World War I Family Hero, James Joseph Stapleton – Postscript

At this time of year with Anzac Day upon us, my thoughts turn to the many family members and ancestors who have been involved in the Defence Services, particularly World War I.

It is now 100 years since all this took place, but those people are still remembered for their great service and sacrifice.

James Joseph Stapleton has always been a part of our family history. He was killed near St Quentin on 1 September 1918, a few weeks before the war ended. More about this soldier here.

In 2014 we took a tour of the World War I Australian Battlefields of the Western Front, and visited his grave in the Peronne Communal Extension a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.  Blogs about our experience can be found here.

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J J Stapleton, Peronne,11 July 2014-Copyright

A few weeks ago a family member connected to one of James Joseph Stapleton’s mates who died with him, got in touch and told us about the co-incidence of her visiting the cemetery the same day as we had done, although we didn’t meet. She wrote:

Hi Nola, I’m so pleasantly surprised and grateful to have discovered your wonderful post about your visit to the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery dated 13 Oct 2014 tonight. I’m a niece of Leiton Roy Johnston who died with Corporal James Joseph Stapleton, Sergeant Thomas James Stewart McDonald and Lieutenant John Gardiner on 1 September 2018. Thank you for your kind, respectful tribute to my uncle Leiton Johnston and Thomas McDonald and for including the wonderful photo of yourself holding the Australian Flag behind the three graves (Plot I, Row C, Grave Nos. 59, 60, 61). After receiving advice from the War Office that her son’s remains had been reinterred in the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery, my late grandmother Ann Johnston wrote to Base Records on 16 January 1921 to ask if her son had been buried alongside Lieutenant Gardiner, Sergeant McDonald and Corporal Stapleton as she was aware they ‘fell with him’. Lieutenant Gardiner is buried just behind the three graves in Plot 1, Row C Grave No. 31. I’ve visited the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery twice – on 23 July 2007 and 11 July 2014. During my visit in the afternoon of 11 July 2014 I noted entries in the visitors book/folder at the cemetery by relatives of James Stapleton who had visited the cemetery earlier in the day and entries by relatives of Thomas McDonald who visited the cemetery just a couple of days earlier – such a coincidence! I took a photo of the page with my iPad with the intention of contacting the relatives of both men on my return to Australia however unfortunately I lost my iPad on a train at the end of my trip and with it the photo of the cemetery visitor’s book page containing the relatives’ contact details. Like you, I too was very grateful to find that our family members ‘were resting in peace with their mates’. [Judy Zappacosta]

Then one of our tour companions recently made a comment about a photograph I mentioned as having seen at the 2nd Division Memorial. She reminded me that I should follow up and try to identify the photograph.

I have visited the Australian War Memorial website this morning, and have located the photograph in their Online Photographic Gallery.

I had taken a photograph of the photograph at the 2nd Division Memorial Site, and can now confirm it is the same photograph, which can be found at https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C55028

WWI Stretcher Bearers

It was taken on 1 September 1918, possibly near St Quentin by an unknown Australian Official War Photographer

Here is the description with the photograph:-

Stretcher bearers of the 6th Australian Infantry Brigade bringing in an injured soldier. This was at a time when the German forces still held the hill and the soldier on the right is holding up the Red Cross flag to minimise the risk of being fired on. While the Germans frequently used the Red Cross flag when collecting wounded, it was rather unusual for our bearers to use it as German snipers generally disregarded it. Note also the use of four stretcher bearers. Earlier in the campaign two stretcher bearers only were allowed for each stretcher and they used to wear slings round their necks to take some of the weight. In the last stages of the war the ‘carries’ were usually longer and consequently four men were allowed to carry each stretcher.

So although I believe I can now say, the photograph was not James Joseph Stapleton being transferred to the first-aid station by his mates, it certainly is a photograph of the kind of situation on the battlefield that day.

 

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Harriet Hodgett’s Journeys by Sea- Part 1

I have been researching and writing Harriet’s story for some time now. I knew it would not be easy, but the more I do, the more I need to do, to actually to do justice to the project. I have tried to ‘block- out’ the story, and arrange research to build the story in chunks.

In recent weeks I have been concentrating on researching and writing about Harriett’s sea voyages. Progress has been slow, but rewarding.

To my knowledge, in a time-span of thirty years, Harriet made four journeys by sea .

