in Family history

Hester Brown and the Art of Living Well on Nothing (#52Ancestors Week 4 – Invite to Dinner)

Just a short blog post today.


In 1900 at the age of seventeen, my great grandmother Hester Brown became the mother to her eight younger siblings.  She was well able for the role.  Hester was a warmhearted girl with the ability to turn a house into a home.


Corn and eggs

For the next three years, Hester looked after the family while her father worked as a farm labourer. She wasn’t alone in the task. Hester had some maiden aunts – Hannah and Esther Cox.  The aunts helped a great deal. They showed Hester how to cook and grow vegetables in her garden.

In 1903, Hester married a widower with an eight year old son and a five year old daughter.  Thomas Reading was twenty years older than she was.  She moved from her father’s house with eight younger siblings, to her own house with its ready-made family.  Hester then had nine children of her own.

Thomas and Hester lived at Apsley on a property called Parki. The house isn’t there any more.  They lived in a two bedroom house, Thomas and the boys in one room, Hester and the girls in the other.  Money was scarce.


The house where Thomas and Hester raised their children was on this property near the trees behind the mailbox.

Hester had a recipe book which did not come down to me, but I remember some of the recipes.  There was rhubarb trifle and rabbit stew.  Grilled bracken fern was had with every meal. They had one milk cow and several pigs, but Thomas used the pigs to clear blackberries so it was rare to eat pork. They had a lot of chickens and ate eggs for breakfast every day.  The boys took scones to school for lunch, but they rarely had butter.  Hester tried to grow berry fruits but their house had no attached water so in dry times the plants died.  She did have a successful lemon tree.

The girls were given sheep’s tongues and sheep liver to eat, to ward off anaemia, and they made soup from the hocks.  The sheep belonged to the owners of Parki who occasionally employed Thomas, but much of the time the family was self-sufficient on their own lease-farm. Although self-sufficient, they sometimes went hungry. They then went out to catch rabbits.  Rabbits were plentiful in that decade in Tasmania.

They ate tapioca when there was nothing else. To the end of her days, my grandmother hated tapioca pudding from eating it so often in her childhood.

They may have hated the food, but the nineteen children that Hester fed in her mothering years all became healthy, long-lived adults.  Hopefully someone still has her recipe book, it would be very interesting to see.

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