The Truth about Aunty Ruby

Aunty Ruby was initially somewhat of a mysterious figure to the current generation, so uncovering details of her life and ancestry was a worthwhile challenge. She was a contemporary of great grandparents growing up with the Bruce family in the gold mining town of Hillgrove, 32 kms east of Armidale, in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. Oral history suggested that her father had murdered her mother and was hanged as a result, but her exact relationship to the Bruces was unclear.

She was a much loved figure and when she died in 1948 the following obituary appeared in Wollongong’s Illawarra Mercury newspaper:

Mrs. Ruby Amelia Grant, of 248 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Thirroul, passed away suddenly at the Bulli Hospital last Thursday night, following a stroke which she suffered earlier in the day. The late Mrs. Grant, who was 54 years of age, was born at Petersham and was the only child of Mr. and Mrs. William J[ames] Dummer, both of whom predeceased her when she was seven years of age. Soon after her parents’ death, she went to live with her aunt, Mrs. Thomas Bruce, of Hillgrove, via Armidale and she was reared up as a sister to her cousin, Clyde Bruce. From her early childhood, the late Mrs. Grant studied the piano for 12 years, and between the years of 1907 and 1913 earned several honours certificates included in which were the Certificate of the Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music, and completed her studies of music by gaining honours in the London College of Music examination. Soon after gaining the latter certificate, she commenced teaching music and continued to do so until she married Mr. Bruce Boswell Grant at Perth Western Australia, in 1922. She had lived at Perth for seven years, between 1919 and 1926. Whilst a resident of Hillgrove, the late Mrs. Grant was organist at the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. In 1926, with her husband, she came to live at Austinmer, later moving to Thirroul, where she had lived ever since. Up until a few years ago she was an active member of the Austinmer Parents & Citizens’ Association. Besides her husband, she is survived by three sons, Thomas David, Douglas Bruce and Kenneth William. Two sons, Allan and Robert John, predeceased her by 15 years and four years respectively. Following a service conducted by Rev. Harrison (Presbyterian) and Rev. Walker (Methodist) at her late home, on Saturday, the cortege moved to the Presbyterian portion of the Bulli general cemetery, where the remains were laid to rest beside those of her late son, Allan.

A young Ruby with Clyde and Thomas Bruce

Ruby’s aunt, Mrs. Thomas Bruce, was born Amelia Maud Roach, a younger sister of Ruby’s mother, Elizabeth Anne Roach (known as Annie) and one of the eleven Roach children from Rocky River, near Uralla. Both the Bruces and Roaches were miners attracted to the gold fields at Hillgrove and Rocky River respectively. Thomas and Amelia Bruce had only one child, Clyde Alexander, and he and Ruby became very close, such that Ruby was a bridesmaid when Clyde married Josephine Davies in December 1918. Clyde had gone into partnership in a motor garage in nearby Guyra for a number of years but after getting married and having their first child, the young family had moved to Austinmer south of Sydney by 1920. This was undoubtedly one of the reasons for Ruby and her husband moving to Austinmer on their return from Perth.

A hunting party near Hillgrove – Standing on the right, Amelia and Thomas Bruce and Ruby Dummer

But how exactly was Ruby orphaned and what was the truth about her parents’ deaths?

Her parents Elizabeth and William were married at Uralla in 1892 and Ruby Amelia was born nine months later. William was born in 1867, the oldest child of James Dummer and Amelia Frances Firth. He had a twin sister, Ada, and eight other siblings, so when Ruby was “orphaned” there must have been a good reason why she went to live with the Bruce family rather than one of her Dummer relatives.

Little is known about William and Elizabeth’s life other than what was subsequently published in newspapers. Some time after Ruby Amelia was born, in the Sydney suburb of Petersham, the family moved to the Newcastle. William earned a living as a boot salesman but was reputed to have “drifted into intemperate habits” while Elizabeth had apparently been conducting a boarding house. The couple apparently “did not live happily together and Dummer was seldom sober”.

An incident on September 14, 1900, changed all their lives when William was supposedly under the influence of alcohol. The Daily Telegraph reported that William claimed that although he had “never lifted his hand to her [Annie] before, but that on the evening”…“she tantalised me and struck me across the stomach with a broom” and said she was going away. He then apparently hit her on the head near her temple with a stove rake. Although not realised at the time, her skull had been fractured and the brain membrane damaged. Annie however “went about her usual business after meeting the injury”, and against advice, “neglected getting proper medical treatment until the evening of September 24” when she was admitted to Newcastle hospital. She died the following day and the post mortem identified an abscess on the brain that had burst as the ultimate cause of death.

