Sunday, 24 July 2016

Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians

Neighbouring Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are often collectively called the 'Baltic States'.

By Hayden120 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (
or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

While the three countries have had similar recent histories (all were part of the Russian Empire during the nineteenth century and independent republics 1918-1940) their early migration patterns were not identical. Here are a few sources which provide some comparative insights into early migration from these countries:

1. The Baltic Peoples: Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians in Australia (by Betty and Antanas Birškys, Aldis L Putninš and Inno Salasoo, AE Press, Melbourne 1986)

Putninš advises that the earliest person from Latvia to arrive in Australia may have been a convict named Aaron Woolf who had been born in Riga in 1793 and was transported from England in 1829. Many Latvian sailors are recorded as having visited Australia during the second half of the nineteenth century, and the 'Baltic Wharf' at Port Pirie (South Australia) - named for the Baltic Pine - is a remnant of the early timber trade.  One estimate claims as many as 158 Latvian-born residents in Australia in 1891, but a stronger immigration flow began after the 1905 revolution in the Russian Empire, when "all shades of the political spectrum were represented". The Lettish Association of Sydney was founded in 1913, with club rooms in Argyle Place, Millers Point.

Salasoo writes that the earliest known Estonian immigrant was Alfred Julius Siekler, from Tallinn, who arrived in 1853, lived in Dubbo (New South Wales) and was naturalised in 1859.  By 1899 there were at least 9 Estonians living in Australia, all males. And by 1904 the number had grown to 21.  Like the Latvians, "the predominance of men may imply that the settlers were mainly seamen" while some "had been involved in the 1905 revolution in one way or another".  By 1914 the known number had risen to 126, including 4 women. However the first wave of Estonian emigration to Australia really started only after the First World War: "some decided to emigrate for economic, others for political reasons".  Around 700 Estonians emigrated to Australia during the period 1924-29, while arrivals during the 1930s averaged 30 per year.

As for the Lithuanians, Birškys noted that there were Lithuanians among the internees/political exiles from the failed 1831 insurrection who had found their way to Australia. They continued trickling in during the late 1800s and early 1900s, with several serving in the First AIF.  Of the several hundred living in Australia by the early 1930s, "around 70-75% came while Tsarist Russia controlled Lithuania", while over 150 had arrived after independence  in 1918.

2. The 1933 Census

The 1933 National Census in Australia was the first census to record Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as a place of birth:

  • There were 997 people recorded as born in Estonia;
  • 427 had been born in Latvia; and
  • 235 had been born in Lithuania.
66% of these respondents were resident in New South Wales, with smaller proportions throughout each of the states.   The proportion of females to males was highest for the Estonians (36%), followed by the Lithuanians (34%), and the Latvians (25%).  

3. Russian Anzacs in Australian History (by Elena Govor, UNSW Press, 2005) and updated at

Govor has identified over 240 'Baltic Anzacs' - men from the Baltic provinces of the Russian empire who were mostly ethnic Estonians, Latvians or Lithuanians - who served in the First AIF (1914-18); of these, 41% had been born in present-day Estonia, 53% in Latvia and 6%  in Lithuania.  Most had left the Russian empire as young men and been employed as seafarers (59%) before stopping in Australia. Govor noted that "Beyond the 'call of the sea' - or at least the prospects it held out for work - economic hardship was probably the greatest push factor for emigration" (p.47).

In addition to the ethnic Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, there was also a significant migration of Jews from the Baltic provinces, in particular from Lithuania. However, Jewish migration followed a different pattern with family groups being most common.

Govor's analysis of the 'Russian Anzacs' concluded that at least a quarter of all male immigrants from the Russian empire had joined the AIF during World War One.


Monday, 27 June 2016

The Last Great Grain Race 1939

The port city of Klaipėda in Lithuania has a rich maritime history. Formerly called Memel, and part of the Kingdom of Prussia - and then Germany - until the end of the First World War, it had been a member of the Hanseatic League during the late Middle Ages and an important trading centre from its foundation in the thirteenth century.

In 2009 Klaipėda was one of the hosts for the Tall Ships Races that were held in the Baltic Sea that year. We were fortunate to have been there for a memorable weekend.

As well as inspecting the great array of tall ships and yachts we enjoyed visiting many of the special displays, including a well-presented series of municipal notice boards outlining the maritime history of the port. One in particular struck a chord as it mentioned that a Lithuanian seaman had been on the Moshulu's epic journey from Europe to Australia and back in 1938-39. The 30,000 nautical mile voyage on the four masted square rigged Finnish barque Moshulu was recorded by the British travel writer Eric Newby in his book The Last Grain Race (1956) which he later followed up with two photographic essays Grain Race: Pictures of Life Before the Mast in a Windjammer (1968) and Learning the Ropes: An Apprentice in the Last of the Windjammers (1999).

Having made its way to South Australia from the North Atlantic in late 1938 (the journey from Belfast to Port Lincoln took 82 days), the Moshulu was one of thirteen 3- or 4-masted vessels that anchored in Spencer Gulf over summer while waiting to take on grain for Europe. The 'Grain Race' was an annual competition between these great sailing ships to make the shortest passage back to Europe, and the 1939 race was to be the last one of that magnitude. The Moshulu won that race, making excellent time from Port Victoria in South Australia across the South Pacific and reaching Queenstown (now Cobh, Ireland) in 91 days.

