Thursday, 28 August 2014

Close call

Saturday 15th of January
Sorry dear diary, it has been too hot this week to write and it’s also been an uneventful week - until today.  Today my little brother Arthur and I were almost killed.

 Dad hired a trap and took our family out to South Head.  Mamma was very excited as she used to live there when she was a young girl.  She said those were happy days before the demon drink really took hold of her Da.  When we asked if he was the lighthouse keeper, she replied that no, he was a signaller at the signal station adjacent to the lighthouse.

Whilst mamma and dad relaxed on the grass with our picnic lunch - and with Anne and Alfie - the other five of us played hide and go seek around the Macquarie Light.  It was so nice to have a cool breeze blowing to cool us all down, as the week had been so hot and we were enjoying running around freely.  Anyway,  it was Freddie’s turn to seek and I had little Arthur with me, because he’s still too young to hide on his own, and I thought that hiding around the base of the lighthouse would be good, as we could work our way around it and stay out of sight of Freddie.  That plan was working and we were both giggling as Freddie looked under bushes and caught Harriet.  Suddenly there was a funny noise - a bit like when the soldiers struck their matches on the walls of the barracks - and we all looked around to see what it was.  

Next thing I knew, Freddie was running fast across the lawn, scooped up Arthur and barrelled into me - like in a football match.  I was about to yell abuse at him from where he had knocked me to the ground, when suddenly a big block of sandstone fell off the Lighthouse and landed where Arthur and I had been standing not five seconds before!  Dad and mamma came running in panic and mamma took little Arthur from Freddie and held him tightly, covering his golden curls with kisses - although all he wanted was to get down to look at the big stone.  I was flabbergasted and found it hard to believe that I owed my life to Freddie.  Dad had both Freddie and I in his arms, asking if we were alright and praising Freddie for his quick thinking, heroics and for a brilliant  rugby tackle.

Needless to say, that was the end of the game of Hide and Go Seek and we picked up our picnic things and moved further away from the Lighthouse.  Dad said something about having to report this and that the bands were not holding the structure together anymore.  I don’t know what bands he meant as I didn’t see any musicians anywhere near the lighthouse.
The original Macquarie Lighthouse with the structural steel bands on the left; the new and current Macquarie Lighthouse, South Head on right. From the collection of the State Library of NSW.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014


Monday 10th of January
Quite a kerfuffle here today.  Apparently one of the young gunners from the Royal Artillery unit
A Sergeant in the Royal Artillery.
deserted over the week-end.  Dad had to organise the search of the Barracks and then contacted Sgt Buckley at the police station and ask them to search around Paddington and Sydney.  Dad said it was such a ridiculous waste of time and he was not at all happy. He said that this was not part of his normal duties, but as they are so short staffed Major Evans tasked him to do it. 

Mamma said she didn’t think Sgt Buckley would have much chance of finding him, because Sydney has grown so fast in recent years, he could have gone anywhere.  Dad replied, “Too right! And he’s had the week-end to do it in.  May as well start the report tonight, they’ll never find him!”

Mamma suggested that it will be the first of many, not everyone wants to go back to England and as word gets out about the recall, more soldiers will desert.  Mama looked across the table at Dad with that “you know what I mean look”, when she said this.  I know Mama doesn’t want to go to England, neither do I, but what can Dad do? He’s in the British Army and if he is told to go to England, then he has to go – Dad says a good soldier obeys orders whether he likes them or not.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014


Saturday, 8th of January
Annie is so mad.  When she came home from work last night, mamma told her to help me fold the bed sheets that Harriet and I had made such a mess of.  She stamped her foot and declared it was not fair! She goes out to work and brings in money for the family and so she should NOT have to do chores around the barracks as well. 

I agree with her, but mamma said that Harriet wasn’t old enough to do the job properly and that I was too small to do the job on my own.  Annie grabbed the sheets in a huff and glared at me with rancour, then said one word - "Fine."

Annie would not talk to me for the rest of the night, nor today, except to occasionally sneer at me and call me “midget”.  I can’t help being small, mamma is short too and she says that I take after her. I hope I grow taller as I get older, like Annie; she has shot up four inches in the past year and is now up to dad’s shoulder and taller than mamma. I don’t know why Annie has to blame me when it was mamma who told her to fold the sheets.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A hot summer's day.

Friday 7th  of January

This is very pleasant, sitting in the Barracks Library writing in my diary; it makes it seem so very special.  I also have a lantern on the table which provides better light than the candles on our kitchen table.  Colonel Fittock is in here again this evening reading the same book as last night.  He said “Good evening Miss Holmes,” when dad ushered me in.  I felt quite grown up, I blushed and dropped him a curtsey and responded “Good evening kind sir”.  

No-one has called me Miss Holmes before, it’s always been “Emily Holmes” or “Emily” and  sometimes I’m referred to as “Sgt Holmes’ daughter – the short one”, that really annoys me as I can’t help being short.  Mamma and dad sometimes just call me “Em” – for short.  Won’t Annie be jealous, even though she’s the eldest, people have only just started calling her Miss Holmes since her thirteenth birthday one month ago, when she started working at Charter’s Drapery Store, and she’s two years older than me!

Victoria Barracks Sydney 1871 -  State Library of NSW collection
I actually don’t have much to write about today, because well, today has been rather boring.  It’s been too hot to play outside and the western wind is blowing sand all over the Barracks.  Mamma kept us indoors, because if we tried to play outside we’d soon find our mouths and noses and eyes gritty from the sand; I know, I remember getting sand in my eyes last year and then I got an eye infection which was awful.  I’ve seen the soldiers suffer  something dreadful from the sand, as they don’t have mothers who tell them to stay indoors, instead they have Officers and NCOs who tell them to “form ranks” on the parade ground and drill them for hours, regardless of the weather.

image from Pinterest
‘As we were indoors, Mamma wanted Harriet and me to fold the bed sheets, but Harriet was still too small to manage the sheets, and I’m not much bigger, so we got into an awful muddle.  Mamma lost her temper with the two of us, and hit both of us with the wooden spoon.  We then had to help Mamma with the ironing, until it was just too hot to keep the fire going in the room anymore.  Then we were excused.

After that,  Harriet and I played with my paper dolls for a while and then I read some of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to Arthur and Alfie, before they had their afternoon sleep.  This afternoon Mamma asked me to prepare some vegetables for dinner.  We also watched the smoke from a bushfire on the north shore rise up into the sky and then be blown away towards the northern beaches and from there out to sea.  I wonder if it reaches New Zealand?

Sydney Harbour as seen from Paddington mid 1800s. State Library of NSW collection