The Ginger-Haired Skeleton

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.

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The Cornish Pixie

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.

Cornish Pixie ImageHe 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.

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Trove Tuesday – The Bird Hat

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?”

cats-dogs

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.

carriage-hat
Carriage Hat (1889) – “A bird with spread wings describes aigrettes, and a long ostrich feather encircles the low crown, and falls at the back.”
felt-hat
Felt Hat (1884) – “The trimmings are brown velvet and a bird’s head.”
black-velvet-hat
Black Velvet Hat (1888) – “On the horse shoe crown is a brilliant bird; and above is a cluster of chaudron feathers.”
wings
Pearl Grey Hat, with Black and White Ribbon (1895) – “…handsomely trimmed with black and white pleated ribbon carried round the crown, and wings and osprey.”
hummingbird
A Stylish Straw Hat (1886) – “…lined with brown velvet, the crown being draped with gold and brown gauze; aigrette and hummingbird, with gilt crescents.”
french-hat
French Hat (1885) – “…trimmed with wide braid in two shades of brown, and with a large fantaisie of white feathers and a hazel hen’s head.”
gulls
Felt Hat (1886) – “…two pale-gray seagulls mounted in front of a torsade of velvet. Their beaks rest on the turned-up brim.”

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/

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Message in a Bottle

A story involving my 4th Great Grandfather, Abraham Hurst, a message in a bottle and the ship ‘Hydrabad’.

Finding Family

Messages in bottles have long been considered fascinating to many people. Stories of people finding them on the beach regularly pop up on news websites (often with the letters returned to their original owners) so it’s of no surprise to find that newspapers of the past similarly reported on such discoveries in much the same way.

bottle

In 1869 when the bottle was found, Abraham Hurst was 64 years old and had been living in the southwest of Western Australia for 27 years. Specific details relating to his discovery were not printed (I’m not even particularly sure where the bottle was found) but the letter found within the bottle was. While I can only use my imagination as to how Abraham found it, I can go one better with respect to the contents; I can research it.

The letter was written by an individual while they were on board the ship Hydrabad. It’s dated 18 April 1869 and appears to have been signed off by the Master…

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The Prince of the Red Desert

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following blog post may contain images and names of deceased persons.

Roebourne, 13 August 1889

Mr. Alex. Edgar has arrived in town. While in Condon he received a letter from Mr. Alexander McPhee saying that he had caught a white native about 260 miles inland from Condon, and adding that he wanted to arrive in Condon by mail day.

Unable to arrive in Condon in time, Alexander McPhee (with the Aboriginal man in tow) instead sent a telegram addressed to Mr Edgar in Roebourne which provided additional information about the man. Described as having albinism, the man was considered to be as “white as any white man” and sported light brown hair and sandy whiskers.

Several days later the Acting Government Resident at Roebourne, Mr R. C. Hare, sent a telegram to the Colonial Secretary.

capture

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Australia’s Cat Invasion

derbyshire-times-chesterfield-herald-21-mar-1857

2,000 cats wanted in Australia. I looked at the above article from 1857 in horror and wondered about its authenticity. Surely not. My attention caught and completely distracted from my family history research, I began to search for more information. What I discovered was a story completely unknown to me; a story which has turned all that I’d known (and assumed) about feral cats completely on its head.

While I have yet to confirm whether the above article is real it was subsequent research which led me to discover more information about the story of cats in Australia. Before discussing cats however, it’s important to provide some background, namely, the history of the rabbit in Australia.

Domesticated rabbits were first introduced in Australia by the First Fleet in 1788. Most likely used as a source of food, they remained largely out of the early newspaper articles. They were eventually brought over to Tasmania and by 1827 it was noted that the wild rabbit population had exploded. While there was a rabbit population on the mainland, these seem to have been mainly kept in captivity. It wasn’t until the late 1850s that rabbits were released in several areas in the hope of establishing a population specifically for hunting. In 1859, 24 rabbits were released by Thomas Austin on his property in Victoria and it is said that the current infestation stems from this group.

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Trove Tuesday – Dirk Hartog

plate

In 1616, Dirk Hartog, in command of the Dutch ship ‘Eendracht’ left Holland bound for Batavia (today’s Jakarta). He was employed by the Dutch East India Company and was accompanied by several other ships when they became caught in a storm and were separated. Hartog and the crew of the ‘Eendracht’ arrived at the Cape of Good Hope without the other ships and upon leaving the Cape, proceeded to sail across the Indian Ocean; taking advantage of the roaring forties (strong westerly winds).

