Tag Archives: University of Tasmania

Sergeant Basil Lowingham Henderson DCM (1891 – 1967)

Born and raised in the South Australian country, an early volunteer, Basil Henderson appears to fit the classic, bronzed, Australian stereotype. Long silences in his army records speak volumes about his character and fitness for service. Waves of diarrhea, diphtheria, and venereal disease, plagued other soldiers. He fought in rocky, hillside trenches in Gallipoli and flat, muddy trenches France, slowly advancing from private to sergeant. His service was ended abruptly, a few months before armistice when he was wounded for a second time, in an action that earned him a Distinguished Conduct Medal.  One brother was killed in action, another wounded and disabled, and his mother died within months of war’s end. He returned a hero to a different world, and appears to have coped. Stoic, is the word that comes to mind.

Basil Lowingham Henderson was born 12 May 1891 on the family farm in Muloowurtie, Daly, South Australia,[1] the eighth child of ten. His family was well known in the small community of Ardrossan, his parents having owned the General Store for many years before taking up farming.[2] At a time when every town had its own local newspaper, the Henderson’s lives are surprisingly well documented.

As one of the people on whom the modern “ANZAC legend” is based, Basil could be said to fit the stereotype. At the age of two, he went missing from the farm, the whole district engaged in the search for him, and when he was found some twenty-three hours later it was reported that “… having been warmed up and refreshed with some food one of the search party had with him, he became quite merry and talkative.”[3] At the age of eleven he was bitten by a snake whilst rabbit hunting, he chopped off a piece of his thumb with snake still attached, this time he was reported to be “plucky”.[4]  His eldest brother died when Basil was three,[5] and his father was killed in a farm accident when Basil was seventeen,[6] so he was no stranger to death. On enlistment, he was five feet, seven and a half inches (171 cm) in height, of medium dark complexion, and 161 pounds (73 kg) in weight.[7]  It could be said, therefore that Basil was tall, bronzed, independent, and of strong character.

On 4 August 1914 when war was declared in the Britain[8] the nine surviving Hendersons, two females and seven males, were aged from 15 to 32 years old, none were married. Basil was 23. In October 1914, his brother George, enlisted at Morphetville, South Australia, aged 26.[9] Basil joined on 30 January 1915 in Ennogra, Queensland, where he listed himself as a farmer.[10]  Surprisingly, he was pipped to the post by his younger brother Leonard, who enlisted in Oaklands, South Australia at the age of 15 years and nine months, by passing himself off as being 21.[11]  The enlisting officer could hardly be blamed for being fooled as Leonard was six feet and half an inch (184cm) tall.[12] The three eldest, aged 32, 30 and 29, never enlisted which is not surprising as most soldier volunteers were aged between 18 and 25, with 21 being the most common age.[13]

Basil embarked from Brisbane, Queensland, on board HMAT A15 Star of England.[14] There is no record of his disembarkation port, his record states only that on 26 May he joined ANZAC, and no further record until he disembarked in Alexandria from Murdos on 4 January 1916.[15] It is not surprising that there are no records for this period. It is common knowledge that Gallipoli was a steep, rocky terrain, backed only by sea, and completely outside the scope of British and allied lands. There was no bureaucracy to record the minutiae of individual service, and the peninsular was being furiously defended by the Turks.

It is only possible to browse through the diaries of the 9th Battalion and gain an overview of what kind of situation Basil was in during this time. There is also no mention in battalion diary of 4th reinforcement’s arrival[16] although 5th reinforcements are mentioned in June.[17] It is therefore safe to assume that Basil was in Gallipoli by the beginning of June and his experience in Gallipoli was like others of the 9th Battalion.

In June, they were supplying fatigue parties to help dig trenches as casualties during the day were too great, followed by attempting to retrieve bodies under heavy rifle fire.[18] In July, they were rotated to front line, Cholera Inoculations began. Platoons were being taken to the beach for a swim, there were three cases of men cutting or shooting off fingers hoping, unsuccessfully, to get evacuated to hospital, and by the end of the month diarrhea was prevalent.[19]

August,[20] September[21] and October[22] was a continuous cycle of heavy fighting interspersed with quiet days, sick leaving and returning as troops and officers were infected with amoebic dysentery reducing the strength of the battalion. To top off the month of October, there was a very close encounter with a Turkish digging party, and a fierce storm that damaged piers on the beach.

At the beginning of November,[23] they rotated off the front lines and were sent on a bivouac. On November 16 they embarked SS Abassiah for Lemnos. They spent the rest of November and then December[24] training and regrouping. It was cold and snowing, the soldiers did not have enough warm clothing or blankets. Another outbreak of diphtheria in the beginning of December caused Battalion to be quarantined, their health gradually improved and they began to organise sports and entertainments. The quarantine was lifted and on 31 December and they embarked the Grampian for Alexandria.

