A picture tells a thousand words; Ada’s Mother’s Day story

6 minute read

There is an age old saying, ‘A picture tells a thousand words.’ What does this mean and how can we use it to record the precious memories of our loved ones? I took up the challenge this week, leading up to Mother’s Day, to take a portrait of an ancestor, and write a thousand-word story about them. I’m lucky enough to have many stories that my grandmother Connie told me about her mother Ada Mary Drew. So, I took this passport photograph of Ada from 1947, a time when Ada was about to move into a new chapter of her life and set about connecting the portrait with the stories. Ada is clearly a well-groomed lady, her auburn hair is beautifully set and she has chosen to wear, perhaps, her favourite blouse and brooch. She is a woman who has lived a life full of experiences. Born in 1882 in East London, Ada’s childhood was filled with the blessings of a mother, father and siblings. And whilst her maternal grandmother had died two decades before she was born, Ada did have the comforting presence of her paternal grandmother Amelia growing up. It was not until Ada was 20 years old, that life began to throw challenges her way. She was left reeling from the very sudden death of her mother Hannah whose story you can read here; The birth of feminine resilience; Hannah’s story – Quirky Characters

Ada Mary Drew in 1947, aged 65


It took some years for Ada to move from role of protector of her bereaved father to seeking out a life of her own. She met and became engaged to Harry Winsborrow when she was 26. But just a year later, the promise of a family life with her beloved Harry was cruelly taken from Ada following his death from consumption in 1909. Ada had sailed from her home in London to Sydney, half a world away, in preparation for Harry’s arrival. When his ship RMS Britannia docked without him, Ada learnt the devastating news. Consoled by her Aunt Emma and Uncle Robert, with whom she was living, Ada bravely made the decision to stay in Australia, making a choice she had no knowledge of at the time, would lead to even more heartache. When a few months later, a handsome sailor named William Richard Duck came knocking on her aunt and uncle’s door with a parcel of Harry’s belongings, Ada’s fate was sealed.

A former Boer War veteran and ship’s engineer, Will was a man as sure of himself as one could find, and he took little time in charming his way into Ada’s life. Still vulnerable from her loss, Will’s persuasive ways meant a marriage dawned within a year, and then three children followed in quick succession. Jack and Syd were still toddlers, and Connie in nappies, when Ada’s world came crashing down after Will was arrested for bigamy. Will had been brazen enough to bring his English wife Minnie and three children to live with Ada for a time in Crookwell and now the life Ada had been so desperate for, had turned into a nightmare. Hamstrung by so few choices and too ashamed to tell her aunt and uncle what had transpired, Ada left for Newcastle, a city further north, to escape her now estranged husband and the ghosts of his first wife and children. But life in Newcastle only brought more heartbreaking decisions to make, including the necessity to board out her children during the week with a local family so that she could work as a solicitor’s parlour maid to make ends meet. There was no maintenance forthcoming from Will, who had fled back to England, leaving both Ada and Minnie destitute. It would be a few years before Ada inherited a few hundred pounds from her aunt and uncle, enough to buy a passage back to England, to allow her to have the support of her family.

But Ada’s own sense of pride would not allow her to lean too heavily on them and so she was separated from her children once again. Ada’s work as a draper’s assistant meant renting a room only just big enough for her and eight-year-old Connie to share. The boys Jack and Syd went to a Barnardo’s Home a few hours away from London. Eventually Ada’s brother Will was able to buy a house, allowing her and the three children to live in a stable environment. But the scars lingered and perhaps due to the breaking of a mother’s bond, Ada struggled with her eldest son Jack’s wayward behaviour, until in his mid-teens, he left for a life at sea. Syd soon followed, leaving just Connie at home. The family lived through the Great Depression years reasonably comfortably compared to others, however by 1940, the Germans had taken hold of the UK with terrible bombing raids blitzing heavily, the area where Ada, Connie and Will lived in East London. Ada took up smoking cigarettes and the toll on her nerves eventually led to a breakdown and she was treated for a time in a nearby psychiatric facility.

By the time the six years of WW2 were over, Ada had lost her brother and the house she had lived in with him and the children. With Jack and Syd now both returned to Australia, Connie made the decision that she would join them in starting life afresh. But for Ada it would be a return to a land that had taken so much from her already. She was reluctant to go, but chose to follow her children and so, at age 65, she left her beloved England behind. Connie found work as a bookkeeper in a small country town called Coonamble, some 500 kms from Sydney and it was here that she met her husband Charlie Andriske. In a tiny diary that Ada kept, the entry on Connie’s wedding day of 18 January 1949 reads, ‘the happiest day of my life.’ Ada could finally revel in the joy at seeing Connie’s dream of starting a family come true. She had made the right decision.

With Jack and Syd having no children of their own, her focus fell to Connie and in her 68th year of life, Ada saw her first grandchildren, a set of twins, born. Life held so much renewed promise for Ada now, and she had a new role to fulfil; that of doting grandmother. She saw another grandchild born two years later, and in turn she realised the life she had now in Australia was altogether different to her previous one. But her joy was to be short-lived, as Ada fell ill with heart failure and in January 1953, she passed away, aged 70. Just like she herself had been denied the comfort of a maternal grandmother, so Ada’s own grandchildren were denied their maternal grandmother. And so, we remember her now on Mother’s Day, through our connection with Connie and with the stories she shared of her mother Ada. Her legacy will always be with us. Happy Mother’s Day Ada.