Thursday, May 26, 2022

 A good friend of mine has published a stunning book on the life and times of 
Adelaide Bartlett and the murder of her husband, see following:


London, 1886

The case of Adelaide Bartlett, tried for the poisoning of her husband Edwin, created a sensation at the time and remains compelling.
'In the annals of true crime ... one of the strangest stories I ever encountered ... It has many of the elements of a great film play. Packed with drama, it was a puzzling mystery and a most unusual love story.'
At the centre of the Pimlico Mystery that shocked Victorian society lie enigmatic Adelaide, Edwin's death from liquid chloroform, and her illicit relationship with a clergyman - or even a menage a trois?
Adelaide's family holds truths far stranger than most fiction.Here, for the first time, their complex secrets are pieced together to reveal extraordinary events in Victorian social history. The lives of Adelaide's outrageous father, beloved mother and relatives astonish: no stereotypes apply. With a twenty-first century feminist 'take' on their global travels and efforts to leave traumas behind by changing identity and starting afresh, Rose Storkey finds that more tragedies ensued in war, prisons and affairs of the heart ...
Through uncovering the truths in official documents and newspaper reports about their heritage, diversity, and struggles, Adelaide's kin are brought to life and to rest together.


Saturday, August 14, 2021


For women staff in the NSW prison service the marriage bar operated from 1861 (similar to UK) and was not lifted until the 1980s.
But, like all rules there were always exceptions. Married women (wives of gaolers) continued to be employed as matrons in country gaols until the mid 20th century, and they were appointed also to difficult to fill areas until the later years of the 19th century.
My research is looking at senior appointments only, but for those interested in women staff at a country gaol, a recent book by Pamela B Harrison, Confined but free: The female staff of Maitland Gaol in the 19th century, 2021, covers all the women employed and is a fascinating read, you can buy copies of the book from Maitland Gaol, PO Box 249, East Maitland, 02 49366482, see their website at:
I have found only one woman appointed to a senior position as the Assistant Superintendent at Long Bay in 1947 until June 1949 who was married. As far as I can ascertain her husband died in 1954 three years before she did. I thought that perhaps they might have separated. I can’t find a divorce and I can’t visit State Archives, where there is information, until restrictions are lifted in Sydney.
This woman had been first appointed as a warder at Bileola Gaol in 1907, and was already a Principal Warder (a senior position) before she was appointed as Superintendent and I think she was a permanent employee. Her husband had served in WW1 and WW2 although while he was training for overseas deployment for WW2 he was involved in a serious accident and suffered serious injuries to his head and he was discharged as medically unfit. I thought also perhaps he might have been an invalid and she was employed on compassionate grounds.
I hope to post again about my research. It is always a diverse and sometimes frustrating time doing research on women’s professions. Women staff in NSW Gaols has not proved any easier than much of my previous work on women teachers, nurses, midwives and women employed in Industrial and Reformatory Schools for Girls. I am in a final draft of the book with COVID providing ample time for me to sit down at the computer, ha ha..
The following images are of Maitland Gaol and of Bedford Gaol in 1820 where one of the women I am researching worked as a matron until she immigrated to NSW.

Friday, January 22, 2021

 Hello Everyone,

I am no longer on Facebook as my Facebook was hacked.  I have deleted my Facebook and Messenger and am staying away from it for the time being.  

I will still be posting to my Linked In and on this blog.  


23 January 2021

Thursday, December 3, 2020

 A note on writing narrative history - from my desk as I sit with a broken foot!!!

I have been hamstrung with a foot fracture and now had an operation on the foot and have spent many days and hours now sitting as I am unable to put the foot down ,,,a few weeks to go.   

But what this hiatus in my normally physically active life has led me do is to look at some of my notes from the many workshops I have presented over the last 30 odd years...of course you can read so much on the internet now that is useful and specific to your writing of family or local history, also memoir or biography.  

At the same time writing remains one of the more difficult tasks to do well.  None of us are born writers, and good writing will always be a product of practice, practice, practice. I have written many words, have been published and am mostly able to produce readable prose but each time I sit down to write it is not always easy to construct the historical story that will have both a universal appeal and a storyline that is well written, logical, interesting and highly readable.  I have said however, many times over that  everyone can learn write and write well.  The following is just one piece from notes I made re narrative history:

Narrative history

Narrative is very like chronology in that it follows a logical progress with a beginning, middle, and  end.  However, if you look it up on the internet or in the many books on writing, narrative writing will be described as writing a story.  That is, writing it so that we want to know what comes next.  We are told one event and then we want to know what comes next.  This is called narrative tension or narrative pull.  You see it yourself when you listen to a serial or watch a soapie on TV, and we want to know if the murderer will be caught or if the young couple who have an argument do get back together. It is very much a key way of writing stories so that  the reader, will want to to read it to the end. 

How do we fit this with narrative history?  What is narrative history?  I like Ann Curthoy’s description in her book How to Write History that People Want to Read, where she says:

Most history books are in a narrative form.  They tell a story and show the movement of people and events through time.  They also offer analysis and description.  The problem for the historian is how to combine narrative, analysis and description:  the questions;

How chronological should I be, and how thematic?

How do I describe something that changes over time?

Do I simply tell a story, or do I discuss what is happening, compare this story with other stories, draw conclusions?

How do I make my story interesting, make people want to find out what happened?

