Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Lillies of Armadale

Herbert and Charlotte Lillies settled into what must have been a comfortable existence in Melbourne. Armadale, where they lived and he practiced medicine, was then as now an affluent suburb, not far from Port Phillip Bay, but away from the hurly-burly of the city centre and port.

His first surgery was likely on Sutherland Road. Herbert is listed as practicing there as a surgeon/physician” in Victoria And Its Metropolis, Past And Present (1888), an encyclopedia published to mark the centennary of European settlement in Australia. 

By 1904, according to the Cyclopedia of Victoria, his practice had moved to "Longcroft," High St., then Armadale’s main drag and still a principal commercial thoroughfare. A 1903 electoral list gives his residence address as 878 High St. It's a safe assumption the property was both surgery and home. A card catalogue entry held at the Stonington History Centre indicates that Herbert had it built for him in 1888.

The house at that address today, just visible behind high hedges and trees in Google Street View, certainly looks big enough to have accommodated both clinic and family. It’s the right vintage too: a Victorian pile. It likely wasn't far from his first surgery. Sutherland intersects High St. less than a block away. 

878 High St., Armadale today

Herbert's rise to upper middle class ease and prominence was remarkably rapid. Little more than a year after arriving, in 1886, he landed a probably lucrative position as “honorary physician,” treating outpatients at the Alfred Hospital. The Alfred, a relatively new facility (opened in 1870), was less than four kilometres down the High street. And then two years later, he could afford to build an opulent new home and surgery.

He and Charlotte were quick off the mark in another department as well. George Leonard was born in 1885, Herbert Esmond (who would carry on the family medical tradition) in 1888, Charlotte Madge in 1890, and the baby, Vera Isobel Marion, grandmother to baby-boom Blackwells and Breens, in 1891. (A handwritten family tree found among my father John Henry Blackwell’s papers identifies his grandfather Lillies’ four children as “Mum,” “A[unt] Meg” (presumably Charlotte Madge), “U[ncle] Len” and “U[ncle] Es.”)

Not everything went swimmingly for the good doctor in those early years in Melbourne. On February 9, 1887, less than two years after arriving, he suffered, according to The Australasian Medical Gazette, “a very serious accident.”

“While…riding on horseback along High-street, Prahran, and passing the Orrong Hotel, the animal [that Dr. Lillies] was riding shied and threw him under the wheels of a heavily laden dray, which passed over him. He was removed as quickly as possible to the Alfred Hospital… On being examined, Dr. Lillies was found to have sustained serious injuries, his right thigh and arm having been fractured, and suffering from severe shock.”

Prahran was then a separate city, of which Armadale was part. (Prahran, pronounced ‘Pran’ apparently, is now part of the newly created municipality of Stonington – it’s confusing.) The Orrong Hotel was on the section of High St. that passed through Armadale, only a few blocks from the Lillies residence in fact. The picture above, from 1910 (courtesy of the Stonington History Centre), shows a view of the street, including the hotel as it presumably was in 1908. (It was rebuilt as an art deco palace in the 1930s and survives today.) A dray? A heavy wagon used for haulage.

Then in 1900, another blow, Herbert had to give up his position at the Alfred. The Thirtieth Annual Report of The Alfred Hospital For the Year 1900, notes that Dr. Lillies applied for a leave of absence “owing to [his] leaving the colony.” He clearly planned to return, but because he would not be back in time for the renewal or reassignment of “honorary physician” appointments, he ended up resigning.

We don’t know why Herbert left Melbourne in 1900, but it’s a good bet he went home to England to help wind up his father’s affairs. George William had died in Fulham (London) in late 1899 at age 76.  

Herbert did come back to Melbourne, and eventually reached the top of his profession. By 1908, we find him treating the patrician state governor, Thomas Gibson-Carmichael, 1st Baron Carmichael. The Argus reported on October 1 that “His Excellency the Governor is still confined to his bed, and a consultation was held yesterday morning by Dr. Stawell and Dr. Herbert Lillies, who stated that His Excellency was suffering from acute influenza with extensive bronchitis, and ordered complete bed rest for the next two or three weeks.”

Almost from the start, the Lillies were active socially. The picture below shows Charlotte (second from left, sitting) in her role as an "associate" at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club at Caulfield in 1892. A lady golfer. Did the doctor also play, I wonder?

In later years, Herbert and/or “Mrs. Lillies” were mentioned from time to time in The Argus in connection with social and charity events. But it was a different Mrs. Lillies by the late teens. We don’t know when Charlotte died, but in 1917, Herbert married again, to Violet Thornley, daughter of the late Nathan Thornley, a long-time member of the state Parliament of Victoria. High society indeed.

The wedding “was quietly celebrated,” The Argus reported, on August 15, at St. John’s Church of England on Latrobe St. in Melbourne. “The bride, who was given away by her brother, Mr. Geoffrey Thornley, wore a chic tailored coat and skirt of cream cloth, and a hat in the same tone. An Early Victorian posy of violets and daphne were carried.” The bride’s sister stood up with her. No mention of Herbert’s grown children being in the wedding party.

P&O company postcard for S.S. Narkunda

Herbert was by then 60. His bride was 20 years his junior. We know this from the last mention of Herbert we can find in the official record. On April 27, 1927, he and Violet arrived in London from Sydney on the P&O ship S.S. Narkunda. Under “Profession, Occupation or Calling” in the ship’s passenger manifest, he is listed as a “medical practitioner,” she simply as married.” Herbert was 69, Violet 49. They travelled first class, of course.

Music lounge on S.S. Narkunda

Why did they travel to England? We don’t know. It’s not clear either if Herbert ever made it back to Australia. I can find no mention of him there any later than this. Perhaps he died in England, although searches in the usual places do not yield a death record. Perhaps he was going there for medical care he couldn’t get in Australia, or because he knew he was dying and wanted to see the old sod one more time.

We do hear of Violet again. She evidently returned to Australia. She continues to show up in The Argus as a society lady and then, a little surprisingly, we have a record of her visiting the United States on the eve of the second war at age 60. On April 5, 1938, a Violet Lillies from Toorak, Victoria (near Armadale), a widow, arrived in San Francisco on the Empress of Britain. It must be her.

But Violet is not really our concern. She wasn’t even a blood relative, just a mildly interesting footnote. The important thing in all this is that Vera Isobel Marion, whose third given name survives in my sister Pat’s name (Patricia Frances Marion), has made her entry on life's stage. 

It’s almost time to flip over to the Blackwell side and bring Vera and Matthew together, but before we leave the Lillies, we’ll take a quick detour and meet some theatrical great great uncles. Next post. 

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