CHAPTER NINE – THE CANT FAMILY
A Lincolnshire Posy
This chapter introduces the last of my ancestors’ families who came to Australia – the Cant family. My mother’s mother was a Cant. The original version of this chapter was written in 1985. It has been revised in 1998, 2003 and in 2017.
The story of this branch of the Cant family in Australia is told by Pat Barden and Nell Pyle in Thicker Than Water (1983). At least they bring our ancestor Francis to Australia with his parents and brothers and sisters and their various spouses; but they lose track of him around the Dingo Creek area. It is his second marriage, to Bridget Horan, that provides the connection between the Cants from Lincolnshire and the Cants of Goulburn. The following is a brief summary of the account that appears in Thicker Than Water.
Our Earliest Cant Ancestors
Our Cant family came from the village of Great Gonerby in Lincolnshire, where they had been agricultural workers. We are interested in William Cant who was born in Barkston, Lincolnshire, 16 September 1793. His parents were Francis Cant and Elizabeth Green. He married, in 1816, Susanna Curtis who was born in 1799; her parents were Geoffrey Curtis and Sarah Blomfield, married June 1789 in Bedingfield, Suffolk.
William Cant and Susannah Curtis
(courtesy Frank Ingram – see later this chapter)
William Cant and Susanna Curtis had eleven children, all Episcopalian (a strange appellation, for Episcopalians are American members of the Church of England). All but two of the family, Frances and Jeffrey, came to Australia on the Briton, arriving in Sydney 26 June 1844. William and Susanna, and two of their children William and Francis (who is our interest here) were already married before they made the journey. The confused reader should read the Barden and Pyle book which will fill in some of the details.
William and Susannah’s children
Some details of William and Susanna’s eleven children. First born Sarah 6 January 1817, Great Gonerby, Lincolnshire, came to Australia married with Robert Gibson. After Robert Gibson died, Sarah married a gentleman named Crocker.
Sarah (Cant) Crocker
Frances, born 3 September 1820, Great Gonerby, did not come to Australia. Susanna, born24 February 1822, Great Gonerby, came to Australia, married with Jeremiah Briggs –their child was Sarah, born c. 1841. (No doubt there were more children born in England or Australia).
The fourth child William was born in Great Gonerby 4 April 1824. He married Elizabeth Kennewell and they had four children. She was born in 1823 in Allington, Lincolnshire, her parents being Richard and Jane Kennewell. She died aged 27 in Australia in 1850. Her sister Jane (born 1838), who was living in South Australia, came to look after Elizabeth’s children and married William Cant with whom she had twelve children. She died 12 December 1895.
Then came Francis, my direct ancestor, and his wife Susan Bridget South – of whom more later.
The fifth child, Richard, was born 21 September 1828 in Great Gonerby. He came to Australia with the family in 1844. He married Mary Canning 20 February 1852 and they had eleven children.
Simon, born 12 December 1830, aged 14 when he came to Australia, married Ann Stewart with whom he had seven children. He died 28 August 1913. His next younger brother, Jeffrey, did not come to Australia. Did he die in England; was he married?
Abraham, born c. 1834, married Catherine Martineau, 23 February 1856. There were 13 children. He died in 1917.
Mary Ann born c. 1838, married William Wicks, 20 February 1852.
The youngest child of eleven, John, was born Great Gonerby, c. 1839 and died Dingo Creek, Wingham, NSW. He married Elizabeth Towns (born 20 May 1849) 11 November 1867. There were at least three children: William John (b. 2 October 1869, m. 2 November 1896, d. 26 April 1953) had 12 children; Amelia; Susannah Maria (b. 30 April 1873, d. 11 June 1947) married Henry Martin.
Francis Cant and his Two Marriages
To return to Francis. Francis Cant was born 14 August 1826 in Pickworth, Lincolnshire. Pickworth is still a little town, perhaps even village, somewhat to the south-east of Great Gonerby. Why there? He married Susan South who was born in 1821 in Hougham in the same county. When they arrived in Sydney, Francis Cant, aged 17, and his wife Susan Bridget South, aged 23, were engaged to serve J. Rickards, George Street, Sydney, as porter and cook and “otherwise make themselves generally useful”, for twelve months; to be paid 22 Pounds per annum.
Francis was very young at 17. However, there were two children: Mary Ann, born in Glen Innes 12 November 1850, and Susanna, born 6 July 1852. These children were kidnapped when Francis was in Queensland, in long-since forgotten circumstances. My grandmother (née Cant) told the story, though she knew it only by hearsay, and spoke of kidnapping by an American couple or by Aborigines or by gypsies. Barden and Pyle provided the details that Francis and some fellow workers tracked them back over the border and found Mary Ann, but not Susanna. Mary Ann married 11 April 1872 and died 5 February 1898. One of her descendants has been in touch with Rita Neal, a Cant cousin who helped with this account.
At this point Barden and Pyle lost track of Francis and knew nothing of his second marriage, so Susan South disappeared from the scene and Francis Cant remarried. His second wife was Bridget Horan, an Irish lass of eighteen. Born in Castletown, Tipperary, to Patrick and Mary Horan in 1840, and baptised as a Catholic, she left Ireland at the age of 14 with an older sister, Catherine. Their parents were dead, and the girls could have received no formal education, for they could neither read nor write – the common lot of many Irish of the time. They arrived in Sydney on the Switzerland, 20 June 1854. The eight pounds remittance seems to have been paid by a yet older sister, Ellen, who was in the service of Mr Owen Boyle of the Harp of Erin Hotel, Goulburn.