On 25 October 1616, Hartog and his crew accidentally discovered several islands off the northern coast of Western Australia. They investigated and sailed into Shark Bay and landed on what is now known as Dirk Hartog Island. He decided to name the island “Dor Eylandt” (Barren Island) and before leaving, nailed a tin plate (above) to a post erected on the island. The plate bears an inscription which recorded his discovery. Translated from Dutch it read:

transcribe

Today marks the 400th anniversary of Dirk Hartog’s discovery of the coast of Western Australia and, seeing as though it also happened to coincide with Trove Tuesday, I thought I’d delve into the historical newspapers on Trove to see how Dirk Hartog and the Island were featured over the years.

A letter by T.J.M. dated February 1827 and printed in The Australian provides us with the earliest mention of ‘Dirk Hartog’ in the papers. The writer, in discussing how to help Australia grow, stated that no more convicts should be sent to Sydney or Hobart. It was instead suggested a penal settlement be established in the areas of Shark Bay and Dirk Hartog Island but there was some concern when considering who had claimed the land.

But here a new question presents itself; that part of New Holland being claimed by the Dutch, it would be necessary to obtain it from them, either by purchase or exchange.

In 1864 it was reported in The Inquirer and Commercial News that a Mr Turnbull from Victoria had made an application to the Western Australian Government to lease Dirk Hartog Island.

lease

It would appear that Mr Turnbull’s application was unsuccessful or he decided not to go ahead with it because by 1867, Francis Louis Von Bibra had applied for and, in 1869, was granted a pastoral lease over the Island. Incidentally, I have a family connection to Francis Louis Von Bibra. On 26 October 1869 he married Mercy Everett (nee Crampton), my 2nd Great Grandfather’s sister.

It was Von Bibra’s son, Leopold, who (with an exploring party) in 1874 discovered human remains buried on the Island. Thought to have been a ‘malay’ the skull was sent to Perth and likely deposited in the Museum.

human-remains

In 1879 Western Australia celebrated 50 years of European Settlement and The Inquirer and Commercial News provided a very brief (rumoured) history of Dirk Hartog stating that “…there is an old tradition in Holland that the famous Dutch pirate Dirk Hartog buried enormous treasures at some locality along its shores, perhaps on the island which still bears his name.

Most articles throughout this time period continued in much the same way. While it appears this was the first instance in which Hartog’s name was printed in association with buried treasure, other attempts at describing the history of the Dutch in Western Australia were often vague and generally constrained to a sentence or two. While it’s possible they didn’t have a lot to tell, it’s also likely that the English preferred to tell their own stories when it came to the history of Australia.

The first pictorial image relating to Dirk Hartog Island was printed in the South Australian newspaper, The Pictorial Australian, in 1891 and was sent in by Mr E. E. Nesbit of Perth. Drawn from a photo taken by Mr Berringer of Shark Bay, it featured the post which Dirk Hartog used to affix the tin plate. It was said Mr Berringer carried his camera 30 miles on horseback in order to take the photo.

post

post-information

Other pictorials showing Dirk Hartog Island were printed in the Australian Town and Country Journal and are well worth a look on Trove. You can view the images here: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page5243655

1916 marked 300 years since Dirk Hartog’s arrival in Shark Bay. Unlike today where celebrations have taken place over several days, the occasion was marked by a special meeting of the Royal Historical Society of Western Australia and a lecture given by Mr Siebenhaar held at the Museum. Relics connected to the discovery and settlement of parts of Western Australia (post Dirk Hartog) were put on display and kept on display for the public to view.

In 2016, the 1616 Dirk Hartog Festival celebrating the 400th anniversary has been in full swing since the 21 October with the last day being today. For more information about the festival, please visit the website: http://www.sharkbay1616.com.au/. Otherwise you may like to watch the video below for a snapshot of all the events so far.

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Trove Tuesday – The Karrkaratul

Last week I came across an ABC news article about the sighting of a marsupial mole (Notoryctes Caurinus) by Kiwirrkurra Rangers from the Tjamu Tjamu Aboriginal Corporation. Known as the karrkaratul, it spends most of its life underground and is rarely seen. Reading about the mole and watching the Corporation’s amazing video (above) led me to think about Trove. I wondered what information on the marsupial mole could be found within the historical newspapers. A perfect post for Trove Tuesday!

While the Indigenous people would’ve known about the mole for thousands of years, European people first came across a similar species (Notoryctes Typhlops) in 1888 when Mr Benham (working on Idracowra Station in South Australia) found it amongst the sandhills. Unfortunately for this poor little mole, it was killed and sent to the Adelaide Museum.

Discovery

Hailed as an important discovery in Australian natural history, the mole was first reconstituted and stuffed and then investigated by Dr Stirling (a lecturer on physiology at Adelaide University). Notes were written for a presentation to the Royal Society of South Australia where Dr Stirling stated that it was “evidently an underground burrowing animal, something like a Cape mole (Chrysochloris), but differing in many respects.” He further concluded that the condition of the eyes indicated nocturnal habits while the teeth and remaining contents in the bowel indicated that it fed on insects.

