Family secrets

I often used to stay over at my grandmother’s house when I was a little girl. I had two brothers and two sisters, so staying with my nanna gave my mother a break, (one less child to look after), and gave me the precious gift of being the most important person in the world, at least for a couple of days.

I slept in the second bedroom in a big saggy bed that was hard to get out of. The spring base had given up the ghost, but no-one had ever thought to replace it.

My nanna worked as a cleaner and would leave early in the morning to sweep and mop the post office floor, returning before I was awake to make me a boiled egg with toast soldiers. She would bring it on a tray, another special treat that never happened at home unless you were sick. I would luxuriate in the big bed reading books and pretending I was a princess. When I finally managed to get myself out of bed, achieved by holding onto the side and heaving myself out, my favourite thing to do was open all the drawers in the wooden dressing table and investigate the contents.

In one drawer, there was a box of musty yellow newspaper clippings. My family were always snipping things out of the paper, so I wasn’t surprised to find them, but I was quite puzzled by their contents.

One was an advertisement from a lonely-hearts column.

Clean living man (non-drinker) seeks single woman or widow for outings and companionship.

I was intrigued by this cutting and deduced that it was an advertisement posted by my stepfather when he was still a single man. He found his woman (my widowed mother), but I was still curious about why my grandmother had kept the cutting, and why it was a taboo topic to ask my mother how she and my stepfather had met. No-one ever mentioned it and it seemed that it was not a question that we were allowed to ask.

Every family has its secrets.

In my family, our most scandalous secret was that my great-grandfather, Lindsay Hague, was a bigamist. This is what we were told, and I never thought to question it, but recently I decided to find out if it was true.

I’ve never been very interested in family history, deeming it to be something that interests ‘old people’, or those with nothing better to do than trawl through shipping records, but old age is creeping up on me and causing me to reflect on my life and how I came to be the person I am and lately I find myself musing on the past.

In Telling it Slant: creating, refining, and publishing creative nonfiction, Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola say that when we write about our families, we can see how people were shaped by the historical context in which they lived. Writing family history is also writing cultural history: the two are intertwined.

Investigating the lives of long dead family members has value as a way of seeking to understand the past, but also helps me figure out my place in the world. Habits and attitudes suddenly make sense. Aha moments abound.

***

Harry Lindsay Hague

Harry Lindsay Hague was born in 1865 in Strathalbyn, South Australia. He was my great-grandfather and a fine looking man. He had a flair for woodwork and was popular with the girls. This proved to be his undoing.

Lindsay Hague
Harry Lindsay Hague

He moved to Darwin and married Mary Jane “Daisy” Cleghorn in May 1889 when he was 24, but things obviously didn’t work out and Daisy was granted a divorced in 1902, on the grounds of desertion.

Lindsay popped up in Perth and married my great-grandmother, Minnie Laura in 1903. He was 38, and she was 22. My grandmother, Mabel (Madge) was born in 1904 and her brother Percy in 1906.

Minnie Laura

Their marriage quickly went downhill, and Lindsay left the family home. Desertion was a criminal offence in those days, punishable by a prison sentence with hard labour.

Minnie tracked him down and in September 1907, he was ordered to pay 25 shillings per week to help provide for his wife and children. He was soon in arrears and by January 1908 he was back in court for owing eight pounds in maintenance. This was a significant amount, equal to about six weeks’ wages. During the court hearing, Minnie admitted she had been around to the place where he was living, smashed his crockery and let a parrot out of his cage. The judge cautioned Minnie to keep away from Lindsay.

By August 1908, things had deteriorated, and Lindsay made yet another court appearance.

The TRUTH Newspaper had this to say:

Lindsay Hague’s little lapse

Leaves wife and weans in want: must pay up or shut up

Some twelve months ago, a well-built man named Lindsay Hague was ordered to contribute the weekly sum of 25/- towards the support of his wife, Minnie Hague, and his two children, and for a time he came up to the scratch with the brass at the end of each period. Then the order was increased to 30/- per week and whether the burden was too great or there was some other reason, Lindsay got into arrears. An application by him for a variation of the order was refused and since then he does not appear to have been a particularly happy man.

Eventually, he decided to take a trip to the Nor’West and as he did not inform his wife of his departure, she naturally took steps to ascertain his whereabouts, and after some difficulty succeeded in locating her lawful spouse.

The wife, a cleanly built little woman with a particularly determined looking face, gave her evidence very clearly. She said she had only taken out a warrant for her husband’s arrest because she could not get at him any other way. She had no desire to press the change providing he were willing to obey the order of the court. She had to live, and she had to do something.

August 29, 1908

Turkey Creek

When Lindsay disappeared up north to work, he travelled to a place called Turkey Creek in a remote area called the Kimberley, about three thousand miles north of Perth, Western Australia. The Kimberley is three times the size of England and even today, has a population of less than 40,000 people. It’s regarded as one of the world’s last wilderness frontiers.

In 1908 there would have been a very small number of white people in the area and it’s not clear what Lindsay did while he was there, but it’s likely that he would have found employment at a cattle station.

The area around Turkey Creek was first settled by white people in 1882, notably by the Durack family who established huge cattle stations in the area.

This had a devastating effect on the local Aboriginal people and in the early years of white settlement, massacres of the local Kija (or Gidja) people were commonplace, and Aboriginal people were also routinely poisoned by pastoralists. They were seen as a threat because they speared the cattle for food.

It’s estimated that about half of the Aboriginal people of the East Kimberley were murdered in the first fifty years of colonisation. In 1901, a ration depot was established at Turkey Creek (now called Warmun) to try and stop the poisoning of the indigenous community.

The daily food ration was one pound of flour, two ounces of sugar, and half an ounce of tea, with other foods, clothing and material items (such as nets and fishing lines) issued on an occasional basis. Rations were provided to old people, women, and children, but not to able-bodied men.

The practice of distributing rations to Aboriginal people didn’t cease until the early 1960s, when Aboriginal people became eligible to receive the same government benefits as other members of the community. It’s a shameful part of our history and I can only hope that my great-grandfather was not involved in the persecution of the local Aboriginal people.

Lindsay eventually made his way back to Fremantle (the port for the city of Perth) on a cattle ship and was arrested at Robb’s Jetty, the destination point for transporting cattle from the Durack brothers Kimberley station. This confirms my view that he must have been working at one of the cattle stations during his time in the Nor’West.

Unloading cattle from the Australind steamship (circa 1911). Photo credit – Museum of Western Australia.

During his court appearance, Minnie accused Lindsay of living with another woman, a claim that he vehemently denied. But shortly afterwards he scarpered off to NSW with his new lady friend, a woman called Mary Pratt and another warrant was issued for his arrest.

NEW SOUTH WALES POLIC GAZETTE AND WEEKLY RECORD OF CRIME

9 December 1908

West Australia – a warrant has been issued by the Perth (WA) Bench for the arrest of Lindsay Hague (better known as Harry Lindsay), charged with disobeying a magisterial order for the support of his wife. He is 34 years of age, 6 feet 2 inches high, well built, dark complexion, hair and moustache, oval visage; dressed in grey suit and grey straight rimmed felt hat; a labourer. Supposed to have come to this State. Arrest desired.

By my calculations, Lindsay would have been 43 in 1908, not 34, so perhaps that’s why he was never apprehended. They would have been looking for a much younger man and I imagine there were a lot of men in Sydney dressed in grey suits in those days.

Minnie was finally granted a divorce from Lindsay some twenty years later. I’m not sure why there was such a long delay.

This also made the news:

DAILY NEWS

9 November 1927

Wives deserted have to fend for themselves.

Two of the divorce petitions dealt with by the Chief Justice (Sir Robert McMillan) today arose through the failure of husbands to support their wives.

In 1927, Minnie Laura Hague sought a dissolution of her marriage to Lindsay Hague. When he married in October 1903, he was following the trade of carpenter. They had two children, but Hague rarely supported his wife adequately. At one time his payments to her over a 12-month period represent 3 shillings a week. He also occupied his time with other women.

Minnie eventually turned to the Police Court for assistance and received an order against her husband for 25 shillings a week. Hague did not comply with the Court’s direction and cleared off to the Eastern States with a woman with whom he had been keeping company. That was many years ago. She had not seen him since. “He left me without a penny”, lamented Mrs Hague.

Despite being left without a penny, Minnie was an astute businesswoman and somehow managed to purchase a bush block and build herself a house made from iron and wood. The house was lined with pressed metal, and it had beautiful glass panelled doors, but little by way of comforts.

The house that Minnie built

It was very dark inside because my great-grandmother only used low wattage bulbs to save money. Frugality (a family trait) involved re-using every docket for shopping lists, and empty bottles were used to border haphazard garden beds. The house had an unusual filigree gate made from the cut-outs from the heel plates of soldiers’ boots.

Times were hard, and one Christmas there was no money for presents or treats. My grandmother (Mabel) said she was thrilled to see a policeman come riding out of the surrounding bush on his big grey horse. He had a sugar bag on his saddle and from it took a cricket bat for her brother Percy, a rag doll for her, and a pudding for the family.

Minnie worked as a cook and washerwoman, often leaving the children with friends while she went away to work on sheep or cattle stations in the country. She eventually purchased two more blocks of land, which she set up as tennis courts for hire. Despite her diminutive stature, she watered and rolled them herself.

A photograph of my grandmother Mabel and her brother Percy taken around 1914 depicts them as well-dressed and moderately well to do, so she clearly managed pretty well on her own.

Percy and Mabel taken around 1914

Minnie died in 1949 in West Australia at 68, and Lindsay passed away in 1950, in New south Wales. He is buried in Liverpool cemetery. He was 84.

***

I often wonder what became of him after he arrived in NSW. Did he remarry? Was he ever charged with bigamy? I can’t find any record of this, so I guess I’ll never know.

What I do know is that I come from a long line of resilient women, and that makes me proud.

Here is a lovely photo I found of my mother Nola (another resilient woman), with her grandmother, Minnie Laura taken around 1948.

Nola and Minnie Laura

7 thoughts on “Family secrets

  1. Fascinating! What a scallywag. Strikes me how young they were when this was all happening. I’m not far off his final recorded age now. Love the picture of Nola too.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m aware I wasn’t able to tell his side of the story, and I wish I had more information about what happened to him after he came to Sydney.
      Yes, it’s interesting to look at what our ancestors were doing when they were our age. Nana (Mabel) went into service when she was about 12. Imagine sending your 12-year-old off to work and live in someone’s house! So young and vulnerable.

  2. I’ve never seen that photo of the house in Shepperton Road. I remember the tennis courts (there were lots of ti-tree hedges along one side and we used to pick the white flowers for confetti), the laundry out the back where we sat in the water-filled cement troughs on hot days), the many bird cages, an aviary really, along the back fence (empty when we lived there) and the pressed metal walls and ceilings in the living room. Your research is impeccable Margaret. Thanks so much for this.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments. I really appreciate the way different family members can contribute to the story. Did you know that our other sister (Jennifer) still has the actual clipping from the newspaper with the ad for a wife? Amazing, given that they are both dead and gone.
      Also, your memory of pretending that the white flowers were confetti was an interesting reminder of how often we used to play “weddings”. That might be a good topic for another post…

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