Oh Great Grandfather, how you taunt me so. I know you existed because I now exist. Where did you come from? Why did you decide to live in
? When did you arrive in my homeland? Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Who were you?
My great-grandfather, James Arthur, is not my brick wall; he’s my
Alcatraz, my Holloway, my Boggo Road. My gaol who keeps me imprisoned wondering who he was, and in turn, keeps me wondering who I am.
James is an enigma. The first proof of his existence was from the birth certificate of my grandfather, William Arthur. But James Arthur was killed in 1901 when William was only 5 years old, so he had no memory of him.
James Arthur “Facts” (or are they?)
On James’ marriage certificate, he listed the following information:· He was a bachelor;
· His father (John’s) occupation was merchant;
· His wife to be, Catherine Alice Gibbons, was from
; Tipperary, Ireland
· James was literate (he signed his name).
An in-depth look into the documents in The James Arthur Papers also revealed the following information:
· James was employed as a seaman for the last years of his life, working as a Black Labour Recruiter, travelling to the
Solomon Islands from to recruit; Queensland
· He wrote many letters home to his wife while at sea;
· His letters were grammatically correct, his English perfect, spelling exact, not American English;
· He always signed his letters to his wife “James Arthur”. No middle initial.
· His employer was Thomas Brown & Sons, Brisbane;
· His Certificates of Discharge from ships all noted his conduct as ‘very good’;
· He was murdered in the
(shot by Islanders) on April 19, 1901 (the boat he was working on at the time, The Fearless, is the background of my blog page); Solomon Islands
· He was buried either at sea or on the beach on an island in the Solomons.
Family information known about James is:
His children’s names were (in birth order) Catherine, “Nellie” (Mary Ellen), James, John, William, and Alice;
· None of his children were given middle names (my grandfather William used to joke that they were ‘too poor to afford middle names’!);
· When my grandfather William had children, he named his first child James, and my father was told that he should have named HIS first child James as that was the “Arthur tradition” (my father didn’t go with the flow on this one!);
· My father told me he thought James was from
Manchester; however my oldest brother thought that grandfather William had told him that James was from Sheffield. Liverpool? ? Manchester Sheffield? All very close to one another.
So, with all this information, I was sure I would find SOME proof of James’ existence before his 1885 appearance in
. Gympie, Australia
I thought wrongly…….
Over the years (and paid subscriptions to sites) I have found NO evidence of James Arthur’s existence prior to 1885. Records I have researched through include:
· BMD for
England and (there is no record of his birth in the official registers); Wales
· BMD for an entry under the surname of “Torpey” and variants;
· BMD for “Arthur James” and variants;
· Lancashire and
parish records; Cheshire
UK / Censuses for 1851, 1861, 1871 or 1881. Searched for him, his parents, any family with names similar to those he called his own children. Also using his name backwards, using the Torpey name, the name McArthur. Ignored information about birth in Scotland Liverpool, and searched everywhere. Nothing found;
· Irish BMD’s available from paid Irish sites, for information on James, John or Ellen Torpey;
· Irish Census 1901 & 1911 for possible information on his parents, if still alive, or siblings;
· Directories searching for a John Arthur, merchant;
· World wide newspapers (I found several articles on his murder in the
, but none other than this); Solomon Islands
· Army records from the
Bailey Court site;
· Immigration records for all states in
· Extensive searches on Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com, Familysearch.com., Rootsweb.com;
· Extensive enquiries on many different genealogy mailing lists;
· Death records in 1901 – 1910 for all
Australian States, New Zealand, (I have not been able to find out who was responsible for recording Solomon Island deaths in 1901). No death record was issued, no mention in Police Gazettes, Government Gazettes; UK
& Australian Wills from 1901; UK
· Irish newspapers for mention of his 1901 death;
· BMD registers in
for any record of any other person with parent’s names of Arthur and Torpey; Australia
· All State Archives in
Australia, National Archives of Australia, New Zealand and ; UK
· School registers in the
I have found not ONE piece of evidence in any of these records of James, his parents’ marriage, death, census, working life.
I am most certain that James will be the reason for my eventual insanity. He has made me an insomniac, a cynic (many nights I have lay awake, thinking he must have been an axe murderer who had to change his name to escape
If you have read this far, I hope you have felt some of my frustration and pain!
If you can SOLVE this mystery of who I am, then I’ll give you my sanity. On a silver platter.
Oh James Arthur, you taunt me so….