Friday, September 14, 2018

Sepia Saturday 436 - Bowled over in Redfern

It's been another busy week of assignment writing.  I'm on the home stretch now, submitting my last assignment for the Convicts in Context course as part of the Diploma of Family History through University of Tasmania.

Life has thrown a curve ball at me and I have been pretty much flat on my back with a sore foot after dropping a table on it a fortnight ago.  I am an impatient patient and have been a bit glum.  But I got a mark back today for an assignment I submitted last month for the Writing the Family Saga course and it made all the pain worthwhile.  The feedback was really lovely too. So without further ado, here is another chapter in the saga of Kit....which I have submitted rather belatedly as part of Sepia Saturday.

Interior view, from top of staircase, 108 Buckingham Street, Redfern, 4 June 1950. Creator: NSW Police Department

Kit didn’t think it was possible for them to go any lower, but here they were in a boarding house in Redfern.

“How the mighty are fallen!” she thought to herself.

Ernest was wailing and the baby was fractious with the heat. Truth be known, Kit wanted to have a good howl herself but she held fast, recognising that her emotions had got her into enough trouble already. She didn’t know what she found the hardest to bear; the loss of their possessions or the loss of her pride.

Now, it seemed she’d lost Dick, to top it all off. He’d scarpered the week before Christmas and it was well into the New Year. For all his bluff and swagger, Kit suspected Dick’s bravado concealed his fear; she wasn’t sure if it was a fear of being found out or a fear of being trapped. If she was honest with herself, she knew it was the latter. She recognised his actions were based on self-preservation. Dick knew she’d abandoned a relationship before, so he was making the first move rather than being “king-hit”.

At first, the half-truths and then the outrageous lies they told to anyone and everyone had been a game. How far could they go? But when her own deception of Dick was revealed, trust was broken. Their disappointment with each other led to sniping and delivering low blows more and more frequently. Taking on the Black Horse Inn in Richmond had been too big a gamble. They would be lucky if they or their reputations ever recovered.
Redfern life turned Kit’s stomach into a hard knot. She constantly scanned the environment for threats lurking in the shadows and laneways.

There were twelve of them under the one roof in their lodgings. The landlady had the front room. Two old maids shared the middle room. There was a couple in the room out the back next to Kit and Dick’s room and a young couple and their baby were up in the attic. Kit worried ceaselessly that the little they had would be stolen. The front door was often left unlatched, so tenants could come and go. The staircase was so perilous, she imagined herself at the bottom of it with a broken neck.

Dick had charmed his way into a job at the local baker earning £2 a week but that wasn’t going to go far. At night, she lay in bed listening to the sounds of neighbours drinking away their despair until the early hours of the morning. She loathed the hard streets of Sydney and its brittle inhabitants and wished they’d never returned.

“Do you not have family here?” asked Mrs Steel, the landlady, gently. Kit and the children had stayed in the boarding house over Christmas, when most tenants were eager to return “home” for the festive season.

“My parents died when I was a baby,” lied Kit, more out of habit than design. “My aunt raised me but she lives in Melbourne.”

“Well you’ve got your own family to look after now,” the old woman cooed. “Nothing quite like your own brood. I haven’t seen your husband lately. He must work odd hours.”
“Yes, he has to be at the bakery at two in the morning. Then the builders want to see him after work about the new house we’re building, so he doesn’t get home until quite late,” Kit fabricated in a careless tone.

Mrs Steel’s questions were beginning to grate. All Kit wanted to do was lie down somewhere and lick her wounds in private. But privacy was a thing of the past now with a common scullery and laundry.

“I’ll just take the babies out for a walk, Mrs Steel, to get some air while the washing’s drying. Can I fetch you anything while I’m out?” she said, against her better judgement. Kit had exactly three shillings in her purse to last her until goodness knows when.

“Oh no dear, I’m all sorted. Now you be careful. Stay right away from Abercrombie Street. The larrikins and their pushes get into all sorts of mischief late in the day, throwing stones and anything they can lay their hands on. One little boy lost his eye last week.”

Cooper Street, Abercrombie Place, Redfern from the Mitchell Library Collection State Library of NSW

Something in Kit started to boil. Damn Dick and his abandonment of them! She wouldn’t let him get away with it. She bundled the children into the large pram she’d cajoled from a sympathetic neighbour in Richmond and headed off to the police station to report her missing “husband”. She walked quickly with her head held high, just as her mother taught her all those years ago.

