Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

Christmas of 1893 must’ve been a fairly trying occasion for Tilly. Heavily pregnant with her third child, she arrived at her parents’ farm ‘Greenwood’ in Collie Bridge on Christmas Eve. Accompanied by her husband, Thomas Crampton, and two small children, Daisy and Thomas Junior, the family stayed with the Hursts throughout Christmas and onto the New Year. As is common with Christmas celebrations, they most likely partook in Christmas lunch or dinner as well as the Christmas cakes which were baked about a week earlier. The Cramptons stayed for a total of ten days and finally departed on the 2 January 1894 with Tilly’s niece, Nellie (aged 15) in tow.

Looking at this with a pair of modern eyes, travelling whilst so close to when you are due to give birth does not necessarily seem out of the ordinary. If it were to happen today and you suddenly went into labour, there would be an ambulance (if needed) or (more likely) a car to drive you to the nearest hospital. So what about in 1894? Would a pregnant woman about to give birth travel across the countryside in a horse and cart? Despite my scepticism of such action, the fact is, I don’t know. Furthermore, I don’t know the details of the birth or of Tilly’s pregnancy. Perhaps she wasn’t heavily pregnant. Perhaps she gave birth prematurely. But, if that was the case, what would be the likelihood of a premature baby surviving in 1894?

There are a lot of questions raised by looking at the timeline obtained from the Hurst Daybook but one irrefutable piece of evidence (in the form of a birth certificate) remains. On 9 January 1894, a week after returning from her parents’ house (and perhaps with the help of Nellie) Tilly gave birth to my Great Grandmother. She was to be her mother’s namesake: Matilda Maria Crampton.

Born in Collie, the preference for many settlers to name everything after the Collie River means I’m not entirely sure in which Collie she was born. The most likely assumption was that she was born in Collie Bridge which was also known as just ‘Collie’ as this was where the Hurst family farm was situated. However, the fact that Tilly leaves the farm on the 2nd and isn’t noted in the Diary as returning or having given birth throws doubt over this assumption. The other option, is that she was born in the vicinity of the Collie coalfields which is where they may have been living at the time.

Only a baby, little Matilda was oblivious to all that was going on around her. Nellie had come to stay with the Cramptons and there’s no doubt that she would’ve doted on her new cousin as well as provided some support for Tilly. She stayed for a month and returned to her grandparents’ house on 6 February.

No further mention of Thomas or Tilly is found within the Daybook apart from the early January entries. It is my belief that throughout this time they were most likely living somewhere in the bush west of Allanson and somewhat close to the Collie coalfields. Why they were living in this area considering Thomas had built a house at Wokalup only six years before, is unknown.

They lived close to a gully and (most likely) close to a small branch of the Collie River. They were surrounded by the bush and were quite isolated. One of the nearest towns to the family was Brunswick and evidence shows that Tilly visited the town and on one occasion, went about in public wearing only her shift (underwear). Where was baby Matilda throughout this time? Was she left at home or did Tilly take her with her?

Tilly’s mental illness was becoming apparent not only to her husband but to the community as well. She had three children to care for (one a newborn) and also had to look after the house duties. By all appearances, she couldn’t cope. If anything strange was going on in the home at that time, baby Matilda would never remember it. She also wouldn’t remember the older brother who went missing in the bush on 16 September 1894. She wouldn’t remember the frantic searching nor the worry that had taken hold of her father, Thomas. She wouldn’t remember her mother (and most likely herself and her sister) being relocated to Greenwood and she wouldn’t remember the day her father and mother left the farm and caught the train to Fremantle where Tilly was admitted to the Asylum. Matilda would never see her mother again and being only a baby, she certainly wouldn’t remember her.

Motherless, it’s not known where exactly Matilda and her sister, Daisy, went to live in the few years following 1894. Whilst there is evidence of Thomas working hard for the Brunswick Roads Board, donating small amounts to various charitable institutions and competing in or umpiring cricket matches, there is little evidence with regards to the early years of Matilda. Small clues from later years allow us to draw conclusions as to where she may have lived following her mother’s admittance to the Asylum.

It seems she remained with her grandparents, Basil Hurst and Maria Hurst (nee Gardiner) at Greenwood in Collie Bridge. Despite their best intentions, Matilda’s grandparents were elderly and may not have been in the best of health to care for two little girls. To ease the burden, their own children and Matilda’s aunts and uncles may have helped and it wasn’t long before Matilda would become known to everyone as Kit, Kitty, Kate or Katie.

Growing up on the farm most likely meant that (despite her youth) she had to help her family in some way. She may have learnt early skills in cooking and sewing from her grandmother or perhaps her aunts. As she grew a little older, perhaps she helped with the cleaning or looked after some of the smaller animals such as the chickens. It would’ve been a beautiful spot to live; surrounded by the bush and close by to the stunning Collie River.

