LIVING TREES RESEARCH ©


A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES RUSSELL
By His Daughter Rosa Elizabeth Russell Fasham and His Great-Granddaughter, Glenys J. Rasmussen, April 2008 ©

bobandglenysr8@gmail.com


Charles Russell outside his home in Thomastown ca 1910.


On the 19th of May 1867 in South Yarra, Victoria, Australia, to John James Russell and Agnes Harrison, his wife, Charles Russell was born. He was their fourth child and fourth son and his arrival was looked upon with joy.

His father was a plumber and painter and had arrived from England approximately 15 years before. His mother was also an English immigrant and had arrived in Australia in 1858 aboard the "Shooting Star", a sailing vessel of common build. Because of the proximity of the towns from whence both parents had come, it would be nice to think they may have known each other before venturing to Australia, but no-one knows for certain.

John James Russell obviously was very proud of his profession and proprieted his first business at 206 Union Road, Ascot Vale for a number of years. He also taught his son Charles well at the trade and perhaps because of the pride of workmanship, the independence working for oneself gives, the enjoyment given by the trade and of course, the great need for good plumbers, we can see why Charles chose the plumbing profession for himself. Charles and Rosa remained in South Yarra area only for a short time, before moving to South Melbourne or Kensington area where they stayed for approximately 4 years. They then moved to 38 Munro Street, Ascot Vale from approximately 1895 until their move to Athol Street, Moonee Ponds in about 1901.

Charles came from a large family, six brothers and three sisters, and it is certain that each received the same type of upbringing and pride in accomplishment that he did. On the 5th of December, 1891, Charles married his sweetheart, Rosa Florence Alloway, in Melbourne. They had known each other for a time and there have been rumblings that the Alloways and the Russells also knew each other in London. Sadly, I can find nothing to support this story. However, Rosa's father, John Alloway did serve for a time in Lambeth, London as a member of the Metropolitan Police Force, and we all know that anything is possible!. Be that as it may, Charles and Rosa made their home for the first few years in Kenhill, (now Kensington) South Melbourne, and then on Athol Street, Moonee Ponds, a suburb of the growing city, where they lived until about 1907.

It was on Athol Street that Charles owned his own plumbing business and had his own shop. On the one half was the plumbing business from which he operated, and on the other half, Rosa ran a confectionary and cooked meats shop. Rosa took time out of her busy life to have her first child, Elizabeth Isabella Russell, who was born to the newlyweds on the 7th of October 1892 at Kenhill. Elizabeth Isabella was named for her grandmother - Rosa's mother - Elizabeth Hamilton Thornborough and for her great grandmother - John James Russell's mother, Isabella Ann Gray. It helped, being far from England and the people they had known and loved, to bring a little of the family unknown to the children into their lives by giving them relative's names. It would have taken on very special meaning for Charles and Rosa as Elizabeth Isabella only lived for seven very short weeks, dying on the 24th of November 1892. However, blessings can come from sad circumstances, and it served to meld and cement Charles and Rosa together into a union that would be called upon to endure other trials.

Three years after Elizabeth's birth, Rosa had their second child and only son, Charles Alexander George Russell. He was born on the 27th day of May 1895 at Kenhill. It would be certain that he would assist in filling in the emptiness left by little Elizabeth, and no doubt his arrival brought great joy and promise into the lives of Charles and Rosa. Four more years passed before their third child and second daughter entered the world. Isabel Thornborough Russell was born the 1st day of January 1899 in Kenhill and her arrival was sure to have brought much happiness into the growing circle of family. There was a great deal of love and respect for each other, characteristics brought down to the modern generation.

Only two years separated Isabel Thornborough and her sister, Rosa Elizabeth, born the 17th of October 1901 at Kenhill. These two sisters were close in years and close in feelings for each other. There never was a time during the years Isabel (my grandmother) was alive that they didn't stay in touch with cards, letters, pictures and visits. They cared very deeply for one another and shared tender times and joyful times together. Even after distances separated them physically, their closeness persisted and triumphed! Why, they even married brothers! There was one more sister to come and on the 18th of March 1907 at Moonee Ponds, Ivy Ada Russell made her appearance in the family circle. She would be the last child of Charles and Rosa, rounding out the family of four living children and a daughter to look forward to seeing at another time and place. It can be said with surety that even though Elizabeth had left their home so soon and so young, she had never left the hearts and minds of her mother and father.