The discovery of a new creature for scientists to study (and the desire to have a better specimen that hadn’t been beaten to death) set off a mole hunting frenzy within central Australia. Less than a year later three more moles (presumed dead) were sent to Adelaide for further study.

Throughout this time Western Australian newspapers barely reported on the discovery of the marsupial mole. Not to be completely excluded however, by September 1900 it was noted that the Perth Museum had been gifted their own specimen; a donation from Professor Baldwin Spencer M.A.

Fast forward seven years to March 1907 and it would appear that the species, Notoryctes Caurinus (karrkaratul) found mostly within Western Australia’s desert country had been captured by Mr P. Trotman.

Trotman

The Aboriginal man accompanying Mr Trotman wanted him to release the karrkaratul back into the wild but, he did not. The mole was instead killed, preserved in spirits and taken to the Perth Museum.

The first meeting of the Western Australian Natural History Society was held a month later at the Museum’s lecture room. The West Australian reported on the events of the meeting and dedicated a considerable portion of the article to the discovery of the karrkaratul. It was stated that “this proved to be the first specimen of the mole that had been collected in Western Australia.

Several more specimens were collected by Mr S. J. Pryor of Wollal [Wallal] in 1910 and 1911 which were both sent to the Perth Museum but, interestingly, the 1911 specimen was noted as being the second mole found within WA with no mention as to what happened to the 1910 specimen.

Pryor

Initially, the moles found within South Australia and Western Australia were thought to be the same species with the scientific name, Notoryctes Typhlops, applied to both. The two types of marsupial mole are considered to be almost identical (it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart in the field) and it wasn’t until 1921 that the karrkaratul (Notoryctes Caurinus) was listed as a separate species.

Species

Throughout the 1920s many more articles about the karrkaratul were printed in the newspapers in order to provide readers with information about the marsupial mole with respect to its appearance and habits.

Description

Tunnels

An interesting snippet from 1927 provided details with respect to the karrkaratul’s tracks (visible in the video at the top of this post) which were said to be like that of small bob-tailed goanna but without the clear footprints.

Track

The rarity at seeing the karrkaratul in the wild unfortunately did not quell the appetite for obtaining specimens. In 1940 Mr Aitken of Wallal sent one to the Perth Museum and, two years later, he sent another three. After this point however the articles continue to be informative and there appears to be no other mention of specimens being collected in Western Australia (of course that doesn’t mean that they weren’t).

Since these early newspaper articles, the fascination with the karrkaratul has not dimmed. The images and video taken by the Tjamu Tjamu Aboriginal Corporation have been shared on Facebook hundreds and thousands of times and there’s been lots of online news articles published (both Australian and International). A creature completely unknown to me, it certainly piqued my curiosity and led me to write this blog post. I guess it’s hard not to be fascinated by the rather adorable karrkaratul.  In a world where everything is nearly always known and visible, the karrkaratul has managed to remain invisible and to this day, still maintains a good deal of its mystery.

Marsupial Mole
The Karrkaratul

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Trove Tuesday – The Bush Barber

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure of the history of the bush barber. John Williamson wrote a song about them and I’ve come across a rather interesting (tongue-in-cheek) article from 1885 which states that they were once old shearers who eventually turned from shearing wool to trimming hair. Who knows, perhaps it may have been true for that period of time but it seems likely that eventually the bush barber was simply a travelling barber who visited various rural towns and stations in the outback in order to cut hair and make a living.

From what I can tell, it looks like they were common up until the late 1930s but then eventually disappeared (perhaps when people were able to travel to barbers themselves).

A closer look at the history of these interesting gentlemen may need to be conducted in the future, but, for now, I couldn’t resist sharing some wonderful images found within Trove.

1882
A Bush Barber (29 July 1882)
1906
The Bush Barber (17 October 1906)
1911
The Bush Barber (29 April 1911)

 

Image
A tonsorial interlude in the Out-Back (28 December 1933)

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Trove Tuesday – Old Ned of The Causeway

I have long been of the opinion that those who are the most interesting and who have the most interesting stories are often people who lived with nothing during their lifetime. Unfortunately, this fact also means that it’s their stories which tend to be forgotten first. But, with a little digging and the help of Trove (it is Trove Tuesday, after all) a lot can be uncovered about Perth’s past identities who otherwise would’ve remained hidden by the passage of time.

On the eastern side of Perth there is a bridge called ‘The Causeway’ which crosses the Swan River and under this bridge is Heirisson Island. Due to dredging and land reclamation Heirisson Island is now one island but, in the past, it consisted of several islands and mud flats. Living on these islands (throughout the early 1900s and up to the 1920s) were many old age pensioners with the most notable being Edwin Wilcocks (sometimes spelt Wilcox)  who became known to everyone as ‘Old Ned’.

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