The death (and subsequent trial) received widespread publicity in newspapers throughout Australia. William was arrested and stood trial for murder in the Central Criminal Court. William did not call any witness in his defence and stated “I have nothing to say, your Honour, with regard to the case. I know nothing about it.” He was found guilty of manslaughter on 29 November 1900 and sentenced to one year hard labour following a strong recommendation for mercy from the jury.

William Dummer’s Gaol Record (from Ancestry.com)

It is not known whether William had any further contact with his daughter, or what he did and where we went after his release from gaol. The Bruce family certainly appears to have lost contact with William after that, and Ruby went on to live a normal and presumably happy family life as described in her obituary.

The End of Alf’s War

Earlier this year on Anzac Day my post “Aussie Sacrifices” focused on my late father, Alfred Ernest Morrison, and some of his wartime experiences, especially as a Japanese prison-of-war. We are now about to commemorate 75 years since the end of World War Two and within another three weeks on 6 September our family will also remember the passing of our father 25 years ago.

U.S.S. Missouri Memorial in Pearl Harbor

The war in the Pacific ended in practical terms with the unconditional surrender announcement by Emperor Hirohito on 15 August 1945, or as Americans prefer to commemorate with the signing of the surrender document on 2 September on the U.S.S Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Either way the end of hostilities set off celebrations throughout the world, and I would like to share more of my father’s story of those terrible times.

Alfred (Alf) Ernest Morrison grew up in Bankstown, New South Wales and although his parents had separated he was always close to his mother, Carrie, and had the support of a close extended family. It was not an easy time during those depression years in the working-class environment of Bankstown and despite liking to smoke and drink and to swear a little too much, the sense of family instilled in him a stable foundation.

NSW Protestant Churches Soccer Team, Queensland 1937 (Alf Morrison at top left)

He was an athletic young man through his school days and soccer was one of a number of sports he played. In 1937 at the age of 21 years he represented that New South protestant Churches team in Queensland. He served his apprenticeship to become a carpenter so when he enlisted in the army in 1940 he was fit, strong and healthy and this, together with the importance placed on mates in “the team”, would have undoubtedly stood him in good stead for what was about to follow.

Alf was in Singapore with the 2/12 Field Company, Eighth Division when it fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, starting exactly three and half years of captivity along with thousands of other Allied prisoners. The Fall of Singapore led to much uncertainty and worry for the fate of service men and women and it appears that little news of Alf reached home for a year or more.

Alf’s army service records show that Carrie first formally inquired about Alf only a month after the fall of Singapore and five months later he was reported missing and it wasn’t until September 1943 that he was officially known to be a prisoner-of-war.

When this information reached home, Alf would have already been with F Force on the Thailand-Burma railway for five months. F Force ended up at Sonkurai No, 3 Camp  229.20 km in Thailand mainly for construction of foundations of a big railway bridge across the river. Kami Sonkurai was the most remote of the POW camps on the rail line and had the highest death rate of all POW camps. There, rations were grossly inadequate, with almost no medical supplies and very little kitchen equipment or containers. A cholera epidemic at the camp was a particular problem. In the 1995 Changi Diary we read how “We learned the value of discipline … We learned to see the difference between good hygiene and bad” and this saved many lives among the Aussie POWs especially.

It was said that “next to cholera, tropical ulcers were the the worst thing to happen to you” (Bowden, Tim, Changi Photographer). During his time on the railway, Alf suffered from tropical ulcers on both feet, which could have easily led to amputation, but certainly resulted in bad scarring. On the completion of the ‘Railway’ POWs were transported first to Kanburi recovery camp and then by December 1943 back to Changi where they remained until the Japanese surrender.

His service records indicate that a card was received from Malaya in October 1944, and the next item on this record card, corroborated by a letter from a Hexham radio enthusiast listening to a Singapore station, was of a message home from Alf stating that he was “well and in good spirits”.

20 February 1945

Word of the Japanese surrender filtered into Changi in the middle of August 1945 as did more plentiful Red Cross supplies, but it was not until a pamphlet drop from Allied planes on 28 August that POWs truly knew the war was over. The pamphlet emphasised that “if you have been starved or underfed for long periods DO NOT eat large quantities of solid food, fruit or vegetables at first.”The next few weeks enabled the ex-POWs some time to recover before being shipped home.

On 21 September, Alf embarked on the liner Largs Bay heading Australia. His telegram home was dated 25 September, but this belated message was probably due to the large volume of telegrams being sent by the men.

