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Topics - McGroger

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Australia / Multiple Murder at Cockfighter’s Creek: A Christmas Mystery
« on: Thursday 13 December 18 05:11 GMT (UK)  »

On Saturday, December 28, 1867, my ancestor, John Harborne, working as a stockman on the NSW Hunter Valley property, Wambo, found some human bones that turned out to be those of a young family murdered about thirty years earlier. The story was told in the Maitland Mercury of January 2, 1868:
with a follow-up on January 14  noting that the murder victims were probably an itinerant hawker, his wife and two small children, murdered by convicts who were building a bridge across the local creek.

Your mission, dear Rootschat detectives, should you accept it, is not to find the murderer/s but to find which one of two possible John Harbornes was the discoverer of the bones.

My great great grandfather, John Harborne (1812-1882) was born in Birmingham, England and transported to Australia in 1828 for burglary. He had a defacto relationship with Alice (nee) Clarke who was officially married to Edwin Baldwin (who was serving time on Norfolk Island for being extra naughty). John and Alice stayed together until Alice died in 1863. John then married for the first time, aged 53, at Warkworth,  a 22 year-old Elizabeth Sleath with whom he had 8 more children, the last born in 1880 when he was 68).

John died at Wambo aged 69. However, the informant was his son, John (then 36), who is also described as “of Wambo”. John senior is variously described in records as a farmer or as a labourer.

My great grandfather, John Harborne (1845-1919) was born at Cockfighters Creek, (part of Wambo) Parish of Warkworth, to John Harborne and Alice Baldwin. John married Sarah Wyburn in 1878 at Singleton. In later life his home was alternately given as Doctors Creek and Boggy Flat (close together so perhaps the same home but given different descriptions by different people and/or at different times). John owned at least two small portions in this area (no.s 110 and 89, SE of the village of Warkworth).

John junior was also variously described as a farmer or a labourer.

At the time of the discovery of the bones John senior would have been 55, and John junior, 22.

William Durham had managed Wambo, then inherited the property from his stepfather, James Hale (1780-1857) an ex-convict who had amassed a large number of properties of which he was an absentee landlord. Durham died in 1891 and Wambo was sold out of the Durham family in 1894.

It seems that for at least part of the time, both Johns were living on the Wambo estate, at least until John senior died (1882).

So far I haven’t been able to separate the two John Harbornes during the period in which the discovery of the bones occurred.

I am leaning towards it being John senior. For these reasons:
James Hale was in the habit of employing ex convicts to help run his burgeoning enterprises.
John Harborne appears in the papers a number of times as a witness regarding thefts of stock from Wambo. It is probably more likely that the 50 something John would have had that responsibility rather than the 20 something John.

But it would really be great to get a bit more evidence.

As always, should any of you be caught or killed, the other Rootschat members will disavow any knowledge of your actions.


[I’ve posted a couple of map portions to show the localities involved. On the first, “Wollombi Brook”  (underlined in white), between Wambo and Warkworth, is the newer name for the old “Cockfighters Creek”. The murder took place somewhere near that creek.
On the second map, John junior, in later life, lived at Doctors Creek/ Boggy Flat, SE of Warkworth village, marked by the white X. ]

Scotland / Rare 1922-23 ROB ROY Movie Now on Youtube
« on: Wednesday 26 September 18 05:00 BST (UK)  »

A couple of years ago while writing a book on my branch of the McGregors I stumbled across mention of an old Rob Roy film which I said in the book: “may be lost”. Well, if so, it is now found.

The British Film Institute National Archives has restored the film to 86 minutes of silent black and white glory, and have made it available on Youtube.

While much of the movie is just what you might expect of something made early last century, it is also an ambitious and remarkable rare gem, most notably for the on location filming in the Trossachs.

As I understand it, although the film may still be in copyright, it is classified as an “Orphan Work”. That is, the BFI National Archives, unable to find any true owner, would have applied to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) to preserve and restore the film, and to make it publicly available.

There are three copies of the film on Youtube, the BFI copy and two from Spanish sources (the EUIPO is domiciled in Spain). BFI calls it a 1923 movie (release date), the others 1922 (production).

I think it is a must-see for anyone interested in Rob Roy or, indeed, for anyone interested in seeing how Rob Roy country looked almost 100 years ago.

Here is a link to the BFI version and a screen shot from the opening of the film. (I haven't watched it all yet; I wanted to shout if from the rooftops first. ;D ;D



I recently came across a digital copy of a photo of my paternal great-grandparents - which makes me very happy! ;D I’ve cleaned it up a little to make the details clearer. I think I’m close to a date for it and possibly the occasion, but it would be great to see whether the experts agree with my estimate.

