Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Drummond Story 1 - early days

Today is one of those blank screen days. I have a newspaper column to write, the first of the new year, but seem to be doing everything I can to avoid it.

I am absolutely awash in family and personal history at the present time. I followed yesterday's post on this blog, Saturday Morning Musings - past, present and future, with another New England Story, New England Story - new states, archives and the preservation of our past

I blame part of my current preoccupations on cousin Jamie. He keeps on putting up family photos and scanned memorabilia in what has now become quite a major collection. Then brother David has to share some of the blame: giving me two disks of family material including photos and biographical material is like giving kerosene to an arsonist!

Family snaps can be very boring indeed for those with no interest in the family. But take photos that cover the activities of a number of connected families over more than 120 years and you start building what is in fact a social history. Weddings, funerals, children, places, activities, events all flow across time.

I thought that I might try to illustrate this by taking some of the photos to tell a story.Catherine & Morris c 1882

The first photo shows Morris and Catherine Drummond around the time of their marriage in 1882.

Morris was born in Scotland in 1852 at Forteviot in Perthshire, the third or fourth child of Henrietta and William Drummond. He completed his apprenticeship as a stone mason in July 1875 and then followed his trade in the rapidly expanding city of Glasgow. There he met Catherine McMillan, described later as 'a real little highland lady.' Born in Refrewshire on 9 June 1854, Catherine had been brought up by two maiden aunts before entering domestic service in Glasgow.

Catherine and Morris decided that he should emigrate to Australia and then send for her. On 30 January 1879 Morris sailed for Australia as a steerage passenger on the John Elder. Catherine followed him on the Cuzio in February 1882; the couple were married in Leichhardt (Sydney) on 21 April 1882.

If you look again at the photo, you can see that it is pretty typical of the posed photos of the time, with the wife standing behind the husband. The heavy clothes are also pretty typical. Waistcoats in the Sydney climate strike me as over-kill!    

Sydney was booming when Morris arrived, with plenty of work for a master mason. Initially the newly weds lived at Benbow's Cottages in Manly where Morris was foreman in charge of the building of St Patrick's College Manly. Morris was able to buy first a house at Leichhardt and then a little later a small farm at Liverpool.

Their first child, Henry, was born in 1883 but appears to have died soon after birth. Then came William in 1884, Morris in 1886 and Catherine 1888. Catherine too died, but then was followed by David (my grandfather) on 11 February 1890.

William Drummond 15 months The photo on the left shows William Drummond at 15 months. To modern eyes, the clothing is striking because he appears to be dressed like a girl! There is something here that I have to research, but my recollection is that dress for males and females was not dissimilar as young children; boys' passage to pants marked a life stage.

The happy and prosperous period for the Drummond's proved short. By the time David was born in 1890, the great Sydney building boom had collapsed. Work was hard to come by. In 1892 another child, Henrietta, was born. Sadly, neither mother nor child survived; Catherine died of puerperal fever in May, aged just thirty seven.

Morris struggled to keep the family together. In 1895 he remarried. By then, he had probably lost the Leichhardt house, moving the family to the small Liverpool farm.

In September 1896 Morris died suddenly, leaving his new wife, Martha, in a very difficult position. The family's financial position was poor, she was pregnant, and she had suddenly to assume full responsibility for three young step-sons. To earn an income she became a dress-maker, using the ten year old Morris junior to make deliveries since he could still get a concession fare on trains. Will, still only twelve, left home to take a live-in job at a general store in Richmond. By 1898, the family had lost the farm and was forced back to Sydney.

The relationship between the young David Drummond and his step-mother was a difficult one. Finally, in despair after a series of mistakes, the boy tried to poison himself. His step-mother arrived home in time to save him, but this was the final straw. David Drummond was handed over to the Child Welfare Department as an uncontrollable child. In his words:

She gave me a letter to the head of the Child Welfare Department and bade me farewell. In October 1902 I called on Inspector White, a kindly bearded gentleman, presented my credentials, and without further ado became ... a 'Ward of the State'.

Drummond's arrival at Buckingham Palace, 10 Jul 52 Jumping forward in time, the photo shows David and Pearl Drummond arriving at Buckingham Palace in July 1952 while on an overseas trip.

There is an enormous gap between this photo and the uncontrollable child of 1902.

The story that follows is not unique, but is still inspirational because it shows the way in which personal determination, faith and family support can overcome obstacles.

I think that the lessons here are relevant today when considering social attitudes.

In 1965 Drummond wrote:

One of the most cruel things is the repeated axiom 'The Boy is the father of the man', for this means that if a young adolescent is guilty of theft or untruth he is predestined to be a thief and a liar through life.

He went on to ask:

how many bright lads have taken their own lives in despair as a result of similar axioms?

If you look at some of my writing, you can see how my grandfather's experiences have shaped my own views, including my emphasis on the importance of compassion and my distaste for what I see as the increasingly censorial and punitive tone of current politics.

In the next post in this series I will look at Drummond's experiences as a Ward of the State and the role that his family - his brothers - played in helping a troubled child.


niar said...

Dear Jim,
On the behalf of me, I wanna say a happy new year. May this year will give you and your family more blessing and happiness.
Hope you always keep on writing and create a wonderful posting..

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you, Niar. Happy new year to you and all your family.

I suspect that 2010 is going to be interesting for both of us.