Of Francis’s movements after he reached Sydney in 1844 little is known: a year, presumably with Mr Rickards of George Street; then the birth of Mary Ann in 1850 on a property called Marooan near Glen Innes, where he was a groom; the birth of Susanna at Rocky River near Glen Innes in 1852 when he was a gold digger; in 1856 his wife Susanna appears to have been a witness to his brother Abraham’s marriage to Catherine Martineau at Dingo Creek near Wingham on 23 February. Between 1856 and 1858 Susan probably died and Francis moved to the Monaro area; from there he moved to Goulburn where he met and married Bridget Horan who was working as a housemaid at The Harp of Erin.
The wedding took place, 15 July 1858, in the Catholic Church at Goulburn, the ceremony performed by Father Richard Walsh. Francis was described as a bachelor and a labourer, Bridget as a spinster and domestic servant: no hint of a previous marriage or children. Even on his death certificate these details are not mentioned. This second marriage was unknown to Barden and Pyle, and so none of Francis Cant’s descendants from the second marriage are recorded, nor are there any details about the daughters of the first marriage, in their book.
Bridget Horan was the youngest of the six children of Patrick Horan and Mary Hickey, and was born 19 May 1840 at Corbally in the parish of Portrae, Killoran, Castletown, Tipperary. Her eldest brother Martin was born in 1826 and remained a bachelor; Ellen, born in 1827, married William Tosney, but they had no children; Thomas was born in 1829 and married Alice Kennedy, who bore him nine children; James, born 1834, also remained a bachelor; and Catherine was born in 1838, married Denis Hall and had three children.
Francis Cant was received into the Catholic Church, 11 August 1879, by the same Father Richard Walsh who married the couple. I surmise that the strong faith that has appeared in this branch of the family was nurtured by Bridget Horan: it is a miracle to me that the tenuous link of Catholicism in our family should be traceable to one young Irish girl transplanted to an entirely foreign and alien environment. It is more amazing when one considers that at his conversion, Francis was fifty-three and his wife was much younger at thirty-nine. Her devotion with her nine children must have made a great impact on him.
The nine children were born during a period of twenty years: Sarah Ellen, 22 June 1859; Jeffrey James, 8 July 1861; Francis Patrick, 23 May 1863; Martin, 30 April 1865 (the only member of that line of the family I ever heard my grandmother, Lilian Gladys, refer to); William – our ancestor (Lilian Gladys’s father) – 14 June 1867; Mary – who became Mrs. Hunter and kept contact with her brother William – 6 October 1870; Bridget, 26 April 1873 – to die young at the age of thirteen, 18 December 1886; Thomas Joseph, 4 June 1875; and Gertrude Matilda, 4 June 1877.
Francis died 4 October 1890 at Addison Street Goulburn. Bridget died in Goulburn, 7 January 1916. It is their fifth child, William, who concerns us in this story.
William Cant and his Two Marriages
William Cant was born 14 June 1867 at Sheet of Bark, Carcoar. He was married in Goulburn, 7 December 1889 to Anne Wessler, in the Catholic Church. His occupation was given as plumber with the railways and he stayed with the railways for the rest of his working life. The witnesses were his brother Martin and his sister Mary.
The Mystery of Anne Wessler
John Henry Wessler and Annie Walsh.
Declaration of Annie Wessler, Sanita Street Goulburn
“GOULBURN June 8, 1904
Character: W Sands auctioneer
I am over 65 years
British subject: yes
Was your father: yes
Plase [sic] and country where your Husbunt was born. A widow [presumably Annie Wessler]
The birthplace to [?] your Husbunt: Hanover
I am a Widow. My late Husbunt was born in Germany. My Husbunt was naturalised
British subject 8 February 1872
Born in Ireland: Killkenny
Name of ship: Commodore Perry
Name of Port: Liverpool
Name on ship’s book: Anne Walsh
Australian Port: Sydney
Ship arrived about 1856
Number of years in Australia: 48 years in NSW
Anne Walsh – when born: 1835
1st marriage: J.H. Wessler born 1818 Germany
Father’s name: Bernard Walsh
Maiden name of mother: Ellen Buttler [sic]
Children: J.H. Wessler born 1864 Young [?]
(Note that there is no reference to Anne Wessler, mother of Lilian Gladys Cant.)
When married 1862 Goulburn
By whom: G Rev [?] Father Welsh [Walsh]
Two reputable persons: James Marsden Esq., G ? Haig [?] Esq.”
Certificate of naturalisation – John Henry Wessler
“Certificate to be granted of the administration of the Oath required to be taken by a person obtaining a Certificate of Naturalization [sic]
This is to Certify that John Henry Wesselar [sic]
Of Munimel [?]* – Farmer
A Native of Hanover
To whom a certificate of Naturalization has been granted this day
Appeared before John Allman Esquire
Police Magistrate of Goulburn
At Goulburn and taken and
Subscribed the Oath required by the 2nd and 3rd Sections of the Act
17th Victoria No. 8 as amended by 33 Vic. No. 14
Dated at Goulburn this eighth day of February 1872
[Signature] J Allman Esq
*The name is far from clear.
