This story is by Michelle Chadburn and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
1898. This was the year everything changed for me. Elizabeth Walker, an 18-year-old orphan. Well, officially I am, although I have been living for 13 years with my Aunt Betty, Uncle Joseph Bingham and their five children, who were mostly well behaved, but as children are, horrendously naughty at times. But, I console myself that they are only children and learning a new thing all the time, and I, on the other hand, am a grown up, therefore I must compensate the good with the bad. Anyway, I do ramble most times, so I need to stay on track if I must tell you my story. It is quite an adventure.
My parents died when I was 6 years old when their buggy overturned trying to maneuver our horse in the misery of London’s winter weather in torrential rain, attempting to miss a stray dog that ran out in front of them, spooking the horse, consequently killing my father instantly. My mother died on the muddy road in the pouring rain. She died within half an hour, internal bleeding they say.
My brother, James, who was 2 at the time, and myself were being minded by my dear Aunt and Uncle whilst mother and father went to town.
The first we knew of my parent’s demise was when I saw the Police officer at the door, Aunt Betty screaming hysterically, my Uncle passing smelling salts under her nose. Poor Aunt Betty, losing her sister in such a tragic way, and so suddenly, they were very close.
Aunt Betty and Uncle Joseph were very kind to us, we never went without, they regarded us as the same as their own children. When James died 10 months later in his sleep, with what the doctor stated it was pneumonia. It appeared the grief was too much for Aunt Betty and Uncle Joseph; they were compelled to have their own children, which came in quick succession soon thereafter.
As I have said before, my Aunt and Uncle were very kind people and I loved them dearly. So when I read yesterday’s morning paper, describing the absolute exhilaration that was occurring in the Australian goldfields, my thoughts have held little else since. I delved briefly in conversation wth my Aunt and Uncle how exciting that it all seemed. Men travelling across the world in search of a shiny metal that may make them exceedingly wealthy. My uncle was horrified that I, a young woman who has never been denied anything, has been provided with all the necessities in life, all that was required of me was to acquire a suitable husband, be a good wife to entertain in society, manage her house and produce at least one child would even contemplate such thoughts. My Uncle, who would never entertain the idea of reveling in such practice, thought these men were most undesirable. Although my Aunt later confessed, he had thought it so undesirable as to engage in investing in a railroad that was to be built in Western Australia for transporting such a man to the Goldfields.
Considering London at that moment was blanketed in snow and glacial wind that tore through your soul, Australia didn’t seem such an intolerable place.
Against my Aunt and Uncle’s wishes, I booked my passage on the Carolina bound for Australia. This was I felt, and still feel today, the best decision made. The thought of living as a man’s property was a life not worth living. At 18 years old, I was considered to be married thus far or at least courting a suitable young man. However, the “ young men” I had the privilege of knowing, did nothing to my heart, and I was not one for a marriage of convenience. Therefore, there I go, to my adventure in Australia. I had secured a governess position with Mr. and Mrs. Banks in a mining town in Kalgoorlie.
My departure date was June 22nd, 1898 from Portsmouth. As I boarded the Carolina, my family were below, waving their goodbyes. Well Aunt was crying, and Uncle was looking quite sternly at the shipmates, but the children were waving!
We left port at 4.45pm in calm waters. The water against the sky was magnificent, deep blues, purples and a radiance of orange as the sun was setting. Never have I seen anything so beautiful.
After a meal of rabbit stew and coffee, I returned to my cabin which I shared with four other women; Ruth ( 45) Angela( 36) and sisters Mary (22) and Sarah (18). Ruth was meeting her husband in Perth where he has been for the past 2 years working in the Western Australian Mines Department. Angela was widowed with no children. She was heading to a township of Leonora as a cook. Mary and Sarah were both travelling to Australia “ to meet the man of me dreams, a rich one with all the gold”. They were lovely women, quite the different society I was used to keeping, but that’s what I wanted; difference.
The night turned rough, or I was not accustomed to sea travel, and I began to feel nauseated. All of my cabin members had a degree of seasickness that first night. For five days, my sickness continued where I was mostly confined to my bed. When I was up on deck, the sound of children playing was a comfort, the crew had filled a sail with water to provide entertainment for the children, they seemed to certainly enjoy it!
The deck was always busy with passengers moving about, the caption shouting orders to the crew. Usually I would revel in such excitement, however, this combined with my sea sickness made me feel quite miserable. The ship’s Surgeon Superintendent Doctor Wilmont approached me, as he noticed I looked unwell. He suggested I attend his surgery as soon as I was able to. He was a kind man, very attentive to me.
