Jenny Kee and Me

On the weekend I finally got around to watching the brilliant television program “Friends Of Dorothy” by William Yang. William is a really important Australian photographer whose work documents, in particular, Sydney’s gay and lesbian scene in the last forty years.

I have met William on a few occasions and have concluded he’s a very lovely man. He also has a really interesting life story, having grown up in country Queensland, but also having made a life in (and important contribution to) Sydney’s gay, lesbian and queer, and photography and arts communities.

The program told me a lot more about William’s life than I’d previously known, including mention of his friendship with the Australian designer, Jenny Kee who is famous for her very colourful outfits.

When Jenny Kee’s name and photograph were featured in the program I had a sudden flashback, remembering that a distant family member had once remarked “you know Jenny Kee is part of our family”. At the time it was one of those stories where I thought “how interesting” but never thought much further of it. But on hearing her name again, I decided I would dig a little deeper, to see if there really was a connection or if it was just “one of those stories”.

It didn’t take long for me to find out Jenny Kee’s parents were William Ah Kee and Enid Olive Marchionni. From there, it was fairly simple to establish – thanks to Google – Enid’s parents were Olive Annie Victoria Love and Cesare Giovanni Marchionni. A further generation back and it was also easy to establish Olive Annie Victoria Love’s parents were Joseph Francis Love and Margaret Rebecca Denny. Joseph was the son of John Love and Ellen Sullivan. John was a son of Joseph Lester Love.

And so it goes… back to our common ancestors John and Martha Love, who came to Australia in 1791.

For all of the effort involved, it would have been much simpler if I’d simply emailed Lyle and Margaret Cooper who organised the Love Family Reunion of 2011, and who published their wonderful book about the Love Family in Australia. A quick email to them and I was able to establish and confirm the connection

The book contains the information I had been seeking with a couple of notable quotes…

  • Olive Annie Victoria Love fourth child of Joseph and Margaret Love (nee Denny) born Wyndham on 12/3/1884 and died Sydney on 7/9/1955. She married Cesare Giovanni Marchionni in Sydney on 18/5/1911. Cesare was a cook and died Sydney in 1959, son of Giovanni Maria and Elizabeth Marchionni. (some of the offspring go under the name Marchioni). Cesare came from Sondrio, Italy near the Swiss Alps. Jenny Kee his granddaughter recalls in her book ‘A Big Life’ and an interview recorded for the National Museum of Australia in 2007 the following: ‘He left home when he was 13 and went to Paris and worked as a chef . . . He worked on boats around the world and sailed into Sydney Harbour in November 1910 where he met Olive Love. Then their daughter, my mum, married a Chinaman! Growing up Enid Olive used to be called a ‘dago’ and when she complained to her mother she would say ‘Go and tell them their Pope is a dago too’.
  • Enid Olive Marchionni a hairdresser born c.1917 and died Sydney on 28/12/2001. She married William Ah Kee in Sydney in 1945 and had three children. Mixed marriages were frowned upon in those days and her parents were very unhappy with the union.
  • Jennifer (Jenny) Margaret Kee born Sydney in 1947 and known for her famous designer clothes and knitwear. She and Michael Ramsden had one daughter. Jenny and Grace survived the Granville train disaster in 1977.

  • For more information, there’s a book called “A Family began with Love”. For more details, contact Lyle & Margaret Cooper, 11 Kernel Street, The Gap Qld 4061 Ph: 07 33122365 0427 122440

    Despite our common ancestry, Jenny has become a great Australian fashion designer, and I (obviously) have absolutely no fashion sense at all…


    Now Hear This

    I didn’t expect to, but ended up telling a story at the “Now Hear This” story-telling night in Sydney tonight.

    I told the story of my great-great grandmother who had a relationship with her first cousin (no, I don’t have two heads). After the birth of their fourth child together, he married someone else and had four more children. My great-great grandmother then went on to live a somewhat shambolic life, it seems, until she ended her life in the “destitute women’s asylum” in Sydney, and was buried in a “pauper’s grave” at Liverpool Cemetery. She died of heart disease, though you might say she also died of a broken heart. What would it have been like to have had a long-term relationship with your first cousin, only to see him leave and form a new family in another state? We’ve had some contact with the “other family” and they had no idea we existed. In exchanging photographs, it’s pretty clear we are related as we look like each other very much.

    The story-telling night was, as usual, handled beautifully by Melanie Tait and will be heard sometime soon on the ABC ‘s RN.

    Liverpool Cemetery

    Searching for Ellen

    Liverpool Cemetery

    Liverpool Cemetery

    In stark contrast to some of the impressive mausolea at Liverpool Cemetery (in Sydney’s west), my great-great grandmother, Ellen Lang is buried there in an unmarked “pauper’s grave” (as they were called then).

