Closure (?)

How are you supposed to feel when someone biologically close to you passes away without ever having communicated with them?

We got notification that Douglas Purcell-Saxby passed away a week and a bit ago. The news came at a point in my life where, three and a bit years on, I had simply accepted that he did not want anything to do with us. But in speaking to those who were closest to him over the last 20 odd years (who also had no idea of Mum’s relationship to him) my thoughts on this have been somewhat reframed.

He kept Mum’s letters and enclosed photos. Had included her contact details in his address book. These are not the actions of someone who had little interest in making contact.

It has been a weird week or so. People who aren’t necessarily aware of the complexities of adoption are quick to sympathise when you tell them your father/grandfather passed away. But at least for me, I felt it necessary to further explain the relationship. Like I had no right to the sympathetic looks and comments. I never shared any history with this man.

He’s my biological grandfather. The one I spent countless hours working to identify and locate over a four year period, that upon finally succeeding never seemed to want to reach out to us.

It’s at this point that the confusion tends to arise for some. Why mourn someone you never knew?

I am mourning my mother’s lost opportunity for connection with a biological parent. My sister and I have lost an opportunity here too. Quite simply, we have lost the OPTION for certain answers, stories. The things one tends to take for granted within a family setting.

Mum, Dad and my sister attended his funeral today. I, being caught up in a flood affected area of central west NSW was unable to attend in person, but watched the live stream. We learned about Douglas’ interests and passions, heard close friends attest to him being a “good bloke”. These are the things we wanted to know, are happy (maybe slightly relieved even) to know. He liked his own company, something I have always had a tendency towards. Watching the slideshow memorial was the part that truly got me. Would I have recognised this man in the street as a close relative? I saw my Mum in him, laughed at photos of antics that are so similar to my sister’s…

I am so proud of my family today for attending, grateful for Douglas’ friends and family who looked out for him over the years and in the lead up to his death…their inclusion of us today was truly special.

I did think ten days ago when we found out about Douglas’ passing that that would be it. Case closed, no further surprises would arise. But, it turns out that there is much more to this story than any of us thought…

So Who Is He? Part V

This is risky.

However, I am running out of ideas.

There are challenges inherent in cases of adoption, where dodgy pre-adoption paperwork and the lack of legal recognition where genealogy based DNA research is concerned. It limits one’s options regarding the tracing of a close biological relative.

Essentially, because Bio Granddad is not on the pre-adoption birth certificate and also isn’t named in any of the adoption papers that were filled out by the social worker at the time of Mum’s birth, most agencies and charities that offer tracing services for adoptees are unable to help us find him. Autosomal DNA is not recognised as a valid form of evidence in these instances. Whilst I understand why, it’s still pretty frustrating.

I feel like I am running out of time. 

One particular agency had accepted us past the application process, however as of a week and a half ago, it would appear that there is a pretty big roadblock, the aforementioned lack of a paper trail connecting Bio Granddad to Mum that will quite possibly prevent further progress. Ugh. The case worker from the agency is exploring other possible avenues for us to look into, but I am a realist. I am not holding out hope that it will come to anything.

So, I am taking matters into my own hands. 

Everyone was so helpful when I made the first post about the search over a year ago, I thought that perhaps by introducing the man that DNA testing has led me to, you could keep that helpfulness going!

So let me introduce Douglas Purcill. 

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Douglas Purcill, 1957.  Photo: from H’s personal collection, shared with permission.

Douglas Purcill 1994
Douglas in 1994. Photo: from H’s personal collection, shared with permission.

Douglas is the youngest son of Andrew Francis and Linda Mary Purcill (nee Saxby), born in 1938. He was the only living son of this couple at the time of Mum’s conception. He was living within 20 minutes of where Vicki, Mum’s biological mother was living and working at the time (Callan Park Mental Hospital).

I believe he could still be alive. 

With that knowledge in mind, I began searching the NSW Electoral Rolls at the Mitchell Library in Sydney. When I couldn’t find him in the most recent roll available (2008, NSW wide), I went back to the last known year he had been living at the address in question, 1985-this was listed as his address on his Mum Linda’s death certificate. He was there in 1985, according to the roll. There is a gap in the records between 1986-1987 and when I looked in the 1988 roll in the relevant electorate, I noted that Douglas was no longer living at the same address.

