Clara’s story: memories of Rippon Lea

Clara Wordsworth Sargood/Webster (1864-1955) grew up in comfort and affluence at Rippon Lea in Melbourne, the home built by her illustrious father Sir Frederick Sargood, which is now a National Trust house and garden. She vividly recounts stories of a happy childhood, the heartbreaking loss of her mother, and the thrills of sea voyages to England and New Zealand. Clara wrote this memoir in two parts, starting it in her 70s, and adding to it 15 years later. In this edited version, events are presented in more or less chronological order, and headings have been added.


The Old House at Alma Road
Happy times at Rippon Lea
Our Sundays
Four women who left their mark
Early 1870s girlhood
The greatest thrill so far
Seaside holidays at Ellerslie
The first break in the family
Our great bereavement
Voyage on RMS Tanjore to England, 1880
Ashton House in London
Rydal Mount and a new mother
Return to Melbourne, 1882
Trip to New Zealand
Pink Terraces and White Terraces
Married life in New Zealand

The Old House at Alma Road

My earliest memories are connected with the Old House as we always called it when we went to Rippon Lea. I was not born here but must have gone soon after and was there till about 4 1/2 years. The old house was a two-storey building, surrounded by garden and fields.  One corner was a rockery, and well do I remember the qualms and fears with which we children were assailed as we passed that rockery, lest a wild beast should spring on us – probably some servant had frightened us with that threat. Another place which we always passed with fear and trembling was a cupboard near the staircase on the shelf of which was a brown roll, which we all thought was a bear. One day, when quite grown up, I saw a roll of porous plaster, I think that is what it is called, and at once I again saw that brown roll on the shelf, and the mystery of the bear was solved.

Clara’s parents, Frederick and Marion Sargood (Marion Australia Rolfe) on their wedding day in 1858.

I have vivid recollections of several incidents of those early days. We attended a small class a short distance away in a school and were taught by two maiden ladies in an upstairs room, the windows from which looked towards our own house, though I doubt if it could be seen amongst the trees. The day in question was to be very important at the home for were not pigs to be killed?  A process etc, no doubt a great mystery to my small mind. I can always picture the scene – the small girl sitting over her lesson book o.x. ox,  i.t. it,  o.n. on etc her teacher Miss Skinner pointing with her pencil when suddenly there was a great shriek from outside, for was not the mystery at home – the pig killing? Eyes and head were turned towards the window, could anything be seen of the tragedy – and the eyes could not be turned back till a quiet voice said “Clara if you do not keep your eyes on your book, I shall have to tie them there”. That was a new thought and though the eyes were turned back and no doubt kept back on the book, there was a puzzle to be fathomed, “ How could teacher tie my eyes to the book”. A second incident was one day on my way home from school. I was skipping without a rope, along the road, very happily, when a rude boy behind me started to imitate me, the insult! And how I stopped, pulled myself up to my small full height and with great dignity walked the rest of the way.

But I suppose the most important was when the stable at the back of the house was burned. It was not a great distance from the back part of the house and was separated by a trellis covered by creeper. Suddenly the cry rang out “The stable is on fire” everyone rushed around to keep it from spreading to the house and things were bundled out of the house, especially great anxiety about some gunpowder Father had in connection with his volunteering and shooting. The nurse had us children out on the lawn, to keep us from harms way, and great was the relief when all danger was over and we could enter the house. And how did it start? My two brothers Fred and Norman, older than I, had amused themselves, like many a small boy, with matches, had lighted some hay or straw alongside the stables and the damage was done.

Then there was my visit to the dentist. Troubled with toothache, Mother had taken me to our dentist, Mr Carter. I see a picture of the room, myself a small child, almost buried in the large chair, Mother sitting on the left close by to encourage and comfort me. The dentist, a smallish, roundish man, with a longish beard, brown, standing beside me with his forceps in his hand. No anaesthetic or injection given, then something drastic happened in my mouth, and the next thing my feet moved impetuously and sad to say landed in the poor mans tummy – what happened after that I do not remember, but the tooth had gone from my mouth.

What a thrill and pride I had the first day I had on long stockings. I think Bella must have been out on the day, or away on holiday. I was expecting her home and was waiting near the gate to show her my stockings, and also to make a confession. No sooner was she in the gate than holding up one leg I exclaimed “Look Bella, I have long stockings, but see I have torn a hole in one of the knees”. I do not know what Bella’s reaction was.

A story Father used to tell about three times always amused us – There was an orchard, a short way from the house, and Father was very much troubled with boys robbing the fruit. I think he had warned them, and when the gardener again found them, he caught them, and took them to Father, who as punishment, shaved one patch of their heads and sent them home.

Happy times at Rippon Lea

Rippon Lea. What memories those two words bring up. Happy thoughts of happy days spent there during childhood and girlhood. Looking back one sees the original house standing well back from the road, a cream and red brick house, with a red tiled roof, the first of its kind in Melbourne and in later years when there was a Russian scare it was feared that the Russian fleet would enter Port Philip, my father was told that the roof would be a good target for the cannon, but the old tiles still remain and the Russians have not come.

In this house, what games we used to have, chasing each other up and down the long passage from the front door to the sideboard in the dining room and round the table at which father would be sitting writing, looking at us over his glasses, with a twinkle in his eye – no objection to any happy noise so long as we did “not” shake the table. There was too, the lovely broad staircase up which we would run two or three steps at a time, and come sliding down the banisters.

In the nursery and on the nursery verandah were our toys, most important being our dollshouse and two rocking horses, on which we travelled many miles up and down the verandah, two children on the platform underneath, one on each end of the rockers, and one at least, on the saddle. How we escaped without many broken bones is a marvel.

I do not remember moving from the old house in Alma Rd and think we children with Bella must have been at the seaside. My first remembrance of Rippon Lea was one morning, a neatly dressed little girl of about 5 ½ years, walking quietly and somewhat shyly into the big dining room and with book in her hand “Jennie’s Geranium” approaching Mrs Ferguson, who was at school with Freddy and Norman. She heard me read, but I have always thought that the book was beyond me, and she must have told me all the words. If I had the same copy here, I am sure I could point out the mark which she put when I had finished.

We older children always had our mid-day dinner with Mother and Mrs Ferguson – we had to sit up straight listen to what was said but not to speak, unless spoken to, and alas if anything was spilt on the cloth the culprit had to remain five minutes perfectly still, after the others had left; should any movement be made the time started again. It was very hard knowing the others were outside playing.

At one side of the property was what was called the village – there was only one shop, but there were a number of small cottages, which belonged to my Father, and the gardeners with their families lived in them. Amongst these cottages was one which always seemed to me to be made of rods. In this an old woman, Mrs Butterfield lived, by herself, and was I think more or less an invalid. We older children took it in turn to forgo our pudding and take it to her, stay with her while she ate it, talking or reading to her. The head kitchen gardener had his cottage next to hers – he had children or our own age, with whom we had many games in the paddock, on to which the cottage opened. Their mother made lovely pie melon jam, even now I can taste it and no pie melon jam has ever come up to it.

Fun and games in the garden

From a bare paddock and surroundings under the guiding mind of my father, the garden began to grow, trees were planted, lawns were laid down and soon there was a croquet lawn, on which we children fought many a game of croquet, if we could get no companion it was immaterial, one person could play in turn with all the balls, taking sides quite impartially.

By and by the orangery became a favourite place for our game. This was planned as a  circle – a centre bed with a path round – a bed all round that, and another path, then a bed, a path and all surrounded by orange, citrons, shaddock, and lemon trees. This circle framed at either end with a path. Outside  one opening was a grass circle in the middle of which was a tree, which served as a “home” when we played hide and seek, and many a chase we had round those beds.

There was the great gravel heap and alongside it the swings and the summer house, where later we girls were given a small stove on which Saturday morning we made many weird dishes.

Here was the large red gum, up which we were fond of climbing and sad to say many a birds’ nest robbed. My brothers were sending me up when the nest was too high and difficult a position for them to risk their limbs.

Being the only girl with two brothers older, and one younger before I had a sister I was somewhat of a tomboy in those days and where the boys would go I would follow or even lead.

We had our rabbits, pigeons and gardens, which we had to look after by ourselves, from the gardens we sold poor little vegetables to Mother who always gave us praise for our labours.

