Wednesday, June 27, 2018

'Nothing Without the Cross' - the link between a lost manor house in Tunbridge Wells and Point Henry near Geelong Australia

When strolling through an English park recently, I stumbled on an interesting and perhaps little-known link between a lost manor house in Tunbridge Wells and a historic place in Victoria, Australia - a place that I have driven past many times without giving it a second thought.

Many mid-19th Century emigrants from Britain and elsewhere would have first set foot on the Australian continent at Point Henry which is on Corio Bay, an arm of Port Phillip Bay.

At the time, access to the main settlement at Geelong was difficult due to a sand bar that restricted many ships entering the port and most of the larger vessels had no choice but to offload their passengers and cargoes at Point Henry. In later years, channels were cut in the sandbar which enabled Geelong to develop into a major port.

Once ashore, the new arrivals would have had to get themselves to Geelong by whatever means they could. If they had money, they would have been able to hire smaller boats to ferry them across the bay, or horses and carts or wagons to haul them overland with their belongings. If they were poor people, they would have had no option but to walk, carrying whatever they could, trudging through six miles of scrubby bush bordered in places by salty or marshy ground.

Breezy Day at Point Henry, Walter Withers, 1900, National Gallery Victoria

The foreshore as it is today, the You Yang hills in the distance

How the Point got its name has been debated, although a timeline available from the Bellarine Historical Society notes that in September 1836, Lieut. H R Henry of the survey vessel HMS Rattlesnake allegedly named it after himself, but “… the brig which was in the area 3 months earlier is considered the more credible source.” This vessel was the Henry, owned by a man called Henry Reed.

The Geelong Historical Society erected this plaque in 1951 at Point Henry.


Henry Reed (1806-1880) was a canny and dynamic, yet profoundly religious, Yorkshire businessman and philanthropist who became influential in many areas of trade and settlement in the early years of colonial Australia.

Henry Reed in later life

Henry was the son of a Doncaster postmaster who died when he was just five years old. This left the family in dire straits and Henry's mother took in washing to support the family and to pay for the children's elementary education. At thirteen, Henry became a merchant’s apprentice and at the age of twenty was given a letter of introduction to a trader in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). After arriving in Hobart in 1827, he walked all the way across the island to Launceston, a distance of some 120 miles.

While working in a store in Launceston, he made friends with one John Batman and was a witness at his marriage. He would later give Batman a loan to help with his enterprise in establishing the future city of Melbourne.

Henry went into business for himself as a general merchant and then moved into shipping, sealing and whaling, banking, and was even briefly a politician. The Henry was one of the first vessels he owned. He established a whaling station at Portland Bay, and often commanded his own ships on their voyages, with the Henry investigating the viability of harbours in South Australia which would help with the establishment of that colony as well.

Henry’s strong religious principles remained at the forefront of his activities: *

"With all his business ventures Reed found time for practical religion. By faith a Wesleyan and a fervent evangelist, he had ready sympathy for all unfortunates. At Port Phillip he spent some time up country with Aboriginals in hope of saving them from a fate like that of the Tasmanian tribes. He was reputed to have preached the first sermon on the site of Melbourne, his congregation being Henry and John Batman, William Buckley, and three Sydney Aboriginals. To encourage the opening of a mission at the new settlement he offered £20 and annual subscriptions. At Launceston in November 1837 he had himself locked one night in the cells with condemned criminals who were to be executed next morning."

Even on his return to England in 1847, where he lived for the next 26 years, he continued to be deeply involved in philanthropic causes:-
"... He became associated with General Booth and helped him with money and advice in the difficult formative years of the Salvation Army. Generous gifts were also made to other evangelical work such as the China Inland Mission and the East London Christian Mission. He helped to establish places of worship in the East End and schools on Bow Common …
And ...
… he undertook many preaching engagements throughout the north of England and, dismayed by the widespread poverty he encountered, devoted himself to providing homes and assisting the poor with food and other necessities. In his native Doncaster he bought ten cottages for free occupation by aged Christians and arranged to pay all the rates and repair bills."

