A Picture Really Is Worth…But Wait, Words are Good Too!

Victoria Hall 1882
Figure 1: Courtesy of State Library NSW

This is an incredible photo for my family history and one that I thought I would never see properly and in such focus. I literally stumbled onto this one at the Mitchell library. I called up a batch of historic photos on Sydney in a bit of a fishing expedition without even realising that this photo was part of the collection. I had seen a very grainy copy of this photo before in an online mention of the history of Sydney’s theatre’s and also in Trove in an article on the history of Castlereagh Street. So you can imagine my thrill when I turned the page and this was staring back at me. Below is a copy of the Trove article.

Victoria Hall Article 1912
Figure 2: Courtesy of State Library NSW

Look at the difference between the two. When you read on you will see how that difference can really determine the amount of information you can glean from a photo. The article written in 1912 confirms without a doubt where Skinner’s Books was in 1882, and it also shows the building where my Great Grandmother Grace Nicoll née Blackwood was born.

Figure 2a: Courtesy of the State Library of NSW
Dove’s Plan 1880 Figure 2b: Courtesy of City of Sydney Archives

What’s fascinating about this map is that it has nearly all the vendor names that appear in the article above. Skinner’s is not here yet. They will move into no. 73 Davidson Jeweller position on the left of the covered passage.

Incidentally, I found a book by Isadore Brodsky called “Sydney’s Phantom Bookstalls” buried in a second-hand bookstall in Ulmarra, on a recent trip to the North Coast of NSW, and it had a copy of this photo in it as well. Talk about pouring when it rains. You know what I mean.

Of course when I first picked up this gem I didn’t know what to expect. I was hopeful that there might be some mention of Skinners or Harry Blackwood, the Skinner’s sticker pictured on the back cover had me very excited. Apart from finding the photo as above, I found this too.

Sydney’s Phantom Bookshops, 1973, pg 101-103
Isadore Brodsky, University Co-Op Bookshop Ltd Broadway, Sydney
Figure: 8 Courtesy of Macvean Family Library

And there he is, my Great-Great Grandfather, Henry John Blackwood, (Harry) and his business partner Robert William Skinner. And in a bizarre twist of, I don’t know why, Harry after Skinner passes away takes on his persona and becomes known as Skinner as well. I can find no information as to why and can only think that he must have thought that it was good for business to continue on as Skinner.

Harry Blackwood as Skinner
Figure 9: Courtesy of the State Library of NSW

That is a picture of Harry Blackwood not R W Skinner.

Now back to the photograph from 1882. What is really incredible, is that the quality is so sharp and so clear that I was able to zoom in to show the detail on the signage of the building. It clearly shows a sign for Skinner’s Bookstall. The first part of the sign is obscured, but you can see the “Sk” mirrored in the reflection of the store window. Then if you look below on the ground you will notice the baskets of books that Skinner’s (Harry Blackwood) was known for.

Now check out the neighbours.

The detail on this lot is also incredible. The clothes, the hats and the attitude. It would be wonderful to know who they were, but I suspect their identities are long forgotten.

According to the Dictonary of Sydney, the Sydney Punch was an, “…Illustrated satirical periodical with various publishers from 1864 until 1888. Modelled on the English Punch magazine, Sydney Punch was established in 1864 by Edgar Ray, one of the founders of the older Melbourne Punch.https://dictionaryofsydney.org/artefact/sydney_punch

Figure 22: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.
Figure 23: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.
Figure 24: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.

The Victoria Hotel is 105 Castlereagh St at this time, and for a while I thought this was the building where my Great Grandmother was born. Grace Blackwood daughter of Harry Blackwood and Jane Grace Skinner née Vaughan. Yep you read that correctly, Skinner not Blackwood. I have a copy of her birth certificate below, check it out.

