Ellen Gertrude Bate
(1872—1966)

Married to Ebenezer Bathurst Davis  [1]

Married to Owen Walter Conduit




My Australian Grandma [1] Ellen Gertrude Bate was born at 369 Riley Street, Surry Hills with both a doctor [2] and a midwife [3] in attendance. Riley Street in 1872 was a sought after suburb close to the city for up and coming families, very different from the slum it had become when I was growing up. Nell was the only child of her older parents Eliza and Jack Bate who were both widowed and had families from their first marriages. Nell had four half sisters and four half brothers in her father’s family and two half sisters and a half brother in her mother’s family making her the twelfth child. Jack’s four eldest children had moved out of the family home. Jack and Eliza planned to move to Brookdale [4], the Arthur farm at Vittoria, and Jack asked his older sons Frank and Richard to come back from Queensland and make it more habitable. Nell was baptised at St James, King Street before they moved across the Blue Mountains to the farm. By Nell’s first birthday the family was established at Brookdale and for the time being Eliza and Jack and the ten children of their blended marriage lived at the farm. The two children closest to Nellie in age were Ernest Arthur and Edward Bate and there are many stories of hair-raising adventures. They were forbidden to catch the horses and ride bare back. Nell did break her arm in a fall from a horse when her hair got caught in a tree branch and consequently left her with a bent arm which never seemed to stop her doing anything she wanted to do. Alice Bate taught the farm children on the verandah of the house and Nell had the ends of her plaits dipped in ink, and in turn broke her slate over a boy’s head for teasing her that she had a boyfriend. Life was pretty lively and, when asked to dispose of some old shoes, Nell wrapped them up in a parcel with brown paper and string and carefully laid them out in the middle of the bush road. She hid in the bush, and to her delight, the driver of the next dray that came along got out looked carefully around and seeing no one around took the parcel and drove off.

All of the family were expected to take turns with chores, so Nell had her evening when she cooked the meal. One of her brothers couldn’t stand it any longer and said can’t Nellie make anything but rice pudding? Jack Bate died in 1877 when Nell was only five; there was no will and no solution to the family inheritance [5]. Eliza continued to bring up the younger members of both families with the assistance of her stepson Frank. Nell became very close to Frank in these years and continued to consult him even after he and her mother had fallen out over the farm. Ernest the youngest of Eliza’s children contracted typhoid fever swimming cattle through flood waters and died in 1882. The same year 1882 sister Alice Bate married and moved to Sydney; sister Annie Arthur married Arthur Tom in 1883; in 1884 brother Frank Bate married Clara Hughes; and in 1886 sister Lilias Bate married. The situation with the blended family was becoming more complicated with the addition of marriages and by 1887 there were five babies — not that they were all living under the one roof but the future of the farm was not resolved. Nell aged 15 in 1887 was sent to Sydney to go to finishing school and her brother Frank gave her 5 guineas to spend. In 1887 Eliza’s brother Frederick Lister brought an injunction in the courts to have the prenuptial agreement of Eliza and Jack’s acted upon, and for the two surviving Arthur girls to come into their inheritance of their father’s farm. The court agreed and Frank and Clara had to leave the farm and Annie and Arthur Tom took over the farm. Richard Bate had returned to Queensland and George Bate and Edward Bate now young men went their own ways. Nell didn’t want to go to school in Sydney, and after a visit to Alice joined her eldest Bate sister Sarah Luther who was the housekeeper for Caves House at Jenolan Caves and worked as a house maid at Caves House. Effectively all of Jack Bate’s children had left Brookdale.

By the time Nell returned Brookdale was Annie and Arthur Tom’s farm. Nell found life at home much different from her childhood and enjoyed the noisy family life that went on up the road at the Halfway Inn run by the Davis family at Kings Plains and the eldest handsome boy Ebenezer (or Ebbe as Nell called him) caught her heart. The romance was not approved of at home by her mother and Arthur sisters and they did all they could to discourage it. Ebbe was working in the silver mines over at Mitchell River [6], Sunny Corner and Dark Corner. The mines he worked in were owned and worked by his cousins descendants of Samuel Armour from Windsor. Ebbe was building a house anticipating his marriage and living at Dark Corner. Nell wrote to her brother Frank for advice and Frank, who liked the young man, encouraged her to persist. When it was discovered the young couple had an alliance, Nell’s incoming letters, especially from her brother, started disappearing. So they resorted to corresponding through an old friend Mrs Parker.

District Map of Dark Corner, NSW.

