by Elizabeth Lhuede
Finding forgotten authors.
While looking up material for our “stories from the archive” lists, I come across a collection of lead articles from The Dawn, published by the University of Sydney’s SETI project, and begin ferreting out the originals on Trove. During my search, I happen across the name of an author I don’t recognise, “R McKay Tully”. The title of the Tully’s piece, “The Power of a Child” (1903), is suggestive of a female author, but a check with the AustLit database reveals only the one entry for Tully, with the gender of the author listed as “unknown”. Hardly a prolific author, it would seem – though I know better than to make assumptions. I’ve already found many gaps in the database.
I file the name away and continue my search.
While pursuing a different author altogether, I find the following reference to recent publications in The Austral Light in 1899: “The fiction is supplied by Miss Marion Miller, Mrs. Alan Suttor, and Mrs. R. McKay Tully, and the poetry by Miss Miller and Lilian Wooster-Greaves”. I’ve come across the names of Miller and Wooster-Greaves before, so it is the reference to Mrs R. McKay Tully that catches my attention. Could this be “R McKay Tully”, author of “The Power of a Child”?
Unable to resist a mystery, back to Trove I go.
An obituary in the Gilgandra Weekly in September 1945 gives us Mrs R McKay Tully’s name:
The Late Mrs H M Tully
The death occurred at Gulargambone, CWA Hospital on Tuesday of last week of Mrs Hannah Maria Tully, widow of the late Robert MacKay Tully, of Warra Weena Station, Louth, at the age of 76 years. For the past 26 years Mrs. Tully had resided at Armatree with her daughter, Mrs Lloyd Barden, the only child living. Her only son, Ian, was killed in 1931.
The late Mrs. Tully was postmistress at Armatree from 1915 to 1940, and since then her daughter has carried on the work. Deceased had been in failing health for some time, and was conveyed to hospital on the Sunday prior to her death. Her remains were taken by train to Orange, where the funeral took place on Friday morning in the Presbyterian portion of the cemetery, after a service at St. John’s Church.
Despite the variant spelling of “MacKay” for “McKay”, I’m pretty sure this is the “Mrs R McKay Tully” I’ve been looking for. The fact that by 1945 she was known by her own Christian name, rather than her husband’s initials, suggests she was, by then, a widow. A search in the NSW Deaths register reveals the death of a “Robert M Tully” in 1911, son of John and Eliza Tully of Cobar. Her husband Robert? No death record in NSW shows a Robert M Tully being born to a John and Eliza, but I do find a Victorian entry for 1856. Was Hannah Tully a widow for over thirty years at the time of her death? I wonder. Could her husband’s death have been the reason why she had ended up working in a post office for a living? The timing makes it seem likely. For whatever reason, in 1915 Hannah Tully began work as post-mistress at Armatree, a small town north of Dubbo, NSW, and stayed employed there for twenty-five years.
My search for the details of Hannah Tully’s life spirals out in ever-widening circles. What makes it confusing is the fact, as I discover, that Tully’s birth name and her married name are one and the same. This is what I’ve been able to put together about her life so far.
Mrs R McKay “Hannah” Tully was born Anna Maria Tully in Hay in 1868, the eldest of what was to become a large Presbyterian family. Her father Mark Tully was, according to his obituary, a native of “Ballandoon, Sutherland, Scotland”. Born in 1840, he arrived in Australia in the early 1860s and married Anna’s mother, Maria Napier Palmer. The couple first made their home in Victoria, before moving to Hay, NSW. Known variously throughout her life as “Annie” and “Hannah”, Anna had six full siblings: William (1870), Edith Margaret (1872), Davidena Beatrice (1875), Eleanor Mabel Jane (1876), Catherine Esther (1879) and Robert Henry (1881), born in Hay, Wagga Wagga and Urana. After having baby Robert, Anna’s mother died, and six years later her father remarried an Annie Boyd in Sydney. Subsequently five half-siblings arrived: Nellie (1888), Ethel (1890), Walter (1893), Mona (1895) and Eileen (1898). By this time the family were living in Bourke, where her father had entered into a partnership with W P McGregor at Warraweena Station, a property of 440,000 acres.
