Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “Alice Hickson”


My daughter, Hanna, and I stayed just outside Killarney for two nights last week, in a B&B we found in Muckross Road. Muckross House and the ruined Muckross Abbey are popular tourist attractions nearby but we did not visit them. We were able to see Muckross House from the other side of the lake. We had stopped for a walk in Killarney National Park, following a track down to a place called The Meeting of the Waters, where the three lakes of Killarney meet. We caught glimpses of the stately home on the return to the car.

There is an old cottage there called Dinís Cottage, apparently a tearoom in the not too distant past but now closed for business. According to one website, Dinis Cottage dates back to the 1700s. John Christopher Hickson (JCH) mentions the place it in his book, Notes of Travel, which describes his visit with his daughter Alice in 1893:

We landed at Dinish Island and had tea in the cottage where the Queen once dined on her visit to Killarney. We performed the feat of shooting the rapids, and through the old Weir Bridge, past the Meeting of the Waters, where fisherman were plying the fly, past Eagle’s Nest Mountain and Innsfallen Island; landed and inspected Glena Cottage, another halting place of Victoria when visiting there, and landed at Ross Castle after a most enjoyable and delightful day. (Hickson J, Notes of Travel 1893, p36)

We didn’t “shoot the rapids” (which are rather mild as far as rapids are concerned) but a small boatload of tourists did pass by while we were walking along the stream behind Dinis Cottage. It seems the same activities have attracted tourists for at least the last 120 years.


The Old Weir Bridge at the Metting of the Waters

In fact we saw far less than JCH did on his trip, but he was in Killarney for two weeks and we were there only for two days. We didn’t get out on the lake at all, and our mode of transport was a car loaned to us by friends in Dublin, rather than by “jaunting cars” – which JCH mentions repeatedly in his book. I had been a little mystified by what exactly a jaunting car might be, until we arrived in Killarney and discovered to our delight that they are still readily available for hire in the city centre in order to get to any number of destinations.


Jaunting car near Ross Castle

Hanna and I drove one evening to Ross Castle, which had just closed, though we were able to walk around it and bask in the warm evening sunshine on the lakefront. JCH describes his visit to the castle briefly in his book:

We arrived at Killarney at midday and were met by our old and dear friends Mr William Martin and his family… Together we visited the ruins of Ross Castle on the shore of Killarney Lakes, where once were quartered the troops of Cromwell, and from the top of which a fine view of the lower lake can be obtained; through Lord Kenmore’s domain, a beautiful and romantic spot; the beautiful ruins of Muckross Abbey and the sweeping lawns and embowered shades of Muckross House. (Notes of Travel, p34)


Ross Castle in the evening sun

Killarney is still very much the tourist town, and having now been there it is easy to understand why. It is a beautiful place, set at the foot of the Killarney Mountains, much of which is now contained in Killarney National Park.


Killarney Mountains

More of JCH’s recollections:

We climbed Mangerton Mountain and saw the Devil’s Punch Bowl, and at Torc Mountain we sat and listened to the music of the waterfall. The heather, the mountain moss and turf were mingled and blended, and the views were charming. The landscape is something that must be seen to be understood. The green fields, the dark woods, the bright water…

Our friends organised a picnic in honour of our visit, and we drove in jaunting cars to the Gap of Dunloe. Leaving the town of Killarney we passed neatly trimmed hedges of hawthorn, rich meadow land, and fields of waving corn, and coming to the foot of the mountains we were met by a number of country men with horses or mountain ponies which they hire for the trip over the hills… We travelled as far as we could in our jaunting cars, having the eighteen ponies following in cavalcade…

We lunched at the foot of the Gap, where the echoes were grand; a small lake rested peacefully beside us, and the cliff towered above us, where the mountain cloud rested… Near here still stands the cottage of “Kate Kearney,” and occupied by one of her descendants, but we did not come under the spell from “the glance of her eye.” (Notes of Travel, pp 34-35)

On another trip we will go up to the Gap of Dunloe, though it is unlikely we will use ponies. There is a narrow winding mountain road that is passable with ordinary cars nowadays. Perhaps we will see Kate Kearney’s Cottage then; this time we satisfied ourselves with buying Kate Kearney’s Fudge, readily available form any one of dozens of tourist shops around Ireland.


The road leading off to the left leads to the Gap of Dunloe


In Chicago 1893

In May-June 1893 John Hickson and his daughter Alice spent three weeks in Chicago. They had gone there primarily to see the World’s Fair, a massive exhibition which commemorated the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in America. Such exhibitions were huge events during the Victorian era, and the Chicago exposition of 1983 was the largest to date, attracting over 27 million visitors during the six months it was open. The Crystal Palace exhibition in London in 1851, which was the first international exposition, and the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris, for which the Eiffel Tower was built, are two that stand out in my mind, but there have been many others. John Hickson recorded some thoughts about the Chicago World’s Fair in his book, Notes of Travel, published in 1894.

World’s Columbian Exposition 1893
The Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893 rivalled earlier expos in scope, and was much larger than any that had gone before. It was a celebration of innovation and modernity, but also an opportunity for nations to display their best and finest, to attract admiration, and perhaps investment. A whole city, which became known as The White City, was constructed with many remarkable buildings though only one of them remains to this day, namely the old Palace of Fine Arts, now the Museum of Science and Industry; the rest fell into disrepair or was destroyed by fire over the years that followed; some buildings were relocated elsewhere. Notably in Chicago was the first dishwasher and the world’s first ever Ferris Wheel. There are many accounts of the Chicago World’s Fair on the internet and two that caught my eye were this blog and this website. Music also played an important part at the Fair, with Dvorak’s New World Symphony composed especially for the event, and a young piano player named Scott Joplin developing a new sound in music – ragtime.

