There are some people in this world who, after they have gone, will leave behind bright, blazing pathways for researchers like myself to follow. At every turn there will be information of some kind and their lives are slowly plumped up from being simply birth, death and marriage records to something that is all encompassing. Something that shows that they lived. Unfortunately, while there are people who leave bright trails there are also those who leave the opposite. There are some people who barely leave a footprint throughout the life they lived. Uncle Bill was one of these people.
William Edward Nicholson was born on 22 May 1930. Though the birth was registered in Perth it’s more likely that he was born in Gosnells where his father, William and mother, Jessie were living with their first born son, Reece (my Pop). William was named for his father and like his father, he soon became known to everyone as Bill.
He was born in the Great Depression and was one of many who grew up living on little. His father was an engine driver but I’m unsure as to how the Depression affected the family as a whole. Generally the Nicholsons were associated with timber mills and it’s obvious that at this time when there was a low need for timber, jobs were few and the Nicholsons moved away from the mills they loved so much. Essentially, Uncle Bill’s early years were spent in Gosnells.
How Uncle Bill was as a child is unknown. My Pop certainly never spoke of him (from what I can remember) but his sister, Ronnie, did. As it sometimes happens with parents and children, William and Bill did not appear to get on and William (who liked to drink a bit too much) often hit and took his frustrations out on Bill. Such behaviour is inexcusable and probably helped shape Bill into the person he became.
By the early 1940s Bill would’ve been about 10 years old when his family moved to Hoffman’s Mill. The timber industry had picked up again and William probably wanted to be back in an environment that had formed good memories in his youth. The move however did not last long. William had contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and was sent to Perth Hospital to hopefully recover. By 17 February 1945, he had passed away. Uncle Bill was 15 years old.
The family had followed William back to Perth and after his death, decided to remain close to town. They had lost their principal breadwinner and had to rely on their family’s goodwill and charity. Luckily, William’s Aunt (and Bill’s Great Aunt), Mary Cochrane, came to the rescue. The family soon settled in her house at 134 Hay Street in Subiaco.
Uncle Bill was now a teenager and by all appearances, he went through the rebellious teenage years. By 19 November 1949 he was 19 years of age and was in trouble with the police. Caught ‘shaping up’ to another youth in Axon Street in Subiaco at 9:30 at night, he was found guilty and fined £3. Uncle Bill’s excuse for his behaviour was “I might have been hailing a taxi”.
There was to be one final blow to Uncle Bill. His mother, Jessie, was only 51 years of age when she suffered from a myocardial rupture on 6 July 1950. Considered to be an acute form of a heart attack, it seems Jessie was rushed to Royal Perth Hospital in the hope that she could be saved. It was to no avail. According to Jessie’s death certificate, no name of the doctor or the date she was last seen was provided. She had died completely unexpectedly. It was so unexpected, a Coroner’s Enquiry was needed to confirm the cause of her death.
Uncle Bill was 20 years old.
One would assume that after his mother’s body was released for burial, Bill would’ve attended the funeral with his siblings to pay his last respects at Karrakatta Cemetery. After saying goodbye, however, he didn’t stay long. Regardless of the three siblings that still remained, Bill appears to have decided that there was nothing there to keep him around. He took off and was not seen again by any of his family for close to 40 years.
From this point on, Bill’s trail dulls and the footprints disappear. I don’t know what he did for work. I don’t know where he went throughout the years. He wasn’t listed in the telephone directory and he didn’t vote in any election. He didn’t marry and he didn’t have children. It’s possible he made the news or was in trouble with the police but without a clue of where he was, the search would be enormous. Bill, effectively, vanished.
There’s so much that will never be known about his existence in this world. So much about his whole life after 1950 that’s just…gone.
Despite his ability to disappear, he did eventually get in touch with his family. His brother Ray had been searching for his siblings for years and placed advertisements in The West Australian. In the late 80s Ray finally tracked Bill down and found him living in a small house in Geraldton. Like his father, he too had taken to drink. He’d lived a hard life and the years had taken their toll. The only known photo of him (taken around this time) shows an old, tired man who needed the use of a walking stick.
Uncle Bill passed away on 3 September 1990 in Geraldton Regional Hospital. His funeral memorandum states that he was an invalid pensioner and had been living at 27 Cypress Street in Rangeway (near Geraldton). The house belonged to the Whitby family and it was Clarence Whitby who organised the funeral. All the details relating to his mother and father were stated ‘unknown’.
A funeral notice was placed in The West Australian and it’s possible my Pop saw this while perusing the birth, death and marriage notices. He placed his own notice in the paper and made the decision to travel to Geraldton to attend the funeral.
Pop made his way to Perth and asked my Mum if she could drop him off at East Perth Station so he could catch a bus to Geraldton. He made it there in time and paid his last respects to a brother he essentially never knew.
- Western Australian Births, Deaths and Marriages; Registration Number: 1756; Registration Year: 1930.
- 1949 ‘POLICE MADE HIM RUN.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 19 November, p. 12 Edition: FIRST, viewed 22 December, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84364089
- The West Australian; 5 September 1990; Page 78
- The West Australian; 7 September 1990; Page 43
- Information relating to Uncle Bill’s youth courtesy of his sister’s daughter.
- Information relating to Ray’s visit courtesy of Ray Nicholson.
- Uncle Bill’s funeral information and documents courtesy of Guidice & Barndon Funeral Directors; who very kindly sifted through their archives to provide me with new clues.