Eloquence at the Eisteddfod

     “Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
     But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

     A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
     Over the face of the leader came;

     The nobler nature within him stirred
     To life at that woman’s deed and word;

     “Who touches a hair of yon gray head
     Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.


            Barbara Frietchie
            by John Greenleaf Whittier

The voice of my grandmother fills my head, accompanied by visions of ‘soldier’ children marching around the kitchen table, broomsticks over their shoulders.

I’m not sure if this is an actual memory of my older brothers wielding the broomsticks, or if it is the memory of a story told. The story would have been of earlier times and the children, my Dad, my uncles, and their cousin.

Olive Willis 1896-1970

No matter which is true, it is still Nanna, Olive Willis, that I see. Her thin frame is rock-steady, and her strong, determined voice declares “Dies like a dog! March on!”, followed by the barely-whispered “he said.”
And it was Nanna who was Barbara Frietchie, the one who dared to stand at her window in the Maryland town of Frederick and wave the Union flag at ‘Stonewall’ Jackson and his Confederate troops.

Olive Willis Elocution Medals – the one on the right has B E for Boulder Eisteddfod
Olive Willis Elocution Medal detail
B.U.F.S. Elocution Competition
Olive Willis – BUFS (Boulder United Friendly Societies) Carnival 1908

Olive Ann Willis was born 17th March—St Paddy’s Day—1896. It was as a young teen in the town of Boulder, on the goldfields of Western Australia, that her talent as an elocutionist came to the fore. She won several gold medals for her efforts in Recitation at the Boulder eisteddfods and competitions.

Olive Willis – Boulder Eisteddfod 1910

You can read the whole poem of Barbra Frietchie here. There has been much debate whether Barbara Frietchie did actually do what Whittier wrote about – perhaps a blog post for one of her descendants.

I have more to add to this story. I was contacted by Olive’s niece who shared some more stories with me. Olly (as she was known) taught her sister Dulcie, 12 years her junior, some elocution.

Dulcie also won prizes at the eisteddfod. One time, Dulcie won 1st prize at a Christmas fete (fair) for her recitation of “Little Orphan Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley. Afterwards, she found her father at one of the local hotels. He was so pleased with the win, he lifted Dulcie up onto the bar, where she marched up and down the length of it while reciting the poem.

Christmas fete at Boulder 1912

Advertising (1908, April 8). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article96578106
The Boulder Eisteddfod. (1910, May 31). Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), p. 12. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33366858
The Boulder Eisteddfod. (1910, May 31). Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA :1896 – 1916), p. 14. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33366923

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Olive Ann Willis (1896-1970)
Parents: John Joseph Willis (1869-1926) and Emmeline Dulcinea Ann Grenfell (1874-1956) 
Spouse: Walter Henry Bennett (1896-1934)
Spouse’s Parents: James Bennett (1872-1914) and Isabella Purcell (1875-1936)
Surnames: Willis, Grenfell, Bennett, Purcell
Relationship to Shelley: Olive is Shelley’s grandmother

  1. Olive Ann Willis () (1896-1970)
  2. Father
  3. Shelley

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The Crossing

Bob heard the roar of the water well before he saw it. Was this yet another barrier between his sick father and the Cooktown Hospital? Then, as Bob and the others approached the banks of the Laura River, the heavens opened. The men carried Jim the last few yards through a terrific downpour. He was lying on the stretcher Bob had found at the old, deserted hospital at Maytown.  As if the rain wasn’t enough to dampen Bob’s spirits, his heart sank when his eyes confirmed what he’d heard. Sweet, gentle Laura, usually so quiet and placid, was filled with flooding water and awakened. Animated, she became an angry she-devil, gathering small trees and bushes in her arms to bring them along for the ride. How would she treat Jim when it was his turn on the water? 

Continue reading
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Time to Shift up a Gear

I was busy in 2018, writing on my 52 Ancestors Blog. But now I’ll be giving that a break and have returned to move along again on this blog. I hope you’ll join me to share in some of the stories of my children’s ancestors, which will include:

  • another shooting death in the family. See the first one I wrote about
  • stories of the Palmer River Goldfields in North Queensland
  • what happens to a convict’s family left behind in England
  • a mining family that turns to farming and then back to mining
  • more on the Irish Barretts and maybe the Irish Bennetts as well
  • stories of a sea captain, a musician, a city mayor, a yeoman and a convict
  • a tragic mining accident
  • a hidden cemetery
  • gold medals for elocution
  • Cape York Peninsula pioneering
  • watermen in England and watermen in Australia

Here is a link to my first story for 2019 to mark my 3-year blogiversary.

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Signals at Sea

This  carries on from a previous blog post – Crossing the Line

The visit from King Neptune was a welcome interruption to the routine of the previous four weeks for those aboard the William Money. Richard and the other emigrants gained their sea legs, and life settled into a schedule of domestic chores.

Wednesdays and Saturdays, if fine, were reserved for washing. Wet clothes and linen draped over every available surface and hung from ropes strung between the rigging. Richard thought it looked like the rag fair selling secondhand clothes that he had seen in Plymouth.

On Sundays, the captain created the perfect place for the church service on deck. He fashioned a reading desk by draping the Union Jack over the harness cask and hiding its usual purpose, which was to soak the daily salted provisions. It was here he delivered the prayers of the established church to passengers and crew, who were seated on barrels  and boxes. The numerous Methodists on board had their own, separate prayer meetings on Sunday evenings and sometimes on Fridays as well. Richard and his family were Anglican. They had the choice of the service on deck, or the Methodist prayer meeting with their Cornish brethren. Continue reading

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Crossing the Line

“Please, Mother, pleease.” Richard tugged at Ann’s arm hoping it might encourage her to change her mind. Ann, scraping the porridge pot ready for washing up, pulled her arm away from his grip. Mary Ann looked on, hoping for a positive answer. Richard’s new friend James Thomas was nearby, also anticipating Ann’s reply. 