Years later, Eric Newby wrote about the perils and difficulties of the voyage and about the Lithuanian, Vytautas Bagdanavičius, who shared that experience with him. The 1938 voyage to Australia on Moshulu was the second one for Vytautas; he had travelled with the ship "on the timber run from Finland to Lourenco Marques in Portuguese East Africa in 1937 before going to Australia for her grain cargo". Like Newby, Bagdanavičius had been taken on as an apprentice on the Moshulu; the two 18 year olds were to become close friends on the trip to Australia. Newby noted that "I had liked Vytautas from the start"; "he had a happy temperament that did not attract trouble"; and he was "by far the most resilient" in their small group of friends. Despite breaking his arm at the start of the voyage, Bagdanavičius continued and appears to have mentored Newby.

A recent (2015) publication from the Lithuanian Sea Museum in Klaipeda casts some more light on Vytautas Eduardas Bagdanavičius (born in Kedainiai in 1920). After serving on the Moshulu for two seasons, he studied at the Stockholm Maritime School 1939-40 before obtaining a position as trainee navigator on the Lithuanian steamship Šiauliai. Sadly, unlike Eric Newby, he did not go on to enjoy a long and successful career; the only further reference is that he disappeared in Leningrad during the Second World War, around 1942. Other sources state that Šiauliai was sunk in 1940 off the Estonian island of Hiiumaa (Dago island) but give no indication of the fate of the crew.

The Moshulu, however, survived the war. She is now enjoying her retirement as a floating restaurant in Philadelphia USA.
The Barque Moshulu pictured at Penn's Landing, Philadelphia.
Photo taken by N. Johannes, Groningen; public domain.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Arrivals from England

England was the intermediate point for possibly the largest number of early Lithuanian-born migrants arriving in Australia. Many sailed from British ports having spent a shorter or longer period in England during the late 1800s or the early 1900s.

Most stopped in London, often spending several years or even decades before moving on to the New World. Some came with their families, others sailed alone or with small groups of friends or acquaintances.

The Lithuanian Catholic Church in London;
St Casimir's, Bethnal Green, built 1912.
Image courtesy of London Churches in Photographs:

One of the earliest settlers was Jonas MICKEVIČIUS (John McCOWAGE). The Australian Lithuanian Yearbook Metraštis (1961) notes that he arrived in 1887 with his wife and children together with two other unnamed Lithuanian men.  The two other men returned to London within a few years but Jonas and his family decided to settle in Sydney.  Family trees on provide some more information: Jonas was born around 1855 in Suwalki (now in northern Poland, close to the Polish-Lithuanian border); and he married Morta Tuinyla in Fulham (London) around 1883. After migrating to Australia, Jonas worked as a greengrocer, eventually acquiring a stall at the Municipal Markets. Morta died in 1899 and Jonas in 1918; Metraštis records John Wedrien's account of meeting Jonas Mickevičius at the Sydney markets in 1914; Wedrien was apparently the first Lithuanian that Jonas had met in 23 years.

Michael Henry FRUMAR was born in Vilnius in 1885. A Lithuanian Jew, he had arrived in London shortly after 1900 and, in 1908, migrated to Australia aboard the Nairnshire. He settled in Sydney where he became a self-employed 'mantle and costume manufacturer' with premises in Pitt Street. Michael was naturalised in 1940 and died in 1949.

Others who arrived in Australia after spending some time in England included:

  • Jonas BALAIKA from Marijampolė, arrived in 1912 after 5 years in England;
  • George BARON from Marijampolė, arrived in 1908 - 20+ years;
  • Isadore COHEN from Šakiai, arrived in 1915 - 6 years;
  • William Frank JAKS from Kaunas, arrived in 1914 - 10+ years;
  • Militan SCHATKOWSKI from Plateliai, arrived in 1914 - 6 years;
  • Ksaveras (Alexander) SKIERYS from Marijampolė, arrived in 1911 - around 10 years;
  • Jonas VIEDRINAITIS (John WEDRIEN) from Kudirkos Naumiestis, arrived in 1913 after 12 years in England and Scotland.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Lithuanians in Queensland

The previous post about Harry ALEXIS/ALEKSIUNAS who had lived in the Atherton area of far north Queensland for over 30 years until his death in 1950 prompted me to revisit what we have discovered so far about early Lithuanian settlers in Queensland.

Much of what we know about individuals was published in two blog posts last year, imaginatively titled Queensland #1 (7 September 2015) and Queensland #2 (14 September 2015). The following are some more general observations:

Census records

The Australian Census of 1933 - the first one to specify "Lithuania" as a place of birth - recorded 15 people in Queensland who had given that as their place of birth (12 males and 3 females), while the 1947 Census recorded 21 people (13 males and 8 females);

  • by 1954, with the influx of post-WW2 migrants, the number of people in Queensland giving Lithuania as their place of birth had jumped to 405, although males continued to predominate approximately 3:1.
These census records provide us with a minimum number for the Lithuanian-born, as some people who had been born before independence in 1918 would likely have recorded their birthplaces as Russia or Germany.

Geographical dispersal

Many Lithuanian-born migrants appear to have settled in regional Queensland, not in the capital city of Brisbane. Metraštis (the Lithuanian Yearbook, 1961) reported EC Phillule's advice that by 1938 there were only two Lithuanians living in Brisbane, although there had been more previously.

  • Other localities where settlers put down roots included Rockhampton, Mackay, Proserpine, Charters Towers, Ipswich, Chinchilla, and Mt Isa;
  • in contrast, Lithuanian-born migrants to most other Australian states appear to have preferred settling in the capital cities.

Migration patterns

Usually the Lithuanians arrived as single men. Some remained single, others married Australian-born women, for example Edward Charles PHILLULE/PILIULIS married Lydia Annie Klatt in 1915 and William KALIN/KALINAUSKAS married Clarisse McFeeters in 1924.

