Friday, 30 April 2010

The past waits patiently

PHOTOGRAPH: Horses at Buckleboo Station.

Nothing has happened and all is quiet. I have not had time to do any more research, nor to read any more books. Neither for that matter have I managed to begin Greek classes.

Not that it matters. The past waits patiently for the present to catch up with it. If indeed the past is meant to catch up with the present.

Ancestry research is like having someone drop a heap of jigsaw pieces onto the table and slowly having to sift through them to create the picture, knowing, as one does, that a lot of the pieces have yet to be delivered and some may never arrive.
Is it worth creating the picture? I think it is. Unfinished it may remain but without putting the pieces together which one possesses there would be no image in the first place. And, in the process of research, one makes contact with long lost stories, photos and people. In putting together the past we create a new future.

My brother Ken went to Hamley Bridge last week and took photographs of Auntie Teeny's old house. It has been repainted and the sleep-out ... and no doubt all the enormous spiders.... has gone, but it looks the same. It doesn't feel the same though. This house, which is revealed in the current photographs looks brighter and more solid. Perhaps the images I have retained in my mind of the old house had more to do with how it felt than how it looked. It is so often the way with memories.

In this process of excavating the past I have made contact with numerous long-lost cousins; first, second and third cousins. What would my great-grandparents have thought of Facebook, or email, or search engines? They would probably have adapted just as they had to adapt as immigrants to a new and unforgiving land.

Circumstances may differ but people remain relatively constant in nature. We assume a lot when we think that our ancestors were so very different. They may have lived by different values but human responses remain consistent.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

When the world shook literally and metaphorically

PHOTO: Damaged chimney on a building in Adelaide after the 1954 earthquake.

I am reading Britain’s Greek Islands, Kythera and the Ionian Islands 1809 to 1864, by Peter Prineas. In the book he talks about a public school where children are taught ancient and modern Greek, Latin, French and Italian.

I realise this may well be where Charlie Ross’s ‘five languages’ came from. He of course also spoke English. I had presumed that he had picked up languages as a sailor but this is not very realistic given the fact that a ship would have one spoken language and time in port would generally be brief.

However, if he had been educated on Ithaca there is every chance that even by the mid-19th century when he was born; public schools would be teaching more than one language as well as writing and arithmetic.

It seems odd to think that there were 100 years, give or take a few months, between my birth in September, 1949 and that of Charlie Ross in January, 1849. How the world changed in that time and how much it has changed in the 103 years since his death.

We were both born at a time which led the way to new freedoms. For me it was the beginning of the baby boomer years which brought massive change after the Second World War. And, in the year before Charlie was born people all over Europe were rising up to demand constitutional and liberal governments. The movement spread to the Ionian Islands with various revolts occurring during 1848-49 which would ultimately lead the way to reforms including press freedom, and changes to the process of Government budgets, expenditure and elections. The secret ballot would be re-instated and jury trials would be required for political offences.

Finally, when Charlie Ross was fourteen, the treaty of London, allowed the union of the island with the rest of the Greek state. The resolution of London, in 1863 stated: ‘The islands of Corfu, Kefalonia, Ithaca, Zakynthos, Lefkas, Kythera, Paxi are united with the Kingdom of Greece, and comprise an inseparable part of it, in one and indivisible State under the constitutional sceptre of the King of Greece, George A' and his heirs.’

I am sure there were celebrations and Charlie Ross and his family took part. How long it would be before he left his island home forever, I cannot know, but perhaps even at fourteen he was dreaming of the world beyond his small island. Or perhaps there was a family tradition where sons went to sea. He may already have been at sea because in times past boys could be apprenticed or indentured before they were twelve.

There is so much that I cannot know, and may never know, and so much that he would never know. He would never know that within 90 years of these joyful celebrations, much of the island would be destroyed in a terrible earthquake. The villages and towns which Charlie Ross would have known and the streets he walked no longer exist. Most of the buildings on Ithaca are no older than 50 years.

