By Catherine Thompson.
I knew nothing about Eileen Evans my paternal grandmother, or her early life until I started doing family history in the 1990’s, many years after her death in 1969. Stored in the bottom of a wardrobe was a shoe box of photos, inherited by my father from a maternal aunt and his mother’s cousin, Evelyn Walls. There were a lot of photos of people I didn’t know, and my first reaction was to want to throw them away. I admit to committing this genealogical sin for some photos until I realized that I had the beginnings of my family history in this box.
Some of the photos that caught my interest, including photos of my grandmother as a young woman, which I had never seen before, included three group photos. The first of the photos was of a Maypole Dance. The girls are dressed in white, wearing black stockings and some wearing flower wreaths or crowns on their heads. Others wore a ribbon or sash draped over their shoulders and tied at the hip. The other two photos appear to be school photos of girls and boys dressed in their best clothes, posing in front of the school building. There were no dates or names. The only clue I had was the name of the photographer, VanDyck of Bourbon Street, Bundaberg, who had mounted the photos. A search of Trove for the photographer confirmed that “Vandyck Studio” opened in Bourbon Street, Bundaberg in August 1902, although the owner, Mr Hyllested, had worked in Bundaberg for 9 years before opening the studio.
Amongst the mementos was a gold locket that contained two photos. On one side of the locket was a photo of a man in military uniform, whom I knew from other photos in the box, was Alexander Walls. In the other photo was his daughter Evelyn, on the left with another young girl. Evelyn’s father had served in the local Militia and was a schoolteacher. He had married Ellen Evans, my grandmother’s paternal aunt in Brisbane, in 1887 and Evelyn, their only child, was born in 1888.  There were lots of photos of Evelyn, so I was able to identify her as the girl in the locket. I then realized that the other young lady with the bow in her hair, was my grandmother Eileen May Evans born a year prior to Evelyn.  Now that I knew who they were, I was able to identify the girls in the Maypole dance photo and in the two school photos which were taken in the early 1900s.
Up until then, I never knew that my grandmother had not grown up in her own family, so needed to do more research. In the 1903 Q’ld Electoral rolls, both Ellen and Alexander Walls were registered as living at the School House, Burnett Heads. Alexander Walls was the schoolteacher.
As well as photos in the box, there was a collection of old books which I had carefully examined before deciding what to do with them. Inside the cover of one of the books was written the words “to Eileen Evans for being the most popular girl in the school; chosen by the vote of her school companions” and signed, “Alex Walls, Headmaster, 1903”. I now have evidence that the locket photo was of my grandmother and her cousin Evelyn, and that she was living with the Walls family in Burnett Heads while attending the Burnett Heads State School in 1903. Knowing that the Qld State Archives hold the State School Admission Register for Burnett Heads State School, I paid them a visit only to find that the records for the dates of interest were not included in surviving records.
By the end of 1903 my grandmother had completed school and old enough to join the workforce. Although I have not been able to confirm the date she returned to her family in James Street, I was able to find her listed on the 1909 Qld State Electoral Roll in the Electorate of Fortitude Valley, aged 21, living in James Street and employed as a saleswoman. Four years later, Eileen was still living with her family in James Street, whilst Evelyn Marie Walls and her father, Alexander Walls were teachers at the Flagstone Creek State School, near Helidon where they remained until 1917. While this doesn’t answer the question as to when and for how long Eileen Evans lived with the Walls family, it may not have been for as many years as I first thought.
While Evelyn Walls was an only child, could there have been another reason apart from companionship to explain why my grandmother went to live with the Walls family? My grandmother on the other hand, was the eldest of 11 children, born to William James Evans, a native of the Colony of Queensland and Bridget Mulqueeny, an Irish Catholic from Co Clare, Ireland. All the children were born in the family home in James Street, Fortitude Valley, between 1888 and 1905 with five infant deaths. In January 1899 their eighth child was born. Could this have been the event that resulted in my grandmother, now 10 years old, going to live with the Walls family in Burnett Heads or was there another reason?
At the time, I discussed the story of my grandmother’s early life with one of her daughters, my aunt, Margaret Thompson, known as Sister Zita, in religious life. She confirmed that her mother had gone to live with the Walls family when she was growing up. The Evans were a large family and life was a struggle for her parents who were poor, so it was suggested that Eileen could go and live with her father’s sister, Ellen Evans and her husband, Alexander Walls.
It wasn’t just the fact that the Evans family was a large family. The other reason given was financial hardship. William Evans, the father, and head of the household was self-employed working as a Dealer. He was also listed as a fruiterer and a drayman. Their home was typical of many houses in Fortitude Valley at the time, a small timber cottage, that served as a store and the family home.
In the 1890’s Brisbane experienced two great floods; the late flood of 1890 followed by the Great Flood of 1893. Low lying areas such as the Valley were affected by these floods. This was followed by an economic slump resulting in many people experiencing financial hardship. When my aunt told me that William Evans was not a good businessman, she explained that he gave credit to people who couldn’t afford to buy what they needed at the time. Unfortunately, the money was often not paid back to him.
On 10 February 1914 Eileen married Richard Francis Thompson at ‘Dara’, Brisbane with Evelyn Walls as her bridesmaid. In 1921 the Walls family were all living at Bowen Hills, Brisbane. After doing family history for so many years now, I am still learning. Putting stories of our families into the social and economic times in which they lived give us a better appreciation of the decisions our ancestors had to make. While I still don’t know the answer to one of my questions about Eileen’s early life, I have gained a better understanding of their lives not just as individuals but as a family.
 Vandyck New Photographic Studio. The Bundaberg Mail and Burnett Advertiser, 8 Aug 1902 p2.
 Birth of Evelyn Maria Walls on 24 Nov 1889. Q’ld Historical Records Ref: 1890/B/44919.
 Birth of Eileen May Evans on 7 May 1888. Q’ld Historical Records Ref: 1888/B/41291.
 Electoral rolls results from: Ancestry.com.au Collection: Australian. Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980. Burnett Heads, Wide Bay, Qld.
 Queensland State Archives. Burnett Heads State School Admissions PR611050
 Queensland State Library, Queensland State Electoral Roll 1909 QCFS324.64099432010
 Eileen Mary Evans. Queensland Historical Records. Ref: 1888/B/41291 https://www.familyhistory.bdm.qld.gov.au/
 Information from birth and death certificates
 Reminiscences of the Nineties by Harrison Thomas. Articles published in the Saturday Evening Star, Dunedin, New Zealand in 1938. Articles written by Thomas Henry Thompson under the pen name of Harrison Thomas.
 Queensland Historical Records. Marriage. 1914/B/14569