Monday, October 30, 2006

Barnes-storming by the river

Sunday afternoon by the Thames at Barnes.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


When Vincent Van Gogh lived in Isleworth during his tenure in the London branch of Parisian art dealing firm of Goupil & Cie, he undoubtedly spent his time wisely learning about local engraving practices. Chris and I on the other hand, had a silly evening at a house-warming in the very same building. One of our friends decided to wear toe-socks, which made his feet look like those of one of the Simpsons.

When it came time to escape, Chris crafted a discreet note...

Making a Wood, splinter by splinter

For two years I've been returning to the family of John Wood. He is one of two Scottish ancestors who packed up their families and moved to Australia during the 1850s, possibly drawn by the Victorian gold rush. Those families intermarried, finally producing the Kerr line that spawned my swimming great-grandmother Beatrice. Working out all those details was quite a challenge, but John himself had been proving quite resistant to unearthing of his birth details.

All I had to go off was the 1841 and 1851 Scottish census records, and references to him on the various birth and death records of his wife and children. I was still trying to pin down his death record from Victoria - some time between arriving in October 1852, and his widow's death in 1870.

His wife was born in the border town of Berwick-on-Tweed, which is supposedly part of Great Britain, but not belonging to either Scotland or England. A nightmare when you're searching for records. His children were all born between Edinburgh and St Andrews in Fife, but they generally based themselves around St Cuthberts parish.

The 1841 census lists him as a male servant, but he was not with his family on the night of the 1851 census. I decided to tidy up all the online records I had searched through, and figure out what gaps had not been explored. From there I went back to the Scotlands People website and looked for him on that census night. I whittled down all the John Woods in his age bracket to the handful in St Cuthberts parish. The first that I checked looked to be the match I needed (I checked the others and disqualified them). No, this one showed him with correct age, listed as a butler ... and then under the birthplace, the two words pictured below.

After looking over the scrawl across the other census records on the page, and consulting a list of Scottish counties, the only one that fitted the first word was Roxburghshire. The next word would be the parish, and that list yielded Stichil/Stichill/Stichel - a border parish to the west of Coldstream. Geographically this was quite sensible, given that his wife Elizabeth Henderson came from nearby border territory.

The next step was to plug birthplace and dates into the Scotlands People search engine ...turning up only one John Wood born in that parish in that decade. That yielded his birthdate in December 1802, the names of his parents and at least one sister.

Finally, with some more aid from Tony on the Genes Reunited site, who supplied some extra details to whittle down the John Woods who died in Victoria, I found that one, listed as a waiter in Geelong (appropriate enough for an ex-butler living in a goldrush town ) with a perfect match for age died in August 1853, which would be less than a year after his moving to Australia. There's no family details on the death certificate, so it's still a pending assignation of identity.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I am Ollie, you are Sven

After a trip to the barber to redress yesterday's bad hair day,as evidenced from my picture next to the mocked-up Eric Idle painting, I started back in to my family researches.

Of recent generations, the biggest gaps are in my Pearson/Lyons ancestry deriving initially from South Australia, and thence onto Sweden and probably Ireland. A helpful fellow - Tony - on a community board at Genes Reunited proved to be very helpful in looking up all the recorded siblings of my great-grandfather Walter Pearson, last seen looking rather stooped over in an old photo from the 1960s. Tony also thinks that Walter's mother Annie Lyons, could have been born Bridget Annie Lyons. This in retrospect makes some sense, as Walter's sister Annie Eleanor was known as Nellie, presumably to distinguish her from her mother.

