|Ray Jerrems, Our Genealogist, Historian||
Filling in the branches of the Family Tree
This article continues my story of the life and family of my great grandparents Alfred (Fred) and Susannah Sassall, the parents of Esther Muriel Jerrems (the wife of my grandfather Ernest Alfred Jerrems).
In the first Part I told you about the early lives of Fred and Susannah, their personalities, their environment in Lithgow, and Graham Harmer described their house. I concluded the Part with an account of the sad death of George Robert Sassall, one of Fred and Susannah's sons, in a blast furnace accident.
In this second Part for the first time I have taken the opportunity to paint a picture of the day-to-day lives of people in the late 19th Century up to the First World War. We have a number of anecdotes, we see Fred and Susannah move to Sydney, and we see summaries of the later lives of the children.
A woman's work is never done
Having observed my grandmother Esther (Susannah's eldest daughter) in action in the 1940s and 1950s as a housewife, and having talked recently to my mother-in-law (Nancy) at some length (she was born in the famous Victorian goldmining town of Ballarat in 1912, 3 months after the Titanic was sunk) I have a healthy regard for the work carried out by housewives in the 19th Century and the early 20th Century.
To state the obvious, the households did not have electric lighting or power, heating (apart from open fireplaces), refrigerators, freezers, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, cake mixers, blenders, microwaves, or gas or electric stoves and ovens.
Obviously the volume of work undertaken by housewives varied according to the number of members in a family and their ages, but the number of responsibilities remained much the same. In Susannah's case she had at least 13 children in her care, but they were spread out over 23 years, and the first two children were girls who would have helped later with looking after the younger children. Despite this Susannah would have been very busy for many years (for instance, when Audrey turned 17 her mother would have looked after children for a total of 40 years). Here is a typical week for a housewife in those days, confirming the stories we hear about how hard they worked:
Monday-washing day. Wash everybody's clothes, towels, washers, bed linen, tea towels, table cloths etc, with extras like curtains (particularly in dusty Lithgow) included periodically. Involved boiling up fuel copper a number of times, wringing out washing, hanging it out on clothes line, and starching selected items (shirt collars and cuffs, and the fronts of dress shirts).
Tuesday-ironing day. Heat iron on stove, iron the washing which needed ironing (most of it).
Wednesday-cleaning day. Scrub floors, dust and polish furniture, shake mats and rugs, clean windows periodically, sweep paths, polish silverware.
Thursday-sewing day. Catch up with sewing, darning, knitting, crochet and embroidery (possibly with friends), dressmaking, clothesmaking etc.
Friday-cooking day. Cook cakes, scones, biscuits, puddings, pastries etc for weekend and following week. Cook jams, preserves and pickles in season.
Saturday-prepare breakfast for all, wash up dishes, bath the children (water may have been heated by chip heater, if no chip heater then in copper), cook hot lunch , wash up dishes, clean fuel stove, prepare afternoon tea and evening meal.
Sunday-prepare breakfast, wash up, dress self and children for church and Sunday School, prepare hot roast dinner or (in summer) serve corned beef. Afternoon-visit friends and relatives or entertain friends and relatives. Prepare evening meal.
Every weekday: Prepare breakfast for all, clean shoes and boots, pack lunches for people needing them, wash up dishes, cook lunch for schoolchildren coming home for lunch, wash dishes, clean fuel stove (empty ashes, polish stove with black lead), provide afternoon tea for school children, prepare dinner for all. Tend chooks and garden. Do shopping and arrange deliveries from butcher and baker (fruit and vegetables were usually delivered by Chinese market gardeners). Check toilet paper (strips of newspaper, no fancy soft tissue in those days!) in the outhouse "dunny" (a "long drop" unless the local Council had a sewerage collection service, in which case there was a large drum). Check water supply in Coolgardie Safe.
Coolgardie Safe(pictured below)
The family leave Lithgow in 1916
The McCall bakers moved to Hurstville before the First World War and Fred got work with his son-in-law Fred Durie as a fireman on the boilers at the Zig Zag Colliery. However Fred's eyesight failed in 1916 due to glaucoma and Fred, Susannah and the younger children Lucy, Baden, Allan and Audrey moved to the developing Sydney suburb of Ramsgate.
It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast between the localities of Lithgow and Ramsgate, they were like chalk and cheese. Unlike the Lithgow area, the Ramsgate area (including the adjacent areas of Sans Souci, Kogarah and Rockdale), on the western shore of Botany Bay, is as flat as a billiard table, and the climate is mild. Possibly the area was chosen because it was suitable for a blind person. Coincidentally, one of my grandfather's brothers (Charles) moved to this area at a similar time, and his descendants (including our reader Laurel) grew up there.
Transport to the area was simple, via the main Sydney to Sutherland train line and connecting steam trams. Perhaps the "door to door" tram service was overdone at times, because on one occasion a tram left its tracks on Rocky Point Road in Ramsgate and finished up in the backyard of May Pillans (nee Sassall), no doubt causing consternation to the passengers and the locals.
A downside of the steam trams was that they blew out hot cinders. Graham's late mother Audrey related to him that if the women passengers were wearing white clothes or their clothes had fine material they would put up umbrellas to keep the cinders at bay!
The house at 10 McDonald Street Ramsgate was less than a kilometre (half a mile) from the Bay and was popular with visitors who were fond of swimming, like my grandfather and his four children.
