Sydney Grant (DeMills) was born on 6 April 1891 in Glenbrook, New South Wales, the son of Charlotte Faulkner and Alexander Norman Grant. At birth he was registered as Sidney Faulkner. Charlotte Faulkner had married William Faulkner but left him for William’s half-brother Alexander Norman Grant, with whom she had a number of children. Because she was not divorced, they used the surnames Williams, Faulkner and Grant for their children’s birth registration depending on where they were at the time. Alexander Norman Grant worked on the railways so the births are scattered across New South Wales and Victoria.
When Alexander Allen and Sydney turned 13 they worked with their father on the railways. Two of the attached photos had to have been taken before brother Alexander Allen Grant died in December 1907.
In the New South Wales Electoral Roll 1913, Sydney and his father Alexander Grant were working near Camden Haven, near Port Macquarie, for the railways. The next time we find him he was a godparent at his niece’s baptism in Ryde in 1917, but the priest incorrectly recorded my grandmother’s name and his as Green, instead of Grant (refer attached).
And that is where the trail ended.
The family legend told by my mother was:
Sydney Grant was a professional gambler who went to Europe to make his fortune. When war broke out in Europe in 1939 they never heard from him again and they assumed he was killed during the blitz on London. He was their favourite uncle who used to send money to the family to help them out.
When I started doing family history his story captured my imagination so I started investigating seven years ago. When I talked to one of my cousins about Sydney Grant he advised that this story was rubbish. The true story was:
Sydney Grant, who worked on the railways with his father, was also a loan shark/bookie. He ran afoul of shady characters, changed his name to Syd B. De Milles and fled to Northern Australia.
My cousin believed he died in outback South Australia. In the 1920s Cecil B. DeMille was the great silent screen movie producer/director so that is why he probably picked that name and lucky for us because of its rarity. My cousin provided proof of his claim as my grandmother (Sydney’s sister) kept letters from him. One of these is transcribed and attached (my comments in red).
As you can see, he signed the letter Syd B. De Milles, dated 10 June 1931 at Nookenbah Station, Western Australia. My grandmother’s name was Mabel and everyone called her May. Malcolm was her husband.
When searching Trove, Find My Past, and Ancestry for a Syd B. De Milles I found one in 1937 at Brock’s Creek, Northern Territory (refer attached). Here we see the full name Sydney Bertram De Milles and he was working as a cook.
Again the trail went cold, so I could not discount yet my mother’s story since this was 1937, so he still could have made Europe before the war started.
On Trove I found two newspaper articles, the first indicating a Mr. De Milles departing Darwin on 15 February 1928 on the Koolinda, heading down the Western Australian coast and the second confirming that the Koolinda docked at Derby, Western Australia (both attached with a photo of the Koolinda). This places him nicely in Western Australia as per the letter of 1931. At least we know he had left Sydney before 1928.
Then soon after the newspapers discoveries, I found on Find My Past that they have included the 1940 NT Electoral Rolls and new NT Deaths indexes (refer attached). So I found Sydney Bertram De Milles still at Brock’s Creek as a cook, then his death in Darwin on 19 February 1942 during the Japanese bombing raid.
We believe he would have been attracted to Darwin in 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbour with the growing population of soldiers who would just love to gamble!
So I guess there is some truth in the family story, just the location was wrong.
Compiled by John Kirkpatrick, great nephew of Sydney DeMills.,