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27 Feb 2018

Heirloom: the Tucker family Bible

"Heirloom" is the theme for Week 8 of the #52ancestors blogging challenge.  I'll introduce my favourite later, but first I had to find some cousins.

Leslie Tucker mid-1930s in Chichester
It was a tiny, yellowed newspaper clipping which set me on the search for Tucker relatives in England, my father Robert Sydney Tucker’s birthplace.  The clipping described the wedding of Leslie Albert Tucker and his wife Joan Burke in 1943 in Brentford, Middlesex.

Leslie Tucker was my father’s only first cousin on his paternal side – the only relative with the name Tucker apart from his immediate family.  The two cousins had kept in touch over the years, my father having migrated to Sydney from Southampton in 1925 when he was just 10.  The clipping was amongst his possessions when we cleaned out the family home. They’d certainly lost touch by the time my father married in 1946.

I had not heard of any remaining Tuckers in England, but one never knew….

Whilst I couldn’t find Leslie Tucker’s death certificate, fortuitously I found his wife’s, 30 years after his death.  Unlike death certificates in New South Wales, or indeed other Australian states, anyone appeared to be able to procure English death certificates.  I wondered what it would tell me?  The witness to the death was a daughter, Linda.  What a lovely surprise!  I had a relative on my father’s paternal side, a second cousin.

I spent the next six months looking for Linda.  I wrote to the address on the death certificate, but eventually the letter was returned: “Moved, address unknown”.  I Googled her and searched online under her married name but found nothing. Nothing conclusive in the electoral rolls or the telephone directories. Linda hadn’t left much of a footprint online.  I knew she had married young, and the name of her husband, that’s all.

At last, I found a likely entry in Genes Reunited.  I messaged the owner of the tree, and a few minutes later I received a message: “I’m ringing my mother now!”  It was her son.  It turned out that Linda had divorced and remarried, so no wonder I couldn’t find her.  This was 12 years ago.

Meeting Linda and Peter in London 2008
She was as excited as I was to find each other.  Linda was an only child and her father had died when she was just 17. A fireman, he had survived the London Blitz no problem but died tragically in an accident at the Ealing Fire Station in 1966. We caught up on 60 years of Tucker family history and exchanged many photos before I met her in 2008.  Here we are meeting for the first time, at Hammersmith in London in April 2008, two years after I found her.  

Margaret & Linda at the same site, 2012
Since then, I have returned to England for holidays in 2009, 2012 and 2014.  In 2016, when the Sea Princess stopped overnight in Dover, she and Peter spent the weekend there and we had another wonderful day together before we set off to New York.  Each time, it has been wonderful to meet again.  Linda and her husband Peter have become such good friends with my husband John and me. 

I’ve delved into the family history back to 1642 and written up stories and she has shown me family memorabilia and welcomed me into their home for meals and when I’m travelling without John (who requires wheelchair access), she’s had me to stay and has driven me lots of places.

Our great-grandfather George W. Tucker
Linda and I share great-grandparents, George William Tucker (1856-1924) and Agnes Mary Hardy (1858-1912).  He was an ambitious music dealer and she had been a school-teacher prior to marriage.  As the only daughter of the one remaining Tucker in England, Linda had inherited the Tucker family Bible.  I was so surprised.  The Bible belonged to George Tucker (1832-1914), a former agricultural labourer who had moved to the busy port and railway terminus town of Southampton in 1850 to seek work.  I had not expected such a poor family to possess such a thing.  I wrote about George Tucker a few years ago in an earlier blog, The Tuckers of Southampton, Bramshaw and Downton.

My excitement at touching the Bible in 2008

Linda had sent me photos of the Bible with its inscription on the flyleaf.  It had been given to George Tucker, our 2x great grandfather on his 47th birthday on 1st February 1879 by “his beloved wife Sophia”.  By then, the couple had borne three children, although sadly, they were to lose their middle child Kate Louisa just four weeks later, aged 16.

Flyleaf of George Tucker's Bible
The Bible, like many in its day, recorded the births and deaths of all members of this very ordinary Southampton family.  Later, someone wrote the dates of their deaths in pencil – ever so faintly but still legible.  I have photos of two of these family members – mother Sophia and George William Tucker.

