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