Skills and Crafts of a Farmer’s wife

Memories of Mum’s work, skills and hobbies

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Hannah Horgan (1912-2013) on the back veranda of her last house at 6 Kelly St, Riverton, South Australia
It is now three years since my mother Hannah died but she left us with many fond memories and a variety of skills. The work of a farmer’s wife encompasses a broad range of tasks often not associated with a stay-at-home wife and mother.
Here’s a quick review of some of the tasks my mother undertook and taught to her children.

Farmyard related

Eggs: Seated on the veranda surrounding the farm house we washed and packed dozens of eggs manually. A damp cloth was used to wipe the surface of any soiled egg. These were then packed carefully into layers in the egg crates used to send them to market. Layer upon layer were added as they were cleaned, then came the sighs of relief when the wooden crate was sealed for collection.

Fowls: Who else would teach you how to pluck and dress a dead chicken but your mother? I’m sure she was pleased to share this onerous task with her children so that we could all enjoy the chicken dinners to follow. The heavy kettle was boiled then poured over the dead bird. Plucking the feathers had to be done quickly while the bird was warm. Ooh, that wet bird smell, then inserting one’s hand to remove the innards. I’m glad this is a skill I no longer need!

Milk, Cream and Butter :  The fresh milk from the cows which some of my siblings had to milk, came to the kitchen still warm. The cream separator ensured we had a constant supply of fresh delicious cream. Yes, the separator had to be disassembled and every part scrubbed and cleaned – she taught all of us how to do that. We learnt how to make cream into butter and how to cook delicious rice puddings and many other dishes using the fresh and not so fresh dairy products, no food ever to be wasted.

Meat processing: The mutton killed for family consumption was delivered to the kitchen in it’s newly killed state. Mum would use every small skerrick of meat, cutting away the fat and turning the scrag ends into mince. We all took turns turning the handle of the mincer. We learnt all the parts of the beast and what meat was suited best for which meals.

meat grinder
The meat mincer
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFleischwolf-zerlegt.jpg

Indoor hobbies and skills

Sewing: A necessary skill for a woman with seven children. There were sheets to be patched and collars on shirts to be unpicked and turned. Men’s work trousers from the paddock often needed patching in the knees to “make them last.” The first sewing machine I remember was a treadle Singer. Mum sewed many of our clothes late at night when we were in bed. She taught us to sew both by hand and on the machine. We learnt by making doll’s clothes from leftover scraps and did the hand stitching required to finish items. One of my sisters remembers a new dress made for Tarlee school picnic day. She loved to climb trees and the carefully sewn new dress returned home dirty and scruffy.

1982 knitted by Nana
Knitting: Before the days of cheap clothing hand knitted items were treasured. Old jumpers were unpicked and re-knitted into new items. Mum knitted woollen socks for my father and in later years many woollen toys for her grandchildren. Several of her grandchildren will remember these striped woollen jumpers knitted with love. She taught her daughters to knit and crochet.

Crafts: As we grew up and Mum had a little more time she joined the C.W.A. ( Country Womens' Association) Each month’s meeting concentrated on new learning or a new skill. We saw woven baskets made, knitted and covered coat hangers, recycled cards made into boxes of every shape and size. The crocheted toilet roll cover sat for many years on the cistern. Who could forget the snowman that appeared every hot summer Christmas made with quilting wadding covering a large Milo tin? When Mum moved from her house into hospital care, there were many remnants of craft and sewing materials in her cupboards and drawers recalling many happy hours spent crafting a wide range of goodies.

Thanks Mum for the skills and passion for learning new things that you passed on to me.

John Horgan of Linwood

A confusion of dates and ages

On the 12th November 1832, John Horgan of Ballymacdonnell was baptised in the parish of Killeentierna, County Kerry, Ireland. He was the third child born to parents Johanna Fitzgerald and Thomas Horgan. (1)
1832 John Horgan baptism

Little is known about his childhood and early teen years but by the time John was 19 his father had died and his widowed mother Johanna set out along with two other sons, Thomas, and Daniel to make a new life on the other side of the world in South Australia. It appears that Johanna’s brother John Fitzgerald, already settled in South Australia had sent money to Ireland for their passage. (2) It is unclear what had happened to the first son Denis and husband Thomas but highly likely that they had perished during the great famine years. Elder daughter Johanna, born 1828, was to join the small family several years later.