John (Mar 1852-1949) and Mary nee Brickley ( Dec 1853-1901) were married in Glasgow in 1874 and migrated to Australia in 1883.
I’m thinking this photo may have been taken to commemorate their 25th wedding anniversary in April 1899 when they would have been living in Sydney where John was a train driver. John would not necessarily have been fashion conscious, while Mary (a cotton weaver before marrying John) would have made her own clothing. They would have been 47 and 45 at the time. Sadly, Mary died (probably of appendicitis) barely two years later in June 1901.


Free Photo Restoration & Date Old Photographs / Odd Santa of 1954
« on: Tuesday 05 June 18 01:44 BST (UK)  »
Just wanted to share this one.

I’ve been cleaning up some childhood photos and this one stood out because of the rather strange looking Santa in it.

Have you ever seen a Santa Claus with a Groucho Marx-type mask under his beard? And - this is the really odd bit - with boots that are cut off above his ankles to make way for a pair of sandals?

It’s no wonder I look a bit worried about this bloke, his hand on my back and all…


Free Photo Restoration & Date Old Photographs / NIK SOFTWARE UPDATE
« on: Wednesday 17 January 18 22:58 GMT (UK)  »

Posting this here to catch the  eyes of as many as possible.

If you are even vaguely interested in this software please read my update to Gadget’s post in the Tips sub-board, here:;topicseen#new

The guts of it is that this once very expensive software, free for the last year or so, may not be free for much longer.


A few things I’ve noticed since starting to contribute to the photo board early last year:
*Very few people post the backs or even the whole of photos for dating;
*Very few people new to the board post high resolution images for restoring;
*When asked by the daters/restorers to do either of the above two things, it usually doesn’t happen for various reasons: the poster doesn’t come back; restorers date or restore without the better detail and posters accept the answers/restores as is; posters don’t have access to the originals; posters have trouble with posting.
*Very few people read the help tutorials before posting. (Who reads instruction books anyway? ;))
*A lot of new posters don’t clearly state what they want.

I think some of the outcomes of this are:
Posters (particularly new posters) can became frustrated and/or not come back;
Restorers can become frustrated, having to give the same message to almost every new poster;
Both posters and restorers can achieve either nil or less than best outcomes.

I’d like to suggest that the wording at the top of the board be changed/expanded in an effort to cure most of the problems mentioned above.

From this:
“Get your Photographs restored or dated completely for free by the generous people on RootsChat. Please Include Family Names and Country in Titles of Photographs if known, or how the image relates to your family history. Posts without any details will not be allowed to be posted.”

To this:
“Get your old photographs dated or restored completely FREE by the generous people on Rootschat.
“For Best Outcomes:
“For DATING, scan & post the photo in full (front & back, showing the edges), and prefix the post, “DATE PLEASE for …” Also include family names and country (where known) and how the photo relates to your research.
“For RESTORING, scan your photo at the highest resolution (usu. 300 or 600dpi) that creates a file that just fits under our limit of 500kb, and prefix the post, “RESTORE PLEASE for…”
“For both a date and a restore, prefix the post, “DATE AND RESTORE PLEASE for…”
“(Note that posts without any details will not be allowed.)
“If you have any trouble posting your photo, after trying the TUTORIALS below, please ask our friendly restorers for help.”

Perhaps other daters/restorers would like to comment on/shoot down my suggestions and say whether they (or something like them) are worth recommending to the board administrators.

(Now I’ll duck and run for cover. ;D)


The badge below is about 1.3 inches in diameter and features a picture of my uncle, Richard John Beattie (1920-1980). Uncle Jack never married, his life somewhat destroyed (mentally/emotionally) by his WW2 experience. I find it hard to tell his age in the photo, doubting that he could have looked so fresh-faced and bright-eyed after the war. When I knew him - late 1950s until his death - he always looked old (but I was very young).

Jack lived in Newcastle (Australia) most of his life, with a brief period in Sydney after the war, before returning to Newcastle in the 1950s.

Any ideas as to his age in the photo?  Or of where and when or for what purpose such badges were produced? (And, as always, if you wish to have a play with it, please do.)

Cheers, Peter.

The original of the photo below (from my parents' wedding) is only small (about 2 and a half by 3 and a quarter inches) but it has plenty of detail and could be enlarged to make a good sized print. Except for one thing. The card-stock is raised, dimpled all over, so that attempts at scanning it produce what I call a “fish scale” effect over all the features. I first scanned it at home, then my son improved on it with his better-quality scanner, but light still manages to seep in, as you can see from the image.

I’ve posted a second image, a close-up showing where I’ve used the smudge tool painstakingly on Dad’s face and part of his coat. But, to strain the “fish scale” metaphor, it is a bit like trying to remove the scales without disturbing the underlying inner layer of skin, let alone the flesh. The parts I’ve worked on aren’t too bad, but they tend to make his skin look a little too smooth, a bit lumpy in parts (bruised the flesh!), or they distort some detail where I’ve not been careful enough.

