A Writer’s Prayer – Ethel Turner.

At the outset, I warned you that I was going to expand your understanding of Ethel Turner, the English-Australian author of Seven Little Australians. Moreover, I might also have mentioned that I’m still reading her books as we go. So, I’m on a steep learning curve and a thrilling adventure, while also trying to nut out these posts. Life wasn’t meant to be easy, but it can be delightful!

At this point, I’m going to interrupt my own thoughts, and ask you how often do you read a book and find that the author has unwittingly expressed the innermost desires of your heart? They know you in a way that is so intimate and personal, that they couldn’t know you any better if they hopped inside your boots, put on your skin and merged with your heart and mind and became you? It doesn’t happen very often, does it? Yet, I keep having these moments where Ethel Turner knows me to the very deepest core of my being, and then some. I’ve shared a few of these moments already. However, while I was reading Three Little Maids, I found another.

I guess, in a way, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I have been writing seriously personally and professionally to some extent for years. I self-published an anthology of poetry back in 1992 called Locked Inside An Inner Labyrinth. I gave a solo reading in Paris at the Shakespeare Bookshop a few months later. However, since then, all’s been quiet on the publishing front. Of course, I want to have a book published. Indeed, multiple books. However, to have a book published, you first have to write it, and that’s my problem.

Anyway, I haven’t been above praying for this to come about, and recently after submitting my entry for the SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition, I had a heartfelt prayer for my story to win.

Indeed, it was that very week that I read Dolly’s equally impassioned prayer and I felt Ethel Turner had known me long before I was even born.

However, before I launch into her prayer, I’d better set the scene.

Three Little Maids was published in 1900. At this point, Ethel Turner had been married to Herbert Curlewis for six years and their daughter, Jean, was two years old. It has been said that elements of Three Little Maids are autobiographical, and that Phyl represents her older sister, Lillian; Dorothy or “Dolly” is herself and “Weenie” represents her younger half-sister, Jeannie “Rose”. The book is divided into two halves: Part I: Play Days and Part II: Scribbling Days. When the book starts out Phyl is ten, Dolly is eight and I don’t think an age is given for Weenie, but she could be five. By the end of the novel, the two older girls have left school and in real life, Ethel Turner was 24 when Seven Little Australians was published.

So, we’re well and truly into scribbling days and onto the second last chapter, when Dolly has received a very exciting letter. Barely able to speak through the excitement, she puffs:

“I’ve-I’ve-I’ve ___” she said, and excitement grasped her throat again, and she merely laughed and choked. Someone shook her again.”I’ve-written a b-book,” she said, thus urged.” 1.

We turn a few pages and then we come to the scene where Ethel Turner expressed the deepest, innermost cries of my heart:

“One night,” Dolly said, in the same low tone,” I felt I must do something. I felt I couldn’t just go on doing little things always,-staying at home and helping, and going to dances, and playing tennis. I used to think I should like to go as a missionary, – not to China, of course, only somewhere here where people were very poor and miserable. But that night I didn’t seem to want anything but to write books that people would love to read, and that might do them some good.”

“Well?” said Phyl, for Dolly had paused and was looking with glowing eyes at the happy sky.

“I just prayed, Phyl. It seemed so simple. God had said all things were possible to faith, – that we were to Ask, and we should receive, that all things whatsoever we should ask in prayer, believing, we should receive. He didn’t say we were to stop to consider if the thing we asked seemed impossible. He just said all things whatsoever. And I prayed, Phyl, that I might write books. All my life seemed to go in the prayer. And everything was – wonderful. I was kneeling by the window, and the sky seemed to bend down all around me, it was so warm and close. We have never known just what it is to have an own, Father, Phyl but I knew that night. And I prayed and prayed, and I knew. He was answering me. Of, Phyl, if you could have seen the stars, –  so large and kind!” 2.

I must admit that I’ve wondered whether praying to get this elusive book of mine published, was worthy of prayer. It wasn’t as materialistic as asking for a Porsche (or in my case a restored Kombi). It also wasn’t asking God to strike down my enemies, which really doesn’t sit well with values like loving your neighbour or forgiving your enemy seventy times seven. However, Ethel Turner has unwittingly legitimised my prayer, and she even suggested that a book might even be able to “do good”. That writing a book isn’t just pure self-indulgence.

