The Mishael mystery
Mr Paul Mishura
Albert Mishael is one of 29 Old Boys whose deaths as a result of World War I are now honoured on new panels in the Memorial Hall.
There are hundreds of Old Scotch Collegians who must have died long ago, but whose actual fates are yet to be determined. Some seem to vanish from the face of the earth the day after they leave Scotch, while the last trace of others can be found decades later, before they too appear to vanish.
Yet another difficulty is that before the arrival of Principal William Still Littlejohn in 1904, the information recorded about a boy who entered Scotch was usually one line, giving his name (not necessarily his full name, or spelling it correctly), his parent’s or guardian’s name (this could be ‘Mrs Smith’), his religion, and from 1873 – but not always – his date of birth, which is often wrong. It is hard and sometimes impossible to trace someone if it is not even clear who he is. Littlejohn kept more records, but not always better records.
One vanishing Scotchie was ‘Albert Michael’. Enrolled by Littlejohn on 11 February 1908, he was a Catholic boy living at Rosebank, Glen Iris and was enrolled by ‘F. Michael’. He was allegedly born on 28 April 1895 and had attended Glen Iris State School. Nothing was known of him after he left Scotch at the end of 1908.
No amount of searching found anyone matching an Albert Michael, born in 1895. Perhaps his address might reveal more about him? Until the 1970s the Sands and McDougall Directory listed streets, street numbers, and their corresponding residents, as well as listing people alphabetically. It was akin to a phone book without phone numbers. The 1906 Sands and McDougall Directory provided a breakthrough: ‘Mishael, F. “Rosebank”, Glen Iris’. If this was correct, an uncommon surname had been incorrectly recorded as ‘Michael’.
Searching Trove, the National Library of Australia’s website of scanned Australian newspapers, uncovered a few references to Mishael. Early in the morning of 4 January 1911 ‘gas was noticed issuing from the premises occupied by Fred. Mishael, tailor, at 183 Swan Street’. Advice of this discovery was sent to the Mishael residence at 265 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, and ‘a son, Albert Mishael, arrived and opened up the shop’.
Police arrived and found that a gas pipe had been severed near the meter and had been turned towards a lit gas jet. It was clear an attempt had been made to blow up the shop. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Fred Mishael, who failed to appear in court on 6 February 1911. Meanwhile, the shop’s landlord cleared out its contents to cover a rent debt, and the contents of Mishael’s residence were also carted off in two furniture vans.
After a mutiny by seamen on the French barque Jean at Newcastle, its captain engaged tailor Frederick Mishael on 9 February 1911 to sail to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), but Mishael was arrested that night. On 20 March 1911 he was found guilty of attempting to blow up his shop, the contents of which had been grossly over-insured. He was sentenced to 13 months’ jail.
No further trace could be found of the father. No Mishael served in World War I. When Albert’s sister Mrs Gladys Irene Thomson died in 1944, her death notice noted Albert as being deceased. When, however, where, and in what circumstances did he die?
Identifying and tracing Albert’s siblings revealed one whose daughter married an Old Scotch Collegian. Albert’s niece believed he was known as Francis, and that he had died in World War I. If true, this was exciting news. Her father had written of coming home from work during World War I to find his mother crying over a letter advising of the death of her soldier son. However, no Mishael served in Australian forces, and none died in Commonwealth forces.
A search for ‘Francis Mishael’, who was actually Albert’s oldest brother, and who had attended Xavier College, found numerous references to the oldest brother’s criminal activities, including one which identified him as going by the alias Francis Traynor – his mother’s maiden name. Searching for ‘Albert Traynor’ found a very likely result: Albert Traynor, aged ‘20’ in 1915, born at Richmond, Catholic, the son of Mrs Kathleen Traynor. He died of wounds in France on 8 November 1916.
The Scotch boy’s full name was Albert Frederick Henry Mishael. He was born at Richmond in 1896. One page on the soldier’s record named him Albert Henry Traynor, giving him two of Mishael’s three Christian names. There is no record of an Albert Traynor being born in Richmond during the relevant period, further strengthening the case for him actually being Albert Mishael.
To be sure, the true identity of ‘Mrs Kathleen Traynor’ had to be confirmed. In correspondence with the army, her address was 53 Barkly Street, Carlton. A full afternoon of searching 1917 Melbourne City Council rates records found that the woman living at that address was, in fact, Kathleen Mishael. A complicating factor was that she was variously known as Catherine or Kathleen Alice Mishael, but was undoubtedly the Scotch boy’s mother.
Finally, then, ‘Albert Michael’ – who proved to be Albert Frederick Henry Mishael – turned out to be yet another Scotch victim of World War I, as Albert Traynor. It was obvious he had increased his age to enlist, and changed his name to further hide his true identity, if not to hide the shame his father’s actions brought on him. But for his criminal brother’s alias he might never have been identified.
Until advising it of this discovery, the Australian War Memorial had no idea of Traynor’s true identity. Mishael is one of 29 (thus far) Old Boys whose deaths as a result of World War I had not been honoured in the Memorial Hall, but whose names now appear on panels either side of the original World War I Honour Roll at the front of the hall
A postscript to solving the Mishael mystery is getting his birth certificate, and finding that the birthdate recorded at Scotch as 28 April 1895 was in fact 4 April 1896 – further evidence of the problems with Scotch’s early records, and the consequent difficulty in tracing many of these Old Boys.
At least Mishael gave me a sporting chance by using his mother’s maiden name. An Old Boy of service age who did not serve was Eric Aubrey Austin Eville. He appeared to vanish after 1911, but only a combination of good research and extraordinary luck identified him as dying on 5 August 1941 as Joseph Eric Walton!
Who knows how many other Scotchies may have similarly hidden their identities, served, and died in either World War, possibly never to be found and honoured by their old school.
LEFT: THIS EXTRACT FROM A SCOTCH ADMISSIONS REGISTER SHOWS THE ENROLMENT OF ‘ALBERT MICHAEL’.