Sunday, November 15, 2015

Missing Great Uncle Rex in the 1939 Register...a puzzle solved.

Where is Uncle Rex on the 1939 Register ?

Marwell Hall, Hampshire Photo Siobhan White ©
I have written a number of blog posts about my most intriguing relative, my great uncle, Rex Morley Hoyes. You can read about Rex Hoyes in the following posts in  Sharn's Genealogy Jottings and FamilyHistory4u  His fascinating life  (1902 -1983) included him being charged with and aquitted of corruption by MI5 during WW2, when he was the managing Director of Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft in England, a secret airstrip constructed at his home Marwell Hall (once owned by Kng Henry VIII which was given by the king to the Seymour family), his involvement in illegal gunrunning to Hyderabad in 1948, along with Australian pilot Sidney Cotton, and so far, unproved suspicions that he was a spy. The UK City and Country Directories, 1600's-1900's give a number of addresses for him in 1939, These are,  29 St James Street SW1 (TN Whitehall 2871), Marwell Hall, Winchester, (TN Owlesbury 6), Formentor, Malorca, Balearic Isles. That he had a very large super yacht registered in his name, could have explained the many addresses but when Findmypast announced the release of the 1939 register , I was eager to see exactly where my great uncle was living on September 29, 1939, when the register of every civilian living in the UK was undertaken. Information about the yacht Warrior can be found here . This site provides a link to my blog post about the Warrior.

The type of Avro Lancastrian
 that  flew guns to Hyderabad  
"Avro Sapphire Lancastrian VM733 Coventry 06.54" by RuthAS - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons -

This register, recently released by Findmypast was a joint undertaking by The National Archives and DC Thomson Family History. The register was originally used to issue identity cards and ration books and contains vital information such as change of surname, sex, occupation, age and address.

I was surprised when I searched for Rex Morley Hoyes that I couldn't find him. If he was not listed on the 1939 Register, on September 29, I wondered where he would have been so soon after the declaration of WW2. I had hope to find more about him from the register and hoped that he wasn't living at one of the overseas addresses that had been listed in the 1939 UK City and Country Directory ( ).

Results of my search for Rex M Hoyes in the 1939 Register  Image
My first search for Rex Morley Hoyes found no results (see above) and so I amended my search to Rex M Hoyes. I tried both of these searches, first  giving Hampshire, the county in which Marwell Hall is situated and then leaving the place of residence blank, with both searches finding no results.

Next I searched for R M Hoyes in Hampshire, but I found no sign of Rex Hoyes, I found a female by the name of Rose M Hoyes who was born two years earlier than Rex. Rose Hoyes lived in Winchester which is an historic town in the vicinity of Marwell Hall, however, I found no no sign of Rex Hoyes.

Widening my search, I looked for Rex's wife who was Patricia Margaret Hoyes nee Blackadder, formally Lady Waleran. Her affair with Rex Morley Hoyes had become very public in 1934, when news of it hit the newspaper headlines in the London Times. Lord Waleran divorced his much younger wife while Rex divorced his wife Muriel following the news scandal which even gave the address where Rex and pat had held their clandestine meetings. Rex Hoyes and Pat Blackadder married in 1935, having purchase Marwell Hall in 1934 prior to their wedding. Below is the result of my search for Margaret Patricia Hoyes. It was immediately obvious that I had found the correct person becaue her maiden name was shown as Blackadder. The showing of name changes on the 1939 Register is an excellent way to confirm that you have found the person you are looking for.

Margaret P Blackadder (Hoyes) in the 1939 Register. Image:
To the right of each name on the results page, there are two icons to click. The first takes you to a list of the people who lived in the same household as the person you have searched for. Below is the list of people in the Hoyes household which I found . And to my surprise, there, beneath Margaret P Blacckadder/Hoyes was Rose M Hoyes.

The Hoyes household, Winchester Image

Rose M Hoyes , a female, was born 30 March 1900 and her occupation is transcribed as Managing Director of Ca? Owner Aircaft Limited. This caught my attention immediately, since my great uncle Rex was born on the same day March 30, but in 1902, and in 1939, he was Managing Director of Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft Limited, based at Southampton Airport, Eastleigh, in England.

Rex Morley Hoyes, 4th from right with Culiffe-Owen personalities.
The only way to see the original image from the 1939 register is to pay to view and although I by now was certain that Rose M Hoyes was in fact, Rex M Hoyes mistranscribed, assumption can so easily lead one down the wrong path. I needed to see the original image to obtain evidence that Rose M Hoyes was really Rex M Hoyes. After all, the household listed Rose as a female and perhaps there was a Rose Hoyes whom I had not yet discovered in my family history research.

Paying to view the original image of the Hoyes household on the 1939 Register image paid off for me, because Rose turned out to bevery much my great uncle Rex. Original writing is often hard to read but I am able to read the name Rex, Perhaps becaue I a expecting it to be Rex, it is easier for me to read. I can also see, however, how the letters 'ex' looked like 'ose' and how easily Rex became Rose. But on the register my great uncle is clearly stated to be a male not a female. The mistake here was that whoever transcribed this record, assumed that the 'M' for male was incorrect and that 'ROSE was correct rather than searching for a male name that loked like Rose. An excellent  lesson for myself also when transcribing. Rex's occupation is Managing Director of Cunliffe Owen Aircraft Ltd, but for someone not looking for that name they can be forgiven for not being able to read it correctly. The address given is Marwell Hall, Owlesbury.

Rex Hoyes was not missing on the day of the 1939 UK Register at all.  But for for the original image I could not have proved this and thumbs up to Findmypast for providing this extra pay by view service. I am again reminded of the importance of finding original documents and not relying upon transcription. Volunteers do an exccellent job of transcribing often very difficult handwriting, but when you are searching for a particular name it is often easier to recognise it yourself.

1939 Register. Rex M Hoyes. Image

Of great interest in the Hoyes household in 1939, is the household staff listed on this register. Rex and Margaret Hoyes had a Butler, chauffer, head housemaid and a cook in the household on September 29, 1939. There are possibly three more household members, however, the three names below those that are listed are not yet available becaue they were born within the 100 year privacy closure period. Since they are not family members, I will not bother to apply to have the closed files opened. I will, though,  be looking into the lives of the Marwell Hall staff in the near future. Often the people who knew our ancestors can provide clues about their lives, so it is well worth investigating them.

It has come to my attention from a number of private sources, that Rex was possibly a spy. I have as yet found no evidence to support this theory, and I am pleased that I found him at home at his Marwell Hall residence on the night of the 1939 register. As Managing Director of Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft Ltd, with government aircraft contracts, that Rex himself secured for the company, he travelled to America on official business in 1941. Had I discovered him anywhere but in England on September 29, 1939, so soon after Britain and France had declared war  (September 3), my suspicions about his wartime activities might have been fueled. So for now, Rex is safely patriotic... until I find otherwise. Saved by the 1939 register!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Rootstech 16 Ambassador... and a Family Reunion thanks to Rootstech15.

Rootstech16 Ambassador - a look back at Rootstech15 and how Rootstech led to a family reunion...

Rootstech 15 Geneabloggers
I was thrilled to be invited recently, to join Jill Ball, previously the only Australian Ambassador for Rootstech Conferences, to be an Ambassador for Rootstech16. To say I am excited would be an understatement! I have my air ticket booked and paid for and my accomodation is booked as well. 
My Genea-friend Jill Ball conducting an interview with young 15 year old genealogist, Tas, from Australia
In February of this year, I joined a fairly large contingency of Australian attendees, many of them, like myself, were genealogy bloggers and good friends, and we travelled the long journey from various parts of Australia to Salt Lake City in the USA, to attend the Rootstech15 Conference. The 2015 Rootstech conference was combined with the FGS conference so it was a doubly exciting year to choose for my first visit to Rootstech. 

In addition to an exciting line up of keynote speakers (and a trip down memory lane with a fabulous rendition of Donny Osmond's Puppy Love  by the singer himself (showing my age now), an amazing and wide ranging choice of talks, engaging speakers to choose from and the wealth of knowledge  that I acquired, I met many friendly and like minded people. Some of these were already online friends from all around the world, whom I met at Rootstech for the first time in person. Others were new friends whom I am happy to say, I have stayed in touch with. 

The real Donny did appear, however, this cut out figure was fun to pose with!

The exhibition hall was tremendously exciting with so many exhibitors and products to peruse. I'm afraid I purchased too many 'goodies' for my luggage allowance and no doubt I will do so again in 2016! Ancestry DNA tests were popular with Australian visitors and some Australians took tests in Salt Lake City and received our results before Ancestry's DNA testing even reached the shores of Australia! 
The Exhibition Hall was very popular.

The media hub in the Exhibition Hall was a constant hive of activity. Jill Ball called upon me to do an interview on camera. Amongst the many people Jill interviewed was young 15 year old genealogist, named Tas, who had heard about Rootstech from me and earned his airfair by busking, so that he could attend. His story even made the Deseret News!  I met Dear Myrtle (Pat) whose blog and more recentley, her hangouts, I have been a big fan of, in person in the media hub as well as Randy Seaver. Meeting in person, my online genealogy friends, was a great highlight of my Rootstech experience.

Dear Myrtle in the Media Hub

Randy Seaver and wife Linda with my good friend from Australia, Pauleen Cass
During a conversation ( naturally about family history) with Randy and his wife, it transpired that Linda had an ancestor who had lived in Sydney, Australia, where I happen to live. He had followed the Californian Gold Rush and I promised to look up the address of the hotel that Linda Seaver's ancestor had been the licencee of in the mid 1800's on my return to Australia. I did just that and wrote a blog post about my find. If you would like to read about Linda's ancestor just click on the link on the word blog above.

Darling Harbour, not far from where Linda's ancestor had his hotel. 

The family history library was one of the great highlights of my visit to Salt Lake City. After a most informative guide of the library, by most friendly helpers, I set about finding a great deal of information about my German and Swiss ancestors. The books in the library had me positively drooling! Luckily I speak German, as most of the books I was looking at, were in that language. I discovered information that I would not have discovered anywhere else and certainly I would not have found not online. 

