, died as a infant.  To this point, I've been unable to locate a birth, marriage or death registration for Elizabeth.  She's mentioned in a newspaper article written after the death of Emily, her mother, in 1951.  

"ER" is the only DNA match from a descendant of Thomas and Emily that we know of at present. She's a great-granddaughter of Thomas and Emily - my 3rd cousin.

Thomas died on 25 March 1931 at the State Hospital and Home in Lidcombe, NSW.  The informant on his death registration is Albert Lord who was the senior clerk at the hospital.  As is often the case in such situation, the information is "patchy".  Thomas's age has been altered from 74 to 67 - he was 64.  He's shown as born at West Maitland to Joseph Cahill and (unnamed) Dunn.  His wife is shown as Emily Williams but there's only one child of the marriage recorded - George aged 33. Thomas is buried Rookwood Catholic Cemetery.  

There's still more of the story of Thomas and his family to be uncovered but it's good to have reunited him with his birth family.  

Saturday, 5 May 2018

The Golden State Killer and DNA

You've probably heard how DNA was used to apprehend the alleged Golden State Killer.
Knowing that I use genetic genealogy in my family history research, friends and family have spoken to me about how this unfolded.
Upfront, I should say that the Police didn't use one of the commercial testing companies like AncestryDNA. They used which allows people to upload their DNA data from the commercial testing companies to a common platform.
Roberta Estes, a US based genetic genealogist, has published a very detailed article today that some may be interested in reading. Roberta makes the point that there's been little coverage of the same process being followed to identify a murder victim just 13 days earlier. The victim, known as the Buckskin Girl, was found in 1981 and identified as 21 year old Marcia Lenore King earlier in the month.
At the end of the article, Roberta details why she's keeping her DNA online. Mine's staying online as well.
Please contact me if you want any more information.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

ANZAC Day 2018 - James Oswald Woodlands, his cousin, Alphonsus Cahill, and his son, Francis James Woodlands

Anzac Day goes beyond the anniversary of the landing on Gallipoli in 1915. It is the day on which we remember all Australians who served and died in war and on operational service past and present. The spirit of Anzac, with its qualities of courage, mateship, and sacrifice, continues to have meaning and relevance for our sense of national identity.

James Oswald (Jim) Woodlands was born on 20 September 1891 in Newcastle.  He was the son of Agnes Cahill from her relationship with Cornelius Bray, a Cornish stonemason who was living in the area at the time.  You can read more about Jim, Agnes and Cornelius here.  As far as we know, Jim never met his father and was 10 when Agnes married James Woodland.
James Oswald Woodlands
On 31 May 1917, aged 25, Jim enlisted in the 32nd Battalion 1st Australian Light Horse at Newcastle.  He showed his occupation as a grocer of "Cavan", Watkins Street, The Junction, Newcastle.  Jim left Melbourne on 28 October 1917 and arrived in Suez on 10 December 1917.  Jim's service was in the Middle East - Moascar, Port Said and Gaza - and, while he had short periods of time in hospital for sickness, he was not injured.
The last tents of Moascar
Jim returned to Australia on 24 April 1919 and was discharged on 23 June 1919.  He didn't return to Newcastle and married Margaret Essie (Essie) Gersbach on 9 August 1919 at St Michael's Catholic Church, Stanmore.  Jim and Essie are my grandparents.
Jim's cousin was Alphonsus (Allie) Cahill.  He was the son of Agnes's older brother, James, and his wife Isabella Cahill (nee Hogan).  We don't know if Jim and Allie ever met prior to the war.  However, I'll be thinking of Allie this Anzac Day.  He's a much loved and rememberer by the descendants of James and Isabella Cahill who share his story across the generations.     
Alphonsus Cahill
This is what his great-nephew, Chris, wrote about Alphonsus-
"Alphonsus was born in 06 October 1894 at Minimbah near Singleton.  One of 11 children, he was to spend his youth, attend school and work in the Singleton district for all of his short life.  In 1916, by the age of 21 he was living with his family on the property "Corinda" at Lower Belford, across the river directly opposite Glendon.  He was working at the Singleton Dairy Company and had already enlisted in the Australian 6th Light Horse, most likely in a reserve capacity.
On the 16th March, 1916, Alphonsus enlisted in the 34th Battalion 2nd reinforcements at Maitland.  The 34th was to become known as "Maitland's Own" though counted among its recruits young men from as far afield as Walgett in north west NSW.
The 34th including Alphonsus embarked on the HMAT Port Sydney on September 4th, 1916 disembarking at Plymouth England on October 29th 6 weeks later.  Following further combat training in England, his battalion was transported to France in February 1917.  By June 1917, the 34th was heavily engaged in fighting including the Battle of Messines where in spite of heavy casualties often inflicted by gas bombardment, the battalion took and secured Messines Ridge.  Following this achievement, the 34th continued to rotate as relief troops and further training before marching to join the First Battle of Passchendaele on October 12, 1917.
It was on this day that a major offensive was launched at dawn with staged objectives including the taking of Passchendaele village. Australian, New Zealand, British and Canadian troops alike were sent into battle in the most appalling conditions, through knee deep mud and driving rains.  The poor strategic decisions of the British Military command are well documented and one can only wonder what the outcome may have been with better management of the operation.
Throughout this day, the casualties rose to 50%.  Years of artillery bombardment had already turned these beautiful pastures into a crater marked, muddy landscape.  There are accounts of men so badly entrapped in mud that they actually drowned where they stood, if not victim to enemy gun and shell fire.  It was during this hellish morning that Alphonsus Cahill made the ultimate sacrifice for “King and Country”.   His death was witnessed by his digger mates who later gave accounts to the Red Cross wounded and missing division.  He was never recovered and to this day lies in eternal peace with many of his comrades and his foe alike.
There are a number of scanned copies of letters between his Father James Cahill and the Base Records Office in Melbourne, desperately seeking news of his son’s circumstance. The emotional reality of not knowing is evident throughout this correspondence, but of course, they like so many parents of service people in this and other conflicts were hardly alone.
Alphonsus Cahill is commemorated here at St Patrick’s Church with other fallen Parishioners at the altar rail and in a beautiful tribute through the stained glass window on the south wall of the church. So, on the 12th of October, 2017, 100 years hence, we honour the memory of this young farm lad from Lower Belford. Rest forever in peace Ally, we will remember you."

