More valuable letters…this time on the LEE side

As in the last post, I ‘found’ the existence of a series of letters written by a previously unknown person who names a forebear in my ancestral line. In this case, the letters were written by a George MORTON and they refer to my great grandfather’s brother, George Williams LEE (1831-1864).

George MORTON, or George M, as I’ll call him, wrote newsy letters home to his mother and sisters in England detailing his experiences on the voyage from England to Australia, his subsequent impressions of Port Phillip and the journey to the goldfields. Included in his ‘party’ is a George LEE. Following verification of this George LEE’s age and details of his life as published in future newspaper articles confirmed my hopes that this George LEE was, in fact, George Williams LEE (GWL).


After learning of GWL’s existence in Australia— see post Tracing the LEE brothers, George, Edward and Charles in Australia as I’ve mentioned, I found him on the passenger list of the Blackwall on its voyage from England to Australia, arriving in Port Phillip on 9th December 1852.

An internet search for any reference to this voyage revealed a collection of letters held in the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney, as described on the Trove website:

1852, English, Unpublished edition: [Letters of George Morton] [to his mother and sisters, 1852, during a voyage from Plymouth to Melbourne on the ship Blackwall, and after his arrival in Victoria] / by George Morton. [manuscript] : Morton, George, 1828-1867.

George M is listed 2 names below GWL on the passenger list of the voyage I’ve described. They are just two of many young Englishmen leaving England as ‘goldseekers’.

The discovery of gold was officially announced in the newspapers in September 1851 following various finds in NSW and Victoria. 1852 was the year of the Mount Alexander goldrush which brought thousands of immigrants flocking to the diggings at Forest Creek, within sight of Mount Alexander. It is often referred to as the Mount Alexander goldrush because that was the nearest landmark for those walking up from Melbourne. George M and the others were obviously quick off the mark to get passages out to Australia.

With the faint hope that GWL may be mentioned in these letters, I requested copies. It was a long shot, but it proved to be worth it.

The excerpts of the letters I include here are as they appear in the copies of the transcripts provided.

First letter. Dated 27th September 1852

On board the Blackwall as it nears the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa.

George M is writing home to his mother and sisters back in England. Unlike the picture below the ship is almost becalmed which lengthens their journey to almost 4 months rather than the usual 3 months.

Clipper Ship 'Blackwall', 1000 Tons, in a squall off New Zealand on her homeward passage Decr 16th 1857,National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, LondonPAH9334

Dec 16th 1857 Clipper Ship ‘Blackwall’, 1000 Tons, in a squall off New Zealand on her homeward passage. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London ID:PAH9334

This is the first mention of George M’s fellow passenger, ‘Lee’:

We all jog along together and agree very well the six in our cabin…Our mess is divided into three “two’s”, Rivers and self, William and George Lynch, Squires and Lee…

All the names George M mentions can be identified in the passenger list of the Blackwall below:

1852 Arrival of George LEE in Port Phillip from London 'goldseeker' on Blackwall 2 Dec 1852 Victoria, Australia, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists, 1839–1923 Ancestry cropped 2

Passenger list for Blackwall. Included in the list are George MORTON and the men who shared his cabin: George LEE, George and William LYNCH and John SQUIRES. All English, all in their 20s and all ‘goldseekers’. Plymouth to Port Phillip, arriving on 9th December 1852. Courtesy of

He continues…

The first thing every morning we go to the Bowsprit and have a bath under the pump…We then get our water which is about the colour of tea, and the taste I leave to your imagination. The sediment is black as ink, with plenty of insects.

…dinner consists of either Salt pork, Beef, Preserved Beef, Mutton, Salmon, Soup. Boiled puddings, Rice or Plum or Currant Duff.

We have nothing to complain about since we left Plymouth.

Life on board doesn’t sound too bad for George M but he’s not very complimentary of the ‘Doctor’:

The Doctor on board is not liked…if you have a cold he gives Salts, if a toothache, Salts, for everything Salts, in fact he goes by the name Salts!!

‘Crossing the line’, that is the equator or Tropic of Cancer, for those doing it for the first time is a big event involving ‘traditions’ not unlike an initiation ceremony:

The sailors are preparing their ”accoutrements” for the day. We shall cross the line, a great many of the passengers do not like the thought of it at all, the sailors have made a list of fines for those who do not wish to be shaved 20/- first class, 10/- second class, 5/- third class. I think I shall undergo the operation just for the fun of the thing. They have three qualities of razors, the first is smooth, 2nd notched, 3rd like a saw. They use flour and rough tar, and woe betide those who have offended them. After shaving they either souse you with buckets of water or turn you into the tubs.

Sounds like something to be avoided.

He goes on to talk about the beautiful weather and he infers they are generally enjoying the voyage. The letter also includes some laundry details that will no doubt stir the readers’ olfactory senses:

We find it best to wash as we wear, for it only makes the cabin unpleasant, we have enough smells without dirty clothes.

Second Letter. Dated 9th December 1852 (including 11th Dec)

A safe arrival at Port Phillip:

I thank God we have arrived safe and well and in good spirits…I had the most splendid sight I ever saw this morning on entering the Bay. We were up at 4 o’clock. We could just see the two heads of the Bay sailing along by Cape Otway and gradually getting nearer and nearer till we arrived at the Entrance. You should have seen the anxiety of the Captain as he watched our crossing the Bar, the sea was rolling tremendously but in a few hundred yards it was as calm as a mill pond.

George M then mentions the disturbing sight of wrecks in the bay and continues on with a very complimentary report of what he sees…

The scenery is magnificent, the hills rising one above the other and thickly studded with trees. This Bay I should say one of the finest in the world, there is great danger in entering it owing to the sand banks which leave only a narrow channel for ships to pass.

Dated 11th December 1852

George M talks of the lack of accommodation in Melbourne and its prohibitive cost:

We have been walking about the town all the morning in search of lodgings but cannot find any. They asked £2-0-0. and £2-10-0 for an empty room, £6-0-0 a week for two empty rooms.

They had to pitch their tent instead. Food is also expensive…

We shall be ruined if we stop in town. We must go up to the Diggings direct.

Third Letter. Dated 2nd January 1853. ‘Collingwood near Melbourne’

George M and his mates have now moved to the outskirts of Melbourne in readiness to hit the road to the goldfields:

We struck our tent last night and came to sleep here till Monday morning, then we shall be off to the “Diggins”.

After dropping anchor on the 9th. Dec. George Lynch and I went on shore and walked to Melbourne and called on Miss Rogers to get all the information we could, and then to The Post Office, but there were no letters.

George M is frustrated by the poor management of the postal service, with a mention of GWL:

They will deliver letters to anyone of the same name without enquiries. I went the other day for myself and with written orders from the rest. I received three for George Lee but neither were for him one of which contained a Post Bill from the Bank for £300 so I leave you to guess why not it is safe to send money by that means. I am very glad I brought some out in gold as they charge 20 per cent for changing Bank of England notes.

The mention of ‘George Lee’ infers they have stayed together since arriving in Port Phillip.

George M then doubles back and relays to his mother and sisters their ‘doings’ since arriving on the 9th December. They set up camp in Canvas Town, now South Melbourne:

Canvas Town between Princess Bridge and South Melbourne 1850s

1850s Canvas Town between Prince’s Bridge and South Melbourne. De Gruchy and Leigh artists. Courtesy of SLV.

…(we) pitched our tent in Canvas Town where there were between four and five thousand people, some residents, others coming and going to the diggings or to work in the town. We paid five shillings a week for ground rent and our board did not cost us more than ten shillings per week each, so that a man can live in this way and earn his five, six or seven pounds a week, as Carpenters, Builders, Bricklayers and Masons or any Mechanics. Most of our fellow passengers have been, and are now paying their 2 or three pounds a week for board and lodgings.

He relays their plans for going up north to the Mount Alexander goldfields:

We have hired a dray which will take us up to Forest Creek for £1-0-0 per cwt. We shall walk by its side, it takes rather more than three days to walk (the distance is about 80 miles) and then we shall require day or two’s rest before we begin to work.

We have had hot winds and land storms which must be seen and felt to be believed and the weather just as change-able as in England. The flys (sic) are a perfect nuisance, they attack ones face and there’s no driving them off…

That hasn’t changed George…

There is always much affection in his letters, asking to be remembered to this one and that.

Fourth Letter. Dated 25th March 1853. ‘Collingwood near Melbourne’

1840s-1850s View of Melbourne from Collingwood. Artist: Courtesy of SLV

1840s-1850s View of Melbourne from Collingwood. Artist: J S Prout. Courtesy of SLV

At the time of this letter, the last in the collection, George M is back in Melbourne. It’s just over 2 months since they left for the goldfields. There is a different tone in this letter to the others. He sounds homesick and disillusioned:

My thoughts are always at home, how much I should like to spend this day in your society. Well we may say “There’s no place like home” for there is but little comfort here. To make money and then return to dear old England is the business of our lives.

He gives details of their trek to the goldfields, leaving Melbourne nearly a month after arriving. GWL is mentioned once again:

We made our start to the Diggings (Mt. Alexander) on the 3rd Jan. at 4pm. walked 12 miles, our dray was well loaded (1100lbs.) having two, horses in the shafts, one of which was worse than useless so we had to push as well as walk the whole journey. To begin our hardships G. Lee and I had our hammocks stolen from the dray with their contents the consequence was that for nearly a month I slept without taking off my clothes and with no other covering.

Travelling to the diggings, the Keilor Plains. Victoria. Courtesty of SLV

1853 Travelling to the diggings, the Keilor Plains. Victoria. Artist: J. A Gilfillan Courtesy of SLV

George M goes on…

The nights were bitterly cold, and the days extreemly hot. (sic) The scenery was very good but walking 20 to 25 miles, a day after being cramped up in a ship for four months prevented our enjoying it. We encamped one night at the foot of Mt. Macedon in the Black Forest. We all lay under the cart with a tarpaulin thrown over it, but I was miserably cold and was glad to make a fire and lie by it.

The newly arrived inquiring 1852 ST Gill SLV

The newly arrived inquiring 1852 Artist: ST Gill. Courtesy of SLV

We reached Pennyweight Flat, Forest Creek on Friday at 4pm.  Rested Saturday and Sunday and procured our licences and began work under the direction of Capt. Rogers and his mates.

It was not prosperous…

We all worked hard the month of January and did not get enough to pay for our food. It was quite a break to get a dry hole, we were sometimes for two or three hours pulling water up and perhaps when near the top the bucket would upset and we should be wet for the rest of the day.

Sounds miserable.

According to the next part of the letter the cabin mates from the Blackwall, George M, GWL and the ‘two Lynches’, have stuck together on the diggings:

The first part of the month G. Lee and I worked together, and the two Lynches, but our hole had water constantly coming in, so that we were obliged to give it up and then we all worked together at the same hole thirty feet deep. The bottom of it was as if it had been burnt and cemented together through some volcanic agency and I believe it has been. This month we took out about half a pound of gold from the hole which covered our expenses at the Diggings. We then sold our tent and tools and returned to Melbourne to see whether we could do better at business than the Diggings.

It sounds increasingly miserable and tough work for little reward.

On his return to Melbourne, George M stays with passengers he met on the ship and helps his landlord out with painting. There’s no other mention of GWL.

Despite George M’s disillusionment with the new colony he didn’t return to his home country, England. Instead, he married just 6 months after writing the last letter in this collection. He stayed and raised a family and spent the rest of his life in Australia.

He married Emily ROGERS, the daughter of Captain ROGERS (see the fourth letter), on the 21 September 1853 and served as the Sheriff’s clerk in Castlemaine for the next 14 years. He died on 12 Nov 1867 aged 39 years, just three years after his fellow passenger, George Williams LEE.

I don’t know if GWL stayed on at the goldfields at this time or whether he returned to Melbourne with George M. Further research informs that GWL stayed in Australia and travelled all over Victoria having a go at puddling on other goldfields, doing a bit of carpentry and generally experiencing every aspect of the new frontier. He dabbled in reporting and politics, being nominated as a candidate for the seat of North Gippsland in the election of 1861 in Victoria. He fought for the 8 hour day and was keen to break up the squatters’ land so that agriculture could move in, providing food and jobs for the growing population. More of him later…

Feb 2106 Sign post to Forest Creek Tourist Mine on Pyrenees Highway between Chewton and Castlemaine. Author’s private collection.

