Friday, 30 November 2012

Is that you, Uncle?

I began the search for our great grandfather with the last document we can connect to him, the passenger manifest of the SS Regina on its voyage to Canada. Information from that source confirmed that this was the father of Robert Joseph (b 1924) and suggested a likely birth year for further research. That line of investigation has led us to assert that his parents were Robert and Eliza Jane.

There was one further piece of information in the manifest. In addition to listing anyone who they expected to follow them to Canada, immigrants were asked to specify the person in Canada with whom they proposed to live.

In response, great grandfather Robert provided the following:

Uncle Mr J McAlister 67 [Ib?]ay Avenue Mimico Ont.

If we could identify this person and if he was a "real" uncle, then we would have a further insight into the identity of the previous generation of McAllisters.

The town of Mimico now lies within the boundaries of the city of Toronto but it has a proud history reflected in the blog Town of Mimico - Soldiers of the First World War which in February 2002 included information about

T. J. McAllister
According to his attestation papers dated September 25, 1915 at Toronto, Thomas James McAllister was born on July 7, 1879 at Corkstown, Tyrone, Ireland. ... In the 1921 Toronto City directory he is listed as a fruit dealer living on the south side of Hay Avenue, Mimico.

A copy of that 1921 City Directory is still available and it does indeed list Thomas McAllister on Hay Avenue on page 89.

It also lists some thirty other McAllisters living in different parts of Toronto, but this does appear worthy of further investigation.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Loss unacknowledged

At the 1911 Census, Robert McALLISTER listed his status as married but did not include his wife Eliza Jane on the return. Were they living apart, or was Robert a widower refusing to acknowledge the fact?

In 1901, there had been five people named Eliza Jane McALLISTER.

By 1911, there were just four.

Three of them match precisely to the 1901 data. For some inexplicable reason, a 19 year old serving girl has become a 51 year old publican but neither of them could possibly be the mother of Albert, Robert and William (and according to the census return of Robert Snr, two other children).

It is possible that our Eliza Jane has crossed over the water; but no-one matching her details was recorded in the United Kingdom Census of that year.

The evidence is growing that Eliza Jane McALLISTER (possibly our 2xgreat grandmother) died between 1906 (when William was born) and 1911.

But there is no record of her death in the Belfast area (or anywhere else in Co Antrim or Co Down).

At the 1901 Census, Robert reported that both he and Eliza Jane had been born in Co Tyrone. Perhaps the family had returned to their roots. The 1910 edition of the Belfast and Ulster Directory does show that the house in which they would be living at the following year's census (in Chambers Street) was vacant.

A search of the Civil Registration Index for Omagh District (in Tyrone) showed that Eliza Jane McALLISTER died in the first quarter of 1909. Her estimated birth year was given as 1868 while the 1901 Census data would suggest 1873 for our Eliza Jane, but due allowance must be made for Irish ages.

If this is our 2xgreat grandmother, what should we now make of Robert's reference to 5 live births with 4 children still living? Did Eliza Jane have more children after William? Did she die in child-birth? If so, where is the missing child?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

An interesting neighbourhood

It is common to characterise a residential area by the type of people commonly found there. We refer to the stockbroker belt or a battlers' suburb conveniently ignoring the fact that there may be a wide diversity of people in those communities.

In the course of confirming the residence of Robert and Eliza Jane McALLISTER on Howard Street South, I examined the 1901 edition of the The Belfast and Province of Ulster Directory. This listed their near neighbours as follows:

  • 79. Holmes, Alex., plumber
  • 81. Walker, Wm., linen lapper
  • 83. Standhaft, P., professor of music
  • 85. Ferguson, G., carpenter
  • 87. Greer, A., brass founder
  • 89. King, Mrs.
  • 91. McKee, Mrs.
  • 93. Welch, David, seaman
  • 95. Stockman, S., linen lapper
  • 97. McAllister, R., linen lapper
  • 99. Lindsay, J., phrenologist
  • 101. Davidson, W., hackle maker
  • 80. Hutchinson, J., sail maker
  • 82. Lightbody, W., boot maker
  • 84. Russell, Wm., hide broker
  • 86. McCloy, D., caulker
  • 88. Clark, D., car driver
  • 90. Maginnis, Ed., labourer
  • 92. Thompson, Mrs.
  • 94. Henderson, A., labourer
  • 96. Welch, Chas., carpenter
  • 98. Bell, Jas., winding master
  • 100. Vacant

Some features of the list were not surprising. Two other men in the street also worked as linen lappers. The mill was probably within walking distance of their homes. James Bell from number 98 almost certainly worked at the same place. A winding master was responsible for securing the thread on the spindles before they were fitted to the loom.

Mr Davidson (at number 101) was not engaged in the manufacture of feather decorations for the bonnets of Highland warriors. The hackles that he made were combs used for separating the threads of flax at the beginning of processing.

Most of the rest of those on the list were employed in recognisable trades or as labourers; with the notable exception of Messrs Standhaft and Lindsay.

I have found no other reference to the Professor of Music at number 83. Although he is listed in the Directory, by the night of the Census there was someone else living in that house. Where did he go? Was he actually working as a musician or a teacher of music?

John Linday, the phrenologist, was aged 74 and living alone at the time of the Census although he described himself as "married". It is fascinating to speculate on what conversations he may have held with his neighbours, and on how they might have regarded him.

Taken together, they certainly made this neighbourhood hard to stereotype.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Desperately seeking Eliza Jane

I had identified a candidate for our great grandfather, Robert Joseph McALLISTER, in the 1911 Census in a household made up of a father Robert and three sons. Curiously, Robert Snr (possibly our 2xgreat grandfather) listed himself as "married" with 4 living children but the return includes no reference to his wife.