However there were also some examples of family and chain migration:

  • Josephine RUCKMAN, a Pole from Kaunas with Lithuanian citizenship, arrived in 1923 with her two sons and daughter;
  • Sigismund ROMASZKIEWICZ, a Pole from Krekenava, arrived in 1910 with his wife and children;
  • David BECKER - also known as Alex GRAY - a Jew from Kaunas with Lithuanian citizenship, had arrived in Australia from Palestine in 1927 and was later joined by his wife Hannah (born in Kaunas) and children (born in Sebastopol and Jerusalem).    

Arrivals on the SS Haitan

In the early part of World War 2 (1940) a group of 32 Lithuanians with British citizenship arrived in Brisbane as part of a larger group of evacuees following a journey from the Baltic States across Siberia to Vladivostok, Hong Kong and finally Australia. Theirs is an epic story which has been researched by one of their descendants, Eve Puodžiunaitė Wicks.

The evacuees remained in Brisbane for the duration of the war, but largely dispersed once hostilities had ceased. The Courier Mail of 18 February 1941 included this story:
Social and Dance: Lithuanian national dances were a feature of the programme at a social and dance held in the Danish Hall, South Brisbane, last night by the British-Lithuanian evacuees. Lithuanian songs were given by a mixed choir, and others who contributed items were Mrs Balcunas, Mrs K Puodziunas, Misses Lena Ruskey, M Massey, F Kdesnikas [sic], A Grey, and F Kolesnikas. 

Brisbane's Sunday Mail included the following on 26 November 1944:
Party for Evacuees: Nearly 600 guests ... were entertained yesterday at the New Settlers' League's Christmas party for migrants and evacuees, at the Railway Institute. The oldest guest was Mr G P Page, who is 78. He formerly lived in the Baltic States. ... Other guests were from Great Britain, Poland, Latvia, Esthonia [sic], Lithuania, Roumania, China, Malaya and Darwin. Each child received sweets from the Christmas tree. 

Reverse migration

Alice Blanch CHEHOVSKI was born in Brisbane in 1921 to a Polish father and Russian mother. Her father died soon after and her mother took Alice back to Europe: she lived in Lithuania from approximately 1924 to 1981, studied art in Moscow, and returned to Australia in 1981. She was an active artist in Australia, with several of her paintings (including works completed in Lithuania) collected by the National Gallery of Australia. Alice died in Victoria in 2015.

Monday, 16 May 2016

A Lithuanian old-timer in Far North Queensland

A few days ago I came across this story:
In 1948 the first post-war Lithuanians, working as sugar cane cutters in Far North Queensland, met a bearded and white-haired 83 year old man at Redlynch, near Cairns. His name was Aleksiunas, and he came from Rusonų village in Žiežmarių county [central Lithuania, between Vilnius and Kaunas]. He had left his father's home when he was 15 years old because of a wicked stepmother, secretly crossed the German border, and strayed into the wide world beyond. Having over many years sailed all the oceans of the world, he eventually grew tired of the seaman's life and started looking for somewhere to settle.  He chose Australia and stopped here, at 63 years of age.  He bought a chicken farm and only sold it when he became quite aged, supporting himself through basket weaving.  [By 1948] he remembered only his prayers in Lithuanian, and no longer understood the meaning of the words. But he loved the newly-arrived Lithuanians and stayed close to them.  He died 8-9 years ago (Metrastis No 1 (1961) p 183, my translation).

A preliminary internet search for someone called ALEKSIUNAS who was born around 1860, lived in Queensland during the 1930s and 1940s and died there in the early 1950s, failed to provide any corroborating matches. That is, until my research associate (my wife Phyllis) got to work on this and uncovered the outlines of his life.

Harold (Harry) ALEXIS seems to be the name that this man consistently used through a long maritime career and also while living in Queensland.  He comes up on's shipping lists many times over as a crew member on sailings from Europe or North America to Australia as well as on Australian coastal shipping, particularly in the period 1913 to 1922 (see for example the listings for H Alexis in the NSW Australia Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists 1862-1922 on

  • Harry's country of birth is variously given as Russia, Sweden or Poland.  He was born in the days of the Russian Empire so it is not surprising that he recorded Russia as his country of birth. He may have lived or been based in Sweden, and certainly sailed with Swedish crews, so he may at times have chosen to denote Sweden as his country of birth for convenience.  After the collapse of the Russian empire he appears to have preferred to denote his place of birth as Poland (his place of birth was by the Lithuanian-Polish border during the interwar years, during which Poland dominated the Vilnius region);
  • his maritime occupation was shown as fireman, trimmer or able bodied seaman;
  • he appears to have often understated his age by up to a decade.

In 1947 The Cairns Post carried the following naturalisation notice, indicating that Harry Alexis had been born at Vilnius (or in the region of Vilnius) on 18 March 1861 and had been resident in Australia for 34 years:

Advertising (1947, June 7). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), , p. 10.
Retrieved May 14, 2016, from 

At that time Harry states he was living at Wright's Creek, near Yungaburra.  He died in May 1950 and was buried at nearby Atherton in June 1950.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Ship deserters

Desertion by crew members was not uncommon in the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries.  My wife's English grandfather, Felix Arthur Burns, was one such example, having parted company with the barque Elizabeth Dougall after sailing from France to Sydney as a cabin boy in 1879.

There were probably tens of thousands of crew members who left their ships for a variety of reasons once they made landfall in Australia.  They usually departed individually, although in some cases entire crews deserted.  An index of ship deserters at Queensland ports for the 50 year period 1862 to 1911, for example, lists 3,800 individuals who deserted.