The Family History Library, Salt Lake City

I left a few days free after the conference to explore Salt Lake City and to take hundreds of photographs of the city, which was picturesquely nestled in amongst snow capped mountains.


In February, since I was making the trip to Salt Lake City from Australia, I decided to continue on to Chicago after the conference, to meet, in person, many third cousins whom I had discovered through my family history research. My great grandfather, John MCDADE emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, while his younger sister, Agnes MCDADE, with her husband Martin LEONARD emigrated to Illinois in the USA in the early 1900's. Three generations later, I realised a dream to bring together a generation of cousins who had lost touch but with whom I had been corresponding daily via facebook for three years. 

It was very cold in Chicago in February when I stayed with cousin Betsy. .

Six months later, in August, just a few weeks ago, I returned to Chicago, along with other Australian MCDADE descendants, for what my American cousins called "The Great Aussie Invasion". We had the most wonderful family gathering of MCDADE descendants and our American hosts were  the most amazing hosts. They are truly wonderful people. Despite three generations of separation, the MCDADE musicality and sense of humour has been passed down through family on both continents. 
Had it not been for attending Rootstech15, I most likely would never have met my wonderful, awesome cousins. Below are some photographs of our family gathering in Chicago on August 31, 2015.

My cousin Thom had gone all out on the Aussie/ American theme for our party.

A clever relative made these cookies!

Amidst American relatives.

Some USA and Aussie cousins.

What better cookies for a family get together!

Name tags made it so much easier with over 100 relatives attending, most of whom had never met before.
One of the family trees I drew up to explain our descendancy from James MCDADE and SARAH MCDERMID who hailed from Ireland c 1770.


At Rootstech15, I met a speaker from Chicago, named Paul MILNER.  At a conference in Canberra, Australia, the very next month in March, I again heard Paul speak and was very impressed by his skill as a speaker. We became friends on facebook in March. In July of this year, I discovered in my FamilyTree DNA results, a cousin named Paul MILNER. You guessed it! Its the one and same Paul that I met at Rootstech15. We are corresponding trying to work out our connection, however, I am fairly confident that it is through family from Northumberland, England, on my maternal line that we are related.

I am very much looking forward to returning to Salt Lake City, in February, 2016, for the next Rootstech Conference. I will once again be returning to Chicago after the conference to visit my family in the USA and this time Paul Milner and I will meet up as well..... I am gathering cousins thanks to Rootstech... Rootstech16, here I come!  Why don't you join me.... its an experience you will never forget.

I met Fran Kitto and Hilary Gadbsy in person for the first time at Rootstech15

Thursday, June 18, 2015

RUNAWAY HUSBAND - There's No Hiding The Family Skeletons in the News!

Newspapers Tell All

Lillie Herminnie Weston nee Nargar back left (Five Generations of my family from my great great grandmother to myself)
My great grandparents, Lillie Herminnie Nargar and William Joseph Weston were married on August 23rd, 1907, at the Baptist Church in Maryborough, in Queensland. I suppose as with most parents, theirs hoped they would have an enduring and happy marriage. For the first years of their marriage, the couple lived on a banana farm near Bauple, outside of Maryborough and I daresay they were happy with the birth of a son and two daughters.

Lillie was born in 1888, to a German father, John Gottlieb Nerger (later changed to Nargar) and a Swiss born mother, Barbara Lena Häberling. William's parents were Edward Joseph Weston, born in Suffolk, England and Sarah Frayne, the daughter of an Irish born convict, Michael Frayne.

I was very close to my great grandmother, who passed away when I was ten years old, but the husband that I knew as hers, when I was a  child was not William Weston. When I asked questions, of my grandmother and her sister, they always seemed reluctant to speak of their father, which of course as years passed, only served to increase my curiousity. The only information I had about William Weston was the following comment which my great aunt made just before she died in early 2001, when I asked her about her father.

"I met him in the street with my mother once, when I was about 21. My mother said, Dorothy, you remember your father don't you and I said, "You're no father of mine! I just walked away without speaking to him." 

I was consumed with curiousity as to what had caused his daughter to be so very angry with her father. My great aunt had told me that her life as a child had been one of hardship. Her mother, Lillie, pictured above, was the first female fruiterer in Brisbane, (in a male dominated industry). This occupation meant that she had to rise around 4 am every morning to go to the markets, before working long hours in the fruit shop. A family friend lived with the family  to help with the three children, but I always had the feeling that my grandmother and her sister and brother, had not seen much of their mother.

The great grandmother, I knew was a religious and loving woman, so I knew that it must have been from necessity and certainly not from lack of caring that she worked hard for a living and saw little of her children. It surely was not what she had expected on her wedding day in Maryborough. So.. what had changed her circumstances? I knew that Lillie had not been made a widow, since she and her daughter had met by chance her former husband while going to the bank in Fortitude Valley, in Brisbane.

I mentioned in a recent blog post about my great grandfather, John McDade,  that Trove, the National Library of Australia's digitised website is currently adding the Brisbane newspaper, The Telegraph to its wonderful collection. Today, thanks to the Telegraph newspaper,  I solved another mystery in my family history and you might have guessed by the title of this blog post, as to the nature of my discovery. Just released by Trove in a  Brisbane Telegraph report , I found the following most revealing item. I just love the title and something in the tone of the story tells me that my great grandfather, the runaway husband, left behind a very cross wife behind indeed!

...Lillie Herminnie Weston, the plaintiff,said that after living in the north for some years, she and her husband came to Brisbane in 1917, and opened a business in the Valley. Her husband collected around him a bevy of young ladies, whom he entertained in the shop and went out with at night. In May 1920, the defendant made the business over to his wife, and ran away with a young lady from a city hotel.

The above news report triggered another distant memory of my grandmother telling me that when she arrived in Brisbane as a child with her parents. the city lights went to her father's head. I also recalled of the mention of a barmaid. It often only takes something such as this news item to trigger old memories.

I do have to say, that I suspect that it was more likely the
'bevy of young ladies that he entertained in the shop' that swayed William Weston from his wife and his married life than city lights.

William Weston was born in 1887 in Gympie. He grew up on the land and had little experience of city life. In 1917, William and Lillie Weston were listed on the Australian Electoral Roll, living at Bauple. William was a farmer and Lillie, then the mother of three young children, was a stay at home mother.

William Weston working on the land.
I cannot find a World War 1 record of enlistment for William Weston, who would have been around 29 years of age when war broke out, so I have to assume that he remained on the land. Perhaps he failed the medical test. Some statistical studies suggest that men who enlisted from rural areas in Australia were, in general, unmarried and younger than William, however, that is a subject for future research. For reasons I have  yet I have also yet to discover,  the Weston family left their farm near Maryborough in 1917, and moved to Brisbane at a time when farming and food produce was essential to the war effort. In Brisbane, William and Lillie opened a fruit shop in Fortitude Valley, a busy area of Brisbane, not far from the City centre. There,  at 202 Wickham Street, Lillie can be found on the 1921 Electoral Roll , her occupation, a fruiterer. There is no sign of William, confirming the information in the news account, in which Lillie claimed her husband 'ran away' in 1920.

202 Wickham Street, The Valley Image Google Street View

I now also know that William Weston later married the woman he left my great grandmother for and together they had six children.

I am quite aware that this news item only presents one side of a divorce story. My great grandparent's marriage may very well have been already failing when he left, or perhaps, as my grandmother told, me, the 'city lights' did go to the head of the country boy William Weston, and he discovered excitement in the city that he had not known before.

My great grandmother, Lillie Herminnie was a strong woman. She worked hard to give her children what they needed. She was a very religious woman attending the Baptist Tabernacle in Wickham Street, Spring Hill. During World War 2. Lillie volunteered to work in the Australian Women's Land Army. Her friend who had helped to raise the children went on to become a prison chaplain and my great grandmother became very involved in working with women's prisons.

RUNAWAY HUSBAND  or not, Lillie Herminnie Weston (Nargar) went on to contribute much to society and to live her life to the fullest until she succombed to cancer aged in her 80's.

Lillie Herminnie Weston in her Land Army Uniform Image ©




Tuesday, June 9, 2015

WHAT KILLED GREAT GRANDAD.... a Curious Mystery solved on TROVE.. PartOne


My Grandfather, Colin Hamilton McDade

When I was growing up in Brisbane, Queensland, the sad story about how my great grandfather was killed by a falling branch, was often talked about in my family. I knew, from a young age, that his untimely death in September of 1930, was a tragic tale of death by misadventure. I was familiar with the park where I was told the branch had fallen on my great grandfather's head and I had written about his death in several of my blog posts. I had no reason to doubt this well known family anecdote until a heart stopping telephone call one day. A relative who found me through one of my blog posts phoned me and related a far more chilling account of my great grandfather's death than the one I had been told. Her story was in no way similar to the one I was familiar with, and in fact, it echoed ominous overtones of a shocking and deceitful family cover up. That phone call, which sent chills down my spine, launched me on a lengthy quest for the truth. 

For many years since that conversation, I have been troubled by the curious mystery that surrounded my great grandfather's death. I could find no evidence, to prove which of the two distinctly different versions of how he had died, was accurate or even if either of them were true, until this week I had an exciting find. 

Several days ago, I finally discovered concrete evidence of how my paternal great grandfather, John McDade was killed. Let me to start at the beginning...


John McDade was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1872. Born into a family of generations of coal miners, John himself, was a miner who laoured in various coal mines in and around Glasgow, until 1923, when with his wife Elizabeth and nine children, he emigrated to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Having lived in Australia for less than seven years, John McDade died on September 9th, 1930. What caused his death bcame the subject of a curious mystery which just this week I finally solved.


Aged in his 50's, while walking home from work one evening, through Wickham Terrace Park, John McDade was hit on the head by a falling tree branch. When he arrived home, his family took him to the hospital to have his injury attended. After being examined by doctors and declaring that he was fine, John was sent home that same night. The following morning, complaining of pain in his head, he collapsed and died from his head injury. 