  • The first, London to Port Jackson in 1790 as a ‘free’ woman on the convict ship Neptune with a voyage of nearly 7 months.
  • The second, from Sydney to Norfolk Island in 1800, a voyage of several days.
  • The third, from Norfolk Island back to Sydney in 1805, also taking several days.
  • The fourth, from Sydney to Port Dalrymple in northern Tasmania in 1819, also taking about two weeks.

Each of these voyages would have been  a very different experience for Harriet. I need to take many things into account, as I ponder and write her story.

For instance, let us take the first voyage. I believe it is not enough to just say she got on board in London in 1789 and arrived in Port Jackson, several months later on 28 June 1790. There are no documents with Harriet’s name on it. In fact there are very few surviving documents about the voyage of the Second Fleet, even official ones.

How can I write up her ‘experience’ of the voyage itself? It may be fiction, but it needs to be credible fiction.

From the few scant reports of the voyage at the time, we know it was a horrendous journey, which led to much death and sickness.

When news finally filtered back to authorities in England, the captains and ship’s officers were blamed for the carnage. However was this really the case, or was there much more to the story?

To answer some of these questions  I need to track down every one of those surviving documents. I need to study the providence and assess the motivation for the creating of such documents.

I also need to consider, if there may have been documents, that for some reason have not survived. What might these reasons be?

Firstly, I needed to research the ships and boats of the era. How they were made, the parts there of, and how the ‘systems’ on board worked, involving the officers and crew.

Life on board ships was by necessity, very ordered. Everyone was under strict instructions and a rigid routine. It was not a holiday in any sense of the word, even for those ‘free’ passengers.

The Neptune was a large very crowded ship of nearly 800 tons. It has been difficult to clearly establish how many people were on-board, when she left England, but it is believed it totaled about six hundred and twenty. There was also a large quantity of  stores, both for the voyage, as well as for the colony.

Thomas Gilbert, had been appointed captain, as he had had experience, being captain of the Charlotte in the First Fleet. However, after the Macarthur fiasco, he was replaced by Donald Trail. Trail an experienced navy captain, and later in transporting slaves, had originally been appointed to the Surprize.

John Marshall was captain of the Scarborough. He had also been her master on the voyage of the First Fleet.

How was the voyage in the Second Fleet, so different to cause so much trouble, with horrendous consequences?

How did Harriet get that free passage in the first place? Where did she sleep on board and who were her friends?

It takes a lot of work to put together a possible story. Who, how, when, where, and why are always the questions I need to ask before setting down my thoughts.

I then need to visualize each section of the story as I put it down on paper. Here is a little taste of the first draft of the story, as Harriet sets out on her sea voyage in 1790.

Harriet lay awkwardly in the narrow bunk and watched the gimbal swing gently to and fro, making ghoulish shadows on the wall. She felt the slight warmth of the child huddled beside her, as it convulsed with heartbreaking sobs, even as it drifted off to a troubled sleep.

It had been a long and exhausting day and now stretched into a cold and numbing night, but sleep would not come to Harriet.

All around her there were unseen souls, coughing, snoring, groaning and crying, but it was difficult to place sounds in the shadowy darkness. Then there were the ship’s groans and creaks as it rocked on the rising tide. The occasional bell and muffled cry, somewhere out there in the moonless night.

Harriet still stared at the wall. Was it really little more than a day, since she had prepared for her daring adventure? As she contemplated what may lay ahead, her heart quickened and she began to feel fear rising in her stomach. Was fear and regret now stealing her heart as had been foretold?

She shut her eyes tight, covered her ears and willed herself to feel the warm sunshine, smell the scented meadows, and hear the twittering birds, with her beloved Tom beside her, in the Staffordshire countryside, far away. She was successful for just a brief moment, and then her fears engulfed her again. What if her ruse was discovered, her dreams dashed, and worst of all, actual imprisonment.

She clenched her jaw and pushed away those dark thoughts again. She finally began to relax and calm herself.

She gently stroked the brow of the sleeping child beside her and thought of the many times she had comforted the little ones, as terrifying nightmares had overtaken them while they slept in their tiny attic room. Someone else would have that duty now.

Her heart started to pound again as her thoughts drifted back to the daring plan Elizabeth and Ann had convinced her could be achieved.

On the docks this morning the damp sea air had smelt of salt and freedom, but tonight in the ship, it only smelt of fetid breath, coal tar, cheap wine and other more complicated smells.

