Thursday, July 21, 2016


June 2016 Boarding a bus in Suva enroute to Levuka: a lost address.

Do you recognize this charming young lady?

Those of you who have traveled to the Island of Ovalau will know that Levuka was once Fiji’s capital, but that was way back in the 1870’s and 80’s. Today Levuka is justifiably listed as a World Heritage Site, little changed from those long ago days.  It still has a main street of quaint shops fronting the deep blue of the ocean and backed by a steep range of verdant green mountains.  There are still banks of houses dotting the lower hills accessed by steep tiers of  concrete stairways instead of roads and connecting streets.

 There is still in abundance the fragrant perfume of tropical flowers, a profusion of fruit and fresh vegetables.

In fact Levuka hasn’t changed all that much at all since 1877 when my grandmother Maggie McGowan was born there, or indeed since 1900 when she married my Grandpa Chas Brown Parker in the Wesleyan Church,  which is still standing today albeit with a fresh coat of paint.

The entire island of Ovalau itself is still much the same, though now there are cars and buses where once  were only coastal boats and shanks pony;  and you all know that means walking on your own two feet.  The faces of Levuka haven’t changed either, the same wide smiles, the constant cry of Bula, which could mean Welcome or Hello, or even Good day.


But let’s get back to Suva where I’m waiting for the bus to depart.  A young school age girl is sitting in the seat in front of me. It’s obvious she is saying a very sad goodbye to two smaller children and a gentleman who is  her father. They are standing by her open window.  Her hand reaches out to touch them, one last time. It wasn’t difficult to see her tears and the concern  on her Dad’s face.  Sending a daughter off to boarding school isn’t always easy... I know, I'm a grandmother, been there, done that.

It takes a while, this journey from Suva to Levuka;  four hours  north by bus to reach the  passenger and vehicle ship that will take us across to the island of Ovalau, 2 hours at sea and another 2 hours bus drive round the island to our final destination, Levuka. 
No change of vehicle, the same bus drives on and off the ship. Plenty of time to take photos, to chat, to cheer up a sad little girl returning to her boarding school on the island and already missing home and family.

It was dark by the time our bus reached Levuka and the hectic unloading of passengers along with their  myriad bags and goods.   Time only for hasty goodbyes to people we had become acquainted with, and to a now far more cheerful young girl who I had promised to keep in contact with on her Face Book page.


The trouble is, in the fuss and upset of arrival and location,  the goodbyes and the panic of where to go in the utter darkness I mislaid the name and address of this charming and friendly young school girl.

I know only that she was returning to school on the island.   Perhaps some one reading this story will recognize her photo?  The one at the top of the page.

 If you do please tell her my name is Robyn Mortimer, that I live in Australia and she has only to search that name  on Face Book, make a request and I will respond…


That’s me on deck, gazing out at the departing coastline.

In the meantime if you’re planning to visit this glorious part of the Pacific consider spending a few days, or even a few weeks  exploring not only the Levuka of today, but the Levuka of long ago – it’s history is there for you to see and absorb.

Robyn Mortimer 21st July 2016-07-21

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Levuka, Fiji's original capital as the McGowan's knew it.
When Geraldine Sweeny married William McGowan she brought with her an amazing family history.  For a start she was just one of sixteen children born to their Sussex parents Anna and Alfred Sweeny. 

Anna’s Mother and Father were Francis and Mary  Keates;  Francis was a business man who not only ran a china ware shop and owned a fishing trawler but was also a councillor on the Worthing Town Council. A very generous father, when the young couple married he set them up in a business of their own.

Alfred’s Mother was a widow and made a living as a seamstress.
Life should have been a very happy one for Anna and Alfred, and it was… for a short while….

Anna Sweeny’s story is told in three parts….
(Remember though, unless you use each link below as indicated by tapping them open, you can also copy and paste these links into the Address Search section at the top of your computer's search page.)

PT 1:
PT 2:
PT 3:
By now you’ve read about Anna Sweeny’s long and ultimately sad life…
Anna has seen her family dispersed to the far corners of the world; has been humiliated by a selfish husband and has ended her days in a London poor house.
Now it is time to read the life story of her daughter, your ancestor, Geraldine McGowan, told here in five parts.

Geraldine in her 70's.

PT 1  :
PT 3.  :
PT 4.  :
PT 5.  :

And finally, because this little ship had a great deal to do with its sometime skipper, Alfred McGowan and with his eventual wife, Geraldine Sweeny… a side story about the Marie Louise.

A sea going vessel built in Tasmania, later wrecked and resurrected in Levuka…   told in three parts.

I hope you enjoy reading these true tales… they are of course just one side of your McGowan story.  Now you must seek, and detail your Tongan and Fijian family history… and  I can barely wait to read it!


Robyn Mortimer 16 Jul. 2016