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Elizabeth CHANDLER 1843-1937

The 'Grand Old Lady' of Healesville

Four Generations circa 1933 – Elizabeth Chandler-Hetherton (seated) Susan Kearney-Chandler (daughter), Lily Kearney-Holland (Granddaughter), Dawn Holland-McNish (G Grandaughter and my Mother as a baby)

The local paper called her Healesville’s “Grand Old Lady”.  That was in 1934 when Elizabeth CHANDLER was 92 years and the oldest living resident in the district.   No other person had been in Healesville longer.  Born in the Merriang area in 1843[i], Elizabeth was the first Australian born child to Irish immigrants John and Susannah HETHERTON.

Arriving in Healesville

Elizabeth arrived in Healesville in 1865 with her young husband, William CHANDLER along with other members of the HETHERTON and CHANDLER families. Both families departing the ‘dying’ Meriang Shire where William’s father had owned the Merriang Hotel.

Elizabeth and William raised 7 children in Healesville, 4 boys and 3 girls named John, Sarah, Susan, William, Robert, Walter and Olive. Their youngest daughter, Olive, died as a child in 1887.

Seemingly blessed with a positive attitude Elizabeth kept busy throughout her life and was noted for her “deeds of kindness” to sick people.  She was also an enterprising woman who owned and ran a café and tea-rooms with her daughters in the main street of town.  There is a lovely photo of Elizabeth and daughters standing outside ‘Chandler’s Café’ in the ‘Pictorial History of Healesville’, Vol 1, page 24.  It’s believed the photo was taken around 1883.

A Woman Happy to Sign Her Name

Elizabeth was interested in community issues and was a reader.  Her name appears on the list of Library subscribers at the local Mechanics’ Institute.  She signed the Women’s Suffrage petition in 1891 so she believed women had the same rights as men when it came to electing members of parliament. Having her own business meant she was paying tax to the government.  Why shouldn’t she have a say in how her taxes were spent?

A Temperate Woman

She was also a likely member of the Healesville Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU).  I have no evidence of her membership but listening to my grandmother (her granddaughter) talk about the ‘evils of drinking’ when I was a child, I can only speculate that she was trained up by her grandmother. Unfortunately, the training didn’t work on me as I’m about to pour myself a glass of wine.

Husband William

At some stage, I’m not sure when, Elizabeth and William moved to a 132-acre property in nearby Tarrawarra they called ‘Belle Vista’. [ii] Here William kept livestock that was valued at £99.10 in the probate documents after his death.

William was 73 when he died in 1917.  Elizabeth adored him and for many years after his death, she put little verses in the paper expressing her sorrow, grief and faith that she would eventually be reunited with him. In 1926 her verse read:

“Someday some time my eyes will see

The dear one I hold in memory

When Christ shall link the broken chain

Still closer, when we meet again.” [iii]

Elizabeth was a much-loved Mother, Grandmother and member of the community.  She was given a rousing 87th Birthday party at “The Dale” by her children. During the evening greetings were aired on Melbourne radio stations 3LO and 3UZ[iv] and the party was written up in ‘The Guardian’.  It was a beautiful night for a beautiful lady.  Guests danced and were entertained by two of Healesville’s leading musical ladies until 11 pm at which time supper was served. An 87th Birthday Party into the late hours of the night.  Oh for the stamina.

The newspaper reported:

“The tables were prettily decorated with pink and white flowers, while a cake with candles burning made a striking effect.”

As happened then, toasts to the King and Guest of Honour were proposed and responded to and the night ended on a vote of thanks to the hosts and the singing of Auld Lang Syne.

Five years later in a charming interview with the local paper on the occasion of her 92nd Birthday, the reporter noted that:

“she still reads without glasses is alert, and takes as much interest in what goes on around her as anyone else.”

She was also described as having “the kindliest light in her eye” [v]

Renowned for her retentive memory, people loved to hear her tales of the early colony days when aborigines roamed around freely. Unfortunately for us, there are no records of these stories today.  She also saw Healesville grow from a village to a thriving township.  Despite her age, she spoke positively of the past and the present.

“It’s wonderful here today.  So different from what it used to be that one would not think it the same town.  When my husband and I came here to live the railway was undreamnt of.  It was all horses and bullocks then.  The passenger coach from Melbourne used to come through here on the way to Wood’s Point.  It used to pull up at the hotel, where the Grand now is, for lunch.  It was the only means of regular communication with Melbourne.  The hotel was a shingle building, run by Mr Holland, dead these many years.”

“At that time, the main settlement of Healesville was over Chum Creek way.  A road ran back from Hit-or-Miss bridge into the struggling little township.  There was very little settlement where Healesville stands today.”

The reporter ended on a touching note:

“Perhaps there was just a shadow of a tear in the dear grey eyes – a tear for the happy memories of the days when life was young.” [vi]

Elizabeth died on 30th January 1937 aged 95 years.  She was “loved by all”.[vii]

[i] There seems to be a discrepancy with Elizabeth’s birth year.  The Australian Birth Index 1788-1923 (Ancestry.com) has her birth year 1843.  Her Baptism certificate has her birth registered as 28 June 1843 and Baptism 12 May 1844.  If she was born in 1843, she would be 91 years old in 1934 not 92 years old. Another mystery to solve!

[ii] Allotment 25A in the Parish of Tarrawarra.  Certificate of Title Vol. 1480/Folio 295869.

[iii] ‘Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian’, Saturday 26 November 1926

[iv] Ibid, Saturday 1 June 1929, p2

[v] Ibid, Saturday 9 June 1934, p3

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid, Saturday 6 February 1937, p.2

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