BIG DAY OUT: The Bray family and friends in their horse and cart.
BIG DAY OUT: The Bray family and friends in their horse and cart. Tweed Regional Museum

Family tragedy strikes for the Brays of the Tweed

TALKING HISTORY with the Tweed Regional Museum

Part 2: Bray Family Letters

IN THIS week's article, the second in the series on the Bray Family letters, we continue to look at life through the Bray children's eyes.

In February 1895, Dolly Bray brags about how many more cows she can milk than her brother, Percy.

She writes "I milk Plum, Beauty, Jessy and Mary while he milks Whitefoot, Strawberry and half of Spot. Isn't he slow, eh! No wonder you used to hit him”.

By 1897, the daily grind of milking has taken its toll, and Dolly writes, "I am getting about sick of milking now...”.

Frank's sister, Ethel, writes in February 1895 about getting into trouble at church: "Winnie Shirley, Dolly, Sam and I went to Church last night and sat in the very back seat on the left side, old Father Reynolds looked very angry when he saw us there...” and again in March 1895, "...I think old Reynolds is very angry with us for always going in the back seats”.

There are few letters to Frank from his parents, but the ones that exist show parents have always worried about the same things. Gertrude Bray writes to Frank: "I want to tell you about your spelling, it is very bad and I think must be mostly carelessness”.

In a letter from Winnie, she mentions "they are just talking about how badly you spell. Father said to tell you about it”.

TH129-21 Portrait of Winnie Bray. C.1890
Portrait of Winnie Bray, taken c.1890, before her untimely death in 1896. Tweed Regional Museum

Life was not all idyllic for the Bray family; tragedy struck in December 1896, when Winnie died at only 19 years of age, just before Christmas.

The pain felt by the family is obvious in letters to Frank, as well as their anguish at him being so far away at such a time.

Frank's mother, Gertrude, writes: "My poor dear boy, My heart bleeds for you, it is hard to bear this great sorrow all by yourself”.

"May God help and comfort you - and think dearest she has left this world of sorrow, and will never feel any more pain or weariness for she is with her Saviour - but Oh Frank it is a terrible blank in the house. I was not told for many days after and knew nothing. I did not even know that she was seriously ill - she was unconscious the last two days and never spoke.

"I cannot realise that I will never see her again it has indeed been a sad Xmas time - but we have to thank God for many mercies, Clive and I have both been seriously ill too and dear Nina and her baby it was such a comfort when Florrie came up and she has been nursing Nina who is getting better now - I have been for a few drives and today Father took me to the Tamarinds and I saw dear Nina - she is looking very ill but they say she is much better. Dear Frank once more God bless and help you in this great sorrow. With much love from ever loving Mother.”

Similarly, Frank's sister, Ethel, writes "The blank in the house is awful, it seems that surely she will come back. I feel so awfully sorry for poor Webspinner - he is terribly cut up - he said she was the only girl he ever wished to make his wife - he looks years older”. - He came here on Xmas afternoon (it was such a long strange sad day) and I was telling him about it, he could hardly speak. I gave him all the letters he had written her, - he looks years older, and is always going down to those willow trees by the little bridge....”. 'Webspinner' is the nickname of Winnie's beau, Frank Chambers. Mr Chambers features in many of the letters; he obviously stayed close to the family for many years after Winnie's death. It appears from Mr Chambers' obituary that he died aged 61 years, still a batchelor.

Frank's other sister, Nina, also writes poignantly of Winnie's death. "...oh dear Frank there is such a miss down there now, and I know you will feel it when you come home. Going down to Kyn [Kynnumboon] seems so different to me now, to what it was before this great shadow came over us, but we must try and think of the happy days that have been and be thankful. There is no doubt, we have all had a happy childhood. Dont you think so?...”

The following Christmas brings back the painful memories of Winnie's death, in a letter from Gertrude: "I shall be glad when Xtime is over the memories of that time will always be so sad now - it can never be the same now - but after all we must all go sooner or later. This is only a temporary home and please God we will all meet in that happy land where Winnie is waiting for us - I longed for you & Ted on Sunday - her birthday - we went to H.C. and then went on to her grave with white flowers - the African bulbs are growing well there and the roses I planted”.

  • Talking History is a column kindly supplied by the staff of the Tweed Regional Museum. It features the stories behind their rich collection.