Mystery object

This object came to light recently when my mother was packing up her house to move.  It has probably been passed on a few times when houses were packed up because I don’t think it has been in use for a long time and I don’t know who the original owner was.  Suffice to say that many women in 19th and early 20th century Australia would have owned such a device.

Mystery object

Mystery object

JG IngramIt was manufactured by JG Ingram and Sons, London, a company which operated from 1847 until at least 1961.

It’s a pump for expressing breast milk, very different in appearance from the modern version.

My first thought on realising what it was:

What would a 19th century woman want with a breast pump? Women in the 19th century Australia didn’t go out to work, leaving their babies with carers. They certainly worked and maybe they left the baby at the house with big sisters or grandmothers while they went out to milk cows, tend crops or work in the family business but they wouldn’t have gone far enough away from their babies to need to express milk.

Of course there are other reasons for expressing milk, just as there are today. Illnesses like mastitis or milk fever were common enough, babies don’t always attach well, cracked nipples are painful but the short and sad answer is that babies died.

More babies died at or soon after birth than is common in developed countries today.  It’s a tragedy when any baby dies but it wouldn’t have been the absolutely shocking and unexpected event that it is today.

Just to give an idea of statistics, my great-grandmother Mary Ann Smith was one of 14 children.

The eldest sibling (a boy) died as a baby.  Ellen died aged 3. Mary Ann (Annie) had 7 surviving sisters. There is no evidence of children born to her sisters, Agnes, Henrietta, Emma or Louisa dying young but:

  • Rose lost Victor E A Headrick (1907-1908)
  • Matilda lost Mary J Ford (1915-1916)
  • Phyllis lost Lucy Eliza Elliott (1905-1906)
  • And Annie herself lost Maude Ellen Payne (1895-1895), Percival Edward Payne (1913-1913) and Charles Ernest Payne (1915-1915).
  • There is also a family story that Annie gave birth to another stillborn baby whose birth and death were not registered.In Australia in 1901, 103.6 out of every 1000 babies died within the first year of life.  Lack of medical knowledge, distance from medical assistance, and spread of infection through lack of hygiene all played a part.
Matilda Ford (nee Smith) (1878-1921)

Matilda Ford (nee Smith)
(1878-1921)

Phyllis Elliott nee Smith) 1886-1956)

Phyllis Elliott (nee Smith)
(1886-1956)

Rose Headrick nee Smith) 1873-1962)

Rose Headrick (nee Smith)
(1873-1962)

Mary Ann Payne (nee Smith) (1871-1962)

Mary Ann Payne (nee Smith) (1871-1962)

Baby Donald Mulcahy's death certificate 1879

Baby Donald Mulcahy’s death certificate 1879

Figures from Australians: historical statistics, Broadway, 1987, p58, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

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Gold is running in my veins

The mists rose slowly out of the valleys, as first the Clarence, and then its tributary, the Timbarra or Rocky River, were discovered by the cedar-getters and squatters.  While the squatters were still busy establishing their empires, the magic cry of “Gold, gold!”, echoed down the valleys, and almost overnight the scene changed.  Mining camps and townships sprang up on lonely parts of the runs, and roads became alive with hopeful diggers.  This is the scene of our story. (Wilkinson, 1980)

"On the Timbarra" by Tom Roberts from the NSW Art Gallery

“On the Timbarra” by Tom Roberts from the NSW Art Gallery

My mother was born in northern New South Wales.  The various branches of her family tree met there because the country began to open up for timber-getting, farming and grazing in the 1830s as settlement gradually spread away from the areas first settled by the British around what is now Sydney.  Then in 1857 gold was discovered at Boonoo Boonoo (pronounced Bunna Bunnoo by the locals) and in 1858 at Timbarra, in 1859 at Tooloom and Pretty Gully.  The early history of the area is covered in Isabel Wilkinson’s brilliantly detailed but sadly unindexed book, “Forgotten Country” published in 1980.  More recently (2009) Brett Stubbs has published “The Gold Digger’s Arms.  Pubs of the Upper Clarence River district, New South Wales”, a useful and interesting read about (unsurprisingly) pubs, their owners and lessees and their local area history.

Payne ancestors

Mum’s Payne ancestors were convicts who received land grants in the Hunter region once they had served their sentences.

"Big" John Payne (1843-1910)

“Big” John Payne (1843-1910)

John Payne and his wife, Mary Ann Sophia (nee Merrick) left the Hunter around 1870 and worked their way through New South Wales with children born in Inverell in 1871, Tingha in 1874, Pallamallawa in 1876 and 1878, Bininguy in 1880 and Narrabri in 1884.