105 Castlereagh Street
Figure 25: Courtesy of NSW State Library.
Grace Blackwood Birth Certificate
Figure 26: Courtesy of Macvean Family Archives

No father’s name listed, yet Grace is named Blackwood. This remained a mystery for my family for decades. No one knew where Grace or Nanna Nic as she was known was born or when until I stumbled onto some company records at State Archives which then lead me to the above birth record. But first, the photo below shows the actual building where Grace was born. The whole Victoria Hall site was demolished in 1890 and Skinner’s had to move to the new 105 Castlereagh Street site, which incidentally was just a couple of doors up the street, as the numbering changed as well. https://aussietheatre.com.au/features/venue-histories/the-tivoli-theatre

In family history terms, we are so lucky to have this photo. It is the only one I can find of the 105 site and it, of course, is where Grace was born which is significant but it is also the house she grew up in presumably, as they don’t move to their next premises, 119-121 Castlereagh St until 1906 when Grace is 18 years old. But wait, before I show you how I solved this mystery of Grace’s birth and we explore the next Skinners site at 119-121 I have to finish off the story of the Victoria Hall site.

The last of the Neighbours to show you.

Goodwin Bros Signage
Figure 30: Courtesy of NSW State Library.

Then this next article is from 1933 and is a retrospective on D’Arcy and the photo and confirms that it is actually him in that top window. What a find.

Sydney Mail, 4th Jan 1933
Figure 40: Courtesy of NSW State Library.

As I stated earlier, the Victoria Hall was demolished in 1890 and the Garrick Theatre rose in its place.

The Garrick Theatre, 1892
Figure 41: Courtesy of State Library of NSW.

Its a crappy copy of the photo, sorry about that, it is the only one available at the moment. The interesting thing to note is that the Coach builders, Jenners are still there on the right. Where the number 77 is on the awning above, was where the 103 is in the original photo, (look back up to the earlier photos) and the building on the left in this photo is the original Imperial Arcade facade.

It was renamed the Tivoli in 1893, burned down and rebuilt in 1899.https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/collection-items/castlereagh-street-tivoli-theatre

The Tivoli Theatre, December 1906
Figure 42: Courtesy of State Library of NSW.

This photo had no date on it but looking at the dress on the woman on the right it looked early 1900s. I couldn’t help myself I checked out the artist names appearing on the advert boards and look what I found. Trove delivered. Some great stuff and then a quick slap of that, oh yes we are dealing with attitudes 115 years in the past. You’ll see what I mean.

Close up of the Tivoli Advert Boards December 1906
Figure 43: Courtesy of Music Hall Annie Webpress Blog

Then here comes the slap.

Figure 56: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.

See what I mean? I was literally shocked when I read it. I had no idea the racist terms were used so easily until I saw this. I’m so glad that I found some wonderful information on Cassie and a great couple of photos of her to share with you.

Cassie lived till she was 92, passing away in 1980. If you want to know more about her click the link below her photo, Find a Grave have a great bio on her.

Back to the Tivoli, it operated until 1929 when it too was demolished.

The Tivoli Theatre, 1920s
Figure 59: Courtesy of State Library of NSW.

In its place the Embassy Theatre was built which opened in 1934 and operated until the late 1970s. Keep in mind we are still on the Skinner’s Books site still.

Now the original, beautiful Imperial Arcade built in 1891 is torn down in 1961 and the modern version put up in 1965.

Figure 64: Courtesy of WordPress blog, Scratching Sydney’s Surface
Imperial Arcade 2008
Figure 64: Courtesy of WordPress blog, Sydney Architecture Archive

The above picture shows that the Embassy is long gone, not sure when that happened. But then in November 2008 the Imperial closed and the whole site was swallowed into what has now become the Westfield commercial towers today.

So a little off the topic of Skinner’s but like I have said numerous times, you get more bang for your buck on this blog. I’ll finish off for now with a quick comparison for you of the site 136 years apart and pick up the rest of the Skinner’s story in another post.

Victoria Hall Site 2018
Figure 65: Courtesy of the Macvean Family Archives
Victoria Hall 1882
Figure 66: Courtesy of State Library NSW

A Lady Doctors’ Motivations.

