Sunday, 29 January 2012

A sailor went to sea sea sea...

Today seems as a good a time as any to write about how Cam’s Fam came to be in Australia, sandwiched as it is between the date the First Fleet came ashore at Sydney Cove to plant the flag for England and to start of the first white settlement (26 January 1788), and when our Robert landed on Australia’s shores some 66 years and 11 days later [1 & 2].

I felt like a detective trying to determine how and when our Robert arrived, so bear with me and I’ll take you on my journey to find out more about his journey!

During my journey into our past I learned was that, after the initial forced migration to Australia that we celebrate on 26th January (aka the First Fleet!), people began to choose to travel to Australia to settle. In Australia’s early days, these rather brave and somewhat foolish people are who we refer to as Free Settlers, as I'm sure you remember from school! As years passed, the Colony grew and settlement in Australia became more common and attractive, two further groups of people came to Australia: Assisted Passengers; whose journey was sponsored or financed in part by either family, friends or even prospective employees, and Unassisted Passengers; who were able to pay or work for their own way over.

On his death from “senile decay” at aged 80 in Newcastle NSW, our Robert had been in the Australian Colonies for 53 years [3]. Armed with all the above information I kinda fell upon various shipping and passenger lists for arrivals into Australia (love Google!). On one such site, the Records of NSW website, I searched for Camerons arriving as either Unassisted or Assisted Passengers in about 1854. Four pages into the results for the Unassisted Arrivals I found an entry for a “Robt Cameron”, aged 26 years who was a ‘Carpenter’s mate’ from England. I didn’t feel like I needed to search too much further than this because I am certain I found our man!

Why? Because, according to the 1841 Scottish Census our Robert was a Shipwright’s Ap (which I read as possibly a Shipwright’s Apprentice) and in his later life in Australia he was a ship builder. A shipwright by any other name is a ship’s carpenter so it’s not a far stretch to imagine Robert working his way over on a ship as a carpenter’s mate. Not to mention that the age of the “Robt Cameron” was pretty close and the year of arrival spot on. 

Our Robert arrived in Sydney on the 565 tonne barque the Inchinnan on 6th February 1854. The Inchinnan left London on 18th October 1853 under the command of Captain Thomas Ennis with 24 crew and 18 passengers [1]. Newspaper articles at the time record her arrival in Sydney and there is suggestion that it may not have been the most pleasant of journeys as “[n]orth of the equator, the Inchinnan encountered very heavy squalls from the southward, by which she lost both topmasts and lower yards.” [2] Ingeniously, the fore-top-mast with which she arrived was constructed by deck-boards “without which the voyage would have been considerably protracted”. As carpenter’s mate, I’m pretty certain that mast was representative of some of our Robert’s handiwork and he definitely earned his keep!

There isn’t much more information readily available about the Inchinnan on this particular journey. However I understand it was an important ship in New Zealand’s history, delivering new settlers on a later sailing. What I understand though is that the journey between England and Australia was pretty treacherous generally, due to the sea (as hinted at above) and conditions onboard both for sailors and sail-ees! To avoid immigrant ships becoming “coffin ships” strict rules were enforced by ships’ surgeons surrounding hygiene, diet and daily routine but this didn’t stop death onboard.

I am endeavouring to find out more and plan a couple of posts about the conditions onboard and why Robert may have wanted to leave Scotland to settle in Australia given the risks involved – particularly when he made the journey between the UK and Australia three times: the first on the Inchinnan, the second returning to Garmouth a few years later to marry Betsy and the third after the wedding to travel back to his new home.

I should also note that Robert (and Betsy) weren’t the only of our rels who could be nicknamed “boat people” and I will also share their stories…
[1] State Records Authority of New South Wales: Shipping Master's Office; Passengers Arriving 1855 - 1922; NRS13278, [X90], reel 399. Transcribed by Jenny Gerrey, 2004 - As found at 
[2]1854 'SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE.', The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893), 11 February, p. 2, viewed 29 January, 2012,

Thursday, 26 January 2012

"Winona Forever"

It seems like everyone is doing it - actors, sports stars, singers, doctors, nurses, bogans on Bondi Beach... Some keep it to themselves, saving it for that special someone. Others flaunt it, doing it where everyone can see. It could be black, blue, pink... even fluorescent! It's no longer restricted to dingy alleys or South-East Asian holidays.