Police Station (Redfern) from State Library of NSW collection

“Kit? Is that you?” said a familiar voice at the intersection.

As she turned to respond, the knot in her stomach turned to jelly.

“Oh, Alf,” she gasped. “What on earth are you doing here?”

“I might very well ask you the same question,” retorted her husband in an aggrieved tone.

I’d like to say that I thought about structure but I really think I must be a pantser. I decided the only way I was going to get this assignment written was 250 words a night. Just do it and then review it. I became obsessed with finding out exactly where the boarding house was in Redfern. And then I wanted to read a lot about Redfern and what it was like in 1901/1902. Ann Hood’s book Creating Character Emotions was helpful. I decided that shame and fear and then anger would be the progression of Kit’s emotions. I didn’t know how to introduce Kit’s first legal husband but he turned up on the street when she took the babies out to get away from all the questions from her landlady, so I needn’t have worried. The feedback I received over the six weeks was really useful. I was complimented on my description of the senses, so I tried to do that again – what Kit’s stomach felt like, what she could hear and so on. Redfern needed to be a character too – hard and cold despite the heat of summer. I hope the language I gave my characters was appropriate to the era; I’ve wrestled with that in the past. I’ve tried to shorten my sentences and make the intricate details of Kit’s life crystal clear. I’ve tried to improve my use of dialogue tags; not use them too often and make them a bit more interesting than just “said”.

City of Sydney Historical Atlas of Sydney,, accessed 22 August 2018
The Daily Telegraph
Evening News
Hood, Ann, Creating Character Emotions: Writing compelling, fresh approaches that express your characters’ true feelings, Story Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1997
New South Wales, Australia, Police Gazettes, 1854-1930, Ancestry, accessed 22 August 2018
Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, NSW
Sands Directories: Sydney and New South Wales, Australia, 1858-1933, Ancestry, accessed 22 August 2018
The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser
Sydney Morning Herald
Windsor and Richmond Gazette
The Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette 

Please go and visit other Sepia Saturday contributors too who are much more on theme than I am !

Sunday, August 26, 2018


I haven't blogged for ages because I've been busy with work and Uni.  Here's a story that I submitted for my Writing the Family Saga course recently. It is a case of imaginative fiction that is based on research conducted into my ancestor Kitty Ellis.

Sydney Girls High School
Sydney Girls High School c 1892 NSW State Archives
Digital ID 15051_1_31_a047_000653 Series NRS 15051
No known copyright restrictions

At nineteen years of age, Kitty Ellis seemed hell-bent on turning her parents’ hair grey. 

Bella Ellis, her mother, worriedly checked for silver streaks in the dressing glass every morning, whilst George, her father, regarded his receding hairline soberly. 

Kitty’s older siblings had done their parents proud. Her brothers were studying at University or gainfully employed. Esther, her sister, found a suitable match in John Flynn, who was the pharmacist for Callan Park. 

c. 1883  No known copyright restrictions

Kitty was godmother to the Flynns' darling baby boy, Sydney, now twelve months old. She minded him occasionally so Esther and John could attend fund-raising dinners.

But Kitty was a dreamer and had big plans. If you asked her what they were, she would be hard-pressed to tell you. She just knew she needed to get away.  “Settling down” was her idea of a slow death.  

Her mother, Bella,  never hesitated to throw cold water on Kitty’s ‘fanciful notions’ and believed in calling a spade a spade. George, her father, was a stickler for convention and very proud of having been a schoolmaster for twenty years. If Kitty heard him lecture her one more time, she would surely scream.  

The family moved from Ararat in Victoria to Sydney when Woollahra City Council appointed George their Inspector of Nuisances. Kitty seemed to be the only one who found the title amusing.  

It was January 1892. Kitty missed the excitement that the advent of a new year usually brought with it; the promise of new experiences and opportunities.  Her mother relied on her more to help with the running of the house, now that Esther had gone. Her two younger siblings, Bertie and Bea, would be going back to school (and their friends) on Wednesday. 

A year of drudgery and boredom yawned in front of her. The only bright spot on her horizon was meeting her friends at Circular Quay tomorrow. They would catch the steamer to Clark Island and watch the boats in the Anniversary Day Regatta.

