A Quick Glimpse: Janet Constance Nicoll O’Connor née Lewins

My Great Great Grandmother and Her Second Marriage

The 17th of February, this year 2021 was the 113 anniversary of my Great Great Grandmother, Janet Constance Nicoll, marrying her second husband Edmund Eugene O’Connor.

Figure 1: Courtesy of Nicoll Family Archives

What luck! I found this article from The Newsletter, an Australian Paper for Australian People.

How lucky once again to have all these amazing details. Interesting to note Edmund’s brother being mentioned, I knew nothing about him, of course.

I did a quick dive on Trove and found his obituary and these two amazing photos. Trove has many more articles on him in relation to him being GP to Sir Henry Parkes, who is known here as the Father of Federation.

Figure 5: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia
Figure 6: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia
Figure 7: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia
Figure 8: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

Janet and Edmund married in St Stephen’s church in Phillip St, which used to stand right about where the Reserve Bank sits now. It was demolished in the extension of Martin Street up to Macquarie Street to create Martin Place.

I tried to do one of those comparison slidey things for you, but the angle isn’t quite right on my photo. I think you get the idea, though. The outer edge of the bank, the building on the left in Figure 10, is approximately where the edge of the church stood.

Figure 9: Courtesy of State Library of NSW; Figure 10: Macvean Family Archives

Phillip Street, about 1910
Figure 11: Courtesy of State Library of NSW

This photo of Phillip Street I happened upon on one of my fishing trips at the State Library in Sydney. It is particularly interesting as it also shows St James Church at the very end of the street. This is where Janet’s nephew George Nicoll marries his wife, Kate Carina May Thorne five years earlier in 1903. Checkout the comparison with the shot below, nothing remains except for St James.

The other family link here is to me. Can you believe it? See the lighter coloured buildings just past the church on the left? (Figure 11) This is roughly where the building housing Selbourne & Wentworth Chambers stands today. It is the heart of the legal precinct of town, and this building is home to a multitude of Sydney’s Barristers. Some of whom I used to work for.

Figure 12: Courtesy of Google Maps

It is this building on the left with all the palm trees in front. I worked for practically 5 years right next to where George & Janet were married. It is also the church my Great Grandparents and Great Uncle and Aunt married in as well. Talk about family history ties, and I was completely unaware.

Figure 13: Courtesy of Macvean Family Archive

This is me way back in November 2003, my last visit to my old workplace. We were in town for my Nan’s 80th birthday party at Taronga Zoo Café. It was three weeks before we welcomed Xander into the world.

Figure 14: Courtesy of Macvean Family Archive
Figure 15: Courtesy of Macvean Family Archive

Turning our attention back to the details of the article in Figures 2-4, here is the Metropole where Janet and Edmund held their reception dinner.

Figure 16: Courtesy of Pocket Oz, Pocket Guide to Sydney
Figure 17: Courtesy of Fam4Static Flickr Account

It boasted 260 rooms, several dining rooms, plush furnishings, electric lights and a rooftop promenade that offered views from Sydney Heads to Parramatta. Imagine if this beauty was still part of the Sydney scape today.

I know I’m jumping all over the place in terms of the information in that article but can you believe it, I found a picture of the express train that Janet and Edmund took to Melbourne.

Figure 18: Courtesy of Meister Drucke UK

What I love the most when reading this article is the amount of family members who are involved. Janet even has her former Sister in Law, Mrs Bruce Baird Nicoll (Jane Zahel) attend. That is her first husband, George Wallace Nicoll’s brother’s wife.

Jane’s son, Janet’s nephew, Charles Bruce Nicoll proposes the toast. Janet’s niece, Miss Janet Allan, daughter of Janet’s sister, Eliza is her bridesmaid, and Edmund’s brother and sister are both involved. Also, all of Janet’s sons from her marriage to my 2x Great Grandfather are present. George, Norman, (my Great Grandfather), Angus, Bruce & William (who I think has been missed named, my G Grandfather was William Norman. The remaining son is actually named Malcolm.)

I think what moves me the most is that at 49 years of age and at her second marriage, Janet’s father, my 3x Great Grandfather, is there to walk her down the aisle and give a speech at the reception. How incredible is that?

I’m so bummed to share with you that I have been unable to find a picture of Janet’s father, William Lewins. Who knows, maybe someone has one hiding somewhere, and it will surface somewhere in the future.

What I have been able to find out is that William was living with Janet and Edmond at “Blink Bonnie” their home in William Street, Canterbury. The way I was able to come to this conclusion was by putting a few scant pieces of information together. Check this police report out from 1903.

Figure 19: Courtesy of Ancestry.com.au

This information above coupled with the information from his death and funeral notices below, confirm for me that he was obviously living at Blink Bonnie with Janet and Edmund.

The other information I can deduce from this police report is that William was obviously still living in Scotland in 1898, the date on the watch. His wife Janet dies on the 23rd January 1900 in Brechin, Scotland and her death registration confirms William is present. I’m assuming that William comes out to Australia to be with Janet and the family, what a move to make at 60 years of age.

Figure 20: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia
Figure 21: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

I know next to nothing about Janet’s father, my 3x Great Grandfather, William, but it is clear that he was obviously loved. His final resting place is in the family plot at Rookwood where Janet will join him when it is her time in November 1932.