Armed with the the names of the 5 children: Sven Laurence, Annie Eleanor, Charles Alfred, Walter Har[r]old & Francis Olof and the knowledge that many of them moved from Adelaide to Melbourne and Sydney, I did some poking around in the corresponding registry archives:
  • Sven married Beatrice from Victoria in 1919 and they ended up in Sydney, Sven dying in Waverley in 1949. Beatrice died in Bondi in 1970.
  • Annie Eleanor became Annie Helena (both middle-names becoming Nellie), marrying William Garfield Hamilton in 1911. He died in Balmain in 1962, she in 1969.
  • Charles seems to have brought his wife (Eleanor? Ella?) to Sydney as well, and died in Manly in 1957.
  • Francis Olof became Frank Olaf and died in Gosford in 1958.
Some of the records indicate their father Sven was known as Carl Sven, or Sven Olaf. Maybe some certificates will clear it up. Sometimes his name his mistranscribed as Ivan or Swen, which makes searches on children of Sven less successful than they ought to be. It all sounds like a particularly disturbing Ren & Stimpy episode.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Chris and I trundled into Shaftesbury Avenue to see the Monty Python musical Spamalot, which opened 10 days ago at the Palace Theatre. We were disappointed by the seats I'd booked which were supposed to be at the front of the dress-circle, but turned out to be second-row from the back, so the sight-lines for the top of the stage were rather poor. I'm reminded of seeing Cats from a similar position about 20 years ago, and having no idea what happened when Grizabella ascends to the Heaviside Layer, after a final glimpse of departing paws was obscured by the seating level above mine.

Anyway, the sight-lines turned out to be not so much of an issue, but had effectively overcharged me so I'll think twice about using them again.

For those out of the loop, Spamalot is a musical adaptation of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail but rips off other Python works (Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from The Life of Brian) and a score of Broadway musicals. It's all quite silly, but rarely let down by poor musical material as for example The Producers. Both the old Python pieces and the newer musical parodies made for a very funny show, and maybe the first musical ever to attract a male audience, many of whom were probably subvocalising "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries", while their female companions smiled bemusedly while praying that their poor dears didn't buy the souvenir coconuts from the gift stall. Vocally, star of the night had to be Hannah Waddingham as the Lady of the Lake, but it was terrific to see Tim Curry on stage in the role he created on Broadway.

Women behaving badly

There are a few names in my family tree that I keep returning to in my researches, endeavouring to find out missing pieces of information. One such name is Sydney Ellis, born 1826 in Dolgellau Wales, mother of two illegitimate children - one of whom is my earliest known paternal ancestor Ellis Williams, and his twin brother Griffith Ellis.

I don't know much of what happened to Sydney after this, although I'd heard that she'd had another bastard child. Her name doesn't show up in marriage or death records, so I'm left wondering what happened to her. I'm still in the dark as to the identity of Ellis & Griffith's father.

Just now I was looking through some online archives, and typed in her rather unusual name. Bang! 21 hits on county court records from 160 years ago. Oh what a scrapper she was.
  • April 1 1845: Sydney Ellis of assaulting Margaret Jones at Dolgelley [Dolgellau] on 29 March, 1845. Adjudged to forfeit 6d. with 8s. costs and failing payment, 7 days imprisonment in Dolgelley [Dolgellau] Gaol
  • May 1850: Sydney Ellis of Dolgelley (Dolgellau) alleges that John Harrier Jones is the father of her bastard child, born 21 May 1850, taken before Lewis Owen Edwards, Esq., and Rev. John Jones, J.P.'s who adjudge John Harrier Jones to be the Putative father, and order him to pay 1/3d per week towards the child, plus 15/= costs to Sydney Ellis
  • October 1850: [Evan James] served Sydney Ellis with an order of court which ordered her to pay £14.6.5d. to the Appellant. He also states that she refused to pay.
  • October 1850: Surety: Sydney Ellis of Dolgelley (Dolgellau), spinster £10, William Richards, skinner and Griffith Griffiths, tanner, both of Dolgelley (Dolgellau), £5 each, taken before Lewis Owen Edwards, J. P., that Sydney Ellis shall keep the peace and be of good behaviour, particularly towards John Harrier Jones of Dolgelley (Dolgellau)
As I progress through the records, I find her mother:
  • EASTER 1822 - ref. ZQS/E1822