State Library of NSW c. 1892

“Absolutely not!” her mother forbade. 

“But…,” cried Kitty.

“Not another word,” warned her father.

“Can you imagine the type of person that would be hanging around, George?” her mother cried.

“Indeed I can,” agreed her father, snapping to the next page of the Herald. “Layabouts and larrikins,” he observed.

“Stop gaping like a fish Kitty.  Clear the rest of the table and make sure Bertie and Bea are doing a good job of the dishes,” said Bella.  

Then, before Kitty could protest, Bella added:

“I simply must finish this hemming before I retire this evening. Bertie must have grown three inches over summer. You, my girl, on the other hand, are growing out, rather than up. You’re starting to look a bit thickset like my sister Margaret. She had a sweet-tooth just like you. You’ll never catch a young man with that figure. After the dishes, you can play on the harmonium for your father. He likes a bit of music before bed.”

The clock on the mantel ticked sonorously and then started to chime the hour: eight long chimes. Something in Kitty snapped. Her dark eyes flashed. She let out a wail of frustration and disappointment and ran out of the room.  

Upstairs, in the tiny room she shared with Bea, she paced back and forth seething with rage. What could she do? Where could she go? The walls seemed to close in around her. If only she could think straight.  

Esther! Esther would help her surely. She missed Kitty’s company now that she was at home all day with the baby. Hopefully, the trams were still running this late in the evening. 

When steam trams ruled in Sydney! The  Woollahra Steam Tram
Woollahra Steam Train from John Cowper on Flickr
Date unknown - NSWGR photo scanned from personal collection

She threw a shawl on to the bed and, snatching a few clothes from the chest, wrapped them into a bundle.   

Money. She would need money. She pulled the crisp notes from the empty box of marzipan, hid them in her bodice and then shrugged into her sealskin jacket.  Yes, it was too hot to be wearing a jacket but nothing would induce her to leave it behind. It was the one bit of luxury she possessed and made her look like a real grown up. Running down the stairs, she found her mother blocking her path at the bottom.

“And where do you think you’re going, young lady?” Bella asked.

“Somewhere where I won’t be treated like a slave!” Kitty cried theatrically.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” her mother snorted.

“Just ignore her, Bella,” her father instructed. “She’s having another one of her tantrums.  It’ll blow over. “

Then he added as an after-thought:

“Kitty, apologise to your mother and go and do the blessed dishes, there’s a good girl.”

But Kitty pushed past her mother, snatched her hat from the hallstand and then, with some spite, her mother’s favourite umbrella with the ivory handle.  She flounced out the front door, making sure to slam it behind her.

Miles Franklin Portrait c 1901
State Library of NSW
no known copyright restrictions

Notes regarding photos - I chose the Sydney Girls High School photo because I was interested in the girls' frank stares.  I do not know where Kitty went to school in Sydney - another avenue of research for me to pursue. The Miles Franklin portrait is a little after the time of this incident (1892) but came up when I searched for the term "umbrella" on Flickr. 
I thought it was too good not to use.
Australia Birth Index, 1788-1922, Ancestry, Accessed 25 July 2018
NSW Police Gazettes 1854-1930, Missing Person, Kate Ellis, 19 Woollahra 3 Feb 1892, p. 38, Ancestry, Accessed 25 July 2018
Probate Files, Item Series 4-92905 / Isabella Ellis - Date of Death 12/05/1918, Granted on 08/09/1918, NSW Government State Archives and Records

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sepia Saturday 408: 3rd March 2018

This week's Sepia Saturday prompt photo is a Caddy Master and his caddies at the Shaughnessy Golf Club and is from the Flickr Commons stream of the Vancouver Public Library Historical Photograph Collection.

When I "googled" golf AND caddy on Trove one of the photos that came up was this one.

Isn't it a beauty?

I would love to post the photos here on my blog but even though the copyright status indicates that it is out of copyright, under the terms of use it states that restrictions on publication apply.  Reading the Fairfax site it suggests that if I want to use the photos on social media (not advertising), Fairfax would charge $157 per photo to do so.  Sigh.

I just love the photo of Mrs Triglone and her caddy for so many reasons.  I love that she and the caddy are essentially the same height.  I love the caddy's grin.  

