Wagga Wagga: where the scent runs dry.

As I mentioned in my last post, Bridget and George Merritt were veritable vagabonds constantly on the move through regional New South Wales. After getting married in Sydney, having their first three children in Mudgee and then moving to Morpeth, Tamworth and down south to Borrowa, I found a baptism for their daughter Charlotte Merritt in Wagga Wagga in on the 5 May 1878.

Charlotte Merritt

Charlotte Merritt

Interestingly, their names had all been Latinised in the records. Charlotte became Charlotta Maria Agnes. George became Georgius and her mother became Birgitta Donovan. Charlotte was baptised at St Michael’s Catholic Church, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia. This Church building pre-dates the beautiful old stone Church which is St Michael’s today.

Of course, I can not presume that either Bridget or George were living in Wagga Wagga at the time. While these days a 14 year old is still almost considered a child and certainly too young to be living out of home, that wasn’t the case back in in the 1870s. She was old enough to work and could have had an independent position as a domestic servant perhaps.

Wagga Wagga is located on the Murrumbidgee River. The original Aboriginal inhabitants of the Wagga Wagga region were the Wiradjuri people and the term “Wagga” and derivatives of that word in the Wiradjuri aboriginal language is thought to mean “crow”. To create the plural, the Wiradjuri repeat a word, thus ‘Wagga Wagga’ translates to ‘the place of many crows’. However, it wasn’t just the crows which were attracted to the area and poet and author Dame Mary Gilmore noted that the locality was the breeding-ground of birds of all kinds. Food abounded on land and in the water, consequently eggs were plentiful (young birds too), and the crows fared well. So did the eagles, some of which were of great size- Jennifer Strauss, Collected verse of Mary Gilmore,, University of Queensland Press, 2007, p. 642.

WAGGA in the 1870s…

In 1870 Wagga Wagga had been established as a municipality. There were some 2,500 people within its boundaries and about 7,000 in the surrounding districts with about 7,000 acres under agriculture.

In the 1870s the Presentation Sisters established a school in Wagga Wagga. You can read through their history here: http://presentationsociety.org.au/congregations/wagga-wagga/history/

The Capture of Captain Midnight

The Capture of Captain Midnight

I am just doing some very quick research about Wagga Wagga in the day and it is interesting to note that at the same time that the Presentation Sisters were setting up a convent and school in Wagga Wagga, the infamous bushranger Captain Midnight who was, appeared near the district and was subsequently captured.  On 15 November 1879, Captain Midnight arrived  looking for work at Wantabadgery Station which is situated about 38 km east of Wagga. When work was refused, Moonlite and his band of 5 others returned and held up all 39 people at the station. Later one of the hostages escaped and three mounted police from Wagga Wagga arrived and were engaged  in a shoot out. When the police retreated, Moonlite and his gang escaped only to be captured at another nearby property when police from the neighbouring townships of Gundagai and Adelong arrived. Moonlite was later hung for his crimes. Wikipaedia.

This is obviously very early dates in my research and I am just pasting bits and pieces in as I find them at this stage. I really do like to explore the local context in my research but with Bridget and George moving around so much, my interest in wearing a bit thin…especially as I still haven’t found enough conclusive evidence to order possible death certificates for George Merritt and I have still found no traces of a death for Bridget Merritt at all.

I’ll keep you posted and as usual welcome any contributions.

xx Rowena




Boorowa 1873

By the time George and Bridget reach Boorowa in 1873, I’m seriously telling them to stay put and find a bit of stability. After all, they are moving every couple of years from town to town in disparate regions throughout country New South Wales and I’m obviously wondering why. Why couldn’t they stay put? I’ve found no evidence of trouble with the law. Actually, aside from the births of their children, I’ve found very few traces of George and Bridget Merritt at all. It’s as though they knew I was going to come after them and they’ve initiated some kind of privacy screen.

Not unsurprisingly, I hadn’t heard of the town of Boorowa before. It is located in a valley 243 km west of Sydney and 487 m above sea-level.

Bridget Merritt gave birth to her youngest child Charles in Boorowa in 1873.

I will elaborate further on the Merritt family’s time in Boorowa down the track.

xx Rowena

Next Stop: Tamworth 1868

The next stop in Bridget’s journey is Tamworth, which is now 259 km North-West of Morpeth via the New England Highway.

Tamworth is the oldest permanent settlement in northern NSW and is often referred to as “City of Light” as the first electric street lighting system in Australia was established there in 1888. Industries include: wool, wheat, dairying,tobacco growing, and a range of secondary industries. Tamworth is known as the Country Music Capital of Australia as it’s annual Country Music Festival is the second largest country music festival in the world.

In 1868, Bridget Merritt gave birth to an unnamed female child in Tamworth.Just because no name was recorded, it doesn’t mean that the baby didn’t survive. I am working to track down the baby’s name.