Moreover, and I think this is something Ethel Turner does really well and it particularly stands out in her Sunbeams columns in the Sun newspaper. She understands, empathises with and has compassion for people from all walks of life. In her own life, she has known poverty and desperate struggle. She lost her father as an infant, and her step-feather when she was eight. However, on the 28th March, 1930 her beloved daughter Jean died of tuberculosis, and this is what saw her stop writing novels altogether.

So, is it any wonder that I like the thousands of children who have flocked to Ethel Turner throughout the years, would also find a kindred spirit in her? A soul mate? Indeed, perhaps the greatest thing of all the greatest thing of all….hope?!!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what I have called: “A Writer’s Prayer”. I wonder if you also relate to it? In that case, I say a silent prayer for you, and if you could spare a few prayers for my illusive book and the competition entry I’d also be grateful. It’s not easy being a writer, and not adding oneself to the dreaded waste paper bin!

Many thanks and best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

PS The illustrations in this post came from my grandfather’s German Bible, which was a 21st birthday present from his grandfather, Heinrich August Haebich of Hahndorf in South Australia. He was a blacksmith, while my grandfather was a Lutheran pastor. We had the Bible on the altar at our wedding, and I’d scanned some of the etchings into the order of service.

  1. Ethel Turner: Three Little Maids, Ward Locke & Co., London, p. 296.

2. Ibid. pp 302-303

Weekend Coffee Share – 3rd October, 2021.

Welcome to my first Weekend Coffee Share at my new blog – Tea With Ethel Turner. I will still be doing my regular coffee share over at Beyond the Flow, my regular blog. For those of you not familiar with the Weekend Coffee Share, it might sounds strange for me to be talking about coffee instead of tea. However, no one’s forcing anybody to drink coffee over there. You can drink whatever takes your fancy. I personally prefer tea. Start the day with two cups of Twining’s English Breakfast. Coffee no longer agrees with me, and these days I only have it intermittently and usually at a cafe.

So, how are you? I hope you’ve had a great week.

I started Tea With Ethel Turner on the 21st September, almost two weeks ago. Ethel Turner is considered one of Australia’s greatest and most loved children’s author’s That is, despite being born in England and her books being more suited to young adults, and equally suited to adults and being read to a younger child has often been the case. Ethel Turner had 40 novels published, the most famous being her first – Seven Little Australians, which is the first in a trilogy the Woolcot family. Strong comparisons were made with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women series, and Ethel Turner has been called Australia’s Louisa May Alcott more than once.

I guess a very valid question is what has attracted a 52 year old woman who was up to her neck obsessively researching and writing up the biographies of Australia’ s WWI soldiers, to become so obsessed with Ethel Turner? It actually had very little to do with Seven Little Australians, and was more about the columns she wrote as “Chief Sunbeamer”. These were also directed at children, but openly discussed her desire to make the world a better place, and after the horrors of WWI, hope lay in the younger generation. I am also interested in how she grapples with the big issues of life, and a recurring theme is death, faith and the power of prayer. She was as much a philosopher as she was a writer.

I don’t know how many of you write fiction, and have created worlds for your characters as well as the characters themselves. I don’t know whether any of you have thought that you’re playing God bringing all these elements together, and deciding how it all plays out. Moreover, a bit like God found himself, your creations can take on a mind of their own, and do their own thing. Of course, as an author, you can always kill them off when they get too big for their boots. Ethel Turner has done that too. Indeed, she’s famous for it.

Anyway, I thought I’d list the posts to date because they really should be read in order although not every post will interest you, and some are geared more towards an Australian academic level. However, if you are struggling to understand any of the Australianisms, please feel free to ask for clarification. Hopefully, I have this covered love for the vernacular.