Although Charles was not an outwardly religious man, his feelings were strong and deep and he was as honest as the day is long. He was charitable and compassionate and always had the welfare of others in his heart. Many times others benefitted by his goodness when he did work for them they could never have paid for. He never made much money for himself, but it is certain Charles knew the better things of life, a free and clear conscience, void of offense, peace of mind and a good feeling inside knowing he had done his best for his fellow man. No, he may not have been rich by the world's standards, but he certainly was gathering the best treasures around him.

Charles had always had a great interest and appreciation for birds and he filled this interest with all kinds of birds throughout his life. During his years in Melbourne and Moonee Ponds he became very involved with racing pigeons and owned many himself. His enthusiasm for the birds and the sport didn't stop with him either, he had at least two sons-in-law who became just as exuberant! Charles was well known in racing pigeon circles and won many prizes with his beautiful birds. I well remember my grandfather telling me about great grandfather Charles' birds as he proudly showed me his own racers. Often, he would say, "This one looks just like Dad's winner - should be good one."

Pigeons weren't his only hobby - wherever he lived he always owned a sulphur-crested white cockatoo and other talking birds. The tradition of a "cocky" in the family was another that was passed from one generation to another. You can read about my love for and experiences with, our 'Cocky' on this website under Memories of My Childhood. I'm certain my love and interest in birds came from Charles and my grandfather Fasham and my own father, who has always enjoyed watching and feeding feathery visitors. Funny how things like that pass on to next generations. Take fishing for example. Charles was very much the fisherman and enjoyed every spare moment he could snatch from his busy life to be where the fish were biting. It is fishing and the excursions to the Murray River to fish that served to change the lives of Charles and Rosa.

Music was also a big part of Charles' life, just as it is in many families. He was very accomplished on the accordian and his daughter, Rosa remembers from her very early years, listening during the evening to her father play and sing, with everyone joining in on the songs. He had quite a good voice and was a popular singer at family gatherings and in the community.

Charles not only stayed close to his own family, but remained very close to his brothers and sisters. They often visited with Uncle Will (William Tyler Russell) who lived not too distant from their home in Moonee Ponds. They talked fishing and birds and often had a friendly game of cricket. Charles was quite the cricket player and won a silver cup when he played with the Ascot Vale Seconds. He wond the cup for the best batting average during the 1888-89 season. He was not very tall at all, with grey twinkling, laughing eyes that shone kind and true. He had a moustache that was sure to twitch if he knew something you didn't and his smile, which was used often, was very dear. His love for his sisters was exceptional and he always made it a point to make sure all was well with them. He had been that way since they had been born - as though he took it upon himself to be their special protector and champion and they loved him right back. Lots of picnics and other outings together as family was the norm rather than the unusual and my great aunt, Agnes Russell Arkley, said he could be the biggest tease any brother could be and then would turn right around and defend them from any potential hurt.

His love and devotion to his beloved Rosa was proven over and over again in his special, gentle care for her and his concern for her well-being. They were well-matched and had an extremely happy and extraordinary relationship. They passed on their caring and loving ways to their children, each of whom exhibits and exhibited the same traits. There weren't many flowery words or expressions of affection, especially in public, but it could never be misunderstood that you were cared for and about and his love for teasing didn't entirely wear out!