I was told that a falling branch killed John McDade Image Wikipedia ©©


Some years ago, a McDade relative whom I had never met, contacted me. She is, as I am, a great granddaughter of John McDade. I descend from the third son, Colin Hamilton McDade and she, from from my grandfather's younger sister.  I was of course, thrilled, and for many months we conversed on the telephone, sharing stories about our family history. During one of these telephone conversations, my cousin left me speechless, as she told me a very different account of John McDade's death, than the one I had heard previously. This story, she informed me, she had heard from her mother and as I listened quietly to her words, a chill darted down my spine....


My grandfather, and one of his brothers got into a heated argument one evening after a few beers, and the argument ended up in a fierce fist fight. Their father, John stepped in to try to stop the fight and was accidentally punched in the head. John died the next morning, from his head injury, and the family invented the story of the falling branch to avoid my grandfather and his brother going to jail.

Did a punch to the head really kill my great grandfather?  Image Wikipedia ©©


As you might imagine, this more sinister narrative of John McDade's death cast serious aspersions upon my grandfather and one of my great uncles. If the tale was true then, my grandfather and his brother were responsible for the death of their father. I was shocked to think that John McDade's death may have been cloaked in fiction to prevent my grandfather and his brother from being charged with manslaughter, or even worse, unpremeditated murder! My mind ran amok with visions of a drunken brawl between two brothers, which ended up in a fatal punch that killed their father. I could simply not erase this image from my thoughts, so shocked was I, and it was with a most unpleasant perception of dread, that I embarked on my search for the truth. I had a personal obligation to find the facts since, for my entire life, I had I avoided walking through the park in Wickham Terrace, where I believed my great grandfather to have been killed - just in case a falling branch might bring about my own demise. To add to this, my acute awareness of the dangers of falling branches, had prevented me from allowing my own children to play beneath the trees in our back garden, when there was even the slightest whisper of wind.  The story of my great-grandfather's death by a falling branch, therefore, had profoundly affected my life and suddenly something that had been a very part of the fabric of my background threatened to be untrue. I felt driven to solve the the burdensome question of 'whodonit' which now overshadowed my great grandfather's death.

Family anecdotes cannot always be relied upon as being the truth.


John's death certificate had been of no help in solving the mystery. It declared that he had died of a brain hemorrhage but made no mention of a head injury. I  had only hearsay that an injury to the head had been the cause of  John McDade's death. I had seemingly no way to determine if he had received a fatal injury, let alone whether  the culprit responsible for his to early departure, was  a branch ....or a punch in the head. 


If a serious incident had indeed been hushed up in my family, I wanted to know the truth. I searched for newspaper reports on the Trove website (newspapers digitised by the National Library of Australia), but I found nothing at all about my great grandfather's death beyond a funeral notice. Either my great grandfather's death had not been considered newsworthy enough to be reported, any newspaper in which the story had appeared had not yet been digitised. 


I asked other McDade relatives for their versions of my great grandfather's death. My paternal aunt, took immediate exception to the accusation that my grandfather, her father, had in any way been responsible for John McDade's death.  She was adamant that a branch falling from a tree had caused his death. One always has to keep in mind, that when family anecdotes are perpetuated, it is often difficult to find a path to the truth. The seeds of doubt had been planted in my mind by a more malevolent version of my great grandfather's death, and I could not help but wonder if the tale of the falling branch had in fact been nothing but a conspiracy designed to keep my grandfather and his brother from trouble with the law. I knew that finding the truth would require more than my aunt's version of this story, to convince me of its authenticity. I needed real evidence of a cause of death.

Last year, I travelled to Brisbane to meet with some of my McDade cousins. In a park, not far from the Wickham Terrace park where I believed my great grandfather to have been hit on the head by a falling branch, we discussed the death of John McDade. My father's cousin had also heard, from his own father, an account of what happened. He, like myself, was genuinely horrified to hear the injurious account that I had been told, which gave the cause of death as an accidental punch. His father, along with my grandfather, were the two sons, who allegedly in this previously unheard version of events, had caused their father's death in a drunken punch up. 

In the park that day, my cousin related the account of John McDade's death that he had heard first hand from his father. 


Bertie (Robert) McDade's account of how his father died went as follows. 

John McDade was working in a park, blowing up tree stumps, when a large piece of a tree stump landed on his head. His sons, Bertie and Colin (my grandfather), were out riding motor bikes together when they received a call to tell them their father had been injured. Riding their bikes home to see their father, they were involved in an accident. An ambulance was summoned, however, when it arrived, the sons refused treatment, saying that they urgently needed to get home to see their father who had been injured. 

You might think, as I did, that this seemed far too an elaborate story to be contrived and I began to think, when I heard this account, that I was nearer to finding the truth. My own story had involved a branch falling from a tree, and although in this version, John McDade's death was allegedly caused by part of a blown up tree stump, at least the culprit was looking like being a tree! And then,  just as I relaxed, and settled into some sense of relief, a dark and foreboding thought occurred to me....  a good lie is ALWAYS well contrived... My heart sank. All I had in truth, were three different versions of an accident, with now a tree stump to add to my list of offenders. I wondered if I would ever know the truth about how John McDade died.

I had written several blog posts mentioning John McDade's 'death by falling branch' and the thought that this might not be true, was not sitting comfortably with me. Although it would be much more convenient for me to accept the fallen branch version of my great grandfather's death, than to contemplate that he had been punched to his death, I resolved to continueto seek the facts.


Recently, on facebook, my good genea-friend, Shauna Hicks, alerted me to the fact that the Brisbane Telegraph newspaper had been digitised and was available to search on Trove. With a spare hour to myself, I logged onto the Trove website and entered 'John McDade' into the search box, also narrowing my search to Queensland newspapers. I had previously searched digitised newspapers for information about my great grandfather's death and found nothing, but it is important to remember that newspapers are continually being digitised and added to Trove.

The first article I found was from The Central Queensland Herald,  dated March 2, 1939, which described the death of a 55 year old man named John McDade,  entitled, "Fatal Explosion Caused by a Box of Matches". The date and place of death (after a near faint thinking I might have to add a box of matches to the growing list of suspects in my great grandfather's death), ruled out this particular man as being my great grandfather. Feeling sincerely sorry for the family of this man from Tennant Creek, who had dropped a box of matches into gun powder he was about to detonate, I was, at the same time, relieved that this had not been my great grandfather's grizzly end. This widely reported death in news reports continued for a number of pages of results, so I narrowed my search further, adding 'tree' to 'John McDade'. 


And then, there it was!  There before my eyes was a report about my great grandfather's death, entitled Struck by Falling Tree. The story was reported in The Week, on Friday, September 12, 1930. The address matched that of my great grandparents in electoral rolls, although my great grandfather had obviously fibbed just a little about his age, most likely for the purpose of obtaining employment. In 1930, John McDade was aged 58 years. 

The Week  Friday September 12, 1930  Image, Trove

John McDade, 54 a married man, of King Street, Windsor, employed by the Brisbane City Council under the relief scheme, was felling a tree in Victoria Park on Sept 5, when he was struck by a limb. He did not feel any effects of the injury at the time and continued to work. During the night, however, he complained of pains in the head and as he became worse on Saturday morning ambulance bearers were called. They found that he was suffering from a fracture of the skull and took him to the Brisbane Hospital in an unconscious condition. His condition is serious.

"StateLibQld 1 115724 View over to Brisbane from the hospital at Herston across Victoria Park, looking south, ca. 1936" by Item is held by John Oxley Library ©©


Two additional headlines from The Telegraph [Brisbane, Qld], dated September 8 and September 10, 1930, caught my attention on Trove. These were INJURED WORKER  and DEATH FROM INJURY. Unfortunately, both of these articles are listed as [coming soon].  By clicking on this blue link I have been able to request that the Trove website emails me as soon as the full articles are released for viewing.  Despite the articles being incomplete, sufficient information was available for me to be certain that these news reports were related to the death of my great grandfather. I am waiting with bated breath now for these two news items to be released for me to read in full.

INJURED RELIEF WORKER , September 8, 1930

John McDade, one of the relief workers employed by the Brisbane City Council... was injured when he was struck by a falling limb of a tree in Victoria Park, ...remains in a critical condition....

DEATH FROM INJURY, September 10, 1930

John McDade, of King Street Lutwyche, employed by the ...Brisbane City Council under the relief scheme... was injured on Friday when felling a tree in Victoria Park, died in hospital...


I knew from John McDade's death certificate, that he had died on September 9th, 1930. From his funeral notice which appeared in the Brisbane Courier Mail, I was aware that he had been buried on September 10th. Two days later, the the report in The Week on September 12th 1930, informed me that his condition was serious. I'm guessing that was the truth [tongue in cheek] considering he had been buried in Lutwyche Cemetery, two days earlier after passing away on Monday September 9th, (as reported correctly in The Week, September 10,1930) NOT EVERYTHING YOU READ IN A NEWSPAPER IS CORRECT!


Not everything we read in the news is correct, and although the news reports varied in minor details, they provided an accurate and an obviously well witnessed account of the injury that John McDade received whilst working alongside other relief workers in Victoria Park on September 5th, 1930. I had achieved what I had set out to do which was to establish the cause my great grandfather's death. Now, however, I had to face the realisation that I had spent my life avoiding the wrong park. John McDade was hit by a falling branch in Victoria Park, Herston and not the park in Wickham Terrace. On a positive note, however, I had dispelled an unpleasant accusatory anecdote and exhonerated my grandfather and great uncle from an action most unpleasant. Relieved, (an understatement!) that John McDade had not been killed by a blow to the head, from one of his own sons during an argument, I went on to research the actual circumstances of his death. I now had a number of questions which I felt warranted answers, including, whether safety measures were put into place for labourers employed by the city council, many of whom would have been unskilled in the jobs allotted to them, could John McDade's death have been avoided and was he the only worker killed in employment under the Brisbane City Council relief scheme?


