While researching my Tasmanian family history I discovered that my great-uncle Arthur’s daughter Winifred (Winnie) Singleton died in 1937 at Victoria’s Sunbury Asylum, aged 19. I also came across a sad story that she had been admitted after attacking her mother with a knife.
Winnie and her younger sister Emily (known as Joy) had been placed in an orphanage at Launceston aged five and three respectively, after a family breakdown. This was due at least in part to their father’s mental and physical disabilities following service with the 12th Battalion at Gallipoli and in France during WWI.
After leaving the orphanage at seventeen, Winnie went to live with her mother in Frankston (Victoria), but the relationship between the pair had always been difficult. Winnie was a bit ‘slow’ and Elizabeth Singleton had told the orphanage that she really only wanted Joy, her very bright, younger daughter. It appears the incident with the knife occurred within months. It’s a tragic, complicated story, but that’s the gist of it. Anyway, as family historian I wanted to know the truth, and/or the circumstances of the alleged attack. More importantly, I was anxious to find out what had happened to Winnie at Sunbury before her untimely death. Records can only be obtained though Freedom of Information, which required me to provide proof of family relationship.
Firstly, I had to apply for my late father’s birth certificate. For this I had to provide several items as ‘proof of identity’; a council rates notice (for proof of address), driver’s licence, plus my own birth certificate. I only had a yellowing ‘extract’ of the latter, obtained when I was married in 1977.
All documents had to be certified as correct copies of the originals by a Justice of the Peace.
A couple of weeks later the postman arrived with the precious, registered document. Wonderful; the final link back via my grandmother, aunt of Winnie. And then……shock, disbelief and hysterical laughter. Oh good grief, my poor Grandma;
When I rang Tasmanian Births, Deaths and Marriages they were (quite naturally) mortified. Their explanation was that a staff member had misread the handwriting on the original registration. Hmm….so the idea of SIMPLETON as a surname did not give anyone cause for thought?? 🥵
They asked if I could please return the certificate so that it could be destroyed. Oh dear, must I? They promised to send a corrected version immediately, adding. ‘Of course you won’t have to pay for this one.‘ Well really? I was slightly miffed that they would even suggest such a thing.
Supposing I’d had no idea of my grandmother’s surname? I’d have had to accept that I was one of the Tasmanian Simpletons! (No sniggering please.) After all, we family historians assume that official birth certificates are irrefutable proof in such matters don’t we?
Another week went by. then up rode the postie with another registered letter…
I can only hope other members of my extended family have not received the ‘Simpleton’ certificate. Imagine if the name is circulating through sites such as Ancestry etc.
OK, onwards and upwards…….I’ll let you know how I get on with the Freedom of Information request. Don’t worry cousin Winnie, I’ll get to you in the end.
REQUEST FINALLY SUBMITTED…..
OK, my paperwork didn’t quite pass muster, but after a chat by phone I managed to rustle up Winnie’s father’s will and a couple of other documents. Staff were very understanding and helpful. It was a huge relief to receive this email though;
NEARLY THERE UNTIL……! 😰😨
Message received January 4
Wot? 😝🥵 Well, not much choice but to understand and agree really. So frustrating though.
Great excitement that the documents are available today and then….. another delay at the 11th hour, blamed on Covid now. The irritating thing is that they actually ask me whether or not I agree! What would the repercussions be if I said no? And if I say OK, will someone else less accommodating be allowed to push in front of me in the queue? It all seems very unprofessional. 😫😫😫 End of rant.
FOR THE FULL STORY OF HOW WINNIE AND HER SISTER ENDED UP IN THE ORPHANAGE CLICK HERE