The World’s Fair takes up about two pages of John Hickson’s eighty page Notes of Travel. JCH summarises the experience as follows:

The sights you see return to your memory only by instalments; but as a descriptive account of the exhibits and the whole particulars of the exhibition have been given by specially trained reporters, who have flashed their reports to the ends of the earth in all languages, I will not attempt to describe them; but whatever may be said of the financial failure of the Fair, it was a grand conception, liberally and splendidly carried out, and as a means of education, amusement and improvement, could not be surpassed. (Hickson J, Notes on Travel, p.19)

JCH could hardly have imagined the Expo that he and his daughter visited in 1893 would still be talked about over 120 years later, which can be seen in the many contemporary websites (not to mention books) describing the Fair and its legacy. He seems to imply in what he wrote that the World’s Fair in Chicago was a financial flop, but this seems not to be accurate (see this website), and why JCH formed this opinion is uncertain. The legacy of the Fair was, in any case, not its financial profits, but rather the magnitude and splendour of its exhibits: as JCH puts it, “a grand conception, liberally and splendidly carried out.”

My favourite picture of the expo is one I found on the Nikola Tesla Inventor official website. For me this old photo evokes an image of the young Alice Hickson at the World’s Fair (though there is nothing to indicate it is actually Alice in the picture). This was the sight she saw before her, and this is the type of dress she wore. If her father had been a photographic enthusiast then he would have been behind the camera, but I suspect that there were few people apart from professionals who owned their own camera in 1893!


The World’s Fair was not the only memorable experience for John Hickson and his daughter Alice. In fact, shortly after their arrival they witnessed:

Decoration Day
On Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day), America decorated the graves of its fallen soldiers. The Chicago Tribune, of May 30, 1893, recorded:

The ceremonial of today occurs in conjunction with the great Exposition at Jackson Park, and thousands of strangers will be in the city to witness the parade of the veterans.

Two of those “strangers” were John Hickson and his daughter Alice. Reading JCH’s description brings Anzac Day to mind for all Australians, but in 1893 Anzac was still in the future. A world war of the scope of the 1914-18 conflict could not be imagined in 1893, though both John Hickson and his daughter would live to hear of its horrors first hand. In fact both father and daughter would live through two world wars.

But in 1893 the war dead they remembered were veterans of the the American Civil War, still relatively recent in the minds of the population. Here is John’s description:

On the 31st of May (JCH appears to have got the date wrong!), in Chicago, we saw their annual celebration of Decoration Day. This day is set apart every year to visit the soldiers’ graves and deck them with flowers and tiny flags, and generally orations are delivered by some prominent men. The procession of military and civilians was of great length, but what attracted us most in the pageant was the company of veterans of the civil war, marching behind the same flags that bore them to victory, now old, tattered and bullet riddled, which for thirty years have been preserved and yearly paraded. (Hickson J, Notes on Travel, p.19).

DL Moody
The other memorable experience for John Hickson and his daughter was attending an evangelistic rally with DL Moody, widely acknowledged as the greatest evangelist of the nineteenth century. JCH relates that they

were present at a service in a large circus tent in which there were 15000 people addressed by Mr Moody, Mr McNeil and others. At another time, in a crowded theatre where Moody was preaching, I pushed through the throng to speak to and shake the hand of the great evangelist. We also heard Dr Gunsaulus, a polished and able preacher of the Congregational Church, and Dr Henson, the clever pastor of the First Baptist Church. We visited most of the places of interest in and about Chicago, and left there on the 18th June, on our way to New York, via Niagara Falls. (Hickson J, Notes of Travel p.19)

In fact The World’s Fair Gospel Campaign was arguably as significant as the Fair itself, at least in the minds of some. HB Hartzler wrote a book about the campaign shortly after, entitled Moody in Chicago, “an account of six months’ evangelistic work in the city of Chicago and vicinity during the time of the World’s Columbian Exposition, conducted by Dwight L Moody and his associates.” Here are some extracts from that book, which can be downloaded from Internet Archive.

The World’s Fair has been closed on Sunday for want of attendance, but the religious services are daily growing. Every good opening for the gospel is readily seized. When Forepaugh’s great circus tent had been set up in the city Mr. Moody tried to secure it for Sunday. He was granted the use of it for a Sabbath morning service, but as the manager expected Sunday in Chicago to be a great harvest day, he reserved the tent on the afternoon and evening for his own performances. Fifteen thousand people came to hear the simple gospel preached and sung at the morning service. The circus, however, was so poorly attended in the afternoon and evening that Sunday exhibitions were soon abandoned. (Hartzler H, Moody in Chicago, p.64)

Hartzler quotes another writer in his book, who had recorded the following:

Now this is what I often found to be true : that these congregations were made up of people from every part of the United States and Canada, and I may say from every part of the globe; everybody that has come up to the World’s Fair is represented in these meetings a great mass of people brought together from every nation and every race in the world, and preachers are brought together who can speak to them in their own tongue. So it is a remarkable movement. I remember that a friend suggested to Mr. Spurgeon that such a great preacher as he ought not to confine his ministry to London, but that he ought to make a tour around the world and preach to everybody; and Mr. Spurgeon replied, I can just stand in my place in London, and let the world come to me; and so they did, as a matter of fact. And so this World’s Fair is a great opportunity because all the world is present in Chicago, and being there, they come to hear the gospel. I consider it one of the most blessed triumphs of the grace of God that on these Sundays the people are attending church and listening to the Word of God instead of going for recreation. Now that is the right way to conquer: not by violence, not by law, not by threatening, but by a counter-attraction, by offering something better.

I have made this statement in order that we may praise God that such advantage is being taken of this great occasion that will never come again. We shall never again see such an event. I need not say that the Fair is magnificent; it is a dazzling alabaster city set on the lake. People are there from every part of the earth; and next to that architectural wonder, and the marvellous display of art and science and beauty of every sort, I consider that the most striking thing in that city to-day is the evangelistic work that is going on. (Gordon, in Hartzler, Moody in Chicago, p.71)


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One wonders what sort of impression Moody’s meetings made on John Hickson, a man of the world even if he was a regular churchgoer back home in Sydney. Did he go to hear the gospel, or was he just unable to resist the spectacle? Was he a pilgrim, or a tourist? John Hickson was an Irish protestant, but whether he was a deeply spiritual man with a hunger after God I don’t know. He has left no written record to say one way or the other. He certainly had connections in the Christian ministry. His older brother William had married Mary Needham, a girl from a deeply religious family with whom the Hicksons were acquainted back in Kerry. In fact, after his mother died, John Hickson had lived with William and Mary in Sneem when he was a teenager. William and Mary had actually migrated to America before they came to Australia in the 1870s. Mary had four younger brothers who became evangelists in the north eastern states of America and at least one of them, George Needham, was part of the Moody Campaign in Chicago in 1893. He is listed as one of the many missioners in Hartzler’s book. So there was no lack of Christian input into John Hickson’s life. But the impact of that input is hard to ascertain.