I have yet to discover whether there was an inquest held into the death of John McDade, but the fact that he was working under the Brisbane City Council Relief Scheme, has allowed me to understand the circumstances of his death. John McDade was a victim of the Great Depression and as an unemployed worker he had been contracted to the Brisbane City Council to undertake outdoor work for pay to support his family. In 1930, his youngest child was only eight years old. News items in Brisbane newspapers provided me with some understanding of the relief scheme and the part that workers like my great grandfather played in the formation of Victoria Park and other notable Brisbane landmarks. I have also mentioned some informative websites in my sources below.

Workers employed under the relief scheme in Victoria Park, Herston, Brisbane, Sunday, September 21, 1930 Image  Sunday Mail  [Brisbane] TROVE 

Government Relief Scheme  Image:

After passing the Unemployment Workers Insurance Act, in 1922, Queensland was the only state in Australia which had a program to support workers who were unemployed. In July of 1930, the Country Progressive National Party in Queensland, passed another act know as the Income (Unemployment Relief) Tax Act. This act was intended to provide for the payment of relief workers in cities, towns and rural areas who were contracted to work outdoors by local councils. In Brisbane, relief workers were paid to construct and improve roads, bridges, schools, parks and playing fields. The construction of parklands involved the levelling and draining of land,  often the construction of concrete channels and drains, fencing and the felling of existing trees to make way for roads, and the planting of trees and gardens. So, this was the work that my great grandfather was involved in when he was fatally injured. Having been a miner for most of his life, it has occurred to me that he may not have had any or much experience in felling large Australian eucalyptus trees, such as were in Victoria Park prior to its being cleared.

The Courier Mail (Brisbane) 23 April, 1930


600 Relief Workers in Victoria Park April 1930


Family stories passed down from generation to generation can become like Chinese whispers. Members of different branches of my family had three different accounts of how my great grandfather had been injured and died. Not one story was entirely accurate although two were closer to the truth than the third. I am grateful to the National Library of Australia and its website, Trove. Without the digitisation of Australian newspapers, I might never have solved a worrisome mystery and proved that beyond doubt I can now hold a branch of a tree accountable for my great grandfather John McDade's death in 1930.







Queensland Historical Atlas


Queensland Government Department of Environment and Heritage Protection



Thursday, May 21, 2015

Telling an Immigrant Ancestor's Story

An Immigrant Ancestor's Story - Finding the Facts 

Advertisement regarding my ancestor's farm, Darling Downs Gazette 1861

Telling real life stories of immigrant ancestors can be so much more rewarding than just collecting dates, places of origin and arrival, and names of ships. If you make time to research and to place your ancestors within the historical context of world events, you will uncover fascinating and real stories. Family history is, after all, the personal stories of individual people and events which make our collective history. History embraces a more profound meaning when you understand the way that historical events impacted on your own ancestors' lives. Since immmigration has played a crucial role in shaping the economic, political, social and cultural essence of many of the nations in which we live today, our own immigrant ancestors' stories are a relevant and integral part of each nation's history. 

With diligent investigation you can uncover compelling chapters in your ancestors' personal immigration stories. Understanding the reasons why ancestors left their homes and why they chose the countries they relocated to, can have a powerful impact on your sense of who you are. Understanding our identity is a significant part of why we want to know where we come from. Our immigrant ancestors arrived in countries often very foreign to them, leaving behind an old way of life, but undoubtedly bringing with them a strong sense of cultural identity, ideals, values and customs. Finding ships' names, names on passenger lists and countries of origins is only the beginning of your journey towards understanding your immigrant ancestors and a fraction of the story that deserves to be told. Identifying with the challenges that immigrant ancestors faced, appreciating what their lives were like when they first arrived in a new homeland, and discovering how they lived and adapted to their adopted home is a vital part of the journey to discovering a significant part of your own identity.  Many of our our ideas, attitudes, perceptions and understanding of the world around us has been passed down to us, sometime unkowingly, from immigrant ancestors.

When I was growing up, I was not told that I had German ancestry. It was only after I began researching my family history that I became aware of my German heritage. A great deal of research, and some years later, the legacy passed on to me from my German background is that of a greatly enriched sense of who I am and an appreciation of my German origins. This connection has only been possible through research since no tangible information was passed on to me by my ancestors. After the first and second world wars, many people did not want to admit Germanic heritage. My own ancestors in Australia, anglicised their German surname and buried their Germanic background. We all inately carry within us, genes, traits, traditions and even mannerisms passed down from our parents and grandparents who inherited the same from their ancestors. By understanding our immigrant ancestors we take a step an important towards understanding how we came to be who we are.

In this blog I hope to show the way in which the threads of an immigrant ancestor's story can be woven together.  I am using, as an example,  my Prussian immigrant ancestor, Gottlieb Nerger. Although my research for this blog, is focussed on German and Prussian immigration to Australia,  a similar method of research can be applied to most immigrant research.   I hope to show how by treating each piece of information you find as a clue to more indepth research, you can peice together a 'meat on the bones' account of an immigrant ancestor's story. The resources I have cited, relate  to German immigration to Australia, however, similar resources are available for immigrants who came from and travelled to other places.

My G G grandfather, John Gottlieb Nerger  (1864- 1913) , son  Australian born son of Gotttlieb Nerger  and Christiana Siegler, Prussian and German Immigrants

The first step in telling an ancestor's immigration story is to establish how, when and why they left their place of origin. This will require some research into the place of their origins and its history. 


My ancestor, Gottlieb Nerger, was a native of Prussia (Preußen), although his records mostly referrred to him as German. To understand the relevance of Prusian and German origins, one needs to know something of the history of the Germanic Kingdom. The following is a brief summary of Prussian history from wikipedia, which for the purpose of this post, provides an adequate overview. I have not intended to provide an indepth history of Prussia here, and I would not recommend relying upon wikipedia alone for information. I would recommend alway searching for far more in depth histories of places my ancestors came from, online and in books. 

"Prussia (German Preußen was a german kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg, and centred on the region of Prussia. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organised and effective army. Prussia, with its capital in Berlin after 1451, shaped the history of Germany. In 1871, German states united in creating the German Empire under the Prussian leadership. In November 1918, the monarchies were abolished and the nobility lost its political power. Prussia was effectively abolished in 1947."

It is important to have some knowledge of the history of the places your ancestors came from, since boarders and boundaries may have altered over time. Prior to its dissolution, Prussia consisted of West Prussia, East Prussia, Brandenburg, Saxony, Pomerania, Rhineland, Silesia, Lusatia, Hesse-Nassau, and the small Hohernzollen, which was the ancestral homeland of the Prussian ruling family. 
When the German Empire united the German states in 1871, for the most part, the population of Prussia, and in particular the West Prussian region, was comprised of German speaking people. There were parts of Prussia, however, which were principally Polish ( East Prussia - the Province of Posen and Upper Silesia). Brandenburg, the place of my ancestor's origins was a German speaking part of Prussia. Other minority ethnic groups which made up Prussia's population before 1871, were, Jews, Danes, Frisians, Kashubians, Masurians, Lithuaniana, Walloons, Czechs, Kursenieki and Sorbs. 

The significance of boundary changes, becomes obvious when you are looking for records. If your ancestors came from East Prussia, for example, you will need to search in Poland for records. 

Prussia 1871 -1918 Image Wikipedia  Creative Commons Licence

Germany today. Image Google Maps.


Information in passenger manifests often provides details about ancestors that you might not find anywhere else. Indexes and passenger lists for immigrants can be found in Archives, Immigration Museums, Local, State and National Libraries and Family History Societies. Many ships' passenger lists can be found on sites such as or  and on numerous free to use websites found using google searches.

My great great grandmother, Christiana Siegler arrived in Australia in 1863 on board La Rochelle

When looking foe the arival of an immigrant, It is  important to look further afield than the nearest port to where an ancestor lived after his or her arrival. Not every immigrant settled near the port at which they arrived. In my ancestor's case, Gottlieb Nerger settled in Drayton, Toowoomba on the Darling Downs in Queensland, Australia, but I was unable to find him arriving on any ship at the nearest port of Moreton Bay or any other Queensland ports. Since Queensland, prior to separation from New South Wales, in 1859, was a physically remote part of  the British administered colony of New South Wales, I widened my search, and I found Gottlieb Nerger on the passenger list for the immigrant ship, Caesar Godeffroy, arriving in Sydney, New  South Wales in 1852.

The discovery that Gottlieb Nerger had left the ship Caesar Godeffroy in Sydney, NSW, raised a number of questions about how and why he then travelled the long distance from the city of Sydney to the remote pastoral area of The Darling Downs in Queensland.  As I researched further, Gottlieb Nerger's story unfolded...


Godeffroy ships, Caesar and Helene Image Wikipedia Creative Commons

After you have determined when and how your ancestor emigrated, the next chapter of your immigrant's story is to learn about the voyage which transported him or her to a new life.

In the mid-nineteenth century, at the time when my Prussian and German forebears made their journeys from Hamburg to Australia, voyages from one side of the world to another, took many months. Ship's records, passenger lists, Surgeon's notes and other records pertaining to ships' voyages hold fascinating information that can help you to understand the momentous journey undertaken by ancestors. Some voyages were made harder by the outbreak of disease on board ships, some made arduous by bad weather conditions. Many passengers wrote diaries whilst on board the ships they travelled on. If a diary exists regarding the ship on which your ancestor journeyed, even if  not written by your own ancestor, the details of the ship's journey in these accounts will be valuable information for you. Exploring the day to day hardships that ancestors faced in the process of immigration, can assist you in shaping their story, if not at the very least, earn them your respect for their courage and determination.

From the passenger list for the Caesar Godeffroy, I learned that Gottlieb Nerger had departed Hamburg on August 9, 1852, as one of 230 emigrants bound for Sydney, Australia. I originanlly discovered the name of the immigrant ship Gottlieb on which arrived, in  a card index and subsequently on microfilm, in the Queensland State Archives, although many such records are now available online. The image of the passenger list can be found on sites such as and [Emigrants from Hamburg,1850-1879 ]

Gottlieb Nerger arrived in Sydney on December 11, 1852, after an almost three month voyage. 
The Maitland Mercury report of the arrival of the Caesar Godeffroy on 15 December 1852
There is a great deal of information to be discovered about the voyages of  immigrant ships, online, in archives, libraries, immigration museums and in books. A particularly good source of  information about immigration and the arrival of immigrant ships are newspapers of the day.  From an article in the Maitland Mercury, dated December 15, 1852, I learned that there were three deaths and one birth on board the voyage  which took Gottlieb Nerger from Hamburg to Sydney, Australia. It is comforting to know that his lengthy voyage from Hamburg was not made more onerous by an outbreak of  the deadly typhus fever and other sicknesses which resulted in tragedy for some of the voyages to Australia in the early 1850's. 