Whilst my Tucker grandfather was the older son, he died as a result of war injuries in 1919 and my father migrated less than six years later.  So the Bible passed down through the younger son, Linda's grandfather Albert Tucker (1884-1963).

The Australian branch of the Tucker family has a few bits and pieces from England but these are not quite so old or informative.  I've inherited a travel chest with my mother's birth mother's initials KEP engraved (1911), a few postcards from Sydney Tucker (1917) from France and an 80-year-old footstool embroidered by my mother, some letters written by my father during World War 2 in New Guinea and Bougainville (1942-45) and some old photographs from England.

Bob Tucker's medals - WW2
My brother has my father's World War 2 medals and his army photograph.  My younger sister has some old furniture.

With my sister's children being the only descendants, I'm urging that we pass all these items down to them, rather than have someone throw them out after finding them in a back shed.

Most family historians suggest writing this into a will.  Which brings us to next week's theme.

14 Feb 2018

Valentine: Bob and Freda Tucker's story

It’s Valentine’s Day and that’s the theme of our #52ancestors challenge this week.

50th wedding anniversary 1996
John and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, but we did promise this morning to “notice” each other today.  Ha ha.  Since joining his Moxon family some 32 years ago, I’ve developed the Moxon weird sense of humour.

And why don’t we celebrate it?  Simply because it’s become so commercial, b) red roses are imported at this time of year, environmentally damaging and the cost is astronomical, and c) every day can be Valentine’s day.  I’d rather receive flowers at other times, and did so last week, a heartfelt thank you for visiting my dearest in hospital the week before.

But today, I’ll tell the story of my parent’s courtship and marriage.

Matron and Superintendent Hill who introduced my parents
Bob Tucker met Freda Smith maybe 1938-39, but he truly doesn’t remember being set up on a triple couple date by the Matron of the Church of England Boys Home at Carlingford NSW.  Bob was a Churchie old boy, living in the working boys’ hostel, and Freda was a domestic worker/assistant house mother at the Homes.  Freda remembers the outing well, telling me my dad fell asleep during the movie.

Freda Smith aged 21, 1933

So obviously mum didn’t make an impression.

Time passed: Freda moved on, travelling to see relatives in country New South Wales and Victoria, and then obtaining a live-in position as a companion to a dentist’s disabled wife in the old gold mining town of Ballarat, Victoria.  By this time, it was 1942 and she was meeting American soldiers stationed in Ballarat.  Some of them quite handsome, so she said.  I don’t doubt it.

Robert Sydney George Tucker c1941
Meanwhile my father Bob was in New Guinea fighting the Japanese.  He was a signaller in the Australian Infantry Force’s 2nd/14th Division.  Home on leave in 1944, he met Freda again.  Coincidentally she had worked in the early 1930s with my Aunt Cecily, dad’s sister at the Bowral YWCA.  And they must have renewed their acquaintance, developing into a reconnection with Bob.
Sometime later in 1944, before he was sent with the Army to Bougainville, he visited my mother in Ryde with his mother, Edith Tucker.  Mum was managing a subscription library for a friend.  Those were the days before local government set up free libraries.

As usual, my grandmother asked Bob if “that’s the sort of girl you would like to marry?”.

And my father said: “That IS the girl I’m going to marry.”

So very shortly he went off to war, having reached an understanding, as they used to say, about the future.  I don’t know the ins and outs, not that I wanted to know.  But their war correspondence discusses Freda choosing a ring, and much dreaming about the future.  Bob wanted to set up a river barge on the Murray selling seedlings (he was a horticulturalist), but Freda subtly talked him out of it.  Luckily for us, since he was no businessman.  Too soft with no enthusiasm for chasing up bad debtors.  He preferred to work for wages.

Dad returned from Bougainville just before the war ended, in April 1945.  The Army released him early to return to his former employer who kept insisting he couldn’t do without him.  But I suspect there was more to the story – Dad had rather too many close encounters with the Japanese.  Not long before his release, he had crawled very close to the Japanese camp to repair a broken cable, according to one of his army mates sixty years later.

In March 1946, Bob and Freda married simply and quietly at St Anne’s Church of England, Ryde NSW and spent 58 (mostly) happy years together until Freda’s death at age 92 in 2004.  And I’m eternally grateful for their giving me and my brother and sister such a happy childhood.

