Edith ‘Edie’ Robinson

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21 July 1882  Emily and James’ first child Edith ‘Edie’ Elizabeth is born on Cape Barren Island. I imagine Emily’s parents were still residing there. Edie is standing beside her mother in this picture.

September 1904 Edie aged 22 was admitted to the Royal Derwent Hospital at New Norfolk for ‘care and treatment’. Great Aunt Edie was born (prematurely) and had a ‘Intellectual Disability’ – Edie probably had behaviours associated with her disability, reading her admission notes. Emily and James must have agonised this decision after managing Edie at home for 22 years. It was an incident with one of the younger children to trigger the decision for Edie moving into the Royal Derwent for ‘care and treatment’, New Norfolk. Tuck would have been 21, Grandfather Horace,10 and George 8.

Edie was a much loved member of her family, and this is evident from the letters from her parents and her Aunt Fan (Em’s older sister) – we are blessed to be able to get access to this file as it was water damaged, had the file had laid flat would have been lost! I guess it was meant to be……. for us to understand the complexities of living with a disability in the early 20th century and fill in the gaps of our history.

In February this year I decided I to visit the Hobart History room to see if I could find James Robinson (Holt’s) original masters ticket, with this thought I googled a few variation of Edie’ name to see what I could find – to my surprise located this file reference, shocked I closed the site down, sat, staring at the computer – eventually re loaded, absorbed the words, wondered if I could/should read her file. As a veteran of Mental Health nursing, the decision was easy; I’ve always wondered if she had a mental illness or a disability. Dad said all they knew, she was ‘very sick’ and that was the extent of it.

Friday 1 March 2013 – My first trip to the History Room, processes and etiquette explained on arrival, before Aunt Edie’s file was on the counter, a thin manilla folder in a plastic container……..her life! I spent a little time looking at it, then decided I would like to find Edie’s Dad’s, Masters ticket first – visit my dentist, then come back to read her file.  The staff helped me find James Masters ticket, taking all of 40 minutes once I understood the process – I had seen online the references, easier to do in person – his file was stored in the building, not the Berriedale repository like Edie’s file.  On returning from the dentist (numb mouth) read straight away, fantastic…. Jimmy Holt giving us his personal details in this way, and in particular his date of birth – changing what we thought we knew.

So over to Edie’s file, take a seat at the back of the room pull the file from the plastic folder, open file to find the bottom of the pages all stuck together, the file absolutely reeks, due to the water damage, hence the terrible smell, it will stick with me for a while I should think! There is a demarcation line 3/4 of the way up on most docs. I carefully pull the pages apart and I can see the file is going to be OK.  Despite the smell I am compelled to start reading. The first part is James and Emily negotiating to pay the weekly fee of  3 shillings – toward ‘medical treatment & maintenance’ dated 1904. The first two letters from F Willett settling accounts for Emily Holt – no dates, Fan’s address was 143 Patterson St Launceston. At this point I have no idea who Fanny Willett is. The next lot of correspondence picks up in 1911-imagine the earlier correspondence 1904 – 11 maybe didn’t survive the water damage.  The correspondence is as follows:

15 November 1911 receipt of payment.

21 May 1913 Medical Superintendent writes to Em ‘in reply to your letter I beg to inform you that there is no improvement in her mental condition. She appears to be in fair bodily health, and the growth in her neck does not seem to have increased in size lately, and has not so far caused her any inconvenience’.

6 December 1915  – ‘Dear Sir – I will pay the remaining money at the end of the year and would like to know how my daughter is in health please, yours Sincerely E Holt’

14 December 1915 ‘in reply to your letter which I received this morning, I beg to inform you that there is no improvement in Edith Holt’s mental condition. She appears to be in good bodily health. As Dr McFarlane died some months ago,. please address all communications to the Medical Superintendent.’

20 November 1920  letter from the Medical Superintendent payment of account, the fee for care has increased to 4 shillings per week. 

6 January 1921 several letters re accounts etc.

14 February 1922 Emily writes ‘Dr Sir, will you kindly let me know how my daughter Edith is please as I came to Launceston with the intention of coming to see her but will be unable to do so for a time now owing to to not being too well & not able to do so travel alone will you let me know if she received a parcel near Xmas from me and give our love to her please. To Oblige yours most Sincerely Mrs Emily Holt -143 Patterson Street Launceston’.

21 February 1922 a letter from the Medical Superintendent – ‘ In reply to your letter of the 14th inst. with reference to the above named patient, I beg to inform you that she appears to be in good bodily health, but there is no improvement  in her mental condition, nor unfortunately is there any prospect of such. A parcel was received from you from Flinders Island, and a receipt posted to you on December 1st. last.’.

14 August 1922 Emily receives urgent telegram from the Medical Superintendent ‘Daughter seriously ill pneumonia so far progressing satisfactorily‘…………Emily replies at 5.20pm ‘Please wire of any change for worse

17 August A letter is received by the hospital from a F Willett with the following ‘Dear Matron, I received a wire from Mrs Holt telling me Edie was very ill,…..there is no chance to call up and Mr Holt is ill, she could not leave him I am under ………..myself and I would have come down to see her , would you dear Matron do me this…….let me know when she is out of danger that could I wire to her………… as I know how thankful she would be to you as well as myself if you kindly tell poor Edie Aunt Fan wrote to see how she was and trusting she is better and hoping to hear soon you will do me a real favour, yours Truly F Willett’.

