22 October 2014

The portrait of Gaspard Weiss and family

The Musée Historique in Mulhouse has a portrait of Gaspard Weiss, his wife Marie, and their eldest child, Charlotte. It is a pastel, and the family has always believed it to be by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the celebrated English portrait painter. I've never been sure of this - the portrait is unsigned, and it is done in pastels, which Reynolds did not usually use.

I decided to do a bit of research to see if I could come up with an informed opinion on the likelihood of it being by Sir Joshua Reynolds, though I'm by no means an art historian!

The portrait is below. I have no access to the full artwork in colour, so I'm showing the available partial colour one (from the CD of Weiss's music), plus a black and white image of the full portrait.

According to information on the back of the frame the portrait is thought to have been painted in England in about 1777. Charlotte, the daughter in the photo, was born in June 1776 - the child in the artwork would definitely be around 1 or 2 years old (though how they managed to get her to sit still for a portrait is beyond me!) which fits well with that date.

Would Gaspard Weiss have moved in circles which might have allowed him to sit for a portrait with such a well known artist? In a word, yes. Weiss had patrons, students and acquaintances who would have had contact with Reynolds. Through Lord Abingdon, who was one of his students, he became acquainted with Lord Cholmondeley (who also became a student) and Lord Wentworth. Weiss dedicated flute compositions to all three of these men. Reynolds had painted Lord Cholmondeley as well as portraits of members of both Lord Cholmondeley's and Lord Wenthworth's families. Additionally, Angelika Kauffmann, who had bewitched Weiss in his younger years, became very good friends with Sir Joshua Reynolds upon her arrival in London. It is possible that any of these people could have made an introduction for Weiss with Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Did Reynolds actually use pastels? Jeffares in his Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800 (Online edition) observes that Reynolds did not seem to like using pastels, but then goes on to give details of his pastel works, though many of them appear to have been studies for oil artworks. The only image of a Reynolds pastel that I can find online is Head and Bust of a Woman (see below), held by the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., which in comparison is a very simple work, though it happens to be done in similar colours to the portrait of the Weiss family. Comparing the two, it certainly isn't inconceivable that the same artist might have done both - there is something about the way the eyes are worked that is quite similar.

To compare other artworks of Sir Joshua Reynolds completed around the same time, there are a lot more options to consider.

Reynolds' portrait of Charlotte Grenville, wife of Sir Watkins Williams Wynn and her children (above), held by the National Museum Cardiff, is an oil, completed around 1778. It shows Lady Charlotte reclining with a book, while three of her children play at her feet. Lady Charlotte and Marie Weiss share a similar bored, unseeing gaze (to my mind anyway), and even their profiles appear similar. There is drapery hanging from the lefthand side in both paintings also.

The above portrait The Strawberry Girl, from The Wallace Collection, is an oil completed around 1772-3. While the overall tone of the painting is a lot darker than the Weiss family portrait, the lighting on the actual subject is similar - how the shadows fall etc.

Diana Sackville is an oil, completed in 1777, held by the Henry E Huntington Art Gallery. Despite the completely different background for the two paintings, the colour palettes are similar, as is the lighting.

So I've picked out some of Reynolds' paintings which definitely show some similarities, but it wouldn't be a proper assessment if I didn't compare the Weiss family portrait with the work of some of Reynold's contemporaries. I chosen the major portraitists of the day, including Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Thomas Lawrence and George Romney. George Romney wasn't working in pastels during the period the Weiss family portrait was painted, so we can count him out straight away. Thomas Gainsborough did use pastels, but most of his pastel works have not survived as he apparently didn't fix them.

Gainsborough's pastel portrait of Caroline, 4th Duchess of Marlborough, completed in the 1780s, while beautiful, is of a completely different style to Reynolds' Weiss family portrait. It is done much more in the style of a sketch drawing rather than a painting, with quite a bit of hatching. The colour palette is also very different, with the duchess being rendered in a very white/grey palette, giving her an almost ghostlike appearance.