Angela was kind enough to accompany me to Dr. Wilmont’s. He assured Angela there was no need for her to wait in the stifling air of the passage, I would be along shortly. Dr. Wilmont was an older man, who appeared to be very fatherly, so Angela returned to the upper deck.
My consultation was indeed quick, the assault was not. Dr. Wilmont gave me some medicine for my seasickness, then as I turned to leave, he grabbed my arm and swung me toward the wall, where I hit my head with such a force I was unable to see and felt dizzy. He then punched my stomach with such a force I immediately vomited. I could not scream out, I had no voice, my mouth moved but no sound would surface. As I lay on the floor in complete pain and numbness, he pulled my skirt up, tore my stockings he forced himself inside me. The immediate pain was intense. He was holding his hand over my mouth as he pounded into my body. For what seemed like an eternity, he collapsed on top of me. He lay there without moving, then he whispered in my ear “ one word of this and I will make your life here, on the ship and in Australia a hell. No-one will ever believe you”. He then raised up, did his pants up, straightened his shirt and walked out.
I was unsure how long I lay there for, I could not move. I heard a sound coming from the door, it was Angela. She entered the room and rushed to assist me, all the time swearing she was going to kill the Dr. I told her we cannot say anything as we are trapped on the ship and no-one will believe me. She was silent as she helped me fix myself up so I was able to leave the room. We hurried to our cabin where she washed me and gave me a tonic to help me sleep.
The other women came into the room shortly after, where Angela informed them of the horrendous assault. They all agreed, whilst on the ship, nothing could be done. They tended to my emotional state, I was never left alone. Which was a blessing, as the first few days after,I would have thrown myself overboard, the hoplessness at what happened and how this assault has changed me forever.
My seasickness had left me, in place was an overwhelming feeling of terror, of every sound, of every sudden movement and of every male.
I discovered I was pregnant. The women nurtured me even more.
After 13 weeks and 3 days, the Carolina docked at Freemantle, Western Australia. I had sent word to Mr.and Mrs. Banks I was unable to full fill my position as Governess and gave my apologies. Ruth and her husband, Mr. Robert Kent offered me to reside with them in Perth until the baby was born, which I thankfully accepted.
James Joseph Walker was born 16th March 1899. He entered the world screaming his ideas of it all and proceeded to do so for the next week. Ruth and Mr. Kent were besotted with James, having no children of their own. When James was 6 months old, after much deliberation, I left James with Ruth and Mr. Kent. I had decided to continue with my plans in going to Kalgoorlie, I had secured a position as an assistant manager in the newly established and very grand Palace Hotel. I could support James with my wage and provide a future for us.
The Hotel was busy, I became well known with the mostly well-socialised clientele that frequented the Palace, also the many characteristic public speakers that spoke from the balconies and held the crowd below them entertained!
Although I had many offers of social outings, I had not accepted any, I was focused on my employment and with the infrequent times, I was able to catch the train to Perth to see my James was sufficient for my happiness. Often when I am on the train to Perth, I silently thank Uncle Joseph for his investment! Little did I know how I would rely on this quick method of transport.
3rd August 1901 I accepted to attend the annual Kalgoorlie Ball. Mr. Hooper was a pure gentleman, although I was still very cautious with him. We had many outings after that, and I knew I was in love. Mr. Hooper was a mining engineer from America, he stated had loved me from afar for many months, he said he often would see a sadness in my eyes, which I thought was very insightful.
One afternoon as we sat down for a picnic, I told him about my assault and James. Mr. Hooper went very silent, I had thought this news would surely disgust him where he would not wish to see me again. But no, he stated he would find Dr. Wilmont and make his life a living hell. Apparently, he did.He said he knew people in the London Medical Board. A short time later, I understood that Dr. Wilmont never practiced medicine again.
Mr. Hooper was to return to America and wanted James and myself to return with him, as his wife and James as his son. Although I loved him very much, I refused. I loved my new life in Kalgoorlie, I wanted James to live with me their. Mr. Hooper was devastated, but understood.
Some months after he returned to America, a beautiful hand carved 20-foot mirror arrived as a gift from him. I had it mounted in the entrance of the Palace Hotel so everyone could admire its beauty.
Mr. Hooper and I keep in regular contact to this day, he married his childhood sweetheart and became a very important man in American politics.
I never married. I purchased the Palace Hotel many years ago and became a wealthy, powerful business women. James has provided me with beautiful grandchildren. What more could I ask?