The earliest record of a Lithuanian-born deserter we have found so far is that of Stanislav STANKEVITCH (Stasys Stankevičius would be the modern Lithuanian version of his name) from Vilnius who absconded from the Russian ship Kreiser in Hobart in 1823 (Govor, E., Australia in the Russian Mirror; changing perceptions 1770-1919, Melbourne, Melbourne University Press, 1997, p8).

At least one of the men who served in the First AIF was a ship deserter.  John BRENKA is listed as having deserted from the Ajana at Port Adelaide on 30 September 1914.  He went on to serve Australia in the Gallipoli campaign (10th Battalion) and then on the Western Front (50th Battalion) where he died on 23 August 1916.

Desertion was less common in the twentieth century, with stricter controls and perhaps better conditions for crews, which makes the motives behind the following stories more intruiging:

  • Max LIPSSCHUS is featured in the New South Wales Police Gazette of 2 April 1924 with the following text: 'Sydney - the above is a photograph of Max Lipsschus, who deserted from the s.s. Hanau, at Sydney, on the 21st ultimo.  Offender is a seaman, 30 years of age, .. a native of Russia, and a prohibited immigrant.' (source:  This story seems to have ended well, as in 1939 a Max Lipschus, living at King street, Newtown (Sydney), placed a notice of intention to apply for naturalisation in the Sydney Morning Herald stating that he had been born in Kretinga (Lithuania), was of Lithuanian nationality, and had been living in Australia for 15 years. Max went on to play a brief role on the committee of the Australian Lithuanian Society in the late 1940s.  
  • On the other hand we don't know the outcome of this story, which may not have had such a happy ending:
Deserter Captured (1936, March 20). Port Lincoln Times (SA : 1927 - 1954)  p. 5. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from

Friday, 22 April 2016

Baltic Anzacs in the First World War

Around this time last year I posted several pieces on Lithuanian Anzacs of the First World War.  Here are some more observations, this time on Anzacs with origins in the broader Baltic region.

How many Baltic-born Anzacs were there?

Elena Govor's Russian Anzacs website ( and associated blog provide a detailed study of over one thousand men who were born in the Russian empire and served in Australian forces during World War One; the section on statistics summarises the territorial origins of the men who came from the empire's Baltic provinces:

  • Latvia - 156;
  • Estonia - 97;
  • Lithuania - 40 

The website also has a great map which plots the birthplaces and subsequent residences of these men (click here).  It also highlights the range of ethnicities covered by these statistics: ethnic Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, Germans, Slavs, Jews, Western Europeans.

The statistics also suggest they joined up in numbers proportional to those of their Australian- or British-born counterparts (over a quarter of all eligible males enlisted).  The 1933 Australian Census recorded for the first time the birth locations for Baltic migrants (while the absolute numbers around the time of WW1 would have been different, the relative proportions may very well have been similar):

  • Estonia - 643 males;
  • Latvia - 320 males;
  • Lithuania - 155 males. 

Why did these men enlist to fight for the British empire?  Their reasons would have been varied, just like those of the broader population: some joined up because of patriotic feelings for Britain or their new Australian homeland, others because friends, relatives or colleagues had enlisted, or perhaps for adventure; however push factors not shared with the bulk of the broader population probably spurred many Baltic men towards enlisting. Many had arrived in Australia as seafarers and found themselves stranded and out of work once hostilities started, with little prospect of employment. The option of service in the AIF became a means of survival. In addition, many of those who were Russian subjects were pressed to enlist by the Russian consuls in Australia who were promulgating the czar's order that eligible men should either return to Russia or else join allied armies.  

Remembering the Baltic-born Anzacs

The Baltic Anzacs endured similar WW1 experiences to Australian-born Anzacs, including casualty rates; around 1 in 5 were killed or died during the war.  The Russian Anzacs website lists 28 ethnic Latvians who are commemorated on the Australian War Memorial's panels, 18 Estonians and 6 Lithuanians. These figures would be higher if we searched for men with Jewish, German, Slavic or other heritages.

Here are just a few representatives:

KILLED IN ACTION. (1915, November 21).
Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 - 1954),
p. 2. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from

Janis (John) AMOLIN was born at Riga in 1889; he arrived in Australia at Port Pirie in 1911, was naturalised in 1914, and killed in action at Gallipoli on 23 August 1915.

THE LATE PRIVATE H. T. SEPP. (1917, May 19).
Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954),
 p. 40. Retrieved April 20, 2016,

Henri Teodor SEPP was born in Parnu, Estonia, in 1877; he arrived at Port Adelaide in 1911, was naturalised in 1913, and served in Gallipoli and on the Western Front where he died in April 1917.

AWM memorial panel 41
Anthony PURIS was born in Padustis, Lithuania, in 1888; he arrived at Sydney in 1914, served in the AIF as a Russian national, and was killed in action on the
Western Front in May 1917.

Selected sources and references:

Govor, E., Russian Anzacs in Australian History, Sydney, UNSW Press, 2005.

Putnins, A.(ed), Early Latvian Settlers in Australia, South Yarra, Sterling Star, 2010.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The Australian Dictionary of Biography #2

The previous post looked at a few examples of Lithuanian-born individuals who are listed in The Australian Dictionary of Biography.  Here are are a few others with Lithuanian connections.

Victor Martin TRIKOJUS (1902-1985) was the son of Martin August Trikojus and Charlotte Josephine, nee Thompson. shows that Martin - also known as Augustus - had been born in Tilsit (Tilžė in Lithuanian), East Prussia, in 1856 and arrived in Sydney in 1881 where he worked as a hairdresser until his death in 1911. The article on his son Victor by L. R. Humphreys in The Australian Dictionary of Biography tells us that Victor was born in Darlinghurst, Sydney, studied in Sydney, Oxford and Munich, and went on to become a distinguished Australian scientist: professor of biochemistry at the University of Melbourne from 1943; foundation member and chairman of the Australian Biochemical Society; fellow and vice-president of the Australian Academy of Science; and foundation member of the Australian Research Grants Committee.