So here are the posts so far:

Welcome to Tea With Ethel Turner: https://wordpress.com/post/teawithethelturner.com/31

Ethel Turner’s Worldview:

https://wordpress.com/post/teawithethelturner.com/56

Ethel Turner’s Rainbow Poem: https://wordpress.com/post/teawithethelturner.com/77

The Beginnings of Ethel Turner: https://wordpress.com/post/teawithethelturner.com/104

The Mysterious Lucy Turner (Ethel’s Step-Sister): https://wordpress.com/post/teawithethelturner.com/139

Another Author in the Turner Family- Madeleine Board Honey

https://wordpress.com/post/teawithethelturner.com/159

A Short Story By Madeleine Board – “An Artist’s View”

https://wordpress.com/post/teawithethelturner.com/184

Another Short Story By Madeleine Board: “Two Birds With One Stone”.

https://wordpress.com/post/teawithethelturner.com/191

I must admit I’m rather chuffed about my efforts so far. I knew I’d been accumulating quite a lot of material, and I also wanted to connect with other fans of Ethel Turner, literature and aspiring authors who are keen to learn. Goodness knows where it’s all heading, but as much as this progress is reassuring, I’m concerned I’m creating a monster. How much work is this going to take? She wrote 40 novels and edited the children’s pages in multiple publications. This could go on forever, and as you may be aware this is my secondary research project. It’s not the main game, but there is some overlap.

Well, on that note, I’m heading off to make another cup of tea. This one’s turned cold.

Meanwhile, you might like to join us over at the Weekend Coffee Share, which is hosted by Natalie the Explorer https://natalietheexplorer.home.blog/

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS If you’re interested in writing short stories, I recommend you read the two stories I posted by Ethel Turner’s step-niece, Madeleine Board.

Madeleine Board / Honey – Another Author in the Turner Family

Welcome back to Tea With Ethel Turner. I apologise if you feel I’m taking the slow road to China here. I’m expecting things to speed up soon. However, I’m trying to sort out the biographical details of Ethel Turner’s early life. Given there’s the death of her father, her mother’s re-marriage, the addition of a half-sister, death of the step-father, emigration to Australia, her mother’s third marriage, the birth of a half-brother…it can get a bit messy and detail is required. After all, it’s hard to paint an authentic portrait when you gloss over all the details. They can also red pen existing biographies of Ethel Turner.

It is well-known that Ethel Turner’s older sister Lillian was her literary partner in crime, and also published books although less successfully than her younger sister. It is also well-known that Ethel Turner’s much-loved daughter, Jean, was also published and showing literary promise when she tragically died of tuberculosis when she was thirty. Lillian’s son also had literary flair. However, what I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere is that Ethel Turner’s step-niece, Madeleine Board, was a moderately successful author, who also had a steady stream of contributions published over the years. So, this raises the question of whether there was more than just a genetic writer’s gene at play in the Turner clan.

Lucy “Madeleine” Board was born in 1886 to parents Lucy Turner and Thomas Board, an accountant. She had an older brother, Thomas (1885) and a younger sister, Gladys (1891). As I mentioned in my previous post, Lucy Turner was Ethel’s step-sister who accompanied the family out to Australia. So, she has no genetic relationship to Ethel Turner and older sister Lillian, although she is a half-sister to Jeanie Rose, the youngest of the “three little maids”.

It appears that Madeleine’s literary efforts were first recognised in 1901 when she was awarded a Highly Commended in a writing competition in the Sun newspaper. She was 15 at the time and attending Paddington Superior Public School (which Ethel Turner had also attended by the way) 1. On the 20th September, 1903 Madeleine won First Prize, Senior Division, Political Essay Competition ; subject, Sir Edmund Barton in the Sunday Times 2. On Sunday 13th November, 1904 she had a small essay published in the Sunday Times about the nature of conceit 3. She also had a number of good short stories published, including: “An Artist’s Picture” which won 1st prize in a Sunday Times story writing competition in 1905 4. In 1906, she was awarded a Gold Medal for her essay: “The Greatest Need of New South Wales”, which she saw as increased population, but along restricted lines 5.  In 1924, Madeleine married William Henry Honey. In 1926, she had a children’s book: Little Boo accepted by Ward, Lock and Co., who published Seven Little Australians. It’s hard to be sure of all her titles, and she wrote as both Madeleine Board and Madeleine Honey. However, I’ve also found: Secrets of River Valley and Diana.

