Back row: Jack Pearson, Percy Dunbar, Alfred Dunbar, John Ferguson, Alec Dunbar, George Jones Middle row: Janet Pearson (nee Dunbar), Vanda Dunbar (wife of Percy) holding Ronald, Norman Jones, Grace Ferguson (nee Dunbar) Eleanor Jones (nee Dunbar) holding Marjorie Front row: Vera Ferguson, Winifred Ferguson. Missing: Hugh Dunbar, Mary Dunbar (nee Falconer) Rosa and George Dunbar.
A Family on the Move
When John, Grace, Winifred and Vera Ferguson arrived at Port Adelaide on April 12th 1909 it was the end of a 5 week voyage and the start of an adventure they could not even have dreamed of in their former home, Manchester, a vibrant but polluted city where merchants, salesmen, factory workers and seamen lived side by side, the epicentre of the British Empire's cotton and wool trade, processing products from across the globe. Graces was the eldest daughter in the Dunbar family who were all involved, in one way or another in the retail industry. John had moved to Manchester from Wigtownshire, Scotland after his hopes of taking on the tenancy of his grandfather's farm were dashed when it was left to his uncles.
In Manchester Grace and John had a busy social life often attending theatres and concerts often with Grace's siblings The photo above was taken just before their departure for Australia and is of all Grace's siblings with spouses and children-all except Hugh who either had sick children or had fallen out with Grace, depending on who's story you believe!
So what brought the Ferguson's to Adelaide and why did they make the decision to move to the ten remote rural town of Curramulka and then Yorketown? Well the simple answer could be that they followed John’s brother Jim. or Uncle Jim as he will be known to most of those reading this. Jim had been living in Adelaide for several years, emigrating as a young single man and working as a travelling salesman. By the time John and his family arrived Jim had married and had a eight year old daughter, Jessie. No doubt Jim had sung the praises of Australia as a “new” and growing country full of the promise of wealth for toil, clean air and pristine beaches.
Perhaps too Grace was keen to escape the role of pseudo mother to her 6 siblings a role she had stepped into when her mother, Rosa, died. The the youngest sibling was just a baby. Although by the time Grace left for Australia her brothers and sisters were aged between 24 and 35, and were all perfectly capable of looking after themselves, it seems Grace still tended to think she had to make decisions for them.
Whatever the reason it was a brave choice to emigrate. One that has seen our family grow and thrive in Australia.
My family history research has focussed on the families that came before Grace and John. It is a story that takes us out of Manchester to many other places across Britain: Yorkshire, Isle of Man, Scotland and even Ireland. In this website I will explore both the places that they came from, their occupations and speculate on what life was like for them based on their letters and other research.
I invite you to come on the story trail with me and please use the comments section to add your thoughts and ask for clarification. As always, a family’s history will be told differently from one member to the next and I am sure that many of you have heard accounts that are either new or different from mine.
But before we move backwards from 1909 first let’s hear from Vera Alexandra Dunbar (nee Ferguson) about her earliest memories and her voyage to Australia.
I was born in Manchester, England on Sunday February 2nd 1902 (at midnight but whether the clock had just struck 12 or was just about to do so I did not bother to inquire either then or later). My mother was Grace, oldest child of Rosa Annie (nee Lee) and Hugh Frederick Dunbar. She had 4 brothers and two sisters: - Hugh, Alec, Percy & Alfred – Janet & Eleanor. Alfred was only eighteen months old when their mother died & my mother, then aged 13, became mother head of the family and looked after them with the help of an old family retainer by the name Bessie and a well to do Aunt Nell, (Mrs Alfred Morris) who was childless but who had a very benevolent husband who owned a motor-car which was rare in those days. The only recollection I have of great Aunt Nell was when she called with Great, great Aunt Sophia Lowry who lived in Isle of Man. They came to say goodbye before our departure for Australia and brought a gift of a lovely gold satin lined wicker work basket for my sister and a gollywog for me. I’m afraid I disgraced myself by bursting into tears and blurted out that I wanted a basket like Win’s and not a black doll and the outcome was that the doll departed with them and a few days later I received with ecstasy a rose coloured satin lined replica which went with me to boarding school & treasured until a few years later when my mother gave it away. Great Aunt Sophia left a will leaving the proceeds of her estate in the Isle of Man, on her death to my mother and 6 other female relatives but owing to a somewhat ambiguous phrase in the will the estate was not wound up until her son’s widow died in 1964 and I was notified just as I was leaving for England that my sister and I would share in what should have been our mothers portion. Thanks to that windfall I was able to