An odd happenstance on the family history front

kate anderson

I spent the week between last Christmas and New Year messing about with family history research. At then end of it I had some questions I had answered and I felt reasonably satisfied with my time spent with Scotland’s People.

I had a few loose ends though, including what had happened to Annie, my great grandfather’s eldest daughter, who was present when he died and co-signed the death certificate.

However, it was something I was happy to leave for the moment, and move on to other things.

Now while I was messing about with family history I’d signed up for MyHeritage, one of these genealogy research companies, primarily to use their family tree graphing tool, which is nicer than the one in Gramps.

The downside of doing this is that they periodically send me emails spruiking their DNA testing services, and supposed record matches to people in my family tree, most of which we can classify as bleeding obvious.

But then a few days ago I got one which wasn’t. They’d found a Hanna Mathiasen in the 1910 Norwegian Census which their matching algorithm had turned up as a possible match for Annie Bush Mathieson.

I was 99% certain that this was a false match – I was sure Annie was  living with her father at the time. But I thought I’d better check it out just in case …

The nearest census in Scotland to the 1910 census in Norway was the 1911 census, and the scanned records are online – I’ve posted the snip at the head of this post – and a few minutes searching showed she wasn’t living at home. Lizzie was, but not Annie. At this point I began to wonder if maybe Annie actually was Hanna, but a search of the 1910 Norwegian census showed that this was unlikely.

The Norway 1910 census, is online and free, and has an English language search interface. The transcribed results are in Norwegian, but then that’s what Google Translate is for.

Fortunately there was only one Hanna Mathiasen – and it was clearly a different person:

Annotation 2019-04-08 154023

For a start the baptism date – daap – didn’t match, Annie was born in 1877, and her parents were not married until 1871. 

Hanna is described as a servant. and she was clearly a live in servant for the Henriksen household in Lenvik.

So, as I thought, a false positive.

But a useful one. I hadn’t bothered looking at the census records before, and clearly I should have – there was a second daughter – Kate Anderson Bush – living at home and also a school teacher like Lizzie.

Kate is a complete unknown to me, I have absolutely no idea how she fits into the story – I think I have some more digging to do, both to find Kate and Annie…


Annie turned out to be less of a mystery than I thought – I’d fallen into trap of assuming that the A Mathieson who witnessed my great grandfather’s death was Annie.

Well, she clearly wasn’t. Annie had married James Bernard, a glass cutter in Edinburgh in 1899, and they continued to live in the Edinburgh area until 1911, when Annie died of post childbirth infection.

Which of course means that as well as Kate there must be another daughter, the mysterious A, who also was not at home on census night 1911 … 

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Nineteenth century bottle recycling

In colonial Australia bottles were valuable things. Before 1872 next to no glass was produced in Australia until Felton and Grimwade, better known as a pharmaceutical manufacturer, established a bottle works at Spotswood in Melbourne. Incidentally, the Spotswood glassworks is still with us, although under different ownership.

It is also interesting that as well as medicines, Felton and Grimwade was also a pharmaceutical bottle importer in the early days of the company, something that probably inspired them to start local manufacture.

Even then bottles were made by formed in moulds and handblown, which made bottles expensive, and worth recycling – just quite how valuable they were was something that I hadn’t realised until a recent article on nineteenth century beer bottles on the Christchurch Uncovered archaeology blog.

So I did a little search for ‘bottles wanted’ on Trove:

And it’s quite interesting – as Australia becomes more and more developed there’s an increasing demand for bottles, peaking in the decade 1910-1919, perhaps because of wartime shortages – we see a secondary peak in 1940-49, perhaps for the same reason.

So even though Felton and Grimwade had started making bottles in 1872, this had little or no impact on demand for second hand bottles – there was a continuimg and increasing demand for second hand bottles throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century, which is, of course, why quite a few nineteenth and early twentieth century bottles have statements like ‘this bottle always remains the property of Smith and & Co‘ cast into them, as a deterrent to unsanctioned reuse.

The reuse of bottle may also be a factor in explaining why so many of the old bottles for sale, where they are provenanced, come from old mining camps and sheep stations, where it wasn’t worth collecting them for reuse …

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Henry Spencer Palmer

An interesting cove, Henry Spencer Palmer.

I first encountered him earlier today when flicking through a reprint of Murray’s nineteenth century travel guide to Egypt. Murrays were basically the Lonely Planet guidebooks of their day, and like Bradshaw’s railway guides, they told the Victorian traveler what to see and how to get there.

In fact Murray’s will tell you when something is not worth visiting, or that the journey is not worth the effort, and in one case except if one is a young man in good health with a knowledge of Arabic.

They also provide sensible advice on visiting the ruins, and not using oil lamps or rag torches for the risk of damaging the engravings and wall paintings.

They are also quite important for the early history of Egyptology in Britain, as when Marianne Brocklehurst and Amelia Edwards went up the Nile in 1873 they basically followed a Murray’s guide.

What I hadn’t realised until a day or so ago until I heard Meira Gold speak on the LadyScience podcast about her research on nineteenth century Egyptology, was just how crucial Brocklehurst’s and Edwards’s trip was for the founding of British Egyptology.

At the time of their trip, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities was basically under the control of the French, who had a strong preference for granting excavation permits to French expeditions. The consequence was that what study of Egyptology that there was in Britain was carried out on objects in public and private collections, and that there was a large informal network of correspondents who would write to each other.

This of course had nothing at all to do with HS Palmer, except that this quotation from him made its way into Murray’s guide when discussing travel in Sinai:

Clearly from that little bit of text he was a character, as well as Victorian over achiever, first of all working for the Royal Engineers in British Columbia, where he met his first wife Mary Jane Pearson who was 15 years old at the time of their marriage. Palmer would have been 24 or 25 when he married Mary Jane.

Palmer went on to work for the Ordnance Survey in the UK, which of course was a military mapping agency, and carried out mapping work around the world, including Sinai,

as well as leading an expedition to New Zealand as part of the Royal Society’s expeditions to observe the 1874 transit of Venus.

One of the other people to take part in the expedition was Leonard Darwin, and he mentions Palmer in a letter to his mother, describing the journey out on the Merope.

The expedition was unsuccessful due to bad weather, but while in New Zealand, Palmer provided advice on the establishment of an official survey body.

After that Palmer was off again to Hong Kong and Japan, where he became an adviser to the reforming Meiji government, and was responsible for the Yokohama waterworks.

All this was too much for Mary Jane, and they separated, with Mary Jane returning to Canada where she lived on to 1934. Some time later, in 1890, Palmer married a Japanese woman Uto Saito, before dying of typhoid in 1893 at the age of 54.

Palmer’s writings, including his collected letters from Japan show him to be a witty and distinctly unstuffy writer as well as shrewd observer of life.

Most definitely a cove, and perhaps one who should be better known …

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Internet on a rock in the ocean

We were on Norfolk Island, a rock in the Pacific halfway between Australia and New Zealand. Getting there had been fun with an international flight on Air New Zealand between two parts of Australia – a legacy of the time when up to recently Norfolk Island had been a self governing overseas territory, and has now reverted to being governed from Canberra.

Politics aside, this meant that Norfolk Island has done its own thing as regards telecoms provision – no mainland phone companies, a call to mainland Australia still counts as an international call, and the local mobile network remains resolutely 2G, although a 4G service is planned for later this year.

Internet connectivity is grudging – while the NBN is on its way, with by implication a decent connection, most wifi provision is like you ot in the early noughties – you have to buy data in advance (300MB for $12), log into a hotspot, and wait.

Web and webmail only just works, thunderbird manages to connect to gmail on the second or third attempt, meaning that you are basically limited to email, and the more text based the better. Really it’s like the old days of popmail, grab your messages, download them, read and reply offline ane reconnect to send – in fact if your email provider still provides a POP service, it might be worth installing and configuring one if you are a heavy email user.

Twitter, messenger and all the rest don’t really work that well – the link is just too slow.

If you want to blog, old skills come to the fore with everything being prepared online and only uploaded when ready – just like in the days of dialup where time online was precious and needed to be used to the max.

And this has interesting side effects – people still talk to each other in cafes, rather than staring at their phones or tablets – in fact tablets, whether Apple or Android are really just dead slates – all these applications that expect a degree of connectivity just don’t work – we got caught out with the Apple Kindle app that really is simply a presentation tool for your ebooks stored in the cloud, unlike the ‘proper’ Kindle that caches books locally for offline reading.

Likewise uploading photos to cloud based storage services or viewing online news sites really is a non starter – lynx for text based web and a character only rss reader would be more sensible.

I never took a computer with me much before 2007 – I found them more trouble than their weight justified before then – poor or non existent wifi, eye wateringly expensive hotel internet – instead I used internet cafes.

Then with the arrival of the EEEpc701 – and I still have mine, albeit with a different linux version than the original Asus EEE distribution – there was a computer that was small enough and light enough to take travelling, even if the powersupply was a bit of a brick, and more and more cheap or free wifi was becoming the norm, and with services like Eduroam, academic travel was easier (and of course if one had a Uni eduroam account there was nothing to stop one slipping onto some campus somewhere to check your email eveven if you were travelling for fun.

However, for the moment, Norfolk Island must be one of the few places in the world unaffected by smartphone culture.

People have written about digital detoxes, and breaking free from twitter, and go off to strange places in the bush to be incommunicado and do yoga.

The reality is that most people go straight back to social media as soon as they’ve finished chanting ‘om’, ane email and electronic communication are an inescapable part of work and home life, be it ordering stuff online, trcking orders or the rest.

What a visit to a place like Norfolk Island teaches you (or reminds you) is that all you need is a bit of perspective – like in the early noughties with limited communication and bandwidth, you ration yourself, and only do what is necessary, and ignore the rest …

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We spent last week on Norfolk Island …

We spent last week on Norfolk Island.

J had arranged to go on a painting trip to the island, and it was only the cost of a second airfare for me to tag along, so why wouldn’t you, especially as Norfolk Island is not somewhere you get to go every day.

Getting there was fun – a couple of days before we were due to fly our NBN connection broke – I have my suspicions that the cable crew who had been working outside in the street that morning had something to do with it, but of course I can’t prove it.

And of course it was a Friday afternoon when it happened.

Nevertheless, I called our ISP. Needless to say they had a massive queue so I opted for a call back. Naturally when they called back it was when I was out at Mayday Hills listening to a presentation on the research work into the records of the old lunatic asylum in Beechworth.

The person I talked to at the isp was a fool – he clearly didn’t understand his telemetry, insisted that our ethernet cable was unplugged from the NBN box, which it was not, tried to tell me several other things which were wrong. Eventually he agreed that an engineer would call me at 0900 the next morning.

Well, the engineer didn’t call me. I waited to 1200 – the support centre is in Perth and I thought it was just possible they’d got the timezone wrong, but no, they didn’t call, so I lodged a second call, and went through the whole call back rigmarole.

This time I lucked out, I got someone who not only understood the problem but clearly realised that I understood the problem, so we only had to do the turning the NBN box on and off and ‘telling me what the blinking lights do’ part of the fault finding.

In this outsourced world the isp people don’t do infrastructure faults themselves, so they need to get NBN to accept its a fault and schedule an engineer, something that couldn’t happen to Monday, by which time we’d be on our way to the island.

So, I persuaded them to book the call on our behalf, rather than the NBN calling us to arrange a time, and gave them a guaranteed time when we would be available on our return.

This of course left us with a problem that we had no internet, so no online banking, and no way of checking in online – actually not quite true, as we did have our 4G travel modem, which let us do what we needed to do.