    She died 15 years before I was even born, so I don’t know very much about her. I don’t even have a photograph of her. But her life story has fascinated me for a number of years, and so for at least ten or fifteen years now, I’ve been “Searching For Ellen”.

    One of the most significant things you need to know is that she had a relationship with, but never married, her first cousin, William Rixon, and they are documented to have had at least two children together, more likely four. But eighteen months after the birth of their fourth child, William went off and married another woman, moved interstate, and had four more children. What happened in the intervening period is unclear, though it appears Ellen may have raised the children with the support of her extended family in the area around Eden, Bombala, Towamba and Rockton in Southern NSW.

    Liverpool Cemetery

    Liverpool Cemetery

    Even though she never married William, throughout her life, Ellen continued to use the name Rixon, although her death certificate refers to her as Ellen Lang. Ellen also appears to have lived a somewhat mobile lifestyle, as the electoral rolls record her living in places such Bombala, Sydney, Lismore and Brisbane at various times. There is no evidence that she ever married, spending most of her adult life in the company of her daughter, Ruby, who was known in my family as Molly.

    Ellen appears to have spent the last few months of her life at Newington 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.

    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.

    Death certificate of Ellen Laing (Lang), Sydney 1950

    Not just physically, but emotionally, you have to wonder if she died from a broken heart? How could you have four children with a man (your first cousin), only to see him leave, move to another state, and have another family? There are so many questions I have about this relationship to which I’ll probably never know the answers. It’s all in the realm of long-lost verbal history now I suspect. When contact was made with the “other family” a few years ago, they were genuinely shocked, with no idea “our family” existed.

    For many years, fellow researcher, Kerrie, and I searched in vain for details of Ellen’s death. It was complicated by the fact she used so many different names, and spelling variations of her name throughout her life. But a few years ago I searched around and found her death certificate. Even there, you have to wonder if the exact details of her life and death weren’t deliberately given to mislead. Or maybe her children just didn’t know because she didn’t talk about it?

    So for a few years now I’ve known about the grave, but always thought Liverpool was such a long way to travel to visit. As I was in the area today, though, I decided I’d make an effort. Even though I had the details of where she was buried – Presbyterian Section 16 G K – it wasn’t nearly so straightforward trying to find an unmarked grave in a cemetery where so much has happened since 1950. Unfortunately the layout of the cemetery made it difficult today without someone with specialist knowledge of the layout, and sadly, the office there only operates Monday to Friday. I chatted on the phone to the local historical society, and they were very helpful, but I think I need to do some more solid research for the next time in my efforts to locate her final resting place.

    Back in 1950, Liverpool was a sleepy little place a long way from the heart of Sydney. I can imagine the cemetery was tiny then with literally only dozens of graves. In stark contrast to the sheer size of the cemetery and the impressive mausolea now found there, you might imagine Liverpool Cemetery was just the place where someone with Ellen’s life story might have found a final resting place – in a pauper’s grave, a long way out of the public eye.

    Family History

    Me and my dad, probably some time in 1966.

    Me and my dad, probably some time in 1966.

    I was looking tonight at a photograph of me and my dad. By the look of things I’m less than twelve months old, so it was probably taken sometimes towards the end of 1966. Dad’s wearing a cardigan, so it was probably the winter of that year.

    As I looked at the photograph, I suddenly realised how close I am now to being the age my dad was in the photograph. He was born in September 1917, so he would have been about forty-nine years old at the time.

    I still have a couple of years before I catch up with him, but it was still interesting to look closely at the photograph and think about stuff. He still had a fair bit of hair, whereas I pretty much lost most of mine about ten years ago. Is that a pen in his top pocket? Yeah, I think so, as I always remember my dad having a pen and often his glasses case in his top pocket. He’s not wearing glasses. Are they jeans he’s wearing? What must it have been like to have been close to fifty years old and suddenly find yourself with a young child to raise?

    Researching my own family history is something which continues to fascinate me. There are so many amazing stories within a family, especially mine. You learn so much more about the motivations of the people who you’ve grown up with, when you look into their history. “Ah so that’s why so and so did that?”, I’ll often conclude.

    After a bit of a break, I’m back writing and researching at the moment. I’ve recently had some interesting correspondence, and there’s nothing like a bit of feedback to make you go back and look at what you’ve written, and realise it’s time for a re-write, and time to more accurately reference and record the research you’ve done.

    I’ve also begun research on some ancestors I haven’t previously taken much of an interest in. At the beginning it can be a slow, painful process, especially when your ancestors weren’t all that famous, often couldn’t read and write, and so the “public record” about them is often a little thin. Through this blog and through the research I’m doing now, I’m hoping it won’t be so difficult for people in the future. Although it’s pretty unlikely I’ll be like my dad and finding myself with a young child to raise over the next few years, I’m hoping a little of me will live on in the research I’m doing now.

    These are the areas of research I’m interested in.