Thursday, 25 October 2018

Granny was a perjurer

It may seem an odd admission for a family historian to make, but I was about ten years old before I recognised that most other kids had more grandparents than I did. It was not just that we did not see my father's parents, it was as though they had never existed. Naturally, as an inquisitive child, I set out to find why and quickly learned that this was another of those "things we don't talk about".

Advance half a century and I was able to show that my paternal grandparents married in Belfast in 1923 and separated approximately three years later. He migrated to north america: she brought their two sons to Queensland. Around the time of her divorce and remarriage in 1938, something happened between mother and son that meant that Dad never spoke a word to her again. Indeed, he tried to not acknowledge her as his next of kin1 when enlisting in 1941.

Those were the bare facts in the documentary records but (as is often the case) a newspaper can provide the context, the background and the colour that is absent from the official certificates. In my case, it was the report of the divorce proceedings in The Truth2 that revealed so much more. Readers familiar with the reputation of that paper may wonder at my apparent faith in its reporting, but as you will see it was most informative.

Christina (my grandmother) presented the facts of her case to show that after a few short years of marriage her husband had migrated to Australia and later sent the passage money for his family to join him. Joyously reunited in August 1928, they lived at Sandgate apparently in domestic bliss until November 1928 when he mysteriously vanished without a trace. From that day hence, she had neither seen nor heard from him.

His Honour was clearly concerned by some minor details, such as the plaintiff's inability to recall where her husband had worked in Sandgate.

 "It is a most extraordinary story you are telling me" [Mr Justice Henchmann] remarked to which Mrs McAllister replied "Well it is true".

It is the case that (as in all extravagant fantasy) there are grains or perhaps wisps of truth woven into the tale, but there are even more elements that are demonstrably false.

My grandfather had left Belfast on 13 November 1926 aboard the S S Regina bound not for Brisbane, Australia but for Montreal, Canada3. That this person was the correct Robert Joseph McAllister is shown by the notation on the ship's manifest4 that he intended to be joined (eventually) in his new home by "Mrs C McAllister (wife 24 years) Robt J 2¾ Andrew B 1½".

The cost of the voyage to Brisbane by Christina, Robert, and Andrew aboard the Demosthenes was met not by Mrs McAllister from funds remitted by her husband but by the Queensland Government5 (and the Salvation Army). In correspondence on her migration file, Christine acknowledged that as a deserted (sic) wife unable to locate her husband in Canada, she needed financial assistance to join her sisters (who had made the journey to Brisbane earlier).

Upon arrival in Queensland, Christina lived not in Sandgate but at Stones Corner6 - a short walk from her address at the time of the divorce. And she remained in that general locale for the rest of her life.

In short, neither party had ever lived in Sandgate and the "missing" husband had never set foot in the country. But Mrs McAllister wanted her freedom.

There were other extravagant claims in Christina's evidence (possibly incorporated to add artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative) that seem so absurd as not to warrant investigation. In total, the obvious inconsistencies apparently disturbed the presiding judge who made one last attempt to understand the situation

... and yet he left you and his children. Was he fond of them?" "He did not take much notice of them" Mrs McAllister answered.

The decree nisi was granted along with an order for the custody of the two boys. In December 1937, Christina remarried and my father (aged 13¾ years) left home.

While it is undeniable that much of the evidence given in the case was false and its reporting sensationalised, that newspaper report answered a very important question for me.

The worst offence that I could commit in the eyes of my father was not to admit to a misdeed. I must always be truthful and "own up" to what I had done. And never, ever try to shift the blame for my actions onto another person.

My father would not want me to associate with any person to whom the terrible label LIAR could be attached. She Such a person could cause untold hurt to others and should be shunned.

  1. RANR Record of Mobilised Service NAA: A6770, MCALLISTER R J
  2. DISAPPEARED AT HIS SECOND ATTEMPT Truth 31 May 1936: p 12
  3. Outgoing Passengers UK BT27/1110/4 Regina
  4. Immigration Records (1925-1935), Canada Robert J McAllister 1926 vol 24 p 116
  5. Queensland State Archives Item ID1120524, Files - immigrant McAllister, Christina
  6. Queensland, Australia, Electoral Rolls 1934 Christina McAllister Griffith, Buranda
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