The RAGGATT family of South Australia (late of U.K.)
When nostalgia takes hold, it bites hard and invites slow rumination as the past is recommitted for contemplation and redigestion. (a note to myself: never let an ageing psychologist with novelistic pretensions write the family narrative.)
On a warm Saturday in midsummer, being the 14 January 1922, a couple were married and a new family line was begun. The bride was a widow and mother of three daughters and a son; the groom, a bachelor and man-about-town whose comings and goings were noted in the personal pages of "The Advertiser" newspaper, Adelaide, from time to time.
What was the mutual attraction against a background that would have possibly imposed some difficulties/obstacles during the courtship and probable family opposition to the marriage? (more on this later).
First it seems that the woman played the straight and serious character against the comic spirit of the man. Secondly, first hand accounts and observations describe a woman who was a competent home manager and organiser and, one suspects, a person of determined nature once her mind was set on something. The man on the other hand was perhaps less committed by force of circumstances to be too serious about anything regarding the unfolding of his life.
Remarkably however by the accounts I have received it was the start of a very contented union perhaps spiced a little by the "attraction of opposites". The one a little mysterious, shaped in the school of harsh realities, perhaps an adept schemer/planner and serious, the other carefree, open and humourous.
The bride was Mabel Annie CONWAY (nee RAGGATT) and the groom, Claude Leslie HUNT, the place; the residence of a Baptist minister, the Rev. W.G. Clarke at Unley Park (reg #290/98)(a posh suburb of Adelaide). It is recorded that the groom was 26 years and the bride 31 years although there may be some challenge to the accuracy of these ages as indeed to other points that will arise in this narrative.
Why marry in a Baptist manse when the bride was Roman Catholic and the groom a Methodist? Well, apart from some churches' reluctance or downright opposition to solemnise so-called "mixed marriages" and then only under very strict conditions as to where the ceremony could take place; the commitment to the particular faith the church required with respect to children of the marriage, this act of Mabs and Claude was possibly made necessary by family opposition, or was their own declaration of independence from any family constraints.
While Claude's background in summary can be found in the pages of the HUNT family history and appears straightforward, Mabel's (Mabs) is a little more tortuous and will require some delicate handling around a number of points.
But first it is thought useful to digress and sketch in some background about Mabs and her first husband, Herbert Ignatius CONWAY.
Bert and Mabs married on the 24 May 1906, when the groom was given as 20 years and the bride 19 years, at St Francis Xaviour Cathedral, Adelaide. The groom's parents were named as Patrick John CONWAY and Theresa (nee GOTTWATTZ). The bride's parents were named as Herbert Daniel RAGGATT and Alice Mary Gertrude (nee CONNOLLY).
The young couple appear to have had three children in South Australia ?? before moving to Victoria. The South Australian children born ?? in birth order were Mabel Teresa Alice, born 25 December 1906, Marie Genevieve born, 19 November 1908, and Herbert Vincent, 2 December 1910. The extended family seems to have no knowledge of Herbert Vincent who appears to have died on 7 December 1910 after five days.
Bert and Mabs moved to Victoria where according to electoral rolls they were living successively at Maribyrnong, Ascot Vale 1914; Maribyrnong, Newmarket 1919; 14 Wellington Street, Flemington, Victoria, also 1919. Bert died in Heidelberg, Victoria in a military hospital aged 36 years in 1921. It is quite probable that Bert did not leave a will.
While in Victoria the couple had two more children?? Desmond and Bonaventure (Bonnie). Some dates and places of birth for these last two children are yet to be confirmed.
Having come this far the family history becomes a little puzzling on a number of fronts.
First, Mabs' forenames. It seems that she was christened Sophia Annie Mabel RAGGATT. However when Mabs came to marry Bert she was titled Mabel Sophia RAGGATT; at her wedding to Claude she was Mabel Annie CONWAY, widow. There are a number of possible reasons why there are changes across these events.
