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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Australia Day 2012 – Wealth for toil – All the posts

Happy Australia Day!

I recently issued an invitation/challenge to geneabloggers to blog on Australia Day (today!). The theme I chose was “Wealth for Toil”, inspired by Australia’s national anthem.


The instructions were:

To participate, choose someone who lived in Australia (preferably one of your ancestors) and tell us how they toiled. Your post should include:

  1. What was their occupation?
  2. What information do you have about the individual’s work, or about the occupation in general?
  3. The story of the person, focussing on their occupation; or
    The story of the occupation, using the person as an example.

Responses may be as long or short as you like, and as narrow or broad as you wish.

It was lovely to see so many people reply straight away that they intended to participate, and even better to see the posts start appearing.

So, for your enjoyment, in the order that I found out about them, here are the “Wealth for Toil” posts.

I will continue to add posts for the next day or two. If I have missed your post it’s not intentional - please leave a comment and I’ll add you to the list.

Jill Ball – Geniaus
Frank Duncan moved from job to job

Shauna Hicks – Shauna Hicks History Enterprises
Thomas Price led a varied life

Sharon – The Tree of Me
Dr William Lee Dawson

Helen V Smith - From Helen V Smith's Keyboard
William Busby, stonemason and George Howard Busby, a taste for adventure

Tanya – My genealogy adventure
George Thomas Smede, military and police

Linda Ottery – Questions about my Quest
Toiling in the Tobacco Fields

Merron Riddiford – Western District Families
Haddon family, working on the land and working on the roads

Fi – Dance Skeletons
Arthur Louis Alexandre Bastin, sailor, deserter, miner, bookseller

Kerry Farmer – Family History Research
Commercial travellers

Sharn White – FamilyHistory4u
John Morrison, builder

Pauleen - Family history across the seas
Denis Joseph Kunkel, working on the railways

Judy Webster – UK/Australia Genealogy
William Donald Webster, working with horses

Julie Goucher - Anglers Rest
John Hunt Butcher, magistrate?

Frances – Rebel Hand
Nicholas Delaney, building roads

Cassie Mercer – Inside History Magazine
Tom Readford, convict to innkeeper (and he met Charles Darwin!)

Alex Daw – Family Tree Frog
Harriet Rowland, teacher

Ann O’Dyne – Trying to be Ann O’Dyne
George Sedgwick, carpenter

Shelley Crawford – Twigs of Yore
Daniel Miller Couper, butcher

Australia Day 2012 – Wealth for toil – Butcher

Recently I invited geneabloggers to join me in Australia Day blogging on the theme “Wealth for Toil” (from the Australian national anthem). The instructions I gave were:

To participate, choose someone who lived in Australia (preferably one of your ancestors) and tell us how they toiled. Your post should include:

  1. What was their occupation? 
  2. What information do you have about the individual’s work, or about the occupation in general?
  3. The story of the person, focussing on their occupation; or
    The story of the occupation, using the person as an example.

Responses may be as long or short as you like, and as narrow or broad as you wish.

This post is my response to my own challenge. I selected an ancestor for whom I had recently found occupational information, and who I thought I might be able to dig up some more information and context in the time and with the resources I had available.

[I will post a list of all the challenge responses received to date shortly]



The first mention I have of my great-great-grandfather Daniel Miller Couper’s occupation is on his marriage certificate in January of 1879. By then 28 years old, he was a butcher. Whether he already had his own business by then or was working for another butcher, I don’t know. From that time his occupation is uniformly given as butcher in all the documents I have viewed – up until the time it changes to retired butcher!

Becoming a butcher

I have not dwelled on the physical skills needed to become a butcher – I am too squeamish for that and it is certainly not an occupation that would suit me! I had always assumed that Daniel Miller Couper must have gone through an apprenticeship. Perhaps he did as there was an apprenticeship system in place in Victoria, modelled after the English system. However, in researching for this post I’m not so sure.

The requirements for a slaughtering licence outside of Melbourne were quite straightforward - a slaughtering licence could be had for one pound if the local council was satisfied that the applicant was of “unexceptionable character and that the situation of such slaughter-house or place is not objectionable”1. There was no requirement for any particular training. It seems probable that he learnt the trade from another local butcher, although not necessarily under a formal arrangement.

The first indication I have of Daniel owning a butchers store comes in the Sands Melbourne Directory of 1880. I have not done a thorough enough search to feel confident that this was when he opened shop. His butcher’s shop was on Broadwood Street, Oakleigh, and his slaughter yard not far away at Mulgrave.

