I put this narrative version of our Family History together based on the genealogy my mother did before she died in 2005
Born in Bendigo in 1957, I am fifth-generation Australian. Both sides of my family – the Gillams on my mother’s side, and the Walkers – spring from Tasmania, Van Dieman’s Land, where they first arrived in the early 1800s, and both settled in the north of the island near Launceston, around Longford. Both sides’ roots are English and seafaring, although you could equally say they were from opposites sides of the fence.
Tom Gillam, my maternal great, great, great grandfather, was a convict transported to VDL in 1827; Edward Brooke Evan Walker, my paternal great, great grandfather, was a pioneer free settler who arrived there in 1832.
Walker is an old English name from the midlands, concentrated in Leeds, where it was originally the occupational surname for a fuller, or person who walked on damp raw cloth in order to thicken it. A fuller's stock in trade was big feet. The Walker name was also applied, for obvious reasons, to tinkers and peddlers, and is related to the names Fuller and Tucker. It is only perfectly fitting that I have big feet and my father was a travelling salesman.
Edward Brooke Evan ('EBE') Walker was born at sea in 1818, the son of a ship’s captain. His father, Edward Brooke Walker (b.1789, in Stepney, Middlesex), captain of the Lady Banks, was the son of John Walker, who had been a sailor too, a south seas trader, and was a barrister and Queen Anne’s Reporter for Leeds.
EBE’s father Captain Walker died at sea only a year after EBE was born, in 1819, and so with his mother Elizabeth, the infant EBE returned to England. Elizabeth remarried to Henry Searle, who must have taken some responsibility for EBE since EBE eventually ensured the ‘Searle’ name was passed on to some of his own children.
In 1832 when EBE was 14 and his education complete, he was sent to VDL to live with his uncle Tom Walker (Abraham was another brother also on the island). Tom Walker was a gentleman and former soldier (a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo) and a big knob in the fledgling colony generally. He arrived at Port Jackson in 1818 and moved on to VDL in 1832. There, he lived at a property he built called Rhodes, near Longford, served as a magistrate, and had thirteen (accountably white) children of his own.
Gillam, in the myriad spelling variations it has, was originally French, the Anglicisation of Guillaime, meaning William, and it came into England, around Essex and Kent in the south-east, in the middle ages, after the Norman Conquests. The name William, after William the Conqueror, became the most popular in England, and Gillam spread variably as Gillam, Gilham, Gillham, Gilliam, and Gillum (not to mention the Welsh Gwillam, Gwilliam, Gwiliam, and Gwilym). It is also related to Williams and Willmott.
Tom Gillam, born in 1802 in Kent, was transported in 1827 aboard the Governor Ready, after he was sentenced to life, at Maidstone Assizes, for being part of the notorious ‘Aldington Blues’ smuggling gang. His wife Frances, whom he’d married four years earlier, followed two years later with her six children (not all of them necessarily Tom’s); the couple would go on to have another six children in VDL after Tom was assigned (released) to Frances in 1830. Tom got his ticket of leave in 1833 and a conditional pardon in ’39. He rented property at Glenore, near Longford, and the family farmed it. This was the Walkers and the Gillams only miles apart just as my mother and father would meet when living only miles apart in Melbourne a century later, in the late 1940s!
EBE Walker, when he was 29 in 1847, married Rosalie Powell, a Launceston-born 23-year old. She died only six years later, in 1853, during childbirth, after she’d already had five children in as many years. The baby she gave her life for was a girl named Laura who also died, at three months. EBE had taken up 640 acres on the Leven River at Ulverston, on the north coast of the island only a few miles west of Devonport, and he would build a property there called Westbank. He was an active Anglican and JP and a general pillar of colonial Tasmanian society.
One of his surviving five children was Edward Searle Walker, my great grandfather, who was born in 1850 and named after the man who took in his father’s widowed mother.