I wanted to find out some more about Mrs Triglone.  

I discovered from this article that she was originally Miss Duret.

MOTHER OF TWO (1923, July 26). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 - 1954), p. 5 (FINAL EXTRA). Retrieved March 4, 2018, from

She married Arthur Harcourt Triglone in Young on 21 February 1920.  

Family Notices (1920, March 3). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 10. Retrieved March 4, 2018, from

I discovered that she was born in New Zealand and that her father was a real estate agent and her mother a writer and artist.

Social Chat (1913, June 28). The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People (Sydney, NSW : 1900 - 1919), p. 3. Retrieved March 4, 2018, from

But I think it is the photos that tell us the most about Mrs Triglone.  

Here are some more links for your enjoyment:

Mrs Triglone died 12th December 1985 at the age of 98 according to a death notice recorded in the Ryerson index here.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Sepia Saturday 407: 24 February 2018

This shows Ida Zornig along with her bicycle and - very well behaved - dog (from the State Library of Queensland's Flickr stream). Sepians are well known for being very well behaved and therefore they will undoubtedly come up with something inventive and interesting in response to this prompt. Whatever you come up with, post your post on or around Saturday 24th February 2018 and add a link here.

One could not say that I am a big bike rider.  All right, I'll be honest, I don't possess a bike at all at the moment.  However, I have many pleasant memories of owning a bike or riding a bike at different stages of my life.  As a child, it was a means of freedom and adventure, riding around the suburbs or by the lake in Canberra.  As a young adult, for a while there, I would ride a bike from Taringa to work at Toowong (not a great distance I know) and sometimes at lunchtime, I would ride with my colleagues into town and back again for fun.  Once the kids came along, there were lots of holidays at Noosa or Canberra where we hired and rode bikes again.  Lots of fun.  But no bike riding of late.  Despite all that - photos of bikes are far and few between in my albums.  Here are a couple for your amusement:

This is my father.  On the back of the photo in my grandmother's shaky writing are the words "Jim on his first bike".  Note the koala tucked under his arm, lest there be any doubt that he is an Australian child.  

The next two photos were taken on an overseas holiday when I had just completed my first year of University so I guess we're talking December 1979.  I didn't want to be in Europe at all.  I wanted to be on Sydney's beaches, getting a tan.  But I did love Holland as I insist on calling it.  I was fascinated by the clogs and the canals and the proliferation of bicycles.  And I liked playing with black and white as it turns out.  Thank goodness.

I wish I could remember where this was taken.  Maybe someone out there can have a good guess.

My father taught me how to develop photos.  We would use his workshop or the laundry.  I think this photo has suffered from too many chemicals.  Here is another version of it with a different filter which conceals the damage.

Here is a more artistic shot - taken in Amsterdam.  

I had quite a good eye I think for a teenager.  My parents had a good influence on me one way or another.

Looking for more photos?  Head on over to Sepia Saturday.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sepia Saturday 406 - Those Carrett girls

This image depicts a swimming class for local school children. They are gathered on the diving tower and diving board. The water of the bay at Manly can be seen in the background.
Manly Swimming Pool Queensland 1936

Sepia Saturday this week encourages us to explore:

obvious theme possibilities of swimming and water available, but you might also want to investigate the possibilities of standing around and - like the child at the end of the diving board - hanging around.

It's difficult to know where to begin with this blog post.  I've been sitting on it for at least 24 hours.  In those 24 hours, I have managed to list just about every article/listing I could find about my paternal grandmother's swimming feats as found on Trove as well as those of her sisters. This is no mean feat - using the search words "Carrett AND swim*" I found 792 results.  Of course, not all of them are relevant but to give you some idea I now have the following lists and number of items for each sister:

Daisy - 70 items
Ethel - 130 items
Millie - 166 items
Nora - 94 items
Rene - 258 items

Moi - obsessed? Just maybe!

I have blogged about the sisters before here and here but there is always more to find and ponder.

This weekend I have found two new illustrated articles which are a lot of fun.  The quality of the images is not fabulous because they are from newspapers but I'm going to include them anyway.

But first of all, let's set the scene with a bit of a family tree....

Here is my best effort at showing a descendant chart for my grandmother and her siblings. 

