Thursday, 31 August 2017

Noel Patrick Hilton…circus boy comes to town

The story starts with the accidental electrocution of lines worker Harold Patrick Keys on 23 March 1925 in Sydney. The death was ruled an accident by the coroner though some in the family thought in their grief this was highly unlikely as ‘Pat’ was experienced with electricity.

The death of the reliable Harold was a tragedy for his young family and a sad blow to his mother, brothers and sisters. 

Only nine months before, another loved brother ‘Hock’ who had been a champion boxer died as the result of ‘pneumonia’ perhaps brought on by the stresses of his career. 

Hock's legend would loom large in the family and his mother mixed her remembrance of Les Darcy’s funeral procession down Oxford Street in Sydney with the humbler event for her prized son’s farewell. The two men had a common background, though Keys died young it was after his best boxing was behind him. The families were also close and Dad remembers called Darcy's widow, Margaret, 'auntie'.

Beatrice Keys had married Alexander Marion Poe in 1914 and by the time of Harold's death they had brought four children into the world. 

But Poe was a restless spirit and they split about 1922. He had taken care of their eldest daughter who travelled with him, their second daughter lived with her mother, their eldest son was fostered to one family but ‘escaped’ from them quickly and their youngest son had been fostered more successfully to Bill and Ivy Lyell, following Ivy's miscarriage.

Beatrice’s youngest sister Bertha had met Poe very early in his relationship with her sister and didn’t like him. She was a strong woman who developed an enthusiasm for the ‘rag trade’ and after the start of the first world war in Australia had moved to New York to follow her passion.

Beatrice tried to keep contact with her husband and, perhaps as a staunch Catholic, never divorced him. Poe seems to have got on with Hock and the common connection may have been ‘shows'. Poe was a vaudeville artist and both he and Keys also took part in tent boxing shows. 

Perhaps this is where the two men met and perhaps this led to an introduction to Beatrice.

Beatrice knew that Poe would have wanted to farewell her brother Harold Patrick and she was often in search of a reason to track him down. There was also a notice in the paper. Either way, Poe was there for the funeral of his brother in law on 25 March 1924. The event was followed by a traditional Irish wake, though Poe was not a big drinker. Poe then went back on the road...

A little less than 280 days later they had a son.

Beatrice presented herself at St Margaret’s Hospital in Sydney on Christmas Eve with a story about needing a place to stay as her baby was imminent. The hospital admitted her and the next day a baby boy was born.

The story goes that she hung a flag at the foot of the bed seeking funds and that the Lord Mayor of Sydney came through for his Christmas visit and presented the young baby with a soft toy.

Beatrice had to decide on a name. It was obvious to her what that would be. He was named Noel Patrick Hilton Poe. ‘Noel’ because it was Christmas, ‘Patrick’ after her brother whose death made his life possible (and it was also a saint’s name), and ‘Hilton’ after hotelier Conrad Hilton dashing socialite also born 25 December. Later in life, Noel would drop 'Patrick' and keep 'Hilton'.

For the first years of his life, Noel’s family consisted of himself, his mother and his sister Joyce. Joyce later worked as a soubrette with the Tivoli Circuit. He grew up sometimes living in Darlinghurst where friends included the Rooklyn brothers, Roy Rene Mo and Sadie Gail. 

Sometimes he lived on the road when his mother joined Perry Brothers Circus to travel country towns in Australia's eastern states. 

Noel remembered Jack Rooklyn in particular. He spent time with him in his car while he did his rounds of the Clubs where he had placed slot machines and often gave Noel a shiny shilling for his help. Jack was apparently keen on Noel's sister Joyce and was the person who took him to a hospital when his appendix burst - saving his life as Noel remembered it. (In spite of Beatrice's  encouragement Joyce refused Jack's advances.)

Maurice Rooklyn, the magician, did have his way with Joyce however - she was one of the hundreds he cut in half!

Although she’d had a vaudeville background herself Beatrice was now content to do the cooking. Noel remembered in particular that Beatrice did some work on a white horse called ‘Dolly’ while they were with Perry Brothers. 

Young Noel had a dark complexion, like his father, and often wore a turban while sitting on the Perry brothers’ elephants as an ‘Indian boy’. Elephant ‘Jimmy’ would also pick up circus gear when it was time to pack up. He would also pick up two men on the call of ‘up Jimmy’. Noel thought this would be fun, though as a boy was much lighter than two men. On hearing 'up Jimmy' the elephant lifted Noel too far and he went over the top of the animal - luckily unhurt.

