The unfortunate gentleman had expired

…and some ethical dilemmas

In my last two posts I introduced you to my explorer great-grandfather, Victor Streich, on whose life story I am working, and I described my growing interest in the amateur online genealogy craze.  This third and final post about Victor explains exactly how he got me hooked…

The Streichs were already more “real” to me, more three-dimensional, than other branches of my family tree because I had grown up amongst them. I already had some first-hand family stories, even if very few of them concerned Victor. 

When I decided that afternoon to see what else I could find about my Streich ancestors, I started with Victor because he was the shadowiest of the figures I knew about.  And because he was “famous”, I simply banged his name into Google.  That took me straight to the Australian National Library’s massive Trove project, and their digitized newspaper collections, which I hadn’t known about till then.  The first thing I read that afternoon was a newspaper account of Victor’s death.  (So many good stories start with a death!)

Kalgoorlie Western Argus, Tuesday 21 March 1905. On Saturday afternoon arrived in Coolgardie by express from Perth Mr. Victor Streich, accompanied by Mr. C. Collins. Mr Streich had been in Perth for some days and had placed himself under the care of Dr. Leschan, as he was suffering from nervous prostration. His business calling him to the fields, Dr. Leschan arranged that Mr C. Collins should accompany him as he was a man manifestly unfit to take care of himself.  During the train journey Mr. Streich suffered much and it was found needful from the first to supply him with stimulant at short intervals. On arrival in Coolgardie Mr. Streich and Mr. Collins drove at once to the Royal Hotel and Mr. Streich immediately went to bed.

He was supplied with some nourishment which he refused, but asked for a glass of  shandy”. This was given him and he apparently went to sleep. Every precaution was taken to ensure quietness, and although he was evidently sick and very weak it was not deemed requisite to call medical aid. At about 3.30 pm Mr. Collins went upstairs to see how Mr. Streich was faring, and found that he was, if not dead, at the last gasp. Dr. OMeara was at once sent for, but before he arrived the unfortunate gentleman had expired. The body was at once moved to the morgue, and instructions given for a post-mortem examination to be held, as a result of which the cause of death was ascribed to heart failure. Mr. Streich was only 41 years old.

Then there was a brief history of his life and career as a geologist and mineralogist since arriving in Australia from Stuttgart in 1889, and an explanation that Victor was in Coolgardie to return to a mining claim he’d staked the previous year for the Western Exploration Company.   

The find which he named Darna Varna was said to be of exceptional quality, and after securing reward leases etc., Mr. Streich, and the company he represented, put it into shares and steps were taken for working the property. The present journey was with the object of going out with camels to see if water was available, and Mr. Streich had arranged to go to Burbanks today to obtain four government camels and others he had left there last year…Mr. Streich was a man of much repute in the mining and scientific world…and of high attainments. He leaves a wife and three children in Adelaide who are said to be fairly well provided for. 

So – some new facts. How he died. It was dramatic and, satisfyingly, newsworthy. And so sad. I was captivated by the historical reportage. I read it over and over again. The unfortunate gentleman had expired. And I was a bit outraged that the writer had seen fit to report on the material fortunes of Clara and their children!

But most of all, I loved how easy it had been to find. Here was information I would until recently have had to travel across Australia, to several libraries, town halls, museums and graveyards, to find. What else was there in that treasure, Trove?

Well, there was plenty. The more I read, the more questions I had, and I suddenly saw that the writing project I had been looking for was now staring me in the face.  Victor, his life, and the things that impacted on him, had become irresistible. 

Partly this was because I was also growing uneasy; some of the things I was reading didn’t sit at all squarely with the family stories.  Victor’s professional life seemed to be mired in controversy and conflict, and I was discovering that his reputation was not universally positive.  Was I beginning to stumble on things that no one in the family had known? Did the digitization of all those newspapers mean something that my great-grandfather, and perhaps those closest to him, had kept concealed was now being exposed?

Victor Streich, standing, centre, and some of his Elder Expedition colleagues, 1891

I was beginning to wonder whether Victor was all I had been told he was, or whether he was just a bit flawed.  I liked to think he was a man of deep professional honour, highly competent, a great scientist, and I wanted to defend him. But if he was those things, did they have a flip side? Was he also arrogant? Intractable?  Irascible? Difficult, in the tough conditions that demanded so much of explorers already?  

And what had been the effect of all of this on Clara and his children?  

And what about the wider picture? How did Victor’s life reflect the social history of the time, including indigenous affairs and the story of early German settlement?

And if my delving didn’t turn out well, what would I do?  Keep my discoveries to myself?  Debunk him? And how would I square all this with my siblings and cousins?

Dilemmas!  All I knew was that I needed to push on and see where Victor led me…

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