Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thankful Thursday - More Discoveries at the SAG

Lunch Time Discoveries in the Rocks – McGregor Family Bible continued

In mid-November, I wrote about my first visit to the Society of Australian Genealogists (SAG) and my fortunate acquiring of James and Margaret McGregor’s family Bibles.  At the time of that visit one of the staff at SAG advised me that the Bible was part of an estate and along with the bible were a number of files, letters and photos relating to the McGregor, Kinnear and McPherson Families that I should check out.

Finally, last weekend, I was able to allocate some time to venture into Richmond Villa again.  Earlier in the week I made arrangements with the SAG Archives to have the files pulled out and ready for me on Saturday morning.  Tingling with anticipation, armed with my camera, Ipad, pencils and paper, it was time to catch the train and head into the city.  I wondered, what new clues would I unearth today?

Upon arrival, I was greeted in reception area with my new SAG membership card, two envelopes of photos and four files of documents and advised that I had the place to myself for the morning.  Settling at one of the tables next to one of the Bay Windows in the lovely parlour area that looks out over the “Rocks” and Sydney Harbour I started to work my way through and amazing collection of research that was started by one of my distant cousins, Gordon, in the late 1960’s.  The collection held numerous hand written letters to historical societies andlocal identities from areas where the McGregor’s and lived and other relatives.

There were two exchanges of letters that stood out, one with the owner of the property Gingamona (near Braidwood).  The McGregor family had owned and lived on a small plot of land that is now part of this property.  Mr Hill was excited to share his knowledge of the property, and the link with the McGregors.  The other exchange of numerous letters was between Gordon and my father’s sister, Aunty Nancy. These were very special, because Aunty Nancy was the person who encouraged me the most when I first started researching the family tree, and we worked and shared information on our family history for many years.  It was delightful to read the letters which spanned over 20 years comparing and sharing notes and new discoveries, putting together pieces of the family tree puzzle together.   

Soldier from the 42 Regiment of Foot
In our world of the Internet, and online documents, and quest for instant information we tend to forget what it was like to research for family information pre Internet. Each folder held, carbon copies of letters that had been painstakingly sent to numerous people such as local churches, diocese, and Registry Offices in Australia and Scotland, each giving family details and seeking more information on where they came from, other relatives, and their military service.  Wow!  It was a lot to take in.  He had actually been successful in obtaining the military record for Margaret McGregor (McPherson)’s Grandfather Captain Donald McPherson, and there was a copy in the file!! He served in the 42 Higland Regiment of Foot from 25 June 1811-31 March 1831.  (Ah, another story to write!)

Over the past couple of months, as background to my blogs on the McGregor sisters,I have been reading and researching as much as I can about the McGregor/McPherson family. As  I made my way through the letters, photos and newspaper cuttings quite a few things clicked into place, answered some questions and posed even more.

Bushrangers - Clarke Brothers
One thing that did intrigue me was that in a couple of letters it was mentioned that his grandmother, Jessie McGregor, remembered being held up by bushrangers when she was a child living in the Braidwood Araluen district. However, they were allowed to move on, no one hurt or anything stolen.  What? I thought, I am sure I read somewhere recently in trove a similar story.  Will have to go back and check this!!   

Goodness,  two hours had passed before I knew it! It was time to start making some copies for later research!  After a quick call to my husband to let him home I wasn’t going to be home for that late lunch, I carefully made my way through each file, taking photos and making copies of documents of interest. 

Finally, at around 3.30 pm, with tired eyes but a happy mind, I bid farewell to the SAG staff member, handed her back the files and made my way home with bag full of photocopied letters and documents, to be perused and pondered over in my quest to unlock the stories related to the McGregor and McPherson families.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Australia Day Challenge 2014: C’mon Aussie

It is hard to resist an Australia geneameme.  Thanks Pauline from "Family History Across the Seas" for opening up this challenge. I think you would have to agree that over the last 25 years there has been a wonderful resurgence in the celebration of Australia Day. Present day celebrations is a time for all Australians no matter their background to celebrate their life in Australia.  A time to celebrate our diversity, internationalism and of course our idiosyncrasies. Here is my contribution.