Noel also learned some simple trapeze work with Dunnie and Albie Perry so that he could do a somersault while standing on Albie Perry's feet. During the day he often played on the trapeze nets when his mother worked. 

Christmas Day was always memorable for him as he briefly became the centre of attention for the circus family. The circus would have Christmas lunch together, and then sing carols. Then they would sing 'happy birthday' for Noel. He enjoyed it of course but the teenager Jack Perry (later part of the Zig and Zag team) was very unhappy that an 'outsider' received so much attention.

When Noel eventually met his father, he was a toddler. One of the ways Beatrice kept ‘in touch’ with her husband was to seek a court order for him to pay maintenance for the support of his family. The documents show this was an event which took place regularly. Beatrice would then ‘bail him out’ by paying the money owned which she then received back. 

One of the several notices about Poe with his nom de plumes 
in the NSW Police Gazette.

By about 1930 Beatrice was finding it difficult to provide the support needed to her young son. The depression was underway and finding work was not easy.  Dad remembers doing the rounds of shopkeepers seeking broken biscuits or dripping. Beatrice started to think about how to continue to support Noel. 

It was at about this time that Beatrice’s sister Bertha visited Australia from the United States. She was doing well in the 'rag trade' but unable to have children and young Noel got on well with her. The two sisters were in regular contact and it's likely that collecting Noel was one of the reasons for Bertha's visit.

Noel was impressed in particular with her leather jacket and was intrigued that she seemed to be the only family member to give Poe a dressing down. She wasted no time suggesting to her sister than Noel could return with her to live in the USA. 

Young Noel thought this would be a great adventure, but Beatrice refused. While she was in need of help she also wanted to be able to see her son.

Beatrice had to downsize her accommodation and Bill Lyell assisted her with the move. Lyell was an amateur boxer and so in Beatrice’s circle of acquaintances. Years earlier she had given him her then youngest child soon after her separation. Lyell talked suggested that he would be happy to take Noel into his household as well. His wife, Ivy, was unable to have children herself and he hoped the two boys would get to know one another. It would be good for both of them, he argued. Beatrice agreed.

Just before the move to the Lyells, Noel met his father again and remembered him as very well dressed with a penny in every pocket. Perhaps Beatrice wanted to let him know what she was doing. There is no story about his reaction but he would probably have been for it. He would certainly have preferred the arrangement to Noel living with his abrasive sister-in-law.  

So Noel moved in with his new family at Lane Cove a respectable middle-class suburb on Sydney's lower North Shore. It was not a formal arrangement, but he immediately started to use the surname 'Lyell'. There was some tension with his elder brother who had been surprised to find that he had a younger brother. He may also not have known anything about his natural family until the seven-year-old Noel appeared. 

Noel and Bill Lyell became as close as Ivy had become to Noel's older brother.

19 March 1932 gave Noel a very specific memory – the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The way the 8-year-old remembered it, he was the first person to ride a tricycle over the bridge. His horizons continued to expand.

Noel’s time with the Lyell’s provided the stability he needed. He attended North Sydney Boys High and learned the building trade from Bill Lyell. He also followed Bill’s interest in boxing and spent a fair amount of time bodybuilding, training and remembering stories about his champion boxer uncle. He got to know his brother and the two did some work together in a brick factory. 

A young Noel with a catch in the early 1930s.
The picture is torn in half - who is missing?

However, in the late 1930’s as a teenager, he wanted to reconnect with his mother and sister and find out more about the rest of his natural family. Ivy was not happy with the idea, though Bill understood it was inevitable. 

Initially, he moved to downtown Sydney and got a job with his Lyell Godfather, Joe Gardiner. Noel worked for him as a bell-hop / waiter in the Plaza Hotel and there learned the catering business. Prior to that, he had worked as a painter and monumental mason with his Lyell 'grandfather'. 

So he was setting off in life with a number of skills which he would put to good use.

A picture of Perry Brothers Circus about 1935, after Noel had left.
Note the elephants and twin pole tent.