Daniel himself had workers at his store. I know this not from employment records, but from when things went wrong.

In 1885, Daniel hired Joseph Jose for 25s per week on a verbal agreement at the Melbourne Meat Market. However, the employment didn’t last. Joseph left without giving the (allegedly) agreed one week of notice. On 6 March 1885 Joseph was arrested at Walhalla. For his part, Joseph said that he occasionally had to work late at night and, in fact, there was money owing to him. Neither party had evidence to support their claims and the case was dismissed.2

Later, in 1900, John J Keppel, a stout 28 year old butcher of fair complexion, was charged with embezzling 11s. 4d. of Daniel’s money3.

Legal requirements

Being a butcher involved a lot of red tape. Slaughterhouses had to give notice in writing at least 12 hours in advance of any animal to be slaughtered. They also had to keep a book with detailed records of the animals they slaughtered that specified the “color marks brands sex and apparent age of such cattle…” and a copy of these records had to be provided to the nearest court of petty sessions every month. The definition of cattle was broad – it included any “bull ox steer cow heifer calf ram ewe wether lamb goat kid or swine”4.

The purpose of all the red tape and detailed records was to prevent the theft of cattle, or of any other livestock worth stealing. Failure to comply could mean hefty fines.

Abattoirs also had special mention in the public health laws5. In the late 1800s it was well known that unsanitary conditions contributed to the spread of infectious diseases. Inspection of abattoirs and butchers premises was a public health measure.

The public health laws allowed members of the local council and their officers to inspect a butcher’s premises at any time. The local board could give 24 hours notice that any “manure dung soil filth offal coal ashes or other offensive or noxious matter whatsoever” they found was to be removed. Penalties for non-compliance could range from fines up to hard labour.

The fledgling town of Oakleigh struggled with problems of drainage and of livestock being kept within the town limits. On one occasion, as late as 1891, a flock of around 150 sheep belonging to Thomas Jones, a long-time Oakleigh butcher, was found straying on Oakleigh’s streets6. It might not have been so bad if a ram hadn’t started butting a woman!


OAKLEIGH POLICE COURT. (1891, December 5). Oakleigh Leader (North Brighton, Vic. : 1888 - 1902), p. 5. Retrieved January 26, 2012, from

As the town grew, some slaughtering licences were not renewed. In January 1887 Charles Newport’s application to renew a slaughtering licence at Dandenong Road was refused, on the grounds that the area was becoming more populated. However, the application of one J T Clarke with premises directly across the road was going to be granted. The unfairness of this was noted and the decision deferred to the next meeting.

While Daniel had the occasional slap on the wrist from council e.g. for keeping pigs within the town limits or for leaving bad smelling fat and putrid bones lying around, he seems to have always had his licence renewed.

Technology and advancement

The latter half of the 1800s was a time with many changes affecting butchers’ ability to run a business. Through good management or good fortune, Daniel Couper seems to have navigated them all.

Viable systems of refrigeration had been invented, and as the technology was being adopted, the ability of a butcher to refrigerate his wares was a fact worthy of advertising7. Investing in a new technology is a risk, but in the case of Daniel Miller Couper the risk seems to have paid off as he eventually retired a wealthy man.

The spread of the rail network also brought both the risk of losing custom, and opportunities to sell to new markets.

I have only a few details of Daniel Miller Couper’s own business. I have located his butchers shop in Melbourne Directories but this tells me little. I hope to gain more information from newspaper advertisements. In Taking its Place: A history of Oakleigh by H.G.Gobbi mentions Daniel advertising his business – the source is not clear but probably in the Oakleigh and Ferntree Gully Times based on the surrounding source references. This publication is not (yet?) on the Trove Newspapers website and I have not been able to find examples of him advertising in other papers.


As it happens, Daniel Couper Miller did become a very wealthy man (although that was not why I chose him for this challenge). He was able to retire and lived for many years as a gentleman of independent means, leaving a sizable estate when he died in 1935.


[1] Victoria. “The Licensed Butchers and Abattoirs Statute 1864”. These provisions were retained in later replacement legislation.

[2] OAKLEIGH POLICE COURT. (1885, March 25). South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic. : 1872 - 1920), p. 3 Edition: WEEKLY.. Retrieved January 21, 2012, from

[3] Victoria Police. and Victoria. Police Dept. and Victoria Police Force.  Victoria police gazette  4 Jan 1900, p7.