While writing this post I had the very creative title of “The Micro-cremator part 2” but after going with the flow of the writing this title above seems more appropriate. Don’t worry more of the micro-cremator is coming.

So, no more of the usual beating about the bush, lets get straight into where we left off. If you read my last post, you know we have a scarcity of any hard facts to tell us what motivates Kate to invent the Micro-cremator and to expose herself to the ridicule that she must have known would have been aimed at her, considering the time she was living in. But there are some pretty big clues that I know will help us. This would be Kate’s first motivating factor. (refer photo to the right)

Kate Thorne née Hooppell (1838-1892)
(Kate’s Mother)
Figure 1: Courtesy of Rob Tunnock

Her Mum and her own life experiences. (By the way, how is that for a photo?) Rob Tunnock who so generously shared it with me just happened to stumble onto my blog late last year and sent me a message. His Great Grandfather was our Kate’s cousin, how awesome is that. Back to Kate’s mum, I have discussed in an earlier post some of the traits that were attributed to her from her small obituary but since then I have also discovered a little more about Kate Hooppell (Kate senior). I was stunned to find her listed in the 1841 Census, she is two years of age.

Figure 2: Courtesy of Ancestry.com

This census was taken on the night of Sunday the 6th of June. Kate Senior is 2 years of age living with her parents Robert and Ellen, within a month her own mother Ellen is dead. I can’t find an exact cause of death for Ellen but in early Victorian England Tuberculosis or Consumption as it was commonly called, was one of the leading causes of Adult death. By the time our Kate is studying Pharmacy in 1897 it was responsible for killing 1 out of every 7 people living in all of Europe and the United States. (https://www.cdc.gov/tb/worldtbday/history.htm) (https://livingwithdying.leeds.ac.uk/2017/08/09/top-ten-ways-to-die-in-victorian-britain/)

Figure 3: Courtesy of Ancestry.com

Now if this 1851 Census is the correct census listing for Kate senior, (I’m fairly certain it is) then she is still living with her father Robert, as well as two other family members, two cousins. Catherine, performing as the housekeeper and the other, Anne acting as Kate’s Governess. You will note that Kate’s father Robert is listed as a “…Landed Proprietor…”. This and the fact they also have a servant living in the household lets us safely assume they have money.

My reasoning behind my certainty this is their census?, we have quite a few points that are lining up. The area they are from, Ringmore, Bigbury and Devon all match with the 1841 listing. Kate’s age, she is now 12, 10 years older than 1841. The fact that Ellen is not listed and also the fact that there are no other children listed. I can confirm that Kate senior was an only child.

Figure 4: Courtesy of Billion Graves (Artamon, Photographer)

Next factor that adds to Kate seniors story, her father dies 3 years later in 1854, she is just 15 years of age. I’m not sure what happens to her immediately after this, but amazingly I found her in the 1861 census.

Figure 5: Courtesy of Ancestry.com

Kate senior is now living with George and Catherine Andrews and Kate is listed as cousin. Looking back at the 1851 census we see Robert’s niece Catherine (i.e. Kate’s Cousin) listed as Housekeeper. I bet this is the same Catherine who is now married to George Andrews and who names one of their daughters “…Kate Hooppell Andrews…” listed above. What a wonderful way to show how close they all were. Note also that Kate is 22 years of age and listed as “…Landed Property…” further facts lining up with the previous census.

At this time Kate senior is a wealthy independent young woman who is 9 years away from marrying Ebenezer Thorne, so what does she do? Well her obituary gives us a great clue. It explains that she aligns herself with the ideals of a long forgotten hero of Birmingham, that great industrial city of 19th century England, George Dawson.

