It all started innocently enough. The British India steamer Nalgora departed Calcutta in early November and arrived in Fremantle Harbour on 27 November 1931 carrying a cargo of gunnies (coarse, heavy fabric) and bananas. The unloading of the cargo began almost immediately and it was at that point that a monkey was spied on deck.
All Olaf Magnus Svenson really wanted was a home, food, water, a garden and peace and quiet. To achieve this, he decided to set himself up far away from civilisation; over 50km away from the nearest town; on a remote mountain near the Yellowdine Nature Reserve.
Described as a “bare granite rock” and a “waterless, hungry spot“, Mount Clara (nearly an hour away from Southern Cross and close to the Karalee Rocks) would not have been the most hospitable place in Western Australia. To his credit, Olaf made it work.
Often described as German, he was actually Swedish and was born to parents, Sven Olsen and Christina Nilson, in approximately 1854. In Sweden he married Anna Swenham at age 30 (1884) and had three children. He was a sailor which could explain how he ended up in Australia, spending two years in Victoria and two years in Tasmania. By the 1890s (perhaps coinciding with the goldrush) he arrived in Western Australia and in 1896 he was located east of Southern Cross, having decided that the area at Mount Clara would do nicely for a home.
Excitement was caused in Northam when it was reported that a strange creature had been seen on two or three successive nights in the Avon River, near the Central Bridge.
On 14 January 1929, The West Australian broke the story of the strange creature in the Avon River. While some swore that what they had seen was a small alligator resting on a sandbank, others stated that it was a shark. Most people however felt that both speculations were incorrect and that it was most likely just a large lizard. Whatever it was, Police found the claims to be serious enough that, at 1am in the morning, they attempted a search and, during the day, a Constable patrolled the bridge with a rifle. With no success, a more thorough investigation was organised to take place on 15 January.
Hundreds of people lined the riverbanks and the bridges and watched the Police carry out their search, all to no avail. Despite descriptions (said to be five feet long) and the occasional sighting, the monster eluded capture.
By the 16 January, the monster was still at large.
While today (in most parts of the world) whaling is thankfully banned, in the past, whaling was an occupation that was carried out regularly. Whales were hunted to extremes for their blubber, oil and bones. Western Australia was no exception with whaling being an early industry in the colony. Early accounts indicate great excitement at whales being killed and reports were regularly printed in the papers. On 2 September 1843, the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal printed an article recounting the news for the whaling industry for the previous fortnight. They then went on to describe “a curious scene” in Fremantle.
Numerous whales had been attacked by the whalers however it was reported that one of them had been harpooned and then managed to pull away, dragging the boat and its occupants with it. Near Straggler Rocks it began to dive and the whalers in the boat had no choice than to cut the rope attached to the harpoon.
Thinking that they had lost the whale, the whalers returned to shore. A few days later news soon spread that the whale had in fact died from its wounds and had been found washed up on North Beach, located a few miles from Fremantle. The whalers gathered what they needed and headed straight to the beach, hoping to recover as much of the whale as possible.
Meanwhile, news also reached Perth of the whale on the beach. The fascination at seeing a whale close up was too much for some and as it was only an hour’s ride from Perth to the Fremantle area, many people took off on their horses to catch a glimpse of it. One amongst the group was a young man, suitably nicknamed ‘Jonas’ by the paper, perhaps in a bid to protect his identity.
‘Jonas’ arrived and noticing that the first spade was about to be dug in, decided to seize the opportunity of being first for himself. He jumped on top of the whale and dug in his spade, only to be met with an almighty explosion! There was nowhere else for ‘Jonas’ to go but down into the rotting belly of the whale.
Initially everyone laughed at his predicament but seeing as though ‘Jonas’ was struggling, they quickly went about undertaking the difficult task of rescuing him from inside the whale. ‘Jonas’ was safely returned to land unhurt but left in a rather putrid state.
True to form, it was while digging around on Trove trying to find something interesting to post for Valentine’s Day (yes, this post has been sitting in draft form for quite a while) that I came across a reference of ladies admiring dudes.
Initially, I laughed. I thought about the word ‘dude’ and the context in which I knew it existed. It’s been around throughout my lifetime and has been spoken by characters such as Bart Simpson. To say hello to someone, you might say, “Hey, dude!” While referring to someone, you might call them a ‘cool dude’. I again thought back to the article and giggled some more. The word in my head was most likely completely at odds to the meaning portrayed in 1885. Ladies of the very proper Victorian era admiring ‘dudes’. Hilarious!
The word ‘dude’ has actually been around for a lot longer than I realised. Far from being a recent invention courtesy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Simpsons, its origin began in the early 1800s and, according to Google’s Ngram Viewer, gained in popularity towards the end of the 19th Century before skyrocketing in the late 20th Century.
