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500 Class, A Social History of George Burton and his Family: Chapter 6 A City Upbringing: Isabella Mary Washington

Written in 1981 for the Burton Family Reunion held on 25th October 1981 at Walkerville, Adelaide, South Australia. Winner of the S.A. Family History Award for 1981.

Chapter 6 A CITY UPBRINGING: ISABELLA MARY WASHINGTON

Isabella Mary BURTON

b. 2 November 1865, Brighton, Sussex, England.

d. 4 July 1956, Adelaide, S.A .

m. 31 December 1886, Adelaide, S.A.

William George Washington

b. 21 January 1863, Adelaide, S.A.

d. 10 May 1922, Adelaide, S.A.

Children

1. Allen George WASHINGTON, b. 19 December 1887, d. 4 November 1979

2. Thomas Charles WASHINGTON, b. 30 December 1888, d. 8 June 1889

3. Holly Emma Elizabeth WASHINGTON, b. 12 December 1891, d. 28 March 1899

4. Hilda May WASHINGTON, b. 11 May 1893, d. 17 August 1979

5. Horace William WASHINGTON, b. 2 May 1894

6. Ernest Maurice WASHINGTON, b. 19 August 1895, d. 12 March 1966

7. Lionel Howard WASHINGTON, b. I July 1897

8. Alfred Gordon WASHINGTON, b. 26 November 1898, d. 26 February 1974

9. Dorothy Edit h Emily WASHINGTON, b. 4 April 1900, d. 27 June 1901

10. Roland Edward WASHINGTON, b. 16 May 1902

11. Grace Isabel WASHINGTON, b. 26 June 1903, d. 10 December 1903

12. Richard Norman WASHINGTON, b. 13 May 1906, d. 26 November 1980

13. William Arnold WASHINGTON, b. 10 May 1910, d. 22 March 1972

When living at home with her parents in Hilton, Isabella Burton met William George Washington, son of George and Elizabeth Washington. A number of Washingtons lived in the district at this time: indeed, Isabella's brother Arthur later lived for a time in Washington Street near the Burton home in Formby Street, Hilton. Isabella and William decided to marry and the ceremony was performed, with their parents' blessing, in the office of the Registrar-General in Victoria Square, Adelaide, on the last day of the year of 1886.

William was a storeman for Goode, Durrant and Company, general merchants. Until about I904 the family lived on the firm's premises in a two storeyed house in Divett Place, Adelaide. William was in charge of the horses and vehicles used by the travellers selling the firm's wares on the city, suburban and country runs. When the company shifted so too did the now large Washington family, first to Hindley Street, then Grote Street West and finally to Goode Durrant's new premises in Grote Street near the Adelaide central market. William's work was made a little easier as he assumed a supervisory capacity over the new, improved facilities of feed bins, chutes, stables and watering points.

Isabella and William were blessed with a large and happy family despite the sad loss suffered by the parents on four occasions. It was a particularly melancholy fact that when their family was completed, reflection showed that three of the deceased children were girls with only Hilda surviving to adulthood. Like Arthur and Lily Burton, Isabella and William Washington had only one girl to help her parents tend a large family. To take the parallel further, when one compares the family portraits of Isabella's and Arthur's families, the likeness of Hilda Washington and Edith Burton is very striking. At the turn of the century medical care for infants and young children was mediocre compared to that available in the I980's. Isabella and William's children were lost through diarrhoea and general debility (gastroenteritis?), broncho­pneumonia, valvular disease of the heart and marasmus, a blanket medical term which means wasting away. Nearly all the Washington children were born at home in Divett Place, with their grandmother Emma Burton acting as midwife.

The children attended the Flinders Street School during the residence of the family at Divett Place and then Currie Street School when they moved to Grote Street. School was a relatively painless affair and could even be fun if one joined, as did Horace, the school cadets, which afforded pleasure with their uniform, drills and marching, as well as relief from the classroom. At home the city children played rounders or cricket in the street or amused themselves in the large yard of Goode Durrant. Horace later joined a rowing club on the Torrens. He was joined once or twice by Lionel, whose earlier escapade to the river as an errant seven year old had everybody in fits of consternation. There was always plenty of work to do. Each child had an area of responsibility or specific task to perform and it was not always onerous. The boys would help dad in his work, especially on Sunday mornings when their exertions in the yard and stables gave their father a well-earned rest. One horse was a real brute, no doubt encouraged in his mischievous ways by the pranks of the younger Washingtons, particularly Roland. On one occasion, said teaser had to seek refuge from bared horse teeth by flinging himself under the water trough. Horace had no problems with the horse and was able to lead him away by grabbing a handful of his mane. This skill with horses would stand Horace in good stead during the Great War. The same boy's favourite task was to help his mother on Saturday or baking day. He would dutifully stoke and tend the wood stove to maintain just the required temperatures. Isabella was a fine seamstress and with offcuts from a neighbouring tailoring business was often able to provide more than useful clothes for her many children. The suits worn by the younger boys in the family portrait were all made by their handy mother.