Sir Thomas Lawrence's pastel portrait of Dr Banks Esq, completed in 1784 is also a very different style to that of Reynolds', and to be honest, is much more amateurish - Lawrence was quite young still in 1784.

So, although it is not an entirely comprehensive study of English portrait painters in the 1800s, I am quite content to consider that the pastel portrait of Gaspard Weiss, his wife Marie, and their infant daughter Charlotte was actually done by Sir Joshua Reynolds. If you are more of an expert on these things than me I'd love to hear your opinion!

12 October 2014

I've moved...

Things have been a bit quiet here for sometime, but there's a really good reason for that. We've moved. To another country. On the other side of the world. 

We've moved from my beloved Sydney to a small country town in Germany! No, I don't speak German, but I'm learning, and being immersed in the language now will help. 

We moved here for my husband's work. It's all very exciting and daunting, but there's been so much organising and packing and stuff to do that my family history research had to go on the back burner.

So, I'm not sure what moving here will mean for my family history research. I'm no longer able to visit Australian archives, but we're also quite close to some important places from my family history - the closest being Mulhouse in France, where my Weiss ancestors are from. I can't wait to take a trip over there to visit the Mulhouse city archives and have a dig around for information on Gaspard Weiss and his relatives. 

I'd also love to visit the part of the Rhein Valley where my Beringer ancestors are from, close to Frankfurt and Weisbaden. 

I'm not sure that we will have much opportunity to travel to the UK at all, but if we do, I would love to spend days in the UK archives. 

So that's what's been happening with me, and we'll see how I go with my family history research here!

02 September 2014

Some useful French websites for Family History

I have a little bit of French ancestry, so I have done a bit of digging in French genealogical resources. And I want to make it clear right now: I do not understand French, but have been generally able to navigate these websites, with the help of Google Translator. So if I can do it, anyone can!

Firstly, here are some French words that may be helpful as you research French family history:

French English French English
Town Hall

The websites you might find useful will depend on where your French ancestors lived. Mine were from Haut Rhin (Upper Rhine), Alsace, and also from Paris, so that's what I'll be focusing on here.

The most useful online genealogical resource for Paris that I have found is the Archives Numérisées de Paris - the Paris Archives. The Paris archives have three sections of material - the État civil de Paris, civil vital records for Paris, (mostly 1860-1902), Sources Généalogiques Complémentaires, additional complementary resources, such as military records (1875-1921) and children assisted by the Seine (1742-1913), and Documents Iconographiques, maps (nineteenth century) and photographs related to urban planning (1860-1940). Of these records I have made the most use of the État civil de Paris. These records have tables of decades for each category of vital record - births/marriages/deaths, and then also the individual records themselves, which are listed in chronological order. The biggest problem is that you need to know which district to look in, though if you are patient, you could try all 20 districts! Use the decade tables to find the exact date of the event, and then look for the actual record itself. Below is a excerpt from the 1873-1882 marriage table for the 17th arrondissement (district) of Paris:

Taking the record for Salomé Weiss (no known relation to my Weiss family), from 4 November 1873, this is what it looks like:

This is where, if you don't understand French, it becomes slow and painstaking/painful as you transcribe it and run it through Google Translator! The record gives details of the groom, his occupation, his age, where he's from, his parents, the bride, her age, where she's from, her parents, etc. and then also lists a number of witnesses (if you're lucky some of them are identified as relatives) and then their signatures, along with the mayor - it's a civil record after all. These records can contain a wealth of useful information! Here's some of it in a bit more detail:

Haut Rhin (Upper Rhine)
The most useful online genealogical resource for Haut Rhin is Archives Départementales du Haut-Rhin - the Departmental Archives of the Upper Rhine. If you go to the Services section, there are four different types of record you can search: the Ancient and Modern Archives (Archives anciennes et modernes), the Contemporary Archives (Archives contemporaines), Postcards (Cartes postales), and Vital records (Actes d'état civil). Although there is a chance you might find something of interest in the first three sections, you'll most likely get the most useful information from the vital records. You can choose the place to search, and then search the decade tables or births, marriages, deaths, publication of marriages, or a register of the names of Jews. The information is quite similar to what you get in the Paris archives.

