Saturday, 10 August 2019

Ona Baužienė (Anna Bauze)

In 1983 Anna Bauze was awarded a BEM (British Empire Medal) for her services to the Australian Lithuanian community. She had arrived in Australia as a young woman in 1930 and was an important and popular member of the Lithuanian community until her death in 2003. Here is a brief outline of this remarkable woman's story.

Ona was born in Essen, Germany in 1904. Her father Juozas Vyšniauskas was employed at the Krupps Steel Works and her mother Antanina Ravinaitė Vyšniauskienė worked on rural estates. Their settled life in Germany was turned upside down in 1905 when they were forced to leave during the Russo-Japanese War; the Tsarist government demanded that all young Lithuanian men return to Russia and the German authorities said they should either leave or be deported. Like many others, the Vyšniauskas family decided to move to Scotland and Ona grew up in the industrial town of Motherwell.

By 1922, with Lithuania having secured her independence, the family decided it was time to return home. Ona had completed high school and was training for a teaching vocation in Scotland, but had also been raised within the strong Lithuanian community in Scotland and so was able to adjust to the transition remarkably well. She was soon working as a clerk at the Vilkaviškis courthouse. In 1927 she married a young army officer, Antanas Bauže. However by that time the family was becoming disillusioned with the political situation in Lithuania - a military coup d'etat in 1926 had installed an authoritarian government. Ona's parents left Lithuania for Brazil in 1929 and Ona and Antanas Bauže left for Australia in 1930.

Attitudes to non-British migrants in Australia at that time were sharpened by the effects of the Great Depression. For example, Adelaide's daily paper 'The Advertiser' reported on 18 August 1930 that 202 foreign migrants (including Lithuanians) had entered the state of South Australia during the first 7 months of the year and that the state's Premier had been asked to make a strong protest to the Federal government about ongoing migration. Fortunately those Lithuanians who had arrived after living in Britain or other English-speaking countries appear to have been reasonably well accepted.

Ona and Antanas Bauže settled in Sydney and were soon raising a family and operating a grocery store in Paddington. Ona's memoir (published in 2002) is a useful source of information on Sydney's Lithuanians of the 1930s, including the Scots Lithuanians Frank and Maggie Augustas (Augustaitis) at Redfern; Bella and Joe Miller (Plaušinis) at Waterloo; and the Kairaitis, Peters and Patrick families at Blacktown.

The Sydney Lithuanian Women's Social Services Association around 1960; Anna Bauze is standing in the top row, centre.

Ona Bauze played a unique role, contributing to both the early (pre-WW2) Sydney Lithuanian community and the growth of the much larger community which developed with post-WW2 migration. She took an interest in welfare issues, for example by assisting new arrivals with accommodation and employment. One of her significant achievements involved planning and fundraising for the building of the Lithuanian Retirement Village at Engadine, Sydney, which was officially opened in 1984.  Read more about that project by clicking here.

Click here for a 2003 In Memoriam tribute to Anna Bauze.

'A Lithuanian in Australia: Memories of My Life' by Anna Bauze; Sydney, 2002;
Metraštis; Sydney, 1961 (for the image above);
Sydney Lithuanian  Information Centre website (see links).

Friday, 26 July 2019

Ellen Skierys

One of the earliest Australian Lithuanian women we have any details about was Ellen Petraitis/Peterson Skierys. My thanks to her niece Rosemary Petraitis/Peterson Mitchell for the following biographical outline.

Ellen was born around 1892 in Manchester, England, to a Lithuanian family. Her elder sister Mary had been born in Lithuania only a year earlier, so we can assume the family were very recent immigrants. Her parents Alexandra and Izidorius Petraitis - later known as John Peterson - went on to have another 10 or 11 children in Manchester, but only 7 of their offspring survived to adulthood.

Izidorius Petraitis/John Peterson was a successful tailor who operated his own business in central Manchester until the depression years of the 1930s forced him to close. Not only was the business profitable for Izidorius but it also provided a solid start in life for most of his children who were employed there at one time or another. It also appears he travelled back to Lithuania, at least in the late 1890s, on business matters: earlier posts here and here have recorded the stories of Australian Lithuanians Jonas Vedrinaitis and Ksaveras Skierys and how they seem to have been recruited by Petraitis as apprentices.
Ksaveras (also known as Alexander) Skierys lived with the Petraitis family in Manchester for some time, as well as working further afield, including Scotland and Ireland. However in 1911 he departed for Australia, settling in Sydney where he found work as a tailor.  Ellen, who had fallen in love with him in Manchester, decided to follow him. So, at the age of 21 she boarded the 'Irishman' in Liverpool on 20 March 1913 for the two month voyage to Sydney.  There she worked for a tailoring firm in Surrey Hills until she and Ksaveras/Alexander married in 1916.