December 15, Maitland Mercury, 
I know, also, from a letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald, December 14, 1852, addressed to Captain Bohn of the Caesar Godeffroy, that the conditions of the voyage were appreciated by the English passengers.  I can only hope that for my Great great great grandfather, the voyage was similarly tolerable. The letter read thus:

 On board the Caesar Godeffroy
Wed 8 Dec 1852
We the undersigned Englishmen, passengers on board the above named barque from Hamburgh to Sydney, do assure you of our entire satisfaction & approval, both as regards the quality & the quantity of all provisions & water with which the ship has been supplied: & we beg further to state that we cannot close these remarks without adding that we have witnessed with pleasure your untiring seal for the comfort of all on board, your readiness to hear patiently & without partiality any complaint that might arise, & more particularly your humane kindness in all cases of sickness. To you sir, in particular, as well as the officers & crew, are we solely indebted for the prosperous, safe & happy voyage in your vessel: & in taking our farewell, we sincerely wish you, one & all, health, happiness & prosperity, & may success attend your efforts, & good luck to your gallant vessel.

From the ship's manifest I discovered that Gottlieb Nerger  was from Petersdorf in Prussia and that his occupation was a Schäfer. Translated from German, this is a shepherd. This is the only record where I have found Gottlieb Nerger's place of origin and occupation recorded. I also noted on the passenger list for the Caesar Goddefroy voyage of 1852, that  many of the other male German passengers were also shepherds, although they originated from different places in Germany and Prussia. This was a significant clue towards discovering why my ancestor emigrated and the significance of the location where he settled in Australia.

Departure Date:9 Aug 1852
Birth Place:Petersdorf, Preußen (Germany)
Ship Name:Cesar Godeffroy
Captain:Behn, Heinr.
Shipping line:Biancone & Co.
Shipping Clerk:Joh. Ces. Godeffroy & Sohn
Ship Type:Segelschiff
Accommodation:ohne Angabe
Ship Flag:Deutschland
Port of Departure:Hamburg
Port of Arrival:Sydney


Finding facts about ancestors, knowing details such as what their occupations were prior to emigrating can help to explain the reasons why they left their homelands. Often one clue leads to other vital information about why and where they settled in a new land.

There is a vast amount of information to be found online, in newspapers, libraries and in archives that will help you understand the religious, economic, political or social reasons why people migrated from one place to another.


As I  researched early German immigration to Australia, I discovered that the first German settlers arrived at Kangaroo Island, with the South Australia Company in 1837.  In  April, 1838, a group of six German families arrived in Australia on the  ship Kinnear which left from from London. This was a group of vinedressers who together with their families had been especially recruited from the Rheingau villages of Mittelheim, Hattenheim and Erbach in the then independent Duchy of Nassau ( now known as  Rheinland-Palatine and Hesse )  by Edward Macarthur to work on his property in Camden, New South Wales. 

The next two groups of German immigrants  arrived in South Australia in November and December of 1838. These 'Old Lutheran' German citizens were fleeing the religious persecution of Frederick William III whose revised form of Lutheran worship and revised prayer book was unacceptable to them. The skills that these German immigrants brought with them comprised a wide range of occupational crafts. They included farmers, blacksmiths, carpenters , bakers and butchers. The South Australian German settlers established village communities such as Hahndorf and Klemzig, while others settled and farmed in the Barossa Valley, the Adelaide Hills and along the Murray River. Others set up businesses in Adelaide. From 1839 onwards South Australia became home to a steady stream of immigrants from Germany, many of whom remained there, although some migrated to New South Wales and Queensland. 

German immigration began in Queensland in 1838, motivated by a desire to establish an Aboriginal mission. In Queensland, a group of 11 German missionaries from the Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Missionary in Berlin and one Basel Mission graduate arrived in Brisbane on board the Isabella in 1838. These immigrants first settled in Moreton Bay at Zion Hill (now Redcliffe), but were quickly resettled to a safer location ( due to attacks on them by aboriginal people) on a 650 acre NSW Government grant of land, which is now a suburb of Brisbane known as Nundah. The missionary became known as the German Station. These early Queensland German immigrants were part of Presbyterian minister, John Dunlop Lang's proposal to improve the immoral character of a convict colony through immigration schemes aimed at attracting Lang's ideal upstanding and moral protestant immigrants. 

Sketch of the German Mission at Zion Hill : Image Wikimedia Creative Commons

(Karl Ludwig) Wilhelm Kirchner, a German Immigrant himself, who arrived in Sydney in 1839, became the German Immigration Officer for the NSW Government. Kirchner secured German Immigrants to come to the Hunter Valley in New South Wales with their families, to work in the vineyards as vinedressers. Much of the success of the wine industry in the Hunter Valley region can be attricuted to the German immigrants who arrived in 1848 and 1849.


Gottlieb Nerger arrived in Australia in 1852, as part of the first wave of German immigration to the Darling Downs area which occurred between 1852 and 1855. (His future wife arrived in the second wave of German immigration in 1862). Gottlieb was among a group of mainly male immigrants who possessed very specific occupational skills. These German farm workers left their native land for entirely different  reasons to the earlier German settlers in South Australia.

Map showing the location of the Darling Downs Image Wikipedia  ©©

Although many of the Queensland German immigrants, including Gottlieb Nerger, were Lutheran, some were Evangelische, and it was not religious persecution which brought these immigrants to Australia. Economic hardship, agricultural failure and famine, along with political upheaval and revolutions of 1848 in Western Europe forced German farmers and farm workers to look for a better life beyond Germany and Prussia or risk facing starvation. Australia offered contract work in rural farming areas to German immigrants with specific farming skills, in particular shepherds and boundary riders. 

Serious shortages of farm labour in rural Australia was precipitated by workers abandoning the land to try their luck on the Gold Fields during the Gold Rushes, the first of which was in 1851, when Edward Hargraves announced he had discovered gold at Ophir near Bathurst in New South Wales. The landowning aristocracy on the Darling Downs in Queensland, looked to German Immigration Agents in Sydney, and later Brisbane, to supply them with much needed shepherds from Germany. From the ship's manifest I had discovered that Gottlieb Nerger was from Petersdorf in Prussia and that his occupation was a Schäfer. Translated from German, this is a shepherd. The pastoral community of the Darling Downs was destined to become Gottlieb Nerger's destination after his arrival in Australia because his experience as a shepherd was much needed there.

Departure Date:9 Aug 1852
Birth Place:Petersdorf, Preußen (Germany)
Ship Name:Cesar Godeffroy
Captain:Behn, Heinr.
Shipping line:Biancone & Co.
Shipping Clerk:Joh. Ces. Godeffroy & Sohn
Ship Type:Segelschiff
Accommodation:ohne Angabe
Ship Flag:Deutschland
Port of Departure:Hamburg
Port of Arrival:Sydney

The German immigrants on board the Caesar Godeffroy were mostly men and for the most part were shepherds along with some vinecutters. Although the Godeffroy ships, which transported  German and other European immigrants to Queensland in the 1850's mostly travelled directly to Moreton Bay, several of the voyages, including the one transporting Gottlieb Nerger,  saw the German workers disembarking in Sydney and then being transferred to Brisbane. Although the German workers were consigned to employees before arrival, some immigrants on disembarking, were lured by the exctiing city life in Sydney, and others enticed to the Australian Gold fileds. They deserted the ships on arrival and the immigrarion scheme was in danger of failing to provide the much needed farm hands. To avoid losing  German immigrant farm workers, German immigrant ships later travelled directly to Moreton Bay to offload immigrants in Brisbane, closer to the Darling Downs so avoiding the loss of contracted wfarm workers.

Living arrangements for these German immigrants were in sharp contrast to those of the earlier South Australian German settlers who settled in communities and founded flourishing townships. Theirs was a much lonelier life on arrival. Shepherds were required to live on isolated parts of large landholdings to protect sheep from dingoes, aboriginal attacks and bushrangers. German workers quickly earned a reputation as reliable, sober and hardworking men and were much in demand for work on the Darling Downs pastoral leasholds. They frugally saved the money that they earned and many purchased small acreages of farming land for themselves at the first opportunity. I know from the 1861 advertisement in the Darling Downs Gazette that Gottlieb Nerger purchased a small farm of around 4 and a half acres. 

I visited Toowoomba and found Gottlieb Nerger's land, some of which is now a park. Image SharnWhite ©©


The Moreton Bay Courier, 16 October, 1852 Page1

The above advertisement placed in the Moreton Bay Courier, on October, 16, 1852, refers to one of the ships in the Godeffoy family owned shipping line which was contracted to bring German migrant farm workers to Queensland, Australia. What is particularly interesting about the advertisement and the many other similar ones in Queensland Newspapers at this time, is that it provides evidence that farmers on the Darling Downs were actively seeking German farm workers and had placed orders for such with  immigration agents such as Messrs Kirchner & Co for Shepherds. 

Advertisement in a German Newspaper for Immigration to Australia Image Creative Commons ©©

Wilhem Kirchener was a German Immigration Officer employed by the New South Wales and later the Queensland Government to recruit immigrants to relocate to Australia. He published a book in 1848, entitled, Australien und seine Vortheile für Auswanderer. [H. L Brönner, Frankfurt], to promote the benefits of emigration for German people. This translates as 'Australia and it's Advantages for Emigrants'. Advertisements were placed regularly in German newspapers recruiting people to emigrate to Australia and were designed to entice particulary German rural workers towards a new and better life. 

