Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

There has always been a great reluctance on my part to start writing about my mum’s side of the family tree. With many ancestors dying young the information I have and the information of those around me is very limited. Regardless of this it isn’t exactly right to focus on only one family group simply because all the information is there and it’s easy. So, I have decided to write about my Great Grandfather, William Nicholson. I’m not sure how comprehensive his story will be but hopefully it will paint a vibrant picture of a man who is related to many people but known personally to so few.

William Nicholson was born on 13 May 1902 in the fairly new town of Denmark to Edward Nicholson and Agnes Elizabeth McCarthy.

Denmark first got its start as a timber mill town in 1895 and it was here that William spent the early years of his life. By 1906 he and his family had moved to Mornington Mills; another timber mill situated near Harvey. A brief stint of living in Gosnells at age 14 didn’t last long. His parents soon moved back to the mills and by the time he reached 23 he was officially recorded as working at No.8 Mill in Holyoake as a winch driver. William essentially grew up in the old timber mills of the Southwest.

Where William grew up - Mornington Mill in 1903.

Mornington Mill in 1905.

Living in a mill town during this period would’ve been extremely challenging. There was no electricity and the work was carried out by steam power or by hand. Needing easy access to timber, they were often located right in the middle of jarrah forests miles away from the nearest town. There was usually only one shop in the town and they would carry all the supplies the residents would need. Transportation to and from the mill was by way of horse and cart or later, by steam engine. They were extremely isolated but still, towns flourished and children went to school and grew up with the mill being a part of their everyday lives. Surrounded by the bush and living simply, many people who lived in the mill towns look back fondly on the time they spent there.

It’s reasonable to assume that sometime in the late 1920s William, who was now working as an engine driver, moved back to Gosnells with his parents. Living in a town that was comparitively larger than the mills, he was able to interact with a broader range of people. It was during this time he met Jessie Linto; a waitress who was living and working in the nearby town of Armadale.

William and Jessie married on 9 April 1928 in St Munchin’s Church in Gosnells according to the rites of the Catholic Church. William’s elder brother, John Edward Nicholson was one of the witnesses to the ceremony. They soon left Gosnells and nine months later (almost to the day) on 4 January 1929, Jessie gave birth to their first child, Reece Thomas Nicholson (my Pop) in Nannup. Three more children soon followed: William Edward Nicholson in 1930, Veronica Jessie Nicholson on 13 October 1931 and Hilary Morden Nicholson on 21 September 1937.

During the early 1930s William, Jessie and their children moved back to Gosnells where they settled on Evelyn Street. William’s parents, his brother John and his half sister, Elizabeth (his mother’s daughter to her first husband) were also living in Gosnells. Whilst living here, he was surrounded by family.

It was also while living here, on 14 March 1932 that William and his brother John were involved in an accident while walking along Armadale Road near Kelmscott.

Brothers Run Down

They both sustained head injuries and were transported to Royal Perth Hospital. John suffered from minor head injuries and abrasions while William suffered from more serious head injuries and shock and was immediately placed on the danger list. Several days later he had recovered sufficiently and his name was removed.

Names off Danger List

For such a serious accident it seems William was incredibly lucky to have escaped without serious harm or even worse, death. Whether the accident affected him later in life is unknown. All his children except one have now passed away. Though his youngest son Hilary is still alive he was not yet born when the accident occurred. Unfortunately, he could not recall the accident ever being mentioned by his parents.

When World War I broke out in 1914, William was only 12 years old and far too young to fight for his country. Perhaps it was this fact that fuelled his decision to enlist in the Australian Military on 26 July 1940 at age 38. World War II was now raging and William wanted to help in any way he could. His actions were noble but unfortunately (or depending on how you look at it, fortunately) he was discharged five months later on 17 December 1940. William went back to working as an engine driver for the mills and he and his family moved to Hoffman’s Mill; a mill town near Harvey. At present the reasons for William’s discharge are not known. I have however ordered his military records from the National Archives of Australia but these may not be available online for another 90 days. Once I am able to view the military records I will provide an update on this post.

Now an adult with small children of his own, William gave them the same opportunity that he had as a child; to experience growing up in a mill town. It left a lasting impression on them.

Hoffman’s Mill was located right in the middle of the Dwellingup State Forrest and was surrounded by jarrah trees. William awoke each day to the sound of the mill whistle and after getting himself ready at home, arrived at the mill and started work at 7:30am. He worked six days a week; finishing at 4:30pm on Monday through Friday and finishing at 12:00pm on Saturday. Reece, William, Veronica and Hilary went to school and were taught by one teacher in a small room on the other side of the river. On particular days swimming lessons were arranged in the makeshift pool which was actually a banked up section of the Harvey River.

The small town included buildings such as the mill, the workers’ houses, a hall and one shop which sold everything. There was no fridge in the shop so perishable goods such as meat and milk were brought in by train which ran straight through the middle of the townsite. Some residences however may have had fridges that ran on kerosene. As most of the town was without electricity, entertainment came in the form of social dances at the hall, swimming, social gatherings amongst friends or listening to the programs on the wireless.

William lived for many years with his family in Hoffman’s Mill. Sadly however, his life was cut drastically short. At some point during his time here William contracted pulmonary tuberculosis (TB). How he became afflicted by such a disease is a mystery. His symptoms may have included a cough as well as coughing up mucus and blood, excessive sweating, fatigue, fever and weight loss. He also could’ve had chest pains, breathing difficulties and wheezing. His last days would’ve been rather painful and it obviously reached such a serious point that Jessie felt she had no other option but to take him to Royal Perth Hospital. He made it to the hospital but it was too late. William died on 17 February 1945 at age 42 and was buried in the Roman Catholic section of Karrakatta Cemetery.

Death Notice

Funeral Notice

William Nicholson's Gravesite

William's Headstone

Although he lived at a time where it was common for people to die young, dying at age 42 (to me) seems overwhelmingly young. There’s so much of his life that he missed out on. He left behind his wife and his four children aged 16, 15, 14 and 8. He also never got to see them reach adulthood, get married and have children of their own. Despite this, they remembered the good times they had with him and often reminisced on the days they spent at Hoffman’s Mill.


7 thoughts on “William Nicholson

  1. Lauren O'Neil says:

    Thank you for posting this. I am researching my grandmothers line and have been finding it really difficult and this was awesome. Veronica Jessie was my grandmother so thank you for sharing.

    1. Jess says:

      You’re welcome Lauren. 🙂 My Pop (Reece) was Veronica’s brother. Unfortunately the Nicholsons aren’t an easy lot to research most likely because of William’s death at a relatively young age. Does your family have any old photos of the Nicholsons or any stories or information about where they came from?

      1. Lauren ONeil says:

        Hey Jess

        Apologies for how long it has taken me to respond, I travel a lot with my work!

        I will speak with my grandad to see what he has, I might have some photos that you’d like copies of.

        I also wanted to let you know, in case you’re not in touch, but Uncle Ray (Reece’s brother) died a couple of weeks ago. My mum asked me to let you know at the time and I forgot, I’m so sorry I didn’t let you know earlier.

        I’ll be in touch when I’ve been to see my grandad.

        Speak soon, L

      2. Jess says:

        That’s okay Lauren. Thank you for letting me know about Uncle Ray. I’m in contact with his son on Facebook and he also let me know. Hope you had some luck with the photos! I’m actually thinking of starting a Nicholson descendants group on Facebook so keep an eye out for that in the future. 🙂

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