Thursday, 26 March 2015

What were their occupations?

Most of the information on the early migrants from Lithuania that we can find today seems to focus on the men; so far very little has surfaced about the women.  Partly this would be a reflection of the fact that there were fewer women coming to Australia from that part of the world, but it would also be a reflection of the social norms of the time.

Luda Popenhagen, writing about early twentieth century Lithuanian immigrants in Australian Lithuanians (pp 19-20) noted that:
In the first decades of the twentieth century many Lithuanians continued to immigrate to Australia via Great Britain.  The majority came from Scotland (especially from the coal mines around Glasgow) ... Other Lithuanian immigrants included former soldiers who had served in Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War, merchant marines working their way around the world, and clerics sent on religious missions to Australia ...
During the 1920s and 1930s several Lithuanians ... became prosperous businessmen, farmers and real-estate agents.  Others found employment as tradesmen ... Still others obtained jobs as manual labourers, miners and loggers.

Looking at a smaller segment - those who joined the AIF during World War One -  Elena Govor's analysis, in Russian Anzacs (p 45) was that:
Overwhelmingly, Baltic Anzacs were young, single men predominantly employed in seafaring - related occupations ... The Baltic men arrived for the most part individually (or in a few cases with brothers or cousins) - either being discharged at Australian ports or deserting their ships ... Seafaring men accounted for 59 per cent of all Baltic Anzacs ... Labourers (including a few miners) accounted for slightly less than 20 per cent and about 14 per cent were tradesmen ... The remainder was made up of a mixture of professional men ... and farmers.  

My impression is that the spread of occupations was fairly broad, not too dissimilar from that of the Australian-born populace; one anomaly, perhaps, is that coming from a largely agrarian society so few took up farming pursuits in Australia.

Here are a few examples of the variety of occupations that the new migrants pursued in Australia:
  • Apothecary - Leopold Nurock (Broken Hill);
  • Bookseller - Abraham Weiner/Alfred Wyner (Qld/NSW);
  • Bootmaker - Ignas Geryba (Sydney);
  • Coal miner - Vincas Dailidė/William Delade (Dapto);
  • Carpenter/builder - Kazys Astrauskas/Charles Ashe (Kalgoorlie);
  • Cabinet-maker - Antanas Juknaitis (Sydney);
  • Draper - Judelis Bekesefas/Judah Bekeseff (Melbourne);
  • French polisher - William Jaks (NSW and ACT)
  • Greengrocer - Jonas Mickevičius/John McCowage (Sydney);
  • Hairdresser - Martin August Trikojus (Sydney);
  • Hotel porter - Alfred Salon (Melbourne);
  • Kitchenman - Zigmas Baltrušaitis/Sid Bolt (Sydney);
  • Market gardener - Vincentas Zwikevitch (Melbourne);
  • Photographer - Jonas Jakovlevas (Melbourne);
  • Priest - Paul Ephraim Zundolovich (Victoria);
  • Shopkeeper/real estate agent - Antanas Bauže (Sydney);
  • Skin dealer - Samuel Heiman/Hyman (Broken Hill);
  • Tailor - Jonas Vedrinaitis/John Wedrien (Sydney);
  • Taxi driver -  Mamertas Marcinkevičius (Sydney);
  • Wool agent - Georg Griff  (Broken Hill);
  • Workshop proprietor - Aleksandras Bartkevičius (Newcastle).

Sources include: NAA (naturalisation certificates); Metraštis No. 1; A Lithuanian in Australia.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Lithuanian Anzacs at Gallipoli

Migrants from Lithuania fought for Australia in all the major theatres of World War One. Some also served at home, in Australia. This post will look at the earliest enlistments, those who served at Gallipoli (1915), while later posts will look at the Western Front as well as Egypt/Palestine.

I have drawn heavily on Elena Govor's work on 'Russian Anzacs' (2005), which is the most comprehensive examination yet published of World War One service by men originating from the Baltic provinces of the then Russian empire. More recently, research work specifically on Lithuanian Anzacs commenced in 2013 through the Lithuanian Studies Society at the University of Tasmania, and the results are eagerly awaited.  

The following Lithuanian Anzacs have been identified in Elena Govor's research at the National Archives of Australia (NAA). The links against each surname bring up the digitised service record from the NAA's website.

source: http://russiananzacs.elena.id.au/ 
Charles Oscar ZANDER enlisted in Adelaide at the outbreak of war in August 1914. Born near Vilnius, probably of German heritage (his parents were naturalised Russian subjects), he became a seaman and lived for some time in England where he became a naturalised British subject. He arrived at Port Adelaide around 1911 and was a member of the first Australian contingent to depart for the Middle East in November 1914; he served at Gallipoli as a private in the 10th Battalion, and later as a corporal on the Western Front. He married in London while on leave in 1916 but was killed in action in France on 22 August 1916. Charles' service is commemorated at the Australian War Memorial, the Adelaide War Memorial and the Villers-Brettoneux memorial in France.


