Category Archives: Family History

What Exactly is a Great Grand Uncle…or a 1st Cousin, Twice Removed?

When genetic counselors attend family reunions, their unofficial job becomes Namer-of-Relationships. “Keith, you and I are first cousins once-removed. Viola is my great aunt. Margo, you are my mother’s second cousin’s second wife so you would be…..well, some kind of in-law or kissing cousin, I guess.” It gets confusing, even for experts. It is even more difficult for patients or referring providers who try to relate a family history of a second cousin with a cleft palate and a heart defect but who is actually a first cousin once-removed.
Below I have created a generic pedigree that illustrates the most common familial relationships in the kinship system of the modern Western English-speaking world. The pedigree undoubtedly contains errors and omissions. So, in the spirit of crowd sourcing, I encourage my fellow pedigree wonks to scrutinize it and report mistakes, mislabelings, missing relatives, and thoughtful commentary in the Comments section below (this would also be a great discussion topic for a few hours of a genetic counseling student seminar).
 
The accompanying explanatory table supplies details, controversies and inconsistencies. I am cowardly avoiding the complicated relationships that stem from assisted reproductive technologies such as donor eggs, donor sperm, surrogate mothers, etc. Of course, the person you decide to call Mother, Father, Uncle, Cousin, etc. is based not on genetic relationship but on personal experience, family preferences, and social norms.

For those not familiar with pedigree arcana, each individual is identified with a numbering scheme such that relatives in the first generation (at the top of the pedigree) are identified with a Roman numeral (e.g., I) and an Arabic numeral (e.g., 2). This indicates, reading from left to right, that I-2 is the second person on the first line of the pedigree. The next generation down is numbered II, and so on. Thus, IV-7 is the seventh person in the fourth generation and who is the the proband or propositus, the reference point for the relationships. IV-7’s father is III-3, IV-7’s paternal great grandfathers are I-2 and I-4, and so on.
There seems to be no widely accepted guidelines for when to include hyphens in a relationship name (e.g., great-grandfather vs. great grandfather). Since this is my blog post, I get to decide the grammatical rules. Thus, because I tend to be a minimalist, I hyphenate only when there is more than one “great” in a title. In the pedigree, I-1 is a great-great-uncle, but I-2 is a great grandfather. I also use hyphens in “removed” relationships (e.g., first cousin once-removed) because, well, it just looks right. Stepmother seems to be more common than either step mother or step-mother. However, “stepbrother” is infrequent. For consistency, I recommend the spaced-but-not-hyphenated style for “step” and “half” descriptors” (e.g., half brother, step mother).
An alternative graphic to describe family relationships is the Canon Law Relationship Chart.
  
Image from Wikipedia Commons, under the GNU Free Documentation License. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Canon_law_relationship_chart.svg#section_2
The relationships illustrated in the pedigree are described as follows:
Self, You, (AKA Proband, Propositus): IV-7, the person who is the reference point for all relationships in the pedigree.
Parents:
Genetic Father: III-3
Genetic Mother: III-4
Step Parent: III-5, the new or former spouse of your genetic mother or father.
Siblings
Full Brother: IV-8. Male siblings with whom you share both genetic parents.
Full Sister: IV-9. Female siblings with whom you share both genetic parents.
Half Sibling: IV-10. A sibling with whom you share only one genetic parent. Or, as one of my patients said to me the other day “She is my half of a sister.”
Step Sibling: IV-11. A sibling with whom you share no genetic parents, e.g., the son your stepfather had with his previous wife.
Children
Son: V-2. A male child.
Daughter: V-3. A female child.
Step Child: V-1. The son or daughter that your spouse had with a previous spouse.
Grandchildren
Grandson, Granddaughter: VI-1. Your child’s son and daughter, respectively.
Great Grandson, Great Granddaughter: VII-1. The son and daughter, respectively, of your grandson or your granddaughter.
Grandparents
Grandfather: II-3, II-5. The father of your mother or father. But note the inconsistent use of grand and great. The brother and sister of your grandfather is your great uncle and great aunt (vide infra, Great Uncle, Grand Nephew). Presumably the word stems from the French grand-père, which itself goes back to the 12th century. Prior to the French influence, a grandfather was referred to as a grandsire, and prior to that, in Old English, the Germanic-derived ealdefæder or eldfader.
Great Grandfather: I-2, I-4, I-6, I-8. The father of your grandparent.
Grandmother: II-4, II-6. The mother of your mother or your father.
Great Grandmother: I-3, I-5, I-7, I-9. The mother of your grandparent.
Uncles, Aunts
Uncle: III-2, III-8. A brother of one of your parents
Aunt: III-1, III-9. A sister of one of your parents
Great Uncle: II-2, II-7. A brother of one of your 4 grandparents. I thought about recommending the less commonly used title Grand Uncle (or Grand Aunt) because these individuals are in the same generation as your grandparents. When they are referred to as Great relatives, it seems to imply that they are in the generation prior to your grandparents’ generation. I suspect, though, that Great is so well established that it is unlikely to replaced by Grand. And you share more genetic information with your Grandparents than you do with your Great Uncles, so perhaps using Great rather than Grand is an acknowledgment of that genetic difference (vide supra, Grandfather; vide infra, Grand Nephew vs. Great Nephew).
Great Aunt: II-1, II-8. A sister of one of your 4 grandparents
Great-Great Uncle: I-1. A brother of one of your 8 great grandparents. Note the slightly confusing terminology – the siblings of your great grandparents have two “greats” in their relationship title, compared to only one “great” in their sibling, your great grandparent.
Great-Great Aunt: I-10. A sister of one of your 8 great grandparents.
Nephew, Nieces
Nephew, Niece: V-4, V-6, V-5, V-7. The son and daughter, respectively, of your sibling.
Great Nephew (Grand Nephew), Great Niece (Grand Niece): VI-2, VI-3. The son and daughter, respectively, of your nephew or niece. In genealogy circles, it is more common to use Grand rather than Great, on the basis that this relative is as many generations removed from you as your grandparent is, only in the other direction. However, in my view, if the siblings of your grandparents are Great Uncles and Great Aunts, then it seems to me that there is greater symmetry in calling them Great Nephew rather than Grand Nephew. Besides, you share as much genetic information with your Great Nephew as you do with your Great Aunt, so from that standpoint it makes more sense to go with Great rather than Grand (vide supra, Great Uncle, Grandfather.
Cousins
First Cousin: IV-1, IV-2, IV-3, IV-4, IV-12, IV-13, IV-14, IV-15. The children of your aunts and uncles.
Second Cousin: IV-16. The children of your parents’ first cousins.
First Cousin Once-Removed : V-8, III-10. The children of your first cousins OR the parents of your second cousin (who could also be properly called your second cousins once-removed). Once-removed refers to the fact that the relative is one generation removed from you, either one generation above or one generation below. The children of your second cousins could also be called your second cousins once-removed. This is one of the confusing areas where different relatives can have the same title and the same title could be applied to different relatives.
First Cousin Twice–Removed: VI-4. The grandchildren of your first cousins.
Unnamed Relationships:

IV-5, III-6, III-7. As far as I am aware, in Western European kinship systems, there is no title for your spouse’s previous spouse IV-5), your step parent’s previous spouse (III-6), or the previous spouse of your step parent’s previous spouse (III-7).

Questioning the “genetic counselor” professional title

  

 

Exorcising Demons!

I hate my parents! No…perhaps that is a bit strong, having now written it. I dislike my parents…closer to the point, but now a little too soft.. I’m indifferent towards my parents is perhaps closer to the truth. Yes, I choose to ignore them, and in many instances, regret having to admit that they ever existed at all.

Maybe they loved each other, maybe they didn’t. God knows, love wasn’t exactly a subject openly discussed or displayed as my brother, Kevin, and I grew up. It is sad that Kevin had to be the one to pay the price for whatever did not exist (https://timalderman.com/2012/04/23/kevin-pickhills-the-unspoken-name/) and for what was not discussed, in their relationship. Did we have a happy childhood? In truth, I would have to say yes, though I’m aware that having said that, it is only myself that I speak for. Kevin may have been of another opinion, though, of course, we will never know if that is so.. He has been in his grave for the last 49 years, but I can assume that he would agree with me on that one point – a happy childhood.

It wasn’t difficult to have a happy childhood in the 50’s, and early 60’s. In fact, it appeared that childhood was destined to be that way, almost as if preordained. The weather was perfect – though there are those who say that idyllic weather is part of a co-joined memory of everyone’s childhood – we had perfect neighbour’s, perfect house, perfect pets, and apart from the fact that this is Australia we are talking about, it could almost have been a real-life episode of ‘Father Knows Best’. I was given reasonably free rein to roam Sylvania with my mates, and my dog, Trixie. Kevin in those days was a bit of a millstone around an older brothers neck, but who did not see younger siblings in that light? A necessary evil, in fact.

My childhood, like most who lived through those times was, in many respects, an urban myth. Up until the end of the first decade of our lives, the Easter bunny still delivered Easter eggs, the tooth fairy still left money for dearly departed teeth, and Santa stll came on Christmas Eve to deliver pre-ordered gifts. The only swear word I knew was ‘bloody’ – and had my backside beaten for using it – girls were definitely yucky; and when a school pal whispered into my ear one day about what I actually had to do to a girl to get her pregnant, I screamed, threw my hands in the air and ran!. Nobody would ever do anything that disgusting! Perhaps an inkling of my future lifestyle there! Anyway, I had watched a movie on television by this time, and had it on full authority – in my own mind – that women got pregnant by being kissed, which is why I went out of my way to avoid those situations.

Was it obvious that my mother was unhappy, and planned to desert our happy home? I wouldn’t say it was obvious, but I certainly knew that something wasn’t right. When I got home from school the afternoon she left, and found her gone, I can’t say I was really surprised. In later years, when I was temporarily reunited with her after my fathers suicide, she confided to me that she knew my father was having an affair.. I was more concerned with the issue of her leaving us with a father who was to prove mentally unstable. She claimed that when she left, she had no idea where she was going, or what she was going to do. She couldn’t have managed dragging two young children along with her. I accepted that explanation though must admit to never being entirely happy with it.

That my father was unfaithful to her, I never doubted. Within a fortnight of her leaving, a housekeeper named Nancy was suddenly introduced into the home. It wasn’t that she was identified as ‘housekeeper’ so much as the fact that she knew a little bit too much about us, was a little too familiar with the house. Add to this the fact that she spent the first night on the divan on the back verandah, then suddenly moved into the master bedroom – on my mother’s side of the bed – and even a twelve-year-old doesn’t have problems doing the math. Kevin and I hated her from day one. She was trying to act like a mother, but she knew she wasn’t, so discipline was a problem from the beginning. I hated her because she wouldn’t take orders – well, not from me at any rate. As far as I was concerned, housekeepers took orders. That was something else I learnt from television, and it also proved to be a lie.

For my poor brother, life became an absolute misery. You have to remember that these were still days of witchcraft, and ignorance. If my brother had lived another ten years, he would inevitably have been diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). However, in a time of witchcraft, his chronic disobedience, his problems with learning, and his hyperactivity were considered to by symptomatic of mental deficiency, and that was exactly how Nancy treated him – as someone who wasn’t ‘all there’. I had no problems with him, he was my brother, and pain in the neck or not, I had the patience of a saint with him, teaching him language, and reciting nursery rhymes to him until he knew them verbatim. He spoke what my parents referred to as ‘double Dutch’, and even though they had trouble understanding a single thing he said, I was always there to translate. I could never work out why they could never understand him! He spoke quite clearly, as far as I was concerned. But Nancy wasn’t even liberal enough to want him to have a translator. She just wanted him out. She was about to get her way.

Nag! Nag! Nag! God, if Nancy could do anything, she could nag. Some women are just born to it, and she was one of them. She treated Kevin and I like criminals and outcasts. We were watched 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and nothing crept by her – believe me, I tried. But worse than dobbing on me to my father for my occasional raids on the sacred biscuit tin, worse than alienating us from our friends and neighbours – you wouldn’t believe how many people she poisoned my father against, or in turn poisoned them against us – was that she picked on Kevin. I couldn’t protect or defend him from her. She was like an unrelenting demon from hell. If he looked at her the wrong way, if he spoke to loudly, played when she wanted him to sleep, spoke when she wanted him to be silent, she was on his case. And she made sure the old man knew all about it when he got home from work – and that was ever the threat. Finally he cracked, just caved in to what she wanted.

Fuck, he was a weak man! I think that shits me more than anything. He sprouted all the morality and principles on God’s earth, but when it came down to brass tacks, he just gave in to whatever was easiest. I could never believe that just getting rid of Nancy never seemed to be an option. Fuck knows, nobody else would have put up with her. Compared to my mother, she lived a life of royalty. I have tried to work out over the years how she
managed to stretch the money my old man gave her to do things that mum never seemed able to manage. The only conclusions I can come to are that he either gave her a hell of a lot more money than mum ever saw, or she had an income outside of what she earned housekeeping for us. It is a question that will never be answered now. Christ, she even moved her son into the house, who in turn became Demon from Hell #2. My old man even did up a car for him, and moved him into my brothers bed, which heaven knows he had no need for, being dead at this time. Which I guess brings us to Nancy’s revenge, and what was to be her downfall.

That Kevin would never have gone over The Gap at Watsons Bay, on that fateful 16 December 1965 night if Nancy had not come along is not even a debatable point. It would not have happened. Full stop! Even my mother suffered unaccountable guilt over my fathers actions, beating herself up over leaving home, leaving us in such volatile predicaments. Did Nancy herself ever feel guilt over what happened? In my observations…no! To her, a problem had been removed and life went on. Her alienation of people we knew now carried over to visiting sympathisers, close family, the media! She closed ranks, and not because it protected anyone, but because it was a further extension of her power. My curiosity at trying to come to terms with what had happened, trying to comprehend the sheer personal magnitude of it, was met with icy emotion, steel resolve that nothing and nobody was going to offer me any enrapturing arms, or sympathetic tears.

While all this turmoil went on, several other events occurred – I was, at no time, informed about what was going on with my father! I was kept completely in the dark, and apart from what I have been able to glean from press reports at the time, I am still in the dark about. I wasn’t even notified of his court cases! There was an attempt by my mother to take me back, which happened with such sudden and unexpected ferocity that it had the opposite effect on me to what it should have had…it scared the life out of me, and sent me bolting to a neighbours home for protection. And there was a custody battle between my mother and father, accompanied by threats – truly – from my fathers sisters on what I was to say to the judge to ensure my father – certainly not my parent of choice – retained custody. Nobody gave a flying fuck about what I wanted…it was all about spite, vindictiveness and control! Being a 12 year-old in the 60s was not to have any rights. You just did what you were told!

As for my fathers brief incarceration, there was one visit, and I was “encouraged” to write regularly, whether I wanted to or not.  Upon his release, Nancy stage managed his coming home to be a scene out of “Leave It To Beaver”, complete with me running up the road and into his loving arms! It was done reluctantly, I can assure you. My father and I effectively had no relationship from that time on, and when he committed suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning in 1978, there were no tears shed on my part. After his return, life’s disruptions continued, with the selling of our Melrose Ave home, moving to a shoebox flat in Kogarah – still with Nancy in tow – a name change from Pickhills to Phillips, and me having to change schools, leaving behind everything and everyone I knew. I ended up at a Marist Brothers boarding school in Campbelltown.

Still, there was one consolation – and again, it was unexpected, and came like a bolt from the blue. Dad arrived home at the flat one day, just in time to hear Nancy in one of her vitriolic tirades at me, for having helped myself to a biscuit from the Sacred Biscuit Tin! Now, whether he suspected that this may have been going on, or whether he was surprised to find it going on I will never know. Suffice it to say that, for the only time in our relationship, he stuck up for me, and bundled me into the car and took me to an aunties. I never saw Nancy again! Like ai cared!

My father and I never reconciled over Kevin’s death. Like with most of the unpleasant things that occurred in his life, he just pretended it never happened. Not Nancy, not my father, nor any of his family ever mentioned Kevin’s name again. It would be 35 years later before I felt comfortable, and able, to write about his death, to tell his story. A reconciliation with my mother just after his death likewise proved futile and fruitless. Too kuch water under the bridge by then. I believe she is still alive, and in her 80s. If my stepfathers death is any gauge, I will hear of her death several years after the event. I am not expecting to shed tears over that event, either’!