An amusing and exciting time was when Father decided to enlarge the pond, and make it more ornamental. All the water was drained out, then to the joy of us children, the call went out for helpers to paddle in the mud and hunt for yabbies and goldfish. I am sure we were all holding our breath and pretending we were not anxious to answer the call, till those in authority gave us the necessary permission, what a time we had with our buckets

A view of the garden at Rippon Lea, June 2018

Many years later, when I was grown up this was again enlarged and became a very pretty lake, with islands, and bridges to them. At one place stepping stones were put in. On one occasion when a garden party was being held, one of the visitors in crossing the stepping stones slipped in much to every one’s amusement.


As we did not go to school, but had a governess, we only knew a few children of our own age, so we had to make our own games and interest and Father gave us everything in reason that would develop our characters.

Our education was very important in his eyes, and though no doubt considered now-a-days very old fashioned and inadequate, we had a sound grounding in all that was prepare us for our future life. Our governess was an Irish lady who gave of her best, and from her we learnt every subject. What a handful we must have been. Picture four of us reciting poetry
– it had all been duly learned previously, by me prancing up and down the long passage, repeating it aloud. I could not learn it otherwise, at least I thought not. Lesson time – four chairs in a row, on which four children were standing each with a stick or board in hand , flourishing them and thus putting expression into their recitation.

Now the same children quarrelling over the biscuits brought in during the morning. “You’ve got a bigger piece than me”, “No, yours is the biggest”,  “Give me part of yours”, “Mine is small”, “It’s not fair, you have all got more than me”. A quiet voice intervenes, “Give it all to me and I will divide it”, and then a story is told while the division takes place. Four of the pieces the same size are put on one side – then with a piece in each hand – “Once there were two monkeys who quarrelled over their cheese, and asked a judge to decide for them”, so he took a piece in each hand, and broke off a piece of one – the narrator suiting the action to the word, and no.1. child saw a piece of biscuit disappearing into the narrators mouth – “the judge measured again and found he had broken off too large a piece, so the other must have some off “. No. 2 child saw part of hers disappear, and so it went on till both pieces had disappeared and the quarrelling stopped.

It would sometimes have surprised a visitor to the school room, had she seen perhaps one or two pupils with their hands swathed in white flannel gloves, even in the height of summer and they would no doubt have smiled on being told the wearers had them on because they had been biting their nails. A very effective punishment.

Another happy memory with it’s humorous side was when after tea Father would sit in his rocking chair and while he smoked May would sit on his knee and with coloured ribbons would curl his beard, while I stood at the back of the chair similarly adorning his hair. How he patiently he bore it.

What rememberances of the songs Mother used to sing to us in her sweet soprano voice, we children joining in the chorus, Far Away, We’d Better Bide a Wee, Dame Europa’s School,  Just Before the Battle Mother, and many minstrel songs. And on Sunday evening round the piano singing our favourite hymns.

Our Sundays

As I look down those long steps of years, what stands out most clearly is our Sundays. Our last thought on Saturday was next day would be Sunday. Up next morning to find our ready clean underclothes, to match, as it were, the thoughts of the day – breakfast, then a stroll around the garden with Father, till time to dress for church – for some years we drove to the Congregational Church. I well remember the Minister with his long beard as he came into the pulpit, in his gown. Later we attended a Union Church 20 minutes walk from Rippon Lea. Returning from church we changed our frocks and then we put on our special pinafore and sash always kept for Sunday, and of which we were very proud. Dinner in the nursery – after pudding those who were old enough went into the dining room and were given, by Father, their Sunday treat “our piece”, a small piece of cheese and biscuit at a certain age we went in for pudding and later we had dinner – just some small thing to mark Sunday.

After that we would be in the charge of the nurse, either in the garden or nursery, learning our S.S. lessons. About 3.30 we went into Mother’s bedroom or the drawing room and would gather around her for Sunday School. We used to learn out of a little “Mother’s Catechism”, repeat our hymn, scripture and card – and then Mother’s talk and reading out of the “Line upon Line” or “Prep of the Day”, with questioning time till tea time, after which we again gathered round Mother at the piano for our hymns. Father joining us – Mother had a sweet soprano voice. When the younger children had gone to bed, Mother would read to us from some book. Ministering Children, The Children of Cloverley, or one of A.L.C.E’s were favourites. I can see her now with her sweet face, so patient and loving.

Four women who left their mark

In those days the influence of four women left their mark upon us and no idle memories would be complete without a word of them.


Gentle, sweet, interested in all we did  teaching us by her own life and her talks what true religion really means.

Marion Sargood, 1875

Mrs Anderson, mother’s great friend

A sweet Scotch lady, sister to the father of my cousins the Petersons – and with whom she lived after their own mothers death. She and Mother were great friends and had the same outlook on life – we always enjoyed going round to play with my cousins and seeing her. The friendship and interest remained till the day of her death, and after I was married we corresponded, and she loved to have the photos of my small family – kept them on a special table.

Mrs Ferguson, the governess

Mrs Ferguson was the governess of whom I have spoken.  Under her tuition I was taught till nearly fifteen and how thorough and varied was her teaching. I realised when I visited places on the continent when my own girls were grown up, and I remembered what Mrs Ferguson told us about places and people. She was Presbyterian and sometimes we would stay the weekend at her house – well do I remember going to church with her, and standing through the long prayers , as they used to do in the Presbyterian churches.

Bella, the head nurse

Bella, the head nurse, came to us when I was about three years old and remained a faithful servant and second mother till the home was broken up upon Fathers’ death. What patience she had and how much we owe to her, it is impossible to say. How we could get round her at times by our soft words, “Oh Bella I’m sorry I’ll not do it again”. She had several methods of punishment. Off the nursery was a small room in which was a sink for nursery dishes. If any of us was naughty at tea we were put in this room to finish our meal, and to remain there till the others had finished. Other times, and perhaps a more drastic punishment was when the offence was more heinous in Bella’s eyes – the offender was told he or she would have to go to bed before the others. Of course for the older children this was very lowering to their dignity and rights and it was then that the persuasive words were used sometimes successfully, other times Bella was adamant.


Father was always interested in the volunteers, and had trained a very efficient battery called the St Kilda Battery and known as Sargood’s Kids. One time there was to be a very important review at which father was to be present in all his finery – we were very proud when he had it on. He had been suffering from sciatica but was sufficiently recovered to decide to ride – he had borrowed a fine upstanding horse from Uncle Peterson. This was brought round to the front door – and Father in all his regalia, full dress uniform, sword in sabretache, walked down the stairs followed by the admiring family, and mounted the horse which also had the military equipment etc – splendid they both looked, but alas, the horse had only gone a yard or two, when it played up in some way and father found himself sitting on the ground – a great come down – but he was not to be prevented attending the review – he ordered the buggy round and the coachman drove him to the meeting place.

Portrait of Sir Frederick Sargood from the collection of the State Library Victoria

Father was very fond of archery and started an archery club, which used to meet every other Saturday. Six targets were put up, and the members were divided to the targets. Three arrows were shot from each end. Some of us children were allowed the privilege of hunting for the arrows. The lady who made the most golds in the afternoon was presented by Father with a pair of gloves. (

I love this picture I have of him. The garden had been terribly dried up, and rain at last had come. Father immediately donned his raincoat, bowler hat and gumboots, hurried into the garden, and we would watch from inside, standing enjoying the rain, rejoicing with the plants as he could almost see them grow. He was strict, but absolutely fair, and had a great care of his womenfolk. He had humour too, as could be seen by the twinkle in his eye, when as for instance, on being asked by one of the Archery Club, on what day his birthday came, replied with all seriousness “the 31st of April” and the questioner left quite satisfied.

The early 1870s

Early in 1870, Harry was born and well do I remember going into Mother’s bedroom and the thrill I had when I saw the little black head lying on the pillow in his bassinette. He was the eighth, Minnie, the eldest having died when about 2 ½ years on the way to England, within a day or two of landing. How mother loved to tell us of her, and she must often have spoken of her birthday for even now as the shortest day comes around I remember her birthday is just about then.

