The Hungry Eagle

I had to share this story with you.

John Kirkwood was the father in law of Sarah Ann Reed, the niece of Susan Reed, wife of James Harman.  While checking his rabbit traps, John found a large eagle caught in a trap.  He took the bird to the Hamilton home of Robert Stapylton Bree on North Boundary road.  Bree chained the raptor in the garden to keep other birds away but he got more than he bargained for with the bird’s voracious appetite.

The Portland Guardian, (50th Year of Publication.) With which is incorporated The Portland Mirror. (1892, May 18). Portland Guardian (Vic. : 1876 – 1953), p. 2 Edition: EVENING. Retrieved June 14, 2012, from

I wonder what happened to the eagle?

Dozens of articles about eagles and hawks caught in rabbit traps abound found at Trove.  Some eagles still flew with the traps attached and one poor bird was reported with a trap attached  for months.


On sad note, 10 years on, in 1902, John Kirkwood succumbed to influenza.  His obituary appeared in The Horsham Times of October 28, 1902.  John had died in the Hamilton Hospital on Wednesday October 22.  On October 31, 1902, the obituary of John’s daughter, 20-year-old Mary Agnes Kirkwood.  She had passed away on  October 26.

OBITUARY. (1902, October 31). The Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved July 15, 2012, from



A search of Trove found that in 1902 there were reports of an influenza epidemic.  The Horsham Times reported many cases in the Wimmera area.  Such was the outbreak,  it had an effect on The Horsham Times.

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.

Passing of the Pioneers

The September “Passing of the Pioneers” in the Portland Guardian saw several prominent Western Victorian residents pass away and two of my own relatives.

Richard LEWIS: Died September 1890 at Digby.  Richard owned some well-known stations in the Western District including Rifle Downs and Hilgay.  An excellent biography of Richard Lewis is on the Ballarat Genealogical Society website. Richard died as a result of Bright’s disease.

Samuel CROSSDied 4 September 1901 at Hamilton. Samuel was seventy-nine at the time of his death and had been in Australia since 1849 after travelling from Sussex, England. He worked in and owned, department stores including the Beehive Store in Hamilton.  In his later years, he was a librarian at the Hamilton Mechanics Institute.

Jacob THEISINGER: Died 13 September 1901 at Portland. Jacob, also a sufferer of Bright’s Disease, had been in the colony since around 1854.  He was a popular person around town and was a member of the Portland German Band.

Robert Edwin Windsor Sandys STAPYLTON-BREE: Died 17 September 1907 at Hamilton. Robert Edwin Windsor Sandys Stapylton-Bree was a Hamilton stock and station agent and well know identity not only in Hamilton but also in Portland.  He married the daughter of Stephen HENTY, Annie Maria.  His funeral was well attended with Dean Parkyn presiding over the service.  He and Archdeacon Hayman had motored the 119 mile trip from Ballarat in five hours.

Christina STEWART: Died September 1921 at Hamilton. Christina STEWART was born in Kingussie, Scotland in around 1825 and travelled with her husband, Duncan McPherson, to Australia in 1851 onboard the Hooghlly.  While Duncan went off to the goldfields, Christina waited in Melbourne until they journeyed to Portland.  For a time, she and her husband ran the Dartmoor Hotel.  She was a mother of eight children.

Elizabeth GLADSTONE: Died 18 September 1925 at Millicent, South Australia.  Elizabeth Gladstone grew up near Portland and the Guardian noted she rode eighty miles each day to school.  I am assuming this was a round trip, or it was a short school day.  Elizabeth married George Plunkett in 1862 at Penola, South Australia.

May ROBERTSON: Died September 1925 at Gringalgona.  May Robertson arrived in Sydney with her family in 1847 from Scotland.  They travelled to the Coleraine district by bullock wagon.

Margaret Emily McDONALD:  Died  5 September 1928 at Nokomai, New Zealand.  Margaret McDonald’s parents were early pioneers and she spent time around Portland and Hamilton as a child with one of her early memories being that of Adam Lindsay Gordon and his riding feats.  In 1863, Margaret married Donald Cameron in Melbourne and they moved to New Zealand and raised twelve children.

Margaret BEST: Died 7 September 1933 at Hamilton. Margaret was born in County Caven, Ireland in 1853 to Mr and Mrs William Best.  They arrived at Portland on board the General Hewitt in 1856.  After time in Portland, the Bests moved to Heywood when Margaret was nine. She married James Henry BELL and remained in the Heywood area.

Ada Catherine HAYMAN: Died September 1934 at Portland.  Ada was born in Axminster, Devon, England in about 1858.  She arrived at Portland with her parents and siblings in the 1860s.  This is an interesting family.  Ada’s father was a doctor and practiced in Harrow, Edenhope, and Ararat.  One of her brothers was a doctor, another Archdeacon Hayman presided over R. Stapylton-Bree’s funeral (above).  Another brother W.R. Hayman was one of those who organised the  Aboriginal cricketers’ tour of England in 1868.  The biography of one of the players, Johnny Mullagh, describes the part Hayman played.

Finlay McPherson PATON: Died September 1936 at Tarrayoukyan. Finlay Paton was born at Stirlingshire, Scotland and after landing at Portland, took on the job of ringing the church bell and did so for 15 years. This could have been just one of the reasons for his “magnificent physique”.  Maybe it was because he claimed that he was one of those that carted stones to build Mac’s Hotel in Portland.  Or was it lifting four-bushel bags of wheat from the ground to a wagon, with little trouble.  He really must have been a fine specimen. As were his team of horses used for his carrying business. Bred by Finlay they were the “admiration of the district”

William DIWELL: – Died September 1939 at Jeparit. William was my ggg uncle.  His obituary mentioned his work as a builder and the several buildings in Portland remaining, at the time of his death, as memorials to his work.  It does mention he was a native of Portland, however, he was born at Merino.  It correctly states his wife Frances was a native of Portland.

Thomas Haliburton LAIDLAWDied September 1941 at Hamilton. Over 500 people were reportedly at the funeral of Thomas Laidlaw, a Hamilton stock and station agent.  Thomas was the son of pioneers, Thomas and Grace Laidlaw.   The obituary offers a great description of the early days of Thomas Laidlaw senior in the colony with his four brothers.  Thomas junior, along with building his successful stock and station business was at one time a Shire of Dundas Councillor, President of the Hamilton Racing Club, and chairman of directors of the Hamilton and Western District College, today Hamilton and Alexandra College.  Laidlaw is one of the names that if I hear it, I think of Hamilton.

Henry MORTIMER: Died  6 September 1948 at Portland.  Another ggg uncle of mine, Henry was the son of James Mortimer and Rosanna Buckland.  He was born in Cavendish and was eighty at the time of his death at Portland.  He is best known on this blog as Mr Mortimer of Mr Mortimer’s Daughters.  This was an informative notice as it listed Henry’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.