Voices of the Past Emerging.

George Alfred Nicoll, my 1st Cousin, 3 x removed. I hear him loud and clear now despite the fact that everything we have been able to discover about him has really been the equivalent to chasing him into a room, just missing him and learning about him from those that were there. Don’t get me wrong, that is fantastic and it will continue in this post but we will also have the amazing chance of hearing George’s own voice. I know, I was so thrilled to discover an actual letter from George that he writes to his father Bruce, from South Africa, whilst fighting in the Boer War. “Spoilers Sweetie!” (If you are one of my 3x Great Grandchildren or Nieces or Nephews? Welcome, nice that you found me after all this time. That little reference probably won’t mean much to you. Look up, River Song, a character on an ancient TV sci-fi show. You will thank me! I would never have admitted it alive, Oh who am I kidding, of course I would have, I’m a Whovian. Watched it religiously when I was a kid in the ’70s. My first Dr was Tom Baker, the fourth. Enough of me, back to George and more importantly for the moment, his wife, Kate.

Kate’s voice wasn’t as loud in the last post but we will be hearing her loud and clear in this one and yes, I’m so excited again, I managed to uncover a letter of Kates’. So we will be hearing Kate’s own voice as well but before we get to that little gift, just a reminder, this is Kate.

Figure 1: Kate Carina May Thorne, Courtesy of National Library of Australia https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/84445655/8801979

I do wish that I could uncover the original of this photo. (It does happen on rare occasions, I’ve had it happen once with one of my 2x Great Grandfathers. Checkout my posts on the family Roadtrip.)

That pose, and what looks like an evening cape with a fur-trimmed hood, the choker necklace, and the jeweled hair clip. This is a woman who appears comfortable in her own skin and unlike so many others of her time, accustomed to money, privilege, and independence. Another quick reminder, Kate is the daughter of a wealthy landowner and longtime local council member. Her Uncle and Aunt are the Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Brisbane at the end of the 19th century. Kate is a published poetess and if that picture above is a clue to anything, that is, that she is a performer. This is the world Kate is accustomed to.

Figure 2: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.

Here is another of those kismet moments in Kate and Georges’s story. It is 1897 when Kate attends the reception above. She is 21 years old, her’s and George’s wedding is about 6 years away but look who is also attending the reception at the same time as Kate.

Figure 3: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.

Mrs B. B. Nicoll, or if you prefer her own name, Mrs. Jane Nicoll, George’s mother, and aunt to Kate’s best friend Thirza Zahel. Maybe it’s just a coincidence or perhaps this might have been their first meeting where Jane is so taken with this young friend of her niece’s who is talking of studying medicine, that the idea is planted that this could be a good match for her middle son. I’m sure she couldn’t have imagined at this moment, that her other son, 12-year-old Gordon, would end up marrying her niece Thirza. Now that is another story I would love to uncover.

Now you might remember I mentioned in my last post and the one before that about the fact that I had uncovered a report of Kate inventing a machine that helped with the treatment of Consumption and that it was being tested on a large group of patients. Just to refresh your memory here it is again.

Figure 4: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.

Here we find ourselves in 1903 again, it is a significant year for George and Kate. So before we can delve into what this invention is I want to look back again so that we can uncover how Kate got to this point. To do that, you all know the drill by now, I hit Trove. This was actually the first article that I discovered that mentioned anything about Kate studying.

Figure 5: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.

This was next to reveal itself.

Figure 6: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.

It is wonderful to see that “…she had many friends…” and that she “…wrote pretty verses…”, it just has that tone for me of the time, it’s almost paternalistic and yes, I know I’m judging it with my 2020 hindsight. I, of course, had no idea what materia medica was and hadn’t seen the Sydney Herald article mentioned above. Next tasks set. Found it…

Figure 7: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.

This has some really interesting information in it to unpack but it is very obvious to me that there are some major themes starting to reveal themselves. Not least of them being that we are discussing exam results from 120 years ago. I mean I would be hard-pressed to find a report card of mine from 35 years ago let alone these tiny scratchings of print that are just pure gold that flesh out Kate’s existence and could so easily have been overlooked. The major theme for me though is, that we are talking about the fact that Kate’s name is even there on the list. Yes, a woman studying a science course, (I did find out what Materia Medica was, I will share very soon) in a technical college 120 years ago. I’m no historical expert but I start to think to myself, this surely must be at a time when this is out of the norm and must have taken an enormous amount of strength on Kate’s part to make it happen.