Figure 22: Courtesy of the Macvean Family Archives
Figure 23: Courtesy of the Macvean Family Archives

What follows is a bit of a collage that I have been able to put together on some of the other names associated with Janet and Edmund’s wedding.

This is Reverend John Ferguson, not Fraser as incorrectly named in the article above, who marries Janet and Edmund and gives his toast to the dainty little bridesmaid.

He was minister at St Stephen’s from 1894 until 1924 when he collapsed in the pulpit of the church and then died at home a couple of days later.

I did a little bit of reading on him, and he sounds very interesting. I think there may be another family link here too. He is from Deer Park in Scotland, and this is where Janet’s father William Lewins and his family were from. Will have to investigate.

If you are interested in reading more on Rev Ferguson, check out his biography at this very link.


Figure 22: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

This was such a random find, and what a photo. This is Dr Cedric Bowker, Edmund’s best man.

Another interesting bloke. Dr Bowker was a prominent Sydney gynaecologist. He was also one of the founding members of the South Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club.

I wonder how he and Edmund became friends, was it in the waves of South Maroubra? Something we can only speculate on a century later.

Again, if you want to know more, click this link.


Figure 23: Courtesy of South Maroubra Surf Club

The article below is about Mr R. D. Hay, Edmund’s boss at the Forestry Department, acting as spokesman when his colleagues presented him with his wedding gift. No photo of Mr Hay has emerged, but I did come across quite a few articles over the decades from the time of the wedding, tracking the trajectory of his career through the forestry Department. Culminating in this article from 1925.

Figure 24: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

No photo either of Dr Arthur O’Connor, Edmund’s other brother but a nice little obit on him. Sadly he passed away a year after the wedding took place. He was unmarried and only 48 years of age.

Figure 25: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

This is Charles Bruce Nicoll, Janet’s nephew and cousin to Janet Allen, the bridesmaid.

He is a very interesting character and there is so much to write about him. He will be getting his own posts, though, as his story is sensational.

Figure 26: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

In relation to Janet Allan, in comparison, there is next to nothing available about her. No marriage notices, even though she marries a Harry Edward Gunter in 1915, and I’m sure that Janet and Edmund would have attended. I did find a death notice for her in 1946, the year she passes away in Newtown, Sydney.

Figure 27: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia
Figure 28: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

And just because it is so much fun to do so, I went looking for Ormiston, 34 Carlton Crescent, Summer Hill. It’s still stands. I have a feeling it is need of some TLC.

Figure 28a: Courtesy of Google Maps
Figure 28b: Courtesy of Google Maps

Did you notice the mention of Janet, ( my 2x Great Grandmother, just to be clear), being dressed in a very handsome costume by Rybak? Well, this took some digging, but I finally found that Rybak referred to Monsieur William Rybak, Ladies Tailor.

He had rooms in George Street opposite Hunter Street where he created for 10 years from 1890. In 1899, he sold the business and went to Europe. He announced his return in 1905 obviously ready to design for Janet for her wedding in 1908.

Figure 29: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia
Figure 30: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

Not having a photo of Janet at the wedding, I’m left wondering what Monsieur Rybak’s wedding costume might have looked like. It is the height of the Edwardian era. Empire lines are back, the Gibson S figure is in, which used constrictive corsets to lift the bum and push the bust over the front of the waist. Picture hats were impossibly huge and adorned with an array of ribbon and avian features.

I know that this has turned into a bit more than a glimpse, but there was just so much to share with you despite the lack of actual photos of the event. To finish off, two final pieces of information.

This wonderful follow-up article from the Daily Telegraph describing a reception that Janet and Edmund held at their home, Blink Bonnie in Earlwood a month after the wedding on Saturday 25th April 1908. I have to say, after doing a bit of reading on what Edwardian style of dress was happening at the time, I can almost picture Janet from the description of her Empire dress in this article.

Figure 37: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia
Figure 38: Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia

And finally, Blink Bonnie. Janet and Edmund’s residence in Earlwood. In the family, it has always been referred to as “The Blink”. It unfortunately is long gone, but I have one photo from the family archives, and then I uncovered the most amazing expose on it in a book at the Mitchell Library.

I put together a PDF on the book, you don’t have to download it, you should be able to just view it where it is. See discovering some new features of the blog site. New dog, old tricks……no wait.

Blink Bonnie, Cameron Avenue, Earlwood
Figure 39: Courtesy of the Nicoll Family Archives

Correction, since creating the PDF above, the woman that I have identified as Janet or Mammie Janet as she was known to my Grandfather is in actual fact not her. It is Florence Stanhope who marries a Great Uncle, Harry Vaughan Skinner.

Thanks for reading about Janet and Edmund, I hope you enjoyed.

Oh, and a PS: The other photo I have of Janet.

It is a postcard my Great Grandmother, Grace Nicoll, née Blackwood, (Janet’s daughter-in-law) sends to Janet or as she calls her, Mother.

It is wonderful to note the name “Kinniard” on the back of the postcard. This was the dairy Grace owned in Blackheath in the Blue Mountains. Remember the name on the back of William Lewins watch from the police report in 1903. I love that the sentimentality is so strong, and that I am definitely carrying that torch as well.