In August 1898, the same year as Mrs R McKay Tully’s publication in the Austral, the following record appeared in The Australasian:
Tully-Tully. This wedding was celebrated at the residence of the bride’s parents on Thursday, 28th July, when Robert McKay, of Bourke, NSW, son of Mr John Tully, Lockhart Station, Serviceton, was married to Annie, eldest daughter of Mr. Mark Tully, Warraweena Station, Bourke, NSW., and niece to Mr. Walter Tully, Mountside Station, Winchelsea. The bride was given away by her father, and was attended by her sisters as bridesmaids.
Did Anna’s marriage put paid to her budding writing career? It was not a particularly auspicious year for a wedding, it seems. A report of Anna’s wedding in the Sydney Stock and Station Journal was followed up by the passage:
The district is in a deplorable condition owing to the protracted drought. You will scarcely credit that in the midst of a sheep farming district, we are at times unable to obtain mutton from the local butchers. Plucking and skinning are going on vigorously on many of the runs, and I heard of one homestead lease where the owner in one week killed 300 sheep to secure the skins, and put the poor things out of misery.
By the following year, things were hardly better, as this report from the same journal attests.
It isn’t often one gets good news from Bourke nowadays. The Lord has laid His hand heavily on the Darling Flats. It gives one the horrors to think of that country. Here’s one good item from the local paper — “Local residents were delighted to see Mr. Robert McKay Tully, the popular stock buyer and pastoral expert, once more on the warpath in our district, and to be in a position to congratulate Mr. Tully upon his complete recovery from a severe illness.’ I hope Mr. Tully will get good rains now, and good luck for the whole district. A correspondent at Bourke says — ‘Jolly time we had, too. Poor Bourke has no show this year. Most of the stations have a finer show of bones than anything else. It is pitiful to see the poor wee lambs starving to death, for even when the mothers are fairly strong the lambs only live till they require other food than their mothers’ milk, and then finding none die. The men are almost giving up in despair. Poor men! they almost love their sheep. Apart from the money lost it wrings their hearts to see them dying in spite of their efforts to save them. A little rain has fallen in the district, but not enough; though doubtless the papers will announce a complete break-up of the drought, general rejoicings, etc. — 20 points!’ Poor Bourke!
Another year brought a more festive mood. A notice for the wedding in 1900 of Anna’s sister, “Bessie Margaret”, gives us a grand impression of the Tully residence at Warraweena:
The ceremony took place in the ballroom, decorated by the bride’s sisters and girl friends; the initials of the bride and bridegroom being displayed under a huge wedding bell of white chrysanthemums The bridesmaids were her three sisters, the Misses Eva, Kate and Mona Tully… Walter Tully, the youngest brother of the bride, acted as page.”
Maybe the longer write-up was because the drought had broken? Or perhaps the Tullys were determined to have something to celebrate despite the hardship.
In her own wedding notice Anna is described as wife of a “popular stock buyer and pastoral expert”. But what of her own role? While she may have had early aspirations to be a writer, it seems motherhood and then a paid working life were her lot. In 1901 the Sydney Stock and Station journal announced the following: “On November 13, at March-street, Orange, the wife of R McKay Tully, of a son”. In 1903, the son, Ian McKay Tully, was joined by a little sister, Annie (later known as Nancy). In that year “R McKay Tully’s” story, “The Power of a Child” appeared in print.
