Cora Minnett — pioneer SF writer and confidence trickster

In researching my Warren ancestors (see my previous post about them), I discovered that my great-great-great grandfather, James Warren (1804-1884) had a granddaughter Minnie Warren Jones, who achieved fame and infamy as a pioneering feminist science fiction author and confidence trickster.

Minnie Warren Jones, born in 1868, was the daughter of Eliza Warren (1840-1902) and James Jones (d. 1903). This account of her life (as far as it is known) and her literary career and other exploits draws heavily on the research of Steve Holland[1]. She took to the stage in 1888 using the name Cora Minnett Vane, after leaving school at age 19.

She married Adolphus J. Braggett (1864- ) in Sydney in 1892 under her real name[2] and left him a few years later. Adolphus married Teresa S McGinn in 1897, so presumably he and Minnie divorced[3]. She returned to the stage as Cora Minnett and “took companies round in Australia”. Her advance agent for her theatrical companies was a Mr. Cowell and he subsequently became her secretary and manager. In 1900, she published The Haunted Selection and other verses, a 310 page book of poetry. She also performed as a clairvoyant under the names Cora Vane and Cora Jones.

Cora went to England in January 1910 and was listed in the London telephone book as a Journalist and Author living at 117 St. George’s Square. In England she began writing novels under the names Cora Minnett and Pellew Harker and articles for Answers, the Ladies’ Home Journal and the Ladies’ Home Companion. She also placed an advertisement in the Daily Telegraph as a clairvoyante. She had cards prepared which described her as a mystical and dramatic entertainer and an aurapathic delineator—an occult study involving the aura emanations from the human body. In all she published six more book in 1911 and 1912.

One of her novels is of particular interest as a noted example of early feminist utopian science fiction[4]. There were large numbers of utopian novels written by and featuring women in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century England and America, which expressed the growing frustration of women with their place in society, as essentially the legal property of men. In The Day After To-morrow (1911), America in 1975 has become a country where women enjoy equality[5]. Like other women writers of this genre, Cora Minnett did not envision a society where the structures of power had otherwise changed, and even imagined America had become a monarchy, and the homes of the future were still reassuringly Victorian[6].

Both her works published in 1912 deal with the occult. The Girdle of Kaf (1912) is a verse afterlife fantasy set in the eponymous district of Hell. As with many female writers of this period, she wrote under a pseudonym and also wrote as a male under the name Pellew Hawker.

Books as Cora Minnett
The Haunted Selection and other verses (verse). Melbourne, Victoria, McCarron, Bird & Co., c.1900.
The Day After To-morrow. London, F. V. White & Co., 1911.
Lucky, with Pellew Hawker, illus. A. MacNeill-Barbour. London, F. V. White & Co., 1911.
The Model Millionaire. London, W. J. Ham-Smith, 1911.
Fortune-Telling by Numbers. London, C. Arthur Pearson, 1912.
The Girdle of Kaf (verse). London, W. J. Ham-Smith, 1912.

Books as Pellew Hawker
God Disposes. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1911.
Lucky, with Cora Minnett. See above.

She also developed a scheme to sell land in Australia to people interested in migrating there and began writing about it[7],. She rented an office at 110, The Strand, and produced a pamphlet entitled Australia, the Land of Golden Opportunity. She supposedly had plans to set up to set up a company called The Anglo-Australasian Development Company. However, only one company appears to have been established, The Federated Mining Development Company (West Africa) Ltd., in September 1913, which owned a £25 option in West Africa.

In September 1912, she went to Canada to supposedly to compare the prospects in Canada and Australia. It was later revealed that she had travelled to Canada with an introduction from Lord Strathcona for, she said, the purpose of studying life in Canada and writing a novel about it. She received payments from a number of people.

She got many people, some eminent, interested in her schemes, and some of these paid her money in return for promises. She also took advantage of the women’s suffrage movement by inviting women to her house, talking about the vote and then turning the conversation to business and persuading them to put money into her companies. A Mr. White invested £373 and subsequently sued her for the return of his money. Letters from Minnett to White referred to him as “Dearest” and “Darling”, signing herself “your loving partner, Cora” and writing “Yet, dearest, in the interest of our mutual business and actual future happiness, I must ask you for more money, and a considerable sum—at least £350.”

