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.

Jessie's Letter

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.

Avon House

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.

Birth Notice

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.

Brother Run Down

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.


Hoffman’s Mill

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 1

Jessie and Gwen Harwood

Jessie 2

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.

Death Notice

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.


Little Tommy was at just the right age where he was old enough to understand that something wasn’t right but young enough to not fully appreciate what it was exactly. The new baby had arrived safe and sound and afterwards Papa had sat Tommy and his sister Daisy down and told them they needed to be good and helpful to Mamma. She was not well. She was drained. The baby was taking a lot out of her and she needed rest. They both agreed heartily and Daisy looked after the house while Mamma rested.

Tommy thought he was doing well. He made sure to be quiet and helped Daisy whenever he could. Then Mamma started to disappear. She’d be gone for ages. Papa was out working a lot of the time and he’d eventually return only to find Daisy and Tommy all alone in the house with the baby. The first time he was mad as thunder. He hopped straight back on his horse and tore off to the town. He always knew that Mamma was there. He always found her. He always brought her back.

At first Mamma was terribly sorry. She didn’t know what she was doing. She didn’t know what was wrong with her. She cried a lot and she kissed Tommy and Daisy and hugged them and told them she was sorry she left them for so long. She picked up the little baby (they were calling her Kitty), cradled her in her arms and kissed the top of her head. Papa forgave her; he always did.

She was good for a little while. But then she changed again. One day she’d disappear and the next she’d be brought back. She wasn’t terribly sorry or upset anymore. Mamma didn’t seem to care. She was angry and annoyed that Papa kept bringing her back. Once she even glared at little Tommy and Daisy when she walked through the door! Tommy didn’t like that. It made him sad…and scared.

Papa didn’t know what to do. Mamma wasn’t getting any better and all she wanted to do was run away.

One gloomy winter’s day, however, Papa sat Tommy and Daisy down next to him. With the help of Uncle Alfred, he’d come up with an answer: they had to move homes. He explained everything to them patiently. Where they were; there were too many people. People were talking and gossiping. People wanted to complain to the police about Mamma’s behaviour. They hadn’t done so for Papa’s sake. For her (and their) own good, he’d decided that they needed to move somewhere quiet and calm. Somewhere in the bush where Mamma could rest and get better without the townsfolk watching her every move. Somewhere that would make running away difficult.

Tommy and Daisy listened to the words spoken by the man they idolised. Tommy looked up at his father’s kindly face. There were crinkles around his eyes and strands of grey in his beard. Had they always been there?

It didn’t take long for Papa and Uncle Abe to pack up the small house. Papa borrowed the cart from Grandpa Hurst and loaded it up with all their worldly possessions. Tommy clamoured aboard and sat at the front next to Papa while Daisy sat with Kitty behind them in the back. Mamma was making the journey with Uncle Abe; her brother. Tommy felt so very important high up at the front as he watched the horse down below. Every now and then its tail would twitch and move. He smiled broadly and instinctively looked left; his smile vanished in an instant. Mamma was staring in his direction. Like the horse’s tail her lips were also twitching. It looked as if she was speaking to a voice only she could hear. Tommy stared back. He wasn’t even sure if Mamma could see him through that blank gaze but it frightened him all the same.

The sky darkened and it grew cold. Tommy was no longer sure he wanted to move to this strange, new place.

The journey was long, muddy and bumpy. Tommy had fallen asleep twice and to prevent him from falling, was moved to the back  to sit with his sisters. When they finally arrived it was evening and they made their way along a rough bush track. Tommy could make out a small humpy in the distance with a man standing outside. The man waved in acknowledgement. They stopped outside the humpy and were introduced to the man but Tommy soon forgot who he was. Papa was going to be working for him though and their new home was on the stranger’s land.

Papa and Uncle Abe started unpacking the cart but Tommy didn’t have the energy to watch. It had been a long day and he was exhausted. He found a quiet spot out of the way and fell asleep on the floor inside.

Tommy liked his new home. The bush was everywhere he looked and there was a small creek nearby which he loved to explore. Mamma seemed a little better but he thought she was just playing a game of pretend. When she was alone (or thought she was) he often heard her talking to herself. He couldn’t make out the words and wondered who she was talking to. Most of the time though she was just quiet. She just stared.

One night, several months later, everything went bad. Papa was sitting and writing in his journal. Mamma was sitting too except she was just staring at the corner opposite her, her face blank and devoid of any emotion. Little Tommy thought he could remember when Mamma used to smile and laugh. That seemed a long time ago though. As he watched her, she suddenly spoke:

“There’s something in the house.”

Papa and Daisy stopped what they were doing and looked at her. Kitty continued sleeping in her cradle; far away from where Mamma was sitting.

“What is it?” Papa replied nonchalantly.

Mamma made no answer. After a while Papa frowned and went back to his writing.

Little Tommy felt a growing uneasiness in the pit of his stomach. He continued staring at Mamma. Her mouth was twitching again. Her face was contorted in an odd expression. She didn’t look like Mamma anymore.

“Don’t believe me!” She suddenly spat.

Tommy’s eyes widened in shock. He whimpered.

“It’ll get you!” She yelled. “It’s waiting for you all. It tells me all the time.”

Tommy started crying. He walked over to Papa and clutched at his leg.

“Stop it, Tilly. You’re frightening the children.”

Tommy looked over at Daisy. She was edging closer to Kitty and Papa. Her eyes were as big as saucers and she’d gone deathly pale. Mamma clutched her arms and started rocking. She was muttering under her breath. Her hair had come loose and strands of it were everywhere.

“Stop it, Tilly!” Papa repeated forcefully. “Why are you saying these horrible things? Why are you acting like this?!”

