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, over a year before federation and still four years before the new Commonwealth raised a combined defence force. The Tasmanian government promised eighty soldiers, so five from Zeehan was an admirable number from a small mining town on the west coast. It was an honour for miners from the Western to have two among them. The gathering ended with three cheers for the two men and three cheers for the Queen.

Victor was eager to show his medal to his sweetheart, Belle. He had met Belle Myles, daughter of Zeehan’s blacksmith, at an outing on the slopes of Mount Zeehan. Named after one of the ships commanded by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, the mountain, with several others, surrounded the town like an amphitheatre. Magnificent tree ferns adorned the gullies, watered by steady rain, almost five feet a year. Mount Zeehan was the ideal place for the local residents to picnic, a stark contrast to the harshness of the mine mullock heaps.

Belle was the fresh start that Victor needed. He had been unsettled for 10 years, ever since his mother died. It was about the time he finished school at Black River, to the north. At a loose end, he went back to his home town of Deniliquin, New South Wales to work at a printing office. There he lived with an uncle but returned to Tasmania after his father, the local headmaster, received a transfer to Zeehan. Victor began mining and was a student at the School of Mines. It seemed he had begun to settle down, promised in marriage to Belle, when the call came for men to go to the Transvaal.

That evening, after Victor had received his medal, the exclusive Zeehan Club treated all five of the volunteers to a farewell, hosted at their spacious Social Hall in Frederick Street. Once the speeches had finished, some of the men present performed various musical selections with Mr Moore presiding at the piano until early hours of the morning.

It was only hours later that Victor lined up with the Zeehan Company of about 30 men at their drill hall. The officers gave the command to move, and led by the local band, the group marched down Main Street, left, right, left, the men proud to have the five in their midst. Those gathered on the verandah of McLennan’s hotel heard the sharp sound of the trumpet and the low beat of the drum, and when the volunteers came into view, they urged the men on with waves and cheers. Cheers that echoed at each corner as more well-wishers took up the cry, many of them merging in at the end of the procession after it went past. By the time the parade reached the railway station, hundreds of supporters had joined. Hundreds more waited at the station to farewell their intrepid heroes.

The soldiers were ordered at ease and the departing volunteers said their last goodbyes to family and friends. Women took handkerchiefs from their pockets and purses to wipe the occasional tear when they realised the imminent departure of their men to Tasmania’s first war. The guard whistled, and to the strains of “Rule Britannia,” the train steamed off.


Zeehan Railway Station[1]

It wouldn’t be the last of their farewells, though. The public couldn’t get enough of their brave men. At Strahan, the harbour town so essential for the mining areas of the rugged west coast, the patriotic songs of the local school children greeted the train. The Zeehan Quintet, their new name, were cheered as they arrived and then again when they caught the steamer to Hobart. Here, in the colony’s capital, they underwent medical examinations, were sworn in and had daily drills. Then it was on to Launceston in the north of the state en route to Melbourne.  At each Australian place, they paraded before the community, where thousands turned out to farewell their heroes.


The band of the Second Tasmanian Battalion leads the First Tasmanian Contingent to the Boer War past the crowds around the custom house at the Esplanade in their farewell parade through the streets of Launceston.
(This item is in the Public Domain)

On the 27th of October, 1899 the Tasmanian and Victorian contingents departed Melbourne on the Medic, just two weeks after the war had been declared. By the time the Medic arrived in Cape Town four weeks later, troops from South Australia and Western Australia had joined them. Before Cape Town’s mayor could give the men his planned welcome, Victor Peers and his fellow soldiers boarded a train for Orange River. Their war had begun.


The Medic moves off[2]

See an earlier post about Victor Peers (and his son), when he lived in South Africa.


1.Archives Office of Tasmania. https://linctas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/tas/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fARCHIVES_DIGITISED$002f0$002fARCH_DIGITISED:75541/one   [back]
2. DOWN THE BAY. (1899, October 30). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9035885 [back]


