It’s My 1st Blogiversary!

Happy 1st Blogiversary Western District Families.  I thought we would never make it, but 84 posts and 12 months later, here we are.

What a fun year it has been.  It really was worth procrastinating about whether to blog or not to blog.  Over time I have made some great online friends, met some previously unknown family members, and found out so much more about my Western District family.  Western District Families even got a Google+ page!

I hope some of you have also found out something about your Western District family, where they lived, and the things they did through posts such as In the News and the Pioneer Christmas series.  Maybe you have found an obituary of an ancestor at Passing of the Pioneers.

I have found that the act of writing out my family history has been so useful for my research. It has helped me sort out what information I have but more importantly, what I don’t have.  Also, lining up the lives and events of siblings, in the case of the Harmans for example, has given me a better understanding of the dynamics of the family (can you tell I was a Social Sciences student?).

So what have been the most popular of the past 84 posts?

1.  The Fastest Ship in the World

2. A Tragic Night – January 24, 1882

3. Histories of  South-West Towns

4. Witness for the Prosecution

5. Only Seven More Sleeps…

Which posts have been my favourite to share?  Well it was hard to narrow them down to just five but here they are:

1 Elizabeth Ann Jelly

2. All Quiet By the Wannon

3. Halls Gap’s Cherub

4. From Stone Country to High Country

5. A Tragic Night – January 24, 1882

An Honourable Mention must go to  What the Dickens? and the follow-up post Another ‘What the Dickens” Moment.  They were both interesting and fun to write.

Over the past year, I have had made contact with Gamble and Jelly cousins and members of the Condon, Adams, and Oakley families.

I  also heard from Rosemary of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her great grandparents were married in the original St Stephens Church in Portland.

Plenty is planned for the next 12 months.  I thought I would run out of things to write about. Instead, I am finding it difficult to keep up with all the subject ideas I have. There will be more Passing of the Pioneers and later in the year, I will look at Christmas in the early part of the 20th century.  Of course, I will have more stories about my family.  I’ve barely touched on some of the stories I had planned when I started the blog as I keep finding more great stories in the meantime.

A big thank you must go to my fellow Australian geneabloggers.  Your support and encouragement have been fantastic and you have all inspired me to keep going.   What I have learnt from each of you has been invaluable.  It was great to meet some of you at the Unlock the Past Victorian Expo at Geelong last year.  Also to the 29 followers of Western District Families, thank you for following and for your great comments.

I must also make a special mention of my maternal grandmother, Linda Gamble (nee Hadden).  Nana did not get to see my blog.  She passed away six days before I published my first post.  It was Nana that got me to this point.  Her love of the past and her family inspired me almost 20 years ago to start researching our family tree simply to find out more about them for her.  What a wonderful family she gave me.

Nana & me

Another “What the Dickens?” Moment

To mark the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, I posted about Alfred Tennyson Dickens who lived in my hometown of Hamilton.  Entitled “What the Dickens?“, the post describes my amazement that a son of Charles Dickens could have lived in Hamilton.  Alfred left the town due to the accidental death of his wife Jessie.

Yesterday I was in Hamilton for several reasons, one of which was to visit the Hamilton Old Cemetery in search of the grave of Jessie Dickens, and as a result, I had another “What the Dickens?” moment.

My visits to Hamilton are infrequent day trips, so I try to cram in as much as possible. Visits to the cemetery are quick, usually to search for a specific grave or graves. Yesterday was no different, except I had absolutely no idea where in the cemetery Jesse was buried.  With Mum, we headed to the oldest and biggest graves.

We found the grave quicker than expected.  It turns out the grave of Jessie Dickens is immediately behind my gg grandparents Richard Diwell and Elizabeth Jelly who I have posted about before.  We couldn’t believe we had previously visited the Diwell plot before, unaware the grave of the daughter-in-law of Charles Dickens was right behind. As we were earlier unaware of the Dickens link to Hamilton, we had not made the connection.

What I couldn’t believe was that I had missed the grave immediately behind Jessie’s. It was that of Stephen George Henty, one of the Henty brothers, Victoria’s first settlers.  Stephen, thought to be the most influential of the brothers, was the first to settle inland from Portland, at Muntham, Merino Downs, and Sandford stations.