Ellen and Ksaveras Skierys had three children: Alexander, Nelly and William (Bill). They were active members of the Lithuanian community in Sydney and Nelly, at least, continued the family tradition of entering the tailoring trade, initially indentured to her father.

Ellen and Alexander Skierys, with Nellie (born 1919) and Alexander (born 1917)

Forty years after leaving Manchester Ellen travelled back to revisit England and spend time with her relatives; she returned to Sydney in 1955 with her younger sister Nellie (Angela) who stayed for 18 months.

Ellen died in 1975, Ksaveras in 1961. They are buried at the Woronora cemetery (Sydney) together with two of their children, Nellie and Bill.   


Friday, 12 July 2019

"A 100 year old Lithuanian in New Zealand"

This was the title of a newspaper article published in 1950 by prof. Mykolas Biržiška about Jurgis Šeižys, probably the first Lithuanian to have settled in New Zealand. Here is my abridged version.

The story begins around 1850 when Jurgis Šeižys was born in the village of Šiukštoniai, in the parish of Joniškelis in northern Lithuania. Around 1875 he left his home village and settled in Riga, Latvia, where he found work in a large tobacco factory. After 12 years at the tobacco factory Jurgis began to complain of chest pains; the doctors couldn't help him except to recommend a change of employment, preferably in a fresh air environment. He then decided to set out on a long journey, first to Belgium and Holland, then London and finally to New Zealand, arriving there around 1888.

In New Zealand Jurgis Šeižys became known as George Scheigis and tried his hand at several occupations before settling down. He married a local Maori girl but after 4 years was left a widower with a young son. By 1900, having established himself as a successful sheep farmer with a few other business interests he decided to return to Lithuania to find a wife. However, without a passport he only got as far as London. Fortunately, while there he was able to make contact with his sister and nephew in Riga who were able to travel to London to meet him and spend a few weeks together.

Jurgis returned to New Zealand and married a local englishwoman with whom he had more children. His relatives in Europe lost touch with him after the First World War and it was only after the Second World War that his nephew, by then a displaced person in Germany (living in the USA from 1950), managed to make contact again. By that time Jurgis was around 100 years old. 

Source: The article appeared in Australijos Lietuvis (the Australian Lithuanian) on 6 February 1950, pp 8-10 and was based on information supplied to Biržiška by fellow academic prof. Jonas Šimoliunas, the nephew of Jurgis Šeižys. My thanks to Dana Grigonis, a volunteer with the Australian Lithuanian Community Archives, for providing me with scans of the newpaper and links to the above images. 

  1. Jurgis may not in fact have reached 100 years of age in 1950; other online sources (Geni, Ancestry, MyHeritage, the NZ Government's BDM online) suggest his date of birth may have been more like 1860, or even 1865;
  2. He settled in the far north of the North Island, living at Rangiputa and Rangaunu, and was buried at Kaitaia in 1950. His story has also been recorded by at least one local historian in New Zealand and his name is commemorated by Scheigis Rock in Rangaunu harbour;
  3. Jurgis' first wife was Ani Mihaka, the second was Elizabeth Read;
  4. The first son, Henry Scheigis (1896-1965) served in both World Wars (WW1 - Maori Pioneer Battalion; WW2 - 28th Maori Battalion);
  5. A greatgreat neice, presumably from the USA, visited the Schengis family sites in the North Island in 2000-01 (see images above);
  6. There are suggestions, so far unverified, that Jurgis Šeižys was not the only early (pre-WW2) Lithuanian to settle in New Zealand. Other surnames to research include Vasiliūnas and Raudonis.  

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Lithuanian Australians in World War 2

The recent 75th commemoration of D-Day (the allied landings in Normandy) reminded me that there were also Australian Lithuanian servicemen and women who participated in World War Two.

At least 25 Australian servicemen who served during WW2 (1939-45) recorded their place of birth as Lithuania. Some were born in independent Lithuania (from1918) while others had been born while the country was still part of the czarist Russian empire. Here are a few of their stories.

Myer ALTMAN, born 9 May 1923 in Kaunas was living in Mosman (Sydney) with his father Samuel when he enlisted at Sydney University - he was an economics student there - in October 1941. He continued to serve in Australia until discharge in January 1946.

Judah John DAVIES, born 21 October 1905 in Kaunas enlisted in May 1941 at Paddington (Sydney). He was a motor accessories traveller, married to Betty Shwabsky Davies, and saw active service in the Middle East and New Guinea before being discharged on medical grounds in September 1944.

John KELLERT (Jonas KELERTAS), born 9 June 1924 in Panevežys, enlisted at Bankstown (Sydney) in July 1942. He qualified as a radio/radar mechanic and served in New Guinea from October 1943 to May 1944, discharged in October 1946.