There are quite likely plenty of regional archives across France which hold similar records available to access online, but this is just a taster of the ones I have used.

14 July 2014

The character of Auguste Naudin

I have written about Auguste Naudin (Augustus Theophile Naudin) before - he was the first husband of my 2x great grandmother Frances Turnbull. However I've been doing some more digging on him, and have uncovered a new source of information on him - the notes from a voyage of the Allier, a French steam ship taking troops from France to New Caledonia in 1878-9. After stopping in at Java along the way, people aboard the ship started coming down with some kind of illness (malaria/typhoid/smallpox) with 21 deaths occurring before they reached Cooktown, Queensland on 9 Feb 1879. The captain of the ship begged to be allowed to stop in at Cooktown, so they were allowed to stay on the north shore where there had previously been a quarantine station. The ship stayed there for several weeks until the quarantine was lifted and they were able to continue on to New Caledonia.

Notes on the voyage written by C. Milleret, entitled "Une Épidémie a Bord" were published in La Revue Hebdomadaire in June 1895.
"Vendredi 14 fevrier. En même temps que les provisions est arrivé à bord un particulier mal vêtu, autorisé, comme représentant de la municipalité cooktownaise, à s'installer chez nous en qualité de "surveillant". C'est un Français nommé Naudin. Ses fonctions sont d'une utilité contestable. Je ne nous vois pas essayant de forcer l'entrée de la rivière ou allant nous promener à terre incognito. Il y a un dessous, Naudin est un pauvre diable venu en Australie pour y chercher fortune. Après avoir tenté d'infructueuses expéditions en Nouvelle-Guinée, essayé plusieurs métiers confinant, je le crains, à la traite ou à la piraterie, il s'est échoué à Cooktown où il meurt de faim, peu s'en faut. Pour lui trouver une occupation, en même temps qu'un salaire lucratif et ne coûtant rien à la bourse des contribuables australiens, on n'a rien imaginé de mieux que cette place de surveillant dont les émoluments demeurent, comme de juste, à la charge des surveillés. Tout le temps de la quarantaine, Naudin sera nourri à la table du carré et recevra, au compte du gouvernement français, une demi-livre ou 12 fr. 50 par jour." pp.101-2.
Roughly translated (and no, I don't speak French, so its quite rough and possibly inaccurate - I welcome suggestions) this says that Naudin arrived, badly dressed, with provisions, as the authorised supervisor of the quarantine. They weren't at all sure that he'd be of much use to them - "of questionable usefulness". He was a Frenchman, who came to Australia to seek his fortune, and after trying some unsuccessful expeditions to New Guinea, where he tried several jobs, bordering - they feared - on trafficking and piracy, at which he failed, he returned to Cooktown, nearly dead from hunger. So that he wasn't employed at the expense of Australian taxpayers they gave him this job of supervisor of the quarantined, fed and paid for by the French government, at a half a pound or 12 francs 50 per day. Much of the narration doesn't mention Naudin, but the entry on Monday March 10th was a gem:
"Ce Naudin est un vrai type. Sur ses nouveaux appointements, il s'est fait envoyer toute une garde-robe. Ce n'est pas trop tôt. Il a usé toutes nos vieilles culottes. Si le quart de ce qu'il nous raconte est vrai, ses mémoires auraient du succès. Quelle mine pour Boussenard ou Jules Verne!" p.239.
The rough translation: "This Naudin's a real dude. On his new salary, he is getting an entire new wardrobe - not before time though - he's used all our old pants. If a quarter of what he says is true, his memoirs would be very successful. What a wealth of material for someone like Boussenard or Jules Verne!" And, at the end of the period of quarantine on March 18:
"La garde de police qui surveillait le camp est levée... Naudin aussi est licencié, "pour cause de suppression d'emploi". Sans rancune, nous lui offrons de conserver son couvert au carré jusqu'au départ définitif; avec empressement il accepte." p.240.
Translation: The police who guarded the camp have finished up. Naudin was also dismissed because of job cuts. There were no hard feelings, they offered to pay him until they departed, and he eagerly accepted.