On 2 May 1901, Kitty was only seven when her grandfather, Basil, passed away at home after a long illness. She was at school age but at this point in time there was no school in the Australind area (it had closed in 1896 due to insufficient numbers). A school was desperately needed and in December 1902, a letter was written to the Education Department suggesting that a school room be built on Coast Road at a spot which would be at a somewhat equal distance for all the children needing to travel. On this list were the names Daisy Crampton (12) and Kate Crampton (7). They were noted as living at a distance of three miles from the proposed area and this figure places their residence as being in the vicinity of Greenwood near the Collie Bridge.

Just under a year later on 17 October 1903, Maria Hurst passed away suddenly from a heart attack which came on while she was moving an empty box in the dairy. Kitty was now nine years old and it appears her father remained unwilling or unable to care for his children. It’s likely however that the latter word is more correct. Thomas had to work to earn an income and caring for two little girls while out working would’ve been impossible. There is also the fact that traditionally men simply did not consider raising children to be a part of their job. The Hurst family was a very loving and caring family and when two of their own were left without guardians, they quickly stepped in and assumed the role themselves.

While it’s difficult for me to say where exactly Kitty ended up after the death of her grandmother, it’s possible that she continued to live at Greenwood for some time. The Hurst family farm remained in the family and it was the brothers, John (Jack) and Thomas (Tom) who took over running it.

By 1904, Kitty was noted as attending school. Perhaps frustrated at the lack of action in getting a school at Australind opened, she is recorded as having attended the Bunbury State School (now the Paisley Centre). She was in Grade I and was 10 years of age when the Christmas school holidays began on 16 December that year. The usual prizes and medals could not be given out as they had not been received from the Education Department but the certificates relating to the annual examination were nevertheless distributed. Kitty was recorded as having received hers.

On 31 March 1905 the annual presentation of prizes and medals (which may have been the previous years’ prizes which couldn’t be given out) were presented to the students. Kitty was listed as part of the Senior School in Grade I and received first prize for her sewing. This fact doesn’t surprise me. Despite not knowing her or how well she sewed, my Great Grandmother’s Singer treadle sewing machine sat in my Grandparents’ house for many years. I can even remember Grandma showing me how to use it.

Sewing Prizes

These instances are the only times Kitty is mentioned with relation to schooling. Children of this time period generally only went to school up until about age 12 so it’s likely Kitty’s school days would’ve soon come to an end. Despite her limited ‘formal’ education, she could still read and write well so it’s likely that in addition to attending Bunbury State School, she was also educated at home.

At age 12, on 25 April 1906, Kitty took part in the happy celebration of her sister, Daisy’s wedding to Joseph James Adams. The couple were married at Cookernup and Kitty had the honour to serve as one of her sister’s bridesmaids. The mother of the bride played an important role in greeting the guests who arrived at the reception and, without a mother to do so, it was Kitty and Daisy’s Aunt Minnie Woodley who filled the role and hosted the guests at her residence in Yarloop.

Marriage - Daisy & Joseph

It is unknown where Kitty was living around this time period. Though it’s possible she remained at Greenwood, the scant evidence from the following years as well as the close bond she shared with her cousins and Aunts and Uncles, suggests that she may have lived not only at Greenwood, but also spent time with her sister in Cookernup as well as with her Aunts who were all located in various areas around the southwest.


Cousins – Genesta Gibbs, Matilda Maria Crampton & Evangeline Gibbs

Certainly, sometime between 1909 and 1913, she spent a good deal of time living with her Uncle Abe (Abraham Hurst) in Argyle. It was here that she met and became great friends with Jessie Knight and it was also here that she met her great love, Charles Victor Barratt (known as Vic) who had moved to the area in 1909 with his family.

Though I don’t know when exactly or even how they met, it’s possible that Kitty and Vic became acquainted with each other from around the age of 16.

Their bond and love must’ve been extremely strong. It managed to survive even after Vic moved back to the metropolitan area and obtained a position with the Western Australian Government Railways in 1913. It survived throughout 1914 as well as 1915.

It wasn’t until 1915 (and under tragic circumstances) that we finally get a sense of Kitty’s life. She had been living at Greenwood with her Uncle Tom (Thomas Hurst) and had most likely been keeping house for him (he’d never married). On the 30th July 1915, Uncle Tom (who had been recovering from the flu) went for a walk to collect the mail from the letterbox which was fixed to a fence post near Australind Road. He returned home and was soon joined by Kitty who read him one of the letters that was received that day.

…and they were laughing over the contents. He then laid down on a couch to read the newspaper, when he gave what appeared to be a slight sigh, and without pain or the least sign of suffering he had gone to his long rest.

