Family Heirlooms – The Photograph

Perhaps you have heard ‘that a photograph is worth a thousand words’.

W Growcock

Then let me write for you, at least a thousand words, about this photograph. The who, when, where, how and why this photograph was taken. The story behind this ‘one second in time’.

Perhaps I should tell you I hold the original photograph, and shared it some forty years ago with my surviving paternal aunts, giving them all a copy of the only known photograph of their father, who had died, when most of them were only small children. This above photograph has been clipped from the original photograph I shared.

It was shared with love, but now I find it thrown about the Internet like a bit of flotsam on a boiling sea. Sometimes with the correct name, and sometimes not. Sometimes placed in the right family, and sometimes not.

Let us start with the who. This is my paternal grandfather, William Growcock, born 1867 in Ireland.

No ‘T’ as a second initial, or ‘James’ as a second name. Just plain ‘William’, nothing else. How do I know this? I have been researching this family for over forty years, and long ago I interviewed his wife, children and first cousins about the family, which I followed up with documentation. I know that this family in Ireland, for at least two hundred years and perhaps more, and on all family lines, called the eldest son ‘William’, without exception.

It pains me to see the added ‘T’ or ‘James’ with his name.

Where does this ‘T’ come from? It is found on the Internet at the NSW Marriage Index linked to several subscription sites, and has been for unknown reasons incorrectly added to his marriage entry. On his original marriage certificate held at the Registrar General of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in Sydney, there is no ‘T’, nor is there on the original index held there at that office. The ‘T’ only exists on the corrupted modern computer index, on the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages website, and on some linked subscription sites.

‘William James’ is my father. There is no other person of that name in the family, anywhere.

Now let us look at where this photograph was taken. It was taken on the family farm at Tygalgah on the Tweed River in northern New South Wales. In the original photograph, ‘William’, known to family and friends as ‘Bill’, was dressed in the obligatory ‘flannel’ and ‘kerchief’ of the Australian farmer of that time.( If he had still been in Ireland, he would have been wearing a long shirt with a kilt.) He was carrying out a daily morning chore of feeding the hens and rooster, outside their ‘chook-pen’.

When was the photo taken? We know it was taken in 1925, as other photos in my possession, taken at the same time, were notated on the back.

The photograph was taken by Bill’s daughter, not yet twelve years of age, with her new Brownie camera.

In 1900 the Eastman Kodak Company introduced a low-priced, point and shoot, hand-held camera. This camera was a simple black, rectangular box, covered in imitation leather with nickeled fittings. To take a ‘snap shot’ ,all one had to do was to hold the camera waist high, line up the subject and turn a switch. It was reasonably affordable and the company sold many thousands all over the world.

After World War I this camera was heavily marketed to children and advertisements were placed in popular magazines. Children under the age of sixteen were also urged to join the Brownie Camera Club. A camera owner could buy a six-exposure film cartridge that could be loaded in daylight. Kodak also promised for a small fee to develop the film for the camera owner rather than them having to invest in materials and a dark room. You could post the film to them, or leave it at an agent.

How did Bill Growcock’s daughter come to be the owner of this wonderful camera?

Bill Growcock was the eldest son of a family of eight in Ireland. Although he wasn’t the only one in the family, who had married, he was the only one, who had a family of his own,at that time, which he was very proud of.

He had arranged to have some professional photographs taken of his two older daughters, before the War, and sent them home to his mother in Ireland.

By the 1920’s, Bill Growcock and his family had moved to a dairy farm at Tygalgah, but life there was tough, as not only had the Tweed River flooded their farm every year, but the dreaded ‘cattle tick’ had virtually brought many of the farmers to near ruin.

The Growcocks with a family of five children by 1925, although not destitute were struggling to make ends meet on the farm, as were all their neighbours.

Bill Growcock was a very strict, but a just parent, and loved to ‘spoil’ his children from time to time, but when his daughter asked for a camera for her birthday, he couldn’t really justify that expense for her gift, but told her that if she could earn most of the needed £1 which was the price of the camera, he would see what he could do. His daughter, who desperately wanted the camera took up the challenge, but how could she earn the money.

Arthur Yates, opened his seed business in Sydney in 1887, and ‘Yates’ Reliable Seed’ became the saviour of many New South Wales farmers, including those in northern New South Wales. Bill Growcock and his neighbours having to replant their maize after the floods, bought Yates seed at their local seed merchants.

In 1893 Arthur Yates had launched his seed packet service for the home gardener. Two years later he wrote the first Yates Garden Guide, which became a valuable asset to every home gardener. In the country all families had a garden of some sort to grow their own food, and often used the catalogue services of Yates for their packeted seed.

It was these seed packets that were to earn Bill Growcock’s daughter, the money for her coveted camera. She bought by mail order from Yates, bundles of packets of the most popular garden seeds, at a small discount. She then sold these packets of seeds at Yates catalogue prices to the family and friends of the Growcock family. They were happy to pay her the full price of the packeted seeds as it saved them time and money in sending their own orders to Yates. Depending on the size of the packets and type of seed, Bill’s daughter, was able to make a profit of a farthing up to a halfpenny per packet of seed. To earn the money for the camera, she needed to sell well over five hundred packets of seed. She carried on this task diligently over several months throughout the Summer of 1924 and then well into the Spring of 1925. Her father added the occasional halfpenny he received in change, until in late 1925 the target had been reached, and her father helped her to get her new Brownie Box Camera.

One of the first photographs she took was her father feeding ‘the chooks’, which unfortunately was a little out of focus. She also took a photograph of her brother, Bill, who was standing close by her father, and another of the ‘chooks’ themselves. Then I believe the horse and cows came in for planned stardom. Later these photographs were developed by Kodak and the two family snap shots, those of Bill Growcock, and his young son,Bill, were sent home to Bill’s sisters in Ireland.

Over the years, this camera was used to send further family snap shots back to Ireland, including photographs of some of Bill Growcock’s grandchildren in the early 1950’s.

What happened to this camera? It was lost in the 1954 Flood in Murwillumbah, when a sea-trunk, originally owned by Bill Growcock, and by which time held many of the family treasures, including the camera and many of its precious photographs, was destroyed by rising flood waters before the family could rescue them.

In 1974 I found and corresponded with “Bill’ Growcock’s only living relative in Ireland. She shared with me the photograph of ‘Bill feeding the chooks’, which had been sent home to Ireland in 1925. I copied and shared this photo with Bill’s surviving children, some of whom copied, cropped and enlarged a section of this photograph, which is the one floating around on the internet.

I believe the camera is perhaps the greatest of inventions, especially as far as family history goes anyway, in that it captures one second in life, that can be held ‘forever’, or at least many years, if care is taken. What I find even more fascinating is the story behind that ‘one second in time’.

Now a plea to all those friends and relatives at least when you see this photo, no matter where on the Internet, that you will pause and remember, not only the man behind that ‘one second in history’, but the wonderful efforts of his daughter, who earned that camera, which captured the many priceless family heirlooms.

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