I have a lot of hair. It’s thick and curly. As a child my mum attempted to train its unruly behaviour by giving me frequent ‘trims’. She skilfully wielded those sharp scissors over my head as a I dutifully perched on the high, yellow stool. The result: a short style with ‘room to grow’, which meant, a fringe halfway up my forehead.
Mum had gained tips for cutting curly hair from an auntie of Dad’s, ‘Auntie Grace’, and she, in turn, had picked up tips from her husband, Charles Edward Cameron LEE (1875-1950), who had been a hairdresser in Albury. Auntie Grace taught Mum how to ‘cut into the curl’, angling the scissors so that the ends were tapered, resulting in separate curls rather than a ‘mop’. It was a successful technique and is still used by hairdressers today.
As I ventured into adolescence, I wanted to grow my hair. Mum was not a proponent of long hair as she believed it sapped energy. She’d say to me, ‘all your energy is going into your hair’. I’m not sure where she got this idea from, perhaps it was part of her family folklore or perhaps it was something she learnt in her 1930s nursing training. Anyway, the growing of the hair did not result in a perceived drop in energy levels but it did result in a voluminous nest of curls and split ends.
The long hair did come in handy though, especially for ‘up-dos’. I was a bridesmaid for my sister’s wedding in 1971 and the fashion of the day was a slightly Victorian/Edwardian style: hair piled high on top of the head and high collars; Mandarin collars I think they were called.
My sister married on a public holiday, Easter Monday. Negotiations were ventured into with venues to open, as in those days most establishments closed on public holidays. The hairdresser, however, made an exception and agreed to open for the wedding party only.
This was my first time at a hairdresser. I was excited. The sweet smell of the lotions and potions that would make my hair soft and manageable along with the cloud of hairspray mist just hanging in the upper stratosphere of the salon was intoxicating to an impressionable teenager with unruly hair. It felt luxurious just being there.
I don’t remember much else about the experience except that it seemed to take a very long time; my ‘do’ taking the longest. The hairdresser struggled to find places to pin the never-ending curls. And after the final curl was placed and the creation was secured with VO5, I stood up and nearly fell backwards; the weight of the veritable mountain that had erupted out the back of my head had altered my centre of gravity. I soon adjusted and, thankfully, stayed upright for the rest of the day.
But where did this hair come from?
As you may have noticed from previous blog posts, I love a bit of genetic analysis; a search for traits ‘handed down’ through the generations.
And in the case of my hair, my initial thoughts turned to my dad’s grandmother, Mary Jane CAMERON (1852-1934), sometimes documented as Jane Mary CAMERON, and commonly known as Jean/Jenny.
As you can see from the accompanying photo, taken in the 1870s, her hair is a similar style to mine at my sister’s wedding a hundred years later. It’s certainly thick. I suspect this is a photo of Jean on her wedding day but I don’t have proof, unfortunately.
My curl probably comes from Mum’s side but I’ll concentrate on Dad’s grandmother for this post.
What do I know about Mary Jane CAMERON?
- She was an Irish lass, born in Dundalk, County Louth in about 1852.
- Her parents were Alexander CAMERON and Catherine RICE.
- She had five siblings, that I know of, and they were all born in Dundalk.
- She married Edward LEE in 1873 in St Francis RC Church, Melbourne.
- The couple started their married life in Murray Street, Prahran, Victoria living there for at least 10 years. The growing family also lived in St Kilda and Carlton and lastly, in Bullarto South.
- The couple had seven children:
- Jean spent a good deal of her later years living with her married daughter “Doll” (Mary Grace Jane LEE), Doll’s husband, Peter COGHLAN (my grandparents) and their two children, Jack (my dad) and Nance. She accompanied the family to Cora Lynn, West Gippsland for the few years that Peter COGHLAN managed the General Store.
- She died in Cora Lynn on 6 Jan 1934 and was buried with her husband, Edward LEE, in St Kilda Cemetery.
The photo opposite is Jean on ‘hair wash day’ in Cora Lynn. Drying off her hair in the sun, perhaps? Maybe she never had her hair cut! I could never have managed that.
But what of Jean’s early years in the colony of Victoria, prior to her marriage?
I haven’t been able to verify her arrival in the colony but I suspect she is the Mary CAMERON (16) listed with Henry RICE (47), both Irish, in the passenger list for the ship Morning Light which arrived in Melbourne on 9th Feb 1867 from Liverpool.
