Knocked ‘im in the Old Ford Road (well, nearly)

June 11th, 2013

In an idle moment I decided to have a look at some old maps, census records etc. and see if I could find the location of Woodland Cottage, the residence in Old Ford, east London, where Archibald Richardson breathed his last.

According to the report of an inquest into Archie’s death, on Monday 12 October 1846 he ‘sat down to dinner with his family. After partaking of some boiled beef, he suddenly exclaimed, “I am gone,” and fell back and expired.’

Old Ford in about 1862 - possible site of Woodland Cottage circled.

Old Ford in about 1862 – possible site of Woodland Cottage circled.

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Extended family

January 26th, 2013
Uncle Robbie

Uncle Robbie

There’s a character in one of Michael Innes’s detective stories who claims his grandfather was born in 1720, the year of the South Sea Bubble. The book is set in the late 1960s. Martyn Ashmore is an octogenarian and considers he might just about be reaching the age when he should think about having children himself. Too bad he gets murdered before he has a chance.

But if both his father and grandfather had (as he said they had) put off marriage until they were in their 80s, the existence of an octogenarian alive in the 1960s whose grandfather was born little more than a hundred years after Shakespeare died is just about conceivable.

In fact there are some well documented cases of generations being stretched beyond normal limits. The Daily Mail published an article a year ago about the grandsons of John Tyler, the tenth president of the US, who are still alive. Tyler was born in 1790. He was about 63 when his son Lyon was born, and Lyon was about 75 when his younger son was born in 1928. That’s an average gap of 69 years between generations.

In the light of that example I suppose my claim that the poet Robert Burns, who died in 1796, was a friend of my great great grandfather Archibald Richardson pales into insignificance. Archibald was born in 1767. His son (also Archibald) was born in 1836. His grandson (Maul) was born in 1888. His great granddaughter (Monica) was born in 1924. And his great great grandson (me) was born in 1964. (In fact his youngest great great grandchild was born about six or seven years later still, but never mind that.) The average gap between generations from Archibald to me is therefore a mere 49.25 years. Read the rest of this entry »


May 19th, 2012

Fast - reliable - strong - and defunct

It’s hardly worth mentioning because I don’t suppose anyone visits this site regularly, but if anyone did, they would have noticed a few problems with it lately. One very noticeable problem is that it simply wasn’t there for a week or so. Before that it was undergoing some serious speed issues and intermittent downtime (as we web professionals call it when the server doesn’t work).

The problem seems to have been with the service I was using to host the site, Ninjalion. They have been uncontactable for a few weeks now (although they did send me a reminder about my monthly payment a few days ago, which I’m afraid I’ve chosen to ignore). In fact they are now doing a passable imitation of having gone bust. I’m not particularly surprised – they didn’t charge very much.

Well, I’ve now made other hosting arrangements for But unfortunately, although I had a recent backup of the main family history website, I didn’t have one for the Webtrees site. That’s a bit of a pain, because I’ve put in quite a bit of time updating people’s details, uploading pictures etc. Without access to the database files on the old server, all that work is lost.

I’ve restored a basic version of the Webtrees pages, and I’ll gradually try and return them to the position they were at before everything went into meltdown. But it may take a while.

If anyone happens to have downloaded a GEDCOM file from the Webtrees site, that would help a lot in restoring all the data, so please get in touch. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Thanks, Archie!

March 23rd, 2012

Some people. If a man does a job of work, what harm can it do to thank him? But some people would begrudge even that minor courtesy it seems.

I refer, of course, to the Gogango Divisional Board, who held their usual monthly meeting on 1 September 1896. I quote from the report of their meeting in the following Saturday’s edition of The Capricornian:

Mr A J Richardson wrote informing the Board that he had placed a finger board “To the township of Herbert” on the road from Rockhampton to Balnagowan Station at the place where the road to the township of Herbert turned off, and he had also blazed a line of trees from that place to Thompson’s or Deadman’s Point, from whence people riding or driving to Herbert simply had to follow the bank of the river downwards. He suggested that this information be made public. Later on he would survey that part of the branch road which passed through the reserve at Thompson’s Point, but for the present the blazed line would sufficiently meet the wants of the public. He believed he had acted according to the desire of the Board. Read the rest of this entry »

Archibald Richardson on comets

March 22nd, 2012

The Great Comet of 1861, which may have been witnessed by Archibald Richardson while on a voyage to Australia

It seems A J Richardson was an armchair scientist in his spare time. Or possibly an amateur astronomer. In any case, he sent a letter to the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin in 1896, in which he attempted to allay people’s fears of the imminent catastrophe of a comet striking the earth. Apparently the end of the world was nigh, even that long ago.

It may be that Archibald began thinking about comets after witnessing one during his voyage to Australia in 1861.

