Great Grandma Lucy hit hard times

This is my Great grandma Lucy 1891 - 1961

She was born in Swannanoa, North Canterbury to James and Frances EVANS nee STEVENSON.  The third eldest of 9.  It's fair to say that she didn't make some good choices in life but then life was [in my opinion] a lot harder back then for females.

Her father James [family lore has it] wanted sons - he did get one - James George [known as George] who arrived as child number 6 of the 9 in 1899.  James (senior) was harsh on his daughters and I have been told that often Lucy's sister Lillian was banished to the stairs as a child to eat her dinner. Not sure if Lucy or the other daughters were.  Photos I have of her do not show her smiling much at all.

She was married in April 1911 at her fathers house in Kaiapoi to great grandad John KENNEDY [1888-1963 his parents story HERE] and my grandfather duly appeared on the scene in September of that year.  A distant relative informed me that Lucy had done the obvious so that she could leave home.  Somehow it doesn't surprise me.

More children appeared in the next few years:
Mary Anne 1913 [died 2008]
James Edward 1915 [died 2002]
Hugh [Hughie] 1918 [died 1950] 

On 31 March 1918 her husband John was admitted to Sunnyside HospitalHe received a diagnosis of delusional insanity which is not a diagnosis used these days.  Apparently he had been unwell for one week and presented with auditory hallucinations i.e. he was hearing voices and he believed that people were trying to poison him.  He also believed that people were going to try and harm him with electricity [this dovetailed with a family story that he was hospitalised due to an 'electrical shock'].  From the brief description given over the next two or three months of his hospital life, it would seem that he was probably in fact suffering from a depressive illness.  He was described as dull and drab and at times quite suspicious.

Correspondence I had in 1990 with a medical superintendent who looked over John's sparse records states he was out of Sunnyside "on trial"  between 27 July 1918  It seemed that he improved spontaneously and was allowed out on leave to 30 October 1918 yet John was readmitted into hospital on 24 August 1918.  On the 30 August 1918 upon his return, it was stated that "he had brightened up considerably, he was tidy and alert and industrious and that his delusions appeared to be in abeyance."  John was eventually discharged completely on that occasion on 26 February 1919.

 Lucy fell pregnant with her 5th child Lillian during the time John was out.  Lillian was born and died 19 May 1919.

John's admission on the second occasion to Sunnyside Hospital was on 22 August 1921.  Lucy had given birth in 1920 to another daughter Pearl by this stage.  John never left hospital again and was later transferred on 7 March 1956 from Sunnyside to Ngawhatu Hospital, Nelson.  The reasons for his transfer are not on record.  It was here that he died on 22 October 1963.  A year after I was born.  Grandma Lucy had told the family he had died years and years earlier.  It came as a shock to some of his elderly grandchildren when I discovered in the 1990's when he had actually died - they would have liked to have visited him.  He is buried in a paupers plot at Marsden Valley cemetery, Nelson.

Lucy worked as a domestic to survive.  But the children were split up.

  • Her two eldest sons, my grandad John [known as Jack] and his brother James [known as Jim] were sent to the Bramwell Booth Boys Home in Temuka.
Jack married my grandma Doris in 1934.  It wasn't a happy marriage and they separated around 1955 after 7 children.  He died 1995.
 Jim married in 1941 and raised a family of 5.

Grandad Jack is sitting, Gt uncle Jim is standing.

Grandad is to the left in photo, his brother Jim on the right  c1923

On the reverse of the first photo:  "To my loving darling mother from John with Love XOXOXOXOXOXOXOX..." It does make me feel really sad. Other photos ask Lucy what she thinks of him ... snapshots in time of a young boy craving affection from a distant mother.  With all that it appears Lucy went through with an unhappy home life one wonders how she felt with the 'home life' her own children now had.

  •  Not sure if Mary Anne was fostered out.  She too married - three times and had five children to her first husband.  I only met her a handful of times but she was a gracious, gentle lady.

  • Hugh [Hughie].  Lucy told people he suffered from Polio - he had health issues but I'm not 100% sure it was polio - I recall being told by relatives that may have been a cover up story as he was born with a disability.  He died aged 32 in 1950 and Lucy is buried with him.

Baby Hughie - obviously a red head!
  • Pearl was fostered by her aunt Frances  [Lucy's older sister] and husband Joseph from the age of 17 months.  She later married and raised a family.

 I have been fortunate a couple of years ago to have been given a small box that belonged to Lucy containing a small photo album, loose photos and ephemera.  It was found in her house after she died and kept in the family.  Included in this box was the following letter - a reply back in 1937 from the then Prime Minister Michael Savage and signed by him

It seems that Lucy, then 3 days past her 46th birthday was struggling to make ends meet and must have written to the Prime Minister.  I would have loved to have seen the original letter she sent!  It is obvious by this letter that she was claiming to be a widow even way back then - the stigma of having a husband in a mental institution not being acceptable.

Lucy with my mother aged 2, Christchurch - 1939

Later in life Lucy's grandchildren come and stayed with her.  She was a no nonsence, formidable woman at times who was obviously resourceful.  A tad eccentric - that suitcase in the photo was full of lollies, she was also the one who got my mother addicted to cigarettes under the age of 10 years old!

She lived in an old cottage in Fleete Street, Burwood for many years.  She eventually moved into a council flat at 24 Andrews Crescent, Spreydon, Christchurch and it was here she was found dead in bed on 31 March 1961 - 5 days after my other great grandmother was also found dead in bed - tough times for the family!

Triptych street snap of Great Grandma Lucy - 1930's

 She is buried in Christchurch with Hugh.

©2013 Sarndra Lees


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