Kazis WALIUKEVIC /WALINKEVIC (Kazimieras VALIUKEVIČIUS, also known as Charles Valukavitz or Volukawytz) enlisted at Perth in September 1914. He had been born in Marijampolė and arrived in Western Australia in 1910 from Scotland. He was also a seaman, with a wife in Lithuania, but had remained in Australia working as a labourer. Naturalised in 1914, he served as a private in the 16th Battalion at Gallipoli where he was wounded in action. Discharged in Australia in September 1916 he appears to have returned to the UK in the early 1920s.


Nathan WATCHMAN enlisted at Geelong in September 1914 and re-enlisted at Melbourne in January 1915. Born in Navarėnai in a Jewish family, he had arrived in 1911 from England and worked as a commercial traveller in South Australia and Victoria before being naturalised in 1914. He served at Gallipoli as a private in the 6th Battalion before being wounded in action and returned to Australia. He was discharged in March 1916, later married and died in 1949.


Charles CEPKOUSKI (Kazimieras ČEPKAUSKAS, also known as Charles Capouski) enlisted at Perth in November 1914. He was from Arlaviškės, near Kaunas, and had arrived in 1910, working in Western Australia as a bootmaker and labourer. He served at Gallipoli as a private in the 16th Battalion, but was returned to Australia in August and discharged in December 1915 as medically unfit. Undeterred, he enlisted a second time and was accepted for home service in 1916. He married in 1918, had four children and died in Sydney in 1960.

Militan SCHATKOWSKI (Šatkauskas, also known as OLDHAM) enlisted in Liverpool NSW in November 1914. He was born at Plateliai, possibly of Polish and/or German heritage, and had arrived in Australia in 1914 as a seaman having already lived in the British Empire from 1908. He served at Gallipoli as a private in the 2nd Battalion, and later on the Western Front. He ended the war attached to the Australian Red Cross in London 1917-19, where he also married and was naturalised as a British subject before returning to Australia. He took his wife's surname, OLDHAM, and died in Sydney in 1938.  

AWM memorial panel 61
(source: http://russiananzacs.elena.id.au/)
John Brente BRENKA enlisted at Adelaide in June 1915. His place of birth is not certain (it was either present-day Lithuania or Belarus) but his declaration of catholicism as his religion suggests he was Lithuanian. Arriving at Port Adelaide on 29 September 1914 on the Ajana from Liverpool UK, he worked at a sawmill in Gumeracha for a short while before enlisting in the AIF as a Russian subject. He served for a short while in the Gallipoli campaign as a private in the 10th Battalion, then went on to serve on the Western Front in the 50th Battalion where he died on 23 August 1916 of wounds received in action. He is commemorated at the Australian War Memorial and at both the Adelaide and Birdwood war memorials in South Australia. John had no relatives in Australia.



My wife's grand uncle Lt Thomas John WOODHOUSE (12th Battalion) also served at Gallipoli and was killed in action at Lone Pine on 9 August 1915. It is tempting to speculate that he and some of the above Lithuanians may have crossed paths during that terrible campaign.



The Australian War Memorial advises that during the Centenary period, the name of each of the 62,000 Australians who gave their lives during the First World War will be projected onto the façade of the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial. The names will be displayed from sunset to sunrise every night, and can be seen from the Memorial's grounds. Each name will be visible for 30 seconds.


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Alexander (Ksaveras) Skierys

Ksaveras Skierys, like his friend and neighbour John Wedrien (see my earlier post), was a co-founder of the Australian Lithuanian Society in Sydney in 1929.  Their stories also have several other parallels.

Skierys was born in Marijampolė in southern Lithuania, around 40km from Wedrien's home town of Kudirkos Naumiestis;
  • the modern-day town of Marijampolė was known as Senapilė or Staropolė in czarist times, and Skierys gave his birthplace as Senapilė on his Application for Naturalisation in 1925; 
  • he recorded his father's name as Andrius Skierys;
  • at the age of 17 (like Wedrien, around 1899) he left for the United Kingdom and, after spending a decade in Scotland, England and Ireland and establishing himself as a tailor (again, like Wedrien) he came to Sydney;
  • Skierys was listed as a steerage class passenger aboard the SS Rotorua which sailed from London to Sydney via Hobart, arriving on 21 September 1911.
SS Rotorua; launched 1910, torpedoed and sunk 1917

Skierys and Wedrien knew each other in England and, as noted in the earlier post, Skierys accommodated Wedrien on the latter's arrival in Sydney in 1913 and helped him find employment. Popenhagen in Australian Lithuanians states that Skierys and Wedrien co-wrote a 1914 article on Australian Lithuanians for the North American magazine Lietuva.

