Welcome to Life Images by Jill

Welcome to Life Images by Jill.........Stepping into the light and bringing together the images and stories of our world. I am a photographer, writer and multi-media artist.
Focussing mainly on Western Australia and Australia, I am seeking to preserve images and memories of the beautiful world in which we live and the people in it.



Monday 15 February 2016

The life of women in Australia's past

Last Monday, cooking grape jam on a blistering 40 degree Celsius day, over a hot stove, but with my air-conditioner running, my thoughts and memories went back to my mother cooking grape jam on a wood stove in a wood and fibro house in over 100 degree Fahrenheit heat with no cooling, and before that my grandmother bringing up eight children in a tin shack out at Bilbarin in the Western Australian wheatbelt, and her mother before that in the 1800s in Jeparit in Victoria. They certainly didn't have the luxury of an air-conditioner or even a fan!  

My maternal grandmother and grandfather, May and John Jackson, were married in 1912 in Narrogin. In 1919 my grandfather moved the family, by this time including five children, from their comfortable home in Narrogin and went out bush as he wanted to "make a go of it" at farming.

"Their first temporary home was tents set up on a rabbit warren where the ground was hard and bare, making good flooring. A small home was soon built, typical of the bush homes of those days – bush timber, corrugated iron roof and walls, lined with bags split open and white washed, and with an earthen floor." You can see some of the house in this picture above. The smaller child is my mother. 

"Arriving at a mostly uncleared block with a young family must have seemed daunting to both John and May. It was a lonely life for a woman with a young family, far from her family and neighbours, and the responsibility for the upbringing of the children fell to May.  John was working away from home a great deal of the time clearing land with an axe for some of the more established farmers."

Little remains of Bilbarin today.
  I often wonder what May's dreams in life had been. Far different I am sure from the new reality she found herself in. 
 Women I think were a lot tougher in those days, they had to be. Which actually brings me to the subject of my blog-post. 

On a trip last year up to Kalbarri, we stopped to have a look at Lynton, the former site of a convict depot, 40km north of Northampton. On the walls of the old main depot building we read a surprising story about the wife of the Commissariat Storekeeper.
But first some background history. 

 A labour shortage in early Western Australia led to the introduction of convicts in 1850.  A depot was set up in the Lynton Valley, three miles from Port Gregory, for hiring ticket-of-leave men to farmers and free-settlers as well as to construct a road from the new Geraldton tin mine to Port Gregory.

Port Gregory at that time was the northern-most outpost in Western Australia, surrounded by thousands of kilometres of coast-line and land virtually untouched by Europeans. 
Sixty men arrived at Port Gregory on the 22 May 1853 aboard the ‘Leander’ accompanied by Sergeant Reddin, and a Prisoner Guard.

At first convicts, officers and stores were housed under canvas and it seems that building permanent structures was slow. Limestone was quarried from the surrounding hills and rush was used for thatching roofs.  As there was no suitable timber in the area many building materials were brought in by ship. 

The main depot building, measuring 17m x 9m was completed in 1856, shortly before the depot was abandoned. Designed to accommodate eighty men, it is estimated that a double row of hammocks would have been necessary.  You can see it in the top LH corner of the pictures above.

The depot suffered considerable sickness and scurvy because of lack of fresh vegetables and it was decided to close the depot due to the costs of food and transport, a shortage of water and crop failures. 

 It would have been a tough environment, especially for Anna, wife of the Commissariat Storekeeper.

Many know the embellished story of the Anna Leonowens, governess to King Mongkut, the King of Siam (Thailand) in the 1860s, told through the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I first performed in 1951 and more recently in the 1999 movie Anna and the King (20th Century Fox).
What is little known is that Anna was the wife of Thomas Leonowens who was the Commissariat Storekeeper at the Lynton Convict Hiring Depot near Port Gregory from 1855-56, during which time Anna gave birth to their son Louis.   

 "The Royal Engineer's report gives the stores office’s dimensions as twelve by thirteen feet. For the next fifteen months, this small enclosed space apparently formed Anna’s home and prison—the  word does not seem too strong. Several months before she arrived, the dug well caved in  at the bottom. Water had to be carried quite a distance. The terrain was rocky and  sandy, and the wind blew frequently and fiercely, so much so that today the few  introduced trees are bent to the ground. In summer the narrow valley enclosing the  depot turned into a cauldron."  (State Records Office of WA, Occasional Paper, Anna & Thomas Leonowens in WA, 1853- 1857, by Alfred Habegger and Gerard Foley)

Anna's book "The English Governess at the Siamese Court"

We can only wonder about Anna’s experiences in the harsh environment of Lynton,  as Anna never wrote about their time there, Thomas’s difficult and unrewarding work, or their four years in Western Australia. They sailed for Singapore in 1857. 

