Rodney and Ruth Burton's Genealogy Pages

Family: George BURTON / Emma BURT

m. 30 Aug 1862


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500 Class, A Social History of George Burton and his Family: Chapter 8: Music, Fun and Family: Ella Sarah Freer

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.


Ella Sarah BURTON

b. 23 March 1881, Hilton, S.A.

d. 9 November 1952, Adelaide, S.A.

m. 1896, Adelaide, S.A.

Arthur John Freer

b. 6 May 1876, Freeling, S.A.

d. 3 July 1960, Adelaide, S.A.


1. Herbert Arthur Robert FREER, b. 7 February 1897, d. 21 December 1975

2. Clarence Aubrey FREER, b. 8 March 1899, d. 26 November 1939

3. Richard George FREER, b. 24 July 1900, d. 25 October 1958

4. Ruth Ella May FREER, b. 4 May 1902

5. Ronald William FREER, b. 23 February 1904, d. 29 April 1977

6. Arthur Burton FREER, b.10 March 1905, d. 23 July 1956

7. Holly Emma Sarah FREER, b.26 August 1908

8. Grace Helena Pearl FR EER, b. 23 May 1914

The federschleisen was progressing merrily. The older women and young ladies spoke animatedly as they stripped the dried feathers from their stalks and giggling, pushed the uncooperative, fluffy piles into the casing of the large eiderdown. The final product of this old German custom, a valuable item of bedding, would be added to the possessions of a young couple whose marriage was imminent. While their wives and daughters discussed the approaching marriage, the menfolk enjoyed liquid refreshments and ruminated over crops, the weather, business and the state of the railways. During supper two young people took more than the usual interest in one another. Ella Burton, herself fun-loving with a drier sense of humour, was attracted to a handsome young man, Arthur Freer, who had laughter resident in his eyes, the corners of his mouth promising to follow suit. For Ella, his joviality and musical ability shone through the gathering that night in Freeling. She was glad her parents had brought her to this country town for this novel evening with such happy company.

Freeling was a small service centre for the surrounding district whose principal economic activity was cereal and fodder cropping. Its importance increased when it was linked with Adelaide by the railway as part of the line to Morgan on the North-West Bend of the Murray River. The line was completed in 1878. Arthur John Freer was born at Freeling on 6th May 1876, son of Richard George Freer who was a guard in the South Australian Railways. The Freer family consisted of three boys and three girls.

The mutual attraction of Ella Burton and Arthur Freer deepened and the young couple who first met at a pre-wedding occasion were themselves married in 1896. Their first child, Herbert, was born on 7th February 1897 when Ella was not quite sixteen and Arthur almost twenty-one. The happy parents had seven more healthy children over the next seventeen years. Their last child, Grace, born on 23rd May 1914, was also the last and thirty-first grandchild of George and Emma Burton. Like Arthur and Lily Burton and Isabella and William Washington, Ella and Arthur Freer had a large family comprising, more evenly, five boys and three girls.

Ella, Arthur and their young, growing family lived with George and Emma Burton in their home at Brooker Terrace, Richmond. Their youngest child and colonial born daughter enjoyed very dose relations with her parents, as did her husband, Arthur, whose practical and mechanical skills were generously available to his father-in-law in his market gardening venture.

Arthur Freer first worked for the South Australian Railways and then was employed by the South Australian government as an inspector of concrete. The growing use of concrete and steel in many forms of heavy construction, required knowledge and skills which Arthur was able to provide. Inspecting construction sites and ensuring that contract specifications were adhered to, entailed a good deal of travelling and separation from family on the part of Arthur. He worked on Duncan and Fraser's concrete building in Adelaide; the Birkenhead Bridge over the Port River; the Barossa Reservoir, famous in South Australia as the “Whispering Wall”; the construction of Outer Harbor; the development of Mile End as a freight depot and locomotive servicing centre, and numerous railway bridges and culverts on lines spreading into the agricultural development areas of the mallee, for example, the Monarto-Palmer railway. Young Vivian Burton, whose father was a railway fitter at Peterborough, can remember visiting his Uncle Art Freer in his railway carriage which served as a home when he was on the job for months at a time. Indeed, daughter Ruth, born on 4th May 1902, was known in the family as the “Barossa job” because father was working on the Barossa Reservoir at the time. It was comforting for Arthur to know his Ella and family had adult company and support while he was “up-country”. Despite Arthur's enforced absences, the marriage was a very happy one and the family developed harmoniously. It was always a joy to see father again, especially when his surprises included crabs and fish from the Port River dredges.