    FILE - PRESENTMENT by the jurors that Anne, wife of Griffith Ellis, late pa. Dolgelley (Dolgellau), taylor, did assault Evan Evans, gent. - ref. ZQS/E1822/9 - date: 1822 Feb 26

    FILE - RECOGNIZANCE - ref. ZQS/E1822/17 - date: 1822 Feb 3
    hit[from Scope and Content] Taken by Richard Hughes, clerk, J.P. of Ann Ellis, Dolgelley (Dolgellau), wife of Griffith Ellis for her appearance at next G.Q.S. and for keeping the peace towards Evan Evans, Carnarvon, co. Carnarvon, gent..

    FILE - INSTRUCTION by Evan Evans, solicitor - ref. ZQS/E1822/24 - date: nd
    hit[from Scope and Content] For prosecution to the clerk of the peace that an indictment be prepared re the case of Evan Evans, gent., against Anne, wife of Griffith Ellis, late of pa. Dolgelley (Dolgellau) for a charge of assault. Naming prosecution as Mr. Evan Evans and witness as Mr. John Pugh.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A line in ink

Further to my post about The 13 Clocks, I was elated to discover that Chris Beetles' gallery was having a Ronald Searle exhibition this week. I had planned to visit them anyway for the concluding week of their Mervyn Peake exhibition, so the overlapping week gave me a terrific twofer. I banged on the gallery door at 11am this morning, while they were frantically preparing for the Searle exhibition launch, and had a leisurely walk around while Bondi sat out in Ryder Street as a one-dog exhibition. While chatting with one of the gallery staff about the idiosyncratic ink-styles of Peake and Searle, I discovered we had a mutual admiration for Tove Jansson's Moomintroll books. Peake and Jansson are but two of a number of author-illustrators most active in the second half of the 20th century who illustrated a volume of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark.
I saw that at least one of the pictures demonstrated a typical Gea-Tchy hummingbird posture.

We wandered via Harold Moore Records up to Covent Garden for strong flat-whites on the bench outside Monmouth Coffee Company. I only visit there every 1-2 months now, but some of the regulars at that store still remember Bondi.

My reading levels have been on the low side with all the travelling etc of late. While I was in Australia, I finally got around to reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead after having had the paperback sitting in the back of the car for nearly 18 months. I can see I have about 40% of protagonist Howard Roark in me, tempered by 60% soft-toys and a litre of UHT milk of human kindness. Despite its faults, the 700+pp turn quickly and I actually found my eyes a little moist at one point 2/3 or so in, curiously underlined by Johnny Cash's I Won't Back Down playing in the background at Vargabar. Stephan Elliott had encouraged me to read it after we'd discussed our various battles over creative control of projects in Hollywood and Redmond respectively.

A more subtle novel is Andrew Crumey's Mr Mee. There are three interwoven narratives encompassing a Proustian scholar, contemporaries of Rousseau, and an endearing old Scottish bookworm stumbling innocently through internet pornography in his endeavours to research some old texts. You could almost skip the chapters dealing with his literary predecessors, sometimes laced with slightly leaden philosophical exposition to concentrate on Mr Mee's trips down to Dixon's to get his computer serviced, but then you'd miss out on the puzzlebox of fiction blurring with reality. So if you enjoy some Umberto Eco or Julian Barnes spiced up with some very funny set-ups, go for it, otherwise take heed of an Amazon reviewer who wrote:
Amazon recommended this book for me, but I don't know what I did to anger them. Some of this story is told from the perspective of a 90 plus year old, Mr. Mee, who speaks with complete ignorance about the world wide web, and a woman a jogger he meets on the street who he is afraid is injuring herself because her breasts move so violently as she runs. Maybe the character is having a good time, but I can't imagine any reader could be. Buy this book only if you are incapable of getting annoyed.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Further to yesterday's report of archived children's story LPs, an email from one of the family tree services mentioned the British Pathe film library from 1896-1970 being available online. Like a You-Tube from another era, you can check out themes, people or places of interest, whether it be police doing drag pantomime in 1937, gnome-makers, a Punch & Judy swimsuit display, the Titanic setting sail or just sled dogs mushing for Shackleton.
Try out this little story on the invention of the telephone answering machine, backed by a chirpy little soundtrack.