For the enterprising city child there was money to be made. In the era of silent films Lionel found a job as sound effects person at the Empire Theatre in Adelaide. Every night and twice on Saturdays, in his curtained shelter near the screen, Lionel would keep one eye on the action and manipulate his home-made devices to create the sounds of trotting horses, with coconuts, galloping horses, rain, the sea, thunder, gunshots and whistles. For his improvisations Lionel earned fifteen shillings a week, twice his first year apprentice's wages. Later he graduated to front of the house as a ticket seller. It was Lionel too who occasionally went out with the city travellers on their rounds, one day, to his great delight, being shouted to a meal at a hotel.

When Isabella and William decided to visit George, Emma and the Freers or Arthur and Lily, one of Goode Durrant's traps would be fitted out with seats, the family, provisions and rugs loaded, and the whole set off in the direction of Hilton or Chicago. Late that evening it would return with a bevy of sleeping children cocooned in the rugs. Longer trips were undertaken to picnic spots such as Belair National Park or the seaside. For several years Isabella and William took their family for Christmas holidays to Port Noarlunga, where they boarded in a guest-house. At the beginning of the twentieth century this was truly a country holiday and the Washington family built up familiar and beneficial relations with the local fishermen. On one such holiday, the older Washington boys arose very early and set out on foot for Port Noarlunga. The rest of the family caught up with the intrepid pedestrians at the foot of Tapley's Hill. After all had ascended on foot, they clambered aboard for the rest of the trip to the coast.

William Washington and his father-in-law used to belong to the Plymouth Brethren but they both enjoyed a pipe and a pint of beer. Because of the Brethren's strictures against tobacco and alcohol, William and George ceased attending. George was a practising Christian however and even though he was unable to read or write, on completion of the washing-up after the evening meal, the family would retire to the front room where Emma would read from the Bible. Moreover, as in the case of Arthur Burton's family, the Washington children were encouraged to attend the local non-conformist Sunday schools, churches and associated organisations. As they grew into their teens, some of the children pursued these activities more keenly than the others, but all were brought up with a sense of responsibility and were able to distinguish clearly between right and wrong. Isabella and William were firm with their children but their fairness and kindness won the love and respect of all their offspring. Though the family was large and their ages varied considerably, family ties were strong and harmonious. This sense of family, together with a mannerly sense of responsibility seasoned with good fun, impressed people outside the family.

Domestic musical evenings were a popular means of entertainment. One evening Hilda did not have a chair and when somebody offered to get her one she replied, "Don't worry, I'll sit down on my own accord." Thus was conceived the "S'own accord club", a regular, Saturday night musical gathering of family, friends and neighbours. Among those present would be Anita Rheinheimer, friend of Horace and Ern Washington, and her family. Horace and Hilda would play the piano and Ern the flute. Occasionally the amateur musicians would be bolstered by the arrival of Harry Hannan of the Empire Theatre Orchestra with his cornet. And sometimes, Carl Rheinheimer, father of Anita, professional musician and clarinetist, would turn up, after performances, with other members of the South Australian Railways Orchestra! The singalongs with musical accompaniment would always be followed by Isabella's splendid suppers. The heyday of the Grote Street "S'own accord club" spanned the three or four years prior to 1914.

In that year the clouds of war darkened the horizon and soon members of the club would be sailing to the fighting in the old world. Horace and his father were present, appropriately, at a military smoke social when it was announced that the Mother Country was at war. The young part-time soldier immediately knew where his duty lay. Father was not so keen and cautioned the eager volunteer as to what his mother might say when they arrived home. Horace had always taken an active interest in military affairs at school, in the compulsory citizen defence force and now, in this time of need. His parents finally relented and both Horace and Ern enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in what became the 13th Field Company Engineers. Horace became a driver in the transport section which was responsible for taking engineering supplies to the front and Ern served in one of the sapper sections.

During training in Egypt Horace learnt to swim in the Suez Canal while watering the horses. No one bothered with the luxury of swimming trunks and when a ship passed through the canal, the cry “women aboard” would send the naked troops scampering to cover themselves with sand. The interlude ended when the bathers moved with their company to the horrors of the western front in France. Here Horace saw a naval gun and its crew blown sky high by German shells before the percussion rocked him on his feet. Amongst the mud and splintered duck boards, Horace was once forced to abandon his wagon but managed to bring in his slightly wounded horses. When an irate officer berated him Horace simply told him if he wanted the wagon he could go and get it himself. No charge was forthcoming. Respite from the noise, stench and violence of battle came with leave in Paris and a glorious moment spent helping mademoiselles pick hops, being careful not to favour one more than another. Ern suffered shrapnel wounds to his hands and legs and received a “Blighty” for his pains. His family at home were not to know for at least twelve months. In England Ern travelled to Bristol to meet his oldest brother Allen George Washington, known as George, who had come to England to work in an aeroplane manufacturing plant. He had answered the Mother Country's call to the Empire for skilled tradesmen. Ern also met a fellow worker of George's, Margaret Williams. He remarked that his brother Horace was in France and would it not be nice if they all could get together when he came to England on leave.