In January 1916, Basil was disciplined for being in Lagazig without a pass. In February, his brother Edward enlisted in Adelaide.[25]  Basil was transferred, first to 49th Battalion, then in March to 4th Division Artillery, as gunner, and finally to 11th Field Artilliary Brigade, mustered and posted 4S Battery. In April, he was promoted to Bombardier.  All this was still in Egypt.[26]

In June, he joined the British Expeditionary Forces on the 10th, he disembarked Haverford in Marseilles, and by the 26th, was promoted in the field France, to Corporal. There being nothing in his record, we must assume he spent the next seven months fighting in France, beginning in summer through to the harshest winter in Europe for forty years.[27]

It was now January 1917, and the Sarah Henderson had four sons on active service. For two years, there had been no serious incidents, but all that was about to change. The youngest brother, Leonard, who had been in service in France for as long as Basil, was hospitalised for two weeks in early January for “debility”.[28]  On 28 January 2017, another brother Edward was killed in action[29] and buried in a makeshift graveyard in Le Boeufs, three miles south of Bapaume, in France.[30] In February, Basil was promoted in the field in Belgium to Seargent.[31]

On 10 June, George was seriously wounded in action in Belgium, a gunshot wound to left hand and leg, and transferred to England for hospitalisation.[32] It is only fair to assume that Basil was aware of all this. In August, Basil is recorded as being hospitalised sick then, soon after, being hospitalised again for an illness whilst on his way to England for leave. Although it does not record what illness he had, it is the first time he is recorded as having any kind of illness.[33] He was certainly a healthy, hardy man.

September 25, Basil was seriously wounded in action in France, a gunshot wound to leg and head, and transferred to England for hospitalisation, his mother was notified. Throughout 1917, Sarah Henderson is kept informed about her sons’ progress with short proforma letters using formal phrases, “advised to hospital”, “advised progressing favourably”, “advised convalescent”.

In January 1918, Basil returned to duties in France,[34] and George was discharged with a disability pension of 15 shillings per week, and returned to Australia.[35] He arrived home in March, to flags, school children and foundry worker’s in a guard of honour, and speeches.[36]

Only a few days later, on 5 April, Basil was wounded in action for the second time, a gunshot wound to right elbow, left leg and knee. The letters to his mother started up another round, she must have dreaded visiting the post office. On 12 May Basil was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.[37] He spent the last three months of the war and many months after, recuperating in hospital. His mother Sarah, died unexpectedly during this time, she survived the war by only a few months, and died on 2 January, 1919. His brother, still under 21 managed to serve throughout the war, a sprained ankle being his only injury.

Basil returned home on May 17,  and Leonard on May 31.  They each had a hero’s welcome. Life appears to have returned to the rhythm of rural life. Basil married, had children, and was not mentioned in the newspaper again until he, and two companions had a narrow escape in a cart accident.

Without any personal papers, it is not possible to imagine how Basil, or any of his brothers coped with their experience of the war. War veterans rarely if ever speak of these things. Once again, it is the silence in the records that imply Basil’s stoic character.

[1] Australia, Birth Index, 1788-1922. p 316. Vol 479, 1891 Basil Lowingham Henderson http://www.ancestrylibrary.com/  accessed 5 January, 2017

[2] 1885 ‘ARDROSSAN.’, Yorke’s Peninsula Advertiser (SA : 1878 – 1922), 17 February, p. 3. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216321047, accessed 09 May 2017

[3]   1893 ‘ARDROSSAN.’, Yorke’s Peninsula Advertiser (SA : 1878 – 1922), 21 July, p. 3. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216732788,  accessed 30  April 2017.

[4] 1901 ‘THE COUNTRY.’, The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 21 October, p. 6., http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56509793 , accessed 07 May 2017

[5] 1893 ‘Family Notices’, The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, SA : 1867 – 1922), 14 August, p. 2. (SECOND EDITION), http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article208456031,  accessed 30  April 2017.

[6] 1908 ‘INJURED BY A FALL.’, Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 – 1954), 12 September, p. 41. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8830919, accessed 30  April 2017.

[7] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, B2455, National Archives of Australia, p. 1.

[8] Australian War Memorial, ‘Timeline: Australia in the First World War, 1914-1918’, https://www.awm.gov.au/1914-1918/timeline/ , accessed 20 April 2017.

[9] Service Record of George Henderson, B2455, National Archives of Australia, p. 2.

[10] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, B2455, National Archives of Australia, p. 1.

[11] Service Record of Leonard Wills Henderson, B2455, National Archives of Australia, p. 1.

[12] Service Record of Leonard Wills Henderson, p. 3.

