It’s entirely possible that when Jessie Linto came into the world on 26 October 1898 her father (William Linto) was nowhere to be seen. As manager of John Henry Monger’s Daliak Estate at York, he was most likely present at the 22nd Royal Agricultural Show held in Guildford on the 25th and may not have returned home in time. While he was singing the praises of the Romney Sheep that were kept there; it was back on the farm that his wife, Catherine Linto (nee Grady) gave birth.
My Great Grandmother was the tenth child of twelve born to the couple (three boys died in infancy) and she grew up in the quiet country town of York surrounded by her siblings. Her father would’ve been much occupied as manager in charge of the sheep at Daliak while her mother would’ve tended to the house and raised the children.
A photograph taken in the early 1900s would’ve been a source of interest and excitement. All were dressed in their best clothes and all were posed calmly in front of a brick wall whilst sitting on a picnic blanket. The seriousness of the situation would’ve been known to all. There could be no quick check, delete and reposing of the photo. Though maintaining stillness was no problem for the older family members, the younger children had more trouble understanding. Jessie would’ve been about three at the time and sitting still was definitely not part of her agenda. This family photo may well have been the very first photograph taken of her.
Jessie Linto in the family photo around 1901
She grew up in an era without television, electronic games or smart phones. Entertainment was only limited by your imagination. Along with the games she played with other children, there were also regular amusements within the town itself. The annual York Show, concerts and picnics would’ve all elicited excitement within the family.
School and learning was a source of pride for Jessie. All children were required by law to attend school and in 1905 (at age seven) Jessie was enrolled in the York Infant School. Her first letter was written to ‘Aunt Mary’s Children’s Corner’ in the Western Mail while her sister Lilly held her hand for support. Aunt Mary was Muriel Jean Eliot Chase (1880-1936). The purpose of Aunt Mary’s Children’s Corner was for children to write letters to Aunt Mary (who responded) which would then be printed in the paper. Children were also encouraged to make a donation to become a silver link in a chain of service to help the poor. These donations and the letters sent to the Western Mail essentially gave rise to the ‘Silver Chain’ as we know it today.
Writing to Aunt Mary appeared to be some sort of school activity. Several other classmates from the Infant School (including cousins of Jessie’s) as well as children from other years all wrote letters to the Western Mail. From these letters it can be ascertained that at the end of June in 1905 York was looking very green, it was cold and the town had received a large amount of rain including hailstones. Jessie’s Aunt Winnie (Winifred Linto nee Toomey) was also mentioned in nearly every letter with most of the children (including Jessie herself) hoping that Aunt Mary could be their Aunt Winnie (much to Aunt Mary’s confusion). Winifred/Winnie meant ‘lover of peace’ and though I do not know whether Aunt Winnie had anything to do with the children and their school work, it seems as though she was a very popular lady amongst them all.
Her letter, filled with such innocence and hope, would sadly be followed by darker days. Over a year later on 24 November 1906, Jessie’s father, William, passed away from chronic nephritis (inflamed kidneys) and pulmonary congestion at the relatively young age of 50. Jessie was only eight years old and her widowed mother now had to find a way to support, educate and feed her nine children (eight of whom were under the age of 21). Jessie’s father probably knew that he did not have long to live as his Will was written one month before his death. Her mother inherited land but had no house to live in. She also inherited a large amount of money (approximately £852) but it was placed in Trust with the Will stipulating that she should receive payments of the income derived from the funds during her life. After her death the remaining amount in Trust was to be divided equally amongst William’s children.
Jessie and her family remained in York despite the difficult situation they now found themselves in after having lost their principal breadwinner. It’s likely that she continued with her schooling but despite the income received from the Trust, Catherine was struggling to make ends meet. By 19 April 1907 one of the Trustees, Hugh Roche, wrote to the Supreme Court.
Under the will of Wm Linto there does not appear any provision for sustenance of the widow and her family some of whom are of tender years.
There appears to have been no reply from the Court in response to this letter, or, like all Courts and paperwork, these things may have simply taken time. Regardless of this fact, Catherine had to do something in order to support her family.
On 18 June 1907 York Town Lot 10 (on Avon Terrace in York and known as Avon House) was purchased for £390. Not long after, it was resold to a Mrs Wansbrough for the same amount and she called it the Avon Coffee Palace. It was from this property that Catherine decided to run a boarding house. By 1 August 1907 Catherine had made an Application for an Eating, Boarding and Lodging House License and was granted it about one month later.
Whether Jessie and her family lived in Avon House is not known. My confusion arises from the fact that the Trustees had also purchased Lot 10 Cold Harbor and immediately arranged for a house to be erected. Did Jessie and her family live in the boarding house? Did they live in Cold Harbor? Was Cold Harbor simply rented out to provide additional income?
