Florence was born in Tamworth, New South Wales in 1892. She was the second child of Julia (nee: Duncan & Bailey) and Franz Frederick Thomsen. Her parents were devoted local members of the Salvation Army attending services faithfully. Florence grew up within a close and loving family with 3 brothers, 2 sisters, 3 x 1/2 brothers and 1 x 1/2 sister – a very large family indeed. By all accounts this blended family loved each other deeply.
July days in Tamworth are cold and usually crisp with frost. It was on such a day in 1913 that Florence married the handsom and brash Henry George Hitchins, a shearer who resided in Moree. Much thought had gone into the planning of the wedding and Florence was a picture of beauty as she floated down the aisle on her fathers arm, toward her future husband. Her gown was made of cream venetian silk trimmed with pearls and crepe-de-chine roses and she carried a bouquet of jonquils, roses and violets, the scent of which wafted over the guests as she walked past. After the wedding breakfast, which was held at Jarmans Refreshment Rooms, the happy couple left Tamworth by train en-route to their life together as husband and wife.
We know that by 1915 Florence and Henry had a beautiful little girl name Barbara Alice Hitchins. The small family moved around north-western New South Wales in their early years together, but had settled in Barcaldine, Queensland by 1917 where Henry either work in, or ran a local billiard house. It appears that it was between 1915 and 1918 that the marriage of Florence and Henry had gone horribly wrong, culminating in Henry deserting Florence and Barbara.
The subsequent divorce was very messy and extemeley unpleasant and embarrasing for Florence. A lenghty account of the court proceedings can be found on Trove in the Western Champion & Western Advertiser for the Central Western Districts (Barcaldine, QLD), 17 January 1920, page 10. Florences’ life with Henry had been “no bed of roses”. Whilst in Barcaldine at least, Florence suffered abuse and threats of death from Henry.
Florence left Henry on March 6th 1918 trying to take Barbara Alice with her, but Henry grabbed the child and forced Florence from the house. Florence had no option but to go home to her parents in Tamworth. There can be no doubt at all that Florence had been in fear of her life. Upon her return to Tamworth Florence was in quite bad health and under the care of a Doctor for 6 months before she was able to take on a domestic position. She was unable to cope with the position though, and resigned her post. At Christmas time 1918 Florence was allowed to visit Barbara Alice who was by this time residing in a convent and being raised by Nuns, but she was not allowed to take Barbara home with her.
Florence sent a letter to Henry dated April 29th 1919 in which she pleads to be allowed to bring Barbara Alice home with her. This letter outlines what Barbara Alice endured when her mother left. It was the town joke that Barbara Alice had been taught to swear around the pubs and billiard room, and would be thrown threepence to do so on command. According to the newspaper report mentioned above Barbara Alice was not fed properly during this period either. Certainly Barbara Alice’s start in life had been harsh in the extreme.
It is unclear when Florence was able to gain custody of Barbara Alice but her daughter would have been approximately 5 years old. Florence’s divorce was finalised in 1920, so one could safely assume that at some point within that year Barbara Alice joined her mother in Tamworth.
Florence’s life settled down briefly, with some normalcy returning to both hers and Barbara Alices’ lives. What followed in the years ahead for Florence is another story altogether …………………………………….. !!
As a matter of interest, my sister Noeleen Merle MackIntost nee: Di Salvia, has supplied the following information about the materials used to make Flrorence Edith Thomsen’s wedding gown:
Crepe-de-chine: Yes, it is still available. The crepe-de-chine at that time would have been pure silk, nowadays it might be made of rayon or possibly other artificial fibres. Silk crepe-de-chine would only be available from good fabric shops. My “Dictionary of Costume” (published in 1969) says “Crepe-de-chine: a popular silk fabric of long standing. Plain or printed, it is washable and extensively used for dresses, blouses and lingerie. An imitation widely used is made with a cotton warp and silk filling.”
Venetian silk: I have not heard of this, and would assume that it is not available now. My “Dictionary of Costume” says“Venetian: a cotton cloth in twill or satin weave with glossy texture. Used for skirts, linings, masquerade and bathing costumes.” Another costume dictionary that I have says: “Venetian – 18th C a closely woven twilled cloth. My guess – a closely woven, shiny silk fabric available at the time, possibly/probably twill weave, or maybe a silk fabric imported from Venice?
Seed pearls: Yes, still used and still available. Seed pearls that are mostly available today are usually glass covered with a pearly coating. I’m not sure what they were made from in 1913. My “Dictionary of Costume” says “Pearls, seed: Very small pearls, often irregular in shape. Used in embroidery of women’s costume and accessories, especially small handbags. They were popular in Victorian jewellery when the pearls were strung on horsehair and mounted in elaborate patterns to form brooches, earrings etc., a craft requiring painstaking skill and handwork. Still in vogue today for evening bags and some bridal attire.”
Mrs Noeleen Merle MackIntosh nee: Di Salvia