Thursday, 14 February 2013

The few facts we have about Charlie Ross

Photo: Ithaca, a stony, rocky island with beautiful beaches.

Many old Pirieans well remember the subject of this paragraph, which is taken from the Areas' Express :
" It is 'with sincere regret " we have to record the death of Mr Charles Ross, of this town after protracted illness from asthma, &c.

Deceased was born 58 years ago, and, when a young man left his native land— Greece—and after a roving career during which he had his fair share of adventures, came to South Australia and settled at Port Pirie. Eventually he came to Gladstone, where, - for more than twenty years he has carried on his vocation as a purveyor of fish, &s. Although - taking" no part in public affairs, he,- by his unostentatious but genial manner, won a large circle of friends, who sadly deplore his death which took place on Sunday.

The remains were - interred in the Gladstone Cemetery on Monday, the Rev J. Raymont officiating. . The greatest sympathy- Is felt for the widow—-a.daughter of Mrs Atkins —and her, five children." ~

18th September 1907, Port Pirie Recorder from the Areas Express.

I have been drawn back to this having found it again on Trove while researching Edward Atkins and Hannah McLeod.

While it is good to read that great-grandfather Charlie Ross was well respected and even better, well liked, in Gladstone it also makes me think that somewhere there is an earlier story about him which throws more light onto his 'roving career' and his 'fair share of adventures. I just have to find it when I have a chance to get to Gladstone and go through the copies of the old Areas Express which was the local newspaper at the time.

The age of fifty-eight fits with a birth year of 1849 and given that the story says he left his native land as a young man, as opposed to boy, it indicates that he did not join the merchant navy as a twelve or thirteen year old (or younger) as was common, but in his late teens or even early twenties. And that makes me wonder if he was married when he left Greece.

Taking twenty as a 'round' age for a young man, it means he left in 1869 and given that he spent more than twenty years in Gladstone, he had to arrive in that town by 1886 and he had to have spent long enough in Port Pirie to be remembered by 'older Pireans.' A minimum of five years, although more is likely, would have had him arrive in South Australia in 1881 and possibly a few years earlier. That would have given him ten years for a 'roving career' which is probably more than enough.

So what was happening on Ithaca  and in Greece, during the 1860's which might have prompted a young man to embark on a 'roving career' as a sailor?  Ithaca had come under English rule some sixty years earlier so young Charlie, or perhaps Carolus, would have had a reasonable education.

The "United States of the Ionian Islands" was formed, governed by a Constitution imposed in 1817 where Ithaca was represented by one member (in the Ionian Senate). During the years of the Greek Revolution against the Turks, Ithaca offered hospitality and medical care to the revolutionaries and Ithacans took part in the War of Independence of 1821, participating in the Hellenic Revolutionary fleet. "

Productivity, trade, private and communal education developed and increased the living standard on Ithaca. The British, as they did in other colonies or protectorates, brought a great deal of good along with the 'bad' aspect of having power imposed by a foreign nation. However, in this instance, the Ithacans may not have thought much about the 'bad' since they had been held by foreign powers for centuries. And overlords and colonial masters who were less enlightened than the British.

Photo: Gladstone Cemetery where Charlie Ross was buried in 1907.

The British may have been patronising, superior and at times oppressive but they also built roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and established trade links as well as developing agriculture and industry. Ithaca became a better place under British rule and young Charlie would never have known anything different. By the time he was born the British had been in charge for thirty-four years and his parents would also have known nothing other than the British as colonial masters. Having taken them from the French, perhaps Charlie's grandfather had welcomed British rule.

In 1864 Britain relinquished control and Ithaca, along with the other Ionian Islands, became a part of the new Greek State. Perhaps it was at this point that Charlie Ross decided his future lay elsewhere. He may also have joined the British Merchant Navy and anglicised his name at that point. Although the family story was that he came out on his 'uncle's ship' which could have meant, if there is a connection with the Rossolimos family of Ithaca, this being the most likely Greek surname for him, that his uncle owned ships and found him a job. Then again, his uncle could also have been in the British Merchant Navy and helped his nephew to find a job.