So I widened my search to all electorates across NSW for 1988. But nope. Not there.

I searched other states of Australia. Nope. Not there.

I turned my focus to death records (with that cold feeling of dread kicking in), I searched for Douglas in the following databases and record sets (alternating Douglas’ surname between Purcill/Purcell in each and the dates being up until present day):

  • Find A Grave (Nationally and internationally)
  • Ryerson Index
  • Woronora Cemetery
  • Rookwood Cemetery
  • Botany Cemetery
  • Dungog Cemetery

But nope. He wasn’t in any of these records or databases.

Our last piece of evidence indicating that Douglas’ was alive post 1988? The photo from 1994, featured above. It was taken at a family wedding. After that, Douglas seems to disappear, having lost contact with H and her Mum after that point too. He used to make regular visits to H and the family in Dungog up until then.

For 24 years, they have wondered where he ended up. And now that Mum and I have burst onto the scene, the need to find out where he is or what happened to him has been intensified.

So what else do we know?

We know that he worked in disability transport at some stage and that he had spoken at one stage about moving to New Zealand to work. Whether or not that came to fruition has yet to be determined. This year, he would be 80 years old. Hence my concern that we are running out of time. He lived in Redfern, and also seems to have a connection to North Parramatta and Appin. And, as far as we are aware, he never knew about Vicki’s pregnancy. Other than that, we honestly don’t have much more than this. He is an elusive one!

**UPDATE (3/10/18): I received a call from the agency that has been working on tracing Douglas. After an extensive search completed by them across Australia, it has been concluded that he is not in the country, nor has he died here. The focus is now being turned to New Zealand.**

So where to from here?

I would really like to find Douglas, obviously. Not one to leave things to chance, I’d love 100% confirmation of his relationship to us should that be possible.

Do you know a Douglas Purcill?

The spelling of his surname is unusual, with it usually being spelled as Purcell. Who knows, he may be going by that spelling. But on every document I’ve seen, the first one has been used.

I am asking you to share this with everyone you know. Help us to find this final piece of the puzzle.

My only request here is that, if you do know Douglas and he happens to be alive as I suspect, you do not unload all this information on him.

Please contact me via this page and we can discuss where to go from there. This is very important as whilst we have been told that this information would be received positively by him, it’s still a lot to process and the overall outcome of all of this will be coloured by the way in which we approach making contact.

It’s also important to say here that we don’t expect anything of him, regardless of what we have been told about him. Mum would love the chance to meet her biological father, but is also prepared for any eventuality. As am I.

It’s crazy to think, after nearly two years that we are at this point.

Closer, closer…

We Have A Match

AncestryDNA has been insanely efficient with churning out results of late. I sent away Bio Granddad’s first cousin’s (we will call her H!) DNA sample on the 6th of August and the results came through yesterday (the 24th of August)! I am so glad, as the incessant checking of our DNA homepages was getting distracting.

And well, we have a match! Three. H matches Mum, myself and my sister.

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Mum’s match to H.

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My match to H.

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My sister’s match to H.

This is the match I was somewhat expecting to see, though on the lower end of the relationship range. Recombination is clearly at work here. 

H is a half first cousin once removed to Mum. Note the predicted relationship is a bit off, but true to it’s name, this is just an indicator on Ancestry’s part. Half relationships are definitely not accurately calculated by the company.

Still, I am intent on ensuring that I’m correct–the other suspected half relationship matches   appear to be on the higher end of the scale, despite possibly being the exact same relationship to Mum as H, just on the opposite side of the family. I know this is known to happen (the variations can be clearly seen with H’s match to myself and my sister!). This will mean that I will need to look at H’s shared matches with Mum, my sister and myself and determine the differences in relationships between all of us.

My head is spinning. On one side of Mum’s biological paternal family, we have issues of being DOUBLY related to DNA matches and on the other side, there are issues of half relationships. Both instances create complications. It was never going to be clear cut for us though, it’s not the family’s way!

