Monday, 27 July 2015

Departures #2

We first encountered Jonas BALAIKA in the 19 February 2015 post (a single man who had settled in Sydney in 1912 having previously lived for 5 years in England and 2 years in Canada).  The following story is based on his naturalisation file, held by the National Archives of Australia.
Jonas Balaika (left of picture),
in Sydney, circa 1920.
(Source: Metrastis No 1

Jonas was born on 13 December 1886 in southern Lithuania, near the city of Marijampolė and the current Lithuanian/Polish border, in the town of Kalvarija.  He would have left czarist Russia by 1905.  He arrived in Quebec, Canada, in July 1909 from Liverpool, England, with his occupation listed as cabinet-maker.  By 1921 he was working as a cabinet-maker in Sydney, employed by an auction house in Redfern, and living at 259 Cleveland Street, Redfern.  He took the Oath of Allegiance on 27 August 1921, thus becoming a naturalised Australian and a British subject.  He travelled overseas around that time, possibly to Lithuania, and is recorded as a passenger on the Ormuz returning from London to Australia in December 1922. 

By 1925 he had decided to permanently return to Lithuania, which had declared its independence in 1918.  He took out Lithuanian citizenship in 1926, whereupon his Australian Certificate of Naturalisation was cancelled.

Jonas appears to have survived the Second World War and the horrors associated with the German and Soviet occupations of Lithuania.  However he appears again in Australian files in 1947, living in the Marijampole region of Soviet Lithuania, aged 66, with a wife and 6 children.  He is recorded as Ivan Ivanovich Balaika and his wife as Anna Ivanova Balaika; the eldest child, Maria, is aged 20 (ie born around 1927) and the youngest child Kazimir is aged 8 (ie born around 1939).  

The reason for the Australian Government's interest in this family in 1947 was that Mrs Balaika had approached the Australian Legation in Moscow to ascertain her husband's nationality "as he desires to return to Australia with his family".  The Australian Government's response was that Balaika's Certificate of Naturalisation and Australian passport had been cancelled in 1926 and that he was therefore no longer a British subject; nevertheless he could apply for permission to return to Australia with his wife and family, however "no assurance can be given that the application will be approved".

Given that there is no further annotation on this record, it appears that the family did not pursue the option of applying to return to Australia.  Or if they did wish to apply, they were not allowed to return.

Today there are a number of people with the Balaika surname in the Kalvarija and Marijampolė region, but it is not clear whether any are related to Jonas Balaika.   

Monday, 20 July 2015

Departures #1

Lithuanian migration to Australia has not always involved one-way traffic.  It was not unusual for people to arrive in Australia, spend some time here, and then move on.

For example, probably several hundred World War Two Displaced Persons from Lithuania made their way from Australia to North America after they had worked off their debt to the Australian Government by completing their contractual 2 year employment obligations in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Overseas migration statistics published by the Australian Government in the late 1920s and early 1930s give us an indication of the mobility of earlier Lithuanian migrants:
  • 51 Lithuanians arrived in Australia during 1928 and 7 departed;
  • 13 Lithuanians arrived in Australia during 1931, and 7 departed;
  • no Lithuanians arrived in Australia in the first quarter of 1932, but 2 departed; 
  • 2 Lithuanians arrived in the last quarter of 1932, none departed;
  • 3 Lithuanians arrived in the quarter ended 30 June 1933, but 5 departed.   
Somewhat surprisingly both inward and outward flows continued as the Great Depression gathered momentum.  The landing requirement was raised in 1928 from 50 pounds to 200 pounds (while British immigrants needed only 3 pounds).  Assisted migration from the UK was suspended as unemployment became a major issue from 1929 onwards.  Soon there were reports of 20,000 British immigrants stranded in Australia.  The risks for non-British migrants would likely have been even higher.

