Monday, 29 June 2015

Settlers in Western Australia

Migrants from Lithuania have been arriving in Western Australia for well over 100 years, yet I have found nothing published about the early (pre-World War 2) settlers.  So here's my contribution.

Previous posts in this blog have already outlined the stories of those Lithuanian Anzacs who had arrived as single men and enlisted in Western Australia, including:

  • Kazimieras ČEPKAUSKAS (Charles Cepkouski/Capouski), born in Arlaviškės (near Kaunas) in 1891, arrived in Australia at Fremantle in 1910;
  • Joseph JOSEPHSON, born in Vilnius in 1886, arrived at Fremantle in 1912;
  • John LOVRIAEN, born in Kaunas in 1889, arrived around 1909; and
  • Kazys VALUKEVIČIUS (Kazis/Charles Walinkevic/Volukavitz, born in Marijampolė in 1884, arrived in 1910.  
Several others also arrived and settled immediately prior to the First World War, including family groups.  The ALANSKAS family arrived in 1912 after having lived in Scotland for 9 years: Antanas (Antoni), who was born in 1882 in the southern Lithuanian region of Suvalkija, arrived with his Lithuanian-born wife Eva (Ieva) - who was also the sister of John Lovriaen -  and their 3 daughters who had been born in Glasgow, Scotland.  The family settled at Bellevue, now a suburb of Perth, where Antanas tended 50 acres and worked as a labourer and brickmaker (source: NAA records).

Perhaps one of the earliest arrivals with Lithuanian connections was Robert Carl Heinrich REICHEL, born in 1834 in Memel (now Klaipėda) who arrived at Melbourne from London in 1859.  He married in 1862 in Melbourne and settled in Victoria but around 1895 moved to Perth where he was naturalised in 1909 at the age of 74 after 50 years in Australia.  At that time he gave his occupation as woodcutter, married, with 8 children alive and 5 deceased.  Robert died soon after, in 1912 (source: family trees).

Another migrant with Prussian Lithuanian connections was Otto Bernhard RIEGERT, born in 1861 in Minjotai.  He had married in South Australia in 1886 but moved to Western Australia with his family in the first decade of the 1900s.  Otto worked as a school teacher and died in 1916 at York, WA (source: family trees).

More migrants arrived after the First World War, anxious to make a start in the New World:
  • Pranas ŠEŠKAS (Frank Seskas) from Kaunas was living at Muchea, WA.  By 26 May 1938, when he placed a notice in the Western Mail of Perth regarding his intention to seek naturalisation, he reported that he had been an Australian resident for 20 years; 
  • Liudvikas KURTINAITIS from the Marijampolė area was living at Northam with his Lithuanian wife Katarina and daughter Adelė when he placed his naturalisation notice in The West Australian of 12 September 1938, stating that he had been living in Australia for 9 years and 9 months;
  • Juozapas LAZORAITIS (Brown), born in Pilviškiai and living at Planet Street, Perth, stated in his notice in the Westralian Worker of 15 November 1929 that he had been in Australia for 13 months, and prior to that for 35 years in Scotland;
  • Zale ZAPOLSKI (known as Zalman Levi) born in Lazdijai in 1904 had been in Australia for 9 years and was living at Bayswater (Perth) when he placed his notice in the Daily News of  13 July 1939 (he went on to serve for Australia in World War 2, 1942-46);
  • Theodore Charef SHARP, born in 1876 in Kedainiai, worked as a salesman and died in Perth in 1940 (Source: family trees).
Kazys ASTRAUSKAS departed on the Osterley from London on 24 November 1928 in the company of the Marcinkevičius family.  However, after only a few months in Sydney, Kazys opted for Western Australia.  The passenger list show that he was 28 years old and his occupation was listed as farmer.  He also had left a family behind in Liudvinavas, Lithuania; 8 months later, having established himself as a carpenter at the Golden Horseshoe Mine in Kalgoorlie he applied to the Commonwealth for permission to bring his wife Albina, two young sons and sister-in-law to Australia; in April 1930 his wife and sons boarded the Orvieto for Australia.  Kazys later called himself Charles Ashe; he became a successful building contractor in Kalgoorlie and a third son was born in 1933.  In 1938 he sought permission to sponsor a good friend from Lithuania, Joseph Samulaitis of Marijampolė, to Australia, but it is not known what the outcome was (Source: NAA records).

With thanks to Daina Pocius of the Australian Lithuanian Community Archives for sharing her research results.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Dailidė family history

Late last year I was very fortunate to come across a marvelous new publication, a family history of William and Margaret DELADE who arrived in Australia from Scotland in the 1920s:

Tėvynės: The Homeland, a family history of Margaret and William Delade,
published in 2013 by Robert Staib and Roslyn Staib, Sydney
(see the National Library of Australia's listing here)

Not only does this book tell the story of William Delade (Vincas Dailidė) and his wife Margaret (Magdalena Deckerie/Dekerytė) as well as their extended families in Lithuania and Scotland, it also serves as a valuable resource for social and migration history.  It is a particularly significant contribution in that there have been so few Australian Lithuanian family histories published to date.