A week ago, I visited the Forest Creek Diggings. The public have access to a portion of the area which is cordoned off for educational purposes. The site is sign-posted on the Pyrenees Highway between Chewton and Castlemaine.

The day was hot and oppressive. Bullants scurried around my feet, diving frenetically in and out of tiny holes in the red, gravelly dirt. These ants were genetically adapted to the harsh conditions unlike the young Londoners, who would no doubt have suffered from sunburn and heat stroke as they dug down ever further into the unforgiving creek bed hoping with each strike of the pick to reveal the yellow metal.

As I scoured the surrounding battered and scarred landscape I couldn’t help thinking of the local Aboriginal people, the Jaara, or Djadjawurrung speaking people, who must have been perplexed by the invasion of thousands of frenzied, pale beings gouging out the country. The impact on the landscape was immense; for instance, the miners’ activities silted up the streams destroying the Jaara’s supply of drinking water.

Feb 2016 Forest Creek Gold Mine. Pyrenees Highway between Chewton and Castlemaine. Author’s private collection.

The London papers were incredulous that the Jaara had not known they were sitting on a fortune, a fortune that could have made them ‘the most powerful race under the sun’. But of course gold meant nothing to them; it was not their currency. It was a fine example of the ignorance of the far off English journalists.

I was soon brought back to the present by the soft, privileged voice of Justin Bieber ringing out across the gullies from a far off radio turned up to the max and by popping firecrackers heralding in the year of the monkey. Perhaps the spirits of some of the Chinese gold diggers were letting me know they were here too. In fact, there’s a faded sign on the top of the cliff in the photo above which says, translated from the Chinese, ‘Gold found here’. I suppose each looked after their own.

It was and is a harsh landscape. I can almost understand why James and Thirzah WINTER ‘took to the drink’.

The inherent value of these newsy letters written by George MORTON is that they give a wonderful insight into the goldrush and as a personal benefit they add to the migration story of George Williams LEE. Unfortunately, the joy of the discovery is dampened somewhat by the sight of the scarred landscape at Forest Creek and the consequent impact the activity of the miners had on the Jaara. Seeing the site was educational for me in more ways than one.

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Some ‘hard’ drinking in the WINTER line

James WINTER (c.1806-1882), a brother of my great-grandfather, Edward WINTER (c.1812-1869), emigrated to Australia from Ireland with his wife Tirzah (nee DELMEGE) in 1851. The couple headed for the goldfields. They found gold, made some money, spent it on drink.

How do I know this? Here’s my trail…

In my internet ramblings for WINTER clues I found a reference to a book listing the families who had emigrated from West Limerick Ireland. Knowing the WINTERs were from this part of the world, I investigated.

The book is called West Limerick Families Abroad by Kate Press and Valerie Thompson Published in 2001 by Kate Press, Malvern Australia. I was able to access it at the State Library of Victoria (SLV).

The families were listed in alphabetical order. There was a solitary entry for WINTER under W:

James Winter b. Dromcolliher, Co Lim., d. Vic Aus 1882, m. 1836 Thirza Delmege, b. Killeheen d. After 1882…

Knowing the documented birthplace of another sibling of Edward’s was ‘Dromcolliher’, County Limerick, I suspected James was a relative. The entry continued:

…Letters written home by James WINTER (see P. J. O’Connor All Worlds Possible) show that James and his wife emigrated to Melbourne, Australia before April 1856 (page 216)

The mention of this other book, All Worlds Possible, and the couple’s immigration details turned out to be wonderful leads to further research.

Unfortunately, the only place in Australia I could access All Worlds Possible was in Canberra at the National Library of Australia. But as it happened, not long after discovering the book in 2013, I visited Canberra for the Australian Palliative Care Conference. At the end of the conference, I dragged my friends along to the library. Finding the book was a very exciting moment…

All Worlds Possible: The Domain of the Millers of Coolybrown

By Patrick J. O’Connor. Published 1993 by Coolanoran, Newcastle West, Co. Limerick

The author was a relative of the Miller family of Coolybrown, County Limerick. He published the letters his forebears wrote home to family and friends in Ireland from their ‘new’ countries. FamilySearch summarized the book as:

A history of the Millers (originally Müller), who came to Co. Limerick, Ireland, in 1709. Christopher Miller settled in Coolybrown, Kilscannell Parish about 1825. He and his wife, Barbara Delmege were parents of nine children. Tobias emigrated to North America, Christopher to South Africa, Edward to Australia, Richard to India. Robert remained at Coolybrown and inherited his father’s land. Each of these sons is followed.

Many German Protestants relocated to the area around Coolybrown, County Limerick Ireland in the early 1700s. The Millers, or Müllers, were no doubt descendants of these refugees. They left Germany to avoid further persecution from the French and also in response to a desire by the English landlords to increase the Protestant population in Ireland. They were known as the Irish Palatines. If interested, you can read more about them here

It’s a possibility that the WINTERs were also Irish Palatines but I have no evidence to support this….as yet.

The book reveals that Edward Miller was the nephew of James WINTER’s wife, Tirzah WINTER (née Delmege) and Tirzah was the sister of Edward’s mother, Barbara MILLER (née Delmege).

A search of the passenger lists from the UK to Port Phillip reveal the arrival details of James and Tirzah WINTER:

They arrived in Melbourne on 2 May 1851 on the ship, James T Foord.

1851 James and Tirzah WINTER on passenger list of ship James T Foord. Religion given as Episcopalian. Courtesy of Ancestry

1851 On arrival of the ship James T Foord at Port Phillip. James and Tirzah leave the depot ‘on own account’. Courtesy of Ancestry.

Interestingly, on the same ship are two teenage WINTER boys, namely, John WINTER, 14 years old and William WINTER, 16 years old.

1851 John and William WINTER on same ship, James T Foord. They may be sons of John WINTER, eldest brother of James and Edward. Courtesy of Ancestry

1851 John and William WINTER JAmes T Foord. Go to friends in Market Square Melbourne highlighted

1851 On arrival in Port Phillip John and William WINTER go ‘to a friend Michl Yallen Market Squ Melbourne’. Courtesy of Ancestry.

On leaving the ship the boys were to meet a friend at Market Square Melbourne no doubt previously arranged and James and Tirza ‘left the depot on their own account’.

Who were these boys?

I knew they weren’t the children of James and Tirza as James’ death certificate records ‘no issue’ under children.

1851 James' Winter's death certificate

6th June 1882 Death certificate of James WINTER. BDM Victoria Reg No. 6407

The death certificate confirmed that James was indeed my Edward’s brother as the parents were the same, that is, William WINTER and Lydia WINTER (née HOVENDON).

Research done by others infers that James and his brother Edward WINTER were from a family of at least nine children. Many of these children and their progeny migrated to Australia and many of them were named William, John or James. This makes it difficult to distinguish them from each other; brothers, uncles and/or cousins, but from what I know of the WINTER line I suspect the boys on the ship were sons of John WINTER, the eldest brother of the James in the letters and my Edward.

On arrival, James WINTER is recorded as a 36-year-old thereby making his birth year 1815. But according to his death certificate he was 76 at the time of his death in 1882. This makes his birth year 1806 and his age on arrival as 45. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, details on a death certificate may not be accurate and the same goes for details on passenger lists, especially ages. It’s more than likely he put his age down on the passenger list—by nearly 10 years in this case—in order to qualify for emigration. There may well have been a cut off age for immigrants purporting to be labourers.

Back to the book…

The author of All Worlds Possible has recorded some of the contents of twenty-five surviving letters written over the period circa 1855-1893 between the relatives in Ireland and Australia.

Of the 25 ‘three are from the pen of James WINTER, the brother-in-law of Barbara Miller of Coolybrown, while the remaining twenty-two come from her son Edward’:

…the earliest letters from Australia to Coolybrown come from the pen of James Winter…(page 68)

NB The excerpts of the letters as presented here are as transcribed by the author in the book.

The first letter

….was from James to his brother John WINTER in Ireland:

Not dated. The address is Springs Melbourne.

I can presume that Springs is the farm Edward WINTER was renting in Tullamarine, Victoria that I researched in an earlier post, What’s in a Name? 

The letter (pages 68-69) concerns sending money home for his brother John to come out to Australia:

Dear brother, I am in good health. I expected to hear from the boys, as they promised to send me some money for to send you along, with whatever I could spare myself. But they never wrote to me since they went up the country…

I suspect the boys James refers to are William and John who came out on the ship with James and Tirza. As I say, they are possibly the sons of the letter’s recipient, John WINTER. The letter continues on, giving a glowing report of how much money can be made from gold:

…I spent only eleven weeks in a stranger’s employment since I came out. I took one tour to the diggings last October and stopped out, between travelling and working for ten weeks. I made £111-2-4 of what got picked up. The people have made fortunes now by gold digging. This country is full of gold. In some places they pick it up as fast as you might pick pebbles on the square at Dromcoloher…

On my family history trip to Ireland in August 2014 I went to the village of Dromcolliher, County Limerick. It’s a very confusing place name as it’s spelt a variety of ways. Here’s just a few: Dromcolliher, Dromcollogher, Drumcolloher, Drumcollogher etc.

Coolybrown, the home of the Millers, is just north of Newcastle West, County Limerick.

2014 Village square in Dromcolliher, County Limerick. Author’s private collection.

It was in Henry’s cafe, Dromcolliher, just off the square, that I met two local gentlemen who graciously interrupted their morning tea to help me find WINTERs in the area. More of that in a later post.

The square today is basically a car park for the village but I’d say it was once a pretty sight as alluded to in a folk song penned by the Irish songwriter Percy French (1854-1920). The chorus:

“I suppose you’ve not been to Drumcolliher?
Ye haven’t? Well now I declare,
You must wait till you’ve been to Drumcolliher
And see the fine place we have there.
There’s only one street in Drumcolliher,
But then ’tis a glory to see:
Ye may talk till You’re dumb, but give me old Drum,
For Drum is the place for me.”

There is actually more than one street in Dromcolliher but maybe Percy had trouble with the lyrics.

Returning to James’ letter….

…They dig from one foot to 30 or 40 feet deep. When I worked I knew a party of men in 2 months to get 197 lbs weight of gold. A man pick’d out of a sod a wedge of gold worth £180. A man may earn £3 per day. The fact is wherever you turn your face is a goldfield…

You could say James WINTER had a good dose of ‘gold fever’. It must have been quite a sight after the ‘misery of Ireland’ —a quote by Monsignor Dooley, another generous stranger who helped me out with the family history.

1853 Travelling to the diggings, the Keilor Plains. Victoria. Artist J. A Gilfillan (John Alexander), 1793-1864. SLV

The letter continues, confirming the couple were staying with James’ brother Edward WINTER at Springs:

…I send you a draft for £10. It is only a present. I hope you wont think it too small. Dear John, there is nothing to trouble me but home, when I think of my poor countrymen working hard for Indian meal∗ and to see the bullock heads left in the field to the dogs. You will tell my poor mother if she still lives she may have plenty of money between the boys and me. I do not wish to drain myself out, as I have no home yet. It is living with Edward I am and I intend to fix a living when I will be my own landlord. But not a word about Tirzah or any of the family.

I gather this means that none of Tirzah’s family have written to the couple. The rest of the letter is missing. As with many other immigrants they yearned to own their own land.

•cornmeal (Merriam-Webster dictionary)

The second letter

…from James to his sister-in-law, Barbara Miller (née Delmege), Tirza’s sister. Not dated and no address. The letter (pages 70-71) speaks of some troubles between the two prior to emigration and that Barbara may have accused James of writing Tirzah’s letter to her:

My Dr. Sister Barbara,…I first read your former letter and though far away I am, I read with tears. [I] was obliged to withdraw and when I came in to my tent, I requested of one of my mates to write for me. Now after an hour’s composure I take the liberty of trespassing on your time. Hoping that you entertain the same opinion of me as you did on our first acquaintance, and be convinced my Dr. Barbara that I never for one moment lost my least esteem for you, although I did not go to see you. I think you will be the more ready to admit this when you recollect the untoward circumstances I was placed in for some time before I left home. But the Lord be praised for his mercies…

James goes on as though he needs to prove to Barbara that he’s not a lay about, but a hard worker and that they are doing well and he’s looking after his wife, her sister :

…Either me nor my wife never knew want since we came to this country. We have the best preserves [of] all kinds that England can produce [and] Irish bacon and butter, as well as our colonial produce. Dr. B, your sister never had reason to buy a stone of sugar or flour, nor a pound of tea, as the first supply of tea I put in the tent where I now sit to write this rigmarole was 140lbs…Besides we have about 20 laying hens and when Tirzah can spare a dozen fresh eggs she can get from 9s. (45p.) to 12s. (60p.) per dozen for them…Besides this, I have fenced a piece of ground and cultivated it in such a manner as that I had radishes, turnips, onions, shillotts in abundance for the whole season and I am sure if I counted what cabbage and lettuce together with a little of the aforesaid that it would exceed £50. And my Dr. Barbara, Believe me I done all this besides working with my mates at gold digging, that is to say by over hours and sometimes by moonlight. I leave you now to guess whether I work hard or not. I have two mates who board with me and one of which wrote Thirzah’s letter. He is Captain FitzHerbert, late of the Horse Guards…

It certainly seems that James needs to improve his image in the eyes of his sister-in-law. The letter also mentions that he will write to Rebecca, another of Tirzah’s sisters. Rebecca died in 1856 so this dates the letter as pre 1856.

