Friday, November 18, 2011



Your response was awesome.  Contact has been made and we’re edging closer to finding out just how a little girl, alone in 1900’s London found her way to Canada.

Camilla Maude Fleming was barely 11 years old when her life came crashing down.  First her father, George dies in a crane accident in the London docks area of Greenwich.  That is a disaster in itself.  Remember these are the days before work and safety and compensation; with their father’s death, their mother is left destitute.  The family has lost its breadwinner.

Constance Olivia Fleming, their mother, is pregnant with her last child.  Myrtle Grace will be born five months after her father’s death.  The eldest of eight, Bernard George is apprenticed to the electrical trade. The other six children, Isabel, Francis, Ernest, Olive, Camilla Maude and Constance Anna are aged between 3 and 13 years.

Living with the Flemings in London are the children’s Sweeny grandparents, the aged Anna and Alfred.  By now, 1901, they are both in their late seventies.  Alfred is already in a work house for the elderly.  Within a few short years of the father, George Fleming’s death in a work accident, his 37 year old wife dies, followed by his aged mother in law, Anna Sweeny, and finally her husband Alfred Sweeny. 

The Fleming brood, all eight, aged from 3 months to 17 years, are on their own.

The Sweeny’s life, Anna and Alfred, has not been easy.  Constance Olivia is their youngest child, the baby of their 16 children, most of them born in Worthing, Sussex in the years when Alfred was the respected Tax Collector for the Worthing Town Council and the family lived in comfort, wanting for nothing.

But by the time Constance Olivia is born in Swansea, Wales, the Sweeny family has fallen apart, Alfred has lost his position with the Council, he has been imprisoned, bankrupted, their family has separated with six of their children taking flight to Australia.  There has been a great deal of recrimination and remorse.

None of which helps the younger Flemings.

1901 census for Bluebell Orphanage showing Camilla Fleming aged 10
 With the surviving 12 Sweeny children, all adults by 1901, living far apart and some not even knowing the other’s whereabouts, the orphaned Fleming youngsters are farmed out to orphanages and homes.   The new baby Myrtle is adopted by a young couple living just a few blocks away.

Many youngsters in homes and orphanages in the UK were moved enmasse to Australia and to Canada during the second world war.  But the Atlantic transmigration had actually started some time before then.  In the case of Canada as early as the late 1700s.

A number of  children were earmarked for work on farms or in townships.  Often siblings were sent to the same foreign country, but separately to different provinces.  Some reunited later, much later.  Others like Camilla Fleming were absorbed into a new life, completely and utterly losing contact with home and family.

Camilla might even be one of the young English girls pictured here, fresh off the boat in New Brunswick, facing a new life in a new country.

Another of the orphaned Fleming children, Francis Ivor, will find his way eventually to Fiji, where an Aunt Geraldine he has never met, but no doubt has heard mentioned in letters to his Grandmother, then lived.

If you’ve been following my stories, you have read about Frank Fleming,  the WW1 pilot, government representative on Canton Island in the middle of the Pacific,  friend of Noel Coward;  you would know about his wife Lucy, and about the photos he took of my Grandmother, Maggie, his cousin.  Photos that resurfaced on the internet some 60 years after they had been taken.

And just recently you would have read my plea asking for help in contacting Linda Babiuk in Canada,  a lady who held the key to finding the long lost Camilla Maude Fleming, last heard of in 1901 in an orphanage on the outskirts of London.

We have made contact. Linda lives on Vancouver Island, curiously, a place my Reluctant Traveller and I visited and enjoyed on that 'Round the World' romp such a long time ago.   

 Linda is Camilla’s grand daughter, though she never knew her Gran by that name.  True to the tradition of many of the Sweeny children before her, at some time on her journey from England to Canada, Camilla has changed her name to Margaret. 

Why?  At this stage we have no idea.  Her present day family can only imagine the rocky path their Grandmother may have trod.  The loneliness and terror this little girl must have faced. 

Margaret-Camilla in later life.

Photo from Linda Babiuk’s family album.

The Sweeny children resorted to subterfuge to escape the shame of a father’s downfall.  Finding them in the various parts of the globe they finished up in, wasn’t at all easy, but find them we did, and who are ‘we’?

The Sweeny family’s descendants, grand children, nieces and nephews, all of us floating about in far flung corners of the globe...Peter, the two Kim’s, Malcolm countless others and me.  We chased clues, searched through old records, spent hours sitting in front of computers, discovered each other and eventually pieced together the story of an amazing family.  A family with an extraordinary number of secrets.

On my website you can follow the life story of the Four Sisters from Sussex, read the Ancestor Series about my Grandfather from Indiana, his Quaker origin and his showbiz life.

But while the Flemings in England have found this last missing member of their original family, the story of Camilla Maude is far from being complete.  Her life has yet to be traced.  Her movements from the orphanage in England to a life in Canada have yet to be unearthed.

But it is a start, and I for one, feel a warm glow of pleasure, a lost lamb returned to the fold.

As the story evolves I will keep you posted.  Meanwhile it’s marvellous to know we have kin in Canada,  welcome to the family, Linda and Cindy.

Robyn Mortimer November 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011


There is nothing I like better than a mystery.

If you've been following my stories you would have seen that for yourself with my Grandfather ChasBert, with Grandmother's mother,  Geraldine Sweeny, and again with the man who is no relation whatsoever, Tollemache Eslick.  But now I have a gigantic and urgent mystery that needs solving pronto!

And to solve it I need the help of Canada.

Where the Sweeny's lived in Sussex


Cast your mind back to the disintegration  of the Sweeny family.  Mum and Dad, Anna and Alfred Sweeny,  their sixteen children, Alfred's shame and jailing,  their efforts to survive in the face of poverty. Their children seeking better lives in other parts of the world.

