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Rita Bates

Memoirs taken from my mother’s written account of her life, who emigrated to Tasmania in 1913.

Presented to the BLHS on 4 May 2022


A very simplified family tree:
My Great Grandparents, Emma and Joseph Cook
My Grandmother and Grandfather, Selina and Charles
My auntie, Beatrice or Betty as she was known by her family
My Mother Mabel
My 3 sons, Martin, Jonathon and Christopher
Christopher and Katie’s children, Elizabeth and Thomas



The day before they set sail in 1913, with my mother standing.

My grandparents, Charles Arthur Huggins Born in Brayton

Selina born 1878 in Alford

Died 1966

My Mother,  Mabel Violet Huggins was born March 3 1910 in Burgh Lincolnshire

My Aunt, Beatrice (Betty) Mary Huggins born April 7 1911 in Harrogate

Rita Bates: Activities



In 1913 Doctor ordered my Grandfather to emigrate to a warmer climate because of his ill health.

Set sail for Hobart, Tasmania in 1913, a distance of 10,784 miles as the crow flies  but 13,000miles by boat.

They sailed on the P&O Line Rorarura.

My grandmother said she would never see her parents again.


When the family arrived in Hobart, my Grandfather expected a job to be waiting for him in the telephone company.  This had been promised but much to his disappointment they said they would not take an Englishman when their own young men needed jobs.

So the family stayed in a hotel while my grandfather looked for a job.

This was very difficult with 2 small children.  The weather was very hot, 90 Degrees F in the shade.  The family had to find some cooler clothing as they had arrived in warm clothes and fur.

It was a sad and worrying time for the family and eventually after talking things over, and heeding the advice of the local people, they decided to go for farm orcharding.  

After touring around they found a place 13,000 feet above sea level at a place called Birchs Bay which was a  small community.

Rita Bates: Activities

It was a beautiful country all round with Eucalyptus trees, Wattle Trees (Mimosa) and wildflowers everywhere.

Her is my mother and Betty

It was sparsely populated and the neighbours were few and far between.  

One man who was affected by the full moon poisoned their dear little Jersey cow called Cherry – and I still have the bell, brought all the way back from Tasmania!


The climate was beautiful, sunshine mostly but too hot at midday in the summer months.  People worked in the early morning and rested at noon and then worked in the cooler evenings.

We grew many varieties of apples, pears, apricots, peaches, strawberries and small fruits.

Most of the apples and pears were packed (all individually wrapped in tissue paper) and shipped to England.

Small fruit sold at the local stores or sent by boat to Hobart where the shop keeper would collect them from Hobart wharf.

Rita Bates: Activities

Birchs Bay was 25 miles south of Hobart, and 35 minutes by car if you did it today. The family would go by boat to Hobart about twice a year for new clothes etc.   But sea sickness always affected my mother and Betty.

The children were brought up to be aware of snakes, vipers and scorpions.  Nevertheless, they mostly ran around in bare feet.  

The family was many miles away from a doctor.

My Grandmother was once stung by a scorpion and my granddad had to cut an opening in her hand and squeeze out the poison.  

The doctor would only travel by horse and trap.  Once my grandma helped to deliver a  neighbour’s baby before the doctor had time to arrive.  

Granddad's health was improving due to the beautiful climate.  The whole family was outside most of the time in the fresh air.

Grandma benefited also, and looked lovely and brown and healthy.

Granddad started to build another place for the family, lower down and nearer to the one shop and post office.

There was no school or church.  No television or radio and only a newspaper if granddad went into Hobart


In Tasmania there was nothing to indicate the unrest in the world and the First World War on the horizon.  They would be blissfully unaware of the imminent danger to mankind.

Betty and my mother were like twins and were always dressed alike. Betty was fair but my mother was dark.  

They were brought up in a Christian environment.  My granddad read aloud from the Bible each morning and said prayers before they started each new day.  He was very strict.  The children had to sit up straight at the table.  They said Grace before each meal and always said prayers before going to sleep.

Before long the family were able to move down to their new home.  Great excitement!  Grandma was very artistic and made it look pretty with little treasures she had brought out from England.  She dyed some sacking for floor covering, pale green and rose pink.

Rita Bates: Activities

Grandpa Huggins, Betty and Mabel

Granddad bought a horse and trap.  They were able to go out on outings to visit friends and also to Woodbridge (named after Woodbridge in Suffolk)  about 6 miles away where there was a big village shop.

Grandma learned to drive the horse and trap - quite an adventure!

They bought a new cow called Pansy and a Nanny goat, which provided milk  for the family.

They got a new puppy, a golden brown spaniel called Nutty.  Granddad used him when he went shooting and Nutty was a faithful companion for the children.