There was still time to turn back. Tomorrow she could leave the ship and return to John, Ann and the little ones. They would be angry with her, but she could go back to her former life. A miserable life with no promise. A lonely existence, with her Tom, long gone to the other side of the world. With such difficult times, she now had no prospects of marriage. Only a slow creeping imprisonment, by family and society, in cold dark London.

She had had a home, true, but for how long? John and Ann, who were kin, had reluctantly taken her into their household some years ago, to help with their young children. It was just after her Tom had been sentenced to death. She could still recall in stark detail, that horrible day in the Staffordshire Court.

His sentence had later been changed to transportation and he had been sent to the hulks in Portsmouth Harbour. He had been working as a blacksmith on the harbour works. There had been some hope that he would complete his sentence on the hulks, and then return home. She could wait. However his petitions had been pushed aside, and he was to be transported to New South Wales. He was innocent, but that made no difference to those Judges! He was to be gone!

She looked across at the indistinct mound in the berth opposite, where Elizabeth lay with her youngest child. Was she having doubts too? No, thought Harriet, Elizabeth was resigned to her fate long ago. To go with her husband to faraway New South Wales. Harriet’s dream was only hours old, and still very fragile.

Harriet’s story is a different kind of writing to what I have done before in writing up our family history. Certainly a challenge and a steep learning curve, if I’m to be anyway successful. I still have to have an outline of facts to base the story on, but have to know so much more about life of those far off times, to put together the story.  I still have a long way to go, but day by day, I progress slowly.

 

Family History and the Organizing Game- Scrapbook Albums (2)

In my last blog I wrote about ‘scrap-booking the past‘ for our family histories. This blog I am writing about ‘scrap-booking the present’.

I am  doing ‘Scrap-books’ for all our grandchildren, eight in all. It is not their birth, first tooth, first steps, kind of scrapbook, but rather the story of our relationship with them.  From our first meeting -usually in the hospital when they were a few hours old, to their birthday parties we attended, school award days, dancing recitals, sporting fixtures, school holiday fun together and family gatherings. Along with suitable photographs and memorabilia, I add some labels and journaling . They are usually a double spread with who, where, when and sometimes why included somewhere on the pages. A few random pages below. Still more to do on these pages, when I get the time. However, if I don’t, they are adequate.

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from Tayla Mackey, Scrap-book

I do a few pages each year, for each child, as our lives progress along. This will be a gift to them after we are no longer here, or perhaps moved  to a Nursing Home and can no longer care for ourselves.

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from Paige Mackey, Scrap-book

I have  made other gifts  for each of the grandchildren too. These were rugs, quilts, clothes and toys , when they were babies, but there are also other special items they themselves requested.

For example -Our youngest grandson asked me to make him a Super Hero cover for his bed. We sat down together to talk about what he wanted in size, colours and design and I drew up a rough sketch. When he was happy with it, I then worked out how to accomplish the project. It was part of his birthday gift last year.

Mackey Archives-Photographs

From Sebastian Gartside, Scrap-book

Another granddaughter saw a picture of a mermaid- tail rug on Pinterest, and asked if I would make her one. It took me a couple of months to work out the design, and get it done. Four years later it is still her favourite thing to snuggle into to watch TV in the Winter. I made it large enough, so she wouldn’t grow out of it. The dogs love to snuggle into it too, if she leaves it on the floor.

Photographs of these items are scrap-booked into the albums along with scraps of textiles, wool, ribbon and other materials I might have used in making the item.

All the family know I’m doing these albums, and often like to have a peek at them while visiting, but they know they cannot have them yet. I also know they are all looking forward to their special gift in the future. Another way I’m saving our family history.

Family History and the Organizing Game-Scrapbook Albums (1)

One of my big challenges in the last few years is to ‘de-clutter’ and reorganize our home. We have inherited much of our grandparents, parents and children’s ‘stuff’ over the years, and that is not counting the mountain of possessions, my husband and I have acquired over fifty years. It is time to do something with it all.

Some of the documents, photos and paper memorabilia can be digitized and shared, but I also need to take care of some of the ‘originals’ for the family archives of the future.

My mother kept many items, which meant something to her in the proverbial ‘shoeboxes’, which I inherited.

As I am the eldest in the family and cared for my mother for over fifty years, particularly in her later life, I have heard many stories and can identify much of the material in those shoeboxes.

I have now scanned and  photographed all the original material, and have digital copies saved in various places for safe keeping.