It was when Harry was a baby that I had an accident. We were in the nursery, Bella was sitting on a low chair in front of the fire nursing Harry, I was standing by her, against the fire guard, when the kettle of boiling water on the hob, spilled all over my feet. I was soon in bed, with my feet bandaged, next morning there were blisters on my ankles, the size of half an egg and for five or six weeks I was confined to bed. Another incident when Minnie was born. She had a harelip and very soon stitches had been put in and over them plaster. Poor little thing it was so sad, Mother could not nurse her, for she could not suck, so as the gardeners’ wife who made the good pie melon had a young baby too, Mother, accompanied by me, used to go down to the cottage and nursed the baby. I do not know if one reason was that she might keep her milk, till the time it was hoped Minnie would be able to take it.

What memories I have of Christmas, always decorations, to be got from the garden, I was happy to be allowed to help, and as I write I can smell the ivy as I gathered it. Then the hanging of the stockings and the opening of them before breakfast – One year I remember I was given a large wax faced doll dressed as little red riding hood, with her royal blue frock and red cape and hood, how I loved her. When we had a Christmas tree, all the maids came in for each had something – generally a length of dress material. Another exciting time that stands out is when Grandmama Sargood, in England, whom we had  never seen but to whom we were expected to write under the supervision of Mrs Ferguson very often – sent us each a present. Father generally seemed to have bought them from the warehouse and we opened them in the evening, in the dining room – It was quite a proceeding – first the string must be taken off, each knot being undone, and the string rolled up, then the paper taken off, but it must be folded up before we were allowed to examine and admire the gifts – and they were always good – a trying experience but a good training.

When I was about 7 years, Percy about 4 years, was cutting a stick, when the knife slipped up and cut his eye. Well do I remember the weeks he was kept in a dark room, with his eye bandaged, and how I would sit at the partly opened door, reading or talking to him. What joy it was when the bandages were removed and his first remark was that we looked like trees walking. He never properly recovered his sight and when about 12 years old, went to England and it was removed, for fear of damaging the other.

I often picture the time of year, when the summer was approaching and it was necessary to overhaul our wardrobes. All the garments of the previous summer were gathered into the workroom and Mother and Bella had May and me in to try them on, decide what alterations were to be made and what new ones needed, so that our little dressmaker, Ann Seeds, could be started. Very often May and I would be given unpicking to do. Mrs Ferguson taught us sewing and well I remember the handkerchiefs we had to hem – such small stitches- and well examined for “dogs teeth” which had to be taken out.

The greatest thrill so far

The year 1874 brought I suppose the greatest thrill I had had so far. Father, Mother, Norman, Percy, Julie the baby, her nurse and I went in the old S.S. boat “The Otago” to New Zealand. I was somewhat dubious about going on the boat especially at night and well do I remember my fear, when I realised someone would sleep in the bunk over us, for Norman and I were head and tail in one bunk – lest the bunk should collapse and I be squashed to allay somewhat of my fear, I decided to sleep with my head resting on the washstand by the bunk, that part of me at any rate I  would not allow to be squashed. We had great fun on board, the captain had his own daughter about my age, on board, he provided us with skipping ropes and egged us on to compete with each other. I remember one day I beat all records and skipped backwards, standing in one place, over 600 times without stopping. There was a large consignment of oranges on one part of the deck, and we all used to sit under the shelter of these, and at times we were regaled with the luscious fruits.

Arriving in Dunedin we went to the Criterion Hotel. I do not know how long we had been there when we all went down with the measles. Fortunately we were in a part of the hotel quite by ourselves. In the hotel was a great pianist visiting New Zealand. Madame Godard was her name. Under Mrs Ferguson’s interesting and capable tuition, I was making good progress with my music, so this pianist interested me. When I was allowed, I would stay in the sitting room Father and Mother had, close to where the pianist practised, and I would love to sit and listen to her. I think I must have been taken to her concert and there wonder of wonders she played “Home Sweet Home” with her left hand, her right hand lying quietly on her lap. How afterwards I tried time after time to emulate her, but alas I did not know the tune, so I never succeeded.

A daughter of one of Father’s partners in Dunedin, was also a good musician. She would be about 8 or 10 years older than I. She used often to play, and I listened thrilled, then one day thrill of thrills, as she played a piece she crossed her hands and what one would expect should be played by the left hand was played by the right and vice versa. Well I remember how I determined to learn to do that. I found there were two exercises in my book, the one the right hand crossed over the left, the other the left over the right. I started to teach myself so as to give Mrs Ferguson a surprise, and well I remember the proud day when I opened my book and played them to her. Let me here speak of the method Mrs Ferguson adopted so that we should learn to play without looking at the keyboard. We had a semi grand piano in the school room under where the music stand is pulled forward, a picture put at each side, into this could be slipped a board which covered the whole keyboard, this board was at first narrow, but as we managed to spy under it, a wider one was procured, under which there was no chance of looking to find our notes on the keyboard. These boards are the ones I mention as being used when reciting our poetry.

A visitor we children used to love to see was the Chinaman, who called at the kitchen door, with his yoke over his shoulder, at each end of which hung his large baskets, which he set on the floor, what wonder and interest as we watched him take out layer after layer with his goods, cottons, soap etc, etc, all beautifully arranged on each separate holder. What a marvellous assortment he had. The maids were the usual purchasers.

One little incident I remember when in Dunedin was the walk our nurse would take, to the site where First Church now stands. I do not know if there was a small church, but I remember there was a grassy place where we could run about. It was on a bit of a hill, and as we looked over the side we could see below a number of prisoners doing some excavation, and amongst the prisoners were some in irons.

We were in Dunedin two or three months, and then returned home and life went on much as usual.

We had not many relations – our cousins the Petersons had gone to England. None of Father’s sisters were in Melbourne. Our only Uncle George Rolfe, Mother’s brother, her stepbrother Morton Rolfe, Uncle Edward Moorhouse, son of Mothers step mother, and Katie Mark who was connected through the Moorhouse side.

Seaside holidays at Ellerslie

We spent many happy days at Ellerslie, and the life was in so many ways different from that at Rippon Lea. No seaside place I have been to has had the attractions of Ellerslie. Thirty six miles from Melbourne the property was about two miles from the little township Schnapper Point, as it was then called, now Mornington. No trains, no motors, no service cars – but coaches with two or four horses, or to use one’s own vehicle. What funny old coaches those were. The body of them, well off the ground, the front seat for the driver, and two or three people above the seats for the passengers luggage in a place at the back, some on top. We generally went in our own wagonette – the nurses in charge of us children – Father and Mother would most likely follow. The coachman had very strict orders that he must take four hours for the journey, so that the horses should not be overtaxed. We had to stop at Mordialloc to give the horses a drink and a spell – At the hotel there was a big grape vine at the entrance – A great thrill, while there, was to see and speak to King Billy and Queen Eliza – aborigines, who lived round those parts. Horses rested, on the way again, now the road was little more than a good track, cut through the tea tree – very hot at times. I remember once going through with fires on each side of us, rather scaring for small children. “Halfway House” passed, we began to feel we were well on our way, and we knew we should soon stop at our next place of call Frankston, where the horses would again have a rest and a drink. A short distance further on was a steep hill, when all the passengers were expected to get out and walk up. We children, when old enough, were allowed to start when we pulled up at Frankston, to see how far we could get before the waggonette caught us up. Here the road was for a short distance right along the beach. Settled in the waggonette we were on our way again, passing the well known places, Mt. Elisa, Gillette’s. Bright’s Sumners, The Tanti. Now we are on the back road to Ellerslie – the road to the township turning off at the Tanti a wayside hotel – Great excitement – “Here’s the lane” – turning off the road leading to Ellerslie, “Who will see the house first?” A short distance and we pull up at the gate – And we are all getting out of the waggonette, going through the gate on to the lawn and being welcomed by the couple in charge – the wife having prepared a meal for us – she did all the cooking while we were there.

I do not know when we first went to Ellerslie, whether it was before or after we went to Rippon Lea. I know, previously we used to board in the township with the Grovers. He was a carpenter with a large family. He and then his son used to do work at Ellerslie when carpentering was required. As I grew older and we attended the Anglican Church I can remember one of his daughters were helpers in the church at the time we were there, I must have been quite young, and Bella used to often tell me I was a little barrel.