Harry KURZKI had been born in 1893 in Kaunas and served in the Russian army during WW1 during which time he received a gunshot wound to the head. He arrived in Australia in 1925 and enlisted at Paddington (Sydney) at the age of 49 but was discharged after one month as medically unfit.

Zalman LEVI (also known as Zale ZAPOLSKI) had been born in 1904 in Lazdijai and enlisted at Claremont (Perth) in June 1942 at the age of 38. He was married, an antique dealer, and only 5'3" tall, but recorded continuous full-time war service in Western Australia, New South Wales, and the Northern Territory until January 1946.

Walter MARCIN (Vladimiras MARCINKEVIČIUS), born 9 December 1917 in Kaunas had arrived in Australia in 1928 with his parents and settled in Arncliffe (Sydney). He had attended the Royal Art Society of NSW and the Julian Ashton Art School while completing a 5 year apprenticeship as a stained glass draughtsman. Walter enlisted with the RAAF in March 1943, served as aircrew and navigator before being promoted to Flight Sergeant and Warrant Officer and joining the RAF (in the UK) in May 1944. He survived the war in Europe and was discharged in January 1946. 

Anthony PATRICK (Antanas PETRAITIS), born 10 September 1908 in Sintautai had arrived with his family in 1928 from Scotland and worked in Sydney as a french polisher. He enlisted in May 1943 and provided 1030 days of active service within Australia until the end of the war.

As well as the above, the following Australian WW2 servicemen recorded Lithuania as their place of birth. Many were Lithuanian Jews, several were from the same family:

Isdore BERMAN (Idelis BERMANAS) from Jurbarkas;
Bernard BLOCH (BLOCHAS) from Varniai;
William BLOCH;
Kay Kazys BRAZ (BRAZAUSKAS) from Kaunas;
Samuel EPSTEIN from Kaunas;
David GOLDBERG from Kaunas;
Hyman GRAY from Zanov(?);
Sundel HANEMANN from Memel (Klaipeda);
Maurice MARGOLIS from Vilnius;
Noel MILLER (Chane MILERIS) from Nemakščiai;
Leon PLATUS from Godz(?);
Edgar SEEBERG from Zabelai(?);
Harry SEGAL from Žagare;
Albert SILVER from Židikai;
Leslie SILVER;
Peter Stasium STANTON (Petras STASIUNAS) from Pašvitinys.

Still others who served Australia during WW2 were the Australian-born descendants of Lithuanian immigrants; for example Lt Frank John AUGUSTUS, the son of Pranas and Magdalena AUGUSTAITIS who had arrived in 1924 from Scotland; and Aircraftwoman Frances Merle SIMKUS, the grandaughter of William ŠIMKUS who had been born around 1861 in Memel (Klaipeda) and arrived in NSW in 1886. Others included Bombardier Anthony Joseph ALANSKAS from Western Australia and Staff Sergeant Anthony Wedrien from Sydney.

Sources: NAA (National Archives of Australia) and

Friday, 14 June 2019

Sydney Lithuanians in 1915

An earlier post dealt with early Lithuanians in Sydney around the time of the First World War and included the photograph below. I had mentioned that they had written an article to the American Lithuanian newspaper Lietuva, which they are displaying at the base of the photo, and have now tracked down the article which provides some more detail about their lives here.

Lietuva (meaning Lithuania) was published in Chicago from 1892 to 1920. The article from Sydney was published on 16 April 1915 (not in 1914 as previously thought) and sets out what the authors knew about the small number of Lithuanians in Sydney at the time:
  • they knew of 21 people in their circle: 9 men (4 of whom were married and one a widower); 6 women and 6 children [we now know that there were in fact more Lithuanian-born people living in or near Sydney at the time];
  • they considered their standard of living to be good; six of their number had acquired property (four owned their own homes and two had parcels of land);
  • at least six of these community members worked in the tailoring trade where wages ranged from three to six pounds per week; although the wage rates were good, the cost of living was a little higher than in the UK, in particular accommodation rentals, and this was an incentive to acquire property as quickly as possible; 
  • the first Lithuanians they knew about had arrived back in 1887; these were Jonas Mickevičius (John McCowage) and his family - see the above post for more details on him. Jonas was the most well-to-do member of the community, having acquired a home near the centre of the city; one of his sons was a successful Sydney greengrocer. Another early immigrant, Stanislovas Urnėžius (Stanley Urniarz) had arrived in 1904 from Manchuria. All the other Lithuanians in this group had arrived more recently from England or Scotland;   
  • the authors contended that opportunities for new immigrants were improving as there was a shortage of labour and the standard of living in Australia was better than in other countries; they looked forward to welcoming more Lithuanian immigrants and growing the size of their community.

If you would like to read the full article (in Lithuanian) it is accessible through