Bessy Flower

Bessy Flower was born sometime in 1851 and died on 14th January,1895. A Minang Noongar, she was born in King Georges Sound, Albany. She lived at Annesfield mission until she was 16 but spent most of her adult life in Victoria. Bessy Flower is remembered for her gifts as a pianist and singer, for her dedication to teaching, and as a strong Noongar woman who fought to keep Aboriginal families together.

Bessy Flower was born in 1851 in King George’s Sound, Albany. Her parents worked for Henry and Ann Camfield, who set-up an Anglican School in 1852, aimed at civilizing and Christianising Noongar children. The school became known as ‘Annesfield’. Bessy was educated there, along with her siblings, until she was 16.

Early Life

Bessy was described as ‘an intelligent, bright child[i], ‘never without a book in her pocket by day or under her pillow at night’.[ii] She spoke French, played the harmonium (similar to a reed organ) and chess. In 1864, she was sent to a Church of England ‘model school’ in Sydney, where she excelled at singing and piano. On returning to Annesfield in 1866, Bessy became a teacher’s assistant and a role-model to younger Noongar children. She also worked as an organist at a local Anglican Church. ‘Bessy kept time with her head and would wear red ribbons in her hat, to the distraction of the congregation. For her hat was the only thing seen in the gallery’.[iii]

Moravian Mission

In 1867, when Bessy was 16 years old, she was moved to the Moravian Mission ‘Ramahyuck’ in Gippsland, Victoria, run by Br.Frederick Hagenauer. Although she worked as a teacher at the mission and head of the boarding school, she was also expected to do domestic chores, which she disliked and resented. Bessy always anticipated her return to Albany. She missed her home-country and wrote to Ann Camfield, ‘Never mind, I won’t have very long to stay’.[iv]

Family & Aborigines Protection Act

In 1868, under the influence of Hagenauer, Bessy married Donald Cameron (who was part Aboriginal), from Wimmera. They had eight children, two of whom died. The Aborigines Protection Act of 1886 was to have a great impact on Bessy’s family. The Act determined that Aboriginal people who it defined as “half-castes” should be separated from “full blood” Aboriginal people and merged into the general population.[v] It forced Bessy’s family to fragment and two of her daughters were apprenticed as domestic servants.

In the short remainder of her life, Bessy focused much of her energies on helping her daughters and other Aboriginal women to prevent their children from being taken away. In 1895, while visiting her daughter, Bessy died of a heart attack, aged 43. She never returned to her home-country. Today, Bessy Flower is remembered as a strong Noongar woman who fought to keep Aboriginal families together.

References

[i] Wollaston to Hawkins, 12/11/1950  in A. Burton (ed.), Wollaston’s Albany Journals (1848-56), Perth, 1954, p.198. Cited in Bain Attwood, In the Name of all my Coloured Brethren and Sisters, A Biography of Bessy Cameron, Atwood, Bain, Hecate St Lucia, Nov 30 1986, Vol 12, Iss  1/2, p.11.

[ii] Information Respecting the Habits and Customs of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of Western Australia, Perth, 1871, p.26, cited in Attwood, B p.11

[iii] In the Name of all my Coloured Brethren and Sisters, A Biography of Bessy Cameron, Atwood, Bain, Hecate St Lucia, Nov 30 1986, Vol 12, Iss  1/2, p. 6

[iv] Flower to Camfield, 12 & 17 June 1867, and undated [c. June 1867], Flower, Letters. Cited in Bain Attwood, OpCit., p.14.

[v] In the Name of all my Coloured Brethren,  Attwood, p.25

 

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