On May 5, I attended Day 2 of the Victorian Association of Family History Organisation (VAFHO) conference in Ballarat. It was a great day with some wonderful speakers and I regret I couldn’t make the first day.
The first keynote speaker was Lisa Gervasoni, a town planner dedicated to Heritage conservation and a member of the Daylesford & District Historical Society, among other things. She gave a great talk about using Google Maps to help with family history research and then showed us the usefulness of the Victorian Heritage Database (VHD). Timely, as I had considered a post about the VHD as I think it is a valuable resource for those researching families from Victoria.
The Victorian Heritage Database is a collection of Heritage places and precincts in Victoria including Heritage studies completed by local councils around the state.
While writing Passing of the Pioneer posts, if I see a property name in an obituary, I head straight to the VHD. If the property is on the database, most times I can find more about the obit’s subject. There is always a history of the building, property etc offering a wealth of information
In May Passing of the Pioneers, one obituary belonged to Mary Laidlaw (nee Learmonth). She and her husband David lived at “Eildon” in Hamilton. A search found information about the house, the architects Ussher and Kemp and the Napier Club that purchased the building in 1939, the year of Mary’s death. Not only was I able to expand on the obituary, I learnt something of a house that it is a Hamilton landmark and has intrigued me since childhood.
The VHD was useful when I researched The Parisian, the 1911 Melbourne Cup winner, because his owner John Kirby lived at “Mt Koroite Station” opposite Coleraine Racecourse . On the VHD entry for “Mt Koroite” I found out more about John and even what he did with his winnings from the Melbourne Cup.
The VHD is useful when researching a cemetery and I have used it for cemetery related posts. There are photos of headstones and the Byaduk Cemetery entry even has a photo of Jonathon Harman’s headstone. A short history of the town is given and a history of the cemetery, early burials and notable “residents” and more.
I have searched property names and town names, but not surnames and Lisa’s talk made me realise I should. Individuals may be listed as builders of a property or a labourer on a station. My search of towns had found some references to my family members but I thought for the purpose of this post I would search specific family names.
None of my family were owners of large holdings or houses but the Diwell family were bricklayers and George Jelly was a builder, so maybe there was a chance.
When searching the VHD, use the “Advanced Search” form (below). It will give you more results than the “Simple” search.
There are plenty of options to narrow down a search, but I only used the field “with all of the words“.
An entry on the database will include the location, statement of significance, history and description of the building or otherwise. There is a Google Maps link with both the aerial view and Street View and most times there is a photo or photos.
Now for my results. I did find entries I had seen before when searching towns, but there were some new things. What all the results show is the different ways your family members can be found at the Victorian Heritage Database.
My search started with the Haddens on my mother’s maternal line. I had two relevant matches. The first was about a Bills Horse Trough, in the Lions Park on the Glenelg Highway at Glenthompson installed in the 1920s.
While the horse trough had nothing to do with a Hadden, the entry has a history of the site, previously a blacksmith shop run by Donald Ross. The other blacksmiths that operated in the town are named including the shop of Harold James Hadden, my 2nd cousin 1 x removed.
I knew Harold was a blacksmith and that he lived in Glenthompson during that time period, but I didn’t know he ran his own blacksmith shop.
Another entry under “Hadden” was found on a previous search of “Cavendish” and is about gg uncle William Hadden, son of William Hadden and Mary Mortimer. In 1913, he purchased the Cavendish Cobb & Co Depot and Stables (below) and the adjacent property on the corner of the Hamilton Road and Scott Street, Cavendish. The 1914 Electoral Roll lists William’s occupation as blacksmith, useful with a Cobb & Co depot. However, in 1915, the train came to Cavendish taking passengers away from Cobb & Co.
By 1919, William was living at Kiata near Nhill in the Mallee, running the Kiata Hotel. I am not sure if he had sold the Cobb & Co depot by that time but he never returned to Cavendish and died in Geelong in 1927.
A “Harman” search brought up not a building but a roadside Memorial plantation at Byaduk, sadly in poor condition. The trees, planted in memory of the Byaduk soldiers that served during WW2, have not been maintained over the years. My 1st cousin 3 x removed and grandson of James and Susan Harman, Leonard Roy Harman, was killed during the war as was another Byaduk man A.R.McNair. The Southern Grampians Shire Heritage study on this site reported that much of the significance and integrity of the site had been lost.
