(last updated 6 April 2020)
Born at Mount Hesse in Victoria in 1860, William Free was the third son of William Free snr and Eliza Flavell. He married Margaret Barbour at Buckhurst Street in the Melbourne suburb of Emerald Hill on 7 February 1883. Their wedding certificate shows that Margaret was born at Corack in Victoria in 1858, the daughter of William Barbour and Marion Harper. She was living at Emerald Hill at the time of their wedding which was witnessed by Andrew Palmer and Margaret's sister, Mary Barbour. Les Free tells us that William Barbour (1833-1913) was a carpenter by trade who was born at Belfast in Ireland. His wife Marion Harper (1837-1928) came from Ayreshire in Scotland. According to the 'White Family Tree' on Ancestry.com and other sources, they were married at Ballarat in Victoria in 1854 and had at least two other children: Mary Barbour, who married John Clouston Louttit at Geelong in 1884, and Sarah Barbour who married Archibald Louttit at Mortlake in 1895. The Victorian Government Gazette recorded that a W. Barbour was granted a lease to a block of land at Corack in 1878.
After their marriage William and Margaret Free lived initially at Corack East where, in 1886 they leased (in Margaret's name) a 250-acre block of land near that of William's father. They had six children at Corack: Mary Ann (or Marion) Flavell Free (born in 1883), Eliza Ada Free (1885), Emily Alice Free (1887), Sarah Sylvia Free (1889), Annie Free (1890-2) and Annie Wilson Free (1892). We think they had two more children who both died young: William Walter Henry Free (born at Wycheproof in 1894) and Allan Walter Free (Lalbert, 1899). There is some evidence they may also have had a son, Frederick Free, before they were married although this has still to be confirmed.
In around 1894 William and Margaret sold their lease at Corack East and moved northward to Lalbert where they took up farming in the Parish of Talgitcha. Early Department of Education records indicate their children attended Lalbert State School No 2990 (the 1895 inspector's report included an Eliza, May and 'Fredrick' Free, aged 10, 12 and 13 years respectively). In 1898 William, together with his brothers Samuel and James Free and a number of other local farmers, petitioned the Victorian Minister of Public Instruction, A. J. Peacock MLA, to establish a primary school in the parish. Their request was acceded to and, on 21 November the following year State School No 3347 was opened in a 30'x15'x10' single-room wooden building that had been constructed by the Frees and their neighbours. Among the inaugural student body taught by the school's first teacher, John Grant, were four of William and Margaret's girls - Eliza, Emily, Sarah and Annie Free - all who were said to live in the North West Riding of the Swan Hill Shire, two miles distant from the school.
In 1907 William and Margaret and their family moved again, this time to the other side of the country. Ancestry's 'Fremantle, WA Passenger Lists, 1897-1963' shows that a Mr and Mrs Free plus five children (2 of whom were 12 years or older) sailed from Melbourne to Western Australia on the steam ship KANOWNA which arrived at Fremantle on 7 April 1907. There they took up farming near the township of Pingelly (pictured above in around 1920) in Western Australia's wheat belt region and not far from where Henry Edward Hickmott and his family had settled a few years earlier. The 1910 electoral roll shows that William and Margaret and their unmarried daughter, Emily Alice Free, lived initially on Parade St in Pingelly itself. That William was farming was clear from such newspaper reports as the 'Elders Weekly Stock Report' in the November 1912 issue of the Western Mail which informed its readers that the company had sold 50 sheep on behalf of William. By the time of the 1916 election, William and Margaret were registered as living on their property, which they had named 'Avondale', at East Pingelly. With them at this time was their married daughter Sarah Chaplin and her husband Francis who was working as a contractor (see below). During this time just as William was scanning the rural sections of the State's regional newspapers, Margaret was an avid reader of the Perth Sunday Times to which she would submit suggestions for such things as the proposed uses for borax, how to restore plated articles and how to clean a felt hat: 'Brush the hat well. Then cut a good hard crust from a loaf of stale bread and rub the cut surface of the bread or crust against the felt. You will be pleased with the result - M. Free, Pingelly'.