Kate, like every other woman living in the 1900s New South Wales, had no political rights and very few legal rights. Once a woman married these rights were further eroded. If Kate was to have married George in 1900 she would have been legally obliged to surrender all of her property holdings and any wages she earned over to him. Any children they might have, he would be the sole legal guardian of, not Kate. George would also have the right to remove the children from her care at any time he liked and also would have had the right to legally bequeath their care to someone other than Kate in the event of his death. (https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/womens-suffrage)

It is really important for me to mention here that the above paragraph did not relate to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island women at all. The issue of the history of their rights both politically and legally are enormosly complex. I have just done a couple of hours of reading on the issue and I would encourage you to seek out the information so you can inform yourself. I hope if you are a descendent of mine in the future that you are now living in an Australia that is vastly more progressive and inclusive in relation to our treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island People than either mine or Kate and George’s worlds have been.

The Office for Women website from the Government of South Australia really states it the best in relation to how I feel about the issue. “It is important that we acknowledge the hurt, shame and disrespect of this disenfranchising of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the ongoing racism and disempowerment they experience.” (https://officeforwomen.sa.gov.au/womens-policy/125th-anniversary-of-suffrage/aboriginal-women-and-the-vote)

But here is Kate, in 1900 studying at the Sydney Technical College and when you take a closer look at the original examination listing of the extract above, it extends over 4 columns of a full-size broadsheet. In that listing, Kate’s is the only female name printed there in the science courses. The only other female names and there is only a smattering, appear in the life drawing and cooking courses.

I did a search of the examination listings for the four years prior to this list that Kate appears in and in 1899 there is an Annie Praed who gains a 2nd-grade pass in Advance Chemistry and then two women in 1896 who gain 2nd grade passes in Theoretical Chemistry, Alice M Jordan and Laura M Hall and that is it. I know it seems strange but mentioning their names just seems like the right thing to do. I haven’t been able to confirm if these listings are all the enrolments for that time or just a listing of the people that obtained these marks, so it may be that there were more women enrolled but still Kate’s name being the only female one listed is still very telling of the struggle that women were enduring.

I did found out the meaning of materia medica. This from Wikipedia: “…is a Latin term from the history of pharmacy for the body of collected knowledge about the therapeutic properties of any substance used for healing.” This means that Kate has passed her pharmacology studies at this time. I also discovered from the Sydney University Medical Museum that this is the same year that Dagmar Berne passes away. She was the first woman to study medicine in Australia in 1885, she was 35 years of age. She is also the 2nd woman ever to register with the Medical Board of NSW in 1895 only 5 years earlier than Kate’s exam results.

These really were pioneering times for women, women like Kate. The museum has the most wonderful picture of some of these women pictured in 1897.

Figure 8: Courtesy of The Sydney University School of Medicine Museum

I look at this and think, might one of them be Kate? Or did she know these women, or they her? I know, its a long shot but this could be the year she starts her study, 1897. How do I know this? Well, you didn’t think that I wasn’t going to try and research the hell out of this, did you? I jumped straight onto the web and looked up the Sydney Technical College. Found out they are still operating, under the TAFE NSW banner now and they had a Museum. I shot off a message.

Basically the ghist was, do you have any historical records of past admissions, extract below.

I’m referring to an amazingly inspirational women named “Kate Carina May Thorne”. She married my 1st Cousin 3x removed in 1903 and became “Mrs George Alfred Nicoll” after that. She was a Poetess, Author, Playwright and Doctor. She apparently developed a new treatment for “consumptive diseases” not long after marrying George and received a huge amount of notoriety which is evident when you do a quick search on National Library’s Trove sight.

Yes, Playwright is new, just discovered that she wrote a play as well. I received this wonderfully generous reply from Helen an Archivist Librarian at TAFE. It is not often that someone will go to this level of trouble for you and I am so appreciative of her efforts.

How amazing was that? I know, unfortunately, no historical records relating to Kate directly but some great general info on the College and how it related to Kate and her studies. Also another door open for potential records with State Archives. I received this follow up message the following week.

I didn’t tear up but I was feeling a wash of emotion for Kate. I’m so happy that a bit of digging on my part has inspired someone else to help keep Kates story alive. I shared everything I had accumulated on Kate with Helen. This is some of the information Helen shared with me. The college where Kate studied.

Sydney Technical College
Figure 9: Courtesy of the State Library of NSW
Town & Country Expose on the college from 1898
Figure 10: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.

This is a window directly into Kate’s world at the very time she was there. Picture 8 above is the Laboratory, I’m looking at it imagining Kate working there and willing an image of her to appear.

