Tag Archives: historic newspapers

The raw material of history

This is what really happened, reported by a free press to a free people.  It is the raw material of history; it is the story of our own times.
— Henry Steel Commager

Agree or disagree?

download (23)

Cartoon published 1855


The last convicts transported to Australia

Very best wishes for the New Year.

Today, is the anniversary of a significant date in Australian history.

One-hundred and fifty years ago convicts stopped being transported to Australia. The last convicts arrived at Fremantle, Western Australia on 10 January 1868, on the ship Hougoumont.

According to Richard Reid in Sinners, Saints & Settlers, 62 of these last convicts were Irishmen who would not have accepted their criminal status. They were Fenians, part of the revolutionary 19th century movement to establish an Irish Republic, through physical force if necessary. Forty-five of the men were political prisoners, tried for treasonous acts or taking part in attempted uprisings in 1867. The remaining men were military Fenians —  soldiers in the British army court-martialed for mutinous conduct.

You can find interesting articles about the Hougoumont and the end of convict transportation in Troves Digitised Newspapers. One article, that caught my interest was the Perth newspaper, the Inquirer and Commercial News, listing on 15 January 1867 of the Fenian convicts and the sentences they received. See below for this or you can find it here.


list of convicts

2nd list of convicts

The sentence hanged, drawn & quartered must have been underlined in the original newspaper. It is a bit disturbing knowing this sentence was actually given to convicts. Agree or disagree? 

100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba

Yesterday (31 October) was the centenary of the Battle of Beersheba. One hundred years ago Australian light horsemen charged against Turkish defences to capture the town of Beersheba.

The account below explaining the Battle of Beersheba is taken from two books that I often reach for when I am trying to understand Australia’s military involvement in the First World War — The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles by Chris Clark and Broken Nation by Joan Beaumont.

Australians were in Palestine as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF). The commander-in-chief of the EEF, General Sir Edmund Allenby had been told by the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George to take Jerusalem as a Christmas gift for the British nation. To do this the EEF needed to break the Turkish defensive line focussed on Gaza and Beersheba.

Allenby decided that this would be done by capturing Beersheba and its valuable water wells and then moving onto Gaza. The plan had British infantry troops attacking Beersheba and Gaza simultaneously, while the Australian and New Zealand horsemen of the Desert Mounted Corps would come in from another direction to also attack Beersheba.

By the afternoon of the 31 October the Desert Mounted Corps were in place for the final attack on Beersheba. Taking the town had become critical because of the desperate need for water. Lieutenant General Harry Chauvel, the Australian commander of the Desert Mounted Corps called upon the fresh troops of Brigadier General William Grant’s 4th Light Horse Brigade to lead the attack.

It was decided that given the urgency of the situation the attack would be a high risk cavalry charge across open ground. The 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments formed three lines about 500 metres apart, with five metres between each rider. Not having cavalry weapons, the lance or sabre, the troops made do by carrying their long bayonets in their hands.

As they approached the Turkish trenches the light horsemen broke into a gallop, drew bayonets and yelled wildly. Turkish field guns, machine guns, rifles and even German aerial bombing were unable to stop the charge. The unexpected speed and momentum of the light horsemen allowed them to quickly overtake the Turkish defenders. Within an hour all resistance collapsed.

For Australians the successful charge at Beersheba was welcomed news after the frightful stories of futility coming from the Western front in 1917. Below is one of the early news reports of the breakthrough at Beersheba. This understated account, with map, appeared in Hobart’s newspaper  The Mercury on the 3 November 1917. Later accounts like this one in the Singleton Argus on the 8 November 1917, which highlighted the ANZACs feats, would help to build the national memory of Beersheba as a moment of Australian exceptionalism.


Beersheba report


Holiday history find, the whale-cure for rheumatism

The school holidays ended yesterday. We spent a week of the holidays on the far south coast of New South Wales. The highlight was whale watching in Eden. What a joy! Cruising beautiful Twofold Bay, on a calm and sunny morning, seeing; birds, seals, dolphins and whales.

