One stormy night…

The theme for this week’s #52Ancestors in 52 weeks is “Storms”. 

This week’s theme reminded me of a story I had written when I was studying at university.  I had found a newspaper article several years earlier, about the death of a young boy at Mallanganee in New South Wales.  My husband’s family have close ancestral ties with Mallanganee, so the story caught my eye – and then – broke my heart.  Often, on a stormy night, I recall this story.Foster2

The story I wrote, was a little melodramatic, as that was the style I had chosen at the time, but it was based on the facts I had found in the newspapers. The story below is a combination of my imagination, or artistic licence should I say, and the newspaper articles I found using my trusted friend, Trove, in particular the Northern Star, 12 March 1917 and the Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser, 13 March 1917.

Isabella Foster paced up and down the verandah of the cottage wringing her hands. Her stomach was in knots and she was having trouble breathing. She felt as though she had a belt around her chest and that someone was pulling it tighter and tighter, notch by notch, inch by inch.

Over the last few years, Isabella’s life had been tormented with financial problems, illness and death in the family. It had taken its toll on her nerves. Ten years ago, they had lost their little girl Ethel, when her flannel nightgown had caught on fire. Since then, two more children had died and only two weeks ago they had heard that their eldest boy, Percy, had been seriously injured on the battlefields of France. She crossed her arms and hugged herself tightly, rocking ever so slightly. She felt so very cold… and tired… her limbs felt… heavy.

Where is he? she asked herself over and over.

“Oh thank goodness!” she cried as, through the rain, she saw her husband coming along the narrow track which lead from the dairy to their home. “Arthur”, she called out “it’s Ernest, he promised he’d be home by now. He’s out there in this storm. I don’t know where he is!” Tears streamed down her face and Arthur’s heart broke as he felt her torment.

Foster1Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser, 13 March 1917, p.2.

As he walked along the track to town, Arthur thought about what a good boy Ernie was and how he had probably lost track of time messing about with the boys in town.  It was the only time he got to mix with boys of his own age and Arthur thought it was good for him.

When the Fosters had first moved to Blacks Camp Creek, Ernie had marked out a plot of dirt of his own and started growing vegetables. The soil was rich and he loved working with it.  Every Thursday, he would hitch the spring cart to old Noddy, load up the sacks of potatoes and other veggies and head into town to sell them. He knew the track like the back of his hand.

The storm had gone as quickly as it had arrived, as they often do, and Arthur could see the lightning streaking across the sky in this distance.  He had taken a lantern with him, but it was of no use right now.  It was that time of day, when the light is neither dark or light and everything seems a little muted and blurred.

Tip, tap, tip, tap.  Another storm was coming, the spots of rain were starting to strike Arthur’s hat – big heavy drops of rain. “As big as a plate”, he remembered Ernie saying one day.  That’s when Arthur heard a sound. He stopped and listened.  The rest of the forest had gone quiet as though waiting for the storm to arrive… and then he heard it again.

Arthur started to run toward the sound, he recognised it now… it was the sound of a horse dying.  His heart stopped at the sickening sight.  Noddy was down on his side and the cart was overturned.  Ernie was nowhere to be seen.

Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser, 13 March 1917, p.2.

As the storm passed, it continued to rain a soft, gentle rain, as though the angels in heaven were weeping for poor Ernie Foster and his family.

Young Ernest Ambrose Foster was laid to rest at the Casino Church of England Cemetery on Friday evening 13 March 1917.

An Inquest was held the following week, at which the Coroner returned a verdict of accidental death.  The details of the inquest can be read in the Richmond River Express and the Casino Kyogle Advertiser 20 March 1917.

Author’s note:
Sadly, this was not the last tragedy the Foster family were to experience.

Just seven months later, on 20 October 1917, Ernie’s father Arthur passed away.
Foster 6

And, on the 20th of November, 1917, the Sydney Morning Herald confirmed that Corporal Percy William Foster had died in England, just 2 days after his father, from wounds sustained in the battlefield. Tragically, Isabella Foster had lost two sons and her husband within eight months.

These days, whenever I hear that long low rumble of thunder in the distance, I imagine Arthur Foster and his boys Percy and Ernie, racing their horses along that track at Mallanganee, heading for home at Blacks Camp Creek.