Thursday, 9 July 2020

Pranas and Natalija ŠEŠKAS

My previous blog post about migration patterns mentioned the Šeškas family; here are a few more details to fill out an interesting story about a couple who decided to make a home and raise a family in Western Australia.

Pranas (known as Frank in Australia, and at times as Seska) was born on 1 January 1892 near Gargždai in western Lithuania, not far from the Baltic Sea. We know little about his early years before arriving in Australia; possibly economic hardship led to him leaving home, or - like so many other young men nearing 20 years of age at that time - he may have left to avoid conscription into the Russian czar's army. Also like many other single men from the Baltics who settled in Australia he may have taken employment as a seaman before arriving in Fremantle in 1912. He remained in Australia for the next decade, somehow resisting the social and economic pressures to join the AIF during the First World War and, although working at manual jobs, seems to have done reasonably well for himself.  We next find him back in newly-independent Lithuania in 1922 and applying for a Lithuanian passport (up to that point in Australia he was classified as a Russian alien, having been born in the czarist empire).

Pranas - application for a Lithuanian passport, 1922

While in Lithuania Pranas would have met his future wife Natalija. She was born near Kybartai, by the Lithuanian-Prussian border in 1906. He returned to Australia in 1925 and was working at the Port Pirie smelters as a labourer earning a good wage (over 6 pounds per week) when he applied to the Australian government a year later to allow Natalija to emigrate to Australia. At the same time he also sought permission for another Lithuanian friend, Martinas Korallus, to emigrate with Natalija. Approval was granted and the pair arrived in early 1927; Pranas and Natalija married on 1 February 1927 in Port Pirie.

Natalija - her Lithuanian passport, 1926

Pranas' and Natalija's first child was born in Port Pirie in 1928. However that year was marred by a few unpleasant experiences, with Pranas appearing before the Port Pirie courts twice within a period of a month - appearing both as a plaintiff and defendant. In one case he took his friend Korallus to court for outstanding money lent as well as unpaid board and lodgings. Perhaps because of these experiences the family moved to Western Australia where they eventually settled near Perth, first at Muchea and later Baker's Hill.

Five more children were born to Natalija and Pranas in Western Australia from 1929. A recent newspaper feature on one of the Seskas boys [click here], born in 1930, records the lives of Depression-era children on the land and notes that he was raised speaking Lithuanian.  Pranas died in 1967, and Natalija (Natalie) in 1998.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Family Migration Patterns

While single men probably made up the largest category of pre-WW2 Lithuanian-born immigrants to Australia, I continue to be surprised on this journey of discovery to find so many family groups making the voyage to the other side of the world. Some of these arrived as married couples, others singly with the intention of meeting their partners here, but many also arrived with already established families including children and occasionally siblings.
  •  In contrast to modern-day migration patterns, grandparents and older relatives seem to have been conspicuously absent, as were independent single females.   
The following examples may help illustrate the diversity of these family migration patterns.


Stasys and Elžbieta Urniežius (Stanislaus and Elizabeth Urniarz) reached Australia in 1904 from the Russian Far East. Stasys served in the AIF during WW1 (Egypt and France) and the couple returned to Lithuania in 1920.

Antanas and Ona Bauže (Anthony and Anna Bauze) arrived in September 1930 and Ona gave birth to their first child in November 1930. The family settled in Sydney and were prominent in Lithuanian community activities.

Ksaveras (Alexander) Skierys arrived in 1911 and his fiancee Ellen Petraitis followed him from Manchester in 1913. They were married in 1916 and raised 3 children in Sydney.

Pranas Šeškas (Frank Seskas) arrived in 1912, was back in Lithuania for a while in the 1920s, and was joined in Australia in 1928 by his prospective wife Natalija. They married here and raised a large family in Western Australia.

Alexander and Ellen Skierys with two children c1920. Courtesy of Rosemary Mitchell.

Couples with children

Jonas and Morta Mickevičius (John and Martha McCowage) arrived in Sydney in 1887. They had two children who had been born in England before departure and went on to have another three in Sydney.

Mamertas and Ona Marcinkevičius (Mamert and Anna Marcin) arrived in 1928 from Lithuania with three children and also settled in Sydney.

1928 passenger list with the Marcinkevičius family.

Single parents

Josephine Ruckman (Jusefa Rukman, born in 1863 in Kaunas, widow) arrived with her two sons John and Felix and daughter-in-law Klara in 1923 and settled in northern Queensland.

Juozas Ruzgas (Joe Ross), born in 1890, arrived in from Lithuania in 1930 and was joined in 1938 by his son Balys Ruzgas (William Ross). After a few years in Victoria the father and son settled in Tasmania.

Siblings and extended families

Kazys Astrauskas (Charles Ashe) arrived in  Western Australia in 1928, followed by his wife, children and his sister-in-law in 1930.

Brothers Petras and Vincas Kairaitis (Peter and Bill Kairaitis) had arrived from Scotland around 1911 and settled at Blacktown (Sydney). They were joined in 1928 by their neice Nelly and her husband George Peters and two nephews Bronius and Antanas Petraitis (Bronius and Anthony Patrick) as well as Bronius' wife and children (all came from Scotland and settled at Blacktown).