The Memorial planting was the only “Harman” reference found until I did a “Byaduk” search. Then I discovered that a search of “Harman” did not bring up any references to “Harman’s”. This was after I read the report about the Byaduk General Store ruins. The general store is thought to have opened around 1863 when another early shop opened, Joseph Harman’s, bootmaking shop.
I then turned to Mum’s paternal side and searched the Diwells.
Surprisingly the result took me back to Cavendish, a town I never thought they had links to. However, I found my gg uncle William Diwell, a bricklayer, was the contractor that built the Cavendish Memorial Hall in 1920.
It was no surprise William Diwell was a bricklayer. The following entries are about his father and grandfathers, all bricklayers or builders.
Firstly, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Merino. Builders Northcott and Diwell built the church in 1868. That would be ggg grandfather William Diwell and I am assuming Northcott is George Northcott of Merino. George owned Merino’s Commercial Hotel (below) and the Cobb & Co Station. From the VHD I discovered they received £126/15/- for the job and that they had also built the Merino Free Library and the Mechanics Institute.
The next Diwell match was for the Sandford Mechanics Hall (below). I knew from a transcript of the booklet, Back to Sandford Centenary: 1957 on the Glenelg and Wannon Pioneers site, William Diwell senior had a link to the building of the Mechanics Hall but only that he suggested that it be made of brick and not wood. The VHD shed a little more light on a conversation that took place between William and the committee secretary J.S. Anderson in 1864, but in doing so, it leaves me questioning the entry
From the Back to Sandford booklet ,I knew that William ran into Mr Anderson on the Casterton Road. Anderson told William of the plans to call for a tender for the building of a wooden hall. William suggested a brick building and that Mr Anderson should take the idea to the committee before advertising. The committee thought it was a great idea and they called for tenders for a brick hall.
Turning to the VHD, the report continues on from the above story but cites rate book entries from 1863 that Richard Diwell of Casterton was a brickmaker or bricklayer. Richard was my gg grandfather and he was nine in 1863 . It continued with the story that William suggested Anderson go back to the committee, but added that William had a proposal , maybe an offer of funding. The committee agreed to the unknown proposal and the tender process began. The tender was won by James McCormack.
The thing is, the hall was not built until 1885, 19 years after William Diwell met Mr Anderson on the Casterton Road. William had been dead 14 years. So he could hardly be credited for a brick hall, surely. Also, why is Richard Diwell mentioned? Did they mean William or was Richard involved later when the hall was built when, as a 30-year-old bricklayer, it was more realistic?
I found entries for George Jelly, my ggg grandfather, and father-in-law of Richard Diwell. George built the Anglican Rectory in Henty Street Casterton in 1887.
What particularly interested me came from a spontaneous search I did for “George Jellie”. It brought up the Coleraine Anglican Church. The history of the church referred to the original structure built in 1853 by Casterton contractor, George Jellie. My George Jelly did not arrive in Victoria until 1855 aboard the Athelate with his wife Jane and daughter, Mary. According to his obituary, they first went to Murndal at Tahara, run by Samuel Pratt Winter and then on to Casterton. George and Jane’s first born child in Australia was my gg grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Jelly at Casterton in 1856.
That beggars the questions, was there a George Jellie, contractor of Casterton in 1853 or did the first building at the Coleraine Anglican Church not get constructed until around 1856 by which time George Jelly had arrived in the town? More research is needed on that one.
George’s obituary credits him for building the Casterton Mechanics Institute also, however that building is not on the VHD.
While the Victorian Heritage Database is full of useful information, I do wrestle with it on occasions as it takes on a mind of its own. I use a Firefox browser and I think it doesn’t agree with the database. I have tested Chrome and it seems a lot happier. Another problem I occasionally have is when clicking on a link to VHD from Google or Western District Families. I get a message that my session has ended. If that happens, page back and click again and it will come up.
More on Lisa Gervasoni. Lisa has over 300,000 photos on Flickr and they are also found with a Trove search. Lisa’s photos of landmarks and war memorials, often come up in my searches of Western Victorian towns. When I have wanted to see what something in the Western District looks like, Lisa’s great photos have been there. Thank you Lisa.
More on the VAFHO conference. It was great to finally meet in person, Liz Pidgeon from the Yarra Plenty Regional Library and Infolass blog, who I have known on social media for some time. I also met Craige from the Mortlake Historical Society. You should check out the great Facebook page he is running for the society.