Mamma laughed. No. Not laughed. Cackled.

“Just fun is all. Sometimes…I do…straaaange things.” She flashed her teeth in a maniacal grin.

Papa picked little Tommy up and put him on his lap. He put one arm around Tommy and the other around Daisy.

“Time for bed, children. You need your rest.”

Mamma turned her head towards the fire and chuckled. Tommy gulped. He was glad it was bedtime.

The next day Tommy woke up early. He was up even before the sun. He walked out of the house and looked at the horizon where the sky was beginning to lighten. The bush looked pretty in the dawn. He spied a kangaroo and as he took a step towards it, it bounced away. There was dew on all the leaves and everything smelt fresh and clean. He felt light-hearted as he looked at the beauty around him. He turned towards the house where his family was still sleeping. The light-hearted feeling was instantly replaced with dread as he remembered the night before. The house looked much darker than everything else. The bush surrounding it looked ugly and twisted. The windows were mean and pinched. Tommy didn’t want to go back inside.

A curtain twitched and Tommy gasped. Was it Mamma? He quickly jumped behind a small tree. He peered out carefully but all was quiet. Tommy turned around and sat down facing the bush. He cried quietly as he watched the world transform under the light of the sun.

With quiet resolve he wiped his tears away. He didn’t want to want to go back inside. He was scared. Little Tommy looked out at the bush before him. It was immense. It was also mysterious and comforting all at the same time. It beckoned to him. He thought of the house behind him and Mamma somewhere within it. He shivered. Mamma had always told him never to go wandering but now, he realised, Mamma wasn’t there anymore. As quiet as possible, he carefully stood up. He looked towards the rising sun and started walking.


As the title indicates, this story is a work of fiction. If you would like to read Little Tommy’s story (the facts) please click on the following link:

Newspaper article source: 1894 ‘PROVINCIAL TELEGRAMS.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 21 September, p. 3, viewed 4 July, 2014,

What I love about history is the constant ability to learn something new. Research is always vital but sometimes you can’t learn if you don’t know where to look. This is especially the case where buildings or infrastructure is torn down. To me, it seems once the physical reminder of history is lost, it doesn’t take long before the memory of it is lost too. Generation upon generation of people are born and what was once well-known can become forgotten. The same can be said for stories.

As is often the case, I came across the Whatley Station and the Whatley Park Pensioners purely by chance whilst searching for something else. At first confused (where in the world was Whatley Park?) I began researching and found myself learning a piece of Bayswater’s history which had never been known to me (or my parents) and by all appearances had been (perhaps unintentionally) buried in the tombs of the past.

Whatley Park was the name of an area of land which was located on the banks of the Swan River in Bayswater (near where the Bird Sanctuary is) and ran all the way back to the North of Morley Drive. Originally owned by the Whatley family it was eventually sold to Gold Estates who subdivided the land. The area itself is no longer known as Whatley Park and is now a part of the City of Bayswater.

Running through both Bayswater and the area which was once Whatley Park is the Midland Railway Line. The line still exists and though the exact details of its history are probably sketchy to most people (including myself); they still however know it’s there. What most surprised me was learning of the existence of a spur line (known as the Belmont Railway Spur) which separated from the Midland Line between today’s Bayswater and Ashfield Stations. After separating it ran through Guildford Road towards the Swan River (to the east of Slade Street) and stopped at Whatley Station. A railway bridge was built across the river in the late 1890s and trains would continue across, eventually turning right and running parallel to Matheson Road where they terminated at Belmont Station in front of the Ascot Racecourse. If you hadn’t already guessed; it’s primary purpose was to carry passengers to the races.

To view a map of the Belmont Spur Line, please visit the following flickr page:

The stations, the railway tracks and the bridge were all demolished in 1957 which probably explains why the railway spur became a piece of “hidden” history. It’s demolition also meant that another piece of history that was connected to Whatley Park also vanished; the story of the Whatley Park Pensioners.

The Whatley Park Pensioners consisted of a group of elderly men who, rather than be sent to an institution, chose to live in a camp on government land (somewhere near the start of the Belmont Railway Spur and Whatley Station). Most were unmarried, often had no relatives in Western Australia and, in their younger days, had worked on the railways or the goldfields. They received a pension of £1 per week which they made the most of because they lived simply. A Pensioner by the name of Stephen Rohan stated:

I lead a pretty quiet life now… Just take my time to get a bit of firewood, carry water, and one thing and another, and go into Bayswater once a week to get my pension and a few stores. There is nothing like a little liberty.

Grand Old Men

They lived in makeshift humpies which they built themselves from a variety of materials such as canvas, iron or bush boughs. Each home was kept clean and was surrounded by a small fence. Attempts had been made to grow vegetables but they had limited success due to the harsh, sandy soil. It was acknowledged that some humpies were quite obviously better than others but this difference generally came down to the person who built it and maintained it.

The neatest and most shipshape establishment of the colony is acknowledged to belong to Thomas Henry Greer, a Maorilander, who has inherited a love of orderliness from his sea captain father. His living-room is rather like a ship’s cabin. The fireplace, constructed with marvellous ingenuity, had a built-in camp oven. And around the cabin walls were old fashioned photographs of Victorian women with hats the size of a saucer, and of Thomas Henry as a boy. Many painted kerosene tins and tubs are carefully covered and stored with rainwater for the summer. There is the ‘laundry’ with flat-irons and ironing tables and a hard bed for afternoon lounging… All sorts of neat little contrivances are in the camps of these house-proud old colonists, while others flourish in luxurious grubbiness.

Whatley Siding Camp

Each individual conducted his own cooking in an open fireplace with the food mostly consisting of vegetables. Like any other person, the men completed their chores and then turned their attention to recreational pursuits such as reading the daily paper, smoking, visiting others in the camp, having a yarn or simply sitting engrossed in their own thoughts. On Saturdays some Pensioners often stood on the Belmont Bridge where they had a good view of the races at Ascot.

How long they’d been living there isn’t really touched upon in the newspapers but statements made by the men indicate that some of the Pensioners had been there since the late 1900s. It would also seem that as economic times worsened, the camp (and it’s occupants) increased. In 1932, towards the end of the Great Depression, it was noted in one paper that there were up to 80 men living there while another paper stated the number to be 120.

Mr N Fitzpatrick

In the 1930s romantically written articles about the Whatley Park Pensioners and their utopian camp were often printed in the newspapers. Although these highlighted the happy, carefree stories of the men quietly going about their lives and making the best of what they had, they failed grossly in pointing out the desperation and suffering that was also present.

Their ages varied but most seemed to be over the age of 60. Combining this fact with a lifetime of hard work meant that unexpected deaths were common. Men were often found in their beds not having roused from sleep or were found lying in the bush after having died suddenly from various causes.

Pensioner Dies in Camp

Accidents were also a regular occurrence which, again, could be a reflection of their age and a slowing of their faculties. They lived very close to the train lines and were often seen crossing them to get to and from various destinations. Though many of the Pensioners were no doubt careful, one wrong move or a misheard sound meant disaster. One of the most reported cause of accidents or death was being hit by a train.

Elderly Pensioners Death

Their open fireplaces for cooking food were also potential death traps. Many men were reported to have accidentally fallen into the fires and suffered terrible burns as a result. Unfortunately, fear of having their freedom taken away from them also meant that some Pensioners tended to the wounds themselves and did not visit the hospital. This had dire consequences for those who had severe burns.

While some of the Pensioners (such as the ones interviewed) seemed to be comfortable with their lot in life and remained positive, there were also some men who may have been deeply unhappy with their situation. Sadly, this unhappiness resulted in a number of suicides within the camp.

Though the surrounding residents tolerated the Pensioners for many years, by 1934 however, a petition was put forward during a meeting of the Bayswater Road Board requesting that they be removed.


Their main concerns were the lack of sanitation but it was later proved that this only applied to the few and not to the many. Other residents didn’t mind the Pensioners at all and a letter written by Mrs M Benn to The West Australian illustrated this view.

Mrs Benn

In the end, the Pensioners were not removed from their camp at Whatley Park. They continued to live there throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s. By the late 1940s and 1950s however, all mention of them in the newspapers ceased. Either they continued to live there and simply were not printed in the papers or, they were requested to move on. What became of them after this point in time is unknown.

When I first came across the Whatley Park Pensioners I was immediately drawn to them. These men worked during the Gold Rush (boom) years in Western Australia’s history. When we needed to build new railways they came from across the states or from other countries and the railways  they helped build were probably vital to Western Australia’s success. Many were without family and this small fact means that their lives, their stories and their contributions to Western Australia’s history are lost.

There are so many stories in this world and really, only a small amount are told. These are usually the stories of people who did great things or who rose to power and prominence. I take my hat off to them but it’s the people like the Whatley Park Pensioners who attract my attention the most. They may not have been wealthy or ran the State but they still played a part in our great history and regardless of their social standing, they deserve to not be forgotten.


Nellie Clifton Hurst (my first cousin three times removed) lived during a time where circumstances meant everything. The circumstances of your birth; whether you were male or female; whether you had money. Society viewed such things as important and more often than not you would be judged because of them.

When she came into the world in 1879 at her grandparents’ house in Collie Bridge she was an innocent newborn who was completely unaware of her circumstances. Nellie was the illegitimate daughter of Anne Hurst and John Edward Martin Clifton (grandson of the well-known Marshall Waller Clifton). Her mother was only 19 when she was born but Nellie was one of the lucky ones. She was not given up for adoption or sent away and by all appearances her mother, grandparents and extended family were extremely loving and caring and treated her no differently.

Although initially registered as Nellie Clifton she eventually took her mother’s surname and went by the name Nellie Clifton Hurst. She kept Clifton as her middle name; perhaps as a sign to show the world who her father was.

Three years later Nellie was joined by a half sister, Norah Kathleen Hurst. Norah was the daughter of Anne Hurst (now aged 21) and Luke Crampton (Luke was Anne’s first cousin and was only 16 at the time). Like Nellie, Norah’s name was originally registered with the surname Crampton but she eventually ended up using the surname Hurst.

No action was taken against John Clifton under the Bastardy Act but Anne did however initiate proceedings against Luke.

Bastardy Act

The orders passed by the Court would’ve entitled Anne to receive a small amount of money from Luke in order to provide for both herself and Norah. It would not have been much however so it’s likely that Anne would also have had to work to support her family. If this was the case, where did Nellie and her sister live? Who cared for them? Though there’s no definitive answer, the vague evidence that’s available indicates that they certainly spent a lot of time with their grandparents, Basil and Maria Hurst.

Nellie’s life at her grandparents’ house near the beautiful Collie River would’ve been idyllic. Picnics and fishing were popular pastimes for residents of the area but as Nellie grew, school work (possibly conducted at home) and chores would also have become important.

She’s first mentioned in the Hurst Daybook on Friday, 15 March 1889. She was 10 years of age and in need of a new pair of boots which were brought back by her grandfather and her aunts.

Fine day. Father, Tilly, Belle went to Bunbury. Got 1 bag sugar, 4 yds Holland, six bars soap and 1 pair of boots from W Prossers for Nellie.

Two months later it was recorded that she went to her Aunt Bina’s house. Specific details aren’t noted in the Daybook so the best way to understand what’s going on within the Hurst family’s lives is to reconcile what’s written to other records that exist. Her return isn’t noted so it’s possible the visit was a lengthy one. Bina (Lavinia Gibbs nee Hurst) had one small child and a newborn who was only two months old. Perhaps Nellie visited in order to meet her new cousin or perhaps she visited in order to help her aunt out around the house.

On 21 March 1891, Nellie was about 12 years of age when she went with her grandparents to visit her Aunt Alice (Alice Ecclestone nee Hurst). Aunt Alice at this point in time had four children and gave birth to her fifth some time in 1891. Once again it’s possible that Nellie (accompanied by Basil and Maria) was visiting in order to meet the new child.

Three months later specific mention was made of her going to school.

Showery. Nellie went down to go to school.

The words “went down” indicate that she travelled south and this fact was further evidenced by an article printed in the Bunbury Herald on 28 December 1892. Nellie had been attending the Girls’ School in Bunbury which was run by Miss Mews. After the examinations she was presented a prize for second place in Standard V.


In 1893 Nellie would’ve been about 14 years old and despite her youth, schooling would’ve been completed. She was now at an age where she could start work. Occupations for a woman were extremely limited. Nellie could’ve gained employment as a governess or teacher (she seemed to have a decent grasp of schoolwork); a dressmaker (assuming she knew how to sew); a shop assistant or perhaps something in domestic service. Unfortunately what she did is unknown and if she was working it seems whatever she did afforded her an element of freedom. Nearly every weekend from 10 March 1893 until 30 July 1893 Nellie returned to Collie Bridge; arriving on Saturday and then going home on Sunday.

Then, on 11 August 1893:

Tom & Nellie came home

Whereas previously ‘home’ for Nellie was somewhere else (perhaps with an employer); ‘home’ now once again became Collie Bridge. What happened at this point in time? Why was she coming back home to Collie Bridge? If she was employed, did she lose her job?

Throughout September, October and November Nellie consistently travelled to Bunbury; sometimes several times within a week. Was she looking for work? Was she running errands on behalf of the Hurst family? Was there some other reason for her regular visits? Though she sometimes went alone, a lot of the time she was accompanied by her Uncle Tom or her grandfather.

On 20 November 1893 it was noted that: Father, Annie & Nellie went to Perth. There is no doubt that Basil Hurst (Father) was collecting his daughter, Mary Isabel Hurst who had been sent to Fremantle Asylum three months earlier, but why did Anne and Nellie (mother and daughter) go to Perth? Was it again a simple case of Nellie looking for work? Was something else going on?

Nellie remained in Perth for nearly three weeks and eventually returned home on 11 December 1893. No further information as to what she was doing there was provided.

By early January she left Collie Bridge once again; this time travelling with her Aunt Tilly (my Great Great Grandmother, Matilda Maria Hurst) and the children to Tilly’s house (possibly in Wokalup). She stayed for a month and returned on 6 February 1894. Why did she go to Tilly’s house? Was it just a simple visit? Did she go there to help out around the house?

Eventually Nellie obtained new employment and on 26 February 1894 it was written in the Daybook that she went to Mrs Burcham. Subsequent research has found that Mrs Burcham was most likely Rhoda Jane Burcham (nee Hough) who was married to William Edward Carter Burcham (a photographer). Mrs Burcham placed an advertisement in the Bunbury Herald on 14 and 21 February 1894 and it seems Nellie responded and was lucky enough to obtain the position.


From this point on Nellie no longer appears in the Daybook (the last date in it is 8 April 1894). As ‘general help’ she would not have had very many days off and she may have also lived within the Burcham family home. This meant that visits back to Collie Bridge would’ve been few and far between. Her new home was now within the town of Bunbury.

As the main hub of the Southwest, Bunbury was all hustle and bustle. Despite her upbringing in quiet little Collie Bridge, Nellie had always been a regular in Bunbury so it’s doubtful she would’ve been overwhelmed. In fact she may have still been in Bunbury when the news of her little cousin’s (Thomas Lisle Crampton) disappearance and her Aunt Tilly’s mental illness became news. Speculation and gossip was most likely rife and it’s possible Nellie herself may have been on the receiving end of unwanted questions.

In 1895 Nellie was 16 when her mother, Anne was married. Anne was 34, a spinster (by the standards of the time) and most likely also labelled a fallen woman. It was because of her “indiscretions” that finding a husband would’ve become extremely difficult. When John Kirby came along and proposed marriage, it’s possible Anne said yes simply because, as harsh as it sounds, she may not have had a better offer.

What happened to Nellie after her mother married? Did she remain employed? Did she live with her mother and stepfather? Though these questions are unanswered it would seem however that Nellie, at the age of 17, started some sort of relationship with Charles McGrane. On 18 July 1896 her Aunt Tilly (from within Fremantle Asylum):

wrote to her sister Mrs C McGrane London Terrace Bunbury

Charles McGrane (who also occasionally used the alias surname Emmet) was nothing but trouble. He was constantly in the newspapers for stealing, disorderly conduct, using obscene language, violently resisting arrest, assault and escaping from gaol. A drunk, it was his love of alcohol which gave him his best defence (of not being able to remember anything) and his presence in the Bunbury Police Court soon became commonplace.

Sergeant Osborne handed in McGrane’s record in the police court here, but the Bench declined to see them, stating that the prisoner was well known to the court as a nuisance to the community since his arrival in Bunbury.

Then, also in 1896, the inevitable happened. Nellie (still in Bunbury) gave birth to twin daughters, Caroline and Sarah Hurst. She gave her name as the mother when registering the births but left the father’s name blank. Considering her relationship with Charles McGrane however, I would not be surprised if he was indeed the father.

Sadly, when Nellie registered the births, it’s possible she may have also had to register their deaths. Her two little girls only lived for one day.

In 1897 Nellie, aged 18, once again gave birth to an illegitimate child. Norman Douglas Hurst was born in Collie, most likely at the old home in Collie Bridge. Nellie gave her name as the mother but remained silent with respect to the name of the father. It could’ve been anyone but, timing suggests, she may still have been in a relationship with Charles and there was a strong likelihood that he was again the father.

In the 1890s the cry of ‘Gold!’ resounded around the state of Western Australia and this small family unit also appears to have wanted a piece of the pie. Though it’s unknown who went and when, it’s likely that also in 1897, Nellie, her baby son Norman, Charles McGrane, John Kirby, her mother Anne and sister Norah all moved to the goldfields.


Coolgardie in the 1890s or early 1900s

The move, essentially, was a disaster. On 18 October 1897, Nellie’s mother was admitted to Coolgardie Hospital suffering from cirrhosis of the brain. Cirrhosis itself is liver disease and when the toxins in the blood stream cannot be removed by the liver they can move into the brain and cause brain dysfunction. Anne would not get better. Ten days later it was recorded that she died in hospital.


Nellie, Norman and Norah remained together and lived with John Kirby in one room in a shop on Ford Street in Coolgardie. It wasn’t long before they drew attention to themselves and were on the receiving end of public disapproval. On 7 March 1898 Norah brought charges against John Kirby for indecent assault.

Indecent Assault

John completely denied the charge and it was proven that there were several inconsistencies in Norah’s evidence. He was found not guilty and the chairman of the jury stated that the way they were living was worse than that of savages. I can’t help but wonder though, was there any truth to Norah’s claims? If she was lying, what purpose would it have served to bring charges against John?

About a month later it was Nellie’s turn to make the papers. She had still not shaken McGrane and he was getting frustrated. He wanted to marry her but she was having none of it. He’d brutally attacked her on more than one occasion and, though it’s not mentioned, alcohol was probably a major factor in his behaviour.

McGrane Assault

After all the abuse it was probably a relief to see McGrane locked away for twelve months. If Nellie felt any hope for the future, it was to be short lived. After her mother’s death, Norah’s assault and her own assault, the family’s run of bad luck was not over yet. Sometime after March 1898, Nellie’s sister, Norah Kathleen Hurst, passed away.

No mention of Norah’s death was printed in the papers but it’s the earlier assault charges against John Kirby which raises my suspicions. Perhaps there was more truth to her accusations after all.

The year of 1899 finally brought some good news for Nellie. Still in Coolgardie, she gave birth to another illegitimate child who she named Basil James Hurst. As per the other children’s births, no father was listed. Her choice of name was also interesting. Perhaps she was missing her home and family at Collie Bridge as young Basil was named after her grandfather.

There is no information available about where and how Nellie, Norman and little Basil lived. Assumptions can only be made. After the assault case against John Kirby it’s likely that they were not living with him. She could have been living with Charles McGrane but again, she may not have wanted anything to do with him considering his past actions. He also could’ve still been in prison. Nellie was an unmarried mother. If she had work it would’ve given her a meagre income and working meant she would’ve been unable to care for her children. Food would’ve been scarce and the possibility of the family going hungry would not surprise me.

A new century rolled around and the sadness came back with it. Basil lived longer than his twin sisters but perhaps the family’s quality of life was not of a good standard. He lived for eight months; passing away in Coolgardie in 1900.

The next five years of Nellie’s life are unknown. It would seem however that the death of Basil and perhaps the constant struggle she was facing opened her eyes to the truth. Her only child, Norman Douglas Hurst, would’ve been under the age of ten when he was adopted into another family. I can’t see into Nellie’s head but I don’t believe this decision was made lightly. She’d had Norman for at least three years and perhaps she wanted to give him a better chance in life; one that she felt she couldn’t give him.

At some point Nellie left Coolgardie and made her way to Perth. She’d finally dropped Charles McGrane and began a relationship with a new man, James Allen. She never married him but nevertheless she went around styling herself as Mrs Allen (as she appears to have done with McGrane).

For a while they lived in East Perth at 44 Goderich Street and it was at this address on 22 March 1905 that Nellie passed away. She was only 25.

Death Notice Nellie

From the death notice it would appear that James loved Nellie. They weren’t married but he called her his ‘beloved wife’ and it was his surname that was printed in the paper. The surname given on the death register and recorded on the Metropolitan Cemeteries Board register however was Hurst.

The death register in particular also shows some interesting information. Nellie had not been with James for long and during that time the details of her life were probably vague. He tried his best but he may have been only able to recount what he had been told by her. She was born in Victoria, her mother was unknown and her father’s name was James. All incorrect. This fact alone also shows that it had probably been a while since she’d been in contact with the Hurst family.

Circumstances did not help Nellie. She may have been fully accepted by the Hurst family but did other families accept her and treat her as an equal? Did her treatment as a young girl shape her into the person she became? What was her relationship with her Aunt Tilly? Why, of all people, would Tilly write to Nellie from within the Asylum? Did she ever see the Hurst family again?

Most of the nitty gritty details about Nellie’s life are open to interpretation and I am left with far too many questions. There are many examples in this world where people rose above the circumstances they were born into but there are also many examples where people did not. Unfortunately it seems Nellie fell into the latter category. She certainly tried but no matter what she did she couldn’t quite get there and in the end she died much too young and without her children and family. Her life was not an easy one and I only hope that in her final years she had found some happiness and peace with James.

As stated above, Norman Douglas Hurst was adopted and survived well into adulthood. He took a new surname and though I do know the surname of his adoptive family I’ve chosen not to state it out of respect for his descendants who may not know the story of his life.


In conjunction with Fremantle Heritage Week, the City of Fremantle and Town of East Fremantle hold the Fremantle Local History Awards.

The Awards are open for anyone to submit a non fiction entry in either the unpublished, published or multimedia categories. The work must focus on either the history of Fremantle or the history of East Fremantle and can be either indigenous history, personal memoirs, family history, environmental history, community history, migrant or ethnic history, sporting or social club history or building, house or street history.

The entry had to meet certain criteria and was judged by three independent judges.

Back in February (after seeing a Facebook post about the Awards) I decided to submit an entry. I don’t have a lot of family members who lived within Fremantle but there were three options and one option stood out the most. I decided to write about Matilda Maria Hurst (Tilly), her time in Fremantle Asylum and the history of Fremantle Asylum throughout the time she was there.

It is with great happiness and pride that I can now announce on Finding Family that last night I was awarded equal first place in the unpublished category for the 2014 Fremantle Local History Awards.


I’d like to thank all my wonderful family and friends for their lovely congratulatory messages on Facebook and I’d also like to thank Matt and Chris for reading the draft and giving their suggestions and support.

Most importantly of all, I dedicate this award to my Great Great Grandmother, Tilly. I would not have a story to tell if she hadn’t lived it. In the very beginning I wondered whether I should be sharing such a well-kept family secret (only my Aunty knew the truth) but it didn’t take long for me to decide that it needed to be told. The world needs to see just how badly people with mental illnesses were treated in the past so that we can learn from it and hopefully breakdown the stigma that is associated with people who have mental health issues today. We’ve come a long way but I believe we still have a lot more work to do.

If you’re free sometime between now and the 18 May 2014 I thoroughly recommend visiting Fremantle and checking out the Fremantle Heritage Festival. Information about the events is available in their program:

Finally, I would like to share my Fremantle Local History Awards entry. Many of you already know Tilly’s story but may not know the horrible history associated with Fremantle Asylum. I hope you find it both informative and interesting.

My entry: Committed

Lost in the Bush

Fine day. Tilly had a little son. Rossie called.

With these few words one of the Hurst brothers (either Abraham, Thomas or John) announced, on 11 September 1891, that Thomas Lisle Crampton had come into the world. Born in Collie to Thomas Crampton and Matilda Maria Hurst (my Great Great Grandparents) it’s likely that the Collie in question was actually Collie Bridge – the Hurst family farm which was located on the banks of the Collie River near the actual Collie bridge (now known as Eaton).

One month later, on 11th October, all seemed to be going well with the newborn. Matilda (known to everyone as Tilly) took her little son to Bunbury and he was Christened. Her parents (who had come to Bunbury the day before to drop off some butter at Spencer’s) may have also attended the ceremony. After the Christening Tilly remained in town for three more days and on the 14th the new mother and her baby travelled back to her parents’ house at Collie Bridge.

It seems that a rest was now in order. Tilly and little Thomas remained with her parents for two more weeks. Throughout this time the weather was mostly fine. The Christy Minstrels were in town on the 21st October and the current writer of the Daybook recorded that he went to watch them perform.  A well known blackface group, they provided entertainment in celebration of Proclamation Day. Though it’s doubtful Tilly would’ve attended I’m sure the visits by her Uncle Thomas Chapman on the 22nd, Archie (possibly Archie Fowler) on the 24th and then her sister Minnie on the 25th would’ve been a great source of amusement and welcome chances to show off her new bundle of joy.

On 28 October 1891, Tilly left her parent’s house and started home where her husband, Tom and daughter, Daisy were probably waiting for her. Home, at this point in time, was most likely in Wokalup where Tom had built a house in early 1888 with the help of his brothers and nephews.

Little Thomas’s only job was simply to be a baby and to slowly grow. As time went by he would’ve become more familiar with the faces of his father, mother, sister, grandparents and aunts and uncles. Tilly also often visited her parents and travelled to Bunbury. It’s likely that Daisy and Thomas accompanied her on such trips as these.

Ultimately, much of how little Thomas fared as a child is (and most likely always will be) unknown.

Two years later, on 24 December 1893, Tom and Tilly arrived at Tilly’s parents’ house. Given the date we can be sure that they were there to celebrate Christmas and certainly would’ve had Daisy and little Thomas with them. Presents may have been exchanged and a special dinner may have been prepared. Christmas cakes had been baked five days earlier so it was a certainty that they would’ve also been consumed.

They remained at Tilly’s parents’ house throughout the New Year. On 2 January 1894 Tom and Tilly went to Bunbury and the next day…

Tilly Nillie & the children went home.

‘Nillie’ was almost certainly Tilly’s niece, Nellie Clifton Hurst. It is assumed ‘the children’ refers to Daisy and Thomas Junior. Interestingly, at this point in time, Tilly was actually pregnant with my Great Grandmother. Six days later, on 9 January 1894, she gave birth to a little girl (named Matilda Maria Crampton) in Collie. What puzzles me however is that the birth of Matilda is conspicuously absent from the Daybook. Why is this the case? Is there some unknown reason for why the Hurst brothers chose not to record her birth? Was it simply a lapse and they forgot to write it in? And, if my Great Grandmother was born in Collie wouldn’t the brothers have noted Tilly’s arrival in the Daybook?

Tom, Tilly and the family no longer appear in the Daybook after the early January entries. It appears that from this point onwards Tilly was starting to become mentally unstable. Little Thomas was only two and half years of age but it’s still possible he may have been acutely aware that something wasn’t quite right with his mother.

Some time within the next nine months, Tom, Tilly, Daisy, Thomas Junior and baby Matilda moved to West Collie (today known as Allanson) which was about five or six miles from the town of Collie. They were surrounded by the forest and probably lived close by to a smaller branch of the Collie River. Why they moved to such a remote location away from family and friends is a mystery. Could Tilly’s behaviour have been the catalyst for such a drastic move?

The coalfields and the town of Collie itself was barely in existence. The small family was overwhelmingly isolated. If Tilly was already unwell I highly doubt being cut off from society would’ve helped much.

On 11 September 1894 little Thomas turned three. He was probably talking and was starting to have conversations. He was at the age of curiosity and the world around him would’ve been one of endless fascination. This curiosity coupled with a distracted, mentally unstable mother was a disaster waiting to happen. On Sunday, 16 September, five days after his birthday, he wandered off into the bush and completely disappeared.

When Tom and Tilly realised that little Thomas was missing they immediately made a search for him but were unsuccessful. The Crampton family needed help. Word was sent out and reached Bunbury the next day. By noon Sub-Inspector Clifton (Marshall Waller Clifton) of the Bunbury police station had received notice that the child was missing and immediately set off to help. On Tuesday he was joined by Sergeant Houlahan (Thomas Houlahan) and Constable Buck.

The search party also consisted of many of the settlers of the area who were well known bushmen as well as relatives of Tom’s and Tilly’s. They included: the Messrs W. Smith; J. Marsh; Thomas Hurst (Tilly’s brother); J. Ecclestone (most likely James Henry Ecclestone – Tilly’s brother-in-law); C. Gardiner (most likely Charles Gardiner – Tilly’s cousin); Archie Fowler; Jack Gibbs and John Gibbs (who was the leader of the party).

One of the most important members of the search party was an Aboriginal tracker. Sadly, the newspapers of the time did not print his name and he is currently unknown. Aboriginals are renowned for their tracking skills which are developed from a young age and stem from their ‘hunter and gather’ life. They know the tracks of different animals and may even be able to tell how old it was and whether it was male or female. Their tracking skills are phenomenal and, in the past, they often helped find people who had gone missing in the bush. If little Thomas had left tracks there is no doubt in my mind that the Aboriginal tracker would’ve spotted them.

For five days the group searched on horseback for miles in a circle around the Crampton family’s home but no trace of Thomas could be found. It was September and the bush was not completely dry but despite this, Thomas appeared to have left no tracks. On Thursday, 20 September 1894 the search was abandoned as it was assumed that it was now very unlikely that little Thomas would be found alive.

A few people continued searching and the next day a dog that Tom had recently purchased, and had gone missing at the same time, returned home. Thinking that perhaps the dog had gone off with little Thomas, the party tried to induce him to lead them to him. It was all to no avail. The dog would only follow and not lead.

While Tom continued to search tirelessly for any sign of his missing son it was noted in the Bunbury Herald that Tilly had been “mentally affected for some time” and was now living with her parents.

Tom refused to give up. In late September or early October he made a visit to Bunbury and invited the settlers to once again search for his son. The settlers agreed to help and it was noted that the police were also going to be involved. Concern amongst the people now seemed to have given way to suspicion as the Bunbury Herald noted:

There is a mystery about this disappearance which needs clearing up if possible.

The second search yielded nothing. Little Thomas had completely disappeared and Tom had no other option; he had to give up. He next turned his attention to Tilly. Found by the local Doctor to be mentally insane; she was soon sent to Fremantle Asylum. Her story was written in two earlier posts: Matilda Maria Hurst and The Secrets of Matilda Maria Hurst.

Not the slightest trace of him was discovered, he disappeared as completely as if the earth had opened and swallowed him up.

So what did happen to little Thomas? There were no tracks. There was no evidence of blood. The bush didn’t look as if it had been disturbed and there were no broken branches. This means we can discount Thomas being taken by a wild animal as it’s likely evidence would’ve been left behind. It can be assumed that he didn’t fall into a nearby well (if there was one at all) as that would’ve been the first place the search party would’ve looked. I also believe we can discount Tilly being involved in the disappearance. Yes, she was mentally unwell but I don’t believe she was capable of killing her son and then hiding his body without leaving a trace or even tracks.

Ignoring the lack of evidence and tracks, it’s also assumed that the search party would’ve been calling for him. If this was the case, why didn’t Thomas respond?

Some other theories of mine are that perhaps Thomas wandered off and was drowned in the nearby Collie River or perhaps he wandered off and fell into a hidden cave. Certainly logical but still, why didn’t he leave any tracks? It may be a little far fetched, but is it possible he could have been kidnapped by someone who knew how to not leave tracks?

I constantly ponder over the mystery of Thomas’s disappearance and often wonder what happened to him. To be honest, I simply have no idea and to this day he has not been found. Even though I wasn’t involved I do know however that his story will always remain with me as it did with Archie Fowler (one of the search party). Archie’s comments were printed 46 years later and offer valuable insight into the thoughts of those who were searching for little Thomas.

What became of him no one knows to this day. He just vanished. It was a strange thing and it caused a lot of speculation at the time. We could never understand what happened to the boy. He was only a toddler, and the search party was out not long after he was missed. All through the years I have pondered over the fate of that youngster without ever being able to even guess what became of him.

