Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Great Grand Uncle Watty

My Dad's family were tenant farmers in Somerset. There were a number of farms which passed down through several generations. When he started researching our genealogy Dad spent hours at the British High Commission looking up addresses and wrote many letters in the hope someone would reply and be able to fill in the gaps and take us back further. It worked too - took a little longer than emailing mind you.

They were ecstatic about reconnecting as they had always wondered what had become of the family who emigrated. My great great grandfather and his brother were the only children from the marriage of their parents. Their mother went on to remarry, and I was to eventually discover, have several more children. It seems though, that the boys' paternal grandmother left them money in her will - 600 pounds. One brother remained in Somerset, but the other packed up his family and emigrated to New Zealand with the Albertlanders in 1862.

They don't seem to have ever taken up the land offer which was part of that scheme though and lived mostly in Auckland and Hamilton. When they emigrated James and Sarah bought with them their six eldest children. Later we would discover that they had lost their seventh  child  aged 6 months shortly before leaving their farm of 140 acres & servants & farm labourers, with a most amazing house which is still standing albeit partially rebuilt www.hurstone.com Surely I have a hereditary claim on it dont I ? Money shouldnt need to change hands at all.

Anyway some of the sons, and I think even James briefly, caught gold fever in the 1870's and 1880's and spent some time on the Coromandel and Thames goldfields. Dad had been able to account for all of his grand uncles (uncles of his father) except for one. Walter. He knew he had been mining near Waihi and I remember wandering around cemeteries with him, in the days before people began to transcribe headstones, in the hope we would find one with the right name. But no. Dad wasn't even entirely sure he had died in New Zealand. He recalled talk of him being in Australia as well, and most intriguingly he remembered that his grandparents had a gold nugget on their mantlepiece that had been bought back for them by Walter. But bought from where ?

Walter was 7 years old when the family emigrated to New Zealand, 18 months younger than my great grandfather. I wonder what it was that captivated him about mining, that led him to spend his life "chasing the weight". Was the excitement and adventure ? Or the monetary reward ? As a kid I remember my Dad being a rock collector with a view to polishing up the gems he discovered. There were holidays where he scrabbled around in the undergrowth being rewarded with bits of amethyst and quartz. Is that what it was like for Walter too ?

So my search began,  I tracked down a death index for a Walter James Davys with the correct age in Geraldton West Australia, so we ordered the certificate and it did seem we had found Uncle Walter. But we knew nothing else of his life - apart from that he had never married. So that was that, the certificate got filed away, and the date added onto his record on the family tree.

Then came the advent of digitised newspapers. Here in New Zealand Papers Past supported by the National Library, enabled me (and then Dad because he is so intrigued by it all) to search for Uncle Walter. We learnt he was quite a successful prospector in Thames and Coromandel. He had a number of claims, and popped up in the paper giving evidence in court over disputes with other prospectors and in a landmark case with the Kauri Timber Company who disputed the rights to the minerals being mined underground. Walter was also injured in a rockfall reported in the Thames Star 7 August 1885 (3rd column near the top) and his recovery in the Thames Advertiser 12 August 1885. In an article about Ohinemuri - History of the Goldfields in the Te Aroha News 3 October 1885 he was referred to as "the well known prospector". The ongoing enquiry investigating the dispute between the Kauri Timber Company and the propectors in 1897 gave me my next clue. It reported that Walter Davys had since left Tairua and New Zealand for Australia. And here is where my relationship with TROVE began.

Walter was known as Watty in Western Australia. He was a much respected prospector and it would seem something of a billiards player too. He spent his days on the Coolgardie and possibly in Queensland (though I cant find much about that yet). He gave great names to his mines, Westralia Waihi near Davyhurst (the town named after him) was one, it yielded 20000 pounds ! Thats a lot of gold, and a lot of money. How amazing to read this (amongst other articles) and  to see the photo in the Perth Sunday Times 25 April 1926 . Watty continued to prospect well into his 80's in the Dongarra. I keep going back to see if there are more digitised editions where I can learn more abou this pioneer ancestor of mine.

On www.ancestry.com.au I found some shipping information for Walter returning to Australia from Auckland - I wonder whether that was after he bought the gold to give his parents and/or siblings ? It has been so great to find all this information and share it with my Dad. Newpapers are a mine (excuse the pun) of information to help build a picture of our forebears. If it werent for Trove we'd have still been calling him Walter - Watty has much more character dont you think ?

He was 88 when he died in 1944, and it seemed as late as 1939 still chasing the weight at Dongarra. I wonder what ever happened to the gold nugget on the mantlepiece...

This post forms part of Trove Tuesday as suggested by Amy, from Branches, Leaves & Pollen.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to blogging - what a great start. I'm pretty new to it too, and started for similar reasons. I look forward to reading your findings.