Tim Alderman (C) 2015

Daily (Or When The Mood Takes Me) Gripe: Genealogy Trendies!

imageThe current “trendiness” of genealogy, and the push by sites like “Ancestry” to get people interested in their family history has a downside – apart from hundreds of trees that are started and then deserted – for those of us who take it seriously. I do use “Ancestry” – indeed, have my whole tree up there – and it can be very useful for filling in gaps that you can’t find information for…though only if the names you draw from other peoples research have themselves been researched. Like many others, my tree is public, and anyone is free to take information, sources, documents and citations from it. However, there is a tendency for many trendies to want to take shortcuts, so just take information from trees without researching themselves, thus passing on information that is often not correct, which in turn has a pyramid effect as others take the information and add to their own trees. There are also those who are just headhunters and only interested in how many people they can add without checking anything at all. A guy on a genealogy page recently was bragging about the 20,000 people he had on his tree. When challenged about whether he had checked the sources for all of them, his comments suddenly stopped. Obviously…no!
I have just add d a convict to my tree – one of several who are closely related. This one is directly related to my maternal Grandmother’s sisters son’s wife…in other words, the wife of a first cousin. Thinking to check information against other trees, the results were fascinating, and a lesson on checking sources. Incorrect spellings of a prominent name, due to an obvious transcription error, was shared amongst the three trees I looked at. Incorrect naming of children, adding children twice – they were using census…as most of us do for England…but had added, for example, an Evangeline D born 1838, and an Evangeline Dorinda born 1838. The error there seems pretty obvious to me! They had made this error with three children, as if the family wasn’t big enough already without an extra three. They had poor Thomas Street arriving here in 1811 to start a 7-year sentence, then arriving again in 1816 to serve another 7-years. Poor bugger! A bit of research, and tying together some facts from the Colonial Secretary’s Papers – it’s all there – would have shown the 1811 arrival to be correct. As it is, the guy has a really interesting history here, and made quite a bit of money after being pardoned – something they don’t seem to have picked up on.
And people hate being corrected when they make mistakes. I have commented on three trees about inaccuracies, and been ignored. One woman, who I had quite a bit of correspondence with, made three errors with MY bloodlines…she added one colourful son to a cousin (he not only had different parents, but was born in a totally different area) who, despite my pointing out the incorrect parentage, is still there in her tree. She also had an incorrect birth date for a GG aunt, and had attributed her to a non-conformist meeting house record…despite the Priscilla she attributed it to having a different mother. All three errors are still there. Needless to say, I don’t trust any of the information on her tree.
I love seeing an interest in genealogy, but making people think that you just type in a name and off you go, and a little leaf popping up next to a name will give you all the correct information you heed is total bullshit. It is all about filtering and researching. There are no shortcuts!

Tim Alderman (C) 2015

Bad Eggs, Weirdos, and Heroes: A Story of Families

There is an adage that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family…and fortunately – or unfortunately – it’s true. And oddly, as distinct from family groups in centuries past where family history and lineage was often passed down through word-of-mouth, these days we seem to know very little about our family history, or who we are, and how we are related to others in our “group”.

I attempted to trace my family roots in the early 80s. I had the basics – mothers parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters and their families. My fathers sisters and their families, but that was about it. Tracing family history back then, in the dark ages, wasn’t as easy as it is now. There was no internet, no Ancestry or Family Search, no apps for tracing BDM, graves or potential record matches for family members. No little leaves popping up against names. I contacted my mother with a list of dates and relationships I required to move forward, only to find she wasn’t interested in family, and could only supply limited family information. With my father deceased, and his family alienated, my chances of getting very far looked grim. I entered up what info I had in a large family bible – the only thing that had family tree pages – and put it all on the backburner.

Fast forward to ten years ago. The internet is in full bloom, and Mr Google is a knight-mine of information. I put Pickhills into a search engine, and suddenly all this information came to light through the newly published sets of census from England. A full, colourful family history, hidden from a blinkered families sight, came into full bloom. My family had no idea what they had missed by cutting themselves off from the curiosity to know what their forebears had done! No one knew of my Great Great Grandmother (Paternal) Elizabeth Pickhills nee Appleyard, who was dragged all over Yorkshire by her husband, Rickinson, gave birth to 12 children and had most of them die in her lifetime, who visited her 2 sons in South Australia, was arrested twice, was shipped back to England (presumably) because she was too much of a handful for her kin), and died of “senile decay” – dementia – in Tooting Bec Mental Asylum in London. Nor of my Great Grand Aunt Clara who married into the prestigious De Bomford family in Tasmania, nor my Great Grand Uncles who captained steamers up and down the Darling, Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers. One of these uncles led such a prolific life that I have a whole arch-folder dedicated to him, and it is suggested that the book “Dreadnought of the Darling” by the famous Australian war correspondent Charles Bean was based on the recollections of Captain George Rickinson Swan Pickhills’ life on the Darling River. Nor would they know that my Great Great Great Geandmother, Clara Pickhills nee Rickinson, was related to the very old and prominent Rickinson family from Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire. What a shame that all this colourful heritage was lost to my family, caught up as they were in the dross of their own lives!

The family tree currently stands at around 8,500 people, related either through blood or marriage. Lineages grow exponentially, so in reality there are no ends, and finding beginnings can be difficult. I am sure the tree is 95% accurate, and I am currently working on sorting out a couple of messy lines. It has proven an interesting experience, and many characters involved have had a hand in world history. We have Cornish miners (my mothers family) who travelled all the way here, hoping for a getter life than that offered in Cornwall and established themselves in South Australia, Broken Hill and Cobar; a Rickinson who was an engineer on Ernest Shackleton’s exprdition to Antartica; many who died in mining accidents; those who fought in WWI and are buried in Villers-Brettoneux; there are several protestant ministers; at least four convicts; bankrupts; relatives in England, Wales, Ireland, the Channel aislands, America, Canada, Germany and New Zealand. We are related to the Henschke – yes, the South Australian wine people – family in South Australia. We have humour, like Happy Victoria Morris marrying Spencer Lemon, thus becoming a Happy Lemon. And, as described below, a host of cads to keep everyone on their toes. Welcome to the world of family!

Errant Family

Elizabeth Pickhills nee Appleyard (my Great Great Grandmother) arrived here after the death of her husband Rickinson. They had 12 children within a short space of time, and of the 12, Edward, Jane, Frederick William 1, Walter and Mary died either in infancy or within a few years of birth. Henry Moorsom joined the Admiralty at 14 and died of Cholera in Bengal when he was about 21. Frederick George, George Rickinson Swan and Clara all moved to Austrlia at a fairly young age, and Charles Edward died while visiting his brothers here. Whether she intended originally to emigrate or just visit is unknown, but her stay was memorable! Anyway, she did ship herself here, and for a while probably lived with George Ruckinson and his wife, Ellen in Goolwa, South Australia. According to the South Austrlian Police Gazette, June 21, 1876 ” .A warrant has been issued at Yankalilla for the apprehension of Elizabeth Pickhills, a widow, and mother of Captain Pickills, of the Goolwa, for larceny of 2lbs. of butter from Messrs. Smith & Swan, sheep farmers, Bullapabaringa. Offender is said to be living at Mr. Luffin’s, Goolwa.” Not quite the thing you can imagine GG Gran doing. We know nothing more about the case except for this note in the South Australian Police Gazette, May 1, 1878 “re – Larceny from Smith and Swan – The warrant for Elizabeth Pickhills has been withdrawn.”. One has to wonder if George hadn’t had a few words to Smith and Swan about his mothers mental condition, and got them to be lenient. It didn’t end there. A writ appears with the Goolwa police dated 2nd May, 1889 against Elizabeth Pickhills . She appeared before a Justice of the Peace, Thomas Goode, charged with that on the 28th April 1889 she did “unlawfully use abusive words in a certain public place, to wit The Parade in North Goolwa, with intent to invoke a breach of the peace”. She had to pay a fine of £2. This incident received a mention in “A Land Abounding – A History of the Port Elliot and Goolwa Region, South Australia” by Rob Linn, chapter 5, page

On the evening of 16 December 1965 at Sylvania, Frederick Lindsay Pickhills – my father – .took his 7-year-old son Kevin out to The Gap at Watsons Bay, and jumped over with him. Frederick survived, but Kevin’s body was found 3 days later by fishermen, floating in Broken Bay.

Colin Edward Campbell...gaoled sheep stealing.

William Thomas Onions went missing whilst supposedly leaving Broken Hill and heading to SA or WA, leaving his wife, Agnes, and 5 children in destitute circumstances.

Above listed as. Cess-pit attendant in the 1895 Wagga Wagga borough expenses.

19 jul 1851 Joseph Onions charged with larceny
25 January 1928 William Joseph Onions (25) indecently assaulted Edna May Hollis (14) and committed for trial at Goulburn Quarter Sessions. On 15 February 1928 was acquitted.

James Greenwood broke into home of Rickenson Pickhills and stole some dresses and a firearm.

John Magg – family convict ancestor. Convicted in Surrey Quarter Sessions in 1822, and sentenced to 7 years in NSW. Arrived here onboard the Surry in 1823.

Richard Blinksell – a wife-basher and thief: Transcription of article from the Queanbeyan Age dated 18 May 1883; “THREATENING LANGUAGE; Richard Blinksell was brought up in custody charged with threatening the life of his wife Sarah Blinksell, of Molonglo. The prisoner had been arrested on this charge by Constable Goodhew, having been given into custody by his wife. After the evidence of the arresting constable, Sarah Blinksell, on oath stated – I am the wife of the defendant now before the court. I gave him into custody of the police on the 11th of the present month for threatening to do me some harm. On Sunday evening, the 6th inst. defendant accused me of stealing his mare, and said to me, If the mare is not brought back to-night I will jump your ____ out. This occurred between one and two o’clock. I said, I never touched your mare. Defendant said, You are a ____ liar; and whatever row we have had before it will be nothing to what there will be to-night. He then went and laid down on the bed. While he was lying there I ran away. I stayed at my father’s house (John Edmonds) for three days. I then came home to my husband again, and brought my daughter and son-in-law with me. As soon as I came in the door the defendant jumped up and asked me why I did not bring his mare back that night. I told him I had never touched her. He told me I was a ____ liar, for he saw me take her. I told him then that I did not want to live with him any longer; I only wanted my three little children. Defendant told me I could take the ____. I called my children together and gathered up their things. As I was going out of the door with them, he called them all back again. I told him he could keep his children, but I did not intend to stop myself. He caught hold of me and was pushing me about to bring me back again. When my daughter found he would not let me go she went for the police. I mean she went to Carwoola and telegraphed to Queanbeyan for the police. I went into the house with my son-in-law; but when the latter went out defendant got up and barred the door against him. I remained with him all night. After staying there some time he told me to take my frock off and go to bed. I did so. After I was in bed some time he asked me if I was asleep. I was not, but did not answer him. He said, You had better enjoy it for it may be the last ____ sleep you’ll ever have. He kept using unbecoming language to me all night. I got up in the morning and prepared his and the children’s breakfast. On leaving to go to my father’s place to do some ploughing defendant walked up to me and spat in my face, making use of some expression which I forget. When he left the house I ran away into the bush and stayed there until the policeman came. I then went with the policeman to my father’s house and gave him in charge. From all that has passed I am afraid to live with him, fearing he might do me some bodily harm. I therefore pray that he may be required to find sureties to keep the peace towards me. To the Bench – I never laid my hands on the mare since the 18th of April last when I rode her home from my daughter’s place. Defendant has often struck me before – both me and my daughter. The last time he struck me was on the 20th of April. To the defendant – I was lying on the bed with my little child when you ordered me to take my frock off. I was trying to get the child to sleep, and did not wish to go to sleep myself. Defendant was then sworn, and stated – I am a farmer and live at Molonglo. On last Sunday week my wife went away from the place and told the children she was going to meet the little boys with the sheep. That led me astray. She had not returned at dark, and when I got my little children asleep I went to look for her, fearing something had happened to her. It was raining hard and I got off and washed my feet in the floods. I heard the next day that she was at her father’s place, and I sent her two messages to come home for an hour or two. She never came home till late on Thursday evening. I asked her how she came to go away in such a clandestine manner without telling me. The daughter then said something; she was there with her husband, Anderson; they came with my wife. I got Anderson and his wife out of the house, and shut them outside, and my wife, my children, and I remained in the house altogether that night. I told my wife she would not be obliged to herself for fetching her son-in-law there. I never that night attempted to raise my hand to her. I did say something to her, but I ‘disremember’ what it was”.

January 19, 1857 at Wheeo. William Apps charged with theft of two cows & 2 heifers.

March 29 1854. Narrawa. William Apps cautions people not to harbour his daughter Ellen, who has abandoned her family home without cause.

William Apps: William was tried at Canterbury on 7th April 1826 on a charge of stealing corn. Found guilty, he was sentenced to seven years transportation to NSW, arriving at Port Jackson on 26th November 1826 on the vessel “Speke”. In 1831 William was granted his Ticket-of-Leave only to have it cancelled on December the same year for receiving a blanket under false pretences from his former master, Mr. William Broughton. For this misdemeanour Apps was sentenced to a week on the treadmill at Hyde Park Barracks. This punishment completed he was re-assigned, but his spirit was unbroken and within days he escaped from his new assignment. His re-capture was notified in the Sydney Gazette on 22nd December 1831. Finally Apps received his Ticket-of-Leave in 1833. From Convict Indents it is known that he was a short man, standing 4 feet, 11 inches tall with a fresh, unmarked complexion, brown eyes and hair. In April 1935 William Apps, aged 32, made application to marry Margery Campbell. Following their marriage, William and Margery Apps continued to live in the vicinity of Sydney and were in Parramatta in 1837 when their oldest daughter, Ellen, was born in that year. By 1849 the family moved to Wheeo, being among the earliest in that district.

Margery Campbell (wife of William Apps), from Sligo, Ireland, was the daughter of William Campbell. When she was 23 she was tried in County Down for receiving stolen goods. For this offence, her first, she was sentenced to seven years transportation. She sailed on the “Palambam” from Cork on 23rd March 1830 arriving in Sydney on 31st July the same year. Margery was 4 feet 11 inches tall with a ruddy, freckled complexion and hazel to grey eyes. On her disembarkment in the colony she was assigned to Mr. James Taylor of Sutton Forest.

Jane Langley – Jane’s story begins on the 14th of September 1785 when she was tried at the Old Bailey with Mary Finn for stealing five guineas from a Robert Robinson, on the 29th of July 1785. Jane’s parentage is unclear but she was possibly the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Langley, at St George Parish Hanover Sq The birth occurred on the 16th of September 1761 at the Holborn lying in hospital in Endell St. At the time of her trial Jane was a Tambour worker and was described as a tall dark girl with very curly hair, she appeared to be self supporting and doubt exist as to her need to be involved in crime. On the 6th of January 1787 she was boarded on the “Lady Penrhyn” during the Voyage to Australia Jane Langley had the first of her children a daughter Henrietta born on the 23rd of October 1787. There is some speculation regarding Henrietta’s father, Phillip Scriven or Shewring who was a seaman on the The Lady Penrhyn or Thomas Gilbert the ships Master on the Charlotte was also throught to be her father.

Henrietta Shewing (1787—1828) Married to Edward Fletcher 1807 Henrietta, one of twenty little souls born on the convict transports known as the First Fleet, was to be always known as English, and never in England. Henrietta is the only child born on the First Fleet known to have Australian descendants [1]. Henrietta was born on board the Lady Penrhyn at Capetown Harbour, South Africa on 23rd October 1787 [2]. Three of the women convicts on the ship were known to be midwives: Mary Parker, Ann Colpits and Sarah Burdo. The ship’s surgeon Arthur Bowes Symth was definitely not present, and even recorded later Henrietta in the surgeon’s log as male. The ship’s log at least got the sex correct! Rev. Richard Johnson came on board to baptise the baby on the 4th November 1787, an event well liked by the crew because they received an extra ration of grog. The sailors who also had fathered children had the opportunity to buy tea and other little extras at Cape Town for their women [3]. Henrietta arrived on the shores of Port Jackson 6th February 1788, a sultry stormy evening. The next two years were hard and famine was severe in the colony, taking its toll especially of the small children. It was decided to send five of the surviving children and their mothers to Norfolk Island. That in itself was an adventure, as they arrived in high seas and were only at great peril able to be landed at Cascade with the seas breaking into the boat which was very frightening and caused much panic and screaming. That night the Sirus was swept on to rocks and shipwrecked. Henrietta lived on Norfolk Island for the next five years and in that time her mother married the marine Thomas Chipp. A brother Robert was born (and died) and a sister Ann, and a third child is recorded. I think this could have been little Thomas Chipp whose death is recorded early 1795 but most members of the family think the evidence is too flimsy. There were school classes taken by a number of individuals and eventually in 1792 Thomas McQueen was appointed schoolmaster and Susannah Hunter his assistant for seventy five pupils. We could imagine Henrietta would have been one of the pupils. Norfolk Island had passed from its early idyllic days to a wilder rougher life, and Thomas Chipp and his family decided to leave there and return to Sydney Town which had also become a pretty wild and rough place. The Governor’s wife Mrs. King started an Orphan School to house the homeless girls living on the streets of Sydney. This first Orphan School stood on the corner of Bridge and George Street. Not all the girls in the institute were orphans. In two of her letters Henrietta refers to having been in the Orphan School. The family was on record as being “on stores” in 1804. Stores were the equivalent of social security. On the 23rd March 1807 nineteen year old Henrietta was married to the convict Edward Fletcher by the Reverend Henry Fulton at St. John’s Parramatta. Edward had been working for the Knights as a servant, as was her thirteen year old sister Mary Chipp, so we assume they met through mutual acquaintances. This is the period of time Henrietta’s stepfather would have had land at Toongabbie (Seven Hills, later to be known as Bella Vista) and Isaac Knight had the adjoining farm. Henrietta applied for a land grant and a cow on the grounds she had been an inmate of the Orphan School and was granted a thirty acres at Bankstown. Today the land is occupied by Liverpool Hospital. Governor Macquarie revoked all the land grants made by the Rum Corp after the overthrow of Governor Bligh and Henrietta reapplied and was granted the Liverpool land again. The annual rent was to be 2 shillings a year after 5 years. Thomas Moore [4] apparently wanted the grant Henrietta had at Liverpool but probably helped her to obtain the grant at Narellan plus an extra ten acres, which became known as Fletcher’s Farm, and today is the land near Springs Road, Narellan. Henrietta had six children: Edward born 8th March 1808 in Campbelltown, baptised at St. Luke’s Liverpool; John born the 10th May 1810 at Cowpastures and baptised by the Reverend Samuel Marsden at St Luke’s on 15th May 1810. Eliza was born at 12th August 1812 at Campbelltown. Susanna was born on the 12th May 1815 at Fletcher’s Farm, Campbelltown; Blanche was born 17th December 1823 and Elizabeth 26th April 1828. Since 1810 Edward had been employed as a constable in the Cowpastures District. Henrietta’s health had declined over the years and by the time she died at the age of forty-one years, she was blind and crippled. Thirteen year old Susanna was working for the Rev Thomas Hassall as a maidservant on a nearby property, but William Boyle Henrietta’s nephew was living with the family, his father having died. William’s mother Mary was not coping with the change in her circumstances and her sisters took in her children. Edward had a reputation for drinking, but it was said he was always kind and thoughtful to his wife and children, and Henrietta was described as “an exceedingly reputable woman who bestowed great pains in bringing up her children”. In 1828 there was the first outbreak of whooping cough in the colony and two thousand people died as a result of it. One could be excused for wondering if Elizabeth and Henrietta were two of the victims. Henrietta and Edward Fletcher are buried in St. Peter’s churchyard Campbelltown in a well-cared-for grave, which also has a First Fleeter’s plaque for Henrietta. Though Henrietta never lived to see her grand children she had thirty six grand children. There are other family graves St Peters churchyard including Susanna Chapman’s Henrietta and Edward’s daughter. Thomas Chipp always accepted Henrietta as part of his family, and Henrietta was involved in her sisters’ marriages and lives. Thomas was the only grandfather her children knew. NB Surname: Henrietta is variously quoted with the surnames Scriven, Shewring, Skirwin, Chipp and Langley before marriage. Grandson: MH has also written a piece about William Henry Fletcher who was a grandson of Henrietta. Notes [1] A number of children born to marines on the journey, returned with their families to England. (‘Orphans of History —The Forgotten Children of the First Fleet’ by Robert Holden). [2] The baby was born at 1pm so in navy parlance was dated the 23rd as their dates changed at noon. She was also recorded as the child of T..G.. which 198 years later was to cause speculation on who was T..G.. With the passing of sailing ships the navy parlance for calling sailors after their job had been forgotten. Philip Scriven was the foremast man responsible for the Top Gallant sail.[3] As recorded in Jonathan King’s book ‘The First Fleet’.[4] This is the same Thomas Moore who is credited with founding Moore Theological College. He was a land dealer in the early colony.NMargaret Hardwick, 2009


Lynn Shepherd
was indicted for robbery in 1838, found guilty and sentenced to life on Norfolk Island

Addison Mitchell was indicted for murdering William Ablett on 8 Nov 1856 at the old Lachlan Road. John Collins testified at the trial before Mr Justice Therry at Bathurst Circuit Court] “John Collins, lives at No. 1 Swamp, near Carcoar, I recollect on 7th of November, 1856, being in company with Ablett, and prisoner; in answer to an inquiry made by prisoner, he said his name was Ablett, and he was a native of Cambridgeshire ; I should say he was about 20 years of age, 5 feet 9 inches in height, fair complexion, without whiskers, light hair, dressed in a light tweed cap, plaid jumper, fustian trousers, and watertight boots ; in prisoner’s presence, he told me that if he could find an old horse he would buy it to carry his swag to the Ovens ; I sold him an old bay horse, saddle, and bridle, for £6 ; he paid me in prisoner’s presence, with two £5-notes ; prisoner drew out the receipt; Ablett had a tent with him, and I noticed a shingling hammer (hammer found near fire shown) ; I believe this is the hammer deceased Ablett had; I noticed the boots he wore, and noticed that nails were out in front of the left boot ; to the best of my belief the boots I now see in Court are those I saw on Ablett ; the bridle now produced (found in prisoner’s bundle) is the one I sold to Ablett; I saw Ablett last at Radburn’s, 1 mile and a half from my house; he started, leading the horse with his swag placed across the saddle ; this was on Saturday ; he went in the direction of the junction of the Wagoola and Grabine roads with the Lachlan road; the horse might travel 20 or 25 miles a day ; after I left deceased, and on my return home, prisoner complained of his hands being sore from blisters ; I said we would spell that day, and commence again on Monday morning ; prisoner afterwards went out in the same direction that Ablett took ; about an hour afterwards; I did not see him again until next day, Sunday, about 2 p.m ; he was then very dirty ; he washed himself, and shortly afterwards I received information that my horse that I sold Ablett was near my house ; I went out and found the horse hobbled close at hand; I said, in prisoner’s presence, that the horse had been brought back ; prisoner said he had strayed back ; in the evening I told prisoner that it was no use in saying he did not bring the horse back, as he had been seen riding him ; he said, “well what of it, you don’t know Ablett as well as I do, he is a bolter, and there are constables after him in all directions ; that he was within a quarter of a mile of the place, but was afraid to come in ;” whilst I was sitting near the fire with prisoner, I saw the remains of a pocket-book in the ashes ; it had a clasp like the one I saw with Ablett ; I was frightened to put it in my pocket as I was alone with the prisoner; after prisoner left my house I searched for it, but could not find it ; I identify the handkerchief now produced, found in prisoner’s bundle, as one I gave to Ablett with flour in it, also the saddle and bridle sold by me to Ablett, and found concealed near my hut; on the Monday morning I discharged prisoner being suspicious of him; as he left I saw him pick up the bridle now produced; I identify it as the one sold by me to Ablett; I gave information to the police. Constable McFadden re-called : In consequence of information given by last witness prisoner was apprehended for horse-stealing: it was in looking for and making enquiries about Ablett that I found the camping ground on the old Lachlan road ; there were appearances of a tent having been pitched, there, and about half a mile distant in the scrub I found the ashes of the fire in which I found the bones, buttons, shingling hammer, hair, and buckles, which have been produced ; I made enquiries in the neighbourhood of the camp, but could find no traces of any person answering to Ablett’s description being seen in that neighbourhood. Thomas Radburn, of Carcoar, recollects Collins coming to his hut on 8th November, to change a 5 pound note ; he was accompanied by a young man; witness’s description tallied with that already given by Corby, Wood, and Collins. James Bradburn, son of last witness, gave the same evidence as to appearance and dress of Ablett ; two and a half hours afterwards saw prisoner following in the direction taken by Ablett ; when Collins told prisoner next day that he had been seen riding the horse, prisoner replied, well, what of it ? Katherine Radburn gives same description to that already given of Ablett, and thinks that the prisoner was the man she saw going in the same direction to that taken by Ablett two hours after. Richard Byrne, knows, the prisoner ; saw him on Sunday morning, 9th of November, between eleven and twelve a.m., at a place on the Lachlan road; about two and a half miles from the junction of the Wagoola and Grabine roads with the old Lachlan road; he was riding on a short brown-tailed horse, it was very thin, he had a bundle before him as full as it could hold ; I saw the horse prisoner was riding afterwards at the Court House ; prisoner was very dirty, like a man after a long journey. William Mulaly lives at Black Hill Creek, on the left of the Lachlan road, about quarter of a mile off the road; on Sunday, the 8th of November, prisoner came to my house between 11 and 12 a.m.; he-had a very poor brown horse with him ; I asked him whom the horse belonged to ; he said it was Collins’s he lent it me so that I could come over to you to get employment ; I asked him if his name was Mitchell; he said, yes ; there was neither saddle nor bridle on the horse when I saw him, prisoner’s appearance was that of a man after a hard day’s work, he was very dirty. Cross examined by Mr. Dalley: No appearance of having been engaged about a fire; his clothes were not burnt; he looked like a man after a hard day’s work. John Radburn identified the saddle as being found by him concealed at the foot of a tree near Collins’s hut. John Meiklejohn, constable in Carcoar police: On Sunday morning, the 9th of November, I was on the Lachlan Road, near the junction of the Wagoola and Grabine roads; I saw a fire in the distance, off the road about half a mile. I afterwards was taken to the place by McFadden, and I then recognised it as the place where I had seen the fire on the 9th November; looked for tracks at the junction, but could not find any. James Grant, the prisoner, was in my employment as a shepherd; he knew the country well in the neighbourhood of the junction of the roads to Wagoola and Grabine with the Lachlan road. On Sunday, 23rd November, McFadden and I found remains of a fire in a scrub, half a mile off the road; we found bones, buttons, a hammer, and portions of hair there; at the junction a tent had been pitched ; this was half a mile from the fire in the scrub. ………………The jury, after a short absence, found the prisoner guilty; and the Judge; in a most impressive manner, passed sentence of death upon the prisoner.This case occupied the whole day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Doris Olive Irene Nunns charged Thomas Henry Roy Jackson of attempted rape on 14 July 1920. He was acquitted.

Richard Cole Seaton charged with stabbing his wife with a knife and inflicting serious wounds, and also assaulting his niece.

John Henry Theodore Merrion was killed when falling from a roof during a demolition in Ngahauranga, NZ.

On 11/5/1903 Ellen Prest was remanded in gaol at Murrumburrah for 8 days due to “unsound mind”

Private Alfred Sydney Polglase deserted the army on July 21, 1916 and there was a warrant out for his arrest

Thomas Henry Roy Jackson charged with the attempted rape of Doris Olive Irene Nunns nee Polglase on 14 July 1920. Acquitted.

Squire Brooks – convict ancestor on my maternal grandmothers side – the Collins family

1924 Horace William Brooks, 9yo, drowned in Eastern Creek along with an 11 yo friend.

Sat 28 Sep 1867 at Braidwood Police Court. Thomas & Eliza Hobbs daughter Esther, 10yo, (born out of wedlock) was being prostituted by her father – a drunkard – and his wife – a drunkard and prostitute. Frederick Stephens, a witness, recollected that on Christmas Day saw Esther and a man named Dean naked together in a waterhole..the details here being too lurid to print. He had heard that it was common for liberties to be taken with the girl. Dean was known as a regular with the girl, and had been arrested for sexually assaulting her, but had been acquitted. Her parents received her earnings. The parents were known to often leave all the children on their own for long periods, to fend for themselves. The object of having the girl in court was to save her from her parents. She was sent to the industrial School. The Hobbs family members were regularly in court for drunkenness and foul language…and never argued the charges.  On Friday 18th sep 1874 at Braidwood, the above Dean was admitted to hospital, having been brutally beaten, and died that night. He was found about a mile and a half from the Hobbs house, after having been out drinking. The Coroners Court jury found that death had been caused by person or persons unknown.

1884 Lynn David Nettleton had a warrant for his arrest issued for disobeying an order to financially support his illegitimate child.

Ada Camden was excited to be marrying Harris Horder...so excited, so it seems, that she forgot to divorce Roland Watts. Henry had their marriage dissolved on the basis of bigamy.

In 1885 Richard Camden alias Crib alias Snow was accused of stealing two horses belonging to James Hemsley and Thompson Ross. He was described as being 5’10”-11″, no age given, stout build, sandy complexion, and sporting Dreadweary whiskers. He was thought to have gone to Tambar Springs. No warrant was issued.

In 1919, Horace Horder (17) and a group of boys were charged with breaking and entering the home of William Clement and stealing jewellery etc to the value of £10 (part recovered). The boys were committed for trial, bail allowed.

Baptism Certificate for Sarah Camden in 1852 seems to have some difficulty deciding whether the surname should be Jones, or Camden. The transcriber made a note at the end of the certificate that the minister had added after the mothers name, on the original, that the child was born as the result of adultery. It would appear that the 17yo Richard had a dalliance with the 37yo Elizabeth Hale…with the predictable result. Sarah ended up a Camden.

In 1883, Gertrude Agnes Finke (the future Mrs Catherine Agnes Bottrill), was admitted to the Adelaide Destitute Asylum, along with 6-month old David. David died shortly after.

In 1773, at Helston Cornwall, Robert Barwick Scadden and his wife Anne were excommunicated. No clear reason is given.

24 December 1890, Thomas Ironfield charged with breaking & entering three homes in Leichhardt & Balmain. Jewellery & watches stolen. Later charged with pick-pocketing crowds in The Domain. His wife later charged him with desertion, claiming he had assaulted her for no good reason, then throwing her and her children out of the house. He also had her tossed out of a lodging house. He, in turn, said he had no desire to live with her. He was gaoled in 1898 for the robberies.

Mining Accidents – CLEAVES William

Name: CLEAVES William
Age: 0
Date: 05/02/1845
Year: 1845
Occupation:
Colliery: Hayeswood Coalworks
Owner: S.S.P. Samborne and Co.
Town: Timsbury
County: Somerset
Notes: Adjoining were old workings which had lain unused for many years and were filled with water. About 100 men descended for the day shift at about 5 a.m. Mr Evans, the overseer noticed there was an unusual appearance of damp but initially he did not become too alarmed as he thought it was only “the bleeding of the coal”. William’s body, along with that of George Palmer was not recovered until the following October. Two weeks later John Flower was brought out. Later another body was found and was buried in the name of Joseph Gullick. The mistake was discovered when the body of Joseph Gullick was found. 11 killed. Left a wife and 6 children.

17 Feb 1952 Adolphus Stead reversed over Margarey Ann Gould, aged 4, in his car at Broken Hill. She suffered fatal head injuries.

1903, Elizabeth Stead dies after inadvertently taking strychnine after an afternoon of consuming alcohol. 

Tim Alderman (C) 2015

Mind The Gap – Sun Herald, Sunday May 28, 2000

The 1965 incident with Frederick Pickhills was my family, and my brothers death. I have covered the case in my article “Kevin Pickhills – The Unspoken Name.”


Words by Glen Williams
Like the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Bondi and the beaches, the Gap is a must-see for tourists and locals alike – a place of shattered deams, unsolved mysteries and dramatic beauty.

You are lured here by the view – high above a seething ocean, veiled by sea spray and circled by noisy gulls. The final 25 steps rise from a road that winds back toward the city and all of a sudden here you are – white knuckled, clutching the safety rail, yet drawn closer to the edge. Free-spirited sightseers and single-minded fishermen have all looked down from this spot, captivated by the churning sea and beckoning rocks below. To get this far you must turn your back on Sydney and when you do, its soaring towers and sparkling harbour disappear – replaced by a vast, distant and empty horizon. See the tourists turn their backs to take a photo, of a windswept spot where others before them turned their backs on life.

This is the Gap, Sydney’s infamous “drop off” point, a sweeping arc of wave-blasted sandstone gouged into South Head. Long before there was a Bridge to climb and way before the Opera House welcomed its hordes, this majestic sweep of coastline, in places more than 100m high, played lively in the imaginations of locals. It still does.

It is a place of intense contrasts. Stand at the safety rail, look straight out to sea, and the full brunt of nature hurtles toward you. The noise, a screaming fury, almost knocks you over. Turn around and the harbour and city skyline are displayed in all their glory. And, like the contrasting views, life and death manage to co-exist here.

Ask a Sydneysider their impressions of the Gap and they’ll tell you it’s lunch at Doyles, and a beer at the Watsons Bay Hotel. They’ll say it’s the best vantage point from which to catch the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. And, either in hushed tones or with insensitive grins they’ll tell you, “It’s where people go to jump.”

Howard Courtney will tell you about the night out with his wife and friends which began with dinner at Doyles. One moment he was enjoying the company, the next, he was over the cliff’s edge. “We’d just finished eating and decided to take a walk up there to show our friends what the place looked like in the dark,” he recalls. “We got up to the safety rail and there we found a pair of shoes and a handbag. I looked over the Gap, and down on a ledge was a woman. I could see she was ready to go again. She was crawling out towards the edge. It was dark but I could clearly see her.”

Overcome by the woman’s plight, Courtney kicked off his shoes and socks and, calling to his stunned wife and friends to run for help, leapt over the safety rail and out of sight.

“I didn’t think,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t remember how I got down, and I suppose had it been light, and I’d seen the reality of the drop, I might not have gone. I only know my wife wasn’t too pleased. I managed to make it to the girl. She was crying and I held her and tried to pacify her until the police came. I clearly remember she had scars on her wrists.”

It was March 1973 and newspapers reported how Courtney had clambered 40 feet (12.9m) down the cliff face to reach the 21-year-old woman. She was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital in a satisfactory condition despite a broken leg, internal injuries and shock. Police said the narrow ledge had stopped the woman from plunging 200 feet (60.96m).

“I’ve often wondered what happened to her. Where she ended up,” Courtney, 65, says. “I haven’t been back to the Gap since, but I remember it as a place of dramatic beauty.”

A fence – a sturdy hardwood affair mostly, waist-high and wrapped in cyclone mesh – is intended to prevent people from getting too close to that “dramatic beauty”. But as Woollahra Council carpenters Stuart McKinlay and Bill McLeary know only too well, those wanting to be at one with the view will find a way over the barrier. “There’s a lot of maintenance work,” says McLeary, 56. “We’re often up here fixing the fence. We can’t really stop anyone,” adds McKinlay. “Most are just trying to get a closer look.”

The cheerful tradesmen double as unofficial tour guides of the area and are well-versed in the Gap’s history. As the tourist buses pull up, sometimes 72 in one day, the amiable pair will don their second hat. They’ll point tourists to the rusted anchor from the ill-fated Dunbar, wrecked in 1857 after surviving an 81-day journey from England. Before it could reach the shelter of Port Jackson the ship hit enormous seas and a gale force wind smashed it onto the rocks below. Of the 122 people aboard, only one, Able Seaman James Johnson, 15, survived. “Imagine coming all that way to die here,” says McLeary. “It’s just not fair, is it?”

The men will also gladly help tourists take what they believe is the perfect Gap photograph. “A bus will come along and disgorge a whole heap of Japanese tourists,” McKinlay says. “They’ll race to the rail and take a photo straight out to sea. I mean that photo could be of any sea, any horizon. I tell them to look behind them at one of the best views they’ll ever see. So we’ll take a photo for them, we usually try and line up the Bridge, something that says ‘Sydney’. We’re like ambassadors for tourism.”

Ask them to explain the Gap’s attraction and their initial answer is the view. “Well, as you can see, it is spectacular,” says McKinlay. “It’s also such a well-known place for the obvious reason,” he says, then falls silent. “Um … people like to jump. It still goes on but it’s kept real quiet.”

Indeed, the great unspoken has been associated with the Gap since the mid 1800s. The first recorded case of someone taking their own life here was of 35-year-old Anne Harrison, a publican’s wife who leapt to her death in 1863, after grieving for her nephew who fell from the cliff top. But the two men, who recently nailed plaques detailing the telephone numbers of Lifeline and The Salvos onto the fence, are reminded of more recent tragedies.

There was the man who, in 1993, murdered his former girlfriend then tried to end his own life by driving off the Gap at great speed. “He meant business,” McLeary says. “He tore down here at a million miles an hour, smashed through the fence and became airborne over Jacob’s Ladder – that part of the Gap where the rock fishermen clamber down.”

The car flipped mid-flight and became wedged on a ledge. Miraculously the man survived. “He’s in jail now. They called us straight away to fix the fence.”

Neither man underestimates the dangers of their work, especially McLeary, who admits to being scared of heights. “I’ll climb over the fence, no worries,” he says. “But there’s some spots where you’re right up on the edge. Stu does those.”

Residents of the area moved here to enjoy the ceaseless roar of the ocean and that view. They didn’t intend to be caught up in the broken lives of others or to become heroes. But that is what has happened to some over the years. In the 1960s, Mrs Eve Bettke and her husband Anthony were known as “The Guardians Of the Gap”. Together they brought scores of people back from the edge. In one week alone they dragged back 27 people. News reports from the time tell how the Bettkes, who once lived across the road, kept a vigil from their house, scouring the cliffs for anyone lurking too near the edge. Often they’d invite potential suicides back to their house for a comforting chat.

Don Ritchie, 73, has lived in Watsons Bay all his life and has been involved in several rescues at the Gap. Some of the people he’s saved have actually sent him thank-you cards and gone on to enjoy life. Like the Bettkes before him, he keeps watch over the Gap from his house and has climbed over the fence to talk to people who are contemplating taking their own lives.

Ritchie has lost count of the number of rescues in which he’s been involved. He was awarded a Bravery Medal from the Royal Humane Society in 1970. “That involved a young girl,” he says. “I came home from a function in 1969 about one o’clock in the morning and straight across the road was a girl sitting on the edge in the dark.

“I went over and talked to her and as I did she kept moving close to the edge. I gave the wife a signal and she called the police. The press picked up the message and arrived first. Their arrival unsettled her so I got over and I pulled her back. She was screaming abuse at me and kicking like hell. She got a bit of leverage by pushing off the rail with her feet and she nearly pushed us both over.”

Still, Ritchie prefers to dwell on the Gap’s positive stories. “There’s often people playing musical instruments in the park,” he says. “And the music wafts up over the cliffs, it sounds beautiful against the sounds of the ocean.”

Bill Fahey, 75, remembers being called out to the Gap a couple of times a week when he was with the Police Department’s Cliff Rescue Squad from 1955 to 1985. “Mostly suicides,” he says. “but also injured fishermen and those knocked down by the seas. I tell anyone who is down in the dumps to always hold on, because a new day will bring change, hold on and wait for the new day.”

Fahey singles out one particularly macabre incident in the early ’60s that has stayed with him through the years. “A bloke had pushed his three children off then thrown himself over,” he says. “There were four bodies at the base of the cliff and we had to go and bring them back up. We got down there and there was this fisherman who just casually stepped over the bodies and kept right on with his fishing. I’ve never seen such single-minded behaviour in my life.”

There is a magnetic force at the Gap that compels people to venture dangerously near to the edge, he says. “I’ve felt it myself. Through the years I’ve spent long periods of time looking out to sea. I remember one time sitting, looking over the edge and I could feel my feet being pulled. The water definitely has a draw. The perfectly sane can feel it. But for all the dramas I’ve seen played out there, I still regard the Gap as one of the most beautiful places on the coast.”

Gap historian Claire McIntyre feels so close to those who’ve taken their lives here she’s written a book about them. “They’re not just obscure people who’ve jumped, they’re people like us,” she says.

The former director of nursing believes the Gap is a very spiritual place. “Just to be there is a spiritual experience,” she says. “There’s a definite draw, you can’t ignore it. As I got more involved in the writing of the book, my daughter was concerned that I was disturbing the dead. I totally disagree. As far as I’m concerned these people have a story and they are not just a statistic. I think I’m helping to put them to sleep.”

McIntyre says she too has felt the Gap’s pull. “I love it best on a very stormy, southerly day. I call them angry days. The waves are hurled up the sides of the cliffs and it’s almost like a suction pulling you towards it. To me the Gap is like a magnet.”

It is the role of Rose Bay Police to respond to any incidents at the Gap. On average they are called there two or three times a week, though these incidents are not always suicide related. Today, the Gap’s churning waves and jagged cliffs harbour many unsolved mysteries. Rose Bay officers are still investigating the Caroline Byrne case. Byrne, a model and fiancee of Gordon Wood – a former chauffeur of Rene Rivkin – was found at the base of the Gap in June 1995. Investigators also have their hands full with an unrelated gangland-style murder.

Local resident John Doyle has heard all the stories; the tall tales, the myths, the cruel realities. After all, the members of his famous family have lived alongside the Gap for five generations. As a boy it was his backyard, his playground. “I’ve lived here all my life,” Doyle, 66, says. “I’ve played on the Gap, I’ve been in trouble with the police for climbing down the Gap and wagging school. But it’s a pretty sombre place, really. We lost a really good mate down there. My brother Timmy was playing with him down there and he got washed out through the blowhole. That was 40 years ago now.”

Doyle, who now manages the Watsons Bay Hotel, believes the Gap proves somewhat of a disappointment for today’s tourists. “A lot of people say, ‘I’ve just been up to the Gap and I couldn’t find it’. Or they’ll tell you they’ve seen bigger Gaps in their own backyards.”

Master of suspense inspired by the Gap

How appropriate that the master of the cliffhanger, Alfred Hitchcock, should find himself drawn to the ominous cliffs of the Gap.

It was Friday, 6 May, 1960, and Hitch was in Australia to promote what has become an all-time classic motion picture, Psycho.

“Alfred Hitchcock thinks Sydney’s Gap would be ‘ideal’ for a suspense movie,” David Burke reported in The Sun-Herald, on 8 May, 1960.

He took an umbrella with him. “Just in case I decide to float over the edge,” he explained. “Before I make a picture I must always experience the hero’s emotions myself.”

“He poised his roly poly figure on a railing of the safety fence and looked down on the rocks hundreds of feet below,” Burke wrote. “The westerly blew his umbrella inside out; the renowned chins and jowl quivered with the cold. But his eyes lit up to saucer-like proportions.

“Ah, yes, ideal,” beamed the master of suspense. “I can see it all. The villain has the hero on the edge of the cliff and is slowly pushing him over backwards. We have close-up shots of their faces. Then we have close-ups of their feet, scuffling on the brink. The wind is shrieking … the waves are boiling far beneath … we know how far the hero has to fall.

“At the last moment he wrenches himself free and the villain goes over the Gap. Yes, a really ideal setting for suspense.”

Generation gap

1857 The Dunbar is wrecked in pounding seas on the rocks at the foot of the Gap after travelling for 81 days from England. Of the 122 aboard, only one survived – 15-year-old able seaman James Johnson.

1863 First recorded suicide. Anne Harrison, 35, jumps to her death after grieving the death of her nephew who fell from the Gap.

1857 The Dunbar is wrecked in pounding seas on the rocks at the foot of the Gap after travelling for 81 days from England. Of the 122 aboard, only one survived – 15-year-old able seaman James Johnson.

1907 The Dunbar’s anchor is recovered by divers. It is incorporated into a memorial at the top of the cliff. The wreck becomes a popular spot for divers.

1942 Police Department’s Cliff Rescue Unit is organised.

1960 Alfred Hitchcock, in Sydney to promote Psycho, declares the Gap “ideal” for a suspense film.

1965 Frederick Pickhills of Sylvania, tells Vaucluse police, “I have been over the Gap with my son. I had hold of his hand.” Pickhills was charged with the murder of Kevin Pickhills, 7. Pleading guilty in court to an amended plea of manslaughter, Pickhills was released on a five-year good behaviour bond.

1975 Sydney Harbour National Park is established. the Gap is included in the National Park.

1991 Singing star of the 1970s, Mary Jane Boyd, leaps to her death from the Gap on July 20.

1995 Model Caroline Byrne is found at the foot of the Gap in June.

2000 Police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding Byrne’s death.

© 2000 Sun Herald

  

Kevin Pickhills – The Unspoken Name

This is dedicated to my brother, whose life was far too short, and whose sudden death was the result of ignorance, intolerance and hate. I hope I give you a voice. I miss you! Your loving brother Robert. 13/8/1958 – 8/12/1965 R.I.P.

In 2001 I attended the University of Technology in Sydney to obtain my degree In writing. One of my tutorials involved doing a journalism piece on someone you knew. I chose to do my piece, against all reasoned advise, on Kevin’s death. It was the first time in 36 years that Kevin’sname had been uttered in public. It was an emotional and empowering moment.

Kevin (left) and Robert

Every family has skeletons, though not all are hidden away in closets. Some skeletons are the products of a particular age, a time when the proprieties of life seem to be more important than the actions going on around it. The 60’s was such a time. People, scarred from the effects of World War II, stuck in the time warp of 40’s and 50’s formality and etiquette, often made choices that today would be seen as unhealthy and strange, yet within that time frame were seen as normal. Looking back on those days, I can only see injustice and despair, a claustrophobic covering up of events that have, for me, never been reconciled. Kevin’s death should never have happened…but it did! The only story most people who remember these events know is the account from the newspapers of the day. As much as they tell a story of the events that occurred at Sylvania and The Gap on the 8th December 1965 – and the weeks after – there is another more personal story told through the eyes of an 11-about-to-turn-twelve year old – my story. So this is the background account of Kevin’s death, the warts and all story of what actually happened, and nobody but me knows.

BACKGROUND
Kevin was born on the 13th August 1958, the second and youngest son of Frederick Lindsay Pickhills (nicknamed Joe to avoid confusion with his father and grandfather, also named Frederick) and Betty Merle née Barron. At the time of his birth the family lived at 69 Melrose Ave, Sylvania. Initially, there was nothing exceptional about his birth, other than him having blond hair and blue eyes – a throwback to his maternal grandfathers line. Being only 5 myself at the time of his birth, I have no recollection of what I felt about having a younger brother, though as time moved on we developed a very strong sibling relationship. I know that we can often tend to sugar-coat our upbringings, but life in Sylvania at that particular time was idyllic. We had a comfortable home on a huge block of land, which was cheap in this newly developing suburb in the Sutherland Shire. Our father built the house himself, and at the time of my birth in January 1954 the family was living in the garage while the house went up.

Like many growing suburbs at that time the community spirit was strong, and our neighbors were all friendly and supportive. Though not a religious family – Joe was Catholic and Betty was Methodist – we were involved with the Sylvaia Heights Congregational Church, at least as attendees at the Sunday service and Sunday school, though it was never forced down our throats. Bert and Eadie Samways, who lived directly opposite us, were stalwarts of the church,and acted as Godparents to both Kevin and myself. We both attended Sylvania Heights Infants school, and I then moved onto the Primary school. If you add our faithful and much loved dog Trixie into the mix, on the surface we had a normal, happy family life.

The much loved and still missed Trixie

Frederick Lindsay Pickhills

Frederick Lindsay was born at Chatswood, New South Wales, on the 10th July 1922 to Frederick George Rickinson Pickhills and Ethel Osmond, both from Bourke. He was the second-eldest child of four siblings, and the only male. His sisters are Dorothy Ellen, Dulcie Margaret and Eileen Lucy. I know little about his younger years other than that he was trained as a motor mechanic and a carpenter, two trades he was proficient in till the day he died. Photographs of the young (and the older) Frederick are few and far between, though what I do have show a man who was perhaps happier pre-war than post-war. There are photographs of him in overalls outside a garage where he worked during the 30’s; in Army uniform, and with his slightly cocked hat shows quite a handsome man; a casual photo in shorts; a small photo with his three sisters as youngsters: on a motor bike with a friend, a personal passion until a serious accident in the late 50’s; a lovely photograph with my mother that looks very 40’s; and a wedding photograph outside the church they were married in. He never, ever spoke about his military service and I have no idea of how his war experiences affected him other than that, apart from taking me to several ANZAC day marches, he never really approved of this wartime celebration and had nothing to do with his war comrades.

However, I do have his war record and know that he enlisted at the Martin Place Recruiting Depot in Sydney on the 3rd of November 1941. His army number is NX50073. He had obviously lied about his age (he was 19 at the time of enlistment) as it is listed as 21 and three months which is then struck through and his true age inserted. He is listed as being single and a motor mechanic. A surprising find on the Attestation Form is his next of kin, noted as a Norman Emmanuel, who lived in Hillside Flats in Elizabeth St, Artarmon., and is an uncle. It is odd that he didn’t have a parent with him, and I have absolutely no idea who this supposed relative is. He took his oath of allegiance on the same day. There are small front and side photo’s at the bottom of the form. I also have his Army driving license no. 246312 which shows his rank as CFN (Craftsman), and lists the vehicle types he could drive. I also have his Record of Service Book which tells us he was 5’91/2″, weighed 131 lbs, had a 331/2″ chest, fair complexion, light brown hair, hazel eyes and a small scar right frontal region. He had qualified on the firing range, had done a motor mechanics course, he appears to have been appointed as a mechanic in 1941, and was a tester of motor vehicles in 1943. I’m of the thinking that he was a driving instructor. There is a listing of his leave, including in New Guinea and Borneo up till his discharge. We know he passed a chest x-ray in 1941. As for medals he received the 1939/45 Star, and the Pacific Star. His next of kin is listed here as Ethel Pickhills (mother) at 14 Saywell St, Chatswood. We also have all his Proceedings for Discharge, Determination of Demobilisation Priority, his Service and Casualty Forms and a copy of his Certificate of Discharge No. 401253 which informs us that No. NX50073 Craftsman Frederick Lindsay Pickhills of the 2/53 Aust Light Aid Detachment served on continuous full-time war service in the Australian Imperial Force from 3/11/1941 to 14/2/1946 for a total effective period of 1,565 days which included Active Service in Australia for 819 days and outside Australia for 584 days. He received the War Badge R.A.S. No. A.234189 and that he was discharged from the AIF on 14/2/1946.

I believe that the Australia he returned to was not the Australia he left, and I don’t think he ever came to terms with that. He maintained his 1940’s attitudes throughout the rest of his life, which made him a difficult father, as he could never reconcile himself to a more contemporary age. No wonder I rebelled. He never claimed his military service medals. I have recently applied to get them.

Joe in Army uniform

Joe was a motor mechanic by trade. During my childhood he worked for H.C, Sleigh (Golden Fleece) at Matraville, and did a lot of shift work. Betty was a housewife, and in the restricted community of Sylvania, large retail stores and cinemas were some distance away, in Miranda, Caringbah or Hurstville. She must often have felt that the life was being choked out of her. Mind you, raising two boys in this environment would not have been all that difficult. It was considered a safe area, somewhere that you could turn the kids out in the morning, leave them to play and run wild, only seeing them at lunch and when you finally called them in for dinner. With everyone knowing everyone there was nowhere you could go in the course of the day where there wasn’t someone to see you. Though Joe was the principal disciplinarian, Betty was not afraid to wield the feather duster or the wooden spoon. Joe’s temper could be flashpoint and this resulted in several instances of punishment where things went a little past what would have been considered reasonable. Two occasions stand out, one involving Kevin and one me. Kevin had been caught shoplifting some sweets from the local shop – what kid didn’t at least try this? Both Joe and Betty decided he needed to be taught a serious lesson, so they took him into the kitchen and held his hands over the element on the stove and threatened to turn it on. I was horrified, and ran screaming into the neighbors place, shouting hysterically that they were going to burn Kevin’s hands. They weren’t serious, but I have never forgotten it. On the occasion with me I had gone to buy some light globes from another local store and had spent three pence from the change on some sweets…without permission. My father cornered me in the hallway, and hoed into me with a belt until I was cowered and screaming. Again, neighbors came running to find out what was going on. This flashpoint temper was to pay a heavy price on my brother.

A classic and beautiful photo of Betty

By the time Kevin was at an age where he should have been talking it became increasingly obvious that something wasn’t quite right with him. His language was garbled, and unlike me he had difficulty picking up the basics of reading, writing and drawing. He was easily distracted, and could fly into serious temper tantrums. I seemed to be the one who could communicate easilywith him, and could quite clearly understand his garbled talk, to the point where our parents used me as a translator. It was through my pstience that he was taught nursery rhymes. It never occurred to me that he had a learning disability, and I often heard him being described as a slow learner. Truth be told, if he had been born a bit later, when learning problems in young children were better understood, he would have been diagnosed with ADHD. Because ADHD (ADD) was unknown at that time, children suffering such an illness were thought to be slow, retarded or dim-witted. I knew my brother was none of these. You just needed to spend time and patience with him. I remember sitting on the kitchen floor with him reciting bits of nursery rhymes to him over and over until he got the whole rhyme down pat.

In early 1965 Betty left home. There seemed to be no warning, no reason for her going. Kevin and I went to school one morning, and when we arrived home it was to an empty house. She left a note for my father but he never disclosed its contents. None of the neighbors appear to have seen her going, and she cleaned out both our money boxes, and our Commonwealth Bank savings accounts. I recollect my father quizzing us on who, if anyone, had visited and had anything strange been happening. We had no answers for him. I reconnected with Betty fourteen years later after Joe’s death and she assured me that she had not left for another man. My fathers inattention to her, his obsession with work, his inability to socialise, and the increasing isolation were primary motivators, though she also inferred that Joe had made some rather kinky sexual suggestion to her (kinky to her way of thinking at any rate) and at that point she decided to go. Initially she wanted to take us kids with her, but with having no job, and with no secure roof over her head she decided we would be better off with Joe. She would soon regret that decision.

So life at 69 Melrose Ave carried on minus our mother. Neighbors helped out with washing and ironing and meals. Joe acted as though nothing had happened – he was good at that – and proceeded to cut her out of every family photograph, and telling us kids that she was never to be spoken about in the house – another thing he was good at. Sooner or later something had to give.

Where Nancy Thompson and her son, Stephen, came from I do not know, and never will. She blew into our lives like a foul wind from hell, and everything we had ever known was about to change as a result of her paranoia and hate. Like everything that went on in our family, neither her arriving just after Betty left in 1965, nor her leaving around 1970, was ever spoken about. Did she get hired from a newspaper ad for a housekeeper? Was she a friend of someone Joe knew? Was Joe having some sort of affair with her? All questions which, this far down the line, will never be answered. Considering that Joe never seemed to have any spare cash for Betty to even occasionally indulge herself, I don’t know where he got the money from to pay a housekeeper, even with food and board being taken out of the equation.

But arrive she did, turning up with Joe one night. She took one look at Kevin and myself, I took one look at her (Kevin would not have understood what was going on) and the battle lines were drawn. To me, she was an unwelcome interloper, who should have been no more than a maid. To her, we were the two brats that she had to contend with and she was not going to make life easy for. And she certainly didn’t! The next few months were to be a real eye-opener for Kevin and I, and because of his shift work, Joe was to be totally oblivious too. Our idyllic life in Sylvania was at an end.

The first inkling to me that something odd was going on occurred within the first week of her arrival. Being a two bedroom home, Nancy was given the divan in the sunroom to sleep on. She progressed from the divan to the master bedroom within that first week. Now, I was pretty ignorant of the whole mechanics of sex, and it’s intricacies, but I was not comfortable with this. It seemed that mum had suddenly been replaced by this interloper. It felt…bad! The transition happened so naturally and smoothly that, later down the line, I was left wondering just what sort of relationship she and Joe had prior to her arrival in Sylvania. It was certainly more than plutonic, and certainly did not seem to be something casual in nature. The second strange thing was the sudden ban on Kevin and myself visiting the neighbours, including the Samways, whom we had always been close to. Within a couple of months she had effectively turned 69 Melrose Ave into a fort, and surprisingly Joe didn’t seem to object. We were no longer allowed to play with the neighbours kids, and had to go directly to school, and return directly home. Even relatives were told they were not welcome. And then she showed her true colours.

What Nancy’s agenda was, what she hoped to gain, or why she acted as she did I do not know. Whether she had a grudge against the world, some sort of hatred of children, an inability to deal with disabilities, or whether she was just a dictatorial bitch, who liked to exercise power and control over people who could not stand up for themselves, are again all questions that cannot now be answered. I was relatively safe from her vindictiveness, as I could sort of see through her, and would stand up for myself if I needed to. However, Kevin wasn’t so lucky, and I wasn’t able to defend him in the face of her onslaught. Every single thing that Kevin did wrong in the course of the day, was added to the nightly litany of complaints that she proudly (not an exaggeration) rattled off to Joe when he arrived home in the afternoon. Kevin was constantly being disciplined for things that, in the general day-to-day lives of most kids, would have been considered trivial or inconsequential, just kids being kids. I knew it was no use going up against her and telling Joe that she was a spiteful bitch, exaggerating these incidents. This was the mid-60s and the edicts of “children should be seen and not heard” were still strongly entrenched. In fact, if you were a child your opinion mattered not at all, and this was never truer than when the court case regarding my custody came up a short time later. So she nagged, and she nagged and she nagged, so I guess that in the passage of time, sooner or later something was bound to happen. With Joe’s unstable control,on his temper, it wouldn’t take much to trigger a response!

The 8th December 1965. Christmas was only 17 days away!

On the day of Kevin’s death I can recall absolutely nothing that was out of the ordinary. We both had library books that needed to be returned to Sylvania Library, and I remember that Joe came home from work sometime around 3.30 or 4.00 in the afternoon. We had already had baths, and were both in pyjamas and dressing gowns. We must have had dinner, and Joe drove us to the library. I can even recollect him chatting to the librarian while we picked out books to borrow. He then drove us back home and here was where things got very strange.

Pulling up outside the house, he reached across me and opened my door. “You go on inside,” he said. “if Nancy wants to know where your brother is, tell her I’m taking him to see a man”. With that, I got out of the car…puzzled, I have to say…and went into the house as they drove off. Now that wasn’t the exact message I passed onto Nancy. With relatives not welcome – I dare say they wouldn’t have wanted to visit anyway – Dulcie had told Joe that if he wanted to see them (her and Jack, that is), he would have to visit them. Not being able to think of any other man Joe would have taken Kevin to see, other than Jack, that is where I told her they went. After Kevin’s death, she accused me of being the cause of his death. She claimed that if I had told her exactly what Joe had said, she would have known exactly what he was going to do. I later realised that this was just not true, and even if she had known that something was going to happen, she would have had no knowledge of where or when. However, I carried the guilt of this accusation for many years after.

I would have gone to bed and read as usual, then off to sleep, though I do remember wondering when Kevin would get back home. The next thing I knew was being awakened by someone knocking on the front door. I knew it was late, and looking across at Kevin’s bed I noticed it was still empty. Stephen, Nancy’s son, had stayed over and was sleeping on the divan in the sunroom. I Gould hear him and Nancy talking to someone at the door for quite sometime. After the visitor (the police, as it turned out) left I heard them come down the hall and paused outside the room. I feigned sleep. They came in, woke me, and told me that the police had just visited and Kevin was dead. I couldn’t comprehend what that was about, didn’t understand what had happened. When I asked how, I was told that Joe had jumped over The Gap with him, that my father was okay but they hadn’t been able to find Kevin. It was left at that until the next morning. By the time I got up it was big news. All the radio news programs had it as a lead item, and evidently the papers had it as well. I listened to the radio news over and over. I think I was hoping that it would suddenly change. Nancy told me that I was being a ghoul listening to it every time it came on, and she then banned the radio news. Very sympathetic of her! Then the lines of neighbours and friends started. Nancy ensured that no one stepped into the house nor got beyond the side passage gate. I remember being in the yard and Mrs Rodgerson (our neighbour) called me to the fence. She was in tears and needed to know that what she heard was true. Then the reporters started knocking and it was at that stage we stopped answering the door. Nancy eventually gave the reporters her version of things, and I also got side-lined at one stage and told what little I had to tell. For the next two weeks there was always a reporter hanging around somewhere outside, and it was a little like being ambushed. I used the back fence to get to the local shop, which fortunately joined our property at the rear of the yard.

From here, I’ll let the newspaper reports – in chronological order – tell the story.

Betty and Joe in happier days

A Media Timeline of Events

I originally intended to abridge the media accounts of Kevin’s death, but on reading through them, changed my mind. The style of the reportage, the descriptive nature of it regarding things like names and clothing, the discrepancies regarding things like cliff height and injuries to my father, and the general changes to the story over several days makes for both fascinating reading, and raises more questions than it answers. It also demonstrates how often one paper had a news item at the time of printing, and others didn’t. I have added the actual newspaper cuttings at the end of this story. They give “atmosphere”, being in the style and format of the day. I was staggered at the sheer volume of reportage on the event. I knew nothing of this at the time.

DAILY MIRROR; Thursday December 9, 1965, Front Page
HEADLINE: Boy Push Over Cliff
BYLINE: Police probe man’s story
REPORTER: William Jenkings, police reporter
PHOTOGRAPHS: Head shot of Kevin

Police today resumed their search for the body of a seven-year-old boy who they believe was pushed over The Gap last night.
The search began after the boy’s father, his clothing soaking wet, staggered into Vaucluse police station and told of the most amazing Gap tragedy police have ever investigated.
Police allege the man said he pushed his son Kevin over The Gap because he loved him and wanted to spare him further unhappiness.
Seconds later, according to police, the man said he jumped himself.
He said he felt himself hit the water and realised he had not been injured
He climbed up onto the rocks and then climbed a rope ladder used by fishermen to the top of the cliff.
“Picked on”
Police at first did not believe his amazing story.
Dets. M. Hume and M. Vecera questioned him for about three hours.
He had become very unhappy and took in a housekeeper to look after them
He decided yesterday to kill himself and the seven-year-old boy because the lad was being “picked on”.
He drove to The Gap, climbed inside the safety fence and told his boy to follow him.
The boy at first was hesitant, the man’s story continued, then accepted his father’s assurance that everything was alright.
The man said he went to a spot near the top and said “Come and have a look at this”.
The father said, according to police, that while the boy was looking over he got behind him and pushed him.
He said the lad fell to his death without making a sound.
The father, according to police, said he then jumped himself.
Police said that the man said at first that he had jumped with his seven-year-old in his arms. However, he later changed this report.
The man was taken over his story time and again by the detectives.
He was quite sober and held his composure most of the time.
He broke down and cried when his sister came to the police station. She wept too.
After a check showed that the man had suffered no serious injury he was then taken to Paddington police station and lodged in a cell.
Checking the man’s story detectives went to his house and found the seven-year-old boy was missing.

THE SUN: Thursday December 9th, 1965, Page 2
HEADLINE: Search For Boy’s Body
BYLINE: Father’s Story of Gap Fall; “Just Went Over”
PHOTOGRAPHS: Rear window shot of police car with detective on left, and Frederick on the right, wrapped in a blanket with his hand over his head. Caption reads ‘ A detective and a man who claims he fell over The Gap with his son arrive at St. Vincent’s hospital in a police car.

A wide police search is under way for a seven-year-old boy whose father claims to have fallen with him 200 feet over a cliff at The Gap last night.
Detectives questioned the father, a 43-year-old mechanic, for eight hours and, at 4.15 a.m. today,, charged him with vagrancy.
Police hold grave fears for the boy’s safety and have circulated his description throughout N.S.W.
He is 3ft 8in tall, of solid build, with fair hair and complexion.
When he drove off with his father from a suburban home yesterday evening, the boy was wearing shortie pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers.
At 8.15 p.m yesterday the father, who has a crippled leg, limped into Vaucluse police station.
His white shirt and grey trousers were wringing wet and he had cuts on his hands and arms.
He appeared deeply distressed.
He told Constable Fred Kelhear, “Injust went over The Gap with my son…he’s seven.”
The father said he had come from his home with the boy and climbed over the cliff safety fence with the youngster in his arms.
Together they had fallen over the 200ft cliff, he told Constable Kelhear.
In the fall, he had lost his grip on the boy, the father said.
According to Constable Kelhear, the man said he had expected to fall on rocks and be killed.
Instead, he landed in a wave and survived.
He said he got back to the rocks and climbed up the fisherman’s rope ladder in the darkness.
Constable Kelhear called in Detectives M. Vecera and M. Hume, Rose Bay, who closely questioned the man.
At The Gap, the father pointed out the spot where he had fallen.
At St. Vincent’s Hospital doctors found that he was not seriously hurt.
Doctors expressed the opinion to the police that a 200ft fall would have expected to cause more serious injuries.
Check at the boy’s home revealed that the youngster disappeared with his father at 6.50 p.m. yesterday.
The Police Rescue Squad, under Sgt. R. Tyson, searched the rocks below The Gap.
Police from Vaucluse, Bondi, Rose Bay and Paddington explored the cliff top area using torches.
The Army supplied a powerful arc lamp.
Police launch Delaney patrolled the sea area throughout the night.
“BROTHER”
The boy’s 10-year-old brother today said;
“We got home from school just after 3.30 p.m.
“Dad came home from work about 3.45 p.m.
“At 5.45, Dad took us in his car to the local library.
“My brother was in his pyjamas…they are pale blue…but he had his blue and grey dressing gown on, too.
“We got four books at the library and came back home.
“When we got to the front of our place, Dad said to me ‘You get out and go inside…I’m going to take your brother to see a man.’
“Dad just drove off. I didn’t see them again.
The housekeeper, who cares for the boys at the home, said the boy’s father had a crippled leg and would find it difficult to climb.

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD; Friday December 10th, 1965, Page 4
HEADLINE: Gap Plunge Report
BYLINE: No Trace of Boy

Police yesterday found no trace if a seven-year-old boy they believe may have plunged to his death over The Gap on Wednesday night.
The boy’s father had told police an extraordinary story.
He said he survived when both he and the boy both fell 180 feet from the cliff top.
The man, 43, is separated from his wife and has a second son in a housekeeper’s care.
Dripping wet, and with some minor scratches, he staggered into Vaucluse police station on Wednesday night and gasped that his son, Kevin, was at the bottom of The Gap.
He said that he himself had been saved when he landed in the water and was washed over the rocks.
He said he had scrambled to the cliff top up a rope used by fishermen.
As the Police Rescue Squad searched at the base of the cliff yesterday and Water Police vessels searched close to the rocks, the missing boys description was issued to all police stations.
But no trace of the boy has been found.
The Rescue Sqyad led by Sergeant Ray Tyson called off the search at midday and will make another search today.
The police believe that if the boy did die in a fall over The Gap, his body might not be found for several days if it was washed to sea or wedged under rocks.
They said it might never be found.
Body found but not boys
During yesterday’s search the Rescue Squad did discover a body – one the police had not suspected was there.
It was that of Bernard Kenny, 35, of Bondi.
It is believed Kenny fell from the cliff top on Wednesday night when their search for the missing boy was being organised.
His body was found only 100 feet from where the missing boy is said to have fallen.