The earthquake of 1953, which reached 7.2 on the Richter scale, destroyed almost all of the homes on Ithaca. There were few exceptions, the Drakoulis mansion being one of them. Entire towns and villages of Ithaca were razed to the ground and hundreds perished ... no doubt, amongst them, distant relatives of Charlie Ross.

The earthquake hit at midday on August 12 when people were preparing lunchtime meals and this meant that fires spread quickly. It must have been a scene of utter carnage and in the aftermath of the quake more than 70 percent of the buildings of Ithaca were demolished and replaced. The earthquake also brought a new wave of emigration and countless residents left Ithaca, just as Charlie Ross had done, to start a new life elsewhere.

Ithaca, known as a sleepy, rocky little island - Homer called it 'good for goats' - was awakened with shocking force and would never be the same again. I was four, nearly five, when Ithaca was ruined by the massive earthquake and would have known nothing of it... and no doubt, neither would my parents who were not great newspaper readers at the best of times.

But there was a connection because, just over six months later, on March 1, 1954, Adelaide, like most of Australia, never prone to large earthquakes, was hit by its biggest quake ever - registering 5.4 on the Richter scale. The damage was severe, and has been estimated, should it happen again, to cost $1billion in today’s money.

But the damage done to Adelaide was nothing like the damage to Ithaca and other Ionian Islands. No-one died in Adelaide for instance and only three people were injured. And, unlike Ithaca, no-one was made homeless or forced to leave their country for a better life elsewhere. The Australian Government recorded that the earthquake, which lasted for 20-30 seconds, damaged 3,000 buildings including collapsed and cracked walls, smashed chimneys and broken windows.

It hit around 3.45 in the early hours of the morning, causing some metropolitan black-outs for up to two hours; radio stations to be cut off and the movement of parapets in some buildings by as much as two inches.

I, however, the good sleeper that I was and remain, slept peacefully through it all and knew nothing until the morning. My only memory of the quake was the trail of broken crockery in the kitchen from where dishes had been shaken off the dresser.

But Ithaca suffered far more than a few bits of broken crockery. The earthquake of 1953 also destroyed many records so there is even less chance that when I get to Ithaca, there will be much to find. However, ‘long shots’ are the life blood of family ancestry research and part of the fun of it all.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Waiting, waiting and more waiting

And even as I begin this post an email arrives. It is from a local historian in Victoria where apparently, national aliens and deserters records are held.

Because I do not live in Victoria she has very kindly done a search. I am eternally grateful. It may lead nowhere but then again it might.

We have a C. Ross, A.B.(presumably meaning Able Bodied), deserted 2/1/1881 from the ship ‘Fron Crag’. This is nearly eight years before he married Mary Atkins but it is the best I have for the moment. I shall have to do some searching into the Fron Crag. It really is a long shot but any shot is better than no shot at all. It may not even be from the South Australian archives.

And the first thing I discover is that it is very likely there was an Iron Crag and Fron Crag is a typographical error. Such is the way of things with family research. The Iron Crag was an iron barque built by the Whitehaven Ship Building Company in December 1877 and she was posted as missing in the Liverpool Mercury newspaper, on Friday, April 19, 1895. That’s 115 years ago in a week’s time. She had left Manta, Ecuador on October 3, 1894, with a cargo of ivory nuts in bulk and bags headed for Hamburg. She was seen by another ship on January 28, 1895, some 800 miles off the English Channel and then she disappeared. Some 18 persons were on board. Her journey from London had taken her to Brisbane and Newcastle before Ecuador.

I may be wrong but my instinct is that the date of 1881 is too early for Charlie Ross. But then who knows? My next step is to do some research on aliens and deserters through the South Australian Genealogy society.

Beyond that not a lot seems to be happening but then I have not had time to do much research or follow-up. I did get in touch with some Simper relatives through Facebook and sent on to them photos that I had of their grandfather and great-grandfather, Laurie Simper.

Nothing has come of my other 'feelers' and I shall have to ring the Greek Orthodox Church to see if I can track down cousin David Ross, our Greek Orthodox monk.

Waiting, waiting, waiting.