Good on yer Beta

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 Continue reading Good on yer Beta

Archibald’s childhood home?

Lancrigg, Grasmere, where Archibald Richardson may have lived as a child

Might this charming house in the Lake District have been home to Archibald Richardson, after the death of his father and sister in the 1840s? It’s beginning to look like it.

The work of the Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program goes on. Last October they notched up 3 million scanned newspaper pages. They are scheduled to finish in July this year, after adding another million pages or so to the total.

One thing that seems to have shown up in a recent wave of digitizations is a death notice for Archibald, who died in Rockhampton in December 1900.

After his  father died, we don’t know exactly what happened to Archibald. But according to the article from the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, Continue reading Archibald’s childhood home?

Monica Richardson’s film ratings

During the first nine months of 1945, Monica Richardson saw more than 75 films. (In the early 21st century the average person probably sees about five films a year at the cinema.) Apart from a couple whose titles she couldn’t remember, they are listed here. She rated almost all of them on the following scale (although I’m willing to entertain debate about the correct ranking of each Continue reading Monica Richardson’s film ratings

What the heck …

… is this about? This letter (for a facsimile of the original, see here) was among some papers my auntie Gerry sent to my mum about twenty years ago:

(dated Sept 26th, M V Fairsea)
Dear Mr Fisher,
It was a great joy to me to read your aunt’s letter, this story would have been lost if you had not made the enquiries, and it must have given her great joy to find you were interested.
In fact she has given me a very vital clue, we acquired the surname Richardson from Leith, so your grandfather must have got to Australia with his cousin, and if only your Aunt could remember any relatives in Queensland, they are the very family who have been missing so long, and are entitled to a share of the estate in Durham,
All I need do is obtain death birth and marriage certificate copies to forward to England.
I know this story sounds fantastic but I know it can all be verified at Somerset House, as my father did when he was only 21 years old.
My father is 82 but his memory [fragment ends]

Well, the story was lost, but not without leaving a tantalizing mystery Continue reading What the heck …

Useful things, newspapers

Quite a bit of the information I’ve collected about my relatives – and a lot of the more interesting facts – has come from old newspapers. There was a time when you would have to go and sit in some building in north London and wait for them to be brought to you on microfilm, before endlessly reeling (sometimes literally) through miles of film to find something relevant to your research.

How much easier things are now that the internet is filling out a bit. There are several very easy-to-use, searchable resources for looking up old newspaper archives, where a keyword search can take you to the appropriate story in seconds, rather than hours as in the olden days.

For me, the National Library of Australia’s resource at has proved invaluable in tracking down information about my Australian relatives: I could fill a small book with details of my great grandfather Archibald‘s comings and goings on the coasting passenger boats that plied between Continue reading Useful things, newspapers

Molasses, molasses

Classically literate people will recognize the title of this post as a reference to Xenophon’s Anabasis, and the cry of the Greek army as they finally sighted the sea: “thalassa, thalassa”.

Similar emotions were stirred in the heart of my great aunt, the noted Australian poet Lala Fisher, when she spotted some molasses. To her, they were a miracle cure for just about every ailment – in farmyard animals, at least. Here is a letter she wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald which was published on 9 November 1907:
Continue reading Molasses, molasses

No imagination

I sometimes moan about the tendency in my family to overuse names. It afflicts both sides of my family. On my father’s side I have a cousin called Robert Kemp, the same as me. His father was christened John Kemp – so was mine; they were half-brothers. My brother was christened John Kemp too.

On my mother’s side, I have two cousins called Helen Richardson. I have two nieces called Anna, and a sister and another niece called Lucy. It can get very confusing.

But using the same names over and over again has a long and distinguished history in the family. As far as
my great great grandfather, Archibald Richardson, was concerned, wives should, if possible, be called Margaret. Daughters should also be called Margaret, although occasionally Mary was acceptable. Sons should always be called Archibald. Grierson was an acceptable surname for both wives and daughters. Prospective wives’ surnames should always end in -son. Continue reading No imagination

Hubris, humour, Hugh

It was suggested to me the other day by my uncle Hugh that certain comments I have written on this site about my failure to inherit a fortune from a certain relative might sound like sour grapes.

I have much respect for my uncle Hugh (notwithstanding the odd vagary in our relationship over the years). He has a point.

I have also described my relatives in rather scathing terms in another post here. Not really in the spirit of de mortuis nil nisi bonum. However, it’s not my intention on this site to honour the dead. The dead can take care of themselves. What’s that you say? Well, no, I suppose they can’t. But I should be very surprised if they cared what I wrote about them anyway.

On the other hand, living descendants of W. K. D’Arcy, the geezer who built a fortune but neglected to put any of it my way, might be discomfited by me niggling about this point. Continue reading Hubris, humour, Hugh


Coincidences occur all the time and in most cases they probably mean nothing at all. They can be entertaining, though, and it’s always tempting to speculate whether some guiding influence is shaping our ends, possibly for his or her own amusement.

Anyway, they amuse me, and there are some mildly interesting ones – and one fairly staggering one – in my family background. I might write about them all sometime, but for now, here’s one that cropped up recently.

While researching the ancestry of my first-cousin-twice-removed Ida Coffin Duncan I found out that her grandfather, Kenneth Douglas Coffin, had had a son, also called Kenneth Douglas. (That’s not the coincidence. Duplicate family names are occasionally coincidental but as a rule they’re just annoying evidence of lack of imagination, or a transparent attempt to confuse the perpetrators’ unfortunate descendants as they try to piece together their ancestry. When I used to work in a bookshop, I always thought it would have been a much nicer job without the customers. Similarly doing genealogical research would be so much more enjoyable if it wasn’t for all the ancestors. However.)

Kenneth Douglas Coffin junior (b. 1862) moved to Australia and settled in Mackay, Queensland. Continue reading Coincidences

Family history research notes

I’m setting up this site to post occasional pieces of information I uncover about my relatives in the course of sporadic and unsystematic research.

These posts will be divided into categories relating to each of the family names in my family tree that I know about or have any information about. There will definitely be sections for Richardson, Duncan, D’Arcy, Fisher, Kemp, Joslin, and Sarl. In due course there may be sections on Couper, Riley, Wood, Clark, Osborn and others.

Mostly my ancestors and (historical) relatives have been pretty stolid and respectable. Yeah, right. In fact most of them were a bunch of ne’er-do-wells, shysters, chancers, idlers, actors, peapickers, vagabonds and lunatics. Much more interesting. I hope they’re not reading this though.