In 1912 Ella and Arthur had their own house built at 155 Burbridge Road, Hilton, not far from her parent's home. Quite naturally Arthur carefully inspected the building at all stages of construction. Grace Freer was the only child born in the new house, in which she still lives today. Ella and Arthur imparted their sense of fun and belief in the value of warm family bonds to their children. The Freers were gregarious and in the early years saw quite a lot of their extended family. The elder Burtons visited or were visited often, and after George died, Emma visited at least once a week for dinner. The Washingtons would call and there would be trips by horse and trap out to the Burtons at Chicago. It seemed such a way, some wag thought they needed a cut lunch! For special occasions the younger Burton boys, Ern, Albert and Frank, would wait at the intersection of what are now Churchill and Regency Roads, near the Reepham Hotel, keeping an eye out for Grandfather George's canvas hooded wagon, loaded with grandparents, the Freers and assorted goodies. As it drew near, they would “willy” on the back. On these happy days Uncle Art Freer was particularly popular, delightedly organising the games and races for the children. Even for a time after the grandchildren married and started having families of their own, they would visit Aunt Ella and Uncle Art; Lionel and Lucie Washington; Nell and Roy Burton, with young Max; Arthur and Margaret Burton; Ern and Anita Washington. Ern visited for years, attracted by the warm hospitality of his Aunt Ella and Uncle Art, the Freer boys and the opportunity for a musical get-together. Another frequent and welcome visitor in later years was Albert Lloyd. He had been fostered by George and Emma Burton at the turn of the century. He lived with them and the Freers at Hilton, moving with the latter to their new home as George and Emma advanced in years. He was brought up as part of the Freer family and considered Ella and Arthur his parents. To the younger Freer girls, delightfully ignoring his surname, Albert was their oldest brother.

At home, after Sunday dinner the family would gather around father at the piano and sing hymns. Arthur's irrepressible humour would soon win through however and the singing might often end with “Yankee Doodle Dandy”! Arthur's musical prowess was a marvellous social asset. He could play almost anything by ear: piano, accordion, concertina, flute and tin whistle. Another family diversion, especially for the boys, was bagatelle. The Freers and friends would play on the large dining table and over the years wore the pattern of the linoleum completely away around the edges of the table. Christmas was the family highlight of the year and is still very much a happy, traditional affair at the family home in Hilton.

The Freer children sought work as soon as they had completed their primary schooling. The eldest, Herbert, served his apprenticeship as a cabinet-maker at Cahill's. During the Depression he moved to Richard's the motor body builders, constructing the wooden frames for the bodies. Herbert moved from this transitional stage between coaches and modern motor cars to Holden's, where he was employed as a pattern-maker for the machines which pressed out the sections for the all metal car bodies.

Clarence Freer worked for Humes Pipes in various jobs: labourer, driver and pipe-making machinist. He died on 26th November 1939 at the relatively young age of forty years.

Richard Freer first worked for Babidge's the coopers as a machinist. Unfortunately, like his grandfather, he lost an eye at work. He was reaching up for a tin of caustic soda and it spilt into his eye. He exhibited the same determination as his grandfather and went into business for himself. Richard began making shirts in the shed in his backyard with the help of his wife and another woman He then had to employ three more women, then six. He bought out Bottomley's on Port Road and was employing sixty machinists to make shirts, pyjamas and aprons under the Taniwha brand name. During the Second World War, Richard secured a contract to supply uniforms for the United States army and there were soon over one hundred people on his staff. Individual American servicemen, with Yankee flair, were sending parachute silk for custom made shirts. Sister Grace's children sported custom made uniforms, dresses, overalls and pants made from beautiful material, the offcuts from Uncle Richard's busy machines. The American connection was furthered by Richard's daughter, Euphemia, when she met and later married an American serviceman, Andrew De Paolo, who was serving in transport and supply with t be 48th Liberator Squadron based in Darwin. Euphemia left to settle with her husband in the United States of America where they raised a family of their own. The clothing business built up by Richard Freer was itself subject to takeover and is no longer in the family.

Ruth Freer helped in home duties until she married Fred King, an Englishman, who was a fisherman and wharf labourer at Thevenard on the West Coast. He had served in the merchant marine in the Great War. They shifted to Adelaide where Fred worked at Michels, the wool firm, and then as a mail sorter in the General Post Office. Fred also served during the Second World War in the Royal Australian Air Force, based in Queensland as ground staff.

Variety characterised Ronald Freer's working life. He began in the News office, Adelaide, drove for the Shell Company for a while and then was among the very first to enlist in 1939 as his service number, SX484, testified. He served in the 10th Battalion in Tobruk and Palestine. Returned to Australia, the battalion rested, then trained for New Guinea and left for that new type of warfare but without Ronald. He was a sick man suffering from trench feet and in Daws Road Hospital, he had to have his toes wired. No longer fit for service he worked for the Post Office but continued illness forced his retirement. Seeking employment with more of an outdoors nature, Ronald finally worked as a timber clerk at Otto's timber yard and mill at Magill.

Arthur Burton Freer, bearer of both his parents' surnames, worked for his father on concrete work after leaving school, gaining experience on such construction sites as the bridge at Bowmans near Port Wakefield. He then drove for Quarry Industries for a number of years before enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force as technical support staff. Arthur was invalided home from Singapore, Malaya, suffering from elephantitis in his legs. It was to trouble him for the rest of his life and required frequent visits to Daws Road Hospital. Displaying a great deal of courage Arthur bought a paint shop, Davidson's Paint, and from his observations during the war, decided to meet the need for a specialist paint. He subsequently developed a rust resistant, silver frost type paint and marketed it under the trade name Davidson's Paint. In the hurly-burly, competitive world of paint manufacturing, Arthur was one of the first to bring out flat, water-based paints. Arthur died a relatively young man in 1956, leaving a legacy to his family of a TPI pension and some dividends on his paint, as well as a fine example of grit, enterprise and determination.

The two youngest Freer children, Holly and Grace, both worked in the Adelaide department store with the magnificent, sweeping staircase, Charles Moore's. Holly worked as a waitress, later cook, in the cafeteria upstairs and Grace operated a soda fountain. When both girls married they devoted their energies and abilities to raising families. Grace's second husband, Bill Quinn, was a farm labourer when he enlisted in the army in the Second World War, serving in road transport in the Northern Territory. After the war he worked in the Engineering and Water Supply Department as a driver, foreman and supervisor before he retired. Grace and Bill Quinn still live in the Freer home built in 1912. Apart from two years spent in nearby Jenkins Avenue, Grace has lived there all her life.

Consonant with the common theme in this history, Ella and Arthur Freer sowed well the seeds of love, loyalty and mutual respect amongst their children. By personal example they instilled a sense of fun complemented with a sense of responsibility. Moreover they could be well pleased with their offsprings' demonstrations of enterprising spirit backed by courage and determination. Father's own efforts were exemplary. Past the normal retiring age, the indefatigable Arthur was still working in munitions during the Second World War, playing his part on the home front. On a more personal home front, the Freer children also had an excellent example to follow in their parents, who, with laughter never far away, enjoyed married life together beyond their golden wedding anniversary. Ella died on 9th November 1952 and Arthur nearly eight years later on 3rd July 1960. It is a fitting tribute to not only the strength of the Freer family but also to that of George and Emma Burton's family, that the traditional Christmas pudding ringed with raisins and ablaze with flaming brandy is still an annual feature in Ella and Arthur Freer's original and happy home in Hilton.

Owner of originalRodney Burton
Linked toFamily: BURTON/BURT (F28)

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