The 88 page publication is attractively packed with colour photos, maps and tables as well as a very readable text.  It was awarded 3rd prize in the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies' 2013 Alexander Henderson Awards for Best Australian Family History (see link here).

I particularly liked the outlines of political, social and economic conditions in late 19th century Lithuania and early 20th century Scotland which helped place migration decisions in context.  An interesting point was that the majority of the Lithuanians in Scotland had - like Vincas Dailidė and Margaret Deckerie's parents - come from the Suvalkija region of Lithuania.  The discussion of the Anglo-Russian Military Convention of 1917 which in effect forced most Lithuanian men in Britain to choose between conscription into the British Army and deportation for service in the Czar's Army, with profound consequences for the families involved, was illuminating.

The authors drew on a range of source material for the 13 chapters of the book, including apparently well-documented records of family memories, a visit to Lithuania in 2011, and an impressive number of referenced publications.  The book assists the reader with useful appendices on Lithuanian surnames, a family time line, a family tree, a list of all people mentioned in the book, and a comprehensive index.

My only quibble is with the use of the word 'Tėvynės' in the title: that word in the nominative form as used here means 'homelands' (plural), while the singular form would be 'Tėvynė'.  The mistake could have been avoided by checking with a Lithuanian-speaker.

Having left Scotland in the late 1920s, the Delades settled in Dapto NSW (near Wollongong) where William worked at the Wongawilli coal mine for 26 years; he died in 1978, and Margaret in 1980.  Contacts with other Lithuanians were probably intermittent, although the book includes a photo of William with fellow Scots-Lithuanian Frank Augustus (Pranas Augustaitis) and the Lithuanian chronicle Metraštis No. 1 records Vincas Dailidė as having been a member of the Sydney-based Australian Lithuanian Society.

Roslyn Staib (Margaret and William's granddaughter) and her husband Robert have produced a high-quality publication celebrating their lives which is also a great contribution to the history of early Lithuanian migration to Australia.  Hard copies of the book may be found at the National Library of Australia and the Wollongong Library; the Australian Lithuanian Community Archives also has a CD version of the publication, courtesy of the authors.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Stamps from Lithuania

When I bought this wrapper online for my stamp collection last year I was primarily interested in the old Lithuanian stamps postmarked at Telšiai, but also intrigued by the package having been sent to a suburb of Hobart in 1924:

The heading 'Spaudiniai' ('Printed matter') suggested that there had been a publication or similar inside the wrapper, and the 12 cents postage suggested that it had been a very light package (less than 50g in weight).  As far as I could tell after a quick internet search the recipient Mrs Elizabeth Lennox was not Lithuanian so I was stumped as to what type of printed matter she would have been receiving.

It was only when I later opened the wrapper that I realised there was a letter written on the inside, and that perhaps there had been little else to this package apart from a clever means of circumventing the Lithuanian postal authorities (the postal rate for an enveloped letter sent overseas at that time started at 60 cents).

The writer W A Riedel was clearly not known to Mrs Lennox but had obtained her address (perhaps she had responded to an advertisement) and was writing to her about his hobby - stamp collecting.  It looks as though stamp collecting may have been her hobby also.  Riedel's letter was not personalised to Mrs Lennox (it starts with "Dear Sir") and looks as though it was a printed reproduction probably used to respond to all enquiries.  In short, he seemed to be offering Russian, Lithuanian and Memel (Klaipėda) stamps to foreign collectors including those in Australia:

So for me it was a double win, not only acquiring the front part of the wrapper but also the unexpected message about a possible Lithuanian-Australian stamp trade inside.  We can only speculate whether Mr Riedel obtained any follow-up business, but it was interesting to see how global the hobby was over 90 years ago.  

Monday, 8 June 2015

Two historic letters from Brisbane?

Thanks to Tony Čibiras of Canberra who located and forwarded this 1920 letter to the editor, sent from Brisbane to the newspaper Karys (the Soldier) in Kaunas, Lithuania:


In brief, the letter begins with references to Lithuania's rebirth and struggle for independence (while independence had been proclaimed in February 1918, it took several years to secure the new state's borders and gain full international recognition; e.g. from Soviet Russia in 1920, Switzerland in 1921, and the USA in 1922).

The writer, E Pilyps, regrets that he is not able to help in the wars for independence but encloses one US dollar and hopes that he might receive at least a few editions of the newspaper.  One dollar was probably not a large amount in 1920 (a public school teacher in the US earned around $1000 per annum) but it may have been similar to someone sending say $50 today.

I'm not aware of any other articles or letters sent from Australia to publications in Lithuania so early in the twentieth century; perhaps this was the first one?


