Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “Sydney”

John Christopher Hickson (1848-1945)

Donald Robinson, a former Archbishop of Sydney, writes (around 1960):

The Hicksons were an old Protestant family whose Hickson forebears had crossed to Ireland from England in the time of Cromwell. Their ancestral seat was “The Grove” at Dingle, 30 miles or more west of Tralee in county Kerry, and a few miles from the western extremity of Ireland.

Don Robinson and Dad (who are cousins) are great grandsons of John Hickson (1848-1945), the youngest son of Richard and Mary Hickson, who lived in the early 1800s in Country Kerry. Don has written a fascinating account of John Hickson, which I will quote in full below. Two other brothers, William and George, as well as a sister, Kate, are mentioned by name in this account, since they all migrated to Australia, though William first migrated to America and later to Australia. William, who was 15 years older than John, is of equal interest to me because Mum was descended from him. Mum and Dad are therefore distantly related to each other, though they had no idea of this at the time they married.

Don’s account of John Christopher Hickson (slightly edited) is as follows:

JCH was born on the 2 September 1848 and bred in the small town called Killorglin, on the Laune River as it flows from the Killarney Lakes to the sea. Some part of his boyhood was spent in the picturesque village of Sneem, on the wild rocky coast Kerry, where he had Needham relatives. He was the youngest of a large family, which dispersed to various parts of the world. His mother, Mary Ann (nee Carter), and some of his brothers and sisters died in Killorglin, but his father Richard, a shopkeeper, went with his elder brother William to America, Richard lies buried in North Cemetery at Providence, near Boston.

JCH came to Australia alone (a doctor advised a warm climate for his weak chest) and went to work for George Hudson the timber merchant. Impatient of his slow progress, he began his own timber business, and soon owned his own mills at Nabiac on the Walamba River, and a yard at Darling Harbour, at the foot of Liverpool Street. He was always an enthusiast for the possibilities of Australia, and he persuaded his brother William to come here from America, and another brother George from Ireland, who married Agnes Harper in St. Phillip’s on 9 November 1870. His sister Kate also settled here, and married Hugh Breckenridge, an artist. A daughter of Robert Breckenridge, Hugh’s brother, subsequently owned “The Grange” at Mount Victoria, formerly owned by the Schleichers, and today by the C.S.S.M.

JCH was a member of the first Sydney Regiment when it was formed in the 1860’s. On 25 January 1872, he married Martha Watts who had been born in Balmain N.S.W. on the 20th June 1848, to William Watts, farmer and Mary nee (Mountgarret), then living in Balmain. The marriage was at St. Luke’s Sussex St., Sydney (now demolished) By Rev. Thomas Unwin. They had eleven children: Alice (Mrs. Ross), Edith (Mrs. Layton), George, Mabel (Mrs. Robinson), Maud, Aubrey, Stanley, Percy, Eunice, Hilda (Mrs. Doyle) and Roland. Maud died as a child. My grandmother Alice, was the eldest of the family. She was born on 10 November 1872, at Botany Road, Waterloo.

The Hickson home was later in Cleveland Street facing Albert Park, and is perhaps still standing. But while Alice was still a girl, JCH moved to Summer Hill at which time my grandmother attended the first service in the new St Andrew’s Church on 5 September 1885, when the Rector John Vaughan preached on the text “Come and See”. In the 1880’s JCH moved again to a house called “The Grove” in Liverpool St. Enfield, and I still have the use of a Latin dictionary which bears Alice’s name, with “High School Sydney, 1886” inscribed. The Hicksons were associated with St. Thomas’s Church at Enfield, where Alice was prepared for confirmation by Rev. E. S. Wilkinson, and where she was later married by him on the 24th, August, 1896, the first couple married in the renovated St. Thomas’s Church.

