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.


diane b said...

Thats the good thing about country towns, the houses seem to stay rather than be bulldozed for development. It must be fun walking the walk of your ancestors. I have just started dabbling in family history. It is so time consuming.

Julie said...

Absolutely, time consuming, Diane. One of the reasons why "Sydney Eye" is on the back-burner. I figure I am one of the few people (only person?) who has this information, and really feel the weight to pass it on.

Besides ... I thoroughly enjoy the research. I want to make them real people, not just dates on a page.

Thanks for visiting, and for leaving a comment.

Sandra D. said...

Thank you Julie for you wonderful ability to research and then put into words and photos the stories of our forebears. I think you are definitely the only person with the ability to put it all together for our future generations.

Next time we pass through Bathurst, we will definitely be looking on the corner of Rankin and Henry Streets and taking a few of our own photos.

Looking forward to the stories to follow.

Julie said...

Excellent, Sandra. I am so glad you have read it. I am hoping to have another chapter ready to post by next weekend. 1891/92 our grandfather would have been 12/13 years of age. My guess is, he worked in the shop. This is about the time he supposedly went to "Newington". I am doubtful, but must ask the Newington Arcivist yet. The fees are one thing. He would have had to board for another. And the other children were not quite old enough to pull their weight in the shop. But ... I will wait for evidence ...