Other British electronic archives listed here, with Australia here.


Chris' friend Eilis took us for a walk through Brent Lodge Park, which has a small Animal Park and maze. It's not a particularly challenging maze as the hedges are only about 1.5 x malamute height, so when Bondi and I went through it, and got separated it was only the one who was 2/3 hedge height that got a bit lost.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The 13 Clocks

I'm sure I've mentioned somewhere in the murky depths of this blog, that one of my favourite books is James Thurber's The 13 Clocks. One of 20th century America's greatest humourists, his name probably doesn't ring many bells to today's readers, although film-buffs may know that he wrote the story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", which became a star-vehicle for Danny Kaye.
Right now, I'm listening to Peter Ustinov's reading of The 13 Clocks, which I recently obtained on LP, to add to my later recording by Edward Woodward (cassette only). I've just discovered Lauren Bacall's reading, available as downloads here, along with many other old children's story LPs.
The text of the novel is all here, but I think it is better accompanied by Ronald Searle's florid illustrations (far superior to those in the original edition by Marc Simont). Apart from the wonderful language "The brambles and the thorns grew thick and thicker in a ticking thicket of bickering crickets...", the great successes of the story are its baddies:
* the Duke: "We all have flaws, and mine is being wicked."
* the Todal, sent to punish evildoers for having done less evil than they should: "The Todal looks like a blob of glup... It makes a sound like rabbits screaming, and smells of old, unopened rooms".

Where the underworld meets the elite

I seem to be the proud owner of my old house again, albeit with an 80% markup over the intervening 8 1/2 years. I've never ever lived in a house for longer than 4 1/2 years, so it will be nice to extend my acquaintance with it some day in the future. My (first) housewarming there coincided with my 30th birthday, and I had a very memorable open day with the first guests arriving at 10am, the last leaving about 4am, with a bizarre but ultimately successful integration of all the communities I bounce between. There's a note in my Wesley valete article (commenting on my four years at this Sydney University residential college) to the effect that I was never a member of any particular group, but was a happy fringe-dweller amongst many disparate cliques. No change there after 21 years.

Although a wee bit jetlagged, I'm starting to work on a mini-expedition to the southwest to research a pair of ancestors from Devon & Cornwall. They were born and married in the quarter-century prior to national records being maintained in 1837, so I'll be relying on local registry and church records.

Beta-testing programs for Windows Vista and Windows Media Player 11 have each come to an end, and frankly I'm not happy with the state of either of them, particularly with blocking issues apparent for many months not being resolved even in the final release candidates: in such cases you can't properly test a product. Users from English-speaking countries outside the USA will find problems from the very beginning since Vista does not respect language and keyboard settings in such cases. I noted that Internet Explorer v7, finally released this week, still attempts to switch users configured for Australian or UK settings to US language settings. That issue was bugged many times in months gone by.

I had a nasty run-in with some of Chris' fellow building tenants today, while trying to get one to move her car, which was parked across the small driveway, blocking everyone in. Her son, upset with my polite suggestion that she at least leave a note so that one doesn't have to ring a dozen doorbells to find the car-owner, threatened me with bad things, so I had to file a pre-emptive report with the local police.

Bondi & I spent the remainder of the afternoon haunting Barnes & Chiswick while the sun fought through bursts of cloud and showers.