Here is another letter that I also found interesting for a few reasons; this one was published in The Telegraph, a Brisbane newspaper, on 20 July 1917:


Luda Popenhagen (Australian Lithuanians pp 24-25) wrote about E.C Phillules, giving his Lithuanian surname as Paliulis or Piliulis.  He was 'a self-made man with great ambitions for the Lithuanian community in Brisbane in the 1930s'.  Given that he wrote this letter to The Telegraph during the First World War, he appears to have been promoting Lithuania much earlier.

Although I have no hard evidence to back this with, my feeling is that the two writers above - Edward Charles Phillule and the person who signed his name as E Pilyps - were probably the same.  How many Lithuanians could there have been in Brisbane with the same initials who wrote letters to newspapers?

We know that Edward Charles Phillule arrived in Australia around 1914 and died in Brisbane in 1945.  However I have found no record of anyone called E Pilyps, which leads me to assume it was a pseudonym.

I'm also not aware of any earlier letters to Australian publications on a Lithuanian topic.  Perhaps this was the first?

Monday, 1 June 2015

The Australian Lithuanian Society


The Australian Lithuanian Society (Australijos Lietuvių Draugija) was established in Sydney in 1929. The Lithuanian chronicle Metraštis No 1 records that the founders were:

  • J Jasiūnas, a former teacher, who returned to Lithuania in 1930;
  • Vladas Dapkus, a former railwayman who left Australia for Argentina, and then Lithuania, in 1930;
  • Jonas Viedrinaitis (John Wedrien) - see the post of 5 March 2015 for his story; and 
  • Ksaveras (Alexander) Skierys - see the post of 12 March 2015 for his story.

Here is my rough translation of the minutes of the first meeting:

On 27 October 1929, we the undersigned having met in the apartment of J Viedrinaitis (Wedrien), East Street, Arncliffe, Sydney, and with him chairing the meeting, decided to establish a Lithuanian society with the object of bringing all of Australia's Lithuanians together.  On a majority vote the following were elected to the society's committee: J Viedrinaitis - president; V Dapkus - secretary; I Geryba - vicepresident; and K Skierys - treasurer.  Audit committee - P Kazlauskas, J Zeleniakas, and M Marcinkevicius. Membership fees: joining fee - 2 shillings and monthly membership fee - 1 shilling.  The committee was tasked with preparing regulations and setting the forward agenda.  Once that has happened, the committee will call an extraordinary general meeting.
[signed: Wedrien, Dapkus, Skierys, Jasiūnas]

The general meeting was held together with a celebration of Lithuania's Independence Day on 20 February 1930.  Participants accepted the draft objectives and regulations prepared by the committee; the principal aim would be to:

Join all those who hold themselves to be Lithuanian in one society with the object of improving coordination among ourselves, the development of national consciousness and education.
An article in the newspaper Australijos Lietuvis on 23 January 1950 recorded that the founding members had been J Vedrinaitis, A Skerys, P Kazlauskas, V Dapkus, J Jasiukevicius, J Geryba, M Marcinkevicius, O Marcinkeviciene and J Zeleniakas. The society maintained ties with Lithuania, organised various national celebrations and family gatherings and tried as much as possible to raise Lithuania and Lithuanian matters in the local Australian press. The first president was Jonas Vedrinaitis, followed by Kazys Brazauskas and then Antanas Bauze. [see the blog post dated 15 December 2019 on the Australian Lithuanian Archive's site]


Much of the Society's activity revolved around the annual celebration of Lithuanian national holidays (e.g. Independence Day in February) and other social events.  Christmas picnics by Sydney beaches were popular and seem to have been held most years from 1929.  The Society's coordination function seemed successful, at least in Sydney where practically all Lithuanians became members.  There was less success outside of Sydney, however; although the Society included members living in Dapto and other NSW centres, no other branches were established.  It was a small localised organisation, with perhaps 100 members, and its leaders and supportive membership base gave it continuity.

The main constraints appeared to be financial (the Society was established just as the Great Depression was starting) and a lack of community resources.  Nevertheless, a library was established around 1933, soon followed by a choir.  Soon, however, the Second World War forced a temporary halt to the social activities of the Society, with the last function held at the end of 1941.  The Society continued its work in a more subdued fashion, for example by raising 30 pounds from its members in 1945 to help displaced Lithuanians in Europe and by lobbying the Australian government in 1946 to allow displaced Lithuanians to migrate to Australia.


By the time the Society recommenced its broader activities in 1947, its operating environment had changed dramatically.  The first post-war Lithuanian migrants (displaced persons) had arrived in 1947 and were keen to join.  Over the next few years their numbers continued to grow; a branch of the Society was established in Melbourne in 1948, followed by Adelaide, Bathurst, Beechworth, Bonegilla, Brisbane, Canberra, Greta, Melbourne and Woomera.  By 1950 the Society had been reorganised, reoriented and transformed into the Australian Lithuanian Community, which continues to this day.

One of the enduring legacies of the Society in its later years was the establishment, in 1949, of an Australian Lithuanian community weekly newspaper, Mūsų Pastogė (Our Haven) which also continues to this day.