Some Descendants of John Henry Wessler
Henry Wessler b. 1822 Hanover, Germany
Annie Walsh b. 1833 Kilkenny, Ireland
(1) John Henry Wessler b. 1863 Young NSW
m. Mary Agnes Meehan b. 1870 Goulburn NSW; d. 25 Sept 1926
(1) Winifred Josephine Wessler* b. 31 July 1892; d. 10 December 1982 NSW
m. William Henry McMahon b. 5 Jan 1890 Melbourne; m. 30 March 1918 NSW; d. 8 Oct 1970
Esme b. 1921 m.George Trainor
Norman b. 1924 m. Valerie Clifford
Amelia Wessler 1894-1978 never married
Kenneth Wessler 1896-1970 m. Elma Simmonds
Agnes Wessler 1898-1988 m. (Sir) James Kirby
John Patrick Wessler 1900-1959 never married
Edward Wessler 1904 never married
Olive Wessler 1909-1983 never married
(2) Anne Wessler (apparently adopted) b. Young NSW about 1868; m. William Cant 1889; d. 1 Oct 1895 Morundah NSW
Children: Gladys, Francis, Stella
Of Anne Wessler little is known: she was born about 1869 at Lambing Flat (now called Young); who her parents were remains a mystery, but she was adopted by John Henry Wessler and his wife Annie Walsh. Search of microfiche records of birth, letters to the Catholic churches at Young and Goulburn and to The Goulburn Post have all produced nothing. Present Wessler descendants know nothing about her. The one surviving photograph of her shows a striking dark-featured woman, decidedly non-Anglo-Saxon, with her hair drawn severely back, and dark, piercing eyes. It is quite likely that she was part Aboriginal, but I have never been able to discover any further information about her. The only personal comment I have about her is that she was “a more refined woman than Nana Cant” (i.e. Sarah Grieves, William Cant’s second wife). It was only in the last few years of her life that my grandmother told us her mother had been adopted: prior to that we had taken for granted that she was the daughter of John and Ann Wessler. On William Cant’s death certificate she is simply referred to, under “first marriage”, as “unknown Welby”, which name was attested to years later by his son Clarence Cant, son of Sarah Grieves. The mystery remains.
Photos of Anne (Wessler) Cant and William Cant
Anne died 1 October 1895 at Morundah near Narrandera, aged twenty six, of puerperal peritonitis, leaving three children: Lilian Gladys aged five, Francis John Henry aged four, and Kathleen Stella aged two. It is little wonder that our grandmother did not say much about her.
These two photos, from an album belonging to Yvonne (Cant), are said to be of
William Cant as a youngster
It was in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Goulburn, that William Cant married Sarah Grieves, 20 June 1896. She was not a Catholic. It is said no record could ever be found of the marriage between William and Sarah, but there is certainly a record of it in the microfiche marriage records for 1896.
Sarah Grieves was born 25 May 1870 at Tallarook in Victoria, her parents being John Grieves, a farmer of Benalla, and Sarah Young. William met her when he was moving around the southern parts of New South Wales with the railways in various capacities, as plumber, fettler and ganger: she was managing an inn or hotel in Jerilderie. Their children were William, born in Cootamundra, 29 May 1897; Clarence born in Jerilderie, 29 May 1901; and Mildred (Molly) also born in Jerilderie, 14 November 1904.
From her pictures, Sarah Grieves, always referred to in later years as Grannie Cant or Nana Cant, was a formidable woman. Family stories have differing views of her: my grandmother Gladys presented the conventional picture of a stepmother – a hard woman with not a lot of warmth for the children of the first marriage. One story from Gladys stays with me. She learnt the piano as a youngster and was preparing for public examinations; the fees for the examination were not sent until too late to catch the mail-train, so Gladys was denied the chance which was later given to her half-sister Molly who received the cap and gown for piano studies.
The general impression of the woman is of sternness and I suspect that much of this impression stems from the stories of those who for one reason or another saw only that side of her; stories from other folk suggest a much warmer, more caring woman, particularly in later years.
Some vignettes, part of the overall picture: she had some wealthy relatives called Cation [pron. Keyshun], two spinsters who lived with their brother on a cattle station in Dalby, Queensland. When they visited the Granville home of the Cants, the family used the good dining room which was out of bounds to ordinary folk – much like Mrs Joe Gargery in Great Expectations. There was also the inclusion, de rigeur, of Darnley among the family Christian names; though Clarence Clyde Darnley, Sarah’s second son, is the only one I am aware of who received it. An unfortunate remark of Sarah’s created an unnecessary rift. She is supposed to have said of William Augustine’s wife, Dorothy (née Lutton) that “she would never get pregnant”, probably because the couple had been married four years before their first child was born. The remark cut and Dorothy would not tell her parents-in-law when the event did occur. Fortunately the story ends happily as the breach was healed in later years. A supposed lack of attention to William’s education caused hurt. He himself passed off this neglect by saying his mother had six children to bring up and “didn’t do a bad job”, which is probably as close to the truth as we will ever get.
“Grandfather” William Cant was christened a Catholic but was never confirmed and though Sarah herself was not a Catholic there was a strong Catholic atmosphere in the family, and all the children, save his son William, made Catholic marriages and produced Catholic families. Circumstances of time and place around the turn of the century made it difficult to do everything by the family; and so young William went only to Third Grade, according to his daughter Gwen – though an extant postcard from his sister Gladys to Will dated 8 November 1909 when he was about twelve, asks “How are you getting on at school?” Perhaps the most lasting griefs concerned Sarah Cant’s youngest daughter, Molly: they obviously hurt my grandmother in their time and rankled for years later, but time heals all wounds and all was finally forgiven. In 1960 Gladys healed the breach with her sister and they became very fond of each other.
“Granny Cant” may have seemed a hard woman in the eyes of some people but that did not stop the home in Granville, where the family moved from Yass, from being a gathering point for the family for many years.
Exactly when the move to Granville occurred I do not know. My grandmother Gladys left home in 1908 and married in 1910, her next younger brother Frank was away from the family soon after; and it was time for Clarence to become an apprentice, which he did at the Railway Engineering Workshops at Clyde. He had spent six months on a milk run because he was under age for apprenticeship when the family moved to Sydney. So I put the time of their move at the end of 1914. They were certainly there when Frank died at Easter in 1915.
They moved into a home at 12 Brady Street, Granville. Sarah, as good with money as her husband William was hopeless, bought two houses in the area, one in Daniel Street and one in Elizabeth Street: there is an entry in Sands 1917 Directory for W. Cant, Daniel Street, Granville. The Cant stronghold at Granville remained a family focus for 25 years. Later, when they married, Clarence moved into a home in Smythe Street, and Molly into a home in Woodville Road, both in the Granville-Merrylands area.