They obviously haven’t got a permanent residence yet as they’re living out of a tent.

He signs off…

…Believe to me to be your most affectionate brother till death.

The third letter

…from James WINTER to his nephew, Edward MILLER, Coolybrown, Ireland (pages 71-73). Dated 10 April 1877. Address: Wedderburn (Victoria, Australia). Many of the WINTERs appear to have put down roots in this area.

  Wedderburn, 214 km north of Melbourne, began as a mining township, founded on a goldfield. Gold was first discovered there in 1852.

My Dr. Nephew…You want my advice as to whether this or America would be the likeliest place for a young man to get a living. With regard to this country, gold digging is not a payable pursuit for many years past, but as you say you have capital. You can go and travel the country as far as you please and select any area not exceeding 320 acres of land, which is the highest one person can get….

After giving further details on how to acquire land, he makes reference to his own nephews settling in the area:

…There are six [of] my nephews [who] have selected within 7 miles of this place and each holding the largest area allowed. And I thank my God they are all located on one square block adjoining each other. As the Lord placed the children of Israel in the land of Canaan, so he has place my friends in this good land…

James is obviously pretty pleased he emigrated to Australia.

In 1877, Edward MILLER chooses to emigrate to Australia. He writes home to Ireland about his trip out, his impressions of Melbourne and the demon drink:

…The colonial ail is certainly the curse of the colony. I, for my part, I made up my mind with God’s help never to drink any of it….the drinking in Melbourne is something fearful..(page 75)

It’s a well recorded fact that many immigrants to the Australian goldfields drank heavily; a coping mechanism of sorts. He writes home to his brother Robert in the year of his arrival in the colony giving an uneasy picture of his Aunt and Uncle (page 77):

I must give you a description of Wedderburn where James Winter and Aunt Tirza [live]. They could be as happy as the days are long but for the curse of the colony, the colonial ail. They both drink very hard. I have been told…they were worth £1000 at a time…

And something you’d rather not read about your kin:

…He treated her very bad and that was the cause she drank. They care for nothing in fact but drink. They have a fine garding [garden?]. It is well kept, but what good is that. As fast as they make a shilling they drink it….While I was there I felt wretched and they did not care so far what became of me provided I gave them drink. Let none of the friends see this…

Bush scene, three women panning for gold SLV cropped

Mid to late 1800s ‘Bush scene, three women panning for gold’. Courtesy SLV

James and Tirza had slipped into the scourge of the colony it seems.

Edward Miller continues in the same vein in a letter to his mother (page 77):

Dear Mother, Aunt is very strong but very much addicted to drink. In fact [she] cares for nothing else, but she has enough as far as the goods of this world are concerned. She recollects scarcely anything about home, but I did not catch her in her right senses yet…I need not tell you to say anything about Aunt Tirza or James Winter. I believe what is to be will be, but all parties drink hard our here or nearly all.

James and his wife had obviously become an embarrassment to the family—not to be mentioned ‘at home’.

Life on the goldfields was rough and tough and James and Tirza like many others revelled in the early gold but when it became harder to get, life turned sour.

In another letter home, Edward Miller describes the landscape—’it is rightly named the bush or wilderness’— and adds:

..when the gold was plenty and land easy got they, that is parties, who got the gold did not keep it [but] drank and gambled it as fast as they got it. The fact was this, that they thought the gold would hold always (page 78).

Edward is now disinclined to stay with his Auntie Tirzah and wants his mail directed to him c/o John Winter at Wedderburn, ‘be sure not to James WINTER!’

…I staid with John Winter for a good bit. His wife is Cunningham from above Newcastle…no mother could do more for me. She was a Roman Catholic but parties out here make no distinctions like old Bigoted Ireland (pages 82-83).

This is John Kelly WINTER, another nephew of James and Edward WINTER. He’s the son of another of their brothers, William WINTER, who stayed in Ireland.

The rest of the book relays many excerpts of Edward Miller’s letters back home but there is no further mention of James and Thirza WINTER. In later letters, Edward becomes frustrated with his Irish kin and the lack of reciprocity of his letters but it doesn’t stop him writing to them. He remains determined throughout his time in Australia to earn money and return to Ireland which he does after years of droving, shearing and all manner of farm work.

The book All Worlds Possible was a very valuable find. It gave me some wonderful personal insights into a branch of the WINTER emigrants to Australia, the good and the bad. I hope to eventually find the death certificate of Tirza to see how and where the poor woman finally ended her days.

Posted in Ireland, Winter | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Tracing the LEE brothers, George, Edward and Charles, in Australia

Like a ‘good’ genealogist I sourced primary documents to trace my great grandfather Edward LEE (1840-1898) back to his birthplace.

Edward was the first in my direct LEE line to emigrate to Australia. I have previously referred to him in a post ‘The Locket’.

On the discovery that Edward LEE was born and raised in London, I was curious…. did other family members emigrate to Australia too?

A chance finding of some papers in Victoria, Australia relating to the death of a George Williams LEE (1831-1864), helped answer the question.

As a refresher, this is where Edward LEE (in blue) falls in my Dad’s line:

Capture john leo coghlan pedigree

I had been searching the online index, Index to Wills, Probate and Administration Records 1841-2009 on the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) website, for the will/probate of Edward LEE, but, no luck.

I broadened my search.

One LEE sounded promising. There were Letters of Administration for George Williams LEE who died on 21 June 1864, intestate.

I had seen his name in a London census report as a sibling of Edward’s. I downloaded the affidavit of Edward LEE, the next of kin of George residing in Australia. The details turned out to be a gold mine.

1864 Probate papers for George Williams LEE

1864 Affidavit of Edward LEE re his brother, George Williams LEE’s goods and property at time of his death on 21 June 1864. Accessed PROV VPRS 28/P0000/49.

What the affidavit revealed:

  • Edward LEE, my great grandfather—’artist’—his brothers, Charles LEE and George Williams LEE, were all in Australia prior to 21 June 1864.
  • The brothers’ father, Edward Snr, their sister, Mary Elizabeth, and their youngest brother, Alfred, were in London at this time.
  • All three brothers had resided in Gippsland, Victoria.

and an extra bonus was I had the signature of my great grandfather, Edward LEE.

The family names and their relationships in the document coincided with the names I’d found in the London census, thus confirming I had one and the same family.

Here are the steps I’d taken leading up to this point:

Finding Edward LEE (1840-1898):

His death certificate:

1898 Heading of Edward LEE's death certificate

1898 Death certificate of Edward LEE, my great grandfather. BDM Victoria Registration No. 5570

NB Death certificates can be notoriously misleading because the information given is only as good as the informant’s knowledge of the deceased—which may only be a guess, at best. And of course the scribe/registrar may mishear and/or misspell names. So, it is wise to keep in mind that there may be mistakes and/or omissions leading to a trip up the wrong garden path.

What I learned about Edward from the death certificate:

  • Emigrated to Australia more than 30 years prior to his death. So, before 1865.
  • Born about 1842 in London.
  • Parents: Edward LEE (who I’ll call Edward LEE Snr) and Jemima LEE, nee WILLIAMS
  • Married Jenny CAMERON in Melbourne at age 31, so in 1873 or thereabouts.

His marriage certificate:

1873 heading for Edward LEE and Jenny CAMERON's marriage certificate

1873 Marriage certificate of Edward LEE and Jenny CAMERON

1873 Marriage certificate of Edward LEE and Jenny CAMERON. BDM Victoria Reg No. 1690

1873 Marriage of Edward LEE and Jenny CAMERON

1873 Announcement of marriage of Edward LEE and Jenny CAMERON on 14 May 1873 in The Argus 21 May 1873. Accessed through TROVE.

The marriage certificate confirmed Edward’s parents’ names—Edward and Jemima, his birthplace-London, his occupation-engraver.

A search of the passenger lists found an Edward LEE, ‘trader’, travelling as a second class passenger on the ship, Prince of Wales, arriving in Melbourne from London on 26 August 1863.

1863 Prince of Wales Edward Lee second class passenger. 'Trader'. Arr Aug 1863 Ancestry

1863 Edward LEE Jnr on passenger list of Prince of Wales ship as second class passenger. ‘Trader’. Arriving in Port Phillip from London on 26 August 1863.

A look further back at the English census records for London locates the family of Edward LEE, his parents and siblings:

The 1841 census shows Edward Snr, his wife Jemima and their children: George, Mary and Edward LEE living in Horsleydown Lane, Parish of St John Horsleydown, Borough of Southwark:

1841 Census table LEE

1841 Edward LEE and Jemima LEE (nee WILLIAMS) living in Horsleydown Lane with children, George, Mary, Edward. Census for the Parish of St John Horsleydown, Borough of Southwark, England (became part of Bermondsey and Greater London)

I’ve highlighted Horsleydown Lane on Cross’s map of London 1850 below. It is situated (and is still there today) on the south bank of the Thames, opposite the Tower of London. Charles Dickens described this area as ‘filthy’.

I came across a blog post featuring the ‘Horselydown old stairs’. These stairs are found at the end of Horsleydown Lane. The LEE family would have known them very well as before the generation of ‘cornmeters’ the men of the LEE and WILLIAMS families were employed as ‘lightermen’-transferring cargo from ship to shore and vice versa.

The blog is called a London Inheritance and the post related to the stairs can be located here. It is a fascinating blog for anyone interested in the changing face of London.

1850 London bermondsey Cross Map (see Evernote)

Section of Cross’s New Plan of London 1850 (St Catharine’s and Bermondsey)

This is prior to construction of Tower Bridge.

The 1851 census finds the family have moved to Newington, just west of Bermondsey, perhaps away from the squalor of life on the Thames:

1851 Census LEE

1851 Census return for Parish of Newington, Lambeth ENGLAND. Edward LEE and Jemima LEE (nee WILLIAMS) with children: George Wm, Mary Elizb, Edward, Charles and Alfred. Now living with them George WILLIAMS, ‘uncle’ who was living next door to the family in 1841.

This census had a great deal of information which I’ll elaborate on in a later post. But for now it shows a growing family as detailed above.

By the 1861 census the family group has reduced to Edward LEE Snr, his wife Jemima and their youngest son, Alfred. They have moved to the parish of Wonersh, County Surrey, about 60 kilometres south west of London:

1861 English Census table LEE

1861 Census for the Parish of Wonersh, County Surrey. Edward LEE and his wife Jemima and their son Alfred. 1861 England Census.

If anyone can tell me the occupation of Jemima LEE I would be most grateful!

The census records gave me invaluable information about the family’s movements. They also gave me clues and ideas for future searches, such as, what were their occupations; how did they make a living? where did they do their schooling? did some of the children die in childhood? have the boys already left for Australia? etc.

Finding George Williams LEE (1831-1864):

After finding George’s date of death I acquired his death certificate.:

1864 Heading for death certificate of George Williams LEE

1864 Death certificate George Williams LEE

1864 Death certificate of George Williams LEE. BDM Victoria. Reg No. 6669

Poor George Williams LEE died in Maffra, Australia at the age of 32 years from injuries sustained following a kick from a horse. There were several obituaries for George in the newspapers. Here is one:

1864 Account of G W LEe's death in The Argus

1864 Account of the accidental death of George Williams LEE in the Argus on 29 June 1864. Accessed through TROVE.

So, my great grandfather, Edward LEE (1840-1898), who was only 24 at the time had to deal with the premature death and burial of his eldest brother in a foreign land after only being together here for 10 months.