My maternal great grandfather was James Herbert Gillam, who was born in Tasmania around the time the colony took that name in 1856, the grandson of the transported Tom Gillam. His father, my great great grandfather, was one of the twelve children Tom Gillam raised as his own, James Gillam, who was born back in Kent in 1818, and who, after arriving in Tasmania with his mother when he was 11, would become a shoemaker. This man was 46 in 1864 – and his son James Herbert Gilliam, eight years old – when he married the boy’s mother, Scottish-born Mary Herbert, at Westbury, not far from Longford. The couple had five other children.
James Herbert Gillam became a vigneron and moved to Victoria. There, at Murchison in 1888, when he was 32, he married Isabella Patterson, a 22-year old local. One of their seven or eight children was my mother’s father, my grandfather, Cecil Rhodes Gillam, who was born at Murchison in 1903.
Edward Searle Walker, ES Walker, my paternal great grandfather, meantime, having helped his father EBE and brother John run Westbank in the 1860s, went off a’roaming. He was a miner and horse-trader and perhaps not the first or last in a long Walker line of bullshit artists. He spent time in New Zealand and Victoria before returning to Tasmania to settle on a property his father gave him called Penguin. At Abbotsham Cintra in 1900, aged 50, he married Edith Alice Smith, who was half his age and one of the finest horsewomen in the state. The couple moved to Warrnambool in Victoria and promptly had their first child, Eileen. Then, suddenly, in 1901 back in Tasmania – remarkably, on my birthday, February 23 – ESW died. His second child Edward Brooke Evan Searle Walker, my father’s father, Old Si as we always knew him rather than granddad, was born eight months later, in September. Which left Edith Walker, my paternal great grandmother, already a widow and now with two small children.
Edith remarried to become Edith Michael and had two more children, Loyleen and Tom, my great uncle and aunt who I remember from Nanny Walker’s place in Melbourne in the 60s. It’s probable Edith didn’t take Si with her into her second marriage. My father isn’t sure; his understanding of his father’s background is hazy. He never mentioned his grandmother’s second husband. But it’s likely Si didn’t go into that family because the way I always understood it, as much as the explanation was always very vague, was that, a) Si was raised as an orphan, and that, b) he hyphenated the Searle prefix to his surname as a tribute to the people that took him in, or cared for him, or sponsored him; and indeed in mum’s family history notes on dad’s side I found a reference to, c) his being raised by an elderly maiden aunt called Mary, and another to this aunt, d) paying for his education at Launceston Grammar.
This ‘aunt’ of Si’s would almost certainly have to be his actual great aunt, his father ESW’s aunt, his grandfather EBE’s half-sister, Mary Searle. Mary was one of at least two other children EBE’s mother Elizabeth had with her second husband Henry Searle in England, and who, born in 1848, was only two years older than her nephew ESW. It seems likely she too migrated to Tasmania.
Exactly where Si Walker grew up remains uncertain. At primary school age, he was a full boarder at Launceston Grammar. He may have spent holidays with relatives among the Walkers in Tasmania, or maybe Mary Searle took him in. Certainly though she was his patron as he went on to become a full boarder Haylebury College in Melbourne, where he remained until he was about 20, and he hyphenated his surname at her request.
Si married Nanny Walker, May Downs, my father's mother, in Melbourne in 1926, when they were both 25. They were both products of some of the best schools in Melbourne and doubtless met through this old-boy network. Edith May Downs was the daughter of Jack William Cavanagh Downs and his wife Edith. The Downs family, who hailed from Retford, Nottinghamshire, where Jack was born, had a successful rope manufacturing business and a grand mansion called Retford at 247 Moreland Rd in Brunswick, which they filled with six children between 1897 and 1909. Family lore said the matriarch lost a diamond ring in the cellar one time. In the 60s we used to go and stay in the cottage at Uncle Ray Downs’s Sorrento beach house, and we knew Nan Walker’s sister Jess, dad’s godmother, as Aunty Blue.