In 1893 JCH made a trip around the world, including a visit to the World Fair at Chicago and pilgrimage to his old family haunts in Ireland. He had friends and relatives (many from Kerry like himself) in a number of places both in America and the British Isles; one such was the Rev. B Needham, a relative, minister of the Baptist Church in Coatesville, near Philadelphia; and a friend of boyhood days, who showed many kindnesses in London, was the chief inspector at Scotland Yard, Mr. Melville. JCH took my grandmother (Alice, then aged 21) with him on this trip, partly, it is said, to prevent a romance with Richard Byrne (who had been born in Killarney, Ireland, and whose family was well known to the Hicksons.) She seems to have had a gay time on the trip. JCH published an account of his journey under the title “Notes of Travel, From Pacific to Atlantic’, with description of the World fair at Chicago, and travels by sea and land around the world. It was printed at Parramatta by Fuller’s Lighting Printing Works Company, and ran to about 80 octavo pages. Much of the information of his early years has been obtained from this, and it contains some interesting material, including the fact they went to hear D.L. Moody preach a number of times in Chicago, and on one occasion JCH pushed through the throng to speak to and shake the hand of the great evangelist.

On 24 August 1895, shortly after their return, Alice married my grandfather, William Frederick Ross, of Heydon St., Enfield.

JCH continued to prosper, and at this time owned a timber yard near Burwood station in Railway Parade, where the Metropolitan Funeral Home now stands. He bought a holiday home on the southern highlands at Balmoral – ‘Glen Gariffe’, (named after a town in Ireland), where my mother spent many holidays as a girl. When he was only 46, at the time of his trip abroad, he had retired from active work, and about 1906 he moved from Enfield to Manly, where he bought a large house, ‘Kyamba’ (still standing 1960), in Addison Road, and lived on the income from his various properties.

In 1911 he went to England again, for the coronation of George V, with his wife. On the return journey Martha caught cholera at Naples, and was buried in the Mediterranean Sea on the 18th July 1911. Four months after his arrival home, JCH married again, to Miss Alice Elizabeth Hammett, who had been on the ship (coming out to marry someone in Western Australia) and had nursed Martha Hickson, on the voyage.

JCH became a churchwarden and treasurer at St. Matthew’s Manly, and when the new church was built he was the clerk of works. He fell out with the Rector, the Rev. A.R. Ebbs, over matters of financial policy.

When Alice Elizabeth died, JCH, now 77, went to England again and returned with a third bride, Isabel Hewitt Parkinson who survived him. He placed a fine brass Lectern in St. Matthew’s in memory of Alice Elizabeth. His later years were spent in a flat at number 9 Victoria Parade, Manly, where he died in 1945 at the age of 97. He had hoped to live to be 100, to see his descendants to the fourth generation, and to see the end of the war. But none of these hopes was fulfilled. He paid my university fees in 1941, and offered to do so for the rest of my course, but the war interrupted my studies. He left 100 pounds to each of his great grandsons. He retained his faculties to the end of his life, and enjoyed conversations with S.M. Johnstone and T. C. Hammond, both Irishmen like himself.

He never forgave my grandmother for her second marriage, when she was 70, to Dick Byrne.

When he first married and lived in Redfern, JCH was friendly with Nathaniel Taubman, my wife’s grandfather with whom he used to walk to work in Waterloo.

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German immigrants in Sydney: 1855-1886

Gottfried and Viktoria Fischer arrived in Australia in March 1855. Both were 33 years old. They had three children, Caroline (8), Charles (5) and William (1). Their fourth child, Heironimys, aged 4, had died of cholera on the voyage out. Five months after they arrived Joseph was born, in August 1855. In 1860, five years after their arrival, Michael Frederick was born. So from this it seems clear that the Fischer family lived at least for the first five years in Sydney, and the birth certificates of the two boys indicate that the family lived in Kent Street, on the Darling Harbour side of the city centre. They had come out on the Vinedressers Bounty Scheme, but there is no indication that Gottfried worked as a vinedresser or indeed in any agricultural employment. Documents from later in his life suggest he was a carpenter and cabinet maker, and since German craftsman were highly sought after at that time he was likely to have found employment readily in the city.