Perhaps its a little harsh but Naudin comes across as a badly dressed fast-talker, full of stories, always out to make a buck. It's worth noting that he had previously been married, in NSW, to Charlotte McMunn, and left her with their three young children, to follow the gold rush to Queensland. He never returned, never divorced Charlotte, and then married his second wife Bridget Murry (also known as Frances) on 14 February 1877, with their first child born in December that year. Which means that it is quite likely Naudin was off galavanting around New Guinea looking to make his fortune while his poor wives were at home with their children, waiting for him. And again, while he was off supervising the quarantined Allier at the expense of the French government. Of course, it must be said that this was probably the norm for the time. I get the impression he was looking for adventure and didn't like being tied down to one place or family for too long. So that's a little bit more about Augustus Theophile Naudin and his character. 

10 July 2014

Finding Thomas J Thompson

Thomas J Thompson was married to Mary Ann Wilkey, the sister of my great grandfather, James Arthur Wilkey. Mary Ann was born in 1864 in Canterbury, married Thomas in Burrowa (Boorowa) in 1885, and died on 29 April 1937 in Bankstown. They had seven children (I think), and lived in Railway Parade, Thornleigh in 1906 when their eldest daughter Ada died, aged 20 (SMH, 23 July 1906).

Apart from knowing where he was married, and where they lived when Ada died, I could find nothing on Mary Ann Wilkey's husband Thomas J Thompson. Nothing on his birth, no date of death, nor where he was buried - he wasn't buried with Mary Ann, who was buried at Rookwood Cemetery with her parents, John and Mary Ann Wilkey. I suspected from family death/funeral notices, including his own wife's, that he had died before her, but had no actual proof.

I searched and searched. I didn't know what he did for work, so that didn't help. Days later, it suddenly occurred to me that I knew that Thomas and Mary Ann's daughter Ada was buried in Rookwood as well - perhaps if he wasn't buried with his wife then maybe he was buried with his daughter. BINGO!

Thomas John Thompson was buried in the Methodist section of Rookwood Cemetery, with his daughter Ada May. He was interred on 1 July 1911, and the record notes he was 49 years old. From his date of interment I could look more accurately for a death record, and from his age at death I knew he was born in about 1862. I was completely unprepared for what I found in Trove (Barrier Miner, 1 July 1911):

An utter tragedy, compounded by the fact that Mary Ann's own father, John Wilkey, had died earlier that year (15 Jan 1911), and one of her brothers, James Arthur Wilkey, had been killed in another freak accident four years earlier. I can imagine Mary Ann at home, getting dinner ready, waiting for Thomas to get home from work, the time getting later and later, until there was a knock at the door...

However, putting aside the awful story of Thomas' death, I also learnt that Thomas was born in Victoria and was a bricklayer. I don't know if he was a bricklayer all his life, or just did different labouring jobs over the years. I've had a brief look at the Victorian BDM, but there's a few candidates that could be Thomas' birth (though only as Thomas Thompson - there's no Thomas J or Thomas John Thompson in the right range of years). I'm too cheap to go looking through them all, and I'm not sure I'd be able to work out which one he was anyway.

So that's a little about Thomas John Thompson. Not much, but more than I knew before.

