The Annual Family Get-Together “Cousin’s Day”

When I was a child growing up at Kunghur, a rural district in northern New South Wales, I was one of some twenty odd first cousins on my mother’s side, who lived near our maternal grandparents farm. We all went to the same small school, and had nearly daily contact with each other, even in the holidays.

Baxter Home Grandparents Home (2011)

However, in the 1950’s most of the families left the district as the fathers sort employment. Soon the families were spread throughout Queensland and New South Wales. For some years all the families made the supreme effort to return ‘home’ for Christmas. We all looked forward to this special family gathering.

As the years passed it was not always possible for everyone to ‘go home for Christmas’ and many of the families drifted apart. The only time anyone went ‘home’ or got together was for funerals and occasionally weddings.

Then in 2011 we had several family funerals, not only of my mother’s generation, but also of my generation.

We loved meeting up again after so many years, but were very aware of the fact, although funerals afforded us the opportunity to meet with each other, we also found it difficult in the sad circumstances.

Several of us made the decision to try and visit or at least meet more often. Thus our ‘Cousin’s Day’ was established. Now the first Sunday in March we meet at Murwillumbah for a few hours together.

Due to family situations and health issues not everyone can make it every year. However, it is such a happy occasion and has become so ‘special’ to us all, we do make every effort to be there if we possibly can.

The first Sunday in March was a couple of weeks ago and we had a most successful gathering of four generations of ‘cousins’ on our maternal side.

I must say one of the drawcards each year is the material I gather together on a particular ancestral couple and share with the cousins. Last year it was our Great-Grandparents James and Margaret Baxter (nee Kennedy) and this year it was our Great-Great-Grandparents George and Sarah Bell (nee Sargent).

As I introduce more than names and dates of our ancestors lives, the younger generations have become most interested in our family history, and are keen to share with their children. This is one way I am planning to save our ‘family history’ for and with family, for the future generations.

As I only share with family members, this material has become ‘valuable’ to the family and I have no doubt it will be handed on down throughout the generations and our history will continue to be enjoyed by ‘the family ‘for many years to come. .

Family Heirloom- Oil Portrait of George Bell

 

As I write the history of our ancestors I always include the story of artifacts or heirlooms that have been passed down through branches of the family and remain with descendants today.

One in our “Bell family” is a framed oil on canvas portrait of my Great-Great-Grandfather, George Bell, in his mature years. Although it is unsigned, and undated, a printed label on the reverse side of the painting states “Sue Hing Long and Co agents of 181 Lower George Street,(Sydney) agents for Chinese Oil Painting”.

According to Sand’s Directories they were general merchants and importers in Sydney, at least in the 1870 and 1880, and perhaps later.

This photo of Lower George Street from the Sydney Living Museum [http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/file/looking-north-along-george-street-no185-sue-hing-long-co-no183-mrs-hgoldsmide-pawnbroker-and ] shows Sue Hing Long and Company at 185 Lower George Street about 1890- not 181 Lower George Street as on the label. Was this an earlier address?

 It would appear a client would have a photograph taken at a professional photographers and supply a carde-de-visite photograph to Sue Hing Long and Company, who sent it back to China, where an unknown artist, would paint the ‘likeness’ portrait in oils. The painting was then framed and returned to Sue Hing Long’s in Sydney, from where the client was notified by post for collection of the painting.

I am fortunate to have  a copy of the photograph, shared by another family member, of the ‘carde-de-visite’ photograph, which is believed to have been the one used for this portrait. It is imprinted with J T Gorus, Sydney.

There are also two similar oil portraits of George Bell Jr and his wife Ellen done about the same time.

Over the last few months we have been down -sizing and generally cleaning out clutter of a life time.

Childhood ‘treasures’ I have come across are some of my drawings and watercolour paintings.

Between my tenth and twelfth birthdays I spent much of the time I wasn’t at school, with my maternal grandparents on their dairy farm at Kunghur, in Northern New South Wales.

At the time my grandmother Harriet May Baxter was a survivor of Breast Cancer, and had had surgery many years before, when all the muscles and tendons on her right side had been removed . There were many things she needed help with in cooking, washing and cleaning. My grandfather, Arthur, was seriously ill and bedridden most of the time and needed twenty-four hour care.