How much should I focus on my subject and how much context should I give?

Narrative is powerful because it arouses the irresistible desire to know what happens next.  Therefore, your chronology must have themes to be more than an orderly list; chronology will also have various narratives and perhaps an overall narrative as well, topics will have a variety. of themes, she says to experiment with the possibilities, see Pattie Miller's books Writing your life: a journey of discovery  and The Memoir Book great starting points for understanding and writing narrative history.  

Here are some hints for writing narrative:

Let there be light and shade – if you give everything the same emphasis it will be flat and uninteresting.

Include enough information – the reader does not know what you know, too many gaps and the reader will fall through.

But you don’t have to tell everything that happened – readers like to make a few leaps of their own, let the reader make the connections sometimes.

Withhold – don’t spill the beans on the first page.  You know what is in the middle and the end, but hold back and allow the reader to find out as they read.

Maintain narrative tension – don’t pre-empt something that will happen later.  If you let slip that someone became a doctor or a successful farmer while you are writing the scene when he/she is lost and alone and unable to cope, the narrative tension will not work.

Re-read narrates you have enjoyed by other writer

Friday, August 28, 2020

'The best and noblest women for the most difficult work' The Wardress in NSW female prisons, 1900 to 1950?

 In 1898 Rose Scott visited Darlinghurst Gaol and reported that 'The class of warder appeared to us of a very inferior type to the men warders...'

And in her report which she wrote for the Comptroller-General of Prisons, Frederick Neitenstein,she argued that female warders be chosen from the 'ranks of trained nurses' or perhaps teachers who could then undergo relevant training. This was a possibly a forlorn hope as women trained and already working as teachers or nurses would not be attracted to the lower wages and harsh conditions of a NSW prison. 

Some women who took on the role of matron or superintendent did have experience gained from working in other female institutions such as asylums or industrial/reformatory schools for girls. For the wardress however her pathway to working in a prison was more likely to be via a public service examination as was the case with Catherine (Kate) Josephine Brock.

Kate sat the public service examination in 1908 when she was 25 and began working for the department at Biloela Female Prison moving with the female prisoners to the State Reformatory for women, Long Bay in 1910 when it opened. 

Kate was the fourth daughter and fifth child of James Brock (a farmer on the Upper Macleay River) and Catherine, nee Cassin). Kate became a chief or principal wardress in 1934. She retired in 1946. It is difficult to find actual detail of her work and experience but there is no doubt she cut an imposing figure.  A photograph taken of her striding down a Sydney street in the 1930s shows a well dressed woman with her coatails flying behind here:

Catherine (Kate) Brock, walking along a Sydney Street in 1930, She would still have been working at the gaol and was in her early 50s.

Photograph courtesy of Margaret and Graeme Bell

A glimpse of her sense of her wry humour cab be gleaned from a story told by Zelma Wood (Kate and her sister Caroline attended Zelma Wood's wedding in Sydney in 1955), and the following tale was told by Kate herself:

Walking down a Sydney street one rainy day Kate was accosted by a woman calling out 'Oh, Miss Brock you don't have an umbrella?' Kate indeed did not have an umbrella and was becoming quite wet. The woman ducked into a store and appeared with an umbrella and a big smile before scampering off.  It was only after the woman had gone that Kate realised that the woman had nicked the umbrella from the store! The woman an ex-prisoner whom Kate had not immediately recognised from her time in prison. With a rueful smile Kate tole her listeners, 'what could i do but shrug my shoulders, put up the umbrella and walk on...'

A longer story of the Brock family and Kate's time as a wardress can be read in the August edition of the Macleay River Historical Society Journal....available from the Kempsey Museum see at:


Friday, August 14, 2020

Writing about women working in senior NSW Government posts: their recruitment, their survival in a male-dominated and harsh workplace environment.


I have been researching and writing about senior women appointed to the NSW prison service from the 1790s to around 1950.  


A couple of aspects to their recruitment and their survival or experiences are beginning to emerge.


The first is their work/life background  before their appointment.  For men appointed to the prison service a background in the military or the police is common. For women this was not the case of course as women's place in the military or the police service was limited in the 1900s and for the first half of the 20th century.


From 1861 the marriage  bar prevented the appointment of married women in the Public/Civil Service except for the wives of gaolers/governors in country goals. Until that date matrons appointed to gaols were the wives of the various governors/gaolers as was the case in most institutions such as asylums, orphanages, industrial and reformatory schools, etc.


The work  background of the  women appointed from 1861 was primarily as a matron or superintendent in an asylum or other like institutions.  One woman who was appointed as Matron in the female division of Darlinghurst in 1861 gave her occupation as housekeeper a position possibly seen as suitable for her appointment.

Other appointees  had worked for some years at an institutions for women or girls or had been a wardress at the gaol  for some years before being promoted.

It is the case that most of these women have not had their stories told and it is quite stark to see how the many men who worked in the prison system are given public accolades and recognition as a matter of course.

It is my aim to further write these women’s stories and provide greater awareness of their work, their experiences and their contribution to the welfare of female prisoners and reform of the prison system over that time.

This image of a wardress at Long Bay published in in a piece titled ‘Babies in Jail’

 by a journalist from Pix,  15 November 1952.  Children born in prison were allowed to stay with their mothers for a year or two when they would be removed to an orphanage or other institution.