Sunday, 24 April 2016

Fight or flight ... fleeing is a family trait (1 of 5)

Rankin Street

Note: Both father and son were named John Bennett Tonkin. The father I will refer to as JB(1). The son I will refer to as JB(2).

Ross saw it first: he beckoned me over. "I think we have something."

Indeed, we did. We (Ross, Robyn, and I) were in Bathurst for this very purpose. Well, I was, and had dragooned them along as a means of keeping in regular touch. We looked up at the lead-light transom above the door: "32 Rankin 1889".

I was going from an entry in the 1891 Census, which showed where our great-grandparents lived with their four children. My mental directions were that they had lived on Rankin between Henry and Durham. It was only later that I showed the entry to Ross, who immediately recognised what I termed a "hieroglyph" as a stylised ampersand. It meant on the corner of Henry and Rankin. On the corner! And on the corner was this transom. It was like they had left a message for us.

The 1891 Census is to be treasured, as the only other existing prior census data goes back to 1828, the documents in between perishing in the conflagration that destroyed the "Garden Palace" in Sydney's Botanic Gardens in September 1882. So, this entry says that a chap lived on the corner of Henry and Rankin, and he was one of four males and two females in the household. That would be:
John Bennett Tonkin (JB1)
his wife, Louisa, and their children
William George
Florence Gertrude, and
John Bennett (JB2).
William George was our grandfather, John Bennett our great-grandfather, and Louisa our great-grandmother.

Of the six people who lived in that corner house (terrace) I have images of just three. The photograph above shows Arthur seated left, and William George seated right. This was taken at Will's marriage in July 1918, to Sylvia Cole, our grandmother, in Drummoyne. Arthur, although he married, had no children.

This next photograph shows John Bennett (2) with his grandson, Robert, in about 1950. It was taken at his home beside his shop in East Gosford.

But nothing to show the only daughter, Florence, nor the two parents. Especially the two parents, JB (1) and Louisa. For, this is their story.

The corner of Henry and Rankin was a shop, as is apparent from this next photograph. A corner shop. JB(1) was a shop-keeper. As was his father John Dunstan Tonkin, who was an iron-monger in Melbourne. And his father before HIM, Uriah Tonkin, who ran a chandlery in Penzance, Cornwall.

The house is no longer a shop. If the truth be known, it was a shop for only a short time. The density of population that side of the highway, beside the Macquarie River, would not provide a strong living. If JB(1) and his family were there in 1891, when did they move in, and when did they move out?

William George was born in February 1879 in Inverell, in northern NSW, a tin-mining town. Arthur was born in 1882 in Bathurst, Florence Gertrude in 1884 in Hill End, and JB(2) in 1886 in Hill End.

Hill End had thrived during the NSW gold rush, during the 1870s. But during the 1880s it was more hard-scrabble than anything else. How did JB(1) earn a living for his expanding family? One can only surmise that he kept a shop. A combination grocer/hardware shop. A small one. A rough one. I have poured over the Holteremann cache of the town, but it is a needle in a haystack. Besides, Holtermann was recording the town for posterity during the 1870s.

A small part of what has come to be known as the Holtermann Collection, taken 1870-1875, and held by the SL-NSW

It does not surprise that JB(1) missed the NSW gold rush in the 1870s. His own father had missed the Victorian gold-rush in the first half of the 1850s, by not arriving in Melbourne until 1857. Were they Hamlet characters?

The streetscape of this part of Bathurst lends itself to visions of the 1890s. Although the strip of terraces which were anchored by No. 32 on the corner, have been tarted up, they are essentially the same structures. I am given to flights of imagination, and can readily see my ancestors living and playing here.

I suspect they rented No. 32 not long after its construction in 1889, and lived here for the duration of their decade keeping shop in Bathurst. Although, the corner store of 1891, had given way to a much enlarged store in the retail heart of the town by as early as July 1892. Which I will detail in my next post.

