In the middle of The Daily News, positioned between an advertisement for Dr Morse’s Indian Root Pills and another for a Syd. Gregory cricket bat, the word ‘A P O L O G Y’ with it’s capitalised, evenly spaced letters, is hard to miss.
Perhaps concerned about possible legal action with respect to the “false and defamatory slander” that was circulated, the author of the apology, Mrs F Elsegood, gave my 2nd Great Grandmother, Edith Alice Maud Attwood (nee Theakston) permission to print it in both The Daily News and The West Australian at her own expense. It was an apology that Edith (more than Mrs Elsegood) would want everyone to see and whether intentional or not, it was conveniently located alongside the East Fremantle Municipal Council’s news. This handy placement meant that those interested in the goings on at the Council would most likely come from Fremantle (where both Edith and Mrs Elsegood lived) and while reading the council news, would probably spot the apology in the next column.
Mrs Elsegood is essentially shamed through it’s publication but it also serves as a warning to other women (or men) who may spread stories about other people: if you make claims about someone, you’d best have proof. In this instance however, Mrs Elsegood may have been forced to publish an apology but it’s extremely likely that whatever she was talking about may have had some truth to it.
So, what did Mrs Elsegood say that was so bad that it needed an apology? Unfortunately, the answer will probably never be known without insight into the parties’ minds and what was happening at the time but, we do have one clue where it states that the slander was concerning Edith’s “reputation”. While I do not know what the slander was, what I do know is that Edith gave birth to an illegitimate daughter (my Great Grandmother) in 1898. The aforementioned clue plus this known fact leads to speculation. Was the reference to Edith’s reputation actually relating to her sexual reputation and the legitimacy of her child’s birth? Read Mary Elizabeth Theakston – The Early Years for more information.
Personally, I believe it’s very likely that this was the case.
I then found myself thinking of other questions. Who was Mrs F Elsegood? Why was she talking about the reputation of Edith Attwood? Was she somehow related to the family? I conducted some research and though she’s not actually related there is still a very distant connection that occurs in a roundabout way.
From the clues in the apology, I deduced that Mrs F Elsegood would have to have married Mr Elsegood sometime before the date 20 September 1906. She lived in Fremantle and either her name started with an ‘F’ or her husband’s name started with an ‘F’. There were several possibilities. One had died before my Great Grandmother had been born. She was ruled out. The other was much older and lived in a different area. Possible, but I also ruled her out. I was left with one woman: Florence Catherine Prideaux.
I continued searching, just to be sure. Florence was about 20 when she married Arthur Frederick Sunter Elsegood in 1906 and a Mr A F Elsegood was listed in the 1907 Post Office directory as living at 85 Fitzgerald Terrace in Fremantle. I looked through the newspapers and then found a recipe for brain fritters submitted in July 1906 by ‘Mrs F A Elsegood, Fitzgerald Terrace, Fremantle’. Despite the initials being in a different order, I came to the conclusion that it had to be her.
Using the assumption that Mrs Elsegood was referencing the illegitimate birth, I pose another question: how would she have known of it? Edith appears to have gone to great efforts to disguise the birth so there is really only one answer to such a question: family connection.
I next searched through the newspapers for instances where Elsegood and Attwood were featured in the same article. I found the following In Memoriam notice.
As is always the case with marriage, Florence inherited some new family members. Her brother-in-law became Edward John Elsegood and he had been married to Adeline Johnson for 13 years. Adeline and Florence were now sisters-in-law. Interestingly, the real clincher comes through Adeline. Adeline’s sister was Alice Lilian May Johnson and Alice (known as Lilly) had married Charles Alfred Attwood. Charles Attwood was the brother of Joseph Sedgwick Attwood and Joseph, was Edith’s husband. Who better to know about the truth of Edith’s child than a member of the Attwood family.
Years ago, illegitimacy was a shameful secret to be kept hidden from family members at all costs and because of the shame, information relating to family history became lost. My Great Grandmother’s birth certificate listed her father simply as “unknown” and I still have no idea who he was. There’s a strong chance that Joseph was her father (she did at one point use the Attwood surname) but I’ve been unwilling to confirm this without any proof.
It is the apology however that raises questions. Was Mrs Elsegood gossiping about the illegitimacy of Edith’s daughter and Edith’s attempt to pass her off as an Attwood? Does this mean that my Great Grandmother definitely wasn’t Joseph’s daughter? Or, was illegitimacy such an issue that regardless of the fact that my Great Grandmother may have been Joseph’s daughter, her birth would still be gossiped about. All I can truly say is that the Attwoods would’ve known. If my Great Grandmother was Joseph’s daughter born illegitimately, they would’ve known. If she wasn’t his daughter and for some reason went by the name Attwood, they would’ve known. I may never know who her father was but perhaps the knowledge of my Great Grandmother’s father also lies with the Attwood family.
- 1906 ‘Advertising.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 21 September, p. 6, viewed 7 November, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article82457142
- 1906 ‘BRAIN F[?]ITTE[?]S.’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 22 July, p. 7 Section: SECOND SECTION, viewed 9 November, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article57234964
- Western Australian Births, Deaths & Marriages; Marriage; Registration Number: 50; Registration Year: 1906.
- State Library of Western Australia; WA Post Office Directories; 1907.
- Western Australian Births, Deaths & Marriages; Marriage; Registration Number: 118; Registration Year: 1893.
- Western Australian Births, Deaths & Marriages; Marriage; Registration Number: 212; Registration Year: 1896.