Invite to Dinner...

Larpent Diamond Jubliee Dinner 1909 / W. H. Watts. Source: State Library of Victoria

Week 4 of Amy's #52ancestors in 52 weeks challenge is 'invite to dinner'. This is a difficult one for me as, if I had the option of inviting any of my ancestors for dinner, I would invite them all! I would invite my Poppy,  Calcidonio 'Charlie', who passed away ten years ago - I would listen to his stories with great interest instead of youthful arrogance; I would invite my maternal grandmother Mary, who passed away a month before I was born.

I would love to speak to my 3x great grandfather Goymer, a convict and career criminal until a stint at Norfolk Island seemed to set him straight. I'd love to have my great-grandfather James over for dinner, who served in France in World War 1 and who, like hundreds of thousands of veterans, witnessed such atrocities that scarred them for life, both mentally and physically.

I would like to have any and all of my female ancestors over for dinner, as much of their lives are only reflected in vital records - their births, marriages, and deaths. I know that there is so much more to them that that. I desperately wish to hear their stories - of love and laughter, of hardship and heartache. 

If I HAD to choose though, I would invite my great-grandmother Elizabeth Maguire over for dinner. She is the mother to my paternal grandmother, and honestly, a complete mystery to me. 

Elizabeth Mary Maguire, c. 1907

Elizabeth or Lizzie as she was called, was the second child of Patrick and Mary Margaret Maguire (nee Quigley), born on 21 March 1895 in Yendon, Victoria.

Yendon is a small town located on the Geelong-Ballarat railway line, about 18 kilometres south east of Ballarat. It is the establishment of this railway line in 1862 that allowed Yendon to reach its greatest scale, though at the time it was known as Buninyong East. A school was opened in 1864, though the local sawmills were active from the 1850s.  It wasn't until 1879 that the town was renamed to Yendon (apparently much to the outrage of the local residents), which is a local indigenous word meaning waterhole or scrubby land. The town itself had a relatively small population at the time of Lizzie's birth, around 210-245 people.

Map of Yendon, Victoria. Source: Google Maps

Lizzie and her older sister Margaret Mary (born 1893) were followed by the births of her two younger brothers, Michael Patrick (in 1901) and Thomas John (in 1906).

I don't know a lot about Lizzie. I don't know what her favourite colour was, what music she liked, or if she was an avid reader like her daughter, my Nan. I do know that when she was about 12 years old, she looked an awful lot like her mother; that she would cook corned beef and cabbage for dinner every Sunday (which, according to my dad, used to stink!); and that she had a rough childhood.

Mary Margaret Maguire (nee Quigley), Lizzie's mother, c.1907

As a result of vigorous lobbying by suffragettes, 1902 saw the passing of the Commonwealth Franchise Act which allowed women the right to vote in federal elections, and the right to be elected to federal parliament (despite not yet having this privilege on a state level until 1908 and 1923 respectively).

1902 marked the beginning of an extremely difficult period for Lizzie and her family. Her mother's brother Michael Quigley - her uncle - was arrested and charged with the rape of school teacher, Miss Gillies. While I will go further into Michael's story in another post, he was eventually sentenced to receive 15 lashes and serve a term of ten years in prison. This undoubtedly would've been a harrowing experience for the family.

In October 1907, five years later and half way through Michael's prison sentence, the dire circumstances in which Lizzie and her family were living in, came to light in a shocking way. Newspapers from throughout Australia reported on a forgery case regarding certain signatures on a petition for clemency, asking for the release of Michael Quigley. The Age, dated Saturday 5 October 1907 (p.13) reports as follows:

"The petition forward to the Lieutenant-Governor praying for a remission of the remainder of Quigley's sentence, and ostensibly signed by Miss Gillies and two other members of her family, also an accompanying letter in her name, were in the hand writing of little Margaret Maguire, aged thirteen, niece of the convict. The child has confessed to the fact, and her mother, Mary Maguire, had admitted that she also was a party to the affair."

The article goes on to describe the very distressing circumstances of the family, which caused them to act so desperately.