I created it using - a mind-mapping tool.  I am open to any other suggestions you may have for creating family tree charts and the like on blogger.  I have tried wikitree widgets and Geni plugins but they didn't have the kind of chart I was looking for.  Onwards and upwards.

Back to the Carrett girls.  My grandmother was Ethel, the second eldest of this tribe of water babies.

This week I found a fetching portrait of her older sister Millie in an advertisement for cough medicine.  Here it is...

Advertising (1917, May 2). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 - 1954), p. 4. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from

It's a great shame that I seem to be suffering from technical incompetence today because I would love you to see a larger version of this ad.  Click on the link in the caption and go and look at the original if you can.  In the ad, it actually quotes the family's address i.e. Natoma, Fitzwilliam Road Parsley Bay.  I have blogged about Natoma before here.  

Millie is described as:

 "one of Sydney's best-known and most popular lady swimmers, who has distinguished herself at various carnivals.  In 1916 she won the S.L.S. Club's 33 yards Championship; later she won the 50 yards Interclub Handicap at the Metropolitan Ladies' Carnival and secured second in the NS.W. Ladies' Amateur Swimming Association's President's Cup Competition."

The other great photo I found this week was of the littlest of the sisters, Nora. Here she is!

THE WATER BABIES (1919, February 23). The Mirror (Sydney, NSW : 1917 - 1919), p. 3. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from

I learned a lot this week from my digging around.  I learned that my grandmother and her sisters swam with the likes of Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie.  I discovered this by finding this article about my grandmother's younger sister Rene.

(1923, August 12). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 - 1930), p. 19. Retrieved February 18, 2018, from

At first, I thought the Mary Durack mentioned in this article was the Mary Durack of Kings in Grass Castles fame but then I realised that that Mary Durack was much younger and living in a different state. I realised the Mary Durack mentioned in the article must have been Fanny's sister but who was Fanny Durack?  Googling Fanny Durack, this is what I found.

 Portrait of Fanny Durack taken in 1912 - National Library of Australia

What a legend!  The first Australian woman to compete in the Olympics. And she won a Gold Medal in the 100m freestyle at Stockholm in 1912.  It is dreadful to be so ignorant I confess.  There is a beautiful tribute to Fanny here by the Marrickville Library.

Fanny's swimming partner was Mina Wylie.  She won Silver in the same competition.

Portrait of Mina Wylie 29 February 2012 - NSW State Library Collection

Mina's father was a swimming star in his own right and founded the Wylie Baths at Coogee.  There are some great artefacts you can see online here through a site called the Australian Dress Register - check out the Wylie Baths costume that you could hire here.  You can listen to an interview with Mina here.

My grandmother and her sisters swam mostly at Rushcutter's Bay baths, Coogee Aquarium Baths, (don't you just love this photo below? It captures all the excitement of winning I think)

An official hands a young woman swimmer a token, Tramway swimming at Coogee Aquarium, 27 March 1935, by Sam Hood

The Domain and Abbotsford Baths. For some reason, I think that tower at Abbotsford is ridiculously high.  I must be getting a softie in my old age.  

Look at this amazing photo I found on Flickr

Start of a girl's swimming race, Mina Wylie with raised hand - State Library of NSW

Just look at the hats of the girls watching.  Not sure when it was taken but aren't they beautiful hats!! 

And so, I come to the end of my post.  It has been good to submit this for Sepia Saturday.  

It has given me pause for reflection on many counts.  For example...when was the last time I went swimming???  

Here are some photos to finish off dear Mother who was not always the happiest of swimmers, nevertheless looking pretty stunning in this outfit. No idea when or where it was taken.  That looks like Tom her father in the background reading the paper.  It could be at Manly with those pine trees.

Barbara McLoughlin c 1956

And last but not least, one of me and my lovely father, when we both had figures that weren't too misshapen by babies and old age....we are stepping out of the surf at Noosa if I remember rightly - before I was married so I'm thinking mid 1980s...that's close enough to 30 years isn't it?

When was the last time you went swimming?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

How to knock down a brick wall

Photo by Nicole Köhler on Magdeleine

I've been researching family history for a very long time...a very long time.  Let me say that again....a very long time.  So you think I'd know better but....we all get into habits and routines.  We all think we know how to do research. 

So, let me tell you a story about what happened to me the other day.  The other night actually.  Wednesday night specifically.