Charles Adam Marie WROBLEWSKI (1855-1936) was born at Grodno (Gardinas in Lithuanian) into a Lithuanian-Polish noble family.  The article on him in The Dictionary of Biography by Bogumila Zongollowicz advises that before arriving in Australia around 1885 Charles had studied chemistry and lived in France and Austria. He initially worked as a chemist and geologist in New South Wales but later went into business for himself.  In 1892 Charles launched a French-language newspaper Le Courrier Australien in Sydney and also, in 1893, the Deutsche-Australische Post for German-speakers.

  • Le Courrier Australien earned the distinction of being the longest-running foreign language publication in Australia, being in print for over 120 years; unfortunately, publication appears to have recently ceased.  
  • I was interested in the conjunction between this story and one I published last year on John Wedrien (Vedrinaitis) who had inserted this advertisement in Le Courrier Australien in the 1930s:

Julius Sumner MILLER (1909-1987) was born and died in the USA, but has been included in the Dictionary by virtue of his contribution to science education in Australia.  The article on Professor Julius Sumner Miller in The Dictionary of Australian Biography by Rod Cross tells us that his father (Samuel Miller) had come to the USA from Latvia and his mother (Sarah, nee Newmark) from Lithuania. Trained as a physicist, Julius was attracted to the idea of presenting science through the new medium of television. Between 1962 and 1986 he visited Australia 27 times, primarily for engagements at the University of Sydney but also to record the ABC television show 'Why is it so?' which became very popular largely because of the presenter's infectious enthusiasm and use of drama.  

  • I remember my mother telling me that she had met Julius Sumner Miller while she was working at the Grosvenor Hotel in Adelaide and he was a house guest there (that was around the mid 1960s) and that they had spoken about his Lithuanian heritage. 


Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Australian Dictionary of Biography

The Australian Dictionary of Biography is an ongoing project of the National Centre of Biography at the Australian National University, Canberra. Eighteen volumes of biographies, covering over 12,000 'significant and representative' individuals, have been published over the last 50 years, resulting in 'Australia's pre-eminent dictionary of national biography'. It can be accessed online (click here).

The Dictionary has articles on around 20 people who had some link with Lithuania; some were visitors, others had ancestors from there, and a smaller number were born there. The latter include a few post-WW2 arrivals:

  • Olegas TRUCHANAS (1923-1972), wilderness photographer and conservationist; and
  • Henrikas (Henry) SALKAUSKAS (1925-1979), artist;

as well as earlier arrivals:

  • Mark RUBIN (1867-1919), pearl dealer and pastoralist, born in Salantai;
  • Isack MORRIS (1881-1951), rabbi, born in Zagare;
  • Jacob Simon (Jack) BLOCH (1898-1961), shoemaker, born in Plunge; and
  • Zalmenas (Zell) RABIN (1932-1966), journalist and newspaper editor, born in Kaunas.

All these men have interesting stories. Here are a few examples:

Jacob (Jack) BLOCH was the son of Lozer and Chaja BLOCHAS; he was named Yaacov Shimon BLOCHAS and in Lithuanian was known as Simonas Jankelis BLOCHAS. Lozer was a painter and cobbler and his son followed suite, becoming a cobbler at an early age. As well as shoemaking, Jacob had studied dance in Lithuania. After arriving in Sydney in 1930, he went on to establish a small business making dance shoes to order. The timing seems excellent, as the 1930s saw a stream of ballet troupes visiting Australia, and orders for Jacob's shoes continued to increase. Many international ballet stars visiting Australia bought and wore his shoes.

The entry on Jacob Bloch in The Dictionary of Biography, written by Valerie Lawson, notes that while his business continued to grow through the 1950s, he was not ambitious and  'more craftsman than businessman'. Nevertheless the Bloch company continued to expand after Jacob's death and is now a large and successful commercial enterprise, with 15 stores in Australia as well as stores in London and Paris. According to Valerie Lawson the company supplies the Australian Ballet with over 5,000 pointe shoes each year.

Zalmenas (Zell) RABIN was the son of Aleksandras and Zeny RABINAVICIUS. Aleksandras was a pharmacist in Kaunas but the family fled Europe just before WW2 broke out, arriving in Sydney in 1939 when Zell was 6 years old. He was active in student journalism and politics in the early 1950s and in 1954 found a job with the Sun newspaper in Sydney.

Zell's career advanced quickly, and by 1956 he was operating out of the Sun's New York bureau. He worked closely with Rupert Murdoch from 1960, and became editor of the Daily Mirror in Sydney in 1963. The entry in The Dictionary of Biography, written by Robert Milliken, notes that the Daily Mirror flourished under Zell's 'dynamic leadership'. Rabin's brilliant career ended prematurely; he died in 1966 at the age of 34.

President John F. Kennedy meets with Publisher of News Ltd. of Australia,
Rupert Murdoch (right), and New York reporter for the Daily Mirror, Zell Rabin.
Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C, 1 December 1961
(Public domain, source:

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Arrivals from China and Japan

The Australian Lithuanian Community Archives are located in Adelaide, South Australia, and managed by Daina Pocius. In 2016 Daina posted an interesting item on her blog 'SA Lithuanian History' about Lithuanians in Harbin, China, in the 1930s (click here for a link to that post). That prompted me to think about what other records might exist of Lithuanians arriving in Australia from Harbin (Manchuria) or elsewhere in East Asia.

