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Brisbane, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Brisbane, Australia. Visit my website at www.noelleclark.net

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The China Story - the beginning - Part 1

Oliver and Olive - taken only weeks before he died in 1920






This memoir was written by my mother, Olive Dillon (nee Clark) in the mid 1980s.

This letter is from Mary Cross (nee Houston) to Oliver, regarding news of his engagement to Gladys
Gladys Evelyn Clark (nee Houston)
3 Sept 1886 – 3 Jan 1968


Six years in the early life of our mother – From 1914 until 1920

Some years before the First World War, Mum and her older sister, Ann Houston, came down from Mack in North Queensland, to live in Brisbane. Ann opened a very successful employment agency, assisted by Mum. It was situated in Albert Street, in the old Tivoli Theatre Building, opposite where the City Hall now stands. Mum was then, in the year 1914, about 27 years old, and Aunty Ann would have been in her late thirties.

One morning in early 1914 a handsome gentleman walked into the office and asked to speak with Miss Ann Houston. Although it had been many years since she had seen him, Mum recognized Jack Gorman, who had been in China for many years working for the Customs. In Mackay, where both families had lived, Jack and Ann had been friends since their teens, and Jack had written from China and asked Ann to come over and marry him. As Ann got older and involved with her work, she had replied that if he wished to marry her, then he would have to come for her. Quite some time had elapsed since then, and life went busily on. So imagine how they both felt when my mother showed Jack into the inner office. Mum said he came into the room, stood for a moment looking at her, and then said, “Well, are you coming”? Mum then came quietly outside.

Ann was very independent, and considered herself long past marriage, but was persuaded by her older sister Mary (Cross) to accept Jack’s offer, and to go China and marry him. Eventually she did accept, with the proviso that Darl, (Mum’s nickname) came with her. That was readily agreed to. Jack returned to China as his time was limited, and the two sisters set about all the preparations and arrangements prior to their departure for China.

They went to Toowoomba to farewell the Gorman family, Aunty Lizzie and Aunty Maher and Kath and Tom, who were then about fourteen and twelve respectively. Their (Kath & Tom’s) father, Will Gorman, was Jack’s older brother who had died in 1911. Their sister Mary (Curran) still lived in Mackay. They also farewelled their sister Mary and her husband Harry, and children Patsy and Joe, who where then about seven and four years old. Mary had suffered ill health for many years, and they were living in Clermont, Central Queensland.

The Employment Agency was sold to Miss Emily Rowe, who carried on for many years supplying staff to stations and properties all over Queensland. Miss Rowe was still a great friend of Mum’s until Miss Rowe died well in her eighties when I was in my twenties.

The voyage to China in 1914 must have been a very eventful trip for two Australian ladies to embark on. It was not a very large vessel and to add to their discomfort, they were buffeted by quite a severe typhoon in the China Sea. Mum told me they were very seasick and felt dreadful. She spoke of the kindness of the cabin boy who tried to tempt the palates of “the little miss’s” with some delicacy he would bring from below. Those days it would have taken some weeks for the journey, whereas today, in a modern jet aircraft, the same journey may be made in a few hours.

They eventually arrived in Shanghai, and no doubt Jack and Ann would have been married shortly after. They would both have been in their early forties, and had wasted so many years by not being together. They lived in Shanghai for some time and from all accounts they had a wonderful life. They had a busy social life and servants to do the work. They had so many friends, many of them fellow Customs Officers.

Amongst those friends was an English man, Oliver Clark, about thirty years old. He was born in Cambridge, but had lived in Newtown, mid-Wales, for many years with his family. There are still four cousins living in Wales, three in Newtown and another Clark cousin in Kent, England with whom I keep in regular contact. Apparently Oliver and his father were not compatible, so he left home and went to Canada, where he lived and worked for some years. He then went to China where he worked for the British Customs.

