On April 19, 1925 Maude Beatrice Magee, widow of Gerald Osmond Hubert Mollett, Clerk (Western Telegraph Company), died. Even in death, women are defined by their husband’s - or long dead husband’s name and life. But she had long established that she was Maude Beatrice, not plain Maud. The same doctor, who had attended the death of little June, described the cause of death as pulmonary tuberculosis, with no need for a postmortem. She died at home at 41 Quebec Avenue, and the death was registered by her sister Florence, who was now married, and who had been present at the death.
Who else was there I wonder? On May 9 - just two weeks later, my father went to sea for the first time, joining the Philomel as a steward. Surely this is not a coincidence. Was he there when she died? We know that her daughter Florence was still living there. When Florence’s first child is born on March 25 - about three weeks before Maude died, her home address was given as 41 Quebec Ave, though the baby was born in a nursing home. Was my Uncle Roland there or was he with his Mollett aunts? He was only 14, but he did contract TB, so most likely had contact with her. And what about Violet and Harry? Where are they? One of my possible scenarios for them is that they had been adopted by Maude’s sister Florence and her husband - Florence did not marry until comparatively late in her life and I have found no children.
And just when we thought there truly could be no more surprises from Maude, we have our second final surprise. My sister found that she made a will. Yes a will - we had assumed that she had no money - but no, not only did she have money to leave, but she left an amazing £1095 (£32,817 AU$53,758 in today’s money). It’s more than Gerald’s father left when he died and Gerald too (he only left £304 (£13,094 AU$21,449)). This is a not inconsiderable sum really for someone so low down the social ladder. Where on earth did she get it from? It seems to have been left to her daughter Florence, but we have not as yet seen the will, just the notice in the Probate Calendar.
And we have also found where she was buried in Southend. And this year (2012) my sister and I made the pilgrimage. No headstone, just a peaceful spot of grass, where we left a bouquet. We found that she is buried with the baby June, which seems to clinch the theory that June was indeed hers, and also with her daughter Florence who died of TB in 1928. And the grave was purchased by my father in 1927 - so there must still have been contact and he was most likely at the funeral. You may be able to just see the bouquet we left on the grass in the picture at right - centre left.
And what of the cause of her death? Tuberculosis. TB was still a major killer in England, though, at last real advances were being made in the treatment of it. In 1882 it had been finally recognised that it was an infectious disease caused by a bacillus which was identified - that’s it in pink at the top of the page. It was therefore decided that isolating patients in sanatoria was a good thing, and many were built. The poor, amongst whom the disease was rife, because of the overcrowded conditions in which they lived, were being dragooned into sanatoria, and it was a notifiable disease.
So why did Maude die at home and not in a sanatorium? Apparently the sanitoria for the poor were somewhat prison like, and maybe she resisted somehow. Maybe she thought her children needed her. Effective treatment with drugs, and the vaccine BCG, although just developed, were not widely available until the 1940s.
And how did she contract it? From Gerald? Apparently one can have a latent form of TB for several years, before developing the symptoms: “such as red, swollen eyes (which also creates a sensitivity to bright light), pale skin, extremely low body heat, a weak heart and coughing blood.” This would be the most likely explanation, and tragically she probably gave it to Florence (who died from it in 1928) and Roland - who recovered in a sanatorium. My father escaped by going to sea.
And sadly TB is again on the rise as drug-resistant bacteria develop. So never forget that apparently a susceptibility to the disease can be passed on genetically.
So there we have Maude’s life. Strength and strife, bringer of joy. I hope she was loved - it certainly looks like her children were with her at the end. And her sister too. Maybe her new significant other was there as well. She lived through a period of huge change, particularly for women - just a glance at the pictures of the clothes women wore when she was born, compared to those worn when she died, show this. Women now had the vote, though they still had a long way to go in getting equal rights. The apparent disaster of Maude’s marriage and the possible loss of her children amply demonstrate this. And then, of course, there was the Great War and the collapse of the class system. The war has not featured much in this story - Gerald did not participate (he was probably physically unfit) and it does not look as if Maude did either. Whatever else it must have been an event filled life - one about which we still have much to discover.
Maybe one day, we’ll find that photo and we now know what happened to Violet and maybe to Harry too. Out of the blue we found Violet’s descendants. Lots to discover and report there.