THIS IS THE CONCLUSION TO THE STORY TROUBLES AT THE TARANNA TIMBER MILL.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Interest in the Freeman girls waned as the grew up, but when they turned 21 they were featured in the local paper, The Mercury.
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.
The words at the base of the inscriptions read TOGETHER AGAIN