in 52Ancestors2022

Beryl Reading – A Baby on a Postcard

#52Ancestors Week 3 – Favourite Photo

(Beryl Reading aged 3 months)

It was something they used to do in our state in the first half of the twentieth century- take a photo and turn it into a postcard that you could stick a stamp onto and send through the mail.

We have very few surviving photographs in our family. This is my grandmother Beryl, born January 1918 in Kempton, Tasmania. My grandmother handed it to me one day when I was visiting and said “Can you guess who this is?”

I couldn’t. I’ve never been good at recognising people.

She then let me turn it over to read the back, and said I could keep it if I wanted it.

Of course I did!

Message on back of the postcard

On the back it says:

“Dear Sarah

Beryl when she was 3 months old we could not get her to look up. I remain

E Reading”

It’s a true blast from the past because that’s exactly how they all talked, everyone around me. Running sentences together, switching where the pauses go. And the valediction also, which doesn’t make much sense alone but they were taught to say it at school. Not the whole “I remain your [servant, friend etc]. Just ‘I remain’.

This is my great grandmother’s handwriting. Esther was Beryl’s mother. Esther had a younger sister named Sarah, I’m guessing she was the recipient of the postcard. And at some point down the track the postcard was returned to Esther and passed on to Beryl, who then passed it on to me. I notice there’s no stamp, it may have been placed in a parcel with other items.

Beryl was the seventh child in her family. It’s lovely to see them still taking pleasure in a new addition, enough to have her dressed up in a clean frock and lacy bib. They were a very poor family, they all lived in a two bedroomed house with the males in one room, the females in the other. Beryl’s father was a share farmer, mostly of pigs, and they had some very tough years. Through it all they were united and loving.

Beryl grew up in the now vanished town of Apsley in Central Tasmania and went to the very small Apsley school. Her father died unexpectedly on 27th December 1931. The following year was her final at school.

(1)

She met her future husband when he came through her town as a laborer working on a new rail line. They were married in the registry office in Hobart in 1939.

It’s a shame she didn’t get a proper wedding, but the war was on and nobody had money. Plus, he came from Cygnet in the southern Huon Valley, a place of hills and dense forests and treacherous winding roads, while she was miles away in Central Tasmania. How could they ask their families to travel all that way? By modern standards the journey is manageable and Hobart was halfway between the two, but it was far slower in those days.

All the same, I think she’d have liked it: the gathering of family, and of feeling beautiful in a pretty dress. But she never said anything about that.

And speaking of weddings, here is Beryl and I at my wedding. I’ve cut the others out of the photo because I haven’t gained their permission to post the photo, not because there’s any kind of rift.

Beryl and myself at my wedding. She was aged about seventy at that time.

Beryl passed away in Franklin Aged Care on 9th February 2011. Due to family commitments and finances I was unable to attend her funeral which I will forever regret, but every time I visit the state of Tasmania I stop by her grave to say hello.

Beryl’s headstone, truncated to protect the privacy of living persons in the list of her children.

The photograph of Beryl as a baby now sits in a frame on my bookcase. I see it every day.


(1) “EMPIRE DAY” The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954) 18 May 1932: 10. Web. 16 Jan 2022 <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29955723>

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  1. Thanks for this “Lazarus” I remain always appreciative of your work! I love reading familial narratives. Regards