And we needn’t have worried about checkin. The flight to the island from the mainland was an AirNZ flight from Sydney and we had a connecting flight from Melbourne with Virgin.

Despite the fact we had Air New Zealand tickets, their website would not allow an online checkin as our first flight out was with Virgin, and Virgin wouldn’t let us check in as we had tickets issued by Air NZ – basically we needed to talk to a human being, and as the flight left at 0600 that meant being at the terminal at around 0430, which I can tell you is a truly ungodly hour to be walking around an airport terminal.

So, after a night in an airport hotel, there we were, explaining our problem to one of the people that Virgin employ to help people with the self checkin terminals. She didn’t quite get it initially and thought we’d come in from NZ and hadn’t checked our luggage through, but to be fair, once she realised that we were not stupid, demented or mad, and had a genuine problem she put us in the priority queue for the two open manned check in desks.

Anyway, we fixed that, and feeling slightly sleep deprived we boarded our first flight to Sydney.

In Sydney, we had the slightly odd experience of having to transfer to the international terminal – until recently Norfolk Island had been a self governing external terrritory, and because of a separate biosecurity regime, the flight was still handled as if it was an international flight, that and of course Air NZ flights all leave from the international terminal.

Norfolk Island airport was something else – it made Lahad Datu in wilds of Borneo look sophisticated – apparently they are due a new terminal, but for now it’s a tin shed with a single conveyor and you queue for immigration – yes you do fill out a landing card to say you’ve come from Australia to Australia – and providing the sniffer dogs are happy, one guy checks your passport, and the other takes your landing card and you walk out into the car park, and you’re on the island.

The island’s small, five miles by three, has a population of around 1600, and probably another two or three hundred tourists at any one time.

It’s minimal. No 4G, spotty internet, the supermarket is sparsely stocked between deliveries from the supply ship, there’s some local fruit and veg – the baananas are superb – but really what there is is what there is.

What you do get is somewhere very relaxed, peaceful, with clean air and a couple of good swimming beaches.

No snakes, possums or anything like that, nothing much in the way of nasty spiders. There’s history, with the Kingtson historic precinct which has a number of museums in the restored old convict settlement, the site of the oroginal polynesian settlement, where both Cook and one of the later officers spied an overgrown grove of banana trees and suspected that there must once have been people on the island.

The Polynesians were on the island for around 400 years, and then, for reasons unknown, abandoned their settlement around 1450, long before European voyagers reached the island, the first being Cook in 1774 on his second voyage to the Pacific.

Shortly after the first convict fleet reached Sydney, the decision was made to turn Norfolk Island with its rich volcanic soil into a second settlement and to act as a farm to supply Sydney, where agriculture was proving a bit of a struggle. That settlement lasted for around thirty years, before being abandoned as surplus to requirements, the livestock killed, and the houses pulled down in case the French decided to occupy the island, which sits around 400 miles south of New Caledonia half way between northern New South Wales and the northern tip of New Zealand.

About ten years later the settlement was reestablished as a hard regime prison for recalcitrant convicts, along the same lines of Port Arthur in Tasmania. Looking at the gravestones in the cemetery, its noticable how many from the second settlement period are for men from Ireland, some of whom I would guess were political prisoners.

Of course it’s not actually a true reflection of the numbers, or political allegiances of the prisoners, as only those whose family or friends subscribed a monument got a grave stone, the rest just got wooden markers which have long since rotted, but clearly there were some men from Ireland who died here that their contemporaries thought well enough of to organise what is often a substantial stone monument.

There are also some earlier monuments, some touchingly crude and simple from the first settlement, but most of the stones are from the second settlement.

What is also noticable is that the soldiers and officers who died were mostly in their twenties or early thirties – the convicts having a greater spread of ages, and of the women who died, many of them were in their twenties, suggesting that they may have died of the complications of childbirth and childbed fever.