Letter to the editor of the Moreton Bay Courier 24 May, 185 regarding German workers to be introduced to the Darling Downs

A search of newspaper articles about German immigration to Australia brought to my attention the German Immigration Scheme of Mr Neuhauss [ Geelong Courier Tuesday, 12 August, 1851], in which the article reported, that Mr Neuhauss proposes to introduce "skilled agricultural labourers, shepherds, and female servants" on being paid by their employers 7 pounds for each emigrant. The wages payable to males 20 pounds per annum and to females 12 pounds per annum. 

The article announcs Mr Neuhauss as saying, the colonists are in want of labour.I will supply you on reasonable terms. The class of emigrants which it is intended to introduce is of the right kind.The Germans are of the right kind. The Germans are a laborious, honest, and frugal race. They will easily amalgamate with their blood relations, the Anglo-Saxons. 

This article very much reinforces the notion that Australia was looking for immigrants of a sober protestant background to improve what was seen to be an immoral, criminally 'stained' and largely Irish Catholic population.

On May 3, 1851, the Moreton Bay Courier carried an account entitled German Immigration, which announced the intended visit to the Moreton Bay area by Mr Neuhauss himself, who is consequent upon an application made by the gentlemen in this district, having a considerable knowledge of Germany, and formerly connected with an extensive business in Brisbane, and who desired to know from Messrs Godeffroy and Son the rate at which German labourers would be introduced into Moreton Bay direct. 

Between the 1820's and 1880's hundreds of thousands of German and Prussian emigrants left their homeland to escape religious persecution or economic ruin. With an economic downturn and the major failure of crops in the mid 19th century in Germany and Prussia, a campaign of advertising directly aimed at attracting reliable German farm workers to migrate to Australia, was extremely successful and it is not difficult to imagine my ancestor being tempted by the promise of great benefits if he emigrated.

The above sources of information about German immigration to Queensland, have afforded me some understanding of the way in which Gottlieb Nerger would have been lured into emigrating to a new nation which offered him the opportunity for a bettter life, for employment, and especially, as a single man, for adventure. From research and also from a personal knowledge of the Darling Downs landscape, I have been able to construct a picture of the isolated life my great great great grandfather would have lived, employed as a shepherd on a large pastoral sheep station, fending for himself on the lonely plains of the Darling Downs. Through my research, my ancestor's life has become more tangible to me. I wonder about the fear he may have felt facing perils so unfamiliar to him as dingoes, aboriginals brandishing spears or even brazen bushrangers. I imagine that he worried about his livelihood being threatened if he lost his employer's sheep? I have discovered what wage he would have earned for his lonely existence and I respect the way in which my Prussian shepherd ancestor must have worked hard to save his earnings. Piece by piece, my immigrant ancestor's journey is evolving into an appreciable story which helps me to understand a three times great grandfather who left his homeland and toiled in the past to provide for his family. I appreciate that he was one of my ancestors who set the scene for the fortunate life I have today, three geberations on.


Jondaryan Woolshed Darling Downs Queensland Image Wikimedia ©©


Resources for piecing together events in our ancestors' lives are many and varied. Some will be found online, however, for others it may be necessary to visit  libraries and archives or historical societies in the localities where your ancestors lived and worked. Putting in the effort to search beyond the internet is more than often well rewarded.

A search of the Toowoomba & Darling Downs Family History Society's  research centre's Biographical Register [QLD 435.160] and records from the Jondaryan Woolshed 1840-1946 [QLD 4403.001 Toowoomba & Darling Downs FHS] shows that Gottlieb Nerger was employed as a shepherd after he arrived  on the Darling Downs, on the large sheep station known as Jondaryan . Jondaryan is famous even today for its huge woolshed, the construction of which began in 1859. The first shearing  held in this shed was in 1861, so it is more than likely that Gottlieb Nerger was present at this event. As a member of the Toowoomba and Darling Downs community, he would have most certainly been impressed by the large woolshed which could hold over 3000 sheep at any one time.  

Sheep ready for shearing at Jondaryan c 1890 Image Wikimedia ©©


                                                            Farm to Let

To Let, at Toowoomba, a SMALL FARM of three acres with a two roomed Slab Cottage. The farm is paling fenced and partly under cultivation.
The land is elegibly situated near the Saw Mills, and will be let on reasonable terms for two years. For further particulars apply to
                                          GOTLIEB NERGER

I discovered the above newspaper advertisement on microfilm in the Toowoomba Library Local Research Centre in Ruthven Street, Toowoomba. It was placed in the Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser by Gottlieb Nerger on January, 21, 1861. Although the Darling Downs Gazette has now been digitised and made available on TROVE, I have not found this advertisement on the website despite a number searches. This is an excellent reminder that it is important to always search local records and original records as well as those available online. Not everything online is indexed in a way that easily enables you to easily find every record you are looking for.

Toowoomba History Library Image SharnWhite © ©

The advertisement in the Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser, is just one of the many scraps of evidence which I have gathered in my quest to tell my German immigrant ancestor's story. Each piece of information was a piece of the puzzle that was his life story before I began to assemble it. Gradually, the threads of Gottlieb Nerger's story, weave together to become a colourful tapestry of a real life rather than faded words on old documents.

Although the above advertisement appears insignificant at first glance, the small notice provided me with invaluable details about my ancestor's property in Toowoomba on the Darling Downs in Queensland, in 1861. It also confirms for me that in 1861, nine years after Gottlieb Nerger's arrival in Australia from Prussia, he owned his own small farm. For me, the most thrilling information in the advertisement is the description of his home and his farm.  It enables my mind to paint a picture in of an image of a modest timber slab cottage consisting only of two rooms. I find myself imagining my ancestor labouring beneath the fiercely hot Queensland sun, with a handsaw, to fell the native gum trees and then sawing them into slabs of timber suitable for building material. I know that my ancestor planted crops and protected his precious food source by constructing a  paling fence around his land. I know that he undoubtedly laboured hard to own his modest farm and I feel pride that he made a home for himself in his new land.


One significant result of finding the above advertisement, was that it gave me a reference point for a search for the location for the farm itself, which is described as being near the saw mills. This mention of a location was a valuable point of reference for further investigation.

The same tiny advertisement also provokes the question as to why Gottlieb Nerger was leasing his land out in 1861. It is clues like this which not only offers an excellent foundation for further research, but significantly, they provide a realistic timeline of events in an ancestor's life from which a story can evolve.

A search of the 1861 rate notices held on microfilm by the Toowoomba Family History Society, of which I am a member, provided me with a map reference and an acreage of land for my ancestor's property - Lot 23, Portion 29, 40 acres. By comparing old and new maps of Toowoomba, I was able to establish beyond doubt the location of my ancestor's farm.  I feel extremely fortunate  to have located, visited and even walked on the land that he owned.

In the 1863 Toowoomba Rate Notices, Gottlieb Nerger owned, in the parish of Aubigny, Drayton, Toowoomba, part of portion 23, containing 3 acres, Annual Value being 30 Pounds. The Rate notice informed me that on this land stood a substantial house. In 1861, his house had been dscribed as a modest two room timber slab house. By 1863, after his marriage to Christiana Siegler in September of 1863, a month after her arrival from Beutelsbach in Weurttemberg, Germany on the ship La Rochelle, Gottlieb had built a larger  substantial home for himself and his wife. As a married man with a baby son in 1864, he was providing well for his new family. 

* I have not yet found evidence as to whether the 40 acres should have read as 4 acres or whether Gottlieb disposed of some of his land as he earlier stated that he intended to do, in a letter he wrote in 1859. [State Library of Queensland Series A2, Reel A2.42 , p.502]


Prior to the Naturalisation Legislation being passed in New South Wales in 1849, it was difficult for immigrants born outside of the British Empire to become naturalised Australian citizens. Following the Naturalisation Act 1849, [Act 11. Vic.No.39], a German born immigrant such as my ancestor, who wanted the right to vote or to own land, was required to become naturalised and to swear an oath of allegiance. Naturalisation Certificates are a valuable source of personal information about an immigrant ancestor.

A search of  the Queensland State Archives  website in  Naturalizations 1851-1904,  found what I thought to be Gottlieb Nerger's name, although it was spelled as Nereger.  A visit to the archives located Gottlieb Nereger's Certificate of Naturalisation in the Register of Aliens to Whom Oaths of Allegiance were Administered, 1858-1904 [Series 5741, Item 882252, pp 1-829, on page 379. The cerificate is dated August 7, 1858. Although I felt that this my three times great grandfather I needed evidence that Gottlieb Nereger and Gottlieb Nerger were one and the same person.

On a trip to Brisbane, I visited the State Library of Queensland to search A2 Series on microfilm, Reel A2.42  of Letters Received 1859 and Papers Filed With Them [NSW -Colonial Secretary Letters Relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland 1822-1860]. Slowly scrolling through the microfilm reel, I found letters and forms written and filled out by Gottlieb Nerger, between April 13, 1858 and March 30, 1859.

On microfilm [A2 Series], reel A2.42 pages 420-424,  I found documents addressed to the then Governor General, Sir William Thomas Denison, in 1858, from Gottlieb Nerger who was applying for a Certificate of Naturalisation.  In his application for naturalisation, in 1858, Gottlieb gave his age as 31 years and  his occupation as a general labourer.  His naturalisation certificate wasdated August,7  1858 and  witnesses to his good character were R Bownlee and John Broadbent who both testified that they had known Gottlieb Nerger for 3 years.

Below is an excerpt from Gottlieb Nerger's  Certificate of Naturalisation.

Gottlieb Nereger is a native of Germany, is 32 years of age, and that having arrived  by the ship Goddeffroy, in the year 1852, now residing in Toowoomba, Drayton, having purchased land in the said colony with the intention of settling thereon.

Three words which leapt out at me from the page were, "having purchased land'. This small piece of information from Gottlieb Nerger's Certificate of Naturalization, helped to clarify the dates for his land purchase and the construction of his house. The document told me that by 1858, he had purchased land in Drayton, Toowoomba, with the intention of settling there.  From this, I had an more accurate date for the purchase of my ancestor's farm and significantly, I was able to date the construction of his slab house to between 1858 and 1861, when the lease advertisement, describing the timber slab house, appeared in the Darling Downs Gazetter.

