|Clothes from an era past.|
My connection to my grandparents.
Well, here it is - episode 1 of 'What Kate Did'. It is all your own fault.....you all asked for it here!
We introduce my grandmother Kate in 1905 just before her 16th birthday living in Gulgong NSW with her parents.
Kate stared wide-eye at her mother as a feeling of deep apprehension radiated out from her stomach. “Y’not to tell a soul. Y’hear me now Katie-girl?” her mother whispered urgently. Kate nodded, her eyes not leaving her mother’s lined face as the realisations and implications of what she had just been told organised itself in her head. Kate hopped up off the old bed and went outside to process the information – Grandpa was a convict! A criminal in the eyes of the law! Kate knew that if anybody found out, then the family would be instantly marginalised and not treated with same equality that they had been to this point. Gulgong NSW (where Kate and her parents, sisters and brother lived), although a fast growing community since the gold rush, was still a small town and scandal like this travelled fast. Kate now knew within herself that at some point she needed to move away, move away to create an existence of her own, where her secret could never be discovered…..somewhere that she could forge a new life that utterly transcended this shocking information.
Said Grandpa (Kate’s mother’s father, John Chandler) was such a character with his tattooed arms and his seemingly endless stories and songs about the sea. It always seemed strange to Kate that Grandpa had lived all his life in Singleton as a farmer and woodsman, yet his stories were of the sea – now it all made sense. Kate recoiled at the unfairness of it all. Imagine a young sailor, 24 years old, a young father, being transported for ‘stealing’ a horse blanket and having to leave three small children and a young wife to fend for themselves in London town….never to see or hear from them again. As Kate pondered this reality, the next realisation crashed down on her. Grandma and Grandpa could not have been ever legally married if Grandpa still had a wife alive in London town all those years ago. No wonder her mother was so insistent that this secret be never told. Her mother and her Uncles and Aunties were then obviously all bastard children and Grandpa was a polygamist in the eyes of the law…..the same law that had imprisoned and transported him on a stinking fetid ship ten thousand miles across the seas to Australia. It was this same law that would again condemn Grandpa, his children and their children (indeed Kate herself) as the irretrievable scum of society….if it ever found out. Kate reeled as she tried to catch her breath through her tight corsetry and she quickly reached out clinging to the fence post to steady herself as everything she thought she knew about her family exploded into smithereens in her mind like a fire cracker.
The more Kate thought about these newly-acquired facts the more vulnerable and angry she felt. Kate now was more determined than ever that this situation would never shackle and shape her life the way it obviously had her Grandma’s and her mother’s. It explained her mother’s constant guardedness and her arms-length treatment of her parents. It probably explained why her mother had married a well-educated Danish man, many years her senior, despite Grandpa’s and Grandma’s deep disapproval – it was probably her mother’s subconscious attempt to escape this dreadful social reality and gain some security, respectability and connection back to the civilised world of Europe and England. Kate was thankful her last name was Peters and not Chandler…….a small mercy though.
Kate’s mind quickly became engrossed in the myriad of realisations that naturally manifested themselves in her family due to this terrible secret – the arguments, the whispered jibes, the way Grandma always over-emphasised the word MRS when she introduced herself, the families aversion to convicts or children of convicts of any description, the embarrassingly false airs and graces indulged in by her mother and grandmother, the aversion to meeting new people in town until they knew all about them..….. a million things now made sense.
Kate wandered over to the shade of the big Ironbark in the front yard and sat down to fully and rationally process what she had been told by her mother today and to get the story straight in her head. She needed to totally reorganise every single memory and thought in her head to match these new facts. Grandpa the criminal, Grandpa the deported convict, Grandpa the polygamist, Grandpa the sailor assigned his time as a field worker to a farmer in Singleton NSW, Grandpa who after seven years of hard labour receiving his ticket of leave (pardon) but still considered a convict. Criminals were known to be a different breed to normal people – tainted blood, dull minds, children of the devil, scum, unhuman. Even though the secret of this social disgrace was now two generations old, Kate still knew its power to lay low the life of her whole family and scuttle her own future if it were ever to be let out. All it would take was for the real Mrs Chandler (or someone who knew her) to appear on the scene or to write to the authorities making enquiries. Worse still, if one of Grandpa’s London town children hoping to find their father in Australia appeared on the scene. In the event of any of these possible scenarios the whole sordid affair would explode like a screaming banshee all over New South Wales. It would be in the papers and on that telegraphic invention thingy Kate had heard about recently. With so many people from England and Europe now willingly sailing out to Australia in the gold rushes, the threat of exposure and subsequent disgrace was a rising daily possibility. It was 1905 and the modern era, but Kate knew the toxic attitude of respectable folk when it came to convicts, let alone polygamous convicts! Whilst Kate just wanted to shut it out of her mind, she knew she could not – she MUST actively reinvent herself. Kate fervently wished she could reinvent herself then and there without delay.
Maybe Kate should have been more careful of what she wished for as she sat under that gumtree………. (to be continued)
Hopefully this story thus far is up to your expectations folks.