Thursday, 5 March 2015

John Wedrien

Jonas Vedrinaitis/John Wedrien
(source: Metrastis No. 1)
John Wedrien was well-known in Sydney for 40 years. He was a tailor and a keen amateur fisherman. He was also the first president of the Australian Lithuanian Society (in Lithuanian - Australijos Lietuvių Draugija), formed in 1929 in Sydney.

Born in Kudirkos Naumiestis around 1885, he emigrated to Manchester, England, near the end of the nineteenth century where he entered the tailoring trade. He later moved to Scotland and to Australia in 1913, settling in Sydney, New South Wales.

Wedrien's exact Lithuanian surname is unclear, being given as Vedrinaitis (Bauže, 1955) and Viedrinaitis (Metraštis No. 1, 1961); I will use the first variation.

Advertisement in Sydney's French language press
'Le Courrier Australien', 1932 (source: Trove)
Metraštis No. 1 records that Vedrinaitis had left Lithuania for Manchester aged 13 in the company of Izidorius Petraitis, a tailor; presumably he was apprenticed to him. Vedrinaitis is said to have returned to Lithuania when called up for the Russian army as he was concerned he would forfeit his inheritance (two farms) if he did not show up. As it turned out, he was rejected due to his short stature and he then returned to Manchester.

The 1911 Census of England and Wales shows that John Wedrinaitis, a tailor aged 25, single, was a resident of Manchester at that time. He was boarding with his two brothers, Joe aged 23 and Antony aged 21; Joe was a cabinet maker, while Antony was also a tailor. All three are listed as born in Lithuania and of Lithuanian nationality. The younger brother, listed as Anthony Weidrenitos, went on to serve in the Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment from 1914 to 1920, receiving the Victory Medal at the end of World War One. He died in Manchester in 1943.

Jonas Vedrinaitis arrived in Sydney from Bremen with his wife Eva in March 1913 aboard the German passenger ship Friedrich der Grosser (they are shown on the passenger list as Mr and Mrs John Weddrien). He had a friend, Ksavieras Skierys, already living in Sydney, who took them in and helped Jonas find a job. Very soon after arriving in Australia, Vedrinaitis took out a subscription to the American Lithuanian periodical 'Lietuva" and wrote an article for that magazine about Lithuanians in Australia which was published in 1914.

Antanas Bauže wrote an obituary for Vedrinaitis following his accidental death in March 1955; he had gone fishing with a friend on Botany Bay and presumably drowned when their dinghy capsized during a storm on the night of March 3. His body was only recovered 5 days later. Jonas left behind his wife Eva, daughter Agnieška (Agnes), and sons Antanas (Anthony) and Juozas (Joseph); he was buried at the Woronora catholic cemetery in Sydney.
Expenses for a 1931 social function while Wedrien
was President of the Society (source: Metrastis No. 1) 

Bauže knew Vedrinaitis and his family well; both had been active in the Sydney Lithuanian community. Vedrinaitis was well-established in Arncliffe, Sydney, with his own home as well as a tailoring business. He was president of the Australian Lithuanian Society 1929-31 and 1937-38.

The inaugural meeting of the Australian Lithuanian Society was held on 27 October 1929 at John Wedrien's home, East Street, Arncliffe. I'll cover that organisation's story in a later blog post.

Sources: Obituary for Jonas Vedrinaitis by Antanas Bauže in Mūsų Pastogė, 23 March 1955; Metraštis No. 1; (UK records, ship's passenger list).

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