Saturday, March 21, 2015

Meet Richard Henry Blackwell

While I've been lounging here in the south of France, our English cousins, Paul Blackwell and Tom Jolliffe, have been busy with family history matters. There is so much to relay to my faithful readers that I hardly know where to begin. Let's start with the tangible and certain.

Tom's branch of the family - his mother was a Blackwell - has in its possession a number of artefacts, including one very old photo album that Tom has been in the process of closely examining. (You'll remember I launched this blog with a similar close examination of one of my mother's old photo albums.) Among the pictures Tom found in the album was this one. Guess who?

It's our great grandfather, Richard Henry, founder of the Australian-Canadian branch of the family. He looks a pretty confident fellow, doesn't he? This is the first known photograph of the man we have. While most of the pictures in the album are not labelled and the subjects remain unidentified (and possibly unidentifiable), this one is inscribed on the back, probably in the man's own hand, with a date.

Given the date, 1878, the year RH emigrated to Australia, and the fact that the picture was taken in Melbourne, it's reasonable to assume he sent it home to family at Christmas his first year down under. The album it was found in originally belonged to RH's younger sister Julia (1850-1917)

Tom, who has read my blog and remembered a post about the origins of the Drummond moniker in the family, also sent along this next picture. The Drummond name was given to Blackwells in three generations, including to the last of the Drummond Blackwells, my brother Steve.

The picture is inscribed on the back, possibly in the same hand as on the other, Wm Drummond. It was also taken at a Melbourne studio. It seems a good bet that it was sent out from Australia at the same time as the one of RH, or in some later letter home. The fact that he sent a picture home to family suggests William Drummond was somebody fairly important to our grandfather - important enough that a few years later he named his first-born son Matthew Drummond.

But who was William Drummond? And why was he so important to RH? I can find no suggestion they were ever business partners. In fact, we know they both had other partners (who, interestingly, they both parted from at about the same time.)

Cousin Sally Blackwell in Australia remembers a story that Drummond was the name of a family friend, the owner of a Melbourne jewellery business, one that survived into the 21st century. Sally thought the original Drummond was a friend of our grandfather's, but clearly he would have to have been the friend of our great grandfather's. There was a jewellery business known as Brush & Drummond in Melbourne as early as 1878, located only a couple of blocks from where RH had his office in the market area.

More recent research in the National Library of Australia's Trove database of historical newspapers turned up an 1883 advertisement stating that Messrs. Brush and Drummond were dissolving their partnership - the same year RH split with his partner - and that Drummond would carry on in his own name. The Drummond who placed this ad was William. The jewellry business was known afterwards as Wm Drummond & Co. It advertised often in the Argus, the main Melbourne daily, as did R.H. Blackwell's company.

Steve Blackwell remembers another intriguing story about the origin of his Drummond middle name: that a Mr. Drummond had saved our ancestor's life in a near-accident on a dock. Steve, again, thought it was our grandfather, but it would have been RH. 

I can imagine the scene at Hobson's Bay, the old shipping terminus in Melbourne before they dredged and widened the Yarra River. A big packing crate comes swinging out from the hold of a ship, the rope breaks as it's swinging over the pier and, just in the nick of time, Bill Drummond pushes RH out of the way. 

Think about it: we might never have existed but for the heroics of Wm Drummond. Steve, you can bear that name proudly. 

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