Another investor was to prove Cora Minnett’s downfall. Walter Robson was a cashier in the London office of the Commercial Bank of Australia[7],[8]. In 1912, she told him about her proposed company. In February 1913, Robson loaned her £500, expecting the money to be repaid in 1914 along with a share of the profits from her company; he then provided her with other sums of money in bank notes—£700, £1,000, £500, and £100.

Robson was stealing the money from the Bank and, although she and Herbert Cowell moved the money to various accounts, one in the name of Cora and Bertie Minnett, it was tracked down. When confronted with this, Cora and Herbert, presenting themselves as brother and sister, claimed that they had spent all but £100, for which Herbert wrote a cheque. The Commercial Bank of Australia took them to court in February 1914 to obtain an injunction restraining the defendants from dealing with the accounts. The lawyer for the Bank described Cowell as Minnett’s dupe who mascqueraded as her brother. She kept him and he was a dummy director in one of her companies.[9]

In his decision, in March 1914, the judge noted that Robson had been stealing from his employers before meeting Cora Minnett; although she must have known that something was wrong but refrained from making any inquiry. When asked to attend a meeting by the Commercial Bank of Australia, the couple had immediately withdrawn £500 and deposited it in Herbert’s name at another bank. The day after, they had withdrawn another £500 from another account and tried to set up an account in a company name, without success. The accounts were frozen. The judge also noted that it was not part of the case to decide whether the defendant’s schemes were only intended to get money out of her friends, although the Bank’s lawyer was of the opinion that the whole of Minnett’s career in England was on the borderland of criminal enterprise. Minnett subsequently went to the Court of Appeal but her application was turned down as she could not offer security for the costs of her appeal.

Curiously, Cora Minnett published a story and poem titled “The Failure” on 16 April 1914 in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette.[10].

The Failure.
By Cora Minnett.

Away in the silent bushland of Australia, there is a lonely hilltop covered with rough iron stone boulders, and grim gum trees, whose mild branches seem a fitting shade for the tragedy that once was played out beneath their muttering leaves.

At the foot of one huge gum stands a boulder on which a cross and a date have been rudely engraven — but no name. Beside the boulder is a mound covered with bush flowers and ferns, that nature’s warm hand has planted as though in solace for the pulseless broken heart sleeping beneath.

Who sleeps there, no one knows, but the people around the district call him the “Englishman”. He was found there one morning dead, with his fair head resting against the hard rock, and his blue tired eyes gazing curiously out to the West. A young man with delicately chiseled features, and hands that had not always been accustomed to work.Hhis clothes had once been good, but were old and worn. A “billy” and a “swag” were near, but nothing to tell who he was. Only the blue unclosed eyes and fair hair, to make the rough sympathisers realise he was English, and some last words written in that language. They found a sheet of paper clutched in one hand, on which some lines were traced: “I am tired and weary and broken. I want to lie down and rest. Oh, for wings, to drift out of this world, away beyond the clouds and the sun, somewhere, somewhere — to rest.”

They laid him to rest at the foot of the boulder, under the grim gum-tree; but people say that sometimes, in the summer dusk, a form is seen hovering above the nameless rock, with eyes that turn to the West.

Whether this be so or not I cannot say, but, strangely enough, when I heard the story, an irresistible impulse made me take a pencil, and write the following lines in an absolutely spontaneous manner, and with the impression that someone named “Jack Harvey” expressed the sentiments — certainly not myself. Possibly, they may convey a message from out of a long silence, for the date on the nameless rock is one in the early 90s:–

I am tired and weary and broken,
I want to lie down and rest.
The Sun in his gold and purple,
Is drifting out of the West.
And I — I’m looking and longing,
Longing to sink with his beams,
Borne to a wakeless oblivion,
Wrapped in those tender gleams.

For I’m tired and weary and broken –,
Broken on life’s hard facts.
Behind me a tuneless record,
Before me the old, worn tracks.
And I know them — Oh God — I know them,
My feet have touched every part,
Seeking some of life chances,
Fresh hope, each time, in my heart.

Seeking, and fighting, and hoping —
Deeming my chance nigh won,
Only to find fate pushed me
Back to where I’d begun.
And so I’m tired and weary,
I want to lie down and forget,
Forget there’s a world and people,
Forget there’s despair and regret.