Another of his passions was building, including warehouses for his businesses and houses for his ever-increasing family. (Henry married twice and had at least sixteen children.) 

Macquarie House was one of Launceston's earliest buildings that still stands today. Read about it here.

Macquarie House built for Henry Reed in 1820s

Another of his earlier houses built in 1859 also still stands today at Queenscliffe, on the Bellarine Peninsula near to where ships passed through the Heads of Port Phillip Bay on their way to Point Henry. Generations of Port Phillip pilots have called this modest six-roomed house home. 

Rosefeld, Queenscliffe, 1859
Victorian Heritage Register

On his return to England, Henry built a number of imposing houses for his family, including Dunorlan Harrogate but it was at another Dunorlan at Royal Tunbridge Wells, where he would create the most lavish and grandest of them all. Its keystone displayed his family crest, a wheatsheaf with the motto “Nothing Without the Cross”.

The earlier Dunorlan Harrogate as it is today,
now apartments
Dunorlan Tunbridge Wells
 contemporary drawn image c. 1860s
(Photos, if any, impossible to find)

This new Dunorlan would have everything that any self-made Victorian entrepreneur should aspire to: a collection of rare or exotic trees, stretches of open meadows and a series of terraces that led down to a private lake complete with cascade created out of that peculiarly unique Victorian invention, pulhamite rock.

Grecian statues lined an avenue planted with cedars that led from a fountain to a folly in the style of a Grecian temple. The estate even had a spring to rival the famous Chalybeate Spring in The Pantiles of Tunbridge Wells.

Fountain and cedar-lined avenue leading to Grecian Folly,
Dunorlan House at rear c. 1860s

Dunorlan today
remains of terrace walls just visible on the slope

Dunorlan today
the cedar avenue

However, in spite of the huge amount of time and money invested in Dunorlan, Henry was dissatisfied and did not live there for long. (There are suggestions that conflicts with local Christians over the message such opulence was sending to the local community might have had something to do with it.)

Less than 10 years after its completion, Dunorlan was put up for sale. The house was bought by a Canadian banking family but eventually it was requisitioned in 1941 as part of the War effort. Apparently soldiers who were billeted there used the statues along the cedar avenue for target practice and left nothing but a few pedestals. In 1946, the building caught fire and although efforts were made to restore it, the local authorities had it demolished in 1957. New houses were built in its place and the rest of Dunorlan Park was given to the public for everyone to enjoy.

In 1873, Henry Reed had returned to Tasmania where he continued to combine his evangelism with creating more grand homes for his family. The estate of Mount Pleasant near Launceston and Mountain Villa on Wesley Dale. Mount Pleasant was said to be the finest house in Northern Tasmania.

Mountain Villa, Wesley Dale,
 National Trust Tasmania

Mount Pleasant, Launceston,
National Trust Tasmania

Henry did not slow down, however. In 1875 he helped in the establishment of the New Guinea Mission, buying for it a steam launch named the Henry Reed. He bought and demolished a hotel and a skittle alley in Launceston and built a new chapel on the site. This would later become the Henry Reed Memorial Church, now the Baptist Gateway Church. 

Henry Reed Memorial Church c. 1884

Shortly before his death in 1880, Henry wrote to a friend: 
'I have been so much accustomed to put my whole heart into anything I have engaged in, and to do it in the best possible way, and never to be satisfied with anything but decided success whether in spiritual or temporal things, that it troubles me much when I see things half done or carelessly done, but I must ask the Lord to help me in old age to look over and pass by many things.'

As for Point Henry, it has long been an ugly blot on the landscape, being the site of the Alcoa Aluminium smelter, which is now closed and there are long-term plans for the whole area of Point Henry to be redeveloped and rehabilitated with new housing and tourist attractions. Churches are unlikely to feature in our secular age, but perhaps Henry Reed would approve of the energy and vision it will require to take to bring to fruition.

Extracts from entry for Henry Reed in the ADB

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Life and Times of Charles Algernon Parsons

If you were to ask the average person who was Sir Charles Algernon Parsons, you would probably get a blank stare. If you also asked what was his connection to the tragic liner Titanic, you might receive a more interested response. And if you asked a student of engineering, then hopefully you would be met with instant recognition.

