November 25th is a day of some family significance

Information expanded 3 hours after first posting.

On that day in 1911 in the Shellharbour/Kiama area this woman had a child, not her first.

That child was my father. Her name, before marriage, was Henrietta Bursill. She passed away in 1931. There had been many dark events in her life, including this.

As I explained in an earlier post my grandfather and grandmother had already lost two other sons, Aubrey (1893-1906) and Thomas W (1906-1906). Another son, Kenneth Ross Whitfield, served on the Western Front from 1917 and survived. I remember Uncle Ken fondly. And so my father, Jeffrey Noel Whitfield, was born 25th November 1911, passing away in December 1989.

My Dad and mother told me about his mother. It appears her birth had been a touch irregular.

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 of 18 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 this birth certificate extract carefully.

The page on the Bursill family at the Shellharbour Museum glosses over some things but is still informative.

Thomas and Henrietta’s daughter, also named Henrietta, married Thomas Daniel Sweeney Whitfield, another well-known builder in the area. Thomas worked on occasion with his brother-in-law Charles Bursill. Thomas and Henrietta suffered much tragedy in their life, losing three children. Their eldest son, Aubrey died in 1906, the result of blood poisoning from lock jaw, the result of a kick from a pony. Just one week earlier, they had lost their infant son, Thomas. Nine years later in 1915, their son Colin was fatally shot while on a visit to Albion Park; he was 14 years old.

Question: Am I of Aboriginal descent?

Answer: Possibly, even probably. And no, I have not had a DNA test. But the story is in a way simple. I have (as you do) eight great-grandparents. I can account for all but one of them. In the case of my grandmother’s parentage — and a fine woman but troubled she was by all accounts — the father is unknown. That is, my father’s mother’s father.

The story — which I heard from my father and mother themselves — is that this grandmother was the daughter of an Aboriginal man, probably Dharawal (or maybe Yuin). We know nothing much about him.

But it is enough to make me look at Merrigong from my window with different eyes. The story was enough for Aboriginal actress Kristina Nehm, knowing the story, to always introduce me to Aboriginal people thus: “This is Neil. He is family.”

This is apart from the story of my brother’s wife, who is a descendant of the family of Bungaree.

Email info July 2021 from Rowena Gough

: Hi Neil,

Doing a google search on Bursill trees I’ve come across your website. I think that I can provide you with clearer family tree information for Henrietta Bursill (1874-1931). She was the youngest child of Thomas Russell Bursill (1832-c.1870) and Henrietta Woodley (1837-1921), and named after her mother. Father Thos Edw was bapt. 1832 in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Eng, married Henrietta 7 June 1858 in redfern, Sydney, and died c.1870 at Shellharbour, NSW. Mother Henrietta Woodley cme from a farming family, born 1837 Englefield, Berkshire and died 28 June 1921 Shellharbour, NSW. Your Henrietta had 4 siblings. My great grandfather Edward Bursill was the younger brother of Edward Russell Bursill and he emig to the Maryborough area of Victoria. The parents of Thomas and Edward were Thomas Bursill (1808-1846 and Elizabeth Russell (1812-1888). I’ve spent anout 25 yrs on the family history and am quite sure that this is your family line. The William Busill (convict) line is not as yet, connected to our family, and were from London. Our line is from Cambridge, and Yorkshire. So at the moment the story on you blog re family tree probably needs to be reviewed.


Back Again Neil,

Yes, thinking about it. He [Charlie Bursill, Henrietta Whitfield’s uncle] would have known as an older brother what was happening in his household. Father dead, and mother carrying a baby and then a new little one in the house. They live on a farm with livestock, so would have known what was going on.  And of course, the shame of an illegitimate child in those times, and the gossip of local people. Charlie might have had to keep quiet for a long time and then later in life, just needed to release the pressure, so talked to family members. Anyway, it’s Henrietta [Bursill] I admire, and she seemed to have been held in some esteem in the area after a long and hard-working life.

So just to confirm, there is no connection with the convict William Bursill from London. But quite possibly, if you go digging back on all lines in your tree, there’ll be someone in there.