At the time of the Australian Federal Election on 13 April 1910, Catherine was still listed in the Electoral Roll as living at Daliak. This however was probably an oversight with respect to updating her address. There is no doubt that she and all her children (including Jessie – now aged 12) were most likely living in the town of York.
At this time school may still have been Jessie’s priority but it’s also very likely that it would begin winding down and she would have had to help out as much as she could at home and in the boarding house. Money however, would continue to be an issue.
Despite the letter sent in 1907, it wasn’t until late 1910 that affidavits were completed by both Warren Marwick (the surviving Executor/Trustee) and Catherine Linto. The issue of income was once again reiterated:
Catherine’s statement added further weight and gives us insight into the action she had taken in order to produce an income. Unable to write, she signed with her mark on 14 November 1910.
That since the death of my late husband I have endeavoured to support myself and family by carrying on a boarding house at York aforesaid; but since that event have found my income to be not nearly sufficient for the purpose and for the maintenance and education of my infant children.
An order was granted stating that from 1 November 1910, Catherine was to receive ten shillings (about one dollar) per week out of each of the children’s prospective share of the Estate to put towards their maintenance and education. This allowance would cease when they turned 21 or, for females, when they married (if they were under the age of 21 when they married).
The family remained in York for all of 1911 but by December Jessie’s mother arranged for the sale of all the furniture in the Avon Coffee Palace and began winding up her dealings in York by seeking all outstanding debts. A new start in a new town was in order and Jessie and her family moved to Northam.
In Northam, Catherine took over running the Royal Temperance Hotel on Fitzgerald Street. Unfortunately, the new venture did not last long. Catherine (like her husband) was suffering from kidney disease and on 2 November 1913, she passed away.
Jessie was 15 years old and an orphan. Her schooling had most likely ended and there is no doubt that she was either working, or, now had to find work. Where she worked and lived however is unknown. Perhaps she remained living with siblings (some of whom were married) or perhaps she managed to find her own accommodation. Did helping out at the Coffee Palace enhance her chances in obtaining employment in something similar?
She lived throughout WWI and by 1919, at its end, she was 21 years of age. Despite being of age to vote, she never did. She is also not listed in the WA Postal Directories and, sadly, family stories of her early years were also not passed along.
Over 15 years of her life are missing and (I’m sure) would’ve provided a fascinating insight into the life of a single woman who was providing for herself. Needless to say, she appears to have lived a relatively quiet, unobtrusive life. If it’s anything to go by; she does not seem to have made the papers for either good news or bad news.
We next see Jessie on 9 April 1928 at age 29. At some point throughout this time, she’d moved in a south westerly direction and had been living in Armadale and working as a waitress (one of the rare clues which show what employment she may have had). It’s possible that while working in Armadale she met a young man by the name of William Nicholson. He was a local of Gosnells (today, it’s 15 minutes from Armadale by car) so it’s possible that William may have travelled to Armadale (perhaps to a hotel) and met Jessie at her place of employment. Smitten, it was on this date that the couple married in St Munchins Church in Gosnells. One month later, she fell pregnant.
Jessie now no longer had to work. As was the norm for most women of this time, she became a housewife.
The family’s base was generally at Evelyn Street in Gosnells but as William was also a mill worker they often travelled to where there was work. This meant that Jessie also went with him. Nine months later, on 4 January 1929, they were recorded as living at Nannup when Jessie gave birth to a baby boy (my Pop). They chose the name Reece Thomas Nicholson.
In 1930 Jessie gave birth to another son who they named William Edward Nicholson. A daughter followed on 13 October 1931 and she was called Veronica Jessie Nicholson. Both births were registered in Perth which indicate that they were probably back in Gosnells.
In early 1932 Jessie was 33 years of age and the mother of three children under the age of four. On the night of 14 March she may have been relaxing at home, putting the children to bed, attending to some last minute chores or perhaps even sleeping. Whatever the case, the last thing she would’ve expected was hearing that her husband and his brother had been hit by a car whilst walking along Armadale Road.
He was hit with such force that he suffered head injuries as well as shock and was immediately taken to Perth Hospital where he was considered to be in a serious condition and subsequently placed on the danger list.
It’s not hard to imagine how Jessie may have been feeling at this time. Along with shock, she may have also been feeling fearful of the future and worried about whether William would make a full recovery. Who would support them if William didn’t make it? Would she have to find work? Perhaps she was also thinking of her small children and remembering her own upbringing after her father’s early death and mother’s death not that long later. What would happen to the children if she had to go out and work?