In January 1893 Nell turned 21 and in March she was confirmed at the local Church of England. She had her photograph taken in a studio and on 14 September the Rev F J Thompson officiated at her wedding to Ebbe Davis. The oral story is the service took place in a marquee in the garden of her home. The young couple moved to their new timber cottage at Dark Corner but sadly it wasn’t happy ever after. They did hold true to one another through thick and thin but there were far more thin years. Nell had little idea what it was like to live at a minehead and she found it dirty and depressing especially in the bitter winters. Later she was to say it was like being buried alive. She had two sons: Frederick born 1894 and Albert 1895. Both only lived a few weeks and Nell blamed the rough handling of the local midwife. Both the little boys are buried in unmarked graves in the Church of England section of the Dark Corner cemetery. When Nell was expecting her third child she decided to go and stay in Bathurst at the home of a local doctor and on 25th May 1899 was successfully delivered of a daughter Nellie Victoria. This little daughter was always known as Queenie and was the joy of her parent’s life.

Nell stayed good friends with her mother-in-law and Ebbe’s family and they visited often. On one occasion when Nell was at the Half Way House with only the women, her sister-in-law Miriam went into labour with her first child. Nell caught one of the horses and rode astride to Blayney to fetch the doctor. The years of growing up with her brothers was not wasted. The baby Belle Finlay was safely born that day.

On 10th October 1901, again staying with Dr Renwick in Bathurst, a second daughter Elsie Isabel was successfully born. Both the little girls were baptised at St Barnabas Church of England Bathurst. Up till now the young couple had continued to live at mine sites but the dust and heavy metal poisoning was taking toll of Ebbe’s health and he was struggling to work underground and had taken a surface job as the driver of the donkey engine used to operate mines. Life was dangerous underground and miners died young from accidents and work-related illness. Mining families were very superstitious: one didn’t have peacock feathers in the house, decorate the house with wattle, washed your hands after handling money. Whenever a miner died the women of the village sat up by oil lamp and made a black dress for the widow to wear for a year. Nell didn’t like black dresses. Every Christmas Nell papered the walls of the little cottage with newspaper and painted them with whitewash. Even when I was a little girl Nell painted the outhouses [7] with whitewash once a year.

The young couple did enjoy the close fellowship and friendship of fellow miners and relations. In 1904 disaster struck through one of these occasions. In a rather rowdy game, four year old Queenie had a fall and in spite of getting the dray and driving as fast as they could to Bathurst, within twenty four hours Queenie died. I don’t think my grandmother ever ceased to mourn the loss of the beautiful child. Queenie was buried in Bathurst.

Elsie became a wrapped-up child — if she cried she was given laudanum on a teaspoon with sugar to ease her pains or worries, if the days were cold and bleak she was kept in bed. Her father read her stories — Charles Dickens was a great favourite and she was encouraged to learn poetry and recite. There were to be no wild games for her. I always find it amazing that Elsie learnt to ride a horse. Ebbe’s health was deteriorating and they moved back to Kings Plains which delighted Nell as she liked to be near Ebbe’s lively family. The next move was to Blayney where Ebbe worked on the copper mine until it flooded. Nell would have liked to have moved to Tilba Tilba to live near the Bate family farm there but this idea had no appeal to Ebbe. Elsie was going to school in Blayney, but was not as robust as her parents would have liked as she was having health problems with teeth and eyesight. Some of Ebbe’s brothers had moved to Sydney so the decision came to move to Fairfield and look after a poultry farm. Elsie went to school until she was fifteen at Smithfield Primary School but her father wouldn’t hear of her going to high school because she would have had to travel alone on the train. About 1910 Ebbe’s mother Isabella Davis came to live in Sydney because she had become so ill her husband could no longer care for her. The poultry farm was not a practical solution for Nell and Ebbe as it required too much physical work, so the farm was let go and the family moved to Wahroonga near the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital. The move to Sydney suited Elsie well and she blossomed and enjoyed the social life of cousins. A friend of Nell’s had a thriving business at a shop at the tram terminus at of Lane Cove and Elsie was allowed to go on the train to work there. Soon her parents bought the third shop in Lane Cove — a ham and beef shop with tea room which suited Nell very well. Ebbe was restless in the city and Nell tried to keep him at home as much as possible because of his increasing frailty. There is a story she hid his trousers in the oven of the fuel stove and forgot and lit the stove with disastrous results. By 1921 Ebbe was a patient in Royal North Shore Hospital and died on 9th October. He was buried at Field of Mars Cemetery, Ryde.

Nell in 1930.