In 1863 the family appears to have been living in Forbes. Two events happened in that year that indicate their presence there. The first was the death of Joseph, the first of their Australian born sons, who died on 12 March 1863, aged 7, of typhoid fever. The second was the birth, four months later, of Martin, the last of Victoria’s children. It was as if history had repeated itself. Victoria was pregnant with Joseph when Heironimys died in 1854. She was pregnant with Martin when Joseph died in 1863. Martin, however, survived to adulthood.

Why the family was in Forbes and how long they remained there is uncertain. The next recorded major event in the life of this German immigrant family was the marriage of the only girl, Caroline, in 1868, to John Holdorf. They married at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney (which was temporarily housed in a wooden structure after the first cathedral burnt down in 1865), which would suggest that they had moved back to the city. It also indicates that the Fisher family was Catholic, which is in keeping with their origins in Bavaria (Viktoria) and Hesse (Gottfried). John Holdorf was from northern “Germany”, from the duchy of Holstein, and was Lutheran.

The anglicisation of the family can be seen in the changing of the spelling of their respective names. Viktoria became Victoria. Fischer became Fisher. Johann Holtorf became John Holdorf. Michael and Martin, the Australian born boys, certainly sound more English than German, though even the older children had quite English names (Caroline, Charles and William). Heironimys was perhaps the most German sounding of the children’s names, but he had perished at sea. Had he made it to Australia I can imagine that he too would have adopted an English name.

Gottfried and Victoria lived out the remainder of their days together in Sydney, in the inner eastern suburbs, what is now known as Darlinghurst, but which has previously been regarded as part of Woolloomooloo. They raised their daughter and their four boys in town. Gottfried was a carpenter and a cabinet maker and it would appear that Charles Benedict learnt the same trade. Charles married a girl called Emily and they had a family. Caroline and John moved to Goulburn shortly after their marriage and built a life there, raising a large family. What became of William and Michael I am unsure of at this time. Martin, however, the youngest of the Fishers (born 1863), married Louisa Stallwood and they lived in Paddington. The exploits of two of their sons, Fred and Les, in WW1, have been well documented by Pauline Cass on her blog. The Fishers and their descendants were a Sydney family.

In 1877 Charles was renting a house at 202 Palmer Street, Darlinghurst, the owners of which were registered as Fisher and Usher, presumably his father Gottfried and a business partner. Gottfried had been in Australia for 22 years by this stage and had clearly built a business and a name for himself. The building was demolished and rebuilt by Gottfried and his son Charles Benedict, and appears to have been owned by Charles until his death in 1926 when he left it to the Presbyterian church. The same building passed into the hands of the Department of Main Roads in 1969 and thereafter was used as emergency housing by the department of housing.

As for Gottfried and Victoria, they lived in Darlinghurst, at 259 Bourke Street, (behind the present day school, SCEGGS, Darlinghurst, which did not exist in Gottfried and Victoria’s day) until Victoria died in 1886 at the age of 64. Gottfried lost his life partner whom he had met so many years before in Augsburg, Bavaria and with whom he had crossed the world to start a new life in the New World. It was surely a hard time for him. He seems to have retired, packed up his life and moved to Goulburn where he lived for the remainder of his life with Caroline and John and their huge family. He died 10 years later in 1896, 74 years of age.

See also:

Transcript of Victoria’s funeral notice:
The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 3 April 1886
THE FRIENDS of Mr. GOTTFRIED FISCHER are respectfully invited to attend the Funeral of his deceased beloved WIFE. Victoria ; to move from her late residence, No.259, Bourke Street, Woolloomooloo, this Saturday afternoon, at quarter before 2 o’clock, for the Necropolis. PKIRBY, Undertaker.
http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/28356280?searchTerm=gottfried%20fischer&searchLimits=