I Thought I Knew (Almost) Everything

It’s been four years since I identified Douglas as Mum’s biological father. Three years since I located him alive. We have been unlucky so far in facilitating contact, but that has not stopped me from ensuring our family tree on this side is complete. I thought I had it all squared away, case closed.

Ha.

I know that Douglas’ parents were Linda Mary Saxby and Andrew Francis Purcill. Both parents were born in 1906 in Dungog. Linda was born illegitimate, a mystery that has been snapped further into focus since DNA testing became a thing – I now know that Linda’s father was a Nugent, it’s down to two brothers from another prolific family in the Dungog area. I know Douglas had a sister. Alma Florence Joyce Purcill. She married Evan Thomas and they had six children before her early death in 1958. Six first cousins for Mum. All of this has been confirmed either traditionally, through records, through DNA testing and through long talks with relatives of Douglas, who have welcomed us with open arms.

A new match to Mum has popped up on Douglas’ side of the family, 1182cM. 17% shared DNA. They share 480cM with me, and 798cM with my sister. They reached out to me asking how we could be related. The match has indicated that the connection would be on their father’s side.

I actually do not know how this match fits. At all, despite being aware of Douglas’ immediate family. Well, I thought I was.

Ancestry proposes the following relationships based on the shared DNA between Mum and this match:

  • 1st cousin
  • Great grandparent
  • Great grandchild
  • Grandaunt/granduncle
  • Grandniece/grandnephew
  • Half aunt/uncle
  • Half niece/nephew
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Half sibling
  • Aunt/Uncle
  • Niece/nephew

Now based on the match’s age and common sense, I can safely rule out great grandparent, great grandchild, grand aunt/niece, grandparent, grandchild, and the aunt variations.

That leaves first cousin, niece or half sibling.

The first cousin hypothesis was my first suspicion. However, Aunt Alma died in 1958, well before this match was born. I considered possibly the idea that perhaps this match was a child of one of Aunt Alma’s children. However, the Shared cM Project rules out the possibility of a 1st cousin once removed relationship, the cM range does not fit for half 1C1R or even full 1C1R.

I have scoured the Shared DNA match list between Mum and this match. It appears that they share DNA matches from both sides of Douglas’ family, maternal and paternal.

It is safe to say this whole thing has played on my mind constantly. What am I dealing with here? I only hope they respond to my message soon, so I can get to work on solving this.

Douglas, you got me again.

Anzac Day 2022

31st May, 1916:

Heavy bombardment on 3rd Brigade’s trenches, we had to stand to in case Fritz came over. He came over in a party of 50 men to raid our trench. He was successfully knocked back, so he pounded with his artillery a bit longer and tried it again. This time not to return. As soon as they saw him coming, a Lewis Machine gunner and a bomb thrower hopped over the parapet and mowed them down like flies. Good enough for him. He had made several attempts to raid our trenches, but has not been successful.

He got one home on the 20th Batt 2nd Division and one of the 4th Brigade 4th Division. But I think we got our own back in raids.

18th June, 1916:

Had an inspection by our Prime Minister Billy Hughes. He perched himself up on tip of a farm cart to tell us what we came for, what we have done, what we are doing and what we are going to do. Like as if we didn’t know that already. He should have walked around into the rear rank and had a look at all the men with the seats out of their pants, he did not know that we held our packs up for an hour waiting for him to come, also marched about five miles to hear this.

17th April, 1918:

Things have been very lively. We have been under an 8 hours bombardment from Fritzes guns. About 10:30 in the morning he launched an attack on our right, the right of our company and the 3rd Batt taking the brunt of it.

This was repulsed rather costly for old Fritz. The rifle and machine fun fire being hot from our side. Jack Mackie and Les Kirwan were both wounded and died from the effects. In the evening he reopened up and started his bombardment afresh, this time attacking on both our flanks about 800 yards away on the left and a thousand or more on the right. This one was repulsed with the same results as the previous one.

From the diaries of my Great Great Uncle Norman Way, killed in action on the 21st of August, 1918.

