Ray Christison sends a welcome gift

I already knew that my cousin Ray Christison had published Shapeshifter: the strange life of John Hampton Christison, Professor of Dancing 1858-1923 (2017), in fact had read an earlier draft. In various places on my blogs, especially here, I had myself tackled the story. See also these posts. Over Christmas Ray got in touch and arranged to send me a copy — once I had told him my exact postal address! It arrived yesterday.

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Merely as social history, even apart from the family connection — John was Ray’s and my great-grandfather, the book is well worth reading. Given that Ray is a trained historical archaeologist with a longstanding fascination with history Australian and Scottish and more, the book is very professional in presentation and in literary style. It is also very well illustrated, not least with photos of John, who would have had a whale of a time in the age of Instagram. Oddly though, this one is missing:

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So here we have a man who may have danced before Queen Victoria at Balmoral, who once had a vineyard in the Hunter Valley next to the more famous Rosemount Estate, who was a bastard of a husband and father at times, more than a touch Byronic*,  but also apparently in later life a teetotaller, was a serial evader of debts, but who was wounded in action during the Boer War. Ray included a photo of his Boer War medal, now in Ray’s possession. Once when I was about 14 my grandfather Roy Hampton Christison started to tell me something of his father, who had died 20 years before my birth but was never spoken of anyway. My grandmother Ada put a stop to that with a pronouncement worthy of Queen Victoria: “There are some things that are better not talked of!”

  • *Euphemism alert!

Ray, fortunately, has not hesitated to talk of them. The result is the portrait of a complex, obviously very gifted and interesting character — who just happens to be our great-grandfather. Ray, being the historian he is, puts the story in historical context, both in Scotland and Australia. John’s career encompassed both countries. In Australia in his lifetime he was in Newcastle, in the Hunter region, in Sydney, in Mittagong, in Tasmania, in Melbourne, and indeed for a while was a station-master in Coolgardie WA! He taught dancing and organised highly praised parties all over the place. What a man!

Not so easy for my grandfather and his siblings though, or for my great-grandmother Sophia Jane, whom I actually remember! My one quibble, Ray, is that the photo of the family including her and my brother Ian on p.58 is said to be taken at Flora Street Sutherland during the 1940s. No, it was 61 Auburn Street — phone LB2271! (Fancy my remembering that last detail; perhaps I was made to learn it in case I ever wandered off and got lost!) Uncle Eric and Aunt Gwen — the former also in that photo — lived in Flora Street in the 1940s. By the way, despite the subsequent home-uniting of Sutherland both that Flora Street house and 61 Auburn Street are still alive and kicking!

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Here is another of Sophia Jane (or Jean) Christison in her 90s. Apparently she decorated that cake herself!

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If you are intrigued, Ray’s book is available here.

A letter from Sophia Jane, on the death in 1948 of my grandfather Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield:

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Oh and another thing. In listing instances of Christisons in Scotland’s past (p.7) Ray does not mention another John Christison who figured in the Scottish Reformation back in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. To quote Andrew Lang, John Knox and the Reformation (1905 and on Project Gutenberg):

But, sometime in April 1558 apparently, a poor priest of Forfarshire, Walter Myln, who had married and got into trouble under Cardinal Beaton, was tried for heresy, and, without sentence of a secular judge, it is said, was burned at St. Andrews, displaying serene courage, and hoping to be the last martyr in Scotland. Naturally there was much indignation; if the Lords and others were to keep their Band they must bestir themselves. They did bestir themselves in defence of their favourite preachers—Willock, Harlaw, Methuen; a ci-devant friar, Christison; and Douglas….

After Parliament was over, at the end of December 1558, the Archbishop of St. Andrews again summoned the preachers, Willock, Douglas, Harlaw, Methuen, and Friar John Christison to a “day of law” at St. Andrews, on February 2, 1559. The brethren then “caused inform the Queen Mother that the said preachers would appear with such multitude of men professing their doctrine, as was never seen before in such like cases in this country,” and kept their promise. The system of overawing justice by such gatherings was usual, as we have already seen; Knox, Bothwell, Lethington, and the Lord James Stewart all profited by the practice on various occasions.

