Thursday, December 05, 2013

Proactive genealogy. The other day I was walking down Rathdowne Street and noticed a bouquet of flowers taped to a tree on the west side of the road just north of Elgin Street. Because I am a ghoulish person who is fascinated with vernacular expressions of loss and commemoration, I went to take a closer look.

If you can't read it, the card says: "In memory of George, who had a bicycle accident near this spot 121 years ago and died. From your family, the Alexanders"

Of course, I couldn't help wanting to know more – as I always do when it comes to real-life brushes with history. Thank goodness for the National Library of Australia's Trove digitised newspaper archive. Working backwards I decided the accident was in late 1892, so I searched newspaper articles from that year with "George", "Rathdowne Street" and "bicycle" as my AND terms and "accident", "death", "killed", "fatal", "died", etc. as my OR terms.

And 'whala!' I found this article from The Argus, 5 December 1892.
The city Coroner, Dr Youl, held an inquest at the Melbourne Hospital on Saturday on the body of George Melville Kingston, who was thrown from a bicycle in Rathdown-street, North Carlton, on the 29th ult., and died subsequently in the Hospital. The evidence showed that the deceased, who was 24 years of age, and a plumber by trade, had come from Dunedin to take part in the Austral Wheel race. He was riding at a fast pace down the street, when his bicycle collided with a dog, and he was thrown heavily to the ground, sustaining injuries to the head, A verdict of accidental death was returned.
Now that I knew George's full name I Googled him, and found a fuller explanation in a digitised copy of the Hawke's Bay Herald (New Zealand) from 15 Hakihea [December] 1892. This is from the New Zealand National Library. Don't you think it's fascinating that the Maori word for December is so integrated into the archival system?

Poor George. But what I like about this story is that even though George died so young, in a foreign country, his relatives have not forgotten him. Possibly through family lore, or through the recent vogue in amateur genealogy and easy access to digital archives such as the ones I've accessed, they were able to leave a tribute to George that would make his presence in the world real again.

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