Wednesday night had been looming large in my consciousness because it was when my final assignment was due for the Writing Family History unit I'm studying at University of Tasmania (yes - even though I live all the way up in Queensland - don't you love modern technology?) The assignment was due at midnight.

So anyway, I'd decided to write about my two great-great-aunts Clara Rebecca Conner and Harriet Conner because I am obsessed with them.  During the course I had written a couple of short stories about them.  

Photo by Library Company of Philadelphia on No known copyright restrictions

No that's not a photo of my aunts.  Aunt Fossie (someone else's aunt) is on the right apparently.  That photo is just to get you in the mood. Now, back to the story....

This course was a challenge for me because you were encouraged to write fiction and I have been so used to writing non-fiction and having all the facts that I found it quite confronting.  But it was a good course because when you don't have all the facts - what can you do?  You stretch your imagination and write well-informed fiction.

So here are the basic facts about my great-great-aunts.  Clara was eight years older than Harriet.  They were both born in Portsmouth, Hampshire or thereabouts in 1858 and 1866 respectively.  Their father worked in the Naval Dockyard.  They trained to be teachers.  Clara had a baby out of wedlock and shortly after moved to Yorkshire.  Harriet followed a couple of years later.  Clara got married to WH Smith in 1884 and they all moved to Australia and taught in Queensland in 1885.

My brickwall (and don't worry I still have plenty more when it comes to these girls) was that I could not for the life of me find them in the  1881 census.  Actually I couldn't find any of the Conners in the census anywhere - not Rebecca and Edward (the parents) and their youngest son Edwin or the two sisters.  I wanted to know why on earth Clara chose to go to Yorkshire after having the baby Daisy.  Did they have relatives there? 

So in the absence of the facts, I wrote the story in italics below and submitted it well before the due date on Sunday night. Then I re-wrote it and submitted it again on Monday night.  And then I re-wrote it and submitted it for a third time on Tuesday night.  

The first time I wrote it, the letters were from Harriet.  The second time I wrote it, the letters were from Clara.  Then I gave it to my husband to read and he wanted to know why Clara was so uppity.  So, I pulled her down a peg or two . Here it is.

Photo by CJS*64 on / CC BY-NC-ND

10 September 1880

Dear Father

I cannot begin to thank you enough for all you have done for me this past year.  Allowing Harriet to join me in Liversedge is a great demonstration of your faith in my redemption. I did not realise quite how much I missed you all until I saw you at the station.  I know I should not speak of her, but giving up little Daisy  was almost more than I could bear and I have felt so alone of late.  Aunt does her best to make me comfortable and I am very grateful to her for taking me in, given the circumstances.   

I will be sorry to leave some of the teachers at Norristhorpe  but must take up this offer of advancement and, in so doing, make amends to you and Mother for the shame I have caused you.  Having Harriet as my Assistant  will be an enormous help and provide me some comfort besides. She tells me that the current Head Teacher at Robert Town is very disaffected with his placement.  I think the children and Harriet will all be relieved when he departs as his manner is so sour. He says he will be seeking a position in Commerce where he will be rewarded more for his efforts.  “God speed”, say I.

Harriet is finding the pupils very different to those in Portsea. She complains that she cannot begin to understand what any of them are saying. She was even more disconcerted to find that many are “half-timers”; they work in the mills or must help at home while their parents work.   She feels the pressure  and I have told her that she must apply herself.  If she does not pass the examination at the inspection, her stipend will not be forthcoming.
How is little Edwin?  How is the Dockyard Extension progressing?  It must be nearly finished now surely.

Please know that you are in my prayers.

Your Loving Daughter 

Photo by The Library of Congress on / No known copyright restrictions - and yes I realise that this is an American postman but just go with me okay? Just imagine that is Edwin.

25th December 1880

Dearest Edwin

The happiest of birthdays to you.   You see that I have not forgotten you.  I hope you received our little parcel. It is very cold here.  Harriet and I walk together to school every day and our feet are quite numb by the time we arrive.  It is dark when we set out and dark when we return.  

Edwin, I know it must be lonely without Harriet at home now.  Father works so hard and mother has high standards.  You must be patient with them both.  They love you very much and with Edward at sea, you are all they have now.  Promise me you will study hard at school.  The Navy will not want you unless you have very good results.  Running away to sea may seem like a good idea at the age of eleven, but you will not want to be a stoker all your life.  You must learn to be an Engineer like your Papa.  