The next item will describe Noel's quest for a surname. See: Noel Patrick Hilton finds a surname or two…

This item was revised on 7 September 2017 to include additional material. The source was a collection of notes I wrote during the 1990s following various conversations and collected on numerous pieces of paper. Dad was not eager to ‘reveal all’ in one discussion so whenever he would say something I’d write a note on whatever was handy. The notes also record conversations with other people. Amazingly almost all of it is legible.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Lucy Poe Blandy – DC’s last ‘real’ daughter of 1812

Lucy Jane Poe was the eldest child of William R Poe's second marriage to Mary Jane Dale and the longest-lived of any of his children. Before her death she was acknowledged as the last ‘real’ daughter of those who served in the War if 1812 - and the oldest female voter in Maryland.

Although we don’t have many details about her earlier life, some of her reminiscences were recorded in the Washington DC Evening Star shortly before her death.

The last phase of Lucy’s life began round 1918 when she moved from Missouri to be with her second husband Herbert Bandy who had obtained a job as an information officer with the Department of the Navy in Washington DC.  The couple had married about 20 years earlier in Missouri. They later rented a comfortable but modest home in Maryland which still exists today and took in two borders.

Her husband may not have been a relative of Admiral William Henry Purnell Blandy (1890 – 1954); but they attended the same church and both worked for the Navy.

Mrs Lucy Poe Blandy & Mrs John Parker Gaillard, 6 September 1924.
Retrieved from the Library of Congress. (Accessed August 23, 2017.)
Does anyone know the monument behind them?

We have few details of her previous life. She married Marshall Brown when she was about 26 and raised a family of two boys in Missouri. What became of her first husband is not known, but she maintained connections with her boys.

Prior to that there is one reference to her in a divorce case. The case of West verses West was heard in Missouri by Judge Knight who allowed full details to be discussed ‘to the delight of the large audience’.  According to the St Louis Democrat February 21 1875;

‘Mrs West took the stand, and related how Newt failed to provide for her; how he was too fond of his toddy, and had been too friendly with Lucy Poe, a Du Quoin girl…’

This was before her marriage to Brown and she was about 19 years of age. She was not called as a witness herself. Lucy grew up in Du Quoin but her parents had met and married in Missouri so there were probably some family connections back in Missouri.

Lucy’s second, and younger, husband had been born in Wales and grew up in London. The reason for his migration to the US is not clear. But in less than a year of his arrival he had married Lucy. He worked as a stenographer and perhaps this was a very marketable skill.

Lucy’s reminisces are recorded across three articles in the Washington Evening Star during the 1940s.

In August 1942, she celebrated her 90th birthday and there was an item in the paper about it together with a few quotes in support of the war effort. ‘The United States is bound to win -we’ve never lost a war yet, and we’re not going to lose this one.’

Mrs Blandy with her husband look over 90th birthday greetings.
The Evening Star August 20 1942, p 1

The edition of 7 November 1944 records that polls in the 1944 presidential election ‘opened today and Marylanders and Virginians apparently were casting a record vote’. 

Incumbent President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic nominee, sought his fourth term. World War II was going well for the United States and its Allies. Roosevelt had already served longer than any other president, but remained popular. Dewey, the Governor of New York, campaigned for smaller government, but was unsuccessful in convincing the country to change course. Roosevelt would die and be replaced by his new Vice President, Harry S. Truman, within a half-year of winning re-election.

In Prince Georges County, the paper recorded that Mrs Lucy Poe Blandy ‘the county’s, oldest voter’ prepared to cast her ballot early that afternoon. She had ‘never missed a vote since women received the right to ballot’. (The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting American women the right to vote had been ratified on August 18, 1920.)

‘A simple existence, regular habits and freedom from worry are the essentials for a long and happy life’ she told the paper in 1946, saying it was the formula which enabled her to celebrate her 94th birthday. For many years Mrs Blandy had held a unique position in the Society of the U S Daughters of 1812 being the only ‘real’ daughter in the Washington area of a War of 1812 veteran. Most other members of the Society were granddaughters or great granddaughters.

Her membership of the Daughters was also a help in finding information about her father.

Related to Poe 
‘Her father William R Poe – cousin of the Great American poet – served as a corporal in the Virginia militia during the war that gave this country final freedom from England.

‘Mrs Blandy exhibited a keen sense of humour as she recalled days when she once saw President Lincoln on a campaign tour. We lived a simple life but we always had plenty to eat, and plenty of clothes.’ ‘Yes’ her husband put in ‘and she wore a good many more clothes that the postage stamp costumes the girls wear today.’

‘And instead of the wonder drugs the world has now, we used quinine, sulphur and molasses and a big jug of whiskey.’