16 August  Emily receives another telegram ‘Condition about the same very seriously ill’. 

18 August Emily at 1130am wires ‘any improvement in patient cannot come’ 

18 August Letter to F Willett ‘in reply to your letter addressed to Matron with reference to the above patient, I regret to inform you that she is still very seriously ill, and the prospect of her recovery at present is very slight. She seemed pleased to receive your message, and said to send you her love’

19 August wire to F Willett ‘regret to inform you Edith Died today will you arrange funeral’

19 August Fan wire the hospital ‘wire Holts Flinders Island funeral arrangements I have no authority – F Willett’

 21 August Emily wires hospital ‘Please bury New Norfolk expenses will be paid cannot get there’.

22 August hospital wires Emily ‘Funeral arranged undertaker requires 15 pounds wire’. – Emily reply ‘Posting cheque this mail with thanks for trouble taken’.

23 August Emily writes ‘Dr Sir, Just a few lines to send you all my sincere thanks for the great kindness shown to my dear daughter Edith Holt & to let you know how I regret not being able to come and see the last of my dear girl but I have been months in bed with Neurotic rheumatism & now my husband being up in years is very ill & I could not possibly leave him my kind respects. I remain your Sincerely Emily Holt. P.S enclosing cheque as requested for fifteen pounds one shilling. 

6 September letter to Emily ‘your letter of the 23rd ultimo to hand for which I thank you. I have forwarded cheque to the undertakers with a request that they forward the receipt to you’.

Reading the file I was OK until I saw the first telegram – the telegram, quite a statement – loud, bold and so so sad, the pain, tears and agony these three beautiful woman Edie, Emily and Fanny went through, not only over the duration of Edie’s time institutionalised but the last few days of Edie’s life. Reading the telegrams was emotional and I left the history room exhausted which I had expected……….yes, many tears as well (compounded by the anaesthetic wearing off) when reading Emily’s letter of regret, and knowing she also suffered when George died 5 years earlier. The other interesting effect of reading the file, was how much I really liked ‘Aunt Fan’ despite not knowing the name Fan or Willett, figured she was Em’s sister, really keen to ask Dad about this.

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I was glad to read Emily visited Edie’s grave, her letter stating how she felt straight to the point. I take some liberty here in that she was probably determined to do this, she was not able to stand at the grave of her youngest child George, in Belgium. I recently photographed King and his first Cousin Alfred’s headstones, they’ve stood the test of time, perfect condition. I hadn’t seen the graves for many years and on this day, finally understood  – positioned close by to Emily and James’ home, so Em could watch over from her bedroom window.

My second visit to the History Room 10 April 2013 was with a stop over in New Norfolk to try to find Edie’s grave – I arrived at the old cemetery, wandered around for a while with a cuppa, no luck, found myself looking inside St Matthew‘s Church, as recommended by a local – beautiful building, decided to head into the Council Chambers for further help. They located a number and compartment, rough area, back to the first cemetery, still non the wiser, decided to find a 1922 headstone as a guide to try to work out the numbering. Back to the Council office – read out the name of the headstone  I located, non of us could believe Edie’s grave was right next to the headstone chosen as my  guide. They felt she wanted me to find her, but first, had to see the Church where her service (also Mary Esther as well) had been held. Her grave doesn’t have a headstone which is a little disappointing, maybe one day we can do something about this (for Emily) – but in the mean time I can at least place a picture of where she is buried between her parents

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I asked Dad about the Willett’s and in particular Fanny-his reply, when he was little they used to go and visit the Willett’s when in Launceston, they were cousins, his parents were very close to the Willett’s. Found this article about James funeral leaving the Willett residence in 1926.

The other interesting element was in reference to Emily’s letter of thanks to the staff for looking after Edie –  the words ‘my dear girl’ and straight away  could replay – Aunt Dolly always used ‘dear’ girl or boy …… a real treasure, I bet came from Hannah.

God bless Great Aunt Edith.

July 2013.

3 thoughts on “Edith ‘Edie’ Robinson

  1. Pingback: Mental Diseases Hospital, New Norfolk – Women’s Division 1918. | Flinders Island: Badger Corner and Samphire River

  2. My name is geoff pearl my mother dianne elisabeth willett of launceston her father James his father James willett ships master .Mum has passed her sister still lives in Melbourne and speaks of aunts Edie .There was also mention of ship building on the Tamar. Aunty Margery also mentions a James Willett they called jimmy. I believe the first James married Ann Reardon a ticket of leave woman of Irish Origen
    I hope this adds to your history interest
    regards Geoff

    • Hi Geoff,
      I am so pleased you dropped a line with your information. I wonder if Edie is my great Aunt. You are the first person outside of our immediate family to mention anything about the name Edie. Did you read the letter Fanny wrote when she realised her niece Edie was so sick. From that one letter I decided then and there I really liked Fanny!!

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