Monday, January 31, 2011



Denmark was another stopover for the Reluctant Traveller and me on that long jaunt around the world some years back.  Again we knew of Stan’s Danish heritage but had no firm details to base a search on.  Put it down to the ignorance of youth.  I might add it was pretty darn cold while we were there!



My husband, the man you’ve come to know as The Reluctant Traveller remembers his Danish grandfather well, so too does Marius Sorensen’s step sister Helene Olesen’s descendents, living now in the Laidley district of Queensland.

Teenagers, Marius and Helene arrived in Australia on the steam ship Dacca in 1887.  But before I discovered how they arrived here, and in fact uncovered Helene's existence I faced the daunting task of researching a Denmark born ancestor. 

I thought it would be easy, after all I had Marius and Louisa Jane Powell’s wedding certificate that clearly showed Stan’s grandfather was  born in 1875 to Soren Larsen and Ane Kristensen in the town of Sijs, Linna.

Easy?  Just confirming these details proved to be a linguistic and cultural nightmare.  

For a start, in Denmark a wife will keep her own name in a marriage though any child’s surname will be derived from the father’s Christian name.  Therefore Ane Kristensen retained her father’s name, Kristensen, and may even have been known as Ane Kristendattr;  or another woman might be Jensdattr or Jensen, or Christensen or Christendattr; in other words Jens daughter or Jens son. 

In the case of Stan’s grandfather, he was known as Marius Sorensen, the son of Soren Larsen who in turn was obviously the son of Lars. To compound the problem there are literally thousands of Ane Kristensen’s in Danish records, even narrowing it down to Ane Marie Kristensen, courtesy of a fellow family researcher didn’t help. 

Denmark provides a comprehensive online family history centre,, but this site works well only if someone like me has an even rudimentary understanding of the language.  I quickly found to my embarrassment that I couldn’t even get past the simple action of entering my allotted password.

When much later, with the help of others, I did succeed, I found it difficult to understand the frequent marriages of young men to much older women. I kept thinking I had skipped back a generation and had logged onto a mother or a grandmother’s marriage. It was all very puzzling until an internet contact explained; when a farmer died, to keep the land in the family the widow married a younger relation, and then when the widow died the farm became his.  In many cases, marriages such as these would have been in name only.

That may have been the case with Marius Sorensen’s mother:  On the death of her husband Soren Larsen she could have been snapped up by Rasmus Olesen.  But tracing his family, or even pinning down the death of either Soren Larsen or Ane Marie Kristensen has proven almost impossible mired down, as Danish history is, in the naming of successive children. 

Finally I begged the help of a professional researcher but even she could find only the one following entry for Marius Sorensen, and that was in the 1880 Denmark census.

The 1880 census entry for Skanderborg, Gjern, Linaa, Seis, Linaa Sogn shows:

Rasmus Olesen             age 35 married   Husfader      born Harlev S.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           AarhusAmt
Ane Marie Kristensen   age 54 married   Hans Kone   born Randers Amt
Marius Sorensen            age 12 child                               born here in Sognet
Helene Olesen                 age 9 child                                born here in Sognet
Rasmus is shown as a Skovarbejder, a forestry worker.

 Helene is Rasmus’s daughter, but not necessarily Ane Marie’s; while Marius, we assume is Ane Marie’s son, but is not the son of Rasmus. Indeed Rasmus Olesen may even have been Swedish.

And that is about as far as I got with my husbands Danish history.


Original picture of immigrants at dock side held in the Kronborg Castle Museum


The reasons for migration were, and are, many and varied.  Marius and his family were labourers and farm workers and times then were harsh.  If young people wanted a better life, perhaps a plot of land to call their own, then migration to a far away country was the only option.  Some went to America and Canada, Marius headed to Australia.

In 1887 Marius and his step sister Helene embarked most probably in Glasgow, Scotland on the Steam Ship Dacca, the ship making a further stop in London before continuing on to Queensland.
In London the vessel took on more passengers and one particular item of cargo.

Marius and Helene probably didn’t know at the time but the ship was carrying a 2856 kg bell from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London destined for the future St Stephens Cathedral in Brisbane.

Cathedral Bell 1888-1988

Cast : Mears & Stainbank
Whitechapel Bell Foundry (London) est 1570
(maker of America's famous "Liberty Bell")
Arrival : Brisbane July 1887 - R.M.S. "Dacca"
Blessed - Archbishop Robert Dunne - 15 April 1888
Donor - Mrs Kelly Boundary Street Brisbane
Cost 250 pounds
Weight : 2856 kg

To put the times and year, 1887, in historical perspective, the church bell was probably first cast in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry at the same time and in the same locality the notorious Jack the Ripper was terrorising London.


