“The relentless reaper death has sought another addition to his uninterrupted harvest from amongst the ranks of our oldest residents.”
The opening lines of Portland settler William Charter’s obituary published in The Portland Guardian on 7 December 1888 were typical of the times. Dark and ominous, like William Tulloh’s obituary in the Guardian of 22 July 1889,
“Of late the inexorable reaper has been unusually busy among our oldest and most prominent citizens, and we have the sorrowful task of recording the loss to the town of another of its pioneers”
If wasn’t the Grim Reaper making his presence felt, it was the Grim Destroyer raise his skeletal hand to guide the departed across the “Great Divide” to the “Great Beyond”
The Portland Guardian acknowledged in 1889 in the obituary of Francis Henty, that increasingly the pioneers that built the Western District were disappearing, and with them the links to the past,
One by one the pioneers are passing away and soon there will be no living link connecting the present with the earliest days of the colony. But in the order of things mundane this is but natural and we can only record our tribute of respect to the memory of those who led the way to shores on which a mighty nation is fast springing into existence, and who are spared to see this well on the way to be accomplished, before going down to their graves full of years and honour. (Portland Guardian 16 January 1889)
On 3 March 1921, the Guardian was still lamenting the loss of the stories of the early settlers.
One by one the pioneers of our old town are passing away, and unfortunately, valuable history, unwritten, goes with them.
Newspapers published obituaries daily, sometimes under the heading of “Passing Pioneers” or “Passing of the Pioneers” and variations thereof. In July 2011, Western District Families published the first “Passing of the Pioneers” post. First-hand stories the Portland Guardian of 125 years ago was concerned about losing are gone. However, the tributes to pioneers from the pages of the Guardian and other Western District newspapers have not.
Taking obituaries from a growing number of Western District newspapers available at Trove, there are now over eighty Passing of the Pioneer posts. As well as recording the lives of pioneers, the entries link to the newspaper obituaries of 950+ early European settlers and a handful from North America. They range from those with no living relatives to others with many descendants and those who were part of the Western District aristocracy through to their employees. There are those who lived in mansions to others whose homes were mere shacks. Yet they each contributed to the Western District as is it today and they all have worth stories.
SEARCHING THE INDEX
- Click on the group containing the first letter of your settler’s surname, as listed below. You can also navigate from the main menu above.
- Locate your settler in the index
- Click on the name, and you will go to the month their obituary was posted
- Scroll down to find your settler listed in chronological order by death date
- Click on the settler’s name to go to their newspaper obituary at Trove
- If you find a family member, feel free to leave a comment. It may lead you to others researching the same person.
Obituaries are a rich source of information for family and local historians.
For family historians, obituaries contain valuable information about siblings and children, including the married names of daughters and where they were living at the time of the loved one’s death. There are ships, years of arrival in Victoria, occupations, businesses, and properties owned, religious affiliations, and committee memberships. All great information for fleshing out a family history.
Local historians can find the names of businesses, events, identities, and more.
But with all that information, there comes a warning. Obituaries are not always as they seem. They are not personal accounts but rather the memories of family, friends or associates provided in the days after the subject’s passing. Just as the information for a death certificate can only be as accurate as the knowledge of the informant, so too the obituary, with the information sometimes third-hand or more.
And don’t expect to read the juicy tidbits that many family historians seek. Some of that has to do with the long-held superstition not to speak ill of the dead. A financial failure or a run of bad luck might get a mention, but mostly the subject was the best athlete, the most conscientious of churchgoers, or a friend to all in the district. Perhaps dear departed grandfather told stories of his early life in the colonies, but he may well have been able to spin a good yarn, too. Don’t be fooled like the sub-editor of “a big metropolitan daily” as reported in the Gippsland Mercury of 24 February 1914,
“…how it is that such very important people have been allowed to live unnoticed and unhonoured in tho community so long. Quite recently, the advertisement clerk of a big metropolitan daily took in a long death notice in which it was set out that the dear departed was the son of so-and-so, the grandson of so-and-so, and apparently he and his immediate ancestors were people of very considerable importance. So much was the sub-editor of tho journal in question impressed by the advertisement that a reporter was told off the next day to hunt up the career of the deceased great man and write a paragraph about it.
Alas for the foundations of human glory. The captains, whose names were so plentifully besprinkled in the obituary advertisement turned out to have been captains of shift in mines, with the exception of one of them who had charge of a stone barge down Footscray way, while the hero of the story, who was said in the advertisement to have been for many years a valued servant of a great public body, certainly had been employed about the building in a very humble capacity, his services being remunerated by a payment of about 50s a week. Yet to read that advertisement one would think the court circular and Debrett’s Peerage would become blank paper if all references to the deceased gentleman and his family were omitted.
The brief biography provided for each pioneer is based on the information provided within their obituary. On the occasions where a woman’s maiden name is not obvious from the obituary, they have been located, where possible, using birth, death, and marriage indexes. The names of ships and the dates of arrival are as per the obituary. I provide some additional information, including links to other sites expanding further on the subject’s life.
SOURCES USED FOR “PASSING OF THE PIONEERS” POSTS