This is a mystery I would love to solve. Please contact me ( or leave a comment if you know of the whereabouts of the historical Bunbury Police Records or have your own family records (such as journals or oral history) that contain details about this tragedy. This year marks 120 years since Thomas’s disappearance. Any new facts or information (no matter how small) would be greatly appreciated.


Contrary to what I had intended I have (due to being distracted by other projects)  been neglecting my little blog. In view of that fact I thought I’d share a little something that I started some time ago. It’s still a work in progress and as you may have gathered from the title; it’s a complete work of fiction.

Windsor House

September 1894

The old wooden chair rocked unsteadily as the octogenarian carefully lowered himself down onto it with the aid of two walking sticks and a flurry of women. They (his daughters and wife) constantly fussed over him and, at times, it became far too much for an old, grumpy man who (for most of his life) was used to standing on his own two feet. Today however Enoch made an exception. He was tired and he was in pain. He gingerly fingered the lump that was growing at the base of his neck and swiftly received a smack on the hand.

“Don’t touch it!” his wife snapped.

He scowled at the woman who had been his wife for the last 17 years. She was right, of course, but he had to put on a show nevertheless. Mrs B (as he and the rest of the Colony affectionately called her) knew it too. She was a strong willed woman with a surprisingly good head for business but she still knew when to let a man have the upper hand. Her eyes sparkled with amusement as she looked at him but she said nothing in response to the look he gave her. He held his gaze and though his mouth remained in the same position he couldn’t stop his eyes from softening and eventually smiling. He’d married her not long after the death of his first wife and all-in-all, throughout the years, Maria had been a good wife who looked after him well.

She patted him on the shoulder affectionately and went over to join the conversation between his daughters, Elizabeth and Emma. He watched her slightly hunched back recede and turned his attention inwardly. Women’s talk held no interest for Enoch.

It was essentially a sobering sort of day further enhanced by the continuing cool weather and naked trees. He looked at the one on his right; a cape lilac. A scraggly looking tree in winter, this one had a child’s wicker pram parked in front of it. He recognised it as belonging to his little granddaughter, Edith. She’d probably be around somewhere, watching the proceedings with her pet dog by her side. Poor little mite, he thought to himself. Elizabeth’s death three years earlier had left Edith motherless at only six. It had shocked and grieved the whole family but none more so than James, his son.

Enoch took off his hat and smoothed what was left of his hair in readiness for the photographer. The man was running late as usual. Firmly planting his walking sticks on the ground, he used them as a lever to carefully swivel himself to the side of the chair. He turned his head and looked up at the sign above the door.

“M. Barratt. Wardrobe Dealer & Registry Office”

“Office hours from 10-12am & 3-5pm”

He owned it but it was really Mrs B’s business. She’d been running it for 15 years; almost as long as they’d been married. Enoch chuckled. She’d probably still be running it if she had the chance. But it was Enoch’s sickness and his ever increasing need for care combined with Mrs B’s age that had resulted in her eventual decision to retire. He was grateful but he knew it wasn’t an easy decision for her to make. It was probably why she wanted the photograph taken.

Enoch lowered his head and examined the assortment of goods within the shop. Ladies’ and men’s clothing, sewing machines, beds and bedding, drapery, furniture and an assortment of groceries all vied for space on the shop floor. He looked towards the spot where Baker’s Patent Mangle had sat for nearly three years. It was such a heavy, awkward contraption. They eventually sold it, but they may as well have given it away.

It dawned on Enoch that this particular moment would probably be the last time he would see the shop looking just as it was. The auction (arranged by B.C. Wood & Co.) had been scheduled to take place in one week. All the stock would be sold as well as the counters, showcases and fixtures. The shop would be gutted; an empty shell of what it once was. Not one for showing emotion, Enoch grunted and thoughtfully rubbed his right hand over his whiskered chin. It was starting to feel like the end of an era. He too was at the end of his life. He was now 82 and the cancer that he’d earlier been admonished for touching had been diagnosed at the start of the year. The doctor couldn’t predict how long he had left but Enoch knew, within himself, that the curtains were slowly closing.

“Pa? You look so thoughtful. What are you thinking of?” He looked up into the concerned face of his eldest daughter, Elizabeth. So engrossed in his thoughts, he hadn’t seen her approach him.

Her hand rested on the back of the chair. Enoch patted it absentmindedly.

“Not much, my dear. Old times. Reminiscing.”

Elizabeth nodded and smiled. “The photographer has finally come. Do you need a hand turning around?”

“No. No. Let an old man have his dignity.”

Under the watchful eyes of the women, Enoch again used the trusty walking sticks to help swivel his body so that he was once more sitting facing Murray Street with his back to the shop. He sat quietly as he felt the presence of both of his daughters directly behind him. To his left stood Maria; proud and staunch to the last. Directly in front of him, on the opposite side of the street, the photographer was putting the final touches on the setup of the camera. He listened as Emma told her sister that she’d given the man strict instructions to ensure the whole shop was photographed.

His adjustments complete, the photographer stood up and raised his hand as a signal to Enoch’s small party that he would soon take the photograph. Enoch shifted his weight to make himself more comfortable and ignored the unnerving wobble as the chair failed to sit plum on the uneven ground. He positioned the walking sticks between his legs and held his hat firmly upon his knees. He knew his wife and daughters were doing similar such things and that, like him, they had adopted a face devoid of all expression.

Resisting the urge to move, Enoch sat motionless as he stared at the box on stilts that, remarkably, would capture the three of them and the memory of Maria’s shop for all to see.

Several minutes passed and Enoch spent them in contemplation of all that had been. So much had happened to him in his lifetime. So much great change had occurred. The photographer lifted his head. It was over.


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