ADOPTED DAUGHTER MUST BE THE MYSTERY GIRL IN JACKA FAMILY PORTRAIT

When a photograph of the family of William John Jacka and his wife Sarah was included in The Complete History of Arthur and Rose, p.358, there was one young woman (on the left in black) who did not fit within the group of nine Jacka children. The photograph was taken in about 1897. We had little idea of who she might be until receiving an email from Suzanne Huntington, who lives in Wilberforce near Sydney. She asked if we knew anything about W. J. Jacka’s adopted daughter, Ruth Crome-Jacka. Subsequent exchanges with Suzanne allowed us, together, to fill out some of Ruth’s story. Suzanne is a descendant of Ruth’s half-sister, Winifred Fanny Crome.

detail from jacka family photograph (courtesy melrose districts historical society)

detail from jacka family photograph (courtesy melrose districts historical society)

RUTH CROME’S BACKGROUND

Ruth Elizabeth Crome was born in Pyrmont in Sydney in 1874. Her father, Joseph Crome, was born in Stepney London, and in about 1864 married Frances Jarvis in London. Frances was born in Essex but was working as a servant in London around the time of her marriage.[1] Joseph and Fanny apparently emigrated soon after their wedding and may have lived in Victoria and Queensland before settling in Pyrmont about 1866. The Cromes apparently had a number of children who died young but Ruth and an older brother, Robert born about 1871, survived.[2]

In the 1880s, the Cromes were living at 99 Pyrmont St. Pyrmont. Joseph was a butcher and their house was close to the Sydney Meat Market.[3] It seems that both Robert and Ruth had considerable musical talents. Both performed solos – Robert on piano and Ruth on clarinet – at the Euphonic Academy in 1885. Robert was known as “the Liliputian Mozart”.[4]

For the Cromes, 1886 was a bad year. Frances had a baby, Ethel Maud, who died within a few days of birth; and two months later, Frances was also dead. This left Joseph, about forty-one, with two adolescent children, Robert (15) and Ruth (12).

RUTH CROME MEETS W. J. JACKA’S FAMILY

As outlined in the Complete History, pp. 351-6, the mid-1880s were tumultuous years for William John Jacka and his family. Late in 1884, W. J. disappeared from Melrose with Jane Carter, wife of a Wesleyan minister and they were subsequently found to be living in Sydney. After intervention by the Jacka family, a pregnant Jane Carter (nee Ottaway) returned to South Australia in September 1885. Within a month, W. J.’s wife, Sarah, took their six surviving children to join W. J. in Sydney. He was working as a brewer at the Pyrmont brewery and he and his family lived at 81 Pyrmont St. – just a few doors from the Crome family.

The loss of a baby and his wife soon after in 1886 may have put great strains on Joseph Crome’s household. It seems likely that thirteen-year-old Ruth Crome took up a role with the Jackas, helping to care for the children. When W. J.’s family returned to Melrose in 1887, there was ‘a nurse’ with them and it seems almost certain that this was Ruth. After the Jacka family moved to Burra in 1888, Ruth was also in Burra: Miss R. Crom [sic] sang in concerts in Burra in 1891.[5] Then when the Jackas moved to the Coffee Palace in Adelaide in 1893, Ruth went with the family: her testimony in an 1896 court case when she was described as ‘daughter of the keeper of the Coffee Palace’,[6] suggests that she was directly involved in running the temperance hotel as well as having been adopted as Ruth Jacka, a daughter. It was around this time that the family photograph, mentioned above, was taken. Ruth would have been aged about twenty-three.

THE MARRIAGE OF RUTH CROME-JACKA TO JOHN KIRKMAN

A marriage notice which appeared in several Adelaide newspapers in May 1898 indicated that on May 6 at the Pirie St Wesleyan Church, John T. Kirkman of Rose Park married ‘Ruth Crome-Jacka, adopted daughter of Mr W. J. Jacka of North Terrace Adelaide’.[7] This was a very public assertion of Ruth’s adopted status, although it is not clear if this was formalised legally.

John Thomas Kirkman was born in Adelaide in July 1867. His parents were David Kirkman and Emma (Hainsworth) who married in Leeds, England in 1856. They were probably the ‘Mr and Mrs Kirkman’ who arrived in Adelaide on the Lady Anne on September 20 1858 as paying passengers.[8] John’s parents lived at Port Adelaide and coincidentally, his father David served on a Bible Society Committee with John Ottaway[9], the parent to whom Jane Carter (nee Ottaway) returned to have her baby after leaving Sydney in 1885. David and Emma Kirkman had three surviving children, David Jnr. born in Port Adelaide and John Thomas and Elizabeth Jane both born in Adelaide. David Snr died in 1871 aged only 41, leaving Emma with three children, the oldest less than seven. It seems that she succeeded in giving the children a good education.

John Thomas was a law clerk and progressed to become manager of a law practice and J.P. After their 1898 marriage, he and Ruth lived with John’s brother David ­ an accountant – in Rose Park and later at New Glenelg and Norwood. The couple had no children but seem to have been happy together judging by a letter Ruth wrote to her half –sister, Winifred Fanny Crome in May 1924, describing a domestic existence with Ruth growing vegetables and John playing bowls. Ruth referred to John as ‘my beloved’.[10] In Sydney, Ruth’s father Joseph had married twice more and had two more children including Winifred Fanny. After the death of his third wife in 1920, Joseph came to Adelaide to live with Ruth and John and outlived them both. Ruth’s 1824 letter to her half-sister had mentioned health problems requiring ‘nerve tonic’ but gave little hint that Ruth would be dead, aged fifty, only three days later. John Kirkman died in 1926.

[1] England Census 1861 RG 9; Piece 90; Folio 109; Page 47: GSU roll: 542571

[2] Death Certificate for Frances Crome. Courtesy of Suzanne Huntington

[3] Communication from Suzanne Huntington

[4] Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 1885

[5] Burra Record, 21 October 1891; Burra Record, 30 December 1891

[6] Adelaide Observer, 12 Dec 1896

[7] The Advertiser, 16 May 1898

[8] South Australian Advertiser, 21 September 1858

[9] South Australian Register, 11 November 1861

[10] Letter from Ruth Kirkman to her half-sister, Winifred Fanny Crome, 4 May 1924. Courtesy of Suzanne Huntington