China, early 1930s, with Japanese occupied Manchuria and Harbin (source: ) 

A 2014 article 'Lithuanians in China, 19th Century to 1940' by Gediminas Giedraitis on the BalticAsia website (in Lithuanian) provided an introduction to how and why some people had made their way to eastern China, over 4000 km from their birthplace. The first group to arrive were participants or supporters of the 1863 uprising who had been banished to Siberia and from there escaped into China. They were followed by several other waves of deported or displaced Lithuanians who also decided that life in China was a better option. There was also one significant group of voluntary migrants, the construction workers who came to work on the East China Railway at the end of the 19th century and stayed. By the 1930s there were an estimated 1000 Lithuanians residing in eastern China, including perhaps 350 in Harbin and 150 in Shanghai.

Lithuanians in Shanghai (1920s/30s)

Then I consulted Elena Govor's book Russian Anzacs in Australian History and found that the route from the Russian Far East to Australia was not an unusual migratory route in the early 20th century (pp 22-23):
This choice of route was encouraged to some extent by the activities of emigration agents in far-eastern ports and the availability of steamship services to Australia. These Russians usually came via Harbin (China) and the Japanese port of Moji, from where Japanese steamships sailed ... [to] Darwin, Cairns, Townsville, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.  ... Almost all of them disembarked at Brisbane.

Here are some examples of these migration patterns. Although in many cases we have scant details, there is enough to see that this was a regular corridor for people who had either settled in China or used it as a transit route:

1910: The ROMASZKIEWICZ family arrived in Brisbane from Nagasaki, Japan, aboard the Kumano Maru. Sigismund Romaszkiewicz was born in Krekenava, Lithuania, in 1876 and appears to have lived in Harbin from at least 1900; this link to the Russian Anzacs website provides more details.

1911: The DAPKEWITCH family arrived in Brisbane aboard the Yawata Maru. Jan (John) Dapkewitch had been born in Vilkaviskis in 1877 and married Paulina Svershchevska in Harbin in 1905. They had had two children before arriving in Australia: Nina, born in Belarus in 1906, and John, born in Kamchatka in 1910 (source: Foster Family Tree on

1911: Vladislav SCHILLER arrived as a single man in Melbourne on the regular steamer service operated by the Yawata Maru. He was born in Lida or Vilnius in 1889, had worked in Harbin on the railway, and soon found employment as a fitter and turner at West Footscray. He married Elizabeh Eldridge in 1915 and was naturalised in 1922. Vladislav later moved to Sydney and died there in 1968 (source: Turnbull Wasson Tree on

1911: Joseph MANJIKE, born in 1873 in Vilnius, arrived in Brisbane from Manchuria. See my earlier post on Joseph here.

1914: Edward Charles PHILLULE (?PILIULIS), born in 1881, arrived in Brisbane from Japan aboard the St Albans; see my earlier post on E C Phillule here.

1923: Josephine RUCKMAN, born in 1863 in Kaunas, arrived at Brisbane on the Yoshino Maru with her sons John and Felix and a daughter (source: National Archives of Australia).

1923: Bronislau KRETOVITCH, born in Vilnius in 1889, had first arrived in Brisbane on the Yawata Maru in 1911 leaving his wife Vida and family behind in Harbin. After service in the AIF during World War 1 (see the Russian Anzacs link here) he made a return visit to Harbin and then came back to Australia in 1923, arriving in Melbourne from Kobe on the Tango Maru.  He was followed by his daughter Jadvyga Kretovitch who arrived in Melbourne in 1928 on the Aki Maru.    

1938: The AGRANOFF family arrived in Sydney aboard the Kamo Maru. The Jewish parents Chaim and Rachel had been born in Lithuania, but their children Faivel (Paul) and Sara Lia were born and raised in Harbin (source: National Archives of Australia).

Harbin in the 1920s (commercial postcard)

In 2020 Laurynas Kudijanovas, a student at Vilnius University, wrote his Master's thesis about Lithuanians in Asia during the early 20th century 'Lietuviai Azijoje 19001939 metais: kultūrinės istorijos siužetai apie lietuvybės raišką ir diplomatus Rytų kraštuose'. His research sources included this blog and the Australian Lithuanian Archives.


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

New migrants meet old migrants

Blogs about history can easily become dull and dreary, at worst just a recitation of names and dates without much feeling or first-person involvement. That is why I was so fascinated to get this contribution from Zydre Pember. The memories recorded here, of post World War 2 migrants meeting Lithuanian families who had already been settled in Australia for decades, are important contributions to our shared history. Thanks, Zydre!


My mother, stepfather and I disembarked at Freemantle, Western Australia, from the Amarapoura, out of Naples, in July 1949.

Dad and I were taken, along with all the other migrants to Greylands' Migrant Camp, while mum was taken to Royal Perth Hospital. In the early stages of pregnancy she had suffered the combined effects of morning and seasickness, lost a lot of weight and was very weak. She needed medical attention.

Admission to hospital was a disaster for mum as she did not speak or understand English and Lithuanian interpreters were rather scarce on the ground. Amazingly there was a lady in the hospital, Anne, who had migrated, with her family, to Western Australia in 1928 and she still spoke some Lithuanian. Anne was Rosemary’s aunt and Rosemary remembers visiting with her mother, Anele. Apparently Anne told her sister, Anele that a Lithuanian had been admitted who did not speak English. Anele, who was mobile and whose Lithuanian was better than Anne’s went to see Mum and thus the communication problem was solved. I would venture to say that neither Anele nor Mum thought they would meet again.