Transcript of Martin’s marriage notice
SMH Thursday 28 April 1887
FISCHER-STALLWOOD.-April 20, 1887, at St. James Church,by the Rev H I Jackson, Martin, youngest son of Gottfried Fischer of Bourke Street, to Gertrude Louisa Stallwood, second eldest daughter of Reuben Stallwood, of Glebe Point, Sydney.
http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/13657798?searchTerm=gottfried%20fischer&searchLimits=

St Mary’s Cathedral:
http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/st_marys_cathedral

Arriving in Sydney 1855

The Fischer family, migrants from Germany, arrived in Sydney on board the sailing ship Caesar in March 1855. It was a different sort of arrival to ours in Sydney Harbour in 1973, having sailed on the Ellinis from Southampton. We had been at sea for four and a half weeks, but they had left Hamburg some four months previously. We had been buffeted by high winds and huge waves across the Roaring Forties, but the passengers of the Caesar, including the Fischer family, had been decimated by disease off the west African coast with over 60 dead from cholera. We sailed up a harbour lined with luxury residences, past the spectacular Opera House and under the iconic Harbour Bridge, landmarks that have become symbols of Australia over the last 50 years, but in 1855 none of this was there to wow the Fischer family. We were returning home, but for the German speaking Fischers a strange new land lay before them with a new language to contend with.

Despite all this it was a relief to arrive finally at this longed for destination. The stop at Twofold Bay on the south coast was the first taste of Australia, their first sight of Australian beaches and the bush clad hinterland. Sydney, a raw young British colony barely 67 years old, and infamous for its convict roots, was the place that they would call home. It is hard to imagine what thoughts went through the minds of Gottfried and Viktoria Fischer and their three children, as they leaned on the railing of the sailing ship and stared out at what was to be their new home. However, Dr Middendorf’s recollections give some idea of what they saw:

On the morning of Monday the 26th (March) we saw the lighthouses and pyramids of Port Jackson. Towards midday we were in the entry between the cliffs – “the heads” – which form the entrance. Shortly after, the pilot came without coming on board, only giving the direction to cast anchor. We couldn’t see the town from there. We remained there a couple of hours and saw several ships going in and out. Many boats came alongside, making offers to the Captain in regard to provisioning, and the indefatigable newspaper reporters also put in an appearance.

Then came the inspecting doctor. He was more reasonable than his colleague in Twofold Bay. His main question was whether everything had been washed. After this was answered in the affirmative, he let us go. A steamer that had taken a ship out to sea towed us in. In the dusk we moved through the harbour, which has very many inlets. It is like an inland sea, the water is so calm; the rush of waves is restrained by the projecting rocks. The banks are occupied by villas, as by a river. At half past seven in the evening the anchor dropped and the lights of the town gleamed across to us.

Sydney Heads around 1850 (dictionaryofsydney.org)

Sydney Heads around 1850 (dictionaryofsydney.org)

The family, with the other immigrants, disembarked and collected the few possessions they had taken with them and with which they would start their new life. Rural Germany seemed very distant, very foreign, in the glare of the southern sun. They had come out on the German Vinedressers Scheme and there was an agent to meet them and to assist them in finding a place to stay in those first confusing days. Although I have no record of the Fischers’ first impressions of Sydney, the doctor’s description gives some clues as to their experience. He begins his recollections by relating how glad he was to be rid of the passengers:

Since the passengers went, which happened at long last a few days ago, one feels like a new man. The ship is clean and the only reminder of our cargo consists of a host of fleas and bugs that have united themselves against us like the French and the English against the Russians. Add another small contingent of lice, and with that the Turks have to be content.

I must say that I feel more sympathy for the migrants who had to endure the fleas and lice and other bugs, than I do for the doctor who only had to put up with the passengers from the comfort of his own cabin. I suspect that the irritation that young Middendorf felt toward the passengers came mainly from the daily reminder of his medical impotence in the face of a cholera epidemic at sea. He was glad to be rid of them, to be free of the sad, or in some cases accusing stares of the many bereaved and grieving families. But they were the ones who had suffered: Dr Middendorf’s struggles seem trivial by comparison. He is unimpressed by Sydney, and I wonder how much of that was from memories of a tough voyage which he would rather leave behind. His only concession to Sydney is the climate, which he has to admit, is pleasant.

