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 (left) and Emily Singleton
Winifred Julia (left) and her sister Emily Joyce.

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.

Winnie's parents Arthur and Elizabeth Singleton
WINNIE’S PARENTS ARTHUR AND ELIZABETH SINGLETON IN 1918, SOON AFTER THEIR MARRIAGE.

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.

Freedom of Information form

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;

Not the link to Winnie I was hoping for.

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?

SECOND ATTEMPT…

Another week went by. then up rode the postie with another registered letter…

Postie delivering  the second certificate.
Finally, my family link to Winnie.
THAT’S BETTER!

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.

FEBRUARY 3RD.

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

9 Comments
  1. Thanks, a smile during your difficult search.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Simon, one certainly needs a sense of humour! Mind you, my grandmother didn’t have one and would have been so incensed and insulted.

  2. Great story, I love the importance placed on “certificates”. I found out early in my research that certificates are open to all sorts of issues. My grandfather, named Claude Frederick is shown as a female on the birth register. As he married and fathered 9 children I am fairly sure the register is incorrect.
    Another relative died 2 March according to the Register but the local newspaper announced his death and funeral in Mid February of the same year. Again clearly a mistake on the death register. These are just a couple of the examples I have found of mistakes, misspellings and downright lies perpetuated on civil registration records.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Karlena, yes….human nature creates problems on all such documents, especially the census. But in this case my shock was due to a staffing error which seemed to fly in the face of common sense! Oh well, at least it was funny.

  3. Hi Pauline,
    I read with interest your story of Winnie Singleton. I recognised the name of Alice Maud
    Singleton.(Simpleton :O ) She married my Great Grand Uncle Newman Allen I believe.
    Her sister Lila was married to Wilfred Barker, my 1st cousin (twice removed).
    Gosh I love Tasmania, you find relatives everywhere.

    Also special thanks for your article on “The Immortal Coil” Turns out Jack was
    my Great Great Grandfather!
    Best wishes
    Sally Nolan

    • Pauline

      Ah yes Sally, my grandmother Alice raised Lila’s daughters Edna and Elma at North Motton after Lila died. I knew both dear ladies very well when I was growing up in Ulverstone. It’s not that long since Edna died at over 100.

      Dear me, fancy being related to Jack of Coil fame too. 🥰

  4. Thank you for your reply Pauline, we must have many connections in NW Tas.

    My mother came from Sydney, a Quinn, her father was illegitimate and believed his Mother to have died, he grew up in an orphanage. As it turns out she died only 8 years before he did. It has taken me nearly 20 years to track down some of the information and it all fell into place at Xmas time this year. That is when I read your article on Jack Quinn & Coil and very much appreciated it.
    Best wishes again for Winnie.
    Sally Nolan

  5. Dear Pauline,
    Love your writing,
    My g Grandmother’s Death Certificate had errors. I contacted Tassie’s BDM about a glaring error. Apologies received then a photocopy of original Death Certificate arrived with a great deal more information. I realised that they seem to send excerpts on their requested copies? It was an unexpected bonus.
    Two of my paternal Grandparents Death Certificates had omitted my Father and Uncles birth. Family conflict was responsible. My Grandparents relationship caused angst with family members who got their ‘revenge’ by not including their two children. My Grandmother had 2 daughters when she took off with my Grandfather and produced my Father and Uncle.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Caren. It has been a revelation going through the Freedom of Information process and family history in general. At least the birth certificate I received was a full. And yes, all those difficult relationships still colour our lives!

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