Friday, October 20, 2006

All competitors will be supplied with HOT OXO free of charge

My efforts to dig up the contents of my great-grandmother's trunk of photos, letters and scrapbooks have not come to much so far. As has been put to me:
Beatrice's stuff is possibly the only record of someone in her profession at that level that exists today, and is of real historical interest both in swimming terms and in the context of women's lives in that important period in England. As Beatrice swam on all the top galas in the north during the early part of her stay in England, as was one of the early pioneer cometition swimmers in Oz, the 1904-7 part of her "trunk" holds valuable info.
The picture above is a scan of a poster forwarded to me from the NSW State Library.

Back in the UKKR

Touched down at Heathrow early yesterday morning. I had another gruelling Q&A with UK Home Office, concerned that "I was spending too much time outside my own country". I just get the feeling that a 1950s mentality pervades - everyone between 18 and 65 should be in full time employment in a single country apart from their once-in-a-decade overseas excursion via the Woman's Weekly World Discovery Tour.

Chris picked me up and I dropped him off at work before heading back out to Windsor to collect Bondi. I think he could hear me outside: when I looked over the fence into his kennel, I could see him standing up against the wire, rumbling and howling his interest. He was looking very healthy, and the kennel staff were sorry to see him go.

This afternoon I was sitting outside Munson's in Ealing Road. Parents were picking up their kids from school, so the Bondi:children lovefest was well in progress. A little girl said "you sound like Steve Irwin".

[Crikey!] Maybe that's because I'm Australian too.

He's not Australian!

Yes he is.

[runs off] Mum! Mum! Steve Irwin's Australian!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Back in the house

Another freebie night at the theatre, standing in for Phil at the premiere night of Alan Ayckbourn's Woman in Mind at the Opera House. Despite admirable performances, the twenty-year old play felt rather dated and predictable.

While I've been overseas, some structural alterations have been made to the western side of the Opera House, almost discernible in the photo above.

The next day I happened to drive past the first house I owned, which I'd sold prior to moving to Seattle with Microsoft in 1998. Despite being right under the flight-path to the third runway at Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport, it was a lovely building with many warm memories. I dropped in to see the agent, who had sold the house for me back then and has probably sold it 3 times in between times. He took me through the place on Monday and showed me the renovations made in my absence.

Since I'd love to keep a foothold in this part of Sydney, I'm looking into buying the place back and renting it out until I return to Australia on a more permanent basis. With the prospect of some interesting work available by mid-2007, that may be sooner than I imagined.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Postcard from Snowdonia 1920

I scanned some old photo-postcards sent to my great-grandfather for his birthday in 1920. They're of his home-town Dolgellau/Dolgelley in North Wales, which I've visited twice over the last year or so. Below I've laid out the 1920 version with my 2005/6 versions (bearing in mind I'd not ever seen the older photos till this month).

For a very nice picture of Llyn Cynwch go here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Family matters

After a quick morning dip in my uncle's pool (after he'd finished skimming it for possible submarine spiders waiting to suck Dutch liqueur from my veins), I had a brief 2 hours skimming viruses from my aunt's PC. Then it was south again to Crows Nest to lunch with my cousins at a pretty nice Thai restaurant. I tried to tell my god-daughter Sophie that the curled up orange fibres on the salad plate was clown's hair, but she was not going to take any of my BS: "What the hell?" (her current favourite phrase) "That's CAR-ROT!!"

The remainder of the afternoon was split between working VHS->PC->DVD transfers of Three Men and a Baby Episodes (with special attention paid to those where Phil and his brother Craig (on bass) performed jazzed-up versions of the classics) and making a big effort to track down a death certificate for my great-great grandmother Eliza Sophia.

The last mention I'd found of her was as a witness at the wedding of daughter Beatrice in Sydney in 1912. I tried to find records for the widowed Mrs Kerr in both her native Victoria and in NSW, without success. The other avenues seemed to be re-marriage or possibly a move to the UK.

At the same time I found that her daughter Elsie May had another child (Melville, survived one year) and her first-born Thomas, who I had thought to be another early death, was still around at age 10. A marriage certificate for Eliza Sophia to a much older grazier, William Silvanus Cheshire in 1918 showed that she had been living with her daughter's family in Victoria at the time.