I’m not sure how well Archie’s theory about the head of a comet acting as a giant lens and creating the optical illusion of a tail (as opposed to possessing a real tail) would play with modern astronomers, but he had clearly done some research and some hard thinking on the subject. Read the rest of this entry »

Family trees

February 29th, 2012

I’ve avoided trying to present family trees here until now because I didn’t have a clue how to go about it in a way that would be easily viewed on a normal-sized computer screen. In fact, I don’t think there is a satisfactory way. However, I’ve decided to take the plunge anyway. I’ve started uploading the data I have on my relatives, ancestors and connections into a Webtrees server.

Webtrees is a sophisticated piece of software that uses PHP (whatever that is) to display genealogical data in a variety of ways.  Family tree data is stored in a database, so you can track down the details of a specific individual in a database browser. You can also view a tree-type diagram showing the ancestors and descendants of any individual in the database. And Webtrees will also do useful things like working out the relationship between two different people in the database. It can produce reports of various kinds and display things such as fan charts that I don’t understand at all but which might be useful to someone I suppose. Read the rest of this entry »

More about molasses

February 19th, 2012

I realized a moment ago that I haven’t put anything on this site about molasses for a long time. I’m sure the large number of people who visit here just to hear the latest historical discoveries about molasses will be getting restive. So to redeem myself, I’m posting the testimony Archibald Richardson gave on 26 July 1831 before the powerful parliamentary select committee on the use of molasses in breweries and distilleries. It was following this testimony that Archibald conducted an experiment on the use of molasses in distilling, as recorded here.

Readers should be warned that this text is rather long and technical, and immensely dull for anyone not completely absorbed by their interest in the life and doings of molasses. But surely very few people fall into that category.

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Archibald Richardson’s arrival in Australia

February 16th, 2012

The Waterloo, painted by D. Macfarlane

I’ve been trying for some time to find out exactly when (and where) Archibald John Richardson arrived in Australia, but evidence was elusive for some reason. At last, however, I’m pretty sure I have the answer. Whether the record has only just shown up in the archives, or whether I didn’t use the right search terms before, I don’t know.

Archie sailed for Australia on board the Waterloo, embarking at Gravesend in late April or early May 1861. He arrived at Sydney in the early morning of 15 August.

The date  fits with what we knew about Archie’s whereabouts: he was still in England (living in Hampshire) for the 1861 census, which took place on the 7th/8th April 1861. He sailed for Australia just a few weeks later.

The picture on the right is a painting of the Waterloo from the National Maritime Gallery website. It seems the ship is ‘decorated’ with fake gun ports to deter pirates. Read the rest of this entry »

Jennie Maxwell Brown

February 27th, 2011

Joseph Swift and Jennie Brown appearing together. The Era, 27 May 1882.

You need a bit of help when you’re researching the history of someone with a name like Brown. Trying to find a specific Brown in a morass of similarly-named people feels like wading through treacle and it’s hard to keep motivated amidst so much uncertainty. Is this Jennie Brown your Jennie Brown? Does she always spell her name that way, or does she sometimes spell it Jenny? Or is it short for Jennifer, or Genevieve, or something else? It will be a lot easier in the future when we’re all identified by unique 26-digit numbers (presumably this will happen at around the same time as we all start wearing silver suits and driving flying cars).

The Jennie Brown I was searching for was an actress, who was born in Rochester (according to her entry in the 1901 census) but possibly had  some connection with Australia (her father was reputed to have built the Bijou Theatre in Melbourne – or, possibly, somewhere else).

She was born about 1856 (working back from her age in the census) and by about 1881 (when her eldest son was born) had married Joseph William Sarl, also an actor – his stage name was Joseph Swift.

Unfortunately, tracking her down through official records proved difficult. For a start there was a doubt about her name Read the rest of this entry »

Good on yer Beta

February 20th, 2011

Beta in 1918

Auntie B was a bit of a character, by all accounts. I never met her (as far as I know) – she died either before or soon after I was born. But I heard a bit about her. She was eccentric, generous and warm-hearted, by all accounts.

The latter attribute seems to be confirmed by the following story, which appeared in a 1920 issue of the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin:


Central Queensland soldiers who were the recipients of many kindnesses at the hands of Miss Beta Richardson, formerly of Rockhampton, while they were resident in the mother country, have had an album, containing about 120 photographs, prepared for presentation to her. The photographs include one of Eastcote, on The Range, where Miss Richardson lived for many years with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Richardson; Redwood, the well-known vineyard in the Yeppoon district, which was at one time the property of a member of her family; beauty spots in the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens and other parts of the district; views of the leading public buildings in Rockhampton; and the Fitzroy and Alexandra bridges; a fine set of flood pictures; and a most interesting series of views of the doings of a party of Rockhampton and Mount Morgan residents catching and riding turtles on Peak Island, off Emu Park. On the front of the album is a silver shield bearing the inscription Read the rest of this entry »