A google search for "Gottlieb Nerger Toowoomba" revealed that the the State Library of Queensland also held records which related to Gottlieb Nerger's Naturalisation from the years 1858 and 1859. Reading through the notes in the index, I felt as though I had struck gold as I read the following words - Gottlieb Nerger [also spelled Nereger]. There in front of me was the proof I required.

The records relating to Gottlieb Nerger's 1858 Naturalisation generated somewhat of a complication in his story however as it appeared that in the records there was a second application for Naturalisation in 1859.  At first I assumed that the 1859 letters and forms would turn out to be official business related to his naturalisation, but in fact, curiously, he had, in fact, applied a second time in 1859 to be naturalised.  Since I had a copy of his Naturalisation Certificate, dated August 7, 1858, this raised a number of questions.

[* Note of interest - Gottlieb Nerger's 1858 Naturalisation Cerificate was signed by Charles Cowper, the same man who my husband's great great grandfather, Matthew McDonald was assigned to in 1837 when he arrived as a free immigrant from Scotland. How all our paths cross in strange ways.]


A search of the New South Wales State Records only further served to add to the mystery when I discovered that Gottlieb Nerger had indeed been issued with a second Certificate of Naturalisation on September 15, 1859 [Item 4/1202, Reel 130, P.9].

Curious information about ancestors add some degree of melodrama to their story and undoubtedly make it a more interesting tale. I wasn't sure what my ancestor's melodrama would turn out to be but I was certainly intrigued.

Had Gottlieb Nerger not been aware that his certificate had been issued?
Had it been granted then refused?
Was there a problem because his surname was mispelled?
Was this a mistake in the naturalisation records?

In the 1859 Naturalisation application, Gottlieb had provided similar information about himself as he had done in 1858, on a form directed to the Governor General. His age was now stated to be 32 years, where it had been 31 the previous year so there was no doubt that this was a second and separate application. His occupation still a labourer. In the 1859 application, different witnesses testified to his character. They were Edward Lord, Martin Boulton, William H Groom and William Smith who  all stated that they had known Gottlieb Nerger for 2 years. [A2 Series, Reel A2.42, p.502]

I uncovered a clue for why there was an unusual second naturalisation application, on another trip to Brisbane and the State Library of Queensland, when I re-examined the microfilm at in the A2 Series, Reel A2.42, pp 498-499. I discovered that I had missed an entry on the same reel of microfilm, on my previous visit to the State Library when looking for Gottlieb Nerger's Certificate of Naturalisation. The information I had overlooked, was located between the 1858 entry [pp 422-424] and the 1859 entry [p.502] and dated August 27, 1858, 20 days after the date on Gottlieb Nerger's first Naturalisation Certificate. Here, I found a fascinating characterisation of Gottlieb Nerger in a letter  to the Principal Under Secretary. The memorial or testimony had originated at the Drayton Police Office and was signed by John Watts JP, and Francis Watts JP.

Gottlieb Nereger, also spelled absconding from Jondaryan: less than ordinary amount of intelligence, an inoffensive man, has little knowledge of English and conduct may be attributed to this [No 59/4]

As a descendant, I could not help but indignantly wonder how the brainpower of my three time great grandfather was established if he spoke little English. Moreover, I now had yet another mystery to solve. Since German immigrants were usually contracted to work for two years after arrival, why was 'absconding' from  employment viewed so seriously when my ancestor was a free assisted settler, outside the bonds of his contract and had been in Australia for 5 years. I concluded that there must have been a delay in administering my three times great grandfather's Certificate of Naturalisation in 1858, because he had, for some reason, fled his employer on Jondaryan Station.


To understand the significance of absconding from hired employment on Jondaryan Station, I set about researching the history of the large landholdingS on the Darling Downs and particularly Jondaryan Station itself. Jondaryan was established in 1840, and was one of the earliest and largest of the pastoral leases settled by squatters on the Darling Downs. These squatters, many of whom were younger sons of wealthy families in the UK, had immigrated to Australia to make their own living. By the 1850's they had accumulated enough fortune to purchase the leases on their pastoral holdings. The prosperity of this new land owning aristoracy, referred to at the time, by social commentators, as 'The Shepherd Kings', built their fortunes on the back of the wool industry and a predominately immigrant labour work force.

Jondaryan passed through a number of hands. In 1858, William Kent and Edward Wienhold took over a sub-lease on the property, retaining the current  Station manager, James Charles White. 
Reading Janette A. Walker's 1984 PhD Thesis, Jondaryan Station: the relationship between pastoral capital and pastoral labour, 1840-1890, Qld University,  I found the following useful information.

Jondaryan Station was a highly-structured and unequal society and exhibited many of the characteristics of a close-knit, ordered and hierarchical rural English village. At the apex of its structure were the lessees, Messrs. Kent and Wienholt, absentee land-lords who paid Jondaryan the occasional supervisory visit. The manager was bound to them by marriage, loyalty and an identity of interest. Below the Management were two further divisions in the Jondaryan community, men and 'others'. In the latter category were women, blacks, exiles, Indian coolies, Chinese and later Polynesians, generally held to be lower in status than the lowest 'men'. From the overseer, the manager's executive, to the lowest blacks, there was a scale of descending status - lower status and remuneration being afforded to lesser occupations within the community. The population could be further broken down into resident, itinerant and contract groups and, within each of these, the skilled and the unskilled.[Abstract]

Absconding from hired service was probably the most common charge brought by Downs Squatters against their employees. Notices  that were inserted by run-holders who had 'lost' their labourers were frequently to be seen in the Moreton Bay Courier.... such actions met with penalties under the Masters and Servants Act J.M. Andrews of Jondaryan in fact offered a reward of £2 for the capture of John McMurray in 1847. ...

The Master & Servants Act, 1828 (England) allowed employers to prosecute any employee who absconded or refused to work. A search of the Digitalised Newspapers on the Trove website, showed me a number of articles about appearances  of people in the  Toowoomba Police Court who were charged with breach of  the Masters & Servants Act.

 Janette Walker says in her thesis,

Of Jondaryan it was said, "if anything can show the need of a shearers' associaton, it is the treatment of men at this Station . . . They are not regarded as men at all, but as machines and are threatened with the terrors of the Masters and Servants Act if they dare show the inherent spirit of a true born man to resist tyranny in whatever form it come p.148

After researching working conditions for rural workers on Jondaryan Station in the 1850's, I can now more easily comprehend the hardships my immigrant ancestor encountered in this new country. Far from being the adventurous new life he had been promised in enticing immigration advertisements, his grievances  must have grown so unbearable that he 'absconded' from his place of employment. As a non English speaking immigrant working on Jondaryan Station, Gottlieb Nerger  would undoubtedly have been placed low on the scale of gradation between the land owning Squatter aristocracy at the top, and the Chinese and Aboriginal workers at the bottom. Permanent workers who lived on Jondaryan Station received far better consideration and liberties than itinerant or contract workers and especially immigrants such as my three times great grandfather. For the latter, no real ties were formed to bind them to Jondaryan and much discontent grew amongst the contract immigrant labourers. This, I am led to believe, was the sad situation in which  Gottlieb Nerger found himself, five years after leaving his home in Petersdorf, Prussia.


I find it useful to investigate the people who knew my ancestors - neighbours, friends, and others who lived and worked in the same community. Through the people associated with an ancestor I have often discovered facts relevant to my own family history research.

If your ancestor was a member of a church, social or sporting group, chances are that you will find information in local newspapers. For example, I know that my great great grandfather, John Nerger, son of Gottlieb, showed prize winning canaries, because it was reported many times in the newspaper in Maryborough, Queensland. When people in  rural or smaller communities, went on holidays, their destination was often announced in the local newspaper. The Darling Downs Gazette and General Advisor, reported on October, 31, 1861, a heartfelt thankyou from the Trustees of the German Lutheran Evangelical Church of Toowoomba to the building recently created on the grounds belonging to the above church in Stuart Street, Towoomba. Gottlieb Nerger's Name was on the list of contributees, having contributed 1 pound. A significant amount of money in 1861 and more than most on the list of contributors gave towards the construction of St Paul's Lutheran Church, which was opened in 1863.


On that same list of contributors to the Toowoomba Lutheran Evangelical Church, where I found Gottlieb Nerger, was the name of Martin Klein. I always try to find out as much as I can about the people my ancestors came into contact with. Friends, neighbours, witnesses and in this case people who attended the same church. These folk were often involved in more ways than you might imagine with your ancestor. Martin Klein was a name that I later encountered when I discovered that Gottlieb had sold his farm in 1868, and taken his family to Gympie to try to make his fortune in the goldfields. Martin Klein owned the farm adjoining that of Gottlieb Nerger and it was he who purchased the Nerger farm. The park which I visited which had been a part of my great great great grandfather's farm is now known as the Martin Klein Park. Martin Klein's life was tragically cut short in 1870, when he was murdered by a fellow German named F.A. Herrlich in a dispute regarding the cutting down of cedar trees. I winder, had my great great great grandfather remained on his farm, might that have been his death splashed across the pages of Darling Downs newspapers?

The list of contributers to the Toowoomba Lutheran Church contained another significant name, which was that of Johan Bauer. Johan had arrived in Australia on the same voyage as Gottlieb Nerger in 1852. He was from the village of Beutelsbach, Werttemberg, the very same place that Christiana Siegler left two years later in the year she married Gottlieb Nerger. Since Beutelsbach is a very small village, it seems reasonable to infer that Johan Bauer was instrumental in arranging for Christiana to journey to Australia to marry Gottlieb Nerger. This appears to be a highly likely assumption given that the marriage took place a mere one month after her arrival in Australia. 


The discovery of gold in the Queensland town of Gympie in 1867, sparked a rush to the new goldfield by November of that year. In early 1868, Gottlieb Nerger, perhaps smitten by gold fever, perhaps finding life as a famer to be precarious, leased his farm in Toowoomba and with his wife, Christiana and two young sons, John and George, travelled the long journey down the steep mountain range from the Darling Downs and journeyed north to the Gympie goldfields. In early 1869, the family was joined by a new baby named Hermann, born in the midst of the gold rush in Gympie.