Figure 11: Courtesy of TAFE NSW

This is Building A where the Pharmacology course was taught. The lower right hand side is where Kate would have spent her time.

Building A
Figure 12: Courtesy of Norm Neill,
Technically & Further Sydney Technical College 1891-1991

The course outline below actually poses more questions about Kate and her studies but it also sheds light on what she potentially was doing.

Figure 13: Courtesy of TAFE NSW

This is a great share from Helen at TAFE. It shows that the subject that Kate completed was actually a third-year subject of the complete Pharmacy course. So this enables us to suggest that Kate started studying in 1897 which comfortably puts her in the cohort of the group of pioneering women in the earlier photo. Check out the volume of work that was required in the Syllabus below, this is what Kate would have undertaken to get to her Materia Medica results in 1900.

Figure 14: Courtesy of TAFE NSW

I think it safe to assume from this outline and the 1st and 2nd-grade results she achieved that Kate was an intelligent, competent, and modern woman of her time, pushing the misogynistic boundaries that governed her life. (I was soon to learn just how correct I was in this assumption.)

Helen shared another great resource that expands this view of the time that Kate was living in. Joan Cobb explains in her book Sweet Road to Progress: The History of State Technical Education In NSW to 1949, that at the time Kate was embarking on her studies a new Pharmacy Act was passed in 1897. The new Act provided for the creation of the NSW Pharmacy Board and stipulated the conditions of registration. To be registered Kate would have had to complete an apprenticeship and have attained a diploma recognised by the Board. The new questions raised, did Kate become an apprentice chemist? If so at what establishment and how did she go about getting that apprenticeship?

I obtained a copy of the 1897 Act and in it this is part of what it stipulated.

Figure 15: Courtesy of NSW Government
( https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/acts/1897-7.pdf)

Just jump to that last line, “…if he” just clarifies what Kate was up against. This sentiment is evident in so much of the material from the time. In the Joan Cobb book mentioned above, she explains that there was an issue between the Board and a gentleman she only identifies in the pages I have as Curruthers. I’m assuming he is a Government official. Cobb presents a quote of Curruthers’ where he is talking about whether a Board suggestion of Government funding to help people enter the profession has merit. He states “…it is not the duty of the State to train people up…I totally differ with you as to it being the duty of the State to help these young men you speak of…”

Back to the Pharmacy Act excerpt above, item 10 referring to the list of Pharmacists to be published. I have searched all of the listings from 1900 -1910 under both Thorne and Nicoll and nothing comes up for Kate. Why? I have put in a request to the NSW Pharmacy Board to see if they have any historical records other than those published in Trove. I can’t imagine that Kate practices without being registered as she comes under some very close scrutiny when she puts out her Consumption treatment in 1903. The new Act also made provision for penalties for fraudulent registration or representation as a Pharmacist either vocally or written. £20 for every offense or imprisonment for 12 months. I have not come across any records to suggest that this course of action ever happened for Kate. The apprenticeship questions will remain unanswered at this time unfortunately but what a treasure trove of info we now have considering we started with that one Trove article.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that we would be hearing from George and Kate themselves and we will Kate but we are going to push George back for the moment. Let’s face it he had the whole of the last post to himself so I’m sure he won’t mind. I have also had some unexpected feedback that my posts might be a little long, thank you and I am taking that on board. So instead of the usual 30 odd pictures, I will stop it at 16 for now. This picture below the first of two examples I have been able to uncover of Kates own voice.

Figure 16: Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Trove.

That is pretty fantastic in my estimates. Kate’s voice is loud and clear now. Here is a 25-year-old woman from undeniable privilege and her main concern is for people working the service industries of her day and the households and shopkeepers of Sydney. It is a big assumption but one I feel confident in making.

This is an opportune segue (did you like that? See 18 posts in, still can’t spell but I’m flexing my oratory skills, booya! people, booya!) into the topic of our next post, Kate’s invention, “The Micro-Cremator”. I have a folder load of gold to share with you and Kate’s Dad, Ebenezer features heavily. No other way to describe him other than, larger than life and I will call it now, obviously very supportive of his young, modern, pioneering daughter. As always, hope to see you then.

4 thoughts on “Voices of the Past Emerging.

  1. Who said too long??? I personally cannot get enough.
    Thanks again John your work and dedication is outstanding.
    And the story is fascinating. AJ


  2. What an inspiration! Go Kate! Go John! Loving the detail in Kate’s story and character that shines though. Xx


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