Ernest William Whitehead was born on the 25th February 1886 in Dannevirke, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand to John William Whitehead of Pigeon Bay, NZ and Louisa Jane Hancock of Auckland, NZ. Dannevirke was at this time a very new settlement, European settlers had been assisted to move here, most of them Danish and Swedish in origin (hence the town’s name (Dane’s work) had occupied the land from 1872. The original owners Maori owners of the land in the area were from the Takitimu / Kurahaupo waka. These people like most indigenous people during the colonisation of Britain’s Empire were forcibly removed from their land. Little consideration given to their feelings or how this would affect them in the future. I’ll settle the Danish question right now. We are not of Danish or Swedish origin from these settlers. Sorry but thems the breaks for those of you who were looking for a Viking connection? You won’t find it in this line. Our Whitehead’s came from England. Specifically they came from eastern Kent in England. Now whether they came in earlier times from the Norsemen? Well that’s another question.
Ernest grew up one of ten children. His siblings were; Emily Whitehead b. 1883, Agnes Elizabeth Whitehead b. 1884, Stephen James Whitehead b. 1887, John William Whitehead and his twin Mary Anne Whitehead b. 1890, Effie Doris Whitehead b. 1891 and I assume her twin Louisa Jane Whitehead who also died in 1891, Katie Whitehead b. 1894 and died in 1894, Olive Anne Whitehead b. 1897. I imagine things would have been quite busy for their parents and their eight surviving children in a township that had only recently become a settlement in the last twenty years. From what I’ve been able to find out, Ernest’s younger childhood years were probably reasonably good. Then around the turn of the century his father took up drinking, two of his sisters died and his parents declared bankrupt. The marriage became a very unhappy one that eventually ended in his father abandoning the family and a divorce. Ernest’s mother would keep the children with her and run a boarding-house in Gisborne.
At some point in time young Edith Mary Kingshott made her way from her close-knit family and home in Tasmania to New Zealand. Here she marries Ernest at Gisborne in 1908 at the age of 21. Anyone who can cast any light on why and how Edith achieved this will earn the eternal thanks of many of us who have not been able to answer this puzzling question of what she was doing in New Zealand. Edith Mary Kingshott was born on the 17th February 1887 at Black Hills in New Norfolk, Tasmania. She was the daughter of John William Kingshott and Hannah (Annie) Oakley of Tasmania. Later in life Edith would frequently reminisce with her grandchildren about growing up in an apple orchard in the Huon Valley of Tasmania. Like Ernest, Edith also came from a large family. Her siblings were; William James Kingshott b. 1876, John Thomas George Kingshott b.1884, Matilda Blanche Kingshott b.1885, Sarah Elizabeth Margaret Kingshott b. 1885, Victoria Hannah Louise Kingshott b 1889, Amy Reuben May Kingshott b.1890, Alfred Richard Maurice Kingshott b.1892, Francis Henry Kingshott b.1893 & deceased 1893, Emiline Charlotte Kingshott b. 1895, Kathleen Ada Phyllis Kingshott b.1898.
Matilda who was known as Till or Auntie Till to her nieces and nephews married Ernest Embry and they resided in Redfern. William was known as Billy. Sarah married a fellow named Townsend and later a Samuel Vincent they lived in nearby Kingsford. Amy Reuben who was known as Ruby married a fellow called O’Brien. She was a regular visitor from Tasmania across to the mainland to see her extended family. Kathleen was also married and like her sister was a regular visitor across to the mainland to see her family. From the 1940’s as the older people became indeed older the younger members of the families did not have as much regular contact.
The following year in 1909 the first child Ernest Kingshott Whitehead was born at Gisborne to Ernest and Edith. Then in 1916 their daughter Edith Molly Whitehead was born in Tauranga. They had no other children. In 1914 Ernest’s occupation was recorded as a fruiterer at Tauranga. Edith and Ernest were living with the children at The Strand in Tauranga. By trade Ernest was a plasterer. Ernest by all accounts did talk to his children about his two brothers in New Zealand. They were John and Stephen. Stephen was reputed to be a champion speedway rider (motorcycles) in New Zealand. This was around 1922. The Whiteheads emigrated to Australia. I have found that there was another Ernest Whitehead around the same time who is in the paper archives but he was a baker from Feilding not this Ernest. That particular Ernest who had two other brothers nearby Henry (known as Harry) and William was the son of Caleb Whitehead who had come as a settler from guess where? Yes, Kent. So were they all related, highly likely. By 1930 Ernest and Edith were living at 92 Devonshire Street West Foveaux. Ernest was listed on the electoral roll as a plasterer and Edith as home duties.