Suspicious Circumstances

Where I can, I’ve been looking into my Crittle/Crothal relations. George Crittle, the man I believe to be a brother to my 3x great grandmother Mary Ann Reus, appears to have had tragedy strike prior to his marriage to Margaret Stewart:

I found an article, under Country News, titled: Death Under Suspicious Circumstances (20/7/1861) It reads:

Braidwood Dispatch of the 10th instant, reports the death, under very suspicious circumstances, of a girl named Maria Kane, aged seventeen years, on view of whose body an inquest had been held the previous day, before Mr G. F. Codrington, coroner for the Braidwood district, and a jury of twelve. A correspondent, who has written to us on the subject, states: – “The mother of the deceased resides in Sydney, but where is not known, and Mr Ware, her late employer, is anxious that her friends should be made acquainted with her death.” We, therefore, give the proceedings at the inquest in full. The first witness called, Maria, the wife of Thomas Ware, deposed: “I reside in Braidwood; the deceased Maria Kane had been living in my service for upwards of three months; on Saturday evening last she told me that she had a bad headache; after this she took a walk as far as the mill in company with George Crittle; she returned home very shortly afterwards; she did not complain again after she came home; she sat up for some time before she went to bed. I am not aware that Crittle was in my house on that evening, he had been in the habit of visiting the deceased every evening, I believe that the deceased and Crittle were engaged to be married. I believe that Crittle was always very kind to her, I had never previously seen her in a fit since she had been in my service. I always found her quiet, sober and good-tempered. I never suspected her to be in the family-way. About ten o’clock on Saturday evening I heard a noise in my kitchen. as if some one had fallen. Believing that her sweetheart was with her I called out “Are you two fighting?” I received no answer and repeated the question, went to her bedroom door and saw that the room was in darkness, then went into the kitchen and found her lying upon the fire. She was groaning at the time. After running for assistance I took her off the fire, but cannot tell whether she was much burnt or not, for I was too frightened to look, she was insensible at the time, she was lying on her left. side. My husband and I put. her to bed, Dr Beer was there at the time, during the remainder of the night she had fourteen fits, and twenty five in all before she was taken to the hospital, have seen her once since.

George Crittle deposed: I am a housebreaker, and reside in Braidwood. I have known the deceased Maria Kane for about two years, she was seventeen years of age. I have been in the habit of seeing her frequently, saw her last on Saturday night. She complained of headache, we went out walking together as far as the mill, when she came home she told me her headache was worse, this was about seven o’clock, went into Mr Ware’s kitchen with her and remained there until nine. Deceased and had no disagreement during that time, when I left she talked of going to bed. Never knew her to be subject to fits, was engaged to be married to her and am aware that she was in the family way. Do not know whether she had any friends in Braidwood.

By a juror: When I saw her on Sunday morning, she was lying on the floor, water had been poured over her and there was nothing on her but her nightgown. Thomas Ware corroborated the evidence of Mrs Ware. Frederick Beer deposed: I am a duly qualified medical practitioner and reside in Braidwood; have made a post-mortem examination of deceased Maria Kane, on opening the head, I found some slight exudation between the arachnoid and pia mater, which I believe to be of long standing, the brain otherwise was healthy. The stomach was on one half of it very much congested, arising from something that had been recently taken, or the deceased would have complained some hours before of pain and thirst. I only found a small quantity of yellow fluid. Do not think the b urn. was sufficient of itself to have caused death, a large dose of an acrid poison would produce convulsive fits and exhaustion. If insensible, the patient would not be conscious of thirst. I do not think that her state would retard the action of poison, the fact of convulsions supervening would not, I believe, retard the effect of a vegetable poison, there were no other morbid appearances in any other part of the body. I have not found sufficient morbid appearances to account for death, if any acrid poison had been administered it must have been in a dry state.

The coroner then summed up, and the jury found a verdict as follows: “The jury are of opinion that the cause of death of Maria Kane has not been sufficiently made out, and they therefore recommend that the contents of the stomach of the deceased be analysed.” The further inquiry was adjourned for a fortnight until the result of the analysis shall have been received from Sydney.

I have looked for a second instalment that provides the analysis results for the second examination and perhaps a proper ruling…but I have yet to find it.

It would have been an uncomfortable time for George and his family and truly devastating for Maria’s family and friends.

I often wonder how much my 3rd great grandmother Mary Ann (whose listed maiden name was Nichols) knew about her family. I am not sure she could read, so she may not have read in detail about her alleged brother’s potential involvement…but she certainly could have heard about it. She would have been only a year younger than Maria Kane at the time.