Very few of the stones for soldiers and officials have names that you would describe as Scots, which is unusual for Empire period graveyards, although there was a Rankine from Stirling commemorated, and the convicts seem -on the basis of the stones – to have been mostly English or Irish.

The lack of Scots names strikes me as a little bit unusual given the numbers serving in the army and the navy in the late Georgian period at the end of the Napoloeonic wars.

Of the site itself, the prison buildings, the officers houses on Quality Row, the surgeon’s house, the hospital and the barracks all date from the Second settlement hard regime period and are all in a late Georgian style similar to barracks buildings of the same time in Ireland and Britain.

Some of the prison governors, such as Alexander Maconachie, after whome the Canberra jail is named tried to run a humane regime, but most of the governors were hard men, who ran a regime reminiscent of the worst excesses of Stalin’s Gulag.

However, all things come to an end and the prison was closed in the 1850’s and the prisoners dispersed, and the island abandoned apart from a small caretaking group. A few years later the population of Pitcairn was transferred to Norfolk on the Morayshire, the Pitcairners having become too numerous for their island.

Most of the Pitcairners stayed, a few went back to Pitcairn, and those that stayed formed the basis of today’s population, with their slightly eccentric version of English, which like Jamaican English, even though the accent is completely different, still preserves some usages of West Country English from a couple of hundred years ago, quite possibly due to the last man left alive after the internecine struggles among the Bounty mutineers was born in St Kitts in the Carribean.

The other main influence on the island was the Melanesian mission, an attempt by the Church of England to train native pastors to convert the inhabitants of Melanesia to Christianity.

Nothing is left of the Melanesian mission, although there is an ongoing archaeological dig on the mission site, save the mission church, which is now used by what is still the Church of England for their Sunday services.

The mission church is quite wonderful with stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, a little high Victorian church on the other side of the world. Betjeman would have loved it.

Down in Kingtson there are four museums. One the Sirius museum is focused on the wreck of HMS Sirius in the 1790’s a major disaster for the fledgling settlemet, and the artefacts recovered – mostly carronades and cannon balls with some ships fittings.

As he ship was only wrecked a few hundred metres offshore they managed to recover most of the contents at the time meaning that there actually isn’t really that much left from the wreck.

More interesting is the museum housed in the basement of the 1850’s New Commisariat building which has artefacts from the dig on the site of the Polynesian settlement, remains from the second settlement – the first one was so comprehensively stripped there’s little left behind, and a fine collection of mid Victorian transfer printed pottery from the early days of the Pitcairners on the island, including a stunning array of chamberpots.

There’s also a good collection of mid Victorian condiment and patent medicine bottles, including quite a few from America which ended up on Norfolk Island on the back of the whaling industry and the general pattern of Pacific trade in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Equally interesting is the pier museum which has has artefacts from the Bounty, including a couple of cannons salvaged by the Pitcairners in the 1840s, the Bounty ring used for solemnizing marriages, the Bible used to record births, deaths and marriages and a few other items, as well as upstairs a collection of implements from the nineteenth century whaling industry, and a collection of domestic pottery showing that the people on the island had a fairly rich material culture.

Also worth a visit is number 10 Quality Row – Jane Austen would have loved it – the house built by Mr Sellers the surveyor – and incidentally the architect of the Panopticon pentagonal jail inspired by Jeremy Bentham’s writings that forms part of the ruins inside of the New Gaol compound.

Number 10 is a fairly classic late Georgian 4 room bungalow, with a verandah, a drawing room, a study, a dining room, and of course a bedroom in the front of the house, and across the rear courtyard separated from the main house in case of fire, a kitchen, and the toilet – the nineteenth century privy being still in place.

The neighbouring house, number 9, is now the Research centre and is really a family history centre for those trying to trace records of family members, but with a museum pass you can go inside and look at the building which follows the same plan, more or less, as number 10.

The rear kitchen and toilet are not so well preserved, but perversely there’s some plasterwork in the kitchen showing the original colour scheme from when the house was built.