If you want to be the master of your fate and captain of your soul,  do your duty, as we are doing ours and forgive your older and wiser sister for lecturing you on your special day.

Your Loving Sister Clara

Picture of school after HM Inspector's Report 1986. Head Judith Jones centre, Addingham, West Yorkshire - can you believe I found this photo when I put HM Inspector into the search bar?

2nd April 1881

Dear Father and Mother

You will be pleased to know that HM Inspector gave Roberttown Board School a most favourable report.  Harriet passed her examination and so will be able to repay your advance within the month.  

We are saving our pennies for our return to you in summer.  Have you heard from Edward? How is little Edwin? I do miss him and his ever ready wit.   

Father you must not trouble yourself about young Mr Smith and his intentions.  He is obviously very devoted but I have made it clear that he can have no expectations of any return of affection on my part until he proves himself. To that end, he has enrolled at London University for a Bachelor of Arts and intends to apply for another position back home in Hertfordshire.  He says that, since my departure, the atmosphere at Norristhorpe has taken a turn for the worse and that the young boys there have no manners to speak of whatsoever.   

Harriet and I despair sometimes of ever keeping our charges from ignorance and vice.   Many of them can barely stay awake to hear their lessons. Opportunities for leisure are far and few between here.  I do miss our musical evenings with the Rowlands. Those days seems so long ago now. 

Your Loving Daughter Clara

A view of laundry, East Marton bu stephengg on Flickr

10th March 1883

Dear Father

You will be most amused to hear that Miss Philippa Wilkinson of Balmgate House successfully claimed damages from the Liversedge Board for injury to a dress caused by the dirty state of the town’s water to the tune of £2, according to today’s copy of the Leeds Times.   Such is village life.

Young Mr Smith continues to be gainfully employed at the Beechan Grove Boys School at Watford.  He has become like one possessed in his determination to win my affection by working all day and burning the midnight oil to obtain his matriculation.  You would find him most agreeable in conversation as he has a scientific mind and is currently studying Acoustics and Magnetism.  

Aunt is like an Admiral, commanding a flotilla of elderly acquaintances to provide cover and distraction should any young men in the district show the slightest interest in Harriet or myself.  I am grateful for her concern as our good reputation is essential to maintain respect in the district.  You know what small towns are like; positively famished for gossip.  I confess it is starting to grate on my nerves and I yearn for bigger horizons.

How are Mother and Edwin?  I hope the latter is applying himself to his studies and the former to your comfort.  Please give my warmest regards to the Rowlands. I have heard from the most reliable of sources that they are thinking of emigrating to Queensland, Australia  – can this be true? 

Your Loving Daughter Clara

A job well done or so I thought.  I rewarded myself with some Facebook time.  

Some marvelous soul had created a group for the students in the course and we were all chatting about our assignments and posting when we had finished etc.  Someone asked how we had tackled fictional accounts in the absence of facts and I explained my brick wall and how I had to guess why they went to Yorkshire.  Another student, Anthea, piped up that she was from Yorkshire and wanted to know how I knew they had been there and where they taught.  I explained that their teaching records held at the Qld State Archives noted which schools they had taught at in England.  Anthea hadn't heard of the villages in question but asked me to message her the names and dates of birth of my great-great-aunts and she would do a bit of hunting.  

Photo on - yes I know it looks like a gratuitous photo of a cat but that's what came up when I put "hunting" in the search bar.

My husband started to clang plates about in the kitchen so I raced out and whipped up a meal.  We watched the news.  I washed up.  I brushed my teeth.  I read some George Eliiot.  I thought I'll just check my phone before I turn off the light.  And there was Anthea's message...

"I've found them!"

The surname CONNER had been transformed into CORMER.  And they were living with not one but two Hannah SUGDENs - one aged 73 and one aged 34.

Anthea found them on Family Search.  

She said "I searched for a Harriet of the right age born in Hampshire and living in the West Riding". 

So there's a tip folks.  Forget the surname altogether and you may have better luck.

"Can I re-write my assignment in an hour do you think?" I asked Anthea.

"No!" was the firm reply.