At this time, Tamworth was little more than a fledgling village. In 1861, Tamworth’s population was only 654.

morpeth to Tamworth

Stay tuned for further details of Bridget’s time in Tamworth and I would welcome your  assistance. I am becoming quite curious about why George and Bridget were on the move. George was a labourer of some sort so perhaps he was chasing work. As I said, stay tuned.

xx Rowena

Childbirth in Morpeth 1870

When you know almost absolutely nothing about someone you are researching, you have to get pretty clever and follow up even the smallest hint of a clue hoping that this may provide some kind of insight into your person’s life. Bridget Merritt nee Donovan was almost an invisible woman. She trod so lightly on this earth that other than her five children, she barely left an impression behind.

Bridget Merritt gave birth to my Great Great Grandmother, Charlotte, on 5th January, 1864.

Fortunately, Bridget used a midwife when Charlotte was born and a search through Trove re the midwife, turned up on interesting account of what happened when childbirth went wrong in 19th century NSW and in particularly when you were living in a country town like Morpeth.


MAGISTERIAL ENQUIRY. — The Police Magistrate held an inquiry on Tuesday last, the 5th instant, at Hinton, into the circumstances attending the death of Catherine Feenay. The following evidence was given: — Edward Feenay, sworn, deposed: The deceased, Catherine Feenay,   was my wife, and was aged about 29 years. My wife was in the family way, and about seven o’clock on Sunday evening she began to com- plain, and asked me to go for a woman, as she expected to be confined, but did not tell me who to go for. She called a Mrs. Byron, who lived opposite, to come to her. When Mrs Byron came she told me to go for Mrs. Wiseman. In about half an hour I found Mrs. Wiseman, and she accompanied me home. In about half an hour or more, Mrs. Wiseman directed me to go for a doctor. I went to West Maitland in search of a medical man. I was directed to a particular house which had a red light opposite to it. I went in company with a night watchman. I knocked, and a gentleman came out. I said to him, “There is a woman in labour at Hinton; she is     in a very bad state, and is in labour.” And I requested him to come down with me to see her. I told him I was living at the punt-house. He asked me if I was the lessee of the punt. I told him I was not, I was only a labourer attending upon it. He said, “Three guineas is   my charge.” I said, “All right.” He said, “Will you pay me when I deliver her?” I said, “I will pay you when she is all right; I will pay you to-morrow;” I asked him three or four times to come, and he told me he would run no more bills there, and positively refused to come; I returned home; when I got home I had some conversation with my wife, and Mrs. Wiseman the midwife; Mrs. Wiseman remained with my wife until she died; I went out to look   for assistance, and when I returned with my cousin, Mrs. Wiseman told me to go for Dr. Scott, who she thought would come, as he was a charitable man; I took the train, and   went for Dr. Scott, who returned; I reached   home, and found Dr. Scott and the priest there; about twelve o’clock my wife died. —   Sophia Wiseman, sworn, deposed: I am a mid-   wife residing in Morpeth. On Sunday evening last I met the last witness, who requested me to go home with him, as his wife was very bad. I accompanied him to his house, and I found the deceased, and when I went in, from what I saw and found out, I said I would have nothing to do with the case, and would not be responsible for anything. I told the woman’s husband to go for a doctor directly, and I believe he went. When he came back, he returned without a doctor, and said that the doctor would not come without three guineas, “and I had not got it   to give him.” The woman all the time was in her labour, and I could not assist her. I remained with her till she died. About midday she died. — Walter Scott sworn, deposed: I am a legally   qualified medical-practitioner, residing in West Maitland. About a week ago deceased consulted me as to her approaching confinement, and de- scribed herself as suffering from symptoms denoting placenta prœria. I told her that unless she was near professional aid when her labour came on, she would most probably die, and recommended her to come to Maitland, as even before a medical man could get to her assistance at Hinton she might be dead. About half-past eight o’clock yesterday morning, the husband of the deceased called at my house and told me that his wife had been in labour all night, and that the nurse in attendance said that the case was a very bad one, and refused to have anything to do with it by herself. I told him I would start as soon as possible, and he in- formed me that he was going for the priest, as he did not expect to find his wife alive when he reached home. I saw the deceased about half- past nine o’olock, a.m., and after a little delay, caused by the administration of religious rites, I proceeded to deliver her. She was very much exhausted, from loss of blood, consequent upon a partial presentation of the after-birth. I delivered her in the usual manner, thereby stopping the hœmorrhage, but the deceased died from exhaustion about a quarter of an hour after delivery. The child was dead when born. I did not know till some time after I was in the house that deceased was the woman who had consulted me a week before. I am certain that if deceased had had professional assistance in time, her life might have been saved. — The finding was “That deceased died in childbirth.”

The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893) Thursday 7 April 1870 pg 2

While beyond Charlotte’s birth certificate, there is no information about Charlotte’s actual birth at all. However, her birth certa search through the online newspapers at Trove,

Welcome to Morpeth 1864

Goodness knows what lead George and Bridget Merritt to move from Mudgee to Morpeth. My sense of direction and where all these country towns are plonked on the map has never been good but thanks to Google, you can pretty much find the answer to anything!!

From: Mudgee NSW To: Morpeth NSW

Google very knowledgeably informed me that it will take 3 hours and 19 minutes to drive  283.4 KM from Mudgee to Morpeth under current traffic conditions. Hmm…wonder how long it took George, Bridget and their three young sons and how they moved from A to B?