Most of the other buildings are in use by the Island’s administration, and closed to visitors, but you are free to wander round the ruins of the jail, as well as features such as the flaghouse, a converted early nineteenth century block of privies on the foreshore later used to store signal flags to communicate with supply ships standing offshore.

However, the Lions Club is in what was the Surgeon’s quarters, a wooden building roughly on the site of the first government house, and you can go inside for a couple of dollars donation. Inside there’s nothing left of the nineteenth century internals, but there is a large, if a little amateurishly presented display of old photographs from Norfolk Island including of the Pitcairners after they arrived in the 1850’s.

Historically, that’s about it for the island, but the places is most definitely atmospheric, especially as it was blowing a gale as it was for some of our time on the island, with spray breaking over the wharf and the foreshore buildings or standing among the pines above Cook’s supposed landing spot.

I say supposed as its on a steep headland with a rocky beach below. Personally given that they saw the abandoned banana groves near the polynesian settlement site at Emily bay, I suspect that even though they may have come close inshore there, they actually went ashore around there, or further along at Kingston, as the only real landing places are on the beaches opposite Nepean and Phillip islands, and even so they are pretty hazardous.

Whatever the story though, it’s still a wild and atmospheric place.

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Travel journals

When we went to Laos at the end of 2005, on a complete whim, I bought myself a hardback Moleskine notebook at the airport, and started keeping a travel journal of our trip.

I later used these notes to write up a series of blog posts, and later turned our Laos trip into an ebook, really as an exercise to teach myself what was involved in making up an ebook – I think all up I’ve earned $20 from sales of the result.

However, that gave me the travel journal habit, and I’ve kept one ever since for our overseas trips, and our longer trips inside Australia.

Stupidly however, I never kept a record of my work trips. Most of these were fairly boring, journeys to large metal sheds where people assembled servers and bits of high tech gubbins, or else bland offices with tinted windows that could really be in any megacity anywhere on the planet – only the complimentary tea and coffee sachets in the hotel give you any clue of where you are.

But there have been fun moments as well – like sitting in the bar of the Darwin yacht club with members of Yothu Yindi after a conference on digitisation and digital preservation of aboriginal stories and songs, or being taken by Apple to a steak house in Cupertino where you walked past the cool room and could see the slowly maturing cuts of meat.

Other trips perhaps not so much, but some work trips have been as interesting as some of the trips we did as travel for the sake of travel, and I should have written them up as well as a more unvarnished and true to life version of what had to be put in official activity reports, where you detailed who you met and what you talked about. I have no idea if anyone ever read these rather bland trip reports, although I did to a preso to my team about Apple (and the dead animal museum)

Finally, after 14 years I’ve come to the end of the first volume of my journal, so I’ve bought myself yet another Moleskine notebook – a soft back version simply because I like the French style square paper pages to write on and Officeworks only had the softback version.

It’s a little thinner – hopefully it’ll take me less than fourteen years to fill it ..

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Ether superseded

Hunting through the SLV’s online databases for mentions of both Nitrous Oxide and Ether, it is interesting to note that while 1847 starts with ether being hailed as a wonder treatment, doubts about its side effects creep in and that by the end of 1847 chloroform replaces ether as it was felt to have fewer side effects,and was compared in its ease of administration to be more like nitrous oxide.

So we have a chronology something like this:

Pre 1847 – experiments with nitrous oxide, though only Wells tries a demonstration. Enough medical men, for example William Herapath, know about nitrous oxide and must have observed its anaesthetic properties, and perhaps experimented with it, but there are doubts about its efficacy.

In late 1846 Morton demonstrates ether, by early 1847 surgeons all over the UK are experimenting with ether. After the initial ‘wow’ doubts are expressed about the complexity of its administration and possible side effects.

Late in 1847 Simpson announces chloroform and the rest is history …

Or not quite – as this querypic query for nitrous oxide shows – it suddenly becomes popular from 1870 on, due to all these dentists advertising painless extractions using gas …

chart (1)

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