29 June 2014

A trip to Mt Kosciuszko

Way back in 1936, when Mt Kosciuszko - Australia's tallest mountain, at 2228m/7310ft - was still spelt Kosciusko (it was changed by the Geographical Names Board of NSW in 1997 to reflect the correct Polish spelling, named after General Tadeusz Kosciuszko), Uncle Les and Auntie Gen took a trip there with Auntie Gen's uncle and aunt, Norman and Mary Macindoe.

They travelled in a 1920s soft top Austin tourer (I think) and they must have been freezing!

They stayed at Hotel Kosciusko. Below is a photo of Uncle Norman and Aunt Mary in front of the hotel (though I actually think this may be the back of the hotel).

They spent a day walking to the summit of the mountain, and although Auntie Gen looks well rugged up, I love that her Uncle Norman is in a three piece suit and tie! The one shown in the photo below is the original cairn, which has since been rebuilt.

Despite the fact that they have rebuilt the cairn at the summit of Kosciuszko, the Seaman's Hut is still standing (here's a link to a recent photo), and looks like it hasn't aged since the following photo was taken. I still can't work out what a seaman would be doing up there on the mountain though!

28 June 2014

Uncle Les and the YMCA

I've written a little about my great uncle Les Davis before, here and here.

Leslie Alfred Davis (1903-1977) was married to my grandfather's sister Gen, both pictured in the photo above. Family legend has it that he entertained the troops during World War II. I had assumed that this meant he was enlisted in the Imperial Forces (which he didn't), and research shows that he never travelled overseas with the armed forces. However he did spend time at Evans Head, NSW, during the war. Careful examination of photos of Uncle Les in uniform at the time show it was a YMCA uniform.

Searching the internet for information on the YMCA in Evans Head during World War II has been rather fruitless, and contacting the YMCA brought no help at all - perhaps they don't actually have an archivist? Going through Uncle Les' photo album this morning, it suddenly occurred to me to look up Trove - I'm not sure why I didn't think of this before! I found a number of useful articles:

GUESTS AT the Civic Hotel in-
clude Mr. and Mrs. Les Davis, of
Sydney, who are spending holidays
here. Mr. Davis was formerly at-
tached to Evans Head R.A.A.F.
Station as Y.M.C.A. Welfare Officer,
and will be remembered here as a
compere of concerts.
Northern Star, 17 Feb 1945 Northern Star, 26 Apr 1945 Northern Star, 29 Jan 1947

So this shows what Uncle Les was doing in Evans Head during World War II - he was the YMCA Welfare Officer attached to the RAAF base there. From what I can tell, as a YMCA Welfare Officer he supported service personnel stationed in Evans Head, presumably through the provision of recreational facilities and other services to assist in maintaining morale. The photos below show Uncle Les in his office, and also in the YMCA Recreation Room at Evans Head, with some RAAF airmen.

25 April 2014

ANZAC Day 2014

Today is ANZAC Day, a day observed in Australia and New Zealand to commemorate all those who served (or are still serving) and died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. ANZAC is an acronym that stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Naturally, on a day like today my thoughts turn to my great great uncle Allan Wickham, who was killed in action at the second battle of Bullecourt, France on 3 May 1917. Although I don't like war, I am proud to honour him and all those like him who made the ultimate sacrifice in war, by fighting and dying for their country.

The photo above is of my son, a member of the Australian Air League, laying a wreath at the local ANZAC Day Parade two weekends ago. I was proud that he marched in honour of those who fought and lost their lives for their country, and doubly proud that he was chosen to lay a wreath.

21 April 2014

The Smiths

I've recently been working on some Smiths. I've done some research on Smiths before, but they were on the maternal side of my family. These Smiths are on the paternal side - Susanna(h) Smith married James Ball at Hoxton St John, Hackney on 16 April 1835.

The surname of Smith can be an appallingly difficult one to research, especially if you have a John Smith and a Mary Smith in the mix, which happen to be the names of Susannah's parents. Helpfully, Susannah's parents made my research slightly easier because they were apparently great fans of alliteration and gave all their children names beginning with 'S' - Susannah, Samuel, Shadrach and Sarah, and possibly also Seth and Salina. I don't remember where I found the names of Seth and Salina, but I'm leaving them here as possible children because their names do start with S, but do be aware that they may not be correct. I have not been able to find any concrete evidence for their existence.