The six who ended up in Australia, my great great-grandmother Geraldine for one,  who went on to Fiji and created her own life of heartache and mystery.

And the last child Constance Olivia, born in Wales, who married George Fleming the locomotive driver, moved to London, had eight children and was dead by 1901, leaving them all orphans....including the little girl Camilla,  named after an aunt she never met...another Camilla whose married life in Australia was short and tragic.

But this little Camilla Fleming, the one I need your help to trace, just one of the eight orphan Flemings, in 1901 ended up in the Bluebelle Orphanage at Great Clacton not far from London.  And from there disappeared from sight.

Two readers from Canada responded to my story about the Sweeny's, in particular about the story of Frank Fleming, the brother who went on to fly aeroplanes in the first World War and ended up living on an island in the Pacific, Fiji.

They were obviously unaware their comments to me, and their request for more information about their great-greatgrandmother Camilla couldn't be replied to privately, by email, because Google respects their privacy and deletes their contact details.  I know only that these ladies live in Canada.

Linda Babiuk Hogg  and Cindy,  you have kin in England who have been trying to find out what happened to their own great-grandfather's sister.   They've searched through London records, shipping lists, scoured Australia, the USA, and yes considered Canada, but your response to me is their first direct evidence of where that little girl ended up.

Linda and Cindy, you may not even be aware of your own relationship to each other,  please write another message in the comments box on this blog, but this time include your email address.  Or if anyone else is reading this and can help, please do. find my email link go to my profile and click on email.

I will not publish your contact details online, but I will send them on to your distant cousins in England.  They're eager to talk to you.

The life story of a little girl, alone in England in 1901, badly needs closure.


Robyn Mortimer

Friday, November 4, 2011


Down under in Australia there is one moment, on one day of each calendar year, when the entire nation comes to a standstill.

The mighty Tulloch – 1960’s

No matter where they are, in outback Queensland, on the beach at Bondi, in the Kimberley’s of West Australia, Alice Springs, Oodnadatta, far south in Tasmania  or on the top of Victoria’s Mt Kosciusko, people of every colour, creed or political chant pause in the midst of whatever they’re doing, waiting to hear the magic words, ‘They’re Off!’......and Australia’s favourite horse race begins...The Melbourne Cup.  

As a kid I remember one particular 3pm on the first Tuesday of November when the teacher tuned into a bulky but portable radio so the entire class of 12 year olds could listen to the race that stops a nation.  We all knew what the Melbourne Cup was about, and we all had a small penny wager on it.

Aussies after all have a gambling reputation that had to have started  at some time in their childhood.

Just as the crowd below in 1930’s Melbourne crowded around a shop wireless, I can still remember being a passenger on a tram in Brisbane when the driver stopped outside a city store so we could all hear the race on a radio tuned to its highest pitch by the obliging storekeeper...

...when even 1930’s workmen installing a clock on a building in Adelaide paused to listen to the running of a horse race in far away Melbourne.

Nothing stops the Melbourne Cup, not war, nor pouring rain, blizzard or even the high winds that saw these fashionable young ladies struggling to control they’re already brief skirts.

Melbourne Cup Tuesday is the day when countless women don their fashionable party best, when millions of dollars are wagered on the one race, when more sickies from work rosters are registered, than on any other day of the year, when one horse, one jockey, and one trainer will receive the deserved accolade of an entire country.

In every community hall, sports club, convention centre, parties are held, neighbourhood sweeps organised, bets placed.  Hairdressers do a roaring trade, glad rags are dragged out of closets, frivolous hats created, and an awful lot of bubbly is consumed.

The Cup is, after all, that one day of the year when the whole country celebrates.  On Straddie we have a choice of toad races at the Pt Lookout Pub, or a piglet race at the Little Ship Club in Dunwich.

Fashions though, have changed dramatically since the 1860’s, when Archer won the very first Melbourne Cup.

By the 1960’s skirts were knee length, hats were still puddings, and furs hadn’t yet been relegated to four legged animals only.

The 21st Century saw skirts lifting a whole lot higher and the guys splashing a bit more colour.

And some even decided if a Peacock could flaunt his feathers so could they.

 Mind you some girls went to extreme lengths to match the horsie mood...
We could have stayed to enjoy the toad races and the little piggies on Straddie,  maybe even raced off to the Hens Party at Amity.

But this year, 2011, saw our small clutch of Straddie housewives travelling ‘off island’, to strut their stuff at the Gold Coast Races, an event that just happened to coincide with the big one in Melbourne.

Six of us under the one roof in an apartment on the fabulous Gold Coast of Queensland.  Champers and nibblies, posh outfits and ridiculous hats.  It was going to be fun.

While the fillies on the course in Melbourne were being pampered and preened for the big event, we Straddie show ponies were going through our own pre-party preparations. A spit and polish with careful attention to tips and toes.

While some looked for winning tips on the internet....

Others searched for inspiration on a cereal packet or even in a glass of amber liquid.

Then we faced the battle of what to wear.  This hat or that one...

Or even, should we wear a hat at all?

At last we were all sorted and raring to go...but first a stop off at the local tavern...think of it as a confidence booster.

It took a wee while and a few sips to feel the resulting glow and then we were off...and heading thataway...

 Of course the race course was packed...
But we found a spare table...

And promptly toasted our way to winnings and a party glow, that ended up something like this....

Did we win? 

Not on the Cup, but lets say we finished ahead, enjoyed the day, and then started planning how we might celebrate The Cup next year.  A pool party maybe, a barbecue on the beach,  or maybe, just maybe, we’ll invest in one of those tasty little piglets and enter him in the Little Ship’s Straddie Cup 2012.

Maybe we’ll even win the little piggy himself and combine winnings with the barbecue!


Robyn Mortimer ©2011