It is very likely her parents wished to incorporate some of the names common to the families involved hence the three first names.
On the other hand Mabs may have thought that three forenames was a bit of a mouthful, even pretentious so shortened it to two. It seems that she liked the name Mabel which lent itself to the warm-sounding Mabs, so retained this as her preferred form of address. Her taste for the name Sophia over Annie appears to have diminished over time and she opted for Annie as her second forename in later life.
It, of course, may also have been a symbolic gesture to change to Annie when she married Claude effectively to mark the beginning of her new life with him. There are other reasons for name changes which are more subtle and would impute a degree of calculation of which Mabs may not have been capable, conscious of, or interested in performing.
Secondly, there is a little confusion over the issue of age in the official records. It would appear that Mabs was born 24 September 1887. It was recorded that she was 19 years when she married Bert CONWAY. While this birthdate loosely corresponds with that event it would be more accurate to say that she was 18 years.
When Mabs marries Claude in 1922 her age is stated as 31 and Claude's 26. Given that her birthdate is 1887 her age would be closer to 35 and Claude's, 28, suggesting a seven year gap rather than five.
I guess these anomalies around age were understandable at the time to soften the age gap between herself and Claude. In any event the age gap didn't seem to matter to Claude and that was all that was really important.
Thirdly, and this is the most puzzling of all, there is the birth registered of Herbert Charles Archibald CONWAY (29.11.1905) died 4.12.1905. The parents seem to be have been Mabel Sophie and Herbert Ignatius. Mabel would have just turned 18 years at the time.
The birth and death of Herbert Charles after five days and the apparent birth and death of Herbert Vincent in 1910 after five days must have seemed eerily disconcerting and distressing for the young couple.
Gathering the information about Mabs from first hand accounts and anecdotes reveals a woman with a quite remarkable bunch of qualities: mental strength, stoicism, loyalty, energy, artistic, inventive, creative, strong work ethic to name a few. A genuine "roll your sleeves up and get down to work" type of person.
These qualities seem to stand in contrast to the physicality of the woman. Mabs was of diminutive stature who blossomed into a more robust figure in later life partly due to the number of children she bore, the attentive support of a devoted Claude and her own skills in the area of food preparation.
One touching account which provides a summary attestation of her qualities resides in the anecdote about the young Mabs with four children, immediate post WWI years, her husband in hospital (presumably in the terminal stages of his condition) herself being forced to earn the family income which she did as a barmaid and only being able to afford to buy an orange to take to the stricken Bert. She also endeavoured to keep Bert supplied with cigarettes and tobacco.
To describe Mab's finanical situation as dire during this period seems to accurately describe the challenges she faced. One of her daughters outlines Mab's sewing a "twopenny" blouse for the purposes of being presentable in her workplace.
The occasion of Mabs' and Claude's meeting is uncertain but it appears that a mutual friend introduced them.
While we, two generations later, cannot know precisely the occasion of their meeting, what the courtship constituted and how they formed their decision to marry, we can speculate about what the nature of the mutual attraction may have been. These assessments being based on the sort of people they were.
We can look at the factors in Mabs' and Claude's backgrounds which would have shaped them and their lives i.e., their life experiences, behaviour, decisions, preferences, attitudes. It is possible to describe what each of them would have seen at the first meeting and gathered at subsequent meetings, what each of them assessed as the needs and qualities in the other as the relationship progressed and how these may have been calculated to complement their own. Granted, to you, the reader, the following owes more to the methods and imagination of a novelist than objectivity and parsimony of a scientist but this does not totally invalidate the commentary in my view.
