Monday, 3 June 2013

The elder Seal

Although the public record of the Brisbane Band is dominated by the figure of Professor (sic) Andrew Seal (born Andreas Siegel) through the sometimes idiosyncratic recollections of his daughter Pauline; there is quite good documentary evidence of two other players from the 1857 line-up.

We know that August William Seal was admitted to the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum (an antecedent of the Eventide Home, Sandgate) on September 20, 1887. There can be no doubt that this is the same man who arrived in Moreton Bay 20 years earlier with his brother Andreas because the admission register lists both his profession (musician) and migrant ship (Pacific 1855).

The notes on admission refer to Gus being married twice and having two sons. However it appears that he was estranged from his family and had no option other than to enter the Asylum when unable to work for medical reasons. He remained a resident (inmate?) until six days before his death (10 June 1901). During those 14 years of residence, he was "absent on leave" for periods of one to two weeks on 12 occasions.

Gus reported that he was 66 in 1887 which indicates a date of birth in 1821-2. That date is broadly consistent with one derived from the age (31) given on the crew list of the Pacific in 1854. He stated that he had been born in Nassau, Germany; the son of John Seal and Elizabeth, whose maiden name he did not know. Curiously, the registration of his death records his mother's name was Elizabeth Burrison. The only person in Brisbane who might have known this (if Gus himself did not) was his brother Andreas; but at Andreas' death three years later, there is no name listed for his (their) mother.

Gus married Harriet Wiles in Sydney's St James Church of England in 1855. In 1887, he reported that he was 33 years old when he married. Their first son, William Andrew Siegel, was born in Sydney in 1857 before the Band traveled to Moreton Bay. His brother, Charles Henry Siegel, was born in what was then called the Northern Districts of New South Wales in February 1859 (although his mother's name was spelled Wilds in this case).

We know that the marriage was not stable because in July 1861 Gus placed an advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald warning that he would not be responsible for any debts incurred by Harriet, whom he accused of deserting him and their two boys and returning to Sydney "without any provocation". Harriet continued to use the Seal (Siegel) name until her death in 1904 when she was buried in the same grave as Gus in Toowong Cemetery by their son William.

On his Asylum admission, Gus reported that he had a second marriage to Catherine Mills in Brisbane when he was aged 48 (presumably in 1869-70). There is no official record of that marriage; but a birth was registered in January 1872 of Emily Siegel, the daughter of Augustus William Siegel and Catherine Helms Mills Tuckey. One must wonder why Gus reported a marriage that apparently did not take place but failed to mention a very real daughter.

In 1887, Gus stated that his son Charles Henry was a seaman but he did not know his whereabouts. The absence of any official records other than his birth suggests that he had left the colony and never returned. The elder son, William Andrew, trained as a painter and decorator and in February 1878 married Fanny Parsons. Two months later, Fanny gave birth to Gus's first grandchild, William Augustus. (Although from 1878 to 1881, William apparently spelled his official surname Seigel rather than Siegel, while being commonly known as Seal). By 1887, William and Fanny had two sons and three daughters (aged 0 to 9) in their home in Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley; which may explain why they were unable to support Gus as well. They eventually had a total of seven children.

Perhaps we can see an indication that life for many a professional musician has changed little in the last 130 years in this statement on his Asylum history that Gus …

… had supported myself by my profession since my arrival. Employed during the last two years at Brisbane theatres. No property. No cash.

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