I'm talking about getting inked. 

What are you talking about? 

I came across this really interesting article recently, Tales of Tattoo Trend as old as Australia, which notes that a number of convicts arrived in Australia with tattoos. I had absolutely no idea that tattooing was practiced by anyone at that time except tribes in far flung regions of the then-growing British Empire.  

To read that a female convict arrived with "two double hearts pierced with darts and surrounded by a wreath" tattooed on her right hand got me to thinking... who in our family has a 'distinguishing feature' like a tattoo? And, what was the thinking behind it? 

In the interests of full disclosure I admit to being a clean-skin. I've been into a tattoo parlour to support my best friend get her body permanently etched with a shortened version of her family motto but the closest I have been to a tattoo myself is a henna tattoo, a memory that only lasted about 4 weeks after a visit to Dubai. I often joke I'm the only lesbian in Sydney without a tattoo, given that it is such a common form of expression in the gay community. (Well, the community at large really.) I currently have two piercings in each ear lobe, and in the past I have had a piercing in my left ear cartilage and my tongue! 

And you?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Uncle Brian's photos

1940 George Street Sydney1944 Inscription in Bible1943 Inscription in BibleAbt. 1920 Edith Cameron & baby James1918 Edith and Harold CameronEdith Cameron
1924 James & Brian Cameron, AllisonEdith Cameron (nee Wadley)Edith Cameron & sonCameron Family1938 Edith & Harold Cameron, Alice & Neilimg126
1942 Brian Cameron & Edith CameronOct 1942 Hilda & Bert Wakelin Wedding1940 Looking pretty grim!Notes on back of previous photos!1942 Groomsman1928 Lindfield Public School
1929 Brian (Leura)Abt. 1930 Wadley side of FamilyBrianDad relaxing1945 Edith Cameron1942 James, Edith & Harold Cameron
Uncle Brian's photos, a set on Flickr.

Half the fun of playing in the past is actually seeing it!

Putting faces to names brings life to what can otherwise be quite dry research and makes it easy to remember whose past you're actually looking into. Not to mention the joy of finding familiar features in family members a long time gone.

Today I began what will no doubt be a continuing project of digitising the Family Archives, starting with photos kept by Uncle Brian, Pa's younger brother. The younger of Cam's Fam may not remember Uncle Brian so I might ask the older ones to put their thoughts down on paper so I can dedicate a whole post to his life?

I have very fond memories of Uncle Brian but I think it's fair to say I didn't know him very well. I feel though I have a better understanding of him by looking at the photos he retained. They can be sorted into two broad categories: family photos (including photos taken by his father during WWI) which I can only presume were quite dear to him and a physical memento of what I hope were happy memories and important people, and war photos from his time serving in the Army during World War II in Darwin and the Ambon Islands.

Thankfully Uncle Brian was quite organised and jotted notes on the back of many of the photos. It has helped immeasurably with putting those faces to now familiar names!

There is a slide show to the right of this post that should, if I've set it up correctly, scroll through a number of Uncle Brian's photos. If you don't have the patience to watch them all, or would like more detail please click on the photos above or CLICK HERE.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Where do I come from?

This question generally elicits an embarrassed cough and an “Ask your mother” but Cam’s Fam, you can now answer with confidence that you come from...

On the left bank of the River Spey as it flows north towards the Moray Firth, Garmouth, aka the Barony of Germach or the even less pronounceable Ge├árr Magh in Gaelic [1] as it has previously been known,  is a small town towards the north east of Scotland. Eleven years ago the population of Garmouth was 494 [2] which is surprisingly less than the 675 inhabitants in 1835 [3]. So, when I say small town, I mean it! 

To its credit though, by 1863 the town had a gasworks, proving light to both it and Kingston-on-Spey a few miles upriver, a public school, a Gothic Free Church with an octagonal tower [4], “three inns, a post office, savings bank and three agents for insurances” [5] and a sawmill. There isn’t a lot there now from what I saw - just the Church, the Garmouth Hotel where Mum and I enjoyed lunch and narrow-winding streets, dotted with small cottages, many of whose foundations were laid before there were white men in Australia.

The major social event of the year is the Maggie Fair, held annually in June and has been every year since the town was deemed a burgh of Barony in 1587 by Robert Innes, the 19th Laird of the Innes Clan (think Clan Chief), by virtue of a Crown Charter and granting it the right to host a fair.

