Winifred Julia Singleton (Winnie) was born near Ulverstone, Tasmania on November 29 1918,  the first child of Arthur and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Singleton. Arthur Singleton was my great uncle. There is only one known photo of Winnie. It was taken in 1924, when she and her little sister Joyce were placed in an orphanage in Launceston.

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

Winnie’s  father was at the Gallipoli landing and fought in the Battle of Lone Pine. He suffered shell-shock during trench warfare in France. In 1924 he was about to become a life long patient in the New Norfolk mental asylum. Meanwhile Lizzie had deserted the family, hence the orphanage.

Arthur and Elizaeth Singleton
Arthur and Elizabeth Singleton in 1918, soon after their marriage.

The girls’ aunt had contacted the orphanage requesting their admission. In a rather cold-hearted letter she wrote;

Girls from the Launceston Girl's Home on holidy at Ulverstone Beach
Girls from the orphanage on holiday at Ulverstone beach circa 1935

Eventually Winifred was too old to remain at the institution. She was a little ‘slow’, but had been leaving for short periods to earn money taking care of children. By this time her mother was running a small boarding house in Frankston, Victoria. She asked that young Emily join her there, to help with housework. Reluctantly, she allowed Winifred to go too. The sisters left aboard the steamer Taroona on February 15 1936. Winfred’s savings were used to pay her fare.

Inevitably, there were arguments at the boarding house and at some point it appears that Winnie tried to stab her mother. She was sent to the Sunbury Mental Asylum, probably later that year.

Sunbury Mental Asylum
The entrance to the Sunbury Asylum

On November 13 1937 Winnie died, aged 18 There was a coronial inquest.

Coronil Inquest detils for Winifred Singleton

I was heartbroken to note that under – NEXT OF KIN was the word UNKNOWN. How could that be? Had her mother simply left her at the asylum?

In recent years a memorial has been built at Sunbury, listing all those who died at the institution. But strangely, Winifred’s name does not appear.

I still have no idea where she is buried, or what the exact circumstances of her admission to Sunbury were. It is difficult to access the asylum’s records, but hopefully I will find the answers one day soon through a Freedom of Information request..

UPDATE – OCTOBER 22 Thanks to the help of researcher Ann Spotswood, I have discovered that Winnie was buried in Melbourne’s Footscray Cemetery. Ann is a member of the fantastic, Australian Ancestors – Family History Research Group. You can find them on Facebook. A phone call to the Cemetery revealed that the burial was paid for by William Jenkins. ‘Pop’ Jenkins was Lizzie Singleton’s defacto husband at the time. There is no headstone, which does not surprise me, but maybe I can visit the plot when state borders are open, and place some flowers.

There are of course so many more questions. Why did the inquest and death certificate state that her parents were unknown? And why was Footscray chosen over Frankston? Perhaps the fractured mother-daughter relationship is the answer to the latter.

RIP Winnie.

  1. What a very sad tale

    • Pauline

      Yes, one of the reasons why I want to visit Melbourne is to try and gain access to the asylum records.

  2. Pauline, you do pick the most fascinating topics to highlight our history. I wish you the best of luck in this search. Cheers, David

  3. Oh gosh!
    This a sad, but not too uncommon, story from back then! Dads damaged by war and Mums just too exhausted and worn down to cope! Imagine if children were treated like that today! We would be just aghast!
    I am shocked enough that Benjamin and Elizabeth Shadbolt left Tasmania for New Zealand leaving behind their eldest son. His mother must have missed him so terribly! Life seems as though it may have been more expendable then?
    Thanks for sharing Winifred’s very short story — maybe there is a way to locate some of the detail, somewhere, somehow?
    As I side note. . . one of our sons has a thriving vet clinic called “The Unusual Pet Vets” and it is in Frankston. Maybe he occasionally walks some of the places that Winifred and her mother walked?
    Regards and keep your stories coming – I, literally, look forward to them and especially love learning about those Blue Mountain birds!

    Sheryl Baron
    One of those Shadbolts

  4. Hope you hunt is rewarded. Simon

    • Pauline

      Thanks Simon, well at least a kind researcher was able to tell me where poor Winnie is buried. I was so grateful.

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.