History tour brings life back to cemetery

THE solitary lives of two convicts who settled in Mortlake would have been forgotten if historian Craige Proctor hadn’t come along and “dug them up”.

William Shunn was sent to Australia in 1836 for stealing seven shillings and in 1844 John Bence was banished for stealing a pair of trousers and a handkerchief.

“These men had very low profiles,” Mr Proctor said.

“Tracing former convicts is very difficult. For generations people have hidden their stories until someone inadvertently stumbles across it.

“These men lived long lives and survived the horrors and mistreatment. They lived to become quite old and respected citizens.

“These two were a bit unusual. They vanished from the radar screen.

“Neither married and they had no children.

“They had quite solitary lives until I came along and dug them up.”

The convicts’ stories will be part of a tour at the Mortlake Cemetery on Sunday.

There will also be stories told of Mortlake’s first postmaster; an early Mortlake butcher, Mortlake’s first fire brigade captain, an early blacksmithing family; the daughter of Victoria’s first Presbyterian minister who began her life in Bombay, a woman charged with murder and her son, who attempted to kill a policeman, and an Irish famine girl who made good.

Mr Proctor, who is also a genealogist and author, said he gained tremendous satisfaction from discovering stories of the past.

“It’s not just telling stories of dead people, it’s rebuilding Australia’s past,” he said.

“People are constantly amazed that Mortlake had such interesting characters.

“When we’re telling the stories we try to make it visual, we try to visualise people’s houses.”

Mr Proctor will lead the cemetery tour and copies of his books Women of the Mount and Families of the Mount, will be available on the day.

The tour starts at 2pm and entry costs $5 per person. Proceeds will go towards research work done by the historical society.

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