26 February 2011

Caroline Beringer's grave

I took a trip to Rookwood Cemetery on the weekend. Rookwood Cemetery is Sydney's biggest cemetery and takes up a whole suburb. It was opened in 1868 and has Anglican, Catholic and Independent denomination sections. It was originally known as the Necropolis.

I took a list and some hand drawn maps with me, showing the important family graves I wanted to see. I particularly wanted to see if I could find Caroline Beringer's grave - I had looked up the location on the cemetery website and it seemed like it might be possible to find it - it was the second last grave in a row, three rows in within a particular section. I wrote down some of the names of the surrounding graves to help me locate it, especially since I had been told that it may not have a headstone.

I also knew that it was in an area that was quite overgrown. Yes, it was. There were actually very few obvious graves in that section, only a few headstones standing up amongst lots of trees and bushes. The trees had clearly had a lot of time to grow.

I found what I hoped was the right row and looked for names. I found Kirchner. That was a name I had written down. It turned out I was in the next row across. I counted graves, and actually managed to locate Caroline's grave. There was no headstone, but the grave was edged in sandstone. It had a very thin sapling growing at the end of it. I took a moment to think of her, and told her I was sorry for what happened to her. I wonder if anyone has been to visit her since she was buried. Perhaps her husband did, but I don't think her children knew she was there. I wanted to honour her memory, and visit for the sake of her children who probably never got to.

20 February 2011

Famous relative #1

I've been thinking about the famous people in my family - there are just a few. Not dazzlingly, earth-shatteringly famous. I'm not related to Paris Hilton. (Thank goodness.) But I've got relatives who, in their day, were well known and are still vaguely known today, by people in their field. A silent movie star, a composer and an artist.

Today I'm focusing on the movie star: George André Beranger, often known as André de Beranger and many variations in between - he seemed to have quite a flexible relationship with his name!

He was born in Newtown, Sydney, on March 27, 1893, to my great great grandparents, Adam and Caroline Beringer. His mother died when he was just three, and his father remarried when he was nine. His stepmother did not appreciate her stepchildren and they were turned out of home when they reached 14 years of age. By the time he was 19 he had emigrated to the US to seek his fortune in the silent movie business. He managed to get work with the film company Biograph, and through that, worked with DW Griffith, which helped get him known. As was common in those days, many of the actors had other roles in the movies they were in as well, and George sometimes had the role of assistant director. He directed a few movies himself as well.

The really big movie he was in, and also assistant producer of, was the DW Griffith epic The Birth of a Nation from 1915. It's a controversial movie because, set in the time of the American Civil War, it portrays the Ku Klux Klan as heroes and African American men as unintelligent second class citizens. Despite the controversial nature of the movie it had many technical innovations, and this, along with its racism, is what The Birth of a Nation is remembered for. In fact, it was one of the most admired and profitable movies ever produced by Hollywood, only replaced in 1940 by Gone with the Wind.

George Beranger was in over 100 movies. He had his best successes early in his career, and once or twice played a leading-man role. However, as sound was introduced into movies, his roles became smaller and smaller. Not knowing what his voice was like because he had no speaking parts in any of the "talkies" it is possible his wasn't the kind of voice desired for leading men. One of my relatives has written her Masters thesis on George and made the observation that overall his career seems to have placed him only on the edge of the spotlight. This was my impression too, that he never quite made it, and wistfully watched all the good parts pass him by.

He died alone in California in 1973. He had stopped acting by this stage and had taken jobs in other fields before retiring and becoming something of a recluse. He did marry briefly at one stage, but this seemed to be a marriage of convenience. Certainly there is evidence that he kept in contact with his siblings back in Australia (he returned for visits twice) and was adored by his nieces. It's sad though because I just can't shake the feeling that he felt his life was a disappointment.

My thanks go to Bryony Cosgrove for allowing me to read her research on George Beranger, which assisted me in writing this post.

06 February 2011

Wealthy butchers?

As I mentioned in my last post about the Wickhams, I needed to work out how they got to Australia. I had searched the Assisted Immigrants list at the NSW State Records but they did not come up. There were a number of Wickhams listed in the Unassisted Arrivals records, but there is very little information on those - it's mostly "Mr and Mrs Wickham" with a few initials for some records. It could have been any or none of them.

