In  1929, like so many other parts of the world, Tasmania was in the grip of the Great Depression.  John and Loyce ‘Grace’ Freeman from the rural community of Taranna, on  Tasman Peninsula, were wondering how they would  cope with their growing family.  John Freeman was a lowly paid worker at a struggling timber mill.  The couple  already had  seven children under 13, and  29 year old Grace was pregnant again.

More worrying still, Grace was much larger this time, and had been told  there was more than one baby.  She had been sick for weeks, and the doctors’ bills were mounting.

When the births were imminent, Mrs Freeman was rushed to the Hobart Public Hospital.  On August 6 she underwent a caesarean section carried out by the flamboyant Surgeon Superintendent Dr Victor Ratten, assisted  Drs Carruthers and Gaha.

Drs at Hobart Hospital circa 1920
Left to right, Drs Carruthers, Ratten and Gaha.

Dr Ratten was a master of self-promotion and the births were reported  around Australia with typical hyperbole;


A trio of young Tasmanians were born last week in circumstances which are unique in medical annals.

Dr V. R. Ratten, of Hobart Public Hospital, succeeded in saving both mother and triplets by the operation known as Caesarean Section. So far as is known, no other such case is on record.

Mrs Freeman, the proud mother of the triplets, went into hospital as an urgent case, and Dr Ratten operated with the help of Drs Carruthers and Gaha.

The babies weighed at birth 5lb 13½ozs, 5lb 9ozs and 4lb 13½ozs. The first two are exceptionally healthy and the last, though small, seems full of life.


Dr Ratten  is an expert in its [Caesarean Section] technique, having performed the operation 183 times. He had also disproved the theory that the operation can only be carried out once on a patient, one patient at Hobart having successfully undergone the operation four times.

Sadly, as in many of the cases involving Dr Ratten, the outcome was not nearly as rosy as reported.  Grace Freeman was gravely ill after the surgery.

Four days after the triplets’ birth John Freeman, already under enormous stress, received the devastating news that the timber mill he was employed at had burned to the ground. Then, on August 17 his beloved wife died.

It was a terrible loss for the triplets’ siblings; Elsie 13, Rita 11, Jack 10, Desmond 8½, Tommy 6, Felix 4 and toddler Aris. Their grieving father employed a housekeeper and little Avis was adopted by a woman in Newtown.

Meanwhile the  babies had been named Stella Coralie, Jean Ellie, and Ivy McHugo.   The name McHugo was a tribute to Hobart’s Deputy Mayor  and civic leader Mr W. M. McHugo, who became the babies’ godfather.

W..M. McHugo

They were placed in the Mother Craft home at Newtown, which remained  their home for the next few years. Subsequently they brought up by their  uncle and Aunt; Ernie and Edie Freeman. There had been  offers to adopt the babies as individuals, but their father wished them to remain together.

Freeman twins
Mothercraft Home in Newtown Hobart
The Mothercraft Home in Pirie Street Newtown.

The milestones in the girl’s lives were regularly reported in the press, along with updates on donations to a fund for the triplets and their older siblings established by Mr McHugo.

In  July1936, John Freeman  was kicked by a horse while working at the timber mill in Taranna, resulting in a compound fracture of his thigh.  He died in the Hobart Hospital a week before the triplets turned seven. The poor little girls look so sad in their birthday photo. We can only  hope there was support  for the other  Freeman children back in Taranna, who, unlike the triplets, were old enough to remember the death of their mother. Nor were these youngsters regarded as ‘special’ in the way the triplets were.

The Freeman twins
At seven.
Freeman triplets
Eight years old. Those dolls must have been their favourites.

Just before the girls’ tenth birthday they attended a Government House carnival dressed as Bush Nursing Queens. It was very poignant ,because their dead mother had been the first patient of Taranna’s  bush nurse, Sister  Gill.

Freeman triplets as Bush Nursing Queens
Bush nursing queens.

When the triplets were fourteen  they travelled to Launceston for a meet up  with the recently born  Brooks triplets and the Bowen sisters, born 25 years earlier. The Misses Bowen had been corresponding with the Freeman sisters for a long time and had invited them to Launceston for a holiday.

Three sets of Tasmanian triplets
Three sets of Tasmanian triplets.

Interest in the Freeman girls waned as the grew up, but when they  turned 21 they were featured in the local paper, The Mercury.

Freeman Twins turn 21
Reaching their majority.

Sadly, this was to be the last photograph of the triplets together.  On May 28 1952, Stella Coralie died after a long illness.. She had worked as a nurse’s aid at the Repatriation Hospital, but contracted TB, then very common.

Ivy and Jean both married and had families. They died in the 1980s.  All three triplets lie together at Hobart’s Cornelian Bay Cemetery.

Grave of the Freeman Triplets

The words at the base of the inscriptions read TOGETHER AGAIN

  1. A tragic story, one hopes that the surviving two of the triplets led happy and fruitful lives.

    • Pauline

      It seems they did, Peter. May have been more difficult for the other siblings back in Taranna.

  2. Found the other two triplets!
    Will email


    • Pauline

      Thanks Vicki. Once I publish a piece, more information comes in and I have to do a quick edit!

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.