HEADLINE: (Same Page) Man On Vagrancy Charge

A 43-year-old mechanic appeared in Paddington Court of Petty Sessions yesterday on a charge of vagrancy.
He is Frederick Lindsay Pickhill ( N.B. lack if ‘s’) of Melrose Ave, Sylvania.
Pickhill was charged with having insufficient lawful means of support, at Vaucluse on Wednesday.
Mr. F. Hale, S.M remanded him until December 16.
Pickhill appeared before the Court barefooted and wore only a pair of trousers.
With a grey blanket wrapped around him, he shivered violently while in the court.
Pickhill did not apply for bail.

DAILY MIRROR: Friday December 10th, 1965, Page 3
HEADLINE: Mother Prays Son Alive
BYLINE: Gap Death Story
REPORTER: Oliver Hogue

The anguished mother of Kevin, the seven-year-old boy police believe was pushed over The Gap on Wednesday night, said today she was praying he was still alive.
“As long as they don’t find his body I can hope,” she sobbed.
“Perhaps he wasn’t pushed over The Gap and is wandering around somewhere.”
Kevin’s mother, a slight brunette in her 30’s, wept again as she said “I tried to see my other boy today but they said he wasn’t there.”
Father’s Story
She said she and her husband had parted last February when she left their Sylvania home to live in another suburb.
Kevin’s father told police an amazing story on Wednesday night.
He said he had pushed his son over the 250ft cliff at The Gap and then jumped over himself.
He arrived at Vaucluse police station with his clothes soaking wet and with minor bruises.
He said he had expected to fall on rocks but had landed on a wave.
Police said he told them he had got back to the rocks and had climbed up a fisherman’s ladder in the darkness.
Idolized Him
At first the man told police ge had jumped over the edge with the son in his arms.
The man said his wife left him and his two son, even (sic) and 11, about nine months ago.
He took in a housekeeper but became unhappier and decided to kill himself and the younger son.
The boy’s mother told the Mirror today:
“Kevin was a lovely, affectionate and trusting little boy. He would be friendly with anyone. He idolized his father.
“Why, why can these things happen?”
Meanwhile Water Police and the Police Rescue Squad are continuing their search of The Gap area for the boy’s body.
Detective’s probing the man’s story are considering the following points.
. No one saw the man and boy inside the safety fence, although a number of people were about
. Although an intensive search was begun immediately, no trace has been found of the boy
. The absence of any serious injury on the man despite his report that he had fallen from such a great height.
Detective M. Hume and M. Vecera of Rose Bay with Senior Cont. R. Kelhear of Vaucluse are in charge in inquiries.

THE SUN: Friday December 10th, 1965, Page 5.
HEADLINE: Gap Story Puzzle

Police said today they are puzzled by statements made by a man who claims to have pushed a seven-year-old boy over The Gap on Wednesday night.
Today they were examining their search for the boy.
Police from Vaucluse and Bondi made a check of rocks at the base of the cliff.
Changed Story
The boy was last seen alive at his house at Sylvania at 6.50 p.m on Wednesday.
At 8.15 p.m., a man in wet clothes walked into Vaucluse police station.
He told police he had jumped off The Gap with the boy in his arms.
As they fell the boy broke free and disappeared, he said.
Yesterday the man, changed his account of the boy’s disappearance.
He said he had pushed the boy over the cliff and jumped himself later.
Later he said he “yanked the boy by the arm” over the cliff.
He followed by jumping himself he said.
Today the police said the man’s shoes were in good condition and would have shown signs of wear and tear had the wearer climbed a steep cliff.
He had only a light facial scratch.
The man is in police custody. He was again questioned today on the boy’s disappearance.
Police have circulated a description if the boy throughout the state, and to inter-State police.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Friday December 10, 1965
HEADLINE: Gap Story Puzzle

Detectives investigating a father’s story that he pushed his seven-year-old son over The Gap on Wednesday night are still puzzled by some of his statements.
The man told Vaucluse police on Wednesday night that he pushed his son over the 250ft cliff at The Gap and jumped after him.
With his clothes dripping and suffering minor bruises, he told police he expected to land on rocks but had landed on a wave.
The police launch Delaney and members of the Cliff Rescue Squad spent all Thursday and yesterday searching fir the boy’s body in The Gap area.
They discontinued the search at dusk yesterday.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Saturday December 11, 1965, Back Page
HEADLINE: Search For Boy, 7, at Gap Fails.
BYLINE: “Pushed Off Cliff”

Police failed yesterday in a search at The Gap to find the body of a seven-year-old boy.
Father Tells of Jump
The boy’s father told police on Wednesday night he had pushed his son over the 250ft cliff at The Gap and jumped over himself.
The man arrived at Vaucluse police station with his clothes dripping and suffering minor bruises.
He said he had expected to fall on rocks but had landed on a wave.
The man, a 43-year-old mechanic said he had got back to the rocks and climbed up a fisherman’s ladder in the darkness.
Changed Story
The first story the man told police was that he had jumped over the edge with his son in his arms, and the boy slipped from his arms during the fall.
He later changed this and told police that he had pushed the boy over because he loved him and wanted to spare him future unhappiness.
The man said his wife left him and his two sons, aged seven and 11, nine months ago.
He took in a housekeeper but became unhappier and in the end decided to kill himself and the younger son.
Yesterday the police launch Delaney and members of the Cliff Rescue Squad searched for the boy’s body.
During the search police found the body of a man, about 37, wedged between rocks 250ft. beneath Jacobs Ladder near The Gap.
Residents told them the man had been wandering about the cliff top late Wednesday night.
Police last night had not released the man’s name.
In Paddington court yesterday, a man was remanded in custody until next Thursday on a charge of vagrancy.
At the request of the Police Prosecutor (Sgt N. D. Whalen), Mr F. Hale SM, refused bail.

DAILY MIRROR: Saturday, December 11, 1965, Page 1
HEADLINE: Gap Boy – Body Found
BYLINE: Floating Near Hawkesbury
PHOTOGRAPH: Head shot of Kevin with caption ‘The dead boy’: map showing the route of the body.

The body of a 7-year-old boy, alleged to have been pushed over The Gap on Wednesday night, was found today floating near the mouth of Broken Bay.
A post-mortem later today revealed that death had been caused by drowning.
The CIB announced that the body was found in an area known as Maitland Bay.
Maitland Bay is two miles north of the north-head of Broken Bay and about 25 sea miles from Sydney.
A fisherman saw the body floating in shallow water and told Gosford police.
Sgt. Irvin, of Brooklyn, took a launch out and recovered the body.
It was dressed in shortie pyjamas, which the boy was wearing when he was reported missing.
Police said they were satisfied the body was that of the missing boy and called off the search which was being made by the police launch Delaney at The Gap.
Det.-Insp. H. Kennedy and Det.-Sgt. F. G. Baldwin, officer in charge of Paddington division detectives, went urgently to Maitland Bay.
Det. A. G. Follington, a CIB Scientific expert, was also called.
On Wednesday, a man staggered into the Vaucluse Police Station and reported that he had pushed the boy over The Gap.
He said that he had jumped shortly after the boy disappeared.
The man was not injured. He had only a few cuts and scratches.
He said that he had been washed onto the rocks and had managed to climb up a rope ladder used by fishermen.
This man aged 43 has been charged with vagrancy and remanded until next week in custody.
Skin divers and water police have searched the area st The Gap since then.
The boy’s body was officially identified by a relative in the Hornsby District Hospital morgue.
Until Government medical officers perform an autopsy police are unable to say what caused the boy’s death.

THE SUN: Saturday December 11, 1965, Front Page.
HEADLINE: Boy’s Body Found
BYLINE: Gap Search Ends
PHOTOGRAPH: Head shot of Kevin with caption ‘The Dead Boy’

The Gap search for a seven-year-old boy was called off today when his body was found floating near the entrance to Broken Bay.
The search had been going on since Wednesday night when a man told police he and his son fell over The Gap.
A fisherman found the boy, Kevin Pickhills, floating face down hear the beach, 30 miles north of The Gap.
Floating
The body was dressed in pyjamas and a green dressing gown.
An aunt and an uncle identified Kevin’s body at Hornsby morgue.
Police are arranging a post-mortem to establish the cause of death.
They believe the body has been in the water about 2 days.
The fisherman who found the boy’s body is Patrick Britton, builder, of Avoca Beach.
He was in his launch, 60 yards off Maitland Beach, when he saw the body near his boat.
Britton hailed two other fishermen nearby and asked them to watch the body while he informed police.
The other fishermen, on a camping holiday, are Mr George Hurley, of Stanley Street, Campsie and Mr Edwin Pasco, of George Street, Parramatta.
Sgt. P. Irwin, Brooklyn, went out in a launch to recover the body.
Man’s Story
He was accompanied by Const. Craig Thomas and Mr Bede Merrick, real estate salesman.
Sgt. Irwin said, “The body was floating rapidly towards open sea.”
Det.-Insp. H. Kennedy and Det.-Sgt. G. Baldwin, of Paddington – the police leading the search for Kevin – were rushed from The Gap area to Brooklyn.
They had been investigating a man’s story that he and his son fell over a cliff at The Gap on Wednesday night.
The man is in custody at Long Bay.

DAILY MIRROR: Saturday December 11, 1965, Page 3.
HEADLINE: Quiz in Gap Boy Mystery

Detectives investigating the death of a seven-year-old boy today will question a man in Long Bay gaol.
The boy’s body was recovered from the sea near Broken Bay on Saturday.
A post-mitten has revealed that Kevin drowned.
There were also injuries including bruises indicating that he had fallen from a great height.
Police began searching for him after a man who was soaking wet staggered into Vaucluse police station on Wednesdays night and reported that Kevin had been pushed over The Gap.
Ladder Story
The man also told police that he had jumped over The Gap himself.
He said he had not been injured in the fall but had been washed onto the ticks and had managed to climb to the cliff top using a fisherman’s ladder.
On Thursday this man appeared before Paddington Court and was remanded until Thursday on a vagrancy charge.
He is being held without bail in Long Bay gaol.
The spot where Kevin’s body was found was about 25 sea miles from The Gap.
Exhaustive
This is a puzzling angle which police today are carefully investigating.
They are making an exhaustive check of tides and currents.
Generally the bodies of people who have gone over The Gap have been found much closer than 25 miles away.
Detectives are trying to discover how a body could have travelled so far in a little over two days.
When found Kevin was still wearing shortie pyjamas in which he had been dressed when taken from his Sylvania home in Wednesday afternoon.

SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: Sunday December 12, 1965, Front Page.
HEADLINE “Gap Boy” Found in Bay.
BYLINE: Body in Pyjamas, Dressing Gown
PHOTOGRAPHS: Diagram of the route the body took from The Gap to Broken Bay.

The body of a seven-year-old boy reported missing at The Gap last Wednesday was found today in Broken Bay.
The body was sighted about 6 a.m. In Maitland Bay about four miles north of Barrenjoey, and about 25 miles north from The Gap.
A post-mortem examination at the City Morgue revealed the boy had died from drowning.
Fisherman Patrick Britton of Avoca sighted the body floating face down in the water about 80 yards from the shore.
He left two other fishermen George Hurley of Campsie, and Edwin Pascoe of Psrramatta, to watch the body while he walked about 3 miles to a telephone.
Britton notified Gosford police who alerted the police launch at Brooklyn.
Sergeant G. H. Irwin and Constable C. Thomas of Brooklyn and local boatshed owner mr Bede Merrick went to Maitland Bay in the police launch.
Kept Watch
Meanwhile police from Gosford led by Sergeant N.J. Barth kept watch on the body from the shore.
Brooklyn police recovered the body about 60 yards from shore hear the reef in Maitland Bay.
The body was clothed in a white singlet, blue shortie pyjamas and a green dressing gown.
Police took the body back to Brooklyn. Later it was taken to Hornsby Hospital morgue.
An uncle of the dead boy identified the body at the hospital.
The CIB Area Officer Detective Inspector H. Kennedy and a Detective Sergeant G. Baldwin of Paddington went to Hornsby Hospital.
Changed Story
The search for the boy started after a man walked into Vaucluse Police Station last Wednesdsy night and told police he had jumped over The Gap with his seven-year-old son in his arms.
He later changed his story and told police he had pushed the boy over the 250ft cliff and then jumped over himself.
The man arrived st the police station with his clothes dripping wet and suffering from minor bruises.
He said ge had fallen on a wave and had been washed on to the rocks.
The man was remanded in custody last Thursday when he appeared in Paddington Court on a charge of vagrancy.

THE SUN HERALD: Sunday December 12, 1965, Front Page cont. Page 4
HEADLINE: Boy’s Body Found
BYLINE: Gap Fall Report

A seven-year-old boy who was said to have crashed over the (sic) Gap last Wednesday night with his father, was found dead yesterday, floating off Broken Bay.
A fisherman saw the body, face down, two and a half miles off Maitland Bay on the ocean front of Broken Bay, about 32 miles north of Sydney.
Later, the body was identified as that of Kevin Pickhill (sic), of Melrose Avenue, Sylvania.
Dressing Gown
The body was dressed in flannel pyjamas and a green dressing gown tied with a cord.
A preliminary examination showed that the body had apparently been in the water about three days.
A post-mortem conducted by the Director of Forensic Medicine Dr. J. Laine revealed that the boy suffered injuries consistent with having fallen from a height.
The cause of death was drowning.
The body was sighted by Mr. F. Britton, a builder, of Avoca Beach, who was fishing with two other men in a launch 60 yards from the beach.
His companions were Mr. G. Hurley, of Stanley Street, Sans Souci, and Mr. F. Paso, of George Street, Parramatta, both holidaying in the area.
Mr. Britton asked two men on shore to watch the body while he called the police.
By the time police arrived in the launch Vigilant, the body had drifted about two miles out to sea.
Sergeant Irwin, Constable G. Thomas and Mr. B. Mer
continued page 5 Fishermen Find Body
rick, a salesman, recovered the body at 8.15 am.
The body was found about 20 miles by sea from The Gap.
Navigation authorities said yesterday that all currents near the Heads and the Gap run in a southerly direction.
Authorities said that strong southerly winds over the last three days could have blown the body north.
The police search at the Gap, which began last Wednesday night, was immediately called off.
The search began when a 43-year-old man staggered into Vaucluse police station and told Sergeant F. Kierlow that he and the boy had fallen over the Gap.
The man was dripping wet and had minor scratches on his arms. He told police ge had climbed 150 feet to the top of the Gap.
Police said the man told them he was holding the boy and they became separated when they hit the water.
Taken To Morgue
Police found the man’s car with a note in it.
On Thursday a man was charged in Paddington Court of Petty Sessions with vagrancy and remanded until December 16.
Leading the enquiries are Detective-Inspector H. Kennedy, in charge of Number 3 Sub-District, Detective-Sergeant G. Baldwin and R. Williams, of Paddington, and D. Still, C.I.B. Scientific Bureau, and Detective-Constable A. Follington of the C.I.B.
Detective-Sergeant Ray Williams brought the boy’s uncle and aunt to identify the body.
The uncle put his hands over his head and nodded when he was shown the body.
The body was later taken to the City Morgue.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Monday 13 December 1965, page 3

Headline: Boys Body Is Found At Sea

Sydney, Sunday. – The body of a seven year-old boy who was reported missing at The Gap lasypt Wednesday was found yesterday in Broken Bay.

A fisherman saw the body about two and a half miles off Maitland Bay, about 32 miles north of Sydney. It was identified as Kevin Pickhill, of Sylvania.

Mr. P. Britton, of Avoca Beach, who was fishing with two other men in a launch, saw the body floating about 60 yards from the beach.

The search for the boy began after a man, claiming to ge his father, staggered into Vaucluse police station last Wednesday night and said he had pushed the boy over The Gap.

The man said he then jumped over himself.

He was remanded in custody last Thursday when he appeared in Paddington court on a charge of Vagrancy.

THE SUN: Thursday December 16, 1965, Front Page cont. Page 2.
HEADLINE: Son’s Gap Death
BYLINE: Father Charged

Police alleged in Paddington Court today that Frederick Pickhills, 43, pushed his son, Kevin, 7, over the Gap on December 8.
Pickhills, a mechanic of Melrose Avenue, Sylvania, appeared before Mr. A. Locke S. M. charged with the murder of his son.
Police alleged Pickhills told them he jumped over the Gap himself after pushing the boy.
He climbed up a rope ladder and went to the police.
He was remanded in custody to George Street North Court on January 18, 1966.

FULL STORY, P. 2
BYLINES; Court Told “Boy Pushed Over Gap”; Father Charged.

