Thursday, 9 July 2020

Pranas and Natalija ŠEŠKAS

My previous blog post about migration patterns mentioned the Šeškas family; here are a few more details to fill out an interesting story about a couple who decided to make a home and raise a family in Western Australia.

Pranas (known as Frank in Australia, and at times as Seska) was born on 1 January 1892 near Gargždai in western Lithuania, not far from the Baltic Sea. We know little about his early years before arriving in Australia; possibly economic hardship led to him leaving home, or - like so many other young men nearing 20 years of age at that time - he may have left to avoid conscription into the Russian czar's army. Also like many other single men from the Baltics who settled in Australia he may have taken employment as a seaman before arriving in Fremantle in 1912. He remained in Australia for the next decade, somehow resisting the social and economic pressures to join the AIF during the First World War and, although working at manual jobs, seems to have done reasonably well for himself.  We next find him back in newly-independent Lithuania in 1922 and applying for a Lithuanian passport (up to that point in Australia he was classified as a Russian alien, having been born in the czarist empire).

Pranas - application for a Lithuanian passport, 1922

While in Lithuania Pranas would have met his future wife Natalija. She was born near Kybartai, by the Lithuanian-Prussian border in 1906. He returned to Australia in 1925 and was working at the Port Pirie smelters as a labourer earning a good wage (over 6 pounds per week) when he applied to the Australian government a year later to allow Natalija to emigrate to Australia. At the same time he also sought permission for another Lithuanian friend, Martinas Korallus, to emigrate with Natalija. Approval was granted and the pair arrived in early 1927; Pranas and Natalija married on 1 February 1927 in Port Pirie.

Natalija - her Lithuanian passport, 1926

Pranas' and Natalija's first child was born in Port Pirie in 1928. However that year was marred by a few unpleasant experiences, with Pranas appearing before the Port Pirie courts twice within a period of a month - appearing both as a plaintiff and defendant. In one case he took his friend Korallus to court for outstanding money lent as well as unpaid board and lodgings. Perhaps because of these experiences the family moved to Western Australia where they eventually settled near Perth, first at Muchea and later Baker's Hill.

Five more children were born to Natalija and Pranas in Western Australia from 1929. A recent newspaper feature on one of the Seskas boys [click here], born in 1930, records the lives of Depression-era children on the land and notes that he was raised speaking Lithuanian.  Pranas died in 1967, and Natalija (Natalie) in 1998.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Family Migration Patterns

While single men probably made up the largest category of pre-WW2 Lithuanian-born immigrants to Australia, I continue to be surprised on this journey of discovery to find so many family groups making the voyage to the other side of the world. Some of these arrived as married couples, others singly with the intention of meeting their partners here, but many also arrived with already established families including children and occasionally siblings.
  •  In contrast to modern-day migration patterns, grandparents and older relatives seem to have been conspicuously absent, as were independent single females.   
The following examples may help illustrate the diversity of these family migration patterns.


Stasys and Elžbieta Urniežius (Stanislaus and Elizabeth Urniarz) reached Australia in 1904 from the Russian Far East. Stasys served in the AIF during WW1 (Egypt and France) and the couple returned to Lithuania in 1920.

Antanas and Ona Bauže (Anthony and Anna Bauze) arrived in September 1930 and Ona gave birth to their first child in November 1930. The family settled in Sydney and were prominent in Lithuanian community activities.

Ksaveras (Alexander) Skierys arrived in 1911 and his fiancee Ellen Petraitis followed him from Manchester in 1913. They were married in 1916 and raised 3 children in Sydney.

Pranas Šeškas (Frank Seskas) arrived in 1912, was back in Lithuania for a while in the 1920s, and was joined in Australia in 1928 by his prospective wife Natalija. They married here and raised a large family in Western Australia.

Alexander and Ellen Skierys with two children c1920. Courtesy of Rosemary Mitchell.

Couples with children

Jonas and Morta Mickevičius (John and Martha McCowage) arrived in Sydney in 1887. They had two children who had been born in England before departure and went on to have another three in Sydney.

Mamertas and Ona Marcinkevičius (Mamert and Anna Marcin) arrived in 1928 from Lithuania with three children and also settled in Sydney.

1928 passenger list with the Marcinkevičius family.

Single parents

Josephine Ruckman (Jusefa Rukman, born in 1863 in Kaunas, widow) arrived with her two sons John and Felix and daughter-in-law Klara in 1923 and settled in northern Queensland.

Juozas Ruzgas (Joe Ross), born in 1890, arrived in from Lithuania in 1930 and was joined in 1938 by his son Balys Ruzgas (William Ross). After a few years in Victoria the father and son settled in Tasmania.

Siblings and extended families

Kazys Astrauskas (Charles Ashe) arrived in  Western Australia in 1928, followed by his wife, children and his sister-in-law in 1930.

Brothers Petras and Vincas Kairaitis (Peter and Bill Kairaitis) had arrived from Scotland around 1911 and settled at Blacktown (Sydney). They were joined in 1928 by their neice Nelly and her husband George Peters and two nephews Bronius and Antanas Petraitis (Bronius and Anthony Patrick) as well as Bronius' wife and children (all came from Scotland and settled at Blacktown).