Gwen (Cant) Briggs recalls William and Sarah as “loving grandparents” and regrets not seeing more of them. The house was always spotless and the beautiful white sheets and starched pillow-shams were still a strong memory for Gwen forty years later. Von (Cant) Fitt recalls Granny Cant’s devotion to setting up a little home altar every Friday ready for the priest to come and give Grandfather Cant Holy Communion. My uncle Douglas Whittaker bicycled out to visit them from Darlinghurst.
Von’s recollection is that though Granny Cant was not a Catholic she brought up all the children in the faith of their father. Grandfather Cant himself was a pillar of the local church at Granville and belonged to the Hibernian Society in its heyday. In a letter from Dorothy Cant I was surprised to see a reference to a fragment of photograph of Grandfather Cant with his “lodge apron”. Dorothy must have thought it was Masonic regalia, but Von explained he would “wear his green and gold fringed collar” to the Hibernian Society’s monthly Mass “with pride”. It was after he could no longer go to the church that he received the Eucharist at home.
William Cant in his wheelbarrow at Granville
Grandfather Cant went blind in later life, with glaucoma. Von’s mother, Stella Cant (née Turner) took him to the Sydney Eye Hospital where his condition was diagnosed. Gwen remembers how she and her sister Heather used to lead him around the yard at Brady Street. A second cousin, Rita Neal, remembers on one occasion visiting the Granville home and walking Grandfather Cant from Brady Street to Smythe Street. On approaching the house, the blind man indicated: “We’re nearly there; one more house”. “How do you know?” Rita said. “From the dip in the footpath”, he replied. On a similar visit one of Rita’s sisters, Molly, recalls meeting Honor, our mother, who, somewhat older, gave her a lipstick tube which delighted her. Years later the Smythe Street house of Clarence Cant and his family was still an enjoyable visit from Darlinghurst for my family. We travelled by train, not by bicycle!
Because William was on the railways in various capacities, the family moved around a great deal. Having been born in Carcoar, he was to marry in Goulburn. There were moves to Jerilderie and Cootamundra, a settling for some time in Yass between 1908 and 1914 and a final move to Granville. William must have remained close to some of his brothers and sisters, especially Martin and Mary (who became Mrs John Hunter) for they witnessed William’s first marriage. There are a number of postcards from Aunt Mary, and they reveal a very homely woman. Martin was often talked about by Gladys and my mother. Gwen (Cant) Briggs says she remembers him when she was a small girl. Von (Cant) Fitt/Hore says he would visit them at Smythe Street and her father used to take them to visit him at Ryde. He made Von a wooden puppet which danced. She remembers him as a jovial man with a waxed moustache, somewhat taller than Grandfather Cant and rather better off. Jacqueline remembers being taken to Ryde on the tram by Gladys to visit relatives. Rita Neal says Martin, her grandfather, was no wood-carver and never lived at Ryde. The Ryde people were actually the Hall sons, butchers: William and Martin’s oldest sister, Sarah Ellen, had married James Hall. I have some memory before the age of five of Ryde and an orchard and Uncle Martin, but that is not a very reliable recollection.
“Grandfather” William Cant died 11 December 1940 at the age of 74, in St Joseph’s Hospital, Auburn, having suffered from glaucoma, lobar pneumonia and chronic myocarditis. He was buried at Rookwood by Father Peter Smith. His son Clarence noted his birthplace as Cowra rather than Carcoar and he claimed very strongly that William’s first wife Anne was surnamed Welby. My guess is that Clarence was not very accurate with his information. Sarah Cant died a couple of years later, 21 June 1942.
So we turn to William Cant’s children.
Lilian Gladys Cant
His first child, by Anne Wessler, was Lilian Gladys, our grandmother, born 9 December 1889 at Lithgow Street, Goulburn. Her mother was 21, her father 22, and they were married just two days previously, 7 December 1889. What sort of romance lies behind those dates? Who was Anne Wessler, that exotic looking woman, possibly part aboriginal, who held such charm for William?
The story of Gladys, as she was known and as she signed herself, is told in a separate chapter.
Photos of Gladys (Cant) with husband John Whittaker, grandson Paul 1937
and great-grandson Michael 1972
Francis Henry Cant
Their second child was Francis John Henry named for his paternal and maternal grandfathers, born 18 July 1892, died 18 April 1915. Von says “He must have been much loved. How sad for us that we never knew him.” He was much loved and admired, talked about by all the family, from both marriages. My grandmother expressed a wish later in life that she be buried in the same grave: such was her memory of her young brother.
There are a few touching reminders of Frank; two letters, a composed photograph, some First Communion mementos, a photograph of his grave and a memorial card. So much is said in that photograph. It depicts a chubby-faced lad of maybe fifteen, not yet marked by later adolescence, with the coat, collar and tie and hat of an adult painted in to make him appear older. The family were caught by surprise at this death; there was no more recent photograph of him. After his untimely death at 23 they constructed a suitable The family were caught by surprise at this death; there was no more recent photograph of him. After his untimely death at 23 they constructed a suitable memory of him in the picture and tombstone.
ADDENDUM – I found today, 13 September 2017, a week after I added this post, an undiscovered photograph of Frank Cant aged about 21. It was in the possession of Yvonne (Cant) Fitt and lent to me by her daughter Louise. He grew into a very fine looking young man.)
Frank Cant aged about 21
Francis Cant’s grave at Rookwook Cemetery
There is a postcard. It is marked Binalong and dated 4 January 1910: “Dear Mother, Just a few lines to let you know you can send my food to Binalong on Thursday as we will be shifting to Frampton on Friday if we a(re) finished at Emu Flat. F. Cant”. “Mother” was, of course, Sarah Grieves, Frank’s own mother Anne having died in 1895.