Claude was comfortably placed financially, the seventh child of a second marriage, the son of Methodist parents (his father being a trustee of the Kent Town Wesleyan Methodist Church), had attended a private Methodist boys' school (Prince Alfred College), owned an automobile, had been orphaned at the age of 17 years (it is not known at the moment where he lived from about 19 years onwards or who acted as a guardian/protector until he reached 21 and perhaps beyond [possibly his half sister, Edith Guthrie fulfilled this function] or what his occupation(s) were/was), had experienced the commodious family estate being sold and subdivided, was a member of the South Australian Cricket Association (a reasonably prestigious body).
What is less clear is the nature of Claude's relationship with other members of his family (siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, particularly). (I am uncertain what the Methodist form of Protestantism meant in terms of taboos and expectations in Claude's day apart from attending services and Sunday School).
With regard to his ambitions in the area of occupation there is a suggestion that he expressed interest in wool-classing. He may have studied in this area and practised at it. Such occupation was not, I understand, a family-approved venture and this could have been a cause of friction with other members of the family who may have thought that his Prince Alfred College education was not being put to best use, amongst other reasons, such as the standing of said occupation in the community and perhaps the implications for the rest of the family in the opinions of others.
However wool-classing would have been an occupation with a future given that much of South Australia's economy was based on agriculture and particularly sheep husbandry. The firms of Elder Smith and Michell were two that would have provided scope.
Claude at 27 years (about the age Claude met Mabs) may have become a little jaded by the social scene, preoccupations of his contemporaries and the young women who formed the set from which marital selection would be expected to be made. (It is probable that when Claude finally decided on his marital partner there would have been a few disappointed women amongst his social set or to put it another way a few dispirited maidens/women when he exited the single life). (There appears to be no knowledge about any previous love interests that Claude may have had).
Mabs was possibly the fourth child of six of Herbert and Alice. It seems that she was one of two daughters of this union. Her sister, Millicent was known as "Mil" (listed in the family tree). At some point Herbert and Alice divorced and Herbert married Myrtle and had another six children. At this stage it is not known what effects these circumstances had on Mabs but it has been suggested that the relationship with the stepmother was a little taut.
An aside is that Aunty Mil, according to two of her nieces, was a bit of a rough diamond, extremely forthright and with a colouful vocabulary and with little patience for those who populated her world.
Mabs' family was Roman Catholic and so divorce of her parents, if they had been faithful adherents, would have been viewed as a major catastrophe and remarriage unthinkable. It seems therefore that Catholicism would have been a nominal faith in this family circle given that priests had significant sway among the faithful and only muted (if any) influence among the less committed.
Mabs married at a young age, 18 years (perhaps not so unusual for the time). She appears to have had six children with four surviving infancy. Her husband, Bert, seems to have contracted tuberculosis which at that period was largely a terminal condition and so the burden of care and raising four children would have been great. Mabs would have been very much fashioned by these grave difficulties. In addition to these responsibilities she needed to have employment to sustain her family and provide a modicum of support for Bert who eventually entered a hospital towards the end of his life.
Mabs at the time of meeting Claude would have been recently widowed and may be described as being in poor financial circumstances to the point of being labelled impecunious or indigent. However her creativeness, flair and style probably would have allowed her to cover her circumstances with a resolute grace and distinction.
At the first sighting of Claude, Mabs would have observed a tall young man (well over six feet by reports), perhaps coming across as not being too hard-pressed by life's exigencies. A young man who enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle. Perhaps a little bored by his social milieau, standing on this occasion a little apart from the social group. Perhaps he was puffing on his pipe and the aromatic smell of Arcadia tobacco wafted around the vicinity where he stood. There may have been something of the "lost boy" about him which aroused some nurturing feelings. This is not to say that Mabs was looking to add another child to her family.
Anyway Mabs was impressed by this young fellow at first sight and asked a friend who Claude was. Apparently this question was followed up with the friend, who was a mutual friend, obliging Mabs with an introduction.
Claude, for his part, would have seen a diminutive woman. Not necessarily classed as a physical beauty but imbued with an attractiveness and vivaciouness which made her interesting. Upon opening up conversation with her, he would have detected a woman perhaps quite a bit different from the ladies who usually populated his set.
