Photoblog recycle: November 2008 — Jacob

The photoblog was on Ninglun’s Specials then and late November 2008 featured the “Looking for Jacob” series.

Surry Hills: Looking for Jacob 1

Posted on November 20, 2008 by Neil

Having eschewed the series and multiple pictures concepts a few days back, here I am reviving both!  But there is a reason.

If you go to my page on my paternal ancestry — Family stories 3 — About the Whitfields: from convict days – you will note that there have been revisions on revisions since I first posted it on Angelfire some years ago. Lately some much more thorough family historians have been on the case, as you will see on that page. They have been teasing out a problem: exactly where did Jacob Whitfield, our convict ancestor, live at the time William Joseph John Whitfield, son of William and Philadelphia, was born in 1836? At William’s wedding William gave his profession as carpenter, and his address as Elizabeth Street. I have seen the marriage certificate which bears Jacob’s signature as a witness, along with the other witnesses Maria Burgess and William Burgess. Jacob appears to have been the grandfather of William Joseph John, who is my great-grandfather.

But where in Elizabeth Street? It is a long street.

William Macdonald's garden in Market Lane 23-9-1834 One of the researchers mentioned above, John Van Luyn in WA, wrote recently: “a possible sighting that is dated 1842. It is a reference to a ‘Whitfield who lives in a hut in a Garden near Jonathan Leake – had a ticket of leave for Windsor and is now free’. The only details I could find were for a Jonathan Leak who was a convict potter. There is a tonne of information on him and his pottery on the net if you search ‘Jonathan Leak’ and ‘convict’ which roughly indicates where his pottery was.” Subsequently John and Bob Starling and Stuart Daniels have narrowed the search and a number of notices like the one on the right have been found.

So with those clues, knowing of course that most of 1836 has been obliterated in this particular part of Sydney, I decided to go in search of Jacob and his hut.

Some street names have changed. Just yesterday, thanks to the Macquarie Hotel on the corner of Goulburn Street and Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills, I was able to confirm that Macquarie Street South was renamed Commonwealth Street, so “Market-lane (formerly called Leak’s-lane) leading from the New Corn, Hay, Straw and Cattle Market at the bottom of Brickfield Hill, to Goulburn and Macquarie Streets” may well have become Wentworth Avenue.


On this Google Earth image I have marked Commonwealth St in red, Campbell Street area in green, and the ambit range of where Jacob’s hut must have been in yellow.

Surry Hills: Looking for Jacob 6: Campbell Street

Posted on November 23, 2008 by Neil

So here I am at Campbell Street looking across it from the corner of Macquarie (Commonwealth) Street wondering whether to go on or turn left towards Elizabeth Street. I note the topography. Ahead is the city and, out of sight, Hyde Park. The streets between here and there swoop and twist as they descend what must have been the valley of a creek. There were even more little streets before Wentworth Ave (Market Lane) was widened and redeveloped in the wake of the rat and Plague scare of the early 20th century.

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So I look down Campbell Street noting further evidence of this being the older Sydney Chinatown…

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… and decide to go on, coming back to Campbell Street nearer to Elizabeth.

Surry Hills: Looking for Jacob 9: Market Lane 2

Posted on November 24, 2008 by Neil

Wentworth Avenue, whatever it may have looked like in its Market Lane days, still bends in the direction of Haymarket, and still wears a slightly disreputable air.

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Things my father did/didn’t tell me

Let’s think about 1925, when my father was 13/14 years old. There was, he told me more than once, a group of artists that used to come down to Shellharbour – from Sydney, one imagines. My father spent time with them, and they encouraged his artistic talent, evidence of which I have seen in works he drew during World War 2, none of which survive.

My grandfather T D Whitfield didn’t encourage this artiness. My father told me that he therefore hid his art gear and paintings in a rock shelter on what was then Native Dog Hill, Mount Warrigal today.


See Shellharbour – a double post

Perhaps my grandfather also had in mind the influences my dad as a very handsome boy who had just left school at 13 may have been subjected to.

DH Souter, who supervised the decorations for the 1923 artists’ ball, described it as a ‘jazz fantasy’. It was at this ball that the famous poet, writer and Queen of Bohemia, Dulcie Deamer, wore her cavewoman outfit. The photograph of Deamer dressed in a wrap-around leopard skin hide complete with a dogtooth necklace has come to symbolize the joi de vivre of the decade, despite Deamer’s own protest regarding its relevance.

Perhaps the most notorious of the artists’ balls of this decade was held at the Sydney Town Hall in 1924. The ball turned, if not into an orgy, then into a veritable bacchanalia: alcohol flowed freely and spirits were smuggled in in great numbers. Deamer called it the ‘Night of the Great Scandal’. The theme of this ball was ‘Back to Childhood’, so George Finey hid a bottle of rum in his nappy, secured with a safety pin, and Jack Lindsay hid whisky flasks in the habit of his friend who had dressed as Friar John. In the basement of the Town Hall the floor was covered in beer. Fights erupted after gatecrashers climbed through the basement windows, and extra police and the fire brigade were eventually called to clear the overcrowded basement which was littered with drunken semi-naked women, broken crockery and high spirited revellers. The Lord Mayor’s orderly, Martin Carrick, reported that ‘in one place I saw a helpless man and woman vomiting into each other’s laps’, and in the Ladies Rest Rooms ‘men were entering with women and locking themselves in the compartments’.