In 1933 Ernest and Edith had bought a property and were living on 7 acres at 56 Illarroo Road in the Cambewarra Shire. Ernest is listed as a Labourer and Edith as home duties. Their son, Ernest Kingshott has been in the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1928 and then a year later is married in 1929 at Matraville in Sydney. However according to his deposition in court he was living with his parents in 1935. Ernest and Edith during this time also owned properties at Kinghorn Street in Nowra and Batemans Bay. The Illaroo Road property was later demolished and is now a housing estate. Whilst living at Nowra, Ernest was also operating a furniture removalist business between Nowra and Batemans Bay.
In 1933 because Ernest and Edith’s only daughter and second child, Edith Molly took strychnine poisoning and subsequently died in the Shoalhaven Private Hospital. Given what followed it is highly unlikely that she meant to end her life and was probably more an act of rebellion that went terribly wrong. Molly was aged nineteen. Family stories from Edith herself were that Edith Molly accidentally took her life when her parents refused to allow her to marry.
The newspaper report as follows from the The Shoalhaven Telegraph 22 February 1933. Girl Suicides. On Sunday morning last a young woman, named Edith Molly Whitehead who resided with her parents on Illaroo Road, near the Nowra water supply boosting plant, took strychnine and died shortly afterwards. The facts as obtained from police reports, and given yesterday at the coroner’s inquiry, held by Mr. R. Irving, J.P., were as follows The girl, who was 19 years of age, was born at Tauranga, New Zealand. Her father is at present unemployed, and is a plasterer by trade. The girl had obtained three days’ work at Aroney Bros. refreshment rooms on the 16th, 17th, and 18th (show days). She worked very late on Saturday, and afterwards walked home, which she reached about 1.20 a.m. on Sunday, and at once retired to bed. Her mother gave her breakfast in bed, and the girl remained in bed till 10 a.m. Sunday. She then got out of bed, and went into her mother’s bedroom, telling her mother she would do some sewing for her on a baby’s dress, at the same time asking her to go to a neighbour’s named Webber for a pair of scissors. The mother complied with her daughter’s request, and proceeded to Webber’s, about 100 yards distant, and while there she heard her daughter call ‘Mum.’ The daughter was. then looking out of the window. The mother answered by saying ‘What do you want?’ and started to go back to her home. ‘She was met about: half way by the girl, and told her she could not go on to Webber’s in her petticoat. The girl then informed her mother, that she had taken strychnine. The mother screamed on receiving this information, and a man named George Smith, who was passing, came over to them ‘Smith, being told of the girl having taken poison, asked her why she did it, and’ she replied, ‘ ”It was just an accident; I’m so tired.’ He ‘gave her some salt and water, but she refused to take it, and he forced the emetic down her throat, which caused her to vomit. He took the girl inside, and remained there until Dr. Ryan arrived. The father, Ernest Whitehead, stated that he kept a tin of white strychnine in a packet in his bedroom ‘and had it for some time. The mother, Edith Mary Whitehead, stated she knew what was in the packet and where it was kept, and that when she left her home to go to Webber’s the deceased’ was feeling about in the box for a piece of silk. The poison was in the box. Mr. King brought in a verdict of suicide.
Friday 24th February, 1933. The Nowra Leader: Page 4 Family Notices: Mr and Mrs E Whitehead & family return sincere thanks to all those very kind people who rendered them services. Dr. Ryan, Dr. Rodway and Sisters of Shoalhaven Private Hospital inclusive, specially mentioning the name of Seargeant Standen for his courtesy and kindness in his official capacity during their very sad bereavement. I have often thought to myself the heartbreak Edith must have felt as a mother must have been absolutely soul-destroying.
