CQ Family History Association Inc.

BIOGRAPHY OF J.T.S.BIRD

John Theophilus  Symons Bird  --printer, journalist , sports columnist,  gold miner, drama critic, author and historian, was born in U.K. at the family farmhouse  `Rose in the  Grove’   Parkham, Buckland Brewer, in the County of Devon, 10th.May 1842.  He died in Brisbane on the 7th.May 1932.    He was entered in the Birth  Register under the name `Zephunneh’  a biblical name Jephunneh (another spelling) which means THE BEHOLDER.  All his life however, he was called JOHN.  His name is shown on the shipping list of the voyage to Australia as `John’ and the autographed copies of his book were signed John T. S. Bird.  His third name is often spelt as Simmons, but his mother seems to have always used the form Symons and it was her maiden name.

  J.T.S. and his two younger brothers , arrived in Rockhampton on board the ship Beejapore, a migrant ship, landing on the  25th.June 1863.  He had attained his 21st birthday  at sea.    There are several accounts of the voyage in existence,  as it is notable for the large number of future Rockhampton residents it brought.  J.T.S. did keep a diary on the voyage. It has not survived, but a short summary is extant. The day after landing  he began work on the Rockhampton Newspaper, `The Morning Bulletin’ as a compositor.   One would imagine in those days a trained compositor would be most welcome  in the young and thriving township.

J.T.S. was trained as a  printer/compositor in Devon, and had been working on  newspapers in Torquay before embarking for Australia, where he hoped to make his fortune! He worked on the Chronicle in Torquay, later being transferred to the  Recorder.   He and his brothers always thought they might return to England, if only for a holiday. None ever  made a return journey.

 He remained with the  Bulletin until the end of 1866, when he resigned, to try his luck in the goldfields, where it seems so many people were optimistically seeking fame and fortune.  He spent most of  the time  gold panning in many fields around Rockhampton, where the Crocodile field near Bouldercombe was proving to be a great attraction. He was certain the Canoona field, discovered in 1858  was a good one, as it provided many thousands of ounces of easily won gold.  He also went prospecting at Peak Downs and as far south as Gympie. 

With his friend Arthur Hosking, he  left for Ridgelands and, in February  1867, discovered gold in the granite and slate deposits in the area.    He lodged alluvial and reefing claims, and was  granted a reefing claim by the Gold Commissioner, but for some reason the  alluvial claim was granted to another man.  The field was a good site, having an excellent water supply, and  gold diggers commenced to pour into the area in their thousands.  A thriving township  soon sprang up, with stores and hotels.

 J.T.S. and Hosking,  applied for a  £500  reward being offered by the  Government for the discovery of  new goldfields, however the amount received was only £200.  They were the first in Queeensland to obtain a reward for finding  gold, at least it was an encouragement .   In those days it represented a considerable amount of money.

He later moved from Ridgelands, and went gold seeking in the Raglan and Langmorn  fields, what success he had is not known , but he had made and sent to a sister in Devon a  beautiful gold brooch in the form of a gold prospector’s pick and shovel, with a nugget of gold on the blade, which I have seen over in UK, belonging now to a cousin, her great grandson.  At this time the family is not aware of what other articles he had made.  It is known that he regularly sent cuttings from the newspaper to his parents.  He was still unmarried at this time,  so it is possible he only had gifts made for his sisters in England.   However he did marry  in 1868, his bride being Kezia Seymour from London, and  they were married  on the 4th.April 1868 in Maryborough .  At this time he was gold mining at Nashville, on the Gympie goldfields,

From Gympie he headed  north  for the Gilbert River but stopped at  Mackay, where he worked on the Mackay Mercury for some time.  He was back in Rockhampton  1869/70 heading for Cania, when  he accepted a new position at the Morning Bulletin.   So he rejoined the Bulletin staff, happy to do this no doubt, as life on the goldfields would not have been easy for wives and young children and he now had a child as well as a wife to support.. His firstborn child Ella Roseanna was born  in July 1869.

Back at the Bulletin he spent many years in the composing room, approximately 48 years. He became foreman and overseer in 1875.  By 1876 he  had developed his journalistic skills.  With his practical knowledge of  mining, it was not long before he had taken over the mining column.  He had the ability to decide very quickly whether a claim was `wild cat’ or not.  As mining editor  he was one of the first to write about the mines at Mount Morgan, after finds there in 1883.

He wore other hats as well, all quite successfully, one being Sporting Editor; another was Drama Critic; also Leader Writer, he used the pen-name VENO, the origin of which is unknown.