His last letter, from Razorback, Gunning, was written March 1915, a month before he died: “Dear Parents, Just a few lines hoping to find you all well as it leaves me at Present. Enclosed please find postal note for one Pound. Mrs Smith gave it to me and told me to send it to you I am sending the pony today hope you get him alright please write and let me know if you get the money and the horse all right. I am sending a wire also I think I will be going down for Easter I ordered the truck three weeks ago but I could not get it until today We have been doing nothing up here for the last week through having no ammunation [sic] but we made a start again. It is terrible hot and dry up here now. Well as knews [sic] is scarce I will now draw to a close. I remain your affectly. F. Cant. Post Office, Gunning”.
He did indeed “go down” to his family at Granville where he fell ill. The illness was diagnosed by the family doctor in Granville, Doctor Sheldon, as appendicitis. Frank died. The family believed it was dengue fever contracted through drinking stagnant water. His death certificate says: Francis John Henry Cant, labourer, died of Typhoid Fever after an illness of ten days. Mother’s name: Annie Wessler; born, Goulburn; not married. “How Frank’s death must have affected all their lives”, Von says. I wonder whether Gladys came to the funeral – she was living in Condobolin at the time, with two small children. The story is a sad one, especially since the young man was so loved.
His grave at Rookwood was adorned with a fine tombstone inscribed “In loving memory of our dear son Francis J. H. Cant”, and has two little statues of Jesus and Mary. There is, too, a memorial card with a verse:
Do not ask us If we miss him:
There is such a vacant place,
Can we e’er forget his footsteps
And his dear familiar face.
Time has passed and still we miss him,
Words would fail or love to tell;
But in heaven we hope to meet him.
Jesus doeth all things well.
There are also Frank’s First Communion certificate and a holy picture of the Good Shepherd, signed “With every good wish. For Frank. From S[iste]r M[ary] Vincent”. I do not know much about the children’s education, but from this card and a later reference in a card to Stella from Gladys, it is must have been a convent school education.
The certificate is inscribed: Frank Cant received 11th March 1906. Signed P.P. McAlroy pp.
I wonder what Frank’s job was and why he was not at the war. Whatever the answers and whatever his qualities, he certainly left a life-long impression on his family, particularly our grandmother.
Kathleen Stella Cant
The third child of William and Anne Cant was Kathleen Stella, always called Stella, born 21 June 1893, at Mundy Street, Goulburn. She was a strong featured woman. It is obvious from a series of surviving postcards that she loved good clothes, parties and male attention. Postcards to her from an ardent admirer, one Gus Brown, indicate a passionate attachment. Some photos of her as a young woman show one very conscious of her feminine power and attractiveness. One brief encounter with Charles Murray left her with a son, John Cant, born 16th December 1909. I believe Stella was shunned for some time afterwards because of the irregular situation. Her sister Gladys’s postcards to her at this time hint nothing of the affair.
Jack Cant’s story was a troubled one. His aunt Gladys took some care for him when he was growing up and later. He was an occasional visitor to our house in Boundary Street and the response to my insistent question “Who is Uncle Jack?”, was “Oh, he’s your mother’s cousin, dear”, which was true enough and as close as I got to the facts till the story was revealed to me by my uncle’s wife in 1964 when even his step-sister, Jacqueline, still did not know. Jack married and had two daughters, but his wife left him; and for a number of years he was looked after by a good woman I knew only as Aunty Dot. The last I saw of him was at his mother’s funeral in 1973 at which time Jack revealed the truth to Jacqueline.
A month or so before Jacqueline died, 8 August 1989, I went to visit her in St Vincent’s Hospital. At the same time she was being visited by Judy Brown, daughter of the above Gus. I was quite taken aback at meeting Judy, for I seemed to be looking my mother in the face! Jacqueline later explained – with a twinkle in her eye – “Judy and I have been sisters for years”, the implication being that Judy was the daughter of Gus Brown and Stella Cant.
Stella married Archibald John Sivyer, born at Swan Reach, Maitland, 16 February 1884, in Bimbi, 24 May 1919. John Sivyer belonged to the Mounted Police, and made a very handsome figure astride his horse. He was also an avid gambler which was eventually to cost him more than his wages. They had one child, Jacqueline, who was born at Grenfell, 26 May 1923. Very soon afterwards the family moved to 12 Glenview Street, Paddington, where Jacqueline lived till she died, having married, raised her children, and seen them married from the same house.
When I first knew Stella in the late 1940s, she was running a guest house in Merriwa Street, Katoomba, with the help of Bob McConnell. I spent a number of wonderful holidays at Merriwa House; and though Bob could be difficult with the drink on odd occasions, I was made much of and given lots of freedom, roaming the bush and the local sites, and many privileges. Sometimes my grandmother, Gladys, would accompany me: she was very fond of Stella.
In the 1950s Stella and Bob moved to Northaven. Jack Sivyer stayed quietly out of all this, living at Glenview Street. He eventually died in Maitland Hospital, 31 May 1957. Bob remained with Stella and eventually changed his name to Sivyer. They moved back to Sydney living in Duxford Street, Paddington, where Stella died quite suddenly and peacefully, sitting in her chair, 3 May 1973. Bob then moved into Glenview Street with Jacqueline till he died.
Jacqueline says of her upbringing: “I got all the affection”, and I know how my grandmother doted on her; there was no one quite like Jacqueline. In later years the cousins Jacqueline and Honor could discuss this dispassionately, for there had been times when Honor was understandably chagrined that her mother could lavish affection elsewhere so readily, yet hold back the show of affection to her own children. Gladys was nothing less than devoted to many, many people, but Honor, who could acknowledge it as she got older, felt a little overlooked.