After Mum recovered she was discharged to Greylands and eventually, Dad, with us in tow, was sent to work out his contract on the railways, based in the small country town of Corrigin in the wheat belt. Well, what a coincidence as this was the town where Anele, married to Heawood Abe and their two children, Roy and Rosemary, lived. How contact with the Abe family was reestablished is unknown to me. What I do know is that Rosemary and her mother came to visit us at the Migrant Camp (Tent City, as we all lived in tents and did so until about 1952) across the railway track from the actual town.

My brother was born in February 1950 at Corrigin Hospital and was the first New Australian to be born in the town. Perhaps because of Anele's influence through the CWA there was a collection by the townspeople and mum was presented with a pram.

Meanwhile, while mum was in hospital (in those days, after a confinement, a hospital stay of 2 weeks was mandatory) I was boarded with the Abe family. I don't remember all the details of my stay, but do remember the farmhouse and the surrounding home paddock. Apparently, I never shut up, talking, no doubt, in Lithuanian. Mrs Abe called me the Chatterbox and I wonder now what Roy and Rosemary made of this jabbering stranger thrust into their midst.

The Abe farmhouse, 1950:
 From left to right (back row): Anele Abe, Valerija Valiukenas with Rytas Valiukenas, Antanas Valiukenas;
(front row): Rosemary Abe, Zydre Zukaite, Roy Abe

In 1954 we left Corrigin to live in Perth and gradually lost touch with the Abe family. Still it seemed that fate had plans for our continued relationship.

In February 1965 I was enrolled as a trainee nurse at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco, a suburb of Perth. In those days all trainee nurses were required to live in the Nurses’ Home for the duration of their 3-year training period. There was a welcoming afternoon tea for new trainees, to which all parents were invited. Mum and Dad were with me at that event and we were absolutely amazed to discover Rosemary and her parents also present, as Rosemary was also part of my intake.

Three years later, Rosemary and I, along with the rest of our class, graduated as Registered Nurses. Our paths diverged then, with Rosemary travelling to Scotland to get her Midwifery Certificate, while I married and found myself in Canberra, along with my husband.

Intermittently, throughout all of these years, Rosemary and I have kept in touch. She has sent me the details of her family tree, as she knows it. Her mother Anele, lived past her 100th birthday and received a telegram from the Queen.

I often think about our connection and try to fathom whether it was coincidence or fate. To meet this family once could be called a coincidence, but to connect a second time and then a third time down to the next generation, surely must be fate. To what purpose is still to be discovered.

Rosemary has given me information about her mother's family. Their family name was Lazoraitis, which they subsequently changed to Brown.

Vincas Lazoraitis was born in 1856 (but the date is not certain) in Pilviski. He enlisted in the Russian Army on 30 November 1877 (Number 1354). He had married Agota Valaitis and on 29 September 1877 they had a son, Juozas, who was Rosemary's grandfather.

Juozas Lazoraitis arrived in Eddlewood (near Hamilton), Scotland in 1895 and worked as a coal miner at Allanton Colliery. He married Magdelena Palubinskaite on 3 February 1906, in Hamilton, Scotland. They lived at 15 Wylie Street Hamilton and had six children;

Olese (Alice), born 06.12.1906
Anele (Rosemary's mother), born 08.06.1908
Zuzanna (Susan), born 21.11.1909
Magdelena (Maggie), born 24.11.1911
Joseph, born 16.10.1915
Aleksijaus, born in 1918, but died that same year, along with Maggie and their mother, Magdelena, from the Spanish Flu.

Juozas then married Ona Kucinskiene (nee Ruguviciute) – her husband had disappeared while fighting in Russia) - on 17 May 1919.

Ona already had a child (Agnes), and she and Juozas then produced 6 more children.

On the 22 February 1928, the family migrated to Western Australia aboard the SS Beltana (voyage No. 36).

Juozas' daughter Olese had preceded them in 1924, on the SS Hobsons Bay. She either encouraged or sponsored the family to follow in her footsteps.
They lived at 74 Planet Street, Perth, at least for a time, then moved to Victoria Park. Juozas was naturalized on 05 July 1930 and died in Perth on 30 August 1943.

Anele (Rosemary's mother) married Heawood Abe, a farmer from Corrigan, on 6 July 1940. They had two children: Roy and Rosemary.

Tragically Roy was killed when he was 18, in a farm accident. Rosemary married and has 7 children and 10 grandchildren and now lives in Newcastle, NSW.
Rosemary's family, with uncle Joe Brown (Lazoraitis)

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Eighteenth century visitors to New Zealand and the South Pacific

The composition of Captain James Cook's second expedition to the South Pacific (1772-75) in search of the mythical Great Southern Continent (Terra Australis) included a remarkable last minute replacement. When the eminent naturalist Joseph Banks, who had accompanied Cook on his first voyage, became dissatisfied with arrangements for the second voyage and decided not to sail he was replaced by an almost unknown foreigner, Johann Reinhold Forster, who brought along his 17 year old son Georg. While the Forsters had some Scots heritage and considered themselves German, they were also citizens of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (having been born in northern Poland) who had been living in England for only a few years.

While en route to the South Pacific, the expedition's two ships, the Resolution and the Adventure, became separated in thick Antarctic fog and only met again 3 months later in New Zealand. In the interim, the Adventure under the command of Lt Furneaux had mapped the southern and eastern coasts of Tasmania (Adventure Bay on Bruny Island was named for her) and Cook had explored more Antarctic waters before resting the Resolution in New Zealand's waters. The Forsters, who sailed with Cook, had several weeks in which to collect specimens and describe in detail the flora, fauna and natural environment of the South Island before the two ships met off Queen Charlotte Sound in May 1773. Several sweeps of the South Pacific were then undertaken without any indication of a Great Southern Continent; after another stop in New Zealand the expedition headed back to England.

