A Decorator and a Dressmaker of Prahran                                                                     

Ernest George Henry Box 1868 – 1913          Frances Annie Blunden 1867 – 1952                    Parents of Marie Frances Hurley                  

Ernest’s early years - Richmond, Fitzroy, Carlton  

Ernest George Henry Box was born in a three roomed wooden house in Little Lennox St. (now Carroll St.) Richmond, Victoria on February 23rd 1868. He was the sixth child of Eliza Chidlaw James and John Skinner Box, a building contractor. His father had emigrated from London in the early 1850s, and his mother also from London arrived in 1858. On April 9th 1868 Ernest was baptised at St. Stephen’s Church in Church Street Richmond, where his parents had married. Ernest’s father had become insolvent in 1867, and had deserted the family not long before Ernest’s birth. This put his mother under tremendous stress. By November that year the family had moved to 155 Gertrude Street Fitzroy and it was here that Ernest’s 3 year old brother Edwin died from “ marasmus” a medical term for wasting away.  In 1869 Ernest's mother was forced to place his sisters Amy and Rosina, and brother Sidney into State care. Eventually his brother and sisters were discharged and later his father returned. By 1873 the family was living at Macarthur Place, Carlton where Ernest’s youngest sister Edith Martha Charlotte was born.  Ernest became a painter and decorator and his brother Sidney was a carpenter. 

The Blundens in Clunes

Frances Annie Blunden was born at McCallum’s Creek, Victoria on August 10th 1867, the seventh child of Elizabeth Ellen Fowles and Henry Cecil Blunden who had migrated from England 13 years earlier. The Blundens lived at McCallum’s Creek until 1869 when in November that year Henry opened a bakery in the nearby thriving gold rush town of Clunes. After 1874 Henry went to Cundleton, New South Wales and Frances’ mother  continued a bakery at Clunes. However, Henry accidentally drowned at Cundleton, and Elizabeth was left to support her large family as a laundress in Clunes. Frances grew up with three brothers and five sisters.

Marriage in South Yarra

By 1889 the Blundens had moved to Melbourne. On December 28th 1889 Frances, now a 22 year old dressmaker, married Ernest George Henry Box, painter and decorator aged 21, who lived in Alfred Street Prahran. The wedding took place at the bride’s home, 30 Alexandra Street, South Yarra (noted as a five roomed house in the rate books) and was conducted by a Presbyterian minister. The marriage witnesses were Frances’s sister Emblin Georgina Gibson and Ernest’s sister Rosina Box.

Frances and Ernest’s children

On February 28th 1891 Frances gave birth to her first child Marie Frances, at 31 Eastbourne Street Windsor. Mrs. E. Box is listed as the nurse attending at Marie’s birth. This was probably Ernest’s mother Eliza. On April 20th 1893, Frances’ second child, Edith Emmeline was born at 483 High Street Prahran. Ernest is described as a fancy goods dealer of 505 High Street Prahran. Again Mrs. Box is the attending nurse. Then on December 10th 1896 at their home 34 Mackay Street Prahran, Frances and Ernest’s son Leonard Ernest was born. Their last child Alice Lillian (aka Lilsie) was also born at this address on September 8th 1904. Ernest is described as a painter on both these birth certificates. The electoral roll shows the family were still at this address in 1909.

Ernest dies at the Alfred Hospital

In the next few years the Box family moved to 72 Clarke Street Prahran. By 1912 Ernest had become unwell with an “abdominal malignancy” (presumably cancer), and on the 21st of May 1913 he died at the Alfred Hospital in Prahran. He was only 45 years old and is buried in the St. Kilda cemetery with his niece and nephew Alice and Charles Nutting. We know very little about Ernest. His daughter Lilsie was young when he died and said she didn’t remember much about him because she said he was away working a lot. Unfortunately we have no photographs of Ernest.

Alfred Hospital 1910 where Ernest Box died in 1913.     Source: Picture Australia

Daughters marry

The 1914 electoral roll describes Frances’s daughters: Marie as a (sewing) machinist, and Edith as a milliner. Len and Lilsie were too young to be on the roll. On November 28th Marie married Horace Leopold Hurley at the Mt. Erica Methodist Church in High Street Prahran. By 1919 Frances, Edith, Len and Lilsie had moved to 43 Williams Rd. Windsor. Marie’s husband worked for the Army and had gone to London during the war so Marie and her young children Gwen and Jack also lived at the Williams Road address.

In 1924, daughter Edith married Lyall Jack Schneider and went to live in Western Australia. Later that year Frances, Len and Lilsie moved to 80 Southey Street Elwood. It seems that Frances was keen to keep her son Len and youngest daughter Lilsie with her. Lilsie recalls the extreme lengths to which her mother went to prevent her forming friendships with young men: a boy had invited Lilsie to a dance and as Frances did not want her daughter to go, she got rid of all Lilsie’s dresses so there would be nothing to wear. Having a determined nature like her mother, Lilsie managed to quickly sew herself a dress, went to the dance, and the two women never spoke of the episode again.

Lilsie did eventually marry (against her mother’s advice) to Jim Smith, so by 1931 Frances and son Len remained together. They moved to 34 Latrobe Street Mentone where they lived the rest of their lives. Len was a wood machinist and worked in woodyards all his life. He was also a good carpenter and builder and made many pieces of furniture including a dining table for his sister Marie’s wedding and he also built her a garage. Len’s other hobbies included being a projectionist at a local cinema, and an amateur photographer with his own darkroom at home. He was also a keen golfer. Unfortunately all his photographs (including very old family ones from the 1800s) and equipment were discarded when he died in 1977. Some of his contemporary photographs survived with his sister Marie. He was also a great support to Marie after her husband died prematurely in 1927.

Frances dies in Mentone

Len remained a bachelor and lived with his mother until her death on June 18th 1952. Frances Annie Box died at her home at 34 Latrobe Street Mentone at the age of 84. The cause of death was heart failure from which she had suffered for the past two years. She is buried in the St. Kilda cemetery with her mother Elizabeth Ellen Blunden. The ashes of son Len were later buried with them.

According to Lilsie, Frances was a strict mother, but had a good sense of humour. She hated her photo being taken and on some photographs of her she has put an ink blot over her face. She made all her children’s clothes and was particularly adept at beading and made many beaded panels that were used to ornament clothing and accessories. These talents were passed on to her daughters who all were clever craftswomen. Ernest and his family’s talents in woodcraft were also passed on to many other descendants.

St. Kilda Cemetery - The grave of Frances Annie Box, her mother Elizabeth Ellen Blunden and the ashes of her son Leonard Box. Also in this grave, 2 week old Jack Gibb, Frances’ nephew, son of Marion Gibb (nee Blunden).

Photo: Ann Hurley 2008

Click here to continue to Marie Frances Box and Horace Leopold Hurleys story