Why do I think this? I know Henry RICE was Jean’s grandfather as he is named as Catherine RICE’s father on the marriage certificate of Jean’s parents, Alexander CAMERON and Catherine RICE. His age on the passenger list is about 10 years younger than I would have calculated for him (from his birth notice in 1808) but he may have lowered it to comply with emigration rulings regarding age. After all, the colony was keen to have ‘productive’ people. The ‘Mary CAMERON’ listed is the right age according to Jean’s known birth year.
A further piece of corroborating evidence confirming Henry RICE’s emigration is a few lines I found in the Irish newspaper The Dundalk Democrat and People’s Journal dated 27 Oct 1866:
MR. HENRY RICE-a respected inhabitant of Dundalk, left for Liverpool on Monday evening to take shipping for Australia, where he goes to join some of his children who are in a prosperous position in that Colony. Always honest, trustful, and kind-hearted, Mr Rice has left his native town with the good wishes of all his friends. We wish him a prosperous voyage.
I have no evidence to support Jean’s parents and/or siblings coming to Australia but there is evidence that members of her mother’s clan, the RICE family, did emigrate, as inferred in the newspaper article regarding Henry RICE (food for a later post).
A clue to how Edward and Jean may have met…involving the RICEs and the “King of Maffra”, James GIBNEY…
A cousin on my dad’s side sent me a transcript of a handwritten list of names she’d found on the inside back cover of a book titled Spirit of Prayer, which was in some family memorabilia:
- Auntie Bessie. Died April 5th 1890 RIP.
- Sister Mary Angela. Died June 15th 1890. RIP.
- Bella Denholm. Died Mar. 28 1891
- Rev. Mother Margaret. Died April 13th 1891. RIP
- Auntie Gibney. Died March 18th 1893. RIP
And inside the front cover was the following handwritten note:
K. E. Lee, Murray Street, Prahran. April 7th 1888′
with the words ‘Windsor’ and ‘Presentation’ just visible.
I think I can safely deduce from the address that the book belonged to the eldest child of Edward and Jean, Kathleen Elizabeth LEE (sometimes referred to as Catherine). I could also deduce that Kathleen was a student at Presentation Convent, Windsor. (To read more about the history of the Presentation Sisters in Victoria, click on this link to the website Society of Presentation Sisters)
A map of the area shows Murray Street Prahran, where the LEE family lived, is only a 15 minute walk from the Convent. I researched ‘Rev Mother Margaret’ and found that her date of death coincided with the date of death of a Presentation Sister, Sr. Margaret Mary CRONIN, one of the first Presentation Sisters to come to Australia from Ireland. It seems the family had a ‘connection’ of some kind to the Presentation Sisters-perhaps going back as far as Ireland. A whole new track to go down…..
But what really intrigued me about the list of names was the entry, ‘Auntie Gibney’.
I’d often wondered if there was a connection between James GIBNEY, a land owner in Maffra in the mid 1800s, and the naming of Edward and Jean’s youngest child, Edward James Gibney LEE (Walter ‘Alan’ LEE’s father). I’m pretty sure the following research holds the key…
A search for James GIBNEY of Maffra…
I did a search for ‘James GIBNEY’ and ‘Maffra’ in Trove. His obituary in the Maffra Spectator, dated 28 Dec 1899, gave me an approximate date of death and a burial place:
DEATH OF MR GIBNEY
We, in common with old residents of Maffra, regret the demise of Mr James Gibney, which sad event occurred at Richmond last Thursday. The pseudonym, “King of Maffra” was in every way applicable to the deceased. He was the founder of the Macalister Hotel in the early days; he built at his own expense the bridge spanning the Macalister River; he was the mainstay of the church in connection with the Roman Catholic religion here and was never found wanting, in fact he practically provided funds for the building of the first chapel. Mr Gibney settled down here in one of our most comfortable homes, but at the death of his wife some few years ago he bade adieu to the district. According to the old adage, ‘Good deeds live after men!’ Did the man who has left this mortal life imagine there would have been TWO sympathisers to meet his remains at the Maffra station and FOUR to follow the bier to God’s acre?