Sir Charles A. Parsons, by William H. Orpen, 1922 (Science Museum)

Parsons was the inventor of the steam turbine that would totally revolutionise electricity generation in the world's power stations as well as marine propulsion. From 1899 onwards, steam turbines would be fitted into naval warships as well as many famous passenger liners such as Mauretania, Lusitania and that most memorable of all, Titanic.

But it is the Turbinia that came to be uniquely associated with Parsons and its speed created a major sensation in 1897 during Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Review at Spithead.

Parsons had trouble interesting investors in his new invention so in an audacious plan to show what his little vessel was capable of, he purposely "gatecrashed" the Review. Turbinia dashed out and raced past the line of some 165 ships. Another boat was sent out to catch her, but Turbinia easily outran the pursuer and it was almost swamped in her wake. The crowd, including Prince Henry of Prussia, brother of Kaiser Wilhelm II, was astonished. Parsons had decisively proved the abilities of his steam turbine engine. 

For any afficianado or keen student of engineering inventions, Turbinia itself can still be seen today at The Discovery Museum in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Turbinia speeding through the review at Spithead

In this connection, I am delighted to announce that my cousin, Eddie Kirton, a committee member of the North East Coast Joint Branch of The Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology and The Royal Institution of Marine Architects  - and who has extensive knowledge about Charles A. Parsons and Turbinia  - will be giving a talk entitled:

The Life and Times of Charles Algernon Parsons

and all interested parties are welcome to attend. (Further contact information here.)

Like many a strong-minded genius, before and since, Parsons' diffident personality meant he had great trouble with being a public figure and his family relationships were complex. 

As an example, Eddie has scoured all the known Parsons family and scientific archives to try and track even one adult image of his only son, Algernon, who was killed in World War I, but none has been found. It seems highly possible that all existing family photographs of him may have been destroyed by his sister Rachel in 1933 when she had the family home cleared of its contents after her mother's death.

Lady Katherine Parsons was a formidable woman in her own right, a suffragette and champion of women in engineering. Rachel, also a brilliant engineer, but profligate and unstable, had a tragic end, bludgeoned to death by a disgruntled stable-hand to whom she owed money. (She will be explored in greater detail in an upcoming post on my companion blog on women, The History Bucket.)

Eddie's talk will touch on these fascinating aspects of  Parsons' life as well and one doesn't have to be an engineer to enjoy learning about this extraordinary man to whom the world owes so much.

Ireland has just launched a 15 Euro coin celebrating Sir Charles A. Parsons.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Farewell to Paradise

NOTE: All stories in this series on those who are buried at Paradise Cemetery in Zimbabwe can be followed via the links highlighted in blue below.

This now concludes my exploration into the stories of of the men who were buried at Paradise Cemetery in Marandellas, Rhodesia (now Marondera, Zimbabwe) during the Boer War era.

It has been an enlightening and often moving experience to now know something of the personal histories of those whose graves I stood beside so many years ago. (See my initial post here.)

While I havent solved the puzzle of exactly how many individuals in total lie in Paradise, I have clarified the whereabouts of some. There may well be others who have slipped through the cracks of officialdom, non-combatants attached to the army services and whose details are missing altogether. 

A most useful discovery in trying to resolve the last of the British Imperial Yeomanry men buried in Paradise, has been this book Rhodesia - and After: Being the Story of the 17th and 18th Battalions of Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa written by Sharrad H. Gilbert, published in 1901, and now available online in digitized format.

It is worth reading Gilbert’s straightforward and sobering account of what the British and Empire contingents had to endure as part of the Rhodesian Field Force, of how some of the strongest and fittest men, like New Zealander Rough Rider, John Saxon, were the first ones to fall victim to “the malarial mists” and “steaming swamps” of Mozambique and left to die en route in remote and primitive conditions.