Horace Washington eventually did meet Margaret. They were taken with each other and began corresponding when he returned to the front. After the cessation of hostilities, Horace, desperate to see Margaret but without a pass, decided to entrain for Bristol anyway. On arrival at the station he was appalled to see red caps (senior officers) and Jacks (military police) everywhere. "Faint hearts never won a fair lady", he thought and blithely marched across the crowded platform and out of the station. He brought one tram to a screeching, shouting stop in the city centre as he single-mindedly leapt for the tram which would take him to his sweetheart. They were reunited and became engaged. That was the easy part over, now to return to camp. At the station Margaret had to watch in tears as the Jacks apprehended Horace and escorted him to the gaol. He went quietly and they had no use for the darbies (handcuffs). The unfortunate but plucky suitor spent the rest of the weekend looking wretchedly out of his cell window, counting the bricks in the opposite wall to keep his mind from the demented ravings of the weekend drunks. He rejoined his company, Margaret followed him to Australia and they were married on 2nd February 1920.

George and Horace Washington both completed apprenticeships as fitters in the South Australian Railways. After leaving school George worked at McEwen's Jam Factory on Payneham Road, soldering lids on the tins. He began his apprenticeship at Islington at a later age than usual and when he had finished moved to the railway depot at Murray Bridge. During the war he went to England as a munitions worker. George stayed in England after the war working as a fitter, engineer, and for a time, on a pilot boat in the English Channel. In his last years he decided to return to Australia to see his family once more. He arrived in his ninetieth year, renewed family ties and met for the first time many new members of the Washington family. George died on 4th November 1979, just short of his ninety-second birthday. Horace spent his working life in the railways, serving mainly at Islington and completing just over forty­six years’ service including leave granted to serve in the A.I.F. When he retired on 2nd May 1959, Horace was a sub-foreman.

The Washington family's association with the railways continued when Hilda married Gilbert Martin in 1919. Gilbert spent thirty-seven years in the railways, twenty-five of those on the footplate and twelve with the Railways Institute preparing men for their necessary mechanical examinations. It was during this time that Gilbert contacted his wife's cousins, Frank Burton who was a fitter in the railways at Tailem Bend and Arthur Burton who was locomotive foreman at Terowie. Gilbert Martin resigned from the South Australian Railways in 1948.

Two other Washington boys took up trades as well: Lionel as a cabinet-maker and Richard as a french polisher. Lionel's first choice was to be a fitter and turner at Islington but when his eye­sight failed him at the required examination, he began a career in cabinet-making instead. For nine years until he retired at sixty-five, Lionel was in charge of a maintenance team at St. Peter's College, a job he enjoyed immensely. Richard worked for Samuel Hawkesworth in Pirie Street, Adelaide, and when he died, took over the business and had eleven men under him. He bought the business premises opposite and lived with his family above the ground floor business area. He sold this business, had a trip to the United Kingdom and spent the rest of his working life with Coles, renovating the interiors of their stores. Ern Washington had been apprenticed to a tailor but after the war preferred army life. Apart from a brief spell as a grocer, he spent the rest of his working life serving in administration at Keswick Barracks, whence Sergeant Washington retired in 1960.

Roland became a men's hairdresser, later working for the P.M.G. on underground cables. Alfred worked for the Municipal Tramways Trust as a ganger. He was an affable person and possessed a keen sense of humour. One day whilst working on a job in Magill Road, he called on Lionel and Blanche Washington who lived in Maylands. After several cups of tea it was getting late and he remarked, "If I don't go now, it will be too late to knock off." William had several skilled jobs involving upholstering and motor trimming. He spent nearly eleven years between 1940 and 1951 as a machinist in the South Australian Railways. William was also an accomplished piano player. A daughter recalls:

Quite often after we children had all gone to bed, Dad would sit and play the piano in the dark, all the lovely old-time pieces he knew by heart. It was great to go to sleep listening to him play.

As the Washington children began marrying in the years after the war, they lost their beloved dad whose last years had witnessed a steady deterioration in health due to a weak chest and asthma. Goode Durrant stood by their faithful employee and paid his wage throughout his illness. Isabella's and her children's ministrations and nursing were to no avail and William died on 10th May 1922. In contrast, Isabella survived her husband by many years, living to the fine age of ninety-one years, the sole surviving child of George and Emma Burton. She was able to enjoy the pleasures of seeing her family prosper and grow, before she died on 4th July 1956. Although the family did not see a great deal of each other once they began having families and grandchildren of their own, they never lost that mutual respect for and interest in each other which had been fostered in them by Isabella and William in the pre-war decades of Adelaide.


Owner/SourceRodney Burton
Date1981
Linked toFamily: BURTON/BURT (F28)

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