Jacqueline with her mother Stella and aunt Gladys
In 1946 Jacqueline married Charles Raymond Thomas, not without some prompting from Stella that she should make a decision between two pressing suitors. Raymond, as he is always called, was born 11 May 1924; the marriage took place 19 October 1946. There were two children: Warren Raymond, born 19 May 1948, and Jeanette Frances, born 16 September 1952. Warren was educated at the Marist Brothers High School Darlinghurst, and Jeanette at St. Vincent’s College, Potts Point.
Warren married Susan McPherson 1 June 1968. There are five children: Darren Craig, 18 January 1969; Shane Andrew, 9 January 1971; Kylie Marie 24 May 1972; Alison Louise, 1 November 1979; and Michelle Therese, 6 October 1983. Warren has maintained the strong faith that characterises his parents and the Cants; and Susan became a Catholic about the time of Michelle’s birth.
Jeanette married Norman McDonald in January 1984 and there are two children: Daniel Charles and Nadine Elizabeth.
We now turn to the children of William Cant’s marriage to Sarah Grieves.
William Augustine Cant
The first of their children was William Augustine James, born 29 May 1897 in Cootamundra. Little is known of his childhood but a picture of him at the age of three shows a lovely child with blond curly hair and clear blue eyes. The family appears to have been settled in Jerilderie at this time, even though William senior may have been moving about with his job on the railways, for the next two children were born there.
William’s education may have been somewhat haphazard: moving from place to place, lack of attention, who knows. He did go to school, as Gladys’s postcard suggests: “How are you getting on at school?” she writes in 1909. She asks in another card “How is your arm?” The arm is a real cause of concern, if the postcards are any indication. The time is December 1908; Will’s arm had been broken and badly set, so that it had to be re-broken and re-set. The result was that he was never able to touch his shoulder with that hand. When he came to join the army in 1918 at the age of twenty one – his parents would not give their consent any earlier – he found himself, at the medical check-up, in a queue heading towards a doctor who was unsympathetic to would-be soldiers with any physical disability. He promptly changed queues for a more sympathetic medico and was passed into the army. He got as far as South Africa when the Armistice was declared. I doubt the family was disappointed.
William Cant in Uniform
In 1926, 8 July, Bill married Dorothy Lutton. She had been boarding at the Cant household in Brady Street, Granville. They moved immediately to the recently founded Kandos cement works, he as head gardener, a job he held for thirty nine years until he retired in 1965. The gardens were a picture and he worked hard at them, even attaining his greenkeeper’s certificate.
Service to the community was a feature of Bill and Dot Cant. During the Depression, for example, Bill used to pay the grocery bill for the Huntley family, his father’s sister Mary’s family, and give away substantial quantities of vegetables to others. Dorothy, Dot or Dorrie, was a founding member of the local CWA and served the community in a number of ways. She was a noted speaker and a splendid singer: she had taken singing lessons at the local Good Samaritan convent in Kandos – a Spanish-style building, still to this day one of the feature buildings of the town – in 1929 and 1930. She sang at weddings for no charge and performed regularly at variety concerts. She and Bill, after his retirement, moved to Woy Woy where they died, he in November 1972 and she in 1979.
Photo of Cant Family members – probably late 1920s at Merrylands
Martin Cant, Stella Cant (wife of Clarence) with Jacqueline, Jack Whittaker and wife Gladys, [2nd from right – uncertain] and Dorothy Cant
Martin Cant in Hibernian Regalia, Granville
Rydalmere 28 December 1973 Stella Cant, Dorothy Cant, Gladys Whittaker
Bill had been christened a Catholic and Dot was a staunch Methodist, indeed a pillar of the local Methodist community and a very warm, generous and gentle woman – her daughter’s recollections and her several letters to me are more than sufficient proof. When I went to visit her daughter Gwen in November 1985 both of us went church in Kandos on Sunday, to the Catholic Mass and to Gwen’s Uniting Church service where I played the harmonium, continuing in some little way Dorothy’s tradition of music and community service.
Whether it was religion or something else that was behind the hints of tension that occasionally ran through the family is not clear, but whatever it was, the breaches were healed in time and by time. Gladys must take some credit as peacemaker, though apparently the rift between her and Molly took longer to heal. Bill and Dot Cant did their share to keep good relations with Molly and with Stella (Turner) Cant, Clarence’s wife. As Von remarked “Aunty Dorrie and Uncle Bill were wonderful to Mum”.
There were two children: Gwenneth Dorothy was born 29 May 1930, and Heather Myrtle 3 February 1936. Gwen married Clement Douglas Briggs. They live at Ilford, where Clem ran a farm of 1600 acres with Hereford cows and Merino sheep. Clem died some years ago and Gwen moved to Canberra in moved August 2003. Gwenneth Dorothy Briggs (née Cant) born 29 May 1930 and died 27 August 2008.
They have two children: Garry John born 8 October 1954, and Lynelle Jann, 23 June 1957. Gwen carried on in her mother’s footsteps as devoted CWA identity and a member of the local Uniting Church.
Heather at an early age was discovered to be held back in her development because, I believe, because of an issue at birth. She was able to stay in the family until the onset of adolescence, when the little rages brought on by the thoughtlessness of other children and the realisation that she would never have a normal social life made it difficult to manage her at home. She spent a long time in a government institution at Stockton where she received a sound and appropriate education. There was in Heather a latent charm and talent; she seemed to have musical potential. As a child she used to sit on the office steps at the cement works and entertain the arriving staff with “piano” renditions of the classics which she would sing with some accuracy. One Fine Day from Madama Butterfly was one of her favourites and she would sing, appropriately enough, “at office meeting” instead of Puccini’s words “at our first meeting”, as Gwen sometimes recalled.
After a change in government policy she was moved from Stockton to Morisset with less than happy results. She was for some time at Leura in the Blue Mountains where Gwen could see her regularly: it was a good place and a pleasant little community. I visited once with Gwen.