Mary Ann Sophia died in Narrabri in 1885.  Their oldest son, John Edward (Jack) was settled in the Upper Clarence by the time of his marriage in 1889.  Gold was still being discovered and in fact there was a new boom in the early 1890s.  The Paynes capitalised on this boom by opening the Tooloom Hotel in 1894.

Tooloom Hotel

Tooloom Hotel, 1910 or earlier

“It was said that ‘neither money nor brains have been spared’ in the building of the hotel there; ‘a building quite fit for [Tenterfield] stands up quite grandly over the Tooloom River, and the hospitality to be found there is indiputable’.” (Stubbs, 2009, p.27)

Wherever the Payne family was living in 1889, it was obviously not the spacious establishment of the Tooloom Hotel for the story goes that when “Big” John Payne (so called because he weighed 23 stone) married for the second time in September 1889 and brought his new bride home, his son and daughter-in-law, married only two months themselves, were required to vacate the only double bed in the house.

Smith and Merchant ancestors

There are some mysteries surrounding George Smith but he was born in Buckinghamshire and arrived in Australia in 1857, maybe in the wake of the gold rush. He married Eliza Jane Merchant whose family switched from laying railways in England to digging for gold on the other side of the world.  Their daughter, Mary Ann (Annie), married Jack Payne.

McLean and Mulcahy ancestors

Donald McLean and his wife Ann Matheson arrived in Australia in 1837.  The highland clearances and economic changes in Scotland had impacted their families on Skye and in Inverness and the newly married couple joined the wave of immigration to Australia, America and Canada.  Their daughter, Mary, married John Mulcahy the son of Irish immigrants who had also travelled north from the Hunter region.  Farming opportunities and gold brought these families to the north of the colony.

The branches meet

The Tooloom gold diggings was the place where in 1893 a 17-year-old Hugh Mulcahy (son of John Mulcahy and Mary McLean) heard the news that Jack Payne’s wife, Annie (nee Smith), had given birth to a daughter.  No doubt he congratulated the proud father but can’t have known that he would one day marry that daughter. The 35-year-old Hugh married the 18-year-old Ettie in 1911, and they were my grandparents.

Hugh and Ettie (Payne) Mulcahy and family, 1949

Hugh and Ettie (Payne) Mulcahy and family, 1949

Losing pieces of your heart

Annie Payne (nee Smith) gave birth to at least 15 children.

Mary Ann Payne (nee Smith) (1871-1962)

Mary Ann Payne (nee Smith) (1871-1962)

She was just 18 when the first was born and 44 when the last child whose birth was registered was born.

Apparently there was another baby born after that but it was either stillborn or lived only for a short time. They didn’t bother registering the birth or death and her husband, Jack, buried it.  When you lived in an area somewhat remote from the authorities sometimes it was just easier to do things yourself.  If the neighbours did ask or notice, they weren’t likely to report you because they were in the same situation.

Of Jack and Annie’s 16 children, five died as babies or children and two in young adulthood.

In the terrible year of 1913 my great-grandparents lost four children: six-year-old Violet in April, 14-year-old Bertram and 19-year-old William in May, and three-month-old Percival in October.  An inquiry into the deaths and a post-mortem on the body of William found the first three deaths to be caused by meningitis.  A fourth Payne child and a grandchild also contracted the disease but survived. No photos of the deceased children survive (if they ever existed) but the inquest reported that William was “a splendid stamp of a young man and crack shot”.

"Tenterfield Star", May 1913

“Tenterfield Star”, May 1913

"Tenterfield Star", May 1913

“Tenterfield Star”, May 1913

The newspaper report on the inquest does seem to indicate that Jack was questioned as to whether he had sought medical advice.

In later years when more was known about sanitation, a daughter of Jack and Annie attributed the spread of the disease amongst the family to poor hygiene.  There was of course no plumbing or sewerage on gold diggings dwellings.

We live in an age when parents invest considerable time, money and emotion into their (probably few) children.  Did parents in days gone by allow themselves to be as attached to their children?  Wouldn’t you hold a part of yourself back from getting too attached to a baby who might not survive its first year?  The author Elizabeth Stone said that to have a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.  Annie’s heart must have been damaged beyond words after losing so many children.

Jack and Annie (Smith) Payne with their first three daughters and a couple of photobombers, c1893

Jack and Annie (Smith) Payne with their first three daughters and a couple of photobombers, c1893