‘People had stronger convictions then too. When my father, who was a Democrat, decided to vote for Mr Lincoln, for instance, he had to go to the country store where we voted several times before he was able to make himself put in a Republican vote. When Lincoln was elected though, our house was illuminated from top to bottom with candles and decorations, and when he was assassinated drapes were hung about the house.’

She said she always voted for ‘what I thought was right, I don’t think it’s right to let politics make any difference.’

Civil War Sufferings
Her home town during the Civil War period was in a precarious position at all times. ‘We were near the Mason-Dixon Line and so we often caught it from both the North and the South. The town once gave a dinner for Union soldiers and after they ate all we had they shot what livestock was still alive and called us rebels.’

‘So, when we heard any troops were coming after that we hid everything in cellars.’ Residents of the town posted lookout to warn citizens of Confederate soldiers and were also instructed to notify residents when Northern troops passed through.

‘When the boys came through they cleaned the town of everything they could find in the way of food.  But the people didn’t complain because they knew they had to make some sacrifices for the boys in uniform.  The was no USO then and many soldiers marched without shoes and underclothing.’

‘But those were good old days.  People weren’t worried to death about things like money. We lived quietly and peacefully.’

Lucy was a life member of the Order of the Eastern Star. The Order was founded in the late 1800s to provide a way for female relatives of Master Masons to share the benefits of knowledge and self-improvement that Freemasonry made available to men.

Mrs Blandy said she was active in a number of organisations until her health began to fail.

‘Christmas day [1946] brought sorrow to the members of the District of Columbia Society when it was learned that our last real daughter Mrs Herbert William Blandy had passed into the great beyond.

Mrs Blandy celebrated her 94th birthday in August and was enjoying active life until September when she sustained a bruised hip as the result of a fall which confined her to bed and from which she did not recover. 

She was born in Thompsonville, Illinois, August 17 1852, daughter of Corporal William Romulus Poe who served in the Battle of New Orleans and a cousin of the celebrated poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe. She moved to St Louis Missouri where she met Mr Blandy a native of Clapham Junction, England. They were married in Plattsburg, Missouri, and in 1917 moved to Washington D C and later located in the new development of Mt Rainier, Maryland. 

The State President, in company with the Registrar National Miss Stella Picket Hardy, State Chaplain Miss Amy S White, State Librarian Miss Mary C Oursler, Mrs William F O Brien and her daughter-in-law Mrs Randolph Anderson attended the funeral in Mt Rainer Methodist Church and the burial in the Acacia Circle Fort Lincoln Cemetery Mt Rainier Maryland.’

National Society Unites States Daughters of 1812 Newsletter, March 1947, Pp 17 - 18

Herbert Blandy moved to California where he passed away in California in 1951 but his body was returned to be interred with his wife. The stone is a simple one with a masonic symbol for Herbert and Eastern Star symbol for Lucy.

See also: Jottings of interest October 2017

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Alonzo Marion Poe: a recurring family name

When I began researching the Poe family one recurring name was Alonzo Marion. My grandfather’s middle name was ‘Marion’ and his father was ‘Alonzo Marion’ and he, in turn, was named after his uncle ‘Alonzo Marion’. As far as I can tell this is the ‘original’ Alonzo Marion.

So, who was he and why did he make such an impression?

The first Alonzo shows up on the 1840 census of Missouri as one of the children of William Romulus Poe (WRP) and his wife Margaret.

I’ve mentioned before that WRP decided to name his children with names starting it the letter ‘A’. The significance of Alonzo might therefore only be that it begins with the letter A, but the second name Marion is most likely a reference to the ‘Swamp Fox’ General Francis Marion a hero of the American Revolutionary War.  WRP’s next son was named Americus (pen name of American federalist Alexander Hamilton) Napoleon and his third son Alexander Hamilton, so there is a patriotic pattern.

As an aside, the juxtaposing of Americus with Napoleon seems odd at first. Perhaps it is to ‘remind’ the world that Hamilton writing as ‘Americus’ in early 1797 had predicted that Napoleon’s France would become ‘the terror and the scourge of nations’.  

Alonzo Marion Poe disappeared from the family home in Missouri quite early. In April 1845 at the age of 18, he got himself a job with John Lemmon who was leading a party of pioneers aiming to head west on the ‘Oregon Trail’ aiming for Willamette Valley in the Washington Territory. He was employed to look after the cattle, look for food, negotiate with the Indians along the way and basically provide some ‘muscle’ when needed.