Another event of import that seems to pop up when searching Garmouth’s history is that in June 1650, after the execution of his father and return from exile in Europe, Charles II first set foot on the land he now ruled in Garmouth and it is where he signed 1638 Scottish National Covenant and the 1643 Solemn League and Covenant shortly after coming ashore.

The final event that gets some mention is the flood of 1829. It’s strange though, upon visiting Garmouth, the Spey River does not seem so close now that you would expect that Garmouth was a. flooded to a height of 10 feet 2 inches above ordinary level so that “there was scarely a house in the lower quarter of the village which was no injured or a garden wall which was not swept away” [6] and b. part of a thriving ship building industry that grew from the late eighteenth century to its height in the mid 1850s . Between 1785 and 1920 over 500 ships were built and launched in the Spey, varying from 99 ton schooners and East Indiamen of over 1000 tons burthen [7].

The industry dwindled in the early years of the 20th century but not without employing a number of rels, including our Robert, his brother and his father. (More on this another time). Hand in hand with the shipbuilding was a large timber industry, which floated logs from the forests of Glenmore, Abernethy, Rothiemurchus, and Glenfishie to the port of Kingston, all part of the Scottish shire or county of Moray, in which Garmouth is located.

Moray is pronounced Murray in that gorgeous Scottish burr. The Innes Family claim Moray as their traditional lands, as does Clan Gordon, with Gordon Castle built in the eastern corner of the shire, which stretches from the River Spey to the Lossie River, along the North Sea coast. 

One fan of the region in 1775 wrote of Moray that “no Country in Europe can boast of a more pure, temperate, and wholesome air. No part of it is either too hot and sultry in Summer, nor too sharp and cold in Winter; and it is generally (and I think justly) observed, that in the plains of Moray they have 40 days of fair weather in the year, more than in any other country in Scotland.” [8]

It wasn’t one of those 40 days when Mum and I visited the area. So while the weather wasn’t that inviting, the people were hospitable and the area beautiful and I can only imagine how difficult a decision Robert had to make, leaving everything and everyone familiar and a town our family had called home for at least 100 years (from what I have found). But, thank goodness he did!

[1] which means narrow plain,_Moray   
[3] Skelton, J 1995, Speybuilt: The story of a forgotten industry, Garmouth p.11

[5] Skelton, J 1995, Speybuilt: The story of a forgotten industry, Garmouth p.6
[6] Skelton, J 1995, Speybuilt: The story of a forgotten industry, Garmouth p. 10
[7] Skelton, J 1995, Speybuilt: The story of a forgotten industry, Garmouth p. 11 (and no I don’t know what 100 tons burthen is either!)
[8] 1882, The History of the Province of Moray.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Speaking of birthdays...

A belated shout out to the youngest of the Cameron Clan in my generation - my cousin Georgie who shares her birthday with Didi! Sorry it's a little late...

On 8 January 1996 a cargo plane in Zaire crashed killing 350 people, Alanis Morisette's song "Ironic" debuted, John Howard called for a quick election and I had just arrived to spend a year as an exchange student in Sweden! 

What's in a name?

Oops, not doing so well on the New Year’s resolution to remember birthdays.... While I did help a friend celebrate her birthday on Wednesday night and I’ve bought a couple of cards, I haven’t sent them yet and on Thursday I failed to recognise the birth date of Jessie Cameron, my third great grand aunt. 

Born 11 January 1839 in Garmouth, Moray, Scotland, were she with us today Jessie’d be in the Guiness Book of Records and the Fire Department would be on stand by to put out the 173 candles on her cake!
Sadly, Jessie died 'in infancy' [1] but she holds a very soft spot in my heart because she was one of the first of our Robert’s relatives that I identified in the very early days of taking over the family archives.  

As I mentioned, Didi had been tracing the tree for quite some time before I got involved.  She had a pretty complete picture of the family born from Robert in Australia, after he married Betsy. However we didn’t know anything of his beginnings or family beyond the name of the town he came from, being “Garmouth”. (Even that was a mystery for a while because Didi had thought a reference to Garmouth in a Bible passed through the family was someone’s name!)

So, armed with his name and a town name I tried to find more.