My first ancestor to arrive in Australia was: Elizabeth (nee Mariner) and Lynn David Shepherd . They
Charles Webb and his wife Mary Ann Wood
arrived with their family in 1827 on the "Norfolk".  Lynn was a soldier in the Royal Veterans Corps
I have Australian Royalty (tell us who, how many and which Fleet they arrived with): Only one convict that I know of, Charles Webb, he was sent to Australia in 1827 for pig stealing.  
I’m an Aussie mongrel, my ancestors came to Oz from: Scotland, UK  Germany, Canada and Ireland.
Did any of your ancestors arrive under their own financial steam?  Yes
How many ancestors came as singles?  There are three who came out on their own.
How many came as couples? Most came out in family groups, however two sisters Emma Jane and Mary Ann Weston came out together in 1856.
How many came as family groupsSix families came out in groups, the largest being the Golding family.  Three generations of the Golding family came from Oakington, Cambridge on the "Epamidonas" to South Australia in 1852.
Did one person lead the way and others follow? Yes in the case of Emma Jane and Mary Ann Weston, their Uncle Alfred Weston arrived a couple of years before them.
What’s the longest journey they took to get here? I can't be sure of this.
Did anyone make a two-step emigration via another place? Yes, my ggg grandfather Donald McDonald was from Williamstown, Ontario, Canada.  At a young age he went to seek his fortune on the gold fields of California, then he immigrated to Australia with some friends to work in the gold mines in the Braidwood/Araluen district of New South Wales.
Which state(s)/colony did your ancestors arrive? South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia.
Did they settle and remain in one state/colony? Yes, some from South Australia to New South Wales and Western Australia.
Did they stay in one town or move around? A number of the families moved from town to town following the gold discoveries, then when the gold ran out, they went into farming and small businesses such as carriers and shopkeepers.
Do you have any First Australians in your tree?  No.
Were any self-employed? Yes, farmers, miners, carriers, shop keepers.
What occupations or industries did your earliest ancestors work in? Soldier, farming and mining.
Does anyone in the family still follow that occupation? No.
Did any of your ancestors leave Australia and go “home”?  No.
What’s your State of Origin?  New South Wales.
Do you still live there?   Yes.
Where was your favourite Aussie holiday place as a child?   My Nanna’s place at Milton, close to the beach at Mollymook and Ulludalla on the South Coast of NSW.
Any special place you like to holiday now? There are so many areas of Australia that I would like to visit, one that is high on my list is Western Australia. It would be great to have some time to drive up its coastline!
Share your favourite spot in Oz. There are lots of lovely places in Australia but I do have a soft spot for the Blue Mountains, Katoomba and the village of Leura.
Any great Aussie adventure you’ve had?
I think my childhood was a bit of an Aussie Adventure, I spent the first 10 years of my life on a sheep station in outback New South Wales near the Opal mining town of White Cliffs, where I did School of the Air and Correspondence School.  We then moved to another property near the town of Quambone, for a year.  Here my sisters and I had our first experience of real school, in a small two classroom school (one for infants and the other for primary students).  From here we moved to Gulargambone (you have to love the names) where I completed primary school, before being sent to Dubbo High, (boarding at a girls hostel) for my first year of High School.  Then, my father took up a position on a property in the Riverina District, and I completed most of my high Schooling at Griffith High School, which at that time had 1600 children attending.  A big change from my primary school years!
What’s on your Australian holiday bucket list? The wineries in WA, Ayres Rock, Broome are among the many.
How do you celebrate Australia Day? We usually have a barbeque with family and friends at the beach or in someone’s back yard.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thriller Thursday - The Mystery Surrounding the Death of Ralph Shepherd

In my last post "Amanuensis Monday - The Tantulean Tragedy - Murder Theory", I shared an article that I transcribed in the early 1980’s about the Mystery surrounding the murder of my great grand uncle Ralph Shepherd.  I came across this article by accident when researching the family tree in the Braidwood Museum and Historical Society. 

Was he murdered?  What was his story?  Why was he living alone?  Time to do some digging, and thanks to TROVE, I found numerous references to Ralph’s murder.  It seems that his death was reported widely in the newspapers of that time.  I found references to the his death in papers from, Goulburn,  Adelaide, Sydney, Broken Hill, Cairns, Lismore and Braidwood.