Although, my parents and some Aunts and Uncles did assist from time to time, it turned out I was their primary carer and companion for much of that time. We lived in the country with no electricity, TV or any gadgets, so not a lot of entertainment for a young girl, but I did love to draw and paint.

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On my grandparents dining room wall were several family portraits, including one of my grandmother’s paternal grandfather, George Bell.

I can remember the wet afternoon in the May School Holidays -between 1st and Second Term in those days- when I was undecided what I should draw or paint. My grandmother must have been quite exasperated and suggested I should ‘paint’ our ancestor “George”. Above is the result of that afternoon’s work.

 

Family Heirloom – The Chain-mail Purse

My mother, the fifth child and fourth daughter of Arthur and Harriet May Baxter was to be named ‘Margaret Alice’ in honour of her two grandmothers. Arthur’s mother had been, ‘Margaret Jane’, born 1858 to Gilbert and Ann Kennedy, and Harriet May’s mother ‘Alice’, was born in 1854 to Robert and Margaretta Sherwood.

 However when my grandmother,Harriet May went to register the birth of her new daughter, at the Murwillumbah Court House, she gave her the name ‘Margaret Nola’.

 Having grown up with the story of how my mother was to be named for her grandmothers, but only received the name of her paternal grandmother, I asked my grandmother, Harriet May, why the change?

 She explained to me that she and Arthur had originally decided to name their fourth daughter after the grandmothers because although by this time Arthur’s mother had eight granddaughters, only one had been given the first name ‘Margaret’ and that granddaughter had died in an accident as an infant. One other had Margaret, as a second name.

 Harriet May’s mother had eleven granddaughters by this time. Only one had been given the name ‘Alice’, but it was used as a second name. The maternal grandmother wanted the ‘new’ grandchild given the name ‘Alice’ as an only name, like herself. However, my grandparents had privately decided to use it as a second name.

 My grandmother called at the Murwillumbah Court house to register her new daughter, shortly after being released from the Newbrae Private Hospital. However, when it came to the actual registration my grandmother used ‘Nola’ as the second name. My grandmother had two nieces, one on each side of the family named ‘Nola’, and she liked the name.

 I asked my grandmother, Harriet May, again, why the change?

Her reply was that she and Arthur had been engaged shortly before her seventeenth birthday, but her mother was set against the marriage and would never give her consent and blessings.

Arthur and Harriet May were married a week after ‘Harriet May’s’ twenty-first birthday.

Although her relationship with her mother was quite cordial in most ways, she could never quite forgive her for withholding consent and blessings for the marriage.

 My mother first met her grandparents in 1928 when she, her mother and baby sister, Joan, travelled by train to Sydney for Harriet May’s parents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary at Thirroul, on the South Coast of New South Wales.

Afterwards they went to Picton to visit Arthur’s parents, who had also celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary earlier in the year.

fhp000333 Left: My mother ‘Margaret Nola’ (left) with her Aunt Milly and cousins Phyllis and Heather, in the front garden of her paternal grandparent’s home, at Picton, October 1928

 

It was on this visit that Arthur’s mother,’ Margaret Jane’ gave her namesake granddaughter, ‘Margaret Nola’ a gift, in honour of the name. This was a small Victorian chain-mail purse, ‘to take her pennies to church in’. It was always one of my most mother’s prized possessions, and my sisters and I, when children, were never allowed to use it to carry our pennies to Sunday School and Church.

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My mother didn’t know if her grandmother Margaret, had purchased it as a special gift, or if it had originally been her prized possession as a child. I have not been able to solve this question either.

 By the way, there are thirty grandchildren on my maternal side. Seventeen are female and not one was named ‘Margaret’ or ‘Alice’, which was most unusual for the time.

PS: The ‘sixpences’ in the above photograph were used by my family for many years as the ‘pudding’ money at Christmas. They were kept in a little cigarette tin and wrapped in the calico cloth used to make the ‘boiled’ pudding for Christmas Day.

Oh! The funny stories and laughter those coins evoke each time I look at them.