Amazingly, there is still a headstone at the site of George’s grave in Sale cemetery in Gippsland.

1864 Headstone of George Williams LEE Sale cemetery. Section 3 Row I Lot 28. ozgenonline 29.12.15

1864 Headstone of George Williams LEE. Sale cemetery. Section 3 Row I Lot 28. Courtesy of ozgenonline. 

It reads:






JUNE 22ND 1864


His death certificate says he died on 20 June and he was actually 33. Death certificate says 32, headstone says 34..all close enough I suppose. As I say don’t take the information on a death certificate, or a headstone for that matter, as gospel.

The death certificate states he was in Victoria for 12 years prior to his death so I went looking for his arrival details in 1852. I found a George LEE arriving at Port Phillip from London on 2 Dec 1852:

1852 Arrival of George LEE in Port Phillip from London 'goldseeker' on Blackwall 2 Dec 1852 Victoria, Australia, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists, 1839–1923 Ancestry cropped 2

1852 George LEE, 21, ‘goldseeker’ on Passenger list of Blackwall sailing from arriving at Port Phillip on 2 Dec. Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists 1839-1923.


Most of the passengers were single men from London drawn by the lure of the gold rush in the colony of Port Phillip. I have obtained copies of some of the letters George Morton, another passenger on the ship, wrote home to his family. He talks of sharing a cabin with ‘Lee’ and walking with him to the Mt Alexander goldfields and having their belongings stolen. A wonderful piece of history obtained from the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney that I will talk about in a later post.

Finding Charles LEE (1841-1929)

My search for Charles LEE proved to be difficult; Charles LEE was a common name at the time and there was another Charles LEE in the Maffra, Gippsland district.

I acquired the marriage certificate of the Charles LEE ‘Maffra’; born in the same year as our Charles LEE. The certificate stated he was born in Hobart, Tasmania not England and his parents were not Edward and Jemima so I had the wrong one.

I couldn’t find any marriages or deaths with the details I knew about Charles, such as birthplace and parents, so I tried shipping lists to at least find his date of arrival in the colony knowing it was before George’s death in 1864. But this proved difficult to verify as well. There were two possibilities: both men born in 1842, one a ‘goldseeker’ departing Plymouth arriving in Victoria in 1863, the other a ‘clerk’, departing Southampton, arriving in Melbourne in 1862. I suspect the Charles arriving in 1863 is my best bet but I couldn’t be sure. And then, what was he doing in Gippsland?

I was stuck, until….

…I found a couple of messages on Rootsweb:

A lady in Texas had posted several requests for contact of descendants of siblings of her great grandfather, Charles LEE.

Her Charles LEE was born in London and had brothers who had emigrated to Australia:

In 2002 she wrote

I am researching the Edward LEE family.
Edward, his wife Jemima WILLIAMS LEE, Mary Elizabeth LEE, Charles LEE, their sons, and George WILLIAMS are on 1851 census in Holy Trinity, Newington, Surrey census.

Acc to family notes, one or all of the sons or their children went to Australia.

and this:

Am kin to Edward (LEE). Their son Charles was my maternal great gfather. Charles LEE, Emily FAIRCLOUGH and 4 children came to TX in 1886 to be with his sister and family, Mary Elizabeth LEE + Alfred Freeman TILLEY, and dau Gertrude TILLEY. After several years in SA, they moved to Philadelphia, PA.

With the details of the parents and the mention of the boys’ sister, Mary Elizabeth LEE, I knew we were descended from the same family.

What I learned:

Charles had married an Emily FAIRCLOUGH in England (see certificate below) in 1877. According to census records in the USA they had four children and emigrated from England to the USA in 1886. This was confirmation Charles didn’t stay in Australia.

1877 Marriage of Charles LEE and Emily FAIRCLOUGH Parish of Hackney, County Middlesex ENGLAND. (Mary E Tilley is the married name of Charles’ sister, Mary Elizabeth).

As for when Charles departed Australia to return to England?

I found an entry in the PROV Index to Outward Passengers to Interstate, UK, NZ and Foreign Ports 1852-1923 for a Charles LEE sailing from Melbourne to London in 1875:


Northumberland being the name of the ship. I can’t prove it was one and the same but it seems highly likely. If this is so, Charles spent a total of 12 years in Australia before returning to England.

I have recently made contact with this descendant of Charles LEE so I hope in the swapping of information we will pull the LEE brothers’ story together.

Eventually, I found all the vital statistics of the children born to Edward and Jemima LEE as summarized below.

The family of Edward LEE Snr and Jemima WILLIAMS. Three sons emigrated to Australia: George, Edward Jnr and Charles. Alfred may have emigrated as well-search ongoing. As prepared by author January 2016.

Another sad part of the migration story is that Jemima died not long after Edward and Charles left for Australia and George died in Australia about 6 months after her.

From research already done, the three brothers LEE, George, Edward and Charles contributed a great deal to the blossoming colony of Victoria: George as a reporter and potential member of parliament; Edward as a wood engraver employed by the colonial newspapers and Charles as a reporter on aboriginal affairs (according to recent contact with his American descendants).

There is so much still to discover about this family…there’s talk of an inheritance, world travel and even a governor on a Caribbean island! Please feel free to comment on details given especially if any descendants can enlighten me further on the brothers’ adventures…

Posted in Lee | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Sights and Sounds of Ireland Part 2

RTE Lyric FM and Waiting for Cows

After a short stop in Dublin in August 2014, I picked up a hire car and headed  ‘for the hills’. As I crisscrossed central Ireland over the next two weeks, I knew it was only a matter of time before I had to stop for the cows.

The first time, and the only one I recorded, was in County Limerick, somewhere between Killeedy and Kilmeedy, the land of my mum’s forebears, the WINTER clan.

For all I knew I could have been at the very spot my forebears had trained their cows to cross for the milking sessions. Unfortunately, there’s not enough information to locate the original ‘place’ of the WINTER couple who gave birth to Edward WINTER, my great great grandfather, who emigrated to Australia in 1839.

I had the perfect vantage point. I set up the camera and filmed the ‘crossing’ through the windscreen of my car. Just click on the play arrow….

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had unintentionally recorded the music playing on the car radio.

I had taken to tuning into RTE Lyric FM every morning as I set off on my daily explorations:

RTÉ lyric fm is a music station with a classical bias whilst also offering the listener a vast and eclectic array of music from all periods, continents, genres, styles …

Classical music is not my usual genre but this station was not too high brow. The melodic, dreamy music was the perfect accompaniment to the soft, round green hills and my imaginings of forebears working the land that I was now seeing for the first time.

The Irish forebears I had decided to research came from smack bang in the middle of Ireland—inner borders of Counties Limerick, Tipperary and Galway; famine country. As a car driver, this worked well for me as most of the traffic was around the touristy places, mainly around the dramatic coastline. Sometimes I was the only one on the road. This in itself was tempting fate as I tended to plant my foot, accelerating a little too much, and at times almost aquaplaning! I had to consciously pull myself back or else I would have ended up in the hedgerows.

A guy I met on the plane from Dubai to Dublin was very wary of me driving around Ireland not because he was concerned about my driving skills in a foreign country but he was concerned about the locals and their drinking habits. He was an Irishman himself and was familiar with the pub culture of his fellow compatriots. I took this on board and made sure I’d reached my destination for the night before the sun set and then I stayed put.

In my early years, I loved listening to my parents’ recount their day; me, the only one of the five children at the kitchen table finishing off my house of mashed potato and green beans, and my parents, leaning up against opposing kitchen benches, facing each other, smoking cigarettes.

My mum only had one cigarette a day, a Viscount, and by the way she drew back I could tell she really enjoyed it. Children fed, dishes done, apron off. The cigarette, her one indulgence for the day. Dad on the other hand didn’t need an excuse to light up, he was a chain smoker.

It was an opportunity to have Mum and Dad to myself. So I made the most of it and asked Dad to retell my favourite stories. One of them was the ‘turnip story’. It went something like this:

turnip‘One day one of the cows got a turnip stuck in his throat. The poor thing was coughing and spluttering, trying to get rid of it…he was going to die if we couldn’t move it. So, Grandpa had this bright idea. He got two bricks, placed one on either side of the cow’s neck and whack! He smashed that turnip to smithereens.

The cow was fine after that.’

1953 Grandpa (Peter COGHLAN) and my sister, Bern. Bullarto, near Daylesford, Victoria, Australia. Author’s private collection.

That story always stirred my imagination. That poor cow. What a dilemma. Unfortunately, I didn’t know my grandfather but from what I can gather he was a pretty practical man. His common sense thinking in this case was always applauded by our family in deference to the mawkishness of the story.

I was a city girl but I loved imagining growing up on a farm. My parents had both grown up on farms and over the years they relayed many anecdotes and descriptions of daily life: feeding the chooks, hand milking the cows, sponges and roasts cooked in the wood stove-the best, homework by candle light, jinkers, potato growing, dances, etc etc., community life and, of course, the Main Drain.

For me, the pastoral scene of grazing cows epitomized farming life. They seemed so gentle, patient, lovable. And those big dreamy eyes. You could melt in them. There’s a nonchalance about cows; slowly chewing their cud like Fonzie chewing his gum. Pretty damn cool. But from what I’ve observed of cows in Australia there is evidence of  ‘business’ during their day. Have you ever noticed how they stand or sit around together like they’re at a meeting or a conference? I wonder what they’re discussing?…And they seem so sensible; they gather in the shade of a tree and rest during the heat of the Australian Summer.

On a trip to Tasmania in 2001, myself and two friends were very lucky to stay in this little house in the middle of a farm in Mole Creek. To my delight the cows grazed and wandered around beside the fence surrounding the house. Their lazy, congenial ways added to the peaceful scene…until we left.

2001 Mole Creek, Tasmania. Author’s private collection

As we drove out, a bull decided to ‘park’ himself on the driveway. No amount of hollering or beeping the horn would move him. We were stuck and none us were prepared to do a Crocodile Dundee and hypnotize him so we stayed in the car and waited. Perhaps if we’d been country girls we would have known what to do, how to move him. But we weren’t and he got up and moved in his own good time.

So, I didn’t mind stopping for these cows in Ireland. I loved watching them sauntering along. They made me slow down which is what I needed at times. It was very tempting to plant the foot, trying to see as much as I could in the limited time I had.

I was very fortunate to visit a dairy farm in Ireland. It belonged to the NEVIN family—distant relatives. I was very touched that they stopped milking to meet and feed me! Thank you Nevins! I’ll talk about that experience in a later post…

2014 The hire car nearing the end of driving around Ireland for 2 weeks as seen through the B&B window. Weston House, Ballyvourney, County Cork, Ireland. Author’s private collection.

The hire car and I survived the driving holiday around Ireland thanks to GPS and RTE Lyric FM.

As can be seen in the photo above the car’s missing a hubcap. I have no idea where I lost it. Maybe someone stole it or maybe it flew off during aquaplaning. Anyway, I didn’t mention it on returning the car to Dublin. Of course the hire people noted it and I replied honestly that I didn’t know what had happened to it and they didn’t charge me. I was lucky I think. I heard on the grapevine that the Americans come off worse after driving around the narrow lanes, returning the cars with dents and scratches. At least I didn’t have to cope with driving on the other side of the road.

On returning home to Australia I downloaded a phone app for RTE radio. I listened to Lyric FM occasionally, but just as in the last post it’s not quite the same; there, I was surrounded by green rolling hills, here, I’m surrounded by dry, dusty soil. And there’s no cows! I’m sure I’ll return to Ireland and I’ll be happy to slow down and wait for the cows. There’s still so much to explore…

I wish all my followers a very Happy New Year and I look forward to informing the rellies of my findings and entertaining you delightful followers in 2016. See you next year! Cheers, Marg

Posted in Ireland, Sights and Sounds, Winter | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Sights and Sounds of Ireland Part 1

A sunny day in Grafton Street, Dublin

On a beautiful, sunny Summer’s day in Dublin in August 2014, I stumbled across a band busking in Grafton Street. I stopped. I filmed. I enjoyed.

I bought the CD.

How often have you done that? Listened to live music on holidays and thought, Yeah, he/she/they were great I want to remember him/her/them when I get home. I’ll buy the CD.

