2 March 2015

#52Ancestors - Week 10 – Stormy Weather

Week 10 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks challenge and this time the theme is Stormy Weather. "This is the time of year that the northern hemisphere starts to see severe storms. (As if the blizzards in New England this winter haven’t been bad enough!) What ancestor endured a particularly severe storm? It could be something like a tornado or blizzard or it could be a “storm” of bad things."

Stormy Weather - in Sunny Sydney? Can't think of anything bad enough. Sure we get bush fires, cyclones, floods, snow and all sorts of weather events in Australia, but my family here were all city slickers, so they likely lived their lives in blissful ignorances of those types of hardships. No stories of "great grandma Mary who had to dig herself out with a teaspoon" either.

So this week I'm going with the Storms and Trials of John Martin; my father.

John was the 3rd of 11 children born to James Martin and Annie Dempsey. Born in "the Gorbals" of Glasgow in 1924, he passed away in Australia in 1992. For most of his life he was a merchant seaman, but also was part of the Royal Navy during WW2 under the special T124x agreements.

The Gorbals was "a slum" - overcrowded, crime-ridden, poverty-sticken and no place to raise a family if you had any choice in the matter at all.

John's first brush with the law -"trial" - (per family oral history) was for horse-stealing. Aparently he stole the local milkman's horse when he was around the age of 12 to sell at the local markets. (At the time he was working for the milkman - and also with the baker AND also as a "barrer-boy" at the local markets as well as "attending school" - though he was apparently more truant than attendee.)

The first storm was his relationship with his brother Thomas (1922 - 1977) (apparently they were bitter rivals as teenagers) - and a fight they had over a suit. There are two stories about this, but both end up the same way. My sister got the first story from our father when preparing a family history book for our parent's 30th wedding anniversary in 1991:

  1. Once Thomas was out of work (he lost his job because he wanted to go to the footy instead of driving the boss's truck up north to pick up some black market poultry & fish). Annie, their mother, bought Tom a new suit. This caused quite an argument as John, who was working & giving most of his pay to family expenses, had to buy his own clothes & never had enough money for a suit. This led to a violent fight between the brothers, who locked themselves in a bedroom. Their father had to kick the door down to break them up

    The 2nd story my sister also remembers being told by our father. It starts a bit differently:
  2. Dad was learning to be a tailor and the tailor let him make a suit for himself in his own time. It seems he finished the suit and left it at home while he was at work. He came home one day and found his brother wearing his suit and was informed that Annie had given it to him. This caused quite an argument...... kick the door down to break them up
In 1941 John joined the merchant navy on the Ship SS Manela which was attached to the RAF command as a special repair ship during WW2. He was on a number of ships during the war - but that's a story for another day. Enough to say for this story, that his war, as with most other participants, was a stormy one.

John married for the 1st time in 1945 and was divorced in 1958. According to copies of paperwork found in relation to his application to annul this marriage in 1986 (family archives) and also in the divorce proceedings themselves in 1958 (QLD State Archives), the marriage was a stormy one. He didn't get on with his in-laws and there were many fights and threats. He and his wife often fought about money (or lack of money) and also where the wife should live - as she kept moving back to her parents' home. There were also fights when John wanted her and his sons to move with him to London and then to Australia (she refused to move).

The storms started even before the marriage: One story I read in the annulment papers was about the engagement ring John had bought his then fiancée. John bought the ring while he was away at sea. He sent her the ring by mail along with his marriage proposal (which was accepted). When John returned home he found his fiancée sporting a different ring and he was "presented" with a bill. Apparently his future mother-in-law didn't think the ring was good enough, had had it valued, sold and replaced with a more expensive ring - with John expected to top-up the difference.

Another trial happened in 1952. John was working on the ship Esperance Bay which "did the immigrant run" from the UK to Australia. The ship was leaving Sydney when he and another crew member got into an argument in the galley of the ship where John worked. John was preparing a meal and had a knife in his hand. John turned around not realising the crew member was running at him and he ran into the knife (this is not a euphamism). The ship had to return to Sydney. The crew member was taken to hospital and John was arrested. Bail was eventually set at £100. John couldn't afford the bail and so was held in Sydney's Long Bay Jail until his trail. He was acquitted as the judge ruled no assault had happened and allowed to remain in Australia as a permanent resident.

Here are 3 newspaper articles on the matter from the National Library of Australia - the news appeared in many publications both here and in Scotland:
Sunday Times (Perth, Western Australia)
Sydney Morning Herald

I'm ending this week's post with a picture of John when he worked on the drill ship Robert F Bauer - where a storm while on the helicopter flying to the ship could lead to him ending up in the ocean!

John Martin in his survival suit


  1. Your father's story certainly fits the theme very well. Supreme Court divorce files at State Archives are a real treasure trove for family history, aren't they? I even found photographs in a couple of files when I was doing research for clients.

  2. Judy - yes, there were 2 photos in the file of my 1/2 brothers as little boys with their Mum and my Dad. Thankfully I was able to get copies of them

    1. How wonderful to find photos of your half-brothers in the divorce file! The photos I saw were of wives who had left their husbands and whose whereabouts were unknown when those husbands began divorce proceedings.

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