Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Fifth Bishop Child- Myrtle Gwendoline Elaine Bishop




Myrtle Gwendoline Elaine Bishop was born on May 5, 1877, at the historical address of "The Hermitage", Jolimont (part of the residence years previously of Governor LaTrobe). Bertha was 38 when she gave birth to Myrtle, and her husband Henry was 36.Their other children were aged ten(Roland),eight (Olive); six (Guy) and three (Violet)
Not much is known by this researcher about Myrtle. Her younger sister Daphne attended the Ladies College at Springfield Lodge, Murphy Street, South Yarra, so it is likely that Myrtle also was schooled there as there was only 15 months difference in their ages.
Myrtle had an illegitimate son named Lindsay Grant, and she also took the name 'Grant' herself to try to avoid the scandal associated with unmarried mothers back then. I have no idea of the significance of the name 'Grant', and whether it was associated in any way with the name of Lindsay's father.
When researching Lindsay's birth, I was amazed to discover that he was not in fact the first child born to Myrtle, and that she had had another son in 1898 when she was 21 years old.
Eric Bishop was born on September 21, 1898, at 47 Molesworth Street, Hotham. There are no details given in relation to his father, and his mother was stated as being Myrtle Gwendoline Elaine Bishop, nurse, 21, born Jolimont.No doctor attended the delivery, and the two women who attended Myrtle were Mrs Bentley and Mrs Walker. Myrtle's sister Violet, who was 24, registered the baby's birth the following day.
There had never been any mention of this child in family records that I had been given, and I soon discovered why... the poor little fellow had died aged only three months, on December 29, 1898.
His cause of death was given as "Inflammation of the stomach and small intestines, verdict at inquest held on 30th December 1898". Eric Bishop was buried on January 2, 1899, at the Melbourne Cemetery. His grandmother Bertha Hughan Bishop had been buried in Melbourne Cemetery just under twelve months before in the Bishop family grave purchased by Joseph Bishop in his days of wealth, but it is certain that poor little Eric would not have been afforded the privilege of being laid to rest here. His was an unmarked grave, and although it may sound callous I am sure that his grandfather Henry Bishop would have viewed his illegitimate grandson's demise as the end of an unfortunate and scandalous series of events.
Henry Bishop wrote his will in October of 1899, and Myrtle was completely omitted...her name was not even mentioned. She was obviously being punished for the unforgivable sin of having a child out of wedlock in the most blatant way Henry knew how...in part his will read:
" I give the sum of one hundred pounds to each of my children hereinafter named viz Roland Oakleigh Bishop, Olive Jessie Bishop, Guy Arnold Bishop, Violet Bertha Malvina Bishop and Daphne Lorna Josephine Bishop." It was as though Myrtle didn't even exist.
Henry also detailed the distribution of various pieces of family silver and mementos, again ignoring Myrtle. He must have had a change of heart by 1902, though, as a document handwritten by Henry and dated April 15, 1902, reads "the foregoing list of Silver is as originally intended to be divided and distributed notwithstanding that it is otherwise expressed in my will. It is my wish that it shall be divided as per this list. Henry Bishop."
The list showed that her father had bequeathed Myrtle one gravy spoon marked 'B', one sauce ladle marked 'B', 2 tablespoons not engraved, 6 tea spoons engraved 'B', one dessert spoon engraved 'JSB', one caddy spoon engraved 'B', and a Bendigo medal, March 22, 1882, of Davis Machine.