“Au Revoir.” (1899, October 20). Zeehan and Dundas Herald (Tas. : 1890 – 1922), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84664502
Barker, W. F. “Victor Stanley Peers – conservationist and cultivator of South African plants.” Veld & Flora 66, no. 1 (March 1980): 25-28.
Black River Notes. (1891, August 8). Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette (Tas. : 1890 – 1897), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65248594
Bufton, John. Tasmanians in the Transvaal War. Newtown, Hobart, Tas.: S.G. Loone, 1905.
Murray, P. L. Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa. Melbourne: A.J. Mullett, Govt. Printer, 1911.
Pope, Georgina Fane. “Nursing in South Africa during the Boer War, 1899-1900.” The American Journal of Nursing 3, no. 1 (1902): 10. doi:10.2307/3401849.
The Zeehan Contingent. (1899, October 21). Zeehan and Dundas Herald (Tas. : 1890 – 1922), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84667239

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Victor Stanley Peers (1875-1940)
Parents: Louis Arthur Peers (1846-1921) and Mary Ayris Young (abt 1858-1889)
Spouse: Belle Myles (abt 1875-1963)
Spouse’s Parents: James Findlay Myles (1851-1907) and Mary Bertie (1850-1933)
Surnames: Watters, Jones, Wrenshall, Peers, Myles, Bertie
Relationship to Chris: 2nd cousin 3x removed

This relationship is quite distant – the list below travels up from Chris to his 3x great grandmother and then down from the sister of his 3x great grandmother. Victor is the 2nd cousin of Chris’s great grandmother (Caroline Jones) i.e. Victor and Caroline are the same generation. Victor is a distant cousin to Chris!

  1. Victor Stanley Peers (1875-1940) great nephew of 3x great grandmother
  2. Louis Arthur Peers (1846-1921) nephew of 3x great grandmother
  3. Frances Diana Wrenshall (1826-1879) sister of 3x great grandmother
  4. Caroline Wrenshall (1813-1869) 3x great grandmother
  5. Henry Russell Jones (1840-1890) great, great, grandfather (2x great grandfather)
  6. Caroline Jones (1866-1942) (great grandmother)
  7. Mary Izetta Watters (1890-1966) (grandmother)
  8. Mother
  9. Chris
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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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Our Annie

I was impatient to receive John Willis’s birth certificate once I’d sent for it. I had put the required details on the form – “as much as you know,” information garnered from his marriage certificate. He was born in Bowden about 1871 (at that time, a town two miles from Adelaide), father John Willis and mother, Ann Unknown.

If I was ordering the certificate today, I could get a copy emailed within days, but this was the early stages of my hobby of researching my family history.

Weeks later the expected mail arrived. My eyes scanned the document, picking out the relevant facts and mentally checking them off. John Willis, born in Bowden in 1869. The two year discrepancy in the birth date was acceptable. So far, so good. Father – George Gubbins, mother – Ann Willis.  No, that wasn’t right. I sent the certificate back, with a note telling the department they had provided the wrong one. No no, was the reply; this is the only one that fits the date you gave us, and the certificate winged its way back to North Queensland.  Oh, how could I have been so naive! Continue reading

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Skildergat (Peers) Cave

Victor and Bertie bent over their task, clearing away the sandy earth from their latest discovery. With each, painstaking brushstroke a blackened skull began to take shape.

Victor Peers stood up, and with hands on hips he pushed his shoulders back to relieve the aches. He walked over and looked out from Skildergat Cave. Grasses outside swayed under the north-westerly wind, but the sandstone shelter protected him and his family from the rain the wind brought. Victor could see Fish Hoek, nestled below in the sand hills. His lookout, more than 100 metres above, gave him the perfect vantage to view the panorama of the Atlantic Ocean in the west or across False Bay towards the Indian Ocean in the east. The sea (a bountiful supplier of fish, mussels, shellfish and crayfish collected by the cave’s ancient inhabitants) lapped the wind-swept valley of shifting sand dunes on two sides.

The voice of his son broke Victor’s reverie. Continue reading

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Doublegee Dan

Hannah could stand it no longer. She had placed the dough into the oven earlier, and now the smell of the freshly-cooked bread twisted her stomach into knots. Feeling ill and lightheaded, she raised her hand to knock. Her nerve weakened. She turned and walked back towards the kitchen. Again, as if dancing, she wheeled away from the cooked loaves she had turned out on the table. She advanced to the entrance of the room where her employer’s wife sat, concentrating on her baby on her lap. Hannah tapped with shaking hands beside the open doorway to get the attention of the woman within. Hannah bit her lip. With eyes to the floor and before she could change her mind, she blurted out her request.

“Mrs Phillips, could I please have some of that bread I’ve just baked?”