My search for the wife of Robert (born about 1870 in Co Tyrone) took me back to the 1901 Census.

At that time he and Albert were living with Eliza Jane in house 97 in Howard Street South (Windsor Ward, Antrim). This area of Belfast has undergone many changes over the past century and Howard Street is no longer residential, but it can be located not very far from the site of the 1911 home (Chambers Street once ran from Donegall Pass to Posnett Street.)

There were four other people named Eliza Jane McAllister in that census. Three were Roman Catholic, including a mother and daughter. The fourth (a Presbyterian aged 24) was recorded as the head of a family of four younger siblings.

Can I use this information to learn more about the fate of the mother of Albert, Robert and William?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

A soldier's Will

Until yesterday, all that I knew about Robert BURTON (the eldest brother of our great grandmother Christina) was contained in my post Not just ANZACs describing his death at Suvla Bay.

Now I have on my screen an image of his informal will made on a page of his official notebook left blank for that purpose. In truth it tells me nothing more than I already knew, but it is written in his own hand and carries his signature.

The National Archives of Ireland has made available for searching 9,000 wills of enlisted and non-commissioned soldiers from the thirty-two counties of Ireland who fought in the British Army in the World War I and in the South African war of 1899-1902. There were more than 35,000 Irish deaths in that period, so there will be many disappointed searchers.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A strange census entry

At the 1911 Census, the form carried the following instruction under the heading Particulars as to Marriage:

State for each Married Woman entered on this Schedule the number of:-
Completed years the present marriage has lasted
Total children born alive to the present marriage
Children still living

The section of the form completed by our (possible) 2xgreat grandfather is shown here.

It indicates that a 20 year marriage had produced 5 children, 4 of whom are still living.

But there is NO married woman listed on the form; just Robert Snr and three sons.

He has placed the information about the length of the marriage and children against his own name.

How should we interpret this information?

Friday, 9 November 2012

A missing great-grandfather

When Robert Joseph McALLISTER (our great grandfather) sailed from Ireland in November 1926, his age was recorded as 24 years. At the time of the Census in April 1911, he would have been 8 or 9 years old.

There are 12 boys named Robert McAllister aged between 4 and 13 recorded in that Census. Eleven of those 12 were living in County Antrim. Of the three who were 8 years old, two were called Robert Joseph.

The family of Robert Joseph from Altmore Street was Roman Catholic. The McAllisters of Chambers Street, Cromac were Presbyterian and the head, Robert (of course), worked as a Linen Lapper.

The third eight-year-old Robert lived in County Westmeath west of Dublin. His father was a saddler and a member of the Church of Ireland.

The circumstantial evidence for the Robert McALLISTER aged 51 of Cromac being our 2xgreat grandfather includes that we know this was the general area in which Robert lived until he left Belfast, his future wife's family lived in the same district, were protestant and also worked in the linen industry.

If that is the case, where was Robert's mother in 1911 and more importantly, who was she?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

A broken family

Our great grandfather, Robert Joseph McALLISTER was born in Belfast in 1902. He married Christina BURTON on New Year's Eve 1923. They had two sons, Robert (b 1924) and Andrew (b 1925).

On 13 November 1926, Robert Joseph McALLISTER set sail for Canada on the SS Regina. The family would never be together again.

Christina's version of events is contained in a statutory declaration made in March 1928 to support her application to enter Australia with the children.

My husband the said Robert Joseph McAllister deserted me and emigrated to Canada in the month of November 1926 ...

Robert's view of the separation can be seen in the passenger list of the Regina where he responded to following instruction

by entering
Mrs C McAllister (wife 24 yrs),
Robert J. 27/12 Andrew B. 11/12,
32 Toronto Street Belfast

Which version is true? In the Queensland Immigration files there is an copy of a letter dated 14th March 1927 noting that "... nomination of Christina McAllister and family has been cancelled, as they are proceeding to Canada".

None of this was ever the subject of conversation within the family. The ramifications of the breach were such that Robert (the son) never spoke a word to his own children about either of his parents or his brother. A line had been drawn under an unhappy past that was not to be revisited.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Maritime negotiation

Industrial relations involving seamen in Australia have a reputation for being robust. The tale of the Persia indicates that this situation has a long history.

The story begins with an incident during the voyage when two sailors broke into the single women's quarters. Apparently the Captain decided that the offenders would be dealt with at the end of the voyage.

True to his word, Captain Smith contacted the authorities in Gladstone on the day the ship anchored to have the two men taken into custody. When the local police came on board, they were surrounded by more than a dozen crewmates of the accused, who challenged that if the locals were to arrest any of them it would mean taking them all.

The matter was settled without violence and 15 men, all from the same watch on the Persia, were taken off the ship, tried for insubordination and sentenced to three months imprisonment. They were duly transferred to Brisbane under guard on another vessel.

It was claimed that the arrest of the first two offenders had been used by their mates as a convenient excuse and the threats to the Police were simply a ruse to get themselves arrested as well. The men were reportedly unhappy with the Mate who oversaw their watch and decided that a spell in Brisbane's new Green Hills Gaol (on the site of the Petrie Terrace Barracks entertainment complex) would be preferable to continuing the voyage to China and then on to South America.

This cynical view was reinforced when after serving a little under a month of their sentence, the men were released into the custody of Captain Smith and returned to the Persia. The Courier of 28 December carried a report of the almost inevitable outcome.

It is amazing that this trouble did not boil over at sea between Plymouth and Gladstone with terrible consequences for the immigrants (and for our family history!)

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