THE CURR SISTERS

The memoirs written in the early 20th century by two daughters of Edward Curr provide fascinating information about the lives of children in the early days of pre Separation Melbourne and early post goldrush days in country Victoria.

Elizabeth Sarah was the fourth of the six daughters and the tenth child of Edward Curr, sometimes referred to as the 'Father of Separation,' and his wife Elizabeth Micklethwait. Born in Sheffield in England in 1834 when her father was on leave from the Van Diemen's Land Company, Elizabeth Sarah moved from Tasmania with the family to Port Phillip in 1842. Her younger sister, Florence Mary, the fourteenth of the fifteen Curr children, was born in Van Diemen's Land in 1841.

The first pages of each of their memoirs give their respective recollections of the times beginning in each case when they were about eight years of age. The extracts below are from the first pages of each memoir. The originals of their incomplete memoirs are in the possession of Mr. Ian Curr of Fifield, near Trundle, New South Wales and I am grateful to him and to Dr. Samuel Furphy for making them available to me for transcription and annotation.

Elizabeth writes: "My Father bought a picturesque property on the Yarra known as St. Heliers, the 20 acres of which he soon turned into shrubberies, lawns, flowers and fruit gardens . . . . Presently building was commenced, the house being added to by several large lofty brick rooms, suitable to the climate which was then far hotter than of late years . . . . In winter, the absence of roads of any kind made it almost impossible for friends to meet after dark. My Father hit upon a plan that gave a great amount of satisfaction. It consisted of having the stumps of trees on either side of the track whitewashed, in order that the visitors should be certain of at least reaching the hospitable doors of St. Heliers, once arrived there was no idea of leaving before the summer daylight."

"We . . . . soon became expert swimmers much helped to learn the art by a young Newfoundland Dog, who taught us all, and lived to a great age. The Yarra, in the early days was a sweet clear stream, of a darkish colour, it was fringed with wattles which hung over the river as though to watch their reflections, & which were the home of numberless Kingfishers, those living Jewels, now alas never seen. Wild flowers grew in abundance on the Studleigh Park Hills which surrounded our new home and many were the excursions we made to gather them, crossing the river by a Punt established by Mr. John Hodgson, afterwards a member of the House."

Florence's memoir was more focussed on the details of family life near Colbinabbin in the early years following the death of their father in the year Separation was announced. His death, coupled with the goldrush, changed the lives of the family.

Florence writes: "It was the year after the discovery of gold & I was living with my mother, two brothers (Richard and Montague), & two sisters (Elizabeth Sarah and Geraldine Mary) at a Station not very far from the historic "Bendigo" of those days but now Sandhurst. It was a wonderful time . . . . as I look back over 50 long years it stands out in my memory as the happiest of my life. Two maid servants that we thought would stay with us for years had both departed, having entered the holy bonds of matrimony. The great influx of men into the colony & the scarcity of the members of the gentler sex gave the latter great opportunities of settling themselves . . . . "

"Finny (Edward Micklethwaite Curr's nickname for Elizabeth Sarah) then sweet 17 was willing enough to continue our education [but] my mother thought we got far too many holidays & that the slightest excuse was sufficient to get off lessons for that day & send us for a glorious gallop over the plains. So she imported a governess. With most frightful regulatity at 9 o'clock I had to take my place at the piano & thumb over horrid Scales . . . . " " . . . . a new state of things arose & studies were either omitted altogether or reduced to very modest limits. Miss O'B. & Finny turned into housemaids. Mother, assisted by Monty in a general way, did the cooking & baking, Georgie (Geraldine's nickname) & I shared the duties of parlor maid. Having a taste for dairy work I was given the charge of the dairy . . . . No sewing machines then & we were all expert at the needle. On washing days we all repaired to a shady spot near the creek. I hauled up the water & Mother attended to the boiling & blueing - mysteries quite beyond our ken."

In 1854 Elizabeth Sarah married Lieutenant Daniel Pennefather of the 40th Regiment of Foot which arrived in Melbourne on "HMS Vulcan" on 5 November 1852. They had five sons, one of whom was my paternal grandfather. Florence Mary became a Sister of Mercy and spent much of her adult life in Queensland.

Contributed by Jocelyn O'Neil ( PPPG Member No. 1376 )


[Abbotsford]

Edward Curr's Property "St. Heliers" later became the Abbotsford Convent.


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