O Clouds, that are rolling westward,
O Sun, that is mellowing low,
O Wind, that sways the big trees,
Take me away — where you go!

Is it a place where I can rest,
Where the touch of a tender hand
Would smooth the memory of life away,
And teach me to understand
Why I met only winter’s blight,
And failure’s weary fret?
O Winds, take me up in your arms tonight,
Let me sleep and forget. Let me sleep and forget.

According to Steve Holland[7], Cora Minnett was listed at her London address until 1918. She seems to have disappeared after that time and no-one has found any further information on her. I did not find any death records for her under her real name or any of her known aliases in Australia, England or the USA.


[1] Steve Holland (2009). Cora Minnett. Bear Alley Books blog. 3 June 2009. Retrieved 25 Feb 2023 from

[2] (2023). Australia Marriage Index, 1788-1950, NSW Pioneer Index – Federation Series 1889 – 1918. Adolphus J Braggett and Minnie W Jones, Registration Number 857.

[3] (2023). Australia Marriage Index, 1788-1950, NSW Pioneer Index – Federation Series 1889 – 1918. Adolphus J Braggett and Teresa S McGinn, Registration Number 4832.

[4] John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Third Edition, (accessed 27 Feb 2023)

[5] Lewes, D. Middle-Class Edens: Women’s Nineteenth-Century Utopian Fiction and the Bourgeois Ideal. Utopian Studies, 4: 1, 1993, pp. 14–25. JSTOR, Accessed 26 Feb. 2023.

[6] Albinski NB. The Laws of Justice, of Nature and of Right: Victorian Feminist Utopias. Pp50-68. In Jones LF, Goodwin SMW (eds.). Feminism, Utopia, and Narrative, pp 50-68. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1990.

[7] Sequel to Bank Frauds (1914, March 2). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), p. 5 (Daily). Retrieved February 27, 2023, from

[8] Cashier’s Lapse. (1914, March 4). Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser (Vic.: 1857 – 1867; 1914 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved February 27, 2023, from

[9] Cora Minnett Sued. (1914, March 5). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), p. 15. Retrieved February 27, 2023, from

[10] Cora Minnett. The Failure. News & Notes (1914, April 16). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT: 1873 – 1927), p. 15. Retrieved February 25, 2023, from

My Irish Palatine and German Ancestors

I have two convict ancestors who were transported to Australia from England and Ireland in the early nineteenth century. See here for the story of Thomas Wilson. My other convict ancestor, William Warren (1765-1850), came from Wexford in southeast Ireland and was my 4th-great-grandfather. His wife Eleanor Jeakle (1773-1849) remained in Ireland when her husband was transported to Australia in 1816.  I was recently updating my family tree and an hint led me to a family tree which showed that Eleanor Jeakle had German grandparents who lived and died in the Rhineland-Palatinate.

Family trees on often contain spurious information because people accept hints based on no more than similarities in names and dates, without checking for evidence of relationship. I researched the German grandparents and indeed found that there was absolutely no evidence of a relationship my Irish ancestors. However, in doing so, I came across a website that talked about the Irish Palatines and their emigration from Germany in 1709.  And there in a list of families who settled at Old Ross near Wexford was the name ‘Phil Jeakle’. I was astonished. The link to the Rhine-Palatinate that seemed too fantastical to be true was in fact probably true.

Philipp Jeakle (Jäkell) – emigrant from the Rhine-Palatinate in 1709

I did some more due diligence and found that Jeakle/Jekyll/Jekell was a common surname in the Old Ross and New Ross parishes where the Palatines settled, and that Jäkel/Jökel/Jekell/Gäckel were reasonably common surnames for  births and deaths for that period in the Rhine-Palatinate. Note that ä is pronounced identically to the “e” in Jekell. I then found a list of names of the Germans from the Palatinate who came to England in 1709. Among the arrivals in London in May 1709 was Philip Bekell together with his wife, son and five daughters.