Then you get home. You want to relive that special moment so you play it a couple of times. But it’s not Grafton Street, or a piazza or a South Pacific island and he/she/they don’t sound the same in your car, lounge room or on your iPod. You play it for friends and family but they don’t quite get it and look at you strangely. It’s almost embarrassing. Did you really think they were that good? You start to wonder, what was I thinking? Then you put the CD away. Maybe forget about it until one year you rearrange the furniture and you drag it out and you tell yourself, this was great, and you play it. For a brief moment you’re back on that holiday but just as quickly you’re back in your lounge room and you turn it off. But you won’t part with it; it’s special to you and whoever you shared the moment with. Stick it back in the cupboard.

Of course, it’s fantastic when you’re in the moment. You’re on holidays. Your senses are heightened. You want to remember the ‘moments’ any way you can.

In 1983, during a stint in Rome on the big European trip some of us are lucky to have done in our 20s, my friend and I walked to the Piazza della Repubblica every evening to listen to a band.

The nights were balmy and the music was romantic. And no doubt our feet were sore from traipsing around all day so it was a pleasure to sit, relax, drink some wine and listen to Mario Rovi’s Italian version of Delilah.

I remember pinching myself that I was there, actually in Rome, with all that magnificent history around me. It was special, as Bruce would say.

I bought the cassette.

I may have listened to it once or twice when I got back but it sounded different in Aussie suburbia. For a start there were no piazzas to go and sit in; no surround sound. The cassette got pushed to the back of the record cabinet and life moved on.

As I’m writing this piece I dragged the cassette out and played it on my one and only device that will still play these antiquities. Yes, the memory of those nights in the piazza did return but they are oh so vague now. I do recall our joy in just being there and soaking up the atmosphere but I don’t recall the band, or Mario.

From 1979 to 2010, I visited Fiji for holidays seven times. I love the Fijian people; their friendliness, silly humour and their relaxed lifestyle are very endearing qualities. Like most people of the South Pacific they are very musical. The staff of the resorts double as dancers and singers for the tourists’ entertainment each evening. And when the tourists are leaving, a group of staff members will sing them ‘off’ with the good-bye song, Isa Lei.

The song is soulful, melodic and a little melancholy and it always tugs at my heart-strings. My Fijian holidays with my two friends have been the most relaxing I’ve ever known. Days of snorkeling, eating, drinking, sleeping and not much else. But to hear Isa Lei means the dream holiday is over for someone and eventually it’s over for us.

Over the years, my two travelling companions and I, have taken to singing our own versions of Isa Lei; we do the harmonies, the parts and sing the Fijian words we think we hear. However, I don’t think we’ve got past the first chorus before we’ve dissolved into fits of laughter. A few sung words from one of us on the plane home is enough to crack us up again. We can’t quite sing it like the Fijians. So, to remember it…

I bought the cassette.

This music definitely needs the accompaniment of pristine beaches, swaying palms, twinkling blue water and the smell of a lovo cooking. Not, unfortunately, the description of my pocket-size, drought affected courtyard. Consequently, the cassette disappeared into the recesses of the record cabinet along with Mario.

Anyway, back to Ireland.

My solo trip to Ireland was mainly to see the country of my forebears (12 out of my 16 great great grandparents were born there) and if I was lucky, I was going to walk on their land and if I was extra lucky, I was going to meet some distant relatives.

With good fortune and a bit of planning I managed all three…but more of that later….

The band I’d stumbled across in Grafton St was keywest. Their sound was distinctly U2ish. I joined the large circle of admiring fans, casual shoppers, wandering tourists and listened.  The music was lively and the musicians were enthusiastic, especially the drummer. I found myself getting caught up in the whole atmosphere; the perfect weather, the joy of happenstance, the joy, just the joy. I was pinching myself again. I felt so lucky to be in good health and just to be there.

So, I bought the CD.

I think I’ve played it twice.

Fortunately, my camera did a pretty good job of recording a ‘glimpse’ of the band which would have been enough to capture the moment but when the herd started buying the CD I couldn’t resist and I followed the herd.

Just click on the arrow in the middle to hear and see Keywest play:

Of course it’s not just the moment in which you hear the music it’s also about what’s gone on that day, the days before, the hour before, how you feel, how you feel in the space. You’re on holidays. Everything’s new. There are those moments you want to capture, stop them and hold them forever.

I’m sure I’ll get caught up in ‘moments’ again on another holiday and I’ll buy the CDs and other momentos that will remind me of being there. It’s almost like proving to yourself as the years go by that, yes, you were there, it really did happen.

Have you had a similar experience?

Posted in Ireland, Sights and Sounds | 11 Comments

The Locket

My grandmother, Mary Grace Jane ‘Doll’ COGHLAN nee LEE (1881-1958) ‘handed down’ to her son, my dad, a gold locket. On the outside of the locket are the initials ‘MJL’ and on the inside are photos of a man, a lady and a baby. There are no names or dates on the locket or photos to assist in identifying MJL or the people.

So, with the very little information I had, I endeavoured to find out the heritage of this locket and its ‘occupants’…

The exterior of the locket is heavily engraved. I could propose that the locket was engraved by my great-grandfather, Doll’s father, Edward LEE (1840-1898), a wood engraver who worked on the Australian colonial newspapers.

Exterior of locket. MJL engraved on the front. Author’s collection.

Inside the locket is a fixed photo of a baby.

The other two photos are loose. Their rough edges suggesting they were cut from larger photos to fit the locket.

Loose photos inside the locket

On close inspection of the photo of the lady, it looks like there’s a locket attached to the black ribbon at her neck.






Dating the photos:

With the help of Lenore Frost’s book, Dating Family Photos 1850-1920 (1991), published by Lenore Frost, Essendon, Victoria, I’ve been able to narrow down the time period for the photos of the lady and man to the 1870s:


The lady…

In 1870 the hair was parted in the centre, as a general rule, and drawn up from the temples to be dressed in swathes, coils and ringlets on top of the head…Ears were never covered with hair, and earrings usually worn, page 61.


This decade (1870s) produced more elaborate dressmaking than any other period. Dresses became extremely complicated…Necklines were higher cut to a slight V or square, and in most cases the bodice was buttoned down the centre front to the waist, page 59.


Tortoiseshell combs for the hair large earrings and cameo brooches were worn, page 62.

The man…

In the 1870s bushy beards were the fashion, and any combination of moustache and whiskers were worn. It was unusual to be clean-shaven. Hair became shorter, page 32.

So, if this locket ‘belonged’ to Dad’s mother, Doll, and the couple are dated to the 1870s it is not too far-fetched to suggest that Doll kept the likenesses of her parents in the locket, that is, Jane Mary LEE nee CAMERON (1851/2-1934) and her husband Edward LEE (1840-1898), the engraver.

Capture john leo coghlan pedigree

Jane Mary CAMERON, ‘Jenny’, occupation-‘lady’, married Edward LEE, ‘engraver’ on 14 May 1873 at St Francis Church, Melbourne, Australia.

She was born in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland in about 1851/2. She was the daughter of Alexander CAMERON, a compositor, and Catherine RICE. She emigrated to Australia in about 1871.

Her husband, Edward LEE, was born in St John Horsleydown, Bermondsey, London, England. He was the son of Edward LEE, a cornmeter, and Jemimah WILLIAMS. He emigrated to Australia in 1863.

It’s interesting to note that Jenny’s father was, like her husband, Edward, in the printing business. It’s unknown whether they knew each other or if Jenny’s father emigrated to Australia too.

Edward LEE trained as a wood engraver in London before emigrating to Australia.

In the last half of the nineteenth century wood blocks of engravings were the only way of incorporating pictures into the letterpress for printing, thereby, giving the general public visual representations of places/events/people in the colonies. The engravings were eventually superseded by photography.

Edward collaborated with many artists in Australia and there are examples of his work as they were published in the newspapers of the day on the State Library of Victoria website (search terms ‘E. L. engraver’, ‘E Lee’ and ‘Lee and Richardson’) and the National Library of Australia website. An example of his work is shown below. More about Edward LEE’s body of work in a later post.

1871 Sandhurst-Exterior of the Shamrock Hotel and view of Pall Mall on Saturday night SLV website IAN

4 Dec 1871 Sandhurst-Exterior of the Shamrock Hotel and view of Pall Mall on Saturday night. Illustrated Australian News. Artist: Oswald Rose CAMPBELL (ORC); Engraver: Edward LEE (E Lee). Accessed State Library Victoria (SLV) website 14/12/15. Accession No. IAN04/12/71/212

As for the initials MJL on the locket…

I see two possibilities: The locket was a present from Edward to his wife, Jenny, or a present from Edward to his daughter, Mary Grace Jane ‘Doll’ LEE.

The many permutations and variations of the names for Jenny and her daughter make it difficult to work out who is MJL. On various certificates Jenny is known as Jane Mary, Jean or Jenny. My grandmother, Jenny’s daughter, is Mary Grace Jane, or just Grace or Grace Mary and informally she was known as Doll. So, I’m not sure which lady the locket was originally intended for.

The 1870s were in the middle of the Victorian era. Times were peaceful, romantic and dressing was fancy and elaborate.

I like to think Edward was a romantic. One possible indication of this is he named one of his daughters, ‘Beatrice’. It may have been a popular name of the time but I’d like to believe he named her after Beatrice, Dante’s guide and love interest in Purgatory and Paradise.

Two large books of Dante Alighieri’s verse with engravings by Gustav Doré were handed down to my dad from his mother. The books belonged to Edward LEE. No doubt he admired Doré’s engraving technique and I wonder if he named his daughter after Dante’s Beatrice?

Purgatory and Paradise by Dante Alighieri. Translated by Rev Henry Francis Cary and illustrated by Gustav Dore. Published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, c1880.

Dante and Beatrice in Purgatory and Paradise by Dante Alighieri. Engraving by Gustav Dore.












1920s Jenny LEE (nee CAMERON)

There are no known photos of the couple, Jenny and Edward LEE.

But I do have a couple of photos of Jenny LEE (nee CAMERON) in her 80s but it’s really hard to tell what she would have looked like in her younger days.

However, there is one thing in common, she had a lot of hair!

Jenny was debilitated by severe arthritis, hence the wheelchair. Mum told me that Dad used to help transferring his grandmother in and out of bed. Her care was a family affair.

Another family photo allows me to compare the young lady in the  locket with Jenny LEE nee CAMERON:

1920s Cora Lynn Victoria. Back L-R: Alan LEE, Doll COGHLAN nee LEE, Beatrice MOSSOP nee LEE (Doll’s sister), John Leo ‘Jack’ COGHLAN (my dad), Front L-R: ?Jean LEE (Alan’s sister), Jenny LEE nee CAMERON (seated), Nance COGHLAN (Jack’s sister)


Maybe Mary JAne CAMERON in locket

I think there is a definite likeness between the two ladies—same chin, nose and general facial arrangement—to say that the lady in the locket is my great-grandmother, Jenny LEE nee CAMERON.

And it would not be too far-fetched to say that the photo of the man in the locket is her husband Edward LEE.

The baby could be anyone but I suppose it’s likely to be my grandmother, Mary Grace Jane LEE which may explain the MJL on the front of the locket.

As a child I loved this little intricate locket. I loved the way it opened on both sides and revealed miniature people inside. I never thought to ask anyone who they were I just liked looking at them because they were small and hidden. I knew the locket was from ‘Dad’s side’ but that was all. To me the locket was as fascinating as the Japanese babushka nesting dolls, a present from family friends, that sat in our sideboard. The fact that parental supervision was required to look at the locket and the Dante books impressed on me as to how special these objects were in my parents’ eyes. Fortunately, the locket and the Dante books have survived children’s hands and house moves and now they allow the CAMERON/LEE descendants to add some flesh to the bones of our little known forebears’ lives.

Posted in Cameron, Coghlan, Lee | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

There’s something about shuffling off this mortal coil

One of the greatest legacies my dad gave me was a sense of humour.

Unfortunately, our time together was relatively short; he died in 1974 when I was 17. However, it was long enough to instil in me a love of the ridiculous and later, a realization of it’s ability to build resilience when faced with life’s adversities.

Some of the funniest people I’ve ever known have been my colleagues in palliative care. Seems incongruous doesn’t it? Dying’s sad. But dying can be funny too. For those not in the profession I don’t mean any disrespect but sometimes there’s a set of circumstances, even some dying words that can cut through the heaviness like a magic wand and release the pent-up valve of the vigil. It’s moments like these that carers and staff bond and always remember.

