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.

Now which aunt was it?

On the weekend I reread my cousin Ray Christison’s excellent biography of our interesting great-grandfather, John Hampton Christison. (Or rather, I reread the draft Ray sent me pre-publication. Thanks, Ray.)

The life of John Hampton Christison could quite easily be construed as a work of fiction. John was a remarkable man in many ways and was typical of his era in others. His fortunes foundered many times as he navigated the difficult waters of 19th century commerce and the passage of his life was marked by dramatic changes in occupation. Like many in colonial societies John was not averse to claiming a status in life above that accorded him within the restricting social structures of Great Britain. Time and again he claimed a past that exceeded his humble roots.

Ray is currently in Scotland visiting some of the “scenes of the crime”.

Also on the weekend I cleaned this old thing, which for some reason I have kept. It has no pottery marks and is probably not worth much, but it is a survivor of the 19th century. (I look as if I could be too!)

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Now I am not sure which of my mother’s aunts that belonged to — a Christison aunt — Lillie perhaps, or a Hunter aunt. Or maybe it belonged to my great-grandmother Sophia. For some reason my mother kept it all my life — and longer — and now I have it.  Below left-to-right around 1941 we have: my cousin John, his father Eric Christison, Sophia-Jane, my grandfather Roy, and my brother Ian Whitfield. Auburn Street Sutherland.

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And from 1880:

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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.

Revisiting June 2016 – via 1959

A nostalgia hit for me, published yesterday on the Shellharbour Pictures page on Facebook:

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Shellharour with jetty: 1959 My grandfather rebuilt the jetty in 1909. Compare 1934.

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Now to June 2016.

End of June, and looking forward to voting KAOS!

Posted on June 30, 2016 by Neil

Second things first. It appears, as William Bowes’ Poll Bludger indicates, that Mr Turnbull’s party will get back in on 2 July, but with a reduced majority.

Daylight has finally opened between the two parties on the BludgerTrack poll aggregate, without quite freeing the Coalition from the risk of a hung parliament.

The Senate should be fun all round.

Bear in mind what is hiding in the basement, should Mr Turnbull get up. The influence of such should be proportionately stronger if Mr Turnbull is weakened.

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Here be monsters!

Following Mr T’s awful warning, if not quite in the spirit it was offered, I am definitely opting for KAOS all round! Exactly how is my business…

Interlude: M of Venice

Posted on June 26, 2016 by Neil

Or rather, M in Venice. One of a set he posted on Facebook on 24 June, though by then he was no longer in Venice. He was in Florence a few days ago.

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Great photo!

Very incomplete personal takes on Brexit

Posted on June 25, 2016 by Neil

“Certainly going to be interesting to see what happens in the UK in this coming week” I wrote here on 21 June. Well, that was a bit understated, eh!

Now I’m wondering if they should be dusting off the Honours of Scotland.

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Perhaps because I am conscious that the greater part of my ancestry derives from Scotland and Ulster (maternal and paternal lines), I still tend to see the UK through that lens.

The Brexit vote showed interesting divisions on those lines.

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See more maps here.

I must admit this aspect rather pleases me: “People gathered in Edinburgh and Glasgow to demonstrate against the result and show support for migrants.” Then there is this:

[Scotland’s First Minister] Ms Sturgeon said: “After a campaign that has been characterised in the rest of the UK by fear and hate, my priority in the days, weeks and months ahead will be to act at all times in the best interests of Scotland and in a way that unites, not divides us.

“Let me be clear about this. Whatever happens as a result of this outcome, England, Wales and Northern Ireland will always be Scotland’s closest neighbours and our best friends – nothing will change that.

“But I want to leave no-one in any doubt about this. I am proud of Scotland and how we voted yesterday.

“We proved that we are a modern, outward looking and inclusive country and we said clearly that we do not want to leave the European Union.

“I am determine to do what it takes to make sure these aspirations are realised.”

Here is a personal take from Edinburgh.

Amelia Baptie, 36, a mother of twins, said she was “heartbroken and devastated” by the result, as were most of the parents she spoke to in the playground.

She said: “I think if it was about hope on the Leave side then some good could come out of it, but it was about hatred.

“I am upset and worried. I don’t know what has happened to England. They have gone so much to the right and Scotland is being pulled along. My parents live in France and they are very worried now if they can stay, and about their income.”

I worry about some of the types in Europe who have been rejoicing about the UK’s choice – the likes of Le Pen and Wilders.

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See Exploring my inner Scot

I really do think we might see another Scottish Independence referendum not far into the future.

Another element in the UK vote was generational. This 21 June article by Chris Cook on BBC foreshadowed that.

A new piece of evidence on this has been released by Populus, a pollster that is doing a lot of work for the Remain camp. Their data suggests:

  • People aged 65 and over are 23% more likely to vote Leave than the average voter. Voters aged 18-24 are 37% more likely to back Remain. Those aged 25-34 are 19% more likely to back Remain than the average voter, the poll suggests
  • Students are 54% more likely to back Remain than the average person. Graduates are 21% more likely. Meanwhile, people with no formal qualifications are 48% more likely to back Leave…

After the event see  ‘What have we done’ – teenage anger over Brexit vote.