We also enjoyed looking around the Eden Killer Whale Museum. For about one hundred years Eden was a whaling port. The industry started in Twofold Bay in 1828 and ended in 1930 with the closure of the Davidson whaling station. The Museum does an excellent job of telling visitors about the area’s interesting history.

One thing that especially intrigued me was the story of how people would sit in a whale carcass as a remedy for rheumatism. This seems to be one of those past practices you read about, but you can’t imagine. On my return from holidays I felt compelled to find out more.

Somewhat surprisingly I found a number of references to the whale-cure for rheumatism in Troves Digitised Newspapers. Below are extracts of two of the more descriptive accounts. The first was published in The Menzies Miner, a paper from the West Australian Coolgardie Goldfields, on Saturday 26 June 1897. This one is a patient’s, slightly, comical story of taking the whale-cure.

The second account, from the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate was published 30 December 1895. This article explains the whale-cure and also gives a good overview of how the whaling at Eden worked.

Is it a coincidence that both newspapers’ readership were miners? Or does it reflect that cures for rheumatism were of particular interest to people whose bodies ached from days of  hard labour.

Do you find the whale-cure hard to believe? Have you come across a past practice that you find hard to believe?

Whale cure

Article from the Menzies Miner, 1897


The Whale Cure_1

Article from the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 1895

We will remember them

In History, war and remembering in 2017 you can find details of significant Australian military anniversaries, including Anzac Day, that will be commemorated this year.

On Anzac Day and other days of remembrance a key tradition is the reciting of the Ode:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

After years of hearing the Ode I have only recently discovered that it is taken from a poem — the fourth stanza of For the fallen. Written by Laurence Binyon soon after the First World War had started and published in The Times in September 1914.

Looking at Troves Digitised Newspapers it appears that For the fallen was first published in Australia in The Ballarat Courier on 13 November 1914. After that it was printed in a range of newspapers during the war years and the fourth stanza started to feature in family notices — for the fallen.

Are these the words that made the suffering of the First World War bearable? 

FTF poem


History, read all about it!

How do we have imaginative understanding?

E.H Carr in his classic book on the theory of history, What is History? (1961) wrote about ‘imaginative understanding’ and affirmed:

‘History cannot be written unless the historian can achieve some kind of contact with the mind of those about whom he is writing.’

Trove’s Digitised newspapers

How do we do this? How do we have this ‘imaginative understanding’ of the past? For those writing about Australian history, one answer may be Troves Digitised Newspapers.

Before the internet, before TV, before radio, there were newspapers. This was how generations of Australians learnt about what was happening in their world —locally, nationally, internationally. Analysing the content of historic newspapers, therefore, can illuminate many aspects of Australian history.

Family history, is one such area. My grandmother died young in 1935. Finding the few news articles and personal notices about her and her family are some of my favourite research moments. She is no longer just a pleasant face in photographs. I understand something more of her life.

Of course the major themes of Australian history are also represented. In this, the centenary year of the start of the First World War it is interesting to follow how the war was reported. I like timelines, so was drawn to a diary of the war printed in The Argus (Melbourne newspaper 1848-1957) on 31 October 1914. You can find it here: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10814881

It starts with that very well-known event, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914, and ends with the less-well known event, General Botha putting General Beyer’s rebels to flight in South Africa (29 October 1914). What would it have been like one hundred years ago, taking in what the first five months of war had brought and wondering what would be next?

Trove’s Digitised Newspapers have made it very easy to do this research. It provides access to almost 140 million news articles from over 700 Australian newspapers — spanning the first newspaper printed in Australia (1803) to the mid-20th century. Newspapers included come from each state and territory and are representative of metropolitan, regional and rural Australia.

Searching Trove’s Digitised Newspapers

Searching Trove’s Digitised newspapers is very easy. Start by putting in a general keyword in the simple search box. For instance family historians could kick off by putting in the family names they are searching. You will get lots of results, but facets/filters on the left hand side of the screen allow you to narrow the results down to what you really want. You can find information about this here:


Gold star for text correctors

A special aspect of the digitised newspapers is the crowd of volunteer text correctors who fix up the electronic text that has not been accurately translated by the Optical Character Recognition process. These corrections make the newspapers more searchable. A big, serious gold star for text correctors.Gold star