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1 Jan 2018

No silver spoon for Freda

My mother had a poor start to life.  Born in June 1912 at the Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Sydney, she was promised at birth to a country woman who had just delivered a still-born son. 

Kate Elizabeth Palmer (1881-1970)
She’d been conceived in England in about September 1911, where her birth mother, Kate Elizabeth (Kitty) Palmer was a parlour-maid in a wealthy stockbroker's household in a hamlet known as Godden Green near Seal, Kent.  She'd been born nearby in the village of Ightham in 1881.

Four months later, the father of her child took Kitty to Antwerp in Belgium where he’d purchased her a steerage passage to Sydney on the Friedrich Der Grosse steamship, leaving on Christmas Eve.  She’d been given a travel chest with her initials inscribed, and a promise that he’d join her just as soon as he’d tidied up his business affairs.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, this never happened.  Later my half aunt, Kitty’s second daughter told me that the father was the ‘young gentleman of the house’, a man who had been easily identified in the household in the 1911 census.  Not so fast, I later discovered.  This is another story… or two.

George and Alice Smith with Freda 1913, Dunedoo
So six weeks later, my mother was taken by train to Dunedoo in the Central West of New South Wales.  Her new parents had a small-holding farm there and a brand-new house.  She loved her father George Smith but her mother was a flighty woman and it is likely the two clashed, since Freda Smith, as my mother was known, was a serious child and found her mother’s behaviour embarrassing.
Freda aged 7, c1919

The family moved around a great deal, including back and forwards to Victoria, and Freda had to leave school at 14, even though she was doing well.  Then a bomb-shell: rejected twice.

At Bowral, NSW with foster parents
Within the space of a few weeks in 1930, Alice told her she was adopted and it was time she left home; she then spent a weekend with her birth-mother Kitty, by then married with an eight year old daughter, and living just 30 miles down the road from her then home of Bowral.  At the end of the weekend, Kitty said: “Well, it was nice to meet you dear, but I don’t think we should do it again.”

Freda loved her horses - in Bowral, 1920s
But not everything went badly for Freda.  She did leave home, residing locally at the Bowral Young Woman’s Christian Association (YWCA) premises where she worked as a domestic.  She made some wonderful friends there, and was taken into the lives of the local Anglican Minister’s family, the Stubbins.  They were to become lifelong friends and gave her life skills and a set of values her mother couldn’t.

Marrying Bob Tucker in 1946 
Although her mother did not value education, and Freda was not encouraged to stay at school, she had a thirst for knowledge and an enquiring mind.  When she married, my father encouraged her to join the Worker’s Education Association (WEA) and the Parramatta and Hills Historical Societies.  She started helping out an interstate cousin with shipping and convict records and thereupon discovered her passion for Australian history.  Unlike in my time, there were no free university education or mature-aged entry opportunities, so she grasped what she could, and took up many self-education opportunities.  It helped that she was a voracious reader.

On her memorial plaque, my father inscribed "Australian Historian".

And it probably doesn’t surprise you, dear reader, that it was due to my mother’s passion that I discovered my interest in family history.  Sadly, it was not until after her passing in 2004 that I really had the time to become really involved – eventually, ten years later, resulting in my little business Grevillea Genealogy.

This is my first post for the #52ancestors challenge.  I have joined my fellow graduates from the Diploma of Family History at the University of Tasmania in this challenge.


  1. G'day Margaret,
    You have left some intriguing questions in your post. I hope you are going to answer them in future posts.

    1. Yes, I did that deliberately Sue. I thought I had all the answers but still some more research to do. I love the challenge although soooo time-consuming.

  2. Good to be reminded once again of your Mum's interesting beginning to life Margaret. Thank you.

    1. My pleasure Doreen. Coreene just reminded me of those overnights on the back verandah. Pity you were next door!

  3. Thanks for sharing your mums sad but ultimately successful journey, I enjoyed the read. You've inspired me to get on with creating a blog...always a reason why not to start...

    1. There's always a reason not to keep writing too - "more research needed" is a killer. Best advice - just write (and redraft) and publish.

    2. great story it could have ended so badly, but your mum was resilient, and met the right people to guide her. Well done

  4. Your mother must have been a strong and resilient woman.