Some time later Gwen moved to Torrens ACT and I presume Heather moved at that time to Baptist Care Morling Lodge Redhill ACT. Gwen wrote to me in July 2006 to say that Heather had died 17 June. “Heather had gone back a little mentally but physically she enjoyed fairly good health. The doctor picked up something wrong with her heart just a day before she died. One of the sisters at Morely Lodge was preparing breakfast and wondered why Heather had not put the spoons out. She went to find her and discovered that she had passed away peacefully in her sleep.” Gwen said she found it difficult to come to terms with the shock but was relieved that Heather had gone first and didn’t suffer. Heather Myall Cant was born 3 February 1936 and died 17 June 2006.
The funeral was held at St George’s, Torrens. Gwen and Lynelle accompanied the body to be committed in the cemetery in Ilford. Gwen was pleased that so much support had come from the Baptist community in ACT and the CWA women at Ilford. “Heather was liked and loved by a lot of people.”
I last saw Gwen in September 2007 when I travelled to ACT for a function. Gwen lived near the Marist College at Pearce.
Gwen and Clem’s daughter Lynelle has distinguished herself in public life. Wikipedia 2016 notes “Lynelle Jann Briggs AO is a former Australian Public Service Commissioner. She was chief executive of Medicare from 2009 until 2011, when Medicare was integrated into the Department of Human Services. In the 1980s she spent two years working for the New Zealand Treasury. Between 2001 and 2004, she was a Deputy Secretary in the Department of Transport and Regional Services. In November 2004, she was appointed the Australian Public Service Commissioner. Then, from August 2009 to June 2011, Lynelle was the Chief Executive to Medicare Australia. During her time as head of Medicare, she worked alongside Finn Pratt and Carolyn Hogg to integrate Medicare Australia, the Department of Human Services, Centrelink and CRS Australia into one department for better service design and delivery outcomes for Australians.
“In 2012, she was appointed to lead an inquiry into building site safety in Canberra, her report of the inquiry recommended many changes to ACT construction training, enforcement and culture. Lynelle is currently a board member of the Australian Rail Track Corporation. She was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in January 2013 for distinguished service to public administration, particularly through leadership in the development of public service performance and professionalism.”
The NSW Government Planning Assessment Commission site writes: “Lynelle Briggs AO, Chair, has a distinguished career in public administration, policy, strategy, regulation and operations. Areas of expertise include: transport, infrastructure, health and safety, insurance, superannuation, and public sector ethics, leadership and governance. She is currently an Independent Director of Maritime Super, Chair of the General Insurance Code Governance Committee, Chair of ASIO’s Audit and Risk Committee and a Councillor on the Council of the Royal Australian College of Government Practices. Lynelle is the former Australian Public Service Commissioner, former Deputy Secretary in the Federal Department of Transport and Regional Services, and former CEO of Medicare. She has been Chair of the Planning Assessment Commission since 2014.”
Clarence Clyde Darnley Cant
Clarence Clyde Darnley Cant was born at Jerilderie 29 May 1901. Clarry was a firm man. He was a staunch, committed, Catholic, and encouraged Stella Turner to convert. They married in 1929. Clarrie seemed to me to keep a tight rein on his wife and daughter and I believe made it hard for his daughter Yvonne (Von, who has provided much of the reminiscence in this chapter) to blossom in her natural way. However, Von’s daughter Louise said Clarrie was a very fond father, looking after the children in a quite maternal way, making toys for them, spending time with them.
“Aunty Glad” encouraged her brother to have a twenty-first birthday for his daughter. Gladys also got Von her first job at Payne’s in Bathurst House. Nonetheless we always enjoyed our visits to Clarry’s house at Smythe Street, Merrylands, as well as their visits to us in Boundary Street when we had to keep watch for their arrival from the tram so we could rush back home to alert Gran to put the scones in the oven. At Merrylands Gladys always cooked the scones, while we children delighted in avoiding the two Merrylands magpies – one of which was to be avoided, the other being the opposite. Clarence was a foreman at the Clyde Engineering Works, and a tough one. His niece Maureen’s future husband, Frank Ingram, applied to Clarry for a job and was given short shrift; though later they became the best of friends.
Clarrie Cant at Circular Quay and in the Granville Wheelbarrow Tradition
Yvonne was born 22 May 1932. She married Wilfred (Bill) Fitt, 23 November 1957. There were two children: Louise, born 6 May 1959; and Rebecca, born 24 May 1964. Von’s life was not easy but I believe she has an inner quality which allowed her to cope, a strong characteristic of the Cants. In the late Eighties, Von chose to live with Ian Hore. They moved to Port Macquarie and later to Queensland; she gained a long overdue measure of happiness. The move was made at some personal cost, but her genuine needs won over her strict religious beliefs.
Yvonne at Twenty-one and at her Wedding
Clarence junior was born 14 January 1934.
Clarrie Cant – Junior and Senior
He married June Sheehy and there are two children: Jaccqueline born 31 October 1963 and Mark 11 September 1966. June died some years ago of cancer and Clarry has remarried. “Boy”, as Clarrie was called to distinguish him from his father, was an unassuming man, but a great mimic under that quiet front. He wrote to me late in 2015. “Von didn’t have the best of marriages, however she is a strong person and suffered the pain until her children were able to fend for themselves. Rebecca the youngest stayed with Jenny and me for a short time. My son Mark was taught by Ian Hore (Von’s partner) in primary school and Von was Ian’s Secretary. I still talk about Aunty Glad’s scones and relate to her visits on Sundays where she would cook a bunch while cooking the Sunday lunch. I can still hear the laughter from the kitchen when Dad, Aunty Stella (Sivyer) and Glad would be joking about their different life experiences. Also the many visits to Boundary Street on the tram. I recall that Stella and Glad lived close to each other, walking distance [Glenview Street, Paddington]. They were the good old days.