How did Alice react? She was twenty when she heard DL moody preach; it must have been an overwhelming experience to be among fifteen thousand people at an evangelistic meeting in America. Many years later, as an old lady, Alice would hear Billy Graham preach, or so my father told me. She must surely have compared the two great evangelists. I wonder whether faith played an important part in Alice’s life, or in her father’s for that matter. They heard the greatest preachers of their time, but what fruit did that bear in their lives? Did they meet God, as Moody challenged his hearers to do? Were their lives changed by that meeting with God? Some of Alice’s five daughters were later deeply involved in the church. But perhaps it was their father William Ross, with his rich heritage of revival in the Scottish Highlands, who had the greatest spiritual influence on them. Hard to know.

Those weeks in Chicago in 1893 must have been an extraordinary experience for John and Alice. They stood by as America remembered her war dead, and wondered how people of one nation could so passionately have fought each other only a generation before. They saw all that the world had to offer at the World’s Fair, and marvelled at the achievements and aspirations of humanity. They were challenged to follow Jesus in the massive evangelistic meetings of DL Moody and his associates. Which of these experiences left the most lasting mark on their lives, I wonder?

Around the world in 180 days

Tourism in the Victorian era was in its early stages of development. Wealthy families in England had been sending their sons and daughters on Grand Tours of Europe for many years to expand their knowledge of the world, but by the middle of the nineteenth century the opportunity for travel, both at home and internationally was no longer limited to the rich. In 1841 Thomas Cook, an English cabinet maker from the Midlands, had an idea and arranged a one day train excursion for 540 temperance leaguers journeying from Leicester to Loughboro. One thing led to another, and

By 1851, he had discovered the business of travel. Cook arranged ocean liner travel and accommodations for 150,000 visitors to the World Exposition in London. The experience opened Cook’s eyes. Foreign travel, which up to that time had been limited to aristocrats, could be made available to the burgeoning middle class, which had money to spend and social aspirations to fulfil. Cook and other steamship agents set themselves up on both sides of the Atlantic, catering to the new tourism. Cook loved to travel, and believed that it should be enjoyed so that the memories would give pleasure for a lifetime. It was his goal to make a trip around the world as easy as a walk around the block, so he started the first travel agency to offer people travel that was free of care. Cook published The Excursionist, the first travel magazine, to inform people about travel destinations and what to expect after arrival… Perhaps his most famous package, the “Cook’s Tour of Europe,” allowed Everyman to take a Grand Tour – a practice hitherto limited to the very wealthy. (Bloyd S, in Orange Coast Magazine, August 1989, accessed on Google Books)

John Christopher Hickson (JCH), my grandmother’s grandfather, may well have been a reader of The Excursionist, which was by the 1890s available in Australia. JCH was a member of the “burgeoning middle class, which had money to spend and social aspirations to fulfil.” An Irish immigrant, he had made a fortune in the timber industry in the far flung colony of New South Wales. In the twenty years after his arrival from Ireland in 1870, his business had gone from strength to strength. He had married a local girl and together they had raised a family of eleven children. He had built a beautiful home in suburban Enfield, and climbed high on the ladder of Sydney society. Like many people in his situation, he dreamed of travel, of seeing the world.

However, in 1893, he was faced with an unexpected and unwelcome dilemma – his twenty year old daughter, Alice, the apple of his eye, had fallen in love with a young migrant recently arrived in Sydney from Ireland, but by John’s judgement, a man without prospects. This was not the future he had imagined for his oldest daughter. The man she had fallen for was Richard (Dick) Byrne, a working class boy from Killarney in County Kerry, very near to where JCH himself had grown up. It seems fairly certain that John knew Dick’s parents before he left Ireland. JCH was determined to prevent Alice from marrying Dick but he was painfully aware that Alice had lost her heart to the charming and handsome Irish lad. Perhaps as he racked his brain for ideas his eyes came to rest on the latest edition of Cook’s travel magazine.


The Excursionist, US edition 1892

I have not seen a copy of The Excursionist from 1893, but I feel certain that the World’s Fair that was held in Chicago that year would have featured prominently. Thomas Cook and Sons had been organising tours to such international extravaganzas since The Great Exhibition – the Crystal Palace Exhibition – had been held in London in 1851. JCH was inspired. Here was something that could satisfy his desire for travel and adventure at the same time as providing a distraction for his lovesick daughter. He would take Alice away to see the World’s Fair, and throw in a trip around the world. It was an offer felt sure Alice would not be able to resist. With a bit of luck Alice would forget Dick Byrne, or at least realize that there was much in life to enjoy that Dick could never provide, being the penniless Irishman that he was. JCH wanted Alice to fall in love with the world, and for that love to displace her love for Dick. Hopefully by the time they were home her priorities in life would have been suitably reordered.

Alice said yes to the trip, which must have seemed wonderfully exciting to her. She knew her father’s agenda, but how she felt about it is uncertain. She was very much in love with Dick Byrne, and felt sure he would wait for her. Did she understand her father’s objections? Did she agree? Did she see a marriage to him as impossible, as much as she loved him? Was she going with her father in order to forget? Or was she stubbornly opposed to her father, but happy to accompany him on this world trip just the same? She was young. There was time to see the world and still marry Dick when she came home. It was possibly a very confusing time for Alice.

Whatever is true of the emotions that were raging in Alice, the records show that John Hickson and his daughter embarked in mid April 1893 on a ship, the Monowai, bound for San Francisco. I wonder if Alice had read Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in Eighty Days, published just twenty years earlier? As it turned out, the father and daughter’s journey was closer to a hundred and eighty days – but unlike Phileas Fogg, they were not racing to win a wager. In fact the longer they were away the better as far as her father was concerned. In the preface to John’s book about the journey, called Notes on Travel, he describes the journey as a “hurried trip around the world.” Perhaps the only hurry was to get Alice away from Dick before the inevitable happened.

