On Saturday 7th June, 1913, two weeks before Ethel made landfall in
the Adelaide Daily Herald had carried
a lengthy article entitled “Our Adelaide Women of Interest”, and coyly
subtitled: The problem of domestic help –
a little chat with Mrs Moore, the superintendant of the house at Adelaide 5 Charles Street –
the hostel where Ethel undoubtedly first lodged. The superintendent was an
apparently worthy, motherly figure called Bessie Moore.
Further research turned up a letter to the Adelaide Register in July 1906, where the correspondent praised the influence of Mrs Moore and others like her, in creating positive and intellectually nourishing environments for the rising generation. She was then teaching at a school in Upper Sturt, a suburb of south
a school which was founded in 1878 and still operates today. Bessie Moore began
her teacher training in 1884 and thus had been in teaching for over 25 years
before she was appointed matron-in-charge of the immigrant domestic helpers.
After that scheme ended, presumably after the end of WW1, she was made officer in charge of the
women’s department of the South Australian Government Labour Bureau. Her last
position was as housekeeper at the Adelaide , where she died
on 31st March 1923, probably only in her mid to late fifties. Adelaide
The domestic helpers’ hostel in
Charles Street would appear to have been
in the process of preparation during 1912: it was located in a former
“gentleman’s residence”, and the Adelaide
Advertiser, in November of that year, describes it thus:
The Adelaide Daily Herald article confirmed Bessie Moore’s bona fides as a former State School headmistress, and that the hostel had been at the Charles Street address for only seven or eight months:
Previous to this it had been located at the Exhibition, [a complex of buildings erected in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee] but it was decided to find a more suitable place to carry on the work on a more comprehensive scale, and the present building was rented by the Government for a period of three years, and if this experiment is successful, it is probable that at the end of that term the building will either be purchased or suitable premises erected to carry on the work successfully.
Ethel had confided to her Journal that she was “leaving Home and Dear Ones far behind, to commence life in a
It’s comforting to note that, as far as we can possibly know after a hundred
years, efforts were made to make that emotional wrench less distressing for the
British girls: Strange Land
The home is a link in the great chain of organisation of the immigration to
, and its object is to
provide a suitable place for domestic helpers coming from overseas where they
can be provided with employment under the direct supervision of the Government.
The domestic helpers are originally selected by Miss Walker in Great Britain,
who interviews every candidate personally, and they are then conducted to
Australia under the care of matrons fully qualified to take charge of them and
deal with all the difficulties that confront the domestic helpers in their
change of country and the different conditions prevailing in Australia as
compared with Great Britain. Australia
And the above extract seems to identify one of the mysterious contacts Ethel writes of in her postcard correspondence to Minnie two years beforehand. From time to time other accounts of the house in
Street and its occupants appear in the pages of newspapers, and
they mostly speak of positive experiences: Adelaide
Note from the tone of this extract how the South Australians were looking for “industrious, ladylike” girls to offer to their usually middle class clientele: they would not have wanted women of doubtful morals in any way. Of course, the authorities could not completely be sure of the girls’ backgrounds, but much care was taken to cultivate and maintain a respectable ambience, so that prospective employers could comfort themselves they were allowing ‘proper’ young ladies into their households.
We work under splendid conditions, I think because everyone is only too pleased to do everything possible to make our attempts a success. We have a strong committee of ladies, representing every religious denomination, with Mrs. Nutter Thomas as president, [Staffordshire-born wife of the Bishop of Adelaide] and on the first evening of arrival they come in to see the girls and find out which church they attend, and so forth. Then when the girls find situations they find her church and write to the ministers, and perhaps put her in the care of other church friends, and so give her an atmosphere of friendliness and welcome in her new sphere. Every Tuesday evening Miss Boyer, B.A., gives us a talk on literature and books, on Wednesday we have a dressmaking class, and on Fridays a musical evening. [
Daily Herald June
Curiously, the article from which this last extract is taken, Our
Women of Interest: a little chat with Mrs Moore, goes on to state the
One very sensible thing I was quite glad to hear about – the girls are allowed and encouraged to bring friends of the opposite sex to spend afternoons or evenings at the home. They gladly avail themselves of this privilege, and spend the evening playing games or chatting over the fire. There is little need to enlarge on the value of this.
This would seem to have been designed to stop the girls from venturing out alone of an evening, and to cater for the natural urges of young people far away from familial influence. Even more curious, however, is the conclusion of the article which sees the worthy Mrs Moore confiding to the interviewer that she was:
a student of many occult sciences, deeply interested in the great questions of the day, which no open mind can afford to leave undiscussed with its fellows. As we turned over magazines and books concerned with psychic matters and talked of experiences that transcend the common daily round, we drifted far away from the solution of the domestic problem.
Perhaps those sentiments merely reflected nothing more sinister than the turn-of-the-century fascination in western society with spiritualism. The movement appealed to women, and to those who supported specific causes such as suffrage. But well-known figures, such as the author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, had also taken it up to console themselves in bereavement. There was another surge in the popularity of spiritualism during and after the approaching World War, of course. Anyhow, from these accounts we can be fairly certain that Ethel met Mrs Bessie Moore, was welcomed and advised by her, and was sent out to her first position.