Madeleine Honey died in 1942. She didn’t seem to warrant an obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald. Just these few lines from her husband in the hatches, matches and despatches:

HONEY.-April 19, 1942, at a private hospital, Lucy Madeleine, the beloved wife of W. H. Honey, of Edgecliff 6.

I hope my efforts compensate for that in a way. Moreover, I’m sure she would’ve been chuffed if she’d been alive to see this advertisement for “Books of the Week” listing her Secrets of River Valley one down from a Biggle’s book, even if it was for a bookshop out in Broken Hill.

Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), Saturday 18 October 1947, page 6

However, before I head off, in the wider interests of Australian literature, I should mention that Madeleine’s husband, William Henry Honey, was also a successful published writer. Of particular interest, he wrote and illustrated Yoonecarra, which was published by Beacon Press. As I haven’t read it, I’ll defer to a review published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 22 February 1936:

“Hiawatha” has provided Mr. W. H. Honey with the verse-form, and more than one suggestion , for his narrative-descriptive poem. “Yoonecarra.” He may, in fact, be regarded as one of the most successful of Longfellow’s imitators. This poem tells the story of Yoonecarra chief of the ancient Kamilaroi tribe, who dwelt:

In a valley of luxuriance,

Wheie the lazy Gwydir wandered.

Slowly flowing to the sea-coast;

Where the maidenhair and tree-fern

Graced the river side with beauty . . .

In dreams he heard a ghostly challenge to leave his people and journey to the home of his ancestor and preserver, “Great Balame, king of heaven.” When almost In despair he reached this far country, and was welcomed, but had to return once more to see his tribe, before being translated to the other sphere altogether. His solitary adventuring offers Mr. Honey great opportunities for describing native customs, opportunities of which he fully and effectively takes advantage. There are, naturally, allegorical and didactic suggestions in the narrative, but they are not obtruded. With all this fresh material, however, the phrasing is conventional and rather commonplace. That defect contrasts strongly with the heroic atmosphere, too. The drawings, apparently, by the author, are skilfully done, while the whole publication, in an elaborate form with tinted paper, large type, and many incidental designs, is the product of a private local press, the Beacon. Everything has been done to ensure that the poem shall be read easily and pleasantly. (W. H. Honey, “Yoonpcarra,” Beacon Press.) 7.

Children’s book written by William Honey

So, it appears William Honey could warrant his own post. However, you might need to call on his ghost. After all, I am supposed to be having tea with Ethel Turner. That’s where I started out. Now, after three months of hard lockdown, I’m happy to have tea with anyone from a distance. I’m usually left having cups of tea with the dog. He’s usually glued to my lap with the keyboard teetering precariously across his back.

For your interest, I’m going to post a couple of Madeleine Board’s short stories, and then I’ll return to Ethel Turner and her family’s arrival in Australia. I really enjoyed these stories, and felt they ought to be shared- even if it meant me deviating off course yet again!

Thank you for joining me. It’s time for me to reboil the kettle.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

Sources

  1. Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), Sunday 27 October 1901, page 11

2. Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), Sunday 20 September 1903, p 9.

3. Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), Sunday 13 November 1904, p 7.

4. Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), Sunday 30 July 1905, page 7

5. Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), Sunday 27 May 1906, page 7

6. Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Monday 20 April 1942, page 10

7. Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Saturday 22 February 1936, page 12

     

The Mysterious Lucy Turner.

Welcome to another cup of tea with Ethel Turner. Or to be more precise, today we’re having tea with Ethel’s step-sister, Lucy Turner.

Considering they’re not biological related, it could be rather tempting to gloss over Lucy Turner, and move onto the family’s arrival in Australia. However, as biographical sleuths, we need to keep an open mind, especially before we weave the overall tapestry. There might just be a surprise!