There is no other surname similar to Jekell in the list, and Bekell does not occur in the Irish Palatine name lists or in the birth and death records of the Palatinate. The webpage with the list explicitly warns that there may be transcription errors from the old records.  Given all this, and the matching forename Philip, I think we can conclude with fair certainty that the German immigrant was Philipp Jekell/Jeacle. The 1709 record notes that he was 53 years old (so born in 1656), a husbandman and vinedresser, accompanied by his wife, a 10 year old son, 12 year old and 8 year old daughters, 6 year old twin daughters, and a fifth presumably younger daughter.

The Palatine emigration from the Rhineland to Ireland

Throughout the Nine Years War (1688–97) and the War of Spanish Succession (1701–14), recurrent invasions by the French Army devastated the region of Germany known as the Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz). The French Army pillaged and destroyed numerous cities (especially within the Palatinate) and created economic hardship for the inhabitants of the region, exacerbated by a rash of harsh winters and poor harvests that created famine in Germany and much of northwest Europe. There were nearly 700,000 military deaths and even more in the civilian population. For more information on Palatine history and the events leading to the Palatine emigration of 1709, see the article Palatine History by Lorine McGinnis Schulze, appended at the end of this post.

A View of the Palatine Camp form’d in White Chappel Fields, (c) Trustees of the British Museum

The mass emigration in 1709 to England, of mostly impoverished people, was triggered by the promises of free land in the American Colonies. Between May and November 1709, some 13,000 Germans travelled down the Rhine River to Rotterdam and boarded ships bound for London, England, in the hopes of being transported to America. Around 3,000 of them were sent to America in 1710; and around 5,000 remained in England, many entering the English army. About 3,000 of them were sent to Ireland in September 1709. They were settled as tenant farmers on the Southwell Estate near Rathkeale, County Limerick, and in a second colony at Gorey (20 families) and Old Ross (15 families) in Wexford County. Surnames of these new settlers in Wexford included names such as Fissel, Hornick, Jekyll, Poole, and Rhinehardt (Wikipedia).

Each of the Palatine families was allocated eight acres of land at a nominal rent of five shillings per acre and leases of “three lives”. This was much less than the 30 shillings per acre that other tenants paid. They were also given a not inconsiderable grant of 40 shillings a year for their first seven years in residence. This caused hostility among the local community, and by February of 1711, only 188 of the 533 Palatine families remained on the lands allotted them and 300 had gone to Dublin to seek other work. In all, about 1,200 Palatines remained in Ireland. A significant number of the Palatines emigrated to North America (and particularly Canada) or returned to Germany. After a visit from John Wesley, many of the Irish Palatines converted to Methodism and quite a few of them chose to leave for North America in 1760.

Those who remained in Ireland retained their language and customs as late as 1830, and by 1840 it was said that they could still be distinguished from the Irish population by their names. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, there was no trace of a German dialect left in the Palatine settlements, and their German names were mostly changed in form.

Irish Palatine Heritage Centre, Rathkeale, Co. Limerick

Philipp Jëkell: Palatine settler at Old Ross in 1709

Philipp Jëkel was 53 when he took his family to Ireland and so was born in 1656. I searched the Rhineland-Palatinate birth records and found a record of a Philipp Ludwig Jäckel  (also transcribed as Jaeckle) born in Frankfurt on 16 September 1656 to parents Philipp Jeremias Jäckel and Catharina Elisabetha Jäckel. Frankfurt was within the Palatinate in the 18th century, though the Rhine River, about 30 km west of Frankfurt, now forms the eastern border of the Palatinate. This is quite probably the right Philip Jekell, but this cannot be confirmed.

Eleanor Jeakle’s father George was born about 1748 in Wexford County, but there is no information on his parents. Based on the birth dates, his father was probably the son of Philipp Jëkel, ten years old in 1749 and who would have been 49 at the time George was born. That would make Philipp Eleanor’s great-grandfather.

John or Jacob Poole: Palatine settler ancestors of William Warren

In researching the convict William Warren’s Irish ancestors, I also found that his grandmother was Emily Elizabeth Poole (1728-1804). I remembered seeing the name Poole in the list of Palatine settlers. John and Jacob Poole are listed in 1710 as heads of households in the Palatine settlement at Gorey, Wexford. By 1720 a third Poole, William Poole, believed to be a son of John or Jacob Pool, is listed as head of a Wexford household as well. Emily Poole was probably the daughter of William Poole rather than his father or uncle (John and Jacob). She was born in Toombe, which is a little over 5 km southwest of Gorey. By 1850 some of the family moved from Gorey Wexford to Old Ross where Emily Poole may have met her husband William Henry Warren (1710-1770).