Looking upon the decade as a whole, we can see that many interesting events took place throughout the 1830s. William IV succeeded his brother to the throne of the United Kingdom in June 1830. The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (abolishing slavery in the British Empire) was passed. Charles Darwin set off on a voyage of discovery in 1831 with the information collected later used in his book, ‘The Origin of the Species’. On the other side of the world, Western Australia (settled by Europeans in 1829) was still only a fledgling colony.
It was also in the early 1830s (approximately 1833) that Joseph Byron was born and, unlike the aforementioned events, his birth would have gone unnoticed except to those closest to him.
Attempts to establish the place of his birth have thus far been unsuccessful. While it is possible he was born in England, there is also the chance that he was born elsewhere.
Later evidence indicates that Joseph was lucky enough to receive an education. He was literate which gives rise to the assumption that he came from a family of means. Nevertheless, as he grew older, a career in the military called to him.
Again, details of his life in the military are sketchy. He served time in India and may have been part of the forces in Jhansi during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. By early 1864 and in his early thirties, he was certainly stationed in Jhansi as it was there that he was court-martialled.
The Daily News Friday evening edition was first to break the story and deemed it interesting enough to be front page material. They ran with a concise headline, one which would immediately catch the public’s attention:
Skeleton Found At South Perth
Perhaps readers were initially sceptical of the find. It was, after all, 1 April 1938 – April Fool’s Day – and The Daily News had even printed an image of a young boy being ‘fooled’ by his friends. Was the skeleton another joke?
Earlier in the day, sewerage workers employed by the Water Supply Department were digging an eight foot deep trench on the fence line of a row of houses located between First Avenue and Fremantle Road (now Canning Highway) in South Perth (today the area forms part of Kensington) in order to connect the houses to the main sewerage pipes.
Mr William Mason was one such worker and, as he was digging, he started to come across bits of old wood. He ignored the wood but halted work when his shovel suddenly hit something solid. Carefully digging around so as not to cause any damage to the object, he eventually uncovered it, removed more dirt and came to the realisation that what he was looking at was actually a human skull.
On the night of Jan. 5th, 1905, a fearful storm raged on the South and South West coast of England. A vessel was seen making desperate struggles to keep her course. She was, however, lost to sight and the eager eyes watching, could see no more. Next morning some fishermen searching among a quantity of wreckage, discovered the mannikin, known as Dick Trelawny, tied to a beam of timber.
Washed up on the coast of Penzance in Cornwall, the fishermen who initially found Dick Trelawny eventually became wary of him and came to think of him as something sent to them by the Devil. He went to live with an old lady and, so the story goes, it was there he remained until Captain Jack Neville came across him.
Captain Neville said that he recognised the “importance of this little mite from a scientific and physiological standpoint…“and, after several Doctors looked him over, they came to the conclusion that Dick Trelawny was between 48 and 75 years of age, weighed over four kilos and was about 65 cms tall.
He initially spoke in a “guttural tongue” unable to be deciphered by linguists but soon learnt English and French.
His features, though pensive, are constantly illumined by a sweet smile which, with his merry little laugh and winning eyes, make him a most interesting and pleasant study.
He was given the name ‘The Cornish Pixie’ and agreed to go with Captain Neville to be exhibited around the world.
While considering a blog post for Trove Tuesday, I thought perhaps I would search for images relating to Victorian era fashion (a favourite topic of mine). I picked a year (1887), searched using the word ‘ladies’ and refined my results so that only the pages with illustrations would be listed. The below image was at the top of the list and after looking at the image my first thought was, “Why are there cats on their hats?”
I then read the caption and quickly realised that the cartoon related to the terrible trend in which whole birds were placed on ladies’ hats, all in the name of fashion. While I am unsure if the newspaper was in earnest with respect to the use of cats or was actually writing tongue-in-cheek, it nevertheless sparked my curiosity with respect to the use of birds on hats and I turned my attention towards searching for historical images.
The fashion trend began in the 1880s and consisted of the use of various parts of birds (feathers, beaks, wings, or the whole bird) mounted on hats. Such was the demand throughout the Victorian era (and into the early 21st century) that concerns soon arose that the continuous killing of the birds could result in the extinction of various species. Conservation movements began which eventually resulted in the creation of legislation to protect birds from being killed.
Of course Australia was no exception and exploring the illustrations in the historical newspapers on Trove shows the many ways in which birds were used in millinery fashion.
While I am grateful that birds are no longer used as fashion ornaments, it’s important to note that, even today, we are not completely blameless. According to BirdLife, many birds are still under threat from a variety of different issues such as destruction of habitat, climate change or feral animals. We may have come a long way from our Victorian era counterparts and their disturbing millinery trend, but all of us still must do better to protect birds and their environment. For more information on Australian Birds, please visit BirdLife: http://www.birdlife.org.au/