One can only imagine the shock that would’ve taken hold of Kitty. She may have initially tried to rouse him but, seeing that he couldn’t be woken, she quickly ran to the nearest house to get help. Dr Flynn was sent for and he immediately went to the Hurst family home. Sadly, there was nothing he could do. Uncle Tom had passed away as a result of heart problems caused by the flu that he was recovering from.

Everything happened quickly. Uncle Tom was buried the next day and about a week later, letters were sent between the siblings to organise what would happen to Tom’s Estate (he’d died without a Will). On 6 August 1915, Kitty’s Aunt Bina (Lavinia Gibbs) wrote from Greenwood to Aunt Lucy (Lucy Delaporte) advising of the arrangement that was thought to suit everyone best and in this letter, she made mention of Kitty.

Katie has been down to Aunt Minnies 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 have been to her & she thinks she will go to Abe as soon as she settles down.

“Around amongst the rest of us” are the words that stand out the most and I can’t help but wonder if perhaps this hopping between relatives happened on more than one occasion.

Just as the letter stated, Kitty decided to make her new home with her Uncle Abe in Argyle. He had a farm and in particular, an orchard, and though Kitty was living with a relative, she was not going to simply ‘sponge’ off him. The Western Australian electoral roll from the election held on 13 May 1916 shows her as living at Argyle with the occupation “housekeeper”.

Uncle Abe

Uncle Abe

War had broken out the previous year and it may have been a source of pride and worry when she eventually found out that her sweetheart, Vic, had enlisted on 3 October 1916. They were still together and on 13 November she wrote him a letter stating:

You will see I am back at old Argyle again. I landed home today went into my sisters for a day. I’ve been wondering how you have been getting along or if you have been seasick. Cheer up my dearest. We did miss you old boy the place lost its charm after you left.

She had gone to Fremantle to see him off on the boat and it could be inferred, from the words written in the letter, that Vic had proposed to Kitty before he left Australia.

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.

I got your letter on the Friday and Mum got hers. I looked forward to that letter although I knew what was in it.

Interestingly, she often refers to ‘Mum and Dad’ while she refers to her own Dad by the more formal ‘Father’. It’s in my opinion that Mum and Dad most likely referred to Vic’s parents and that she’d taken to calling them Mum and Dad due to the fact that they would eventually be her in-laws. The next paragraph shows her use of ‘Father’ and adds weight to my theory that she was engaged at the time.

Well dear old boy Father has come to see me at last got quite a surprise yesterday when I saw him at the train. Of course I told him everything and he said he would like to see you. Uncle Abe spoke up and said he’s a real good chap. I’ve known him since he was so high.

While Uncle Abe knew who Vic was, it would appear that Thomas Crampton, did not. His youngest daughter was most likely engaged and it seems as if he was the last to know and had perhaps visited her to fulfil his fatherly duties. The words “at last” further illustrates that Kitty’s visits from Thomas weren’t regular occurrences.

Kitty was still listed as living in Argyle and working as a housekeeper in 1917 and it’s likely that this continued until 1919 perhaps interspersed with visits to her sister, as well as to her other Hurst aunts and uncles. The return of Vic on 3 August 1919 would’ve been a great relief and may have also meant that Thomas Crampton finally got to see him. If this meeting did occur, it’s likely it was under a veil of illness. Thomas had pneumonic influenza and on 20 August 1919, he passed away.

Kitty & Thomas

Kitty and her Dad, Thomas Crampton

Two months later on 11 October 1919 and after many years of waiting patiently, Kitty and Vic were married in St Patrick’s Church in Bunbury. Kitty was 25 years old and was given away by her Uncle Jack. The wedding reception (just like when Daisy got married) was hosted by her Aunt Minnie. A few wedding photos were taken in front of the church and in one photo (just as it was throughout her whole life) she was surrounded by the Hurst family.

Wedding Photo


3 thoughts on “Kitty’s Early Years

  1. Nathan Hobby says:

    A fascinating story well told, Jess. I like your informed speculation and your attempt to capture something of the feel of being inside your ancestors’ lives. (I’ve been thinking about these questions of method and style as I work on my biography, set in a similar time period to this.) I grew up in Allanson, and it was uncanny to read the history of a family in that area a hundred years earlier.

    1. Jess says:

      Thanks Nathan! I’m glad you enjoyed reading about Kitty and her early years. How uncanny that you also grew up in Allanson. I’ve been wanting to travel out that way for a while now to try and find where the Cramptons could’ve lived in 1894 but I’m not sure if such a quest would be impossible. There are a few clues but unfortunately, not much from those times appears to have survived. Good luck with your biography! 🙂

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