Some Random Family History Finds

John Fleming Mercer- My Great Grandfather.

The 18th of June of this year, 2021 was the 116th anniversary of the day my Great Grandfather went missing back in 1905. He was washed off some rocks whilst fishing with a friend, and to this day his body has never been found.

Figure 1: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia
Figure 2: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

He was the local blacksmith at Tilba Tilba situated on the south coast of New South Wales.

Figure 3: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

This amazing photograph, below, is the actual shop that he ran. It is part of a famous collection of photographs on Tilba Tilba by William Henry Corkhill. The date listed for the photo is typed 1909? So, looking at this photo, could John be in there?

Tilba Tilba Blacksmith Shop, early 1900s
Figure 4: Courtesy of the National Library of Australia

My Grandmother, Margaret Agnes Mercer, was 1 year old at the time. I unfortunately haven’t unearthed a picture of him, that is why this photograph is so tantalising, but I was very lucky to find this police description of him in the ancient NSW Police Gazette.

Figure 5: Courtesy of

Are any of those gentlemen above, stout, nuggetty build, dark complexion with a heavy moustache?

I was also lucky to find the exact spot where he died thanks to that report. It is that outcrop of rocks right on the point where he washed off from.

Figure 6: Courtesy of

How is this for an amazing postscript to this story. Appearing seven years later.

Figure 7: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

And then to finish off this a couple of weeks later.

Figure 8: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

John Fleming Mercer, my Great Grandfather, was never found and still remains missing to this day.

Mary Agnes Mercer, née Stapleton- My Great Grandmother.

Talking about my Great Grandfather, spurred me on to do a bit more digging. Came across this wonderfully random little write up from The Cobargo Cronicle circa May 1917.

Figure 9: Courtesy of National Library of Australia

Mary Agnes Mercer is travelling with her brother, Lyal Stapleton. At the time there was an outbreak of Scarlet Fever, which I think is what the issue was for his fiancé, Miss O’Toole.

Figure 10: Courtesy of National Library of Australia

Also, this is a month since their elder brother Eden had died in France. They didn’t know that as yet, it would be another 2 months before it was confirmed for the family.

James Eden Stapleton
Figure 10a: Courtesy of Pat Raymond, Bega Historical Society

At the time they had received a letter from John Francis (Jack), Eden’s brother, also fighting in France.

John Francis “Jack” Stapleton
Figure 10b: Courtesy of Mr Len Dyer

A copy of the letter was printed in the local paper. It is heartbreaking to read the last part of the letter knowing what we know, that Jack won’t be seeing Eden ever again.

Figure 11: Courtesy of National Library of Australia

Cars were increasing in popularity at the time. There were only 17500 registrations in the whole of NSW in 1917, out of an estimated 1.6 million people in NSW. So still a major talking point. Hence, this article above about Mr Fraser’s excellent trip to Kiama. I know I say it all the time, but we are so lucky to have access to Trove.

Oh yeah, found this awesome pic of the actual ferry that my Great Grandmother, Great Uncle and Mr Fraser were waiting for. It’s like a time portal.

Figure 10: Courtesy of Aussie Mobs Flickr Account

It is interesting to note that a search of the New South Wales Birth Deaths & Marriages yields no results for a Lyal Stapleton marrying a Miss O’Toole from 1917 onwards. There is one that comes up in 1921 for a Lyal Stapleton and a Miss Pearl Brown, a quick check of account and I can confirm this is indeed the wedding of our Lyal.

In addition to this, I did a search of deaths for 1917 & 1918, it brought up about a dozen Miss O’Tooles passing away in that time period, but there is no way to know if one of them was our Miss O’Toole succumbing to the fever. Hope she survived and had a long and happy life.

Probably nice to see a picture of my Great Grandmother. Here is one of only three photos I have of her. It was kindly shared with me by my Cousin Greg who’s Mum, Karen was sister to my Dad, Gary.

Mary Agnes Mercer, née Stapleton
Figure 11: Courtesy of Greg Palmer

So I thought I would try something different and mix things up with some short, sweet, to the point posts, to mix it up with the longer full-bodied stories. Hope you like it.

2 thoughts on “Some Random Family History Finds

  1. Love the little snippets. Not everyone has a grand tale, but everyone has moments of trauma and joy, luckily in Trove, many of these moments can be found. X

    Liked by 1 person

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