The children were brought up very close to nature .  They loved all the flowers and birds, which all had wonderful plumage.  There were parakeets and budgerigars, all yellow and green.  They would gather in large groups in the gumtrees - a wonderful sight - and made a terrific noise


Flowers thrived in Tasmania's beautiful climate.  Hedges of fuchsias and geraniums and orchids growing wild.  

This was paradise for the children.

Rita Bates: Activities

When my mother was nearly 6 and Betty 5, the family had to think about the children going to school. 

They moved to Woodbridge where there was a  large village store along with a church, village hall, hotel and post office.  

Granddad still wanted to be a fruit grower so they moved to a place about 2 miles from the school. They would walk to and from school every day.  If it was very wet then the pony and trap would come out.  

They hadn’t mixed much with other children. Going to school was a big experience for them and they clung together for companionship!

The 2 little girls were not backward in their education as they had learned a great deal from their parents prior to going to school.

Postcard from my Grandmother of Woodbridge Jetty.  On the reverse...."

This is Woodbridge jetty.  Our house is only 15 min walk from here.  We can see the people coming off the boat.  Picture us on this boat “Dover” going up to town sometimes.  She has just come from town and is now leaving the wharfe to go onto Birchs Bay etc.

I will send you one or two more different ones next time".


The girls had  to be careful of snakes as they walked to and from school.  The snakes were more dangerous on the way home as they became more active as the day warmed up.  Grandma used to meet the children as she was worried about them.  They were taught to walk around snakes. 

Nutty the dog went into the undergrowth and a snake attacked him.  They were nearly home and  grandma ran  with the children as best she could.  Poor Nutty was badly affected by the snake bite. Grandpa managed to get him into a shed and shot him through a window.  Grandpa was in a state of shock.  What a terrifying and upsetting ordeal for all the family.  They grieved for a long time for their dear old faithful Nutty.  The girls would talk about Nutty in bed at night.    

Grandma was the eldest of a family of 8.  With Five brothers and 2 sisters  she received quite a lot of correspondence from England.  (telegraph??)

Grandpa’s parents died when he was quite young and he was brought up by a Mr and Mrs Sunderland in Brayton, Selby, Yorkshire.  He had one brother but they were not very close.

Rita Bates: Activities

A very sad occasion when a letter arrived from Grandma’s sisters with news that her father, Joseph Cook, had been found dead on the railway line.  He was a railway inspector and he had suffered a heart attack.  He was only 58.


The little girls were very upset to see their mother with tears streaming down her face.  It was such a long way to be apart from the family.  A very difficult situation for my grandmother..  

About a year later a letter arrived to say that my grandma’s mother had died, aged 56.  She had died of a broken heart.  A double sorrow for my grandma.

Rita Bates: Activities

Not long after this tragedy my grandpa’s health began to deteriorate  suffering with ruptures.  He would be unable to do any heavy lifting so it was clear he would not be able to continue working on the orchard.  

Grandma was bonny and well.  A decision was made to move into a Boarding House in Woodbridge, not far from the school, not as guests but to run the boarding house for a living.  It was called Forest home.

My mother and Betty were very excited.  It was a lovely place in its own grounds, surrounded by trees and flowers ablaze with colour.

There were many rooms all on the ground floor (no upstairs) and a verandah extended all around the building where visitors could sit and take afternoon tea etc.  and enjoy looking at the beautiful scenery.  Many people came from the town of Woodbridge to enjoy a quiet country holiday, to rest and relax.

The cricket ground and football ground were just in front of Forest Home, and my mother and her sister Betty only had to walk across the field to school, so much easier than the 2 mile walk they had experienced before.  

The beach and the sea was only ½ mile down the road, and my mother and her sister spent a lot of time splashing in the sea or having a picnic on the beach with friends. (The new dog) Sparky, the spaniel would accompany them and keep guard!

There were 3 permanent boarders at Forest Home. Mr Calcott who ran the newsagents, Mr Duitt who was the best boot and shoe man, and the young vicar from the church.  They all made a great fuss of the 2 little girls.

Mother and Betty made good progress at school.  Their school teacher, Miss WIlliams, retired and the 2 miss Fletchers came to take over.  They were very close to nature and taught the class how to foretell the weather from looking at the clouds.  One of the pupils would go outside to study the sky and report back to the class.

Cumulus for sunshine, stratus or feather clouds for wind and Numbus for rain.

The miss Fletchers were very artistic and painted beautifully.  As a result of their influence my mother produced many paintings when she was in her sixties.

Betty and mother went to church Sunday School and looked grand dressed in voile dresses , trimmed with lace, white shoes and open socks.  They had pretty straw hats with wreaths of flowers round them, such forget-me-nots and daisies.  

Milliner shops were in fashion then, and my mother said she loved the flower trimmings, made of silk.