Moreover, knowing more about the extended Turner family can also shed light on Seven Little Australians, which has been said to be based on the Turner household. Older sister, Lillian was four, and Ethel was only two years old when their mother married Henry Turner on the 21st August 1872. Lucy would’ve been around 14. A year later, their half-sister, Jeannie Rose, was born. Henry died in August 1878 and so they lived together as a family for around six years.

Lastly, knowing more about Ethel Turner’s real life gives us a better chance of sifting fact from fiction. Of particular interest, Ethel’s novel: Three Little Maids has been considered a somewhat autobiographical account of her early life. However, it is also fused with fiction, and as a biographical source warrants a more critical assessment. (We will get to that).

Bearing all this in mind, Lucy Turner certainly warrants at the very least an introduction. Moreover, all of this wrangling actually did produce a surprise.

Lucy Turner’s Story

To be perfectly honest, I only came across Lucy Turner when I found her included in the shipping records for the Turner family. On the 20th January, 1880 Sarah Jane Turner and her three daughters: Lillian 12, Ethel 9, Rose 5 and Lucy Turner aged 21 years boarded The Durham in Plymouth as unassisted passengers. They arrived in Sydney three months later on the 23rd March, 1880. Ethel would have celebrated her 10th birthday on board. It has been said that Lucy brought her father’s ornate clock with her on the voyage, which bore the following inscription: “Presented to Henry Turner Jnr as a mark of esteem and respect by the employees of Messrs H. Turner and son, Brunswick Street Mills, Leicester , Dec 24 1869.” 2.

Although I haven’t been able to find a birth record for Lucy Turner yet, she did appear in the 1871 census. She was 13 years old and one of the six Turner children. They were living at St Margaret’s in Leichester East 1. This means she was born around 1858.

After arriving in Sydney, Lucy married Tom A. Board in Canterbury in 1884. He was an accountant and they had three children: Harold (1885), Lucy “Madeleine” (1886) and Gladys (1891). They were living at 36 Gordon-street, Paddington in 1912 when her husband passed away, after being runover by a tram.

It appears Lucy was a musician:

MUSICIAN ENTERTAINS.

Mrs. Lucy Board, who has recently taken up her residence In Turramurra gave an “At Home” recently. Among the guests were Mrs. J. Dobbie and Mr. Frank Edgar, the well-known composers 3 .

While it’s nice that her step-sister is musical, what is more interesting is that Lucy’s daughter, Madeleine Board, was a published children’s author- also by Ward Locke who had published Seven Little Australians.

Now, for those of you like me who compulsively chase rabbits down their burrow holes, let us continue. After all, when you’re considering the making of Ethel Turner, there’s always the genes versus environment debate. An obvious consideration is also how much influence Ethel’s career and her interest in teaching young people to write had over her step-sister’s daughter. It must also be remembered that Ethel’s younger sister, Rose, was a Turner and Lucy’s half sister as well.

So, now we are left investigating Madeleine before we’ve even touched on Ethel’s older sister, Lillian, and before they’ve even landed in Australia. I am addressing her now because she’s been left out of the Turner author narrative before, and because this side of the family is going to be dropped out of my narrative after this post.

On second thoughts, Madeline warrants a post of her own, and then we’ll move on.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Sources

  1. Family Search 1871 UK Census.
  2. A.T. Yarwood: From A Chair In The Sun, Ringwood, 1994, p 9.
  3. Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), Tuesday 27 April 1926, p 2

The Beginnings of Ethel Turner.

Welcome Back to Tea With Ethel Turner.

While we’re having tea again today, I just thought I’d mention that yesterday marked three months since Greater Sydney went into Covid Lockdown 2.0. I’m in lockdown with my husband, Geoff, who is working from home and our two teenagers and three dogs. Not that I’m complaining. However, as good as Ethel Turner’s writing might be, it does help explain why I’m binge reading her collective works right now. That’s not because I’m bored out of my mind, and climbing the walls. Rather, I’ve been needing solace, and somehow she offers that. Ethel was an incredibly compassionate, loving person renowned for her generosity. As an extrovert and someone who is particularly vulnerable to Covid, I particularly need that at the moment. I need a hug from Aunty. At least, that’s how she was seen by her thousands of young readers.