The original paper, card and flat items as well as photographed items, I am gradually scrapbooking into acid free albums. I have journaled, labelled and added as much information as I can to each item. The scrapbook pages are often plain and basic at this time, but I can always add embellishment later. I need to get the basic albums done first, as time is of the essence now.

Many of the scans are also being scrapbooked into albums-one for each of my siblings. I usually try to get a few pages ready as gifts to my siblings at Christmas and birthdays. One of the ‘Christmas Gifts Past’, was the story of our parent’s Kitchen Tea and Wedding in 1946.

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Our mother had kept all the gift cards and pieces of paper from all the Kitchen Tea and Wedding gifts. I glued each card or scrap of paper to a folded piece of acid-free scrapbooking paper. In the folded piece of paper I added any information about the people, who had given the gift, and even what the gift was, if I knew. To curious people flipping through the album this information was ‘hidden’, but when the page was removed from the album the card could be opened to reveal the extra information.

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Sometimes the Christmas gift pages are not about Mum’s Mementoes, but my childhood memories of special items, places or events that mean something to our family.

The pages below are about our family’s first car- a second-hand Austin 7, which Dad painted, Fire-engine red. Wherever we went, it was recognised in a moment, and was affectionately called ‘the little red bug’.

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This one is about Mum’s ‘house-cow’ who was a bit of a pain, and would often ‘run away’ and have her own adventures.

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It will still take me a couple of years to complete this project, but I am on my way.

 

Annual Cousin’s Day for Baxter Family

Last weekend was the first weekend in March. For several years now the ‘cousins’ connected to my mother’s paternal family of Baxter, have gathered at Murwillumbah for their annual reunion.

Last year’s blog about this special day is here.

Baxter Family Reunion

 

Although it was an unseasonably hot day, and many could not come due to ill health and work commitments, it was still a very successful day. There were close on 40 attendees present, spread over four generations. The oldest aged 97, and the youngest, 2 years. The 97 year old lady has attended all our gatherings, and so has the 2 year old, although on different branches of the family.

We were also treated to a lovely  impromptu recital on the mouth-organ from a well-loved aunt, who delighted us all with some of the most popular World War II songs of her youth. Some of us (with her family’s permission) videoed her playing. It will be a great for the family archives, especially when she is no longer with us.

We know that the homeward journey is always quiet as we talk and laugh so much, we have not only ‘lost our voices’, we all have plenty to think about, having caught up on all the family news.

The ancestral couple featured this year was “Thomas and Harriet Mary Baxter (nee Mather).

Thomas Baxter was a sixteen year old convict who arrived in Sydney in 1834. Some of his story is  told in former blogs- Convict Cousins in my Baxter Family, posted 11 November 2015, found here and Lost in the City of London-the Baxter Family, posted on 7 May 2012, found here.

Although our next gathering is nearly a whole year away on 3 March 2019, planning has already begun.

Josiah Bell, Woodman of Mereworth,Kent

In former blogs I have written about John Billinghurst alias Bell, born 1800, the illegitimate son of Sarah Billinghurst, of Mereworth, Kent. See ‘The Story of an Alias-John Bell, Mereworth,Kent’ and ‘More on the Alias of John Bell, Mereworth, Kent’.
The following year Sarah Billinghurst married Josiah Bell, in St Lawrence, Mereworth. They had a daughter Elizabeth born 1803, whose story is told in ‘A Life Cut Short-Elizabeth Bell, Mereworth, Kent.’

In this blog I continue the family story about their son, Josiah Bell who was born in 1806.

Josiah Bell, the second child and son of Josiah and Sarah Bell (nee Billinghurst) was born in Mereworth in 1806. By his time his father was 52 years of age and his mother 42 years.
Josiah Bell was baptised at St Lawrence, Mereworth on 31 August 1806. He grew up in Mereworth and was only ten years of age when his father died. No doubt Josiah took on the care of his mother and sister from an early age, but by the time he was in his early twenties, he had lost both his sister and mother.
Josiah Bell married at St Mary’s, East Farleigh, on 29 January 1832, a cousin, Ann Bell, the daughter of Robin and Mercy Bell (nee Cox). She had been baptised at East Farleigh on 10 November 1811.