According to shipping records, John Horgan was 20 years of age when they arrived at Port Adelaide aboard the barque “China” on 12 November 1952. (3) Indeed by my reckoning that day was his twentieth birthday. After a long journey of 109 days, it must have been a fitting day to step ashore.  The Fitzgerald family history records that the Horgan sons, (his brothers were 17 and 10 when they arrived) worked initially “as contractors and carriers along the Port road from Port Adelaide to the city and later to and from Burra” (2)

Land acquisitions

What we do know from extant records is that by 1856 Johanna Horgan, his mother is listed in the Land Grants in Registry Office with reference to section 333 in the Hundred of Gilbert. In 1861 John Horgan leased block 361 in the Hundred of Light from Alexander Hay for £16 per annum. By March of 1864 it had been purchased for £195. In 1863 John had signed another lease for block 300 costing £18 per annum for 7 years with the right to purchase. By 1865 the deed below shows that more land had been purchased and the family were hard at work establishing their farm and paying off mortgages.
1865 Land title block 206
Extract from Certificate of  Title to block 286

Marriage and family

On the 13th of October 1863, John married Honora O’Leary in St Patrick’s church in Adelaide. John is listed as being only 27 years old however as it was now more than 10 years since he had arrived as a 20-year-old, it is more likely that he was 30. Honora was not quite 24 as she had been born in December of 1839 shortly before her parents, Andrew and Catherine O’Leary embarked for their trip to South Australia aboard the “Mary Dugdale.”

Over the next few years, John and Honora became parents to at least seven children. The first was Johanna, listed as baptised at Kapunda in November of 1864. At this stage, no death record has been found for this child but family stories suggest that she may have died away from home at about 6-8 years old. As with Irish naming traditions, the first daughter was named for the husband’s mother.

Thomas, as first born son in 1866 was named after John's father.  Andrew Joseph born in 1869 was named after Honora’s father and Catherine born in 1872 after her mother. Another son John, named for his father, was born in 1875, and daughters named Johanna in 1877 and Nora Mary in 1878 followed.  Life would have been busy for John and Honora and their young family. By the time Nora was born John was about 46. With brothers Thomas established on a farm at Manoora and Daniel farming land near Tarlee, John’s mother remained at Linwood with her eldest son. At age 75 Johanna died at the farm on February 1st, 1880.

Farm help was provided by John Rolfe. He was 35 years old and had been working on the Horgan farm for 17 years when he died suddenly in April of 1883. (4) John had lost his right-hand man and would have to have carried on. Thomas now 16, Andrew 14 and John at only 8 years old would all have helped. Catherine at 11 years old would have been busy helping her mother with household duties and assisting looking after the little girls who were five and six years old.

Imagine then their devastation when only a few weeks later John himself was struck down with pneumonia. He died on the 23rd June after only a few days illness. Honora and her six children were left to cope alone.
Horgan John 1883 funeral report

John’s death certificate records him as aged 48 but it is more likely that he was 50. The obituary record here states that he had been in the colony for 28 years but in fact he had arrived in November of 1852 so was in his 30th year in South Australia. The gravestone shown below records his age as 47. Whatever age he was, it was an early death with devastating consequences for his wife aged 42 and her young family.
Horgan John and Honora tombstones
Base of memorial to John and Honora Horgan
St John's, Kapunda, South Australia

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: John Horgan
Parents: Thomas Horgan and Johanna Fitzgerald
Spouse: Honora O'Leary

Relationship to Carmel: Great grandfather
  1. John Horgan 1832 - 1883
  2. Andrew Joseph Horgan 1869 - 1951
  3. Edward John Horgan 1908 - 1992
  4. Carmel
1. Seen on  different documents as Joan, Juliana (Latin) and Johanna Fitzgerald.
Catholic Parish Registers at the NLI, Killeentierna | Microfilm 04272 / 02, http://registers.nli.ie//registers/vtls000634281#page/37/mode/1up 

2. Irish pioneers of South Australia : the Fitzgeralds / compiled by Fitzgerald Book Committee under the direction of Matt Fitzgerald, 1986

3. SA passenger lists :1847 -1886 available at http://search.findmypast.com.au/record?id=anz%2fsouthaupassengerlists%2f135135

4. 1883 'Family Notices', Kapunda Herald (SA : 1878 - 1951), 17 April, p. 2. , viewed 03 Jun 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106575206

This post first appeared on https://earlieryears.blogspot.com/2016/06/john-horgan-of-linwood.html