I still have no idea who the Sugdens are to the Conner girls - apart from landlady and boarders.  The census says that the two Hannahs are sisters but I think that is an error.  A search for them in previous census tends to suggest that they are mother and daughter. 

Needless to say, I tried to stay in bed and go to sleep as it was 10pm and I have to be up at 4:45 in the mornings.  But I must have lasted about 2 minutes, threw back the covers and got up to see where they lived.  Boy oh boy.....Heckmondwike is very atmospheric indeed. Google 202 Brighton Street Heckmondwike and have a look at where they lived.  The cemetery next door is very Bronte-esque.

Photo by Urban Outlaw on / CC BY-NC-SA

So thank you very much indeed to Anthea Fraser Gupta - fellow student and super sleuth.  

Lessons learned? 

1.  If you're not having any joy, try searching without the surname and put in keywords like occupation (in this case "teacher") - Ancestry seems to be best for this sort of search I think.

2. Let people know you've hit a brick wall.  Fresh eyes, unbiased, unjaded eyes can often see things you can't

3. Facebook is a tool for good - sometimes :)

4. Keep learning - never stop.


Birth Certificate of Edwin Conner born 25 December, GRO Ref1869, J Quarter in PORTSEA ISLAND  Volume 02B  Page 377

Birth Certificate of Daisy Clara Conner born 6 January 1877 GRO Reference: 1877  M Quarter in FAREHAM  Volume 02B  Page 580

Marriage Certificate of Clara Rebecca Conner and William Henry Smith married 23 October 1884, West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England; Yorkshire Parish Records; Old Reference Number: D1/18; New Reference Number: WDP1/3/10

Marriage Certificate of Harriet Conner and John David Rowland married 23 December 1908, Registration Number 1909/1031 Queensland Registrar General

Record of Clara Rebecca Smith’s service, Dept. of Public Instruction, Item ID 822995, M/film no Z8565 Page no 522 Queensland State Archives Ref SRS5138/1/1 Vol. 1

Record of Harriet Conner’s service, Dept. of Public Instruction, Item ID 987874, M/film no Z7591 Page no 171 Queensland State Archives RefEDU/V17 Source Vol V 

Record of William Henry Smith’s service, Dept. of Public Instruction, Item ID 987862, M/film no Z7587 Page no 253 Qsa ref EDU/V5 Source Vol V

“Portsmouth Police Court”, Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England), Saturday, May 19, 1877; Issue 4670. British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900.

Bartle, George F, ‘The impact of the British and Foreign School Society on elementary education in the main textile areas of the industrial North, History of Education, Vol. 22 No. 1, 1993, pp33-48

Coppock, David A. ‘Respectability as a prerequisite of moral character: the social and occupational mobility of pupil teachers in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’ History of Education, Vol. 26, No. 2 1997, pp. 165-186

“Bradford”, The Leeds Times, Saturday, March 03, 1883; pg. 3; Issue 2603. British Library Newspapers, Part III: 1741-1950

“School teachers and all friends of education”, The Leeds Times, Saturday, July 14, 1883, p3.

Henley, William Ernest, Invictus, Book of Verses, 1888 accessed 29 January 2018

Horn, Pamela, The education and employment of working-class girls, 1870-1914’ History of Education, Vol. 17, No. 1 1988, pp71-82

Horn, Pamela, The Victorian and Edwardian Schoolchild, Gloucester, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1989

Middleton, J. ‘The overpressure epidemic of 1884 and the culture of nineteenth-century schooling, History of Education, Vol. 33, No. 4, 2004, pp 419-435

Ordnance Survey Yorkshire CCXXXII.SW (includes: Cleckheaton; Gomersal; Heckmondwike; Liversedge; Mirfield.) 1894

Qld State Archives Index to Assisted Immigration 1848-1912 John Rowland aged 1 and family 15 Dec 1884 Item ID18481 M/film 1 Z1961 M/film 2 M1700 Page 330 Ship Waroonga Source

Thody, Angela M., ‘School management in nineteenth-century elementary schools: a day in the life of a headteacher’ History of Education, Vol. 23, No. 4, 1994, pp.355-373

“Assault on a Farmer’s Daughter”, Yorkshire Evening Post, 1 Feb. 1892, p. 4 British Library Newspapers Accessed 27 Jan. 2018