They had a large family all of whom were baptised at St Lawrence,
Mereworth.
⦁ Sarah Bell, b 1832
⦁ Catherine Harriet Bell, b 1835
⦁ Josiah Bell, b 1837
⦁ James Bell, b 1838
⦁ Ann Bell, b 1840
⦁ Mercy, b 1843
⦁ Thomas, b1847
⦁ Robert Bell, b 1849
⦁ Mahalah, b 1851
⦁ George, b 1854
⦁ Frederick, b 1856

Josiah and Ann Bell remained in Mereworth, when Ann Bell’s parents, Robin and Mercy Bell (nee Cox), and most of her siblings emigrated to New South Wales on the Woodbridge, in 1838.

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The Baptismal Font, St Lawrence, Mereworth
Copyright-Nola Mackey, 2004

Josiah and Ann Bell and family, can be found in the 1841,1851,1861,1871 Census Return for Mereworth, where Josiah is described as a ‘Wood Labourer’. We know his father was also recorded as a ‘Woodsman’ in several parish documents.

Josiah bell died and was buried in the Mereworth churchyard on 24 March 1874. His headstone is inscribed with “He was for 43 years a bellringer at this church”.

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The weathered headstone of Josiah Bell, St Lawrence Churchyard.
Copyright- Nola Mackey,2004

After Josiah Bell’s death, his wife Ann, found employment as the Monthly Nurse. In the 1881 Census she was not at home, but in the household of John Humphrey’s, with his wife Mary Ann and their infant daughter, Edith.She is recorded there as 72 years of age, but would have been about 70 years.
In the 1891 Census, Ann Bell was living in Kent Street. Her invalid daughter Ann, and her youngest son, Frederick Bell and his family were living with her.
Ann Bell died in 1895 and is buried in the Mereworth Churchyard, possibly beside her husband, but her grave is unmarked.

 

A Life Cut Short- Elizabeth Bell, Mereworth, Kent 

 

In a former blog I wrote about the puzzle of John Billinghurst or Bell, born in 1800 at Mereworth, Kent, England. He was the illegitimate son of Sarah Billinghurst. In this blog I am continuing the story of the family of Josiah Bell and Sarah Billinghurst who married in 1801, in St Lawrence, Church of England, Mereworth after the above mentioned John Billinghurst, alias Bell was born.

Josiah Bell, was the third child of Josiah and Mary Bell (nee Carpenter), and was baptised at St Lawrence, Mereworth on 17 March 1754. He married in the same church, on 9 November 1801, Sarah Billinghurst. She was the daughter of John and Sarah Billinhurst and was also baptised at Mereworth on 16 September 1764.

Elizabeth Bell, the eldest child of Josiah and Sarah Bell (nee Billinghurst)
was baptised at Mereworth on 29 May 1803. When Elizabeth was born her mother was 39 years of age.
Elizabeth Bell grew up in Mereworth. She was thirteen years of age when her father, Josiah Bell died in 1816. His death impacted greatly on the family.
Elizabeth remained single and died at 18 years of age. She was buried at Mereworth on 2 December 1822.

We can gauge very little on the life of this young woman with the bare dates of her baptism and burial. However in the Mereworth Parish Chest there is a list of medicines and medical expenses the parish overseers paid, for the care of their poorest parishioners.

In the list for 1822 we find many entries for members of our Bell families. In particular we find numerous mention of medicines for ‘E Bell’. She may have always been in poor health, but we can gather she became very ill several months before her death and that every medical assistance was given her by the parish overseers.

I have extracted the following from the parish accounts.

July 27- E Bell Diuretic mixture 2/6
Aug 4- E Bell Mixture repeated 2/6
Aug 6- E Bell Eight powders 2/6
Aug 14 – E Bell Diuretic mixture 2/6
Aug 19 – E Bell Two blisters to the legs 3/-
Aug 24 – E Bell Large tonic mixture 3/-
Aug 28 – E Bell Large box ointment 9d
Aug 31 – E Bell Two blisters to the feet 2/6
Sep 3 – E Bell Large box ointment 9d
Sep 7 – E Bell A tonic 2/6
Sep 10 – E Bell Box of ointment 9d
Oct 14 – E Bell Box of ointment 9d
Nov 6 – E Bell Box of ointment 1/-

We do not know the cause of death of Elizabeth Bell, but it appears from the above entries it must have been a blessed release.
One can only imagine what her mother, Sarah, must have endured. She survived another six years before her own death in 1828,leaving a sorrowing son of 22 years.

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St Lawrence,Mereworth, 2004- Copyright,Nola Mackey