Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “Florence Stacey”

Florence Stacey (Florence Holdorf) 1878-1908

My father never met his grandmother, Florence Stacey, who died in 1908, many years before Dad was born (1933). Writing about his family background in July 2013 Dad noted:

My father was Charles John Stacey Holford, born July 7,1899 in Goulburn… He lived in Goulburn until his mother, Florence Caroline Holdorf (Stacey) died April 8, 1908 of typhoid fever, three weeks after her youngest son (Eric) was born… I know little about my grandmother except that she came from another shopkeeping family (the Staceys) in Auburn St., Goulburn. She was very beautiful, but was apparently treated badly by my grandfather who had a bad temper. She is buried in a prominent position in Goulburn cemetery where my grandfather is also buried beside her.

In an email from Dad, dated 6 December 2014, he again says:

I was told my grandfather had a bad temper and gave his wife a hard time. My grandmother was a sweet, gentle, sensitive woman so it must have been hard for her.

I have often wondered about Florence Stacey, the first born of George and Mary Stacey of Goulburn. Who was this sweet, gentle, sensitive and beautiful woman who married my great grandfather when she was just 20? What was her childhood like, how did she meet Charles Holdorf and why did she marry him? Was their life together really as hard for her as my father seems to suggest? What does it mean that Charles had a bad temper? What was life really like at the dawn of the twentieth century in the small rural community of Goulburn, NSW?

Florence was the first of nine children. Her father George Stacey had arrived in Australia from England in 1869, having left his home town of Bedford when he was only 16. Why he left is uncertain, but his early life had not been easy. The 1861 England census records him living with his father and his younger brother as lodgers with another family in central Bedford, in a road along which I have driven a number of times over recent years without the slightest idea that an ancestor of mine had lived there 160 years ago. So George Stacey at age 8 was motherless, a common experience for children in Victorian England, in a time when medical care was neither very effective nor universally available, and when women died often from the complications of childbirth. When he was 16 he left England forever. His father remarried and moved to London. What kind of contact they had after that is uncertain.

George somehow came to Goulburn where in his mid twenties he married Mary Atkinson, a girl a few years older than him from Berrima, NSW. According to his funeral notice, “[George] opened business as a grocer in the old Emu Stores adjoining the historic Emu Inn… Twenty years later he moved into his own store a few doors further along the street and for 22 years he carried on business there.” The following is a photo dated around 1905 of the new Stacey store in Auburn Street, which was sent me by Vicki Holford Reevey, another descendent of the Holdorf line. The wording on the facade clearly states that the business was established in 1882. At the time of taking this photo, the building was just three years old.
Stacey's circa 1905
The three men in the photo are from left to right Florence’s oldest brother Percy, born 1880, her father George Stacey, who was by the time of this photo 52 years of age, and one of the Holdorfs, though I am unsure which one. Vicki thought it was John Holdorf, but he died in 1898 so that cannot be the case. It seems most likely that it is Charles Holdorf, the first born of the ten Holdorf children, the one who Florence married. Charles was born in 1869 so would have been 36 at the time of this photo, seven years after he and Florence had married. According to my father, Charles was a travelling salesman for McMurtrey’s Shoes, but before he married he lived with his parents above their store, which was also in Auburn Street and was a drapers and general grocers store.

It is possible that the two families were close. Charles was nine years older than Florence but they grew up in the same little community, in the young town of Goulburn, and both were the children of shopkeepers in Auburn Street. Charles parents were German immigrants, while Florence’s father was English, married to a native Australian. John Holdorf (born 1828) was 25 years older than George Stacey (born 1853) but their respective wives were much closer in age (Caroline Holdorf was born in 1847, Mary Stacey in 1850) and may well have been good friends. Caroline was also probably a good deal more “Australian” than her German husband John: she was 9 when she arrived in Australia, but John was 28. But despite the difference in their ages John and George did have one thing in common: they were both masons, members presumably of the same Goulburn order of Oddfellows.

Charles was the first son of a prominent shopkeeper in Goulburn, Florence the first daughter of another. They tied the knot in 1898, when Florence was 20 and Charles 29, the same year that Charles’ father, John Holdorf died, aged 70, leaving his mother Caroline (who was only 52) a widow. Interestingly, John’s funeral notice records that a wreath was sent by Miss FC Stacey, though none from other Stacey family members is mentioned. Florence, just 19, was presumably already engaged to Charles.

Florence and Charles lived in Goulburn and had five children, the first of which was my grandfather, born in 1899. Charles was a travelling salesman and a part time soldier. Florence was at home raising the family. She died on 8 April 1908, after they had been married 10 years, 3 weeks after the birth of Eric, her fifth child. Grandpa was 9 years old. The five children and their father, Charles Holdorf, moved to Sydney after Florence’s death, where they lived with their grandmother, Caroline. Caroline was 62 years old in 1908 and had already raised 11 children and now she had to raise Florence and Charles’ five as well.

Florence is buried in Goulburn Cemetery. She never saw her children grow up. Her husband Charles lived out his remaining days in Sydney initially with his mother who cared for the children when he sailed off to Europe during WW1, where he served in Egypt and France. He returned to Australia and changed his name to Holford. His five children grew up and married, one by one. His mother died in 1924. Charles himself died in 1954, after being a widower for 46 years. It is hard to know why he treated his beautiful young wife badly, but one thing seems certain, she was the only woman ever to capture his heart. When Charles died his body was returned to Goulburn, where he is buried beside his wife.


Germany and England: united in a family

When people ask where my ancestors came from I usually explain that they were English, Irish, Scottish and German. To date I have only started to research the English and German connections.

I only have to go back two generations to my maternal grandfather, George Simmonds, to arrive in England. George was born in 1905 in Redhill, Surrey and moved when he was very young with his parents to Heston, Middlesex, close to present day Heathrow Airport. By the time of the First World War the family had settled in a neighboring village called Lampton, and from there George left for Australia in 1923 at the age of 18. He never returned to England. Three of his siblings moved to Australia subsequently, one had died in England as a teenager. George’s father was English but his mother was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. However, her parents were both English; how they came to be in South Africa when she was born I have not been able to find out.

There are also English roots on my father’s side. His grandmother, Florence Stacey, was born in Australia but her father, George Stacey, came from Bedford in England, born in 1853. Her mother, on the other hand was Australian, born in Berrima. How and when George Stacey came to Australia I don’t know. So England is four generations back on my father’s side.


The Duchy of Holstein in 1866

To reach my German roots I must also go back four generations to my paternal great great-grandfather. Both he and his wife were German born. His name was Johann Holtorf and he was born in 1828 in Bimöhlen, Segeberg, Schleswig-Holstein, just east of Bad Bramstedt between Hamburg and Kiel. In 1828 the Duchy of Holstein was part of the German Federation, though still in personal union with Denmark (the King of Denmark being also Duke of Holstein). Johann’s wife, my great-great grandmother was Caroline Fischer, and she was born in Augsburg, Bayern, in the south of Germany. Both of them appear to have come to Australia as children, presumably with their parents. They married in Australia, in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. I have no record of Johann’s parents, but Caroline Fischer was the daughter of Gottfried Fischer and Victoria Scherer. She must have been Catholic to have been married in St Mary’s.

When Charles Holdorf, my great grandfather, son of Johann and Caroline, married Florence Stacey in 1898, Germany and England were somehow united in the bright new world of Australia. England and Germany were friends at that time; Queen Victoria, after all, had a German mother, and married a German herself, as did her daughter who married the king of Prussia. Victoria’s first son became the father of the British Royal Family and her first daughter the mother of the German Imperial Family.

But in spite of such close connections, when WW1 broke out, relations between Germany and England deteriorated. By that time Florence Holdorf (Stacey) had died, and Charles, now a widower, found himself in Europe as a member of the Australian Imperial Forces, fighting against the land and people of his parents. When he came back to Australia he changed his name to one that sounded more English (Holford). It would seem he wanted to rub out his German-ness, perhaps not surprisingly given the years of conflict that lay behind him. When I grew up I knew nothing of my German ancestry. But now, with the wars of the twentieth century thankfully many years behind, and Germany no longer estranged from the rest of Europe as it was for so many years after 1914, I am excited to begin to discover something of this land of my ancestors.

Post Navigation