About 1907 or early 1908, Charles moved his family to Thomastown, about 17 miles north of Melbourne. It was a difficult move in some ways as it meant that he would have to walk to the Reservoir Railway station every morning from his home in Thomastown, a distance of about 5 miles. He did this until his work in Melbourne ceased. It also meant there would be almost no spare time and his planned market garden was a failure because of the lack of time he was able to spend working it. Still opportunity beckoned in this outer area of Melbourne and eventually he was awarded the plumbing contract on all the new settlement houses on Settlement Road. He decided to take a block of land for himself and family and purchased four acres. This was the land he had wanted to turn into a market garden. Rosa's health, never very good, became worse and this added to his worries. However, not all was failure and worry. He had great fun fishing for eels in the Darebin Creek and Rosa recalls having to sit still as can be with the others on the banks of the creek at night, so as not to frighten the eels away. Charles was very adept and caught many eels, but Belle, Rosa and Ivy all noted they could not even look at eel when they were older, let alone eat it!! All this fishing brought to his mind the lovely Murray and the excellent fishing it offered. It was really never far from his thoughts.

One day, when reading the newspaper, an advertisement for a plumber in Barham, NSW caught his eye. Excitement welled up within him and he promptly answered it. In September of 1911 he went to Barham and worked for the local plumber for a few weeks, then bought the business from him. He purchased it on the 16th of October 1911 and his first trip home to Thomastown to talk the purchase over with Rosa is well remembered by daughter Rosa: "He came by train of course and brough home a huge Murray cod and some other smaller ones with some trout. All the neighbours had cod for tea that night. Mum was in very poor health at the time and was glad to have an opportunity to shift to a warmer climate." Of course, as mentioned earlier, the beautiful Murray with its excellent fishing only enhanced the move. Rosa continues: "The river was so beautiful and fishing was so good in those days. The lovely Murray was his joy -- fish all summer and crayfish in winter. He and Uncle George (his brother) often used to camp out overnight in the cool weather, set rabbit traps and come home loaded with fish, rabbits and often ducks as well. He wasn't such a good shot, but ducks were pretty thick in those days!" Rosa also added that the reason her husband, Hal, got along so well with Charles was because they were always planning a fishing trip together.

So Charles and Rosa moved their family to Barham on the magnificent Murray River. He paid the local plumber for the business - a princely sum - 44 pounds! He purchased it with a young lad by the name of Fred Petsky and then proceeded to teach him all he knew of the plumbing trade - a very extensive knowledge. Although the business and the fishing were perfect for Charles, Barham was too slow for Fred and as he grew older he heard more and more about the progressive and growing town of Swan Hill. He finally sold his portion of the business to Charles and went to Swan Hill where he started his own plumbing business. His sons still carry on a large and up to date business there.

As the family grew and Belle, Charlie and Rosa brought home friends, many a night was passed in dancing and music. Charles and Rosa were very good dancers and taught many of the local folk to dance. Their home was filled with the sounds of music and young folk having a fine time. Belle became an especially graceful and very popular dancer and loved to spend her evenings doing the latest and greatest! All the girls can remember however, that though dancing was well thought of by Charles, he was very firm in his ideas and values and only appropriate dancing was acceptable. Ivy, the youngest, loved to try out steps in the corner of the room, anxious for the time when she would be old enough to invite friends home to join in the fun.

In 1914 the Great War broke out and its repercussions were felt even in the small towns of Australia. Barham and Koondrook, across the Murray in Victoria, were no exception and many of son, Charlie's friends joined up. Charles Alexander George, the only son of Charles and Rosa, an excellent horseman and wonderful young man, also felt the need to defend God and country and joined the 17th Light Horse. This was the "war to end all wars" and although Charles and Rosa were not anxious for Charlie to go overseas, they were proud of him. After preliminary training, Charlie was shipped overseas and spent time in Malta, Egypt (Cairo) and other locations. Eventually, he was assigned to be part of the Gallipoli defense in 1915. As he went over the top and into battle, he was wounded, fairly seriously, in the knee and his leg was badly damaged. His wound demanded more attention than could be given by the short-supplied and often bombarded first-aid stations and so he was sent to Cairo for treatment. It was there that the wound was washed several times with water infected with typhus, unbeknown to the medical staff. As his condition deteriorated he was placed on board the hospital ship "Panama" bound for England. Without knowing the full circumstances of Charlie's condition, Charles had contacted family in London and they were to meet the ship and watch over Charlie during his recuperation and convalescence. It came as a deep shock when the tragic news of Charlie's death reached the family in Barham from the dreaded disease, enteric fever (typhus) from the wound being infected by the contaminated water with which it was washed. To make matters worse, a letter written by Charlie to his family arrived after the terrible news. He had no writing paper and so had written it on the backs of a cigar or candle boxes, something the family was used to as most of his letters home were in that fashion, no paper being available to soldiers. He was cited on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as follows:

Name: RUSSELL, CHARLES Initials: C

Nationality: Australian

Rank: Trooper

Regiment: Australian Light Horse

Unit Text: 4th

Date of Death: 12/10/1915

Service No: 482

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: 3.

Cemetery: LONE PINE MEMORIAL

Charlie, their son, the boy upon whom they had pinned so many dreams and aspirations, who planned to take over the business someday, who gave love and joy to all who knew him, was gone and a light went out of Charles' eyes forever.

Now they were five in number, but it was not to remain that way for long. The girls were growing up and Rosa and Belle had been keeping company with the Fasham brothers - it was turning into a very close friendship and Harold and Horace Fasham wanted it to get even closer. The Fasham family had been on the scene for several years and known by the family for quite some time. They were staunch Baptists and therefore, dancing was forbidden. When Horace proposed to Belle it was with the romantic words, "It's either me or the dancing"! Obviously Belle thought more of Horrie! On the 24th of June 1918, when Belle was 19-1/2 years old, she married Horace Easter Fasham, in Koondrook, Victoria. Rosa Elizabeth followed suit two years later on the 19th of October 1920 when she married Horace's older brother, Harold Ernest Fasham. That left Charles and Rosa at home with their youngest child, Ivy Ada. However, she too had her eye on a young man and on the 2nd of October 1927 she married John (Jack) Thomas Plant in Koondrook. Jack had been deaf from birth and had taught himself to read lips. Charles' compassion and thoughtfulness for others now showed in his daughter's love for Jack. No matter how difficult a situation or how frustrated others became, Ivy never, NEVER, raised her voice or acted in any way annoyed because Jack had to have her repeat something because he looked away. She would tap him lightly and very quietly tell him what she needed him to know and on they went. It was wonderful to be around them both.

So, now Charles and Rosa could enjoy each other and the grandchildren that would come along. Charles was 60 years old.

Rosa and Hal were first to oblige with a grandchild and thrilled the hearts of Charles and Rosa when they were blessed with their first child and a son, Charles Harold Fasham, born on the 1st of October 1922 in Koondrook. He was named after both Rosa's father and her beloved brother, Charlie, and after his own father, Harold. Then in 1924 on the 15th of February, their second son and last child, Ernest George Fasham was born. Charles enjoyed his grandsons immensely and being still quite young himself, was able to take them fishing and teach them about racing pigeons and cockatoos and all the other things grandfathers do with their grandsons. It was a wonderful time! They spent many happy hours together and many years later still would mention Grandfather Charles or Dad when something reminded them of him.

After almost seven years of marriage, Belle and Horrie finally announced the arrival of their only child, a sweet and beautiful little girl, born the 23rd of November 1925. Joyce Muriel they named her and she was immediately the apple of her grandpa's eye! He bounced her on his knee when she was little and enjoyed her company as she grew up. Charles and Rosa loved their little granddaughter and she has many fond memories of her growing up years around them. She also has wonderful memories of fun and laughter and anxious moments with her cousins, Charlie and Ernie - especially Ernie to whom she was (and still is) particularly close. I know my mother inherited her delightful, sparkling eyes from Charles - how could she not? They had so many good times together it was sure to rub off!!