10 Feb 2018

Favourite name: Cornelius

St Peter's, Ightham, Kent
For the #52ancestors challenge, initiated by Amy Johnson Crow, we genie  bloggers were asked to write about our favourite family name.  This was difficult for me, since all my ancestors seemed to be called George, William, Henry, Mary, Kate, Sarah – such plain names.  And irritatingly, most of them had no middle name, unless it was Ann.  Occasionally I found a Christian (a woman’s name in those days) or a Jessie.  Too sad to think about:  both my Jessie Tucker aunts died young.

Then I remembered Cornelius.  What a strange name, I thought.  I continued to come across the name in the nineteenth century census and vital records, but never in the twentieth century.

Cornelius Palmer was one of my 2xgreat grandfathers on my maternal side.  His granddaughter Kate Elizabeth Palmer was my mother’s birth mother.  The Palmers lived in Ightham, Kent in England and had done so since the late 18th century when Cornelius settled there.

In fact, Cornelius Palmer was born in Town Sutton, Kent in about 1776 according to census records but spent his married life in Ightham, Kent.  His birth village is now known as Sutton Valence and it is nearly a six hour walk to Ightham.  Did he walk?  He may have travelled there in a cart, but it is unlikely he had his own horse.

In fact, Cornelius Palmer’s only claim-to-fame appeared to be his siring of 17 children – not quite as many as my 3xgreat grandfather John Rose in Southampton, but close.

His first marriage was to Eleanor Morris of Ightham in 1798.  Her family had lived in Ightham for at least since 1700.  Eleanor gave birth to 11 children, three of them named Benjamin after her grandfather.  Only the last, born 1821 survived.

In 1839, Eleanor Palmer nee Morris died in Ightham, Kent.  She would have been 61.

Cornelius, an agricultural labourer appeared in the 1841 census in Ightham, living with a farm servant Elizabeth Ashby, aged about 28 and nearly forty years his junior.  I wonder if he was estranged from his older children?  Surely one of them could have given him shelter?  But maybe he preferred his independence.

By April 1842 Elizabeth Ashby, the daughter of farmers Henry and Elizabeth Ashby, had given birth to their first child, George Palmer and by 1859 had given birth to five more children.  There does not appear to be a marriage between Cornelius and Elizabeth, but all the children bar one were baptised with the surname Palmer, but were later known as Ashby.  Their last child, a second son William for Cornelius, was known as William Henry Ashby, maybe to distinguish him from the first William, born to Eleanor and who was still very much alive.

Also a Bewley House and a Bewley Farmhouse
It is unclear how the family survived since Cornelius was a simple agricultural labourer working on Bewley Farm which still exists.  His first family would have been off his hands, but he was getting older, and in 1851 census was 75 years old and on parish relief.  He had four children with Elizabeth and was to have two more.  By January 1861 he was dead, having died a pauper at the Malling Workhouse.  He was buried in Ightham.

My Ightham Palmer family tended to be “messy” for three generations: Cornelius’ daughter Annie Palmer, my great-grandmother, also gave birth to her first child, my grandmother Kate Elizabeth Palmer, outside marriage.  Kate Elizabeth was registered as an Ashby in 1881 but was always known as Palmer in each census between 1891-2011.  Known as Kitty after she arrived in Australia in 1912, she also gave birth outside marriage to my mother who was conceived in Seal, Kent in 1911.

I visited Ightham in 2012, staying with yet another Palmer family, no relation to these Palmers.  Alex Palmer is my second cousin on the OTHER side of my family.  It was simply serendipitous that he lived just outside Ightham.  Here is a post I wrote about that visit, on an earlier blog: Travelling Solo 2012.

It took well over a century for this agricultural labouring family to return to established family norms: to give birth to their first children within marriage.  I find it interesting that within the past 20-30 years, up to 50% of first children are born outside marriage around the world.  In Australia in 2010, 34% of children are born out of wedlock. This, of course, includes births to many committed defacto couples, no longer worried about a certificate of marriage.

Unlike my father’s Tucker and Reed forebears in Southampton, who rose above poverty in the Victorian era by leaving behind their agricultural labouring class and becoming successful small businessmen, many of the Palmers remained in straitened circumstances until at least the early twentieth century.

