forgotten women – Matilda Curnow

Matilda Susanna Curnow (nee Weiss)The Sydney Morning Herald of 16 September 1921 published an obituary of Mrs William Curnow (Matilda Susanna Curnow – nee Weiss).  Read more of the obituary here.  A letter of appreciation of her contribution to the establishment of the Women’s Literary Society was published in the same edition.

An Appreciation - Mrs Curnow

SMH Mrs William Curnow 1921

There is a mention of Matilda Curnow in the Australian Dictionary of Biography in the post about her newspaper journalist and editor husband William Curnow.

MrsCurnow, with Maybanke Anderson and Louisa Macdonald, helped to establish free kindergartens and was a founder of the Women’s Literary Society and of the Women’s College, University of Sydney. Lady Poore in her Recollections of an Admiral’s Wife (London, 1915) described her as ‘a light-hearted and intelligent lady of eighty’—in 1909 she founded the Optimists’ Club of New South Wales with Lady Poore as president and Sir George Reid as patron. She died aged 92 on 15 September 1921.

Here are two items from the Sydney Morning Herald from 1 May and 5 May 1909 at the time of the formation of The Optimists’ Club.

The Optimists' Club Optimists' club - Puck's Girdle

trying it on – fare evasion

From the Brisbane Courier of 14 October 1879 comes this story of a mistake or deception. You be the judge.

Theological bus ticket

Note how the word bus is still used with an apostrophe to represent the missing ‘omni’ in the word omnibus.  A carriage for all indeed, especially if you used the correct ticket.

The “tanner” referred to is slang for a sixpenny piece (from the ever reliable Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable).

The “peeler” is a reference to a policeman, derived from Robert Peel, the British Home Secretary (and subsequent Prime Minister) who established the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829.

As an aside, the bus driver in this case missed a more literary calling.  His erudite response to the apparent fare evasion was much more sophisticated than one I observed many years ago from a Melbourne tram conductor when a $50 note was proferred by a man for his fare.  “I’m not a *#**@$ bank!” she said with some force while writing him a different kind of ticket.

first steps in researching family military service records

My paternal grandfather and maternal great-uncle both served in the First World War.  An increasing amount of source material is now readily available to begin to understand some of the experiences of soldiers at war.  Some links to those sources are provided here to assist new researchers to discover their own family stories.

Alfred Buckler

George Elliott 1889-1917

George Elliott

The National Archives of Australia holds the personal service records of Australians at war.  Many of those records are digitised and available for download.   This mine of information can include movements from country to country, training, periods of leave, wounds suffered, hospitalisation periods, promotions and letters from family members particular to the soldier’s service.

The personal service record of a soldier only includes so much information as to specific whereabouts.  However, knowledge of the Division in which someone served can lead you to the battles and incidents of the war your ancestor may have experienced.

Alfred Buckler’s service record includes details of the Military Cross he was awarded.

Once you’ve got some clues, you can take your research to another level.

Charles Edwin Woodrow (C E W) Bean, compiled the multi-volume Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918.   The military sections of old and new book stores provide indexes to scour.  I found the following reference to A J Buckler in Volume VI (The AIF in France: May 1918 to The Armistice) of Bean’s magnum opus.  It relates to the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918.

Engineers of the 4th Field Company with specially trained platoons from the infantry constructed strong points in that alignment. Footnote 77. The 4th Brigade was to have dug three of these points; but the allotted platoon of the 15th Bn apparently became involved in the heavy fighting at Pear Trench, where Lt E S Davidson (Neutral Bay NSW), the engineer officer detailed to direct the digging of the northern post, was killed.  After his NCO had been wounded, a sapper R A Miller (Sydney) helped with the fortification of the front line.  Lts R S Carrick (Sydney) and A J Buckler (Sydney) duly saw to the completion of the other two positions.”

My mother’s uncle George Elliott was 28 years old and serving as a stretcher bearer when he found himself right in the thick of the Battle of Messines.  The long planned assault on the ridge in the early hours of 7 June 1917 saw 19 huge mines detonated within 20 seconds.  The blast was so loud that it was heard across the English Channel and in Ireland.

According to Robert Likeman’s Men of the Ninth – a History of the Ninth Australian Field Ambulance 1916-1994, ambulance bearers encountered heavy shell-fire on the first day.  George  suffered gun shot wounds to his neck and both knees and succumbed to those wounds on 8 June.

The Australian War Memorial now has Red Cross records available on its Biographical Database.  This note in George’s Red Cross file demonstrates the work of the Red Cross in following up details for the grieving families.

Details of his grave in Pont D’Achelle are also available at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site.

Service records provide all sorts of interesting information.  I won’t go into the details here, but this link hints at the reason for other medical treatment George received before his death.  Frankly, if I’d been him …..