Charlie Ross had grown up as an Ithacan during a time of British rule but the Ionian islands, of which Ithaca is a part, had always had a hybrid nature and while culturally there was much in common with Greece, historically, culturally and linguisticall there was also much more at work than Greek culture and many inhabitants of the Ionian Islands were not Greek. Nearly half a century of British management, and exposure to Anglo and European lovers of Greek culture in general and Homeric culture in particular, would have influenced the Ithacan people just as they had been influenced by other dominant cultures in the past.

For more than four hundred years the islands had been a Venetian colony and later was dominated by the French, the Russians and the Turks, all of whom introduced aspects of their own laws, forms of government, language and culture. During the centuries of Venetian and French rule, Ithacans in the higher stratas of society had inter-married and some had even converted to Catholicism.

It was the peasants who held to the Greek Orthdox Church and the Greek language and I have no reason to believe that Charlie Ross was descended from a peasant family, despite the potential connection with the rather more illustrious Rossolimos family. I could of course be wrong, knowing nothing much about Charlie Ross beyond the fact that he was Greek, that when he died he was well-liked and well-respected, and given the spelling of some of his children's names in the birth register - Clesanthows for Chrysantheous - he had an atrocious accent, also verified by family stories, and perhaps his reading and writing of English was not as good as it might have been, given his clear failure to correct the clerk in Clare, who took down the details of his son's birth. One would assume, if he had good written English, that he knew how to spell Chryantheous!

But Charlie Ross, like the land of his birth, was something of a mystery and a contradiction. He too had been formed through a variety of influences; that of the culture of the land of his birth; the culture of a sailor who spends years 'roving;' and the culture of the land where he chose to settle, and no doubt, the culture of the woman he married.

The Ionian Islands were indeed hybrid: a mixture of numerous influences and contradictions, and  Ithacans, like other Ionians were in many ways a 'mongrel' race where East met West and where the mix of mind and culture was broad and sometimes deep.

While admiring Greek culture and Ithaca's Homeric traditions, the British saw the Ionians as very different to themselves. The 'superstition, ignorance, duplicity, violence, excitability and subservience to demagogues were the opposite of industrious and upright Anglo-Saxons who possessed self-control, reason, honesty, love for order and freedom, manliness, domesticity, and respect for the law and sobriety.' (

Through British eyes the Ithacans would have been half-civilized and unstable; childlike even, and therefore not capable of looking after themselves. Young Charlie could not have held too many grudges given that he finally made his home in a very Anglo atmosphere, another British colony, Australia.

But there were others who saw the Ionians differently and perceived a nobility of character. Whether this was sourced in romantic notions drawn from Homeric history, as was alleged by some, it would still have softened the general view. Some saw them as respectable, possessed of moral virtue, skill and sincerity - not to mention independence of mind, a quality which young Charlie must have had.

Photo: (Left) Flora Ross Swincer who was said to be the spitting image of Charlie Ross with her mother, Hilda Rose Jones Ross and her sister, Jessie Ross Sands. Jessie clearly takes after her mother's side of the family.

How much he brought from the land of his birth to Australia it is not yet possible to say and may never be known. While he had an anglicised name, from what we can find, from the very beginning, he gave all of his children Greek names. One wonders why, having given up his Greek name, he continued a tradition to give his children names which would always set them apart from Anglo society to varying degrees, some names being more unusual than others and unusual first names, being more of a burden than unusual second names such as my grandfather was given in Vangelios.

His wife after all was Australian of English descent and a devout Anglican from what can be seen and yet either he had the 'power in the house' or she, for some reason agreed because it was important to him, and their five children all carried Greek names in a very Anglo culture. It was not as if Charlie was part of a Greek community in Gladstone as he could or might have been in Port Pirie. He was probably the only Greek in town! It is not so much unusual that he anglicised his name but it is unusual that he did so and then called his children by Greek names.