On the centenary of Allie's death, Chris and his wife, Sharon, were there between Zonnebeke and Passchendaele, Belgium where Allie and so many of his mates rest.  They then attend the Last Post Service at Menin Gate, Ypres.

After the loss of so many in the First World War and the ongoing trauma of those who survived, the Second World War followed all to quickly.

Jim Woodlands' son and my Dad, Francis James (Frank) Woodlands served in the Second Australian Imperial Force and fought in New Guinea and New Britain.  Anzac Day was always a solemn day in our family home.   Frank would watch the Sydney March on TV but never attended.  He left a letter to be opened after his death that revealed the most I ever knew about Dad's war service and the conditions that he endured along with so many other soldiers.  

Lest we forget

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Michael Cahill - brother to Agnes - was born on this day 150 years ago!

Michael was born on 23 March 1868 at Belford in the Singleton district of NSW.  He was the tenth of the eleventh children of James and Eliza Cahill.  Agnes was the ninth child.

Michael was our 1st, 2nd or 3rd great-uncle.  He was probably named after Eliza's older brother who was born about 1828 in Johns Well, County Kilkenny, Ireland.  James and Eliza had left there family behind in 1855 to live in Australia.  Michael's older brother, James, married Isabella Hogan, and their first son was called Micheal.  He was born in 1885 also at Belford.

There are only fragments of Michael's life that survive after his birth in 1868.  

On 9 November 1891, when he was 25, Michael appears in Maitland Goal's Entrance Book.  His conviction was for being drunk.  He was sentenced to 24 hours in goal or a 10 shilling fine.  Michael chose the 24 hours!  So through this brief encounter with the law, we find a few things about Michael.  He was 5 feet 8 inches, stout build with fresh complexion, red hair and blue eyes.  He was working as a labourer and could read and write.  

1891 NSW Goal Entrance Book
Michael did not marry.  His death notice is the only other reference that I can find.  He died on 17 February 1950, aged 81, at St Joseph's Hospice Lismore and is buried in Lismore Cemetery.  We read that he moved to Kyogle as a young man and then lived in Busbys Flat which is about 70 kilometres south west of Lismore.  He moved to the Hospice in Lismore about four years before his death.  I can't locate any other family members who lived in the area at the time.  As his father and brother, James, worked for the NSW Railways, I'm wondering if this is where Michael worked and that's what took him to Kyogle.  Did you ever meet Michael?

Michael Cahill's 1950 death notice

Sunday, 4 March 2018

"Field trip" to Newcastle yields an unexpected thrill!

The last weekend of February was my first opportunity to visit Newcastle since I've become interested in my family history.  In planning and executing my "field trips", I'm looking for places that were significant to my family many years ago and getting a sense of the current "vibe" - great accommodation and eateries add a lot to the experience.

To recap...

Agnes Cahill is my "Woodlands great-grandmother".  She was born in about 1868 in Patricks Plain near Singleton, NSW - thought to be the tenth of the eleven children of James Cahill (abt 1822 to 1877) and Eliza Dunn (abt 1830 to 1890). Here's a photo of Agnes taken  in about 1937 in Sydney with her daughter, Lorna, and grandson, Ron.

