Alfred Charles Bray – Exeter Train Crash

On this day, 16 March in 1914 my great-grandfather Alfred Charles Bray died in the Exeter Train Disaster.

A Young Alfred Charles Bray

Alfred was the son of Harry Cornelius Bray who had arrived in Australia on 26 September 1853 at the age of 6 years with his family from Portsmouth on the barque St. George. Alfred’s mother, Mary Bannatyne (Armitage) also from England arriving with her family as assisted immigrants. Mary was named after the ship Mary Bannatyne on which she was born in the English Channel shortly after leaving Plymouth in 1949. Harry and Mary both grew up in Sydney and were married at St. Lilas Church, Waterloo on 22 Dec 1870.

Harry and Mary lived in the south Sydney area while Harry made a living firstly driving a baker’s cart and later as a van proprietor of carrier. Alfred Charles was the eldest of their eight children and born at the family home at 32 Bullinaminga Street, Redfern on 24 May 1871.

By the time Alfred married in 1894, he was employed as a sorter at the General Post Office and his family had moved to Hurstville where they owned adjoining properties at Woids Avenue and Bellevue Avenue. His bride was Ellen Louisa Cole who was born at Bungendore in the Monaro District of NSW on 22 January 1874. Her parents Frederick William and Ellen (McFarlane) Cole were both born in NSW, at Gundaroo and Raymond Terrace respectively. Frederick worked at several of the larger properties or estates in the Bungendore area including Foxlow, Carwoola and Gidleigh. Here the Coles raised their seventeen children.

Little is known of Ellen Louisa’s early life but it is not difficult to imagine that in such a large family that everyone would be kept busy with the daily family chores as well as contributing to work on the estates where they lived. It is likely that she received a basic education at the school at Gidleigh, establish on the property by the owner Mr. Rutledge for the benefit of his family and the resident staff.

It is not known how Alfred met Ellen but before her twentieth birthday she was in Sydney and they married at St. Thomas’ church, Balmain South on 15 February 1894. The couple initially lived at Hurstville with the Alfred’s family and their first daughter, Levena Mary, was born six months after their wedding on 29 August. In 1897 their second child, my grandfather Alfred Ernest Cornelius, was also born at Hurstville.

By the time their next child, Marjorie Elizabeth Martha was born in 1899, Alfred was working as a mail guard based in Orange. They then spent a number of years in Cootamundra where Daisey Fredrita and Dorothy Grace were born in 1901 and 1903 respectively. Finally the family moved back to Hurstville and the Woids Avenue/Bellevue Avenue property. Here they had three more children with Pearl Louisa born in 1906, Charles Cole in 1908 and Ruby Esther in 1910 but she died after two days.

The Crash Scene

On that fateful night in 1914, Alfred was at work, as normal in the mail van of the Temora Mail train with 134 passengers on board that left Sydney at 8:10pm. It was a foggy night and the train was running late. As the train approached the station at Exeter shortly before midnight it was thought that the heavy fog obscured the signal. The driver was proceeding at only 13 miles per hour but he was not aware of a goods train shunting onto the loop line, until he was only about 65 yards away and although he applied the emergency brakes it was too late to avoid a disaster. The crash occurred 200 yards north of the Exeter station and although the impact speed was about 7mph in the carnage that followed 14 people were killed and another 26 injured.

In an article compiled by Philip Morton, sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, he explains in part that:

“Postal guard Alfred Bray was at the open door preparing to throw mailbags onto the platform – with his head crushed, he died. The second car, caught between the weight of mail van and engine, and the cars behind, leaped from the rails and drove through the front of the third.”

Alfred Charles Bray was buried on 17 Mar 1914 at Woronora Cemetery, Section J, 0001. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 18 March that Alfred’s funeral was “one of the largest funerals ever seen at Woronora Cemetery”. He was just short of 43 years old. Alfred’s death left Ellen a widow at 40 years of age with one married daughter and the six other children at home aged between 17 and 6 years. Ellen’s father had died 15 years earlier and her widowed mother was seventy and living in Balmain. Luckily she had the support Alfred’s family who were still living at the Hurstville properties.

Philip Morton further tells us that:

“The verdict of the Coroner’s Inquest held at Bowral on March 24, 1914 was that [the Temora Mail driver, Peter] Irwin caused the accident by over-running the home signal. A rider was added that loops should be lengthened or refuge sidings placed at both ends, and further precautions taken during fogs to ensure safety of the public by calling out fog signalmen earlier than was the case. Irwin was committed for trial on a charge of manslaughter.”

At the Goulburn Courthouse in April the jury considered there was sufficient doubt, and Irwin was acquitted.

Ellen Louisa Bray

Alfred’s estate was probated on 17 April 1914 and letters of administration granted to the Public trustee. He died intestate and his estate was assessed at under £700. A claim was subsequently made, on behalf of Ellen Louisa Bray, to recover compensation from the Railway Commissioners for alleged negligence in connection with the death of her husband in the collision. The matter was settled for £1200. The deceased left seven children. The jury allocated compensation of £400 to Ellen, £50 to the married Levena Mary (Hebblewhite) and £125 to the other six children.