Metrastis No 1 provides details of several Lithuanians who left Australia during the 1920s:
  • Stasys URNIEŽIUS - who we have already encountered in an earlier post on First World War Anzacs - returned to Lithuania in 1920;  
  • Jonas BALAIKA had arrived from England around 1912 and left Australia for Lithuania via England in 1922 (there will be more on this man's story next week);
  • ? ŠLEKYS, having arrived in 1928 returned to Lithuania the following year;
  • Vladas DAPKUS arrived in Australia in 1928 and was one of the founders of the Australian Lithuanian Society in Sydney, but left for Argentina in 1930 and from there for Lithuania;
  • J JASIUNAS, also one of the founders of the Australian Lithuanian Society, returned to Lithuania in 1930.

Sources: Trove; Metrastis No 1; Eric Richards, Destination Australia (UNSW Press 2008)

Monday, 13 July 2015

How many Lithuanians came to Australia before World War 2?

The short answer to this question is that we don't know and will probably never have exact numbers.  Apart from the Australian Lithuanian Society which in the 1930s had recorded around 100 members in Sydney, there is very little information.  However, we can make some reasonable assumptions.  And it's fun to speculate.

Certainly the numbers were not huge, but they may been larger than some people have imagined.  There were likely only very small numbers able to leave Lithuania until well into the second half of the nineteenth century (serfdom was only abolished in that part of the Russian empire in 1861).  Unlike the USA which attracted tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Lithuanian immigrants, Australia was not high on the list of potential destinations; during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries most migrants from Lithuania who headed west sought to establish new futures in North America.  Great Britain was often a stepping stone to North America, but many stayed on in Scotland, London, or Manchester.  South Africa was particularly favoured by Litvaks (Lithuanian Jews).  Argentina received probably 10 times more Lithuanian immigrants during the 1920s and 1930s than Australia had received in the century prior to the post World War 2 migration (my uncle was one of those who arrived in South America in 1926 from Lithuania).

Nevertheless, numbers in Australia grew during the early twentieth century, in parallel with the growth of the new federation:

  • The 1933 Census in Australia was the first to record Lithuania as a place of birth.  It tells us that a total of 235 people gave their place of birth as 'Lithuania'.  Of these, 155 were male and 80 were female.  While this figure can be questioned, e.g. some people with origins in Lithuania may have listed their place of birth as Russia or Germany (having in mind the respective empires prior to World War 1), it provides the only solid benchmark we have at this time.

  • The Lithuanian historian Adolfas Šapoka, while acknowledging the 1933 census figures, wrote in 1936 that there were around 2,000 Lithuanians in Australia and neighbouring countries (Lietuvos Istorija (History of Lithuania), edited by A. Šapoka, 3rd edition, published in Germany in 1950, p664).  Šapoka would have had access to estimates of the Lithuanian government in the mid 1930s.  He argued that many Lithuanians may have been listed under other nationalities.

  • The Lithuanian Encyclopedia (published in Boston, USA, between 1953 and 1969) claimed that in 1946 there were 1,000 Lithuanians in Australia.

  • Dr V Doniela in a contribution to The Australian Encyclopaedia (Volume 5, Australian Geographic Pty Ltd, 6th edition (1996), p 1932) wrote "Apart from a few immigrants in the 1830s and onwards, several hundred Lithuanian immigrants settled in Australia after World War 1 ..."

Ultimately it depends on how you define 'Lithuanians'.  If the term is used solely for ethnic Lithuanians then the numbers will be much smaller, in the hundreds; however if the term is used to include all people born in the territory of Lithuania (in particular the Litvaks) then they will be larger, possibly in the thousands.

Another issue is that of mobility.  Not all migrants remained in Australia:

  • Australian government statistics for 1928 recorded 51 Lithuanian arrivals and 7 departures (Morning Bulletin, 6 March 1929, p 14);   
  • by 1931, with the effects of the Great Depression being felt throughout the country, 13 Lithuanian arrivals and 7 departures were recorded (The Mercury, 16 February 1932, p 10)

The next two blog posts will look at some of those who came to Australia, stayed a while, but then left. 