Fred and Susannah were surrounded by family in their 30 years at Ramsgate and they had a very happy retirement.
Fred died in 1947 at the age of 90 at Ramsgate and Susannah died in 1951 at the age of 86 at Lucy's house, in (perhaps fittingly) Lithgow.
The family left behind in Lithgow
This is a brief account of the children who did not accompany Fred and Susannah to Ramsgate in 1916, in order of age:
(1) Esther (my grandmother) born in 1885, married Alf Jerrems in 1906 and lived the rest of her life in Greenwich, a harbourside suburb of Sydney.
(2) Clara Maude ("Clara") born in 1886, married Frederick James Durie, the engineer at the Zig Zag Colliery. When the colliery closed down in 1932 as a result of the Great Depression they moved to Port Kembla on the NSW South Coast where he worked at the steelworks.
(3) George Robert born in 1888, killed in furnace accident (see previous article). There are numerous descendants of his son of the same name living in the Wollongong area on the NSW South Coast. They are the only descendants carrying the Sassall surname.
(4) Alfred ("Alf") Enoch born in1890, married Rosa "Queenie" Victoria Coombes in 1916, worked at Small Arms Factory, migrated to South Africa after the First World War. Descendants live in South Africa.
(5) Mabel ("May") Constance born in 1892, married John Pillans, a linotype operator. The family stayed in Lithgow until John obtained employment with the Daily Mirror/Truth in Sydney and then moved to the Sydney suburbs of Ramsgate, Greenwich and Cammeray. The Pillans family was prominent in Lithgow (see below).
(6) Amy ("Amy") Agnes born in 1897, married Ernest ("Ern") William Young, a former apprentice at the Hoskins Steelworks in Lithgow. Family lived in the Sydney suburb of Canley Vale until 1940 where Ern was employed at the Randwick Tramway Workshops and then moved to Sans Souci (near Ramsgate) where Ern owned and operated a woodturning business. They retired to Shoalhaven Heads on the NSW South Coast. One of their sons (George) is still living (aged 91) and lives on the NSW North Coast. George's daughter is our reader and contributor Helen Foster.
The Pillans family
Born an aunt
Which daughter of Alfred and Susannah was an aunt when she was born? Does this sound like a conundrum?
The answer is "Audrey" (Graham Harmer's mother). The reason is that Audrey's oldest sister Esther (my grandmother) had her first daughter Esther ("Essie") on 12th February 1908. Audrey was born a little over a month later on 18th March 1908. This meant of course that when Audrey was born she was Essie's aunt. Easy? It also meant that when Essie's younger sister (Violet) was born in 1909 Audrey was her aunt also, and of course she was my father's aunt also.
This was a standing joke in the Sassall and Jerrems families. Essie and Violet spent many happy hours in later years playing with their Aunty Audrey.
The Sassall children at Ramsgate grow up
Here is a summary of the children who originally accompanied Fred and Susannah to Ramsgate:
(1) Lucy born in 1898, married William James Cargill in 1922, family returned to Lithgow after marriage at Kogarah (Bill had moved to Lithgow when the Small Arms Factory opened in 1912, serving his time as a Toolmaker, later rising to a senior management level). Lucy was tall (at least to a small boy like me) and striking. She seemed to like small boys (like me) and was an excellent cook, so we got on famously.
(2) Baden Powell born in 1900 on the day of the Relief of Mafeking in South African Boer War, worked for while at Small Arms Factory, married in 1928 to Daphne Witcher, lived at Sydney suburbs of Kogarah (near Ramsgate), Ramsgate, Bexley, Peakhurst and then Balgownie (near Wollongong).
(3) Allen Warren born in 1904, married in 1939 to Lillian Smith, at early stage worked in the Small Arms Factory. The family lived in Ramsgate, Edie Creek, New Guinea, Lithgow (SAF), Mortdale (Sydney).
(4) Ethel Audrey ("Audrey") born in 1908, married in 1937 to Harry Edwin ("Ted") Harmer. The family lived at numerous widespread rural addresses (Murrurundi, Llangothlin, Boppy Mountain, Sodwalls and Katoomba) because Ted was a NSW Railways employee. Son Graham is a reader of the Journal and a contributor to this article.
Alfred Sassall's reaction to blindness
Alfred was about 60 years old when he turned blind, and he died at the age of 90, so, to state the obvious, he had plenty of time to adapt, compared with relatives who lost their sight at a later age (for instance my great grandfather Charles Jerrems).
Graham Harmer referred to Fred's blindness in the first Part of this article.
The fact that Alfred learned and then taught Braille is indicative of his high degree of adaptation. The late Allan Cargill (son of Lucy) had the following further comments about Alfred (his grandfather):
"I used to take him for walks; he knew every fence and tree in Ramsgate, and could tell what coins he had in his hands (don't try to pass a penny for a two shilling coin)!
Shortly before he died I visited one afternoon. There were two gates on the side passage, nobody used the front door. When I arrived at the back door there was a fierce argument between Alf and Susie as to who was coming. Alf maintained Allan Cargill. He was right, he knew everyone's footsteps and how they manipulated the side gates!"
Looking back, it seems slightly surreal to me that before Graham Harmer emailed me on 7th February this year I knew very little about the Sassall family, but now I have heaps of information from Graham and Helen Foster (both amateur historians), Allan Cargill's memoirs, and books like "Furnace, Fire and Forge" giving the history of the iron and steel industry in Lithgow.
You will be hearing more stories from me!
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