Actually the Denmark census entry helped me find their arrival on the Dacca.  Another Marius Sorensen arrived in 1878 on the Herschell and for a while I thought he was our Marius.  Then later I found the shipping records for 19 year old Marius on board the Dacca with step sister Helene Olesen aged 17, and of course the presence of Helene confirmed the arrival.

Helene Olesen Hermansen with her family

Helene married Herman Hermansen in 1888, and they went on to produce ten children, their name still prominent in the Gatton, Laidley district of South Queensland, recently inundated in the 2011 floods. Hermansen may even have sponsored the youngsters voyage to Australia.

Marius worked as a farmer or labourer in Queensland’s Wallumbilla area before marrying 22 year old Louisa Jane Powell, second daughter of Mary Jane and Cornelius Powell, in Roma in 1897. (The ancestor with the Welsh and Wiltshire background.)

Louisa’s parents Cornelius and Mary Jane Powell

In 1903 we find the Sorensen’s living in the small town of Dulbydilla, around that time the terminus for trains from Brisbane, and not far from Mungallala. At this point they have two children, Bill and Edith. Marius has found work as a ‘lengthsman’ on the rabbit fence while Louisa is employed as a gatekeeper for the 412 mile Gate.  Rabbit fence workers were provided with houses, a welcome bonus for the young couple.  Perhaps they have dreams of owning their own property and are taking on any available job towards achieving that end goal.

(No doubt readers not familiar with outback Australia will be wondering about the rabbit fence.  These pesky, overly fertile little creatures had been inadvertently introduced into Australia some years before, had bred like...well to put it bluntly, like rabbits...and were now eroding valuable farming and grazing land.  In an effort to halt their rampant destructive march a rabbit fence, variously estimated at over 2,000 kilometres, was built along the Queensland, New South Wales and South Australian borders.

Louisa and Marius listed on roll of electors in Dulbydilla in 1903

Women in Queensland at this stage could be listed on electoral rolls but would not be allowed to vote until 1905.

Marius and his good friend Fred Muller
Just ten years later in 1913 Marius is farming his own property, Alison Vale in Mungallala.  On current maps the township appears as no more than a dot on the railway line linking Brisbane to Roma, Dalby and the Maranoa.  Their family has levelled out to four sons and three daughters all born and raised in outback Queensland.

From the few surviving photos, Marius presents an impressive and calm manner, not all that tall but solid and sturdy. You can see he is a hard worker, and certainly a loyal friend.

A Hermansen grandchild, now himself elderly, remembers Marius at family gatherings happily smoking his pipe and playing an accordion. 

Thanks to Jeanette Sorensen in New Zealand whose husband John, like mine is a grandson, and an early photographer we have a posed study of the entire Sorensen family together with family friend Fred Muller, and a lady known as Lorna Green. 

Sitting in front of her mother we catch a glimpse of a small, very young Lucy Jane Constance; this child will become Stan Mortimer’s mother Connie

While the image has been copied many times and the quality is poor, it reveals a great deal about the family.  We can date the year to approximately 1914 by placing the youngest daughter Lucy Jane Constance at perhaps five or six years of age.  Fred Muller is still a close friend and may even be a partner in the Alison Vale property.

The younger children appear hesitant and wary while the four older siblings show they are no strangers to the photographer’s lens. Like their parents they appear relaxed.

The Queensland Electoral Rolls proved especially helpful in tracing the Sorensen family’s movements.  They showed the Sorensen’s, father and son, were working as fencers at Cargara near Augathella in 1925 with Louisa Jane and her daughter Edith keeping house for the men. 

 I suspect Marius was undertaking odd fencing contracts around this time because they are also listed in the 1925 Rolls for Mungallala where they are shown in the  photograph below.
By 1930 though, the family is living in Charleville where both Marius junior and senior are working as gardeners, and Bill as a stockman at Ambathalla.

The Sorensen’s were still living on their Alison Vale property in 1925 when this photograph was taken.  Around that time their youngest daughter, the student nurse Lucy Jane Constance was keeping company with her shearer boyfriend Jack Mortimer in nearby Charleville.

While the Sorensen’s  didn’t reap a fortune from their outback endeavours they did enjoy a close happy life with children and friends ending their days together in suburban Brisbane where my husband lived for a while with his grandparents.


The circle is closing, Marius has travelled the great distance from Denmark, Louisa Jane, Australian born has only her grandmother Jane Williams memories of Somerset and Wales; these children of European heritage have firmly imprinted themselves on Australian soil and in its history.  

But before we complete this part of our ancestors story you need to meet the Mortimer's of Yorkshire.


Next – The Mortimers of Yorkshire
Robyn Mortimer ©2011

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love hearing from you, your comments good, bad or indifferent are always welcome..your anonymity will be respected. But remember if you want me to reply you will need to supply a contact email address otherwise I will never know who you are.