Cheers, Rowena

Charles Bursill prior to my parents’ marriage in 1935 had warned Roy Hampton Chrisrison, my maternal grandfather, that through Henrietta my father had “a touch of the tarbrush”. Grandpa Christison replied, I am told, along the lines of Charlie taking a leap into Lake Illawarra!

So here I am today writing this on Dharawal Country, gazing every day at mountains of enormous cultural significance.

I spent the years of my life from 1943, when I was born, through to 1970 when I first came to live in Wollongong also in Dharawal (or Tharawal) Country, the northern part where the Gweagal could be found; around Wollongong you have the Wodi Wodi. The stories there cross over into those we once wrongly regarded as the beginnings of Australian history, at least on the East Coast.

See this video on Facebook — sadly unable to embed, but here is a screen shot showing a rock shelter in the Sutherland Shire.

And I hasten to add that I am not at all a fan of “cancel culture” or anything like it. I am a fan of acknowledging all our national story.

I have posted several times on this theme, most often when such predictable sources as the Sydney Daily Telegraph or Quadrant or some twit of a pundit on Sky News is beating up a story about Captain Cook, or getting stuck into Dark Emu on the grounds its author is not really Aboriginal.

Twits on Sky News have been at it again in the past few days, getting their knickers in a twist over Adam Goodes’s children’s book — which does not pretend to be a systematic history text. The lesson in it, however, is essentially true. This place was peopled before Europeans came.

NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham says a primary school play is attempting to “demonise” Captain Cook by falsely showing he was there when the First Fleet came to Australia.

Mr Latham said the play, which is based on a book by former AFL player Adam Goodes, is “complete fiction” and teachers at the school should be sacked.

“There’s one supreme responsibility for teachers in the New South Wales education system and that is to teach facts,” he told Sky News host Paul Murray.

“Teach knowledge and facts rather than political indoctrination.”

Now that Murray and Latham are busily stirring up boring old memes and “controversies” again — this time doing a bit of Goodes-bashing and pursuing woke leftie schoolies yet again, I, while tired of the stupidity involved and having begun my personal journey of recovery around 1988, am moved to share this 2020 blog post which in turn delves back to 1988 and 1788,… And to reflect on my own family story in this post.

I also am able to honour James Cook as the great navigator he was. I do chew gum and walk at the same time as well.

Yes, it is the (Whitfield) bicentennial!

Thanks to James Whitfield for posting this wonderful photo on Facebook on Tuesday.

Image is of two of W.J.J & Elizabeth Whitfield’s daughters:
Sarah Brittania Whitfield-Wilson (Left) & Ann Elizabeth Whitfield- Vacchini-McKechnie. I can personally attest to the fact that these were two beautiful and amazing ladies (James Whitfield).

Photograph courtesy the Whitfield Family collection.

Auntie Annie! I remember her well. In the early 1970s I quizzed her about family history, and she was the first to mention Ireland to me. She recalled sitting on the knee as a small girl of an old man with a long white beard who had come from Ireland, though Auntie thought he had been a soldier. Probably not. In all likelihood it was William Whitfield, born in Cootehill County Cavan in 1812, arrived on the “Thames” in 1826 along with his sister Mary and others, to join his father, the convict Jacob Whitfield who landed from the convict ship “Isabella 1” at Sydney Cove 10 March 1822.

1822 – 2022 — the bicentennial year!

The what?

Missed it back in 2020! The bicentennial of my ancestor Jacob Whitfield’s trial that is — not at the Old Bailey, but in County Tyrone, Ireland, in June 1820. CORRECTION: As you will see further into this post. Jacob’s trial, according to a contemporary news report, was in August 1820, though his 1834 Ticket-of-Leave says July! The June date concerns the co-accused Thomas Fisher of Lear in County Cavan.

Continue reading

Thursday is my father’s 110th…

At this time of the year my brother and I would have a chat on the phone, but of course that is not happening now either… And back in 2018 I posted here:

Yesterday was my father’s birthday. He would have been 107! Here is a rather blurry family photo:


Left to right: front — my mother, myself aged 10 at this time, my Aunt Fay Christison, and Toni Swingler, my brother Ian’s girlfriend at the time. Back — my father, and my Uncle Neil Christison — both World War 2 RAAF veterans.

Thinking about my father, and my brother, a lot yesterday. Here is a post from 2014:

…my father was born in Shellharbour NSW. (He passed away in December 1989.) So I decided to look around some of the local papers of the time. The ads are always fun.