No direct clues there …
A further search for James GIBNEY, this time on the website Australian Cemeteries revealed the details of the occupants of his grave in the Maffra Cemetery:
This information gave me James GIBNEY’s exact date of death, 21/12/1899, his second name, Joseph, and where he came from, ‘Native of Dublin Ireland‘. It also revealed details of his wife, Margaret. And, lo and behold, her date of death, 18/3/1893 coincided with ‘Auntie Gibney”s date of death. I had a connection…
Upon request, the kind people at Australian Cemeteries supplied me with photos of the grave site of James and his wife, Margaret GIBNEY in Maffra Cemetery.
As you can see, there is quite a substantial monument erected to James and his wife. It’s topped with a Celtic Cross and the Harp of Erin sits just below it.
The side of the monument reads:
Of …… ……… pray
For the eternal repose of
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE 18TH MARCH 1893, AGED 65 YEARS
ALSO OF HER HUSBAND
JAMES JOSEPH GIBNEY
NATIVE OF DUBLIN, IRELAND
AND ONE OF THE PIONEERS OF THIS DISTRICT
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE
21ST DEC 1899 AGED 75 YEARS
So, how was Margaret GIBNEY, alias ‘Auntie Gibney’, related/connected to the LEE family?
A search on BDM Vic using her date of death revealed that Margaret GIBNEY’s maiden name was RICE and her father’s name was Henry RICE. Bingo! Jean’s mother’s name was Catherine RICE and Catherine’s father’s name was Henry RICE.
So, Margaret GIBNEY née RICE was Jean’s mother’s sister. In other words, James GIBNEY’s wife was Jean CAMERON’s auntie.
Hope you can follow that…
Land in Maffra
A look at a map of Maffra shows many allotments owned by James GIBNEY. I’ve highlighted some of them near the Macalister River on a portion of the map (see the highlighted areas on the map below). On close inspection, there is a small block owned by ‘H RICE’ (black square). Perhaps Henry RICE and his granddaughter, Jean, settled here on their arrival in the colony to be near Henry’s daughter, Margaret, ‘Auntie GIBNEY’.
The large block near the river owned by ‘J GIBNEY’ is where the Macalister Hotel was built and owned by him. It still stands on this spot today but has undergone many renovations. And the bridge over the Macalister River (where it says ‘From Seaton’) is the bridge he built. It’s named ‘Gibney’s Bridge’.
Below is an engraving of an artist’s impression of the township of Maffra in 1882. Note ‘Gibney’s Bridge over the Macalister River in Picture 4.
The naming of Edward James Gibney LEE?
So, why did Edward and Jean LEE include ‘James GIBNEY’ in the name of their youngest son, Edward James Gibney LEE? Was it because they admired the man, James GIBNEY, and wanted to honour him by perpetuating his name? Or was it because James and Margaret GIBNEY were ‘surrogate’ parents to Jean? It’s possible Jean’s parents died prematurely in Ireland and her grandfather, Henry RICE, believing that Jean would have better prospects in Australia, brought her out to be cared for by his daughter, Margaret and her husband James GIBNEY, who didn’t have any children of their own. In fact, the more I think about this the more I think this is probably the case. There were similar arrangements in the next generation of the LEE family where children spent extended periods of time with relatives following the premature death of a parent or parents. Jean may have used the name with the idea of honouring her ‘surrogate’ parents, the GIBNEYs.
A possible scenario of how Jean CAMERON met Edward LEE:
After arriving in Melbourne in 1867, Henry RICE settles in Maffra with his granddaughter, Jean CAMERON, in order to be near his daughter, Margaret GIBNEY, née RICE. Jean spends much of her time in the Macalister Hotel helping her ‘Auntie GIBNEY’ who has no children of her own. The LEE brothers, Edward and Charles, are frequent visitors to the Macalister Hotel after rowing their boat up the river from their farms in Upper Maffra (Newry)—after all, they’re descendants of Thames lightermen, they know how to manage water transport. Edward takes a shine to the teenager with the full head of hair, Jean, but they wait until she’s 21 and he’s established himself in his profession as a wood engraver before they marry in 1873.
All supposition…but a possibility, I guess.
- It turns out that ‘Auntie Bessie’, mentioned in the Spirit of Prayer, is also connected to the RICE family (for a later post)…
- An interesting finding regarding the Macalister Hotel is that George MILLET (1851-1906), Mum’s great-uncle bought the hotel in the 1880s, and in the 1930s, Mum’s father, William Thomas Rupert WINTER was the publican there. So, the Macalister Hotel was in the hands of both sides of my parents’ pioneering families. This was years before my parents met and it’s highly unlikely the families would have known each other. An amazing case of 6 degrees of separation!