Edward Bate (1876-1905)

I have always known that my great grandfather Edward Bate was orphaned by age 6. A sad reality that makes me wonder how he would have fared upon marrying my great grandmother, Mary McLeod-Weller who had a huge, ever present family throughout her life, and a large portion of his.

I was aware that his father, my great great grandfather, also Edward Bate (b. 1876) had had an accident to do with his work the year his son was born (1905). But, in typical fashion I wanted to know more.

-Enter FindMyPast-

I found an article in the Lichfield Mercury on the 3rd of March, 1905, titled Chadsmoor: Fatal Mining Accident:

Mr S. W. Morgan held an enquiry at the Jolly Collier Inn, Chadsmoor, last week, respecting the death of Edward Bate (29), Plantation Road, Chadsmoor. On February 6th Bate was employed by two stallsmen at the Littleton Collieries, Huntingdon near Cannock in removing a fall of dirt. A piece of shale no larger than a small brick and weighing about three pounds fell off the side and struck Bate on the head, inflicting a wound about an inch long just behind the ear. The injury was dressed at a local surgery and appeared to go on all right for several days. Symptoms of erysipelas then manifested themselves and the man died on February 20. The medical evidence showed that death was due to the injury to the head. The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death”.

I wasn’t sure what erysipelas was, which was easily sorted with a quick Google search – a serious bacterial infection.

I suppose I had assumed that the accident at work had resulted in instantaneous death all along–I hadn’t known it had drawn out over a period of 2 weeks.

It is unimaginable to think of how difficult this would have been for his wife, Elizabeth Bate (nee Hughes) who would have been about six months pregnant at the time of his death with my great grandfather and had a young daughter, Elsie (b.1902) to also look after.

Unusual Endings

For the holidays, I have invested in a month’s subscription to FindMyPast, with the intention of looking through the British and Irish newspapers. For those of us with Australian ancestors, we are rather lucky with the existence of Trove — free and rather wide access to countless newspapers and other documents.

I have started by looking up my Peace relatives — the first ancestors to receive an interesting hit was my 3rd great grandparents, William John Peace (1864-1933) and Mary Louisa Peace (nee Stevenson, 1866-1941). The article was found in the Staffordshire Advertiser and published on the 23rd of March 1912, the headline reading:

Death From Swallowing A Pin

An inquest was held at the Stafford Infirmary, on Thursday, by Mr S. W. Morgan, on the body of Clara Elizabeth Burton, a single woman, aged about 54 years, who previously lodged with William John Peace, farmer, of Amerton Heath, Weston. Mrs Peace, who identified the body, said the deceased had lived with them two and a half years; she was of weak intellect. On March 15 she had bacon for breakfast, and later she complained of a tickling in the throat. She took her meals as usual until Monday morning, when witness went with her to see. Dr. Bull at Great Haywood, and he advised her removal to Stafford Infirmary. Witness had heard that a piece of the rind of the bacon had been found with a pin in it, and she said the bacon was home cured, and had been covered over with paper attached with. pins, and one of which might have stuck in the rind. Dr. Alan R. Green, house surgeon, said the deceased was admitted on Monday evening in a state of collapse and too bad for any active treatment. Dr. Blumer, honorary surgeon, was consulted. The deceased died at 5:20am on Wednesday morning. On opening the throat during the post mortem examination, witness found a piece of bacon two and a half inches long with an ordinary pin through the upper end. The bacon was located in the upper part of the windpipe, and had caused ulceration and the formation of an abscess. At the base of both lungs he found marked signs of septic pneumonia, which he considered caused death consequent upon the obstruction of the throat. Had the pin not been in the rind, the deceased probably would have swallowed the bacon. The jury returned a verdict of death from misadventure.

I had to make sure this Peace couple was mine, and confirmed with the 1911 census that indeed my ancestors were living with Clara at the time this was taken. A very unfortunate ending for Clara Burton. I wonder if my ancestors copped any backlash in the community about this?