So what was Ralph Shepherd’s story?  He was born in 1876, the youngest son of Lynn Shepherd II and Harriet Webb, a pioneering couple who had lived in the area since their marriage at Araluen in 1855. His father, Lynn, was a farmer and carrier, and the family had lived on a number of properties in the region. Their final years were at  Tantulean about a mile and a half from Mongarlowe in the Braidwood district. After the death of his parents, Ralph inherited the family homestead and 90 acres of land that went with it.  “Old Ralph” was an invalid pensioner and had lived on his own since his mother passed away in 1917.  It was reported that he was a bit of a loner and eccentric in his ways He was well known in the district  and without any known enemies. Though living alone, he still visited family members, including frequent visits  (a six mile walk) to his sister Sophia Higgs for dinner on Sundays. 

Suspicions were aroused when he was found after fire had destroyed the old family homestead.  His body was discovered the next day, headless and with the limbs extensively burnt.  Dr Harris the Braidwood medical practitioner who examined the body, describes the damage caused by the intensity of the fire, “I saw the remains of a body which had been destroyed by fire.  The arms and legs were quite burnt, nothing remaining but bone dust and ends of bones. The skull was disconnected from the body and consisted of four pieces, which I examined for signs of injury, of which there were none. The body consisted of a charred mass.”  

The police had been informed that Ralph was in possession of a considerable sum of money in notes, as well as a purse with change from purchases he had made in town on the day of his death.  The fact that this money hadn’t been found meant the case was looked on as being one of murder and robbery. Rumours were flying thick and fast,“parts of the old man’s braces were found lying near his remains, indicating that he was clothed when the fire began to consume him.  It was also rumoured that no sign of any metal such as would come from the remains of his purse were located near him.  These reports further confirm the belief that Shepherd was murdered.".

Even though the local constabulary had reported that the fire that had caused Shepherds death was an accident, caused by a candle being knocked down and igniting the papers and books near his bed, the locals were not convinced.  “Though the report has one out that the cause of the fire and of the death of Shepherd was accidental death, the fact remains that Detective Sergeant Keogh is still investigating, and it would not create surprise if in the course of the next few days some startling and sensational developments took place.”

However the rumours were laid to rest following the Coroner’s Inquest and although the police could not determine the exact circumstances surrounding his demise. After examination of the scene of the fire, and the discovery of the missing change, they discarded the original belief that he had been murdered.  Instead they believed his death was the result of an accident, possibly he had been reading with a candle beside the bed and gone to sleep.  The candle flames had come into contact with paper on the wall or rending material and setting the house on fire. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the homestead was old and in a bad state of repair. One newspaper article reports “ The paper was cracked between the slabs on the wall and the paper was torn, The ceiling was lined with hessian and covered with paper.  The building was one of the old type- heavily-slabbed walls and sawn timber for flooring.”

At the inquest family members confirmed that Ralph had the habit of reading at night by candlelight and had a small table near the bed covered in books and papers.  His brother Frederick Shepherd recalled a similar incident when his Ralph had visited him 10 years previously when a dressing table was set alight by the lamp he had left on in the night.  Some members of the family reported that Ralph was sometimes childish in his manner and had spent some time as an inmate of Kenmore Mental Hospital as a patient. I was able to find a reference that Ralph was committed to Kenmore in 1908. However, I do not know the reason or how long he spent there.

One has to agree this is such a sad story.  A simple man, who had most probably been cared and looked after by his mother until her death.  He was then left to live and cope on his own.  Though he seemed to have an established routine within his community, with visits to the local stores and weekend visits and dinner at his sister’s house, it was a very solitary existence. Certainly, his death was a tragedy in a time where there was little support for those living on their own. 
1. 1933 'ACCIDENTAL DEATH.', Goulburn Evening Penny Post (NSW : 1881 - 1940), 17 February, p. 3 Edition: DAILY and EVENING, viewed 16 January, 2014,
2. 1933 'MAN BURNT IN FIERCE FIRE.', News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954), 11 February, p. 1, viewed 16 January, 2014,
3. 1933 'CHARRED REMAINS.', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 13 February, p. 9, viewed 16 January, 2014,
4. 1933 'FOUL PLAY NOT SUSPECTED.', Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 - 1954), 13 February, p. 4, viewed 16 January, 2014,
5. 1933 'INCINERATED.', Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), 13 February, p. 7, viewed 16 January, 2014,
6. 1933 'The Tantulean Tragedy.', The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal (NSW : 1888 - 1954), 17 February, p. 3, viewed 16 January, 2014,
7. 1933 'TRAGIC BURNING FATALITY.', The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal (NSW : 1888 - 1954), 10 February, p. 2, viewed 16 January, 2014,