Screenshot - 26_11_2014 , 9_06_29 AM

And in 2015:

104 years ago in Shellharbour

Posted on  by Neil

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


Now I need to refer you to Closely watched planes 1 and About the Whitfields: loss in my “Specials” archive.

14390 Cpl. Whitfield J. N.
Group 833

My Darling Wife

I came to work this morning thinking it was just another day, another hot steaming day, after a terrific thunderstorm last night. About nine o’clock a chap came in with some demands that had to be attended to and on dating them the realisation struck me, this was no ordinary day to me, but a very special one, the anniversary of the day when I made my very bestest pal in all the world mine for keeps, for worse or better…

Thus begins a letter from Port Moresby reproduced on the second of those two pages.

One of my father’s wartime photos
Sadly many more have been lost over the years

Now I am not absolutely sure which squadron my father was in, or if as a “carpenter-rigger” – so described in his discharge papers – who appears to have been involved in salvaging bent aircraft – I have seen a file of correspondence with the higher-ups in the RAAF my father was engaged in, including some recommendations of his that seem to have been adopted – he was attached to several. His discharge papers don’t say. One thing I do know is that he rather specialised in Kittyhawks. 82 Squadron seems a possibility.


So I was drawn to a photo in that 2012 copy of Aero.


Now the more I look at the guy in the cockpit the more convinced I am that it is my father!


The preceding paragraphs and pics come from Temps perdu–Whitfield’s, not Proust’s–1 — 20th century.

Yesterday I posted on Facebook — and received many “likes” and a beautiful comment from old South Sydney Uniting Church friend Melissa Gibson, now in South Australia.

With my father’s birthday in a few days (25 November 1911 – 26 December 1989) it is great that I recovered this wartime photo of a RAAF crew. The original I fear is lost in my travels sometime since 2009. That’s my father bottom left.


25 years ago I sadly returned to Wollongong

Late in August 1996 in fact. Ir would be the first time in years that I was with my Shellharbour relatives — my cousin Una’s husband Andy Gerke was there for example, and so many from younger generations who I tended to mistake for their parents. You see, for one reason and another, partly my father’s years of illness from the mid 1970s on, partly because I had moved back to Sydney, I saw little of my Shellharbour family from the 1980s on. In August 1996 my father was long dead (1989) and my mother died in March 1996. I was working at Sydney Boys High and living with Michael Xu in Surry Hills. The last time I had been to Wollongong was 1990 with a group of Chinese and Korean students from Wessex College of English.

The mission was a sad one.

I was taken back to that day and to great times in the 1970s involving my cousin Bev and Shellharbour by the Wollondilly Historical Page on Facebook. In earlier blog posts I have told stories of Beverley; for example:

I used to enjoy telling people I coached Beverley — and I did, in Year 10 English! The Wikipedia article there is very good, clearly written by someone who knew her well.

Beverley Joy Whitfield (June 15, 1954 – August 20, 1996 in Shellharbour, New South Wales) was an Australian breaststroke swimmer of the 1970s, who won a gold medal in the 200 m breaststroke at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. She was coached by Terry Gathercole and Don Talbot.

The daughter of a fitter and turner who worked in the Wollongong steelworks for more than 35 years, Whitfield was taught to swim along with her sister and their cousins at the age four by her maternal uncle, who was active in the local Learn to Swim program. Along with her sister and cousins, she was a childhood member of the Shellharbour Swimming Club, and was mainly taken to local swimming competitions by her father and uncle. This became even more pronounced following the death of her mother from cancer…

Her father Max was my cousin, so she was my second cousin then. Sadly she died suddenly of a heart condition in 1996.

The Wollondilly page had posted some newspaper clippings. These from 1996:

I should mention that Bev’s sister Margaret is still with us; we have occasionally touched base via a FB Shellharbour page.

When she returned from the Munich Olympics Shellharbour of course was ecstatic and gave her a civic reception. I was there.

So was my Dad’s Auntie Annie, who was born in Picton in 1875. I vividly remember that day and the broadcast of the Games themselves.

Such emotion!

A couple more thanks to the Wollondilly page:

See also the Shellharbour Local History Blog.