Nell was a widow only 49 years old and she managed the little shop quite well. Elsie took a job in the city at Anthony Horderns working as a waitress in the tea rooms, and enjoyed an active social life. Nell took the occasional boarder including two young Englishmen: Fred Wareham and Dick Elvy who were building brick tanks for the newspaper mill on the Lane Cove River. Nell didn’t take kindly when Fred was a little too friendly towards Elsie and threw him out and tossed a tin of paint at him. Nell missed Fred but she ruined his hat and he went back to Victoria.

In 1925 a neighbour, a retired musician named Owen Conduit from the new Californian bungalows in Longueville Road, was widowed and made an arrangement to come to the tea room for dinner every evening. Nell was always good company enjoyed talking and gossip and Owen got on well with the young cousins and went on fishing expeditions with them. Owen turned to Nell one night and said Why don’t we get married instead me coming down here every night for dinner? Nell taken by surprise replied Owen have you been drinking?. Nell didn’t approve of drinking and she considered smoking a filthy habit. Brandy was something you kept for medicinal purposes and, like laudanum, you had it on a teaspoon with sugar. Though Nell never commented on Ebbe’s liking for poolrooms I doubt that Nell would have approved of them.

In 1929 Nell and Owen were married at the little St Andrew’s Church of England church hall by the Rev Kendanine with Elsie as a witness. Elsie went to live with her aunt Agnes and continued to work in the city and enjoy her many friends, cousins and house parties.

Nell loved her new modern house which was right up to date with a gas stove, a modern bathroom and a large garden. As well as the wind-up gramophone they had the latest radio and gramophone cabinet which was as big as any modern television set, and which had pride of place in the dining room. Owen still enjoyed going to town and the theatre and being well dressed, and he liked his wife to be well dressed. I found a docket for an overcoat after Nell died — it cost thirty pounds and was tailor-made by Farmers in the 1930s.

Owen and Nell in c1930.

Elsie kept up a correspondence with Fred the young Englishman and in 1931 went on a holiday to Victoria where they married and settled down. When their first child Margaret was a baby, Elsie came back to Lane cove for a visit and Mr. Conduit [8] played with her and said ‘The child is artistic’. The die was cast.

Until 1936 life continued to be very comfortable for Nell, but in August 1936 Owen, who was now 83 had a stroke, and Nell with the help of Dr. Breslin and friends nursed him at home until Owen died on 23rd September. Owen was cremated and his ashes placed in an urn on Julia’s grave at the Northern Suburbs Cemetery. [9]

Elsie and Fred had three children by this time, the farm was struggling to make a living in Victoria and Nell invited them to come and live with her. In 1937 the move was made for Elsie, Fred and family to come and live at 53 Longueville Road, Lane Cove. Life changed again for Nell who was to live another thirty three years. These years are so intertwined with my mother’s life. I will save it for the story of Elsie Isabel Davis.

My grandmother was a legend — she never wore glasses and read the newspaper with a large magnifying glass. Grandma liked the evening Sun as it was more gossipy than the Sydney Morning Herald which was delivered every morning. Grandma would walk across the road to buy the evening paper from a little general store. She would just step on to the road and expect the traffic to stop for her and this it did, until the day when she was about 90 and she nearly was run over after which she ceased to go for the evening paper. We lived to the back of the house, we came and went by the back gate and the back door; we played in the back garden and we lived in the back rooms.



Notes
[1] Both my Grandmas were called Grandma, but when it was necessary to distinguish between maternal and paternal grandmothers, my maternal grandmother was called Grandma in Australia and my paternal grandmother was called Grandma in England.
[2] Dr Renwick.
[3] Mrs Pickard.
[4] Brookdale at Vittoria near Bathurst – the farm Charles Arthur, Elizabeth Lister’s first husband had left to his children.
[5] John Murray Bate was bankrupt when he married Elizabeth Lister and they both had signed a prenuptial agreement in 1870 that the farm Brookdale was the inheritance of the Arthur children. There are some letters surviving showing that John unsuccessfully tried to overturn the agreement before he died.
[6] Gold, silver and copper were mined in the Bathurst district.
[7] Laundry and outside toilet.
[8] The family were always very formal, and Owen was always referred to as Mr Conduit and indeed even today in conversation is still referred to as Mr Conduit.
[9] Today the cemetery has been renamed Macquarie Park. The black granite urn that was attached to Julia’s black granite grave has been stolen. I did see it when I was a child. Later when Nell died Elsie had her buried with her father at Field of Mars Cemetery.



Margaret Hardwick, 2010


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Web page made 19 November 2010; last edited