If you’re browsing for your own interest, have a look too at The National Library’s Trove : Australian Newspapers 1803-1954 – a source of news of battles, awards and, sadly, family notices of loss.

every picture tells a story

Middle aged woman - gravesiteOften when you come across old photographs, it’s difficult to find any detail to add to an understanding of the subject matter.  In this out-of-copyright photograph (a glass negative) via The State Library of Victoria (ca 1888-1894), the gravestone inscription provides some clues.  The young man, Mark Marston, was almost 19 years old when he died from the effects of a snake bite.

It didn’t take much sleuthing in Trove’s Digital Newspaper collection to find a number of reports echoing the news of this sad event in the Sunbury district in Victoria.  Here’s one of those as noted by The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser of 18 March 1880.

Mark Marston - report of his death by snakebite

The photographic record describes “a middle-aged woman standing beside headstone and grave, iron fence surrounding headstone and fairly well-established garden”. One might surmise that this woman is his mother. A search of provided the following information.

Frederick MarstonMark’s parents (Thomas and Elizabeth Marston (nee Beeson) emigrated from Lincolnshire shortly after their marriage.  They had six children, the eldest of whom was a daughter who died in the first year of her life. At the time this photograph was taken, Elizabeth would have been in her mid-late fifties.

Mark was not the only son who pre-deceased Elizabeth and Thomas.  Another son Frederick (a railway worker) died at the age of 31.  The Argus of 30 September 1893 reported this inquiry into his accidental death.

on bees and honey

Bee-keeping Syd Gazette

Bees in the hive

One of the earliest references to bee-keeping in Australia comes from The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of 5 May 1805 where reference is made to a gentleman removing bees from a tree hollow into a case and apparently being “not the least discouraged by their transposal”.

From the same newspaper of 1 November 1822 came this happy note about baby bees emerging from established beehives on a property in Homebush near Parramatta; and an acknowledgment of the ‘fragrant’ variety of plants in the colony pointing to high hopes of local honey and wax production. These bees were no doubt the result of the importation of Apis mellifera into the colony that year.

Indigenous Australians had long known that native bees were a stingless source of honey.  These days, native bees are growing in popularity among agriculturalists and gardeners as a great pollinators with the bonus of sting-safe hives to have around the home garden.

young bees produced from two hives

By 1846 many in the press were speculating about the cost and value of early attempts to export honey as a commodity.

Towards the end of the century, there was enough interest in the industry for the Barnes family to be setting up this bee-keeping supplies stand at the Royal Melbourne Show (ca 1890-1918).  Source: State Library of Victoria (out of copyright image).download

 These days, Australia is a modest player in the world’s production of honey, not rating at all in the top 20 countries.


The colour illustration inside the hive is by Edward J Detmold from the the 1919 book – The Children’s Life of the Bee via Project Gutenberg.

Project Gutenberg's The Children's Life of the Bee, by Maurice Maeterlinck

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

1865 nursery rhymes – when Little Bo-Peep was a boy

These delicious colour illustrations are from The National Nursery Book published c 1865 by Frederick Warne and Co (via Project Gutenberg).  It includes familiar and not-so-familiar stories and rhymes.  Goldilocks is Golden Hair and Little Bo-Peep is a small boy.


Bo Peep

There are over a hundred plates in the book.  Here are a few to whet your appetite.  Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to find any reference to the name of the illustrator.

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Red Riding Hood Old Mother Hubbard Goldilocks Punch and Judy Little Miss MuffetSimple Simon


the “discredited” 1913 kangaroo stamp

It’s the centenary year of the production of Australia’s first national stamp.  Before 1913, the states had their own stamps and postal systems. It turns out that there’s quite a story to this little stamp with a kangaroo on a map of Australia.  The mixing bowl for this story has the following ingredients.

  • a stamp design competition held in 1911
  • a up and coming politician with a strong ego and point of view
  • robust opinions from newspaper contributors
  • an election in 1913 that changed the government
  • another politician with a point of view

iStockphoto image

From the blog of Australian Geographic –

… in October, Charles Frazer became the new Postmaster-General. He took an interest in stamps and was shown the winning entries. Later, describing it to Parliament as “execrable”, he swiftly rejected Altmann’s design, and appointed the Victorian Artist’s Association to find an artist to create a new stamp. They commissioned a local watercolour artist, Blamire Young, who began working on the design while Frazer publicly hinted to the press: “If a picturesque stamp can be provided in which an outline of Australia is featured, I am certainly favourably inclined towards it.”

After Young submitted several designs to the Post Office, Frazer took a liking to the ones with kangaroos, finding them to be an apt representation of the Commonwealth, and wrote a note: “1. Get coastline of Aust. 2. Insert Baldy’s Roo (Edwin Arnold, one of those tied for second place in the competition). 3. Produce in colours for different denominats.”

