Once upon a maybe time.

As bloggers go, it transpires, I’m of the slack tart variety.  Lots of mitigations, of course – our house plans disappearing into the black maw of Heritage, the architect on holiday for a month, the editing of my friend’s Phd thesis, the acquisition of a new potter’s wheel on which to make my lumpen creations ( but which doesn’t work – woe!). And last but most – health.

But no-one likes excuses.


Another confession.

For someone who’s taken on a ‘heritage’ house, I’m not really much of a history fan.

Not in the sense of chronology, anyway.  My idea of a good history book is G K Chesterton’s, which very endearingly hasn’t got a single date.  I remember in a history exam a lifetime ago I had the WW1 starting in 1939.  I like to think that was nerves rather than egregious stupidity.  Please don’t pop my bubble.

Nor am I much for all that begetting business of history either. I can’t even seem to quite get my mind around the concept of second cousins and so for the complexities of ‘twice removed’ and ‘by marriage’, I lean heavily on Mr Pimp. ( He having voluntarily dived into the plungepool of genealogy and emerged victorious with a structure quite incomprehensible to me, other than that it resembles a rudimentary mobile .  Or a multi-tiered clothes hanging device. So naturally I didn’t do well in exam questions about kings and queens of England either.  You learn to live with disability. )

But I do like a story.  Especially one knitted from fancy, happenstance and conjecture. A story so full of gaps you can shape it to fit your own whimsy.  There is, of course, such a story about the house.

It goes like this… Once upon a nineteenth century time John Flavelle, an Irishman, and his wife Mary begat several children amongst whose number was another John Flavelle.  See my confusion? And in turn this younger John Flavelle travelled from Dublin to Australia and eventually, with his wife Catherine, begat about ten children of their own.  He also begat, in another way of begetting, the house in the centre of Sydney which we, the deranged Pimps, have recently acquired.

But before all that begetting business and even before that wonderful collapsing portico was a twinkle in his eye, he went to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) to work as assistant to George Baron Goodman, who brought his daguerreotype apparatus to Australia, (reputedly the first), made his subjects endure half a minute of sweltering heat, and charged them a guinea for the likeness.  Our man John, was a trained optician and therefore, I suppose, knowledgeable about lenses.

It was on one of Goodman’s two visits to Tasmania that he (maybe) took this photograph:

It shows the tabacco store of Ikey Solomon, who was Hobart’s ‘principal crook’. But before arriving in Hobart, Ikey Solomon had been London’s ‘King of Thieves’, training a gang of boys to pick pockets for him.  He is thought to have been the inspiration for Dickens’ Fagin in Oliver Twist.

So there you have it.  A picture taken of  a tobacconist’s shop in Hobart around the middle of the nineteenth century, maybe taken by GB Goodman who was maybe assisted by John Flavelle, builder of The House.  In the doorway of the shop stands a man who was maybe Ikey Solomon, who himself was maybe the inspiration for Fagin.  That’s the type of history I love – black and white, all plain and clear.


12 Responses to “Once upon a maybe time.”

  1. Margaret Bishop Says:

    I was just organising my visit to Tassie next week when up popped your latest thoughts Ms P.
    I have a disease: ” twitter-bugging” it’s a frenzie of the fingers not a new dance. A great diversion when faced with a growing pile of accounts for PP.
    Immediately I googled Mr Eyek Solomon and his shop in Tassie and found the source of the image which I’m sure you know about. Hours latter I knew much of his life history and his eventual demise – a poor but I think pretty nasty sod. His life was very desperate.
    What was odd about this was that I am to visit Hobart week I’d like to see if his shop still remains.

    This leads me to our latest auction purchase which has becomes a birthday present for J because it blew the budget. It is a very grand antique Regency circular wood and gilt convex mirror which has a very different way of putting back to us an image of our interior world. (This is the strange way my mind works when I want to make a reference to your lense making man.) I would love it to capture some of the harbour or the bridge. But its a bit big to carry around the house and I would hate it to break. I have to keep on reassuring J and maybe myself that I do not want to make the house look too grand but a bit plain and unadorned.
    Must rethink where such a treasure might be placed in the future and I wonder how many years it might take for that to happen.

    • See, that’s what I mean about a crappy historian – you almost certainly now know far more about Ikey Solomon than I do. You’ve inspired me to get googling and discover the nature of his sodness and demise.

      I would be fascinated to know whether the shop still exists.

      As for the twitterbugging finger frenzy – it’s being hardwired into us now. Pretty soon psychiatrists will be pathologising and medicating those who don’t have it.

      The mirror sounds fabulous – I love convex mirrors. We have two very sad sack affairs – battered and small. Also auction finds from yonks ago. Maybe they could be put to work reflecting fish-eye views of the harbour. And I share your thing about wanting to keep the house plain but being drawn to ‘grand’ things. But I think it’s what you put the grand things with, and the spaces you create between them and the other objects. I like a lot of space between objects, myself.

  2. What you have done is brilliant heritage we think – that is told a story that brings the characters such as Flavelle to life and then left our imaginations to see thme in our own way. We need more of this style of “history”. Thanks.

    • Hello M&A! Mr P told me another snip last night – apparently John Flavelle and his business partner married a pair of sisters on the same day at the same time in the Garrison church up the road.

  3. sue from sydney Says:

    I am detecting a whiff of “Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s melancholia”. But do love the use of the word “maw” in reference to the Heritage Department. That’s sure to get you right on side.

    • Hi Sue. Not so much melancholic as bored, I think (I hope). But when I (inevitably) do get down in the dumps I’ll invite Miss E Bennet over and we’ll have a marvelous melancholia party!

      And ‘maw’. I know. I’m hoping they don’t read this.

    • Now that does sound like something the Bronte’s would have written about! Not sure any of us can continue that trend, wr guess it gives new meaning to ‘family business’. Did Flavelle’s business partner also purchase one of the ‘Regency Wrecks’ to complete the picture?

      • As it happens, no. The story, in holey fashion, is that their partnership split up soon after. John F’s big bro Henry came out from England, around the time of the gold rush. They made a screaming fortune, Henry being a goldsmith. While here he reputedly had a child by a woman who was already married. Henry, that is. He was then summoned back to Dublin by his own wife. By which time John and his missus were churning out their massive brood of children and building houses. So there you have it, courtesy of Mr P’s digging and a conversation he had with someone researching a family member thought to be connected to a very successful jeweller in George St. So there you have it!

  4. My goodness – what a pedigree for the house – nothing like a quiet life of Victorian restraint. Now the challenge for the newocmer is to be just as daring do for that someone to find our all about, who researches your house a hundred years hence!

  5. We know a bit about the brothers Flavell their business and their tribe of kids. But can we map in the people who lived here in the time since the Flavells left? Can you construct a” Who Lived Here Family Tree? I want the walls to talk. Who is the little girl with your haircut? I would love to know. So many mysteries, maybe most unable to solve. (Far too much aliteration!) What domestic history has fallen through the cracks that you still might unearth. What fun and frustration to pursue.

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