Posted by: jkirkby8712 | March 14, 2011

Thursday, 10th March, 2011 – chasing a bit of family history

Family history day in the city today. Left the car behind on a day which began with drizzling rain after quite a heavy downpour in some parts overnight, but as the day went on would become quite humid and uncomfortable. Caught the train into the city [off peak train, as I discovered with a slightly cheaper fare, but also limited the times I could use the same ticket to return – though needn’t have worried, I intended to be in the city until this evening in any case]. From Southern Cross caught a tram too the inner suburb of North Melbourne – passed through many times in the car, and in years gone passed, watched Carlton play against North Melbourne at the old Arden Street football ground – no idea what it is used for these days!  The area unfamiliar to me on foot, so took a few minutes to find where I was heading  –  the Public Records Office of Victoria [PROV], Archives Department, for a 10.30 am meeting with members of the late Emily Bower’s family.

Now Emily had been I think, the last surviving grandchild [when she died a few years ago] of our original Australian ancestor settlers in this country – William Kirk and Isabella Kennedy – who reached these shores in the early 1850s, and were married in Melbourne in 1854.  My companions at the PROV this morning would be three of Emily’s five ‘children’, most of them around my age, or a little older, and a generation ahead of myself  –  Janice [whom I’ve been in contact with quite a bit over recent months], Harry and his wife [I met Harry, probably at the Bower’s old Pascoe Vale home many years ago, and more recently at his mother’s funeral  – in fact, it was Harry who advised me of Emily’s passing], and Dell, another daughter. They all arrived a little while after I did – I’d already registered my presence with the authorities, and noticed that the security in terms of who could go into the Archives area, was quite tight and regimented. Rightly so. I had a particular task here this morning, as did each of the others, so after an initial greeting and a cup of coffee [iced coffee for me – needed to cool down after a humid walk from the tram], exchanging and viewing of family photos, etc, we all completed our registration processes, entered the Archives area, and basically went our separate ways for an hour or so.

My specific search this morning was to peruse a set of divorce papers from 1875.  All of us had only just learnt in recent weeks, that William and Isabella had separated and then divorced after about 20 years into their marriage – which amongst other things explained why she was living alone in Talbot when she died in 1892, while the rest of the family, all children included, had moved to Charlton and elsewhere.  Anyway, through the newspaper courts reports that I had studied before Christmas, it became evident that the court cases were not particularly amiable with charges and counter charges regarding behaviour etc, dominant. Of particular concern to me was that at one point, it had been suggested that one of the couple’s children was in fact not William’s son!  And while eventually while he apparently accepted that the boy was his, it became evident to me that the child in question was in all likelihood my direct great grandfather! For a while there, after years of researching the Kirk line, I had myself wondering whether or not I was actually descended from the Kirks!!!  So, with that in mind,  I registered the relevant divorce papers – I wanted to find that aspect of the case, and while no names had been reported in the newspaper reports, was hoping that the ‘queried’ child’s name might be mentioned.   Unfortunately, time was limited – my companions had ‘shorter’ tasks to explore whereas I could have spent an additional couple of hours on the facility – as a consequence, because of the volume of papers available, I did not get through all the material on hand, and didn’t [on this occasion] find the specific  references I was searching. I did however manage to copy the the full transcripts of William Kirk’s ‘Petition for divorce’ etc, and Isabella’s [as Respondent] response to that Petition  –  fascinating reading on both cases, and depending on which arguments who wanted to believe, neither side came out of those documents looking ‘very clean’ though on evidence, it seemed fairly clear [though not clearly established according to the outcome of the case] that Isabella was generally the ‘villain’, quite a naughty lady in fact!!

Anyway, as suggested, I did not complete my set task this morning, so determined to return in the near future.  From the PROV, the five of us caught a tram back into the city, and from there strolled over the Yarra River into the heart of the Southbank complex of entertainment, eating & shopping facilities, and eventually found our way to a particular restaurant that Janice had in mind that would be suitable for us all to enjoy lunch together. Quite expensive meals but there were a couple of set price lunch time meals plus a glass of wine that we all determined upon. Writing this some days later, I’m not sure what I had now  –  some kind of Rizzotto meal with a garden salad. Very nice anyway, and hopefully quite ‘safe’ for my health’s rather ‘fussy’ eating needs these days!! That was a very pleasant couple of hours in the company of these ‘relatively newly found’ family members. Whilst there, plans were made for our intended ‘centenary’ celebrations on the 3rd September this year.  On that date, it would be 100 years to the day from the death of William Kirk, our ancestral settler. Janice & her siblings had organised the creation of a plague to be placed on William’s grave on that date later on this year, and plans were afoot for this immediately group plus a few others to visit Charlton on that day for an official ‘family’ ceremony, unveiling of the memorial plague, and for myself [at Janice’s invitation] to read the official Obituary which had been published shortly after his death. I think all present were looking forward to that occasion. I wondered at the time, though didn’t push the issue, whether it might be worthwhile inviting the local paper up there, to be present. I might follow that through later on, and suggest it to Janice and the others – they might prefer to keep things strictly private!

It was around 3pm, when we said our goodbyes, etc – I left alone, and made my way back across the Yarra River to the CBD and caught another tram up Swanston Street to the State Public Library. My task here, where I would spend over 2 ½ hours was to research some microfiche of old newspapers. I haven’t done this since the 1970s – in those days, one could look through the actual newspapers, which I certainly preferred. However they needed protection of course, and in the intervening had all been copied to microfiche – which I to be honest didn’t enjoy using, because of the physical strain on the eyes, hands etc [manoeuvring the mouse and so on]. However, there was no alternative, and I eventually found the material I wanted to look through, and after some period of time trying to work out how to use the equipment, was under way. In fact, once again, I would have liked to have stayed longer, and I really didn’t get into the swing of using the microfiche to their full capacity until near the end of my session. First task was searching through the Castlemaine  [old gold mining town of Central Victoria] newspapers of the period 1854-1855. We had only recently discovered that William & Isabella’s first child was born [and died] in Castlemaine, obviously during the time that William was engaged in gold mining in the area. The child’s birth had been reported in the Argus newspaper [in Melbourne] a few after the birth in April 1855, so I assumed from that, the couple, or William at least, might have been known in the area, and there would perhaps be other reports of his activities. Again, because of time, my search was not as thorough as I would have liked, and I found no reference at all to him – not even to the birth of the child. Presumably that had been reported in the Melbourne paper because Isabella’s parents and a large number of siblings were residing in Melbourne at the time. A bit disappointed, but certainly given time, the papers of that period were extremely detailed and full of much material about the gold diggings etc, and again I determined that I would return here in the near future for further more detailed study of that era.

Whilst at the State Library, I also searched through the East Charlton papers at around the time of William Kirk’s death in 1911 – we knew the Obituary [mentioned above] had being printed a few days afterwards, but were keen to see whether there was a specific death notice, etc. In fact, yes, I found both a formal Death Notice, printed three days after he died,  and a couple of days later, a bereavement notice of thanks from the family.  Copied both of those and would later tonight, send copies to Janice.

By the time my subsequent tram and train journeys back to Sunbury were complete, and a bit of shopping undertaken prior to collecting my car, it was close to 8.30 pm, and a rather interesting and busy day, following through on my lifetime interest, was drawing to a close. Later in the evening, I emailed Janice a bit of a summary of my day’s findings, or otherwise.



  1. I just happened upon your blog. I absolutely love reading your posts.

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