In the early 1900s, life for Albert and Annie White of rural Railton in northern Tasmania revolved around their local Methodist church. Their children regularly sang and recited at church functions. The eldest daughter, Ethel, became a teacher, posted to various small country schools in the area. She was much loved by her pupils.
On May 8 1926, an account of a marriage between 20 year old Ethel and a 26 year old Methodist minister appeared in the Tasmanian regional newspaper, The Advocate;
A very pretty and interesting wedding was celebrated at the Railton Methodist Church on Wednesday, April 7; the contracting parties being Ethel Constance, second daughter of Mr and Mrs A. White of Railton, and Ronald Geeves Griggs, eldest son of Mr and Mrs H.H. Griggs, of Franklin.
A full account of the wedding followed, with the article concluding;
By the evening train the happy couple left for Devonport, amid showers of confetti, and on Saturday embarked for Melbourne by the S.S. Oonah, enroute to Omeo, Victoria, where the Rev. Griggs takes up his duties as minister of the Methodist circuit in the district.
In February 1927 Ethel Griggs gave birth to a little girl, Alwyn Dorothy. On July 6 , mother and baby returned to Tasmania for an extended visit to Ethel’s parents and in-laws. She began the long journey back to Omeo on December 29, crossing the Bass Strait then arriving home via train and hire car on January 1
On January 3rd, Reverend Harris, a minister at Railton, delivered a telegram to Mrs White from her son-in-law with the shocking news that 22 year old Ethel was dead; ‘Will you kindly break news to Whites, Railton, Ethel died suddenly last night during sleep. Painless. Heart failure. – Griggs, Omeo. The telegram was followed by a letter from Ronald Griggs to his mother-in-law;
Thursday, Jan 5 1928
I think you will understand when I say that I cannot write very much just now. You will realise how hard it is. It seems to me that it has all been a dream, that I will wake up sometime and find your dear girl still with me. Perhaps you would like me to tell you everything right from the start. I could not say very much in the wire and I did not like sending it, but you had to know.
I had the parsonage all clean and sweet for Ethel’s homecoming, and the day seemed as if it would never pass. It was an exceedingly hot day. The motor arrived about 9 o’clock, and after our little girl had been put to bed she [Ethel] had a bath, and we had tea. Afterwards she was just a little bit sick, but I thought it was the heat and excitement. She did not eat very much and about half-way through tea she was sick again. She felt ill so I got her to bed, and she lay there while I finished my work for Sunday, watching me she fell asleep. About 7 o’clock she woke up and from then on she was sick all night. Between sickness she went to sleep and by morning she seemed a lot better, and had a cup of tea. She could not keep that down, so I thought it best that she should have nothing but soda water. Baby was splendid.
About church time she dropped off to sleep , and at 4 o’clock, appeared to have recovered. I thought that she had better have nothing to eat. I did not like leaving her, but I had the service 20 miles away, and started. I was back as quick as I could. She was sitting up in bed playing with her baby, and said she had had a good sleep and felt better, but was still feeling sick. I gave her a cup of tea and after that she seemed to get bad again, so I went for the doctor. He seemed to think it was nothing but heat and excitement , and gave her medicine, and said he would call again in the morning. She was bad all night, sick every half hour or so.. At daybreak I went again for the doctor. He did what he could, got her easy, and came back about 10. She seemed much better. About 2 o’clock on Monday afternoon a change came, and she was bad indeed. No pain, but sickness, and of course she was intensely weak. Neighbours came in and we did what we could, but although we managed to stop the sickness she became delirious from weakness. Between 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock she was still sick and very week but in no pain, and quite conscious. The doctor gave her an injection, and as she was falling asleep she said, “How long will I sleep , doctor?” The doctor relied, “Till midday tomorrow, and you will wake up happy and well. ” His words, or part of them, proved true. About 11 she seemed sound asleep, so I lay down, and as I had been up two nights and never even had my collar off, I was feeling done. I slept for two hours , and went in to look at her. She had gone. She had never spoken or moved , and knew nothing of pain , weariness or anything. Her heart just stopped beating. It was a really beautiful way to go. She just fell asleep and woke in heaven. Apart from two days sickness and weakness there was no pain, and there was nothing at all to indicate anything serious. She simply fell asleep and heard the call . I cannot realise it even yet. We had planned such a lot for the New Year, but it was not to be. And who shall say that it is not better? Little baby is indeed wonderful, and she found her way right into my heart. I will not know how to part with her. Ethel is now lying in a beautiful part of the Omeo sleeping ground. It has been a shock for the whole town. May God give you strength and grace to see His hand in it.
To add to her family’s distress, the funeral had taken place on January 4, Ethel’s 22nd birthday. An unflattering newspaper photo of Ethel showed a pleasant faced, rather homely young woman.
A grieving Mrs White responded to her son-in-law’s letter, acknowledging Ronald’s terrible loss as well as her own. She had one special plea. If he felt unable to care for little Alwyn, she begged to be able to raise the child herself, with the help of her younger daughter Edna.
She was heartbroken when he told her he was sending the baby back to Tasmania, but to live with his parents in the south of the State.
Meanwhile the dead woman’s younger sister Edna (then 18) was remembering a disturbing confidence her sister had shared during their reunion in Railton. There was also disquiet in Omeo, where rumours were circulating about the Reverend Griggs’s conduct.
TO BE CONTINUED……. CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO.