While researching the life of Matilda Maria Hurst I often found myself full of questions and speculation. With every document discovered, there was always something not quite right.
Born in The Collie (known today as Roelands) in 1867, Matilda was the eighth child born to Basil and Maria Hurst (nee Gardiner).
She was 21 years of age when in 1887 she married Thomas, the youngest son of the early Australind pioneers William and Ann Crampton. By this time the southwest had been settled for over 40 years. Times were still tough but progress had been made. There were also still only a small number of families within the area. Perhaps this limited choice accounted for the 22 year age difference between Thomas and Matilda.
In the above photo Thomas and Matilda look quite young. Though it’s not been dated, it’s extremely probable that it was taken shortly after they were married.
They began their life living in The Collie and not long after their marriage, their first child, a daughter, was born in 1888. They named her Daisy Hilda Crampton.
More children soon followed. Three years later, in 1891, Matilda gave birth to a son, Thomas Lisle Crampton. Their third child (and my Great Grandmother) was born on 9 January 1894. She was named for her mother, Matilda Maria Crampton but was known to all as Kitty or Kate. She was to be the couple’s last child.
Matilda’s personality and how she fared as a mother and housewife is unknown. Nine months after the birth of their youngest daughter however, disaster struck. On 16 September 1894, their son Thomas left the house and disappeared into the bush.
Inspector Clifton, a number of settlers and Thomas Sr. combed the bush looking for him. He was never found. Three days later the newspapers of the time ran a brief paragraph stating that nothing had been heard of the little boy lost in the bush. The chances of finding him alive were slim and the search was called off.
It would not be hard to imagine that Matilda’s reaction after the disappearance of her three year old son was one of extreme grief. In the early colonial days, accidents such as these were very likely to occur as a vast majority of the land and surrounding areas was uninhabited. Unfortunately this seems to be something that Matilda never accepted or considered. She never fully recovered mentally or emotionally from the loss of her child and in the words of my Aunty (who originally confirmed the disappearance of Thomas Jnr) she was never quite the same.
However, with a six year old and an infant to take care of she was probably expected to get on with caring for them as well as running the house.
Once again I have no account on how she managed these tasks all the while under a burden of grief. Perhaps she had help from her siblings or maybe her husband but eventually they too would’ve had to get on with their own work. If she was struggling in some psychological way, it almost certainly would not have been spoken of.
It’s here, that her story seems to come abruptly to an end. From this moment, most of the information I have concerning Matilda’s life is only indirectly related to her.
I have never been able to place Matilda at a specific residence in her lifetime. Throughout the years, she never voted. Her husband Thomas did and was shown living in Roelands but she however was never listed beside him on the register.
A letter written by Lavinia to Lucy (both of whom are Matilda’s sisters) on 6 August 1915 talked about Matilda’s youngest daughter Matilda (who I shall refer to as Kitty). In the letter Lavinia said:
I will be staying here a few days longer till Jack is more settled. Katie has been down to Auntie Minnie’s for a few days but she is here again for a while. I think she is going up to Daisy for a while & then around amongst the rest of us till she can settle down. The poor child seems to be getting on wonderfully well considering the shock it must’ve been to her & she thinks she will go to Abe as soon as she settles down.
The ‘shock’ turned out to be the sudden death of Matilda’s brother, Thomas. At the time of his death it appears that Kitty was staying with him. She was only 21 years old and was unmarried. In these times, most unmarried women would still be living with their parents. Kitty however was living with her Uncle and then (as the above quote states) she went around to the rest of her Aunties and Uncles as well as her sister Daisy who, by this time, was already married.
Where was Thomas and Matilda? Was there a reason why their youngest child Kitty did not live with them?
Just over a year later on 13 November 1916 Kitty wrote to Charles Victor Barratt (her future husband). She mentioned Matilda in this paragraph:
I did not see you on the boat. I looked and looked. Mum and Dad saw you. I was very glad they did. Wasn’t we lucky to see you at the train, I was never so pleased in my life and when we told Mum I had seen you, she said well that’s as good as 20 pound to me. She knew you would be so glad.
The wording concerning Matilda seems light-hearted enough and it can be inferred that Thomas and Matilda were going along happily together. The letter however was written in Argyle and Kitty was once again living with one of Matilda’s siblings, this time, with her Uncle Abraham (read the full letter here). The 1916 Electoral Roll further verifies this and lists Kitty’s occupation as a housekeeper.