There are a variety of reasons why he might have changed his name to an English 'version' and it is an assumption that it was simply Anglicised instead of changed completely: 1. he joined the British Merchant Navy and it was easier with an English name or they Anglicised it for their records; 2. he was 'running away from something' and an English name was harder to trace, 3. he changed his name or Anglicised his name when he 'jumped ship' in South Australia because it made him harder to find.

Photo: (Left) the youngest son of Charlie Ross, Spiros Andrew with his wife and daughter. Spiros looks less like the Atkins side of the family and more like my grandfather so clearly he takes after his father.

My gut instinct is that (1) is the correct answer because it would mean he had gotten used to being called Charlie Ross and it was too hard to change it but as part of Greek tradition and in honour of the land of his birth, his long-lost or perhaps now dead parents, he gave Greek names to his children.

Theory (2) might be possible because we have no way of knowing if his children were given family names which might be traceable. I suspect they were but until we trace his Greek family we do not know.

Theory (3) seems unlikely because a Greek deserter who has jumped ship and changed his name so he cannot be found is unlikely to draw attention to himself by giving his children Greek names.

As it stands, it is the names of the children which may yet open the way finding the Greek family of Charlie Ross, particularly if he has followed traditional naming practices, although it is pretty clear, if the information on his marriage certificate is correct, that he was no purist. 

Traditionally, Greeks named their first son after his paternal grandfather, and  if this is correct and if Charlie was the first-born, which we donot know, and his name is an Anglicisation, then his paternal grandfather was Carolus.

But with Christie given as the father's name on the marriage certificate for Charlie Ross and Mary Atkins, it is clear Charlie was his own man - or perhaps he did not want to draw attention to his family in case there were other Greeks around, for the first-born was John (Iaonnis) Constantinus.

But if there is any relevance to his naming practices then the first daughter, Georgina Anastasia is named after her paternal grandmother, so Christie was married to an Anastasia or a Georgina but the former is more likely because Georgina could easily be English; the second son, my grandfather, was named after his maternal grandfather, Charles Vangelios, which could either have been Carolus or Vangelios and then we have a third son, Chrysantheous Christus, who shares a name with his paternal grandfather and finally, Spiros Andrew who, as the fifth child, gets one Greek and one English name.

So questions are raised because Charlie has chosen to use English names and yet has given all of his children at least one Greek name, and he has apparently not followed Greek naming tradition.

One presumes that the giving of Greek names is in a bid to honour the land of his birth and his family. So why not follow naming tradition? He has Christie as his father's name on his marriage certificate, presumably from Christus or possibly Chrysantheous, but he gives these names to his third son and calls his first John with the Greek Constantinus as a middle name.

Photo: Charlie's daughter, Georgina Anastasia Ross Hillard circa: 1960. Auntie Teenie looks like the Atkins side and a lot like her grandfather, Edward Atkins to my mind.

The only reason for not following tradition is to make it more difficult, perhaps impossible, for him and his family in Australia to be linked to family in Greece, something any Greek could do, knowing naming traditions and something which would provide identity for an Ithacan, between Charlie and his Greek family, should an Ithacan end up in Gladstone. Given that Charlie had spent a few years in Port Pirie he would know there was a large Greek community in that town and amongst them, a few Ithacans.

The rest of the children's names may well follow naming tradition but probably they do not. Although he has, by the fourth child, the courage to use his father's name ... that is if the name Christie on the marriage certificate is correct.

There seems only one reason why Charlie would not want clear links with his Greek family and that would be if he had another wife or even children there. Given Greek culture it is hard to believe he would not want his parents to know where he was, but he might not want a wife to know he was a bigamist.

Having said that, the fact that Charlie spent a few years, probably at least five, in Port Pirie and it makes one wonder why, if there were a first wife, he did not send for her. Perhaps he was just forgetful and there is nothing manipulative about his naming practices. Time will hopefully tell. Although he would have been the only Greek in town since Greeks did not begin arriving until the 1890's.

Photo: John Constantinus, the eldest son of Charlie Ross. John or Jack Ross is not clear here but the shape of the face is more Atkins than Ross.