Portrait on cabinet card of George Dawson, by H. J. Whitlock Photo, New St., Birmingham.
Figure 6: Courtesy of Birmingham City Council

Remember, I’m talking about clues as to what motivates our Kate, and I’m suggesting her own mother’s history is the number one motivating factor. This is why we are taking this very shallow dive into this relationship with George Dawson. He was a “…non conformist preacher, lecturer and politician.” He was also know to be an “…advocate of free education and also served on the school board.” (https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/directory_record/112144/george_dawson_1821_to_1876)

George I can only imagine must have been a huge influencing figure for Kate Senior. A young orphaned, unmarried woman who has the means at hand to provide assistance. Her obituary again gives us a great clue as to her civic character. It states that she had…, on second thoughts have a look yourself.

Kate Thorne Obituary
Figure 7: Courtesy of National Library of Australia Trove.

I know I have shared this with you a few posts back now, but I don’t expect you to remember, and I think this gives good context to the discussion. See how it states that Kate has the “…purse and personal efforts…” in maintaining the schools set up by Dawson and that she devoted herself to assisting with the education of the factory girls. I would expect no mean feat for a young woman in the mid-1860s. Imagine the manuscript Kate senior might have written and her collection of correspondence, which most likely was all destroyed once she had passed. There is that ache again for what is lost.

Dawson was known for his philosophy of “Civic Gospel” This explanation from Wikipedia, “…a town is a solemn organism through which shall flow, and in which shall be shaped, all the highest, loftiest and truest ends of man’s moral nature…” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civic_Gospel Dawson obviously passed this on to Kate Senior who has then passed it on to her own daughter. This is most evident to me, in the fact that in 1904 our Kate offers over the patent for the Microcremator to the NSW Government for free, so everyone might benefit from it. This article below is a rare find as it is a letter written for the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald from someone who I suspect had no connection to Kate or the micro-cremator but had an opinion they needed to express about it.

Figure 8: Courtesy of National Library of Australia Trove. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/14917454?searchTerm=fighting%20consumption

I only gave you a clipped excerpt of the article. Click the link if you are interested in reading the whole thing. Mr J. Martin Cleary talks about in his “Letter to the Editor” the fact that at the time, the government had put out the tenders to build a National Library and the lowest one that came back was 77 000 pounds and that if they were considering this sum to house books, certainly they could cover the cost of actually doing something about Consumption? How wonderful for us that he took the time to mention Kate and the Micro-cremator and to mention that they were successful trials that she conducted. I haven’t come across any resources discussing the outcome of the trials as yet, so this is gold. (I know I say that often.) Can you see how were are getting some good data here to support my original hypothesis way back at the beginning of my last post?

Now, just going back for a minute. Scroll back up and check out Kate Senior’s headstone. That wonderful quote from Reverend Mitchell. They are pretty powerful words to be reading about your own mother from our Kate’s point of view. I mean that quote is a story in itself, isn’t it. Why does Reverend Mitchell have the privilege of having his quote engraved on here and there is nothing from Ebenezer her husband or any other family members? It just makes me want to know more.

I was lucky enough to stumble on to a couple of lines about Rev’ Mitchell that just highlights again the type of thinking that our Kate was exposed to. This following quote comes from a blog on the history of Churches in Brisbane. “… D. F. Mitchell was a tall, active Scot, not much of a preacher, but well loved over at the Park Presbyterian Church in South Brisbane, and a very familiar figure. On an occasion I heard the remark that he instinctively knew where there was want for sickness, and that he did not care a two penny – (something not at all clerical) whether they were Christians, Jews, pagans, or “Freethinkers.” ” http://www.chapelhill.homeip.net/FamilyHistory/Other/QueenslandHistory/browne5.htm There is a real trend here with the type of people that our Kate is being exposed to. Reverend Mitchell fits perfectly with the ethos Kate senior came from.

And talking about wanting to know more, the Park Presbyterian Church is still standing. Wow! This I’m sure will be the same church where Kate senior and Kate would have attended. Our Kate was born in Woolloongabba a 20-minute walk from the church or 10-minute sulky ride.