Thanks to the wonders of the world wide web and digitization of old documents, with a few (paid) searches on Scotland’s People, I narrowed down two Robert Camerons born in the same area and within a few days of each other. I was able to determine which one was ours by locating our Robert’s marriage certificate to Betsy. Marriage certificates can be a wealth of information and Robert’s was no different, naming his parents as Alexander and Janet Cameron.

A couple of clicks later, I was looking at the beautifully handwritten entry in the old church records for the parish of Speymouth recording his lawful birth on 11 April 1827 to Alexander Cameron and Janet Cramond.  And who should be recorded on the same page but an older sister Jane (born 15 October 1823) and the much younger sister Jessy!

At some point In delving into the past I became aware of the interesting fact that Jessie is actually a nickname for someone called Janet, which in turn is a derivative of Jane [2]. Even more confusing is that all three names could be, and were, used interchangeably! A fact that became very apparent for me when I have the name “Jessy” as the official first name in the Old Parish Records but two years later a census collector noting down a 2 year old “Janet” in the Cameron household [3].

With all three names being used by three different people in the immediate Cameron family, I can only imagine the scenario, perhaps around the dinner table or in anger someone yelling “Jessie Cameron” and at least two heads looking up thinking they were in trouble!

Another interesting point to note about names is that it also wasn’t uncommon for first names to be passed on from generation to generation in Scotland [4] recognizing or commemorating the one before it. So, the first boy would be named after the father’s father and the first girl after the mother’s mother and the second son after the mother’s father. It seems our Cameron family followed this tradition quite well as our Robert is named for his mother’s father, Robert Cramond, and his older brother Alexander for his father’s father. Alexander and Janet ran into trouble with their third son who is traditionally named for the father! As Alexander was already taken, Robert’s next brother was named John (born 18 September 1831) and the youngest boy James (born 24 October 1833).

So now you know a little more about the family from where we came. Let the journey continue!

[1] As recorded on the family gravestone in  Urquhart Old Churchyard, Station Road, Urquhart [photo above] which also has the spelling “Jessie”. The gravestone reads:

To the memory of her
Beloved husband
Ship Carpenter Garmouth
who died 19th April 1840
aged 47 years
their daughter  JESSIE who died in Infancy.
Also their Sons
who died the 10th Sept 1852
aged 21 years.
who died 23rd Feb 1858
aged 24 years.
Also the above  JANNET CRAMOND
who died the 4th April 1883
aged 83 years.

[3] 1841 Scotland Census – this was conducted on the night of 6 June 1841 and while only basically factual detail was recorded it has helped shed light on Cam’s Fam like that our Robert’s brother Alexander was a Shipwright. It also tells me Jessie survived to at least 2 years of age and that their  father Alexander was not counted in the census and therefore may have died before 1841, consequently confirmed when I found the gravestone.  What confuses me is the reference to a 12 year old Elizabeth. I haven’t been able to find any other record of her as one of Alexander and Janet’s offspring.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Happy Birthday Didi!

It seems fitting to start this blog on my grandmother's birthday as she is the one who started me on the journey to trace our family tree! 

It was a long journey from Garmouth in Scotland to Sydney for our ancestor Robert Cameron and probably felt longer for Didi as she hunted down documentation the hard way - letter writing, contacting slightly-related rels, visiting cemeteries, waiting for transcriptions. A completely different experience for me as I haven't really haven't had to wait much longer than the click of a mouse for the information I have collated! 

Over 20 years or so she collected a lot of information about the family she had married into - Camerons descended from Robert Cameron (born 11 April 1827 in Garmouth and married to Betsy Murdoch) in Australia. I have been tasked with keeping the archives complete and adding to them where possible, which is what I'm enjoying doing in my spare time. 

This blog aims to share what information has been collected (and is being collected) about each of the members of "Cam's Fam"- a affectionate reference to my gorgeous grandfather who his grandkids all called Pa but who was known as "Cam" to others throughout much of his adult life. I'm sure as this blog progresses there were will twists and turns through history and along the branches of the family tree with a strong focus on the paternal line of the Camerons. 

On that note, I will diverge slightly to recap some of the stories making news on the day of Didi's birth in 1925[1], care of the National Library of Australia's website TROVE which provides digitised copies of many of Australia's old newspapers, free!

NEW GUINEA. Colonel Ainsworth's Report. ASIATIC LABOUR FAVOURED. p. 8

[1] 1925 The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 8 January, p. 1, viewed 8 January, 2012,