Australian woman unearths her family’s musical links to Hartlepool

Australian woman Megan Smiles can trace her ancestry back to Hartlepool – and to a band which was a big hit at the time.

By Chris Cordner
Tuesday, 05 March, 2019, 13:33
The West Hartlepool 4th Artillery Volunteers Band. The photo has been kindly submitted to us by Megan Smiles.

Megan, from Canberra, contacted Memory Lane after spotting an article in the Mail from 2014.

It came from regular contributor David Payne and told of the West Hartlepool Old Operatic Band. David’s great uncle Thomas Henry Payne played the tenor horn.

Megan's great grandfather and grandfather in the second row from the left.

The band was also known as the 4th Durham Artillery, West Hartlepool 4th Durham Artillery, West Hartlepool Old Operatic Silver, and West Hartlepool Operatic Brass Band, said David.

That same article was of great interest to Megan who told us: “Both my grandfather and great grandfather (both named Jonathan Burnett) played in this band and I have old photos of the band from around the 1900’s.

“I live in Canberra, Australia. My grandfather emigrated from West Hartlepool in 1912 to Australia and settled in Port Kembla and his fiancé came out to join him in 1913.”

Megan added: “One thing I would like to know is if you can identify the building in the background of the band pictures.”

Can anyone help? We are hoping to have the answer in time for Megan arriving in the North East some time soon after Easter. If you can help, email chris.cordner@jpimedia.co.uk

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In the meantime, here’s some more information on Megan’s grandfather and his 1912 journey to a new home.

Documents show he headed for Sydney on the ship Ayrshire (a refrigerated cargo vessel from Hebburn) and was 29 when he said goodbye to England.

He was known as Jonty and was born in West Hartlepool. Jonty became a marine engineer on ships trading in the North Sea and on the Atlantic Ocean. But he was also an accomplished clarinettist, pianist and choirboy. He played with the band while in port and was presented with a silver teapot by the band when he left for Australia.

His father, also Jonathan Burnett, was a cornet player and an iron moulder by trade. He played with the 4th Durham Artillery Band and later the West Hartlepool Old Operatic Band. He was bandmaster in 1892 and 1894.

Jonty’s wife was Mary Ann Wilson Cole who trained as a primary school teacher in West Hartlepool before emigrating, and also played the cello.

Megan told us: “When Jonty and Mary became engaged, it was agreed that they would not be married until Jonty renounced his seagoing career and found work ashore. In England in 1911-12, shore jobs were hard to find so Jonty had friends in Australia who said there was work there.

“Jonty did not work his passage out to Australia but was a passenger on the Ayrshire in 1912. He was given a newspaper when he arrived by his friends and immediately found a position at Port Kembla’s Electrolitic Refining and Smelting Company.”

Watch out for more on the story next week.