Somewhere for women in distress

For almost a century St Mary’s Home has been located at Mount Street, Toowong. It has been a part of the local streetscape for so long that many people are unaware that St Mary’s wasn’t always situated here. Most people would also be unaware that the Home is an amalgamation of two former institutions, the Female Refuge and Infants’ Home and St Mary’s Home, which after joining together, chose to retain the name of St Mary’s Home.
St Marys's Home
The original St Mary’s Home, which had its official entrance in Bent Street, Toowong, had been demolished after extensive damage by while ants.

Join historian Leigh Chamberlain as she traces the story of these two institutions from their inception until amalgamation, and outlines the Home’s subsequent history.
Today, the Home continues to meet the needs of those women who have ‘nowhere to go’. Leigh will explain how the home has adapted since moving to Toowong to enable it to assist women who need its support today.

The talk will be presented on 22 May at the BCC Toowong Library, Toowong Village, from 9.30am till 11.30am.

All welcome! Please stay and join us afterwards for morning tea.

For inquiries, RSVP and apologies: T: 040 1180 0921 or E: tdhsoc@gmail.com

For more details see Upcoming Events (at right).

Sojourn in Toowong–the Lahey Story

Shirley Lahey’s grandparents leased ‘Sidney House’ in 1905 for a short period of time before moving to Indooroopilly. ‘Sidney House’, which boasted a prime riverfront position, was located on River Road (now renamed Coronation Drive) and has since been demolished. In common with many descendants of Toowong’s early families, Shirley has returned to the area and now lives in Taringa.

Shirley’s reminiscences include these family memories:

My paternal grandparents were David Lahey and Jane Jemima (née Walmsley). David was born in 1858 in County Westmeath, Ireland, and Jane was born in Maldon, Victoria, in 1860. They were married in Brisbane in 1881 and had twelve children. One boy died, aged one month. Another son died of wounds in France in 1917, during World War I. Of the remaining ten children, the best known ones are the eldest child, Vida (a noted Australian artist, art advocate and educator) and Romeo, who was known for his lifelong interest in national parks. This included his work towards the reservation of Lamington National Park and the Windsor Tableland and Upper Daintree area of the Daintree National Park as well as being the founder of the National Parks Association of Queensland, the first of its kind in Australia.

David Lahey’s parents and ten siblings migrated from Ireland in 1862. His father Francis was a farmer, first at Coopers Plains, and then at Pimpama, where he was a successful arrowroot farmer. His five sons became interested in sawmilling at Waterford and then, in 1884, David and three of his brothers built a sawmill in Canungra, which developed into the largest softwood mill in Queensland. Later mills were built in other parts of south-east Queensland. Initially, the partnership was called Lahey Brothers, the name later changing several times, but when the company went into voluntary liquidation in 1921, it was named Laheys Limited. Earlier, in 1910, David had set up a sawmill in Corinda, Brisbane, so that his sons would have business opportunities. This company was called Brisbane Timbers Limited.

When David and his wife came to Brisbane to live in 1899, they leased ‘Yeronglea’, the home of the late premier of Queensland, T.J. Byrnes, at Yeronga in Brisbane, where they lived until 1905, when they moved to Toowong and leased ‘Sidney House’, which had been built for Thomas Finney. I believe Finney was the partner in Finney Isles, the store that is now David Jones in Queen Street. The architect of the house (which was named for Finney’s wife, Sidney) was F.D.G. Stanley and its extensive grounds went down to the river.

When the David Laheys lived at ‘Sidney House’, there was a total of about twenty-five people under its roof. Apart from the immediate family, Jane’s mother, unmarried brother and at least one half-sister lived with them. Also there were some of David’s nephews (whose mother had died) and staff (who included a Kanaka who had worked for the Laheys at Pimpama and who stayed with them for the rest of his life, declining to return to his island home). From ‘Sidney House,’ they moved to ‘Greylands’ at Indooroopilly, which they leased for about three years, before building their own home at Corinda, which was called ‘Wonga Wallen’, near the sawmill.

An article featuring more of Shirley Lahey’s memories titled Sojourn in Toowong–the Lahey Story is published in Toowong: A Tram Ride from the Past, Memories of the Toowong Community Vol. 4, ed. Leigh Chamberlain and Lindy Salter, Toowong and District Historical Society, 2008, p.1.