After some more minor changes, the final design was ready by early 1912, though not without some mishaps, including one print that accidentally omitted Tasmania. Frazer, proud of the finished product, announced the design on 2 April, well before the stamp went on sale on 2 January, 1913.

From The Argus of 4 April 1912.

It is to be hoped that Federal Ministers expressed their feelings in a dignified  and tactful way on Tuesday when their colleague, the Postmaster-General, presented each of them with a copy of the new Commonweath postage stamp, a reproduction of which appears in our columns to-day. The public was given to understand, beforehand, that Mr Frazer’s design was “simple, yet expressive;” it is to be feared that that phrase may adequately describe the language which all Australians who have any artistic sense will use when they first catch sight of the design. Designs, it appears, were submitted by artists from all over the world, and a prize of £100 was awarded to that one which a committee of independent judges considered the best. Mr Frazer, however, whose modesty is evidently unlikely to mar his career, believed that he could himself, if he tried, beat the prize-winner; so he sat down to evolve “something which he thought would suit the simple tastes of  Australians.” Australian tastes must be simple indeed if they are satisfied with the result of Mr Frazer’s efforts. The     competing designs have not, of course, been made public; but it may be said with assurance that the prize-winners earned their money very easily if their designs were not more effective than Mr Frazer’s white map of Australia, with the piebald kangaroo endeavouring to look placid though evidently suffering from a severe attack of dyspepsia. Or perhaps the animal’s attitude is not due to dyspepsia, but to the necessity of keeping his ears out of Cambridge Gulf while his tail points to the Federal capital. Perhaps, again, the poor creature is merely conscious that he is marching to his Sedan. There is doubtless some obscure symbolism in the rabbit which has raised its head half out of the mouth of its burrow, in the background, although a magnifying glass is required to reveal the fact this this rabbit has one eye on the kangaroo. It may possibly stand for an intelligent minority keeping watch on a large and foolish majority, but the symbolism is not clear. What is clear is that the whole thing has a grotesquely foolish look, and that not a hint of beauty or dignity is discoverable in it.

It will be said, no doubt, that the ugliness of a postage stamp is a matter of no moment. Mr Frazer evidently does not take that view, since he has given time and thought to the question, and expended some of the public money on the effort to have a good stamp. And he is so far right; there is really a good deal of significance in the heraldry of the post-office. Our postage stamps go all over the world; they become, in course of time, a sort of national symbols; and it is therefore very annoying to find that our country is to be represented in the eyes of the world by a grotesque and ridiculous symbol, and that she will be a laughing-stock even to childish stamp-collectors of every nation. Mr Frazer has no good reason for departing from Imperial usage in this matter. Australia should do as the rest of the Dominions do; we should all alike have the King’s head printed on our stamps, because it is the most obvious and unmistakable symbol of the constitutional bond between the various members of our far-scattered empire. But even if Mr Frazer entertains republican sentiments, and thinks it his duty to express them by means of the national stamp, he might surely have found some heraldic device more noble and dignified than       that absurd kangaroo and that humorous rabbit.  It will be very unpleasant to reflect every time we post a letter that we are sending out to the world a pink or blue or yellow embodiment of the artistic incapacity of our country.

The Brisbane Courier commented – 3 September 1912


Charles Edward Frazer - ADB

The story of the stamp continues in this excerpt from The Australian Dictionary of Biography from which the image of Frazer is also sourced.

After Labor narrowly lost the election in June 1913, the new government replaced the design of the penny stamp Labor had introduced, although it lasted for most other values for many years; Frazer had originated the design which featured a kangaroo ‘rampant upon a purely White Australia’.

The new government and Postmaster-General took no time at all to replace the kangaroo stamp.  Unsurprisingly there were comments on this design.  This not to subtle critique comes from The Worker, Brisbane – 10 July 1913

The ‘Courier ‘ published the design of the stamp it is proposed by the Anti-National Fusion Government to substitute for the kangaroo stamp. Without intending any disrespect to the Sovereign, the design is an atrocity, a confused jumble of unrelated and discordant drawings with the King’s head in the centre. The present kangaroo design may not be the final word in stamps, but its emblematic nature, clearness and simplicity show into pleasing contrast with the overloaded and freakish abnormality which the troglodyte Cook Government is about to inflict on us.

The Argus of 29 July 1913 reported thus.  Note that the new Postmaster-General could also not resist the urge to tinker.


Final action was taken yesterday by the Postmaster-General (Mr Wynne) in connection with the adoption of the designs for the new Commonwealth stamps, which are to take the place of the discredited kangaroo issue. Some weeks ago Mr Wynne announced that he had decided to avail himself of the first prize design, submitted by Mr Herman Altman of St Kilda, but a close examination of the drawing convinced him that it contained too many features to permit of effective reproduction. Accordingly, the designed was asked to alter his sketch so as to simplify the features.