 

 

Family Heirlooms -The Broach

We have all heard the traditional bridal rhyme, which details what a bride should wear on her wedding day to bring good luck to the marriage –

Something old,

Something new,

Something borrowed,

Something blue.’

For many traditional modern brides the ‘something blue’ usually takes the form of a ‘garter’. It certainly did in my case, and after my marriage I lent it to my sisters and some friends, so it was ‘borrowed’ as well as ‘blue’. However it was always returned, and I still keep it with ‘my’ wedding dress today. (By the way, I made my own wedding dress, and embroidered the Chantilly lace with thousands of seed pearls, which took me nearly a year to complete, and it was only finished a few days before the wedding).

I do not know what the item of ‘blue’ was for my maternal aunts’ or mother’s wedding, but I do know what the ‘old’, ‘new’ and ‘borrowed’ were.

The ‘something new’ for each of the five brides, who wore the family heirloom wedding dress was satin ‘ underwear,’ which had been carefully stitched and embroidered by each bride as part of their trousseau some months before, and had been carefully laid aside for the occasion.

The ‘something borrowed’ for each of the five brides who wore ‘the wedding dress’, was a long, hand- embroidered Brussels net veil, which was caught high on the head with a halo or half circlet of flowers.

When my mother’s eldest sister was married in 1937, she borrowed this veil from her closest and life- long friend, Arlie, who had married the year before. Subsequently each of the brides ‘borrowed’ it for their wedding, but each time it was returned to Arlie.

Now we come to the ‘something old.’ This was a gold ‘broach’, which was worn at the neck of the lace collar on ‘the wedding dress’ for each of the five afore mentioned brides.

‘The broach’ was not only worn by these brides, but the other daughters, and many of the granddaughters and great-granddaughters of Arthur and Harriet May Baxter.

Some of the brides choose to wear it as ‘a broach’, others as ‘a pendant’ and still others as a ‘bouquet ornament’. A true family heirloom.

The broach is a small circle of gold, enclosing a branch of delicate moulded gold leaves and petals. It is reputed to have been owned by a grandmother of Harriet May Baxter, and therefore a great-grandmother of the original 1937 bride and her younger sisters.

Although the details are sketchy, it is believed to have been fashioned from small gold nuggets found on the Lambing Flats (Young) goldfields in the early 1860’s.

The grandmother (and great-grandmother), is believed to have been Sarah Bell (nee Sargent), the daughter of immigrants, Thomas and Ellis (Alice) Sargent. Sarah Sargent married George Bell in 1844.

This couple had settled in Picton and raised a family of five sons and three daughters.

Sarah Bell died in 1865 and the broach passed to her eldest daughter, Harriet. When Harriet Bell died it passed to her younger sister, Emma.

Emma Bell died in 1936, and when the original Bell family home was dispersed, the broach was passed to Harriet May Baxter (nee Bell).

When her eldest daughter married a few months later in 1937, this broach was chosen as the ‘something old’.

The Broach

As I mentioned before it was also chosen as the ‘something old’ by many other subsequent family brides.

This heirloom remains in the family today, but not on the same branch as the heirloom wedding dress.

Family Heirlooms – The Wedding Dress

The wedding dress was originally made for my mother’s eldest sister in 1937. The seamstress is unknown, but is believed to have been a friend of the bride from her ‘dress-making’ days at Murwillumbah Technical College. Over the next eight years it was worn by three younger sisters, and a sister- in- law of the original bride. A total of five brides, my mother being the fifth.

The dress was made of magnolia bridal satin on princess lines, with a long fantail train, finished with scalloped and picoted edges. It had fagoting from the back-seam and several four-inch circular inserts of ivory Chantilly lace around the edge of the train.

At the neckline, was a small high collar of ivory Chantilly lace, edged with colour- matched Guipure lace.

Small satin covered buttons ran down the front of the dress, from collar to hemline.

Long sleeves, full and ruched at the shoulders, fitted from the elbow with an overlay of ivory Chantilly lace pointed at the wrist and edged with ivory Guipure lace.

A long ivory taffeta princess line petticoat went under the wedding dress, and had a dainty pattern of scattered small eyelets high over the bust line.