Line of mounted troops of the 4th Victorian Imperial Bushmen Contingent, marching from Umtali to Marandellas.
(Australian War Memorial)

Assuming Gilbert’s personal reporting is often more reliable than the official records, it is now possible to eliminate many men from the archival lists and confirm they do not lie at Paradise Cemetery, in spite of the fact that their service records with the National Archives in the UK, the UK Register of Soldiers Effects, various other Anglo Boer War returns, plus numerous newspaper reports of the time all suggesting that they do!

Apart from instances of incompetence, another feasible reason for so much confusion may be that the military staff reporting on the deaths from the base at Marandellas were under stress and also suffering from exhaustion or fevers themselves and in no fit state to be checking particulars.

It is also highly likely that most of the families concerned were never aware of the mistakes in places of burial; that few of them ever had the chance to make the pilgrimage to Africa to pay tribute to their lost loved ones or, if they did, they would not know of the errors that were compounded by the good intentions of groups like the Guild of Loyal Women, as shown to be the case with Paradise.

Gilbert’s book also confirms the two men with the surname of Shaw, George Frederick and Albert Edward, were buried at Bamboo Creek and Umtali respectively in spite of many mentions of Marandellas but, having investigated their stories in some depth, I shall not delete them from my earlier post as along with the sad story of John Saxon are good examples of such mistakes.

(Navy and Army Illustrated,  21 April 1900)

Bamboo Creek
 (Navy and Army Illustrated,  21 April 1900)

As Gilbert also refers to his visit to the sixteen graves at the Mashonaland Rebellion cemetery a few miles away at Ruzawi, this may help to explain why the number “sixteen” was mentioned by the Australian visitor of 1933 who could have confused the two cemeteries.

As the ZimFieldGuide website states, there is a marker at Paradise that definitely doesn’t belong there and should be at Ruzawi. It is for Trooper James Hastie Stoddart of the Umtali Rifles who was killed in action during the Rebellion in 1897. He was the son of James Hastie Stoddart, once the Chief Editor of the Glasgow Herald. Another forgotten story of a young man going out to far-flung places to fight for “Queen and Country” and paying the ultimate price.

The only possible way of determining for sure how many individuals lie in unmarked graves at Paradise Cemetery would involve archaeology with a geophysical survey and that is never going to happen unless some future Zimbabwe government becomes more tolerant of its white colonial history and permits such investigation.

Even if such a scenario did eventuate, the results would be unlikely to offer much in the way of academic value. Men who never saw action because they died of illness, accident or suicide rarely, if ever, warrant quite the same attention as battlefield heroes. There is no excitement or historical glory-of-war glamour attached to them. 

The current commemoration of the centenary of World War I has reignited considerable interest in the stories of men and women from all over the British Empire who served and died in that War. There have been numerous respectful services and the tender restoration of graves and memorials, pilgrimages by thousands of descendants too young to have known their ancestors, church services and huge poppy displays, plus more than a touch of dewy-eyed sentimentality over a generation stamped with sacrifice and nobility.

Patriotic Postcard, Boer War (State Library of Victoria)

Contrast all of this with those Sons of the Empire who did likewise just a few years earlier and travelled to Southern Africa to serve during the Anglo Boer War. Even if it was an unpopular war at the time, it is still sad that there is not the same dignity awarded to its memorials in countries where the action took place. While some may see the destruction of war graves as a natural reaction of indigenous populations against what they see as evidence of colonialism, the reality is that it has more to do with ignorance and vandalism in the hunt for items of value including metal crosses or goods thought to be buried with the bodies.  

So perhaps it is best that those graves that lie scattered and lost along the route taken by the Rhodesian Field Force in 1900 from Beira to Marandellas and beyond and via obscure places like Bamboo Creek and Iron Mine Hill have no markers to identify those who have long been beyond the cares of this world. 

To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling in his poem about that great Empire figure himself, Cecil John Rhodes, who was buried within “... the granite of the ancient North” just a few years after the Boer War, they also lie at peace in the same “... great spaces washed with sun ...” 

