A rapeseed (canola) field at Homestall Farm, where Jennie Martin was born in 1891


Isabella 'Jennie' Martin (1891-1985)


Birth:
2 December, 1891, Homestall Farm, Ashurst Wood, Sussex

Marriage:
James Henry ("Harry") Davidson, 12 September, 1918, Glen Innes, NSW

Death:
21 November 1985, Glen Innes

Father:
William Martin

Mother:
Hannah Brown

Children:
David James (1919-2017)
Son (1920 -
Edmund Bramwell (1922-2011)
Helen Glenmire (1923-1951)
Hannah Jean (1924 - 2020) 
Eric Bruce (1929-2014)

The West Sussex village of Ashurst Wood is a charming little backwater, and a local farm, Homestall, is hidden even further away.  In the 21st century, the farms around are mostly horse studs, riding stables  and general agriculture. Homestall Farm is where Isabella Jane, more commonly known as Jennie, was born, although, since her father was an agricultural labourer, it's unlikely she was born in the main house on the estate but rather one of the cottages there.. For a few years at least, she lived on the farm with her mother Hannah, her half brother Bramwell, her father William Martin, and her grandmother, Hannah's widowed mother, Mary Ann Brown.

1890s Ashurst Wood school class photo, with Jennie Martin circled.

Jennie's local school was 2.5km away in Ashurst Wood, Our only record of her school years is her first grade photo, and how long she stayed at the school isn't known.

Some time in the 1890s, her mother took her daughter, leaving her husband behind, and went to work as a housekeeper on a farm some 30kms away in Hurstpierpiont.  On the 1901 UK Census, Hannah declared she was a widow, stretching the truth just a little - her husband didn't die until a year later, but by then, Hannah and Jennie were long gone. The Kents Farm cottages where Hannah worked, were three kilometres from the village of Hurstpierpoint, which is still considered a village, but it's a much bigger centre than Ashhurst Wood.

left: In 1899, mother Hannah and Jenny attended a wedding at the seaside resort of Brighton, and Jennie, then eight years old was photographed with the rest of the bridal party.

Domestic occupations were the most common for women, young and not so young, and this would have been Jennie's path in life - except she followed it in Australia, not England.  When she was 19 years old, her sense of adventure encouraged her to not only leave home, but to set sail on the SS Oswestry Grange headed for the Queensland capital, Brisbane in January, 1910.   According to tales handed down in the family, Jennie struggled with seasickness and life aboard the steamer, and when the vessel docked in the north Queensland port of Cairns, she opted for the feel of land beneath her feet.  On the ship's passenger list, her occupation was given as "housemaid", but that probably didn't prepare her for life working in a  laundry firstly in Cairns itself, then in the small town of Innot Hot Springs, near Mt Garnet, south west of Cairns in the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland.  Her son Norman says that his mother often spoke of "The Springs" and how hot and dry it was when she was there. It would have been a great contrast with the green fields around her home in Sussex.

How long she stayed in north Queensland, and how she made her way south is a mystery - her family say she didn't tell them much about that period.  The next snippet of information we have is that somehow, she came to the 1000km south to the Guyra area of the New England tablelands of New South Wales and worked as a housemaid on the property known as  Cabarfeidh.  This is known only because it's mentioned on her marriage certificate to Henry James ("Harry") Davidson.  Cabarfeidh and Harry's grandmother's home at Wandsworth where he grew up are only five kilometres or so apart, but it's not known if Jennie arrived there before Harry left for service in World War 1 or if they met soon after his return from Europe.

right: The "cook's house" at Cabarfeidh, the property where Jennie was a housemaid before her marriage


When Harry returned from the war, he took up farm work at Lamb's Valley, near Glen Innes, and he and Jennie married in Glen Innes in 1918.

left: Harry and Jennie's wedding day in Glen Innes, 1918

above: Harry and Jennie with their first two boys, Norman (on Jennie's knee) and David


One year later, the first of their six children arrived, all while they were at Lambs Valley, where in 1924, they set about leasing a farm, a step up from Harry's labouring on another farmer's land.  Their next big challenge came when Harry inherited a considerable sum from his uncle Alfred Davidson, who died in Western Australia in 1837.  That enabled them to buy Wattle Farm, at Red Range, 30 kilometres southeast of Glen Innes.

Some glimpses of life on the farm:
Scenes at "Wattle Farm" Red Range:  above left: Jennie in the garden c1940.  top right: the farm house and above: the barn c 1980
With the coming of the Second World War, all Jennie's children left to serve in the various branches of the armed forces, except for 10 year old Eric.

The end of the war saw five of the six children marry and leave home, some to distant places, others, like the youngest girl Hannah (Jean) not so far, staying close by at Red Range. 

Jennie was never able to return to England, even for a visit, but she kept in frequent contact with her mother Hannah via mail and photographs until Hannah's death in hospital at Brighton in 1950.

Left:  Sometime between 1965 and 1968, Harry and Jenny sold the farm, and moved with their son Norman into the nearby "big" town of Glen Innes. In 1979, they celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with a family get-together.

They lived quietly in Glen Innes with their son Norman for 15 or so years, before Harry succumbed to cancer, dying in Glen Innes hospital in 1980. Jennie lived on for another five years, for much of that time in a nursing home, a lifestyle she had great difficulty accepting, before dying in 1985.