As I said my mother was the last bride to wear it, and as young children we remember it hanging in a calico bag in the back of our mother’s wardrobe. Occasionally after much ‘begging’ on my younger sister’s part, as well as my own, our mother would get it out, and we ‘oohed and aahed’ over it. Although we could run our little hands over its smooth soft surface, and trace out the fine lines on the lace, with tiny fingers, we were never permitted to wear it, nor take it out of its hanging place ourselves.

However, our mother ‘gave’ us several ball gowns she had made and worn before her marriage, which we loved and often ‘dressed-up’ in as young children.

In early 1960 I went off to ‘High School’, an educational opportunity neither of our parents were able to have, although they would have done very well. My early high school days meant a long daily ride on a bus, and in later years having to board away from home during the week and returning home only at week-ends and holidays.

In 1963 the place of employment of our father closed, which necessitated the family moving to a town some hundreds of kilometres away. I was still boarding away from home, and it was up to our mother to pack up the home ready for the move.

There was a delay in our ‘new’ home being made ready for the family, so our mother and younger members of the family went to live with our widowed grandmother, on the family farm.

Finally our family moved and we settled into our new life.

However about this time, the children of my parent’s older siblings, were contemplating marriage themselves, and every few months a ‘wedding invitation’ would arrive in our mail-box.

With all the talk of weddings, the conversation turned to our mother’s wedding dress in the calico bag at the back of her wardrobe. My sister (closest in age to myself) and I calculated it would have been ten years since we had last seen it, and our youngest sister,(many years younger than us), who had arrived during that time, professed she had never seen it, and didn’t know it existed.

All the laughter and gaiety came to a sudden stop, when we looked at our mother. Tears welling in her eyes, she said she didn’t know where it was. The first question, which broke from our shocked lips was, ‘What happened to it?’

Then through tears our mother admitted, somehow it had been ‘lost’ in the move. She didn’t know how, but it may have been mistakenly placed with a pile of belongings she felt she could not pack for the move and choose to burn, (although she always regretted doing this for the rest of her life.) These included many things we would be glad to call family heirlooms today, such as letters, keepsakes and mementoes of her life as well as ours.

After many tears that afternoon, the wedding dress was never mentioned again, although I know we all thought of it often, especially as our own weddings approached. This was out of respect and love for our mother, who felt such guilt over its disappearance. Although she was the last to wear it, she felt it belonged to the family, and would not have knowingly disposed of it.

Fast forward some forty years, and my siblings, myself, as well as our fifty first cousins, have married and raised families of their own.

Our parents, as well as most of our aunts and uncles have died.

I have spent more than forty years tracing our ancestors, with promises to write them all up in books some-day, and I have also dabbled in ‘scrapbooking’, making special albums for our grandchildren as well as for my siblings.

A few years ago I visited an aunt, one of my mother’s younger sisters, with whom I have always been very close. I was showing her the scrapbook I was putting together for one of my sisters. This included photos and the story of our parent’s ‘Wedding Day’. I recounted to her the sad story of the ‘missing wedding-dress’ and how guilty our mother felt about it being lost.

My aunt gave instructions for me to ‘pour the tea’, which had been put aside to ‘brew’ in the teapot, and she disappeared into her bedroom. She soon emerged with a crumbled calico bag and inside was ‘the wedding-dress’. She never knew my mother thought she had destroyed it.

It would appear my mother had returned it to the ‘family home’ when she was staying there between packing up and moving, and in all the rush and confusion had forgotten she had done so. When the old family home was broken up some eighteen years later, my mother wasn’t present, and didn’t know about the ‘rescuing’ of the wedding dress. How I wish I could have told her before she died.

For the last couple of years it has been one of our most cherished family heirlooms packed away in a cupboard.

Wedding Dress

Recently I brought it out, and a sister and I carefully mended, ironed and then displayed and photographed it, before packing it away carefully in archival tissue paper and box.

Wedding Dress 2

Next weekend we are having a ‘Cousin’s Day’ at Murwillumbah for all the descendants of my maternal grandparents, Arthur and Harriet May Baxter. For the occasion I have written a book, with lots of photographs, recounting the story of this couple and their children. Included in the book is the story of this wedding dress and the five brides who wore it.

Wedding Dress 3