William Rixon and Ellen Laing

As this photograph from the State Library of NSW archive was taken in 1884 or 1885, its likely Ellen is one of the students here.

As this photograph from the State Library of NSW archive was taken in 1884 or 1885, its likely Ellen is one of the students here.

Ellen Laing was born in 1875 (10721/1875) at Towamba, near Eden in Southern NSW. Even now, Towamba is a small community with just a few hundred people living there. Although the Aboriginal history of the area presumably goes back thousands of years, it was only settled by European Australians in the 1850s and 1860s. The area has had a school since 1862.

Ellen was the daughter of Donald Laing, a mail contractor and Sarah Higgins. To date there is no recorded history of Ellen’s early life, except perhaps an assumption she appears somewhere in a Towamba School photograph (c. 1884) held by the State Library of NSW.

Ellen had a relationship with, but never married, her first cousin, William Rixon. Willliam was born 1868 at Towamba (1868/902), the eldest son of Thomas Rixon and Jane Laing. They are documented to have had at least two children together, more likely four.The birth registrations for the four children of Ellen and William are somewhat misleading. That some of the children have William listed as the father and others don’t seems to say something about the nature of the relationship. Initially, perhaps the relationship was kept hidden, and then later recognised. Or perhaps the first two children have fathers other than William.

William Rixon

  • John William Laing was born on May 30, 1896 (21362/1897) at Pambula NSW. Mother listed as Ellen, no father listed.
  • Bertha Ellen Lang was born 1902 (21692/1902) at Eden NSW. Mother listed as Ellen, no father listed.
  • Ruby Amelia Rixon was born at Bombala in 1904 (30541/1904). Father listed as William, mother listed as Ellen.
  • Arthur William Rixon was born on May 1 1906 (21967/1906). Father listed as William, mother listed as Ellen.

Despite the relationship, on December 31, 1902, eighteen months after the birth of William Arthur (known as Barney), William Rixon married another woman, Bertha Mary Ramsay at Bombala Church of England (1047/1902). The marriage certificate describes William Rixon as a labourer from Rocky Hall and Bertha Mary Ramsay as being in domestic duties. They had five children: Thomas William (1909), Gladys May (1911), Annie (1914), Bertha Dorothy (1923) and Mavis (1924) and all were born in Victoria. William Rixon died August 22, 1929 in Bairnsdale, Victoria.

Throughout her life, Ellen continued to use the name Rixon, although her death certificate refers to her as Ellen Lang.

Ellen appears to have lived a somewhat mobile lifestyle, as the electoral roles record her living in Bombala, Sydney, Lismore and Brisbane at various times.

  • In 1926, Ellen was living with her daughter Ruby Amelia White was living with her at Maybe Street. Bombala.
  • In 1934, Ellen and Ruby then moved to Forbes Street, Bombala.
  • The rolls record Ellen was working as a cook up until at least 1938.
Death certificate of Ellen Laing (Lang), Sydney 1950

Death certificate of Ellen Laing (Lang), Sydney 1950

Fellow researcher, Kerrie Beers believes Ellen then moved to Sydney with daughter, Ruby about that time and helped her run the boarding house at Henrietta Street Waverley. This move to Sydney appears to have co-incided with Ruby divorce in 1940 from Edward White and later marriage to Jack Alterator. Months later, in February 1941, Jack joined the army, and was discharged twelve months later with shellshock. In about 1942 or 1943, Ruby and Jack moved to Brisbane, and during this time Ellen lived with her other daughter, Bertha and son-in-law, Charles Dunn in Lismore. According to the Electoral Rolls, however, she had left Lismore by 1946, presumably returning to live with Ruby and Jack who had by then returned to Sydney.

Ellen appears to have spent the last months of her life at Newintong State Hospital, which NSW State Records notes in these terms…

Although the residents of Newington Asylum were predominantly elderly, Newington and the other Government Asylums also assumed the functions of hospitals for the “ordinary pauper population” and for those with incurable conditions, or who required convalescent care, at one third of the cost to the Government compared to Hospital treatment.

The Northern Star of Friday 31 March 1950, page 4, reports

Mrs. B; E. Dunn and daughter, Joan, of 13 Union Street, South Lismore, left for Sydney on Sunday to see Mrs. Dunn’s mother, who is ill in Sydney Hospital.