Anna Leonowens hid her Anglo-Indian background. Whilst in Perth she attempted to establish a school for young ladies. The “King and I” was based on Anna’s unreliable accounts of her life in Thailand. According to historians Anna spent her life burying her past and embellishing stories so well that even her own children could not penetrate her disguise. She died in Canada in 1915. 

 Conservation and restoration work has been carried out at Lynton thanks to grants and local initiatives. A visitor today can see the depot building, a cell block for short term imprisonment, and the Magistrate’s quarters. A map and information boards lead you around the site and recount its history.  Below is a picture of the Magistrate's quarters, a tiny one room stone hut, possibly similar to the store where Anna and her family lived.

Where is it: 40km north of Northampton via Port Gregory Road off North West Coastal Highway

Further information: State Records Office of WA, Occasional Paper, Anna & Thomas Leonowens in WA, 1853- 1857, by Alfred Habegger and Gerard Foley

My article about Anna and Lynton was published in On The Road magazine, January 2016. 

 In writing this, I also remembered the story of Mary Watson who lived with her husband James in the 1920s at the Errabiddy Outcamp, part of the vast Wooleen Station in the Murchison area of Western Australia. We stopped to take a look at the ruins on the way to Errabiddy Bluff.

During the two years they lived here Aboriginal girls were Mary’s only regular companions and Mary didn’t see another white woman for twelve months.  You can only imagine her loneliness when you wander about what remains of her house.

During her time her Mary gave birth to two sons. The second died in infancy and is buried in a sandhill near the main station homestead. Mary left soon afterwards due to complications with the birth and never saw the burial place of her son.

Mary returned in 1991, aged 88, to visit the grave of her infant son. Despite the hardships of her life here, when she returned Mary said she had missed it after she had left and that it held great memories for her.

Where is it: Perth to Murchison is 654km via Mingenew and Mullewa.
Turnoff to Errabiddy Bluff is 1km north of the Murchison Settlement on the Carnarvon-Mullewa Road, then 12km to the Bluff. 4WD recommended.

I am currently reading about the lives of other remarkable pioneering women in the book, Daughter of the Territory by Jacueline Hammar (Allen & Unwin 2015), which is a fascinating true-life story of Territory women, pioneering families, and about outback life and the characters of Australia's Northern Territory in the early to mid 1900's.  


I don't think I would have survived living in the conditions they did.  Do you have pioneering women in your family? Perhaps you would like to tell us about them in the comments.

Thank you so much for stopping by. I value your comments and look forward to hearing from you. I will try to visit your blogs in return. Have a wonderful week.

I am linking up to the link-ups below. Please click on the links to see fabulous contributions from around the world - virtual touring at its best!

Mosaic Monday

Travel Photo Mondays 
Lifestyle Fifty Monday linkup
Our World Tuesday
Through My Lens 
Wednesday Around the World at Communal Global
Worth Casing Wednesday
What's It Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
The Weekly Postcard

You might also like:
Outback on the Oodnadatta Track, South Australia
Discovering Gold at Dundas, Western Australia


  1. What a wonderful post! Thank you! While you're dealing with stifling heat we are trying to stay warm in -4 degrees C. Wishing you well!!! There is joy in know Spring/Fall is just around the corner!

  2. Hello, Jill! What a great post and story. I remember watching the movie the King and I with my mom. I would glady trade the hot weather with our cold winter right now. Happy Monday, enjoy your new week!

  3. What a fascinating backstory to Anna in the King and I. And I agree with you, I'd never survive those conditions those early settlers experienced there in Australia or here in the US.

  4. What amazing stories and especially of your ancestors. I often wonder if I could have survived, but as you say they were different...made of sterner stuff and raised for hardships.

    and LivingFromHappiness

  5. Women pioneers had such difficulties. I cannot even imagine living and doing what they did. The women who traveled across the U.S. to go to Oregon and the west coast of America faced many difficulties, too. I applaud them for their strength.

  6. Hi Jill, all so very interesting the histrionics you have shared and the loveliest part for me, was when you shared of your family history a bit. Awe, my mother used to make homemade jams, preserves and jellies. I have never canned a thing, but have made freezer strawberry jam before and that was fun. Enjoy the fruits of your labor and have a great week. Hugs!

