Bessie’s Hat-Pin Cushion

How fortunate I am to have such a treasure –  Bessie’s hat-pin cushion was given to me, her great grand-daughter,  about 10 years ago. The decorative, white satin pleated hat-pins from that bygone era of long forgotten hats as an everyday fashion accessory and to hide the long hair tied neatly beneath sit tall in a sand-filled stocking cushion nestled into a metal lady’s boot-shaped receptacle. If only they could tell me the story of Bessie …… so I  dedicate this post as Bessie’s story…..

Bessie Storrie was born 12 December 1866 in Glenelg, a suburb of Adelaide, South Australia, one of twelve children. Her parents were James  and Agnes Storrie, nee Tassie who had arrived separately in Adelaide from Glasgow, Scotland in 1849 and 1854 respectively.  With his brother William, James Storrie founded a business “W & J Storrie” operating a merchant enterprise in central Adelaide. The family lived quite comfortably and were staunch members of the Congregational Church living a life where charity and  the reading of the bible morning and evening was paramount.

Bessie was the seventh child – at aged 29 years, on the 25th June, 1895,  she married Alfred Treadwell King, the son of Thomas and Sarah King, nee Kempster. His late father was well-appointed in Adelaide and had been the Minister of Education, the Mayor of Glenelg and the Mayor of Brighton during his political career. Bessie and Alfred were both deeply religious  – the photo on the right of Bessie was given to Alfred in 1891, four years before their marriage, so it was  a long courtship, possibly because Alfred was partially deaf, and had been that way from the age of 12 or 14, said to be the result of scarlet fever.

By 1895, Alfred was an orchardist living at Block C Renmark on the mighty Murray river growing grapes and stone fruit especially for the dried fruit market. Renmark was renowned for its prolific orchards and Alfred was keen to make an honest living from the fruits of the land.  Bessie delivered twin girls on 11 January 1897 at their family home “Dunrobin”, Renmark – one was stillborn and named Bessie, the other was named Margharita Agnes King.  Four years later on the 21st of May, 1902, Bessie chose to have her “lying in” time at Osmond Terrace, Norwood and delivered a son Frederick Treadwell King (my grandfather), and then on the 26th of October 1905 Bessie, aged almost 39 years, again delivered twins at Glenelg – Helen Gwendoline King and Jean Florence King.

While Bessie was in Adelaide awaiting the birth of Fred in 1902, Alf wrote a letter to his little daughter Rita from Renmark – it gives an insight into day-to-day lives on the orchard  and the extent of their belief in God –

14 April 1902

My own little Sunshine                                                                                                                               I am going to write you a letter all to yourself and you will ask your mother to read it to you. Well, I will tell you about the animals first. They are all alive. Lassie is getting a nice big dog now and is very lively. I have to keep her on the chain nearly all the time as she chases the fowls too much. Flossie and Margarita are lively too but Margarita is the liveliest as she catches mice in the sulphur house while Flossie sits about the kitchen door and is always hungry. No. I have not kicked them yet as they know too much and keep out of reach but I use a stick to keep them off the stable. I still get enough milk from Topsy and Snowy, they are on Mr. Higgins’ lucerne now. The ducks and fowls are all there but not laying. The fowls are losing nearly all their feathers and they look queer with no tail feathers. I have had some eggs, of course, but not many. Mabel and Horace looked after them while Daddy took you and mother to town and when Daddy comes to town again to see his darlings they will look after them again. I went and saw Mr. and Mrs. Showell and little Essie and she talked a lot about you, wanted to know where you were and when coming back. I saw little Frank Jenner on Saturday and fancy he was quite a little man, had little coat and trousers like other little boys, and not dresses like little girls wear. He went to Church on Sunday too, and was so good and went to sleep. Little Ralph is growing a fine big boy too. I have not seen Mrs. Little’s little boy yet, but Maurice and Philip are growing big boys now. And how is my little sweetheart getting on. Does she go to school with Olive now. Do you like the school and all the little girls there too. Daddy is so pleased to know that his little girl is so good and gives no trouble. Daddy always want his little girlie to be good and always do what Daddy and Mother tells her, because they are so much older and always know what is best for little girlie, so when she does as she is told, then she is always happy. Now this is quite a long letter dearie, and I must stop. You look out for four more Sundays and you may see your Daddy again. Ask Mother to give you one big love and kiss from me, and you give one from me too. Goodbye little Sunshine. Ask Jesus to keep us all safe and let us all be together again soon. Bye bye Sweetheart.     xxxxxxxxx   from Daddy.

In Renmark, Bessie was heavily involved in the Congregational Church and taught Sunday School while Alf was a supporter of the Agricultural Society and the advancement of the fruit trade. But when the grapes from his vines were more and more being fermented into wines rather than dried as sultanas and muscats, and this was against his religious belief of temperance,  Alf decided to sell up and move to Western Australia where his brother Edwin was a new farmer at Highbury in the great Southern Agricultural lands. So in 1911, the little family travelled by sea to Fremantle and railed to Highbury to begin a new life.  It was very distressing to leave Renmark and the lifestyle they were accustomed, especially for Rita. Their new home at Highbury was again named “Dunrobin” for Alf’s childhood home in Adelaide.

It seems that agricultural pursuits of grain was not Alf’s destiny so the family moved to Katanning, Mundijong, Jarrahdale (they had an orchard here) and then into Perth, firstly living in Cowle Street and then building a home at 149 Ragland Rd, North Perth thanks to Alf being the recipient of a lottery win and his job as an accounting clerk. Alf was a keen yachtsman, a legacy from his father and grandfather,  so was delighted when his son Fred managed to find himself a yacht and the family went on outings in the Swan River. The children were almost grown now and Bessie’s sight had deteriorated such that the glaucoma left her blind in her later years, and Alf was to be totally deaf.  Together Alf and Bessie attended the Baptist church on the corner of Fitzgerald and Bulwer Street walking the two blocks sometimes morning and evening. Even as an old woman Bessie would walk to church with one of her grandchildren to guide her, and the bible was read  and prayers recited morning and night at home. Alf could read the bible for Bessie and she wrote letters for Alf on a specially designed page to keep her hand in a straight line. They adored their grand children and relished the times spent with them at Raglan Road. Bessie died on the 12th of August 1949 and Alf followed on the 28th of June 1952. My mother remembers them both as gentle souls who lived a good, wholesome life in reverence to the Lord and through my mother’s memory I too have come to know and love them. Thank you Bessie for your gift to me –

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3 comments on “Bessie’s Hat-Pin Cushion

  1. Michelle says:

    Ohhhh. The hat pin cushion and hat pins are beautiful indeed – but that letter!!! It made me cry a little. I have always had a fascination with hat pins – and ivory handled bootlace hooks. I don’t know why 🙂

    This is a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing this story.

  2. Michelle – you and I should be transported back in time! We share that unique fondness of the tangible and intangible heirlooms left to us to explore and ponder. Our stories may become treasures of the next generation… we can but hope……….

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