The following year a memorial was placed in the newspaper by her grieving parents. The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW) Monday 19 February 1934
Whitehead – in love and memory of our dearly beloved and only daughter Edith Molly, who left us so suddenly on February 19, 1933 aged 19. Will always be remembered till we meet again. Inserted by a sad father and mother, E. Annie M Whitehead
Unfortunately for the family and Edith life took a cruel and decline down as a year later on the 27th July 1935 Ernest was fatally injured in a tree felling accident on his property. His son Ernest Kingshott Whitehead was present and attempted to assist his father.
The Sydney Morning Herald NSW
Nowra Thursday – While Ernest Whitehead, 56 Illaroo Road, Cambewarra was felling a tree in the bush near his home, he heard the tree crack, and raced to get out of the way. He tripped on a stump and fell, the tree falling on top of him. Whitehead suffered a fracture of the pelvis and a compound fracture of the right arm. He was conveyed by the ambulance to the Berry Hospital and was admitted in a critical condition.
The Shoalhaven News Saturday July 27 1935 – Ernest Whitehead, of Illaroo Road, West Cambewarra, was felling a tree, in the bush near his home on Thurs day morning. He heard the tree cracking, and ran but tripping over a stump was struck by the falling tree. He sustained a fractured pelvis, a compound fracture of the right arm, and shock. He was conveyed to Berry Hospital by the ‘Shoalhaven District Ambulance. His condition is regarded as critical.
Ernest died as a result of his horrific injuries in the hospital and a coronial inquest was subsequently held on the 31st July 1935.
Mr. Reuben King, District Coroner, on Monday held an inquiry concerning the death of Ernest Whitehead. Harold McLean Hollingworth deposed: I am a legally qualified medical practitioner, practicing and residing at Berry. Ernest Whitehead the subject of this inquest, was admitted to the David Berry Hospital on the 25th instant, suffering from a compound fracture of the right arm, a fracture of the pelvis, and a dislocated right hip and shock; he died at about 8.35 p.m. on the 26th instant; the injuries described would be the cause of death, and such injuries could have been caused by a tree falling on deceased. Cecil Lawrence Broers deposed: On the morning of the 25th instant I was helping deceased; Ernest. Whitehead, to fall a tree in a paddock off Illaroo Road, Cambewarra; the tree in question was about 150 yards from deceased’s residence; he was working by himself when I, arrived, and had put the saw at the back of the tree; the saw was too heavy for him, and I gave him a hand; when the tree was cut well through he put a wedge in the cut to throw it away from the fence; just as the tree was falling deceased and myself were standing on the opposite side to where it was thought the tree would fall; as the tree was falling I saw it was about to strike another tree and I ran back; deceased ran in another direction; when I turned round I saw that the tree had fallen on deceased; he was lying approximately 10 feet from ‘the stump, and the trunk of the tree was lying across his hips; he did not speak; he was conscious; the log was too heavy for me to move; I called out for help; a man named Green arrived just as the tree was falling; other help arrived, and with the aid of handspikes we raised the tree and removed deceased’ from, his position; I told the deceased when cutting the tree to be careful as to the direction it might fall; I did not see deceased fall over.
Ernest Kingshott Whitehead deposed: Deceased, Ernest Whitehead, the subject of this inquest, was my father, and was born on 17th February, 1886, at Dannevirke, New Zealand, and came to New South Wales about 8 years ago; he was a married man, and lived with my mother and myself at Illaroo Road, Cambewarra he was married at Gisborne, New Zealand when 22 years of age to my mother, whose maiden name was Edith Kingshott: There were two children of the marriage, myself and a sister who died two years ago;
At about 10 past 11 a.m. on the morning of the 25th I was with my father in the paddock about 150 yards from the house; he had just commenced to fall a tree when I left him; I went across to the house, to prepare some lunch; shortly after I heard someone call out ‘Mick;’ I went back to where I had left my father; I saw deceased lying on the ground with his right shoulder against a stump and about 10 or 12 feet from the stump of the tree which he had fallen; he spoke to me and said ‘Try and get me out;’- in company, with Cecil Broers I tried to lift the tree, but it was too heavy; we then commenced to cut the log, and when the. saw was about three parts through it jammed ; we then resorted to hand spikes, and eased the log sufficiently to remove deceased from underneath; he was quite conscious when removed; the ambulance arrived shortly afterwards and’ deceased was removed to Berry Hospital, where he died on the evening of the 26th instant; deceased was of temperate habits he owned the property on which he lived; his life was insured in the Mutual Life & Citizens Assurance Co. Ltd for £64; he did not leave a will.
