Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Unstoppable Ethel Lees Shorthouse - Part 5: Early optimism

The dominant figure from the British Women’s Emigration Association, Maud Hume Lindsay, is a little more elusive to characterise than Bessie Moore. It’s hard to tell, even from the frequent articles about her in both the New Zealand and Australian press, what kind of person she really was. Was the following extract of comments from British girls carefully tailored to show her in the best light?

“She was a mother to us, and the best friend we have had since we left home.” In homely phraseology other girls spoke. “She has been a real sport,” said one bright-eyed lass whose complexion had not had time to fade. “By ‘sport’ I mean this. Any fun we have had she has always taken pleasure in. She was a ‘sport’ because we could go to her in time of trouble, and she would help us. Nor has she been narrow-minded; she is a broad-minded and a good woman.” One quiet little girl away in the corner stood up. “Since my mother died,” she said, “I have never had a better friend than Mrs Lindsay. [Adelaide Advertiser 19th June 1913]

Ethel’s time in Australia clearly left a deep impression on the rest of her life. In 1936, with her husband Arthur already in failing health, she submitted the following small-ad to the Adelaide Advertiser on the 14th March:


Will Mrs Leal, Mrs Thorning, or other friends who remember please communicate Ethel Shorthouse, Homelea, Pont du Val, St Brelades, Jersey, Channel Is.

Did she receive any response? Did she renew her old friendships? At present we do not know. The Mrs Leal she mentions could well have been Lottie Leal, a community worker, who was born on 20 June 1881 at Clare, South Australia, second of five daughters of John Harry, schoolteacher, and his wife Kate, née Hancock. The entry for Mrs Leal in the Australian Dictionary of Biography notes that, “the employment of a resident housekeeper enabled Mrs Leal to embark on voluntary public service and to use her debating skills.” Was Ethel Shorthouse that housekeeper who freed the devout and generous Lottie to become the energetic campaigner for women’s and children’s causes? Did Ethel help contribute to Lottie eventually being appointed MBE in the very year that the “Missing Friends” plea appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser? We do know from her Journal that her

first undertaking after arriving in Australia was to take a situation, which proved to be most fortunate, and I remained there for six Months. During that time I made a few new Friends, and I might say I was perfectly Happy.

Wherever that first happy situation was Ethel remained in it for six months, then, in January 1914, moved 23 miles out of the city of Adelaide to a country location called Woodside. At this point her regular Journal entries come to an end, and we only hear briefly of Woodside on the anniversary of her first landing in South Australia the previous June. She says it is located in the hills to the east of the city of Adelaide, and a postcard she sent home to her sister Lizzie shows a pleasant scene there with a happy group of children. However, she had hung on to this image of rural Woodside until November 1915, by which time she had then travelled to the desert town of Oodnadatta. Something happened in Woodside that left a deep impression on Ethel, causing her to question her entire motivation to emigrate. I will try to explain this as best I can, fully recognising that I can only speculate.

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