I feel so sorry for Myrtle. She must have been terrified of what her father would say when her pregnancy became obvious. Her mother had died in January of 1898, probably just prior to Myrtle having suspicions that she may have been pregnant.
As Myrtle did not give birth to Eric at the family home of 'Fairmount', I assume she had been forced to leave by Henry- he was certainly a man who would not have tolerated even the slightest hint of scandal associated with his family.Myrtle's sister Violet registered the baby's birth, so we can assume that Myrtle had the support of at least one of her sisters.
Investigating the events around Eric's death lead me into a subject of research that I had been totally unaware of...the practice of "boarding out babies". This was the process by which mothers who could not look after their own baby, whether it be through being unmarried like Myrtle, or deserted by a husband, or just having to work for a living and not having anyone to look after a newborn child,left their child full time with a woman who was paid for the child's care and lodging.
There must have been respectable woman who did a fine job of looking after other women's children, but unfortunately the opposite was true in so many instances that an inquiry was launched and a registry of supposedly qualified women set up to monitor the boarding out of these babies.
Not all 'nurses' were of good character. Some sold children in their care. Others disappeared with deposit money, simply abandoning babies. Some watered down milk fed to babies, causing malnutrition and some like the infamous Frances Knorr who was an unregistered nurse, strangled babies, buried them and moved on to other premises.Because it was the law to register illegitimate babies within 3 days of their birth, women with unregistered babies were not inclined to go to the police if their baby disappeared.
Desperate mothers were known to abandon their children after boarding them out and infanticide increased during the depression of the 1890's. Not all mothers using the boarding out system were from working class families. Well to do unmarried mothers 'went away' for a while to the country and after the birth of their baby they 'returned', the child being boarded out...out of sight, out of mind. In cases like Myrtle's, the death of the baby in care was probably viewed with a sigh of relief that the 'problem' had disappeared and life could resume as usual without the threat of the discovery of an illegitimate child hanging over the family.
While researching boarded out babies in the 1890s in the Melbourne newspapers of the time, I was amazed at the number of inquests held on babies who had died whilst under the full time care of women who were not their mothers. Baby Eric Bishop's inquest report was very short:
"Mr Buzulich, J.P., held an inquest at the morgue this morning on the body of a boarded out infant, which died at North Melbourne on the 29th.Dr. Renate, who made a post mortem examination of the body, stated that the cause of death was inflammation of the stomach and intestines.A verdict to that effect was returned."
-Port Phillip Herald,Saturday, December 31, 1898.

Other reports, however, received huge coverage, with headlines like "The Barmaid's Baby. It was Boarded Out. And untimely Died. Coronial Inquiry.Death from Exhaustion"; and "Boarded Out-The child was Doomed".
Unmarried mothers were often desperate so they answered the adverts placed in newspapers by seemingly reputable people. Getting rid of a child in this way had obvious advantages to the mother - it was simple, quick and legal with few questions asked. The mothers had no real alternatives. Abortion was illegal and the back street abortions that were carried out were a very high risk alternative, sometimes resulting in severe hemorrhaging or even the death of the women or prosecution and imprisonment if she was found out. Abandonment of a child or children was similarly illegal and little sympathy was extended by the courts to women who abandoned their children.
The inquests I read revealed that the main cause of death of boarded out babies in the Melbourne area
tended to be dietary related...they were simply not fed appropriately and died of either malnutrition or, like Eric Bishop, inflammation of the digestive system from being given milk not suitable for an infant. Causes of death ranged from "Exhaustion due to imperfect nutrition" to "inflammation caused by unsuitable food" .As well as babies being fed raw cow's milk, they were also given "meat juice" and concoctions of brandy and barley water when they responded unfavourably to the milk or meat juice...it is a wonder that there weren't even more infant deaths amongst these boarded out babies!

Like her siblings Roland, Violet and Daphne, Myrtle ended up living in Sydney. Her son Lindsay was born c. 1910, place unknown, when Myrtle was aged about 32.
Myrtle Grant was found in the NSW electoral rolls of 1930 and 1936. In the former she was listed as "Myrtle Grant,Hotel Manly, housekeeper", and in the second "Myrtle Grant,31 dalton Road, home duties." This last address rang a bell with me, and sure enough it was the same address as the 1936 electoral roll entry for Violet Bishop Ramsden- the two sisters were living together.
It appears that Lindsay was actually named 'Walter Lindsay', but was always known as 'Lindsay'.

Myrtle Gwendoline Elaine Bishop Grant died in 1942 and her death was registered in the Marrackville District. Her only child Lindsay Grant died in 1975, and his death was registered in the Mossman district of Sydney.

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