Was it the lure of gold?

Was it the lure of gold that enticed Grandfather from his home in Sweden? History tells us that thousands of Swedes emigrated from the cold Swedish climate, to countries with temperate weather and more favourable economic conditions. Most arrived at the immigration building on Ellis Island, New York, with a dream of becoming American citizens, while some sought a new beginning in younger emerging economies, where gold had more recently been discovered.

The names Grandfather, Alfred, and Adolf will be used interchangeably throughout this page. My grandfather was known by all three.

Family folk-lore tells us that Grandfather stowed away on a ship when he was young, and travelled the world for many years before he settled in the hot, dry continent of Australia.

Did he slip unnoticed onto a ship being loaded in Gothenburg Harbour? When discovered, did he work as a deckhand in exchange for passage to the next port?

Old London Town

Grandfather’s journey took him to London at least once in his travels. A postcard from his brother, addressed to the Scandinavian Sailor’s Home, London, found him there. The postcard is in the safe keeping of Grandfather’s youngest daughter. Sadly, the date is not visible so we have no way of knowing when he was in London, but I’d like to think it was early in his travels.

Shipping records are full of the names of crew members and passengers, but it has been impossible to find any valid records of Grandfather’s journey. He was born Adolf Bergman in Gothenburg (Göteborg) in 1877, and died Alfred Berg in Bankstown, 1959, having anglicised his name somewhere along the way. Did he use other names while travelling? Did he indulge in the practice of slipping onboard a ship with the help of crew members, to work in exchange for food, lodging and passage? Names of those ‘extra’ crew were not usually recorded in the ship’s manifest – they were just there.

Did he return to Sweden?

Records suggest that Adolf arrived in Sydney, New South Wales, from Wellington New Zealand, in 1902, but thus far no details have been verified. The only hint of dates are on Alfred’s application for Naturalisation in 1911. Despite arriving in Sydney, it seems the discovery of gold may have lured Alfred to Kalgoorlie, which is where he reported having lived for five years prior to 1911.

Surprisingly, a 1910 Swedish Household document indicates Grandfather was with his mother and siblings in Göteborg, and that he was working as a warehouse assistant in that year. Perhaps he visited his family and took a casual job in the warehouse with his brother, Axel. Or did he intend to stay, but found he missed the life he’d left in Australia? We may never know.

From 1911, Grandfather’s journey is more accurately documented. He married Edith Atkinson in Sydney, NSW in 1912. Together they had ten children, but only nine survived infancy. Registration of the births of their children, and Electoral Rolls, provide a reasonably reliable roadmap of my grandparent’s life together.

Harmful Accusations

Alfred and Edith held the job of Postmaster in the small NSW town of Yetman, near Tenterfield, in 1915. Their first son, Norman, was born that year but sadly died six months later. And it was the year the Great War of 1914-1919 was the focus of everyone’s attention, with many Australians enlisting, including Edith’s brother and several cousins.

During the First World War, men, women and children of Austro-Hungarian or German descent were interned in camps in Australia under an ‘enemy-alien’ policy. Even if they were born in Australia, with Australian wives and children, men were forced into concentration camps. And many were deported to Germany after the war. The policy urged Australians to report anyone they believed to be an ‘Enemy Alien’. Grandfather’s Swedish accent brought him to the attention of one citizen of Yetman who reported him as being an enemy alien, despite legal documents that proved Grandfather’s Swedish birth and nationality.

Because a suspicion of ‘enemy alien’ was raised, the government had to investigate. Apparently only one resident of Yetman considered the Bergs to be a risk, citing Grandma as being pro-German. When a public meeting was called, it seems the whole town attended. When Yetman’s residents had to vote on whether or not they considered the Bergs to be loyal citizens, all but one rose to vote in the affirmative. A formal letter was drafted to inform Grandfather of the outcome, and the family remained in Yetman for a number of years. A newspaper item found recently suggests that Grandfather served as Secretary on a community committee while in Yetman.

Links to the Railway

Ironically, Grandfather’s employment was linked at times to the NSW Railway. Grandfather’s father, Otto Bergman, was employed by the railway in Sweden, and met an untimely death at Partille Station in 1884, when Grandfather was only seven years old. While alighting from a slowly moving carriage, Otto slipped and fell onto the track. I would like to think that death came as instantly as was reported in the press at the time, and he did not suffer.

On the Swedish Household Register in 1900, Grandfather is listed as living in an orphanage. I’d been raised with the story that the three children were placed in an orphanage after Otto’s death, but in 1900, Grandfather’s siblings resided with their mother, according to the Household Register of that year. Was Grandfather a troubled thirteen year old without a father’s guidance? Is that why he was in the orphanage, and why he sought a future in a foreign land? We will probably never know.

Despite living in Kalgoorlie for five years, Grandfather obviously never found the elusive piece of gold that would make him rich, but I wonder what he would have done if he had found it?

Would he have returned to Sweden?

We will never know…

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