Archive for January, 2010

DO COINCIDENCES only happen occasionally, or are they happening constantly, but it’s just that we only occasionally notice them?

You be the judge about this recent serendipitous encounter at New Farm’s Vue Cafe in Brisbane. Alex, the waiter bringing our coffee, had an English accent, from Hertfordshire as it turned out. We asked if he’d ever been to Shrewsbury. “It’s a beautiful town,” Alex replied, “but take warm clothes… even in summer!”

A minute later, a lady sitting nearby, came over and introduced herself, saying that she’d heard “Shrewsbury” mentioned. “I grew up in Shropshire,” she said excitedly. “I came from Oswestry where my father was a doctor. We lived within sight of Offa’s Dyke, dividing Wales from England.”

Coronet Court, Brunswick Street, New Farm; 'Art Deco' par-excellenceThis was surprising news to us. Quite apart from the fact that a visit to Shropshire was being planned, we actually knew this lady – having first met her and her mother briefly weeks before (and wondered about the British accent) when we led one of Mary Ryan’s Heritage Walks around New Farm!

It was Tamsin O’Connor, the family custodian of perhaps one of the most iconic Art Deco buildings in New Farm, if not Brisbane – none other than Coronet Court (1933-34, pictured) on Brunswick Street, overlooking New Farm Park.

Tamsin was very keen to talk about Shropshire. “What’s your interest in Shrewsbury?” she asked animatedly, so out came the story of Tom Hurstbourne’s author, who grew up just 8 miles west of the town.

We privately marvelled that but for the sheer synchronicity of the mention of “Shrewsbury” to Alex the waiter, we would never have known of Tamsin’s Shropshire connection – but a bigger surprise was in store…

Tamsin’s mother still lives in Oswestry (she was only visiting New Farm when we met her), so Tamsin graciously wrote out her address. Tamsin’s sister also lives in Shropshire, not far from Oswestry. When we saw her address “West Felton”, hairs stood up on the backs of our necks…

You see, West Felton had been the home of poet, ornithologist and “forgotten romantic”, John F. M. Dovaston (1782–1854). He had been the best friend of the grandfather (also John Clavering Wood) of Tom Hurstbourne’s author. A forthcoming publication of ours entitled A Shropshire Squire is due to feature 7 substantial letters written by John Dovaston to his friend J.C. Wood.

Egad! How does one explain such an amazing ‘double-coincidence’ – which not only links this prominent New Farm lady with Shropshire, but more specifically to West Felton and its once well-known, learned, eminently eligible bachelor, who could have come straight out of one of Jane Austen’s novels? Any suggestions?

Needless to say, we imagine that we’ll receive a warm reception at Oswestry and West Felton, and perhaps the spirit of Mr. Dovaston will also happily greet the descendant of one of his closest friends…

No wonder we love coincidences – not only behind the scenes, but via Alex in Vue!


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THE MERCY HERITAGE CENTRE, within the precincts of All Hallows’ School in Brisbane, promises to be an historically congenial venue to launch John Clavering Wood’s 1865 novel Tom Hurstbourne or A Squatter’s Life on Sunday, 28 February 2010.

Once the residence of Dr Fullerton and known as “Adderton” in the late 1850s, the house became the Sisters of Mercy’s Queensland ‘mother house’ in 1863. Progressively, the original two-story home was expanded outwards and upwards to become the grand, handsome structure seen below.

Mercy Heritage Centre, venue for the launch of "Tom Hurstbourne"

As part of the Tom Hurstbourne Launch afternoon, tours of the Mercy Heritage Centre will enable you to walk through the original 1850s house and see how it joins with the rest of the building. The guided tours will also take you to certain rooms that have been beautifully restored to evoke earlier periods in the life of the house.

A sumptuous high tea on the verandah after the Launch will enable you to enjoy vistas that take in other remarkable buildings on the All Hallows’ campus. You’ll also view Brisbane’s iconic Story Bridge from an angle only familiar to staff and students of All Hallows’.

View of Story Bridge from Mercy Heritage Centre

For more information about the Launch of this novel from antiquity (including the associated BHG Seminar) in such an appropriately historic location, please contact the Brisbane History Group on 07 3351 6371 or email: bhg–@–brisbanehistory.asn.au. (take out the dashes). RSVP essential.

If you are unable to attend the launch, copies of Tom Hurstbourne may be pre-ordered from the Brisbane History Group or Boolarong Press. For opening hours of the Mercy Heritage Centre, please visit the website.

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JOHN CLAVERING WOOD, the young-yet-to-be-novelist, very likely met his grandfather’s close friend, John Freeman Milward Dovaston (1782-1854), poet, naturalist and barrister, who lived 13 miles north of Marche Hall at his estate “The Nursery”, West Felton, Oswestry.

More about John Dovaston will be available in A Shropshire Squire, a forthcoming collection of letters and a diary – meanwhile nothing remains of Dovaston’s beautiful estate. According to a local correspondent:

The Dovaston House was latterly known as Dovaston Court rather than the Nursery. I am sorry to report that it was demolished a few years ago. It had become very dilapidated but it was said to have been a very beautiful house full of really super furniture. The garden had become such a jungle that you could barely see it. The site is now covered with new homes.

(Rear view of “The Nursery”, courtesy of http://www.sueburton.co.uk)

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To Bega or not to Bega…

Yarranung homestead in Bega, New South WalesON the weekend of 13-14 March 2010 in Bega in southern New South Wales, it is hoped that A REUNION of the descendants of the Wood family – originating from Shropshire in England – will take place.

Keen attendees may come from as far afield as New Zealand, joining those from Melbourne and Brisbane, as well as others from closer to Bega. The RSVP date of 26 January has been set, so we’ll know soon after that whether it is worthwhile to proceed. An idea of the Wood family genealogy may be gleaned from http://www.monaropioneers.com/wood-ph.htm#Genealogy

Apart from sampling Bega’s famous cheese, a highlight of the weekend is likely to be visiting Bega’s historic “Yarranung” homestead (pictured above) which was home to Peter H. Wood and family for more than 70 years.

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2010 marks a double milestone for author John Clavering Wood (1837-1910). 150 years ago on 14 June 1860 he set foot on terra australis, arriving in Sydney with his brother Peter Horsman Wood, on-board Eli Whitney from a temporary stopover in New Zealand.

Gravesite of author John Clavering Wood, Boroondara Cemetery, Kew, MelbourneThe brothers most likely hailed a hansom cab at the Sydney dock and asked to be taken to Tattersall’s Club in Pitt Street, reflecting a similar episode in Tom Hurstbourne.

Here they possibly made contacts affecting their future destinies. The Manning brothers, James and William, had interests in both Bega (where Peter H. Wood settled) and Central Queensland where John Clavering Wood became an overseer. The novel commends Tattersall’s as first-rate:

You meet specimens of every class at either table d’hôte or café – squatters, MLAs, merchants, stockmen and clerks. If you are of the genus ‘swell’, you can meet your fellow ‘nob’ who will sell you a station; if a squatter, the overlander who will take a drove of cattle for you to the North or to Melbourne… (ch. 30)

2010 also marks a century since John Clavering Wood’s death in Melbourne. His last address was 206 Faraday Street off Lygon Street, Carlton. He was laid to rest on 8 August 1910 in unmarked grave C4103 at Boroondara Cemetery, Kew (pictured).

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