The same question immediately comes to mind. Why wasn’t Kitty living with her parents?
Whatever Matilda’s situation in life, her world completely changed on 20 August 1919 when her husband Thomas died from Pneumonia Influenza. Despite surviving him, she was not a beneficiary in his Will. His Will was made in 1915 and bequeathed all of his Estate to his two daughters Daisy and Kitty in equal shares. Matilda received nothing.
Nearly two months later, on 11 October 1919, Kitty married Charles in St Patrick’s Church in Bunbury. A newspaper article describing the wedding stated that she was given away by her Uncle Jack (John). This was, of course, because her father was no longer alive. A group wedding photo was taken with Kitty’s family and included her Aunties and Uncles. It did not include Matilda. Further evidence from the marriage certificate also listed Matilda as living in Claremont.
Kitty and Charles (centre) on their wedding day – surrounded by Kitty’s Aunties and Uncles.
On 22 August 1928, Matilda’s brother John (Jack) passed away. Back in 1915 he was mentioned in the letter written by Lavinia to Lucy. Thomas had died without a Will which meant that (as he was a bachelor) his property would be divided equally amongst his siblings. The letter said:
You know if Tom had made a Will Jack would have had the use of it [referring to Tom’s Property] till his (Jack’s) death. Well all of us that is Alice, Minnie, Belle & myself think in justice to Jack he should still have it as Tom wished. Jack says if everyone willing for him to do so he will provided he pays a rent which would be equally divided amongst us all & he will guarantee that as soon as he gets the property in his name he will make a Will leaving Tom’s property equally amongst us all.
True to his word, John made his Will and upon his death his property was left to his sisters. All except Matilda. Matilda’s share however was left to her daughters, Daisy and Kitty. Where was Matilda? Why didn’t she receive anything from her brother’s Estate?
All these questions led to speculation and it wasn’t until I came to the end of Matilda’s story that the pieces finally slid into place. Matilda passed away on 17 August 1934 at the age of 67 in Claremont from renal syndrome (kidney problems) and heart failure. These health issues could’ve come from old age but it was the place of death which confirmed all that I had speculated. Matilda had died in the Hospital for Insane.
At the moment I haven’t had access to the records so I have no idea how long she was a resident in the Hospital. Her Death Certificate however tells a sad tale. Her father, his occupation and her mother: unknown. Where she was born and how long she was in Australia: unknown. Where she was married and at what age: unknown. Whether she had children: unknown. The only piece of information known is the name of her husband: Thomas Crampton.
It’s obvious that at some time in Matilda’s life she reached a point where her family could not or would not care for her. Unfortunately she lived in an era when there was no real understanding of mental health and the only answer to even the smallest “problems” would be to institutionalise the person, bury the past and never speak of it again.
A day later Matilda was buried in the Anglican section of Karrakatta Cemetery.
There were no death notices lovingly placed in the newspapers by her family or friends and no headstone or marker was placed on her grave. Whether her children attended her funeral is unknown but I do know that no person was listed as a witness on her death certificate.
Whatever happened to her and whatever her illness was, she was ultimately placed into obscurity both in life and death. Regardless, to end up on one’s own and completely forgotten by your family is incredibly cruel and saddens me greatly. I can’t blame others for the best decision they could make at the time but I only hope that I can learn more of her story so that in death she receives more understanding than what she would’ve done in life.
My recent discoveries with respect to Matilda’s life would not have been possible without Pam, who very kindly let me scan a copy of Lavinia’s letter which ultimately became the pivotal piece of evidence which made me dig a little deeper.
Ancestry.com. Australia Birth Index, 1788-1922 [database on-line].
Ancestry.com. Australia Marriage Index, 1788-1950 [database on-line].
1894 ‘PROVINCIAL TELEGRAMS.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 21 September, p. 3, viewed 9 June, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76468179
1894 ‘BUNBURY NEWS.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 24 September, p. 2, viewed 9 June, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3066948
1915 ‘Mainly About People.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 4 August, p. 5 Edition: THIRD EDITION, viewed 16 June, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article81001710
1919 ‘Mainly About People.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 23 October, p. 3 Edition: THIRD EDITION, viewed 16 June, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article81932474
1934 ‘Family Notices.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 18 August, p. 1, viewed 16 June, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32958998
Western Australian Death Certificate for Matilda Maria Crampton (Registration: 1426/1934).