Mary of Guise, “fearing some uproar or sedition,” bade the bishops put off the summons, and, in fact, the preachers never were summoned, finally, for any offences prior to this date.

Blogging the 2010s — 8 — January 2017

Just a 2019 note: the heatwave returns Sunday and Monday — so bushfire watch resumes.

My Scottish great-grandfather

My cousin Ray Christison has posted this on Facebook.

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January 25 was Burns Night (the night on which Scots celebrate the birthday of the poet Rabbie Burns). This has hit a chord with me this January as I have been busy editing the draft artwork for my biography of my enigmatic and shapeshifting great-grandfather John Hampton Christison. I know that this book has been eagerly awaited by my relatives and by Australian dance historians, and hopefully it will be published very soon.

His is a fascinating story. See many entries, including Neil’s personal decades: 1 — 1815, following on also from my Australia Day post:

I have decided to start a series going back through my “personal” decades – that is mentioning things from family history – starting with 1815, when most of my family connections were elsewhere. One exception — my former sister-in-law’s family: see Family stories 4 — A Guringai Family Story — Warren Whitfield. My former sister-in-law is a descendant of the family of Bungaree.

Sydney was a tad different c.1815:

C 359 Joseph Lycett's painting of Natives and the North Shore of Sydney Harbour, courtesy of Mitchell Library.lightbox

1815

Jane Brooks writes of how Koorie people live in the Domain ‘in their gunyahs made of bushes.’ She also remembers seeing ‘the very tiny canoes with a gin (Koorie woman) fishing in them, quite alone, sometimes with a streak of smoke from it, and we supposed she was cooking.’ (Karskens, p. 209)

See also Bungaree and the George’s Head Settlement: 31 January 1815

On my mother’s side of my family – the Christisons – I note my great-great-great-grandfather David was a teenager in 1815, having been born in 1799 in Fettercairn, Kincardine. Seems the poor old sod died in the poorhouse July 21, 1860 of chronic bronchitis. His wife had also died July 2, 1859 in Poorhouse, Luthermuir, Marykirk, Kincardine.  That I’d never known before. Note Poorhouses in Scotland “provided medical and nursing care of the elderly and the sick, at a time when there were few hospitals and private medical treatment was beyond the means of the poor.”

David’s son, also David (b May 1828), ended up in Australia when his son, John Hampton Christison, brought him here from Brechin in Scotland. Or did he? Is this Brechin David the same as Fettercairn David? The family pictured below are definitely my ancestors and in the later 19th century for sure they were in Brechin. That is surely J H Christison’s parents and siblings.

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David Hampton Christison, father of of my grandfather John, in Scotland. Exactly when and where  was he born?

The photo is from Arbroath near Brechin.

Fettercairn David Senior married a Hampton or Hanton; this suggests that they are my maternal family: the Hampton name persists to this day.   The date on David Junior’s gravestone is one year out though. So I am left wondering if we have two families here…  Mind you, Fettercairn and Brechin are not all that far apart. That poorhouse is halfway between. Perhaps the family just moved a bit south…

See also Fascinated still by (family) history (November 2013) and My great-grandfather: “morally dubious to say the least.”(October 2013).

Then see Neil’s personal decades: 14 – 1885 — Christisons and Neil’s personal decades: 19 – Christisons 1895. If you want more see the tag Christison.

The following was taken about 74 years ago at 61 Auburn Street Sutherland.  L-R: John H Christison Jr, Eric, John’s father, Sophia Jane Christison (my great-grandmother), Roy Christison Senior, and finally my brother Ian Whitfield.

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I note that CNN reports that “half of Donald Trump’s DNA is Scottish. His late mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was born and raised on the remote and beautiful Scottish Isle of Lewis, before leaving as a 17-year-old for the United States to work as a domestic servant in 1930.” That is the nearest I get to having anything in common with Donald J Tweet, who gets worse and worse as the days go on… See for example Days Into Trump’s Presidency, The Doomsday Clock Ticks 30 Seconds Closer to Midnight.

