Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Trove Tuesday: In which Bessie Phelan recognises a wanted murderer

It was early in May 1895. Bessie Phelan, 26 years old, was working at Ford's Bakery in Sydney Road, Coburg (a suburb of Melbourne), serving customers. She lived with her parents, Daniel and Jane, and five siblings. Her father had not long retired from his job as a Chief Warden at Pentridge Prison just up the road. Another brother, William (my husband's great-grandfather), was teaching at Balmattum in country Victoria.

Then began a series of incidents that ended up being reported in newspapers across the country and even in New Zealand.

Bessie had been reading the news in the paper that morning and it included the story about a man wanted for the murder of his wife and her mother in Collingwood (also a suburb of Melbourne). A man came into her shop to buy buns but only had a sovereign so she told him she couldn't change it and suggested he go next door to get the change. While he was gone she read the newspaper article again because she thought he resembled the description of the wanted man.

Coburg Leader 11 May 1895
After Dooley left the shop she sent word to her father, the ex-warden, who told the police and a hunt began. They were joined by more and more men as word quickly spread around Coburg. Daniel Phelan was in the group that found Dooley and they set off after him 'in hot pursuit' and he was caught and taken to the police station. Unfortunately he managed to swallow what turned out to be arsenic and he later died.

Coburg Leader 11 May 1895
All of the newspaper reports comment on Bessie Phelan's skill in recognising the wanted man, especially because he had dyed his hair, moustache and eyebrows. Apparently Bessie noted Dooley's thick upper lip and missing tooth.

Coburg Leader 11 May 1895

The Coburg newspaper waxed lyrical and called Miss Phelan a heroine. The journalist suggested that there should be some Government reward for her "quick-witted observation and action". 

Coburg Leader 11 May 1895
As I was researching this story I read a number of articles published in newspapers all over the country but they all called our heroine 'Miss Phelan'. As there were five Phelan sisters I didn't know which one was working in the bakery. Then I read the Bendigo Advertiser and it gave her name as Bessie, who was the second daughter. And just this week I was looking at the New Zealand equivalent to Trove - Papers Past- and I found Bessie named in an article published in an Auckland paper. So the lesson to learn from this is to widen your search to interstate papers and beyond.

The other thing I found out from the reports was that Bessie was working in a bakery. I had no idea that she was working.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Trove Tuesday: In which Fred Smith builds a private bowling green

FTW Smith, Mowbray
The Examiner, Launceston, 17 Feb 1950
When I was a teenager I sat down with my grandfather, Duncan Smith, and asked him to name all of his cousins. As he did so I wrote them all down and since then his list has proven to be accurate, including the order of births. What is amazing to me is that he had 69 cousins (as well as 7 siblings).

One of his cousins was Frederick Thomas Walker Smith. My grandfather told me that Fred lived in Tasmania and a son was killed on a ship in the Second World War.

So I set out to do a search on the newspapers at Trove and as a result I now know quite a bit more about cousin Fred.

The article above, and numerous other reports, told me that Fred (known as Pop) was a very keen lawn bowler. So keen in fact, he built his own bowling green but was disappointed that when he didn't get many players keen to play on his green.

The Examiner, Launceston. 17 Feb 1950
In 1950 Fred also retired from his job as chief line inspector in Northern Tasmania for the PMG having worked for the department for 42 years. He appears to have been well respected.

FTW Smith retires. Examiner, Launceston, 14 Jul 1950
By my calculations that means he started work as a linesman in about 1908 at the age of about 22. Fred was born in Dunmunkle near Minyip, Victoria in 1885. His parents were Sampson Smith and Elizabeth Walker who were farmers. His parents later moved to Caramut where they had a shop. Fred had nine brothers and sisters.

In 1917 Fred's father died and later that year Fred was employed to help install the first telephone lines on King Island in Bass Strait.

Telephones.— For many years the establishment of a telephonic system on the island was considered by the majority here more or less in the light of a harmless vision, the materialisation of which was not only considered but its utility,
even if possible of realization, was greatly questioned, it being contended that even if such a system was in existence it would only be used on rare occasions, and other arguments of an equally convincing nature to those maintaining them. An idea of the value of this last named argument may be gained by anyone
frequently visiting the post office where at any time of the day from morn to dewy eve, and later, the system may be heard and seen in constant operation. In all innovations there is always a minority who, by virtue of possessing some imagination, are enabled to see a little further ahead than others, and the matter under consideration was no exception to the invariable rule, as it is now many years since tentative efforts were made by the few in the direction of bringing the matter within the realm of actual fact. As this has now been accomplished, the believers and their efforts and the disbelievers and their witticisms having became matters of ancient history recorded in these pages and elsewhere, it is needless to make further reference to them except to say that their efforts for and against, the scheme constitute a rather interesting and instructive chapter in the historical development of the island. Coming to the actual establishment of the system it may'be interesting to some of our readers, even at the expense of some repetition, to restate some of the main facts in connection with the actual work, and also some further, particulars which have not yet been laid before our readers. 