Cook's Second voyage
Source:, viewed 22/2/2016

On the expedition's return a series of arguments arose regarding the publication rights for the voyage and in the end Forster snr was banned from publishing anything about the expedition. He sought to circumvent that by publishing A voyage round the world under his son's name and in 1779 was able to take up a professorial appointment at the University of Halle, in Germany. The publication of the book also launched Georg Forster's career as a scientist; he was appointed to the Royal Society and took up a post as teacher of natural history in Kassel, Germany.  Unsatisfied with a minor teaching post and hoping to achieve a similar status to his father, Georg jumped at the opportunity when he was offered in 1783 the position of Professor of Natural History at Vilnius University.
Johann Reinhold Forster and Georg Forster in Tahiti, by John Francis Rigaud, 1780 Source:, viewed 22/2/2016

Georg was at Vilnius University from 1784 to 1787, but these were not happy years for an ambitious young scientist wishing to be a force in the Age of Enlightenment. Laimonas Briedis in Vilnius; City of Strangers outlines Forster's experiences and some of the reasons for his disillusionment. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was in decay; whereas 100 years previously Vilnius had 80,000 inhabitants, in 1784 there were around 20,000.  Georg's language skills also placed him at a disadvantage; he was expected to lecture in Polish, but could not, so Latin was the next option. However neither he nor his students were proficient in Latin. The intellectual isolation was profound; Forster wrote that there was not a single bookstore in Vilnius, while in Warsaw there were only one or two 'who trade only in indecent novels'. While the academic authorities were progressive thinkers and actively sought to entice other European academics to Vilnius, financial resources and political will were lacking.  In addition, young Georg Forster was poorly trained to meet the expectations of the university; as well as teaching, his duties included the establishment of a botanical garden and an agronomy program and researching the industrial and mining potential of local natural resources.

Georg Forster left Vilnius in 1787, glad to be off. Nevertheless, his disillusionment followed him; a proposed Russian expedition to the Pacific with Forster as chief scientist did not eventuate, his wife left him, and he was declared an outlaw in Germany for having collaborated with the French Revolution. He died of pneumonia in Paris in early 1794 aged 39.  

A more detailed examination of Georg Forster's time in Vilnius can be found in a 2009 paper by Dalia ŠvambarytėGeorg Forster in Vilnius: Reverberations of the great age of ocean navigation

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

First arrivals?

The earliest Lithuanians are usually thought of as starting to arrive in Australia towards the end of the nineteenth century, with perhaps one or two convicts or adventurers preceding them in the first half of the 1800s. But what if someone proposed that they were here much earlier, at the very start of Australia's European history, even before settlement, right back in the seventeenth century? You would probably laugh at the suggestion, just as I did, until ...

When I first read Chapter 1 of Luda Popenhagen's Australian Lithuanians titled 'First arrivals: seventeenth to early twentieth centuries' I was intrigued by the story of the Dutch East India Company's expedition to the west coast of Australia in 1696-97 which may have included representatives from Lithuania (pp9-10):

On 29 December 1696, the ship Geelvinck, which had sailed from Amsterdam six months earlier, landed on Rottnest Island, 19 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia. The Dutch Captain Willem de Vlamingh was in command, and his passengers and crew included citizens of Copenhagen, Bremen and ten from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Willem de Vlamingh's ships, with black swans, at the entrance to the Swan River, Western Australia, coloured engraving, derived from an earlier drawing (now lost) from the de Vlamingh expeditions of 1696–97.
By Johannes van Keulen - Het Eyland Amsterdam, held at the National Library of Australia, Public Domain,

Sure, I thought, wishful thinking: what were the chances that any of these 10 might have come from the Lithuanian part of the Commonwealth? (The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was united in a Commonwealth with the Kingdom of Poland from 1569 to 1795.) And what was the source for this claim anyway? All I could readily find was a similar statement, again unattributed, on an Australian government website dealing with Polish immigrants (see link here).

However Dutch history offered a few clues. Holland in the seventeenth century had one of the most powerful fleets in Europe and their ships frequently visited Polish and Lithuanian ports. In addition, by the mid 1600s the Dutch East India Company (often referred to as the VOC) had developed into a huge multinational corporation, with over 50,000 employees and a private army of 10,000. As well as its interests in the New World, the VOC traded extensively in Europe including purchasing grain, timber and furs from Polish and Lithuanian suppliers. Movement of people went hand in hand with the movement of goods, so there certainly seemed some possibility that Lithuanians were employed by the VOC.

Digging a bit deeper I came across a 2012 article in the Polish journal Geographia Polonica by Mariusz Kowalski on 'Immigrants from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Early Stages of European Colonisation of the Cape Colony (1652-1707)' which has a list of soldiers and sailors who served in the VOC's new colony in South Africa. Included in this list were men who were identified as having originated in Klaipeda, Palanga and Plateliai in Lithuania. So there seems to be evidence that Lithuanians were employed by the VOC. If they were sent to serve as far afield as South Africa then there is a reasonable probability that they also served on ships heading out to the Dutch East Indies and the western coast of Australia.

The Dutch had been landing on or near the coast of Australia for 80 years before de Vlaming arrived.  In fact his 1696-97 expedition had been despatched as a rescue mission to search for survivors of earlier VOC expeditions. Revisiting Popenhagen's book, I'm no longer so sceptical about her closing thoughts (p10):
One cannot help but wonder about the cultural make-up of the passengers and crew of any earlier vessels that might have landed near Australian soil. What national and ethnic identities might have been represented? Perhaps there were citizens of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth on board those ships too?