"...Mrs Maguire, Quigley's sister, has four children. Margaret is the eldest, and the youngest is only about two years of age. Several years ago her husband deserted her, and since that time she has been practically dependent upon her infirm father for support. Quigley [her father] is almost blind. He is an old age pensioner, over 80 years of age, and is in receipt of 6/6 per week, and that small sum, it appears, is practically all that the family have been living on. When questioned as to the forgeries, the child said: - "I did it so that uncle might get out and help us." 
Action was taken by the Ballarat Police on the suggestion of the Attorney-General, when he heard that the victim, Miss Gillies, had adamantly denied that she had written such letters. The decision for further action rested in the hands of the Crown Law department. The Geelong Advertiser, dated 31 October 1907 (p.1) reported:
"The report and other documents were submitted to Mr. Gurner, the district Crown Prosecutor. The Attorney-General now intimates that as the child has expressed regret for committing the offence, and as she is only thirteen, and said to be of weak mind, he has decided not to order a prosecution. It it thought to be very doubtful, under all the circumstances, whether a conviction could be expected."
As sensationalist as these newspaper articles are, we've learnt from them that Lizzie was only 11 or 12 years old living in Buninyong with her mother, her elder sister, two younger brothers, and her almost-blind 80 year old grandfather, whose pension of 6 shillings, 6 pence per week was supporting the family, after her father had deserted them. To put that into today's perspective, her grandfather's pension is roughly the equivalent of $39 - $45 per week. Below are some of the prices for basic necessities from around 1901, taken from the State Library of Victoria website-

Bread - 4d (equivalent of $2.41 today)
Milk - 5d per quart (equivalent of $3.01 today)
Sugar -  11d (equivalent of $6.60 today)
Butter - 15d per pound (equivalent of $9.03 today)
Tea - 7d per 180g (equivalent of $4.21 today)

1907 was a pivotal year in the advancement of Australian workers rights with the precedent set by the ruling of the Harvester Judgement. H.V. Mckay was ordered to pay his unskilled labourers a minimum basic wage of 7 shillings (up from 6s) a day, for a 6 day working week plus extra for additional overtime. This really puts into perspective the level of poverty Lizzie and her family were living in. With no additional income other than her grandfather's pension, Lizzie's mother had to stretch the equivalent of one day's wages to last an entire week, to feed and clothe six people.

With the revelation of the level of destitution brought to light by her mother and sister's desperate actions, Lizzie and her younger brothers, Michael and Thomas, aged 11, 6 and 2 years old respectively, were brought up at the Children's court before Dr. Lougden and J. Ogilvie, Justices of the Peace and were charged with being neglected children in December 1907.

The Victorian Neglected Children's Act (1890) was designed to remove certain classes of children from their parents and commit them to state care, however the legislation became increasingly employed to subsidise children's upbringing at home. According to Jennifer Anderson in her article 'Deserving Widows and Deserted Wives': The Neglected Children's Act and State Support of Motherhood in Victoria, 1890 - 1910:

"Rather than removing all children deemed 'neglected', Magistrates formally committed some children to care of the state, but then ordered that they be returned home with financial assistance....The obligatory Court hearing also operated as a screening procedure, where a woman's suitability for assistance was scrutinized. Only the respectable and poor were financed, while others were refused assistance or had their children removed."
In Lizzie and her younger brothers case, they were committed to the care of the State with a recommendation that they be boarded out to their mother [Source: The Ballarat Star, 3 December 1907, p.6]. It's more than likely they were temporarily put into the care of a Benevolent Society or Orphan Asylum and then returned to their mother with financial assistance. While I haven't yet had to opportunity to head out of Ballarat to check on the Court Records, it would not surprise me if Lizzie's mother had, in fact, requested that her children be committed to the Neglected Children's Department, in the hopes of receiving financial support with the children being boarded out at home (returned to her).

This is the last bit of information that I've been able to find thus far about Lizzie's early life. From here, she seems to disappear until the late 1920s where she turns up living in Kensington. But that is a story for another day.

~ Louise

My Connection to Lizzie, my great-grandmother.

Update: Since this blog post went live on my personal Facebook page, my grandmother has shared with me that her mother loved hats - much like my older sister and I. We used to try on all of the hats when we visited David Jones and Myer, especially during Spring Racing Carnival; and that Lizzie's favourite colour was red as is mine, my grandmothers and my aunty's. My Aunty Chrissy and I both share the middle name 'Elizabeth' in honour of Nanny's mother. Thanks Nanny for sharing that information with me xox.


  1. Great story! amazing what can be found out about those who came before us and us believing there was nothing there. You still have some lines of research to do to give a wonderful tribute to the normal people who struggled to survive. May I suggest Ballarat Prov and Ballarat Children's homes for possible further records if you have not yet thought of these.


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