Certainly sometime around 1925 my father encountered the poetry of Swinburne. In the 1960s I found that rather sad, seeing Swinburne through Leavisite eyes – not a great figure in the pantheon of Sydney University English in those days.

A land that is lonelier than ruin
A sea that is stranger than death
Far fields that a rose never blew in,
Wan waste where the winds lack breath;
Waste endless and boundless and flowerless
But of marsh-blossoms fruitless as free
Where earth lies exhausted, as powerless
To strive with the sea.


Far flickers the flight of the swallows,
Far flutters the weft of the grass            10
Spun dense over desolate hollows
More pale than the clouds as they pass
Thick woven as the weft of a witch is
Round the heart of a thrall that hath sinned,
Whose youth and the wrecks of its riches
Are waifs on the wind.

Actually it is rather dreadful, isn’t it? Not so this painting in the Art Gallery of NSW, which my father loved, as do I still.

Artist : Douglas Watson (Australia, b.1920, d.1972) Title : Date : -1948 Medium Description: pen and ink, wash Dimensions : Credit Line : Purchased 1952 Image Credit Line : Accession Number : 865

W Lister Lister “The ever restless sea” 1892

My father also encountered in the 1920s the writings of Robert Ingersoll.

I do not say, and I do not believe, that Christians are as bad as their creeds. In spite of church and dogma, there have been millions and millions of men and women true to the loftiest and most generous promptings of the human heart. They have been true to their convictions, and, with a self-denial and fortitude excelled by none, have labored and suffered for the salvation of men. Imbued with the spirit of self-sacrifice, believing that by personal effort they could rescue at least a few souls from the infinite shadow of hell, they have cheerfully endured every hardship and scorned every danger. And yet, notwithstanding all this, they believed that honest error was a crime. They knew that the Bible so declared, and they believed that all unbelievers would be eternally lost. They believed that religion was of God, and all heresy of the devil. They killed heretics in defence of their own souls and the souls of their children. They killed them because, according to their idea, they were the enemies of God, and because the Bible teaches that the blood of the unbeliever is a most acceptable sacrifice to heaven.

My father was fond of Omar Khayam:

His creed was “moderation in all things”. Since I became a dedicated Calvinist in the mid 1960s I found that disappointing; I am sure Dad was however trying to tell me something. It was around this time he mentioned Colonel Ingersoll.

Family bits and pieces from yesterday’s searching

Yesterday I was trying to flesh out from Trove some things my father had told me about his younger days in Shellharbour – particularly about a colony of artists that apparently was in the area in the 1920s. That last one has eluded me, but I found some nice bits and bobs.

My grandfather T D Whitfield was a builder of some note in the region: see Neil’s personal decades: 18 – 1890s – T D Whitfield. He doesn’t mention there this job:


All very necessary of course. And I remember Mr Wickham’s shop and the post office…

This 1927 story is just nice. Of course I recall Uncle George Moon and Aunt Ella from Wollongong in the 40s and 50s. Never knew Uncle George’s second name was Selwyn!


This is coincidence time. This 1953 story lists my Aunt Esme’s siblings – she was Dad’s brother Ken’s wife, and Beverley Whitfield’s grandmother.


Fisher Street is just down the road from here. I am not sure I ever met Mrs Mitchell. And speaking of Uncle Ken:


It probably looked like this:


Perhaps he got an electric one next. That ad is from 1951.

104 years ago in Shellharbour

… my father was born. Here he is while in the RAAF during World War 2:


And this is the only picture I have of his mother, Henrietta, who died before I was born.


Now I suspect I have found her again on Trove in The Sydney Mail of 5 June 1918. She is top right:


It says “Mrs D Whitfield” but the only candidate near that name would have been “Mrs T D Whitfield”, so I think it may be my grandmother, whose son Ken was still overseas in the AIF at that time.



If it is her she looks careworn: not surprising. Hers was a tragic life in many ways. See Neil’s personal decades 26: Whitfields, Christisons, and more — 1915.

In Shellharbour the home front for my family was a sad place in 1915, as posted in More Whitfield family history last year.

My uncle, Colin Whitfield

Obviously I never knew him, nor he me, though when I was in high school I used an Algebra textbook that was in our house, inscribed with his name. This is such a sad story. I had never before seen this detailed version, though it confirms the oral accounts I have had of that dreadful tragedy back in Shellharbour in 1915. Illawarra Mercury 9 April 1915.


My grandfather and grandmother had already lost two other sons, Aubrey (1893-1906) and Thomas W (1906-1906).