A man pushed his seven-year-old son over The Gap, police alleged in Paddington Court today.
Frederick Lindsay Pickhills, 43, Mechanic, of Melrose Avenue, Sylvania, appeared in court charged with the murder of his son, Kevin, at Watson’s Bay on December 8.
Police Prosecutor Sgt. N. G. Whalan, said the allegation was that at 6.43p.m on December 8, Pivkhills picked up his two sons, aged 11 and seven, from the Sylvania Library.
Sgt. Whalan said the seven-year-old boy, Kevin, was the child involved in the alleged offense.
“He took them to his home, where he left his 11-year-old son, and took Kevin with him in his car to the Gap at Watson’s Bay” Sgt. Whalan said.
“It is alleged he pushed his son over the Gap
“He claimed he then walked a few yards further and jumped over himself
“He claims he climbed up a rope ladder and walked to Vsucluse police station where he informed police of the occurrence.
“The boy’s pyjama clad body was Fiund 23 miles away in Maitland Bay on December 11” Sgt. Whalen said.
Inquiries
Mr. G. A. Locke S.M. asked if there was any substance to the claim that Pickhills jumped over the Gap.
Sgt.. Whalen “We are making further enquiries into the whole matter and I am not in a position to comment myself at this stage.
Solicitor Mr. C. Woodward (for Pickhills) then handed Mr. Locke a document issued by Dr. O. V. Brissie, Consultant Psychiatrist to the state penitentiary.
Mr. Woodward said there was some history of mental disorder in the defendant about the time of the alleged occurrence.
“The facts as stated by the police prosecutor were ‘pretty well true'”
Pickhills appeared in court wearing a sports coat with grey trousers and a white shirt buttoned to the neck but no tie.
Mr. Locke remanded Pickhills to George Street North Court on January 18, 1966. (NB My birthday)
While Mr. Locke was reading the document from the psychiatrist Mr. Woodward withdrew an application for bail he had made earlier.
A vagrancy charge against Pickhills was remanded to Paddington Court on March 18, 1966.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Tuesday 14 December 1965, page 8

Headline: Drowning Studied

Sydney, Monday. – Police are stillminvestigating the drowning of a young boy whose body was found floating in Broken Bay on Saturday.

The body was identified as that of Kevin Pickhills, 7, of Sylvania, alleged to have been thrown over The Gap at Watson’s Bay last week.

The boy’s body was found about 25 miles from The Gap, and police are studying tides and currents to determine how the body travelled so far in two days.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Friday 17 December 1965, page 4

Headline: Gap Murder Charge

SYDNEY, Thursday. – A man alleged to have murdered his seven year old son by throwing him over the cliff at The Gap, Watson’s Bay had no answer to the charge, Paddington Court was told today.

Before the court was Frederick Lindsay Pickhills, a mechanic if Melrose Avenue, Sylvania who was remanded until March 18 on a charge of murdering his son, Kevin.

Mr C Woodward, for Pickhills, told Mr GA Locke SM, the allergations were “substantially correct”.

The prosecutor Sargeant N D Whalen told the court that it would be alleged that Pickhills had picked up his two children, Kevin, and another aged 11, from the Sylvania Library on December 8.

Pickhills had driven the eldest boy home, then taken Kevin.   In his car, to The Gap. Sargeant Whalen said evidence would be given that Pickhills had pushed the boy over The Gap and then thrown himself over a few yards further on.

Pickhills told detectives he climbed up a rope ladder then went to Vaucluse police station and surrendered.

The boy’s body, still clad in pygamas, had been recovered from Maitland Bay last Saturday, about 23 miles  from The Gap.

Sargeant Whalen handed Mr Locke a document signed by Doctor O.V. Briscoe, consultant psychiatrist at Long Bay gaol when asked about mental disorder.

He said there would be a defence claim of mental disorder in Pickhills at the time of the alleged offence.

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Wednesday 19 January 1966, page 12

Headline: Man Committed For Trial Over Son’s Death

Sydney, Tuesday. – A man who alledgedly told police he had thrown his seven year-old son over The Gap at Watson’s Bay, then jumped over himself, was committed for trial on a charge of murder in the George Street North Court today.

Frederick Lindsay Pickhills, 43, mechanic, of Sylvania, who is charged with the murder of his son at Watson’s Bay on December 8 was refused bail.

Pickhills broke down, yelling and crying, after a librarian gave evidence today about two children’s books the boy had borrowed on the eve of his death.

Earlier today, Mr Loomes, SM, as Coroner adjourned to a date to be fixed, the inquest on Kevin Pickhills death.

Found 22 miles away

The coroner was told the boy’s body was recovered from the water at Maitland Bay, near Gosford, 22 miles from The Gap on December 11.

Detective Constable M Hume told the court he went to The Gap on December 8 Pickhills was there.

Pickhills told him he had jumped over The Gap with his son earlier that night.

Later, at the Vaucluse police station, Pickhills allegedly told Constable F Kelhear “It is better this way. My wife cleared out nine months ago. She is no good”.

”The Child Welfare Board could have taken the boy. I have one seven, and one twelve”.

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: Thursday May 5, 1966.
HEADLINE: Man Given Bond on Son’s Gap Death

A man who pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his seven-year-old son at the Gap was released on a $100 five-year good behavior bond yesterday.
Mr Justice Le Gay Brereton said in the Central Criminal Court he was satisfied that the man’s mind had been “tormented to a point where his personality was inadequate to sustain him in his difficulties”.
The man, Frederick Lindsay Pickhills, 43, mechanic of Melrose Avenue, Sylvania had pleaded not guilty to a charge of having murdered his son, Kevin, at Watson’s Bay on December 8 last.
Later, at the request of his councell, Mr M. J. N. Atwill, the judge directed the jury to accept Pickhills amended plea of manslaughter.
“I had hold of his hand”
The Court was told that Pickhills had walked to Vaucluse Police Station at 8.15 pm on December 8.
Senior Constable F. T. Kelhear said Pickhills clothing had been “dripping water.”
He had said “I have been over the Gap with my son. I had hold if his hand.”
Senior Constable Kelhesr said he had gone with Pickhills to the Gap and Pickhills had indicated a spot on the cliff-top where he said he had gone over.
Pickhills had said he had not seen Kevin since they “hit the water.”
To Mr Justice Le Gay Brereton, Senior Constable Kelhear said it was possible to land in the water from the spot Pickhills claimed to have jumped from.
Kevin’s body was found in the sea 23 miles away three days later.
Constable W. C. Fahey of the Cliff Rescue Squad said he had searched the cliff- top on December 8 and 9 but had found no trace of Kevin.
He said he had told Pickhills on December 9 he did not think a person could have survived the fall from the position Pickhills indicated.
Mrs Nancy Thompson, a former housekeeper for Pickhills, told the Court that his life had “revolved around Kevin and his other son” and he had been a devoted father.
She said Pickhills’ wife left him and his son’s in March last year.
Life in the house had been one of continual stress in the months before Kevin’s death.
After directing the jury to accept the plea of guilty to manslaughter, His Honour said:
“Although I have heard no psychiatric evidence I am satisfied that the accused’s mind was tormented to the point at which his personality was inadequate to sustain him in his difficulties and he became, for the time being, a creature blindly and irrationally seeking a way to escape.
“Although planned, his actions could thus – in a sense – be said to be involuntary.
“To send him to gaol would do nothing but harm to him, and would do no good to anyone else.
“This is not a case in which the community demands vengeance.”

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Thursday 5 May 1966, page 10

Headline: Father In Gap Jump Given Bond

Sydney, Wednesday. – A man who was said to have caused his seven year-old son to fall over The Gap, and was charged with his murder was released on a bond in the Central Criminal Court today.

The man had said he jumped hand-in-hand over The Gap with his son.

Frederick Lindsay Pickhills, 43, mechanic, of Melrose Street, Sylvania, was charged with the myrder of Kevin Pickhills.

Mr Justice Brereton released Pickhills on a $1000 bond to be of good behaviour for five years, after Pickhills changed his plea to not guilty of murder to guilty of manslaughter.

The court was told that Pickhills had told police he jumped over The Gap with his son on the night of December 8 last,

The boy’s body was recovered from the sea 62 hours later at Maitland Bay, at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, 23 miles away.

Pickhills said he climbed up the rugged cliff-face on a rope, and gave himself up the same night to Vaucluse police.

After the trial had been underway for three hours, Pickhills changed his plea, which was accepted by the Crown Prosecutor, Mr. W.J.Knight, QC.

Earlier, Pickhills wept in the dock when a witness described him as a “devoted father” whose life revolved around his two sons, Kevin, 7, and Robert, 12.

Mrs Nancy Thompson, who told the court she was Pickhills housekeeper for about nine months last year, said he was devoted to the children. He was upset when she told him she thought Robert was effeminate, and Kevin was mentally-retarded.

The following article appeared in the “Weekly World New” (June 28, 1988, Page 3). I do not know where the information came from, but certainly not the court record. Was it made up, or did Nancy speak off-the-cuff? We will never know.

HEADLINE: Fibbing Kid Pays With His Life

Frederick Pickhills tried to cure his son of lying – and ended up killing the seven-year-old by mistake.
The angry dad held his struggling son Kevin over the edge of a 200-foot cliff near their home in Sydney, Australia, lost his balance and plunged with the little boy towards the rocks below.
Pickhills landed in deep water, but his son crashed into the rocks. The boy’s body washed ashore three days later.
“I wanted to give Kevin one terrible scare, hoping it would cure him forever of lying,” Pickhills said. “It was a stupid, silly thing to do.”
Police arrested Pickhills for murder.

Kevin’s death at The Gap has been mentioned in another magazine article over the years, and I know a book has been written about the tragedies at The Gap, though do not know if Kevin is mentioned in it. I would assume so, due to the huge amount of coverage his death received.

“Mind The Gap”, Sunday Life supplement, Sunday Herald, June 2000, Page 8. Written by Glen Williams, Photographs by Steve Baccon. Bylined “Generation Gap”, a timeline of events, it says “1965: Frederick Pickhills of Sylvania tells Vaucluse police “I have been over The Gap with my son. I had hold of his hand.”
Pickhills was charged with the murder of Kevin Pickhills, 7. Pleading guilty in court to an amended plea of manslaughter, Pickhills was released on a 5-year good behavior bond.”

The same article appears online at Hobart Carpenters http://www.hobartcarpenters.com.au/news/2000/5/28/mind-the-gap/#.UDMDrXJwSJA.email

“Suicide Watchman”, Reader’s Digest, (month and year not referenced), Pages 76 – 81. Authored by Kristen Gelineau is an interesting article on The Gap.

INQUEST: I have the following papers from Glebe Coroner’s Court pertaining to Kevin’s death. Being entered using a typewriter, the documents are now getting difficult to read.
“Information and Deposition of Witness (Inquest)” filled in by the coroner who received the body and the police officer who transferred it to the City Morgue.
Leslie James Barron’s statement identifying the body as Kevin’s.
The “Record of Exhibits” for the case, listing a note from Hornsby Hospital; the medical report of Dr Laing (Coroner); and Analysis Report.

FINALE:
I was not allowed closure on Kevin’s death by attending his funeral. I was sent to relatives for the day. I cried for the first time when Nanna and Pop turned up. I think I upset pop by hanging onto his legs while letting go. Kevin was buried in Rookwood Cemetery, Methodist section. Plot: Section 3B Row 16, plot no. 768. He is buried with our great grandparents, James Barron & Emily Rule.

In 1966 I started at Gymea High School. The kid’s I knew from Sylvania Heights Primary had been told not to discuss Kevin’s death. On the one occasion I mentioned it, I was shushed up.

Joe spent a total of 5 months in gaol for Kevin’s murder. Despite amending his plea to manslaughter, and what the courts found, I could not, and never will, see it as anything but murder. I visited him on one occasion in Long Bay Penitentiary, with Nancy. It was a surreal experience. When released after his court case in May, 1966, Nancy decided a show needed to be put on for the neighbours. I was instructed that as he walked down Melrose Ave, I was to run up the road into his arms. Even today the thought of this scenario makes me cringe. It was the last thing I wanted to do. Needless to say, Joe and I had no semblance of a relationship from the day Kevin died to the day Joe died.

There was one attempt to see me by my mother just after Kevin’s death. Nancy made sure that didn’t happen. There was also one attempt to get me away from her clutches but they went about it the wrong way. Mum turned up at the house with her sister Gwen, Uncle Les (Gwen’s husband), baby Donna and possibly Les and Jean. They knocked on the front door, and mum barged into the house. It all happened so quickly it frightened the life out of me! I ran out the back door, climbed through a gap in the fence into the Gill’s yard, up their side passage, bolted over their front gate and ran across the road to the Johnson’s house via their back door. Mr Johnson organised a meeting in their home where he informed them that they were just scaring me, to leave and let the law sort it out. When asked if I wanted to go, I replied no. I poked my tongue out at my baby cousin…what else could I do under the circumstances. They left without me. Given time to consider things, I may have acted differently.

There was the inevitable custody battle. I was coached by Dulcie (dad’s sister) prior to the hearing that the judge would ask me who I wanted to live with. I WAS to say I wanted to stay with my father. Oh for my own voice in all this!

In 1966 Joe changed the family name to Phillips in an attempt to ensure privacy after the event, and he also changed his middle name from Lindsay to Lionel…no better, in my opinion. The house was put on the market and sold shortly after, whereby he bought a flat at 12/1 Ocean Street, Kogarah. We moved there at the end of ’66, including Nancy. Her employment as housekeeper was about to come to an end. While berating me one day about helping myself to the biscuit tin, Joe came home. For the one and only time in my life, he stood up for me and told Nancy that he paid for the biscuits, and if his son wanted one, he could have one. He then packed a bag and took me to Jack and Dulcie’s at Arncliffe (his sister and brither-in-law) where I then lived until shortly after leaving school. Plans for me to go to James Cook High at Kogarah were scrapped, and I eventually ended up going to Marist Brother’s St. Gregory’s Agricultural College in Campbelltown as a boarder. Joe also moved into Arncliffe, and Nancy continued to live in the unit at Kogarah for the next couple of years. Considering all she had caused, Joe was way too generous with her.

On 1971, Joe bought a house at 81 Melvin Street, Beverly Hills. We lived there for several years until I moved out to my first apartment in Allawah. Joe then sold the house in 1975 after getting a ground curator’s job at the college, which was a live-in position. He purchased a property in Vincentia. He married the head cook, Gwen Quinn, who he met at the college, in 1977.

Joe committed suicide in 1978 in bushland near their home in Vincentia. I think it all just got to him in the end. I cried a few crocodile tears and inwardly rejoiced. Callous? Walk a mile in my shoes. A childhood destroyed, a sibling murdered, left in the clutches of a neurotic, bullying housekeeper, moved away from all the people, both relatives and friends and neighbours that I cared about, no voice in my own custody, then forced to live with a man I no longer trusted.! Well, my life has moved on.

After his death, dad’s sisters Dulcie and Eileen (who both also lived in Vincentia) started up the most horrendous campaign of vilification and harassment against my step-mother, Gwen, that you can imagine. They blamed her for my father’s death, though I have no reason why. I was totally disgusted by what they did, that they could stoop so low. Naturally, finding out that I was not a beneficiary in my father’s will added to the spite and vitriol. On one occasion when I was driven, by George, my step-brother, over to Dulcie’s home, she appeared downstairs and told George in no uncertain terms that though I was welcome, he certainly was not. Due to the harassment, they were not included in the funeral arrangements. On the day of the funeral, they avoided any contact with the step-family.

At the Coroners Court hearing into his death, I asked the police, prior to the hearing if the post-mortem had revealed any brain damage, as Joe suffered from migraine headaches for all his life, and I wanted to ensure that there was nothing medical to explain what had happened. I also asked if his sister’s had informed the police of Kevin’s death in 1965. The police were a bit stunned at this revelation as nothing had been said. It was added to the proceedings. When I was in the witness stand I was asked about Kevin’s death. I heard Dulcie gasp and say to her sister “That has nothing to do with this”. As if! Outside the court they tried to ambush me, however we drove off in my step-brother’s car before they got to me. This was the last time I saw any of them.

No longer the shunned family member after all this has been written, I feel that Kevin’s short life can now be celebrated. No longer is his life hidden away like some irrelevant fact, like some dirty family laundry. I hope this revelation has freed his spirit. It has been cathartic for me, and I can now hold him as a precious memory, and not just a secretive, tragic event in our lives.

I am so sorry your memory, until now, has been treated so shoddily. Rest In Peace, brother.

The Family Home at 69 Melrose Ave, Sylvania (sold 1966)

Kevin is interred with our Great Grandparents, James Barron & Emily Rule, in Rookwood Cemetery.