To order see details on the Publications page.

Keeping adoption in the family

Mrs Dorothy Beavis and her husband Kevin Beavis were interviewed by Leigh Chamberlain in November, 2000. Adopted as a child, Dorothy recalls the circumstances which led to her adoption. At that time it was legal for adoption to be privately arranged.

Dorothy_Beavis

Dorothy Beavis

Dorothy Beavis (née Harper) was born in 1931 and is the only child of Mr Ben and Mrs Alice Harper. Mr Harper, who was a returned serviceman from both the Boer War and WWI, worked for the Queensland Railways at Ipswich as a foreman coppersmith.

Dorothy lived with her family at 15 Sandford Street, which at that time was in Toowong. Dorothy recalls:

I have lived in the house for 69 years, and my dear beloved, [indicating Kevin], for 52 years. I was brought here as a baby, adopted by my parents who brought me here. I was only 2½ lbs when born and was ten weeks ‘premmie’ when my mother brought me down from Townsville on the train.

My real mum died when I was only five days old. Her name was Violet Ethel Drewett (née Harper). She was unconscious when she had me and didn’t even know that I had arrived. This is what I was told. My parents had me wrapped up in cotton wool and had newspapers around the bottom of a washing basket — you know, the old cane washing baskets. That’s how I came down from Townsville.

And I believe — it was really funny — there was one old busybody on the train, and she came up to Mum, and she said, ‘I had heard that Ben Harper had had a child but I didn’t believe it.’ No way I could have been Ben Harper’s child — he was the father who adopted me — but there was no way that I could have been his blood because we are altogether different. He was tall and as broad as anything, while I was a skinny little runt. My real father was a tall man too. His name was Edwin George Drewitt. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a brother who was over six feet tall.

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Poster advertising the Glen Olive Garden Estate

In 1924–25, Mr and Mrs Ben Harper had purchased a double allotment in a new development called ‘The Glen Olive Garden Estate’. They had a house built which they then rented out. After the Harpers returned from Townsville with their new ‘bundle of joy’, they were not able to live in their Sandford Street property because it was still tenanted. Therefore, they rented a house in Aston Street until their tenants were able to vacate. The Aston Street house was the one later purchased by Sir Arthur Fadden. So Dorothy was about six months old when the family finally moved into their Sandford Street house.

Dorothy wasn’t initially told that she was adopted, or that she had brothers and sisters. This important piece of information was disclosed to her much later, and contact with her real father was restored. There was a history of adoption in the family as Dorothy’s biological mother was herself adopted. Violet was adopted by Ben Harper’s parents, Mr and Mrs Ben and Elizabeth Harper, a stone mason who lived in Townsville.

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Residence of Dorothy and Kevin Beavis in Sandford Street, Toowong. The tree at the back of the house is the last remaining olive tree from a grove which was planted in the area. (Photographer not known.)

According to the story handed down through the family, Violet’s mother was a servant girl who worked for the Harper family and when she became pregnant, the father abandoned her and her unborn child. Desperate for assistance, she turned to her employer, Mrs Harper, as she didn’t know what else to do. Although they already had two children of their own, Benjamin John and Louis Arthur Milton, they offered Violet’s mother a lifeline by deciding to adopt the baby. (The ‘Milton’ in Louis’ name was a family surname in the Harper family). When Violet died, her brother, Benjamin John, and his wife, Alice, decided to adopt Dorothy.

By adopting Dorothy when her mother died, the adoption was kept within the family. Alice Harper had a history of stillborn births, so the new-born baby gave Ben and Alice Harper a chance to enjoy parenthood that would have been denied them otherwise and she was their ‘only child’.

Dorothy had lots of extended family, both biological and adopted. Holiday time was a time for the extended family and Dorothy explains that when the family went to Scarborough:

…other children came with the family too. There were four kids, and Mum and Dad. Now, these other children that I’m talking about, who lived with me for years (I was thirteen at the time), were my brothers and sisters. I didn’t realise this at the time, as we were all brought up as cousins. This was only because my mother died while giving birth to me.

Thank you to Dorothy Beavis for the above reminiscences.

You can read more of Dorothy’s reminiscences in the Toowong and District Historical Society’s publication, Toowong: A Tram Ride from the Past, 2008, p.41. To order see details on the Publications page.