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - The Tantulean Tragedy - Murder Theory

I have mentioned in previous blogs the value of researching your family tree links in TROVE. However, when I first started searching for links to my family history, online research wasn't even thought of.  I paid regular visits to local genealogical and history societies, museums and libraries in the search for stories related to my ancestry.  It was in the early 1980's that I visited the museum in the small village of Braidwood. The Braidwood Museum is home to the local historical society, and at that time had a collection of newspapers dating back to the gold mining era. Pen and paper in hand I spend the day, carefully reading and searching for stories related to my family history.  One of the exciting discoveries I found was a story related to my great grand father's (Lynn Shepherd) brother Ralph Shepherd (1876-1933). Here is the article as I transcribed it about 28 years ago.

Braidwood Review, 14 February 1933

The Tantulean Tragedy.
Murder Theory.

Since the finding of the charred remains of the old man Ralph Shepherd, in the smoldering ruins of his homestead at Tantulean on Thursday morning, the district has been agog with excitement.  The scene of the tragedy was first investigated by Sergeant Germer of Braidwood.  Then Detective Sergeant Keogh, who was recently engaged on the evaluation of the park murders, was sent up to investigate.  A reporter came along for a Sydney daily, and spent some days in the vicinity.

The fact that the old man was known to have had a sum of money in his possession, estimated at something like 100 pounds or more and also that he had cased a 10 shilling note the previous day, the change of which could not be found, gave rise everywhere to the theory that ha had been murdered. However, we understand that the change from the 10 shilling note had been found.

In the meantime Detective Sergeant Keogh assisted by Constable Bodel of Goulburn is still pursuing his investigation.  The funeral of the deceased was to have been held on Friday, but acting on instructions from the police this was postponed until yesterday afternoon.

Though some of the silver coins belonging to the man have been found, the common idea locally is that, Shepherd was found done to death in his lonely hut, and that the murderer then set fire to the house to cover up his callous crime.  This theory is advanced on account of the fact that when found the charred body was lying in a normal position, partly on one side, on the remains of a mattress on an iron single bedstead.  The contention is that even had the old man accidentally set fire to his house while fast asleep he must certainly have been awakened when the flames began to seer and scorch his body.

Naturally, he would leave his bed and make an effort to get outside.  Even assuming he was partly smothered before he was properly awake he must surely have at least rolled from his bed to the floor in his dying struggles.  But he did not move, he was lying in the middle of his bed.  Particular significance is attached to this theory.  Then again, the finding of the coins would not signify very much.  The murderer would hardly bother about a few paltry coins when the big roll of 100 pounds was safely in his possession.

Rumour has it that parts of the metal of the old mans braces were found lying near his remains, indicating that he was clothed when the fire began to consume him. It is also rumoured that no sign of any metal such as would have come from the remains of his purse were located near him.  These reports further confirm the belief that Shepherd was murdered.

The theory that the old man accidentally knocked his lamp over in his sleep and thus set his house ablaze would not appear to hold much water.  Shepherd did not use kerosene, preferring to keep the old fashioned candle.  There was no kerosene in the house  Neither did the old man smoke.  Over twelve months ago when the price of tobacco rose, he gave up smoking and has not smoked since.

Each week when he secured his groceries he always purchased 3d or 6d worth of lollies.  These made up for the loss of his tobacco.

People who should know are very definite that Shepherd must have had well over 100 pounds in his possession when death overtook him. He was receiving a pension that was more than sufficient to keep him, and in addition he had a small paddock leased for some years for which he had been receiving 15 pounds per year rent and latterly 10 pounds per year.

Though the report has gone out that the cause of the fire and of the death of Shepherd was accidental, that fact that Detective Sergeant Keog is still investigating and it would not create surprise if in the course of the next few days some startling and sensational developments took place.