[13] Australian War Memorial, ‘Enlistment statistics, First World War’, https://www.awm.gov.a u/encyclopedia/enlistment/wwa1/, accessed 30 April, 2017

[14] WWI Embarkation Rolls, 9th Infantry Battalion, 4th Reinforcements, p50

[15] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 13

[16] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, May 1915 p, RCDIG1003197, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/ accessed 29 April 2017

[17] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, June 1915 p, RCDIG1017616, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/ accessed 29 April 2017.

[18] 9th Infantry Battalion war diary, June 1915

[19] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, July 1915 p, RCDIG1003198, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/  accessed 29 April 2017.

[20] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, August 1915 p, RCDIG1003199, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/ accessed 29 April 2017.

[21] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, September 1915 p, RCDIG1003087, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/  accessed 29 April 2017.

[22] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, October 1915 p, RCDIG1003088, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/  accessed 29 April 2017.

[23] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, November 1915 p, RCDIG1003089, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/  accessed 29 April 2017.

[24] Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War, 9th Infantry Battalion, December 1915 p, RCDIG1003090, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1000591/  accessed 29 April 2017.

[25] Service Record of Edward Osmond Henderson, B2455, National Archives of Australia. P. 1.

[26] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 13

[27] Australian War Memorial, “Timeline: Australia in the First World War, 1914-1918”, https://www.awm.gov.au/1914-1918/timeline/, accessed 20 April 2017.

[28] Service Record of Leonard Wills Henderson, p. 13.

[29] Service Record of Edward Osmond Henderson, p. 6.

[30] Service Record of Edward Osmond Henderson, p. 8.

[31] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 4.

[32] Service Record of George Henderson, p. 9.

[33] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 14.

[34] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 16.

[35] Service Record of George Henderson, p. 30.

[36] 1918 ‘THE COUNTRY.’, The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 1 April, p. 7. , http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60343933 accessed 09 May 2017,

[37] Service Record of Basil Lowingham Henderson, p. 5.

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Oh God, not again, who is it this time?”

Sarah looked at the envelope, the only typewritten letters she ever received were from the army. She walked outside the general store, put her basket down and sat down on the top step, staring at the envelope as if willing it to disappear. The townspeople kept an eye on her, but no one interfered, almost every family in the district had had their fair share those letters.

She took a deep breath, turned the envelope over, slowly opened the flap and removed the contents. She was an expert at this now, she could look slightly to the side of the envelope with unfocussed eyes, carefully unfold its contents, and take one more deep breath before focussing on the words.


“Basil” she said to the air, shaking her head. The nearest onlooker, nodded politely and quietly passed the name on. Everyone understood.

“Thank God John did not live to see this.  Four sons fighting in someone else’s war, Edward dead, George, Basil and Leonard, I’ve lost count of the letters.”

The shopkeeper, her best friend had come out to comfort her. “He’s a tough li’l bugger, you’ll see.” She sat beside her.

“Remember that day he disappeared?”

Suddenly they were both back in time.



She groaned as she rolled out of bed. She had barely slept. Lack of cloud cover made the night colder than usual, but for once, farmers were praying for it to not rain. Some of the men had continued to search throughout the night with a slither of a new moon reflecting only just enough light. Sent to bed at midnight, she had woken up every time one of them came in or out.

It was barely first light and already people were streaming in from the town. It was the second day. For the children, it was like a carnival, as whole families turned out to help. The women manned the kitchen and watched the children while the men and every boy over twelve, were out searching in rotation, on foot and on horseback. Thomas and Isaac had already left with their father.

 The atmosphere was surreal; her mind and body had disconnected to stop her from thinking about who they were searching for or whether he would be found. Her calm exterior belied the fact that she was on the verge of hysteria. She took charge of the kitchen, making sure that everyone had enough to eat and drink, and sending refreshments on horseback out to the search parties.  The hours passed.

She looked up to see the face of her best friend in the doorway.

“Sarah Henderson, if you don’t sit with me and take tea, you will feint with exhaustion, and then what use will you be to Basil when they bring him home? The dark rings around your eyes have dark rings around them.”

She had six other boys, four born on this very farm, and she had never lost one. For the first time since they had moved to the farm, she wished they had stayed keeping shop, in the township where no one could ever get lost.

 Suddenly she was back there, having tea with her friend.

She could feel the sawdust under her feet; smell the soaps, spices, fruits, wafting in and out with the breeze; hear her friend’s raucous laughter; and feel her face redden as meaning dawned on her innocent mind.

Sarah, Sarah,” the sound of her name bringing her back to life.

Outside was ominously silent. They went to the door and saw a man on horseback riding like the devil towards them. Sarah’s legs gave way as she swooned, it took several of the women to coax her back into the sitting room.

