A Small Find at the Vic Expo

It has taken me a little longer than expected to report back on the Unlock the Past Victorian Expo.  After two days of great talks with plenty of tips, I’ve been busy applying them to my research, with some success.  Along with two fine days ideal for the garden, I’ve had plenty keeping me occupied.

The Vic Expo was great.  I enjoyed each of the eleven talks I attended over the two days and there was plenty to see amongst the exhibitors.  I did several laps of the exhibition hall each day and I was still finding new things late on the second day.  A stand that I did not get to until Day two was that of the Birchip Historical Society.

They had several of their own publications available including birth, death, and marriage notices from the Birchip Advertiser.  I had checked my tree for connections to Birchip and I found that Susan Oakley, granddaughter of Joseph Harman had lived there from the early 1890s to early 1900s.  She married Robert Cruikshank from Birchip in 1892.  As there were several books and I had limited time, I simply chose the top book,  Weddings 1891-1899.  There on page four where the details of the marriage of Susan Oakley to Robert Cruikshank.

It read:

Mr Robert W. Cruikshank to Miss Susan Oakley

The marriage of Mr Robert W. Cruikshank and Miss Susan Oakley was finalized at Bendigo on the 3rd inst., by the Rev. F. Elliott, Presbyterian minister, of Birchip.  The bride looked very pretty in a dress of sea green cashmere and was attended by three bridesmaids, Miss Simpson and Misses Smyth, the former dressed in flowered delaine and the latter (two charming children) dressed in white muslin with pale blue sashes.  Mr Henry Oakley acted as best man on the occasion.  Mr Joseph Oakley, brother of the bride, and Mrs Oakley, had prepared a sumptuous wedding feast at which the usual toasts were honoured and much indulgement enjoyed.  The bride and groom left by the next mornings train amid showers of rice and good wishes from their friends, to enjoy their honeymoon around Hamilton, Port Fairy and the metropolis.  (Weddings 1891-1899, Birchip Historical Society, p4.)

And so began a marriage of over 50 years and 11 children. I would love to see a photo of Susan’s sea-green cashmere dress.  The bridesmaids too would have looked lovely in their flowered delaine dresses.  Looking through the other marriage notices in the book shows that cashmere, delaine (a light wool fabric), and muslin were popular fabrics of the time. Nun’s veil, which was not used for Susan’s dresses, was another fabric mentioned in many of the marriage notices

Joseph Oakley, Susan’s brother was in charge of the wedding breakfast along with Mrs Oakley who I would assume was Joseph’s wife Annie Simpson.  By the time of the wedding, Susan’s mother Sarah Harman was known as Mrs Adams, the name of her second husband George.  Her first husband and Susan’s father, Walter Oakley, had presumably died around 10 years earlier.

While Joseph was acknowledged as the brother of Susan, best man Henry Oakley was not.  Susan had a brother Henry and beyond his birth record of 1869, I have not found another thing.  Could this be brother Henry?  Susan’s grandfather was also Henry Oakley and was alive at the time of the wedding but hardly would have been a 75-year-old best man.

The couple’s honeymoon no doubt included visits to Harman and Oakley cousins in Port Fairy, cousins around Hamilton, and Susan’s mother in the metropolis.  Flemington to be precise.

This was a totally unexpected find which demonstrates the value of publications by historical and family history societies.  I have found so much information because dedicated volunteers have indexed the likes of the Hamilton Spectator BDMs or have recorded historic buildings in a town for example or in this case the indexing of the Birchip Advertiser marriages.

It was fantastic that the Birchip Historical Society made the long trip to Geelong and I am sure many people went away with a greater awareness of the town and its history.  If you are interested in the work of the Birchip Historical Society, the ACMI website has a video of the museum and the wonderful people preserving history in the town.

8 thoughts on “A Small Find at the Vic Expo

  1. Hi Merron

    I stumbled upon your article during a random search of names of people in my family tree (Susan Oakley was my first cousin, three times removed – her grandfather, Henry Oakley, wwas my maternal 3rd great-grandfather.

    What I found very interesting about your article was the revelation that Susan was involved with Birchip in some way, as ancestors from my father’s side are also from this area (Watson, Clover) and I had no idea my mother’s side was around the area as well.

    Thank you for this information – it provides me with some other ideas that may lead to further information.

    Brad Watson.


    • Hi Brad
      I’m glad I could help you with a lead in your research. Do you have any idea what happened to Walter Oakley who married Sarah Harman? I did find a death in 1884 in Victoria, but nothing more.


      • Hi Merron

        Regrettably, I don’t have a great deal of information although I do have a note that says “Family folklore says that Walter disappeared when taking horses to India for the British Army.” – no supporting documentation,of course.. 🙂



      • Thanks for getting back to me Brad. Well, at least I’m not the only one who can’t find him. Even if it is family folklore what a wonderful story. There could be some truth in it as there was a a lot of horse export to India in the 1800s, the Western District was a big horse breeding area and the port of Portland close by…we may never know.


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