Irish Palatine farmhouse

A quite unexpected connection to Germany

My paternal grandmother was an Engel whose grandfather George Peter Engel (born in Frankfurt in 1821) migrated to Australia in 1849. I was not expecting to find German ancestors on my maternal grandfathers side. I have 6th or 7th-great-grandparents  from two German Palatine families who emigrated to Ireland in 1709, and one of them may well have also been born in Frankfurt. And have learnt quite a bit about European history in the 18th century that I knew very little about, apart from a very sketchy awareness of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). And that mainly through reading and very much enjoying Michael Moorcock’ 1981 novel, The War Hound and the World’s Pain, set during the Thirty Years War.

Cover artwork for The War Hound and the World’s Pain



by Lorine McGinnis Schulze
Olive Tree Genealogy
Copyright © 1996

[This article has been published, with my permission as Irish Palatine Story on the Internet
in Irish Palatine Association Journal, No. 7 December 1996

The Palatinate or German PFALZ, was, in German history, the land of the Count Palatine, a title held by a leading secular prince of the Holy Roman Empire. Geographically, the Palatinate was divided between two small territorial clusters: the Rhenish, or Lower Palatinate, and the Upper Palatinate. The Rhenish Palatinate included lands on both sides of the Middle Rhine River between its Main and Neckar tributaries. Its capital until the 18th century was Heidelberg. The Upper Palatinate was located in northern Bavaria, on both sides of the Naab River as it flows south toward the Danube and extended eastward to the Bohemian Forest. The boundaries of the Palatinate varied with the political and dynastic fortunes of the Counts Palatine.

The Palatinate has a border beginning in the north, on the Moselle River about 35 miles southwest of Coblenz to Bingen and east to Mainz, down the Rhine River to Oppenheim, Guntersblum and Worms, then continuing eastward above the Nieckar River about 25 miles east of Heidelberg then looping back westerly below Heidelberg to Speyer, south down the Rhine River to Alsace, then north-westerly back up to its beginning on the Moselle River.

The first Count Palatine of the Rhine was Hermann I, who received the office in 945. Although not originally hereditary, the title was held mainly by his descendants until his line expired in 1155, and the Bavarian Wittelsbachs took over in 1180. In 1356, the Golden Bull ( a papal bull: an official document, usually commands from the Pope and sealed with the official Papal seal called a Bulla) made the Count Palatine an Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. During the Reformation, the Palatinate accepted Protestantism and became the foremost Calvinist region in Germany.

After Martin Luther published his 95 Theses on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg on 31 October 1517, many of his followers came under considerable religious persecution for their beliefs. Perhaps for reasons of mutual comfort and support, they gathered in what is known as the Palatine. These folk came from many places, Germany, Holland, Switzerland and beyond, but all shared a common view on religion.

The protestant Elector Palatine Frederick V (1596-1632), called the “Winter King” of Bohemia, played a unique role in the struggle between Roman Catholic and Protestant Europe. His election in 1619 as King of Bohemia precipitated the Thirty Years War that lasted from 1619 until 1648. Frederick was driven from Bohemia and in 1623, deposed as Elector Palatine.

During the Thirty Years War, the Palatine country and other parts of Germany suffered from the horrors of fire and sword as well as from pillage and plunder by the French armies. This war was based upon both politics and religious hatreds, as the Roman Catholic armies sought to crush the religious freedom of a politically-divided Protestantism.

Many unpaid armies and bands of mercenaries, both of friends and foe, devoured the substance of the people and by 1633, even the catholic French supported the Elector Palatine for a time for political reasons.

During the War of the Grand Alliance (1689-97), the troops of the French monarch Louis XIV ravaged the Rhenish Palatinate, causing many Germans to emigrate. Many of the early German settlers of America (e.g. the Pennsylvania Dutch) were refugees from the Palatinate. During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the Palatinate’s lands on the west bank of the Rhine were incorporated into France, while its eastern lands were divided largely between neighbouring Baden and Hesse.