He burst through the door, red faced from the wild ride and with tears streaming down his dust encrusted face, he could hardly speak. Someone thrust a glass of water into his hand and he took a great gulp and then a great gulp of air.

“They found him Mrs Henderson, they found him. And the wee tyke is fine! Can you believe it?”

He was too choked with emotion to say any more. Outside, there were wild shouts of hooray and long piercing whistles, men, women and children whooping with relief. Even the dogs, sensing something, were barking.



“Oi, is anyone looking after this shop?”

The two women, jolted from their daydream, breathed sharply in. They looked at each other

“Yeah, he’s a tough li’l bugger, he’ll be fine”.

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Solemn Grandure

On the ninth of February, 1895, a man known only as a “Special Reporter” described the scene of a recent bush fire, perhaps this was how John Davis may have felt that night.

He wrote:[1]

“Having left Echunga after sunset, I had at least one advantage of travelling in the dark. The innumerable burning logs and trees which mark the extent of the devastation caused by the recent fire presented a scene of solumn grandeur not easily to be described. For many miles in every direction these brilliant glaring objects shone with an intense ruddy light, which, in the deep silence and solitude of the forests, was most imposing to behold.”

It could not be easily described, because to describe something, is to equate it to some similar thing already seen and known. These early Europeans would have been used to seeing a bright star-lit night, something that amazes many modern people accustomed to light pollution. They would not have been used to seeing a brightly lit landscape, unless they had recently arrived from Europe, Adelaide was yet to have universal street lighting. Few if any would have seen fireworks and no one could imagine have imagined flying, let alone the visage of city lights far below.

No, the scene facing this nameless reporter would not have been easily described. It would not have been easily forgotten either. The landscape, many locals escaping with only the clothes on their back,[2]  having lost their entire life’s work, and some who lost their lives. Everything changed, and all in a matter of a few short days.


[1] 1859 ‘MACCLESFIELD.’, South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), 11 February, p. 3. , viewed 03 Feb 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49897242

[2] 1859 ‘No title’, The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889), 8 February, p. 3. , viewed 03 Feb 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article788749

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Thirty-eight and fifteen Robert St, Glasgow. My great-grandparents Archie and Jane Rowley lived here, and raised twelve children from 1911[1] until their deaths in 1932[2] and 1942[3]. Today it is a car park in a light industrial area, a candle workshop and retail outlet.[4]

I do not see the carpark. I see nineteenth century tenements, taking their shape from the road. Covered in black grime, dirty dusty windows, filthy grimy footpath, few cars and much horse dung. Children everywhere, playing, laughing, running, fighting, talking, shouting, screaming. All in the melodious tones of my mother tongue, music to my ears, indecipherable to outsiders.

Two streets away, the shipyards overshadow all of Glasgow. It fills the air; with still more noise, hammering, welding, scraping metal; smells, acrid, dusty, foul. Its smoke, clouds everything with underworld, ghostly dimness.

This is my inherited memory, layering the landscape, in ways that only family can. The shipyard disappears taking the pollution, noise, and jobs. Next, the tenements, children and adults. Progress is what it is, the sun is bright here now, in the carpark of the candle factory.

[1] Scottish Birth Register, 1911, GROS Data 646/02 1851,Georgina Marion Rowley (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 18 October, 2012)

[2] Scottish Death Register, 1932, GROS Data 644/24 0628, Rowley, Jane  (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 17 August, 2012)

[3] Scottish Death Register, 1942, GROS Data 644/24 0628, Rowley, Archibald (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 22 March, 2005)

[4] “Robert Street, Glasgow, Scotland.” Map. Google Maps. Google (https://www.google.com.au/maps/ : accessed 12 December, 2017 .

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Emigration – Why would you?

John and Julia Kidd emigrated to Australia sometime between 1907, when Clarissa was born in Durham, England[1] and 1913, when Selwyn was born in South Australia.[2] After extensive research, no record of either departure or arrival can be found.[3]

One thing that records cannot reveal, is what motivated this nineteenth century couple to emigrate to the furthest reaches of the British Empire, and rebuild their lives in a primitive and isolated foreign land. This question fascinates me, perhaps because I never received a satisfactory answer from my own parents.

There are several questions to research before attempting an educated guess. Did John have no extended family? Emigration meant a loss of connection with the extended family, but John was one of seven children, had seven aunts and uncles and presumably numerous cousins.[4] Clarissa’s extended family are yet to be researched. Were they young and just starting out? They were both in their forties, with three young children.[5] Were they poor? John was raised in a household with two servants,[6] and the eldest son, (his father’s estate was worth £8,484 15s 3d)[7] he must have been moderately wealthy.