Heading home

The Largs Bay docked at No. 11 Wharf, Wolloomooloo on 10 October 1945. The public was not allowed on the wharf itself but big crowds with their flags and confetti gave the home-comers a joyous welcome. The men were bused to camp at Ingleburn for their final assessment before greetings relatives and friends.

Welcome home picnic for Alf at Ingleburn with family and friends.

An Australian Women’s Weekly article on 27 October, which also included a photo (similar to the above) of Alf’s family gathering at Ingleburn, spoke of more than 5000 people being present to welcome home about 1000 returned prisoners of war. By this time the returned prisoners having had two months of recovery were in a pleasantly healthy condition.

Within a year Alf had married Bankstown girl, Norma Bray, who through the next forty-nine years was a loving wife, mother to their children and Alf’s carer as the effects of his incarceration manifested themselves. Of the two it was probably Norma who was less forgiving of the Japanese as she witnessed Alf’s deterioration. However maintaining contact with members of his old unit throughout his life and a long-anticipated trip to Thailand seemed to bring a degree of closure. Although hostilities ceased in August 1945, I have no doubt that Alf’s War only finished with his death in 1995.

Alf and Norma visiting Kanburi War Cemetery

So, with due respect to all who served in World War Two, at this time I believe it is fitting that we commemorate the sacrifices of all those who served in the Pacific war against Japan. Alf’s War is just one example of those sacrifices.

The world has moved on in the last 75 years and old enemies are now friends and allies, which is probably as it should be if we want a peaceful future. My own concerns about Japan, its people and the War were laid to rest when I visited a few years ago, and assigned to history … but Kipling’s words should live forever…

LEST WE FORGET

Thomas Dyball, Convict (1809-1905)

On the 30 July 1905 one of New South Wales’ longest lived transported convicts, Thomas Dyball, breathed his last at Port Macquarie having, it is believed, lived a full and healthy life of 96 years.

The Dyball name is most commonly associated with the Norfolk area of England. If his age at death is correct this Thomas Dyball was likely born on 30 January 1809 in the parish of Burgh St. Margaret (Yarmouth) in Norfolk to parents Robert Dyball and Ann Dyball (nee Copping). However, there were other Thomas Dyballs born in Norfolk around that time so we may never know the truth.

On 8 April 1829 the Bury and Norwich Post recorded the proceedings of the Norfolk Lent Assizes as follows:

… John Browne aged 17 and Thomas Dyball pleaded guilty to, and John Felmingham, aged 21, was charged with having feloniously broken into the dwelling-house of Thomas Willis, of Acle, shop-keeper, and stolen twenty yards of cotton cord, twelve pair of worstead stockings, and other articles, his property on the 21st of February last, and Thomas Benstead was charged with having received the same, knowing it to have been stolen. – Benstead was acquitted, and Felmingham found guilty, and judgment of Death recorded against him.

Thomas was sentenced to transportation for life in New South Wales. He arrived in Sydney on the “Sarah” on 6 December 1829 and was later transferred to the Port Macquarie convict establishment where he was granted a ticket of leave. There he met Catherine Calnan, another convict who had been sentenced to transportation for seven years for picking pockets. Catherine had arrived in Sydney of the “Elizabeth” on 17 December 1836.

Being convicts the couple had to seek permission to marry, and this was given by Rev. John Croos who married them on 18 July 1841. Catherine  received a certificate of freedom in 1845 and Thomas a conditional pardon two years later in early 1847, and at that time with three children and Catherine again pregnant the family decided to stay at Port Macquarie initially. The pardon coincided with the closure of the convict establishment at Port Macquarie as the free settler population in Hastings River grew.

In 1850 the Dyballs moved to the Manning River and became some of the earliest settlers in that area. Thomas took up a selection at Taree Estate and there the couple eventually had nine children before Catherine died at the age of 52 years on 22 November 1870.

Thomas lived on his property for more than fifty years. Only his last eighteen months were spent in ill health when he lived firstly with his sons at Taree and then with his daughter Prudence Grace (Dyball) Beattie on Rawdon island in the Hastings River a little upstream of Port Macquarie where he died. He was buried at the Wauchope Cross Roads Cemetery.

His obituary published in the Manning River Times and Advocate on Saturday 5 August 1905 stated how he could recount many interesting reminiscences of the early days of settlement in this district. It tells of his birth in Norfolk, England and his “immigration” to New South Wales in 1829, but neglects to mention his convict past.