Anyway, after that excessively chatty intro, today we’re leaping into our tea cup and flying saucer and travelling back to Ethel Turner’s early days.

Although Ethel Turner is known as an Australian author, she was actually born Ethel Mary Burwell on the 24 January 1870 at Balby, Yorkshire, England. Turner was her step-father’s name 1.

Little is known about her father Bennett George Burwell, other than that he was a commercial traveller. Her mother, Sarah Jane Shaw, was christened on the 11th January, 1844 at St Mark’s Church, Lincoln, Lincolnshire. Her parents were William Shaw and Rebecca Hall. Her Sarah’s obituary states that her father “in his youth had seen military service in the West Indies and at Crimea”. In the 1851 Census, the Shaw family were living at St Mary Le Wigford, Lincolnshire, England. William was 50 years old and had been born in Melbourne, Derbyshire and worked as a stationer. They had five children and two servants and Sarah Jane was seven years old. Ethel Turner’s biography states that William Shaw, a professor of music and her mother was Rebecca (formerly Hall); they lived at St Marks in Lincoln and the family prospered to the extent of buying a well-equipped  stationers 2.

No record of Ethel’s parents’ marriage has been found, and it’s been suggested they were not married. Unfortunately, this also means a missed opportunity for finding out more about them.

However, the birth of Ethel’s older sister Lillian, pins the family down. Lillian was born on the 21st August, 1867 at Gresham Street, Lincoln, Lincolnshire. Lillian was roughly two-and-a-half years old when Ethel was born.

Ideally, the 1871 British Census would show where the Burwell family was living at the time. However, I have been unable to find any record of Ethel Burwell, Sarah Jane Burwell, Jane Burwell, Lillian Burwell in the 1871 UK Census on Family Search. I’m happy to stand corrected. In fact, bring it on! There are a few rough bumps in Ethel Turner’s early years, and I thought it best to bring those out into the open and get them sorted once and for all.

Meanwhile, her biographer, AT Yarwood, claims Sarah was listed as Jane Burwell 25 years, husband commercial traveler abroad, Lillian three, and Ethel one and the family also had a domestic servant, Harriet Bywater, aged 15. I can’t find her either.3.

So, I’m putting the challenge out there. Can you help me please? Pretty please!

The Death of Ethel’s Father – Bennett George Burwell

Anyway, moving right along, Ethel Turner’s father apparently died in Paris around 1872. That must have been incredibly hard for Ethel to lose her Dad when she was just a toddler, and for her mother to be widowed with two young daughters to care for.

Mother Sarah Burwell Marries Henry Turner

On the 21st August, 1872, Ethel’s mother, Sarah, married widower Henry Turner at the registry office in Yarmouth, Norfolk. They were both living at Simpson’s Temperance Hotel in Yarmouth at the time. After the marriage, Lillian and Ethel changed their names to Turner. Henry Turner was 46 years old when he married Ethel’s mother. He was a factory manager. A large ornate clock, which his daughter Lucy carried with her to Australia in 1880, became part of Henry’s legacy. It bore an inscription: “Presented to Henry Turner Jnr as a mark of esteem and respect by the employees of Messrs H. Turner and son, Brunswick Street Mills, Leicester, Dec 24 1869.”

The Family of Henry Turner

One of the questions that comes up regarding the identities and inspiration behind the Seven Little Australians, is whether these were the children of Henry Turner. I have managed to find Henry Turner, wife Mary and their six children in the 1871 Census where they were living at St Margaret’s in Leichester East (Source: Family Search):

Henry Turner – 38 Born in Burchett’s Green, Warwickshire. Occupation: Overlooker

Mary Turner – 34  – Born: Belgrave, Leichester

Henry Turner – 15 – Elastic Weaver

Kate MA Turner – 14

Lucy Turner – 13

Luke Turner -11

Samuel – 7

JT Turner – 5

Birth of Her Half-Sister – Jeanie Rose 1873

Returning to Sarah Jane and Henry Turner, daughter Jeanie Rose was born in 1873, while the Turners were living in the Wellington Villas, Amberstone Road, Leicester, about 40 km North of Nuneaton.