While I have yet to truly 'find' Charlie Ross I do know more about him than I did when I began and I certainly know a great deal more about the Mashford and Atkins sides of the family which is a huge bonus.

But the absolute facts about Charlie Ross are still few:

1. He was born in Greece in 1849. He went to sea as a young man, circa: 1869, sometime between the ages of 17 and 23. The earliest date would be 1866.
2. He became a sailor and spent some years at sea 'roving' and having adventures - minimum of five, maximum of ten.
3. He settled in Port Pirie after arriving in Australia. The earliest date would be 1871 and the latest, circa: 1877, for enough years to be 'remembered.' 
4. He moved to Gladstone circa. 1886 and worked there as a fishmonger as he had in Pirie.
5. He married Mary Atkins in 1888. He gave his father's name as Christie on the marriage certificate.
6. He had five children to whom he gave at least one Greek name.
7. He anglicised his Greek name or adopted an English name after arriving in Australia or the Port Pirie report would have included another name for 'old Pirieans to recognise.
8. The Greek names he chose for his children, Constantinus, Anastasia, Vangelios, Chrysantheous, Christus and Spiro are likely to have family connections.
9. He died in 1907 and was buried in an Anglican cemetery.
10. His grand-daughter Flora RossSwincer was said to be the spitting image of him.
11. He had a very strong accent given the poor phonetic spelling of some of his children's names on birth records.
12. He was obviously an amiable and personable character, as stated in his obituary, given the fact that the death notice was reprinted in the Port Pirie newspaper more than twenty years after he had left the town, for the benefit of those who had known and remembered him fondly.
13. There is no record of him ever taking up citizenship. (Perhaps evidence that he did jump ship.)

Photo: Charles Vangelios Ross, Charlie's second son, in his First World War uniform. Charles looks to be a mix of both parents with the 'shape' from the Atkins side and other features from his father, if his daughter Flora was truly the 'spitting image' of her Greek grandfather and we have no reason to believe she was not.

Other possible facts drawn from family history are:

1. He was born on Ithaca, one of the Ionian Islands.
2. He 'jumped ship' at Port Germein and so entered Australia illegally.
3. He came out on his 'uncle's ship.'
4. He spoke a number of languages.

Photo: Charles Vangelios Ross in his fifties looking more like the Greek side of the family but with the Atkins shape face from his grandfather, Edward. Elizabeth Mashford also had a 'long' face.

So the questions which still need to be answered are:

1. What was his Greek Christian name and surname?
2. Was he born on Ithaca? If so where?
3. Is his English name an anglicisation of his Greek name or something he adopted?
4. On what date and just how did he arrive in Australia.

Port Germein was established in 1878 and the jetty built in 1881 while Port Pirie was founded as a settlement in 1845 and the town was surveyed in 1871. In 1876 it had 971 people.

The Greek presence in South Australia was said to begin in 1842 when Georgios Tramountanas arrived at Port Adelaide with his brother Theodore who went on to Western Australia. George born in Athens in 1822 settled on the Eyre Peninsula. But it would be another seventy years before there was a documented Greek presence in Port Pirie. Naturalisation papers for South Australia have a Peter Warrick, who anglicised his name, working as a carpenter in Port Pirie in 1892. He had arrived in the colony in 1875 but there is no record of where he was living between then and 1892. It may have been Port Pirie in which case Charlie would have had a companion and perhaps one, who, having anglicised his own name, encouraged him to do the same.

So the earliest Charlie Ross, given his age, could have arrived in Port Pirie would be 1871 although if the 'jumping ship at Port Germein' story is correct it would have been 1878. This would have given him eight years in Port Pirie before he moved to Gladstone, long enough to be 'remembered' by a few 'old ones' at his death in 1907.

Personally I would be happy to have the Greek names which would open so many more doors in the land of his birth. I am still hoping for that one lost photograph to appear with the name on the back. Either that or a distant Greek relative looking to find out what happened to a great-uncle who sailed away never to be seen again.

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