Chisholm: Ethel Edith (1893-1979)

Ethel Edith Chisholm was born to Alfred Wilson and Sarah Ann (nee Wood) Chisholm at their home in Rockhampton (Births, Deaths, Marriages, Queensland, Reg:010213) on 18 July 1893. Her arrival just fourteen months after the birth of her older sister, Hazel Annie, received no birth notice even though her father was working for the local paper. Oral history from my mother suggested that the sisters did not get along. It would appear that even at the time of her birth Ethel was to live in her big sister’s shadow.

Hazel Annie and her sister Ethel Edith photographed around 1900. Biggs Family Collection. Privately held by MC McGregor

Hazel Annie and her sister Ethel Edith Chisholm photographed around 1899. Biggs Family Collection. Privately held by C M McGregor

Ethel was six years old when her brother, Albert Joseph Chisholm, was born while the family were living in Rockhampton in 1900. This settled period for the family abruptly came to an end in 1902 when her father lost his job due to a wager that reflected badly on his position as a journalist. and they moved to Cairns where he obtained a position with the Cairns Argus as a journalist.


Edith, her mother and sister on the verandah of their home in Rockhampton

Edith seemed to readily adjust to this change, making friends and attending Cairns State School (Morning Post, 2 July 1906.  National Library of Australia. She won at least two school prizes, one for composition and the other for general proficiency. The local paper also reported how, along with two of her friends, she set up a refreshment stall at the local fete raising eleven shillings towards the hospital fund (Morning Post Cairns, Mon 6 Nov 1905). She was an active junior member of the Church of England and at a church function for the Temperance Union, her recital, with three of her friends,  was also written up in the local paper.

In 1908 her parents’ marriage had started to break down and the family had moved to Brisbane (Australian Electoral Rolls, 1901-1936). Edith’s father was no longer able to provide a reliable means of support for the family, possibly due to alcohol abuse (Telegraph, Brisbane Qld, 4 July 1913). Electoral rolls show that they had moved in with her maternal grandparents initially. Based on the electoral roll records by 1913  her parents had separated and she was living at McDougall Street, Milton with her mother, sister and brother.

In July 1913 Ethel was a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding and as a gift from the groom, she was given a gold bracelet. Less than twelve months later her sister’s marriage had fallen apart and she had returned home to her mother. The family was in dire financial circumstances and my mother, Ethel’s niece, told stories of how when times were bad the necklace given to her mother by her husband and Ethel’s bracelet were hocked to help them out until they could be reclaimed in better times.

The book Chisholm Cameos, written by Audrey Barney, tells how Ethel left home and worked as a waitress in Rockhampton. This is not surprising as Rockhampton probably held memories of a happier time. Her sister’s marriage had also become front-page news in The Truth as the scandal of her separation was spelt out in detail (to read more about her sister click here). That along with the family’s financial difficulties and her father’s issues with alcohol would have been enough to make her want to flee the situation.

On 1 April 1915 Ethel married  Frances Joseph Pitt. (Births, Deaths, Marriages, Queensland, Reg:1915/B/16507). They initially settled in Zilmere according to Chisholm Cameos and while living here there are newspaper reports of Ethel entering the annual show with her flowers, herbs and cooking.  She was awarded the champion prize for flowers at the Zillmere show for her roses (The Telegraph, Brisbane 28 Sep 1917).

Ethel and her husband had four children, Edna Edith born in 1916; Ernest Arther born in 1920; Francis Joseph born in 1923 and Doris born in 1926. Her husband was a dairy farmer and by 1934 they were living on a property at Coolum via Yandina. Two years later on 23 April 1936, her husband died in Brisbane Hospital at the age of 48 leaving Ethel to raise her three children, now 15, 12 and 9 years of age alone. Her eldest daughter Edna had married the same year.

After her husband’s death, Ethel bought a small cane farm at Wide Bay Landsborough. Once both her sons had joined the Army she was no longer able to manage the farm and moved back to Brisbane.

Ethel died on 21 February 1979 in Brisbane.