Gympie gold miners c 1870 next to a bark slab hut. Image ©©


To understand life was like on the Gympie goldfields for Gottlieb Nerger and his family, I directed my attention to the newspapers of the day. On the 26th of September, 1868, the year that my ancestor arrived in Gympie, The Queenslander carried a story entitled, Life at Gympie. This article is a window into the past world of Gympie, describing intricately, so colourful a picture of the hotels and other buildings that it creates the impression one is back in the past, walking through the town in person, in 1868. The following is a short extract of the wonderfully descriptive sketch of life in the goldmining town of Gympie, a town which boasts that Queensland was built on the back of its wealth from gold. If you have ancestors who mined for gold at the Gympie goldfields, this article is well worth reading along with other news articles from the gold rush days. I will in part reproduce it here:

Numberless stores and buildings are going up- indeed, if more sawn timber were available, much greater progress would be made. Shingles and rough slabs have to be used in many instances where better prepared material would be brought into requisition if it were available.

As on all extensive gold-fields, Saturday in town is the most remarkable day in the week. At night the central part of Gympie presents a scene somewhat similar to the close of a fair or carnival. The main street is densely crowded, all the shops are lighted up extensively and hotels and places of amusement are well patronised. In order to make the public aware of the peculiar merits of the particular places of entertainment, the lessees employ bellmen, through the influence of whose clamor and oratory, hundreds who have not been away from their claims during the preceding five days of the week, may be induced to favor the pretensions of the performers. Shorlty after sunset, the rival street-criers begin to inform the populace of what is provided for their evening's amusement, attracting attention with the aid of a bell.....
and first to Walker, the original crier, of Brisbane notoriety

"Oyez! oyez! oyez!- Ashton's Royal Anglo-Saxon Circus, for one night only, prior to departure for New South Wales....Come and see the daring feats of horsemanship of Tier and Combo Combo, and negro eccentricities never yet exelled! - the greatest combination of talent-....."

Simultaneously, from a few paces off, old Quigley, the great bellman from Victoria, Lambing Flat, and the Lachlan, with clear, articulate and stentorian voice, not however, coupled with equal volubility to Walker's harangue, addresses the crowd as follows:- 
"Let me draw your special attention to the Varieties Theatre, the greatest combination of talent ever assembled in one theatre for the public amusement . . Wilson and Mr J. R. Taylor . . the only real theatre on Gympie! Royalty might sit and be amused at the entertainment given by the Leopolds, for the festering tongue of scandal is never moved even to raise a laugh at the humblest in the land; therefore the entertainmeny given by the Leopolds is the only entertainment worthy of your notice on the diggings." and away rings the bells....
The circus was full, and the Leopolds had 800 in Scowen's Theatre on the night in question. At One Mile Messrs  Barlow and Thatcher have a run of full houses....

The Sabbeth is now marked by an entire cessation of mining operations, and the churches are attended by large congregations.The Bethel of Primitive Methodists is the first chapel erected; it is neatly and substantially built and stands on a nice site near Coraker's Northumberland Hotel. The Roman Catholic Church is a larger ediface, erected on Caledonian Hill, and at the One Mile is a house of worship similar to the Bethel belonging to the Independents.Spoken of as on the eve of erection are buildings for the Church of England on Paletine Hill, for the Church of Scotland on Surface Hill, for the Independents on Paletine Hill, and for the Weslyan Methodists at the One Mile. A Hebrew Synagogue will also shortly be built.

Main Street Gympie 1868. Image  Wikipeda Qld State Archives Creative Commons Licence ©©

The article continues to list the amount of gold discovered at each reef, the manner in which shafts were sunk  and provides a colourful depiction of daily life on the Gympie goldfields. Significantly,the journalist names  of every reef on the Gympie Goldfields as of September 2, 1868. With names such as Old England, Britannia, Belfast, Canadian, Cornish, Columbia, Count Bismark, Duke of Edinburgh, Dublin, Dalby, European, German, Hamburg, Lincolnshire, Liverpool, New Zealand, Napier, Prussian, Scandinavian, San Paoli, and Koh-in-oor, one is offered a glimpse of the conjugation of cultures on the Gympie goldfields.

In addition to names which refelcted the multi-cultural make-up of the mining town of Gympie, there were creative reef names that demonstrate the tenacity, the hopes and the dreams of the many, like my own ancestor who left their land and employment to follow a dream of striking it rich digging for gold. These include, Perseverance, Band of Hope, Fortitude, Golden Dream, Hope, and Lucknow.  A few miners displayed a jolly sense of humour when naming their gold reefs, Never Mind, Hit and Miss and Nil Desperandum. 

Australian Gold Diggins c 1855 Edward Roper Creative Commons ©©

Despite the delights to be found in the town of Gympie on a Saturday night, and before I had the opportunity to imagine my ancestor strolling down the main street with his family on their way to enjoy a night at the circus, I discovered other considerably bleaker views of life on the goldfields which possibly paint a more realistic picture of what my ancestor's life was like as a gold miner.

The following account appeared in the Brisbane Courier, on November 14, 1867, entitled "Gympie Creek Goldfields"

J. A. Lewis, Inspector of Police arrived on the Gympie Goldfield on 3 November 1867 and wrote on 11 November 1867:
"On reaching the diggings I found a population numbering about five hundred, the majority of whom were doing little or nothing in the way of digging for the precious metal. Claims, however, were marked out in all directions, and the ground leading from the gullies where the richest finds have been got was taken up for a considerable distance. I have very little hesitation in stating that two-thirds of the people congregated there had never been on a diggings before, and seemed to be quite at a loss what to do. Very few of them had tents to live in or tools to work with; and I am afraid that the majority of those had not sufficient money to keep them in food for one week...From all that I could glean from miners and others, with whom I had an opportunity of speaking, respecting the diggings, I think it very probable that a permanent gold-field will be established at, or in the vicinity of, Gympie Creek; and if reports-which were in circulation when I left the diggings-to the effect that several prospecting parties had found gold at different points, varying from one to five miles from the township, be correct, there is little doubt but it will be an extensive gold-field, and will absorb a large population within a very short period

The following letter from Mr O. Harvey  to his brother in law, was was published The Ballarat Star, Wednesday, 12th August, 1868.

Gympie Creek, Nashville, 28th July, 1868

" Dear Will, - here I am, writing under difficulties, the ground my seat, and a tin-dish my table....I am sorry it is not in my power to give you any encouraging news as I believe this is, without exception, the poorest rush I have ever seen..... what little alluvial diggings there was has been preety well worked, with the exception of some deep ground and close to the river.....There is a new rush today to a place of about 28 miles distant. Large numbers have gone, and are still going....I can say but little about it, as  but little is known, although, as usual, there are good reports; but people are dubious. Everthing here is very dull, very little employment to be obtained and scores of idle men knocking about. Provisions are very cheap. If one boards himself, ten shillings a week is sufficient, though the hotel keepers have the impudence to charge ten shillings per day, with no accomodation worth naming. Hundreds of people are still arriving and as many are leaving.....The 'powers to be' and the business people in this colony are not worthy of the name Anglo-Saxons. They have neither energy nor tact. I don't know that I can say any more, only to tell you strongly advise any friends not to think of coming over here. How are things on Ballarat? It will be no use staying here unless something turns up shortly... Yor affectionate brother" 

Gold Mining Queensland 1870. Image John Oxley Library Qld, Wikipedia ©©


My story of Gottlieb Nerger, my German three times great grandfather, who immigrated to Australia in 1852, came to an abrupt and premature end in 1869, when at the Gympie Gold Fields, less than two years after departing Toowoomba on the Darling Downs. Gottlieb Nerger died.  he passed away on October 28, 1869, aged 47 years, of heart disease which he had suffered for 8 months. In passing, he left his young  28 year old German born wife and three young sons alone among the diggings of the Gympie goldfields. I know that Christiana Nerger remained in Gympie, with her three sons, because the death of the youngest, baby Hermann, aged 1 year and 10 months was recorded there in October of 1870. he died from to convulsions. I can't help but wonder  how the Nerger family's life may have differed if  Gottlieb Nerger had not made the decision to leave his life as a farmer on the Darling Downs to take his young family to the gold diggings of Gympie.

Gottlieb Nerger was buried in the newly opened Tozer Cemetery in Gympie on October 29th. The land on which this cemetery was located  has since been resumed for a new use and is now known as the Andrew Fisher Memorial Park, in honour of Australia's 5th Prime Minister. There is a plaque at the site memorialising Gympie's first cemetery.  63 historic headstones were relocated to a newer cemetery and remain a poignant reminder of Gympie's gold rush days.

Headstones relovated from Tozer Park Cemetery Image Wikipedia  ©©


During my research into the life of my German immigrant ancestor, Gottlieb Nerger, discovering the name of Wilhelm Kirchner, led me to find the reason for my maternal Swiss branch of my family immigrating to Australia. In 1870, Ludwig Kirchner  was appointed as the Immigration Agent for Queensland in Germany, around the time that the Franco-Prussian War began. Kirchner discovered several problems with the recruitment of German migrants. Queensland by law, was unable to procure repayment from the German emigrants and Germany decreed no German males between the ages of  six and forty were permitted to leave Germany.  Kirchner began looking towards other European countries, to recruit immigrants, enticing them just as he had done the German immigrants, with the promise of employment and a better life in Queensland. Large numbers of Scandinavian immigrants arrived in Australia from Hamburg under Kirchner's Immigration Scheme. My other maternal great great great grandparents, Jacob and Anna Häberling immigrated in 1871 from Zurich , Switzerland along with mostly Norwegian, Swedish and Danish immigrants bound for Maryborough and other Queensland ports. When John Nerger married Barbara Lena Häberling in 1884, the immigrant stories of these two families merged.    

Barbara Lena Nerger and  five of her six children to John Nerger. Florrie Barbara, Lillie Herminne (my Great grandmother, Elsie Emilie, Maude Helena and Percy John. 






Queensland Government Department of Environment and Heritage Protection - Jondaryan Woolshed

Toowoomba Regional Council History Library