Blogging the 2010s — 6 — January 2015

Reading today about what’s happening around Thirlmere and Picton…

Neil’s personal decades: 16 – 1880s and 90s – Whitfields again

No Friday poem today as I want to follow up yesterday’s post which, you may recall, detailed the sad fate of William Whitfield (1812-1897) and the impact of the Depression of the 1890s on his son William Joseph John Whitfield (1836-1925), whose son in turn (Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield 1866-1948) was my grandfather at whose knee I have sat. Just think: when William was born Napoleon was off to Russia, and William Joseph John lived through World War 1.

I was really moved by the extra detail about William’s death in Rushcutter’s Bay. Afterwards I wondered what happened to his wife, Caroline Philadelphia West. I also wondered just when William had returned to the inner Sydney he had left in the1840s. The second I don’t know yet, but the first is a sad story again.

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William Whitfield and his wife Caroline Philadelphia

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1881: leaving a husband and 13 children

The following year William sold up:

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Location, location, location:

Once occupied by the Gundungura and Tharawal Aborigines, the first Europeans to investigate the area around Picton were the party of ex-convict John Wilson who passed through in 1798. They had been sent by Governor Hunter to accumulate data about the southlands to discourage convicts who were escaping and heading south in the belief that China was only 150 miles away.There was already a very small European presence to the north around present-day Camden, consisting of stockmen sent to tend the cattle on the Cowpastures, although all other settlement of that area had been forbidden in order to ensure the development of the herd (see entry on Camden for further information on the Cowpastures).

By 1819 Governor Macquarie had authorised the construction of a road from Picton through to the Goulburn Plains. The first land grant in the area was ‘Stargard’, a gift to Christian Carl Ludwig Rumker, Governor Brisbane’s astronomer, in honour of his rediscovery of Encke’s Comet. Nearby Major Henry Antill established a 2000-acre property in 1822 which he first named ‘Wilton’, subsequently renaming it ‘Jarvisfield’ after Jane Jarvis, the wife of his friend, Governor Macquarie. The station stretched from Stonequarry Creek to Razorback. The family home still stands although now it is used as the clubhouse for the Antill Park Golf Club….

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1865

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Stargard Estate today

Moving now to the son, William Joseph John: I was struck by the details of that sad auction announcement. It really must have been quite a big concern, that Blue Gum Mill. One of the items listed is a 14hp Rushton Proctor Portable Engine. Imagine that!

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Casting forward to 1903 I note this:

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That is one of my father’s younger aunts, the daughter of William Joseph John. They settled in Wellington NSW where in the late 60s and early 70s I stayed in their house with their daughter Dorothy. They were deceased by then. The house however had quite a few treasures, including a Whitfield family Bible that may have been old William’s. The groom’s father long lived in Appin NSW, part of the district including Picton – just the other side of the escarpment I see from my window. There is a famous tale about Appin: Massacre at Appin in 1816.

When Europeans took up land grants, they cleared and fenced the land, irrecoverably changing the patterns of hunting and gathering that had been followed by the Dharawal people for tens of thousands of years.
Some European settlers formed a close rapport with Aborigines. Charles Throsby of Glenfield was accompanied by Dharawal men when he explored the southern highlands area. Throsby was a persistent critic of European treatment of the Aborigines. Hamilton Hume who, in 1814 with his brother John, made the first of a number of long exploratory trips southwards, did so in company with a young Aboriginal friend named Doual.
Whereas the “mountain natives” (probably Gandangara) had a reputation of being hostile in defence of their people and their land, the Dharawal were peaceful and had no history of aggression. Unfortunately few settlers could distinguish between the two groups.
In 1814, Macquarie issued an order in the Sydney Gazette, admonishing settlers in the Appin and Cowpastures area. “Any person who may be found to have treated them [natives] with inhumanity or cruelty, will be punished?.” This followed an atrocity when an Aboriginal woman and her children were murdered at Appin.
Two years later, in the drought of 1816, the Gandangara came again from the mountains in search of food. Europeans were killed and about 40 farmers armed themselves with muskets and pitchforks….

