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.

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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.

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