I believe the other main motivation for Kate is the number of people suffering from disease in her life. I know it doesn’t state specifically but her mother’s obit indicates that she was a “…long time sufferer“. We haven’t received the death certificate yet to confirm, but I suspect that she was battling consumption. You’ll remember I have shared a few times the article of Kate and her best friend, Thirza Zahel, George’s cousin living in Sydney and battling life’s battles. I think those battles were with consumption. Then there are also a few articles that state that Kate had consumption and that at one stage her father Ebenezer leaves Brisbane to come down to reside in Sydney to take care of her.

Figure 12: Courtesy of National Library of Australia Trove.

The final thoughts I have on Kate’s motivations are a bit harder to put into words. A bit of a problem as this is a blog that really relies on me being able to do that to some success so that you might have a chance of understanding me. A big ask each time I sit down to this screen, I know, for me that is. Anyhow, here goes.

I think another influencing factor on her motivations might have been the mix of the time that Kate was living in with the societal expectations that were on any woman at that time and really the person that Kate had become because of the exposure of the different civic and social duty philosophies that she had been exposed to. To roll into that, she came from wealth which afforded her the luxury of having her basic needs meet to enable her to work on these higher-order needs. How did I go? Hopefully I’m making sense.

I’m getting into a bit of a routine with my research now in trying to find some supporting literature to fill out what I’m actually talking about in these blog posts. This time this particular gem of a book is really what has got me thinking like this about Kate. Again it is purely my speculation, but it feels like the pieces might fit.

What a find this book was. I have literally made it in 30 pages and already can see so many potential links with what I suspect might have been occurring for Kate. The frustrating thing for me so far is that there is little that I can find that focuses on Australian Women Chemists of the time. This is wonderful even if it is a British focus and I mean technically Kate is at this stage very much British and under the same system only 11 000 miles away.

The Rayner-Canham’s set out in their first 30 pages a fantastic picture of what challenges these pioneer women, such as Kate really faced and that was, the patriarchal view. Whether that be from men or other women who thought they were breaking the bonds of tradition. I know, jam packed first 30 pages but wait there is more. (Rayner-Canham & Rayner-Canham 2009)

Some issues they highlight were even starting back at the school level. Having teaching staff that allowed girls the opportunity of studying stem subjects in the first place. This was not the norm. There were male teaching staff that were absolutely opposed to the idea of allowing this to happen for girls let alone to allow them to make it into higher education. (Rayner-Canham & Rayner-Canham 2009)

They then describe how the big debate that consumed faculties when women were begrudgingly allowed into these higher education settings was whether their studies focused on pure scientific outcomes such as men were afforded or should it be curtailed to a domestic brand of science to assist women in their duties at home. I mean it is even uncomfortable typing this now in 2021 but also frustrating knowing that women still face many challenges like these today, 120 years later. (Rayner-Canham & Rayner-Canham 2009)

The Rayner-Canhams also managed to fit into these 30 pages that there were some factors assisting women as well. Many men at the time were also allies and fought for women to have a place beside them. I think we can probably safely say that Ebenezer, George and his brother’s and father would all have fit into this bracket for Kate and her aspirations. They also suggested that in their research an interesting trend presented itself, that in a lot of the cases it was the women’s complete lack of rivalry for their male counterparts that enabled them to just get on with the job of learning and that they were grateful for whatever assistance these males were able to give them. (Rayner-Canham & Rayner-Canham 2009) I have a feeling that Kate may not have fit into this category, but my reasoning for that will become more evident in our next post.

This next clipping from Trove gives in a small way an example of what I have been trying to express to you above and also explains further the title of this post.

Figure 14: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.

So I feel that with this accumulation of evidence and my ramblings above that we can be confident in knowing what Kate’s motivations were for doggedly pursuing her studies, her research and putting herself to the task of inventing and developing the micro-cremator. She wanted to do good for her community and the people suffering in it and use the skills and knowledge she had in making that come about. She was very much a product of her mother and the attitudes and values she had developed over her life. And I think we can optimistically assume that with what I have shared already in my previous posts of Kate’s story and the micro-cremator that she was successful in her endeavours. The next post will celebrate that success but also show that it came with a cost.