Oregon Trail from The Ox Team or the Old Oregon Trail 1852-1906 by Ezra Meeker. 
Courtesy University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin via Wikipedia.

Poe seemed comfortable though naive in engaging with Indians. In one incident, he set out to find a missing cow and engaged ‘unconcernedly’ with some Sioux. However, it soon became apparent to Poe and the rest of the party looking on from a safe distance, that the Indians intended to take clothing and firearms from Poe.

As he talked, one of the Indians took hold of Poe’s horse bridle while two others took hold of the stirrups and quickly slipped them off his feet, and, while they unbuckled the straps his feet were left hanging uselessly down.

Poe became obviously afraid, but the more mature Lemmon saw the situation and rode to his assistance with a blacksnake whip in his hand. The Indians prepared to pull Poe off his horse, but Lemmon gave a fierce crack with his whip across their hands and they let go of the bridle. He then gave the horse a stroke with the whip, at the same time telling Poe to hold onto his saddle for his life.

The horse rushed off and Lemmon kept up his whip cracking so that the Indians had no time to draw their bows and soon the two men and horses were out of danger. Meanwhile, the troublesome cow and calf had wandered back toward the camp so that all parties returned in safety to bring her into the herd.

Lemmon’s daughter recorded that ‘Poe was cured of his desire to converse with the quick-witted marauding Sioux. Although the laugh at his expense was the theme of many a joke among his comrades around the camp fires.’ 

After the group had safely arrived in the Washington Territory his contract was completed and he set out on his own, settling at Tumwater then in Lewis County. In June 1846, he was elected lieutenant-colonel of the Oregon Rangers and after turning 21 was elected sheriff of Lewis County in 1847.

Poe served as a private in the Oregon Volunteers during the Cayuse War (1847-1855) and was later granted 160 acres of land in Thurston County in recognition. The war was caused in part by the influx of disease and settlers to the region, but the spark for fighting occurred in 1847 when Cayuse Indians killed fourteen people in and around the Whitman Mission near present day Walla Walla. 

In 1853, Poe moved to Bellingham Bay. As he had arrived in the Territory before 1850, he was entitled to claim 320 acres despite being unmarried and he had settled on his claim 17 September 1853. He then became instrumental in the formation of Whatcom County in 1854 serving as the county’s first auditor and as a civil engineer, drawing up plans for the original town of Whatcom in 1858.

But, it turned out to be a lonely existence and he wrote to his friend Isaac Ebey who had also come from Missouri urging him to become his neighbour to relieve his loneliness. This didn’t happen but his unmarried brother Americus did join him within a few years. Remember that communication was not swift – no emails or phone – letters would have taken a few months.

Poe, Isaac Ebey and William Winlock Miller were fast friends who were employed by Simpson P Moses, the Collector of Customs at the Port of Olympia. They also worked together to advance their common interests, which were focussed on the development of a vibrant progressive Territory and State.

(l to r) Alonzo, Miller and Ebey, early 1850s. Washington State Digital Archives
(Image No. AR-07809001-ph004223).
I have flipped the image which would have been taken from a daguerreotype.
Another version is UW 14329 reprinted in William Lang’s Confederacy of Ambition.

Although relations with the local Indians were often mutually beneficial there were tensions from time to time. After some trouble, local Indians exacted revenge on Ebey. Near midnight on 11 August 1857, the Ebey dog aroused the house with furious barking. Ebey opened the door in his nightshirt to investigate and almost instantly a ‘ragged burst of musketry greeted him’. His body fell with a thud and his decapitated head taken as a trophy.

The outrage over the incident lasted for some time and eventually his skull was found though it had been scalped. Some years later his scalp was bought from the Indians and delivered to his friend Poe who passed it to Ebey’s family.

There are various indications that Poe’s health was not good though no condition is specified, and perhaps he had multiple problems. One newspaper reported his death from injuries received in fighting, but the announcement was premature.

Only two pictures of him are known. The one with his two friends seems to show him holding a cane.

Poe’s financial fortunes mirrored his health malaise. He worked hard but frontier life was not easy. He worked in real estate and his interest in public affairs encouraged several people to combine subscriptions for him to start a newspaper. His talents and political contacts enabled him to be appointed official Territory printer.