So, middle aged, with a growing family, and moderately wealthy, not the kind of young-ambitious-nothing-to-lose stereotype that I had in mind. This leaves me wondering about the timing, (1907 – 1913). Were they politically savvy enough to foresee the world’s first global conflict?

There is much more that can be researched before making an educated guess about what motivated John and Julia Kidd to emigrate to Australia.



[1] England & Wales births 1837­2006 Transcription, (http://www.findmypast.com/ :accessed 26 March, 2016)

[2] Adams, GF, Family History Workbook, unpublished. p 81.

[3] Adams, GF, Family History Workbook, unpublished. P 76

[4] Adams, GF, Family History Workbook, unpublished. P 77-78

[5] Adams, GF, Family History Workbook, unpublished. p 81.

[6] “England and Wales Census, 1871”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VBZ2-S1G : 24 July 2015), Pearson W Kidd in entry for Jane Bell, 1871.; “England and Wales Census, 1881,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/Q271-FQXD : 19 August 2016), Pearson W Kidd, Bishop Wearmouth, Durham, England; from “1881 England, Scotland and Wales census,” database and images, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : n.d.); citing p. 19, Piece/Folio 4993/145, The National Archives, Kew, Surrey; FHL microfilm 101,775,382.

[7] England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1883, Pearson Ward Kidd (http://www.ancestrylibrary.com/ retrieved 11 January, 2017)

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Sarah looked up from the pot she was stirring, to see the face of her best friend in the doorway.

“Sarah Henderson, if you don’t sit with me and take tea, you will feint with exhaustion, and then what use will you be when they bring Basil home. You have black rings around your eyes.”

Sarah’s mind raced,

‘Oh, God, now she’s said it. The very thing I’ve had been trying to avoid for the last twenty-four hours. Basil. Two years old, and wandered off into the bush, in short pants and a shirt, the whole town out looking for him.’

She had six other boys, four born on this very farm, and she had never lost one. For the first time since they had moved to the farm, she wished they had stayed keeping shop. Suddenly she would have given anything to be back there.

Outside was suddenly silent. From the door, they saw someone riding like the devil towards them. Sarah’s legs gave way, as she swooned. It took several women to coax her back into the sitting room.

He burst through the door. Red faced from the wild ride, and with tears streaming down his dust encrusted face, he could hardly speak. Someone thrust a glass of water into his hand and he took a great gulp and then a great gulp of air.

” They found him Mrs Henderson, they found him. And the little tyke is fine! Can you believe it?”

Sarah feinted.


1893 ‘ARDROSSAN.’, Yorke’s Peninsula Advertiser (SA : 1878 – 1922), 21 July, p. 3. , viewed 19 Dec 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216732788

1885 ‘ARDROSSAN.’, Yorke’s Peninsula Advertiser (SA : 1878 – 1922), 17 February, p. 3. , viewed 19 Dec 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216321047

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Sounds and Smells of Glasgow

Archibald Rowley[1], was born in the very small village of Forgandenny near Perth in Scotland. His father, the local policeman died a mere two and a half years after Archie’s birth.[2] Sometime after that, his mother moved her family to Perth, where she worked as a laundress.[3]

The next place we find Archie is in Glasgow in 1891[4], where he is listed as a 19-year-old coppersmith. It is hard to imagine what that change could have been like for young Archie. The 1881 Scotland Census gives the population of Perth as 95,044, and Glasgow as 487,985.[5]

The shipyards would have been incredibly noisy, hot steel, copper, and other metals being poured, moulded, and hammered into shape. Metals would have given off an acrid smell, and close bodies from less than adequately plumbed housing would have been rank. After work, the scene would have changed to a crowded publican’s house where body, urine, smoke and alcohol would combine in that unique way only a pub can smell, and the drunks would variously shout, sing, and fight.

I imagine it would have to be experienced first-hand.
[1] Scottish Birth Register, 1871, Parish Forganenny, County Perth , 0015, Archibald Rowley (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 22 March, 2005)

[2] Scottish Death Register, 1873, Parish Foganenny, County Perth, 05, Thomas Rowley (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 22 March, 2005)

[3] 1881 Scotland Census GROS Data 387/00 014/00 0161 Archibald Rowley

[4] Scottish Census 1891 644/13 027/00 022 Archibald Rowley (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 22 March, 2005)

[5] http://www.londonancestor.com/misc/bc-population.htm Retrieved 22 July, 2016.

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Crisis of Faith

A fanciful account

She genuflected, crossed herself, then followed the line to the priest. In a trance, her body seemed a second or two behind her, unattached and out of reach. Her mind, on the other hand was razor sharp.

Hell, hell,” she thought, “what would a bloody priest ken aboot hell? The hardest thing a priest ever had to dae was remember tae speak in English, that monotone, bastardised tongue of the Sassenach. It may as well be Latin, for the way he speaks it, you’d be sure he was sucking on a stane, and if he stuck that nose of his any higher in the air, his heed would fa’ right aff.”

