Wild weather heads south

I was prompted by the news yesterday afternoon to ring my brother, who lives in East Devonport in Tasmania. I had seen East Devonport named as an evacuation area. He was OK, but see Record floods in Tasmania.


This gives some idea of the extent of the recent wild weather.

Just south of Wollongong the town of Robertson at the top of Macquarie Pass had 600+ ml. Across the Illawarra escarpment from West Wollongong there was flooding over the weekend at Picton. My brother expressed surprise at that. Being older than I he saw more of our Picton family than I did. The area is a very significant one in the Whitfield story. See for example my April 2015 post Whitfield family history contact. But it turns out floods are nothing new in Picton.


Picton Viaduct, late1800s.

Picton has a number of notable historic sites. At the northern end of town, overlooking Picton, is Vault Hill, so named as it is apparently where early settler Henry Antill is buried, allegedly upright at his own request, so that he could better overlook his domain. It is currently on private property.

Just south of the intersection of Argyle St (the name given to the old highway as it passes through town) and Margaret St, at the bottom of Vault Hill, is the old courthouse, built in 1864. Some of the sandstone for its construction came from the old gaol which was hit by floodwaters in 1860….

See Picton.

Some images from last weekend’s flood: see Picton business community reels in the flood aftermath: pictures, video and Picton’s main street floods.

Screenshot - 7_06_2016 , 8_44_00 AM


And do look into these items: The role of climate change in eastern Australia’s wild storms and  Sydney storm: East coast lows to become fewer but more intense, scientists say. It isn’t entirely a simple matter, as both those items make plain.


Whitfield family history contact

I have had emails recently from Tahmoor historian Frank Baker. He included this photo and note:

1651 W J J Whitfields saw mill in Tahmoor1

1652 photo 4a

That is William Joseph John Whitfield’s sawmill. See Neil’s personal decades: 15 – 1895 — Whitfields and Neil’s personal decades: 16 – 1880s and 90s – Whitfields again.

18 August 1894

Sure looks like [William Joseph John Whitfield’s]  business is going down the tubes. According to Australian biographical and genealogical record series 1, 1788-1841, with series 2 supplement, 1842-1899 / series 1 edited by John T. Spurway, assistant editor Allison Allen; series 2 edited by Kenneth J. Cable and Jane C. Marchant his Bluegum Saw Mill in the early 1890s employed 34 men. WJJ “during the Great Depression of 1893 … supplied timber for the building of Catholic Schools and piles for the construction of Sydney wharves.” I wonder, oh irony, if Bluegum Lifestyle Resort is anywhere near old William Joseph John’s mill?

A detail from the photo Frank Baker sent:

1651 W J J Whitfields saw mill in Tahmoor2

Note: there is a Facebook page for the Picton & District Historical and Family History Society.

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.


William Whitfield and his wife Caroline Philadelphia

Screenshot - 29_01_2015 , 8_39_24 PM

1881: leaving a husband and 13 children

The following year William sold up:


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….




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!


Casting forward to 1903 I note this:


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.

Neil’s personal decades: 15 – 1895 — Whitfields

It is worth exploring the 1890s in Australia. See for example the My Place site. One aspect:


Between 1890 and1893, a severe economic depression caused the closure and collapse of many banks. The Federal Bank of Australia ran out of money and closed. In April 1893 the Commercial Bank of Australia, one of Australia’s largest banks, suspended operations. Twelve other banks soon followed. Those who had put their savings into building societies, as well as those who had borrowed heavily to fund their own speculative investments, found themselves in desperate straits. Businessmen, pastoralist farmers and land speculators weren’t able to pay their overdrafts, and thousands of small and large investors were ruined.

Is that why we have this from 18 August 1894?


Sure looks like his business is going down the tubes. According to Australian biographical and genealogical record series 1, 1788-1841, with series 2 supplement, 1842-1899 / series 1 edited by John T. Spurway, assistant editor Allison Allen; series 2 edited by Kenneth J. Cable and Jane C. Marchant his Bluegum Saw Mill in the early 1890s employed 34 men. WJJ “during the Great Depression of 1893 … supplied timber for the building of Catholic Schools and piles for the construction of Sydney wharves.” I wonder, oh irony, if Bluegum Lifestyle Resort is anywhere near old William Joseph John’s mill?

Set amongst the shade of scattered eucalyptus trees, Bluegum Lifestyle Resort offers the convenience of retirement living with a touch of affordable luxury.

The resort is located in the beautiful country town of Thirlmere, Wollondilly Shire, nestled in the foothills of the Southern Highlands. In Thirlmere you will find everything you need for enjoyable and convenient day-to-day living, with nearby Picton and Tahmoor providing access to all major facilities.

Now more sadness, I’m afraid.


View from Darling Point across Rushcutters Bay to the Elizabeth Bay mansions 1879

Hat tip Debbie Robson

Remember my great-great-grandfather William who arrived via the “Thames” in 1826, just 14? The sad story that follows I noted some time ago – see Family stories 3 — About the Whitfields: from convict days.