Notes of travel front page

They sailed from Sydney to Francisco and then crossed North America by train, travelling over the Sierra Nevada mountains and then traversing Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. In Chicago they attended the World Fair before travelling via Niagara to New York and the East Coast, where they did the round of relatives and friends. The voyage from New York to Ireland on the Germanic took eight days, arriving at Queenstown, near Cork, on the south coast on 13th July. They then spent just over a month in Kerry, where John had grown up. After Ireland they travelled to Scotland and then south to London, before embarking on another ship, the Ophir, to make the return voyage to Australia, London to Sydney via the Suez, a voyage of some six weeks. Altogether they had spent some three months at sea, and three months on land, with the longest stay in any one place being in Ireland, where they were for about five weeks. North America and Scotland/England accounted for about three and a half weeks each. They arrived home in the second half of October.

If John’s primary goal was to prevent Alice from marrying Richard Byrne, it would seem that he succeeded. A little under two years after they arrived back in Sydney, in August 1895, Alice married William Ross, a successful accountant some 11 years older than her. One wonders if that was her father’s plan all along. Dick married Elizabeth Gray, a Kiama girl, daughter of Irish immigrants, the same year. It would seem that both Alice and Dick had accepted that their lives were not meant to be together.

At least that was how it seemed. Over forty years later with their respective lives largely behind them, Alice and Dick found each other again. Both had lost their respective partners to illness. Perhaps they had been friends all through the forty five intervening years, or perhaps they had barely been aware of each other’s lives. Alice and William had moved to Mosman on the North Shore of Sydney Harbour and raised five daughters, while Richard and Elizabeth had lived in Drummoyne and had raised a family of seven children.

After her husband’s death in 1939 Alice went to live with one of her daughters, Ethel (Epp) in Northbridge, next door to my father. But during those dark days of loneliness and world war Alice somehow reconnected with Dick, whose wife died in 1941. In 1944 they finally married. Alice was 72, Dick 74. Alice’s 95 year old father, by then living in Manly, still disapproved, but this time Alice was not to be dissuaded. Her father died a year later. Sadly Dick also died in 1946 so their happiness was short lived. Alice lived on until 1962, when she died at the age of 90, a grand old lady of Mosman.

Just as Alice never managed to get Dick out of her mind, her father John, JCH, never got travel or the Old Country out of his mind. He was well and truly smitten by the travel bug. In 1910 when he was 62 he went with his wife Martha back to England to be there for the coronation of King George V, the grandson of Queen Victoria. He never wrote a book about that journey so my knowledge of it is sparse. Unexpectedly, Martha died on the return voyage. JCH married again after his return to Australia, to an English lady he had met on the ship, and they were happy together for fourteen years when she died. JCH, perhaps seeking comfort in travel, sailed again for England the following year, in 1926, and amazingly, while he was there, married a third time, before his return to Australia. That was the last time he would cross the globe. He was 78 years old.

Did Alice ever travel again? In 1945 she lost her father and a year later her husband Dick died. She was alone and bereaved in the big house in Mosman, with its amazing view over the spectacular harbour (see the note from my father at the end of this post). She had moved back there after she married Dick and she remained there until her death. In 1949, when she was 77 years old, her oldest daughter, Gertrude, who had married a clergyman, RB Robinson (Bradley Robinson), asked her if she would like to accompany them on another trip to England, and she agreed.

England was still recovering after a terrible war when they arrived on March 1, 1949 on the Orcades. What they did and where they went in the three months of their visit I am not sure. Did they travel to Ireland, to Alice’s father’s ancestral home? Did they travel north to the Highlands to visit the Ross relatives who had never left Scotland? As far as I know William Ross had never been to Scotland after his parents migrated to Australia in 1866. But The Highlands were strong in the hearts of his daughters and their families, and it may well have been that Gertrude wanted to see the land of her father’s family, Strathcarron, the valley of Ross-shire where her Scottish grandfather had grown up. Her husband Bradley Robinson also had Scottish roots, so Scotland may well have been on their itinerary. The ship that carried them back to Australia was the Strathaird, named for another Highland valley.

Did Alice have the same wanderlust as her father? Each time she went to England she was a companion to others who had planned the various trips for their own reasons and asked her to come too. Her father wanted to get her away from Richard Byrne. Perhaps her daughter, over fifty years later wanted to help her forget Richard Byrne, who had unexpectedly found his way back into her life, if only for a few short years. Her father succeeded in his aims, at least temporarily. Did Alice’s second trip, over fifty years later, help her to process her feelings and finally lay Dick Byrne to rest?

My father, Alice’s grandson, certainly seems to have inherited something of John Hickson’s love of travel. After he married in 1958 he departed with his young wife, my mother, for the Pacific Islands where they lived for seven years in Fiji. I was born there in 1961, the year before my great grandmother Alice Hickson-Ross-Byrne died. I came to Australia in 1964 as a three year old. When I was nine we departed by ship across the Pacific and the Atlantic for England, where we lived for the next three years, before completing our circumnavigation of the world around the Cape of Good Hope. Since then I have crossed the globe countless times, as have my parents and siblings.

Travel means different things for different people. Some love the journey for its own sake. For others it is a way to escape from harsh realities. Sometimes it is about searching for identity or purpose. We can only guess what it was for John Hickson, and his daughter Alice. For me it has had all these elements and many more.

The world is a different place now with air travel having shrunk the distance between Europe and Australia to an overnight affair. Thomas Cook and Sons are still offering their package holidays, but under very different conditions. And some of us are like John Christopher Hickson still wondering to which side of the world we belong.

Note from my father, Ian Holford, 9 August 2016

I have just enjoyed reading your blog on my grandmother and her travels. There are a couple of small corrections. In the para. beginning “Did Alice ever travel again”, my grandparents had moved from the big house in Mosman with the spectacular harbour view into a smaller house (75 Raglan St. named Ferrintosh) in the thirties.  I remember visiting them there as a child before my grandfather died in 1939. My grandfather Holford lived in the same street with my unmarried uncle (Hope’s father), and they used to visit each over with me tagging along. On one occasion I got bored with their conversation and quietly ran back to the other house without my grandfather’s knowledge. I was suitably scolded on his return.