Leslie Chelinsford Green deposed: I remember the morning of the 25th; I was watching deceased and Cecil Broers cutting down a bloodwood tree near deceased residence on Illaroo Road; the cut had only been put in the tree on the one side, and a wedge had been driven in to throw the tree in a certain direction; when the tree commenced to fall it fell away from the wedge; deceased and Broers were then standing a little distance back from the stump ; I saw the tree hit another one and swing back ; I saw deceased and Broers run away; Broers went in the opposite direction of deceased’; I saw deceased trip and fall; before he had time to rise the falling tree kicked off the tree it had struck and came across deceased; the butt of the tree fell on his shoulder in the first instance, and then came to rest on his hip; he called out, ‘Come and get the tree off me;’ I afterwards assisted with a hand spike to lift the tree, and deceased was removed and afterwards taken away by Ambulance. To Constable Wright: I have known deceased for about, two years; he was of temperate habits and was a neighbour of mine. The finding was: ‘The said Ernest Whitehead, at the David Berry Hospital, at Berry, in the police district of Shoalhaven, in the said State, on the twenty-sixth day of July, 1935, died from injuries accidentally received at Illaroo Road, Cambewarra, on the 25th day of the same month, through a tree which he had then and there felled kicking off an adjacent tree and falling on the said deceased.
The following condolences were forwarded by the Cambewarra Shire Council.
Cambewarra Shire Council – The usual monthly meeting of Cambewarra Shire Council was held on Tuesday last. Present: Cre. Vidler (President), Nelson, Wilson, Binks, and Priddle. CONDOLENCE.
The President spoke in feeling terms of the sad fatality that occurred recently on Illaroo Road, when Mr. Whitehead lost his life whilst felling a tree, and moved that a letter of sympathy be forwarded to Mrs. Whitehead and family. It was carried in the customary manner by the Councillors standing in silence. – The Shoalhaven News. August 17, 1935.
Edith had been sickly for most of her life and was frequently unwell. Amongst other health issues, Edith was also diabetic. As I understood it Edith or Grandma Edie as she was known lived with her son and daughter in law and grandchildren for quite some years. From the early 1940’s to her death on the 12th January in 1955, Edith was frequently institutionalised in places like Callan Park Hospital in Lilyfield and numerous nursing care homes. I do not know for sure, but I imagine to myself that Edith must have been desperately depressed following the tragic deaths of her child and husband. This had to have had a devastating effect on her life. At the time that Edith was a resident at Callan Park it was still referred to as a lunatic asylum. It wasn’t until the mid 1950’s that this archaic term was legally changed to mental hospital. It is also worth taking into consideration that Edith’s own father had battled crippling mental health illness most of his adult life and it is possible that Edith herself may have inherited a predisposition to this.
Reasons for admission to these asylums did not need to be particularly complex. A woman going through menopause could be considered ill enough for admission suffering from ‘climacteric illness’. Other common reasons for admission could include destitution, worry, senility/dementia, shock – death of a husband etc. At the time that Edith was in Callan Park its management was a draconian and often understaffed model with a poor understanding of mental health. Little more than superficial and often ineffective treatments were available. Training for the staff was frequently basic and their understanding of the needs of those in their care regularly misunderstood. Indeed an investigation into Callan Park in 1948 reflected many poor operations. Edith’s grandchildren continued to visit her on Sunday’s with the family for many years until her death. There is a belief that Edith may possibly have had dementia in her later years. Edith died in a convalescent hospital in Windsor NSW. Edith was cremated at the Botany Cemetery at Matraville in New South Wales. (Now called Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park). Dementia at the time was poorly understood and the treatment and care nothing like what is available today. I’m not sure about how much of Edith’s life was carefree. It would appear that her early life in Tasmania was happy given her fond remembrances. Edith died at the relatively young age of 66. I do hope she found peace.