That becomes a very sad story. It is commemorated annually theses days: Annual Appin Massacre Memorial Ceremony.

On 17 April 1816, there was a massacre of Dharawal people near Appin. For over a decade now, the Winga Myamly (sit down and talk – Wiradjuri language) Reconciliation Group, which works towards Reconciliation by raising awareness of issues and promoting a partnership to bring about change for Indigenous people, has organised this Memorial Ceremony held on the Sunday afternoon closest to 17 April….

Just a reminder of the background behind the stories I have been telling and the places concerned.

Some images of my part of the world

… and a recommendation. Following my last post, I must recommend A History of Aboriginal People of the Illawarra 1770 to 1970 (2005) and Murni, Dhungang, Jirrar: Living in the Illawarra (2009), both free to download from NSW Department of Planning and Environment.

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And here are some evocative images. The first is based on “Native Encampment Illawarra 1843”, a painting by John Skinner Prout. The second is “Entrance to Illawarra Lake from the sea” (1840-46) by Robert March Westmacott. The third is self-explanatory, from the book above.

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201 years ago at Minnamurra River

Between Shellharbour, my father’s birthplace, and Kiama. See Random Friday memory 22 – Beethoven in Minnamurra. Last night it featured in WIN local news.

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A memorial has been set up marking the Minnamurra Massacre of October 1, 1818.

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Here is an account from Mike Donaldson, Les Bursill and Mary Jacobs, A History of Aboriginal Illawarra, Volume 2: Colonisation, Dharawal Publications, Yowie Bay, 2017.

The fate of the people of Illawarra was sealed by a notice from the Governor in the Sydney Gazette of 28 September 1816. Those who have obtained promises of allotments are hereby required to avail themselves of the approaching occasion of the surveyors being on duty in Illawarra to get their locations marked out to them and for this purpose they are required to meet the Surveyor General at the hut of Mr Throsby’s Stockman in Illawarra, or the Five Islands district, at noon on Monday, 2 December 1816.

In the hut of Throsby’s stockman, at what now is the corner of Smith and Harbour Streets in Wollongong, that fateful meeting resulted in 2,100 hectares of Dharawal land being given to five non-resident gentlemen. These grants were practically free and each landholder was provided with convicts to do whatever work his stockmen required. The formal stealing and occupation of Dharawal land had commenced.

But taking the land by legal fiction was one thing, securing it was another. In October 1818 Lieutenant Weston, land owner at Dapto and Cornelius O’Brien, formerly a stockman at Sandon Point and now the overseer of a property at
Yallah, organised a group of seven labourers and convicts. Unusually armed with muskets, cutlasses and pikes, they headed to Kiama supposedly to fetch two muskets lent to a group of people living on the Minnamurra River. According to Young Bundle, who was long trusted by the British, the posse killed all the people at the camp.

Word of the massacre spread rapidly through the community. Responding as one, they very quickly returned all the guns –– quite a few –– that they had borrowed from the whites, removing that excuse for further acts of evil.

The attackers admitted only to wounding a boy in self-defence. After a sharp letter of protest from Charles Throsby to Governor Macquarie, the murders were investigated by D’Arcy Wentworth, the Principal Superintendent of Police, along with other magistrates. They took no action against the killers despite a letter from Governor Macquarie to D’Arcy Wentworth expressing his “surprise, regret and displeasure” at their findings.

This process of land alienation was repeated in Shellharbour where another small group of white men met on 9 January 1821 to give to and receive from each other more Dharawal country. Very soon, D’Arcy Wentworth, the colony’s Principal Superintendent of Police, Principal Surgeon and founder of the Bank of NSW, owned more than 5,000 hectares of mainly Wodi Wodi clan land, in addition to the land he already owned elsewhere. And the clearings continued.