My grandmother remained in the Raglan St. house after my grandfather died and during her two year marriage to Dick Byrne, and until she went to live with Aunty Ep sometime in the late fifties. As a teenager (1946-50), I used to ride my bike to Raglan St. and mow the lawns and weed the gardens. At that time the house had been divided into two flats. My grandmother was the first family member to buy a TV set, and we used to visit her on Saturday nights to watch TV. She must have died sometime during our latter years in Fiji as I don’t remember her funeral.

Missing home

In the southern autumn of 1893, a young Sydney girl, Alice Hickson, embarked with her father, John Christopher Hickson, on a journey around the world. They sailed on the Monowai out of Sydney on Monday 17th April. Sydney Harbour was as beautiful then as now, but there was no Harbour Bridge and no Opera House, and the population of Sydney, at 400,000, was only a tenth of what it is today. It was nevertheless Australia’s biggest city, a young vibrant place growing fast under the sunny blue skies of the great southland.


A photo featured on Reuben Goossens website

Alice grew up in a prosperous family. Her father was an Irish immigrant who had become a successful timber merchant, with mills in Nabiac on the north coast of NSW, as well as in Darling Harbour and later in Burwood. Her mother produced a whole stream of children, five boys and six girls in all, though one of the girls, Maud, died at age four, when Alice was ten years old. Alice was the oldest, the “big sister.” They lived in a succession of houses in her early childhood, but by the time she was twenty the place she had called home for at least half her life was The Grove, in Liverpool Street, Enfield. The family home had been named after the Hickson ancestral seat in Ireland. But Ireland was a land that Alice knew of only through her father’s stories, a far country whose mist covered mountains and wild rocky coast she longed to see. Alice’s mother’s mother was also Irish, but she had died when Alice was a toddler. Alice’s recollecion of her grandmother could hardly have been more than subliminal, heart memories of haunting Irish melodies as Mary sang her granddaughter to sleep.

Alice’s Irish heritage
Though Alice and all her siblings were Australian born her heritage was overwhelmingly Irish. Her father John Christopher Hickson (JCH) was the youngest of seven children born in County Kerry to Richard and Mary Hickson of Killorglin. By the time John Hickson was fifteen all but one of his siblings had left for Australia. Only his oldest brother William remained in Ireland, where he had married and started a family of his own. He was a whitesmith and lived in Sneem south west of Killorglin.

John’s mother died when he was about 15 and he found himself alone at home with his father. It would seem the two of them went then to live with William and his wife, Mary (Needham) and their two little children. But then in around 1865 William and Mary decided to migrate, not to Australia but to America, where most of Mary’s family had gone. Their ageing father, Richard, went with them. John found himself left alone in Ireland, seventeen years old.

The next five years of John Hickson’s life are obscure. What he did and who he knew and how he supported himself I have not been able to find out. All I really know for certain is that he arrived in Melbourne in 1870 on a ship called Caduceus. He had an older sister, Ellen, who was married and had settled in Melbourne and he may well have initially stayed with her. But the rest of his siblings lived in Sydney, and John soon decided that his future lay in New South Wales. Another sister, Kate, had married an Englishman named Hugh Breckenridge whose family were involved in the timber industry. Probably through those contacts John found work. Within two years he was married to Martha Watts and had started to make his mark as a timber merchant in a city where the building industry was in high gear.

William, however, who was the brother that John knew and loved best, was in America. How things were going for them there is uncertain, but John was sure it would be better for his brother and his young family if they came to Australia. Richard Hickson, their old father, had died and was buried in Boston. As far as John could see Australia offered more opportunities than America and he wanted William to come. There was room for William in the family business and John was able and willing sponsor them financially. By 1876 he had persuaded William and Mary to come with their seven children. They arrived in 1877, after a short sojourn back in Ireland.

Alice’s cousin Suzie Hickson
William and Mary arrived in Australia when Alice was only four. William, I believe, joined his younger brother’s timber business and he too appears to have done well out of it. William and Mary’s oldest daughter, Suzie, born in Ireland, raised in Boston, was 16 the year the family arrived and over the ensuing years alice came to love her dearly. Suzie, with all her knowledge of the wider world, was like a big sister to Alice.

In 1885, when Alice was 12, her cousin Suzie, who was by that time 23, married another Irish immigrant, a young man who had also come out from Kerry a few years before. His name was George Byrne and his family had been known to the Hicksons in Ireland. George and Suzie Byrne began to build a family. George had a background in merchandising and eventually became an executive in Australia’s biggest jam company, IXL.

Richard Byrne
Around 1892 George Byrne’s brother Richard, some ten years younger than him, also came out to Australia from Ireland. He almost certainly went to live with George and Suzie and their young family, and would soon have got to know Alice, Suzie’s young cousin. A romance ensued and it wasn’t long before it became clear that Richard and Alice were on the road toward matrimony.

This for some reason alarmed Alice’s father, and he expressly forbade the union. Alice was his first daughter and he appears to have had other plans for her. Richard had no money and an inauspicious background. There may have been bad feelings between there John and Richard’s parents back in Ireland, or it may have been simple class prejudice. Whatever is the truth, John would absolutely not allow a marriage between his daughter and this newcomer.

Richard (Dick) was though, by all reports, a lovely young man, with a cheerful and sunny personality. He captured Alice’s heart with his laughter and his smile. She was in love, and her father was worried. He came up with a plan to separate the young lovers – he would take his daughter away. She had always said she wanted to see Ireland, so her father proposed a trip to the old country. William’s wife Mary had a lot of relatives in the Boston area so he decided they should go via America, which John had until then, not seen.

John’s youngest son and Alice’s youngest brother, Richard, was newborn. It seems odd that John would leave his wife to care for the whole family and disappear off to the other end of the earth for six months. But that is exactly what happened. He was determined to prevent the proposal the he could see was coming, which he knew that Alice would almost certainly accept. So he booked a passage to America, and from there to Ireland. He planned to travel on to Scotland and England before returning to Australia via the Suez Canal later in the year.

