Herbert William White Obituary – Trove Tuesday Blog

5 April 2016

Herbert and Dorcas White and family ca 1912

Herbert White is on the far left and his son Robert the young man in the middle behind Dorcas White ca 1912

My Australia Day tribute this year was to Herbert William White – read the post here. He was my great grandfather from Wiltshire. Back in January I wrote about his life using information I had gathered over many years. Today as I thought about who to focus on for this Trove Tuesday post, I was thinking about his son Robert who died at the age of 31 years in August 1924.

Robert James White enlisted in World War One and was on the Western Front. I always wondered if his war service had anything to do with his early death. So I went searching to see if there was an obituary or report of his death in Trove. Many of the Northern papers have been digitised since I last looked. All I found for Robert were advertisements from the Public Curator who was handling his estate.

However what I did turn up was an obituary for his father, Herbert William White. The Townsville Daily Bulletin on 10 May 1924 in the section under Richmond Notes reported on my great grandfather’s death. Although brief it gave me details not recorded on Herbert’s death certificate.

The death on Monday last in the local hospital from pneumonia, Mr Herbert William White, a well known and highly respected resident of Charters Towers during which time he worked in most of the mines there. Mr White who was 60 years old at the time of his death has resided in Richmond with his son, (a returned soldier) who occupies the position of head porter in the Railway Department here.

The deceased contracted that awful disease the ‘Flu’ some time ago, and developed pneumonia which caused his end. He is survived by a wife and grown up family to whom the deepest sympathy is extended. The interment is to take place on Tuesday.

I had thought it strange that Herbert had died in Richmond when for most of his time in Queensland he lived in Charters Towers. Now I know that he was living with his son in Richmond. Where was his wife Dorcas? What about Robert’s wife Florence and two young daughters, were they in Richmond too?

This account places Herbert’s son Robert in Richmond in April 1924, yet Robert himself died in Charters Towers just four months later. Now I am questioning whether Robert’s family were in Richmond or whether they were still in Townsville or Charters Towers. Perhaps the Richmond job was only temporary and Herbert stayed with Robert for that period.

Previous research in staff records for Queensland Railways revealed Robert working in Townsville and Innisfail where he met his wife Florence before returning to Townsville. There is no listing for Richmond, adding strength to the idea it was a temporary transfer. Robert’s will was signed just a month before he died and that placed him in Charters Towers as does the probate documents filed by the Public Curator. Robert was buried beside his older brother Sydney Herbert White in Charters Towers cemetery.

The other new piece of information was that Herbert had suffered the Flu some time ago which then developed into pneumonia. Perhaps Herbert went out to Richmond for the drier climate to help him recover. Herbert was buried alone in Richmond cemetery.

The fact that his son Robert was not buried in Richmond makes me think that Robert was not based in Richmond permanently. Or else there was some other reason he moved back to Charters Towers a few months later. Did he know he was dying too?

There is no doubt that 1924 must have been a terrible year for Dorcas and Florence, losing their husbands within such a short time of each other. Thanks to this Trove account of my great grandfather’s death I have new questions about his final months and also those of his son Robert.

As Robert White is not a direct line I have never obtained his death certificate but perhaps there are clues on it to help explain what was happening between April and August 1924. Railway staff records might also help pin down a temporary transfer. This example highlights why it is so important that we track down as many records as we can  because quite often major/minor life incidents are missed in between the usual key documents that we use. Thanks Trove.

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