Soon after this success, his poor health gave him so much trouble that he took the advice to move to the warmer weather of California in 1860. He wanted to hang on to his job a public printer but even with the support of friends, it was a tough case to make as he no longer lived in the Territory.

In San Fransisco, California, he established an ‘intelligence’ office – what we would call a news office – writing articles for other publications. He built a good network there and was close to the family of Judge Hartson. Chancellor Hartson and his family were active in the community and my guess is that Poe was part of this community.

One of Poe’s news reports was on the prospects for finding gold in the Washington Territory and beyond its northern border.

Poe’s youngest brother Alexander finally made the move west after their mother died in Missouri, but he settled in California where the weather was better and the ground fertile. Alexander had married and started a family, naming his first son Alonzo Marion after his eldest brother and his second Americus Napoleon after his next brother. 

On 19 January 1863, Poe was married to Emma Hartshorn, who was living with the Hartson’s. Some people assumed she was related to the judge but this is impossible. The confusion probably came about because her surname, Hartshorn, sounded similar and her father’s given name was Chancellor the same as the Judge.

The couple became parents one year later and named their daughter Emma after her mother. A son was born about early 1865, though he died in May and no name is recorded. Tragically, their daughter Emma died on 1 August the same year. Poe himself died six months later on 31 January 1866 of tuberculosis which he may have had for many years. During the nineteenth century, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the United States, and one of the most feared diseases in the world.

After this trauma, his wife returned to her parents’ home in Michigan after a few months where she died in 1872. Poe’s brother Americus sold his remaining interests in the Washington Territory and moved to California to work as a farmer. Although he married Sarah Dickenson (nee Porter) in 1879, he did not have children of his own.

Poe’s early poor health meant that his potential was never fulfilled and his place in the history of the Washington Territory clouded. Much more can be written about his life.

He was a pioneer in the Washington Territory and one of the founders of Olympia. Without the efforts of a number of people, from Dr Arthur S. Beardsley, at the University of Washington in the early 1940s, to various residents of Bellingham and William Lang more recently, memory of him may easily have been lost.

Poe worked as a civil engineer and assisted others in land surveys, acted as Lewis County's Sheriff, a delegate to Washington Territory convention of 1851, an auditor for Whatcom County, a legislator representing Island County in 1854 a lieutenant with Eaton’s Rangers defending the Territory in 1855 and public printer for the Territory from 1862.

His life was cut short by illness, probably caused, and certainly made worse, by the hardships of frontier life.

Alonzo’s nephew named after him would marry Minerva Elizabeth Dearing in 1883. They had three daughters and one son (my grandfather) who was named Alexander Marion Poe and known to his parents as 'Marion'.

Feedback in this item is welcome. There are many details of Alonzo Marion Poe’s life to be verified but his story is worth documenting in full.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The first Margaret – history of a picture

For many people, a major goal of genealogy is to trace their male line back.  Following the female line can be just as interesting and will lead your research into a completely different direction.

In a dark corner of the corridor in grandpop’s home was a table which held the heavy Bakelite phone. Above it on the wall was a small portrait of ‘the first Margaret’. It had been handed from the first Margaret to each successive first daughter who was named Margaret. My mother’s sister, Margaret, was the last in the line as she had no children.

Mum had been aware of the portrait all her life and could recite the surnames in order; Thomson (‘without the p’), Swan, Bald, Ker and finally Marsh.  So, who were these women and how did the tradition get started?

Margaret Thomson was born in 1795 to Alexander Thomas near Edinburgh. Her mother’s name was not Margaret, but doubtless, there would have been Margaret’s in her ancestry, so obviously she was not the first Margaret ever!  At the moment though I don’t know anything about her female ancestors other than her mother’s name which was Abigail Eddie and presumably also an Edinburgh lass.

Margaret has been a popular Scottish name since the Catholic canonisation of Margaret of Scotland.

Margaret (1046 – 16 November 1093) was an English princess of the House of Wessex who fled with her family to Scotland following the Norman conquest of England of 1066. Around 1070 Margaret married Malcolm III of Scotland. She was a pious woman, credited with bringing a civilising influence to her husband and his kingdom by reading him Bible stories and initiating many charitable works including a ferry across the Firth of Forth for pilgrims travelling to Dunfermline Abbey. According to the Life of Saint Margaret, she died at Edinburgh Castle in 1093, just days after receiving the news of her husband's death in battle.