  7. Hi Jill, what am impressive collection of women. We stopped at Lynton during our travels but I never read about Anna. I think I was too busy taking photos to read that sign. Women did have extraordinarily tough lives back in the old days, particularly if they lived in the outback or bush. A lot of my ancestors lived on the Goldfields in Victoria in makeshift shacks and possibly tents so their lives would have been hell. I would be interested to read the book "Daughter of The Territory" as I have read a similar book in the past (the title escapes me) about a Sydney nurse who goes to live in one of the most remote places in Australia on a cattle station. Great post. :)

  8. Fascinating post - chock full of information, all of it interesting. I admit I'm too much of a wimp to have thrived in that setting.
    Great photos accompanying the text - thanks for sharing all at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2016/02/old-san-juan-pigeon-park.html

  9. Fascinating! It is amazing to think of the lives people had to live years ago. I'm pretty sure I like my modern conveniences.

  10. What an interesting story about Anna. I had no idea she lived in Australia as well. I love seeing old ruins like these and wonder about the people who lived there. We often see ruins of old farms in the northern woods, and I wonder how the farmers could possibly have survived there (not good for farming at all). I'm in Canada and wonder if you know where Anna lived while here. Thanks for sharing this!

  11. The King and I was the first movie I saw as a child. The story of Anna Leonowens is a complicated one, but she did end up in Canada, first in Halifax and finally in Montreal. She certainly lived a fascinating life!
    I think that frontier women were made of something special. When I think of the women of my family who came from Scotland with nothing but dreams, and then had to contend with their first Nova Scotia winter - the cemeteries are full of babies and young mothers. The history of our two countries can certainly be traced in the stories of the women who were so brave.

  12. Well, I loved her book, the movie and the stage production (with Yul Brenner, that we were lucky enough to see years ago in Seattle) and now I am lucky enough to have read this wonderful post. You've got me wanting to re-read her account of her life - limited and askew as it might be - as well as wanting to read the book you featured above. Loved this post!!

  13. Wonderful, fascinating history! I love the photo of the brick hearth. When homes burned in my area, all was gone except a hearth standing strong like this one. You've uncovered so much rich history and heritage!

  14. Very interesting history, especially about Anna and "The Kind and I." - Margy

  15. Fascinating post and such history ~ glad the little building is being preserved and your writing is excellent ~ thanks

    Wishing you a Happy Week ~ ^_^

  16. Oh dear my comment didn't make it. I wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post. I love social history, particularly with a quirky angle - and who would have known that Anna from The King and I lived in WA. You've made me want to go and discover for myself. Also loved the insight into your ancestors and what life was like in the early days of WA in the wheatbelt. Wow, so harsh.

  17. This was an amazingly fascinating post. I love reading about the pioneer women of America, and had never thought much about women suffering similar hardships in Australia! The lives of women in general were so difficult, anywhere (unless you were wealthy and had servants) up until the 1940s and 1950s when things began to change. Out own mothers, and definitely grandmothers went through a lot to maintain their households and raise their children. The women just a generation beyond that had lives that are filled with toil and hardship, and so little is written about them! I treasure every account I fin, because they are a testament to these brave, strong women! I feel like Anna may have had such a difficult, stressful past that she didn't want to remember the difficulties she went through so she embroidered her tale. That certainly would have been true for her time in Lynton, and may have also been so in Siam. In between the two she became a widow, and a single Mom. I don't know if there was any stigma on an Anglo-Indian mix, but she may have had to hide her genealogy because of that as well as try to figure out how to survive as a woman alone after her husband died. (I can imagine she didn't really "tame" the King...he was probably a royal pain!) We will never know. As for Mary Watson, that part of your post was very fascinating too. I can see the correlation between her life and the lives of pioneer women in early America, living in their sod houses and going crazy because they have no one to talk to but their children and nothing to do but endless hard work. I've added Daughter of the Territory to my read list!

  18. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing with us!

  19. Wow, clearing the land with an axe - that's a hard life! Interesting details of the past here!

  20. I think people were tougher back then. Great shot of the old coffee cups!

  21. I found your post quite informative--the kind of history I enjoy, a little at a time.

  22. Hi Jill, I loved reading your Blog this week, I wonder who the older girl is in the photo at Bilbarin? Good on you carrying on the "Grape Jam" tradition.
    Cheers cousin Margaret x

    1. Hi Margaret, great to hear from you, it is Auntie Joyce in the pic with Mum.


I hope you have enjoyed your visit to my blog. Thank you for stopping by and for taking the time to comment. I read and very much appreciate every comment and love hearing from you. I will try to visit your blogs in return.