Yet Another NPE

NPE: Non-Paternal Event or Non-Parental Event

Mum’s paternal (biological) side of the family seems to feature a number of gaps in paternity. Let’s recap: Mum herself is in essence an NPE, her paternal grandmother is an NPE and there are scores of third cousins of Mum’s that are also NPEs (a third cousin of Mum’s was a sperm donor). All from this paternal side.

There is one other gap on this side of the family. The paternity of her great grandmother, Alice Mary Selina Cowell.

Alice was born in 1867, in Bathurst NSW to Ann Maria Barry (or Annie is she is often referred to). Alice happened to be born in between both Annie’s marriages. Ann was married to Manasseh Cowell in 1863 and given the matching surname I initially believed him to be Alice’s father. However it turns out Manasseh died in 1864. So that doesn’t line up at all.

Annie’s second marriage was to William Kable, in 1869. I often wonder if perhaps she was “seeing” William in the years leading up to their marriage (he was married to another woman, Ann Javens until her death in 1868).

This is where Mum’s DNA matches come in.

Mum has matched to descendants of Ann Barry and William Kable’s children (there’s eight of them!) and I am not so sure that the shared DNA between them is enough to warrant a full relationship. I do think at this stage that these DNA matches are half relatives to Mum, through Annie.

Descendants of Ann Barry and William Kable who have matched to Mum

As you can see, a fair few descendants have tested. That isn’t even all of them, I haven’t had a chance to fully comb through new DNA connections in the last six months. This part of the identification process is always lengthy. Especially because it is a great great grandparent that I am looking to identify.

I am looking for DNA matches that I can’t link to Mum’s other family lines, that will be at the 3rd/4th cousin level. Due to the half relationship scenario, that will make this a harder task. I would say that there is a chance this mystery great great grandparent was living in the Bathurst or surrounding areas at least for a time, (I hope so, a nomadic character may make this even more difficult!) which may help me to narrow down options.

This side of the family certainly isn’t much for straightforward connections!

“My Poor Boy”

Thomas Michael Purcill was born in 1895 in Tuena, New South Wales to George Purcill and Catherine Green. He enlisted for World War I on the 27th of January, 1916 at 21 years old. He was my 1st cousin 3x removed on Mum’s biological side. Thomas is pictured in the featured image.

Sadly, like many others he died of wounds received in action in France on the 15th of August, 1916. He died in the 44th Casualty Clearing Station and was buried Puchevillers British Cemetery.

A soldier recalled seeing him upon receiving the fatal injuries (also included in a previous post):

I knew Purcill, he was with me in the 2nd Reinforcements to the 45th Battalion, and we went over in the “Ceramic” A. 40., on 13th of April, 1916. He was in B. Co. He was on the thin side and came from Cowra, and rather on the dark side. I last saw him on about 14.8.16 at Munster Alley beyond Pozieres opposite Mouquet Farm. He was being carried out on a stretcher, wounded in the left side, and also in the right shoulder. He was unconscious at the time. I never knew he had died till I saw the book, but I did not think he could live long, as he was so badly wounded. He was carried right past me after being wounded. Informant: B. Graham

Featured in his enlistment forms are multiple letters from his mother following his death, all of which are quite sad. The first is from the 21st of December 1916:

To the Base Records Office Victoria Barracks, Melbourne

Sirs,

Re my sons things, he has been deceased since the 15th of August and I have not had any of his belongings returned to me. as yet. Could you kindly do any thing regarding the matter as I would very much like to have the little things he would have when he died. His name is Pte Thomas Michael Purcill and his no. was 1757, he died of wounds in France. Kindly let me know if there is anything can be done towards having them sent back as soon as possible.

Mrs G. Purcill

It appears the receipt of these items was not to be a very straightforward process, as Catherine wrote again on the 8th of March, 1917:

Dear Sir,

I received your letter in reference to my poor boy’s death No. 1757 Private T. M. Purcill. It gave me great relief to think my boy was taken to the clearing station, I know he would have all attention there. There is one thing I would like to ask you. To try and get my poor boy’s belongings that is his prayer book, [illegible] and all his other things. I have not received his government pay that his the pay that they kept back from the end of January to the 15th of August and I can assure you I am greatly in need of it. So please try and do all you can for me in these matters.