Ellen was known as a strong independent woman and she successfully continued to raise her children at Hurstville as well as watching her older son, my grandfather Alfred Ernest Cornelius, go off to WW1 when he was 18 Years old in 1915. In 1923 she was remarried to a widower Walter Clark at 103 Baptist Street, Redfern. She died on 27 September 1943 and was buried on 28 September 1943 at Woronora Cemetery next to Alfred.

Woronora Cemetery

In March 2014 a solemn memorial service was held at Exeter station commemorating the centenary of the train crash and a memorial plaque was unveiled, which included the names of people who died in the 1914 disaster.

Memorial Plaque
Exeter Memorial

Tokyo and Mt Fuji

Once again having just a short visit of three days here was only enough to scratch the surface.

Outside of the Emperor’s Palace

The city of Tokyo is one of the most modern in the world as well as one of the largest. The greater Tokyo metropolitan area with its population of over 36 million includes development all along the 37 kms of motorway beside Tokyo Bay from where the Volendam berthed at Yokohama to the centre of Tokyo.

The city proved to be a wonderful contradiction of skyscrapers and the tradition Japanese gardens, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines and the Emperor’s palace.

Cards of some of the Performers

We were lucky enough to have a night out at a small theatre restaurant. Apart from the delicious cuisine and jugs of local beer the entertainment was delightfully traditional Japanese with a Beatles number thrown in for good measure. The stage was segmented and the different sections were raised and lowered to create constantly changing landscapes across which the performers danced and bounded.

An exciting show

 

We then took a day excursion from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji. We didn’t see the volcano because of the overcast, and we were told that it is quite a rare event to see the summit (so I bought a postcard instead). We had escaped from the megalopolis that is Tokyo into the country where we visited a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine, walked in some lovely gardens and enjoyed some local cuisine, all the time while our guide, Satoru, gave us insights into Japan’s history and culture.

Our several days in and around Tokyo were most enjoyable but with regards to my Japan visit there is another aspect that deserves my blogging about. Japan has held a special significance, if that is the right word, for me because of my own father’s experience as a Japanese prisoner of war in Changi and on the Burma Railway during WW2. I haven’t harboured any hatred of this nation and its people but it has been like a cloud hanging over my feelings that needed to be confronted.

Mt. Fuji is to the left – somewhere

Accordingly I had been looking forward to Japan and particularly Tokyo to learn about this country and its culture that seemed so very different to my own. Learning more about a country’s history certainly helped in my understanding of their culture (and isn’t that one of the main reasons for, and benefits from, travelling overseas).

Mt. Fuji on a rare clear day at Cherry Blossum time

As explained to us, Japanese culture emphasises humility and belonging to a group rather than individualism. This is in evidence by the respectful bowing that is the norm in society. Unfortunately this same culture has led to some serious social problems especially in retirement. During a career where employees become so dedicated to their company a large proportion do not have time for other interests, and this becomes a real problem for them when they retire.

Without exception, everyone that I have spoken to that has travelled to, or spent time in, Japan has told me that they are a friendly people.

Following WW2 and the virtual obliteration of Tokyo the world has seen how Japan has emerged as an industrial powerhouse in the modern world, largely based on the efficiency and dedication of the Japanese people.

Japan is also particularly prone to natural disasters but these people have a philosophy, as explained by Satoru, along the lines that “thunder, earthquake, typhoon and an angry father, will pass”. To me it seems that this approach in conjunction with their combination of religions is partly responsible for their philosophy – life goes on after such an event.

In our small minibus on the drive back from Mt. Fuji I can say that I have seldom felt more relaxed, content and at peace. The weather during our visit to Japan has been cloudy and often raining, but on a personal level I feel that the clouds have been blown away.

Ann Eloisa French (1787-1835)

On this day, October 13 in 1835, Ann Eloisa (or later Eliza) French, who is believed to be my 3rd great-grandmother died in Spanish Town, Jamaica.

Eliza Thomasina’s Baptism, St. Catherine’s Parish Church, Spanish Town

I say ‘believed’ because although it can not (yet) be proven conclusively all indications, including the advice from a professional Jamaican genealogist, are that this is the right person who was the mother of my 2nd great-grandmother Eliza Thomasina Walsh. This Eliza was born in Spanish Town on March 3, 1808 and her mother was A.E. French.

Ethnically, Ann Eloisa was a quadroon, being of mixed race, the grand daughter of an African who was undoubtedly a slave. Her parents were Jane Charlotte Beckford, a free mulatto and George French, one time Crown Solicitor/Clerk of the Jamaica Assembly and later the High Court, Assistant Judge, Solicitor for the Crown and Clerk of the Peace in Spanish Town. Jane was George’s mistress and they had six children together.