30 Jan 2018

Where's John Rose in 1841?

Why was John Rose, barrowman, porter and retired newsagent missing from the 1841 census?

Part of the old House of Correction at Southampton
 His wife Isabella and large family were residing at 35 College Street, Southampton with Isabella listed as a bookseller.  But no mention of John.  Surely it wasn’t the John Rose, newsvendor, listed as a prisoner at the Southampton House of Correction that year? Indeed it was and not the first time he’d lodged there.

This was the first hint that John Rose, father of 20, was so very different from his descendants.  By the end of the 19th century, his descendants were noted as some of the most respectable small business families in Southampton.  They were not politically active but their lifestyles suggested conservative sympathies.  Not so their father John who prided himself being known as the ‘opposition town crier” in the 1830s.

Although no baptismal record can be found, other records state that John Rose was born in Southampton in 1804, son of a wool-comber Simon Rose (1747-1820) from Misterton, Somerset.  His first mention is in 1825 when he married Isabella Sievewright at All Saints, Southampton.  By 1839, she had given birth to 10 sons, before dying of tuberculosis in 1850 after giving birth to a fifteenth child, one of only four daughters.

British government conversion of tithes to cash payments in the mid-thirties gave John Rose an opportunity to make a political statement at his local church.  He used the birth of his tenth son, Guilford North Rose to present the baby to the rector as his tithe.  He had named the child after the once a year visiting rector, one Frederick North, later the 5th Earl of Guilford.  The rector, there to collect his dues, was not impressed.

Subsequently John Rose published some doggerel addressed to the rector about the incident.  I included the poem in a previous post entitled "Longevity: the changing lifespans of my ancestors".

John Rose was passionate about the rights of the working classes, particularly their right to vote and to freely express their own point of view and read what they liked.  He was particularly incensed about the significant taxes imposed on the “penny newspapers” such as the Poor Man’s Guardian, closely associated with the National Union of the Working Classes.  He was often fined for selling unstamped newspapers from his shop or when wearing his homemade town crier’s outfit of gold-trimmed hat, red frilly cuffs and collar and staff of office.

John Rose could laugh at himself
When he defaulted on the fines, John spent time in the debtor’s gaol.  By the mid-forties, he had given up his political activities, probably finding them too expensive and become a barrow-man and porter on the Royal Pier. He was accused of wanting to be the “king of the barrow-men”.  His showmanship was also reflected in organising annual children’s carnivals on the common and in burlesque performances at the Royal Theatre in Bugle Street. 

By 1877 he had joined the Southampton Working Men’s Conservative Association.  However, he never appeared to lose his dishonourable reputation and became a subject of folk-lore.

[1] Translation – Hence these tears.

16 Jan 2018

Longevity: the changing lifespans of my ancestors

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”[1]

Bob and Freda Tucker in their very late 80s, 2001
So many of my ancestors flew away long before their allotted 70 years, let alone lived past 80.  It’s really only in the past 40 years that my ancestors have done so.  My parents, born before World War 1 and brought up on plentiful fresh food, lived until their 90s, and their mothers lived into their late 80s.

They were fortunate to live in adulthood amongst clean water, major scientific discoveries (such as penicillin) and robust surgical procedures.

Two ancestors who do stand out surprised their contemporaries by living into their eighties. They also confound me!  Both had major disadvantages – one was an agricultural labourer who ended his days in the workhouse, the other was a prolific sire living in poor housing in a growing port town.

I’ve described my 3xgreat grandfather George Tucker’s life in a post on another blog.  He lived until he was 85 but I considered him a very unlucky soul.  You can read all about him at https://tuckersinsouthampton.blogspot.com.au/2011/11/george-tucker-1802-1886-man-with-no.html

The other was also my 3xgreat grandfather, one John Rose (1804-1884).  He's my very favourite ancestor due to his rebellious nature.  John was the son of a wool-comber, Simon Rose who settled in Southampton before 1795 having arrived from Misterton, Somerset.

John didn’t follow his father into the business.  He must have been schooled because in his twenties he established a printing business and news agency in College Street, Southampton.  Due to falling out spectacularly with the town establishment by selling unstamped newspapers and publishing dissenting posters and pamphlets, he was gaoled for libel in 1840.  Thereafter he gave up his “calling” and settled into the life of a porter and barrowman on the Southampton Pier.  He continued to express his radical views, even though it didn’t do his career any good.  He sympathised greatly with the Chartists.