Ksaveras married in Sydney in 1916:
  • the NSW state marriage indexes record that 'Askaveros Skierys' married  'Helena Petreytis';
  • Skierys' 1925 Application for Naturalisation shows that his wife's birthplace was Manchester, England;
  • the bride's maiden name is of interest, because Wedrien's history shows him leaving Lithuania for Manchester in the company of a tailor named Izidorius Petraitis.  It seems at least possible that Helena/Ellen Petraitis-Skierys was related to that Petraitis, also that both Skierys and Wedrien may have worked for Petraitis in Manchester.
By 1925, Skierys was calling himself Alexander and working as a tailor for a major Sydney department store, Farmer's Ltd, in Pitt Street.  He was living at Arncliffe, as was Wedrien, and raising a family with Ellen.

In 1929, together with three others, Skierys founded the Australian Lithuanian Society and was at different times the Society's treasurer and secretary.  

As with the Wedrien family, Alexander (1882-1961) and Ellen (c1895-1978) Skierys are buried at the Woronora cemetery in Sydney, catholic section;
  • two of their children, Nellie (1919-2009) and Edward William (?-2008) are also buried at Woronora, while their eldest child Alexander Skierys (1917-1982) was buried in Queensland.
Sources: Metrastis No 1; Australian Lithuanians; National Archives of Australia; NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages; Ancestry.com 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

John Wedrien

Jonas Vedrinaitis/John Wedrien
(source: Metrastis No. 1)
John Wedrien was well-known in Sydney for 40 years. He was a tailor and a keen amateur fisherman. He was also the first president of the Australian Lithuanian Society (in Lithuanian - Australijos Lietuvių Draugija), formed in 1929 in Sydney.

Born in Kudirkos Naumiestis around 1885, he emigrated to Manchester, England, near the end of the nineteenth century where he entered the tailoring trade. He later moved to Scotland and to Australia in 1913, settling in Sydney, New South Wales.

Wedrien's exact Lithuanian surname is unclear, being given as Vedrinaitis (Bauže, 1955) and Viedrinaitis (Metraštis No. 1, 1961); I will use the first variation.

Advertisement in Sydney's French language press
'Le Courrier Australien', 1932 (source: Trove)
Metraštis No. 1 records that Vedrinaitis had left Lithuania for Manchester aged 13 in the company of Izidorius Petraitis, a tailor; presumably he was apprenticed to him. Vedrinaitis is said to have returned to Lithuania when called up for the Russian army as he was concerned he would forfeit his inheritance (two farms) if he did not show up. As it turned out, he was rejected due to his short stature and he then returned to Manchester.

The 1911 Census of England and Wales shows that John Wedrinaitis, a tailor aged 25, single, was a resident of Manchester at that time. He was boarding with his two brothers, Joe aged 23 and Antony aged 21; Joe was a cabinet maker, while Antony was also a tailor. All three are listed as born in Lithuania and of Lithuanian nationality. The younger brother, listed as Anthony Weidrenitos, went on to serve in the Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment from 1914 to 1920, receiving the Victory Medal at the end of World War One. He died in Manchester in 1943.

Jonas Vedrinaitis arrived in Sydney from Bremen with his wife Eva in March 1913 aboard the German passenger ship Friedrich der Grosser (they are shown on the passenger list as Mr and Mrs John Weddrien). He had a friend, Ksavieras Skierys, already living in Sydney, who took them in and helped Jonas find a job. Very soon after arriving in Australia, Vedrinaitis took out a subscription to the American Lithuanian periodical 'Lietuva" and wrote an article for that magazine about Lithuanians in Australia which was published in 1914.

Antanas Bauže wrote an obituary for Vedrinaitis following his accidental death in March 1955; he had gone fishing with a friend on Botany Bay and presumably drowned when their dinghy capsized during a storm on the night of March 3. His body was only recovered 5 days later. Jonas left behind his wife Eva, daughter Agnieška (Agnes), and sons Antanas (Anthony) and Juozas (Joseph); he was buried at the Woronora catholic cemetery in Sydney.
Expenses for a 1931 social function while Wedrien
was President of the Society (source: Metrastis No. 1) 

Bauže knew Vedrinaitis and his family well; both had been active in the Sydney Lithuanian community. Vedrinaitis was well-established in Arncliffe, Sydney, with his own home as well as a tailoring business. He was president of the Australian Lithuanian Society 1929-31 and 1937-38.

The inaugural meeting of the Australian Lithuanian Society was held on 27 October 1929 at John Wedrien's home, East Street, Arncliffe. I'll cover that organisation's story in a later blog post.



Sources: Obituary for Jonas Vedrinaitis by Antanas Bauže in Mūsų Pastogė, 23 March 1955; Metraštis No. 1; Ancestry.com (UK records, ship's passenger list).