Thursday, 9 April 2015

Arrivals from Memel/Klaipeda

Men from the port town of Memel or the surrounding region, known as Memelland, were among the earliest from historically Lithuanian lands to arrive in Australia.

Memel was the German name for the town which has been known as Klaipeda after it became part of Lithuania in the 1920s.  The town and surrounding region (part of 'Lithuania Minor') have a complex history.  By the late nineteenth century the region contained a mix of  Prussian Lithuanians and descendents of settlers brought in from other parts of Europe, including Germany and Switzerland; it was ruled by the Kingdom of Prussia, which in turn became part of the German Empire.  While the Russian Empire ruled the larger part of what was subsequently to become the Republic of Lithuania, the inhabitants of Memelland had greater personal freedoms than their cousins across the border in the Russian Empire, and it is not surprising that the earliest 'Lithuanian' migrants we come across tend to originate from the German side of the border. In addition, coming from a port town it is probably not too surprising that most of their occupations were maritime.

Here are a few examples of the early arrivals:

William SIMKUS.  This man had a distinctive Lithuanian surname.
'The British clipper ship Laomene under full sail at sea'
by Antonio Jacobsen (commons.wikimedia.org)
Family histories posted on Ancestry.com record that he was born in Memel in 1861 or 1862 and arrived in New South Wales in 1886 aboard the Laomene, a sailing ship registered in Liverpool, as a member of the crew.  In 1891 he married Agnes Blishen in East Maitland NSW and became a naturalised British citizen in 1893.  William worked as a labourer, seaman, dredgehand, and night watchman.  He was living at Carrington NSW at the time of his death in 1897 and was survived by his wife and two sons. One of the sons, William Gordon Simkus, went on to serve in the AIF during the First World War.


Karl PLUMBACH, a ship's carpenter born in Memel was sent from England to Australia as a convict aboard the Fanny in 1816 (he is recorded in Elena Govor's Russian Convicts in Australia).  His surname suggests germanic ancestry.

Frederick Robert SUPPLIES; born around 1834 in Memel, he married Mary Breeze in Tasmania in 1855 and was drowned off New Zealand in 1863 while serving as 2nd mate aboard the Hargraves.  A discussion on Rootschat.com suggests his family origins were Swiss or German.

John RUSSELL, a seaman born in Memel in 1827 arrived at Port Adelaide on the Mersey in 1859. South Australian government records indicate that he worked as a labourer at Smithfield, Clare, and Tothill's Creek in South Australia, and died a single man aged 40 of diphtheria in 1867.  His original surname appears to have been changed or anglicised to Russell.

Johann Joseph URBAN.  Family histories posted on Ancestry.com record that he was born in Memel in 1830 and married in Williamstown  near Melbourne in 1867.  He died in Williamstown in 1877.



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