Notes of Travel
John wrote about their experiences in a series of letters he sent to his second daughter, nineteen year old Edith, back in Sydney. After his return the letters were collected and published in book form, under the title, Notes of Travel, from Pacific to Atlantic. In the Preface the journey is introduced as follows:

The following Notes of Travel are the records of a hurried trip round the world taken during 1893 by myself and my eldest daughter… They were sent in the form of letters to my family while we were travelling, giving particulars of our journey, and the impressions made on us at the different places we visited… But my daughter Edith, to who they were addressed, handed them to the editor of our local weekly paper, “The Australian Courier,” where they appeared at intervals from June to December. J.C.Hickson, “The Grove,” Enfield, NSW, April 1894

“Hurried” is hardly how we would today describe a world journey that started in April and finished in October, but perhaps that is how John Hickson saw it, in a time when the pace of life was much slower. Another interpretation of the word, however, is that it was a trip taken in a hurry – without much planning or forethought. As John wondered how to deal with the prospect of a marriage between his daughter and someone he did not like, he suddenly came on the idea of a trip around the world with her. It was a highly unsuitable time, and I can imagine the response of his wife Martha when he suggested the idea. What are you thinking John? But her husband was a man of action and barely before they had talked about it the passage was booked and the tickets paid for. The next thing they knew they were on board.

The book that I have now in my hand is a fascinating account and gives some insight into John’s personality and interests. But what about the vibrant young lady who accompanied him, the twenty year old Alice Hickson? Amazingly, not once in the book does he mention his “eldest daughter’s” name, nor what was the purpose of their journey. In fact, there are only two references to Alice in the whole eighty pages, and in both she is referred to as “Miss Hickson” – a strangely formal way to write about his own daughter, especially considering he was writing home to family, where she was simply “Alice.”

The opening chapter describes the departure of the steamship Monowai from the Sydney docks en route to its first stop in New Zealand.

After the ladder was drawn in the passengers lined the wharf side of the vessel, speaking farewell words and taking a last look at the friends and loved ones who stood on points of vantage on the wharf; and as the good ship quietly crept from her berth into the stream, hundreds of goodbyes were exchanged, and until out of sight and hearing were continued by signs and waving of handkerchiefs. Some enthusiastic friend was noticed as the wharf vanished from sight, standing on a pile of timber frantically waving a handkerchief tied on the end of his stick.

I wondered as I read these words if that “enthusiastic friend” was the young handsome Irishman, Richard Byrne, who had so completely caught Alice’s heart. A picture comes to my mind of Alice – an attractive, fashionable young woman standing at the rail waving madly back with tears streaming down her face. What lay ahead? She knew that her father had decided they could never be married, and perhaps she had determined to try to focus on other things than Richard, but just at that moment the infatuation within her was a fire that she could not extinguish. He was still so close, so real. She wondered if she could ever lay aside the feelings she had for him.

He became smaller and smaller as the ship slipped further and further down the harbour, and then a headland came between them and he was gone from her sight. She turned and walked to the front of the ship, determined to look ahead and not back. There was a whole world to discover before her. She must try to be strong. She must try to forget. But the weeks at sea that lay ahead were not exactly full of distractions for the lovesick girl.

A few days out from Sydney, on the Southern Ocean between Australia and New Zealand, Alice is mentioned in a rather oblique way. John describes the various things happening on deck as people settle into the voyage.

There was for the steady quiet-going young people, deck quoits and shuffles, cards, chess and draughts tournaments; and for the livelier ladies and gentlemen, skipping, racing and jumping, there were potato races, wheelbarrow and sack races, tugs-of-war, sweeps instituted on the number if miles run in the 24 hours and any and everything to fill in the tedious hours and drive dull care away. Burwood (John’s home suburb in Sydney) was not badly represented there, and some of the prizes were pulled off by a Burwood young lady (Miss Hickson) and a well known athletic young gentleman (Mr Lambton).

It would seem from this that 20-year old Alice was one of the “livelier ladies” and one gets the feeling that Mr Lambton was the kind of “young gentleman” that John Hickson approved of, and the kind of distraction that he thought Alice needed. John writes a little more of Mr Lambton, who tragically died in America shortly after their arrival, dashing any hopes John might have had for him and Alice. Miss Hickson herself gets no more description.

The next, and only other time Alice is mentioned in the book is when the father and daughter are in the middle of the Atlantic, bound for Ireland and England. From San Francisco they have travelled by train across the great North American continent and in New York they have boarded the Germanic, a ship of the White Star line. According to John it has been a “very pleasant” crossing, but something about Alice’s demeanour seems to have been disturbing him. To his delight he finds in his cabin mate a person to whom he can unburden his soul. He is an Englishman returning home, and though apparently a diplomat, appears have a caring heart and a mind for verse.


The White Star line Germanic, from Wikipedia

We had a curious combination of passengers: admirals, counts, knights, actresses, and all sorts and conditions of men. My cabin mate happened to be a brother of Mr Rider Haggard, the novelist (who wrote King Solomon’s Mines), a very nice fellow and also gifted. He had been on diplomatic business at Panama for the British Government and was returning to his home in Dorsetshire. We had a very cordial invitation to visit him at his home and also at the Atheneum Club in London, both of which we were compelled to decline. During the passage he composed the following ditty for Miss Hickson, as a souvenir of the voyage on the Germanic…

John’s interest seems to be more in Mr Alfred Haggard and his well known author-brother than in his daughter. It is not the first time he has dropped names in his writings, having also mentioned RL Stevenson’s house which they had seen in Samoa. But Alfred seems far more interested and concerned for young Alice, and the poem that he penned gives more insight into the young lady and what she was going through than anything her father wrote. One wonders how distant the relationship between John and his daughter had become.

A homesick Australian lady
Haggard’s poem is entitled To an Australian Lady, a rather formal title considering that Alice was barely more than a girl. Alfred was a similar age to her father and seems to have taken a paternal interest in her. But he addressed her not as a girl, but as a “lady.”