You can read more about Agnes and her family in these previous blog posts-

Agnes had moved to Newcastle by 1890 when she was in her early 20s.  It was here that she gave birth to her five children and lived with James Woodland prior to and after their marriage in 1901-

  • Annie Cahill, was born on 04 November 1890 and died on 06 November 1890 at Wickham Street Newcastle.  Annie died at 36 hours from asthenia (asthma weakness).  Agnes was the informant and there are no details of a father.  Annie was buried on 8 November 1890 at Sandgate Cemetery, Newcastle.
  • Oswald Cahill, known as James Oswald Woodland, was born on 20 September 1891 at Dawson Street Newcastle.  The birth registration shows his mother as Agnes Cahill, born in Branxton, and no father.  We now know that his father was Cornelius Bray.
  • Myra Cahill, known as Myra Woodland, was born on 05 November 1898 at Union Lane Newcastle.  The birth registration shows her mother as Agnes Cahill, born in Branston, and no father.   It's most likely that James Woodlands was Myra's father.
  • Frank Woodland was born on 26 May 1903 at Union Lane, Newcastle.  The birth registration shows James Woodland, a baker, born in Newcastle, as the father and Agnes Kale, born in Singleton, as the mother.  It also shows that James and Agnes were married on 22 January 1900 at West Maitland and there was one child, Myra, aged 3, previously born to the couple.  On 13 Jun 1903, Frank died at his home in Union Street.  "Premature birth" is shown as the cause of death.  Frank was buried on 15 June 1903 at the Catholic Cemetery, Sandgate.
  • Lorna Mae Woodland was born on 04 November 1914 at Church Street West, Newcastle.  The birth registration show James Woodland, a baker born in Newcastle, as the father and Agnes Kale, born in Singleton, as the mother.
James and Agnes lived in Union Lane in central Newcastle from the late 1890s.  They then moved to Watkins Street, The Junction - not far from Merewether Beach around 1910.   James ran bakeries in both location.  It was from here that James Oswald Woodlands, my grandfather, enlisted to fight in World War 1 in May 1917.  James didn't return to live in Newcastle after the War.  In the late 1920s or early 1930s, Agnes, James (snr) and their youngest child, Lorna, moved to Sydney. 

I chose to stay at Noah's on the Newcastle Beach.  A great location as well as the site for a photo we have of Myra and Lorna taken in about 1917 - maybe around the time that their brother James went to war.

The next day, I was off to have a look at Union Lane and Watkins Sweet.  There was no site of a likely location of the home or business in Union Lane.  Similarly, when I walked around Watkins Street that runs between The Junction and Merewether Beach, there was no evidence of the Woodland's home, Cavan, or a building that may have been a bakery.

The Junction  is a "trendy" area with a good vibe and lots of great eateries.  Here's the view of The Junction from my table at Talulah.  Watkins Street runs off at the right of the photo.  Of course, smashed avocado is the only thing to order these days...

After breakfast, I decided to have a closer look at the War Memorial.....there was the highlight of my visit...."Sig. J. O. WOODLANDS" named!

Here's a cherished photo of James Oswald Woodlands with his wife, Essie, and daughter, Pat.  

So plans are afoot for a "field trip" to the Patricks Plain area later in 2018......

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Agnes Teresa Dries and The Palm Island Tragedy

Too many months have passed since my last post but today is the day to share the story of Agnes Cahill's niece and her family.  

Catherine Cahill (1856 to 1913) was the oldest child of James and Eliza Cahill.  She was about 12 when her younger sister, Agnes, was born - the 10th of 11 children.  Catherine married William Dries in 1873 in Branxton.  More about the Dries family in another post.  William and Catherine had 10 children and Agnes Dries (1887 to 1929) was the 8th born.  I was interested in Agnes Dries' life as she was most likely named after Agnes, my great-grandmother, and, at the time, no-one had any details of her life or death on and I spent many long hours researching to arrive at the point that I could share the details of Agnes Dries and her family.

Agnes Teresa Dries was born in 1887 in Glen Innes, NSW. She died on Palm Island, Queensland on 10 Nov 1929.  She was 42.

Agnes Teresa had two children whose births were registered in the name of Dries with no father listed:-

1 Claude Richard Dries was in 1907 in Paddington, NSW.  Claude died in Lane Cove, NSW on 11 Jul 1956. He was 49 when he and another man were struck by a car when they were crossing Burns Bay Road. Claude died and the other man sustained injuries.  The driver was charge with manslaughter and negligent driving.  Claude was buried in Morisset Cemetery, Lake Macquarie, NSW.

In 1933, when Claude Richard was 26, he married Mary Coggan in Wyong, NSW.  She was born in 1910 in Goulburn, NSW.  Mary died on 20 Dec 2006 She was 96. She's buried with Claude.  Claude and Mary had one child, Phillip John Dries in about 1937.

