My grandfather Ebenezer Bathurst Davis was born in Bathurst on 4 September 1867, the second child of Ebenezer and Isabella Davis and the first-born son. Ebe was a third generation Australian and in time was to have three sisters and six brothers. They spent most of their childhood at their grandfather’s coach house, the Half Way Inn at King’s Plains which Ebe’s parents managed for his grandfather. My grandmother Ellen "Nellie" Gertrude Bate was born at 369 Riley Street, Surry Hills at her parent's town house on 26 January 1872, the only child of Jack and Eliza Bate. Grandma was a second generation Australian.
Jack had eight surviving children from his first marriage. The two eldest girls were already married before he married Eliza Arthur—a widow with three surviving children who lived next door. Jack was bankrupt so they had a prenuptial marriage agreement protecting the inheritance of Charles Arthur's young children. Grandma was a small frail baby and Eliza had already had two toddlers die, so it was decided to move all of the large combined family to Charles Arthur’s farm at Brookdale near Kings Plains. The move was good for Nellie and the beloved baby grew up riding horses and competing with her two young half brothers in tricks and mischief. Her father Jack Bate died when she was 5 years old, but her eldest half brother Frank Bate took over the management of the farm and as he was 27 years older than her and became like a father figure. Nellie’s half sister Alice who was 17 years older than her took on home schooling the young children of both families and some of the neighbours’ children. I think they would have been quite a handful because I have heard a few stories about broken slates and plaits dipped in ink wells.
Grandma was expected to cook dinner every Tuesday night for the family and one of her brothers rebelled and said can’t Nellie make something other than rice pudding for dessert.
In 1882 Grandma’s half brother Ernest Arthur died of typhoid caught driving cattle through flood water, and his sister Annie married in 1883 and claimed her father’s farm as her inheritance. This really split the two families as it all involved a court case to sort out the prenuptial agreement.
Grandma turned 15 about this time and was considered to be getting too much of a little larrikin, so was sent off to Sydney to finishing school. Her brother Frank gave her five golden guineas to spend. Grandma didn’t mind going to Sydney and spending the money, but objected strongly to going to finishing school. Her eldest half sister Sarah (thirty years older than Nellie) was married to Fritz Luther. Sarah was the housekeeper at Jenolan Caves House so Nellie was sent to Caves House to work as a maid which she quite enjoyed. She loved Sarah, and her beloved half brother Frank had moved to Oberon and was growing produce for the Caves House. Her two Arthur half sisters didn’t approve of her romance with the boy from the Half Way Inn who had gone mining. I have Nellie and Ebe’s love letters and Frank’s letters encouraging her to make up her own mind. Eventually Ebe was able to get them a house at Sunny Corner with a wooden floor that was better than the earth floor many mining houses had, and when Nellie was 21 they were married in a ceremony in the garden of the farmhouse. Every Christmas, wherever they lived on the minefields, Grandma papered the house with newspapers and whitewashed it. Even when I was a child, Grandma whitewashed the garden toilet for Christmas.
The mining life was hard and took its toll of my grandfather’s health he eventually died at 54 from dusted lungs and heavy metal poisoning. The hard life took its toll of the children. Both sons died as a result of primitive midwives and Grandma made the decision for the next two babies (little girls Nellie and my mother Elsie) to have them in hospital in Bathurst. Little Nellie unfortunately died as the result of an accident at the age of 4. By this time they were living at Dark Corner and my grandmother said it was like being buried alive in a cold bleak place, so they moved back to Kings Plains and then Blayney.
My mother’s health was poorly, and my grandfather wasn’t well, so they moved to Fairfield and took up chicken farming, eventually moving to Wahroonga and then, in 1918, to Lane Cove where they bought a small delicatessen and tea rooms. This was the third shop in Lane Cove shopping centre and the idea was that my grandmother would have a living as a widow. My grandfather died in 1921 and Grandma did have a living from the shop.
In 1929 Grandma married Owen Conduit a retired music conductor. Owen was comfortably off and had a lovely new home in Lane Cove so after the marriage Grandma had a much easier life and a beloved garden. Owen died at 82 in 1936. Grandma didn’t like living alone and invited my family to come and live with her, so I grew up with what in effect were 3 parents, and each had their own rules. Grandma died at 93 in my arms in 1966. Being fairly similar in nature, we had our differences, so the sparks could fly! But I still miss her.