These 4 images are snipped from Google Street-view as I travelled the block on which my paternal ancestors lived: Rankin, Henry, Durham, and Morrisett. They are interspersed with houses spanning the 20th century, but I am surprised how many of these 19th century homes are still standing. They all have a story to tell.

Perhaps, none more poignant than the story I have unravelled.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Keeping track

Plan showing streets and buildings of Collingwood in January 1858

The sixth child of JDT & JFG, Margaret Martha, was born in Collingwood in September 1858. She was the last child to pass away, in 1937 aged 78. Their seventh child, William Georgewas also born in Collingwood. However, he was born in 1861, but died 8 months la ter. The eight child of this union was George William, born in Collingwood in 1863. The nineth, and final child of JDT & JFG, Hubert Percival lived for just over three weeks at the end of 1870. By this time, JDT was 47, and JFG 46. At that time, childbirth invariably occurred in the home with a local 'midwife'.

The important 'tracking' thing to note here is that Hubert was born in Richmond. He was also born in the year that JDT opened his first iron monger's shop. More on the retail venture in a later post.

So, from late in 1858 until at least 1863, the family lived in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood. It is tempting to guess that Collingwood was their home from March 1857 until 1870, but I do not have evidence for this just yet, Need Victorian electoral rolls. This is a crucial period during which JDT established himself, and cobbled together sufficient capital to buy out an existing retail store, and be able to stock it. Why were JDT and Collingwood such a good match at that time? What did the area have to offer?

The plans and layout for the suburb we now know as Collingwood, were begun in 1838, with the area being declared separate from Melbourne in 1855. The 1854 census stated the population of the area to be 8,738. In 1863, this had risen to 19,000. Mostly, this was the lure of the gold fields, but there were also many people who made their fortune by catering to the gold rush. JDT was not only a carpenter, but he was the son of a chandler. Items that could be found in a chandlery might include: rosin, turpentine, tar, pitch (resin), linseed oil, whale oil, tallow, lard, varnish, twine, rope and cordage, hemp, oakum, tools (hatchet, axe, hammer, chisel, planes, lantern, nail, spike, boat hook, caulking iron, hand pump, marlinspike), brooms, mops, galley supplies, leather goods, and paper. It is not far from a chandler to an ironmonger, by way of carpentry.

Next: the small business owner, 1870.

Sons of JDT & JFG. Photo taken about 1861: Andrew (1856), Robert (1849), John (1853)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The journey to a new land

John Dunstan Tonkin (1823 to 1912)Jane Forrest Gibson (1824 to 1899)

On Saturday 14th March, 1857, the SS. 'Swiftsure' moored alongside Sandridge Raiway Pier at Port Melbourne, in Port Philip Bay. It was not the only ship bringing immigrants to the fledging Colony of Victoria. The gold rush was luring those hard pressed in the mother counties. The colony was in the early stages of a development boom that would last for another 40 years, until the recession of the early 1890s brought it all crahing down around their ears. And our ancestor was no exception.

On board the 'Swiftsure' was 34 year old John Dunstan Tonkin, a native of Helston, Cornwall, and hs wife, Jane Forrest Gibson, aged 33, a native of Kenwyn, Cornwall , together with their five children: Robert aged 8, Caroline aged 6, John aged 4, Jane aged 3, and baby Andrew aged 1. Where would a family of this size lodge in their first night in a new land, albeit an English speaking land. The autumn weather would have been as mild as they could have hoped for. Would their passage on the 'Swiftsure' have included a few nights of accommodation, until they found their feet. Seems too much like a modern construct. One can only surmise they would have needed somewhere cheap, and somewhere close to a job.

JDT's marriage certificate tells us that he was a carpenter by trade, which is confirmed by the 1841 Census, wherein the 18 year old JDT is listed as an 'apprentice'. Furthermore, we know that his next child, Margaret Martha, was born in September 1858, in Collingwood. Indeed, their first three babies born in the new colony, were all born in Collingwood: Margaret in 1858, William in 1860, and George in 1863. Collingwood was good to the Tonkin family. It was a case of the right skills at the right time.

Sandridge Railway Pier, Port Melbourne, 1858