On Friday, August 10, 1917, Line-foreman F. T. W. Smith and his party arrived and commenced party and commenced operations on the Currie to Wickham line the following Monday. Lineforeman L. N. Kerslake and his party arrived on Sept. 28, and soon commenced operations on the Pegarah Road line including that portion of. the Surprise Bay line to the turnoff on the south road, the remainder of this last named line being completed by Mr Smith after dealing with the northern section. On January 29, this year, Mr S. E. Robinson, the mechanic, made his appearance on the scene of activities, and on February 23 Asst. Electrical Engineer G. J. Braithwaite, accompanied by Lineinspector P. Bryan, arrived here on his inspectional visit and the work was, we understand, finally passed, being entirely satisfactory. On April 1 Mr Smith and his party took their departure, and exactly one calendar month later Mr Kerslake, his party, and Mr Robinson having put the finishing touches to the work returned to Tasmania. This is, very briefly stated, an account of the principal events in connection with the erection of the sixty and a half miles of telephone lines that the island now possesses, which, when the right men took the matter in hand, was completed in slightly under nine months, the work including as it did some pretty tough going, more particularly on the Pegarah Road line. While the success of the telephonic system here, from, the financial point of view has yet to be demonstrated it is nevertheless opined that its utility to the community generally is no longer regarded as doubtful, and for this reason alone its existence is fully justified. 
[King Island News, Wednesday 17 July 1918, page 2]

Fred Smith married Ethel Grace Radford and they had lived in Mowbray near Launceston and raised five children. Their three sons all enlisted for service in World War 2 - Sam was serving as a seaman on the 'HMAS Hobart' when he was killed in July 1943**, Jack was a Prisoner of War in Burma but returned to Launceston after the war ended, and Arthur also served in the AIF.

Fred Smith's wife died at Launceston in 1949 and he died in 1970 at the age of 84.

Now I have to find out about my grandfather's other 68 cousins!

* Update: "Shortly after the articles were in the Examiner a Mowbray Bowls Club was formed with him as first President then the next two years Mr. Andy Burleigh was President and then Keith Brain took the reins. There was always one weekend a year that was Pop Smiths Charity day when all funds from the bowls day were given to St Giles (Home for Crippled Children set up after Polio epedemic)." Thankyou Bev Perkins

** On 20 July 1943, Hobart was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine whilst en route to Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, as part of Task Force 74. The torpedo struck aft on the port side causing considerable damage in the vicinity of the wardroom. Thirteen officers and sailors were killed and another seven injured. She made it to Espiritu Santo under her own power the following day where she underwent temporary repairs. Source: http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-hobart-i
See also: https://www.flickr.com/photos/41311545@N05/3975981931

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Eastern Beach, Geelong

Eastern Beach swimming enclosure, Geelong
Snapshot in Phelan album, c1938
The photo above, in a family album, was taken in the late 1930s, shortly after the swimming enclosure at Geelong was opened. Someone in the family must have been there on holiday. The enclosure was the last constructed in Victoria and is the only one that remains. It was restored in the 1990s and is as popular as it has ever been. The buildings and landscaping is art deco and very beautiful. It now has heritage protection.

There is a concrete lined pool for young children and the boardwalk encloses eight acres of the sea so swimmers are protected from sharks. It is also a very popular area for big events, wedding photos, and family picnics. The foreshore on Corio Bay faces north, one of the few north-facing beaches in Victoria, so it is naturally sheltered and warm when other beaches are windswept.

Eastern Beach Geelong. View to the north.
Copyright Wendy Kerby
Eastern Beach swimming enclosure, Geelong
This post is in response to the theme photo for the Sepia Saturday group. The diving platform looks very similar to the one in Geelong that was constructed at about the same time. Visitors to the group welcome.

Theme photo for Sepia Saturday.
Manly Swimming Pool, Brisbane, in 1936.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

One death, two death certificates

A surprise letter arrived in the mail today. It contained the death certificate of my father-in-law who died in Perth, WA on Christmas Day 2017.

Neil was 94 years old and in good health so his death was unexpected. But that's not the surprise.

He had travelled to Perth from Victoria on the train with family to spend Christmas with his grandaughter. He became ill on the train and died in hospital after a very brief illness. He had expressed a wish that he be buried rather cremated so the process of returning his body to Victoria was initiated by family.

You won't be surprised to learn that there was a bit of paperwork involved. We put it in the hands of the undertaker in Neil's home town in Victoria who had to liaise with an undertaker in Perth. A body can't be moved across state borders without a death certificate so the undertaker in Western Australia organised that. We also discovered that bodies cannot be transported by road to Victoria from WA - they must be transported by air. From any other state (including Tasmania) they can be transported in refrigerated vehicles.

So after several weeks the necessary paperwork was completed, the body transferred and many friends and family gathered to celebrate his long and worthwhile life. Neil was buried with his wife, Shirley, who had died earlier in the year.

My husband is one of the executors and he is starting to prepare the usual documents in order to apply for probate. One of the required documents is the death certificate of course, which the Victorian undertaker had passed over to us, so you can imagine my surprise when a second death certificate, also issued from Western Australia, arrived in the post today. There was no covering letter but I note that the registration number is different. All the other details are exactly the same except that the new certificate has a place and date of burial.

Now we're left with a quandary. There are two death certificates.

Will the probate office want both, or just the second one? We'll find out no doubt.


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