2 Edna May Dries was born in 1910 in Sydney, NSW. Edna died on Palm Island on 03 Feb 1930.  She was 20.  Edna was known as Edna May Mathers at the time of her death.

On 05 Jul 1917, when Agnes Dries was 30, she married Robert Henry (Bob) Curry in Queesland.  Bob was the son of George Adam Curry and Alice Amelia Wilson.  Bob was born on 07 Aug 1885 in South Brisbane, Queensland. Robert Henry died on Palm Island on 03 Feb 1930.  He was 44.  Agnes Dries' name on the marriage registration is Mathers but I can’t find any evidence of a prior marriage.

Agnes and Bob had one child-

1 Robert Henry (Robbie) was born on 11 Mar 1919 in Queensland. Robbie died on Palm Island on 03 Feb 1930.  He was 10.

You will notice the dates of death of Agnes, Bob, Edna and Robbie.  Palm Island sparked my interest as we hear so much about it now.

Bob Curry was superintendent of Palm Island Aboriginal reserve at the time of his death.  

Bob enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 19 October 1915. He was a stockman at Malanda, Queensland at the time.  He served in the Middle East with the 2nd Australian Remounts Unit from April to October 1916, and was discharged in Brisbane on 13 December with a 'mildly crushed foot' and a wasted left forearm.

Joining the Department of Native Affairs, Bob was appointed assistant superintendent at Barambah in June 1917.

On 5 July, at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, he married "a widow Agnes Mathers, née Dries". 

When a cyclone demolished Hull River settlement in March 1918, Bob was given the task of establishing a reserve on nearby Palm Island. Agnes was to follow as matron.

Bob slept in a tent on the beach while supervising the construction of the settlement. In response to challenges to white authority on the mainland, Palm Island soon became a punitive reception centre for those sentenced by courts or banished by mainland institutions. 
By the 1920s, Bob had a reputation as a 'benevolent dictator' and a diligent worker. His efforts to establish a football team, movie theatre, brass band and weekly corroborees were widely appreciated by inmates. Yet others felt the force of his domination, with lengthy imprisonments, public humiliations and floggings of those he perceived as threatening his control. His ultimate punishment was to exile individuals to nearby Eclipse Island with only bread and water.

At 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm), Bob had a lean and suntanned figure, blue eyes and light brown hair. His constant patrols of the island were usually accompanied by Native Police. A crack shot, he would fire his revolver at wildlife, including whales, and at midnight each New Year's Eve. 

By the close of his twelve-year reign he had become driven and ill-tempered, with an unhealthy attachment to the reserve. Despite chronic shortage of funds and widespread ill health, the population of the island had reached 1000 by 1930. Feuds among the staff became the subject of official inquiries.  Relations between the reserve's doctor C. M. Pattison and the superintendent were bitter and Bob was found to have twice assaulted colleagues. The home secretary's office report concluded that the consumption of alcohol 'was at the bottom of the trouble’.

In April 1929, Bob was officially reprimanded for breaching regulations by severely flogging a female inmate. In November, his wife, Agnes, died in childbirth. 

By December 1929, Bob was grief-stricken, fearful of losing his position, drinking heavily and withdrawing from novocaine - Dr Pattison’s treatment for 'neuralgia of the cranial nerve'. 

The doctor and his patient had ceased to communicate. 

In this context the home secretary's office began investigations into accusations by inmates that Bob had interfered with Aboriginal girls on the island. 

The subsequent report found that there was no truth to the allegations, that the reserve functioned in 'a high state of efficiency' and that the management reflected the 'greatest credit on all concerned’.

In the early hours of 3 February 1930, however, Bob, the superintendent of Palm Island, run amok, clad in a bathing suit and armed with dynamite, petrol and revolvers. 

He drugged his 11-year-old son Robbie and 19-year-old stepdaughter Edna and dynamited the family home in which they slept, shot and injured the doctor and his wife, set fire to the homes of other staff and blew up the reserve's main buildings. 

Drinking from a bottle, and with bouts of 'maniacal laughter', Bob took the launch Rita to nearby islands. Returning to Palm Island in the afternoon, he marched up the beach "as if to 'frame his own execution". He was ambushed by a group of inmates, on the instruction of white officials, and died from bullet wounds at 6.15 pm. 

While we don't know where Agnes is buried, Bob, his son and his stepdaughter were buried in the new cemetery in Townsville, Queensland. 

The tragedy provided the basis for Thea Astley's novel The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow (1996).  I have a copy of this book which I am yet to read!

So on Saturday 3 February, we can think of the tragedy on Palm Island that took place 88 years ago when Bob took the lives of Robbie and Edna and was later killed himself.  All this, less than three months after the death of his wife, Agnes, in childbirth.  

Agnes is my 1st cousin 2x removed and her children, Claude, Edna and Robbie, are my 2nd cousins 1x removed.