Less than ten years later, tragedy struck the little family. In 1911 The Western Herald, announced the death of Robert McKay Tully, with the Tully residence being given as “Woodlands station”, Louth. The notice states that he had been “ailing for some considerable time and was on his way to Bourke, seeking medical attention, when he expired” (22 Apr 1911). The Riverine Grazier in its notice described Tully as “a well-known back country station manager”. In May 1911, “Mrs R Tully” put in a notice of “Thanks” in the Western Herald (13 May 1911). In the same month, Anna’s half-brother, Walter, twenty-five years her junior, was appointed manager of Woodlands Station (ref), presumably to keep the station running. The appointment appears to have been short-lived. In June 1911 came the announcement of “A Probable Sale”, not of the station, but of a prize horse:
Mrs R McKay Tully, of Woodlands Station, Louth, has advised us that the racehorse “Daunt”, well known to the racing fraternity of Bourke and district, will probably be offered for sale on the last day of the Louth races, Wednesday, June 21. This horse has won numerous races, and is one of the best grass-feds, that has been in the district for some time, so those desirous of securing a tip top picnic horse, should not miss this opportunity. He is a brown gelding, aged, by Lord Randolph. (14 Jun 1911)
From Louth, Anna moved first to Orange and then to Armatree, north of Dubbo, NSW, where she began work as postmistress. Her son Ian, like his father, took up life on the land, working as a shearer, but in 1931 another tragedy struck. On the way to a “concert party” in Parkes, the vehicle in which Ian and his friends were travelling was hit by another car, and he and two others were killed. The event was significant enough to have been reported at length in the Orange Leader:
Ian Tully, who was killed in the lamentable car accident on the Orange-Sydney Road, yesterday week, was one of the most popular young men in the Armatree district, to where his family had removed from Orange about 15 years ago. His mother, with the assistance of her daughter, Miss Nancy Tully, conducted the Armatree post office. At the time of his untimely death he had just completed shearing. As he had not been enjoying the best of health of late, the unfortunate victim decided to visit the city for a short holiday before returning home, and at the same time seek medical advice. He had promised to ring his home on the Sunday, and when the ‘phone tinkled, Mrs. Tully and daughter quickly made for the receiver. It was agreed that the mother answer the call and her grief can be well imagined when a sergeant’s voice informed her of the death of her only son. The identification was made easier by the motor car driver’s license carried in the unfortunate victim’s pocket. A cricket match between Gilgandra and Armatree was in full swing when the news came through, and, on receipt of the sad tidings, the entire population of the small centre immediately lost all interest in the sport and flocked to the post office to render what help and assistance to the bereaved mother and sister it was humanly possible to give. The match was abandoned. (9 Nov 1931).
A court case ensued which resulted in manslaughter charges being laid against the driver of the other vehicle. Her son having died intestate, Anna was appointed administrator of his estate, and – perhaps with intimations of her own mortality – made her own will soon after.
In 1938, Anna’s daughter Nancy, who had been working alongside Anna at Armatree post office, married Mr Lloyd Barden, the notice stating she was “the only daughter of the late Mr. Robert Tully, of Serviceton, Victoria, and Mrs A M Tully, of Armatree” (14 Apr 1938). Anna continued working until her retirement in 1940 at the age of 72, after the birth of a grandson (reported 29 Aug 1940), presumably to help out Nancy who continued working in the post office. Anna died at Gulargambone in 1945 after a period of failing health, her death being reported in The Gilgandra Weekly (20 Sep 1945), the Orange Leader (14 Sep 1945) and The Western Herald (21 Sep 1945).
Sifting through all the references, we can form some sort of picture of the woman’s life, and an explanation, of sorts, why she may not have continued writing. And what of the publication in the December 1899 issue of The Austral Light? The journal isn’t digitised on Trove, but there are holdings of the magazine at the State Library of NSW. Maybe there are other stories by R McKay Tully to discover?
Considering the quality of the one story of Tully’s I’ve read, I hope so.
R McKay Tully’s story, “The Power of a Child” will be published on Friday.
“Births, Deaths and Marriages“, Stock and Station Journal, 8 Jan 1901: 3.
“Bourke“, Stock and Station Journal, 9 Sep 1898: 5.
“Bourke“, Stock and Station Journal, 23 Jun 1899: 4.
“The Last Mrs H M Tully“, Gilgandra Weekly, 20 Sep 1945: 1.
“Reviews”, The Mercury, 13 Dec 1899: 2.
“Robson – Tully” 9 Jun 1900: 46.
“Tully – Tully” The Australasian, 20 Aug 1898: 46.
Elizabeth Lhuede had poems and short fiction published in the 1990s while working at Macquarie University as a tutor and research assistant. She took a break after completing her PhD, and returned to Macquarie later to teach English and Creative Writing. More recently, Elizabeth instigated the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge and, under the pen-name Lizzy Chandler, has had two e-novellas published with Harper Collin’s Escape imprint (romance and romantic suspense), one of which has been anthologised in print.