Hell is being married to a man who spends half his life working, and the other half drinking near’ every penny he’s paid. In between one and the other he comes hame only just lang enough to faither another bairn. Twelve bairns, twelve.”

She was at the alter now, kneeling with her mouth open. “Blood of Christ” said the priest.

Blood of Christ, what would a man know about blood, or bleeding.” Her son Allan flashed in her mind, seven years old and coughing up blood, tears running down his face, his eyes bloodshot full of fear. Seven years ago the previous month, and still that face haunted her. “Well maybe some know a little of bleeding.

She stood up, having consumed the small biscuit “Body of Christ”. Her head was swimming, there was a pain in her chest like a knife being twisted between her ribs. She swayed visibly until the woman behind her placed her hand on her shoulder, just enough to steady her.

She shuffled back to her pew. How she had gotten through Christmas she did not know, but three more days and a long drunken night and it would be nineteen fifteen.  “Nineteen fifteen, Glasgow Scotland, that’s where hell is.” She grunted audibly, to the withering glare of her husband Archie.

Annie’s no here again,” she thought, “I wouldnae be either, if I had a choice. Twelve bairns I’ve had. I’ve no’ even finished havin’ my ain bairns, before my bairns are havin’ bairns. My wee Lizzy and Annie’s wee Johnny. The pair of them gasping for air, one would fa’ asleep and the other wake, the whole hoose awake and praying. My bairns, they are. Mine. I’ve nursed and fed, and loved them day and night. What dae I get? I get to watch them thrown out into the street. My first born, cast out into the street like a pail o’ shite, by her ain faither!” Another grunt and another withering glare.

Only a few weeks old and Johnny was gone. Annie putting her first born in the ground, that was hell. Three weeks later, and Lizzy’s gone too. Pulmonary something-or-other the doctor said. Died o’ breathing is what he meant, the pair of them, died o’ breathing.”

Outside the church, Jane surveyed her brood. Why they were so happy she could not understand. Watching them playing on the icy street, she could clearly see that they were happy. She began the short walk home, the children and the husband following after, she couldn’t have cared less, she was numb.

She was making some tea when the two Archies came in. She looked up at them, young Thomas darted out from behind them and let the cat out of the bag.

“Archie’s going to be a soldier. He’s gonnae get those German’s” he crowed pretending to fire a rifle, “He’s gonnae win the war.”

Jane nearly feinted. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph Archie, what are you thinking of.” She blasphemed.

“Leave him, Jeanie, leave him, he’s a man noo” Archie senior said accusingly.

“Me an’ the lads went yesterdae, we enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders, we had our medicals and we’ve a’ passed. All I have t’ dae is wait for ma uniform and orders.” Archie junior was beaming with pride.

“Och, Archie, Archie, what have you done?” It was rhetorical, she didn’t wait for an answer. She put her coat and hat back on and reached for the door. “I’m off tae visit Annie.”

She shook her head unconsciously, “I cannae lose another bairn, I cannae, my heart is already broken.” She muttered under her breath as she trudged the short distance through the icy street to Annie’s house. “Nineteen fifteen, a’ the world’s gone mad.”

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A Tale of Two Cities

Mary Christina Snedden and Margaret Ann Morrison had many things in common. Mary’s father died when she was young, and her mother had remarried. Margaret’s mother had died when she was young. What they most had in common, however, was Charles Edward Wilcox. They each had seven children, and Charles was registered as the father of twelve of them. He may even have been the father of one other.

Other than birth, death, and marriages, Mary, Margaret and Charles’ lives can only be viewed in ten year slices. Thanks to the Scotland Census, however, much information can be gleaned from those slices.

Mary married Charles in Edinburgh in 1877,[1] he was a Mechanical Engineer and his income would have made them a middle-class couple. It is difficult to imagine therefore, how after only ten years of marriage, Mary came to leave Charles, and live out her life in remote Galashiels on the Scottish Borders, but by the time of the 1891 Scotland Census, that is precisely where she was, working as a birler in a nearby woollen mill.[2]

It could not have been easy for her to leave her husband, and work in a factory, she was not a working class woman. In Victorian Britain women and children and had no rights as individuals. Children belonged to their father and inevitably stayed with him. This was the case for Mary, six of her seven children were, by this time, living in Glasgow with their father.[3]

At what point in time did Margaret enter the Wilcox household? She was not present Ii the 1881 census in Edinburgh.  Charles is not recorded as present on that night either, but he and Mary were together for at least six more years, because their youngest child Jessie, was born in Edinburgh in 1888.[4]

The work of keeping a household running without the kinds of household machinery and pre-packaged food that we take for granted, was back breaking, full time work. It was not possible for anyone to keep house and hold down a job. With or without children, Charles would have had to employ a full-time, live-in housekeeper to replace his wife. Margaret first appeared in documents at this time, 1891, listed as his cousin and housekeeper.