Mrs Phillips looked up at the slight figure of the young woman framed in the doorway, and then to her baby, which was about the same age as Hannah’s baby, John. Hannah needed strength to be able to work and feed her baby as well. Both of them were so thin.

“Hannah,” Mrs Phillips said, “you take half of one of those loaves for you and Daniel.”

Hannah could hardly contain herself. She ran over and hugged Mrs Phillips, who was taken aback at the show of affection. Then, it was back to the kitchen at almost a run. She bent down and kissed baby John, who was asleep in his basket in the corner. Hannah cut one of the loaves in two, and before wrapping one half in a cloth to take to Daniel, she broke a piece off. That bread appeased her ailment more than medicine, as she savoured the taste of each, small bite. Continue reading

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Murder at Meredith

A shot split the night, and William Purcell buckled at the knees and fell forward to the ground. He groaned momentarily, the charge from the gun shattering his heart. William Patrick Purcell, an Irish baby thirty-four years before, baptised in hope in Cork City, put into Grangegorman Prison, Dublin as a four-year-old with his mother, a thief, and transported for his mother’s crime across the seas to the Queen’s Orphan School in Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land. William Patrick Purcell, a young, itinerant saddler and harness maker, the profession of his step-father, who crossed the seas once again for a new life in the Victorian goldfields. Here he met the daughter of a Ballarat miner, and a new family was started. William Patrick Purcell lay there, his life expired. Dead, before his eighth child was born.

Saddler William M. Jackson with his display of saddlery and leather work in the pavillion at the Stanthorpe Agricultural Show, 1920 Saddler 1920
Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Public Domain This work has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.


 “Another drink, Will?” Continue reading

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The Burden Riflemen

It has been interesting to discover that some of the Burden ancestors of Chris were involved in volunteer military groups. The first part of this blog post is an imagined scene – but based on facts.

Philip Burden woke early on the Saturday in March 1863 that had been chosen for an intercolonial rifle match between New South Wales and South Australia in their respective capitals. He was eager to see what weather the new day had brought. The day before, when he had been participating in a competition between his club and the Adelaide Rifles, the wind had picked up in the afternoon, so that it was impossible to keep his rifle steady when he fired his 10 shots at 800 yards. He winced when he remembered how his score had fallen off badly as the distances and the wind increased in parallel.

Philip and Mary’s two boys raced into the bedroom. Continue reading

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Pryors from Gwennap

It’s time for one of Shelley’s mysteries, and by discussing it here I hope that I can produce an interesting read and possibly make contact with living descendants of those mentioned in this post.

Did William Pryor and Mary Hosking have more children than Joseph and John that most researchers of this family acknowledge?

Joseph Pryor and his wife Ann Hosking were my g g g grandparents (3x great). Their daughter married a son of Richard Grenfell and his wife Ann from Creek Street, Burra, whom I wrote about previously. The Pryor’s also came from Cornwall to Burra, South Australia. They had 12 children, so there are many Pryor descendants in Australia.

All Pryor researchers (that I can find) agree that Joseph’s parents were William Pryor, a blacksmith, and Mary Hosking, who were married in Redruth in 1804. They also had another son, John, baptised in 1805. Joseph was baptised in 1810. A search for information on John yields nothing. Continue reading

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The First Land League Cottage

District Inspector Pepper knew that something was brewing amongst the rural class in the Balla area of County Mayo, he just couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He crouched behind the stone wall, with his 50 constables, two miles from Balla. There were plenty of troublemakers in this area, and he was going to get the jump on them. Pepper shivered; there was a hint of snow. He could think of better things to do than be out here in the middle of winter. As the first glimpses of daylight appeared, so did two shadowy figures, and soon after, he heard muffled voices. He stood up and motioned for his men to follow. As they got closer, Inspector Pepper recognised the men as John Barrett and Tom Brennan, confirming his expectation of trouble. Both men were active members of the National Land League.

Continue reading

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Creek Street is Flooded

Men ran through the dark night along the banks of the Burra Creek in early June 1851 and shouted their frantic warning, “The bridge is gone; turn out, turn out.”[1]

The bridge over the creek leading to the copper smelting works could hold back the dammed debris no longer, and it came away with a watery gush of fences, drowned livestock and vegetation. A flood of the Burra Creek threatened the lives of the people such as Richard Grenfell and his family who lived not on, but in, the creek. [2]

Continue reading

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