As they had in Victoria, William and Margaret also became involved in local community events. As reported in the Bruce Rock Post and Corrigan Guardian on 16 March 1917, Margaret oversaw the preparation and serving of a 'sumptuous dinner of poultry, ham, salads, fruit and pastry (all for 1/-)' at the Lake Yealering and Milton Sports Meeting held to raise funds for the YMCA and the local Children's Hopital. William served as the timekeeper for the foot races a number of which featured a Miss Free. The 'assemblage included visitors from Yealering, Pingelly, Corrigin, Bullaring, Kweda, Woylan Well, Peterear- ring, Gillimanning, Markegin, Cross Roads, Malyalling, and Kirk's Rock districts.' Also present was the local member of Parliament, one Henry Edward Hickmott MLA, who 'delivered a very interesting speech, touching on local farming conditions and the State Government. He also urged that all possible should be done to assist the military recruiting officers in their work in supplying men to fill the gaps that must inevitably take place in the coming great, and we hope, successful and final offensive. A hearty vote of thanks was carried and it was evident that Mr Hickmott gained many new friends by his rousing address'. Henry was not the only one with a penchant for speech-making. In May 1919, William entertained a 'large and enthusiastic audience' at the Milton Town Hall with a speech entreating them to vote for him in the 'Ugly Mens Competition' being run to raise funds to assist the repatriation of returned soldiers. After listing his attributes for winning the competition and his endorsement by the local branch of the Farmers and Settlers' Association and other sponsors, William proceeded to rouse his listeners by arguing his:
. . . motto and battle-cry, "Repatriation" and "Representation" are the embodiment of the wishes and desires of the vast majority of the people to do adequate justice to our returned soldiers. (Continued applause.) In searching the pages of history we find that, practically, without exception, it has been the rule, at the completion of all wars, to discharge the soldier and to repudiate any further responsibility or obligation as to his future welfare (Shame.) 'I am thankful, Sir, to believe that we live in a more charitable, or rather a more just, age, for the recognition of our duty to those who have borne the burden of the great war is not charity; it is a national and also a personal obligation, and they who would shirk that duty are worse, far worse in my mind, than the perpetrators of many of the atrocities of which the arch-enemy have been guilty, for, after all, the Huns tortured their enemies, while these despicable "shirkers" by dodging and side-stepping their responsibilities persist in adding to the tortures of our own brave boys. We, I am glad to say, recognise that something more is due to the discharged soldier than a paltry starvation pension or the privilege of standing at a street corner with a wheezy barrel-organ, depending on the charitably-disposed to provide the wherewithal to keep body and soul together. We have insisted that, the various industries shall, at least in some measure, provide for the necessities of the injured and infirm worker who is no longer able to earn a full livelihood. And we must also be prepared to fulfil our obligations to those who have so nobly done duty for us . . . . Let the genial southern climate infuse into "our efforts for Repatriation a policy of vigor, a warmth of affection and consciousness of duty that will, in some measure, compensate out dear lads for the bitter cold winds of Northern France, of Belgium, and the horrors of war, and embellish the reputation of our dear homeland (Australia) before the nations of the world for all time (Hear hear.) (The Pingelly Leader, 8 May 1919)
William and Margaret's 'Avondale' also become the site for regular dances, euchre parties and other social gatherings. These included the yearly celebration of William's birthday and his and Margaret's wedding anniversary which, as the following 'Milton Note' contained in The Pingelly Leader, suggests, became quite a local institution: 'What promises lo be a most enjoyable euchre party and dance eventuates at the residence of Mr. W. Free on February 7th, that date being Mr. Free's birthday as well as being the anniversary of Mr and Mrs Free's wedding. Instead of bringing a birthday gift Mr Free asks that each person pay 2/6, this money will be placed to the credit of the March 6th carnival. Mr and Mrs Free are giving their house on this occasion to the public and all are invited to come along and have a good time. A large verandah will be cleared for the euchre party, while two rooms will be placed at the disposal of the dancers. As Mr and Mrs Free are widely known and popular throughout the district, a monster crowd is sure to come along with good wishes for their host and hostess' (10 June 1918).
William and Magaret were still at 'Avondale' at the time of the latter's death in 1932. Her obituary in the Pingelly-Brookton Leader on 9 June 1932 tells us Margaret died at the Beverley Hospital on the 31st of May. It adds she was 'an old and respected resident of the Yealering district, East Pingelly, who had been admitted to the institution some days previously. Deceased was 73 years of age, and she leaves a husband and family of four daughters to mourn her passing. A number of Pingelly residents attended the funeral, which took place on Wednesday, June 1st, the place of interment being the Methodist Cemetery. The Rev. Elms officiated, assisted by the Presbyterian Home Missioner from Yealering'. William continued to live at 'Avondale' after Margaret's death. A note in the Wikepin Argus on 2 March 1933, suggests that he took a sea trip to Victoria later that month. In February 1936, in its 'Country News' section, the West Australian told it readers that 'at the invitation of Mr Free of East Pingelly, a large number of his friends assembled at his home on Friday evening last, February 7, the occasion being the 77th anniversary of his birthday'. William may have sold 'Avondale' shortly after as the 1937 and 1943 election rolls have him farming at Yealering.
On 27 January 1944, the Pingelly-Brookton Leader informed it readers that 'others to leave us and live in the city are Mrs Chaplyn and Mr W. Free. These good citizens will be very much missed by all. On 7 February 1944, the same paper reported that 'Mr W. (Bill) Free celebrated his 85th birthday on Monday, 7th inst. Mr Free and Mrs Chaplyn and her daughter Hazel have taken over a business in the suburbs and we send them the best wishes from all their friends'. On 5 September 1946 came the report that 'Mr W. Free, one time resident of Yealering and now of West Leederville, is very ill and we know his many friends wish him better health. Mr Free is now in his 88th year - a grand old man!'. William died at Leederville in Perth on 29 June 1951, aged 91 years. His death notice, published in the West Australian on 2 July, states: 'FREE: On June 29 1951, at his late residence, 216 Railway Parade Leederville, William, husband of the late Margaret Free, loved father of Marion (Mrs McCulloch), Eliza (Mrs Hickmott), Emily (Mrs Leslie), Sarah (Mrs Chaplin), Annie (Mrs Price), fond father-in-law of Jim, Jack, George, Ern (dec) and Will. A number of other notices also appeared celebrating William as the loved 'father and father-in-law of Annie and Will Price, grandfather of William and Rupert'; 'father and father-in-law of May and Jim McCulloch, grandfather of George Mann'; father of Emily, father-in-law of George Leslie, grandfather of May and Eric Walker, great-grandfather of Len, Gwen and Kevin'; 'granddad of Sylvia and Arthur, great-granddad of Stephen'; 'granddad of Leila and Snow, great-grandad of Noeline and Russell'; 'grandfather of Hazel, g-grandfather of Alison and Kaye'; and uncle of niece E. Hebiton who described William as 'One of Nature's gentleman'. The Perth Metropolitan Cemeteries Board website tells us that William Free, 92 of West Leederville, was cremated at Karrakatta and is memorialised there in the Crematorium Rose Gardens, Wall O, Position 0242.
Click here to read about William and Magaret's family and descendants.
We think this photo is of William at or near his farm at Pingelly. On the back is inscribed:
'To Sam and Fanny from Maggie and Will wish you a happy Xmas 1909'.
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