Face to face with the past


A very special display of photographs at Five Dock Library provides a wonderful glimpse into family life in Drummoyne in the early 1900s.

The photographs were taken by Bessie May Selfe (1882-1969) using a glass plate camera. Glass plate images are extremely stable so the images are sharp and clear. Local Studies was able to obtain copies of the photographs through the generosity of Rosalind Strong, Bessie’s granddaughter, who loaned the 66 glass negatives to be digitised and added to Canada Bay Connections.

The photograph above shows Bessie Selfe, on the right, with her cousin Norma Selfe.

The display coincides with the National Trust Heritage Festival and is on view at Five Dock Library until 28 April 2013. It’s then on display at Concord Library from 30 April until 10 May.

A fascinating account of the Selfe family by Rosalind Strong has been posted below in comments.

Posted on April 9, 2013, in Drummoyne and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Bessie May Selfe (1882 – 1969) was born in Sydney and was the only child of Henry Joseph Selfe (1841 Kingston on Thames – 1921 Sydney) and Christiana Fox (1854 – 1919). As a child Bessie lived in East Balmain and then in Sisters Crescent, Drummoyne in a house called Myjoka, built in 1890 for her parents (the address is now South Street Drummoyne). Her grandmother Elizabeth Selfe lived next door at Eurota, now South Street, which overlooked Iron Cove.

    Bessie’s father Henry had arrived in Sydney in 1855 with his parents and siblings, Norman and Maybanke, and settled in The Rocks. Like his brother Norman, he trained as an engineer at the P N Russell Works in Balmain as did his brother Norman. As a young man he went to New Zealand, and was engineer in several coastal traders including the Llewellyn and the Egmont. He was for a time associated with the Panama Mail Company. He was also engaged in gold mining and various business ventures in New Zealand. He married Christiana Fox at Wanganui, and came to Sydney in his own steamer, the Go Ahead, which he sold, and settled in Balmain, entering the Navigation Department, where he remained as engineer surveyor until his retirement. During this time he built a number of houses in Drummoyne.

    Bess’s uncle was Norman Selfe, a notable Sydney engineer. Her aunt was Maybanke Selfe Wolstenholme Anderson, who conducted a school in Ashfield and Dulwich Hill and worked for women’s rights and suffrage, started free kindergartens in Sydney and was involved in many other public causes in the period from the 1880s – 1920s.

    Bess attended Maybanke College as a weekly boarder with her cousins Rhoda and Norma Selfe, daughters of Normn. She rode her bike from Sisters Crescent, Drummoyne to Ashfield and then Dulwich Hill each week. She used to walk from her back door across the fields to go to Sunday school at Fivedock. When she left school she studied photography and wood carving and had a darkroom. She was an excellent tennis player and bridge player. In the early 1900s she travelled to England with her mother and visited relatives in Kingston on Thames, Kent and Essex.

    In 1910 Bessie May Selfe married George Charles Whitney (1884 Ashfield – 1941 Drummoyne). George was a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald and a graduate of Sydney University in Arts. He was a poet and friend of Christopher Brennan. Bess and George Whitney had three children Elizabeth Christine (1910 – 1990) known as Betty, George Selfe (1912 – 1979), Barbara Maybanke (1917 – 1976). Bessie Whitney’s first home after her marriage was Walmer in Collingwood Street Drummoyne. In 1921 she inherited her parents’ home Myjoka in Sisters Crescent. After a short period when her cousins, the Chapman family, lived there, Myjoka was tenanted till 1964. In 1924 she and George travelled to Europe for an extended trip. Walmer was let, Betty stayed with the Chapmans at Myjoka, George went on a year long Young Australia League trip to the United States, and Barbara stayed with an aunt at Mosman. When George and Bessie returned from Europe, the family moved to Wyncroft 57 Thompson Street Drummoyne. George Whitney died in 1941.

    Betty Whitney married Arthur Frederick Deer at St Bede’s Drummoyne in 1936 and they had 4 children Christine Elizabeth, Patricia Gay, Philip Whitney and Rosalind Maybanke. George Whitney married May Grahamlaw (nee McLean) known as Mac, in 1954.

    In 1964 Bessie Whitney moved from 57 Thompson Street back to Myjoka at South Street Drummoyne with her younger daughter Barbara who looked after her. Bessie died in 1969 and Barbara continued to live in the house till her death. Betty Deer inherited Myjoka and Walmer. Walmer was sold. George and Mac Whitney lived at Myjoka till George’s death in 1979. Mac Whitney continued to live there till 1987. Betty Deer died in 1990 and left Myjoka to her 4 children. Rosalind bought the house from her siblings and so lives in the house her great grandfather built. Her sisters Christine Deer and Patricia Spring also live in the City of Canada Bay and all enjoy the house and its history.

    – Rosalind Strong

  2. Hello

    Very interested to see this photo of Norma. We lived in Gilligaloola from 1975 – 1978, when Norma died and found the Selfe family very interesting and living in a house which was still imbued with history and a little bit of a relic of the past, made it all very real – our only toilet was still a dunny in the back garden!

    Hugh Jenkins

    • Hello
      I was also very interested to see the photo of Norma as I currently live at Gilligaloola and would be very interested to receive any information or photos of the house from the past. By the way, the toilets are now inside!
      Ros Straw

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