I can imagine John and Alfred sitting together in their cabin in the evenings, talking about John’s downcast daughter. Alfred thinks he will write a poem to cheer her up. John thinks maybe it will help. He includes it in his letters home, perhaps because it is the only way he knows how to inform the family about what was happening for Alice, the pain she was going through. John knew that he was the cause of it. Perhaps Alice had written too, to her sisters or her mother if not to the whole family, but any letters she may have written have not been preserved to my knowledge. Had she been writing to Richard, or was she busy trying to repress the happy memories she had of him?

The opening verses of the poem are surely a reflection on the conversations Alfred had had with Alice, on the promenade decks and lounges of the Germanic. By this time they are three months out from Sydney, but she can think of nothing but home:

What? Does your heart sink
As onward you roam,
Thinking of dear ones
Staying at home?
Do you muse on your mother,
Far, far away,
Or sister or brother? Of children at play?

From the wide-spreading circles
Of this great ocean,
Where the grey clouds seem steady,
The waves are in motion,
Your thoughts fly, I fancy,
To shores far away,
To sun-shiny Sydney,
With deep-dented bay.

There the house is so busy
With life and with love,
Fair earth is around you-
Blue heaven above;
Girl friends come to cheer you,
And music and song
Raise your spirits and make, thus,
The days dance along.

Yes, truly all dull are
The days of the North.
If loved ones are absent
Then nothing has worth.
No wonder we languish,
If friends be not nigh.
Dark with night seems the ocean,
Dark with night is the sky.

After this expression of understanding and empathy Alfred tries to redirect Alice’s mind from the past and home to the days that lie ahead with all the new things that they will contain.

But be brave dearest maiden,
Remote is the strand
That with summer is golden;
Yet near is the land
Your fathers once trod on,
Near the boisterous seas,
When bravely they sallied
For antipodes

Mother England shall soon
Appear through the mist.
Her daughter returning,
By her breezes when kissed,
Shall quickly recover
Her hope and her strength;
And peaceful dwell there,
Resting at length.

This parent of nations
Her daughter will greet;
To you may her welcomes
Be tender and sweet.
And happy may time be
You pass thus “at home”
Ere you speed blithely back
Again on the foam.

Its interesting that he attempts to redefine Alice’s understanding of herself from a tanned young girl of the colonies to a returning daughter of Mother England. Did this make sense to Alice? How could he say she was returning to Mother England, a land she had never seen? Was he really expressing his own longing for the old country? Did he really think that he could comfort her with such words? And did he not realise that Alice and her father’s destination was Ireland before England, and if she had any “home” on this side of the world it was the “Emerald Isle” rather than old England. Yet he clearly sees England as the “parent of nations,” and believes that Alice will feel, when she arrives there that she has finally come home, and that there she will find rest for her soul, revival and refreshment. He continues:

And thus sanctified
By the kiss of her mouth,
Some love of the North
You shall take to the south.
You shall girdle the earth
With the steps of your feet.
And complete the great chain
As your loved ones you greet.

In your bright-gleaming home
In the Antipodes,
Your thoughts rarely dwell
On the toils of the seas;
Yet sometimes perusing
These lines that I write
When the afternoon’s hot,
Or silent the night,

Far removed from the crowd
And the heat and the panic,
You’ll admit you were bored
Upon the “Germanic.”
The men were all dull!
The women seemed frumps,
Your cabin was hot, you
Were deep in the dumps!

But one who was there
Bade you cheer up, be glad;
If the past seemed so happy,
The present so sad-
The future was rich
With joy and with blessing.
For least we enjoy
What we now are possessing.

Perchance this dull time
These grey lonely seas,
Later bring to your mind
Dear memories-
In your home and at rest
In a distant December
What now gives distress
You will gladly remember.

These words are his advice to Alice: forget the past, focus on now, the blessings of the days ahead. Make the most of the present and it will ease the pain of what has been left behind.

Alice was on a ship out in the middle of the Atlantic. She was sad and lonely. She thought back to everyone back home and wondered what they were doing. They seemed so far away. Could the future really be as rich as this man was saying?

Two days after he gave this little poem to Alice, they arrived at Queenstown, a port on the south coast of Ireland near Cork. Queenstown is called Cobh nowadays. It was here that John Hickson and his daughter disembarked before travelling over the hills to Kerry, the land of John’s birth. Could Alice find anything of herself in this place?

Queenstown-Old-Postcard 1900

A postcard from the Wikipedia article on Cobh (Queenstown)

Alice Hickson 1872-1962?

Who was Alice Hickson?
Alice Hickson was Dad’s grandmother. She was born in 1872 in Waterloo, in the inner suburbs of Sydney. She married William Ross in 1895 and they had five daughters, one of whom was my grandmother, Winifred Ross, Dad’s mother. Although Dad was hardly aware of it when he was a child, his mother told him later her parents’ marriage had not been an easy one. William was a good deal older than Alice, having been born in 1861 in England. His parents had come out to Australia as unassisted migrants in 1866. Gran told Dad that her mother had given her father a hard time. I’m not sure what that means.

William Ross died in 1939 when Dad was 6 years old. Five years after her husband died, Alice, by then over seventy, remarried. She was married to her second husband barely two years when he died, in 1946. Alice outlived her second husband by some 15 years, dying I believe when she was around 90 (though I have not been able to find a document with the date of her death). She never married again. I have wondered what is the story behind these two marriages, the first for forty four years, the second for two. Was Alice equally as hard on her second husband as her first? Or had she matured enough by her seventies to treat her second husband better? Who was this man she married when they were both in their seventies? What brought them together?

Who was this Alice Hickson, my great grandmother? What was her story? What kind of person was she? I am starting to piece together a picture of her, but there are still many blanks.

Alice’s parents and siblings
Martha Hickson, Alice’s mother, was Australian born to an English father, William Watts, and an Irish mother, Mary Magenity. Both of Martha’s parents were convicts. They had married in Australia in 1839, while Mary was still serving time, and had 11 children. Martha was their sixth child, born in 1848. Around 1870, when Martha was 22, a young Irishman, recently arrived in Sydney, came to lodge with the Watts family. His name was John Hickson and less than two years later he and Martha were married, in Balmain. Alice, their first born, arrived at the end of that same year, 1872.