I had a precious moment when I was caring for my mum as she was nearing the end of her life. She was at home, virtually bed bound and becoming more confused as her sodium levels dropped. Thinking the end might be near I called the local priest to anoint her knowing that in her more lucid moments that is what she would have wanted.

Propped up in bed with the soft glow of dimmed lights reflecting off her pink bed jacket onto her face transformed her somehow. The wrinkles were gone, the frown was relaxed as she stared beatifically up at Father Ben now standing by her bedside reciting the prayers.

I wondered what she was seeing and for that matter what she was hearing as she wasn’t following the familiar prayers. Her look suggested another world and for a moment I thought the three of us were going to levitate.

Then she spoke. ‘You’d make a really good priest’, she said to Father Ben.

He smiled and carried on but I had to turn away.

I spluttered into my hand trying to stifle an explosion of spittle. Fortunately, she was oblivious to me and my momentary lack of control. I realized where she was coming from, she had mistaken Father Ben for my brother-in-law who a moment before had been standing in the same place. Mind you they looked nothing like each other and there was at least a 20 year age difference. Mum hadn’t ‘caught up’ with the interchange and thought my brother-in-law was reading her some prayers!

It was funny. That unexpected moment of humour was magic. I’m sure it helped me carry on just that little bit longer with her care at home. A moment I’ll never forget.

For families/loved ones caring for the dying it is a roller coaster of emotions and for palliative care staff it is an art in travelling with them on their journey and knowing when to guide them and to offer the appropriate advice and information. I have found it an absolute privilege to be there with them.

In my research into the family history and with a general interest in all things medical, I couldn’t resist applying for the inquest reports for a couple of my forebears.

They were both sudden deaths, and I was curious as to know the circumstances.

First, was the inquest into the sudden death of Edward BOWES (c.1828-1891), one of my great-great-grandfathers.

Edward BOWES, (in blue below) emigrated from Tipperary, Ireland as a 26 year old, arriving in Sydney on the Nepaul on 25 March 1855. His sister, Johanna, was already in Sydney. His father, also Edward BOWES (1801-1874), was a retired policeman. He arrived in Sydney on the Edward Oliver on 25 Nov 1856 as a widower with his remaining 6 children.

The Edward BOWES in question, married in Sydney shortly after his arrival and spent most of his life in Victoria. He had 9 children and was widowed in 1877. His wife Catherine KEEGAN was only 48 at the time of her death. It was history repeating itself as his father had been a young widower with a large family too.

Pedigree chart for my mum Teresa Bernadette WINTER. Prepared by the author on 2.12.15

Edward BOWES (c.1828-1891) was found dead on the 10th November 1891 at the home of Mr Nott. Below is a transcript of the policeman’s report I accessed via microfilm when the Public Record Office Victoria was in the CBD way back in 1989 when I first started the family history:

I beg to report for the information of the Coroner that about 930 this morning the dead body of a man named Edward Bowes was found dead in his room by Edward Nott of 376 Burnley St, Burnley the deceased was stopping at the above address and was last seen alive by Mr Nott about 930 PM last night when he went to bed deceased seemed allright then deceased has been complaining about his heart for the last week he has been working for Mr Nott as Traveller and generally gets up about 8 o’clock AM Mr Nott not seeing him about at 930 AM this morning went to his room and found him on the floor quite dead there is no marks of violence on the body.

Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) VPRS 1920 Inquest Deposition Files. Accessed on microfilm at PROV 8 Nov 1989.

Along with the amusement I found in the degree of ‘deadness’ of poor Edward BOWES was the names of the policemen involved:

Constable DUMBLETON wrote the report and it was signed off by his Sergeant in Charge, Sergeant McCOFFIN.

The names tickled my funny bone and reminded me of the bumbling Keystone Cops.

Author: No inference intended as to any particular behaviour of the Richmond police in the 1890s!

Next, the inquest into the death of Richard WINTER (1849-1932), a brother of  my great-grandfather, William WINTER.

Richard was the fifth son of Edward WINTER and Honoria TANCRED, the original emigrants from Ireland who I have mentioned in earlier posts.

Children of Edward and Honoria Winter, Richard WINTER

Richard WINTER, 5th child of Edward and Honoria WINTER. Report prepared by author 4.12.15

I was able to access the hard copy of the inquest earlier this year at the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) in North Melbourne (below) after ordering it online.

PROV from Google street view April 2014

Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) 99 Shiel Street, North Melbourne VIC 3051. Google street view April 2014

The Reading Room of the PROV is very quiet. It’s like a library. Everyone has their heads down, trying to decipher aged, musty, primary documents.

Richard WINTER was a farmer at Nine Mile, near Wedderburn, Victoria. I don’t know much about this branch of the family but I suspect gold may have taken the WINTER brothers, Edward and Richard, further up the Calder Highway from their birthplace of Keilor.

Richard was the only child of Edward and Honoria WINTER to live past 8o. And he was the last of the 9 children to leave this mortal coil. His mother, Honoria, died when he was 7 and his father, Edward, died when he was 20.

The reports to the coroner describe a warm, homely scene; family and neighbours sitting around the fire in the kitchen of Richard WINTER, listening to him tell a story.

Some stories just have you riveted. Hanging on every word. And that seemed to be the case on the evening of 31 May 1932.

Richard WINTER, who was now 82 years of age, had no doubt gathered some good stories over his lifetime. And he’d probably perfected the nuances of suspense in the telling. However, the lapse in his timing on this occasion became uncomfortably long as one visitor, William GILLETT, a eucalyptus distiller, describes in his report to the coroner:

Report by witness

Report by witness, William GILLETT. Inquest Deposition Files VPRS 24/P0000/1220. Accessed at PROV 29 June 2015

I was tickled. Perhaps it was the quietness of the PROV reading room that made the mental picture of the cosy kitchen scene more comedic than it was. Another local visiting that night reported the same details as Mr Gillett; he too thought Richard was acting out the story.

I had to stifle a laugh. I wanted to tell someone, Hey, listen to this! But it wouldn’t have been appropriate.

Richard WINTER obviously had a talent for transfixing his audience and maybe he used some theatrics in his previous storytelling. But what a great way to go, surrounded by your friends and relatives. A shock of course but better than the result of an accident.

I’ve found a couple of reports in the newspapers accessed through Trove of accidents Richard WINTER was involved in that could have ended his life sooner:

On 4 February 1895, on returning home from the funeral of a fellow pioneer in the area, Richard’s trap overturned and he broke his leg. Accidents involving upturned buggies/traps were not uncommon and Richard was lucky his injuries weren’t more serious.

1895 Richard Winters broken leg

The Bendigo Independent, Wed 6 Feb 1895, page 1. Accessed through Trove

He followed up the incident with the Korong Shire Council, requesting compensation for his broken leg as he believed the non removal of a stump in the road was the cause of the accident.

He was obviously annoyed with the council for not fixing the roads.

1895 Richard Winter claim to council

The Bendigo Advertiser, Tues 9 April 1895, page 3. Accessed through Trove.

I don’t know whether the council came to the party.

Another incident involved Richard’s mule and a pick:

It was reported in the Bendigo Advertiser on Saturday, 26th December, 1914.  Capture struck by pickUnfortunately, the copy of the newspaper on Trove was of poor quality, but basically it says:


Wedderburn, 24th December

A Richard WINTERS had a narrow escape from serious injury yesterday. While digging in a hole…..deep a pick was accidently dropped on his head by his mule a……wound being caused. Dr Taylor inserted several stitches in the wound.

A pick? Dropped on his head by his mule???

What sort of mule ‘picks up’ a pick?

Richard WINTER had a couple of close calls but was lucky.

Oh yeah, I forgot to say that both these gentlemen died of heart complications. Nothing suspicious.

Considering they both had pre-existing heart conditions it’s a pity their deaths had to go through the coroner’s court. Unfortunately, for Richard, his doctor had left the district and he hadn’t seen the new local doctor who certified ‘life extinct’ in the last 6 months so he wasn’t prepared to write the death certificate. A situation that can still arise today. So, a good reason to keep in touch with your local doctor.

Posted in Bowes, Winter | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Curiouser and Curiouser

Alice in Wonderland growing (beginning of chapter 2When I was about 10 or 11 I had a growth spurt. My arms, hands, feet and legs telescoped out of their sockets.

But unlike Alice, in Alice in Wonderland, I couldn’t blame my growth on a cake labelled EAT ME.

Seemingly overnight, I became one of the tallest in my grade. My arms were like tentacles and my legs were like stilts. Have a look at that tentacle wrapped around my dad’s shoulders 

1970 Marg and Jack COGHLAN Mc Kean St Box Hill

1970 Me at 13 yo with Dad (John Leo ‘Jack’ COGHLAN). McKean St Box Hill. Author’s collection.

It’s not unusual for pre-adolescents to have a growth spurt and it’s only now, when I look back at the photos, that I realize how much my physique changed. I went from a round ball to a lanky tarantula.

With the foray into this blog I’ve had the opportunity to ponder the photos of my forebears and I’ve got an idea as to which gene pool my limbs may have sprung from.

1927 Alan Lee, Cora Lynn

1927 Alan LEE at Cora Lynn VIC. Author’s collection.

I recognized my limbs in the photo of Alan LEE, Dad’s cousin, that I posted in my blog post Back to the Main Drain-Cora Lynn, Vervale and Iona. At a similar age to me, Alan appears to have had arms like mine; long with slightly sloping shoulders.

Or did they just look like that because his blazer was too small?

I had a problem with blazers too. On starting secondary school Mum  bought me a blazer that was perfect in sleeve length but swam on me.

1969 Me at 12yo. First day at Sion College Box Hill. Author’s collection

‘It’s too big,’ I said to her.

‘You’ll grow into it,’ she said and before long I did.

And that was the way with most of my wardrobe…perfectly fitting sleeves but voluminous everywhere else.

Buying shoes was a nightmare. I wasn’t able to keep on the fashionable shoes of the day, court shoes, due to lack of foot fat. If my toes were webbed my feet would have made great flippers. So, with a AA fitting my only choices were T bars or lace ups. I wasn’t happy.

After one particular purchase in the city, I walked behind Mum all the way back to Flinders St station. I thought the shoes we’d bought were really daggy—cream and mustard T bars. I didn’t want to be seen in them. But it was wear them or go barefoot. Under sufferance I wore them.

Fortunately, I didn’t reach the giddy heights of 9 feet like Alice, instead, I stopped at 5 foot 6 inches. Not excessively tall but it was at the age of 11.

Following the growth spurt and the accompanying loss of baby fat Mum noticed that one of my shoulder blades stuck out more than the other. X-rays revealed I had a curved spine—scoliosis. I hadn’t noticed and neither had anyone else but the evidence on the X ray was pretty dramatic. My spine was like a snake slithering up my back, curving to the left in the lumbar region and to the right in the thoracic region.

The GP blamed my school bag. I was renowned for carrying heavy tomes backwards and forwards to school without even opening them. The cause seemed feasible. (It was later disproved as a cause of scoliosis). He referred me to a specialist. Not something our GP did very easily. He was fairly cynical about specialists, referring to them as the ‘big boys’. I think Mum would have insisted on a referral anyway if he didn’t suggest it as she was annoyed now recalling that as a baby he had told her not to worry after she showed him a protruding rib cage on my left side. As it turned out I was probably born with scoliosis.

I was referred to Mr Doig, an orthopaedic surgeon. I have vivid memories of sitting in his rooms. Mr Doig was a gentle man with an unhurried manner. He measured my legs and found that my left leg was 5/8ths of an inch (1.5 cm) shorter than the right. Not noticeable. It was a bit of the chicken and the egg. Did the discrepancy in my leg length cause the scoliosis or did the curve in my lumbar spine put pressure on my left leg and retard its growth? No one knew.

Our visit to Mr Doig was timely as he’d just returned from a conference in America and the thinking was that scoliosis was caused by ‘a recessive gene’. Despite my youth he explained inheritance to me in simple terms. I marvelled at the idea that little bits of DNA could determine how you looked just by the luck of two people ‘getting together’. I was fascinated and decided on the spot—I was going to be a geneticist.

It was evident from the initial X-rays that I had finished growing but he recommended I have X-rays every 6 months for the next couple of years to see if the curve worsened. Fortunately, it didn’t and the only ‘treatment’ was to build up my left heel 5/8ths of an inch. It was a good outcome and the scoliosis didn’t stop me from doing what I wanted to do.