Ellen died on June 16, 1950 (1950/009885) and was buried in a paupers grave in the Presbyterian section of Liverpool Cemetery. The death record notes she suffered with Chronic Myocarditis (an inflammation or degeneration of the heart muscle) and Rhuematoid Arthritis. Significantly, some of the information contained on the record appears to be intentionally misleading, as is sometimes the case with death certificates. The story of Ellen is a very sad one, but one which I find truly fascinating, and which help explain many of the decisions taken by members of my family in the following years.

Children

Bertha Rixon was born in 1902, the eldest daughter of first cousins William Rixon and Ellen Laing.

Bertha Rixon was born in 1902, the eldest daughter of first cousins William Rixon and Ellen Laing.

  • John William Laing was born on May 30, 1896 (21362/1897) at Pambula NSW. The evidence suggests John was probably raised by his grandparents, Donald and Sarah Lang, as he was listed on Sarah’s death certificate in 1920. He married Ivy M Clarke in 1924 (3380/1924). On March 28, 1942 he enlisted at Millingadi in the Second World War (Service Number – N379920 ). He was discharged on January 25, 1945. He died on October 19, 1981 at Pambula.
  • Bertha Ellen Lang (Rixon) was born at Pambula, NSW in 1902 (21692/1902) (though William is not listed on the birth certificate). She grew up being known as Bertha Rixon. She married Charles Henry Dunn. Their marriage on January 19, 1921 (1921/002992) at St Matthias’ Church of England, Bombala took place with the permission of her mother, Ellen Rixon. They were married by D.D. Curthous in the presence of Ellen Rixon and J.P. Dunn. After their marriage, Charles obtained worked as a linesman for the PMG. His work took him to a number of locations in NSW, including Orange, although to date I have been unable to confirm the locations in which he worked based on electoral roll data. I can confirm, however, they had left Bombala by 1925, eventually making their way to the NSW North Coast.
  • Ruby Amelia Rixon was born at Bombala in 1904 (30541/1904). She married Edwin H White in 1923 (12052/1923). In 1940, Ruby divorced from Edward White and married John William (Jack) Alterator (20880/1940) who was born at Scone on October 15, 1898.
Ruby (aka Molly) Rixon

Ruby (aka Molly) Rixon

The Sydney Morning Herald of Friday 7 February 1936 reports that he too was divorced with the public notice “John William Alterator v Mavis Olive Ileen Alterator (formerly Eden). Marriage,, June, 1921, at Wellington, New Zealand,, Church of England rites. Issue, desertion for three years and upwards. Decree nisi. Mr. Greaves for petitioner. Curiously, there is a further notice in the SMH on Tuesday 20 August 1940 about a divorce decree between John William Alterator and Mary Elizabeth Alterator. Could it be that Jack was twice divorced when he and Ruby married? As noted below by Judy Richards, when he enlisted (2th February 1941 to 8th July 1942) he states wife Ruby, also married with three children. Another child between Joyce & Shirley?

At Charring Cross, NSW on February 28, 1941, Jack enlisted in the Second World War. Suffering with shellshock, he was discharged on July 8, 1942. In about 1942 or 1943, Ruby and Jack moved to Brisbane, during which time Ruby’s mother, Ellen lived with her other daughter, Bertha and son-in-law, Charles Dunn. According to the Electoral Rolls, Ellen had left Lismore by 1946, presumably returning to live with Ruby and Jack who had returned to Sydney. Ruby died on February 6 1987, within weeks of her elder sister.

  • William Arthur Rixon (Barney) was born on May 1 1906 (21967/1906). According to his son, David, Barney spoke little of his early history, though David notes “He talked about living and working with his uncle (Thomas i assume) as a teenager and from my understanding he lived with him for a while. Then when he was older he lived and help care for his mother. As a child I visited some of his family near Bombala all I remember was that they had turkeys and walnuts on their farm. I remember the surname Dent but not sure where it fits in.” Barney married Maisie Isabel Greber (born 1926 at Coraki, according to one internet record) at Lismore in 1957 (20267/1957). The Greber family had a “homestead” in the old part of Ballina, according family member, Edna Ianna. Barney and Maisie lived for many years on a property at Goonengerry before moving to Mullumbimby in the late 1970s. Barney died on October 13, 1981, within weeks of his daughter, Helen’s wedding. Interestingly, the death certificate (107320/1981) lists William Rixon as the father, but does not list a mother. Maisie is still living.
William Arthur (aka Barney) Rixon, Goonengerry, NSW

