Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

When Edith Alice Maud Theakston (my Great Great Grandmother) was born on 17 February 1877 on Hart Street in Glanville, South Australia she became a part of a family that was no stranger to scandal. Despite being the son of the well known sculptor, Joseph Theakston and having the best start in life working for The Bank of England, Edith’s Grandfather, Christopher Edwin Theakston succumbed to greed, embezzled money and eventually landed himself in prison. The story attracted world wide attention and it was perhaps  the reason why Christopher’s son and Edith’s father, Hugh James Theakston took to the seas and after meeting and marrying Edith’s mother, Emily Freeman, eventually settled far, far away from England in South Australia.

Edith's Birth Notice

Edith lived on Hart Street in Glanville for the first nine years of her life. Her father was the captain of small steam ships and travelled extensively around the east coast of Australia and on occasions, New Zealand. He would have been away for fairly long periods of time and during his absence her mother took care of the children and the house along with some help from a domestic servant.

By the time Edith was 10 years old she had relocated with her family to Fremantle in Western Australia where they lived on Short Street. Her father still continued to captain various vessels and her mother now looked after the household and also ran a boarding house and restaurant. Advertisements ran regularly requesting the services of both a good cook and general servant. During this period Edith most probably attended school at the Fremantle Government Girls’ School and as she got older, helped out around the house.

In 1897 Edith turned 20 and around June of this year she met a gentleman who either had sinister intentions towards her or completely swept her off her feet. Whatever the situation (which unfortunately is unknown) Edith and the gentleman slept together. Edith was unmarried which, during this time, was a social no-no. Of course, as long as no one else knew then socially it didn’t matter. I’m sure she calmly went on with her life and duties until the moment she discovered she was pregnant.

I have no information or records as to how she fared during the next nine months but can only assume that she would’ve tried to hide it. Though one can be discreet about their relationships, there’s no easy way to hide a baby. Perhaps at first she covered her growing stomach with clothing but later she would’ve had to do something more drastic.

She eventually gave birth in brother and sister, Frederick and Hannah Postans’ house in Hope Valley (which back then fell under the name of Rockingham). Hannah was listed on the birth certificate as the midwife while Frederick was listed as a witness. Why she was at their house remains to be seen. One possibility was that she was passing by when the baby came but I believe it’s incredibly likely that she was sent to this remote location and lived with the siblings (who were known to be quite reclusive) so that she could give birth far away from the curious people in the port of Fremantle.

Edith’s daughter (my Great Grandmother) was born on 13 February 1898 and was named Mary Elizabeth Theakston. No father was listed on the birth certificate and on one relative’s copy the words ‘illegitimate’ were scrawled in the father’s section. Either Edith knew who the father was and chose not to give his name or the father was completely unknown to her. She left Hope Valley with her daughter and went back home to her mother in Fremantle.

Several years later she met Joseph Sedgwick Attwood and the couple were married in 1902 in Fremantle. Joseph was a soldier during the Boer War and upon his return he worked as a storeman. They lived together for several years with Edith’s mother on Cantonment Street in Fremantle and then later lived on Church Street in South Fremantle.

Edith looked after the house and along with Joseph’s help, raised her daughter Mary. Due to the fact that Mary was born out of wedlock it seems as though measures were taken to ensure that people would not find out the truth. Though her name was registered as Mary Elizabeth Theakston, many records indicate that she was also known as Ivy, Vera, Veronica, Elizabeth and occasionally was even given the surname Attwood instead of Theakston. After Edith’s mother, Emily died in 1921, ‘In Memoriam’ pieces in The West Australian described Mary as Emily’s niece and then later, her granddaughter. With all  these different names and titles, life for Mary was probably very confusing.

As Edith’s daughter grew up and began living her life, having her own children and getting married, Edith however was becoming quite sick. She suffered from pernicious anaemia which meant that her body was not able to produce enough red blood cells due to a lack of vitamin B12 which, as part of the illness, could not be absorbed from food. She would’ve been feeling tired, weak, short of breath and dizzy. She may have also suffered from heart pulpitations, weight loss and soreness of the tongue and mouth. Long lasting pernicious anemia can also cause damage to the heart and in the end this is what caused her death on 17 August 1927 at age 50.

Death Notice

Funeral Notice

She was buried in the Anglican section of the Fremantle Cemetery and a large headstone was erected in her memory.

Edith's Gravesite

For years after her death ‘In Memoriam’ notices were placed in the newspaper for her by her brothers and sisters and widowed husband. She was obviously loved and missed by her family but curiously, there were none placed by her daughter Mary. It seems that from the early 1920s Mary cut off contact with her family. Was it because she found out the truth of her illegitimacy? She also never mentioned the Theakstons to her own children. Her son could recall the day when a man with the surname Theakston visited their house in Subiaco. He was shown to the good lounge room where he discussed the possibility of Mary receiving an inheritance from another Theakston relation. Nothing ever came of it and her son never thought to ask his mum about the man.

In Memoriam Notices

The Theakston family with their stories, scandals and unanswered questions is certainly very interesting. Edith, her daughter and the unknown father are just one of many. It would be nice to one day have a clearer picture of the story concerning Edith and the birth of her daughter (including the name of the unknown father and my Great Great Grandfather) but for now I’ll have to be content with speculation.

Sources:

  • Please note that though I have endeavoured to provide as much factual information as possible a good deal of Edith Alice Maud Theakston’s story is based on my own assumptions from the facts that I do know.
  • Information about Emily running a boarding house and restaurant and information about the Postans and Hope Valley courtesy of Mary’s granddaughter, Lynette.
  • Information concerning Mr Theakston visiting Mary at her home courtesy of Mary’s son, Kevin.
  • 1877 ‘Family Notices.’, South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839-1900), 20 February, p. 4, viewed 20 June, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article40782861
  • Western Australian Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages online index (http://www.bdm.dotag.wa.gov.au/).
  • Ancestry.com. Australian Electoral Rolls, 1903-1954 [database on-line].
  • Information on pernicious anaemia courtesy of BBC Health website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/conditions/perniciousanaemia1.shtml).
  • Metropolitan Cemeteries Board online index (http://www.mcb.wa.gov.au/Index.aspx).
  • 1927 ‘Family Notices.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879-1954), 18 August, p. 1, viewed 20 June, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32046775 
  • 1928 ‘Family Notices.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879-1954), 17 August, p. 1, viewed 20 June, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32216170
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