She now had three children who are listed as, Charles’ adopted daughter, and two sons. The oldest son, Alfred is only one year younger than Mary’s youngest, Jessie. Alfred’s birth is registered as Alfred Edward Morrison, with no father, but with the same middle name as Charles. He died in infancy and his death record lists his mother as the wife of Charles Wilcox, who lists himself as the step-father. One could be forgiven for wondering if Charles was in fact the father of this child, and perhaps the reason for the marital split.

Could Margaret have been first employed in the Wilcox household whilst it was still in Edinburgh? Margaret’s first child Alice was born in 1884, in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, probably because Margaret was an unmarried, first-time mother.[5] As a middle-class family with many children, they could have employed one or more servants. In the 1881 census, they lived in a house with only two rooms with windows. This is not uncommon in Victorian times, most working class housing would have had only one such room. What it does show is that, although they were middle-class, they were not wealthy enough to have spare rooms to accommodate a maid and her child. It is Margaret’s child, therefore, that makes it less likely that she entered the house at this time,

For these reasons, I think it is fair to imagine that Mary left Charles before Margaret was employed. Charles fathered twelve children in his lifetime, indicating a consistent sexual appetite, perhaps he was a philanderer, who was publicly caught out. Or, perhaps Charles was extremely violent and Mary feared for her life. After all, she moved a considerable distance from Edinburgh. If she moved away because of the shame that was attached to “desertion” in Victorian Britain, she need only have moved a short distance. She could have lived in Perth which was a large metropolis like Edinburgh.

As an engineer, Charles would have been limited to the highly industrialised cities of Edinburgh or Glasgow in order to gain work. The fact that he moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow, gives reason to believe that he may have done something too shameful to stay in his social circle. Was it sexual promiscuity or violent behaviour? Short of uncovering a newspaper article or a criminal history, we can only guess.

Without good social standing, Charles would have had difficulty in hiring a housekeeper. With an illegitimate child to care for, Margaret would have had difficulty in obtaining employment. This could explain how Margaret came into the Wilcox household. She could have come into service in Edinburgh and then moved to Glasgow with the family.

It is tempting to think that blended families are a modern occurrence but a quick look at family history will soon give another view. Margaret continued to live with Charles and had five more children. By 1901, Margaret’s oldest child Alice, had an illegitimate child of her own.[6]

By 1911, a number of Christina’s children had moved to Galashiels and are recorded living with her.[7]  It seems that, as in modern times, the children of the first partner, were not happy with their new arrangements.



[1] Scottish Marriage Register 1877 GROS Data 685/05 0426 Charles Wilcox and Mary Sneddon (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 25 December, 2009)

[2]Scottish Census 1891 776/0B 006/00 0031 Mary Wilcox (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 21 May, 2011)

[3] Scottish Census 1891 644/09 075/09 012 Charles Wilcox (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 25 December, 2009)

[4] Scotland Birth Register 1888, GROS Data 685/02 0518 , Jessie Margaret Wilcox, (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : Retrieved 24/7/2016)

[5] Scottish Birth Register, 1884 GROS Data 685/04 0313 Alice Lycke MORRISON (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 17 April, 2016)

[6] Scottish Census 1901 644/06 052/00 003 Charles Wilcox (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 26 July, 2011)

[7] Scottish Census 1911 775/00 013/00 011Mary Wilcox (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 21 May, 2011)

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Granny Rowley’s Wedding Ring

An Object Biography

Sarah Morgan, my paternal grandmother, married Archibald Rowley in Glasgow, Scotland in 1922,[1] she died in 1945.  In 1981, after the death of her only surviving daughter, Sarah, I was given her wedding ring by my father.

Wedding rings have been worn by women for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. In the UK it is believed to have been adopted during and after the Roman Occupation. In some cultures it is worn on the left hand and in others on the right. Some cultures wear it before the wedding on one hand or finger, and after the wedding, on the other hand or finger. It is most often, but not always worn on the fourth “ring” finger.[2] It is not uncommon nowadays for a man to also wear a wedding ring.

This plain gold wedding band weights approximately 4g (0.1oz), it is 7mm (½”) wide, approximately 18mm (8/10”) in diameter, and 63mm (2 ½ “) in circumference. Its’ scrap value is currently $86.00.[3] On the inside of the band, in letters large enough for plain sight, is stamped “8LP”, much smaller and requiring a magnifying glass, is stamped the four components of a British Hallmark.

The “8LP” remains a mystery and much research has found no explanation of its origin or meaning.