Rita Bates: Activities

The First World War was going on during this time but the family were not much aware of it.  Some of the young men were away at the war.  It was very sad news when my grandma heard from England that her youngest brother, Frank, had gone down with his ship after it was shelled by the Germans.  He was a wireless operator on HMS Stonecrop.  He died on the 18th September 1917, aged 26.

He was trying to send an SOS message and he and the Captain remained on the ship to the end.

My grandma was very upset.  She was the eldest of the 8 children and would be about 16 when Frank was born.  She had been like a second mother to him.  Frank grew up to be a handsome young man and grandma was very proud of him.


My mother was staying with friends when her parents broke the news that Betty had died.  It was dreadful to see her parents arrive home, heartbroken and desolate.  Mother went into her shell and grieved silently.

The day of the funeral arrived and people came from miles around.

The Reverend Stroud conducted the service.  My mother didn’t go to the service but some friends of the family took mother to see the flowers on her little grave.  There were masses of them.

The whole community seemed to be in mourning including the pupils and teachers at the school.

After this dreadful sadness the family decided to leave their beloved Tasmania and Return to England.  They couldn’t settle after Betty’s death and my mother missed her sister so much as they had grown up together.

Rita Bates: Activities

In 1922 a passage to England was booked on the P&O line,and the maiden voyage of, The Ballarat.  There were sad farewells with all the community and streamers were held as the ship sailed away from the shore (at Hobart).

This picture of ships in Hobart Bay

Mother was 12 years old and she must have wondered what life would be like in England and having to make new friends.

Six weeks were spent on the water.

We had a 3 -berth cabin and the first 2 days we were sea sick and we felt too ill past or present and the steward kept checking to see if we needed anything.  Then we gained our sea legs and we began to investigate the big ship which seemed like a large hotel.  The ship was fully booked and the hold was full of peoples trunks and baggage.  my mother marvelled when people went to have their first meal to see all the people sitting there and the stewards waiting on them, carrying 3-4 plates on each arm.  We had a lot of dried food and it became boring to have haricot beans for vegetables for each meal and a local of fresh fruit or milk.

  They had church services on the Sunday, playgroup for the children.  They had competitions, fancy dress and my mother won first prize, “houses to Let” made from whatever was available on board. We cut any houses we could find from papers, stuck them to crepe paper and wrote “to Let” in big letters.

Fortunately, a stop was taken at Adelaide where they enjoyed a meal of fresh food and took some fruit back on board the ship.

The next 3 weeks we saw nothing but water.  No land in sight.  But there were flying fish jumping out of the water.

Sharks.  See sparkled and was a lovely blue green colour.  Seagulls (hundreds) followed the boat.

Lots to do on the ship - a ballroom and play groups for the children.


Next stop Durban.

We went ashore where we saw lots of children begging for money.

Jostling for our custom were these amazing people called Rickshaw men or Riscksha boys as the locals called them – they  were a rather frightening sight! 

The picture top left is form my mother’s collection.  The other picture of Ricksha boys, is from the Durban Library of Congress.

It shows four young men sitting at the front of rickshaws, facing front, three are wearing horned headdresses and the fourth is wearing a floral headdress.

There were beautiful shops in Durban.

We had to have a ride in a rickshaw.  But the men didn’t live to be more than 30 years of age as they were so worn out by that age.

We went to visit a ranch with some friends they had met on the boat and travelled there in a big car.

Flowers were everywhere. There were beautiful roses, clematis, passion flowers and fruits hanging from the railings of the veranda.

The family grew lots of different fruits.  Bananas hung in great bunches, pineapples, guavas, orange and lemon groves.

We took a big basket of fruit back to the boat.

Rita Bates: Activities

We set sail the next day for the last lap of the sea journey.  13,000 miles.

Lifeboat drill one day a week.  One night they ran into dense fog and ran off course but fortunately the captain managed to get the ship back on course without hitting anything.  

The next stop would be Cape Town.  

The children and the rickshaw men were there as in Durban but it was not such a nice town.

My mother had been feeling unwell and just fancied a glass of fresh milk and a tomato sandwich.

My grandfather managed to find a little cafe and mother’s wish was granted.

This was the pick-me-up she needed!

Eventually they reached the English channel, sailed up the Thames.  It was very busy with big ships and ferry boats everywhere.

They were escorted into Tilbury Docks by a ferry boat.

They were back in England at last!

The gangway was put down for them to disembark.

The Captain and the chief officers shook hands with each passenger and the stewards and sailors gave a big cheer.  It was a touching scene to remember, my mother recalled.

We were met by one of Grandma’s brothers and taken by train to Boston, Lincolnshire.

Rita Bates: Text

A new chapter in my mother’s life was about to begin.  

Stepping into the unknown.

A picture of my Dear Grandmother, Selina

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