“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 pioneer William Charter’s obituary published in The Portland Guardian of 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
On 3 March 1921, the Guardian was still lamenting the loss of the pioneers’ stories.
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 Guardian and other Western District newspapers have not.
Taking obituaries from a growing number of Western District newspapers available at Trove, there are now forty Passing of the Pioneer posts. As well as recording the lives of pioneers, the entries link to the newspaper obituaries of 550 Western District pioneers and that number will grow. The pioneers range from those with no living relatives to others with many descendants From those who were part of the Western District aristocracy through to their employees. Those that 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 stories that should be shared.
SEARCHING THE INDEX
- Click on the group containing the first letter of your pioneer’s surname as listed below. You can also navigate from the main menu above.
- Locate your pioneer in the index
- Click on their name and you will go to the month their obituary was posted
- Scroll down to find your pioneer, listed in chronological order by death date
- Click on the pioneer’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.
THE NATURE OF OBITUARIES
Obituaries are a rich source of information for both family and local historians. From a family history perspective, they can 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 that can flesh out a family history. For local historians, they provide the names of businesses, events and identities among other things.
But with all that information there comes a warning. Obituaries are not always as they seem. They are not, obviously, personal accounts rather the memories of family, friends or associates provided only 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 to 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 do with the long-held superstition not to speak ill of the dead. A financial failure may be noted or a run of bad luck but generally the subject was the best athlete, the most conscientious of church goers or friend of all in the district. Perhaps dear departed grandfather did tell 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 following sub-editor, 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 tho 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 tho 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 short biography provided for each pioneer is based on the information provided within their obituary. On the occasions a woman’s maiden name was not recorded, they have been located where possible using birth, death and marriage indexes. Dates of arrival and the names of ships are recorded as per the obituary. Additional information has been provided for some pioneers, including links to other sites which expand further on the subject’s life.
SOURCES USED FOR “PASSING OF THE PIONEERS” POSTS