 J.T.S. and his wife had seven children..    His first born was Ella, who remained  at home with him after the death of his wife, and there were 2 boys and  4 other girls.   Both sons were employed at the Bulletin;  Robert as a compositor and linotype operator, and John as a reporter.   At one stage he and his two sons were on the staff, and they claimed, if needed, they could produce the whole newspaper, from reporting, to printing and sale.

His family after they married  gradually all moved to Brisbane to reside, but J.T.S. remained in Rockhampton, at the Bulletin until his retirement in 1915.   When his wife died in 1918, he finally decided to move to Brisbane with daughter Ella, where he remained for the rest of his life.  It was a reluctant move on his part, having been an active participant in the  growth of the town  all those years. He died on the 7th.May 1932, just three days short of his 90th.birthday 

His most notable contribution  to the Bulletin, his major  work , was the writing of   ` The Early History of Rockhampton.‘ This volume  contains detailed accounts of the city from its founding in 1855 until about 1870. It was first published weekly in chapter form in the paper,  where it must have proved of great interest  to the newspaper readers of the day. Later it was published in book form.  The book also incorporates `The  History of Mount Morgan Mine’.

In the preface J.T.S. acknowledged that `if the files of the Bulletin had not been available, the work in a trustworthy form  would have been impossible.   A planned second edition never eventuated.

Copies of the book are now a national treasure, some being held in the Rare Books section of  the Oxley Library in Brisbane, many other copies are kept in Libraries such as Rockhampton Public Library, University College of Central Queensland’s Capricornia Collection,  the University of Queensland, and  the Mitchell Library in Sydney.  Here I must relate the story told by a cousin visiting the U.S.A. where he found the book advertised on the Internet in a secondhand bookshop, the price being approximately  $900 American dollars.   Having checked various secondhand bookshops here in Brisbane, I have ascertained that, if  original copies were available the price would be approximately $1,500 Australian dollars.  None it seems are available today.   In some of the local Libraries around Brisbane I have found it on micro-fiche..

However, this book has recently been republished by the Central Queensland Family History Assoc. Inc. with  an index added by  John Humphries.. and is readily available from booksellers and newsagents in Rockhampton and from the Queensland State Public Library Bookshop, at South Brisbane.

J.T.S. was a respected member of the  Bulletin staff,  and the Rockhampton community.  An authority on sport, mining, reporting, he was often referred to as an arbiter in cases of disputes.  Here I quote from the Capricornian of the 18th.May 1889,  from an article published regarding  a send-off to  Mr.Will McIlwraith,  editor of the  Morning Bulletin, and The Capricornian , who was going on an overseas trip.

 Various toasts were made in favour of  several people including J.T.S. who was also honoured musically.  It was stated that much of the good feeling between masters and men was due to the overseer, Mr.Bird ` than whom there was not a fairer man between employer and employed in the whole of the colonies.’    Mr.Bird responded saying he thought he scarcely  deserved  all the warm eulogy  that had been passed on him..  He could however conscientiously say   he had always tried to do what he had considered  fair between  employer and employed, and he should always do so.  He stated he  would never do anything  that he did not think was strictly fair.  There was much applause.

 In 1914, he was a pall bearer at the funeral of Mr.McIlwraith.

From 1909 to retirement 1918, J.T.S. was a sub-editor of the  Capricornian  as well as working  with the Bulletin..  During this time  he also reported on the growing activities of the city.

 After his retirement he continued to write for the Bulletin  and  other periodicals and newspapers His retirement was just one month  short of fifty five years since he first took  up employment with the Bulletin.

After early interruptions  for gold prospecting, he had worked continuously for forty eight years.  It has been noted that,  with his freelance contributions after 1918 retirement, he was a part of the paper for almost seventy years.   Quite an achievement!               

As I am a good many year younger than  the other grandchildren of J.T.S.  it means  I have missed out on a lot of the  early family history, and seeing I am  the last surviving grandchild I must mostly rely on my own memory for anecdotes.  One thing which comes to mind related by my father Robert, the elder son of J.T.S.  is grandfather’s love of reading.  In those early days lighting was mainly candles.  His desire to read a  short time when first retiring to bed, could only be achieved  with the assistance of his wife, Kezia, who so obligingly  held the candle holder firmly on her chest , to allow him to read

By the time he retired, grandmother Kezia had already died, and  all of his family, with the exception of daughter Ella were living in Brisbane.  He was reluctantly persuaded  to come to Brisbane to live to be closer to his family.   Ella was caring for him, and about this time suffered a bad fall. I recall her as being a short stout lady, so no doubt the fall would be a heavy one, with resultant fractures.  From later hearsay , and memory it must have been a bad hip break, and she was indeed fortunate to make a recovery.  It was sometime before she was mobile again.