Nearly the entire 17th century in central Europe was a period of turmoil as Louis XIV of France sought to increase his empire. The War of the Palatinate (as it was called in Germany), aka The War of The League of Augsburg, began in 1688 when Louis claimed the Palatinate. Every large city on the Rhine above Cologne was sacked. The War ended in 1697 with the Treaty of Ryswick. The Palatinate was badly battered but still outside French control. In 1702, the War of the Spanish Succession began in Europe and lasted until 1713, causing a great deal of instability for the Palatines. The Palatinate lay on the western edge of the Holy Roman Empire not far from France’s eastern boundary. Louis wanted to push his eastern border to the Rhine, the heart of the Palatinate.

While the land of the Palatinate was good for its inhabitants, many of whom were farmers, vineyard operators etc., its location was unfortunately subject to invasion by the armies of Britain, France, and Germany. Mother Nature also played a role in what happened, for the winter of 1708 was particularly severe and many of the vineyards perished. So, as well as the devastating effects of war, the Palatines were subjected to the winter of 1708-09, the harshest in 100 years.

The scene was set for a mass migration. At the invitation of Queen Anne in the spring of 1709, about 7 000 harassed Palatines sailed down the Rhine to Rotterdam. From there, about 3000 were dispatched to America, either directly or via England, under the auspices of William Penn. The remaining 4 000 were sent via England to Ireland to strengthen the protestant interest.

Although the Palatines were scattered as agricultural settlers over much of Ireland, major accumulations were found in Counties Limerick and Tipperary. As the years progressed and dissatisfactions increased, many of these folk seized opportunities to join their compatriots in Pennsylvania, or to go to newly-opened settlements in Canada.

There were many reasons for the desire of the Palatines to emigrate to the New World: oppressive taxation, religious bickering, hunger for more and better land, the advertising of the English colonies in America and the favourable attitude of the British government toward settlement in the North American colonies. Many of the Palatines believed they were going to Pennsylvania, Carolina or one of the tropical islands.

The passage down the Rhine took from 4 to 6 weeks. Tolls and fees were demanded by authorities of the territories through which they passed. Early in June, the number of Palatines entering Rotterdam reached 1 000 per week. Later that year, the British government issued a Royal proclamation in German that all arriving after October 1709 would be sent back to Germany. The British could not effectively handle the number of Palatines in London and there may have been as many as 32 000 by November 1709. They wintered over in England since there were no adequate arrangements for the transfer of the Palatines to the English colonies.

In 1710, three large groups of Palatines sailed from London. The first went to Ireland, the second to Carolina and the third to New York with the new Governor, Robert Hunter. There were 3 000 Palatines on 10 ships that sailed for NY and approximately 470 died on the voyage or shortly after their arrival.

In NY, the Palatines were expected to work for the British authorities, producing naval stores [tar and pitch] for the navy in return for their passage to NY. They were also expected to act as a buffer between the French and Natives on the northern frontier and the English colonies to the south and east.

After the defeat of Napoleon (1814-15), the Congress of Vienna gave the east-bank lands of the Rhine valley to Bavaria. These lands, together with some surrounding territories, again took the name of Palatinate in 1838.

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A family history mystery – who is the 2nd Annie Priscilla Wilson?

Thomas Wilson

In a previous post, I wrote about my great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Wilson (who was transported to Australia as a convict in 1834). He had been sentenced to 7 years transportation for highway robbery. In researching his descendants, I documented a granddaughter Annie Priscilla Wilson, who was born in 1880 to his son Thomas Wilson (1847-1923) and wife Frances Oliver (1852-1893). Annie Priscilla married John Fitzgerald in Manly in 1900 and they moved to Wollongong. She died in 1964, I have seen the death certificate, and she is buried in the Wollongong Cemetery (Sect. RC Row: Nth 25 Site: 26). I have been contacted by one of her grand-daughters who has confirmed all these details.

