Edward Palmer, the founder of the Hythe Reporter (see The Palmers of Hythe part two – the Journalist), had four brothers, John, Frederick, Robert and Percy.
Robert, born on 6 April 1851 in Hythe, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a teacher, but that was where the resemblance ended. Robert did not spend the next fifty years in National Schools, but instead joined the British Army as a schoolmaster. He joined up two months before his twentieth birthday and was sent at first to Aldershot. At twenty three, he married Jeanie (or Jane) Henderson and the following year their son, impressively named Robert Percy Chetwynd Hohnhorst Palmer, was born. They sailed for India soon afterwards, but after the birth of another son, Claude, Jeanie died there and in 1882 at Meerut, Robert married Mary Ellen Fountaine. Their daughter, another Jeanie, was born the same year. Perhaps the two wives had been good friends.
The family returned to England in 1884 and were posted to Shorncliffe, near Hythe. Here Robert could re-acquaint himself with his family and his brother Edward stood as godfather for one of the three children born to Robert and Mary Ellen there. They returned to India in 1891, leaving Robert junior with his mother’s family. At about this time, Robert senior, whose second given name was Chetwynd, began to use the surname Chetwynd-Palmer, a common enough practice at the time.
Shorncliffe in the second half of the 19th century
Robert served his twenty-one years in the army, but on taking his pension stayed in India and further children were born there during the 1890s. The family never returned to England, their names names popping up all over the British Empire in Australia or India, South Africa, Kenya or Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).
Robert’s youngest brother Percy, meanwhile, seemed to be living a less adventurous life. Born on 20 July 1861 in Hythe, his first recorded occupation was ‘furnisher’s clerk’, though his daughter later claimed he was a journalist. Possibly he did some work for the Hythe Reporter. He had married Agnes Mary Foard and produced a family of two boys and two girls by the end of the century.
Then, at nearly forty, when the first Boer War broke out, he joined up, serving as a private with the Maidstone Volunteers at No. 17 Stationary Hospital in Middelburg, South Africa with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was there from 1900 to 1902 and survived enteric fever. On his return, another daughter was born and he seemed to have settled down again, working now as an agent for the Singer Sewing Machine Company. His elder son, Cyril, however, changed everything. After attending the North Council school in Folkestone (now the Mundela School), Cyril worked as an assistant in a boot and shoe shop in Tontine Street, but decided he wanted to be a farmer and managed to find a place as a trainee.
In 1911, he took his ambitions a stage further and emigrated to Australia, where the farming opportunities were greater. Two years later, his father joined him and in February 1914, Agnes and her three daughters made the journey half way round the world (Percy, the other son, remained in England).
Many years later, the middle daughter, Kathleen, wrote a memoir of her early years in Tenindewa in Western Australia. (1)
Kathleen Palmer at about the time the family emigrated
They arrived in the Australian summer, the girls wearing warm winter clothes – navy serge dresses, long woollen stockings and high lace-up boots. They had been told that Cyril and their father had built a house and Kathleen imagined a square, redbrick edifice with high, flat windows – the typical Kent farmhouse. What she found was a hessian ‘humpy’ with a corrugated iron roof, beaten earth floors, two rooms and no kitchen. Water was carried up by horse and cart from the nearby creek & stored in a 2000 gallon can and after a few days tasted foul. They got bread once a week from a baker but it was stale after a couple of days and they did not know how to make their own.
Gradually, things improved. A separate kitchen was built and connected to the humpy by a shed. A school opened in 1915 and also provided a venue for dances.
Percy, Agnes and their family in Tenindewa. Percy (seated) had been suffering from ‘sandy blight’
Then Percy was on the move again. He decided to join the ANZAC forces rather than letting Cyril go to war, as his son was of more use on the land (and in any case was rejected for military service because he had flat feet). Percy pointed out that he was already an experienced ambulance driver. According to his obituary, he joined the Australian Medical Corps and spent most of his war with the Desert Mounted Corps in Egypt and Palestine, being wounded and invalided home just before the armistice.(2)
Percy, looking a lot healthier, in AMC uniform
He was now fifty-six years old, but still energetic enough to build, finally, a brick house for his family in 1920. Percy died on 18 January 1927, after a long illness, having lived to see his children settled in their new homeland and starting families of their own – Kathleen, the family biographer, married, had two daughters and ten grandchildren.
Kathleen Palmer on her wedding day, with husband Alec Rumble
- Memoirs of a Migrant by Kathleen Rumble at Tenindewa.com