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

A Boer War Burial (Australian War Memorial)

Here are some casualty statistics for the whole of the (2nd) Boer War 1899-1902 from the Forces War Records site, as compiled from the various official sources, including those used for this project:

7,894 killed
13,250 died of disease
934 missing
22,828 wounded

This is by no means reliable and the site does state that there are differing reports on the exact split of the casualties, although all agree, however, that disease was the main cause of death”.

Those men that I have discovered in this small research project who went mad and committed suicide, or died in accidents, or from neglect, exposure and exhaustion, are presumably all just lumped together under the deaths from disease. 

Anyone undertaking family or historical research into the Boer War should treat all such statistics, and especially all the official records mentioned, with a great deal of caution.

An unknown Yeomanry trooper and sick horse (Imperial War Museum)

It is worth remembering also that more than 300,000 horses died during the Boer War.
Just like their riders, they had little immunity against the terrible scourges of Africa.

* Research into the sole woman buried at Paradise, Gertrude Margaret McLaren, revealed she was aged 49 when she died at Paradise Estate on 20 October 1935 of heart disease. She was born in the Cape Colony, South Africa. Her husband was one of the several doctors listed as her medical practitioners on her death certificate. He was Thomas Dick McLaren, who had been born in Edinburgh and immigrated to Southern Rhodesia where he seems to have worked in various towns and on mines as the Government-appointed resident doctor. He also saw service during World War I, reaching the rank of Captain and his record card indicates he served in the hospital services at Malta. He died at Gatooma in 1938 aged 64. Gertrude's death certificate shows she had two daughters, but his death certificate shows four children, so possibly Gertrude was a second wife, but evidence as to the marriages has not as yet been found. It is assumed the property called Paradise Estate belonged to the McLarens during the 1930s and would have included, or been adjacent to, the Cemetery.

If anyone reading this knows more of the McLaren family, please do contact me.

[Update: Since writing the above, a reader has advised me that Gertrude's daughter, Helen, wrote a memoir about her youth at the Paradise Estate. It is entitled "A Rhodesian Childhood", copyright 1980, and was published in UK in 2008 by Sandeman Press.]

Copyright ZimFieldGuide

All posts in this series on Digging the Dust

With special acknowledgement and thanks to ZimFieldGuideSabretache and to Robin Droogleever whose book That Ragged Mob has been an invaluable resource in re-discovering some of these lost men of Empire.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

He was only nineteen

NOTE: All stories in this series on those who are buried at Paradise Cemetery in Zimbabwe can be followed via the links highlighted in blue below.

And so to the last and perhaps most poignant of the burials at Paradise Cemetery that date to the Boer War era.

George William Norton Stevens was born in Suffolk in 1881, the only son of Dr George Stevens and his wife Harriett Earl Stevens (nee Cowdell). He received his education at Epsom College and also planned to be a medical practitioner and, while in training at the Charing Cross Hospital, he volunteered with the Royal Army Medical Corps for the war in South Africa. His family home at Prospect House, Norton, Suffolk is now a Grade II British Listed Building.  

Several of the official records state he died "of exhaustion", which is rather vague, and hints at overwork possibly being a factor. In the following two letters to his sister as reproduced in the Bury Free Press, it seems his illness began with a sore throat and in those pre-antibiotic days all too easily developed into a major infection. 

London Evening Standard12 September 1900
STEVENS - On July 28, at Marandellas Camp, Rhodesia, S. Africa, George William Norton Stevens, Rhodesian Field Force Hospital, son of George and Harriett Earl Stevens of Norton, Bury St. Edmunds, aged 19, of the Charing-cross Hospital, London, W.C.

Copyright ZimFieldGuide
Bury Free Press
8 September 1900



We regret to learn that the death has taken place in Rhodesia, of the only son of Dr. Stevens, of Norton, who went out on active service. We give below two letters which have been received by Miss Stevens, of Norton, from two of his comrades, who speak in the highest terms of his work with the forces. The receipt of these letters was the only intimation which the relatives received of his death, as they did not even know he was ill. We are quite sure that the sympathy of the whole locality, and of all who knew the deceased, will go out to his parents and relatives in their great trial and the altogether irreparable loss which they have sustained. The letters referred to are as follows:-

