I’m sorry I didn’t meet my great grandmother. I was two when she died and living in New Guinea. By the time I was older and began looking for her story it came as a pleasant surprise to know that she too had lived in the northern tropics and it would appear had had the soul of the adventurer about her.
Priscilla was born in 1891 to Matilda Mitchell and William John London of the Kurrajong. She was the second last of a very large family of children. Priscilla’s childhood would have been quite a noisy and rambunctious one I would think with such a large family. Maybe as one of the youngest she was able to get away with more mischief. Who’s to know? I imagine this because at the tender age of 21 she has shot loose from the rural community of Richmond and marries a flash Sydney boy, Arthur Edward Helmrich at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Quite a jump up from the nearby parish in Richmond where the family had attended for many years. Sydney city for Priscilla at this time must have been incredibly exciting and somewhat overwhelming compared to what she was used to.
Arthur’s own family background was quite urbanised. He had lived in inner Sydney city for all of his life. His father had suicided when he was only ten and his parents had both come from the Carribbean to Australia. His own family was very small compared to Priscilla’s large family. Arthur or Dick as he was known must have been a bit of an opportunist because throughout his life he often seemed to be involved in schemes that could potentially bring about quick fortune.
On the 24th November 1912 Priscilla and Arthur welcomed their first child, Audrey Florence Helmrich. In 1914 their second child Edward (Ned) Burnett Helmrich was born in Sydney.
By the 5th April 1918 when my grandmother Neva Irene Helmrich was born, the family had moved to Mt. Morgan in Queensland where Dick was involved in the mining business.
In 1919 Arthur is listed as a Miner and Priscilla as Home Duties. They are living in Duaringa, Capricornia in Queensland.
On the 1st October 1922 in Queensland George and Sydney Arthur Helmrich were born however they sadly deceased it would appear near or at the time of their birth. This must have been a desperately sad time for Priscilla.
In 1925 the family are living in Mt Morgan Queensland. Arthur is still involved in the mines. During these years they have different properties and addresses. Arthur even selects some land which he later disposes of.
On the 17th July 1925, Arthur and Priscilla are reported in The Brisbane Courier in a ‘Sly Grog Case’. At Mount Morgan Priscilla Georgina Helmrich was fined £50 or three months for sly grog selling at Baralba. A further case was adjourned until next week;
Getting this into perspective, it’s hardly likely that Arthur and Priscilla are up to the standards of famous sly groggers like Tilly Devine or Kate Leigh who were active in Sydney at this time. They got busted selling liquor from their home without a licence. Thus the fine. If they were serious sly-groggers then there would have been some jail time.
SLY GROG CASE. £50 FINE IMPOSED. ROCKHAMPTON, August 18. 1925.
In the Police Court this morning, Arthur Edward Helmrich was charged with unlawfully selling a bottle of port wine, and also for having kept liquor for sale in an unlicensed house in Mt. Morgan. Two other defendants had pleaded guilty, and were fined £50 each, while liquor worth over £300 was con- fiscated. Inspector O’Connor prosecuted, and Mr. J. Pattison appealed for defendant who pleaded not guilty. The Police Magistrateo convicted, and fined defendant £50, and ordered the liquor seized to be confiscated. It was intimated the fine will be paid.
On the 8th June 1929 the newspaper reports Priscilla and two of her children aboard the Marella berthing at Dalgetty’s Wharf, Bulimba. They have come from Sydney back to Queensland. It is likely that they may have been visiting family.
From The Brisbane Courier (QLD) Saturday 8th June 1929.
On the 27th June 1929 the family are onboard the Marella for her journey to Singapore. The family are relocating their for Dick’s work in the mines.
Life in Malim Nawar in Malaya must have had a degree of far east excitement about it. One year they are being hauled into court over sly grog charges and the next year in 1931 they are making very respectable announcements in the papers re their eldest daughter Audrey becoming engaged to a wealthy Engineers son from London.
During their time in Malim Nawar Arthur’s occupation is advised as Engineer. What exact role he played in the mines is at this time unknown. However during their time they enjoy many of the local colonial pursuits and social opportunities afforded the expats from Australia.
Difficult to see but Arthur and Priscilla are on the far left elephant. Title of news article. They let the elephants do it in Perak.
In 1933 Priscilla and Arthur are on the electoral roles as having a home at 139 Nelson Bay Road, Waverley NSW. Arthur’s occupation is recorded as Engineer.
Whilst they are living in Malaya both of their daughters marry men who are involved in the mines. Audrey marries Thomas Cecil Welch and they eventually move back to Poole in Dorset, England where Thomas is from. Audrey does visit Australia again from time to time but never comes back to Australia to live.
Priscilla and Arthur’s son Edward (Ned) travels back and forwards from Malaya and Australia. In 1937 in Canterbury NSW he marries Eva Baker. Ned becomes a Barber and for very many years works from the barbershop in Railway Square Sydney. Priscilla like her son Ned also holds a Barbershop Licence Card to allow the business to be carried on. This was a licence allocated by councils to ensure monitoring to standards was met. Priscilla and her second husband John own the Barber shop which was called The Shearing Shed in George Street in Sydney. They would ‘hire’ out chairs to barbers to use.
Throughout all the census records I have checked she always gives her occupation as Home Duties.
Neva marries Brian Miles in 1937 at the age of 18 in Ipoh, Perak, Malaya.
On the 1936 electoral roles back in Australia, Priscilla is listed as living (no mention of Arthur) at 48 Flood Street, Bondi, NSW. This is an apartment building called Savona.
On the 9th July 1937 Priscilla and Arthur divorce. SUPREME COURT. IN DIVORCE. I (Before Mr.1 Justice Davidson.) DECREES ABSOLUTE. Deciecs nisi which had been made in the following cases were pronounced absolute and the marriages dissolved: Priscilla Georgina Helmrich v Arthur Edward Helmrich.
Getting a divorce in those days was rough stuff, the whole story made it into the papers: – Helmrich V HelmrichPriscilla Georgina Helmrich (formerly London) v Arthur Edward Helmrich. Marriage December 1911, at Sydney. Issue respondent’s adultery with one L. Peterson. Decree nisi. Mr Jack Richards instructed by Mr. John M. Hellmrich) for petitioner.Sydney Morning Herald (NSW) Thursday 17th December 1936
Within twelve months Priscilla who is known as Pat (also known as Press), marries her second husband John Edward Vesperman. They reside at 52 Crystal Street in Petersham, New South Wales.
Priscilla is married to John and living in Petersham in December 1941 and January 1942 as Singapore falls to the advancing Japanese army. She must have been greatly worried for her daughter Neva and grandson Roy who were still living there.
Neva told the story how she and Roy had been on one of the last ships out of Singapore as it fell and when she got to Australia she went to stay with her mother and stepfather in Petersham.
In 1952 Priscilla enjoyed a small lottery win. With the money she took her daughter Neva and grandson Robert by ship to Poole in England to visit her other daughter Audrey and her family. At the same time (likely as a reasult of the lottery win), Priscilla was investigated by the Taxation Department and was subsequently fined for tax evasion. That’d be flaming right!
From all that I have been told of Priscilla and John at Petersham was that John was a kind and decent fellow who took great care of Priscilla and cared for her until her death at the age of 81 on the 15th February 1972.
Priscilla’s funeral was held at Rookwood Cemetary. She was cremated and her remains were kept by her daughter Neva and were interred with Neva when she died.