[4]Victoria. “The Licensed Butchers and Abattoirs Statute 1864”. These provisions were retained in later replacement legislation.

[5] Including the Public Health Statute 1865 as well as earlier and subsequent legislation.

[6] OAKLEIGH POLICE COURT. (1891, December 5). Oakleigh Leader (North Brighton, Vic. : 1888 - 1902), p. 5. Retrieved January 26, 2012, from

[7] Gobbi, H. G. & Oakleigh and District Historical Society.  2004  Taking its place : a history of Oakleigh marking its sesquicentenary, 1853-2003 / H.G. Gobbi  Oakleigh and District Historical Society, Oakleigh, Vic.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Australia Day – Wealth for toil – Don’t forget!

My reminder is probably coming a little late, but here it is…

Don’t forget to join in the Australia Day 2012 geneablogging!

You don’t need to be Australian, you just need to be able to write about someone in Australia. This year the theme is occupations – “wealth for toil” – inspired by our national anthem. Check my earlier post for the details. I’m happy to offer a little leeway with the timing of your post considering that most of the world experiences 26 January a day later than we do here in Australia.

I’ve been wondering if I will get my own post done in time. Early in December I fell and broke my foot. While I’m well on the way to recovery and can now walk without crutches, I’m still following doctor’s orders and heading down to the local pool to do physiotherapy exercises every day. With two small children, I need to be able to not only walk but run properly! The only time I can get there is in the evening after the aforesaid small children have gone to bed – time that usually goes towards genealogy.

I’m really looking forward to reading all your posts.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Deaths in my tree on Friday the 13th

When I realised the date, I thought I would see if Family Historian could produce a list of people who died on a Friday the 13th.

No problem! Family Historian allows you to filter on just the day (13th) and just the day of the week (Friday) without needing to do anything too complex. I quickly identified three people who died on a Friday 13th. Curiously, all three were from Scotland.

They were:

James Couper, the two year old son of William Couper and Anne McKenzie. He died of croup on Friday 13th March 1857 at Portmahomack, Ross, Scotland.

Elizabeth Sinclair died in Lybster, Latheron, Caithness, Scotland at age 93 on Friday 13 May 1864. I think she is my 5xgreat-grandmother, but I need to gather more evidence to be sure I have the right Elizabeth Sinclair.

Alexander Miller died a pauper at the age of 74 after six months suffering from chronic bronchitis on Friday 13th April 1877 at Bardfellister, Clyth, Latheron, Caithness, Scotland. He is my 4xgreat-grandfather.

If you are related to any of these people, please get in touch. I’d love to exchange information.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Australia Day 2012 – Wealth for Toil

Australia-day-logo-2012Last year I was pleased (and astonished) when my timid invitation to join me in Australia Day geneablogging was met with great enthusiasm. I was thrilled to present 22 fantastic responses from bloggers around the world, that provided great examples of quality research and writing with an Australian flavour.

Let’s do it again!

This year I invite you to join me in Australia Day (26 January) geneablogging on “Wealth for Toil”. The theme is inspired by Australia’s national anthem, Advance Australia Fair:

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history’s page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

Australia Day 2012: Wealth for Toil

To participate, choose someone who lived in Australia (preferably one of your ancestors) and tell us how they toiled. Your post should include:

  1. What was their occupation? 
  2. What information do you have about the individual’s work, or about the occupation in general?
  3. The story of the person, focussing on their occupation; or
    The story of the occupation, using the person as an example. 

Responses may be as long or short as you like, and as narrow or broad as you wish.

Publish your post on or before Australia Day (26 Jan 2012) and leave a comment here or send me an email with the URL. I will create a summary post of the responses.

I look forward to learning how your ancestors toiled!

Update: You can find a list of responses to this post here.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Looking backwards, looking forwards: My genealogy year in review

This post flits past my goals for 2011, reviews my genealogy achievements for 2011 and sets out my hopes for 2012.

Looking back: 2011 goals

In 2011 I didn’t make resolutions as such, but provided a long list of long-term goals. Rather than describe my progress on each item, I will dwell on just one: Don't bite off more than I can chew!

My results on this item for 2012 is – fail. I did get some good things done, but felt burnt out by the second half of the year.