J.T.S. came to reside with our family, and presumably I was about a year old, and would be settled on a rug on the floor of the breakfast room to play  while he sat at the table writing.  This was the days before play pens!  Seems I would crawl to the kitchen to play with the door handle on the ice chest -–pre refrigerator days – my  rattling of the handle would disturb him and I guess his concentration, and I’ve been told he would lovingly and gently come and pick me up and return  me to the rug, all too soon I would manage to return to the ice chest, so my mother would have to take me elsewhere.  He wanted to have me nearby , but also wanted to finish his writing.  A difficult choice...

It appears I could whistle  almost as soon as I could talk. He loved this, and would stop his writing to listen to my baby efforts.   My mother related that he would say   ‘pon my soul, listen to this baby whistle, incredible, sing sweet bird’ it gave him pleasure.  I vaguely recall him  telling me  never to touch matches.  He would call me his ‘tuppence three ha’pence’ a phrase of endearment in those days, mostly he would call me his sweet bird.  I was a few years older by then.

He did make all the grandchildren aware of the importance of   correct use  of  English language, this has been handed on down  the generations, pedantry runs through the family to this day..  He stressed to all of us the importance of grammar, spelling, correct pronunciation etc.  One story I do recall told by my  late sister Doris ,who was quite a few years older than me, and who had spent considerable time with our grandparents when they all lived in Rockhampton.   She came home from school one day, amazed to have heard someone speak of false teeth, quite a novelty to her. She told J.T.S. about this, and he reprimanded with the comment `my dear, they are not false, but artificial teeth’.  Doris recalled the happy days spent at  the holiday home of our grandparents,  where he would encourage her love of reading, especially the daily newspaper, and she did this from a very early age.

 When Ella was well enough to  care for grandfather, he  bought a house at Eagle Junction. His breakfast room had one whole wall built in with bookshelves and these were  packed with newspapers,  some of which contained articles he had written for many newspapers in his retirement.  The dining room  had a  vast collection of books in a bookcase.  The  collecting of books is a bonus he has handed on to his descendants, so many of  us carry on this tradition, and receive such enjoyment from reading.

Visiting him one day at Eagle Junction he took me  to view a fowl yard, something new to me, and I was astonished  and commented, `look at  all the sparrows!’  he very gently chided me and explained,` they are not sparrows my dear, but chickens’.   He proceeded to show me the roosts, and some eggs which we gathered.

 Loving memories remained with my sister before she died, and I too can still see him in my mind’s eye,  he wore the  then style of suits made from fine alpaca wool in the summer time to keep cool   Another granddaughter the late Theo Stoodley, recalled visiting him at his home in 1925, when he was writing his article on the voyage of the  Beejapore, for publication in the Bulletin on 18th.July 1925. It is most unfortunate that the majority  of his papers and memoirs were lost in a fire in later years  at the home of daughter Beatrice, where he was living  before he died.

 In later years after the death of daughter Ella, he sold his home and went to live with daughter Beatrice at Ascot, where he remained until his death in 1932.  A firm, but gentle and loving man;  certainly a pedant,  which he has passed on  down the generations.   He was always  precise in his speech,  and  correct in his appearance.  He  is remembered fondly by me,   his last surviving grandchild.    Writing the above has been an honour for me, and helped to recall the loving times shared with him in the past.

Here are some comments made by other people.  One fellow newspaperman stated he was `radical in some things, conservative in others’ and others described him as honest, fairminded and hard working.  He was loath to speak ill of others.  He was a very good cricketer, a respected sportsman., and a most able and versatile writer, noted for his diplomatic personal comments.

 

Sources of Reference:

The 130th. Year Anniversary Newspaper Edition of the Morning Bulletin, Rockhampton

The Capricornian of 1889.

Reminiscences of  the late Theo (Bird) Stoodley a grand daughter;;   the late  Doris (Bird) Mylonas, granddaughter; and my own Verna (Bird) Carseldine, Bray Park Qld.

Family History Research by  the late Robert Allen Bird, grandson, Brisbane and New Guinea (through the courtesy of his son J.T. Bird, who holds his fathers’ papers)

Family History Research by J. T. Stoodley  great grandson...Brisbane

Family History Research by  .Dottie Kemp – great grand niece. .Brisbane

Family History Research G.F.Stevens – great-grandnephew, ..Devon U.K

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