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Finally, a different, wider viewpoint: The Long Road to Brexit.

Markets are stunned. Commenters are shocked. But future historians may view this moment as inevitable…

The debate has cut across the usual divisions of Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat. There are left-wing Brexiteers (who dislike the EU for its lack of democracy and enforced economic austerity) and left-wing Remainers (who like its internationalism); right-wing Remainers (who see the EU as a huge market) and right-wing Brexiteers (who see it as an affront to national sovereignty). There has also been a national dimension: The biggest supporters of Brexit have been the English, and now suddenly the Welsh; the Scots and Irish, for different reasons, have taken the opposite view.

The campaign has highlighted differences too among generations, among regions, and perhaps most importantly among classes and among cultures. Supporters of the “Remain” campaign were disproportionately the young, educated middle classes, who saw the EU as both in their interests and as the political equivalent of motherhood and apple pie. Supporters of Brexit were disproportionately older, less educated, and less wealthy, and think their voices are more likely to be heard in an autonomous national state. Attitudes to immigration from the EU — unrestricted under EU law and running at nearly 200,000 per year — became the shibboleth. Remain saw immigration as a token of enlightenment, economic freedom and cosmopolitanism. The “Leave” campaign saw it as a cause of depressed wages, stressed public services, and long-term danger to national identity. The EU question has become more polarized ideologically in Britain than anywhere else in Europe…

Where indeed will it all end?

Post script

Have been reading heaps of posts. This one stands out: Called back to the present by Scottish physician Bob Leckridge, now living in France.

… and Jim Belshaw:

I watched the UK’s Brexit vote first with interest then with fascination and then with a degree of  horror. I was opposed to the original decision to join the EEC, but after forty years membership unpicking the whole thing becomes difficult. Further, the campaign itself and the consequent vote played to and accentuated divides in the UK….

Alas!

Yes, Jim’s post has disappeared! But now it’s back!

And finally…

Look at Steve Cannane, Brexit: Is Scotland brave enough to defy the UK? and Ian Verrender, Brexit will deliver a few home truths, both on ABC.

HSC 50 years on

Posted on June 20, 2016 by Neil

Featured in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

There were no calculators. Cigarettes were puffed on the school oval at lunchtime. One-third of students took French. And the most controversial musical you could study was West Side Story: that was the Higher School Certificate half a century ago.

This year marks 50 years since the first group of students exited the Victorian-era Leaving Certificate and entered the uncharted territory of the HSC after the Wyndham report changed the face of education in NSW.

And also in this year’s HSC Study Guide supplement:

This year marks the HSC’s 50th year. Since 1967, more than 2.3 million students have successfully completed the HSC and used the skills and knowledge gained to embark on the next stage of life at university, TAFE or work.

The HSC has evolved to reflect a constantly changing world, growing from 29 courses to 104 courses with exams. The first HSC included Sheep Husbandry and Farm Mechanics. The 2016 HSC includes Software Design and Development and Information Processes and Technology.

Students today are enrolled in five English, four maths, five science, eight technology, 63 language and 13 Vocational Educational and Training (VET) courses and 27 Life Skills courses…

Sheep Husbandry was not on offer at Cronulla High School where I as a newly minted English teacher fronted what would be the first 3rd Level (i.e. bottom) English Year 11 class in 1966. So strictly speaking this year it is 49 years since that first HSC, which was sat in 1967.

I did return to Cronulla back in 2011. See these posts: How young we were! (and do read the comment thread!) and Here I am at the Cronulla High 50th!

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Revisiting Cronulla High in 2011

See also my 2013 post If the jacarandas are out, the HSC must be coming… and my 2015 post Educational opportunity in Australia – 2015 and 1965.

Orlando

Posted on June 14, 2016 by Neil

There is no way I can hope to do justice to the horrific events that played out at The Pulse in Orlando. Let me first share Sydney’s response.

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See Candlelight vigils held across Australia to honour Orlando shooting victims….

Two romantic old buildings: Scotland and NSW

There is a link, and here are two clues:

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1889

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1885

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1791: Aberbrothock Abbey Scotland

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Victoria Hotel, Hinton NSW: Built in the 1840s it is now one of Australia’s oldest continually licensed hotels.

And the link between the two buildings? My great-grandfather:

A plug for my cousin’s book: Shapeshifter : the strange life of John Hampton Christison, Professor of Dancing 1858 to 1923, Ray Hampton Christison, City of Greater Lithgow Mining Museum, 2014.

For some detailed posts: Neil’s personal decades: 14 – 1885 — Christisons, Neil’s personal decades: 19 – Christisons 1895, Neil’s personal decades: 1 — 1815.