Looking back: Highlights of 2011

  • Using my first ever FHL film. At one stage I almost lived in the National Library of Australia but my archives research has been limited by distance to the appropriate archive and with small children it’s hard to even get to the library too often any more. Just getting out of the house to do some research was exciting for me and I found all the information I was hoping for.
  • The Australia Day challenge! In January I issued an invitation for other bloggers to join me in an Australia Day blogging event. I had given quite a bit of thought to the wording of the question as I was hoping to engineer a certain type of response. Yes - I had in mind the type of post I would like to read and asked questions that I hoped would deliver the goods. I was amply rewarded when 21 other bloggers posted fantastic articles – and from the feedback I got it wasn’t just me that liked the results.
  • “Opening” my research data website I have already had quite a few cousin connections thanks to the site. I think that my decision to put up more data rather than less has contributed to people who find the site actually getting in touch. This has lead to lots of new information and I have also been making an effort to gather more information about other descendants of my ancestors, so I’ll understand how my new-found cousins are connected to me.
  • A joint ANZAC Day blogging challenge with the Central Auckland Research Centre, Auckland Libraries. Again we had a great response. I found the sad stories of the impact of war heartbreaking.
  • Meanwhile I completed three basic Australian genealogy courses with the National Institute in Genealogical Studies through the year, and have almost completed a fourth. I found that when I did just one course at a time I was wished the course was more challenging (that will come if I move on to more advanced courses, I’m sure), but when I did two at a time any unexpected life event put me in danger of not completing. With a five and a three year old, unexpected life events are to be expected! One course at a time it is for me from now on.
  • Changing genealogy software. This I did with some sadness, but it was time and I still think I made the right decision. Changing genealogy software can be quite a challenge. There is a lot of potential for data loss and general messing up along the way, but I have come through the process reasonably well and am slowing tidying up my database. I’m very happy with the querying and multimedia capabilities.
  • DNA. I have now tested with both 23andMe and with Family Tree DNA. I have not yet worked out my connection with anyone, but two of my (half) second cousins tested during the year. Aside from being interesting to see, the results supported our paper trail (phew!) and gave leads on some of our matches.
  • Giving back. I haven’t joined an indexing project or similar, but I have joined Judy Webster’s “Genealogists for Families” team on Kiva. Kiva is a site that facilitates small loans (just $25) to assist people move out of poverty. It’s hard to call this giving back as you can reclaim the money once it’s repaid, but I don’t intend to. I will reloan it to others who would benefit from help.
  • Discussions with other bloggers. In particular I enjoyed having discussions in both public and private fora with Jill Ball aka Geniaus and Tanya Honey about the use of our latest toys – Samsung Galaxy Tablets. These Android devices are bigger than a mobile phone but smaller than an iPad. I have enjoyed exchanging notes with Jill and Tanya on the genealogy (and other) uses of our toys. Keep an eye out for Jill talking about our Galaxy Tabs at Rootstech!
  • More and more Victorian newspapers appeared on Trove through 2011. This has been a goldmine for some of my families (see Bad smelling fat and putrid bones for an example) and I hope to do “more” with some of the information I’ve found and not yet blogged about. I’m still not sure what that “more” will be.

This is one of the advantages of blogging. If I wasn’t blogging I’m sure I wouldn’t be looking back on the year and seeing just how much I’ve done – and I certainly wouldn’t have the blog posts to prove it!

Looking forward: What’s coming in 2012?

  • DNA. Great excitement. Yesterday my father agreed that he would do a genealogy DNA test for me – just in time to take advantage of the Family Tree DNA sale. As he is a generation further back than me, he will have bigger matches with my cousins who have already tested and this may allow us to narrow down more matches to our shared portion of the family tree. It will also show me whether my other matches are on my maternal or paternal side, and may help narrow down the estimated generation distance of some matches.
  • Australia Day challenge. It’s definitely on again and this year the topic is… no, wait a minute, that’s another blog post… (coming soon!!)

In terms of resolutions, the main one, once again, is Don’t bite off more than I can chew! I don’t want to get that burnt out feeling again – genealogy is a leisure activity for me, after all! – and so I will be careful to avoid excitedly signing up for anything and everything.

Related to that, I also want to do a better job of planning my activities. Not necessarily to stick scrupulously to the plan, but to be able to make good use of my time when I feel like making good use of it.

As for what else, I don’t know. I will see what eventuates. Who knows what path a cousin contact or DNA discovery may lead me down.