The first of the Searle-Walker children was Noel, born in 1926. The fact that he was apparently conceived out of wedlock apparently caused him some distress. Was Si and May’s a shotgun wedding? Noel’s birth was difficult for his mother and she was sick afterwards, so he was sent to stay with the Downs family – and as dad put it, he just never came back. Dad was born in 1928. Noel was a sickly child; he always wore glasses and a hearing aid. Dad’s birth was followed by Barbara’s and then Pam’s.
Cecil Gillam, who grew up on the farm at Murchison and then went on the wallaby looking for work – “He could turn his hand to anything,” mum said - married Nan Gillam, Juanita Ridley, in Gippsland in 1928.The Ridleys were an old Gippsland farming family, again of English roots, from Northumberland. Juanita, whose father Charles Ridley was a Boer war veteran, was born the second of four children in Stratford in 1904.
Cec and Neta had three children in Maffra, my mother following her older brother Noel in 1930, followed by Elaine in 1935. They grew up in a sharecropper-like cottage on the Ridley farm. I remember holidays staying in the homestead and the formidable tiny matriarch Great Grandma Ridley. In the 60s, we knew Nan’s sister Edna and her husband Tom Staley, who taught the girls to swim at the city baths in Melbourne.
The Gillams moved to Melbourne at the start of the war when Cec joined the army aged 37, too old for combat duty. He served as a sapper in Egypt and New Guinea.
Old Si joined the RAAF and was an officer at the Horn Island airfield on the Cape York Penninsula in north Queensland. Even Uncle Noel Walker, my godfather, managed to scrape in two years in the army, as a sapper, in 1945/’46.
When Si came home after the war, by which time the family was living in the house I always knew as Nanny Walker’s, at 48A Service St, Hampton, he was unbearable, according to dad, the way he treated his wife, spoke to her, and so dad, as the oldest by default and erstwhile man of the house, had to help kick him out, effectively. Dad reckons Si must have been suffering some sort of mental disorder, post-traumatic stress, which is very likely given that apparently during the war he became something of a medical celebrity after he was clinically dead for some minutes and miraculously came back to life. Si moved back then to Tasmania, where I always understood him to live, and where he worked in a management position for ANA airways, which was taken over by Ansett. He drove a Jaguar.
When Cecil Gillam returned from the war he was granted a housing commission home in Sandringham, at 42 Kenneth St, the house I always knew as theirs. He worked as a carpenter and later a foreman. He drove a Holden. He never marched on Anzac Day.
Mum and dad met around the local area – the beach, the dancing, the football – and got married in 1954. It’s kind of remarkable that their families had both started out in Australia in such very close proximity, and then diverged, and then come back close together again through mum and dad. They had their first child, me, in Bendigo in 1957, with Lisa, Tracey and Meg following over the next four years, before we moved back to Melbourne in 1963.
Uncle Noel Walker married Mary Quinlan but they remained childless, leaving me the last Walker on this branch of the family tree.
In 1969, when dad got a transfer/promotion, we moved on to Brisbane, where mum and dad separated a couple of years later. After divorcing in 1981, Dad remarried to Jan.
Nan Walker died at Yea, where she’d been living with Noel and Mary, in 1980. Nan Gillam died in Melbourne in 1983. Cecil died there too the following year. Old Si died in Launceston in 1995, aged an incredible 94.
Mum died in Brisbane in 2005 after a long illness. Tracey had four kids there (named Brunton: Cal, Lenny, Nina and Ella) and still lives there, and Meg had three kids there (named Kaye: Rohan, Dennis and Bonnie) and still lives there. Lisa, after nursing mum towards the end, left Brisbane after mum died and moved to Victoria, back near to Bendigo where we were born.
I left Brisbane way back in 1978, moved to Melbourne and then, in 1980, on to Sydney, where I’ve lived ever since apart from sojourns overseas.
Debbie and I got married in 1990, and had Lewanna Georgina Auchinachie Walker (1994) and Earl Francis Auchinachie Walker (1997).
I changed my name formally back to Walker, culling the hyphenated prefix, in 2006.
Dad died at the end of 2008.
I may yet live to see a grandchild carry on the Walker name – but my kids will have to be quick!