Claremont community pitches in to transcribe century-old love letters

Claremont community pitches in to transcribe century-old love letters

Volunteers across Claremont are delving into the romantic world of one of Claremont’s first residents – by transcribing hand-written love letters that go back more than a century.

Held by Freshwater Bay Museum, the collection of more than 300 letters were written by Raymond John Sharkey and other family members. Together, the letters give an important contemporary account of life in Western Australia dating back as far as 1892.

Mayor Jock Barker said the digital transcriptions will make it easier for people to search, read, and appreciate the historical significance of Mr Sharkey’s letters.

“We have this fantastic collection at the Freshwater Bay Museum, but old handwriting is increasingly difficult for modern eyes to decipher. By creating a digital transcription of these letters, we’re able to ensure the contents are accessible to all well into the future,” Mayor Barker said.

Inspired by the Smithsonian Institute’s Digital Volunteers program, the project has proven popular with history enthusiasts who, because of social distancing, have had to find new ways to keep engaged from home.
“It’s fantastic to be able to work with our community and provide unique initiatives such as these,” Mayor Barker said.

“A number of our residents have had to pause their usual activities, so being able to engage them with interesting projects, while at the same time supporting the museum, is hugely beneficial.”

Originally from Sydney, Mr Sharkey moved to WA in 1892 and lived in the building that is now Freshwater Bay Museum. After spending several years in Esperance, Mr Sharkey and his wife moved back to Claremont and lived at 3 Victoria Avenue until his death in 1910, and hers in 1932.

The earliest letters are from Mr Sharkey to his future wife, Florence, who he often referred to as Cis. The letters start off with stories and anecdotes about daily life in Esperance, but over time they take on a romantic flair.

“Mr Sharkey’s letters and photographs really capture what life was like in Western Australia at the turn of the 20th century,” Mayor Barker said. “And, of course, they’re very personal too, with an affection between him and his wife that’s a joy to read.”

The donation of Mr Sharkey’s letters to Freshwater Bay Museum was also accompanied by photographs, documents and clothing, including the mourning dress worn by his wife after he passed away.

An amateur photographer, Mr Sharkey’s photographs can also be seen on plaques around the museum building.
Timeline of events for Raymond John Sharkey:
1868 - Raymond John Sharkey born in Balmain, New South Wales;
C.1892 - Raymond John Sharkey moved to Perth from Sydney; live at the ‘Appy ‘Ome boarding house at 66 Victoria Avenue, Claremont.  Now the Freshwater Bay Museum.
C.1893 – Begins working in Esperance as ‘architect and building surveyor’
1899 – Engagement of Raymond John Sharkey to Florence Edith Ray announced in May, the wedding took place on Wednesday, October 4, 1899 at the “Christ Church” in Hawthorn, Victoria;
1901 – Raymond and Florence move to Perth.
1903 - Raymond John Sharkey working as a draftsman with Public Works Department;
1910 - Raymond John Sharkey dies at Subiaco aged 41. Raymond’s wife, Florence Edith Sharkey (nee Ray), lived until 1932.

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