Tim Alderman (formally Robert John Pickhills)

The Reverend Alfred Pickles

The Rev Alfred Pickles
I have been researching my family tree for over 15 years now. In the early days it wasn’t so easy, and I probably had the sum total of about 10 names. The advent of the Internet has changed all that, and I now have four large arch files of information, including one entire file dedicated to one family member – more on him in a later post. I have gone as far back as the late 1500’s in Fylingdales and Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire (the further you go back, the more difficult it gets), and can pretty well trace the family right down the male line to now, with a recent start being made on tracing the maternal lines back from my mother, and my Great Great Great Grandmother. A surprising find, in a site of graveyard inscriptions, were the names of not only my long searched for Great Great Great Grandmother (Clara Pickhills nee Rickinson), but also her husband (Joseph Pickhills), one son (Seth Pickhills) and daughter (Priscilla Pickhills). This was a great find as it connected me further back than my Great Great Grandfather (Rickinson Pickhills) and filled in a few blanks. I had to use a research company to find details, as the trace is difficult if you live in Australia. Clara’s son Seth Pickhills had one son – Alfred – who is important for two reasons (he is my first cousin three times removed). Firstly that he took off down his family line using Pickles instead of Pickhills – and I guess we will never know why. For a while in Rochdale (Lancashire) he lived with his aunt (Priscilla) and she was a Pickhills. Secondly, and the very last thing I would ever have expected to find in my family, after a stint at being a watchmaker he became a Baptist Minister in Rochdale. And here I was thinking that we had always been Catholics! I don’t know when religious affiliations changed, but I suspect it was after the families arrival in Australia, and probably after some Irish heritage had been added by way of the lineages of the Fanning’s and the McConnell’s. With Catholic’s being unable to marry outside the faith, potential spouses of other religions would have had to convert. Thankfully, my family never cared one way or the other, and despite being christened a Congregational, I am now a devout Atheist.

Anyway, this much we do know about Alfred. He was born in the rapidly growing West Riding textile town of Bradford, Yorkshire, in 1843. The son of Seth Pickhills and Jane Bracher, we know little of their actual lives except that they were working class. Seth was a journeyman printer (journeymen, after serving their apprenticeship, were able to move amongst employers), and according to the 1851 census the family were living in Belgrave Place in Bradford, and 8-year-old Alfred was a scholar. Moving on 10 years to the 1861 census, we know that he was 18-years-old, and living with his aunt, Priscilla (Seth’s sister) at 46 Belgrave Place, Bradford, and that he is listed as being a watchmaker. Seth had died in 1859, and it would appear that his sister had taken over the running of the household, though we are unsure of what had happened to Jane. His next mention in the records is in the 1871 census, and both he and Priscilla had moved to 95 Mitchell St in Rochdale, and he was listed as being a Baptist Minister.

We know from his memoir printed in “Memoirs of Ministers and Missionaries who died between 15th January 1917 and 31st October 1919” that he was involved with the Baptist church from a young age, and he became a member of Westgate Church in Rochdale under the pastorate of Henry Dowson, whose teachings had a lifelong influence on him.

On the 19th August, 1864 the following article appeared in the “Bradford Observer” regarding his ordination; “Ordination of a Bradford gentleman at Rochdale – On Tuesday, Mr A. Pickles, son of the late Mr. Seth Pickles, of Belgrave Place, Bradford, was ordained pastor of the Lyceum Baptist Church, Rochdale. A prayer meeting was held in the morning, the ordination followed in the afternoon, when a sermon eas preached. In the evening there was a tea meeting in the Milton Congregational School, presided over by the Rev. A. Pickles. Amongst those who were present at the ceremony were the Rev. E. Parker, Farsley; Rev. J. Smith, Bacup; Rev. H. Dowson, President of the Baptist Theological Institute, Bury; Rev. J. Home, Waterbarn; Rev. L. Nuttal, Ogden; Rev. J. Williams, Oldham; Rev. J. Bloomfield, Bradford; Rev. J. Wilkinson;  Rev. A. Pitt; Rev. A. C. McCoffin; Rev. A. H. Drysdale, and several friends from Bradford. The Rev. A. Pickles was formerly a scholar at the Bradford Grammar School, and afterwards pursued his studies at Bury College under the Rev. H. Dowson.”

In 1874 he married Margaret Elizabeth Shepherd, who was born in Waterbarn, Lancashire in 1844. The couple had two children whilst living in Rochdale – George (1876) and Henry Shepherd (1878). Initially, Alfred’s ministry consisted mainly of cottage and outdoor meetings. He became one of the earliest students of the Baptist Theological Institute, which at the time was newly established at Chamber Hall in Bury, and under the presidency of Henry Dowson. In 1866 the Institute moved from Bury to Manchester and became the Manchester Baptist College, founded on strict Baptist communion lines. The College was to become a founding member of the Theological Faculty of Manchester University. Alfred’s name was the first on the roll of minister’s trained at the college. His pastoral work began in 1870 at the Lyceum in Rochdale, and soon afterwards at the church purchased in Water Street, Rochdale.

Manchester College
This was to become the Water Street Ebenezer Baptist Chapel. During the pastorate of Alfred the congregation grew and prospered. On the evening of February 10, 1878 the Reverend gave a long lecture to his congregation entitled “Turkey, Russia, England and the Jews” which was published in booklet form shortly after. He was also secretary of the local branch of “The Liberation Society”.

The society had been formed by Edward Miall (8 May 1809 – 30 April, 1881) who was a Portsmouth-born journalist, apostle of disestablishment and a Liberal politician. He was also a Congregational minister at Ware, Hertfordshire (1831) and Leicester (1834), and in 1841 founded ”The Nonconformist”, a weekly newspaper in which he advocated the cause of disestablishment.
Miall saw that if the programme of Nonconformity was to be carried through it must have more effective representation in Parliament.
One of the first fruits of his work was the entrance of a John Bright into parliamentary life; and by 1852 forty Dissenters were members of the House of Commons.
This was due largely to the efforts of the British Anti-State-Church Association, which Miall was instrumental in founding in 1844. It was renamed in 1853 as the Society for the Liberation of Religion from State Patronage and Control, known for short as the “Liberation Society”. The Society was never able to secure a parliamentary majority for the disestablishment of the Church of England, but the long fight for the abolition of Compulsory Church Rates was finally successful in 1868. In 1870 Miall was prominent in the discussions aroused by the Education Bill. He was at this time Parliamentary member for Bradford (Yorkshire) from 1860-1874, having previously sat for Rochdale (where Alfred would undoubtedly have encountered him in person) in 1852-1857. In 1874 he retired from public life, and received from his admirers a gift of 10,000 guineas. He died in 1881 at Sevenoaks in Kent
.

After ten prosperous years at Water Street Chapel, throat problems forced Alfred to accept a call to Towcester, in Northamptonshire, which was more rural and had a milder climate. He officially became pastor after a three month trial period. However, it would seem that this move to the North End Baptist Chapel was to have its own trials and tribulations. The chapel at Towcester was opened on 3 October, 1853. There appears to be little interaction with other churches in the area, though the Towcester Baptist Church does record that after re-forming in 1871, it received a letter from the North End Chapel to “renew contacts severed with the old church, as the basis for fellowship was now seen to be biblically established”. What was often referred to as “the Baptist Church”, almost as though it were a separate denomination, later came to be known as the South End Church, though there appears to be no desire to unite the two churches on the part of North End. Most of what we know of Alfred’s pastorate is from the Church Book. The Church Book was used to record baptisms, reception of people previously baptized by the laying on of hands, expulsions, and rebukes of a serious nature. Under the previous pastorate of Samuel Cooper Tite, the book had not been filled out prior to the 1880’s, and he had in fact taken the book with him when he left the church. He returned the Church Book to Alfred in 1886, after his return to the Baptist church. There was a fairly small congregation, possibly due to it being a sect of the Baptist church commonly referred to as Johnsonian Baptists. Founded by John Johnson (1706-1791) who was a Baptist Minister of High Calvinist views, he taught that faith was not a duty required of God, but a grace which it is impossible to convert into a duty. Want of faith, therefore, is no sin. He was repudiated by the local association for “bizarre ideas” , as he questioned whether the Incarnation would have been necessary if man had not sinned, he denied the doctrine of the Trinity, and was highly insular and exclusive. Johnsonian’s were not even allowed to associate with other Baptists, which would have explained the division between the two Baptist churches in Towcester. Other Johnsonian churches were founded in Blackburn, Norwich, Chesterfield, Halifax, Bromley, Duncote and Dublin.

In Towcester, for the 64 years leading up to Alfred’s appointment, about 80 people were associated with the church at one time or another. In 1886 there were 37 members, and Alfred baptized 20 in the 6 years since he became pastor. With the return of the Church Book, he started to record church meetings and one or two other “events”. There is a record of a visit from a person from a nearby congregation to communion “at the Lord’s Table October 2nd 1887 Mr Davidson a Member of the Church of Christ at Banbury requested and was allowed to commune. At the request of the Church he also preached in the evening from 1 Cor 15c 1 – 4 vs”. This is obviously an “Event” and reveals the small congregations isolation. The Churches income was about ₤20 per year, which appeared to cover their expenses. A welcome gift mentioned in the Church Book is of an amount of ₤100, which was on its way in five installments from the sale of a church in Comus Street, Liverpool.

In the meantime, Alfred and Margaret had another two children – Thomas Edward (1881) and Ruth (1884). The family first appear in Towcester in the 1881 census, living in High Street. Alfred and Margaret are listed along with George who is 5-years-old; Henry who is three; infant Pickles (Thomas, and just born); a Maude Clegwidden who is 12-years-old and occupation given as nurse maid (at 12?) born in London, Middlesex; and a Margaret Taylor, 68-years-old and a visitor. Alfred appears to have left his position as pastor of North End Chapel in 1891. The church may have been too small to warrant a pastor at that point, as thirteen members passed the following resolution at a Church Meeting towards the end of 1891 “that in harmony with the suggestion of the Trustees, we request Mr Fidler to preside at our Church Meetings and to advise and assist so that the Services at North End & Duncote Chapels may be maintained in as orderly and efficient manner as possible. Signed by Alfred Pickles. Pastor.” William Fidler accepted the invitation. By July 1893 there was obvious concern about the viability of the Church. Many of the church members had been elderly and had died. The Sunday School had just 11 pupils. A church meeting was held with 8 people present which decided to try to carry on for another few months. “There appeared no disposition to unite with the South End Church. Still the prospects of continuing as at present were doubtful. Mr Garlick was specially anxious that they should try to revive the work by prayer and united effort”. Early in 1894, after the services had been held in the vestry for all winter to save money, the church was officially closed on March 25. There were 16 members listed, 4 of which were discovered to have died. The contents were distributed between the Duncote Chapel, and Towcester Baptist. Church (South End Chapel). Obviously they weren’t too proud to take a donation from a church with opposing views to theirs.

In the 1891 census, Alfred and Margaret are listed as living at 19 The Drapery, Northampton. George is now 15 and an apprentice; Henry is 13 and a school boy; Thomas is 10 and a school boy; and Ruth, the new addition since the last census, is 7 and listed as a “school boy”. Margaret Lyack, 66-years-old, is living with them as a boarder living on her own means. 19 The Drapery (a store) is still there, and currently occupied by Oxfam. I think Alfred would like that.

For the following 6 years, after the official closure of North End Chapel, Alfred travelled from Northampton back to Towcester every Sunday in order to break the bread of life for the Towcester Church, this being done for no renumeration.

Another interesting item that came out of the 1891 census is that Alfred’s occupation is listed as a “Hatter & Hosier” at 19 The Drapery, and he is also listed as a Hatter in two directories of Northampton for that period. However, I am led to the thinking that this was the year they moved to London, possibly in the latter half of that year.. A notice appeared in the “Edinburgh Gazette” dated August 4, 1891 whereby in a listing taken from the “London Gazette” he was listed as bankrupt whilst living in Northampton. We know that at the time of the first meeting and first examination regarding his bankruptcy that he was residing at 160 Regents Park Rd, London, though he returned to Northampton for these meetings. He was still at the Regent’s Park Road address in 1893, when the Public Trustee Alfred Lister Blow was acting on his behalf. It is open to suggestion as to why he declared himself bankrupt. One reason may be that he used all his available cash trying to keep the North End Chapel viable. Another reason might be that with the church being so poor, and with him having to resign his position as pastor (and receiving no pension or renumeration) that there was just no money left for him and his family to survive on until he either obtained work, or started his own business. Who knows! I have tried researching the prevalence of bankruptcy in the 19th century with little success. Alfred is the second family member to have declared bankrupcy. He also started work for the Baptist Tract and Book Society, where he worked for some years. still preaching whenever and wherever he was needed. By the time the 1901 census rolled around, he was residing at 10 Oppidans Road in Hampstead. He is listed as a “Tay Dealer” which I can find nothing about, and suspect it is a deciphering error. Margaret is still listed, as are George (now 25, single and a clerk); Henry (now 23, single and a printer); Ruth (now 17, single and a shop assistant); and Thomas (now 20, single and a printer). They still have a boarder, now an Edward Gounersall, a 24-year-old single electrical engineer. By now Alfred’s eyesight was failing, and The Memoir notes that for several years before his death he was quite blind, and bore it with great patience. It would appear that he did continue to work, possibly as a hatter and hosier seller (perhaps Ruth was a shop assistant in his store), as well as continuing an occasional ministry for as long as his failing eyesight allowed.

Margaret died in 1911, and I think this would have devastated him, as he had described her as “a true help in all his labours”. At the time of the 1911 census he is living at 23 Ainger Road, St Pancras in London. He is listed as a Baptist Minister Retired. Thomas Edward is still with him at 30, and it would seem still single and now a Painter Machine Manager. Ruth is also still listed as being with him at 27, and it would seem that she also is still single and now a costumier.

Alfred died in his sleep (according to The Memoir, which can tend to prettify things) on the 20 February 1920, aged 72, at Hendon. He left behind a family who cherished his memory. “He was a man of faith and prayer, and faithful to the principle, even when fidelity meant loss. His one passion was to preach the gospel and he has now gone to hear his Lord’s “well done” and receive the reward of many soul’s for his hire”. It would appear from The Memoir that he was a very committed and devout man.

Although research continues into this side of the family, it would appear that only two of Alfred’s children married. The 1911 census lists at 10 Oppidans Road in Primrose Hill in London a George Pickles. He is now 35, in the Motor Accessory Trade, and head of the household. His wife is Mary Ellen Pickles who is 39, and born in Co Kildare, Ireland (a resident of Clonkeeran). They have been married for 8 years, though no children mentioned. Thomas Edward appears in the 1917 register of marriages for St Savior in Hampstead. He is 35 and marrying a Mary Turner who is 29. There is a listing for Thomas E Pickles Death in 1965 in Greater London, though if this is indeed Thomas Edward is yet to be verified. He was 84 at the time of his death. There is a death registration for Ruth Pickles, aged 81, at Sidcup in Kent. Again, this needs to be verified.

Further to the Water Street Ebenezer Baptist Chapel in Rochdale. The Water Street Chapel was demolished in 1915, and the demolition was witnessed by a parishioner by the name of “Owd Dob “who was inspired to write an account of his personal memories of the chapel in a short treatise entitled “Th’ Owd Chapel”, for private circulation. It is difficult to read as it is written in the Lancashire dialect, though with perseverance an interesting account of the chapel (including a mention of the pastorate of Alfred Pickles at the beginning) unfolds, and includes a picture of the Church, its banner, a sketch of its interior, and photographs of pastors, the choir and the woman’s class – all looking very “Baptist” in their 19th century severity.

This biography has been put together using information gleaned from census records, Alfred’s memorium in The Memoir, and various newspaper reports from the time. Some suppositions have had to be made, and I hope that some of my conjectures at least are correct. It has been an interesting exercise cobbling someones life together from whatever information is still available. At this time I am still waiting to hear from Northamptonshire Archives of any information they may have on file for Alfred. NB: they never got back to me. There is a payment request for searches on their web site, but I am nit willing to pay money to find they either have nothing, or I already have what they hold. A request to know if they have any information on Alfred before I pay has been ignored. This is the first archive in England to be unhelpful with an information request.

I would personally like to thank Emily Burgoyne from Regent’s Park College Library at the University of Oxford for abridging the “Memoirs of Ministers Who Died Between 15th January 1915 and 31st October 1919” and sending it to me (the Memoir itself is the only copy and is in to fragile a state to scan. It was compiled by the Baptist Union after they decided to stop printing the Baptist Union Handbook during the First World War, as paper was scarce, and printing expensive), along with scanning in his lecture “Turkey, Russia, England and the Jews”. It has all been an invaluable aid in helping to trace my long-lost cousin.

Tim Alderman (formerly Robert John Pickhills)

Note: Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, Water Street (pp 139-140)

This church was formed of members formerly in connection with the West-street Church, and met at first for divine worship in Baillie-street, on the 8th of January, 1867; it continued there up to the time of its removal to the chapel in Water-street. The last mentioned place was built in 1834, by the New Connexion Methodists, and was purchased from them by the Baptists, and re-opened for divine service on the 1st of May, 1870. [a little more]