R.A.M.C. Rhodesian Field Force,

Marandellas, Mashonaland,

1st August, 1900.
Dear Madam, - No doubt by the time this letter reaches you you will have heard of the sad news about your dear brother, who passed peacefully away on the 28th of July. He had been ill for about five days, and up to the third day we all had hopes that he would pull through, when he took a turn for the worse and became very weak. Although he was unable to speak during the last two days of his life, he was able to write down on a piece of paper what he wanted. I do not think he had much pain, the end came peacefully about 12 o’clock on the 28th, when he passed away in his sleep; so peaceful was the end. We all feel for you and his people in your great loss. He had endeared himself to all who he came in contact with in the discharge of his duties or otherwise, which duties were always faithfully and conscientiously performed. He was buried here on the 30th with full military honours, the Surgeon Captain reading the beautiful burial service of the Church. Around the grave were grouped detachments from every regiment in the camp, men who came on their own accord to render that last tribute of friendship and respect which he had won for himself whilst in the service of his Queen and country. A monument will be erected over his grave by us. To you and to his people I tender my sincere sympathy. You have lost a loving brother and I have lost a comrade good and true, and I pray that He who orders all things for the best will comfort you in your sorrow and bring us all nearer Him, and that the day is not far distant when we shall be reunited with those we have loved and lost for a while.
I beg to remain, madam, yours faithfully,



Marandellas Camp,


Aug. 1, 1900,

335 Liverpool Road

Islington, London, W.
Dear Miss Stevens, - As I joined on the same date, and came out to South Africa as hospital assistant with your brother, I am sure you will excuse me for thus writing you. All through the voyage out, the stay at Cape Town, and subsequent stay here, we were great friends, and in fact he was greatly liked by all the hospital staff and patients, especially latterly, when he took the post of dispenser. It is, therefore, with great regret that I have to be the writer of bad news. The dear fellow fell ill on July 23rd with a sore throat, which gradually grew worse, and in spite of all the attention all here could give, which I assure you we gave, and to the infinite grief of all, sank weaker and weaker till at 12 o’clock midnight on the 28th he passed peacefully away to his heavenly home. I cannot express the grief of all here at the loss of so good a friend, and all wish me to condole with you in such a terrible bereavement, and wish me to express their sympathy with his relations.He was buried with due honours on the 30th, and we are seeing that a cross with inscription is mounted, as showing our regard for a dear departed friend.His death was due to tonsillitis. Having to write this bad news, I hope you will rest assured that we all did what lay in our power for your dear brother, and accept our deepest sympathy for your great loss.
I remain,

Yours very sincerely,


Entry for George from UK Register of Soldiers Effects

George was only nineteen years of age when he died - a life with so much promise to do good and help humanity cut short - just as would happen over and over again in all the subsequent wars of the 20th Century.

Even as I stood beside his grave all those years ago and wondered who he was (see my initial blog post here), young soldiers aged nineteen were dying only a few miles away as another protracted war raged around us. That was the Rhodesian Bush War - or the Second Chimurenga - another African conflict that has slipped into the byways of history even though there are still many alive today who served in it and have been left to carry its scars with little sympathy from the world at large.

This song by the Australian band Redgum is about another unpopular war in Asia that ran parallel to the Bush War during the 1970s. This was the Vietnam War when other young men were conscripted and sent to fight and die on foreign soil. "I was Only Nineteen".  Its strong anti-war message remains relevant.

George William Norton Stevens is commemorated in the Chapel at his old school Epsom College on a plaque that was unveiled by Winston Churchill in 1903. There is also a beautiful stained glass window dedicated to former students who died during the Boer War.

His name also appears on the Bury St Edmunds Boer War Memorial, at St. Bartholomew's, Smithfield, London, and although his name is missing from the online listing, he should also be at the RAMC Boer War Memorial, Aldershot.

Bury St. Edmunds Boer War Memorial

All posts in this series on Digging the Dust

With special acknowledgement and thanks to ZimFieldGuideSabretache and to Robin Droogleever whose book That Ragged Mob has been an invaluable resource in re-discovering some of these lost men of Empire.