He would have noted a woman with a considerable life experience behind her and one who could tackle life's challenges as they came, whereas the women who populated his set would not have been confronted with anywhere near, if any, of the same challenges or hardening experiences that life could throw at them (these days we refer to such experiences as "character building"). These differences in the woman that stood before him could have been a little tantalising to the young Claude. Perhaps there was a little bit of the "mothering" about her which Claude may have warmed to and of which he may well have been in need as his older half sister to whom he seemed close i.e., Edith Guthrie HUNT (m.1 Albert George Scrymgour; m.2 Henry Charles Wilson Pearce) had died some years earlier in 1920.
Claude possibly became aware that Mabs was recently widowed with four children, the eldest being about 16 years. He also may have realised that she was a bit older than he. It is thought that these details may not have emerged during the occasion of their first meeting but on the other hand Mabs may well have been game enough to risk it by revealing these details.
Moving from the physical aspects of each which would have impressed at first meeting, one can speculate about what each was looking for, maybe subconsciously, as part of any future personal scheme. And further it is possible to estimate or suggest what financial and other physical resources, skills and attitudes each had and thus assemble a picture of what each brought to the relationship. That is to say what these attributes would have encouraged in each.
Mabs could have been looking for a partner who would bring security or certainty to her own circumstances as a widow and mother of four, as well as being a congenial companion for her. Claude would have received ticks on both counts.
Claude's reaction to Mabs' circumstances may have been along the lines of a small woman who could use some protection and support; a situation with which he could relate from his own history but at the same time the perception of a resilient "tough" woman who knew her mind and could supply a steady supportive home environment and a kind of security that Claude could well have been looking for at this stage of his bachelorhood.
What each of them brought to the relationship is already implicit, if not explicit, in the narrative so far. A very telling point recalled by one of their grandchildren is that they were both "warm" people and this above all else may have been the essence for their successful relationship which spanned 36 years and ended when Mabs died of colorectal cancer in 1958.
Mabs would have brought a steadiness and practicality; she had already managed a household, cared for a sick and dying husband. These qualities would have offset the somewhat rarified atmosphere, easy going and if not directionless lifestyle that we suspect Claude and his cohort lived in. Claude we guess was ready for a change.
Claude for his part was attracted to Mabs and brought some physical security and by the age of 27 some masculine companionship and personal maturity.
The fanciful picture as painted above of Mabs and Claude aside, they seemed to have come to a rapid conclusion about their compatibility. Given that there was less than a year from the death of Bert to Mabs marrying Claude we can assume that from their first meeting they soon became engaged and set a date to be married.
The family myths manifest themselves in anecdotes but one is worth mentioning at this point: Claude's marriage proposal. One family member recalled that Mabs related that Claude asked her to marry him one afternoon. Mabs, ever the practical one; not one to become "dewy-eyed" at the proposal and deducing that Claude may have been affected by a little more than the woman that was holding his interest, suggested that he go home and phone her in the morning if he still felt the same way and repeat the proposal. Claude with a clearer head in the morning did indeed phone and repeated the proposal whereupon Mabs accepted.
Now for another presumptuous departure into the realms of the novel not knowing any of the parties mentioned here first hand; relying on guesswork about the conventions, mores that operated at the time of Mabs and Claude's meeting; the moods and feelings they may have personally experienced and those of their families and friends.
Two aspects may have added a further note of irritation to the families, particularly Claude's. First that Mabs had proceeded with what, some at the time, would have considered disrespectful/undue haste following the death of Bert and secondly that the courtship with Claude was indecently short, not allowing Claude time to properly evaluate his suit. That Mabs had, as the older, more experienced person in the relationship, somehow schemed, beguiled and "trapped" Claude into the marriage. Even the less charitable amongst the observers, of course behind closed hands and in whispers, may have suggested that lust over sound judgement had been exercised. And the least charitable may have suggested that she was just gold digging and stepping out of her allotted place in life. This is all pure conjecture of course. (There is some evidence that the RAGGATTS or least some branches of the family were also very comfortably placed in terms of their material wealth).