Friday, 19 June 2020

Anthony Minkshlin: soldier, sailor, witness to historical events

Anthony Minkshlin (also written as Minkslin or Minkshtin) was born 13 October 1892 in Vilnius to 'William' (Waltrome, or Baltromy) and Agatha Minkshtin. His father appears to have previously resided in Vidzy (now in Belarus, about 3km from the present Lithuanian border), before moving to Vilnius. Anthony stated that his father was a Lithuanian citizen. His mother's maiden name was Christopher - perhaps meaning the Latvian surname Kristofers - which may explain why the family moved to the port city of Liepaja in Latvia around the turn of the 20th century. Anthony attended schools in Vilnius and Liepaja before embarking on a seaman's career and leaving home at the age of 15.

With thanks to Dr Elena Govor (Canberra) for sharing this image (British merchant marine registration card)) and other details of her research on Anthony Minkshlin at The National Archives, (Kew, UK).
Before long, however, Anthony was based in Australia and working on a farm at Branxton in the Hunter region of New South Wales in between journeys away as a seaman (Branxton is around 40km from the port city of Newcastle). This continued until the First World War; he enlisted in August 1915 and was sent to serve as a trooper with the AIF's 4th Light Horse regiment in the Middle East. By mid 1916 he was in France on the Western Front with the Second Anzac Corps. After the war ended he decided to re-enlist, this time with the British Army and the North Russia Relief Force. His military experience and language skills were presumably well regarded, as he was taken on as a scout and interpreter with the 45th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. Wikipedia notes that:
The 45th and 46th Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers were part of the North Russia Relief Force, which landed in early 1919 to support the withdrawal of international forces assisting "While" (anti-Bolshevik) Russian forces during the Russian Civil War. The understrength 45th Battalion was composed mainly of former members of the Australian Imperial Force – many of them veterans of the Western Front – who had volunteered for service in Russia.
The Relief Force was evacuated by September 1919, and Anthony Minkshlin was subsequently awarded a Meritorious Service Medal for his service in the Northern Dvina River region. By December 1919 he had returned to Liepaja to visit his parents, and shortly thereafter found another posting that appealed to him - that of interpreter with the British Military Mission in Kaunas, working for Colonel Henry Rowen-Robinson. However by the second half of 1920 Minkshlin was back at sea, based in England, and had applied for naturalisation as a British subject. He received good references and a police check recorded that "he appears to be a respectable man".

With thanks to Dr Al Taškūnas (Hobart) for supplying this image from 1920 (Anthony Minkshlin in Kaunas wearing an Australian Army slouch hat).

Anthony returned to Australia in 1923, married Irene Serova in 1926, and the couple settled in North Sydney. Anthony continued to maintain his links with the sea, working as a seaman for some years and naming his new home "Albatross". Irene was listed on the electoral roll as a tailoress. In older age Anthony resided at the War Veterans' Home in Narrabeen and displayed his craft skills in creating abalone shell jewellery. He died in 1983 at the age of 92 and is buried in the Roman Catholic section of the Frenchs Forest cemetery. Irene had been born around 1905 and died in 1987.    

Sources and further reading:
National Archives of Australia -
Elena Govor: personal communication and and her publications on 'Russian Anzacs', including
Trove -
Dr Al Taškūnas, Lithuanian Studies Society, University of Tasmania.


Saturday, 6 June 2020

Petras Stasiunas (Peter Stanton)

Around 100,000 people emigrated from Lithuania during the interwar years, mostly for economic reasons, The peak period for emigration was 1926-1930, with an estimated 60,000 leaving. Most made their way to South America but at least 50 that we know of, and probably many more, reached Australia. Petras Stasiunas was one of these young migrants who had been born in czarist times, experienced the First World War and the birth of independent Lithuania, but had decided to leave in the late 1920s.

Born on 5 August 1898 to the north of the town of Pašvitinys, Petras appears to have spent his first 30 years in Lithuania and to have participated in the Wars of Independence (1918-20), but on arrival in Sydney aboard the Orontes from London in 1929 his occupation was listed as farm labourer. He settled in Newcastle and within a few years appears to have become relatively successful, being listed as a motor tyre dealer ('Peter's Remoulds') in the mid 1930s.

 Source: Trove, Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) Saturday 28 May 1938 p 22.

Petras kept in touch with his compatriots in Australia, participating in the activities of the Sydney-based Australian Lithuanian Society, and in 1937 traveled overseas to visit Lithuania.  He was still a single man at this stage, and may have returned 'home' to find a wife. If so, that quest was unsuccessful - or the Second World War may have interrupted plans - and in 1941 Petras married a Newcastle woman (Kathleen Comerford). That marriage, however, was short-lived and divorce soon followed.

By the late 1930s Petras had improved his standing and had built a tyre service centre in Newcastle at a cost of over 2000 pounds (Peter's Tyre Service at Tighe's Hill). He had also become a naturalized British subject (1939), changed his name by deed poll to Peter Stanton (1940), and offered himself for army service at the start of the war.