My question: Is there a better way of removing the “fish scales” but without sacrificing detail?

Please have a play with the photo. Anyone wanting to colour it, Dad’s eyes were hazel, hair dark brown/black , Mum’s eyes blue, hair brown. I don’t know the colour of Dad’s clothes, but I can guess the colour of Mum’s!

Cheers, Peter. 


Something for a wet day… or for bored restorers.

On February 11 this year I found out that a photo I had long had amongst my mother’s effects was of my great grandfather and his five daughters. It needed restoring. I then discovered that my laptop, now three years old, had a dodgy copy of Photoshop Elements (version 6). So I scanned the photo and started learning the program, beginning my first restore on February 12.

Of course now I’m addicted. I have to have a daily fix.

The original photo and one of my many attempts at a restore are posted below.

While working on the photo I looked for clues to the date, the occasion and the place. 

James died in August 1910. The girl seated on the extreme right of the photo was called Zillah - because her older siblings were named alphabetically and the mother died giving birth to Zillah (May 21, 1899). (Oh, and Zillah was the thirteenth child - key Twilight Zone theme!)

Despite looking like a sultry teenager, Zillah must have been much younger. James died when Zillah was only 11 years old.  And you can see from her size, and her bow and pigtails - as opposed to her sisters’ pompadours - that Zillah was only a kid. I’d estimate - from her size and from comparing her looks to photos of one of my own granddaughters at a similar age - that Zillah was only about 7 or 8 in the photo, thus dating it to around 1906/7.

Are there any other clues to in the photo? What was the occasion? I have details of births, deaths and marriages of her family members and none occurred during the likely time of the photo. But they had many cousins where they lived (Patrick’s Plain - now Singleton - in New South Wales) all from large families, so it could have been a cousin’s baptism, marriage or funeral.

And what about the things James and Zillah are holding? Is it a church sheet of some sort in James’s hand? A title deed? No, too small for that. I can make out “8 8” I think on what looks like the back of the card (?). And in Zillah’s hand, is it a school writing book - but didn’t they use slates in those days? To my eyes it also looks like an old autograph book - but that doesn’t really make much sense - or does it? What would be the occasion for those items, for everyone being all dressed up and the photo being about the father and the girls? After all, James also had 7 surviving sons in the 1900s.

I was going to pose the allocation of a date as a question for Rootschatters, but a few days ago, after dismissing family events (BDMs) for a likely date, I started googling around with the idea that perhaps they were having their picture taken before heading off to some show or other - an opera or a play perhaps.

I thought, was it possible to find out what shows were put on in Singleton in the late 1900s. Were shows put on in Singleton? Indeed, was it possible to find out when and where and what shows would have been on in Australia in the late 1900s?

Amongst other things, I came up with a play called “The Squatter’s Daughter”, which had debuted in Melbourne in February 1907 before going to Sydney, then touring Australia over the next three years.

How appropriate, I thought. Could “The Squatter’s Daughter” give the answer to a photo of a farmer and his daughters? Could that play have been performed in Singleton? Hardly likely… although Singleton perhaps loomed a little larger back then than it does these days. Or maybe the family had travelled to Newcastle - not that far away - to see a show.

I took to Trove (the Australian newspaper archive) and had a “You-bloody-little-beauty!” moment when I found an article in the Singleton Argus for Saturday 16 November 1907. This is how it starts:

“ ‘The Squatters’ Daughter.’
“To-night, at the hall of the Mechanics’ Institute, a realistic drama, with the above title, will be produced by William Anderson’s famous dramatic organisation…”

In 1907 “The Squatter’s Daughter” was the most successful Australian play to date. Co-written by Bert Bailey under a pseudonym, it was later made into two movies. (Of course Bert Bailey himself went on to even bigger things, being best known as Dad Rudd, star of the many “On Our Selection”/“Dad and Dave” plays and movies.)

So it is quite possible the photo was taken in Singleton on 16 November 1907 before the Beattie family went on to the Mechanics’ Institute to see this renowned play. The items in James’s and Zillah’s hands, perhaps a program/playbill and an autograph book, may have been theirs or they may have been the photographer’s props, but they certainly provided clues.

An Invitation to Play:
Below is the original photo and below that one of my many restore attempts.

There is nothing on the back and the only thing I can make out on the front is an “A” and a possible “T” or “F” in the bottom right corner. But, thanks again to Trove, I found there was a photographer named A F Saunders of John St, Singleton, who operated there from July 1900 and into the 1920s. Saunders advertised almost daily in the local news section of the Singleton Argus, often right under stories or advertisements for shows being presented at the Mechanics’ Institute.

Ain’t it wonderful how they come alive again when you find out more about them!

Please feel free to have a play with either image if you wish. James was brown haired and blue eyed. I don’t know the girls’ colouring.

Cheers, Peter.

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