In my last blog, I began the story of my Maternal Grandparents Arthur and Harriet May Baxter’s (nee Bell) romance leading up to their engagement. I also revealed that her parents were not keen on the match and in fact, her mother had refused to give consent or blessings to the marriage.
Perhaps I should give a little background of the Bell family which might account for the mother, Alice Bell’s (nee Sherwood) attitude.
John Bell, born 1856 was the fifth son and sixth child of George and Sarah Bell (nee Sargent) of Picton. At the time of John’s birth, his father was a labourer, mostly working on the roads around Picton.
However, he had purchased several blocks of land in Upper Picton and had built a home there. In 1860 he took up a government contract for building a portion of the Great South Road (from Sydney) which went through Picton.
In 1865 his wife Sarah Bell died leaving him with a young family. He remained at Upper Picton and apprenticed his sons to the blacksmith and wheelwright trades.
In the early 1870s, there was a severe economic slump in Picton and the Bell family split up. George Bell Sr, along with his son James, remained in Upper Picton and carried on the Blacksmith and Wheelwright business. George Jr had a wood-yard and carrying business at Newtown. Thomas, Henry, and John Bell went west to Burrowa where their mother’s brothers, Thomas and George Sargent had taken up land a few years before.
With the many gold rushes in the western districts, Burrowa was a thriving town.
It was there the now twenty-one-year-old John Bell, met and married Alice Sherwood.
Their eldest daughter was born at Burrowa in 1878. Soon afterward the family returned to Picton where John took over an established blacksmith shop in Argyle Street.
John and Alice built a new home in Wild Street, Upper Picton not far from the original Bell family home. Their new home was called ‘Wyuna’.
They had a further seven children, all born at Upper Picton.
Their daughter Harriet May was born in 1891. She grew up in Upper Picton and attended Miss Clarke’s Private School. She was a very popular girl as were her sisters and John Bell was said to be very protective of his six daughters.
Now we move to 1908. What had happened to make Alice Bell so adamant that Arthur and May should not marry.
Firstly, Alice Bell had lost two sisters and other members of her Sherwood family to the ‘chest complaint’ (Consumption).
She had lost her eldest daughter, Emma Frances, in 1899 a few short months before her 21st birthday, also to Consumption.
Her second daughter, Alice, had married Amos Kiss in 1904. They had three daughters. He was said to have a ‘weak chest’ and after suffering for several years died in 1912.
Arthur’s grandmother, Ann Kennedy, struggled to bring up her family when her husband was sent to Parramatta Asylum for the Insane in 1866. Everyone in the district knew of her ‘troubles’. Only two of her eight children made it to adulthood.
Alice and John Bell wanted so much more for their daughters.
Arthur and May just had to wait. Meanwhile, Alice Bell hoped a better match would come along for her daughter.
In 1909, Arthur and his friends went back to Chillingham clearing the Growcock block. They made the long trip home for Christmas again. Arthur still hadn’t earned enough to buy land.
Early in 1910 saw the boys back on the Tweed. William Growcock married in 1910 and built a small house and left Arthur and his friends in the makeshift Timber Cutters Camp.
Having lost their eldest daughter, John and Alice Bell were concerned about the health of their younger daughters. The family moved to Thirroul a small seaside village on the south coast in 1910. John Bell opened a Blacksmith shop there with his son Harry.
John Bell’s Blacksmith Shop at Thirroul c 1914 [original held by Nola Mackey]
In 1911, Arthur and his friends returned to Chillingham and continued to clear scrub. He was saving his money and reckoned another few months and he would have the required amount to buy his own block. He made the trip south again for Christmas.
May Bell remained resolute about marrying Arthur Baxter, so after her 21st birthday in early 1912, her mother gave in and helped her plan a Spring Wedding. The date was set. They were to be married on 27 September 1912 at St David’s Church of England at Thirroul with refreshments afterward at the Bell home, ‘Wyuna’ (Thirroul). One of May’s older sisters had married the year before.
St David’s Thirroul 1986, copyright by Nola Mackey
[The original church was built at the corner of Main Road and Raymond Road in 1909. It was later moved to its present site in 1938. When the new St David’s was built next door, it was used as a church hall. ]
Some old photographs of the church on the original site can be found at
So it was back to the Tweed in 1912 for Arthur, and he and May continued to correspond.
Arthur Baxter could, at last, inform John Bell, his future father-in-law his intention of soon selecting a block of land and erecting a home. The problem was there were few suitable blocks left in the Chillingham area so he would have to select further into the scrub and getting a suitable home built in the time was going to be a huge challenge.
May’s wedding dress was to be made by her Aunt Emma, her father’s younger sister, who worked as a tailoress in David Jones in Sydney. This was her gift to her niece.
Her wedding ring was a plain wide band, which was reportedly fashioned from a single nugget of gold. It is said to have been found by John Bell’s brother Harry, in the Tumbarumba Ranges in southern New South Wales. Thomas, Harry, and John Bell had been involved in gold mining in that area for many years. This nugget was said to have been a gift to the couple from her Uncle Harry, who had remained a bachelor.
At last, the long engagement of Arthur Baxter and Harriet May Bell was soon to be concluded with a Spring Wedding. That was until Murphy’s Law came into the picture.