So, then I went looking for a death certificate for Eliza Sophia Cheshire. No luck. Widowed again in less than 2 years, she married John Burr Haynes in 1923. He expired 18 months later, and she took on husband #4 William Philipps* in 1926. Finally Eliza Sophia CLARK KERR CHESHIRE HAYNES PHILIPPS passed away in 1933.

*That's the way it's spelled, although some of the public records differ.

I'm quoted in Phil's most recent SX column on "Boytox".
Vale to Linda Nagle's malamute Betsy who died last week at age 12.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

My ageing northshore aunt refers to me as Newtown Trash

First thing on Thursday I had an astoundingly quick trip to the dentist for a porcelain filling (hastened by declining the local anaesthesia). Something large and rubbery was positioned in my mouth, and my dentist asked if I'd seen one of these things before, to which I could only say "I an 'arely ee ot's air ouw".

Later that morning I had an appointment with the local studies librarian at Waverley Library to see if I could unearth any additional material about my great-grandparents. Earlier, the librarian had sent me some photocopies of my great-grandfather when he was on Waverley Council, and she will follow that up with proper digitized versions. The only other piece of information found directly linked to him was a note regarding the council passing a resolution to name a park after him.

With respect to my great-grandmother, I was looking for evidence of participation in swimming or beach-related events, so the librarian had prepared some folders of material pertaining to this. I didn't find anything on her, but the accounts of beachwear and the council's attempts to control it over the years was very interesting. At one point bathers were forbidden to talk to those staying on the shore, prompting a cartoonist to portray a policeman in a rowboat addressing a drowning man: "I'm too busy to rescue you, but if you keep shouting like this, I'll be forced to book you for communicating with those on shore".

I also discovered that I had looked up the wrong bathing suit creator last week: Janson rather than Jantzen. This page shows the Jantzen diving girl logo that my great-grandmother claimed was based on images of her own diving exploits.

With only a few days to go before flying off, friends and family are panicking that I may not get around to fixing all their computer and multimedia issues trying to see me one last time.
Tonight I was heading to see family up towards Sydney's northern beaches, and knowing that my aunt Lana would be cooking for me, had breakfasted lightly and skipped lunch. If I'd known that my uncle Llyn was going to open his exotic liqueur cupboard I might have teetotalled for a week as well: tonight I was offered some Safari, a clear but powerful concoction which looked like it should be loaded into a syringe and fired at an elephant. I don't remember what happened after that.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Like falling off a blog

Oft' reminded by some of my readers that I don't exist if I haven't written something for the day, I should do a little update for their sake.

I have one week left in Sydney before flying off to London, which for now is already absorbed with three lunches, one dental appointment, a night at the theatre, two dinners, a meeting with a librarian, a job informational, transferring some ancient Ruby Wax and Three Men & A Baby Grand TV series VHS tapes to DVD, organising paperwork regarding my illustrious work and educational history, various trips to my storage locker and my final 14 draughts of antipodean espresso.

The remaining 160 hours will probably be mostly spent coaching Phil through various issues with his MacBook, minutes after I've learnt to solve them myself. The upside is that I get to hear the gestation of the upcoming Revue Sans Frontiers, as I'll miss the actual run of the show.
This evening I saw Priscilla again, seated a bit further back in the stalls, which turned out to give me better sight-lines for some of the action atop the bus. It was a much more "general public" audience than my Saturday night premiere, firing ping-pong balls with the "luvvie" crowd, but the buzz was very enthusiastic. I picked up a navy singlet from the merchandise outlet, requiring me to ask for "an extra-large cock in a frock on a rock", as the clothing all seems to be cut on the small-side. Afterwards we went around to stage door to collect Trevor Ashley who plays Miss Understanding, and took him up the road for an after-show round.