The Capuchin Monastery in Rapperswil, Switzerland.
The Capuchin Monastery in Rapperswil, Switzerland.

Settler Francis Reis escaped Prussian control

MANY of our ancestors have similar backgrounds – born in England or Scotland of farming background or, later, from the industrialised towns and cities. Perhaps there was a convict or two, an Irish great-grandmother, or a Welsh miner. Then there were the sailors who often jumped ship in search of gold, or the soldiers who came out as guards or were retired from the Indian Army.

However, there were also people who came from non-British countries perhaps for economic reasons or because of religious persecution. Sometimes they came as families or family groups such as the Italians who settled at New Italy, or the Germans who went to the Clarence River. Mostly, however, they were single men who came looking for adventure or a better way of life, or perhaps to avoid military service under a foreign regime or an overrun principality. They quickly slotted into their new life, married, and became highly valued settlers. One such man was Francis William Reis from Prussian-controlled Switzerland in 1853.

Francis had been born in 1833 at Rapperswil, an ancient settlement on the eastern side of Lake Zurich. Today it is a favoured destination for tourists. It was a settlement in Roman times and later, in the 13th century, a large castle was built there by the Counts of Rapperswil. A fine Capuchin monastery was built in the 17th century. However, today Rapperswil is known mainly as the Town of Roses. There are said to be over 15,000 rose plants growing there which include over 600 varieties. There is even a rose garden especially for blind and disabled people.

The roses were probably not planted, let alone blooming, when Francis Reis left his home town. It is not known why he left but, as he was an enthusiastic 20-year-old in a Prussian dominated enclave, it was possibly for political reasons, including the avoidance of military service. He soon found work on Tunstall Station in our area. In 1860 he married Catherine Jane Nye, the Australian born daughter of English convict Edmund Nye and Irish immigrant Catherine Cummins. The Nye’s other daughter, Rosanne Mary, was married the same day to John Gasf who is said to have been John Oastrich or Estreich, and a friend of Francis Reis.

Over the next 10 years five children were born to Francis and Catherine Reis, four of whom survived. Francis’ wife, Catherine, died in 1870 but in 1878 he married Mary Ann Battis in Lismore. They were to have a further six children. Mary Ann came from a similar background to the stepchildren she inherited when she married Francis Reis. Her father, Francis Battis, had been born in Denmark and shortly after arrival in Australia, in 1853, he had married Mary Ann Byrnes, an Irish migrant. Francis Battis’ father, Justias, was a schoolmaster in Denmark but Francis arrived in Australia as a seaman. After marriage he and his bride moved to Rose Hill where Francis became a cedar cutter. No doubt this is where the Battis and Reis families met and became friends.

Robert Vincent Reis, one of the sons of Francis and Mary Ann, enlisted in the First World War as a Sapper with the 4th Field Company Engineers. He was aged 23 and had been working previously as a locomotive foreman. Less than six months after enlisting he found himself at Gallipoli. On 4 October 1915 he was shot in the lungs at Lone Pine. While being evacuated to Alexandria he died and he was buried at sea. With their background his parents no doubt mourned the futility of his death.

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