Archaeology rediscovered a lost homesite in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley including an 1879 English penny at its doorstep. I went back to the site and found more artefacts and then with genealogy research added amazing people to a remarkable family story. I told a version of this tale live on West Bremer Radio.
Steve Welch was the fireman on Queensland’s very first passenger train in 1865, and the driver in Queensland’s very first fatal train accident. The site of his 1860s home had disappeared into the mists of time.
However, once I’d rediscovered his homesite with the initial discoveries that I described in Part I of this story, I then returned to the location and found further small mysteries. One thing was a windmill brass pump rod connector in a place where there hasn’t been a windmill in living memory. There was also a copper rivet from a horse saddle, again where horses haven’t been for a century.
I also recovered over two hundred pieces of porcelain, earthenware and glassware that dated from the 1860s and 1870s. They had been in the field and ploughed three times a year for the last one hundred and ten years, and so some were quite small but still identifiable.
This all belonged to Queensland’s historic train driver Steve Welch and his family. And what a remarkable family it proved to be.
Steve Welch’s son, Steve Welch Junior attended Ipswich Grammar School and was one of Ipswich’s and Queensland’s greatest athletes of the nineteenth century. He starred in athletics, Australian Rules football, rugby, and soccer. In fact, he captained the Queensland Aussie Rules team in 1888 and was the goal kicker and a try scorer for the Queensland Rugby team when it first wore maroon in 1895.
And above all, Steve Junior was considered quite a catch for the ladies. When he attended a Toowoomba Athletic Club dance, the newspapers reported that the event attracted “additional bevies of ladies, more especially as the guests included such favourites as the long ’un… Steve Welch.” He was tall and athletic. In a recent book he was named in Queensland Australian Football’s Team of the Nineteenth Century.
Then there was Steve Welch Senior’s great-grandson Chilla Porter who was a champion high jumper and silver medallist at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He’s in both the Queensland Sport and Athletics Australia Halls of Fame.
Another great-grandson was Garth Welch who was the principal dancer of the Australian ballet. Garth was awarded an Order of Australia and is in the Australian Dance Awards Hall of Fame.
Then there’s great-great-grandson Stanton Welch who was awarded an Order of Australia for service to the performing arts, and his brother Damien Welch who like his father was also a principal dancer of the Australian ballet. And I could go on.
Then the most remarkable thing happened. I was invited to meet with Steve Welch’s great-great-granddaughter at a Brisbane coffee shop. Her name is Helene and I able to present to her the more than two hundred artefacts that I had recovered. As a result, those items are now reunited with the Welch family for the first time in one hundred and ten years.
I understand that those relics will now be made into some sort of framed memorial to Queensland’s historic train driver.
It’s amazing what history and heroes can be discovered from walking through a ploughed field, and combining archaeology, genealogy and history research, and a lot of good luck.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD ON RADIO.
Queensland team who played Melbourne International Australian Football 1888 – State Library of Queensland
Lost homesite artefacts – Harold Peacock 2022
Steve Welch Jnr captain Queensland team who played Melbourne International Australian Football 1888 – State Library of Queensland
Chilla Porter – News, 17th Augugust 2020
Dame Margot Fonteyn and Garth Welch rehearse Swan Lake The Australian Ballet Canberra 1971 – National Archives of Australia
Great-great-granddaughter Helene examines the Welch artefacts – Harold Peacock 2020