Amongst the records that Mum had there was a sheet of paper on which someone, in lovely loopy handwriting, had recorded the dates of birth of the Wickhams - parents and children. They had also written some other important dates in the life of Thomas Wickham underneath, including "Sailed for Sydney Dec 20th 1852, arrived at Sydney April 29th 1853" - this was new information to me. I checked the ships of Assisted Immigrants for around that arrival date (just in case there had been a spelling error in the records) but they didn't appear. Then I checked the Unassisted Arrivals and amazingly Mr and Mrs Wickham were there, arriving on the Chandernagore on April 29, 1853.

I am still surprised at this because that meant they would have had to pay their own way. Thomas was only a butcher and he had a big family - I can only assume that all 11 of their children came out on the boat with their parents. Who knows how he managed to afford it.

I looked up the Chandernagore in the historical newspapers. Evidently it was a controversial voyage as there was quite a bit of correspondence in the Sydney Morning Herald Letters to the Editor after it arrived. It appears that the voyage of the Chandernagore was supposedly for "Emigration upon Christian principles, unconnected with sectarian character". All the passengers were supposed to be "persons of respectability and moral character". And whilst some were "evidently well connected, and of gentlemanly education, and the majority respectable tradespeople" some supposedly were not. Letters flew back and forth in the Herald, accusing various passengers of immoral conduct etc and eventually the editors seemed to get sick of the fighting between the passengers and refused to publish any more letters on the matter!

I have also discovered that Thomas' brother Edward came out to Australia with his family. I can't definitely find them in any shipping lists, but can only assume they came out as unassisted arrivals as well. Edward was a butcher too. There must have been some money in the butchery business in Kent, where they both came from!

01 February 2011

The Wickhams

Mum has a whole lot of original birth, death and marriage certificates that have been passed down. There was a marriage certificate for Robert Wickham, fireman, who married Ann Jane Smith, "in private life" on Oct 12, 1876, at the bride's residence. Mum was aware that Robert Wickham died in an accident on the Railways here in Sydney, so I set about looking for him. A search of the historical newspapers at Trove found a funeral notice for a Robert Wickham, Enginedriver, in the Sydney Morning Herald in June 1896. The funeral notice said he was to be buried at the Necropolis cemetery (Rookwood). I looked up the cemetery records for Rookwood and found him listed as R Wickham, buried 14 June 1896, aged 44. In the grave beside him was A Wickham, buried 16 April 1931, aged 76 - if the grave beside was Robert Wickham then this would be his wife Annie. Further searching on Robert Wickham in 1896 showed that this was indeed the Robert Wickham I was searching for:

FATAL ACCIDENT TO AN ENGINE DRIVER. HORNSBY JUNCTION, thursday A fatal accident happened at Beecroft this morning. While the down Northern express, due at Hornsby Junction at 9.44a m. was passing Beecroft, the driver, Wickham, who had been oiling his engine and was returning to the cab, slipped and fell from the engine, breaking his neck. The body was brought on to Hornsby Junction, where an inquest will be held to-morrow. Wickham was highly spoken of by the railway employees, and was generally respected. He was the driver of the train that ran through the slip points at Carlingford about four years ago. Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 12 June 1896.

So now I had the right Robert Wickham. NSW BDM revealed that his parents were named Thomas and Rachel Wickham, but had no record of his birth. So he wasn't born in NSW. The best guess was that he immigrated here, so I checked the NSW Government State Records for him. There was a convict Robert Wickham listed there, who had arrived in NSW in 1830 on the Lady Feversham. Ancestry gave me a hint of a number of family trees with parents Thomas and Rachel Wickham, but of the family trees listed, despite there being many children in the family, none of them contained a Robert Wickham. Although I had no evidence that Thomas and Rachel came out to Australia I did find a death notice in the Sydney Morning Herald for Thomas Wickham in September 1897, so cross-checked it with the Rookwood Cemetery records. There was a T Wickham buried there in September 1897 (with an E Wickham) and an R Wickham (with a D Wickham) buried in the plot beside. On a long shot I rang Rookwood and asked if it was possible to find out who owned a burial plot... depends... (presumably on privacy laws). She looked it up for me. "Those two plots were owned by a Mr Robert Wickham." Bingo! She looked up the names: Rachel (with Dorothy) and Thomas (with Emma). Double bingo! Dorothy and Emma were two of their unmarried daughters.

Robert was part of the family I had hints for on Ancestry. I still don't know why Robert wasn't listed in those family trees on Ancestry - presumably the first one missed him and everyone else copied that tree and missed him too, never bothering to check if there were any more children.

And it's still a mystery to me how the Wickhams got to Australia, so that's some research for another day.