Death of Henry Turner

Tragically, Henry Turner died in August, 1878 in Coventry and was buried in an unmarked grave in Coventry Cemetery. Widowed once again, Ethel’s mother was now left with with three daughters: Lillian, Ethel eight and Rose five. Apparently, Henry Turner had only left them £200 when he died[1]. I’m not sure what that amounted to in their money. However, it doesn’t sound very encouraging.

The Turners Embark for Sydney, NSW.

Just under two years after the death of Henry Turner, Sarah Jane Turner and her three daughters aged 12, 9 and 5 embarked as unassisted passengers on board The Durham for Sydney – along with Sarah’s step-daughter, Lucy Turner, aged 21 years. They sailed out of Plymouth on the 20th January, 1880 and arrived in Sydney three months later on the 23RD March, 1880.

The family’s departure from England is a good place to draw the curtain on Ethel Turner’s early life.

Sydney 1880 when Ethel Turner and her family arrived. That’s the Sydney Conservatorium on the left. All so different to today!

Probably more than any other page, I am expecting to return back here as new information comes to light. I am still reading her biography: A Chair in the Sun and her diaries which were compiled by her grand-daughter, Philippa Poole. I am also about to start reading Three Little Maids, which is apparently heavily autobiographical about her early childhood with sister Lillian and her younger half-sister, Rose. That’s something to look forward to, and you can start reading if you want to keep up. Also, might I suggest that you also start reading Seven Little Australians. The suspense is brewing.

I look forward to seeing you soon!

Best wishes,

Rowena

References:


[1] ADB Ethel Turner: https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/turner-ethel-mary-8885

2.A.T. Yarwood: A Chair In The Sun, p. 8.

3. Ibid p. 8.

      

Ethel Turner’s Rainbow Poem.

Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.”

Lord Byron

As I delve further into Ethel Turner, I am starting to wonder why I didn’t have tea with a one-book wonder instead. How could I possibly hope to fathom such a prolific writer when it could well take me more than a lifetime to read all her works, let along provide any meaningful analysis? However, lockdown does strange things to the mind and the soul. So, here I am back here having tea with Ethel Turner again.

For Seven Little Australians’ fans, these opening posts at Tea With Ethel Turner might seem a bit random, and you’re anxious for me to get to the point. However, as I said at the outset, I’m wanting to present the full diversity of Ethel’s writing and to explore both her writing and her back story in depth. so, for those of you like me who thought you knew Ethel Turner, you might need to reconsider.

Anyway, today while we’re sipping tea, I’m going to share what I call “Ethel’s Rainbow Poem”, If?, which appeared in the Mirror on the 13th October, 1917:

IF?

Ethel Turner.

Oh, if that rainbow up there just for a moment would reach

Through the wet slopes of the air here where I stand on the beach.

Here, where the waves wash the strand, swing itself lovingly low,

Let me catch fast with one hand, climb its frail rigging, and go! 1.

I have to admit I love rainbows, and have been known to go rainbow chasing with my kids and the camera in the car. Rainbows are like pure magic painted across a stormy sky as the sun comes out and hits that magic sweet spot, diffracting the light. Who hasn’t wasn’t to grab hold of a rainbow in one way or another and go for a magical ride? I’ve never thought of climbing a rainbow before, and it’s also been quite a few years since I’ve gone looking for the leprechaun’s magic pot of gold. However, that hasn’t stopped me from trying to capture rainbows forever in 6 x 4. while climbing onto a rainbow might be pure fantasy, it’s one of the few ways Climbing a rainbow is the only way any of us cut-off Australians are going to make it overseas at the moment. Escaping into a world of fantasy also has obvious appeal, and even more so for anyone reading it in 1917 during the horrors of the Great War when there were absolutely no certainties about when it was all going to end.

