In former blogs, I told the story of my maternal grandparents, Arthur Baxter and Harriet May Bell’s romance, and their long engagement because of Harriet May Bell’s mother’s opposition to the marriage. The couple had to wait until she was twenty-one.
Finally, Harriet May Bell turned twenty-one in January 1912, and arrangements were made for a Spring wedding to take place on 27 September at St David’s Church of England, Thirroul.
Early in 1912, Arthur Baxter had returned to the north arm of the Tweed River where he was employed helping farmers clear scrubland to plant pastures for dairy farming. By then he had been working for four years and was saving his money to be able to select land for his own farm in the area.
However, land in that area was in short supply as most surveyed land had already been selected by 1912. Those blocks which had not been selected were on high rough land without water. All blocks were subject to a ballot system so many hopeful farmers missed their opportunity.
Arthur had not been successful in getting a block, but he had his eye on a couple of farms, where the families were talking of selling up and moving to Cooroy in Queensland. He would just have to wait.
Meanwhile, Harriet May was busy in Thirroul making wedding plans. Her Aunt Emma was making the bride’s and bridesmaid’s dresses for Harriet May and her sister Olive.
Time marched on and the wedding invitations were sent out in August to family and friends.
One of the family treasures I have inherited is an original wedding invitation that had been sent to Aunt Emma. It reads:-
” Mr. and Mrs. J Bell, requests the pleasure of Miss E Bell’s company at the Marriage of their daughter Harriet May, to Mr. Arthur Baxter, on 27th September 1912, at 1 pm Church of England, Thirroul. An early reply will oblige. Afterward at ‘Wyuna’, Thirroul.”
It would soon be time for Arthur to pack up and journey south for his wedding. The journey was rather complicated, but he had done it several times before when he returned home for Christmas.
Arthur needed to collect a cheque for his wages from his employer; ride his horse more than ten miles over very steep and difficult terrain to Murwillumbah; stable and pay fees at a livery stable for his horse until his return; catch the train to Byron Bay; catch the coastal steamer to Sydney and then catch the train from Sydney to Thirroul.
In August all seemed fine as the shipping notices in the newspapers read:-
Wollongbar leaves Byron Bay, Saturday 7-30 pm, and Sydney Tuesday 11 pm.
Orara leaves Byron Bay, Tuesday 7-30 pm, and Sydney, Saturday at 9 pm via Newcastle. Calls at Coffs Harbour.
These steamers will make every effort to connect at Byron Bay with Monday’s and Thursday’s trains for Lismore, Casino, Grafton, and Murwillumbah.”
However in September just as Arthur was preparing to make his journey south, the following notice appeared in the newspaper.
“The Wollongbar went into dock this week and the Orara took up her running from Sydney on Tuesday, and returns from Byron Bay. The Cavanbar will run two trips in the Orara’s place after which the latter vessel will resume her usual time-table running.”
Living in the bush meant that Arthur had no knowledge of this change until he arrived at Byron Bay. There was only one voyage open to him, the Cavanbar on Tuesday, 22 September. The big Spring tides and southerly swell meant the Cavanbar could not come alongside the Byron Bay jetty and use a gang-plank for the loading of passengers. They had to wait until all the goods were craned aboard and then a large basket was attached to the crane and the passengers were lifted aboard, a few at a time. A slow and difficult process.
When the Cavanbar finally got underway, she called at Coffs Harbour, and then Newcastle, on her way south. This meant their arrival in Sydney was delayed.
Cavanbar at Coffs Harbour loading passengers.
The picture was found at
Unfortunately, the groom, Arthur Baxter was not at Thirroul at 1pm on 27th September 1912 to be finally wed to his childhood sweetheart, for whom he had waited for four years. What a terrible disappointment for all concerned.
When he finally arrived in Sydney he sent a telegram to Thirroul. Although everyone was happy to greet him on his arrival in Thirroul, it was not a simple matter of getting in touch with the Church of England minister and having a ‘later’ wedding ceremony. The Rev Phillip Dowe lived in Bulli, a few miles away. His parish included several villages and towns on the South Coast, one being Thirroul.
That very week he was playing host to an important guest in his parish. The Bishop who was conducting Confirmation services throughout the parish. So the Rev Dowe was unable to go back to Thirroul to conduct the wedding a few days later.
The young couple reckoned if there had not been a hitch in the transport arrangements they would have been married on the 27th. They decided to continue life accordingly as husband and wife.
They had a short honeymoon on the South Coast and then went to stay at Arthur’s parents at Clifton, near Picton. His father was not well and wanted to retire from farming. While there Arthur helped his parents purchase a property in Argyle Street, Picton.
The church wedding was rescheduled for Monday 27th January 1913, at St David’s, Thirroul, and finally took place as planned. The Rev Phillip Dowe was the officiating minister. A formal wedding portrait was taken in the church. ( I have inherited the original.)
The young couple then took the train to Sydney, where they stayed overnight and boarded the Wollongbar on Tuesday 28th for Byron Bay.
It was the first time Harriet May had been to sea and she was dreadfully seasick. Their cabin remained empty, while she curled up on a deck-chair outside the women’s saloon, with one of the ship’s fire bucket beside her. Arthur sat by his wife’s side.
The voyage was very rough between Newcastle and Byron Bay “on account of meeting a strong wind” and the couple was forced to go inside. The sun rose to a clear Thursday morning, although the ship was over an hour late arriving at Byron Bay.
The couple then took the train to Murwillumbah and stayed in a hotel in the main street. Arthur collected his horse and rode to Chillingham to make living arrangements for his new bride. When he returned to the hotel a few days later, all he found was a note addressed to him. Harriet May Baxter was gone.
Now it was the ‘Case of the Missing Bride”. However, THAT is another story.
I’m reading the Arthur Baxter and Harriet May Bell chronicles with bemusement. Imagine if schedules and timetables were now as then… if they have paid for something often people become overwrought if things don’t go to plan… but they never have.
I’m so glad you are enjoying my grandparent’s story. Life was never easy in those days, but most people didn’t expect it to be, and made the best of it. They certainly had a good attitude towards life in general and plenty of pioneering spirit.