In October 1915, Oliver and Gladys were married. They were married six hundred miles up the Yangtze River, where Oliver was stationed at a place called Yichang. That is the pronunciation but the names have all been changed, also the spelling. They were married by a French Jesuit Priest and then by the British Consul. From what I can remember, I think by that time Jack and Ann had been transferred to Tsinsin (Tiensin), much further north, and were unable to travel to the wedding.

My father had obtained the engagement and wedding rings from elsewhere. I still wear Mum’s wedding ring on my right hand and the lovely diamond of the engagement ring, which was re-designed for me at the time of my own engagement in 19441. They lived in this small town, with only a few hundred foreigners (whites) for some time, and eventually were transferred to Shanghai.

At this time, In Tsinsin, Jack and Ann were expecting their first child, and when six months later Oliver and Darl found they were also to be parents, both families must have been so happy. Mary Gorman was born on 4th July 1916, and just two days later on 6th July 1916, her dear mother Ann died suddenly. Mum also received a letter from Australia telling her of the death of her older sister, Mary, in Clermont on 23rd June 1916, just two weeks before the death of Ann.

The shock of the loss of those two wonderful sisters, who had helped to bring her up since the death of their mother when Darl was very young, almost caused her to lose her baby and she was very ill. However, Mason was born on 27th December 1916. He was a huge baby at 14 lbs and as Mum was very small-boned, must have been quite a shock. Then, one year and eight months later on 21st August 1918, I was born, and named Olive after my father. Then another twenty months later, Joy Margaret was born on 8th April 1920. Fortunately both Joy and I were only seven pounders.

How happy they must have been with their little family of three.
Then came the greatest tragedy of all. Just six weeks after the birth of Joy, on 24th May 1920, Oliver, our dear Dad and her beloved husband of only five years, died after a short illness. He died of pneumonia and pleurisy and had been taken by launch across the Yangtze River late the night before his death as the Doctor was concerned for him. Unfortunately he died very early the following morning. They had been so happy in those few years and Mum had known such heights of happiness and depths of sadness in so short a time.

Uncle Jack and Mum’s friends helped her tidy up her affairs and make her farewells. Then Uncle Jack and four year old Mary accompanied Mum and we three small children on the sad trip back to Brisbane. We arrived on my second birthday, 21st August 1920. We were met at the wharf by old friends, Fred and Molly Morley of New Farm, and I think we stayed overnight before going up to Toowoomba. There we stayed with the Gorman family.
Uncle Jack and Mary returned to China and did not return to Australia until 1929.

1Olive’s engagement ring was stolen by young intruders in about 2000.

Mum became very ill and had a complete breakdown. The result of the shocks and the breakdown stayed with her all her life, and she would frequently have very severe fits. She also suffered from very painful Neuritis.’

Our wonderful friends, the Gormans, looked after us until Mum was able to take charge again and bring us up without our father in a world which was then experiencing severe post-war depression. This she did very courageously with many, many ups and downs. Due to the Depression, she suffered a severe business loss, and from then on the going was very tough indeed.

In the year 1935, while she was still at school, Joy became very ill with what was later diagnosed as Tuberculosis. She spent twelve months in hospital and then spent the last year of her life at home with us. She died on 26th April 1937 at only 17 years of age.
Mum lived with me for many years and I am so glad that Mason’s son Robert and my four children – John, Patricia, Joan and Noela – all knew her. She died at the age of 81 years on 3rd January 1968.

To her memory, we owe our Love and Gratitude.

May she rest in peace


Click here to see Oliver Clark's service history with the Chinese Maritime Customs. (see page 12) It shows he was employed from January 1908 until his death in May 1920. He started his career as a Watcher, and at the time of his death was Assistant Examiner. For more information on employees of the Chinese Maritime Customs for the period 1854 - 1949 visit the Bristol University study at http://www.bris.ac.uk/history/customs/ Note that until 1912 it was named the Imperial Maritime Customs Service

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