Monday, 6 July 2015

Penniless Lithuanian noble ships son off to Australia

I thought this extract from an article in The Western Australian of 23 February 1929 was worth a mention as it touches on a few human-interest themes: Baltic nobility, youth emigration schemes to Australia, and famous connections:

 The Largs Bay Passengers
Among the passengers on the liner Largs Bay, which reached Fremantle from London last night were: ....
Mr Robert de Ropp, son of Baron de Ropp, a former wealthy landowner of Lithuania whose estates were confiscated during the wartime revolution.  He is proceeding to South Australia, and is the only Little Brother for that State among a party travelling on the boat under the auspices of the Big Brother movement.

The Ropp family was indeed a wealthy landowning power in Lithuania under czarist rule, operating several manorial estates.  They had probably arrived in Lithuania Minor with the Teutonic knights in the Middle Ages and stayed, gradually extending their influence. The statement in The Western Australian that the estates were confiscated during the wartime revolution is probably not correct, as the family appears to have maintained estates in Lithuania until the arrival of the soviets in the Second World War.  

The Big Brother movement (see link to the NAA's fuller explanation of the scheme) was a British/Australian youth migration scheme which paired the emigrants (Little Brothers) with adults in Australia (Big Brothers) who would provide support after their arrival.

Wikipedia, which cannot be relied upon as an accurate source but which nevertheless carries much valuable information, has this to say about Robert Sylvester de Ropp's early life:

Ropp was born in London, England, in 1913, the son of William de Ropp (originally Wilhelm von der Ropp) by his marriage to Ruth Fisher. The Ropp family had been land-owning barons in Lithuania. William was of Teutonic and Cossack descent, and although entitled to use the title of “Baron”, was perpetually in shaky financial circumstances. He had settled in England in 1910 and become naturalised in 1913. Ropp's mother, Ruth .... died in the 1918 flu pandemic.[3] Robert de Ropp had also contracted the flu during the pandemic, and by the time he fully recovered from its ravages he was seven years old.[2]  

.......   After Ropp's recovery from the flu, his father sent him as a boarder to a preparatory school ....... In 1925 Ropp's father, being in financial difficulties, could not pay the school fees and took him out of the school. His father also remarried, and the family went to live in the old baronial estate in Lithuania. Shortly after, Ropp's father obtained work as an agent for an aircraft company in Berlin and, taking his wife there with him, abandoned Robert in the rambling ruin of the family home, where he lived with a family of Latvians attached to the old Ropp baronial estate. He lived a rustic existence in Lithuania, left to his own devices and picking up the ways of the peasants.

Two years later, when he was fourteen, his father shipped him off to the semi-desert south-Australian "outback", to live with, and work for, a hardscrabble-farm family. Three years later, the farmer went bankrupt amid dust storms. Lonely and nearly penniless, hard-bitten Robert eventually made his way back to England, where one of his maternal aunts took him in. In a while, he moved in with his mother's cousin, Adeline, who lived in Dorking with her husband, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.[2]

  1. Community Trees. FamilySearch. 28 July 2009. Retrieved 2012-05-31.
  2. Ropp, Robert S. de, Warrior's Way: a Twentieth Century Odyssey (Nevada City, CA: Gateways, 1995 and 2002)
  3. Office for National Statistics - Death Indices

Source:, [downloaded 10 May 2015]

Robert de Ropp appears to have led an interesting life; he went on to became a biochemist and academic in London, migrated to the USA in 1945, and from the 1960s while living in California developed his interests as a writer and teacher in the development of human potential and the search for spiritual enlightenment.  His father Baron William Sylvester de Ropp may have had an even more colourful life, including operating as a British spy while befriending Hitler: see the link to Wikipedia here.

Also here is a  link to an article on the Ropp family in the online Lithuanian periodical Bernardinai which references this blog post: