Irish Ancestral Heritage

Past stories of my Éire families

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Mystery of the Marysville Pitman's - Gwendoline's Tragic end (Updated 22-03-18)


LOG CABIN - Marysville, Victoria

It's been a while since I posted another story. I've been working quite a bit since the middle of last year, which has taken its toll to my research time and thoughts. I have been writing this post since I think November. There was a lot of detail to Gwen's story, which I had to write down and come back to it later. And just this past few days, I've had to re-edit this story (again), because I had just received an email, with the details of the inquest into Gwen's tragic end. Thanks again to the Marysville Historical society, who helped me out with Gwen's story.

Since learning of Gwen's Sister - Olive's untimely death, I found more details to the siblings lives, that shares such a similar sad ending. From a research point of view, it's hard to not feel for this family, because they all could have lived a lot longer.

As from the previous post on Olive's disappearance, Gwen took over the reigns of the Kooringa Guesthouse in Marysville. Around the same time, Newenham (brother) had been running a Metal Manufacturing company (Minerva Metal Products) in Melbourne City.
The published change of "Hostess" at Kooringa, following the disappearance of Olive, was quite slow. Olive's name, had still continued to be published as the "Hostess" of Kooringa, even to well after she had disappeared.  Maybe they were waiting for official confirmation of her death? Though that never happened until many years after her original disappearance, a court case was held in 1929, declaring her dead.

Gwen was single (from what I know of) and ran the Log Cabin across the road from her Sister's Guesthouse "Kooringa". The Log Cabin was her residence and was also listed as a Business, selling Trinkets or the like and had also catered for Photographer's needs as well.
I haven't been able to establish, if the Log Cabin was owned by Gwen or just a place of residence, as by Inquest details, it could be that her business partner owned the cabin and the "trading business".
So Gwen, may have been just residing there as a home/storekeeper, but not as an owner.
By various news articles, both Olive and Gwen shared some sort of mental health issues, where I believe, contributed to their untimely deaths. Reporters of the news, must of felt that it was also of a contributing factor to note about it. It also took it's toll on Newenham as well, or atleast played a part on him. It is one of the reasons, why I have documented these Pitman's, to find out if there was any Family medical history that I needed to know about.

On a side note, just to add a bit more drama to the mix, the only sibling to be unscathed by such a tragedy, was sister - Rosalind Stringer (nee Pitman). Well, so I thought. I was so hoping Rosalind escaped this family tragedy. But there was one twist to Rosalind's story. She lived to be in her early 70's and mental affliction was not the case here, but she was involved in a car accident that killed an elderly man - no fault of her own. Just unfortunate, that Rosalinda was driving along the road as you do and a man walked on to the road. He wasn't watching where he was going and stumbled into the path of her car.

Various news articles suggest that Gwen also was a bit of a "folklorist" and was into old stories of mythology, which also hints to an ancestral Irish family link.
The family was connected to the Persse family of Co. Galway, via their Mother Caroline and by both Caroline's Parents - Henry Hood & Annie Persse Newenham.
This connection leads to a close cousin relative, who also had a similar story of mythology and folklore. This cousin was the Co-Founder of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin - Isabella Augusta Persse (Lady Gregory).
I am pretty certain, that Lady Gregory's stories and her eventful life, was known by this family and I believe that her eventful life transpired into the minds of this Pitman family. In particularly from events both here in Australia and Ireland during the 1916 Uprising.

Notice the similarities between Gwen and her Maternal 2nd Cousin (1x removed) Lady Gregory -

I don't have much details of Gwen's life - outside of what is written about her eventful death. Her death is where the details come from and discusses her family ties both here in Australia (Melbourne, Blairgowrie, Marysville and Geelong) and Ireland (relates to the Persse / Newenham lineages and their related families of Galway, Cork & Dublin)

So we come to the part of, Gwen's tragic death. There are several news articles about her death. The details of this tragedy, went nationally - in an almost same fashion of her Sister's disappearance (Olive). I think the newspapers seen that this was quite an eccentric story, as it was very mysterious and difficult to explain.

27th Nov 1931- The Argus

          26th November 1931

The basic story of her death, is that she was found outside of the Log Cabin, in her garden about 20 metres (or another report of 100 yards?) from the Log Cabin and in a very badly burnt state from fire. The reporter assumed that she was using the stove, but the inquest findings were quite different.
20th Dec 1931 - The Sun

I will list the details of the inquest, rather than some of the news reports, as the reporter's slightly misinterpreted the findings. In the recent few days, I found an article, which is probably is the best "reported" interpretation  of the inquest, which I'll show here.
The inquest findings, did change my thoughts on what actually happened, from previous details.
So obtaining the inquest, took many questions out of the equation.

By the findings of the inquest :
  • Gwen suffered from a lot of mental stress (maybe today's version of "anxiety")
  • Gwen had been handed, some of her Brother's estate, just prior to her death
  • A family heirloom was handed to her, just prior to her death - a George Washington letter - addressed to Gwen's 3rd Great Grandfather - Sir Edward Newenham
  • Her business partner of the Log Cabin - Peter from Melbourne, visited her the day before her death and the day of her death. Peter noted on the day before her death, that Gwen was in "normal appearance and good health"
  • News reports had published that a person had left Gwen's residence in a hurry, on the night before her death. They assumed that "dinner for 2 was set at the table" and placed a scene where someone else was involved, maybe of romantic nature. The person that was there on the night, was her business partner, Peter (as noted by him at the inquest). No mention of an romantic interlude, but it was just purely on business terms.
    (The inquest dilutes some sensationalised news reports that their may have been a romantic interlude or tiff of sorts)
  • Peter arrived back in Marysville on the morning of the 26th November and noted that Gwen wasn't there. He assumed that she was out, possibly taking photos and maybe back in a short while. He put the stove on and made 2 cups of tea. He realised she was nowhere to be seen and odd that she wasn't around.
  •  Peter went out and started to look for her, he went and visited a neighbour and noticed that no-one had seen her.
  • Peter then went to the Police and reported her missing, where a search was undertaken.
  • Police Constable found Gwen about "100 yards" from the house, on a bank of a creek. He noticed that she had been badly burnt from the waist upwards 
  • Gwen was found alive but very badly burnt. She was taken to the house and then off to hospital
  • Gwen was asked a few times, on what had happened - she did mention "Petrol" and that "it was the only way out". It had now highlighted the fact, that it was of her own doing
  • Gwen was badly burnt about the face
  • Gwen died of her injuries (shock from burns), just a few hours of being placed at the hospital (1:30am on the 27th November 1931 - aged 40) 
  • It was noted by the Medical Doctor, that he had seen Gwen on the previous week and noticed that she was in a very nervous state
22nd Dec 1931 - The Herald (Melbourne)
23rd Dec 1931- The Age

Gwen seemed a very highly strung individual. And her Brother's recent news regarding her standing - of his estate, was the most probable cause of her being too stressed and it ended in such a tragic way.

The one thing that I've learnt through these multiple stories of different lineages and I suppose, in my own family, is that storing or handling of "wealth", has not been a forte. It seems to be, that my DNA didn't inherit the "Wealth Gene", but most of all, how to handle wealth.

20th Dec 1931 - The Sun - Sydney

26th Dec 1931
Healesville & Yarra Glen Guardian
By some news reports and a key part to this whole tragedy, I am trying to identify "why" a letter of a very historical nature, has some apparent bearing to her death. I have done extensive research on this letter, to find it's history and most of all, why it landed here in Melbourne.
This letter had been passed around the family a few times but had been kept by the Pitman Family when it was handed to Gwen. The letter was indeed genuine and was written by the one and only George Washington in 1789. It was addressed to Gwen's 3rd Grandfather - Sir Edward Newenham MP and was a "letter of introduction", advising Sir Edward of Gen Montgomery's Widow and her future visit to Ireland.
The family had kept this letter as an heirloom and for some reason, Gwen's tragic death, promoted the fact, that this letter may have had a "curse" about it?
As far as I know and have tried many hours to interpret, if there ever was something in the letter, that suggests a curse to the family. However it doesn't.

I think it may relate to the "handling" of such a letter and it's historic nature, where care is needed. Just to add more to such a story, another news report mentions or assumes, that there may have been some form of family tension (involving a few families), into the safe keeping of this letter. Either way, it looks like the "possession of the letter", was key to understanding Gwen's anxious nature.

Around the late 1930s or early 1940s, it is believed that the letter became part of a US collection, due to it's historical nature. Unsure how or if it was sold off or not.

Unfortunately the Log Cabin was destroyed in the 2009 Bushfire's that ravaged Marysville.

Google Earth Image of Post 2009

My image April 2017

My image of the Garden April 2017

Information Sign at the Site of the Log Cabin

What the Log Cabin used to look like (Pictures are via the State Library of Victoria)

by Brett Fitzgerald Sunday, January 28, 2018 No comments


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