The Harriet Puzzle
Good evening, Uncle Peter. I’m a bit stumped by my favourite puzzle.
A challenge to the mind?
Yes, I can’t seem to fit a Harriet Leyland into our family tree. I found mention of her in a Hawkes Bay newspaper. October 1896.
What was said about her?
I’ll read it to you.
‘Inquest at Homewood yesterday. Charles ELLIOTT aged 4 years 8 months (deceased), Mary Elliott, mother of above. Nellie Elliott, aged 13 years (sister of above), Miss Harriet LEYLAND, a neighbour of Elliott’s, rendered assistance.’
I can tell you where she fits. Harriet was Dad’s step-sister. Her mother, Frances Alley — Alley was her maiden name — had been married before she met Old Phil Leyland. She had previously married a bloke named Ramsay, and she already had three children by him. Harriet Ramsay, Frank Ramsay, and I think the other was Jock Ramsay.
So these three Ramsay children were brought up in the Leyland household, and when Florrie and my father and the rest of the Leyland children came along they all grew up as one family.
So Harriet was a ‘virtual Leyland’ when she ‘rendered assistance’.
So it seems. But we always knew she was originally a Ramsay. But the interesting thing was that both Harriet and her half-sister Florrie, when we boys heard them talking, went on and on about the fact their mother’s maiden name was Alley. They were downright proud of it. Infatuated.
Of course, I discovered much later that Harriet and Aunty Florrie’s mother was originally one of those wild Irish women. Harriet always wanted to be an Alley, but she was a Ramsay, and then a virtual Leyland.
It must have been confusing. When I was at school I was known as John Leyland. At Sunday School I was John Mechen. And sometimes I was John Shirley, after my stepfather.
That would have been unsettling. A multitude of surnames.
But for Harriet, that wasn’t the end of it even then. There was another name in the offing. She eventually became Mrs Cox when she married Bert Cox. Of course, us boys, being boys, we smiled at that one. COX.
There was some talk about Harriet’s brother, or brothers going to the Boer War, along with Old Phil’s son, Alfred, but we never met any of them. But we did know Harriet. We called her AUNTY Harriet, and we boys were very fond of her. She was sensible and helpful — always very positive. She was older than our Aunty Florrie, of course, and the two of them were very close. Sometimes she’d come down from Napier on the train and stay with Florrie.
She invited us boys to go and stay with her. We’d go and visit her and her family in Napier. Dad would put me, and my brother Bill onto the train at Palmerston, and we got a free ride. Dad had a free pass, being an ex-railway man. We went several times, usually during the long school holidays, over Christmas.
How did you spend your time? What did you do all day?
Now one thing I clearly remember was that we were teenage boys or thereabouts at the time of these visits. Aunty Harriet had two daughters. But I can’t recall their names. These girls, well they were a bit older than us, they had a custom, a sort of ritual, a regular practice. Every evening, after we’d all had our hot meal for the day, these girls would go for a walk.
Now you’ve got to realise that in those days there was nothing much else to do in the evenings except knit or read or talk. There was no telly, and some people didn’t even have a radio. So these two girls, they’d go out. Never alone. Always together. Never just one of them. Out for a stroll.
Now us Palmy boys weren’t used to that. We always used to just kick about the house back home — just hang around. So it was a bit of a delight when these girls invited us to join in, which we did, and we’d walk for hours, all over Napier. It was summertime, and the weather was mild and fine, and there was nothing else to do, so we’d walk out with these girls. Walk for hours.
And when we got home it would be time for bed, so we’d light a candle and settle down for the night. One of us would put the candle out — we’d ‘snuff’ it out. If you blow it out, it makes too much smoke. It smells. You get the knack of ‘snuffing’. You suddenly grab the wick, where it’s burning, and pinch it. It didn’t hurt if you did it properly. A good quick pinch and you’d snuff out the flame and stop the flow of melted wax.
So we did a lot of walking when we visited Aunty Harriet. We called those girls cousins, but I can’t recall their names. It’ll come to me.
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