14. “The Dad”. Newly Discovered Endings.
In the picture gallery below are some of the photos kindly shared by Marg Woodlock Mclean. WBC was also her great grandfather. I will create another of her family albums on a separate page. Below the gallery of photos is the recently discovered story of William’s last years.
I wrote the notes below on Anzac Day 2015, whilst visiting Melbourne; a cold drizzly day to mark the 100 years since the WW1 landings on a lonely Turkish coastline.
The day before I met my second cousin Marg Woodlock McLean for the first time. Marg, was a 1956 Olympian in Melbourne, and is a wonderfully vibrant woman. It was a delight to be in her company. I am so grateful for her stories.
“Yesterday I had the delightful experience of meeting for the first time, another of my newly discovered second cousins.
Marg Woolcock McLean. Marg’s grandmother was the youngest daughter of WBC – Elsie May Cairnes 1882-1962. She married bank manager William Harold Dolphin.
Norma, Marg’s mother was their second daughter.
Marg arrived here in St Kilda West where I am staying at the house of another second cousin Terry Cairnes. Marg drove from her home on the Mornington Peninsular, loaded with bags of photos, books, letters, wills, birth certificates and much more, all connected with the Dolphin family. Amongst these treasures was a scrap book created by Theresa Holmes in the 19 th cent, with dozens of pages of exquisite water colour sketches of flowers, places of interest, and studies of indigenous peoples, all gathered from the places she travelled with her husband Montgomery Cairnes, who was in the British Military.
This scrap book is an absolute treasure.
Amongst the family photos, many of whom we simply didn’t recognise, were some of the last ones taken of WBC in his last years of life whilst living in either Bendigo or Geelong with the Dolphins.
The most moving of Marg’s collection is a series of letters, written in 1920, 3 years before his death.
At this point 50 grandchildren had been born. The last grandchild was to Elsie May in 1922, a year before William dies. Many of the older grandchildren would have had children of their own, though some had died due to the war or ill health or accident. But the large majority are alive and well and prospering as best they can, in a time post war, that would become even tougher for most ordinary Australians over the next decade as the Depression dug deep into family economies.
I simply cannot imagine how it must have felt to have such a large family. And yet William seems to know and care for them all, and his letters and post cards always show great affection.
The series of letters are written by William Dolphin to his wife’s elder siblings and also the replies from some of those siblings. There is great indignation, smouldering fury, open threats, dreadful condescensions, and much general worry, concern and conflict.
It’s seems that the year previous, in 1919, conflict, seemingly unknown previously, had erupted. I know WBC’s final will was drawn up in that year, with the advice of Mr Dolphin, who also became his executor. It seems there was little consultation amongst his offspring, many of who were a great deal older than Harold Dolphin or his wife Elsie May.
After WBC’s wife Elizabeth dies in 1909, William appears to move from his home at Cairnesville in Yarrawonga and spends time staying with his various offspring, dotted all about the state of Victoria; in the main staying with his youngest daughter Elsie May Dolphin and her family in Bendigo.
The conflict is brought to a head by an angry letter to Dolphin, from George Cairnes, who is angry that as William now resides with the Dolphins exclusively, it appears the rest of the family no longer have access to ‘the Dad’ as they call him. George says Elsie is not giving the old man his children’s letters, nor sending them his, and that there is bad feeling all round and the family is worried for old William’s well being.
It is accompanied by quite wild threats against Dolphin’s person. George is clearly quite aereated.
Dolphin fires off a point by point listed retort, which is copied to all the siblings, which then instigates a flurry of extremely heated replies from various offspring and in laws.
It seems they all resent the gate keeping of Elsie May, and feel troubled that Dolphin has had undue influence over the old man and his latest will. Apparently there have been several changes to it in the recent past. There is concern that Flora Moama , who had been widowed 10 years before is in straightened circumstances with a daughter to provide for, and that Alan, who had been in the first war seems left out, and that Dolphin has been casting aspersions on various family members characters. It also indicates that the Dolphins were not so happy having the old man living with them and there is even mention that poor William hasn’t been paying his board or rent as its referred to in one letter! Many in the family believe he has become so frail that he is no longer in charge of his wits and Dolphin had no right allowing him to make such profound changes to his will, without family consultation.
It’s all quite heated and the letters that exist don’t indicate any real resolution. The saddest one of all is a copy of a letter that poor old William writes, saying more than once how unwell he is and that he wants no trouble, and that he is almost penny less but loves them all.
It’s surprising that the Dolphins of that era , and the next generation kept hold of the letters, as it doesn’t leave them in a good light; especially Harold Dolphin. Perhaps it is a lesson to us all.
However heresay indicates that Elsie May was a bit of a princess and quite wilful, and was perhaps the Dad’s favourite, and enjoyed the control she exerted.
There is a final letter from solicitors 10 years later, where it indicates the family is still disputing the will, long after Williams death, with the solicitors extremely eager to discharge the whole kit and caboodle.
It’s all terribly sad that a man who had reared 15 children, educated them well, helped set them up in business or marriage, and who clearly was a warm affectionate man, ended up somewhat isolated from the majority of his family.
He had been a prominent man in his community, adored his wife, had been both a JP and magistrate, and stood as leader in many organisations throughout Victoria and NSW.
It’s also poignant that this man started as an undertaker, and funeral director, and laid to rest many many of his community down the decades.
At some point in the next 3 years he is placed in a nursing home in Elsternwick, Melbourne, where he dies aged 90, of dementia.
It illustrates that far too frequent occurrence in families. A fracturing of the bonds, and love between it’s members. Far too often focused on money, and property, and a perceived neglect of duty and honour.
It is so much easier to be angry than to grieve. It’s much easier to focus on the ‘stuff ‘ of life, rather than matters of the heart.
I only hope he wasn’t too lonely at the end.