St Margaret's Chapel, in Edinburgh Castle, is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Saint Margaret.
Detail from the 1922 stained-glass window by Douglas Strachan.
Picture by Kjetil Bjørnsrud New York via

Margret Thomson married the slightly younger Joseph Swan in 1817 and travelled with him from Edinburgh to Glasgow where he set about building a profitable engraving business and together they had eight children. Amongst them was her first daughter named Margaret. The first Margaret died in 1836 at about the age of 40. Although the circumstances of her death are not known, it was a tragedy for Joseph. The couple had also lost three of their children before Margaret’s death. 

Margaret Swan nee Thomson (1795-1836)
as portrayed in the famous family miniature.

Swan himself was a significant figure in Glasgow at this time and my guess is that it was on the death of his wife that the famous family miniature was commissioned. It shows a pious woman perhaps holding a Bible in her hand. The background may refer to a specific place and although the colours suggest autumn she died in January. The other detail of interest is the head-dress which includes a tiara. This may be symbolic but is consistent with the formal attire she is wearing.

Margaret Swan and her younger sister Janet were married in 1850 to their respective spouses, grain merchant William Ker and marble cutter Alexander Penman, in their father’s home by a relative, the missionary Thomas Swan. Thomas had worked in India and had some disagreements with Baptist missions’ founder William Carey over methods. The new Mrs Ker remembered many contacts with missionaries and preachers from her childhood and lived a long, happy and productive life. 

She also enjoyed the piano from childhood and passed that interest and some of her music to her daughter Margaret.

Margaret Ker nee Swan (1827-1911)

Margaret retired to Oban in the west of Scotland after the death of
her husband in 1891 to live with her younger daughter Mrs Agnes Fleming and her son-in-law journalist Ned. She took with her a bound book of music presented to her by a Swan relative. It contained a number of songs mostly by ‘Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’. Mendelssohn wrote many romantic songs with piano, a number of which became popular in Scotland. Her eldest daughter, Margaret, shared her love of the piano. Oban seems to have become a hub for family reunions the last being at the time of her death in 1911.

In 1885, Margaret Ker married the engineer and tea-planter Claud Bald, who had come back from India for the marriage, was some eight years her senior. Again, they married in a relative’s home in Glasgow. This time it was the home of Charles Arthur who had married Isobel Swan her mother’s youngest sister.  Links between the descendants of the three sisters, Margaret Swan, Janet Penman and Isobel Arthur, remained strong for a couple of generations. Soon after her marriage, the new Mrs Bald set off with her husband to the Tukvar Tea plantation where Claud was an established identity. Presumably, she took her piano music – and the portrait the first Margaret with her.

Margaret Bald nee Ker (1861-1935) with her music.

Margaret Ker was apparently happy to repeat the story that her Ker line descended from the Earls of Roxburgh. An attempt by the last Margaret to find this connection was unsuccessful. However the relevant fact is that descent could pass through the female line - there's a story for another day...

Her first daughter was named Margaret Evelyn Ker Bald. However, with a preponderance of Margarets she became known as ‘Evelyn’.  Evelyn took her music very seriously and gained formal qualifications Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music (LRSM). Her tastes were strong forceful pieces, Mendelsohn, Beethoven and she had the hands to do them justice.  Evelyn was apparently a confident performer. On one extended visit to Scotland at about the age of 18, she played the organ for services at the Helensburgh Baptist Church and back in Darjeeling regularly performed at the Mount Hermon School and at other public events.  

The Helensburgh church had some connection to India through the missionary work of its member Mrs Elizabeth Sale, the first missionary to obtain access to the Zenanas of India. Evelyn married the slightly younger Australian protégé of her father’s Frederick Marsh in Darjeeling in 1917. Marsh was an Australian who had come to India partly because his sometimes-unwell sister had preceded him as a missionary. 

Sometime before she retired to England in 1919, Margaret passed the portrait to her daughter.

Lounge at Phoobsering Tea Estate, Darjeeling, home from Fred and Evelyn, in about 1940 showing the first Margaret’s portrait to the left.

Evelyn had only two children, Margaret Evelyn Mary Marsh and Joan Kathleen (my mother). Margaret inherited the portrait but Joan inherited her mother’s musical ability, though her tastes were different again.  Joan also obtained an LRSM and like her mother played the piano for church services, as well as ballet classes, but also enjoyed teaching. Margaret and Joan settled in Melbourne in 1937 while their parents remained in India. Their parents joined them in 1948 bringing the portrait with them. The last Margaret was an enthusiastic photographer and we are lucky that a number of her pictures survive.