This Smith family seems to be from around the Bedford/Bletchley/Leighton Buzzard area. I have not actually been able to find any birth/baptism records for them. According to the records I have found, Samuel was the eldest child, born in about 1802 in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire (from the 1851 English census). Next was Sarah, born in about 1808, in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire (according to the 1851 and 1861 censuses). Shadrach was born in about 1811 in Bletchley (1851 census). And according to her immigration records (upon immigration to Australia in 1857) and the 1851 census, Susannah was born in Bedford, Bedfordshire in 1815.

John Smith was noted as a linen weaver from Leighton Buzzard on the birth record of his grandson James William Ball, (son of James and Susannah Ball née Smith). The record does not state whether John Smith was actually still living at the time of the birth in 1837. Certainly John and Mary are both recorded as dead when Susannah immigrated to Australia in 1857.

One of the reasons why it has been difficult to find information on the family is because at least all the children in the family were non-conformist in their religion - I don't know if their parents were. Although some of James and Susannah Ball's own children were baptised in the Church of England, some were not - James William Ball's birth is found on a non-conformist register. Immigration records list the denomination of the Ball family as "Independent", which is also known as "Congregationalist".

Susannah's unmarried brother Samuel was living at 16 Beaumont Square, Mile End Old Town in the 1851 English census and his occupation was "Minister of Religion (Independent) and Lecturer".

Shadrach lived with his wife Elizabeth just down the road from Samuel at 2 Beaumont Square. As far as I can tell, they had no children. Shadrach was a printer according to the 1841 and 1851 censuses, but he did much more than that according to the death notice his sister Susannah placed in the Sydney Morning Herald on 31 Aug 1860:

I don't know this for sure because I haven't yet managed to access any Congregationalist ministers records, but I am guessing Samuel may well have worked at the same church that Shadrach attended - the Mile End Congregational Church.

Sarah was a governess who married later in life, aged 40, to a twice-widowed man, William Griffith Marsh - I'm guessing she was governess to his children. I have not been able to find a record for their marriage apart from in the civil records, and it is my hunch that they married in a Congregationalist church and their marriage is buried amongst the non-conformist records. I have not found any records for Sarah having any children.

Susannah Ball née Smith (1815-23 Oct 1871) is buried in Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney, NSW. Sarah Marsh née Smith (c1808-Mar 1864) is buried in Abney Park Cemetery, a non-conformist cemetery in Hackney, in the same plot as her brother Shadrach (c1811-31 May 1860), and his wife Elizabeth. I've not yet been able to work out when Samuel died, but it was before Shadrach, and he is not buried in Abney Park Cemetery.

17 April 2014

A family heirloom - a hand embroidered doily

I was given this embroidered doily after the death of my great aunt - it had been embroidered by her mother, my great grandmother, Ellen Paterson Wilkey née Macindoe (1876-20 Apr 1967). I treasure it because of my own love of embroidery, and have it framed and hanging on the wall in my bedroom. One day, when I meet her in heaven, my great grandmother may well ask me why I stuck it on the wall in a frame instead of using it!

The other day I was looking through some books on Antique Pattern Library, and was stunned when I came across the pattern! There is only one small difference that I can find in the way my great grandmother stitched it compared to the pattern and I'm quite convinced it is the pattern she followed. The pattern is from a DMC pattern book, Drawn Thread Work, edited by Thérésa de Dillmont, and was published in about 1895. This definitely fits within the time that my great grandmother might have been stitching.

Why do I think this is significant? I'd been told of my great grandmother's sewing skills, but finding the published pattern shows me that ordinary women stitched these designs - it wasn't mass produced in a factory somewhere. She was definitely talented - it's not an easy pattern!