Just months after Charles' 61st birthday, Ivy and Jack presented him with their first child and his fourth grandchild, Constance Joan Plant, born 4th of August 1928 in Koondrook. Naturally, Joyce and Connie became very good friends and remained so until Connie's death. Charles' family was growing again and he rejoiced in the companionship and exuberance of youth. He often went to Wakool River outside Barham, one of his favourite fishing spots, with his family and it is interesting to note that Rosa and her family eventually owned several miles of that very river. It would be wonderful to see his face and hear his comments at this discovery. He would have loved it all and enjoyed the fishing with Hal.

Ivy and Jack continued to bless Charles' life with grandchildren and before his death he was privileged to enjoy two more of their children - Ronald Russell Plant, born on the 27th of December 1930 at Koondrook and Alexander Charles Plant, born on the 13th day of September 1935 also at Koondrook. Wendy Margaret Plant was born after his death on the 6th of February 1944. He loved his family and loved being with them and enjoyed very much the family gatherings.

Rosa had not been feeling well for several years and Charles grew more and more concerned for her. He asked the local doctor to examine her. He was unable to diagnose the pains and problems she was having and so sent her to Bendigo to see another doctor more specialised. Her illness proved to be cancer and was diagnosed as being too far advanced for an operation. However, another doctor thought surgery might help, but because of the seriousness and advancement of the disease, all that could be done was to close her back up, send her home and wait, making her as comfortable as possible. This was a very difficult time for Charles. He took good and gentle care of his beloved wife of 49 years and with the help and support of his family was able to lift his head through this trying time. He knew there would be a brighter day in the future and he knew too, deep down inside that all would be well and that he and his dear Rosa would not be separated long.

Her health grew worse and she began to fail and was returned to Bendigo Hospital where she was attended to by Dr. E.P. Hennessy. She died there, peacefully, on the 9th day of August 1940. D.r Hennessy certified her death and she was buried in the Koondrook Cemetary by A.G. Adams & Sons of Kerang. It states on her death certificate that she lived in Victoria for a total of 39 years and in New South Wales for 28 years. Her years in NSW were spent by the Murray River in a life-giving climate and where she was able to watch Charles fish and love life and her.

Charles' life changed on the outside very little after Rosa's death, but on the inside he felt alone and empty. His companion of so many years was gone, his children were married happily with lives and children of their own, and even though he enjoyed tremendously being with them, it was not the same as sharing a quiet moment or a special memory with Rosa. Charles' sparkle began to dim considerably and he missed Rosa very much. His life had now come full cirlce. Two years, almost to the day, on the 23rd of August 1942, Charles passed away at home in Barham, NSW, Australia. He had attained 75 years of age and had lived a good, honest, hardworking, filling life. He would be reunited with Rosa and their children gone before and their love would continue to even greater heights. He left a legacy and a family he was proud of and they were proud of him. He instilled into all people he knew a love of the decent life, of patriotism for Australia and with charity and caring for his fellow men. He left a memory of twinkling grey eyes, a moustache that twitched with suppressed laughter and an impeccable character. His body was buried on the 24th of August 1942 in the Koondrook Cemetary next to his beloved Rosa, but his spirit will never be contained, as it continues to influence generation after generation of his grand and grateful family.

Charles was not to know of the death of his oldest grandson, his fishing and bird-loving companion, Charles Harold Fasham, son of Rosa and Harold Fasham, who died just six months after his grandfather on 2 February 1943 at the Changi Prisoner of War camp in Singapore, a prisoner of the Japanese during WWII. It was a strength and a great comfort for the family to know that Grandpa and Grandma Russell would be waiting to greet him in his new adventure.

And in the cemetary at Koondrook ...

Ta-ta Grandpa, till tomorrow.

A letter son Charlie wrote home to his sister Rosa from Gallipoli. He spent some time recuperating at the troop hospital in Cairo, where it is believed he was infected with typhus by the water used there. The wound grew worse and it was decided to place him on the hospital ship to London. Charles and Rosa were notified and they sent a letter to unknown family members still living in London to expect him. It has always been a sadness to me that Charlie had already died aboard the hospital ship before that letter ever reached London. As there was such a shortage of writing paper available to the soldiers, they used whatever they could find, this letter is written on the back of a cigar box.

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