have the roof repaired, the back verandah lined and improvements made to the bathroom. My grandmother had a small private school which she ran with the help of another lady when each of her seven children were born. Her husband had a faulty heart but worked in an importing & exporting business – mainly in pianos and when he died 10 years after his wife the firm presented my mother with a Kirkwood piano for a wedding present as she had also worked for the firm until shortly after her father died. My father was born in Ayr, Scotland June 28 1865 after finisher his education at the Ayr Academy he went to work on his mothers’ fathers’ farm on the understanding that he would inherit it at his grandfathers death but as no will was made in that respect, the farm went to an Uncle who had sons of his own so my father had to find another way of living and went to England and became a representative of the woollen trade. I had some of his samples still in my possession when I married and they were most useful for patching trousers of relatives, sons & friends during the depression years. My earliest recollections are of living in a 3 storied house at 365 Dickinson Road, Longsight, Manchester, I was 3 ½ when we moved from there but I remember passing around cakes at one of my mother’s tea parties and then being allowed to go out through the French windows to play in a walled-in back garden where a cat often appeared on the wall but I was told it was a Tom cat and not to be trusted, in fact all pets were taboo. My sister & I used to play in the attic and I remember cutting out the black velvet dots on an old veil & then feeling repelled by them because they looked like nasty little beetles. We were sometimes taken to play in a nearby park by a nanny who was dressed in a long skirted grey costume with a flowing cape and snug fitting bonnet – the traditional out-fit for a nanny in those days. I recognised the entrance to the park when I passed there on bus bound for a Manchester bus depot in 1964 while spending a weekend with my cousin Marjorie Paulson. When I was 3 ½ years old we moved to Halesdon Rd, Heaton Chapel, which in those days was an outer suburb of Manchester and almost rural. Our house there was only a two storied one but had a small front garden where pansies flourished and a large back lawn where we would lie on summer days and watch the larks soaring high into the sky. Part of the Manchester Ship Canal flowed not far from our house and I remember going there with my father and sailing the little paper boats that he made for me. Buttercups and daisies grew in profusion near our house and scarlet poppies growing in the wheat or corn fields have always made a greater impression on my mind than even the most exotic orchids. It must have been when we went to a farm in Hayfield for our summer holidays one year that I remember lying down amongst the heather and there were hills at the back of the farm where we rambled and picked blueberries which were made into pies and eaten with rich farm cream. Sometimes we went to St Anne’s and Blackpool where the smell of the sea was such a delight, the sand so firm and clear when the tide would go away out, and donkey rides were such a thrill. Punch & Judy shows were always an added attraction and Nigger Minstral Shows were on nightly in the Pavilion at the far end of the pier. (When I was 5 we met the poet Donald McLean on one of our holidays and he wrote a poem for me which is now printed in a book of his poems which is now in Bob’s possession. I attended the kindergarten class of a private school before I turned four and remember learning to write by first making rows of “pot – hooks,” painting symmetrical flowers with a pointed brush and holding the brush flat with the point away from the centre and plasticine modelling was a favourite pastime. My sister had a box of paints given to her before I did and how I longed for some of my own because she would only let me use the black or dark brown colour and I craved something brighter. In 1907 my father and mother visited his family in Ayr and attended the Edinburgh Exhibition where they bought the lovely glass goblet engraved with my name and visited Inverary Castle where they got the little china cup and saucer with the castle painted on it. My sister & I were left in the care if the family who ran the private school and felt privileged to be boarders instead of day scholars for a change. All I seem to remember about the boarding period is of a fine looking gentleman standing at the top of the stairs in a large entrance hall and he threw down paper wrapped toffees for the little girls to scramble for. I think the only time I have ever seen a hummingbird was when a man brought one to school one day in a cage and I couldn’t believe that such a tiny little bright coloured creature could really be alive but we were enthralled with its activities. Getting to school on some winter days was a bit of a problem and , when the snow was deep, my father would carry me over the worst places but mostly we enjoyed sliding along the ice in the gutters and throwing snowballs at our friends – I don’t remember any enemies. My mother’s oldest brother Hugh and his family lived in a big house called “Capstone” in Urmston and the whole clan came there for our