Monday, August 3, 2009

'Who Really Was My Great-Grandmother Louisa?'

This morning I was looking at an 1860 something photograph of my great-grandmother - over coffee and a croissant, as you do ...

Louisa (nee Smith) at 18 - My Paternal Great-Grandmother

... and realized there were no family stories or histories about her. Not a single one!

Plenty about her husband Jean Theodore. Who called all his sons 'Jimmy' cos he couldn't remember their 12 individual names. And told them to use a dictionary when asked the meaning of a French word - rather than admit he didn't know the English one. The anecdotes go on and on. And on.

I kept looking at the photograph, almost trying to will something out of the image.

The clothes were mid C19 - I did know that she came to this country as a teenager from Scotland around that time. I wondered if this photo was taken before she set out for Australia. Or - less likely - on her arrival in Melbourne. Certainly not in the remote bush where my great-grandparents established themselves. The reverse states in pencil that she was 18 at the time of the sitting.

And why did she make the then perilous journey to Australia? My great-grandfather emigrated from France during the Gold Rush of 1852 and established a vineyard and winery in Bendigo (which still operates) - he was shrewd enough to realize he probably wouldn't find gold but there were other more indirect ways to get your hands on the precious metal!

Did she come here alone? It's hard to image it. With whom then? And what happened to them?

Her father, John Smith?

John Smith c1860

Or these recently uncovered relatives on whom I've already posted? Also, tantalizingly, named Smith. Were they a family group of a father and two daughters? If so, what became of the mother? My mind is racing into Hollywood stories of ... well, you know the formula!

How and where did she meet her husband-to-be? Was it an arranged thing? Before she left Scotland. My great-grandfather had already been in the country nearly a decade when she landed in Melbourne sometime around 1860.

Jean-Thedore and Louisa Embedded in Their Family (1897)

Just a zillion intriguing questions ... and no nearer to having a single clue about my great-grandmother - apart from where she was born and her teenage journeying.

Back to the photo? Maybe there's something I've missed. Something on the back that will reveal all!

By the way, one of my given names is a very old Scottish one, now not at all used. I like to think that there's at least this tiny thread back to this intrepid pioneer woman.


  1. Pioneering people were very tough. One of my neighbors grandmother walked all the way from Kansas to California...several thousand miles. You can see it in their faces, Nick.

    Doug...LA, CA

  2. hey doug

    they were tough

    amazing that walk you mention, really astonishing

    my great grandparents carved their vineyard out of wild bush - much like the opening up of the west in the States i imagine

    sent most of their kids to melbourne to university ...

    makes my life seem a bit low key! LOL

  3. Her story does lead to all sorts of questions. Intriguing to be sure. Especially when you think that at one time the answers probably were common knowledge. Why write such things down, we all know them...and then within a couple generations the story is lost.

    And speaking of questions, who is the adorable young man in the bottom left corner? Such an intriguing family you are blessed with...

  4. hey paul in NYC

    now all the answers to such questions can be known ... just by getting someone expert to

    you make a very interesting point about the evaporating of common oral knowledge - my maternal grandmother was an inveterate and constant recorder - and her side is totally pinned down.

    she wrote (among many things) of the periodic great floods when everything that could be moved had to be carted up the local hill out of the way of the advancing waters

    and she wrote of picnics out into the still virgin bush they'd not clearer - she describes the food they took (jellies and scones for dessert) - we even have the names of the horses they were rode! one (Charlie) was a return horse from the Boer War! he'd been taken as her brother's mount and returned with him to australia

    the adorable young man was a great great uncle (Norman) who was a great lady killer - see, we know so much about absolutely every one except the great grandmother!

    good to hear from you again



  5. hey paul again

    just read my comment - first line is unfinished - i was going to say that all's revealed by ... a quick examination of our puter hard drives!



  6. When were the last Scottish Land Clearences? The Sassnach thought nothing of uprooting families from their farms and sending them off on different ships to different places. It was more profitable to raise sheep on their land than to farm produce. Industrial revolution and all that.
    We got a lot of Scots (Ecossais) in Quebec at that time. During the previous 100 years our famiy lost 5 to transportation to Australia, mainly for protesting about confiscated property.

  7. PS: Qvestion? When did us colonials become citizens? When I was brought up it was hammered into our heads that we were "Loyal Subjects of His Magesty, later Her Magesty the King or Queen. We absolutely were not citizens like those ignorant French or Yanks that were the rabble of republics.

  8. hey anon

    in the C18 and C19 - they were more easily achieved in scotland than the rest of UK as there was little legal protection there for year-by-year tenants - so lots of ugly land clearance

    and these land clearances led to migrations to quebec and to australia among other places

    tangentially about colonials, when i lived in london as a kid, people constantly referred to australians as colonials - tho i've not heard it in the canadian context for the british there