Lebanese Pioneers in Kempsey

Recently, a member of the Society, Les Graham emailed  with some interesting material about his ancestors from the Kempsey area. 

Antony Habib/Anthony Herbert

I hope by making contact will allow me to discover some information on my Lebanese grandfather (Antony Habib/Anthony Herbert) and his life before he came to Australia, and perhaps something of his early life in Australia. We know very little but the few discoveries we have made have been very significant ones. The most important was finding the death record of my grandfather’s mother. For all these years her particulars were recorded under a misspelling and it was only by a stroke of luck that I eventually discovered it. She was a hawker and was found dead by the roadside, slumped over her basket. There was a Magisterial Inquiry into her death and this produced most of what we now know.

Emily Habib: Pioneer Hawker

She was born in Batroun, Syria about 1835. Her name was Emily. Married at 16 to Gibran Habib. Her father was a sponge diver. She had 12 children and at the time of her death 9 were deceased. In 1881 she travelled to Australia with her infant son Antony (my grandfather) and left two daughters Thymon and Zaida behind. The death certificate said she had been in Australia for 27 years, 24 of those years in NSW’, so she spent 3 years in another state. She died in 1908. At some earlier time she changed their name to Herbert. She didn’t have Antony educated and so he couldn’t read nor write, but he still managed to run a Fruit and Vegetable business in Kempsey and raise 9 children. I have his marriage certificate to my grandmother (Florence Cook) in 1903, which says he was born in Beirut and his father was called Joseph Dixax (deceased). As a small boy I remember him saying his name which sounded like Anthony Habib El Da Ka (because he couldn’t write his named sounded as that. (Perhaps that is how Dixax is pronounced?) He always referred to himself as Lebanese/ Syrian.

I don’t know who provided the information for the Inquest. If it was my grandfather he seems to vary it a bit on some other documents I have. Perhaps it was a friend or unknown relative of Emily’s at the time or maybe the authorities had ready access to that sort of information.

Emily and Anthony brought with them a small religious painting which seems to indicate they were of a Christian following. Anthony was a strong member of the Kempsey Catholic Church during his life and I remember him taking the collection plate each Sunday at Church. I have a photo of the painting with an inscription on it, which someone had translated many years ago and which is a blessing to Anthony and his mother.

He played Rugby football in Kempsey as a young man (I have a photo) and had many friends from Lebanon/Syria who ran successful businesses here, and they lived their lives in this town until they died. I remember him singing songs from “the old country” as he called it while he cut his tobacco for his pipe. All his life he would regularly send money over to his two sisters who remained. After his death no one knew who they really were or where they were. In fact Anthony’s children didn’t know them as Thymon and Zaida, they always called them Josephine and Cannon(?) (That’s how it sounded).

Last week a friend from Sydney was in the archives and found that in 1916 Anthony registered as an Alien during WW1 .He said he was born in Port Said on 17 April 1878, but unfortunately he didn’t know which ship he arrived on or when, only about “30 years back” (about 1886). He said he arrived in Sydney, but I wonder…! That’s about all I know.

Anthony’s children are all dead except for three daughters still alive, including my mother, who hasn’t much longer to go I’m afraid, and they can tell me very little because they say he never told them anything about his youth or his past, and I think in those days it was a subject not discussed in their family. The youngest son of Anthony served in the middle east during WW2 and had a paper with addresses of relatives still living near Beirut who he was to visit, but bombings prevented that, and over time he lost the paper. He’s now dead.

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