Left to right: Joan,
Margaret Evelyn Ker Marsh (nee Bald)
 and Margaret Marsh
on an English street in 1937.
Comments are welcome below.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Jottings of interest: August 2017

The Sabbath Sentinel published a slightly different version of my article ‘The Seventh Day Men Part 1: The Sabbath under James I & Charles I under the title ‘The Seventh Day Men’ in their May-June 2017 edition, pp17-19.  I’m hoping they may publish all three in due course. The magazine is published by the Bible Sabbath Association, a non-denominational organisation, whose main purpose is to promote cooperation between Sabbath-keepers from a number of groups.


Victor Perton, the energetic Editor of the Australian Leadership Project, published a short interview with me in June, based on my reflections about leadership. The only error in the piece is that he described my previous employer as my current – I don’t know who would be more offended.


Speaking of La Trobe, the University… 

I’ve now read From the Paddock to the Agora – Fifty Years of La Trobe University, spruiked as featuring ‘candid essays from six commissioned authors, as well as a collection of iconic photos and images’.  The line-up is impressive; author and speechwriter Don Watson; historian, author and broadcaster Clare Wright; public intellectual Robert Manne; writer and political commentator Dennis Altman; scientist Marilyn Anderson; and Bendigo Honorary Associate Penny Davies.

I had been expecting a follow-up to Building La Trobe University: reflections on the first 25 years, 1964-1989, a thoughtful anthology published by La Trobe University Press in 1989, but was disappointed.

You’ll notice a slight difference in chronology here. Building starts from ‘conception’ in 1964 when the La Trobe University Act was passed by the Victorian Parliament whereas From the Paddock counts 50 years from the ‘birth’ on 8 March 1967.  The cows had gone by 1967, but not the paddock.

From the Paddock is an easy, one-sitting, read with Don Watson’s item resonating most. He is the only author to also feature in Building La Trobe and clearly did some research for the current book. I learned about Kathleen Fitzpatrick being a member of ‘The Third University Committee’, and the person who proposed naming the new university after Victoria’s first Lieutenant-Governor Charles Joseph La Trobe. Nice to know that she taught 17th Century English history too - not enough people do it now.

The book is reminiscences rather than history and in one place seems to rake over internal disputes perhaps better left forgotten. Some of my reminiscences, with no raking, are in earlier blog items.

I wonder why some of the authors were chosen until Clare Wright’s piece indicated that she and most of the others were part of The Age top 20 Australian intellectuals in April 2005. The missing authors were Inga Clendennin (who passed away in 2016) and Tim Flannery – made me wonder what his memories would be.

Watson’s reflective descriptions of student life also gave a better view of the ‘radical days’ than some other two-dimensional views of ‘radical’.  The experience was a maturing one and thoughtful staff recognised it as such. La Trobe was for me a marketplace of ideas – an Agora for the mind.

The opposite end of the student spectrum was taken by the late Andrew Armstrong (d 2008) who enjoyed being seen as radical for being conservative. I got to know him when he was a Convocation member of the University Council. See his item LURC Early History - my part in your being.  

An interesting item would be to compare the formal portraits of successive VCs (and Chancellors) with their characters. Johnson blends into the environment with his coffee, Osborne is lonely, Scott is penetrating and thoughtful and a happy Myers clouded in the smoke of his pipe. 

The lack of captions for the photos was also a disappointment. I wonder whether the inclusion of a picture of John Scott and his wife is an accident or a recognition that his decision to go ahead with the amalgamation with the Lincoln Institute of Health Sciences was a significant turning point for La Trobe. Professor Peter Karmel had advised that not to do it may mean the end of the University. 

It’s a pity that there hasn’t been something written with a historical perspective to describe and assess the changes over the last 28 years and perhaps reassess the developments of the earlier period. Themes would include the Lincoln amalgamation and how it changed the University, engaging with TAFE and vocational teaching, more reflection on the University's rural mission and the challenges of a multi-campus institution, the role of international activities (there from day one but with ever-increasing significance), the change in academic mix including the loss of some areas such as music or geology and the balance between being inward-looking and outward looking.

From the Paddock is not quite a coffee-table book – indeed it might be a ‘coffee-table book lite’ or an ‘instant-coffee table book’.


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