It seems that whatever wealth had come Claude's way had attenuated after the first few years of marriage. It is hard to fathom whether it was dissipated through an extravagant lifestyle, unsound investments but the family circumstances did require that Claude seek employment.
What did become of Claude's undoubted considerable inheritance is a question that must often pose itself in the minds of the family. Upon marrying Mabs it would appear that he did invest some of this in his stepchildren's and children's education.
(There is a saying that is descriptive in nature rather than explanatory: The first generation of a family starts an enterprise, the second generation expands and consolidates it and the third generation dissipates it. Claude would not have known hardship in his early years and would have perhaps taken his fortunate circumstances for granted.)
Desmond attended Prince Alfred College as did his stepfather and the girls attended Cabra College (a Dominican school).
An interesting aside here is that in the case of so-called mixed marriages an unwritten convention seems to have been that the boys of the marriage would attend schools nominated by their protestant fathers while the girls would be enrolled in schools aligned to their mother's Roman Catholic faith, in this case Prince Alfred College and Cabra, respectively. The converse may have been true where fathers were RC and mothers protestant.
For most of their life together Claude and Mabs managed hotels in various parts of the state. It is not certain at this stage whether they owned the licensed premises they managed or not.
The list of hotels that they called "home" at various stages and roughly in chronological sequence are
In the 1950s Claude worked at "City Holden", a new car dealership owned and managed by the Clutterbuck family. By this time Mabs and Claude would have been classed as elderly and I guess had reached the stage where managing hotels was felt too physically demanding. It may have also been the case that Mabs was experiencing the early stages of the cancer that eventually ended her life.
Claude's duties at "City Holden" seem to have ranged from chaffeuring Mr Clutterbuck and occasionally his wife to sweeping the showroom floor. Despite their different stations in the business, Claude and the Clutterbucks seem to have been on first name terms. One can only imagine that there was some "old school tie" connection between them and that in frequently occupying the same vehicle (Claude as driver and Clutterbuck as passenger) that an intimacy developed. They would have had the opportunity to discuss, compare and comment on their personal circumstances and life in general. I suspect also that Claude was very congenial company.
One family member has suggested that Claude's work ethic was not as well-honed as it might have been and this may account for the diminution of his inheritance over time and the need to engage in steady employment to maintain an income. Claude's attitude to wealth and work is understandable seeing that his early years were spent in an affluent household where there were servants and gardeners and that there seemed little need for constraint on his spending.
There is a family story that reflects the love and respect that Claude had for Mabs and for Mabs' part the loving leverage that she applied to Claude on occasions. There was an instance when he considerably overindulged in the matter of liquor and transported himself and the children home in the car. Mabs chastened him for being irresponsible and from that time onwards he did not touch alcohol despite managing hotels for most of his life. On the other hand there is also the version that she threatened to leave him, taking the children, if he ever did that again. If this is the case he more than complied with her non-negotiable request.
Claude's sense of humour comes to the fore in one account although looking back one wonders whether he was employing a pun or there was a hint of disdain in his tone. He apparently refered to the RAGGATTS occasionally as RABBITS presumably because of that family's fecundity but there may have been a little more to it than that.
It would appear that the many of the succeeding generations of HUNTS and RAGGATTS have not formed close family ties. One HUNT descendent incorrectly suggested that RAGLESS was Mabs' maiden name and hence her relatives were RAGLESSES.
Moving into the RAGGATT family history it is possible to trace them to the early eighteenth century when Richard RAGGOT b. 1730 in Chipping Sodbury U.K. married Ann (shall proceed with this later)
For a more detailed account than this journal provides and with photos I can be contacted through this web site and I can furnish a PDF copy.