William Whitfield 1812-1897

William Joseph John’s father William (who lived in the 1830s in Elizabeth Street Strawberry Hills) ended sadly, it seems.

On 11 October 1897 in the waters of Port Jackson, Rushcutter’s Bay William Whitfield carpenter, took his own life and drowned aged 86 years. The informant for the death notice was E Whitfield his daughter of 42 Norton Street Leichhardt. William was buried on 13 October 1897 in the Church of England section, Rookwood cemetery – section CCC grave No. 2149 (no headstone) after being 71 years in the Colony.

Given his age, his wandering into Rushcutters Bay could have all sorts of reasons… Good heavens, he was 86 after all!

Now I find more detail.


So sad. I know Yurong Street. It runs from behind the Museum and St Mary’s Cathedral up to Darlinghurst.


See Struggle Streets of Old Sydney

On quite another note see some doings from Shellharbour in 1897 where my grandfather Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield had now settled.

I have found a nice court case from 1897. Henrietta II  is “Betty” there but that is obviously wrong. It concerns the proprietor of the Steam Packet Hotel, Abraham Winsor, who was accused of shooting at James Dennis Condon with intent to murder. Henrietta was a witness.

I now think that is “Hetty” (corrrect) rather than “Betty”…

Neil’s personal decades: 13 – 1885 – Whitfields, Bursills

According to the older version of the Whitfield family tree prepared by Bob Starling that I have on my computer, my grandfather Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield (1866-1948) married Henrietta Bursill (1874-1931) on 9 November 1892. Now that makes sense when you realise Henrietta must have been 18. But there is this curious item I just found on Trove:


That is from the Kiama Independent of 15 November 1882. I know for sure that Henrietta Bursill was born in 1874:

The chances of her being the “Ettie Bursill” in that 1882 story are thus very remote: 8 years old?  That Henrietta’s mother was also Henrietta, as I note in this 2013 post. Yet an obituary for Henrietta Senior dated 1921 – reproduced in that post – states that she was survived by two sons (including Charles) and ONE daughter “Elizabeth, Mrs. Whitfield.”  That of course should be “Henrietta”.  There is another obituary for Henrietta Senior in the Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal 6 July 1921.

On 28th June, 1921, at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. Thos. Whitfield,of Shellharbour, one of our best beloved and most highly esteemed residents passed quietly away to her rest in her 85th year. Mrs. Bursill was born at Bradfeld, England, in 1837, and at the age of18 years took passage for Australia by the sailing ship “Asiatic,” and after sailing 97 days, entered Sydney Heads, 24th May, 1855. When 21 years of age she married Thomas Bursill, and they came to Illawarra in search of a new home. They settled on a small farm near Shellharbour over 62 years ago. Mr. Bursill passed away many years ago, leaving his partner the care of five children, three sons and two daughters. The two elder sons, Mr.E. Bursill, builder, of Robertson, and Mr. Chas. Bursill, builder, of Shellharbour, and are both highly esteemed and respected residents of both districts, the third son, George, passed away, from heart failure.It is safe to say we have never had  a resident more universally beloved and esteemed than was Mrs. Bursill,always bright and cheerful, and ready to help, going about doing good. The district is better for the lives and examples of such as she, and very much poorer for their loss.The Rev. Gallop, of Jamberoo, con-ducted the funeral service, at Shellharbour cemetery on 29th June, and spoke of the good she had done and of her kind way of doing, of a long life of usefulness, then entering into rest.

You may have noticed that the “two daughters” left when Thomas B died could not have included my grandmother Henrietta Jr. Do the Maths and study that birth certificate extract carefully.

George Bursill, by the way, died in the middle of a cricket match at Dunmore near Shellharbour in 1913.

So I am just puzzled. My initial thought that the wedding I was reading about was my grandfather’s (with a typo of F for T in his initial) can’t be right then, but Thirlmere is certainly family territory. Who were “F. Whitfield” and “Ettie Bursill” of that 1882 wedding? I am not sure.


I read in the Sydney Evening News for 10 November 1899:

The marriage of Mr. W. Whitfield, of Thirlmere, to Miss Eliza Wilkinson, of Bargo, was solemnised on Tuesday evening, 31st ultimo, at the residence tit. the bride’s mother, the Rev. D. H. Dillon officiating. The bride was attended by her two sisters as bridesmaids,and was given away by her brother, Mr. Geo. Wilkinson. Mr. Geo. Whitfield, brother to the bridegroom, acted as best man. A large gathering of friends assembled to witness the ceremony. After the wedding breakfast was partaken of, dancing was kept up with vigor until morning. Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield were the recipients of many congratulations.

That is my dad’s Uncle Bill, and I remember him well and their house in Upper Picton. Cheese and tomato on Sao biscuits in a gorgeous old country kitchen.


Cedar Creek, Thirlmere, New South Wales, 18 September 1887, Robert Hunt, Albumen print.

UPDATE 28 January:

Mystery solved: the true date at the top of that Kiama Independent story (“Wedding Bells”) is 15 November 1892!  So it is an account of my grandfather’s wedding!