Family Names

Friday, 21 April 2017

A to Z Challenge - R is for the Rest, Relaxation & the Races

Snippets from the life of Martha Sarah Ellis.

We search high and low for the facts that make up our ancestor’s lives their births, deaths and marriages, the birth of their children, the events that landed them in court or in trouble with the law.

Understanding their leisure can be a lot more difficult, particularly trying to place them at an event or function.  So I was delighted when I discovered that Martha’s daughter had won the girls 6 years and under race.[1] In 1901 only one of Martha’s girls would have qualified for the under six-year-old race, and that was Ivy who was born in 1895, Martha the eldest born in 1894 would have been too old.

Congratulations Ivy.

Photographer Unknown,  Punch and Judy show, 1944, digital image, Australian War Memorial Collection Accessed 2017 

In an article entitled “A Pleasant Outing” the following appeared:-
“On Wednesday last about 1500 people, representing the employees and their families and friends of Mr. Henry Skinner, the well-known caterer, journeyed to Sandown Park at that gentleman's invitation to enjoy a picnic at the pretty racecourse. A special train left Prince's Bridge at 10.30 a.m., arriving at the ground an hour later. Every preparation was made for the comfort and convenience of the visitors, and a most enjoyable afternoon was the result. ...
A spacious marquee was used as a luncheon room, and the tables were laid out in the best style of the generous host, who provided refreshments of all descriptions during the whole of the afternoon. In another part dancing to the excellent music provided by Code's military band was indulged in all the afternoon, and a merry-go-round and .Punch and Judy–show furnished amusement for the children in the intervals of the sports. Quite a host of prizes were given for a varied sports programme, and some keen competitions resulted.”[1]

So why do I think that this is Martha’s daughter when her husband, Walter Todman, owned and operated a store selling, repairing cycles and mechanical engines?  

When the couple appeared in the Prahran Police Court in 1895, Walter “her husband was a job waiter and earned about £11 a month.”[2]  Based on the above racing results I have assumed that her husband was working for Mr W. Skinner.  According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography
[Mr] “Skinner built up a catering empire based, at first, on the supply of liquor to sporting events; eventually he acquired a monopoly of the Melbourne trade and came to be regarded as the outstanding caterer in Australia. ... His surname was said to be descriptive of his methods: his waiters were required to empty their pockets and don the firm's distinctive white uniforms before starting work. 'All that they had in their pockets when they finished was his, and woe betide the waiter caught in default'.”[3]

As generous as Mr Skinner may have been I don’t think it would have been much fun working for him. 

Photographer Unknown, Jubilee Picnic held at Sandown park Victoria, March 27th 1909, Henry Berrry & Co. Collection. Accessed 20 April 2017
Times must have been very difficult for the family as they struggled to make ends meet with Martha’s husband both running his shop and working as a waiter probably to bring a regular flow of money. 

Did Martha work beyond the home during this period? 

Running a home during the time would have been difficult with very few conveniences to ease the load.  It is possible though that Martha may have worked outside the home as in 1897 the following advertisement appeared in the newspapers:-
“GIRL, wanted, tidy and useful, mind 3 children wages, 3s. Mrs. Todman, 580 Chapel-st., S. Yarra”[4]
This advertisement was placed just after Walter Victor Todman was born, her 3rd child. Having a carer for the children would have given her the freedom to seek work or to recover from having 3 children in four years.   It would be six years before she had another child.

It is nice to find reports of the family participating in fun events and that despite the obvious hardship there was also times of joy.

To Read more about Martha's life for articles previously posted for the A to Z Challenges click the Letters below:-

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

To learn more about Martha's husband's business click here.


[1] Anon, 'A PLEASANT OUTING.', Record , 16 March 1901, p. 3. , viewed 20 Apr 2017,
[2]  Anon, ‘PRAHRAN POLICE COURT.’ The Prahran Telegraph, 14 Dec 1895, p.5., viewed 3 Oct 2015
[3] Geoff Browne, 'Skinner, Henry Hawkins (1851–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 20 April 2017.
[4] Anon, 'Situation Vacant', The Age, 23 November 1897, p. 8. , viewed 20 Apr 2017,


  1. must have been quite the outing for a family - never realized how popular they were.

    Nice historical notes...
    A Piece of Uganda

    1. Thanks for stopping by Leslie, I didn't realize how popular they were either until I found this one and then I started to see quite a lot of similar events in the newspapers. I was just lucky that with an unusual surname I was able to recognize someone from the family.


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