As it turned out, the lines above were actually only a fragment of a much longer poem:

Right in the midst of WWI, Ethel had her beautiful poem: If? published

However, at this point, I’d like to share what I call her “Rainbow Poem”. It’s absolutely magnificent, and more than likely was named after Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem of the same name. So, without any further mad ramblings and distraction, here it is:

This was actually a fragment of a much larger poem:

Oh, If That Rainbow Up There

Oh, if that rainbow up there,
Spanning the sky past the hill,
Slenderly, tenderly fair
Shining with colours that thrill,
Oh, if that rainbow up there,
Just for a moment could reach
Through the wet slope of the air
Here where I stand on the beach!

Here where the waves wash the strand,

Swing itself lovingly low,
Let me catch fast with one hand,
Climb its frail rigging and go.
Climb its frail rigging and go?
Where is its haven of rest?
Out in the gleam and the glow
Of the blood-red waves of the West?

Or where the isles of the dawn
Lie on an amethyst sea,

Does it drift, pale and forlorn,
Ghost of the glory I see?
Is there, ah, is there a land
Such as the Icelanders say,
Or past the West’s ruddy strand
Or on the edge of the day,

Some undiscovered clime
Seen through a cloud’s sudden rift,
Where all the rainbows of Time
Slowly and silently drift?
Some happy port of a sea
Never a world’s sail has made,
Where till the earth shadows flee
Never a rainbow may fade.

Oh, if that rainbow up there,
Just for a moment would reach,
Through the wet slope of the air
Here where I stand on the beach.
Here where the waves wash the strand
Swing itself lovingly low,
Let me catch fast with one hand,
Climb its frail rigging and go!

Ethel Turner

Lockdown, and most importantly as a vulnerable person, hasn’t been easy. During this time, I also found comfort knowing that Ethel had gone through the Spanish Flu and the Great War and come out the other side. Not only that, through her books she has given us a window into that world, and her children’s columns no doubt helped our young Australians grapple with the incomprehensible.

Source

  1. Mirror (Sydney, NSW : 1917 – 1919), Saturday 13 October 1917, page 8

Ethel Turner’s Worldview.

Have you ever noticed when you read the bio of a high achiever, that it is crammed full of facts and all their achievements but says absolutely nothing about them as a person, their character, their beliefs and so little about what makes them tick?

This is an obvious challenge I face here at Tea With Ethel Turner. However, if I’d sought to write a concise biography, I would’ve chosen a different medium. I’d have reduced 40 novels, her numerous contributions to children’s pages throughout her life to a few hundred well-selected words. Indeed, I’m seeking to expand Ethel Turner, not constrict her.

So, instead of launching straight into an analysis of Seven Little Australians, or quoting Mark Twain or what some other famous soul has said about Ethel Turner, I wanted to share an extraordinary letter Ethel Turner wrote in her role as “Chief Sunbeamer” and editor in chief of the Sunbeams children’s pages in the Sun newspaper.

To provide a brief background, Ethel Turner ran numerous writing competitions in Sunbeams, and had put a call out for contributions about what they wanted to be when grew up. Or, simplified into the heading: “When I grow Up”.

On the 23rd May, 1922 Ethel Turner shared what she wanted to be when she grew up, and it captivated me. I am such a visionary, an idealist, someone who wants to change the world, and there she was flying the flag right alongside me:

“Dear Young People,— When I, personally, grow up, I should like to become an archangel, able to stride royally about the evening skies plucking at the laughing stars, and tossing them down to earth into the laps of all the children upon whom the sun during the day, had forgotten to smile. And I notice that three parts of you, in your “When I’m Grown Up” papers, have very Similar desires. You are evidently not satisfied with the state of things in the world that the present “Grown Ups” are content to allow. When you grow up you are going to make things brighter and better in all directions — are going to simply spill the stars about in the dark spaces.[1]

How beautiful was that?

Moreover, it had me asking more about Ethel Turner.

Who was she?

Of course, when you consider the date, you soon realize that Ethel Turner and most of these idealistic children, had gone through the horrors of WWI and the Spanish Flu Pandemic. They had seen and lost so much. Of course, they wanted a better world and to try to make a difference to the suffering of others.

In my next post, I’ll be sharing a poem which also touched the very depths of my heart. Ethel Turner really had an extraordinary soul.

Best wishes,

Rowena


[1] Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), Sunday 28 May 1922, page 2