It is a town like other large towns, of considerable dimensions. The main part lies on a narrow hilly tongue of land that stretches out into the harbour; around this lie the ships… Convivial life does not exist here. Nobody wants to do anything but make money. People go to the public houses not to have a pleasant time, but only to drink, or rather get drunk. On Saturday evening half of Sydney is drunk, though that is supposed to be also the case in other English places. There are no beautiful surroundings here. Everything around the town is sand. I took a walk to Botany Bay; the land is worse than round Berlin. There is supposed to be more fertility up in Parramatta; I haven’t been there as yet…

There is something good here, it seems to me, and that is the climate. The whole time we have had weather like our lovely summer days, except for the period when rain fell; the air is always clean and warm. Since we’ve been here we’ve seen three English immigrant ships and one American arrive; two were here when we came. As a worker I would not emigrate to Australia, i.e. go there in order to stay there. The country may be good for earning money, but not for living in…

Ernst Middendorf, it seems, had entertained the possibility of remaining in Australia but these first impressions made him decide otherwise. He sailed away with the Caesar and never returned to Australia, though he did make a name for himself elsewhere in the world. The Fischer family, on the other hand, made Sydney their home. They had come out with the Vinedressers Scheme, but whether Gottfried had any experience or knowledge of wine growing is quite uncertain. It would seem that a significant proportion of the migrants who took advantage of this scheme were city dwellers and had no competence in viticulture (there is a discussion of the scheme in Jürgen Tampke’s book, The Germans in Australia, p.78, available online on Google Books).

According to other records the family settled, at least initially, in the city. They lived in Kent Street,  which today is in the city centre. Viktoria was pregnant when they arrived and 5 months later in August had another son, Joseph. Three more Australian sons would follow. Caroline, my grandfather’s grandmother, remained the only daughter in a family of boys. Some time after settling in Sydney the Fishers (they changed the spelling of their name) relocated to Forbes for reasons which are at present unknown to me. But they returned to Sydney eventually and Gottfried worked as a carpenter until Viktoria died in 1886 when he moved to Goulburn where he lived with his daughter Caroline and her husband John Holdorf (Johann Holtorf). Gottfried died in 1896 after 41 years in his new homeland. Neither he nor Viktoria ever saw Germany again.

Cholera deaths on the Caesar. 1854.

The Sydney Morning Herald of Tuesday 27 March 1855 carried the final death toll for the emigrant ship Caesar, from Hamburg. A scan of the original can be seen online here.

Mar 26 – ….The Caesar has had a long passage of 116 days from Hamburg to this port.  She has on board 184 German immigrants, who are all in good health.  About 11 days after leaving Hamburg the cholera broke out on board this vessel, and carried off 66 persons, the greater portion of who were children.  There were no fresh cases after crossing the Equator. Four births have occurred during the passage (one still-born).  The immigrants are principally vine dressers and farm labourers.  The Caesar put into Twofold Bay on 10th instant, landed 63 of her passengers, and sailed from this port on the 24th instant.

Another website gives a list of crew on board the ship on her arrival in Sydney; they numbered 14 including the captain. There was also the good doctor, Ernst Middendorf. So on arrival there were 199 people on the Caesar. Three of these were babies born on the voyage. At departure from Hamburg there were 261. 66 of the 261 had died en route, a fatality rate of a little over 25%.

The MSF figures quoted in my last blog entry indicated that 5% of infected persons get severe disease, 20% of people mild to moderate diarrhoea, while the other 75% have few symptoms. The death rate on the Caesar would indicate that everyone who developed even mild to moderate symptoms died, and this may be a reflection of the generally weakened state of the people on board when the epidemic hit. The 75% who did not die were almost certainly infected too, but never developed any clinical illness.

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