John was also renown for siring 19 children from two wives and raising a step-son as well.  It was no wonder he outlived both wives.  His first, Isabella (c1802-1850) died of tuberculosis and the final three of the 15 children she bore died in infancy.  The second wife, Hannah (1831-1871) died after giving birth to five children.  Three of the 20 died tragically before the age of 18, and four others (including those mentioned) died in infancy.

John Rose 1804-1884
A robust and very tall man, and always very active, John enjoyed his “home life” as well. By 1839, aged only 35 he already had ten sons. 

At this time the form of the annual tithe was a prominent political issue and he decided to play a practical joke on the aristocratic absentee rector of St Mary’s Church, Frederic North, 5th Earl of Guilford.  Parliament had recently changed the form of the tithe from agricultural products to cash, and the working classes were unimpressed.

He presented his tenth son, named Guilford North Rose, to Lord Frederick North.  The aristocrat was highly unamused when he realised what was happening.  John Rose published this doggeral verse and made quite a profit on it.

I’m certain your Lordship would hardly suppose
You’d receive an Epistle in verse from JOHN ROSE
Well-known in Southampton, whiled courting the muse,
As Father of Children and Vendor of News.

Ah, hinc illoe Lachrymoe! One thing is sure.
Though in young ones I’m rich, in the pocket I’m poor.

Sad drawback it is on connubial joys
Ten bantlings to rear – and the whole of them boys,
Everyone of them hearty, my Lord, and no question
With appetites keen and unfailing digestion;
And who, as to eating, though not over-nice,
Would make a sirloin disappear in a trice.
Your feelings, my Lord, I had no wish to shock
When I offered you lately a TITHE OF MY FLOCK –
A fine chubby lad which, as flower of the crew.
Guildford North I have christened him, in honour of you.

And I fervently hope, though the last of the race,
That – much honoured name he will never disgrace.
Now, My Lord, it would make my paternal heart glad
If you’d kindly consent to provide for the lad,
And to the rich bower, where your lordship reposes,
Would transplant this fair sample, the Flower of the ROSES.

But your Lordship may say: “Now my feelings you touch,
And truly John Rose, you are asking too much.
Were I to provide for each brat that is born,
Every ROSE in the lot would be turned to a thorn,
And the whole of the wealth of the County of Hants,
Would be quite insufficient to cover their wants.[2]

John’s eldest son remaining in Southampton, my 2xgreat grandfather George Henry Rose (1827-1901) was also a tall, robust man but proportionally he had more children dying in infancy or early childhood.  Of his seven children, three died of cholera or failure to thrive, one grew to manhood but was intellectually disabled (an “imbecile”) and only three daughters survived to marry and have children.

I imagine that conditions in the thriving city where my ancestors lived in the Old Town were similar to those described in an Australian news article about Wapping in Hobart in the 1820s published just this morning.

As George Henry Rose’s daughters and George Tucker’s grandson made good marriages, they were able to leave the Old Town behind and move to new housing beyond the Bargate on the London Road and other places north.  By the time their children were born in the 1880s they had a much better chance of living long lives and many of them did.

[1] Bible. King James version. Psalm 90, verse 10
[2] John Rose. A verse to Lord Frederick North, later 5th Earl of Guilford.  John Rose named his 10th son (1839-1900), his potential tithe to the rector, Guildord North Rose.

8 Jan 2018

A treasured family photographic postcard

A much-loved postcard
 Just old enough to remain still enough for a studio photo, the little boy in the centre of this photo is my father aged nearly three.  He is pictured here with his family in a photographic postcard from a professional studio in Southampton during World War 1.

In my Tucker family shoebox, I had three copies of this photo, all of them well-preserved and treasured by their original owners.  And to my irritation, the photo had no date inscribed.
One of the reproduced and precious copies.

However, it was not until 12 months ago that I first saw this copy.  My cousin Philip Davis's widow had sent it to me in a bundle of his ancestral photos.  This copy was different: much crumpled and formatted in the popular postcard format.