Further along in my teenage years cork platforms shoes were the go. There was no way I was getting them built up. They sent me further up into the heavens. So much so my ‘funny’ Dad looked at me and said, ‘Is it snowing up there?’

Yeah…hilarious Dad.

I must admit the long arms came in handy; I could reach higher than most people my height and I could put sunscreen on the middle of my back with ease. I could also get my skinny hands into glass bottles to arrange the halved apricots during the famous yearly bottling season in our house.

And with those limbs you’d think I’d be good at sport but no, sport and I didn’t mix.

But I tried.

In primary school I took up running.

1968 Me at 11yo. St Francis Xavier’s Box Hill. Author’s collection.

My best friend, who was half my size, ran like a bullet. In my attempts to keep up with her I’d overbalance as my upper torso overtook my lower half resulting in an unsustainable angle. I’d hit the asphalt at an embarrassingly long distance from the finish line. Then I’d pick myself up and quickly hobble off trying not to tear up at the grazes that were now stinging.

When Mum said, ‘Your legs just don’t seem to want to go’, I got the message. I gave up running.

I played netball for a while, usually in first, or second defence. My long reach was an advantage. I deflected many of the opposition’s attempts for goal but more often than not the impact of the ball on my spindly fingers sent them backwards resulting in puffy black and blue digits for the rest of the week.

The diagnosis of scoliosis did come in handy at school though, it got me out of doing somersaults and such like when the school hall was turned into a gym.

Where were my grandfather’s genes? My mother’s father, William Thomas Rupert WINTER.

1893 Cup for running awarded to WTR WINTER. Sunbury Annual Picnic (Front)

1893 Cup for running awarded to WTR WINTER. Sunbury Annual Picnic (Back)

In 1893, at the age of 17, he won a silver cup for running at the Sunbury Annual Picnic.

This cup moved around with my grandmother as she stayed with various members of the family in her latter years. She eventually gave it to Mum for safe keeping before she died in 1960.

Since then, it’s moved from house to house and from cupboard to cupboard, just part of the furniture and it was only when I started this blog and did a bit of research that the cup came to life. And, literally too, with a bit of brasso.

The winning of the cup was a big deal in Sunbury in 1893. The cup, worth 4 guineas at the time, was donated by Robert EVANS, of the EVANS family of Emu Bottom, Sunbury, fame.

Sunbury picnic

25 March 1893 Sunbury News and Bulla and Melton Advertiser, page 3. Accessed through Trove.

There was a great build up to the picnic in the papers and there were descriptive reports of celebrations afterwards—even the beautiful weather was commented on.

There was entertainment at the picnic too: a merry-go-round, a Punch and Judy show, performing dogs, Siamese races and ‘Professor Tindall on the trapeze’. I would have liked to have seen that!

There was a tug of war contest where the ‘Asylum warders’ couldn’t compete in the last leg of the competition because they had to be ‘on duty at 430’ pm.

The contestants in the competition for the cup had to run 3 races: 100, 200 and 300 yards. Points were given for each placing. The one with the most total points won the cup. ‘Winter’ scored 11 points, only 1 point ahead of second.

1893 W Winter wins cup

25 March 1893. WTR WINTER winning cup. Sunbury News and Bulla and Melton Advertiser, page 3

There was much celebrating after the picnic at the Royal Hotel, Sunbury, owned by ‘Mrs WILLIAMS’, WTR WINTER’s mother, my great-grandmother (see below).

25 March 1893. Celebrations at the Royal Hotel. Sunbury News and Bulla and Melton Advertiser, page 3

A bit of family history re ‘Mrs WILLIAMS’, maiden name, Mary Anne MILLETT (1849-1920).

Mary Anne married William WINTER (1845-1883) in 1870. They had 5 children:

Edward George (1871-?1871),

Florence Caroline Lydia (1873-1894)

William Thomas Rupert (1875-1939)

Percy Albert (1878-1878)

Susan (1880-1951)

Mary Anne remarried after the death of her husband, William WINTER, to Edward WILLIAMS. She had 2 more children: Irene Mary and Edward WILLIAMS.

I was delighted to find a story about the cup. As I say the cup was part of the furniture; a piece of memorabilia from times past. Thanks to the wonderful work of the National Library of Australia for digitising the Australian newspapers, stories like this one can be fleshed out. Other resources can be accessed on the website too:

Australian and online resources: books, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives and more.

The site is called Trove and can be accessed here.

Well worth a look!

I had the option of weight lifting to build up my scrawny physique. In the backyard of our Box Hill home my brothers concocted some dumbbells out of various scraps (see photo below).

According to my brother Geoff this is what the dumbbells were made of:

Starting from the left, the weights were: 1) a lump of concrete, 2) 2 x metal car wheel rims, 3) Another wheel rim, 4) A mortar shell (no high explosive inside), from an old WW2 army dump in Junee, NSW – retrieved by Peter and I when we stayed at the Lobban’s house one Christmas! All the above is mounted on water pipe.

The construction was ingenious but I wasn’t a fan…too hard. The only time I lifted them was for this photo.

Feb 1969 Marg and the dumbells at McKean St

1969 Me and the dumbbells. McKean St Box Hill. Author’s collection.

Besides, I didn’t want to end up like Professor Kelp (Jerry Lewis) in The Nutty Professor .

1941 Jon Leo ‘Jack’ COGHLAN. RAAf Summer uniform. Author’s collection.

On studying photos of Dad I see the same sloping shoulders and long arms as Alan LEE, his cousin, and myself.

Here he is in his ‘Summer’ RAAF uniform in 1941.

Dad’s mother was a LEE.

So, the common gene pool for long arms with slightly sloping shoulders seems to be LEE.

I find heredity really interesting. So many possible combinations. How often do we look for likenesses in babies and children to living or no longer living relatives?

As for becoming a geneticist I came close. What put me off? Statistics and flies! Genetic experiments at Uni involved the Drosophila fly and lots of counting. The fly was easy to study because of its short life cycle and clear cut characteristics making mutations easy to identify.

I turned instead to biochemistry and pharmacology. Experiments in these subjects involved cane toads, mice and little bits of pulsating rat intestine in saline baths. Not great but better than flies.

1981 Me in the lab of the Monash Dept of Medicine, Alfred Hospital. Author’s collection.

And for ten years after Uni I was a white coated scientist like Professor Kelp but that’s where the similarities ended!

ADDIT: For those who don’t know me my physical proportions eventually sorted themselves out but I still can’t wear court shoes.

Posted in Coghlan, Lee, Winter | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Back to the Main Drain – Cora Lynn, Vervale and Iona

5th Nov 2015. Main Drain, Vervale (Photo taken from the 13 Mile Rd/Pitt Rd bridge looking upstream towards the 14 Mile Rd/Little Rd bridge at Iona). Author’s collection.

My cousin, Howard, and his mum, Muriel WINTER* (nee FALLON) kindly offered to take me on a tour of the old sites of my grandparents:

For Mum’s side, the WINTER family—Cora Lynn, Vervale and Iona farms,

and, for Dad’s side, the COGHLAN family—Cora Lynn General Store,

all situated around the Main Drain on the Koo Wee Rup swamp, West Gippsland, Victoria.

Our grandparents, William Thomas Rupert (WTR) and Catherine WINTER (nee SELLARS) and their eleven children lived on at least three different farms in this area from about 1913 to 1939 with a hiatus between about 1917-1920 where they ‘appear’ in Fairfield, running a butcher’s shop.

My paternal grandparents, Peter and Grace, ‘Doll’, COGHLAN and their two children, Jack (my father) and Nance, managed the Cora Lynn General Store from 1925-1935.

*Muriel married my mother’s brother, Dudley WINTER

After a warm welcome by Aunty Muriel at her home in Koo Wee Rup, the three of us set off….

As can be seen from the Google aerial view of our target area below, the land is agricultural as it was when our forebears were there. But instead of potatoes and cows the paddocks are full of asparagus; a more profitable crop these days.

2015 Author’s version of target area with aid of Google Aerial view.

First stop the Cora Lynn farm, Culdees..,

The available electoral rolls, courtesy of, for this area place the WINTER family on a farm on ‘Sinclair’s Rd, Cora Lynn’ from at least 1926-1931 (possibly 6 yrs before in 1920 as Mum said they left Fairfield when she was 3, and 3 years after, up to 1934). This was the farm known as Culdees as mentioned in my first post, 98 today…well she would have been. Fortunately, with Howard’s local knowledge, he knew Sinclair’s Rd was now the northern part of Bennetts Rd.

Along this section of Bennetts Rd we sighted a dilapidated farm house.

We stopped and wondered….Could it be Culdees?

5 Nov 2015 Ruin of farmhouse on Bennetts Rd (formerly Sinclairs Rd), Cora Lynn. Author’s collection.

Abt. 1920-1931 ‘Culdees’ Cora Lynn. WINTERS’ family home. Author’s collection








The roof line was the same.

There was a room built into the end of the verandah with the same configuration as Culdees.

But the house looked too small.

Could the difference be in the camera optics from 1920s to 2015?


We both wanted to believe it was where our parents spent much of their youth but we couldn’t be sure.

Mum rode her horse to school, the Convent school in Cora Lynn (in Convent School Rd I presume), from this location. I can now see on the aerial view above that it would have been very easy to stop off at the half way mark to school, the Cora Lynn General Store, and buy some lollies from that nice boy Jack COGHLAN.

WTR was a member of the 1921 Bunyip Cricket team as documented in the photo below. Unfortunately, there’s been a few fingers pointing out WTR in this photo over the years.

1921 Bunyip Cricket Club. WTR WINTER standing, far left. Private collection.

1921 Bunyip Cricket Club (Back of photo) Left to right. Standing: W WINTER, Lutmen, Holgate, Ted Nash, R Flett, H Parke, F Hodge Sitting: Barnes, W Watson, Smith, Harcourt, Fatty Harrison


Next stop, Vervale…

The WINTER farm in Vervale (from early 1930s – 1937) was on the other side of the Main Drain to Culdees. (At some stage in 1937 WTR managed the Macalister Hotel in Maffra.)

The address on the electoral rolls for this period of time was ‘Garfield Rd, Vervale’.

Once again, with Howard’s local knowledge, he knew that Garfield Road was now Thirteen Mile Rd. He also knew the exact location of the farm.

The farm was on the north east corner of Bunyip River Road and the Thirteen Mile Road (see below, at the site of the sheds). Note the picture is distorted; the corner is actually at right angles.

There was no old farm house to ponder on this spot.

2015 Google Street View, of Vervale farm. Corner of Thirteen Mile Rd and Bunyip River Road.

The Bunyip River Road runs parallel to the Main Drain on the north side and the Main Drain Rd runs parallel on the south side. The photo at the start of this post is taken from the bridge over the Main Drain to the right of the above Google street view.

On seeing the great expanse of flat land and the farm’s proximity to the Main Drain, I can appreciate the devastation the 1934 floods must have caused to the WINTER property.

The further we drove around the swamp the more we noticed the apparent importance of sheds. And the bigger, the better it seemed. Great silver monoliths housed all manner of farming paraphernalia: brightly coloured tractors, irrigation equipment and hay stacks.

Most of the roads were unmade and the bridges across the Main Drain were quite sparse in number. The distances travelled could be longer than expected if one of these bridges was out of action. No wonder Mum had to know how to ride a horse before she could go to school across the Drain when they lived in Cora Lynn.

The manicured paddocks of asparagus spears popping out of beautiful dark, peaty soil were in contrast to the other feature of the landscape, car wrecks. It seemed whenever a car gave up the ghost it sat in the car wreck cemetery near the property’s sheds.

Why all the ‘Mile Roads’?

The Mile Roads are markers as to the distance along the Main Drain from Western Port Bay. Cora Lynn is at the Nine mile mark, Vervale, the Thirteen mile mark and Iona, the Fourteen mile mark. Very civilized.

Next stop, Iona….

We dropped by the Catholic church, St Joseph’s, and the neighbouring hall, Colomba’s, both facing the Main Drain. This is where our forebears practised their faith, danced jigs, and did some of their schooling.

2015 Google Street view of St Joseph’s Iona and St Columba’s Hall.

After the family moved to Vervale, Mum continued her school days at St Joseph’s Iona. At that time the school was in Columba’s Hall.

