Thursday, 25 May 2017

Janet Muir Gaff and family

Janet Muir Steel was born on 21 July 1860 at Milton, Glasgow in Scotland. Her parents were William Steel [1816-1881] and Marion Currie Kyle [1831-1914]. Janet had two sisters and five brothers, all of whom migrated to Australia in the 1890s. [1]

On 11 December 1878 Janet (aged 18) married Daniel Robb Gaff (1849-1921) at St Bartholomew's Church, Gourock. Daniel, a timber merchant, would have been 29 when he married Janet. On 25 January 1883 the couple's only son, Daniel William Steel Gaff, was born. [2] According to the 1881 Scotland census Daniel and Jessie (Janet) Gaff lived in Wellington Street, Greenock, Renfrewshire.

In 1889 Daniel Gaff decided to travel to America and spent the rest of his life there leaving his wife and child in Scotland. Information about Daniel in the United States of America can be gleaned from the annual census. The 1900 census states that he was living in San Francisco, had immigrated from Scotland in 1889, had been in the USA for ten years, was married and that his occupation was a Collector. By 1910 additional information in the record was that he was Naturalised and his occupation was Advertising. It also stated that he was single. In the 1920 census his surname was misspelt as Giff but the information provided was the same as in 1910. Daniel R Gaff died in San Francisco on 22 March 1921 aged 71. [3]  One assumes that he was unaware of the adventures that his wife was having in her new life without him.
Australian Nurses in World War I
When Janet's husband left her Janet had a six year old son to take care of. Fortunately she had a supportive family who would have helped look after him. Janet decided to be a nurse and trained and worked at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary in Castle Street, Glasgow. She probably started her training there in 1889 and the 1891 Scotland census shows her working there. Nursing Record November 1891 p 247 contains excerpts of a letter detailing Janet's concerns about conditions at the hospital.  On the same page there is mention of Janet's sister, Helen, who was also a nurse at the same hospital.

In 1891 the ship, Curzo travelled to Melbourne, Australia with Mrs M Steel and Miss M Steel aboard. On 23 October 1891the ship Orotavia left London and arrived in Melbourne on 25 December. Aboard were Miss H M Steel, Mr A W Steel, Mr F W Steel and Miss J M Gaff. [4] There is no mention of Janet's son in the ship passenger lists but children were not always listed. The family travelled as cabin passengers. Other family members also settled in Australia.

The Steel family settled in Blackburn, a small settlement in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Poultry farming and flower and fruit growing were the main activities for the area as listed in The Victorian Municipal Directory.  The family home was Achernar in Gordon Crescent, Blackburn. It must have been a reasonably large home as electoral roll records show many adults living in the house at various times. The 1903 electoral roll shows Janet's mother, Marion Currie Steel, living in the house with two of her daughters, Helen Mary and Marion Margaret, and her son Archibald William. Archibald's occupation is listed as a draper. The women's occupations are listed as home duties. In October 1904 Archibald married Frances Helen Sanders and they lived in the Gordon Street home for a number of years. From 1909 to 1926 Janet's brother, John Shaw Steel, a chemist, also lived in the house. James McLean Steel lived in nearby Box Hill where he was a clerk. Thomas Kyle Steel lived in New South Wales and Frederick William Steel moved to Western Australia. [5]

Janet used the Blackburn house as a base but she spent most of her time working as a nurse in western Victoria, initially at two hospitals in Warracknabeal and then at a hospital at Willaura. In August 1915 she joined the Australian Army Nursing Service and worked for twelve months at the No 5 Australian General Hospital in St Kilda Road before leaving Australia to nurse overseas in the Sea Transport Service.

Back in Australia in 1919, Janet moved back into the family home in Blackburn. Her mother had died in 1914 but Helen, Marion and John were still living at the Gordon Street House. Archibald and Frances moved into a house in Lake Road, Blackburn before eventually moving to Frankston.

In the early 1920s the family moved to 13 Oxford Street, Box Hill before, in 1925, transferring to 4 Rose Street, Box Hill which became the permanent home of the three sisters, Helen, Marion and Janet. This house was also known as Achernar.

Janet loved to travel and, apart from her many sea voyages during the war and the original voyage to Australia, made three other overseas trips.

Shipping records in Ancestry show that Janet arrived in London on 29 April 1910 aboard the Ruapehu. She arrived back in Sydney on 20 March 1911 and had returned home via Vancouver and Honolulu. She was therefore away for a year spending time in Europe and returning home via Canada.  Janet mentioned a winter spent in northern France in letters she wrote to newspapers in August 1914 concerning the welfare of Australian soldiers fighting in France.

In May 1922 Janet left Melbourne aboard the Baradine for London via South Africa and arrived in London on 27 August 1922 aboard the Barrabool. [6] Janet left the Baradine at Cape Town to travel to Victoria Falls before returning to Cape Town to board the Barrabool to London. When she returned to Australia Janet wrote an article about Victoria Falls which was published in the Age 17 February 1923 p 6.

Janet was off for another world trip in 1925. She arrived in Liverpool aboard the Hildebrand on 9 July 1926 after completing a round trip to Brazil. [7] The Argus 24 May 1928 provided a report on a talk Janet made about her adventures at the Women's Club Dinner.
Mrs. Janet Gaff spoke of her experiences during her recent travels abroad. Mrs. Gaff left for Europe by the Ceramic in 1925, during a shipping strike, and from Durban transhipped to a Dutch vessel, which took her up the south-east coast of Africa, past Mozambique, Zanzibar, and Mombasa. After visiting Cairo, Mrs. Gaff went on to Jerusalem, and from Palestine through the Ionian Islands, Afterwards Mrs. Gaff visited Mentone, Paris, Geneva, and London. She spent seven weeks in travelling through Oporto, Lisbon, and Madeira, and thence to the Amazon, down which she travelled for 1,000 miles to the Rio Negro. After returning to Europe she crossed to the United States, where she visited the principal cities before returning to Australia.
Janet was quite an adventurer.

Janet continued to live at Box Hill with her two sisters until her death on 7 September 1940. She was buried at Box Hill Cemetery.
GAFF. — On September 7. at Achernar, 4 Rose-street. Box Hill, Mrs. Janet Muir Gaff (sister, late A.I.F.), most dearly beloved mother of the late Daniel William Steel Gaff, and dearly beloved sister of Archibald W. (Frankston), Frederick W. (Perth, W.A.), Helen Mary and Marion Margaret Steel, of 4 Rose-street, Box Hill. (Age 12 September 1940)
Janet's son, Daniel, had died on 17 January 1936 at his home in Black Rock. On 6 September 1916, when his mother was serving as a nurse overseas, Daniel married Jean Millar at St Peter's Church, Box Hill. According to a notice regarding his estate after his death, he had an adopted son. The electoral rolls listed Daniel's occupation as a clerk.

[1] Family Search - birth records for Janet Steel and her family
[2] Greenock Advertiser and Greenock Telegraph for marriage (12 Dec 1878) and birth of son (26 Jan 1883)
[3] Census records and death record for Daniel are sourced from Ancestry.
[4] Unassisted Passenger indexes 1852-1923 (PROV)
Passenger indexes in Ancestry UK Outwards Passenger Lists
[5] Australian electoral roll records accessed in Ancestry
[6] Index to Outward Passengers to Interstate, UK, NZ 1852-1923 (PROV). Shipping records in Ancestry UK Incoming Passenger Lists 1878-1960
[7] Shipping records in Ancestry UK Incoming Passenger Lists 1878-1960

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