This is where it gets interesting. In searching for information on Thomas Wilson and his family, who lived at Church Point, Pittwater north of Manly in Sydney, I came across a website with the following information. It described the rediscovery of the graveyard associated with the first St John’s Anglican Church in Mona Vale, about 5 km from Church Point, where the Wilson family lived. This church was a small weatherboard structure built in 1871 overlooking Mona Vale Beach, which was moved to a new site in Bayview in 1888.  One of the gravestones uncovered was for “Annie Priscilla Wilson Aged 2 Years (1880-1882) Dearly loved daughter of Frances and Thomas Wilson”. I have also found a photograph of the Memorial Plaque erected on the site in her memory. There is only one birth “Annie Priscilla Wilson” registered in NSW for anyone with the names Annie, Ann, Anne, Priscilla and parents Thomas and Frances Wilson in the date range 1865-1900. So this is a complete mystery. Although her gravestone has been found saying she died in 1882, she also got married to John Fitzgerald in 1900. I also cannot find a death certificate for Annie Priscilla Wilson in 1882.

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James Mathers and the plague outbreak of 1900

The coronavirus epidemic has now spread to most parts of the world, and Switzerland is in the top 12 countries for confirmed cases, which may not reflect the reality of cases in countries with little or no testing.  This time of social distancing and self-quarantine brought to mind my great-grandfather who lived through an epidemic of bubonic plague in Sydney in 1900, the first and largest plague outbreak in Australia. In this post, I take a look at this outbreak and his experience of it through the window of the detailed journal that he kept at the time.

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Ulysses and book burning in Australia

Today the 16th June is Bloomsday, a celebration of the life and work of the Irish writer James Joyce. Joyce’s epic novel Ulysses is set on that day in 1904, the day of his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle.

This lengthy novel has been highly controversial, and has been banned in various countries. It is written using a stream-of-consciousness technique, with careful structuring based on Homer’s Odyssey. Its revolutionary technique and experimental prose as well as its rich characterisation and broad humour, have led it to be regarded as one of the greatest literary works in history.

I read Ulysses as an undergraduate during my daily commutes by train to and from Sydney University. I was particularly taken with the final chapter of Ulysses in which Molly Bloom is lying in bed next to Leopold and her thoughts are reported as a stream-of-consciousness 42 pages in length. I think I read a paperback edition that belonged to my father. I remember him during that period quoting to me the following passage highlighting Leopold Bloom’s adoration for his wife Molly, because he loved the sound of the words:

“He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmelonous osculation.”
                James Joyce, Ulysses, Episode 17 “Ithaca”.

My father and before him my great-Uncle John (1895-1975) were book collectors and I have kept some of their books, including a copy of the first edition of Ulysses published by Shakespeare and Company in Paris. After the initial printing of 1000 numbered copies in 1922, my great-uncle acquired a copy in 1927 from the 8th print run of May 1926.

Title page

A publishing history of Ulysses can be found at

I knew that Ulysses had been banned in Australia for some time and looked up the dates. it was not banned until 1929, then released in 1937, only to be restricted again in 1941 after pressure from Catholic organizations. This ban was lifted in 1953 after it was considered ineffectual considering how many copies were already in circulation.

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WW1 Diaries of Tom Mathers – extracts on the Battle of the Somme 1916

Just over 100 years ago my grandfather Will Mathers and his brother Tom, both in the 8th Australian Field Ambulance, took part in the Battle of the Somme, on the front line from 18 September 1916 to 8 November.

The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of upper reaches of the River Somme in France. It was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front; more than one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history. Tom kept a diary throughout the war [see Endnote 1] and his diary account provides a terse but graphic account of the experience of being a stretcher bearer on the front lines.

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Barcroft Boake (1866-1892): Australian bush poet

In an earlier post I wrote about my great-aunt Boodie (Florence Teasdale Smith) who was a theosophist, whose father was a bank robber and she was also descended from an Indian princess.  I mentioned in passing that her uncle was a famous Australian poet who committed suicide but did not give any details. So this post is about Barcroft Boake, an Australian bush poet, who committed suicide at the age of 26.

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Centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele

The centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele was commemorated today in Belgium. This battle lasted from 31 July to 10 November 1917 and was the third and largest of the battles of Ypres. Overall, 800,000 soldiers from both sides of the conflict died at Ypres from 1914-1918. My grandfather, Will Mathers and his brother Tom served in the Australian Army Medical Corps in France during World War I and were at the Battle of Passchemdaele. They carried the wounded out of the battlefield from around 20 September 1917 until 7th October, when both were gassed. Will was hospitalized for 8 days.

Left: Will Mathers 1915, Right: Will and Tom in Salisbury, 2 September 1916.