Yours faithfully,

Catherine Purcill

Catherine’s requests, according to Thomas’ files, were not to be fulfilled, according to a letter sent to her from Base Records on the 19th of June 1918:

Dear Madam,

I have to acknowledge receipt of your communication concerning your son, the late No. 1757 Private T.M. Purcill, 45th Battalion, forwarded through the Assistant Quartermaster-General, Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, and enclose herewith a form of application for a badge, which will explain itself.

No effects of this soldier have to come to hand to date, but advice has been received to the effect that no personal belongings were included in his kit. However, should any articles be recovered from elsewhere by the overseas authorities they would be forwarded either to next-of-kin, father, or in accordance with other testamentary instructions.

Reading these communications drives home the difficulty the families of the fallen must have had in obtaining items that would bring them even a sliver of comfort at a time of intense grief.

Remembering all those who served and those who are currently serving.

Solomon Hopson

***Trigger Warning: this post contains references and details of suicide***

I have pondered for years about whether or not to talk about Solomon Hopson, my fourth great grandfather. His story, when I first came across it in 2017 shocked me, one doesn’t tend to expect to find such things hidden in their families. (I was very new to genealogy then, I was learning how incredibly common it was to uncover stories of all sorts) I realised that that is precisely the issue with these topics. They’re not discussed, perpetuating archaic mentalities.

Solomon was born on the 12th of August 1813, in Gloucestershire, UK. 1839 was a big year for him, having immigrated to Australia aboard the “Susan”, docking in NSW on the 10th of March and also marrying my fourth great grandmother, Sarah Cook. Between 1840 and 1858, they had nine children:

  • Eliza (1840)
  • John (1842)
  • Lucy (1844)
  • Charles (1846)
  • Mary (1848)
  • Emma (1850)
  • Solomon (1852)
  • Sophia (1855)
  • Henry (1858)

At some point, he was admitted to the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum. I have yet to source admission papers for him, if there even are any.

Not much else has been sourced on his life, his death certificate indicates that he married Sarah in Parramatta and that he was a farmer. I came across Solomon’s cause of death whilst sifting through Trove, discovering an article from the Sydney Morning Herald, dated the 24th of October, 1864, with the following heading:

RYDE – INQUEST INTO DEATH OF SOLOMON HOPSON

  A magisterial inquiry was held by Mr J.S. Farnell, JP, at the Lunatic Asylum, Tarban Creek, on 19th instant, on the body of one Solomon Hopson, formally of Allyn River, Upper Paterson and lately a patient of the abovenamed Asylum. Samuel Long, senior attendant, stated that yesterday morning he saw the deceased lying in one of the passages in the Asylum in a pool of blood; I sent for Mr. Wardley, the assistant medical officer; when he came I told him I thought Hopson had cut his throat; Mr. Wardley examined him and found a wound in the throat; I saw deceased about 5 minutes previous to seeing him lying in the passage; one of the junior warders, Thomas Nealy, was entrusted with the key of a press where the tobacco and pipes are kept for the use of the patients, he went to this press to fetch some to the patients; after supplying them he did not lock the door of the press; found upon examination that in his attempt to lock the door the bolt was shot outside the staple; the razors for the use of that ward are kept in that press; upon examination of the press he found an empty razor case and on looking around saw a razor lying on the bed in the passage where he found the deceased lying; the razor was shut when he found it, and was covered, with blood.        

Francis Campbell, MD, Superintendent of the Asylum, states: That yesterday morning, as he was on his duties in one of the female wards, word was brought to him that a man had injured himself; on reaching the passage I met the master attendant, that told me Hopson had cut his throat; on reaching the place where he had committed the deed, which was the upper end of the passage leading to the single sleeping apartments in the eastern wing of the ward, I found deceased lying on his back on a bed with a deep gash in his throat, from which apparently all of the blood of his body had issued; he gave two or 3 sighs and died; on examing the wound I found that all the great blood vessels had been cut through by some sharp instrument; I have no doubt that this was the cause of death; the wound was apparently inflicted by himself with his right hand; I never knew the deceased to give any indication of suicidal tendency while under my charge; he was a very nervous man, and had chronic disease of the heart; he was in his usual quiet and cheerful mood when I spoke to him, not exceeding fifteen minutes previous to the commission of the deed; his discharge had been in my hands three or four days and he was only waiting for money from his friend, who had been written to at the Upper Paterson or Allyn River, to enable him to go home.

