Sunday, June 29, 2014

Was George a 49er?

In the three years since I began this blog I have examined in some detail the movements of George Griffith, and discovered quite a lot more than I knew when I began, but that old conundrum of just when George arrived in Victoria is still unresolved. 

I lately drew up a timeline for known movements built up through newspapers and birth and death certificates.  George first came to notice in Beechworth in 1855 when he advertised that he was available for weddings, parties, anything.  He had a child born in Wangaratta that year, and the child died in Wangaratta in 1856.  Later in that year he was at the Woolshed diggings, and in 1857 back in Beechworth.  They lived in Silver Creek in 1857 (and a child died there in 1859), with mentions in Beechworth and Woolshed in the same year.  In 1858 they were in Beechworth, and by 1859 had followed the rush to Indigo, later known as Chiltern.  Although the child died in Silver Creek in 1859, they were still in Chiltern (or back in Chiltern) in 1860.  The last reference to George was in Beechworth in 1863, and by 1865 the family had moved down to the Melbourne suburb on Fitzroy.

But George did not sit quietly in Fitzroy - by 1866 he had followed the goldrush to Hokitika in New Zealand, probably without his family, but had returned to Melbourne by 1868.

Whether the movements in the Ovens goldfields represents constantly moving around, or merely travelling from place to place taking up musical engagements is difficult to say.  Probably a bit of both.

 However, a pattern has emerged from all this, which is that there was a commitment to following the goldrushes, and it finally dawned on me that perhaps I had been too hasty in rejecting one arrival in Victoria in 1852:

"The other 26 year old George Griffiths who arrived by the Panama in 1852 is less likely as the ship appears (from advertising in The Argus) to have been engaged in a run from Australia to San Francisco and return".
Unfortunately there was a very well-known George Griffith who discovered one of the California goldfields, which tends to clutter up search results, but at this stage I think revisiting PROV to check the passenger indent of the Panama is the next item on the list.

I have in the past been unable to pin him down in Liverpool in the 1851 Census (though he may have been anywhere in England), and this would be explained by his taking off to California by 1849. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

'Poses Plastique', 1858

Unidentified man wearing classical costume, from the State Library of Victoria Collection, H88.50/44.
The last story about George Griffith at the Ovens goldfields comes from a very interesting publication called Nobblers and Lushingtons: a History of the Hotels of Beechworth and the Ovens District, by Richard Patterson (Endymion (Australia) Pty Ltd: Beechworth, 2009.)

In this Patterson reports on a violinist called Griffiths (probably George Griffith), who took the licensee of the Telegraph Hotel, Thomas Mooney, to court for unpaid  wages.  Mooney had employed a performer called Donovan who presented a series of tableux - 'Poses Plastique' - based on classical themes at the  Hotel, with Griffith providing a musical accompaniment.  However, Mooney took exception to the tunes selected by Griffith - an Irish jig for a pose as a "Greek Statue", and "Tow Row Row" (which I think is the British Grenadiers March) for a scene depicting the Rape of the Sabine Women. Mooney dismissed Griffith for what might be characterised as a disrespectful choice of music, but Griffith successfully defended himself by saying that as a classical musician and composer, he didn't even know the tune of "Tow Row Row" (though one could point out that he knew the Irish jigs.)

Patterson gives the reference for this story as the Ovens and Murray Advertiser 14 September 1935.

Griffith's reference to himself as a composer is an interesting one, though to date the only evidence of that is a program which advertised a polka called "Beechworth" in a concert  in Beechworth.