The hall was also used for dances and fundraising events. It is also where my grandfather WTR WINTER, died suddenly on 20th August 1939, at the age of 64 (2 July 1875-20 Aug 1939). He was buried in the cemetery of his birthplace, Sunbury.

According to a cousin, he dropped dead whilst ‘dancing with Mrs Whelan’. Poor Mrs Whelan!

The Catholic school at Iona opened in 1914. Below is an early photo of a ‘Group of children attending St Joseph’s school Iona 16.12.1915’. This was at the time of the WINTERs first period on the swamp.

1915 ‘Group of children attending St Joseph’s School, Iona’. Private collection.

Mum’s three eldest siblings are in this photo: Irene (2nd back row), Billy (2nd back row, 3rd from right) and Leo (Back Row, 5th from right).

Billy Winter 1915 Iona school photoLeo in 1915 school photo


I’m not sure where the family was living at this time.

In the late 1930s, Mum’s parents had a farm up the road from the Church, near Corcoran Rd, Iona. This is the farm house below.

Late 1930s IONA Farm near Corcoran Rd. WTR and Catherine WINTER with their youngest daughter, May.

Mum didn’t have much to do with this farm as she was away helping her father’s sisters, the proprietors of the Royal Hotel in Sunbury.

Not being enamoured with working behind the bar, Mum left Sunbury in 1938 or 1939 and started her nursing training at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, following in the footsteps of her sisters, Phyllis and Dorrie.

Grandma’s dangling petticoat in this photo always made Mum giggle.

Last stop, the General Store at Cora Lynn…

Dad’s father, Peter COGHLAN, managed this store (no longer a store) from 1925 to 1935. It’s on the northwest corner of Nine Mile Rd and Bunyip River Rd, on the Main Drain.

5 Nov 2015 The building at Cora Lynn that was the General Store. Author’s collection.

The COGHLANs, originally from Bullarto, near Daylesford, came to Cora Lynn in 1925. I’m not sure why they made the move but I think it was because their farm wasn’t performing too well in Bullarto.

Peter already had experience in store keeping as his forebears had run the Bush Inn in Bullarto.

Up and moving to a more prosperous area seemed a pretty common thing to do in those days. The number of moves my grandfather, WTR WINTER, made in his lifetime needs a whole blog post to itself!

The Google Street View below shows a small drain across from the old store. To the left of the drain, out of view, is the Main Drain.

2015 Google Street view of Building that was Cora Lynn General Store

Below are a few ‘happy snaps’ of the family in front of the store around 1930: My grandparents Peter and Grace COGHLAN, their children, Jack (my dad) and Nance and their cousin Alan LEE (visitor).

Perhaps a new family car?

Abt 1930 Jack COGHLAN, Alan LEE, Grace ‘Doll’ COGHLAN, Nance COGHLAN, Peter COGHLAN. Cora Lynn General Store. Private collection.

Dad, having finished his schooling, worked in the store alongside his father, Peter.

Abt 1930 Alan LEE, Nance and Jack COGHLAN. Cora Lynn General Store. Private collection.


1930s Peter COGHLAN and Nance COGHLAN in front of Cora Lynn General store. Private collection.

1930s Alan LEE and ? in front of Cora Lynn General Store. Private collection.

And some WINTER and COGHLAN sporting prowess…Howard’s father, Dudley WINTER and my father, Jack COGHLAN were in the Cora Lynn Cricket Team, as pictured, in the early 1930s.

1930s Cora Lynn Cricket Team. Dudley WINTER Back row, 2nd from left, Jack COGHLAN, sitting on ground, on right. Others unknown. Private collection.

Then the floods of 1934 hit Cora Lynn. No doubt the store suffered badly with its proximity to the Main Drain.

Below are a few not so ‘happy snaps’ of the COGHLANs and their store during the 1934 floods:

1934 Floods Cora Lynn store. Peter COGHLAN standing in water. Others unknown. Private collection.


1 Dec 1934 Floods. Cora Lynn bridge and General Store.

The COGHLANs left Cora Lynn a couple of months after the floods.

On leaving, the ‘Cora Lynn and District Friends’ presented them with a clock to show their appreciation of service to the community.

22nd February 1935 Clock presented to the COGHLANS on their departure from Cora Lynn.

Plaque on front of clock








Peter COGHLAN was a fund raiser; for the Daylesford Hospital whilst in Bullarto and for the Warragul Hospital whilst in Cora Lynn.

P Coghlan raising funds Cora Lynn

Lastly, we visited the Bunyip cemetery where Aunty Muriel’s forebears and many of the ‘swamp’ community are buried.

One grave I realized later I should have looked up was the third eldest in the WINTER family (Mum and Dudley’s brother), Leo Talbot WINTER, who died of Tuberculosis at the age of 21 on 8th July 1926 at Cora Lynn.

Next time…

As we criss-crossed the Main Drain that day I began to appreciate the significance of this geographical landmark in my parents/grandparents’ lives. It divided the small hamlets and their farms with the only access to either side being small bridges at intervals of about 2 miles (3.2 km). So, if one bridge was ‘out’ it was a long way to the next one.

An overflow of this important drain and/or damage to the small bridges could isolate the mostly farming communities for days as it did in the flood of 1934. It was a lesson in the importance of good drainage!

I now understand Mum’s diligence in poking sticks into the dirt under our house checking for water build up. She knew, first hand, the damage water could do to a property.

Finally, a big thank you to Howard and Aunty Muriel for the tour and your hospitality!

Please, readers, feel free to contact me or write a comment at the end of the post if you have additional and/or different information or memories, or have a query or just want to give me some feedback.

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An Officer and a Gentleman

 Remembrance Day   11 November 2015

My poppies.

David Thomas LEE was my Dad’s cousin (and for the family’s information Ron Lee’s brother).

He was to be the best man at my parents’ wedding in January 1943, but he was unable to attend due to RAAF training commitments in preparation for action in WWII.

On the 5th November 1944, David was pronounced ‘missing, presumed dead’ after a flying mission over Solingen, Germany, and later that day, pronounced, ‘presumed dead’.

Today, Remembrance Day, I’d like to dedicate this post to him.

David Thomas LEE30 Nov 1918 – 5 Nov 1944

According to David’s war records (obtained online from the National Archives of Australia), David enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Reserve on 23 October 1941 as a 22 year old. I presume he had some flying experience as his record states he was qualified to fly with the Royal Victorian Aero Club.

He transferred to the RAAF on 4 February 1942.

And in March 1943 he transferred to Canada for further training.

He spent 8 months in Canada, as part of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) continuing his training and then he was transferred to England and attached to the Royal Air Force (RAF), 15 Squadron. Following all the training he was classified as a ‘Navigator’.

He logged 19 flying operations over Europe in Lancaster Bombers as part of Bomber Command.

His first flight was on 31st July 1944.

Family folklore states that David was a member of the ‘Pathfinders’.

The Pathfinders were target-marking squadrons in RAF Bomber Command. They located and marked targets with flares that a main bomber force could aim at, increasing the accuracy of their bombing. A very vulnerable position I would imagine.

David Lee's 'extract from Log Book'

Extracts from Flying Log Book of Pilot Officer D T LEE. Personal war record is courtesy of National Archives of Australia.

He was 25 years old at the time of his last operation.

He was granted a ‘commission’ on ‘discharge’ from the RAAF.

On ‘discharge’ he was Pilot Officer David Thomas LEE.

The only letter Mum kept from those war years was the letter David wrote to her and Dad expressing his regret and disappointment at not being able to be their best man.

A few years ago I asked Mum…

‘What happened to all the letters you and Dad wrote to each other during the war?’

‘They were private,’ she said.

Fair enough.

Mum and Dad had become engaged just before Dad (also in the RAAF) left for overseas, after a whirlwind romance of three months so no doubt the letters were pretty lovey dovey; not to be read by anyone else, let alone her children!

I suspect David’s letter became increasingly special, considering his tragic death, as time went on.

And…it is a beautifully written letter with plenty of sentiment.

It starts off….

419688. 31 Course, B FLIGHT

No. 8 E.F.T.S.

Narrandera, NSW  12/1/43

Dear Jack and Berna,

Your telegram came today and I have also sent the reply but I feel that a few words of explanation will go a long way.

First of all, I feel greatly honoured by your asking me to be the Best Man and thanks very much. And I’m truly sorry that I can’t even attend the wedding.

E.F.T.S. Elementary Flying Training School. Courses there were part of the training to eventually fly with the RAF.

and goes on…

So you possibly know I have been unable to attend the recent weddings of five other first cousins and I had hoped I would have been in a better position when it came to yours. However, the way things are make me feel I must not propose to any girl until after the war, ‘cos I’m sure to leave her at the altar. Anyhow once again, Thanks.

and a little of the Tactical Situation, for David…

Well the TOC (“Tactical Situation”) Sugar is this. I’m in Narrandera which is on a Branch railway line. Then I’m not only in the RAAF (which you may know something about), but I’m in Aircrew, and

the discipline here at Narrandera is pretty tough. Leave for marriages, births and deaths is forbidden, wives are not allowed (?) in town etc. so after a couple of feeble attempts, I gave up the idea of getting to Melbourne. We actually have a couple of days standdown but not for Sunday and I wouldn’t be able to get back here until Monday. So, Jack, there you have it.

∗Dad was a wireless operator in the RAAF.

and finally, some good wishes and the flourish of David’s signature…

And now, I guess there’s very little I can do except wish you and Bernie every Happiness and Success. You know Old Man that my prayers and good wishes have followed you half way round the globe, and believe me, I haven’t forgotten you now. May you have many children!

Your sincere cousin,

David Thomas Lee

In 2013, I attended the Australian Palliative Care conference in Canberra.

On the last day of the conference, I joined a busload of attendees, on a visit to the Australian War Memorial.

To many of us it seemed a fitting end to an intense few days of listening and reflecting on life, death, grief; human stories.

After we laid a wreath at the nurses’ memorial I walked along Anzac Parade with a colleague. I told her David’s story. She joined in my growing enthusiasm to find his name on the Roll of Honour in the imposing War Memorial ahead of us.

With the aid of Google, we found DT Lee on Panel 125.

6th September 2013. DT Lee on memorial board, Roll of Honour, for RAAF. Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Author’s collection.


6th September 2013. Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Author’s collection.

His name was one of thousands.

I placed a poppy beside it and joined my fellow conference attendees in the forecourt as we waited for the daily closing ceremony.

In that peaceful, sacred place I felt the urge to share my find with those around me. In the telling, David seemed to come alive and in the sharing, I felt he was honoured.

I saw tears in their eyes and I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. I was moved by their emotion but not surprised. I knew there would be a knowing and understanding amongst this particular group of the profundity of loss.

We acknowledged the grief of his loved ones and of my parents who obviously held David in high regard.

The piper played, cutting through the respectful silence with incredible clarity.

And we remembered David, who became real for me that day, and the many thousands, on both sides of war, who had lost their lives in that terrible time.

The Last Post ceremony is a very moving experience and one I’d recommend to anyone visiting Canberra. From the website:

At the end of each day, commencing at 4.55 pm AEDT, the Memorial farewells visitors with its moving Last Post Ceremony. The ceremony begins with the singing of the Australian National Anthem, followed by the poignant strains of a Lament, played by a piper. Visitors are invited to lay wreaths and floral tributes beside the Pool of Reflection. The Roll of Honour in the Cloisters lists the names of more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations over more than a century. At each ceremony the story behind one of these names will be told. The Ode is then recited, and the ceremony ends with the sounding of the Last Post.

6th September 2013. Forecourt of Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Author’s collection.

My parents married as planned on 16 January 1943. Their bridesmaid was Dad’s sister, Nance, and the best man was Sgt J. L. Clarke, a RAAF colleague. I’m sure David wasn’t far from their thoughts on this day.

1943 30 Jan The Australasian Mum and Dad's wedding

Mum and Dad’s wedding as published in The Australasian on 30 Jan 1943

From what I can gather from David’s records he did not return to Australia between the time of the letter and his death. So my parents never saw him as a married couple.

There is a memorial to David at Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany erected and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

David Lee's certificate commonwealth war graves Rheinberg cemeteryDavid’s memorial headstone can be seen on the The War Graves Photographic Project through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

Vale David. Lest we forget.

David Lee RACF photo

1944 Pilot Officer David LEE. Royal Canadian Air Force RCAF


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