Emily Childers, the wife of noted educationist and politician Hugh Culling Eardley Childers, kept a journal during the 1850s, including the years when the Childers lived in Abbotsford. Her journal gives a fascinating depiction of household and social life for a young wife and mother, as well as an insight into political events and the complexities of her husband’s work in the fledgling colony.
Born Emily Walker, the young pregnant wife landed at Williamstown in October 1850 and would live in St Kilda, Fitzroy, Jolimont (where they were neighbours of Governor LaTrobe), Hawthorn and finally Abbotsford. Hugh, armed with a degree from Cambridge and a letter of introduction from Earl Grey, was quickly appointed Inspector of Denominational Schools and prepared an insightful report on education in Victoria. He was later Auditor General, Collector of Customs, and Minister for Trade and Customs. Emily was a well-educated young lady according to contemporary mores and the young couple were welcomed by the social elite. Life was a constant round of visitors, balls, picnics, theatre, concerts, and official events. Often out until 3 or 4 am, Emily’s vitality carried her through despite her frequent pregnancies and the trying weather, which did not prevent her walking considerable distances to pay calls or to attend services at St Mark’s in Fitzroy. (St Philip’s had yet to open). She was also a member of the Ladies Immigration Committee and assisted with charitable fund-raising bazaars.
In September 1855 they prepared to move from Hawthorn to Abbotsford, where she had already visited several residents including the Orrs of Abbotsford House and the Degraves of Campbellfield. They rented St Helier’s, the house built on several acres for Edward Curr, an early settler whose widow Elizabeth became their landlady. Several days were spent transporting goods either by dogcart, or by boat from Hawthorn, which involved utilising John Hodgson’s punt to land their possessions (they had some difficulty with the punt chain). ‘Kitchens very dirty & stove must be taken out & our own put in – abundance of rats – all else satisfactory.’ September was a wet month and all was ‘miserable and confused’ at first. Mrs More, the nurse, greeted the sight of her nursery with the words ‘What a hole!’ The temperamental cook Jessie despaired at the state of her kitchen. However the stove was replaced, the chimney swept, Emily busied herself with laying carpets and arranging furniture, and finally a lovely spring morning ensued. The children liked their new home with its extensive gardens and the gardener was busy putting in seeds and vegetables. Hugh wrote to his English relatives: ‘St Helier’s is charming, the flowers and fruit most luxuriant and delicious’. Emily kept turkeys and hens; visitors took tea on the lawn in fine weather. In 1857 they returned to England, where Hugh held various public offices.
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|c. 1827||Worcestershire, England|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|Hugh Culling Eardley Childers (1827-1896)||28 May 1850||Four sons born Melbourne, two daughters and two sons born England|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|St Helier's Street||Abbotsford||Demolished|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
|30 November 1875||Hampshire|
The Argus; Uhl, A woman of importance; Cummings, Bitter roots, sweet fruit.