This has been done by eliminating the coats of arms of the six States and substituting sprigs of wattle blossom in their stead. A much improved picture of His Majesty the King has also been introduced. The penny stamp will contain no national emblems apart from the wattle blooms, but the twopenny design is to be distinguished by representations of a kangaroo and an emu on either side.  A crown will also surmount the stamp of higher denomination. The Postmaster-General stated yesterday that he would expedite the issue of the new stamp as much as possible, but he had been informed that it might be necessary to send to England or America to have the permanent dies prepared. It he found it was impossible to secure the plates in the Commonwealth he would endeavour to carry on the production of the new stamps temporarily by some other expedient, pending the arrival of the engravings from overseas.

In accordance with the decision of the Berne conference the penny stamp will be coloured red and the twopenny denomination will be blue.

Postscript:  Charles Frazer died in November 1913.  He was 33 years old.

George V Australia stamps

marriage futures – then and now

Vera Brittain was the author of Testament of Youth (on her losses and experiences during World War One) and Testament of Friendship (on her friendship with fellow writer Winifred Holtby).

The Windsor and Richmond Gazette of 29 November 1929 printed this item on Brittain’s prophecies for marriage in the future.

And today, over 80 years on, this news from our friends across the ditch (aka the Tasman Sea) via the New Zealand Herald and image via The Dominion Post.  New Zealand led the world in women’s suffrage (1893 compared with 1902 in Australia, 1920 in the UK and 1928 in the USA).  They are leading again today, coming in 13th in the world to introduce gay marriage rights.  Go you good thing!  May Australia not take so long in the following this time around.

Dominion Post image

Vera Brittain on marriage futures

The Little Tea Book

The Little Tea Book

A short offering today with a link to this delightful book about tea.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Little Tea Book, by Arthur Gray. This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsover. You may copy it, give it away, or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at

thylacine – the Tasmanian tiger

The Animal WorldFrom The Project Gutenberg, Volume 5 of a children’s Treasury published in 1909 -was titled The Animal World.  The reference to the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine was written around the time of the cessation of bounties for the animals when someone in authority must have cottoned on that killing the animals was having a devastating effect on their survival as a species. Parks Tasmania has a more current and comprehensive article for the thylacine which includes this chronology of the animal’s tragic decline into extinction.

Why are they extinct?

The arrival of European settlers marked the start of a tragic period of conflict that led to the thylacine’s extinction. The introduction of sheep in 1824 led to conflict between the settlers and thylacines.

  • 1830 Van Diemens Land Co. introduced a thylacine bounties.
  • 1888 Tasmanian Parliament placed a price of £1 on thylacine’s head.
  • 1909 Government bounty scheme terminated. 2184 bounties paid.
  • 1910 Thylacines rare — sought by zoos around the world.
  • 1926 London Zoo bought its last thylacine for £150.
  • 1933 Last thylacine captured, Florentine Valley, sold Hobart Zoo.
  • 1936 World’s last captive thylacine died in Hobart Zoo, ( 7/9/36).
  • 1936 Tasmanian tiger added to the list of protected Wildlife.
  • 1986 Thylacine declared extinct by international standards.

The Tasmanian Wolf

There are certain marsupial animals which look as though they belonged to the dog and cat tribes. They are called dasyures, and are beasts of prey. One of these is the Tasmanian wolf, or thylacine, as it is often called, which is so wolf-like both in appearance and habits that it fully deserves its name. But you can tell it from the true wolves at a glance by the dark, zebra-like stripes upon its back, and also by its long slender tail, which tapers down almost to a point. It is also known as the zebra-wolf and the tiger-wolf. The Tasmanian wolf used to be very common indeed, for it was the most powerful of all the Tasmanian animals, so that it had no natural foes, while it was very seldom killed by the natives. But when white settlers came to live in the country they found that it killed so many of their sheep that it was necessary for them to do all that they could to destroy it. So numbers of Tasmanian wolves were shot, and numbers more were caught in traps, and by degrees the animal was driven back, until now it is only found in wild and rocky districts among the mountains, which are scarcely ever trodden by the foot of man. There are very few of the Australian animals which do not fall victims to this fierce and savage creature. Even kangaroos are killed by it at times. And it has been known to destroy and devour the echidna, which is something like a small porcupine. But besides feeding upon living prey, it will feed heartily upon any carrion that it may find, and will also prowl about on the sea-shore in search of the various dead animals which are flung up by the waves. The Tasmanian wolf is a nocturnal animal, remaining hidden all day long in some deep recess among the rocks, into which no ray of sunshine can ever penetrate. It does not like the daylight at all, and seems most uneasy if it is brought out from its retreat. And, strange to say, it has a kind of inner eyelid, which it draws across its eyes every moment or two in order to keep out the light as much as possible.

thylacine illustration

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Animal World, A Book of Natural History, by 
Theodore Wood

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at