These remembrances of mine will not be in proper order, for there are a few dates I can remember, but I just jot down, little incidents as they come into mind.

First, let me see if I can give an idea of our surroundings, for so much of our happiness depended on them. We were at the top of a cliff along which the road from the Village ran through the scrub, as we called it, of tea tree and gums. To get to the beach Father had a track made, through the trees, quite level at first, then came a number of steps cut out – then a more fairly level ground – and another steeper lot of steps before we reached the beach, hard work for the nurses and smaller children. I remember Bella would put the youngest on her back, wrap a shawl around him or her before she started the steep climb.

We had very few people to those parts and our beach was quite private, for it was not easy for a stranger to find the track. We had very few neighbours – the nearest was an elderly spinster of whom we were a little afraid, but we sometimes visited her – especially when our cousins the Petersons were boarding there – and she would give us tit-bits. In the next house we had little to do with – there was a family, but I think they were not allowed to mix, and we heard reports that the Father used to flog his daughters. This rather frightened us, and I remember how we went passed the gate in fear and trembling.

The first afternoon, we had to inspect our toys, then rush to the other part of the property, where was a lovely large buffalo grass lawn, one’s feet sank right into it – we must also visit the orchard over in that part, to see if those luscious large mulberries were ripe, or the apricots, figs, pears, gooseberries, apples – for though there was plenty of fruit in the orchard at Rippon Lea, I am sure we considered that at Ellerslie better. The inspection duly completed, a deputation would approach Bella to know if we could go to the beach, the reply to which would be, “No, we are too busy and tired to take you, you must wait till tomorrow morning”. Tea and bedtime came, and we were soon asleep. Breakfast over, prepare to go to the beach. The nurses had first to make the children’s beds, tidy the nursery, this was a large room, at one end were the beds of the two nurses, a child’s bed or cot beside each and at the other end was the day nursery, with large open windows looking on to the road, and a door opening on to the verandah. Rooms tidy, jam sandwiches and drinks had to be put ready, for we spent the mornings on the beach – we children in the meantime had been sent to get fruit for the beach, also to gather our spades and buckets, bathing gowns. Everyone ready, the order was “go”. What a scramble there then was of us older ones across the road and on to the track – at the top of the first lot of steps was an anthill of what we called spider ants, and considered harmless, could we leave them in peace? oh no!! Two or three of us would stand on the heap and stamp until the ants began to rush out, then we would stand on one side to watch the thousands rushing up in great commotion and hurry. Strange we never got tired of that little performance – on again with our race down the track – till we reached the beach. We had seen little of the water all the way down but now what a picture! The large expanse of water, of Port Phillip, the white or perhaps I should rather say, the cream sand at our feet. If the tide was out right in front was a large flat block of small stones, running out some distance, and getting more solid as it went further out. Here we spent many hours, hunting for shells, crabs, anemones, with their lovely coloured feelers pulling in the moment they were touched – periwinkles, small and larger ones with cats eyes – For some distance along the beach, on our right were more and larger rocks, making quite a fringe along the edge of the beach – till a point was reached, where the rocks became quite large, and stood well out of the water, round the other side of this point was another beach to be mentioned later. But now we must look on the left and walk that way – there are cockle and mussel beds – up against the cliff a short distance along, is our boat shed, with its wooden tram lines down which the cradle with the boat was run into the water – on the other side of the boat house is the bathing shed. This is built on blocks, so that it requires two steps to get in at the door, and the space under the shed allows the water to run, when there is a storm and the waves reach the cliff. Inside the shed, either side of the door is a bunk with a cover on, to use as a seat, when not required for the two youngest children for their morning sleep, a seat runs along the back of the shed, and here each bather can have her share of it on which to put her clothes. The boys use the boat shed.

Of course we children would arrive before the nurses, and so wait, probably filling in the time by going further along the beach, exploring the several groups of rocks, till we reached the next point, and we saw the Connells bathing house round the corner. Back for our bather, for the others would have arrived – we would all soon be in the water, safe bathing, then a ruch along to the rocks. When we had bathed long enough, we would be given lunch, and how good those jam sandwiches were. The babies would be put to bed and the rest of us, sometimes in our bathing gowns, others dressed all but our shoes and stockings, would play on the beach and make wonderful gardens, for we could always find on the cliff, flowers or berries. Father taught us to make a fort and it was a great business, to gather up and drag along the seaweed necessary to strengthen it. A favourite walk was along the beach for about a mile past Connells to another point and here were a number of large rocks well out of the water, over which we loved to scramble and have games. One of them we called a pulpit and would preach from it. The beach beyond these rocks was called the Morrison’s, because they had their bathing shed there. The cliff at this point rose in a red pointed peak, which we always called Mt. Arrarat, and loved to climb it. At 12 bathing gowns, spades and buckets had to be gathered together and put in the bathing shed – everything locked and away up the track to the house where after dinner we would have a rest, and if very hot would not go out till late in the afternoon, in the meantime amusing ourselves with various inside games or books.

We used to visit an old woman nearer the township, and take her things from Mother, she used sometimes to come to the house. For some reason we were somewhat afraid of her – and if we were passing her house walking into the township, we always kept as close to the other side as possible. She told us she had been turned off an apple stall she had, apples spilt to the ground – somewhere in London, near one of the Palaces, when some alterations were to be made – she was very bitter about it. Father had a book, “The Book of Days”, and in it was the very story she told us, as having occurred. Her name was Mrs Hicks – she was still there, when we returned from England. She had then provided herself with a coffin, which she kept by her bedside, and the report was she had put all sorts of things she thought she might require, and it was also said she sometimes slept in it. I cannot vouch for the truth of these tales.

When we were old enough, Father got one or two ponies, and we used to be taken out in turns, late in the afternoon, by the man in charge of the horses. We had a sweet Shetland pony quite small, and very quiet, but she paid me a nasty trick once. A short distance from the house the road into the Point, as we always called the township, divided and ran both sides of some ti trees, for a short distance. One day we were going to the Point, I was riding Jenny, the Shetland, we took the outer road and just at the junction of the two roads, I suddenly found myself sitting on the ground and jenny calmly trotting up the other road back home.

Another time I was riding another pony Bobby – Freddy and I were out together, and riding through a part where there were a number of logs, large and small. Challenged by Freddy to try a jump, I did and succeeded, somewhat puffed up by my performance I caught sight of a ditch and without saying anything to Freddy I turned Bobby towards it, at a suitable pace – Yes, I got over it, but I found myself sitting on the ground with reins in my hands and Bobby standing quietly on the other side gazing at me – I never tried jumping again.

When Mother was down the wagonette was there and we could go further afield for picnics – A favourite one was to Dromana about a two hours drive – further round the bat towards the Heads. There was a very nice beach – we would settle our picnic in place amongst the trees, wood must be gathered for a fire, and a billy of salt water brought up, in which the potatoes were to be cooked, for no picnic near a beach was considered correct without potatoes boiled in salt water, and the great fun, of our endeavours to eat the hot potatoes – we especially enjoyed the efforts of people doing it for the first time. Lunch over, the beach could be visited, but to us older ones, there was Arthur’s Seat to be climbed – just what height it was I cannot say, but to us children it was very high. After this it would be time to have some refreshment and start home. We often saw the bullock wagons come past the gate – the team of six or eight bullocks, harnessed into the long wagon, full of timber, slouching a long very languidly, heads down, and the driver alongside with his long whip, cracking it, and talking to the bullocks to hurry them on their way. Of course a stay at Ellerslie would have been very incomplete, if there had not been wattles, with the lovely gum which we could feast on, liked almost as much as fruit – I wonder our insides were not stuck together.

Once or twice, during our stay, we had a bonfire on the beach – Father loved to be there then – and what fun we had putting the potatoes into the ashes, and then getting them out all blackened and try to eat them without being burnt – how we popped first in one hand then to the other laughing and joking all the time – Father enjoying it all as we did.

Mother came down at intervals but felt her duty was to be with Father and when Freddy and Norman were going to school, of course she was with them. Sometimes she would give us surprises and bring someone down to stay. One time in particular I remember. My birthday was near, and Father, Mother and the two boys were coming for the weekend. It was all excitement when they were coming – we watched to see the waggonette on the back Dromana Road and down the lane four or five of us would be lying on the lawn with our ears to the ground listening for the “thud, thud” of the horses hooves. No motors then – just the waggonette and a pair of horses – “Yes, there they are” – and then a stampede down the lane, to meet them at the point to which we were allowed to go. The time of which I am thinking, they must have come by the front road, and been earlier than we expected for they suddenly were at the gate. Great welcoming and excitement and unpacking of the waggonette to see the good things that had been brought – imagine the surprise when a rug was lifted and underneath was one of my few girlfriends – just one of those happy surprises – and Father’s way of pleasing; imagine a busy man, such as he was, sitting down in the evening, taking a piece of foolscap paper and ruling it into columns, thus making squares, with the lines already there, and then writing a puzzle letter to me. I think it began at the bottom right hand corner and worked around from corner to corner, a letter in each square finishing in the centre. How I treasured that letter. At one time he constantly called me Puss or Pussy. The brothers and sisters used to call me Key to which I very much objected.

After about six weeks holiday, Mrs Ferguson would come and school begin for the next six weeks. A typical day would be, breakfast over, we would go down for a bathe, Mrs Ferguson coming with us, and generally went in for a dip – that was all it could be called – for she never went in very far, and now I can see her, bobbing up and down, but never going under – then out and dressed, while we were still bathing – but soon the call would come for us to dress, and then we all went up for school. We had a piano so our music was not neglected. Mrs Ferguson was very keen on drawing, and we would have to do our best with shells, flowers etc – one of the favourite subjects was a white china hen sitting in her yellow nest- when the hen was lifted, she was sitting keeping warm six eggs in egg cups. This was a very dear treasure, and one of the first things we looked for when we first arrived for our holiday. After tea we would go for a walk with Mrs Ferguson, perhaps to the beach, or along the front, but where ever we went we took pencil and drawing book and Mrs Ferguson would pick out a tree or something to draw. At a beach, which I said previously I would speak of again – there were the ruins of a cement kiln – just the foundations and a large chimney with a large piece out of one side of it, which was a favourite subject. The beach itself had a special attraction, for in amongst the rocks were great slabs of cement, rather hurtful to clothes if slipped upon, but we spent many hours digging in the cement for fossils – and found some very good ones.

Valentine’s Day was always looked forward to with great excitement for we always received a number of valentines – Mother always sent something very nice. We always had to go for the mail, sometimes the man or some of us children. One year, the day had come, the man and one of us walked down the road to meet them. “Yes there were letters”, there’s one for you Clara, it looks like Mother’s writing”. I soon had it in my hand, what had Mother sent. On opening it I found a piece of cabbage leaf, and on looking at the address I saw the writing was Mrs Ferguson’s. I can feel now my indignation and disgust as I flung the cabbage leaf on the ground, and putting on all the dignity I could, marched away from the others angry with the insult to Mother that her handwriting had been imitated and a horrid piece of cabbage put in as her valentine.

On Sunday we went to church in the morning – some of us walking across the Flat, not on the road which was very dusty – but alas on the Flat were grasshoppers, and well I remember how suddenly in church one would feel an uncomfortable sort of pricking and crawling on one’s body, but woe betide garments if in defence you tried to squash the apparent danger spot, for it was sure to be a grasshopper. In the afternoon we would have SundaySchool with Mrs Ferguson, she would set us to work out scripture clocks and find the answers to questions from the bible. After tea, if it was fine we would go down to the beach, find a nice place to sit, where we would sing hymns and give each other bible pictures – watching the beautiful sunsets, with the reflections on the water. It would begin to get dark by the time we left, and then we had to go up the track between the trees, so eerie and dark, that sometimes it felt as though we had lost our way. / Of course we had to be careful of snakes – and if there had been a rumour of one having been seen that part would be carefully avoided. One day one of the boys came running into Bella, “there is a snake in the well down the paddock”. Bella was no coward, so armed with a clothes prop she marched off, followed by us – reached the well and there was the snake, swimming round the well, about half full of water. A ladder was in the well on one side. Bella went down several steps, and stood there prodding and chasing the snake – egged on by us – till she managed to get it jammed in the fork of the prop, against the wall – struggles being over she brought it up on the prop quite dead. She did this for seven days so we were very proud of Bella.

One year there was a report that a tidal wave would visit the Bay on a particular day – how frightened I was – where we lived was a high cliff and I considered we would be safe, but as the road got nearer to the Point, the cliff was lower, until at one place where a creek ran on to the beach it was quite level. For quite a time before and after the day I would pass the spot with great fear in my heart expecting to be swallowed up in the tidal wave – it did not come that time, nor has it since.

Our favourite amusement was to go to opossum flat to try and catch the ring-tailed possums. There would be four of us, two brothers, a sister and I, arriving at the spot, we would look up the trees for the poor victims. As soon as one was seen, I was ordered by my brothers to climb the tree, while they stayed on the ground to catch any of the animals that left the trees. So I obediently climbed up, I might say I was fond of doing so, the opossum nearly reached at the top of the tree, it would swing away by its tail to another tree, leaving me, who had no tail to swing by, to scramble down, and rush up the other tree – it was exciting but I do not remember ever catching one. A younger brother has told me of his interest as he watched me with my ammunition of a shanghai and necessary stones – and wished he could join in.

I remember one morning in bed, hearing a patter, patter through the house, but as it was not time to get up I did not do anything, when we were about, we found Jenny’s foal Jessy, on the front lawn, the doors having been open, she had walked through the house from the back door. Another day she did the same, but as she passed through the pantry she helped herself to a loaf of bread from the crock, of course we were all amused.

There are many other incidents but I have written sufficient to show what a happy childhood I had.

The first break in the family

In March 1876, when my chum Norman was thirteen, a sad time came to us. We were at Ellerslie. I had a disappointment because Father, Mother and the boys could not come down, on my birthday, so early in March they were all to come down and great was the excitement. They arrived in seemingly pink of health, on Friday for tea, and we had a happy evening together. Next morning Norman was ill, the doctor was sent for, who pronounced it Scarlet Fever. In all haste, Father, Mother and Norman returned in the waggonette to Rippon Lea. The following Tuesday we had word of his death, and on Wednesday he was buried. Poor Mother, it was a sad time for her nursing Norman and unable to be near any of us. When she could write, she sent me a beautiful letter, but she never really got over her loss, during the three years before her death.

Christmas of 1878 Mrs Ferguson gave up her duties, as May and I were to attend a girls’ day school and the younger boys were also going to a day school.

Our great bereavement

Then in 1879, our great bereavement when Mother died on January  6th, her 40th birthday.

The evening of her death stands out very clearly in my memory. May and I had gone to stay the weekend with Mrs Ferguson, our governess. Mother had told me some time before that another baby was to arrive, and as the old nurse was in the house, I went to Mrs Ferguson’s very much on the qui vive. We went to church with her on Sunday morning and during the afternoon someone brought word that the little one had been still born. We went to tell Mrs Anderson, who lived near, and returned to Mrs Ferguson for tea, after which as we looked out, the sky was a brilliant red, whether an Aurora or lightening I have never been sure, but it seemed to go up and down, I remember how impressed I was, and I always see it when I think of Mother’s death. When we went inside Mrs Ferguson gathered us round the piano and we sang some of Sankeys’ Favourite Hymns and amongst them “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”, and while standing there the wagonette with Bella in it came to take us home to see Mother. It was a sad homecoming. She was lying in her bed, very weak and failing. Father was sitting at her head, and the rest of us standing round. We said goodbye to her, and she spoke to each a word of help – except to me – that impressed me very much, and influenced me – for much as I would have loved her words, I felt she expected so much from me, her eldest daughter, and she trusted me to realize and remember. Is it not strange how these little incidents remain.  In replying to my letter Julie says “I think that unconsciously all our lives have been influenced by Mother’s example and Fathers wonderful life. Though I remember little about Mother, her character instilled into me by dear old Bella and you that I seemed to have known her quite well. The two outstanding memories are of one evening in the dining room, I was tired and nearing bedtime I suppose, and she lifted me on to her lap and I put my head against her. She had buttons all down the front of her bodice and I can see and feel her, even now, putting her hand between my cheek and the buttons. The other memories are of the day she died and when all was quiet, I tiptoed to her room, opened the door quietly and looked in – I suppose I could not understand why she had “gone away to God”, as I had been told, and yet was still there. I saw the form under the sheet. I closed the door silently and went away to the nursery and wept bitterly. Then the following day of her funeral I stood at the bottom of the stairs as she was brought down. May, crying beside me, and Bella with her arm around me. I can’t remember anyone else, till the service in the dining room and the clergyman (it would have been old Mr Day) praying, and you at the end near the fireplace kneeling beside Father and he stroking your head.” One other memory of the day remains with me. When Father returned from the cemetery he called me to him and took me in the garden and we sat under a tree, while he told me how much he depended on me to help him and show the others a good example. This laid a great responsibility on me, and I tried very hard to do what I could.

Now many changes came – and life was badly upset. A housekeeper came, and though she was kind she could not fill Mothers’ place but we had Bella who was indeed a second mother.

Voyage on R.M.S. Tanjore to England, 1880

During that year, Father planned to take us to England. I think he was anxious to get the best advice about Percy’s eye and also to see Grandmama, for it was many years since they had met, but I can remember how faithfully he corresponded with her each month. Mails only leaving once a month. Before going to England, Father had to go to Dunedin. Then in March 1880 we left on the R.M.S. Tanjore – a party of 13 and the cow. Winnie had been very ill for some time before we left and the doctor said she must have fresh milk – so the cow had to be provided and arranged for on board. When superstitious friends used to wonder at father travelling with a party of 13 – he always replied “but we’ve got the cow”.

What a brave man he was – he had us, his nine children, Winnie carried on board – the housekeeper – I think he took her so that there would be someone who knew us and our ways when we started housekeeping in London – Bella, and the second nurse both well tried and loyal.

All safely aboard the Tanjore, including our many trunks, numbered, with full list of clothing in each, catalogued in a book, kept by Father, with the week each trunk was taken out of the hold, on the weekly opening, now we have pulled from the wharf. Adelaide was the first port of call, then about a fortnight through the Australian bight and we put in for a few hours at Albany, the then last Australian port, at which the boat stopped. Father arranged with the young son of a minister on board to take us older children for school every morning. I am afraid we led him rather a life – he was not too happy as a sailor and we were enjoying ourselves and it seems to me we used to plan to take our places at the saloon table where there would be most motion, with the hope that lesson time would have to be cut short. Fred and I were allowed to be amongst the adults for meals, and I remember how thrilled we were to have the Punkah boys squatting on the floor behind us, pulling the ropes to keep the Punkahs moving back and forwards over the tables – the weather was getting so hot.

Albany left, we steamed north to Ceylon, the heat becoming more unbearable each day. Point de Galle our next port, brought many new sights and thrills as we realised we were in Ceylon. The boat was surrounded with the little brown boys in the water, looking up to the passengers and calling for pennies to be thrown in. What a fascination it was to watch them dive in, and follow down, down, down, their arms and legs moving vigorously – after the pennies, which they invariably picked up, brought to surface, exhibited them to the passengers, and then popped them into their mouths, ready for another dive.

We landed, and Father took a vehicle, and we went fro a beautiful drive through bush, with bright flowers, amongst them Hibiscus making a great show. Little brown children followed us, calling out for money, or perhaps trying to sell flowers, or other little things, always making a big price, which the visitor as matter of course, began to bargain for at a reduced cost, probably getting it at ½ – ¼ or even less than asked. Here we changed boats and we were all transferred into a larger boat R.M.S.S Pekin.

We had been a happy company on the Tanjore but now found the passengers from India, looked down upon us Australians and we had to dig in.

Aden was our next port at which we landed. Father was determined that we older children should see and learn all we could of the places. Again we had a long drive, from the seaport to where the tanks were. These tanks, large deep, smooth side, said to have been built by the children of Israel, were a marvellous sight, I cannot remember how many, nor how much water each held, but there was not a drop of water in any of them.

Aden left, we travelled up the Red Sea – the heat increasing daily until we wondered how we could exist – and a horribly prickly rash bothered us. Suez canal reached, we sailed up able to see land close in on either side. Suez reached, what a busy port, with all the natives scrambling around and talking.

A party was soon made up to visit Cairo. We all gathered round the donkeys and their drivers, and then the fun commenced. The donkeys had the most fanciful names, many of well known English people – among them was Sir Roger Tichborne – very celebrated on account of a law case about his claim of some inheritance. There was some difficulty in getting mounted, it was quite a likely thing for a person to think he was settled on one donkey, to find another being pushed under him from the back, and that would be the one he rode. One of the party was a very tall gentleman, he was brought a donkey, and when he had mounted it, his legs were so long that he was walking. A long cavalcade we made ad we traversed those dirty streets of Cairo. My donkey with his driver and I got separated at one place from the party and how frightened I was, and glad to see father coming back looking for me.

Back to the ship and away on through the Mediterranean Sea, to Malta where we again landed and visited the sights. Among the cellars we saw the dried monks mummies, standing in nooks around the walls. It was a weird sensation. Our next stop was at Gibraltar where we again had a tour, the only thing that has seemed to have left any memory were the cobbled streets.

Our last stage was now reached and in two or three days we had crossed the renowned Bay of Biscay, and landed at Southampton, then by train to London and to Aston House, which had been rented for us, and was bordering the property of Crystal Palace, in fact I think it was in a strip of Crystal Palace grounds, on which were a number of homes – the residents of which had each a private turnstile, allowing them to return from the Palace, but not to go to the grounds.

Aston House in London

Another phase in our lives – away from all the old friends and haunts, dazed and somewhat awed at meeting our many relations, Grandmama Sargood, just over 80, Father’s sister, their husbands and families. Poor Willie, the youngest of us quite overcome, remarked one day, “Are there any more cousins to see”. He was about 5 years old. Maids had been engaged, and after we had got to know them one said to me, “We are so surprised to see you white, and to be able to understand your talk, we did not expect it as you come from New Zealand.”

Granny Sargood, c 1870

We soon settled down – Father bought season tickets to the Crystal Palace and what interest and enjoyment we found there – a permanent exhibition. We soon found the skating rink, and many a fall we had. We had been there about a fortnight, when one after another we went down with chicken pox caught from a child on the boat. I can remember how anxious I was to get better, for father had bought me a ticket to go with him to the great Handel Festival, held every three years at the Crystal Palace – and unless all the spots had gone, I must remain at home. What excitement, when the morning came, and I was told I could go. The thrill when in our seats, and the choir members entered they seemed to be a great white block with the black background – in front of the large organ – such a sight, as I had never seen – The volume of sound!! We went the three days, not consecutive, in the week, and heard The Messiah and Elijah. I cannot remember the third, and of course the soloists were of the best, amongst them Mme Patey, alto, Mme Patti soprano, Antoinette Sterling alto, Stanley Tenor. The orchestra too once a week, were a great attraction to me, and I used to love to watch the conductor, Mr Mann, standing there, so quietly drawing the music from all the instruments. Another great feature in the grounds was the weekly display in the season of the fireworks with the, to us, wonderful set prices.

As we walked from the house to the gate of the Palace, we had to pass an enormous tank for water, well up from the ground. One day we had just passed it on the other side of the road, when there was a great noise, the tank had burst, and the water was pouring out. Had we not been on the other side of the road, we must all have been drowned. Father had arranged for us to go to school, May and I to a day school close by. We were not at all happy there. The head was a man and rather frightened us who had always been used to women teachers.

I remember, he gave me a paper, on Scripture; the word theology seems to have been connected with it in some way, and I was certainly befogged. The girls were always called just by their surnames. There were in one schoolroom, shelves and shelves of books round the wall, and to get a book the girls had to climb a ladder.

Father bought the two eldest boys, each a bicycle, boneshakers they are now called, and we had great fun watching the boys learning to ride them on the small lawn.

It was here that Percy had his operation on his eye, which had to be removed to save his other.

Rydal Mount and a new mother

As we only had Aston House for several months, Father began looking for another house and soon found one in another suburb Denmark Hill. It was a very large house, basement with kitchen and three other storeys. Also with all its size there was only one bathroom and before we moved in father had put in two if not three others, and so we took possession of Rydal Mount.

Soon after Father was married again, May and I being bridesmaids and going with him to Ventnor, in the Isle of Wight where the wedding took place. This was early December, and the first event I really remember in Rydal Mount was the family party on Christmas when there was a great gathering of all our relations including second cousins, and all ages. Opening off one of the rooms was a large conservatory in which was a pool with its fountain, a great attraction to the small children, one became so absorbed he fell in. We were very happy here, for we again had a large garden, and also a field, and so had plenty of room. At one part of the garden was a small lake. Our first January, we had a very severe cold winter, with heavy snow – the lake was frozen. Father provided us with skates, what fun we had, but what falls, with following bruises – unfortunately the thaw came before we had learned the intricacies of moving on knife blades.

A great experience was the evening Father took us to see the opera Lohengrin. I had never been to anything of the sort before, and I was spellbound, with the music and the beautiful costumes and scenery, Father said afterwards, he got almost as much pleasure watching my face, as from the opera.

Our school was changed, and we attended one nearby, called Pelican House. I had some old associations attached to it, which I do not remember. The principle was Miss Dixie and with her was Miss Mawby, both fine women, whom I came to respect and love very much. Of course all those years I had still continued with my music. At Rydal Mount, I had a man Josish Booth, he came on a Monday and taught Fred, may and me. We were always very amused with him because he wore a wig, which at times went awry. He taught us well and I enjoyed my lessons. During one holiday Father took Mother and two of us, May and me, to Paris, where we again saw an opera – visited the many sights of Paris and the surroundings, many of the places we had heard of in our history lessons with Mrs Ferguson, for with her we had studied with great interest the sad life of Marie Antoinette. Two or three months after we went to Rydal Mount the housekeeper who had gone to England with us, left, and a nursery governess, was engaged to help us older ones. She and I had so many happy times together, planned small plays, which we put on for the family, no stage or curtains, but we had great fun.

Our new mother had been a great help to us all, and especially to father, and we all settled down happily together.

Another holiday we spent in Wales. Climbed up Mt Snowden – ponies had been provided for us but Mother and I were determined to walk the whole way, and egged each other on. When tired, we would put our Alpine stocks round at our backs, with only the ends through our arms, and walk backwards, and we succeeded to reach the top. Then there was the Festiniog railway – narrow gauge, with small carriages, drawn up on a chain I think – nothing wonderful nowadays, but then a marvel – for us to see the lead mines – there was the lead on the side of the mountain, being cut out in slabs, to be sent to the factories for lead pencils. A visit had to be paid to the grave of Bedd Gelert, for we had learned the poem and been touched by the story of the faithful loved dog,  Bedd Gelert, left in charge of the infant in the cradle, while the Father went hunting. When the father returned he was horrified to see the cradle overturned and blood on the dog, in anger and without thought, he raised his gun and shot the dog. Then his great sorrow when on moving the dog, he found him under a dead wolf, and the baby safe. In his sorrow and regret he buried the dog, and put a stone over the grave. We were taken by Mother and Father to the various places of interest in and around London.


Now as I pass from childhood to girlhood and womanhood I see her, who courageously came amongst us to fill Mother’s place. As I look back and think of her, coming to us – nine children, the eldest left school and in business, for a time the housekeeper who had gone to England with us, and Bella who had been nurse for a number of years, and was like a second mother – I pay tribute to her bravery, and to her kindness and loving care and the help she was to us all. It was a joy to me to know that father had someone as a companion and help, such as I could not be, in his busy useful life. She was to me a mother.

Photos from Clara’s gold locket of her father and step-mother Julia Tomlin. They married on 2 December 1880 on the Isle of Wight 

Return to Melbourne, 1882

In September 1882 we left Rydal Mount to return to Melbourne. We travelled on the R.M.S. Liguria and returned by the Cape of Good Hope where we were not allowed to land on account of some infectious disease, I think small pox, there. We had a good deal of fun on board, for there were a number of young people. Between the cape and Australia, we passed through the edge of a cyclone, and had a very rough trying time, battened in the saloon, hard fight to keep on one’s feet when moving from one place to another. The captain on deck for several nights – a man washed overboard, unable to save him – Father who had previously formed a glee club, and had a practise every day, continued all through the bad weather, conductor, pianist and singers had many funny experiences, when the boat was rolling.

Port Phillip Heads reached, and we stopped off the Quarantine Ground for inspection. Then came the whisper amongst the passengers “We are to go into quarantine, one of the crew has suspected small pox”.  What groans of disgust and disappointment as we tried to settle down and take up our interests again.

On the second evening, the yellow flag was hauled down – the small pox suspect, had proved a false alarm, the trouble was the man had not washed for weeks. Next morning great rejoicing we were all going on shore – except Mother, for Charlie had been born during the night. Two or three days after, when the boat was to leave Melbourne, Mother and babe were carried, in a swing cot, swung on a pole, by the sailors to a cottage in Williamstown, where they stayed for two or three weeks.

We others went to Uncle Petersons’s house, which was empty, for Rippon Lea was still in the hands of the workmen.

One funny incident that happened there was one evening, Mother had come home, and was lying on the couch at the end of the dining table, we older children were amusing ourselves, and father was there – suddenly one of us saw a rat enter the room, and of course announced the fact very audibly. Father jumped up “shut the door” someone obeyed, he picked up the tongs and we all armed ourselves with some weapon, then began a rush and scramble round the room – the rat took shelter under the sideboard. Father on his knees, managed to get him out dead and displayed him to us – we all cheered and congratulated the newly appointed “Minister of Defence in Victorian Government” on his first victory. I often picture that scene and smile, at the prowess of the Minister of Defence.

I do not know how long we remained in Uncle Peterson’s house, probably about three months – living a quiet life, then back to Rippon Lea, where we found many improvements had been made to the house. I was no longer a schoolgirl but had to take my place as the eldest daughter and help to Mother. I took lessons in music, drawing and French. Father’s public position meant there was a good deal of entertaining in the home – still we were not allowed to run wild in our amusements. We had tennis parties once a fortnight, on a Saturday, the players remaining for tea, after which other friends came for a friendly dance. The music being provided by different families present, and very happy gatherings they were – dancing finished at 9.45 when we had supper, in time to let those catching a certain, get away – everyone had left by 10.15 – the maids had the supper dishes washed and put away, and we were all going upstairs to bed by 10.30. Early hours? Yes, but good happy hours. We had no elaborate suppers on these occasions. I had made most of the cakes for it and we had claret cup.

Father started the Archery Club again for his older friends. In the winter months, we had a glee club, every other Saturday evening. As I was not a singer I was the pianist – and it was a great experience to me to have to play under a conductor – it meant plenty of practise during the fortnight. These were held in the ballroom which father had converted from a conservatory, he had intended to put up. I think we older ones had given him the idea – at the end of it, he put a stage – we used to work up one or more small plays, our stage manager and actors being chosen from amongst our friends – sometimes these were given for charity, other times just to our friends.

We had no films of course, but we went to concerts, good plays and with our home life our time was well filled. Every Sunday, we all went to church in the morning – for a time to a Union Church, 20 minutes walk from home – later, to a Congregational Church in Melbourne, the church we used to attend when we were quite small.

With a friend May and I started a sewing club, and met every week to sew for needy folk.

Trip to New Zealand, 1886

One of our many interesting trips was in 1886 when Father, Mother, a friend of mine and I came over to New Zealand. We left the boat at the Bluff. A somewhat bleak uninteresting port, took the train up to Gore, where we changed for Queenstown. I cannot remember if we went on by train or coach. We stayed at the Hotel right on the edge of lake Whakatipu, where we had a wonderful view of The Remarkables, that great range of mountains. We made many trips in the old fashioned waggonettes over some very rough, steep roads, one in particular, I remember, was to “The Skippers” a mining centre, the road was very steep and narrow and my heart was in my mouth, many time, as we came to the very narrow parts and looked down the steep sides below us.

We took the paddle steamer to the head of the lake to Kingston on one side, and Glenorchy opposite, where we remained for some days. The formation of the surrounding country interested me, for it was in great terraces. While there we went in a waggonette to the Stylites mines and from there to Paradise Lake. The road though level was very rough, with large boulders and like a dry river bed. Paradise Lakes was in the midst of the lovely bush, and birds adding to the beauties with their singing. The water, as was Whakatipu, a bright blue sparkling in the sunshine, and the name very appropriate. At Glenorchy Hotel we used to enjoy the salmon trout, freshly caught and nicely cooked. Back to Queenstown, then to Dunedin, where we stayed for a short time and gradually made our way up to Auckland. While there I remember we took a trip over to Devonport and drove along the Takapuna beach. After a few days in Auckland we set out on a visit to Rotorua. We took a train to Oxford, now Tirau, the Terminus. Our next conveyance was a coach with 4 horses. We drove through the beautiful Mamaku Bush, the road sometimes hardly more than a track. We stayed at lake House. Of course the Maori people were a great interest to others – Father made a good impression for he started some sports. We had older Maori women running potato and other races, the children too he encouraged. What excitement, laughing, jumping around and pleasure amongst the competitors and onlookers.

Pink Terraces and White Terraces

The trip from Rotorua to Wairoa was again by coach, through a beautiful bush, where we stayed for two or three nights. I remember I was rather scared of the Maoris because after innocently pulling raupo (bullrushes) I was warned by someone at the Hotel, that the Maoris would be very angry. / Then one morning we started across Tarawera and Rotomahana to see the Terraces. We were taken across Tarawera in a canoe rowed by Maoris, quite a unique trip for us. We stopped at one place for the Maoris to collect some yabies, which they were to cook for their lunch. Tarawera crossed we had to walk across a short distance to Rotomahana. Here we found another canoe or boat, and were taken to the foot of the White Terraces. Warned to carefully follow the footsteps of the guide, lest we get into a hot pool, we walked up the side of those beautiful White Terraces, with the pools of blue water and the silica formations. Back to the canoe and we were taken to the other side, to the Pink Terraces. On the way over we were told the ducks swimming about, laid hard boiled eggs – how this could be puzzled us, until we were also told the water of the lake was so hot. Before inspecting the Pink Terraces we had lunch, in the bush. My memories of the beauties of the Pink Terraces are very vivid. They were more compact than the white, and were a delicate pink which looked like marble. On each terrace was a pool of clear blue water, through which we could see the delicate formations. There were three or four of these terraces each higher pool getting hotter and the top one was much larger. We were very urgently warned not to get too near the edge.

The Pink Terraces, which were destroyed when Mt Tarawera erupted later in 1886

Coming down on the other side, we reached the second pool, and there after putting on bathing attire in the bush, we enjoyed a swim – or perhaps a laze would be a better word – in the pool. How soft and refreshing that water was. But we had to return to Wairoa, so taking first one canoe and then the other, we took our way back after a most wonderful day. Next day to Rotorua. While there we often went on the Lake, one visit of course to Mokoia Island. It always interested us to see the the little puffs of steam coming out of the ground and the Maoris cooking or washing over the hot pools, The children used to dive in the lake for pennies.

After this trip we returned to Auckland on our way home via Sydney. Then just a month after our visit to The Terraces, came the news of the Tarawera Eruption., the destruction of  The Terraces, and  Wairoa buried. How glad I have always been that I was privileged to see them.

And so the days and years passed, then I became engaged and soon to be married.

Married life in New Zealand

So far I have only written of incidents in my girlhoods’ life, which was closed on the day of my marriage.

The wedding was arranged for November 29thh 1889. We were married in the ballroom, and an old friend played the Wedding March on the organ in there. The breakfast was in a marquee on the lawn in front of the house – my bridesmaids were May, Winnie, Julie, Fred’s little girl Marian, and Pearl Postlethwaite, the little daughter of a friend who had come over from New Zealand and through whom I had met my husband.

Father lent us Ellerslie for our honeymoon; we spent a happy honeymoon there and went to see many haunts of my childhood. We had a buggy and horse so could go to the distant places, and say goodbye. We returned to Rippon Lea for two or three days and then sailed for our home in New Zealand. And so I said goodbye to all those places that had meant so much during my childhood and youth and were buried deep and firm in my memories

Our home was in Geraldine, Canterbury, Henry’s business being there. ‘The Pines” was a small farmlet, and we had our own vegetables and fruit, cows, hens and horses. My brothers and sisters had given me as a wedding present, a phaeton, in which I soon learnt to drive myself about, with a quiet horse called Finch because it had been bought from the postmaster, whose name was Finch. Of course as we were in the country we led a quiet life – our friends the Postlethwaites living on their large farm adjoining ours. In the summer we met each week, at the tennis club.

In 1891 Norman was born, bringing a new interest into our lives, as we watched him grow. When eleven months old, we went over to Melbourne. Henry returning before me, Julie coming back with me – Dorothy was born in 1893 and Muriel 1894, when she was a year old we left Geraldine, and stayed at Akaroa for some months where Geoff was born. One incident when  in Akaroa always stands out. We were all in a small rowing boat on a large harbour, Father was rowing, when a sudden heavy squall came on, and for a time it seemed that father could never get to shore- how thankful we all were when we landed again. After we left Akaroa, we stayed in Sumner, Christchurch for a while – Father’s sister Lily came to us; for health reasons, and was with us for some years. When in Timaru, the Boer War took place – and I well remember the day when Mafeking fell and the bells sounding out. Most of the children were going to school and of course rejoiced at the holiday given. Great excitement prevailed amongst them the day the snow fell in Timaru, the first they had seen. Then came the memorial service to Queen Victoria, which was held outside and drew a large crowd. I think it was that same year that we had a lot of sickness – first all the children, Cecil was the baby, had the mumps. Marjorie being very ill with pneumonia, before she was well – the death of my Father occurred suddenly at Taihape, where he, Grannie, Percy, Charlie and Marian, had stayed the night on their way from Napier. He passed away in his sleep. Percy made all arrangements for the body to be taken by train to Wellington and from there back to Melbourne.

When Marjorie was well we took them to a country house let to us. On our return one after another the children went down with chicken pox. Dorothy, like Marjorie being very ill with pneumonia. As she began to get better the doctor advised us that we should not remain in Timaru for the winter, the winds were very treacherous. So we made arrangements to go as soon as possible to Wanganui. Norman attended the Boys College, Dorothy the Girls College, Muriel a preparatory school for the Girls College, and Geoff a boys preparatory school. (Marjorie and Cecil a small school on St Johns Hill where we were living) after we rented a house we had first boarded in for a time till we heard of a house. We lived a quiet family life, no very unusual happenings. Ruth was born there, and when she was nearly three years old we came to Auckland, Norman being given a position in the warehouse.


There, around 1909, Clara’s memoir ends. When WW1 came, her two elder sons went to war, and both returned. In 1919 her reputedly feckless husband Henry Bunting Webster died. Clara lived on in Remuera, Auckland until she was over 90 years of age, by which time she had several great grand-children.

Clara with grandchildren 1928. Joan Webster third from right on her mother’s knee and sister Shirley Webster third from the right.
Clara’s home in later years just off Remuera Road

4 thoughts on “Clara’s story: memories of Rippon Lea

  1. At first I had no idea how long this post would be, although you gave ample warning with the word “memoir”. Then I got hooked and read the entire story over breakfast. Enchanting. I was specially interested in the visit to the pink and white terraces, but it was all fascinating. Thank you.


  2. I’m thrilled you enjoyed it. Somehow in publishing from the WordPress app on my phone, I lost the intro which explained this is an edited version of my great grandmother;s memoirs which combines two pieces of writing that she did 15 years apart when she was in her 70s and 80s. I’ll rewrite it soon and include photos of Clara and her parents, as well as some section links since it is lengthy.


  3. My mother n law and wife are descendants of this family and luck would have it we had a daughter born a few days ago on 16th June 2019 and named her Clara. My mother and law Jennifer Taylor just sent this through and we have read the whole thing. They visited Rippon Lea in 2018 and have become fascinated with the history.

    What a wonderful woman to name our daughter after.


    1. Hi Eliott, Congrats to you both and a lovely name. I’m sure your wee girl will have as rich, happy and adventure-full life as her namesake with you two as parents. I’ll be sharing high-res photos of Clara and other family at some point – got a bit of scanning to do first though.


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