A copy of Charlotte Merritt's Birth Certificate. The original had been completed by the midwife. Bridget was illiterate.

A copy of Charlotte Merritt’s Birth Certificate. The original had been completed by the midwife. Bridget was illiterate.

I don’t know exactly when the Merritt family arrived in Morpeth or how long they stayed. What I do know is that their fourth child and eldest daughter, Charlotte, who is my Great Great Grandmother, was born there on the 5th January, 1864. Her birth certificate provides a good snapshot of the family at the time. George, a labourer, was 38 years old and had been born in Overton, Hampshire. Bridget was 29 years old and was born in Middleton, Cork, Ireland. The couple had 3 males living. The informant was Sophia Wiseman, Midwife, Morpeth.

Charlotte Curtin nee Merritt was born in Morpeth.

Charlotte Curtin nee Merritt was born in Morpeth.

At the time of Charlotte Merritt’s birth, Morpeth was a thriving town. Located on the Hunter River, North of Newcastle, it was a significant river port.

Flooding in Maitland 1864-Image courtesy of the National Library.

Flooding in Maitland 1864-Image courtesy of the National Library.

It turns out that 1864 was a particularly bad year for flooding in Morpeth and surrounding districts. A La Niña event spanning 1860–1864 brought repeated widespread flooding to settlements across NSW and the floods in 1863 and 1864 were the most severe with much of the New England and Hunter Valley regions inundated with floodwaters. There was a bad flood throughout the Hunter Valley in 13th February, 1864 when Charlotte was just over a month old.

It seemed that quite a lot of major building was going on in Morpeth around the time the Merritt’s were there. Morpeth Court House and Morpeth Public School were both opened in 1862.  In May 1864, a branch railway from East Maitland to Morpeth was opened.

I have reblogged a post I wrote on my other blog: http://www.beyondtheflow.com about a few day trips I made to Morpeth. These days, it is such an enchanting, historic place. The buildings which were built around the time of Charlotte’s birth are now much loved historic landmarks and over 150 years old. That’s an interesting thought.

I will be researching Bridget and George’s time in Morpeth in more detail down the track.

xx Rowena



Morpeth Revisited

Beyond the Flow

If you are trying to resist an over-active sweet tooth, Morpeth is fatal.

Same goes for bread.

If you are trying not to be tempted by fashion, art, vintage books, baby dolls, teddy bears and luscious designs, Morpeth is also fatal.

If you long to return to yesteryear with gorgeous cobbled footpaths, streets wide enough for a bullock train to turn around and stunningly rustic historic buildings…Morpeth is impossible to resist.

To top it all off, I know the brochures all talk about the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting down the main street but all I could smell when I first stepped out of the car was cow. I won’t be specific but there was that gorgeous country cow smell which for me, is almost more fragrant than a rose.

Morpeth is my kind of place. In fact, I even saw a few signs around town which had my…

View original post 2,471 more words

Arriving in the Mudgee Region

Arriving in the Mudgee Region

Just to recap, I am researching Bridget Donovan’s journey from Midleton, County Cork out to Sydney, Australia onboard the John Knox.

Bridget was one of the Irish Orphan girls who were sent out to Australia under the Earl Grey Scheme. Bridget’s father, Dennis, had died during the Irish Famine 1845-1852 and although her mother was still living, Bridget was a destitute inmate in Midleton Workhouse prior to emigration.

While I am reconstructing Bridget’s journey, I have embarked on my own journey…a contemporary Australian woman returning as best I can to the horrors of the Irish Famine which saw 1 million people die or starvation and disease and a further 1 million, like our Bridget Donovan, emigrate. It was an absolutely horrific, indescribable horror and one which, as the descendant of numerous survivors, I will not simply shut away in the past. It is because of them that I am here.

Bridget and George Merritt move to Mudgee

At this stage, I have only taken a sneak peek preview into the Mudgee chapter of Bridget’s journey. I really have no idea what they were doing out there aside from giving birth to three sons. Being the eternal optimist, I’m hoping that someone else will read this and possibly fill in some of the gaps.

I don’t know when George and Bridget Merritt arrived in the Mudgee region. However, a search of the online birth records shows that Bridget gave birth to three sons while they were living there:

William 1856

Unnamed Male 1858

George 1860

It was more than likely that George and Bridget Merrett’s move to Mudgee had something to do with gold. A large nugget of gold, now known as the Kerr hundredweight, was found on Wallerwaugh Station in Hargraves, 45 kilometres from Mudgee. Between two and three thousand miners move though the area known as the Louisa Goldfields in search of their fortunes.

The news of the fresh gold field reached England, along with the first gold, aboard the Thomas Arbuthnot. Her captain said, ‘The colony is completely paralysed. Every man and boy who is able to lift a shovel is off, or going off, to the diggings. Nearly every article of food has gone up, in some cases two hundred per cent.’

Next step is to order a birth certificate of at least one of these children and also to check the electoral rolls.
Stay tuned. Further research required.

I would particularly welcome any contributions about Mudgee’s history pretty please!!

Xx Rowena