“No, you got absolutely soaked last night in that foolish nonsense. ‘Tis a wonder you haven’t woken up with a fever. Lord only knows what could happen to ‘ee today. You could come back bald as a coot.”

The previous night, Richard had been on deck with James, driven there by the warm, oppressive air below. The days and nights were getting hotter. Some passengers resorted to dragging their straw mattresses onto the deck and sleeping there in their clothes. 

As they stepped in amongst the temporary beds of other passengers, Richard and James pondered on what they’d seen during the day. 

“What do you suppose they are going to do with all that stuff?” Richard asked James.

His friend shrugged. 

The actions of some of the crew mystified them. The sailors had been gathering dresses and wigs from below and storing them in the fo’c’stle. Razors, lather and pill bottles joined the booty. When the boys stole glances at the stash in the sailor’s den, the secretive crew chased them away. 

“Ain’t nothin’ here for you.” Continue reading

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Sea Legs – September 1848

He moaned with the latest pitch and lurch of the ship as the odours of hundreds of bodies, damp bedding and water closets imprisoned him in his bed. Nine-year-old Richard Grenfell had never felt so ill. He lay there, staring at the bunk overhead and fixed his gaze on a knot in the timber. Yet, still his body detected movement, a conundrum that made his stomach heave. Perspiration gathered in little beads on his skin. His mother, Ann, wiped his forehead with a damp cloth, and Richard managed a feeble smile. He rolled onto his side. Beyond Ann, his two younger brothers played, unaffected by the tilt and rolling that distressed him.

Four-year-old Nicholas usaw Richard looking at him, and with a few wobbly steps to counter the ship’s action, he was at his brother’s bedside. “Be ‘ee sick, Dickie?” He put his hand on Richard’s clammy arm. Richard nodded, but the slight movement threw his balance into confusion. Continue reading

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Denis Bennett in Liverpool

Patrick stood open mouthed. After a time he managed to say, “Oh that is so pretty. I wish I could buy that for Ma.”

Denis smiled.

John laughed, a wisdom bestowed by his extra six years. “Oh yeah, that would look lovely, sitting on the box in the corner of our room.”

Patrick pouted.  “Well I’m going to shoe horses like Bernard when I get bigger and have enough money to buy Ma a silver tea set. It will have writing on it, just like this one. It will say ‘to Ma from Patrick.’”

Denis smiled again. “Come on boys, we should be getting back to yer mammy. You can tell her about the tea set, Paddy. That will be almost as good.”

They left the store window. Patrick’s shoulders drooped, his arms were limp at his sides. He barely managed a glance at the Town Hall, situated at the head of the quadrangle of the Exchange Buildings.

“We can go and see Nelson first,” Denis added. A slow smile brightened Patrick’s face, and he managed a small skip as he moved towards the Town Hall. Continue reading

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Crossed Paths

Denis Bennett stepped out the door of the Old Fort Tavern onto the cobbles of Bath Street and into the dank air. Dark, dreary air that, with one brushstroke, coloured the Liverpool canvas grey. Denis turned up the collar of his coat against the biting north-east wind that licked the waters of the Mersey into short, sharp waves. A forest of ships’ masts stood above him, piercing the fog as it dispersed above the walls of Prince’s Dock.

Ships, that Denis had hoped he would be unloading that day. He had managed only two days work in the past week, earning seven shillings. It wasn’t enough; a guinea and his family could live in comfort, but work was scarce. That morning, after waiting with the other porters and hoping for a day’s work, he’d been rejected again. How to tell Hannah?

Liverpool Docks

Liverpool Docks

It wasn’t his intention to stay long at the tavern, but Paddy Kelly was there after finishing up at Clarence Dock. Kelly told Denis a grim story of famine refugees; a steamer had spilled out another miserable flood of 250 desperate souls from Dublin. Continue reading

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Tasmania to the Transvaal

The change room at the Western Mine could hardly contain those assembled. With much hand shaking and back slapping, the group of men wished their two colleagues the best of luck – give it to them warm, stay alive and come back to us. There was a call for quiet, moderating the din. Mr Deakin spoke on behalf of the mining company, and collective silence filled the room, interrupted only by the occasional murmur of approval when he voiced the admiration for the volunteers. He then presented a silver pipe to Maurice Keys. And to Victor Peers, a gold medal, a fine piece of local workmanship made by Mr Wathen of Main Street.

The two were members of the Zeehan Rifle Company, part of the Tasmanian Volunteer Rifle Regiment, who responded to the call for infantrymen. Three others from Zeehan were also selected. Australia’s colonial governments sought volunteers to fight for Britain in their war with the Boer Republics. It was 1899, Continue reading

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The Search for my Irish Bennetts

“It’s those Bennetts, again…still,” I said. There may have been a swear word in there as well. Chris had asked how I could spend so much time on my iPad, with the occasional swipe at the screen and tap tap at the keyboard, or ponder over papers, spread out across the table. Those Bennetts have been the main focus of my family history research over the past 3 months, spurred on by a windfall in records that are now available.

Francis Bennett, my great, great grandfather, has led me on a merry chase over the years and there is still much I want to find out about him. Continue reading

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