The war years may have adversely impacted the service station business because during that period Peter returned to his earlier occupation - farming - purchasing a property at Louth Park, near Maitland. In August 1948 he married a second time; this time he chose a newly-arrived Lithuanian refugee, Ona Venclauskaite (born in 1928, she had arrived in Australia only in February 1948). Sadly, their marriage did not last long either as Peter died in June 1949 at Maitland after attending to flood damage on his farm. He left a wife and a son.

An obituary was published in Mūsų Pastogė on 6 July 1949, including the following details (my loose translation):

One of the older Australian Lithuanians, Petras Stasiunas-Stanton, died on the 28th of June in Maitland. The deceased was 53 years of age, born in Kriukų county, and had been a volunteer [in the Wars of Independence]. He arrived in Australia in 1929 and settled in Newcastle, working in those difficult times for one and a half pounds a week. Nevertheless he managed to save and get ahead, securing his own tyre repair workshop. During the last war he bought a farm at Maitland, where he lived until his premature death. He had married a new Lithuanian migrant only about 8 months ago; a conscientious Lithuanian, even though living far from any community groups he always cared about their activities and often supported them financially (Written by Antanas Bauže). 



Saturday, 8 February 2020

Rev. Jonas Tamulis (1915- 2010)

The previous post gave a very brief history of the short-lived Australian Lithuanian journal Užuovėja, published monthly during 1949 and 1950. While the publication had several editors during that time - Julius Veteikis, Petras Pilka, Vincas Kazokas, Mikas Apinys, and Fr. Petras Butkus -  it was underwritten, and probably the brainchild, of a remakable Lithuanian priest, Jonas Tamulis.

Accounts vary, but Tamulis appears to have been born in England around 1915. The family returned to Lithuania while he was quite young and settled in the village of Žindaičiai, near Jurbarkas. Ordained a priest in 1940, he was one of the group of British citizens permitted to leave Lithuania during the first soviet occupation (1940-41) who made their way to Vladivostok and then to Australia aboard the Hai Tan, arriving in December 1940.

Tamulis spent the remaining war years as an army chaplain in Brisbane but was able to reach the USA in early 1946. For a while he ministered to the St Casimir Lithuanian parish in Los Angeles before being posted to another parish. By the late 1940s Australia's Mass Migration Scheme was attracting large numbers of displaced Lithuanians from European refugee camps and Tamulis volunteered to return to Australia.

From December 1948 Tamulis worked as a chaplain at the Migrant Reception Centre in Bathurst. From there he was able to travel to Sydney and other regional centres to provide religious services to the newly forming Lithuanian communities, and it was very soon after his arrival that Užuovėja first appeared. Produced by the Society of St Casimir on a rotary hand press, each 30 page edition aspired to high journalistic standards with news, information, and articles on literature, science, and the arts. Initially published from the Bathurst camp, by November 1949 it had found a home in Sydney.

As well as providing regular church services in Sydney, Rev. Tamulis was also responsible for the establishment of the first Lithuanian Catholic Centre in Sydney (at 5 Young Street, Circular Quay) and a Lithuanian weekend school. However by 1950 he had fallen into disfavour with the Australian church hierarchy - apparently because of his attempts to promote the establishment of a Lithuanian parish in Australia - and returned to the USA where he followed his religious vocation in Michigan until retirement in 1991.

Sources (see Links on RHS):
Australian Lithuanians;
Mūsų Pastogė (1949-50); and
Metraštis No.1 (p98).


Saturday, 25 January 2020

A view from 1950

The Australian Lithuanian publication Užuovėja ('A Shelter from the Wind') was published monthly in 1949 and 1950, initially at the Bathurst Migrant Camp and later from Sydney. The 1950 calendar for subscribers included a short article on Lithuanians in Australia (p85) from which I have extracted the following snapshot of knowledge and views from 70 years ago:

As far as we know, the first group of Lithuanian migrants arrived in Australia at the end of the 19th century, settling initially in Adelaide. They had established a mutual-aid society there but after a few years the community dissolved as members moved to settle elsewhere in Australia.

A new wave of migrants arrived after the First World War. It is believed that around a thousand people arrived in the interwar years, mainly from Lithuania and Scotland. They were also scattered around Australia, although a larger number settled in Sydney and its environs. The people in Sydney established an Australian Lithuanian Society, which later received newspapers through the Lithuanian government's Society for Assistance to Overseas Lithuanians. Even now there are over a dozen families from that migration who continue to participate in community activities, largely because of the efforts of Mr Bauže who has been president of the Society for close to 20 years.

Nevertheless the fact that today we can only count a few dozen active community members out of 1000 arrivals is a sad and sobering thought. Now we are expecting another modest influx of migrants. Official figures as at September 1949 show 4800 new Lithuanian migrants in Australia; optimistically this figure may grow to around 7000.
At present our communities and lively and energetic. Nevertheless, many are forced to work in isolated parts of the country; especially disturbing is the lack of [Lithuanian] educational facilities for our young people. In the author's opinion, our community leaders should work up a broad plan now to address the likely future erosion of our numbers.