last Christmas day in England. We were there a day or two beforehand and while my mother helped Auntie May (Falconer I think JMD )to make the mince pies and other goodies my sister & I helped Rosa & George to make a snowman on the back lawn. I remember finding 2 round black stones for his eyes and Auntie May gave me a carrot for his nose. When I awoke on Christmas morning I was thrilled to find a lovely strong wooden cradle among my presents but was later told that I would not be able to keep it as we were so soon to start packing up to leave for Australia ( on March 5th 1909). I was told that the cradle and a new doll that someone else had given me would go to the children’s hospital for the children there to play with so I was resigned, but for years I felt a bit sad about my loss. When in London for a day, prior to embarking on H.M.S P&O Oritava for our 5 weeks, trip to Australia, my mother bought me a tiny little filligre cradle which I treasured for a few day and placed on a ledge above my bunk in the cabin so that I could see it as soon as I woke up in the morning, Unfortunately, it disappeared while I was at breakfast one morning. When I returned to London in 1964 I searched in vain amongst filligre furniture in shops along the Strand for a cradle but they seemed to have gone out of fashion and chairs of various shapes & sizes were the in thing then, so I bought a few of those for my grandchildren. It was on the voyage out to Australia that I first became enthralled with the violin. Our Kirkwood piano, that had been my mother’s wedding present, was travelling out with us and I had often tried to play that at home and had sung many songs to my mother’s accompaniment, but the violin was new to me. There was a good ships orchestra which played to us on deck just after morning lunch – beef tea on cold days or strawberry ice cream when the weather was hot and I was always sitting cross-legged as close as possible to the musicians who seemed to like my enthusiasm. The Merry Widow waltz was in vogue at that time and was my favourite, so once when it came to an end I said “Oh please play it again” and they did. There was also a bearded man, whose name I forget who was travelling out to Brisbane to teach the violin at the Conservatorium and when he noticed my interest in the violinists, he took me to his cabin and gave me my first violin lesson. Unfortunately in later years my other studies at the Kindergarten Training College were too time – consuming for me to continue music lessons and so I was never very talented on the violin but enjoyed playing in one or two orchestras. One outstanding memory of the voyage out to Australia was of a burial at sea of a young bride who was suffering from T.B. and it was thought that the warmer climate in Australia would prolong her life but alas, she didn’t make it to her new home. We went ashore at Columbo and had a rickshawride to the Cinnamon Gardens - my mother & sister in one rickshaw and my father and I in another. We almost missed the last launch back to the steamer because my father was arguing about the exorbitant price asked for the ride - he had been warned not to pay it, as a double amount was always demanded at first in the hope that a rich tourist would pay up without question. I still have the tiny ivory elephant & bigger brown wooden one that we bought in Columbo. The trip through the Suez Canal was enlivened by magicians who got on at Suez and left again at Port Said and delighted everyone with their tricks especially when they pulled live chickens out of cakes of chocolate. The same tricks were being done 55 years later! The gulli-gulli men still travel back & forth along the canal. I cannot remember calling at Bombay in 1909 as we did in 1964 but our next port was Naples and we saw Mt Vesuvius still smoking after its recent eruption and went to Pompeii, where I saw little lizards scurrying around amongst the ruins and I think they made more impression on my mind at that age than did the fossilised dogs and human beings with their stark reminder of what volcanic eruptions can do. A Scottish cousin, Ronald Morton of Ayr who was with the army in Italy towards the end of World War 2 was able to visit the volcano when it erupted again in that year and wrote a graphic account of it for an Ayr newspaper which my Aunt Gracie sent out to me. It is rather tattered now but still in an old wallet of my fathers. Our arrival at Outer Harbour, Adelaide on April 12th was full of excitement and while mother was doing the last bit of packing and father went off tho find his brother Jim who was to meet us, I was dancing around in my vest and knickers in the passage way leading to our cabin, when I saw a man pass by along the main passage and thinking it was my father, I called out to him so he turned to look at me and possibly recognised me from a photo so gathered me up in his arms and introduced himself to my mother as Jim and that was the beginning of a long and happy relationship. Now follow the story of John's mother's family: Todds in Ayrshire
Written on the back of the black and white photo " My little girls (at rear) at Birch Parkgate when we lived at Dickenson Rd Longsight, Manchester. I had been ill and nurse took them out occasionally. Other children unknown. GF (Grace Ferguson)