Will and Tom had two cousins John and William Melrose who both died at Ypres. Their uncle Robert Melrose lost both his children in 1917. John died on 7 June 1917 at Messines, a day on which 6,700 Australians died. The battle of Messines commenced in the early hours of 7 June with the detonation of a million pounds of explosives packed into tunnels dug under German positions on the Messines Ridge. The explosion was heard in London and Dublin and killed approximately 10,000 German soldiers, the deadliest non-nuclear manmade explosion in history. Five months later, his brother William was also killed on Oct 12, 1917 in the Battle of Passchendaele. John Melrose was the first husband of my (great-) Auntie Annie, who lived until 1989 and was like a second mother to my father. She was married to John for only two weeks before he left Australia for France.

Left: William and John Melrose, Right: Annie Melrose (née Gammie)

Thomas Wilson – convict ancestor

After my previous slightly light-hearted post about Thomas Wilson ( an-odd-fellow ), I thought I should tell his real story, his transportation to Sydney in the Lady Nugent in 1835 and his later role in the Mona Vale Outrages.

The Lady Nugent on the high seas. Pencil drawing by George Richard Hilliard, 1840 (4).

The Lady Nugent on the high seas. Pencil drawing by George Richard Hilliard, 1840 (4).

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An odd fellow

Back in 2011, I discovered that one of my great-great- great-grandfathers (on grandpa Baker’s side) Thomas Wilson (1817-1890) had been transported to Australia in 1835 as a convict. He and two others had committed a highway robbery.

Just recently, I came across convict records that gave more information and a description of him. He was aged 21, single, a Protestant who could read and write. He came from Kent, and was a skinner and poulterer.  According to the convict records, he was 5 feet 4¾ inches tall, with ruddy and freckled complexion, brown hair and grey eyes, his eyebrows partially meeting. Among various marks and scars, he had (presumably tattooed) a sun, half moon, seven stars and a crucifix inside his lower left arm. At this point, I realized I was out of my depth, and called in the renowned symbologist, Professor Robert Langdon of Harvard, who told me that the sun, moon and seven stars were a set of symbols used by Freemasons and were also adopted by the Order of Oddfellows, founded in the eighteenth century. The Oddfellows modelled themselves on freemasons though were dedicated more to people of modest lifestyle, labourers and artisans. For the Oddfellows, the “sun, moon and stars” collectively might represent all God’s creation, all that is wonderful and admirable. The seven stars recalls The Pleaides constellation representing the “seven liberal arts”, and for a skinner and poulterer would probably translate to literacy and numeracy.

Langdon concluded that a literate 19 year old working class boy who was already a member of the Oddfellows and had a distinctive set of symbols tattooed on his arm was unlikely to have been a simple highway robber. Could he have deliberately set out on a course of action that would result in him being transported to NSW?  Was there any significance that after he was given his ticket of leave, he bought substantial land holdings in the Manly area in 1853? Land now worth $300 million. And in 1869 became tenants of the “Mona Vale” property belonging to William Charles Wentworth, one of the three explorers who found the first route across the Blue Mountains in 1813. Was it significant that when he arrived in Australia in 1835, Wilson was first sent to Paramatta to work for William Lawson one of the other three explorers. Could it be another coincidence that Thomas Wilson sold his land in 1877, exactly one year before the foundation stone was laid for the first Oddfellows Hall at Manly.

Langdon immediately flew to Geneva and interviewed Mathers, seeking any evidence of Oddfellows involvement in his life. Mathers was surprised at the turn this research had taken, and unwilling to believe that the location of the Oddfellows Hall in Casino just half a block from where he lived as a child was anything more than coincidence. Or that one of father’s close colleagues was the Warden of the local Oddfellows Lodge. And why did the Lodge reach out and offer Mathers a scholarship as a teenager that enabled him to visit New Zealand. Why did they try to bend his interest in astronomy towards astrology and more occult concerns? Clearly Langdon would have to follow the leads in New Zealand to see what connections were found.

Discussions with Mathers also revealed that in the 1940s, his grandfather had applied considerable pressure on his mother to get her to  visit two elderly women in Mosman, the granddaughers of Thomas Wilson. Why was it so important that this contact be made? Could the Oddfellows really have had a plan, a vision, reaching centuries ahead. And what could it possibly be?