Remembering Charles Henry Nolan

Today, 12 April 2020, we commemorate the 125th Anniversary of the death of Charles Henry Nolan, a young man who tragically lost his life at only 14 years of age.

Young Charles was the first son of Bridget Josephine Ryan, my great grandmother.

Bridget, and the lad who became her first husband, Patrick Nolan, had arrived from Ireland, on the “Tim Whiffler” in 1875.  They were just teenagers when they arrived in Queensland, and four years after their arrival, they were married at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane. Patrick was from Muckalee in County Kilkenny, and Bridget from Rosegreen, County Tipperary, so it is unlikely the couple knew each other before leaving “home”.

Patrick was a tailor, and it appears business was good, as he purchased a home in HouseVictoria St, West End, soon after he and Bridget were married.  The cottage was called “Rosegreen Cottage” after Bridget’s hometown in Ireland. In October 1880, they were blessed with the arrival of their first son, Charles Henry Nolan.  Sadly, happiness was not long-lived, and Patrick passed away aged just 25, in 1882, leaving behind Bridget and their 16-month-old son Charles.

Bridget was able to get a job as a shopkeeper to support herself and her baby, and two years later, she met Danish carpenter, Hans “John” Valerius Schwartz. The couple were married on St Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1884, also in St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Charles was just three years old when his mother re-married, so, it’s likely that John was the only “father” he ever knew.  Before long, more babies came along, and soon Charles had three half-siblings, Charlotte Emily (1888-1965), Ethel Mary (1891-1943) and Joseph Valerius (1894-1978). The family continued to live in the little cottage in Victoria Street.

On Good Friday, 12 April 1895, mass was held at St Stephen’s Cathedral, and I’m sure John and Bridget would have attended, accompanied by Charles (14), Lottie (7), Ethel (4) and baby Joseph (10 months). An article in “The Telegraph” newspaper that day, described the mass in detail – the Archbishop had presided, and the Church had been packed.

April in Brisbane is usually quite warm, and it would have been a long, hot walk home to “Rosegreen Cottage” after Mass, or perhaps the family had traveled by horse-drawn tram. 

Victoria Street runs down to the Brisbane River, and at around 3pm that afternoon, Charles went down to the river to go swimming with three of his friends including Fred Wyer and his brother.  The unspeakable happened, and Charles did not return home that day.

Fred Wyer was just 13 when he gave evidence at the Inquest into Charles’ death.  Fred explained that the boys had been bathing together, as they had done on previous occasions.  Charles had been swimming about 10 yards from Fred, when he turned and went with the tide.  He went under and then came up. This happened three times, and then he “disappeared”.  Fred swam out to where Charles had been, but he could not find him. I imagine poor Fred was quite distressed, so when he got out of the water, he instructed his brother to run to tell Charles’ parents that he had drowned.

Charles was missing for two days.  On Sunday 14 April, CaptureLudwig Kahler was fishing on the bank of the river near Kurilpa Street, when he found Charles’ body. He immediately reported his find to Charles’ stepfather John V Schwartz.  The authorities were notified, and John was asked to make a formal identification of his stepson.  A Magisterial Inquiry was held, and the cause of death was found to be drowning with no suspicious circumstances.

Charles Henry Nolan was laid to rest at the Brisbane General (Toowong) Cemetery with his father Patrick Nolan.  The grave location is Portion 7, Section 3, Plot 23.


Little Boy Drowned. (1895, April 23). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld: 1872-1947), p.6. retrieved November 24, 2015 from

St Stephen’s Cathedral. (1895, April 12). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld: 1872-1947), p.5. retrieved November 24, 2015 from

Queensland Birth Certificate, 1880/B26902, Brisbane, Charles Henry NOLAN

Queensland Birth Certificate, 1888/B41540, Brisbane, Charlotte Emily SCHWARTZ

Queensland Birth Certificate, 1891/B49295, Brisbane, Ethel Mary SCHWARTZ

Queensland Birth Certificate, 1894/B54836, Brisbane, Joseph Valerius SCHWARTZ

Advertising. (1893, January 28). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld 1872-1947), p.3. retrieved November 25, 2015, from

Little Boy Drowned. (1895, April 23). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld: 1872-1947), p.6. retrieved November 24, 2015 from

Queensland Inquest of Death, Charles Henry NOLAN, 20 April 1895

Header – Looking over the Brisbane River to West End, Brisbane 1897. State Library of Queensland
Rosegreen Cottage, Victoria Street, West End
Grave of Charles Henry Nolan and Patrick Nolan, Brisbane General (Toowong) Cemetery.