Hallmarking of precious metals in Britain is a very old consumer protection, it was first legislated in 1300 by King Edward I of England.[4]  It has four components: a sponsor’s mark being the company or person for whom it has been hallmarked; the standard mark being the fineness of the metal; the Assay Office mark; and finally, the (now optional) date letter.[5]   For this ring the marks are E.J.LD.; 9.375; S; [Illegible].

E.J.LD.  was the maker’s mark of Excalibur Jewellery Ltd of Birmingham and London, now defunct.[6] 9.375 represents the fineness of the gold at 9 carats[7]. The date letter, before 1975, was unique to each assay office and as the assay office mark is illegible, it was difficult to ascertain the date, however the letter “S” is sloping forwards and has a distinctive concave tick at the top. It could only be an item Hallmarked in 1973 in the London Assay Office. This ring was assayed in London in 1973 as 9 carat gold by Excalibur Jewellery Ltd. This was not the expected result.

My grandparents were a working-class couple of modest means. In 1922, a wedding ring would have been a significant purchase. Although it is common now for wedding rings to be made of 24 carat gold, that would most likely have been outside my grandfather’s means. A nine carat gold ring would also have been more robust, an attribute that could have been relevant at the time, due to the hard labour a working-class woman would do in the course of an ordinary day.

The Clyde Shipyards, the largest industry in Glasgow, was in recession. By 1920 It was operating at only eighty percent of pre-war levels, falling steadily throughout the decade.[8] 1922 also was a year which saw a “Hunger March” from Glasgow to London, people protesting to the government about the high unemployment and hence inability of workers to afford food.[9]

Assuming that it was, indeed, my grandmother’s wedding ring, which I have no reason to doubt, it is possible that it was purchased second-hand, that it was not manufactured in the UK, and it was assayed in 1973 in order to obtain a valuation. This, of course, is pure conjecture.

My grandparents honeymooned in Ireland and had a studio photo taken to commemorate their wedding. My parents emigrated to Australia when I was five years old, and so I did not know any of my extended family. Although I did not know it at the time, I had never met anyone who in any way resembled anyone in my family. As a young teenager I embraced that Australian tradition of visiting the UK on a “working holiday”; now known as a “gap-year” and reciprocated by the British. Whilst at my grandfather’s house, I was shown the studio photo taken in Ireland. It was a sepia-toned very traditional studio photo. My grandmother was sitting in an elaborate chair, with a book in her lap and her hands crossed over the book showing her wedding ring. My grandfather was standing to her left, a little behind the chair and his hand was resting on her shoulder.

It is a moment that, for me, is frozen in time. The woman in sitting in the chair, was identical to myself, I was the image of my paternal grandmother. Some years later, I was able to borrow that photograph and have it enlarged and copied.

The ring is the only material object I possess that is tied to my family of origin. This is the result of two major events in my life. Firstly, I was a child migrant in the 1960’s, when migration still meant the disconnection of virtually every relationship, and the loss of virtually all possessions. Secondly, as the result of violence, I made a choice to move within Australia, at a time when I was unable to afford to take more than a suitcase. The material objects left behind in storage, were variously stolen, sold without my permission then the proceeds stolen, or destroyed.

I no longer have that photograph. That being said, however, I have the photograph in my mind and it is linked, inextricably to my grandmother’s ring. One object elicits the other. At times my grandmother’s wedding ring evokes the memory of loss. Loss of relationships, of the culture and heritage attached to being a Scot, of the life I had before the violence. At other times my grandmother’s wedding ring evokes a deep sense of attachment, to someone who is exactly like me, someone I never met, my grandfather in his youth in the photograph, in old age holding that photograph out to me, to my Aunt who cared for it before me.

Just as a wedding ring is a symbol of never ending love, this ring is a symbol of the continuity of my family across the great chasm of time, place and meaning.


[1] Scottish Marriage Register, 1922, ROWLEY Archibald to Jane Morgan, District of Govan, County of Lanark p96/191 (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 22 March, 2005)

[2] http://weddingdetails.com/lore-tradition/ accessed 19/8/2016

[3] http://www.cash4goldaustralia.com.au/ accessed 19/8/2016

[4] http://assayofficebirmingham.com/safeguard/hallmarking_history.html accessed 10/8/2016

[5] https://theassayoffice.co.uk/help-with-hallmarks/anatomy-of-a-hallmark accessed 10/8/2016

[6] http://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Makers/Birmingham-EJ-EO.html accessed 10/08/2016

[7] http://www.gold-traders.co.uk/hallmarks/results.asp accessed 12/08/2016

[8] http://www.inverclydeshipbuilding.co.uk/home/general-history/clydeside-revisited accessed 19/8/2016

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunger_marches accessed 19/8/2016

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