VERDICT:That the above named Solomon Hopson committed suicide by inflicting a wound on the left side of his neck with a razor”.  

A really sad article. This is all corroborated by the Coroner’s documentation and the death certificate. I find it particularly difficult to know that he was so close to going home…would his wife and children have accepted him back? Being in an institution in those days carried a pretty heavy stigma.

Solomon was buried in the Tarban Creek cemetery on the 19th of October, 1864, the day after he died. This “cemetery” rarely featured headstones for asylum patients, and in recent years a register that was held by NSW Health has indicated that over 1000 asylum patients were buried there without appropriate recognition. A further 300 patients were not even recorded in these registers. This infuriates me, but is unfortunately not surprising given the context of the time.

Up until last year, a road actually went through this cemetery. The NSW Mental Health Commission and NSW Ministry of Health worked to have this rectified. On the 10th of December, 2019 a memorial service was held for the 1000+ patients buried at the site, following its rightful conversion to a memorial space. It was acknowledged that Tarban Creek Asylum, later known as Gladesville Asylum/Hospital was an unpleasant place to be a patient in (to say the least) and efforts were made to “restore dignity and show respect to their lives”.

Solomon’s story is a part of my family story. And no matter how sad or grisly it may be, he deserves to be remembered.

We have come a long way since Solomon’s time. If you found this post distressing, please reach out to someone or call:

Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14

Suicide Callback Service: Phone: 1300 659 467 & Suicidecallbackservice.org.au 
Kids Helpline:  1800 551 800

Hiding in Plain Sight

In trying to solve my Mary Ann Nichols mystery, I decided to try out a different parent hypothesis for her the other night. It has taken a day or so for ThruLines to regenerate it’s familial connection suggestions, so in the meantime I have been researching the Crittle family and adding to the family tree.

My second hypothesis is that Mary Ann’s mother is Ellen Emma Crittle (maiden name Thomsett), who married Mary Ann’s potential biological father, Charles Crothall (Crittle, the surname was changed on the way over from England) in 1837 in Kent. Charles was an uncle to Mary Gardner, who I had previously had in as Mary Ann’s mother.

Whilst researching Ellen and Charles’ immediate family, I found that they had five children:

  • Emma Crittle (1836-1877)
  • George Crittle (1838-1908)
  • Elizabeth Spencer Thomsett Crittle (1841-)
  • Mary Anne Thomsett Crittle (1845-)
  • James Crittle (around 1845)

I have been able to research Emma, George and James’ families further, Elizabeth disappears off the face of the earth and wouldn’t you know it, this couple had a daughter named Mary Ann, born around the same time as my third great grandmother.

I can’t find anything on Mary Ann Thomsett Crittle/Crothall, other than her birth and baptism records. She was born on the 19th of July 1845 in Sutton Forest, Berrima NSW and was baptised in November of that year in Camden, NSW. After that, there’s nothing. I have checked death records, tried wildcard searches in marriage records…nothing.

What if she is my Mary Ann? What if she changed her name and James Alexander Nichols was a guardian of sorts in her early childhood? He DID die when she was only between 5-7 years of age. This hypothesis is not without plenty of questions, most of which I am not sure can be answered, unless one knows of a time machine I can utilise.

What would lead one child to drop the family name and for all intents and purposes, become a different person altogether?

What happened to her after James died? If I am correct, her parents Ellen and Charles did not pass away until 1871 and 1869 respectively…Ellen would potentially been living around the time of Mary Ann’s marriage to Christopher Reus.

ThruLines is still generating Charles Crittle’s side of the family, but from Ellen’s side things are making more sense. As it stands currently, the match that shares 139cM of DNA with Nan is projected as a “half 3rd cousin” which, once Charles comes through properly will come up as a 3rd cousin. When looking at the Shared cM Project, 139cM shared has a 21% probability that the relationship will be 3rd cousins. This definitely fits better than what was previously being shown. Other DNA matches have surfaced with these changes, all of whom fit the relationships that are being projected.

This is starting to come together I think.