Not fit to be seen

“How dare you come here in that condition and disgrace me in front of my guests!” Jack Payne took a last look at his pregnant daughter, Ettie, and strode back into the house.

John Edward (Jack) Payne (1866 - 1956)

John Edward (Jack) Payne (1866 – 1956)

Attitudes to pregnancy

In 1915 many parents turned their backs on daughters who were pregnant and unmarried. It was viewed as a disgrace. Perhaps Jack didn’t know or chose not to remember that his own mother had a child born out of wedlock before she married Jack’s father. Sometimes in communities in the bush where “churches were few and men of religion were scanty”, it seems to have been considered acceptable for the marriage to begin in practice before the ceremony was performed.

Hugh Mulcahy and Ettie Payne on their wedding day in 1911

Hugh Mulcahy and Ettie Payne on their wedding day in 1911

But Ettie was married, had been for four years and even her first child had been conceived and born after her marriage. She and her husband, Hugh, were heading to Killarney to wait for the birth of their third child and Hugh wasn’t about to let his wife labour without medical help available. They were travelling on horseback, each carrying a child but on the return journey there would be three children so Ettie had arranged with her mother to leave the older children there. Now Ettie’s father was turning the little family away.

It’s true that while the average woman in the early 1900s would spend more of her life pregnant than her modern counterparts do, pregnancy was not openly discussed. Women would often just stay home once they began to show. A child’s first inkling that he or she was gaining a new sibling was often once the baby had been born.

Jack Payne

Jack Payne was certainly a man of contradictions and inconsistencies, and not much in the way of sympathy – the sort of man who in years to come would look at three adult grandsons assembled in front of him and invite two of them in for a drink, the sort of man who while his wife, Annie, by then we’ll into her forties had been labouring for three days to deliver a baby, only called a doctor when Hugh said he would otherwise call the police. Maybe that was all that could be expected from someone of pure convict heritage.

Jack and Annie Payne with two of their sons in later years.

Jack and Annie Payne with two of their sons in later years.

I don’t know who these guests were that Jack was so worried about offending and I don’t know what Annie was doing while they were there because she was also pregnant and therefore by Jack’s standards not fit to be seen…


Corrections courtesy of my mother after she read this post.  Ettie and Hugh were travelling to Killarney by sulky for the birth of the baby.  Leaving the older children with their grandparents had nothing to do with carrying the children on horseback.  That story was about Ettie’s birth.  Ettie’s grandmother, Eliza Jane Smith (nee Merchant) was the local midwife so Ettie’s mother had travelled home to her mother for the birth of her first two children.  She didn’t travel for Ettie’s birth because of the difficulties with transportation.

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