Luckily William recovered from his horrible head injury. How it affected the family overall however is not known. How long was he away from work? Were there any lasting affects felt by William?
It was the time of the Great Depression. William was an engine driver and any time off work would not have helped. This time period also resulted in many of the timber mills closing down as demand for timber lessened. This might explain why the family continued living on Evelyn Street in Gosnells throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.
1937 was the year in which the Nicholson family expanded. Six years after Veronica was born, Jessie gave birth to another son; Hilary Morden Nicholson on 21 September 1937. He would eventually become known to everyone as Ray.
By September 1939 World War II had erupted and on 26 July 1940, William enlisted into the Australian Army. Five months later he was discharged as he was considered medically unfit for service. Details as to why he was ‘medically unfit’ were not delved into but his WWII records indicate that he was often absent without leave and, more often than not, was found drinking. It appears that William may have had a problem with alcohol and, if this was the case, how did it affect Jessie? With no way of knowing I can only hope that his drinking didn’t result in violence.
Jessie had ultimately married into a family that was consistently involved with timber mills. William’s father, Edward had worked in mill towns; William grew up in Mornington Mill and even as a young man, worked at Holyoake. Therefore, it should not really have come as a surprise to Jessie when William decided to once again work at a sawmill.
In 1943 the family all moved to Hoffman’s Mill which is inland off the South Western Highway (between Yarloop and Harvey). Gosnells was small back then but the mill town was even smaller. Nevertheless, Jessie and her family happily spent the next two years there.
Sadly, the family’s happiness in their new home was not to last. In late 1944 or early 1945 it may have become apparent that William was sick. Perhaps it started off as a cough that he couldn’t shake and he simply ignored it. As time went on, it probably became worse and eventually, he would start coughing up blood. This was never a good sign and a doctor examining him would most likely confirm that William had tuberculosis.
An extremely contagious disease, Jessie and her children would’ve been immediately removed from William’s presence as he now had to be quarantined. He was sent to Perth Hospital (most likely by train) and his family would’ve followed close behind him. His admittance was of no use. On 17 February 1945, William passed away. He was only 42.
At age 47, Jessie was now a widow with four children to care for (her eldest was 16 and her youngest was eight).
There was no going back to Hoffman’s Mill but she still needed to find a place to live. It was family that came to the rescue. William’s Aunt, Mary Kate Cochrane (nee McCarthy) had long lived in Subiaco. She was in her 80s and needed someone to help her out around the house. Though we have no way of knowing what the arrangement was, perhaps Jessie was allowed to stay there in exchange for caring for Aunt Mary and looking after the household chores. Jessie and her children moved into the house at 134 Hay Street in Subiaco and for her eldest son, Reece, this move was to become quite significant. It was in Subiaco that he met his future wife, Gwendoline Joyce Harwood (please read: The Boy Next Door).
Jessie and Gwen Harwood
Jessie at 134 Hay Street
For the next five years Jessie and her children remained and became settled living in Subiaco. As time went on she became ill and the general thought was that she was suffering from diabetes. She went in to have an operation (possibly unrelated to the diabetes assumption) at Perth Hospital but it was found that she actually had a blood clot in her leg. While she was in hospital, on 6 July 1950, she passed away at age 51.
Like her parents before her, she had died at a rather young age. Her four children were aged 21, 20, 19 and 13. Unlike the situation she found herself in, the first three were of an age that they were able to care and provide for themselves. Her youngest, Ray, however was under age and was placed under the guardianship of his uncle, John Edward Nicholson (William’s brother).
Jessie was buried with William in the Roman Catholic section of Karrakatta Cemetery.
My Great Grandmother. She was a woman whose name was always known to me (even as a young girl) and I often wondered whether I was named after her (I actually wasn’t). Despite growing up knowing her name, very little is actually known about her. What sort of woman was she? Was she a good cook? Did she tell stories? Did she sing songs? How did her parent’s early deaths shape her into the woman she became?
I’ll never really know but I find myself looking towards the memories of my Pop to see if there’s some clue in amongst his stories, words and actions that may have come from Jessie. Did the “Jesus loves you, yes I know” song he used to sing to my brother and I stem from her? Where did his love of the stars come from? Did Jessie influence his love of gardening and growing vegies?
There’s no way I’ll ever know the answer to any of the above questions but I can look to Pop’s actions. He constantly and lovingly tended to the gravesite of his parents and the stones in particular were placed there by him. There is absolutely no doubt that Jessie was well loved. Pop grew a lot of chrysanthemums in his garden and in addition to tending to the gravesite, every Mother’s Day, he’d take a bunch of the flowers and place them in the vases in memory of his Mum. Words may not have survived in our family but actions speak volumes.