Photographic postcards like this can tell us a great deal about our ancestors and the times in which they lived.  This photo was taken at Applin's Photographic Studio, 8B Commercial Road, Southampton in England's south-east.  In 1917, there were 28 photographers in the town.  Applin's studio was one of a handful of High Street studio photographers.  George Augustus Applin (1873-1944( was Southampton born and bred like the subjects in this photograph so was likely to be trusted.

His studio was well situated in Commercial Road, then as now one of the major retail and commercial sections of Southampton.  He had commenced work from home in the 1890s, established a studio in Victoria Terrace in 1904 and moved to Commercial Road, ideally located next to tearooms in 1916.

This was a time when the middle class could take their own photos using a box brownie.  The Eastman Company's Box Brownie cost only $1 in America, affordable by this family.

However, this photo was too important to trust to amateurs.  They wanted a studio photo.  It was not the first time the family had used a professional studio, usually Edwarde Photo Studios in St Marys Road, Southampton.

Photographic postcards were very popular during World War 1 when this photo was taken.  This one is a sepia photograph with no other markings on the front, produced from a negative and printed straight onto photographic cardboard, probably stock produced.  The back is identified as a Post Card with a square to place the stamp and the left half for correspondence and the right side for the address - no different from today - exactly 100 years later.  The identified studio appears to be ink stamped on the side.  The typeface is lighter than the other wording.

The photo is 13.5cm height by 8.5cm width with rounded corners.  It is far more creased and worn than other copies of the photo.  It is a family photo of a soldier in British Army dress uniform and the other family members in their best clothes.

The family comprises Sydney George Tucker (1882-1919), his wife Edith Annie Tucker nee Reed (1884-1973) and their children Jessie Agnes (1908-1927) on the left, Cecily Mary (1910-1999) on the right and Robert Sydney George Tucker (1914-2011), my father, standing on the chair leaning against his mother.  Sydney has his hand on Jessie's arm.  It is a very formal pose, as befitted the solemnity of the occasion.  A plant stand appears in the background; otherwise, the background is plain.

The photo is dated 22 April 1917 and all birthdates are listed so we know exactly how old each member of the family is. The postcard section also notes the date the couple became sweethearts (Edith's 14th birthday), their engagement date (the night before her 21st birthday) and their marriage date in 1907.  The scribe, mother Edith, writes with ink and probably through tears: only she, and possibly elder daughter Jessie knew something of Syd's imminent departure.

It was a record of the family at a momentous occasion: for the first time, the head of the family was going away for a long time to a place of great danger.  They all wanted a record of this moment and an item to remind him of the family and them of him.

A former dedicated member of the Volunteer Rifle Service, Hampshire Regiment and the Territorials, Syd Tucker had joined up in November 1915 but had been based at home until late 1916.  As a 33-year-old family man, he was mature enough to not rush into war, despite his love of his military activities - much competitive cycling and shooting and comradery.

The crumpled nature of this postcard and its wording suggest that this was the very copy of the photograph that Syd carried with him throughout 1917 at Passchendaele and other significant battles until he was badly wounded and repatriated in December that year.

Subsequently, he was an in-patient at the Southampton War Hospital and later at Pankhurst on the Isle of Wight where the postcard probably accompanied him. It was later returned to Edith after his far-too-early and tragic death in April 1919.

NOTE: The substance of this post was first researched and written for an assignment in the unit Photos, Images and Objects in the Diploma of Family History at the University of Tasmania, 2017.

[1] Kelly’s Directory (Southampton) Classified Trades Directory Nursing Institutions to Yeast Merchants http://www.plimsoll.org/images/30078c_tcm4-145793.pdf pp783-4, Accessed 9 May 2017
[2] S.K May, ‘Southampton Victorian Photographers: George Augustus Applin‘ http://www.southamptonvictorianphotographers.org/applin-augustus-george.html Accessed 9 May 2017
[3] Kelly’s (Southampton) Directory 1916-17 Street Listing Clarendon Road to Holt Road http://www.plimsoll.org/images/30074b_tcm4-144053.pdf  p 116, Accessed 9 May 2017
[5] Tony Allen ‘Real photographic postcards from the Great War 1914-1918 ‘https://www.worldwar1postcards.com/real-photographic-ww1-postcards.php Accessed 10 May 2017

2 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.