William Arthur (aka Barney) Rixon, Goonengerry, NSW

RIXON – ARTHUR WILLIAM (BARNEY) 13/10/81 at Mullumbimby Hospital, late of 11 Ann Street, Mullumbimby, beloved husband of Mrs Maisie Isobel Rixon and loved father and father in law of Mr David Rixon (Butterworth, Malaysia, Mr Phillip Rixon, Mr and Mrs Peter Watson (Helen) and Master Stephen Rixon (all of Mullumbimby) and loved brother of Mrs Bertha Dunn (Lismore). Relatives and friends are invited to attend the funeral which is appointed to leave St Martins Anglican Church, Mullumbimby after a service commencing at 2pm TOMORROW THURSDAY for the Mullumbimby Garden Cemetery. BECKINSALE FUNERALS Fred and Ivy Little AFDA

Trivia

I think it’s fascinating to consider the death dates of these four children and consider how close were the deaths of both the brothers and the sisters – just days apart from each other.

William Arthur died on October 13, 1981.
John William died on October 19, 1981.
Bertha Ellen died on January 16, 1987
Ruby died on February 6 1987.

Acknowledgements

Kerrie Beers has done a tremendous amount of research on this couple and their families.

Sharing Around: Please feel free to copy any of the information on this page which may help you in your own research. My feeling is that family research is hard enough, without the need to constantly re-invent the wheel. It would be great, however, if you’d leave a comment below just to say “hi”.

8 comments

  • Judy Richards

    Hi James,
    Forgive my ignorance but I cannot work out how Ellen Laing & William Rixon were first cousins. Can you pls explain
    Ellen Laing daughter of Donald Laing and Sarah Higgins.

    Ellen had a relationship with her first cousin, William Rixon, son of Thomas Rixon and Jane Laing daughter of James Laing from Aberdeen, Scotland and Isabella McLean, an Assisted Immigrant from the Isle of Coll, Scotland

  • Hi Judy, Ellen Laing’s father was Donald Laing (b. 1852), the son of James and Isabella. William’s mother was Jane (b. 1845) , also the daughter of James and Isabella. Therefore, as Donald and Jane were brother and sister, it makes sense doesn’t it that William and Ellen were first cousins? Or have I made a terrible mistake? :0 James

  • Judy Richards

    Hi James, Came across AIF ‘open file’ for John William (Jack) Alterator.
    When he enlisted (2th February 1941 to 8th July 1942) he states wife Ruby, also married with three children. Another child between Joyce & Shirley ?

    • Interesting piece Judy. Will check with Kerry, but noting there’s also evidence of another marriage for Jack, as per the notice above.

  • David Rixon

    James and Kerrie
    I am greatfull for all the work you have put into this as my father’s (Barney Rixon) history had been a subject he spoke of very little. He talked about living and working with his uncle (Thomas i assume) as a teenager and from my understanding he lived with him for a while. Then when he was older he lived and help care for his mother. As a child I visited some of his family near Bombala all I remember was that they had turkeys and walnuts on their farm. I remember the surname Dent but not sure where it fis in. Keep up the good work
    Cheers David Rixon

    • Hi David, good to hear from you. Patsy told me she ran into you and Maisie a couple of weeks ago at Ballina. Hoping all is well. I also have a vague memory of the story of Barney having grown up on the South Coast, and then having moved to the north coast years later. I also have a vague memory of overhearing a conversation of where he had spent some time in Victoria. But like you say, little was said. This page mentions a Roland Dent being at Rockton. http://www.towambavalleyhistory.bravepages.com/rockton.htm It’s funny your memory of the farm at Bombala was of turkeys, as that’s also a memory I have of the farm at Goonengerry. Hope you like this pic

  • Michelle Laing

    Hi my name is michelle found this site interesting as I believe John William Laing is my great grandfather who had a son named Geoffrey Allan Laing who was born in pambula in about 1936 he married a lady named rosemary Ruth Gillard and had 4 sons which was Peter Laing the eldest deceased in about 1985 my knowledge is he was in the navy and committed suicide right on Christmas time I don’t know the full story as no one wants to talk about but he is burried at point Claire nsw along with my grandfather Geoffrey Allan Laing who passed away in 1992 from lung cancer the other sons was my father John William Laing who also has a son my brother Ben John Laing born in 1992 I was born in 1990, Paul Laing who has 2 daughters named Brooke laing and Amiee Laing. Then there is Michael (mick) Laing the youngest. They all reside on the central coast my brother Ben John Laing is on the Sunshine Coast and I have relocated to the cairns region. I am very interested in finding out my family history as it apparently goes back along way

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