Both the Diwell and Dickens headstones were chosen by heartbroken husbands, shattered by their wives’ premature deaths. Jessie was only 29, thrown from a horse-drawn carriage on Portland Road in 1878 and Elizabeth died at 44 due to complications of childbirth in 1900. I have updated the “What the Dickens?” post with a photo of Jessie’s grave.

When I came home, I checked the photos I already had of the Diwell grave, and sure enough, you can see the two other graves in the background.  One of these photos appears on the post “Elizabeth Ann Jelly“.

The thing that struck me was that within a distance of about 6 metres lay the remains of 10 people.  Great Victorian pioneers, Stephen George Henty and wife Jane and their son, Richmond; the wife of the son of one of the greatest novelists of all time and my gg grandparents, Richard and Elizabeth Diwell and four of their children, Ralph, Rebecca, Ernest, and an unnamed baby.  Wow!

What the Dickens?

Today marks 200 years since the birth of writer Charles Dickens.  Growing up in Hamilton in the 1970s and 80s my limited diet of Dickens consisted of a production of “Oliver” circa 1978 by the local theatre group and repeats of an old version of “A Christmas Carol” on one of the two TV channels. Oh, and there was a street in Hamilton called Dickens Street, presumably named after Charles himself.  As there is a Burns, Tennyson, Shakespeare, Byron, and Chaucer Street in Hamilton, it made sense to think Dickens Street was part of the theme the early town leaders had happening.  Or did it?  Those other guys are poets anyway.

Having missed a copy of the first edition of a book by Hamilton researcher John McKay in 2007,  The Streets of Hamilton, Western Victoria,  Australia: A History of the People behind the Names, which had a limited print run, I was lucky enough to have Dad snare a copy of the revised 2nd edition in 2009.  It is a terrific book, and as I am familiar with all the street names, it was interesting to read who the streets were named after, with some surprises.

The biggest of those was that Dickens Street, Hamilton was it more likely it was named after the son of Charles Dickens, Alfred D’Orsay Tennyson Dickens.  Why?  Because he lived in Hamilton? What?  The son of one of the world’s most famous novelists could not have lived in Hamilton, my hometown Hamilton, a million miles from the world of Charles Dickens.

Unbelievable but true.  In fact, I find it a little mind-boggling that Alfred Dickens walked the streets of Hamilton 100 years before I did.

Alfred came to be in Australia as his father has sent him off to make his fortune, just as he did with his youngest son Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens (aka “Plorn”), who lived in New South Wales.

UNLUCKY PLORN DICKENS. (1939, November 4). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 13. Retrieved February 6, 2012, from

Alfred’s travels led him to Hamilton where he set up an auctioneering business with Robert Stapylton Bree known as Bree, Dickens & Co.  They were in partnership from 1875-1882.

John McKay mentions a property at 32 Collins Street, Hamilton which Alfred rented before building his own home next door.  The house is very familiar to me and I have been along the street many times, so to think that the son of Dickens lived there is almost unbelievable.

It was an accident that claimed the life of his wife, Jessie Devlin, that saw Alfred Dickens leave Hamilton.

(1878, December 23). The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1889), p. 5. Retrieved February 6, 2012, from

The horse in the photo below is taking the same path as Jessie’s ponies before bolting down the Kennedy Street hill.

Jessie is buried at the Hamilton (Old) Cemetery


Alfred packed up his two daughters and went to Melbourne.  He was known for his elocution skills and he began giving lectures on his father’s works.  It was on a trip to New York as part of a speaking tour to England and the U.S. that Alfred died.

MR. ALFRED T. DICKENS. (1912, January 4). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1956), p. 7. Retrieved February 6, 2012, from

First Issue, August 20, 1842. (1912, January 5). Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 – 1953), p. 2 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved February 6, 2012, from

I feel a bit ripped off that it took so long to find out about Hamilton’s brush with Charles Dickens.  But I feel I am not alone.  There would not be many people who either live or have lived in Hamilton that would know the story of Alfred, except for local historians and those who have read John McKay’s book, of course.  Maybe we would know more about him if he had lived out his years in Hamilton, which it appeared he was preparing to do when Jessie met her death.  So on this day, the birthday of Charles Dickens, let us also remember Alfred and his time in the Western District.