“My working life was in engineering, with the last 30 years working as Managing Director of a Swedish company, that required travelling around the world promoting our expertise in mining and other industries. I retired in 2002. My first wife June the mother of Jacqueline and Mark passed away with Breast cancer in 1982 when the children were still young. I remarried in in 1986; no children to this relationship. Jennifer has three children Robert, Sally, and Paul. All kids are married with children except Mark. We live alone at Kirkham on a rural property near Camden and love the semi country life style. Only one set of traffic lights. Jacqueline lives at Castle Cove and Mark at Tweed Heads. Mark is working with the company of which I was Managing Director.”
Mildred Mary Cant
The last Cant child was Mildred Mary, whom everyone called Molly. She was born at Jerilderie, 14 November 1904. If Molly was the apple of her mother’s eye, then some of the family saw her as a poke in their eyes. She was regarded as the favoured one.
Gladys left home three or four years after Molly was born, and while she visited the family from time to time, Gladys was probably not very close them at that stage. There were postcards aplenty, and in November 1909 she is saying to Will: “Tell Molly and Clarrie to write to me”. But there appears to have been a long gap in Gladys’s contact with Molly for some time. In 1960 when our family was driving to the Blue Mountains, Gladys announced unexpectedly as they were passing through Glenbrook: “I have a sister who lives here. Let’s see if we can find her”. There and then they turned about, called in at a garage where they found directions to Molly’s house. They received a very warm welcome, establishing a contact that was to last until the sisters died years later. Molly’s family was stunned at the revelation of a sister after what must have been years of no contact. There was always a touch of asperity in the voices when relatives spoke of Molly, mainly because she seems to have given when others were denied. But it is to the credit of all concerned that the hurts were healed as attitudes mellowed and people got older. Molly was given the best of educations: she was trained as a nurse and as a tailoress, and she gained her cap and gown in piano studies.
Mildred (Molly) Cant
Molly with Douglas and Honor Whittaker (probably Condobolin c.1917)
Towards the end of the 1920s she met Bertrand Henry Louis Jordan, Uncle Bert, and here the stories abound. One night on her way home from Granville Station, Molly was stabbed in the arm: general rumour laid the blame at Bert’s jealous door; but whatever the truth, he and she ran away and got married very soon after. The date was 16 November 1929. They must have stayed at the Brady Street house because it is said that the annual Christmas gathering at the Cant household soon stopped, Molly having stated categorically she wasn’t “going to cook for all that lot”. Soon afterwards she and Bert moved to Woodville Road. Things did not go easily in their marriage. Bert soon contracted tuberculosis and had to spend time at Boddington near Wentworth Falls. He never fully recovered and when he and Molly moved to Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains they had to lead separate lives. Molly went to work and Maureen, their daughter, went to boarding school in Goulburn. Von sums it up when she says, “I think Aunty Molly had a sad life. The loss of both her children (Noel aged four and Maureen much later), and Uncle Bert had TB for many years. She worked hard for many years at the Goodyear Tyre Co. in Granville, all during the war years, and she had to put Maureen in boarding school. She must have had a lot of tenacity and courage. Aunty Glad was much more generous in her thinking towards her than my parents were, and Aunty Dorrie always kept in touch with her.” In later years, when Molly was going back and forth to the Royal Women’s Hospital at Paddington, she and Jacqueline developed strong ties.
There were two children: Maureen Annette, born 30 September 1934; and Noel William born 28 March 1937. Noel died at the age of four at Bill Cant’s house at Kandos either from meningitis or a germ in the bowel. Maureen married Frank Ingram (b. 2 August 1926) at Glenbrook, 24 November 1962. My sister Adele was her bridesmaid: the recently healed breach resulted in more frequent visits and a close friendship between the two sisters’ (Gladys and Molly) families. Maureen and Frank had two children; Clare Mary, born 2 December 1966; and Anne Eileen, born 4 December 1970.
Bert Jordan, Adele Butler, Maureen Jordan, Molly Jordan,
Gladys Whittaker, Honor Butler
Maureen sadly predeceased her mother, dying of cancer 11 January 1983. Molly died eighteen months later from the same cause, 5 July 1984, eighteen years after her husband, Bert, who died 23 April 1966.
Cant Cousins Rydalmere 28 December 1973 Honor, Gwen, Von and Clarrie
I am struck by the quality of the Cant grand-daughters: Honor (born 1910), Jacqueline (1923), Gwen (1930), Yvonne (1932), Maureen (1934) and Heather (1936). These women had genuine beauty, external and especially internal. They had a highly developed spirituality, a devotion to God, a sense of steadfastness, loyalty and courage which is impressive. Each of them had some real suffering in marriage, in health and in relationships, but they came through as whole people, their faith strengthened. They have all been devoted to their Church, but they were model Christians before they were churchgoers. If the author’s stance in this chapter has been one of admiration for the Catholicism of these people, it has not been to the detriment of any other religious persuasion; rather it has been an admiration of true devotion to their commitment whatever the persuasion, and of the living out of that commitment in their treatment of others.
Who knows whence these qualities derived. It would be limited to say these are specifically Cant traits. But I do have a strong sense of respect for Bridget Horan, the young Irish girl who left her homeland at the age of fourteen, married a man some fourteen years her senior, a man who had two children already (although Bridget may not have known of them) and was probably responsible by her good life for his conversion to the Catholic faith at the age of fifty-three. This strong religious faith, passed through to the present generation and allied to a hard-headed practical approach to life lived in the service of others, seems to be a feature of this branch of the Cant family.
Cant Gathering, Rydalmere 28 December 1973
Clem Briggs, Stella Cant, Yvonne Fitt, Gladys Whittaker, Honor Butler, Gwen Briggs, Bill Fitt, Clarrie Cant
Front: Lynelle Briggs, Louise Fitt, Rebecca Fitt
Photo by Tony Butler
Revised August 2003 and September 2017