White Church and Ellis Streets, Spanish Town

Eliza Thomasina’s father was Thomas Walsh, an Irish officer in the 56th Regiment of the British army serving in Jamaica and who acknowledged Eliza as his daughter in his 1809 will. In that will Thomas had requested that Eliza Thomasina should be returned to Ireland when four years of age. Thomas had returned to England by 1809 and he died in an accident the following year but his wishes regarding Eliza were carried out and she eventually married Henry Harrison Briscoe in Ireland in 1830. It is not known what part, if any, Ann Eloisa had in this decision or in Eliza Thomasina’s life before her return to Ireland.

The old Lodging House is now the Freemason’s Hamilton Lodge Meeting House

Jane Charlotte ran a lodging house on the corner of White Church and Ellis Streets in Spanish Town. This was later known as Miss French’s Lodgings presumably after Ann took over running of the establishment when Jane Charlotte died in 1825. The building that stands on that corner today I likely to be the same

Excerpt from Lady Nugent’s Diary, wife of Gen. George Nugent, Governor of Jamaica

Ann Eliza French (as she was then known) was the administratrix of her mother’s will and presumably also the beneficiary.

Currently no more is known about Ann’s life except that she died in 1835 and was buried in St. Catherine’s churchyard in Spanish Town.

Experiencing Hokkaido

After seven days crossing the North Pacific from Glacier Bay we arrived at the island of Hokkaido and the city of Kushiro to start our visit to Japan and experience its culture.

Hokkaido is the second largest of the four main islands of Japan which is in fact an archipelago of many thousands of islands. Today Hokkaido’s main industries are agriculture and fishing. Historically it is the ancestral home of the Ainu people who inhabited the island for hundreds of years before being taken over by the Japanese. This is not dissimilar to the situation with other indigenous peoples around the world, with the Japanese recognising the importance and benefits of ensuring the survival of Ainu culture.

Hot springs

The excursion during our one day in Kushiro took us to the “blue” Musho Lake which, because of the all-to-common fog, was not blue and barely visible. Next at the hot springs demonstrated the volcanic nature of this part of the world. The sulphur plumes and odour from the hot springs were all pervading and is something we don’t experience in Oz. The real highlight of the day for me was just driving through the countryside with its forests of yellow and orange and red autumn leaves – quite spectacular. Every now and then we would come across the a few graceful Japanese cranes with the red crowns, grazing next to the road.

Early next morning we cruised into our second port in Hokkaido, which was the fifth largest city in Japan, Hakodate. It was our first real taste of rainy weather but it didn’t deter us from enjoying the sights of this pleasant city. We called at some of the main attractions in including the Goryokaku Fort with its exquisite Magistrate’s Office building and the nearby Gorokaku Tower, Hakodate Mountain and the Museum of Northern Peoples.

The fort was the first of its kind in Japan and modelled on a European citadel town. In the centre of the Fort was the Magistrate’s Office which was completed in 1864. This was in response to the opening up of isolationist Japan, and particularly the port of Hakodate, to the rest of the world after the American Commodore Perry’s visit and ultimatum in 1853. This building was dismantled in 1871 following war in the city and became a park. The building was reconstructed between 2006 and 2010 to the original design and using traditional construction techniques. The building provides an excellent example of Japanese precision in workmanship.

The Gorokaku Tower overlooking the Fort was also completed in 2006. The Tower enables us the truly appreciate the Fort area from the observatory level 90 metres above. It is now manicured parkland (still) surrounded by its moat with the Magistrate’s Office at its centre.

During our two days on Hokkaido we also sampled some of the delights of Japanese cuisine

Yum yum

with an emphasis on seafood, and were introduced to the friendly polite Japanese people. We look forward to expanding on these experiences with a couple of days in Tokyo.

Crossing the North Pacific – Friday October 6

A much better day dawned today with a lot of pale blue between fluffy white clouds. The Pacific Ocean is also blue, but a darker shade, and is living up to its name being quite peaceful on a moderate swell.

The feeling from my morning treadmill looking down over the ship’s bow as it glides smoothly across the great expanse is almost one of man’s control over nature, but I know this is not true, as it is still able to impart a sense of the power that those water can generate. Only days ago even those slight seas tossed us around as a warning that we were interlopers here. Today we can feel more at one with our environment – at least for the moment.

Our days at sea (when not visiting ports with their ‘mandatory’ sightseeing) are without fixed commitments and unhurried. Accordingly it is often quite difficult to keep track of both the day of the week and the time (zone) during our long Pacific crossing – although it is doubtful that it is necessary most of the time. We have turned our clocks back an hour almost every night since we left Alaska to progressively adjust to Asian time. Luckily we are assisted in remembering the day of the week by means of the mats in the lifts that are changed daily.

I guess it must be Friday

We have had a couple of birthdays celebrated on board at dinner time recently, including for Scott a couple of nights ago. Unfortunately if ones birthday occurs on October 7 then they will be disappointed this year as tomorrow for us in Sunday October 8. We actually crossed the International Date Line during the day but luckily it didn’t affect our scheduled Happy Hour, so all was well.