John became a successful timber merchant and real estate developer in Sydney. According to Anthony Hickson (who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Hicksons, much of which can be found on his website), John “worked with George Hudson when he first came to Sydney, but soon (perhaps through contact with the Breckenridges, who had timber interests at Forster and that north coast area) had his own timber mill at Nabiac NSW, and on Darling Harbour, Sydney, and later a timber yard at Burwood.” By the time he was forty-five he had amassed enough of a fortune to effectively retire and live on his investments. These “independent means” appear to have supported him for the next fifty years. He and Martha had eleven children, though one of them died in childhood. They lived in Enfield, in Sydney’s inner west, just south of Strathfield, in a house called The Grove, after John’s ancestral seat in County Kerry, Ireland.

The 11 Hickson children were as follows: Alice (1872-1962?), Edith (1874-1957), George (1876-1948), Mabel (1877-1953), Maud (1879-1883), Herbert (1881-1930), Enfield (1883-1964), Percy (1885-1967), Eunice (1888-1973), Hilda (1890-1970), and Richard (1893-1965). These were my grandmother’s aunts and uncles on her mother’s side. There were many more on her father’s side, but that is another story. There are, understandably, many Hickson descendants though I have not met any of them.

1893 was a significant year in the Hickson family. John Hickson turned forty five, and the last of the eleven Hickson children was born. It would seem that in a sense both John and his wife Martha retired that year – John from his work as a timber merchant, and Martha from childbearing. Alice, their firstborn, turned 21 that year. She also fell in love with an Irish migrant, Richard (Dick) Byrne, who had recently arrived from the very same area as her father had come some twenty three years earlier. Dick’s older brother, George Byrne, who had come out to Australia 10 years earlier, was married to Alice’s cousin, Suzie (Hickson) Byrne, so it is not hard to imagine how they met.

Dick and Alice wanted to marry, but Alice’s father was strongly opposed to their union. Exactly why is hard to know. John could not have known Dick before he left Ireland since Dick was born the same year that John sailed away. However, it is fairly certain that John knew Dick’s parents back in Ireland, and it seems sure that he did not approve of them. I suspect it was simply a matter of class. Dick’s parents were ordinary people, and it would seem that John looked down on them. He wanted someone better for his daughter Alice. Even if his own wife was of convict stock, John looked back on a more distinguished Irish ancestry, and he wanted the best for Alice. Dick Byrne, as far he was concerned, was simply not good enough.

His solution was to separate the young lovers. He proposed a world trip, to the World Fair in Chicago, and then to the old country. He took Alice with him, but left the rest of the family at home, including his wife and their newly born son. I imagine Alice had mixed feelings about this. To travel around the world must have seemed an exciting adventure. But to leave her suitor behind, knowing that her father was determined to separate them, must have seemed cruel.

They were away for six months, from April to October, 1893. It would seem John’s strategy worked, because a year and a half after their return Alice did marry, not Dick Byrne but William Ross, my great grandfather.

Alice Ross
William was eleven years older than Alice, and a successful accountant. They had five daughters, one of which was my grandmother, Winifred Ross, born in 1901. They moved to Mosman in the early 1900s where they lived at 75 Raglan Street. They were married forty four years when William died in 1939. After William died Alice went to live with her daughter Ethel (Ep), in Northbridge, next door to my father, who was a little boy then. Alice Ross was around 67 at the time. Dad remembers her from his childhood.

Dick Byrne
So what happened to the young Irishman who Alice had been so in love with? In 1895, shortly after Alice’s marriage to William, Dick also married. He had met a young lady called Victoria Gray, the daughter of a couple both originally from Northern Ireland, but who had married in Wollongong and lived on the south coast of NSW. Victoria was born in Kiama, but when she and Dick married they settled in Drummoyne, not too far from William and Alice Ross, who lived in Burwood in Sydney’s inner west before they moved to Mosman. Dick and Victoria had a long and happy marriage and had seven children. Victoria died in 1941 leaving Dick a widow.

Alice Byrne
The flame between Alice and Dick had apparently never been extinguished. In 1944 Alice and Dick, both in their seventies, were finally united. Alice’s father, John Hickson, was still alive, by that time married for the third time, Alice’s mother having died in 1911. John was still opposed to his daughter’s union with Dick Byrne and it is said that he never forgave her. He died the following year, in 1945, just before the end of the war. Dick died in July 1946, leaving Alice a widow for the second time. They had been together barely two years.

Alone with her memories
Exactly when Alice died I have been unable to ascertain, but the electoral roll for 1958 shows her to have been living again in Mosman at the family residence, 75 Raglan Street. One public family tree on indicates that she died in 1962, but my father is uncertain of this date, and I have not found any documentary source to verify it.

However, I have come across a passenger list of arrivals in Australia in July 1949 which clearly states that Alice Byrne, of 75 Raglan Street, Mosman arrived in Fremantle from London. It would seem, then, that Alice returned to the old country in her old age a few years after Dick died. Where she went and what she did is uncertain. Did she visit Ireland again, where she had been so many years before? Did she meet relatives of her late husband still living there? What did she think as she walked the streets of Killorglin, where her father was born, and Killarney, where her second husband grew up?

Or did she go to Scotland, which she had also visited as a 21 year old with her father? Her first father-in-law, James Ross, came from the Highlands, north of Inverness, and perhaps she was curious to explore that part of her heritage. She had not been to the Highlands with her father, their journey having been limited to Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the country they saw from the train between the two cities.

Alice Hickson-Ross-Byrne was 77 when she returned to Australia in the winter of 1949. She lived out her days in Mosman within calling distance of four of her daughters who all lived in Sydney. One of her daughters had moved to Melbourne. My father remembers seeing his grandmother Alice from time to time.

My parents’ Hickson connection
When Dad married Mum in 1958, Alice was a grand old lady of Mosman. Although Dad seemed to have been unaware of it at the time, the girl he married, my mother Gwen Simmonds, was the granddaughter of Alice’s cousin, Susie Hickson (Byrne).

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