Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The angel Bede in 1912

Bede James Smith, 1909-1965

My grandmother, Alice Smith, was pregnant with twins when she went into labour at her home in the New South Wales bush in October 1909. I don't know if  the doctor or midwife was able to reach her in time, but they would have had to travel by foot or horseback to do so. Many women died in childbirth in those days. Happily, Alice survived but one of her twins, a baby boy, died.
Alice and James Smith had been married in Sydney on January 26th 1909 and started life together in Marsden, NSW a small town 466 kilometres northwest of Sydney. My grandfather, James Smith, taught at the local Marsden Public School.

Alice's twin who survived was my father, Bede James Smith. The above photo is of him as a young boy. Dad used to joke about his traumatic start in life, saying of his twin brother: "he took one look at me and passed out".
In about 1912, when Bede was a boy of 3 or 4, his mother took him on a long train journey from Marsden. They probably travelled to Sydney and visited a photographer's studio where the photo of Bede could have been taken. In the photo he's standing in a semi-formal pose wearing sandals and a boyish suit. With his angelic face and long curly hair you could be forgiven in thinking this is a girl, except for his outfit. Bede's holding a small ball in his hands – most apt as he grew up to be an outstanding cricketer. 

One family story we heard from Dad's childhood was that my grandmother couldn't bear to cut her little son's curly locks. When I look at the Botticelli angle in this photo I can understand why. It was Bede's father, Jim, who eventually cut the curls, a fact I discovered when I found this message on the back of the photo which was sent as a postcard from Alice Smith to her mother-in-law Cecilia Hession Smith, a pioneer of the Nelson area of New South Wales.

Alice Smith's photo postcard from Marsden circa 1912

 Alice wrote:

"This is Bede's photo. Hope you like it. It was a fair trip. Bede was a bit sick on the way. Jim met us at station. He looks very well. Most of my fowls were gone when we got home, 12 young ones and 4 or 5 hens. They tell us the dogs killed them, but I think it was some two legged dogs. Hope you and father are quite well. Girlie is making big attempts to crawl (walk?) now. Ta ta, love from all, Al.
P.S. Jim cut Bede's curls off on Sat."
I'm not sure who Alice is referring to as being "two legged dogs". Possibly some workers on their property?  Girlie is Bede's sister born in November 1911. She was born Honora Smith, but the family always called her Girlie. We knew her as Nora.

Today, more than a hundred years later, the town of Marsden no longer exists. There is just a rest stop on the Newell Highway, halfway between Forbes and West Wyalong.

Marsden rest stop on the Newell Hwy NSW 2016

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