Geoffrey Syme and Violet Garnett were very distant cousins. Geoffrey met his future wife because he was an obedient son and had followed his mother’s instructions to go and see some of her English relations. He was in England in 1901 because his father wanted him to have a wider knowledge of the newspaper industry before giving him a more important job at The Age. To be precise, the new job was to be the editor of David Syme’s new weekly paper Every Saturday, which was first published on the 21st June 1902. everysaturday
Violet Addison Garnett, 1900.

It is not clear in which of the Garnett houses the cousins met.  He had many Yorkshire and Lancashire Garnetts to visit when he arrived from London in the summer of 1901. There were a lot of Garnett houses in or near Clitheroe. Violet’s father Tom Garnett lived at Radeclyffe.
Radeclyffe, Clitheroe.
Her grandfather, James Garnett, lived at Waddow Hall. Her grandmother Emma Newstead had died in 1894 and James married a second time. The mother of his tenth child Hugh was Emily Yates.
Waddow Hall.

James and Emma Garnett with 8 of their 9 children. Tom, Mary, Jerry, Newstead, William, Alice, Emma and Geoffrey. Susan was born in 1878. This photograph was taken in1875.

James Garnett
Emma Garnett
Violet Garnett's uncle Newstead Garnett lived at Shireburn, another uncle, Thomas Gustav Garnett, lived at Ouselnest, near Bolton, further away were Violet's maternal grandparents, Thomas and Fanny Garnett lived at Oakwood Hall in Bingley. Her aunt Sissie Horsfall lived at Freshfield. Another aunt, Emma King-Wilkinson, lived at Whiteholme, near Slaidburn.
Thomas Garnett
Oakwood Hall
Shireburn, near Waddow
Newstead Garnett 1865
Mary (Sissy) Horsfall b. 1859
Whiteholme, near Slaidburn
Emma King Wilkinson b. 1870

The date and place of their meeting can probably be found in the appropriate volume of the Diaries of James Garnett. For more than fifty years Violet’s grandfather had recorded the principal details of each day: Political events, local and national news, the weather, his garden, the price of cotton, the births and deaths of members of the family, as well as visits from friends and the widely spread Garnett family. The diaries can be read on microfilm in the Manchester Library, but the diaries themselves belong to James’ great-great-granddaughter Carolyn Turner.

Each day is allotted about half or one third of a foolscap page, and sometimes, despite his neat sloping handwriting, the microfilm of the diaries can be immensely difficult to read. They are fascinating, but one has to have a detailed knowledge of the ramifications of the Garnett family to know who everyone is.  There are a lot of different Garnetts with the same name; Jeremiah, William, Richard, Thomas and Peter appear very frequently on the family tree.

The page where James Garnett refers to Violet's birth.

Violet was born at Oakwood Hall. James records her first visit to Waddow on the 3rd May 1883. He received the baby formally, presenting her with an egg, some bread and salt and a sixpence. On Sunday 3rd June 1883, he writes "A charming day. Tom and Edith have had their little daughter christened, at St Mary's Church, Clitheroe. Its name is Violet Addison."

He is sometimes quite detailed in his descriptions. For example on 15th August, 1876 he writes "A day of great sorrow for us as my dearest mother died this afternoon at about six minutes past three o’clock. We have been expecting her departure for a few days as she has been insensible for nearly a week. In the room at her death were my father William, myself, Jerry, Gustav, Martha, Susan, Mary, Emma, Lizzie, Alice and my aunt. Our dearest one died without a struggle. Almost her last words were "Jesus died for me". She is gone, we believe, to that bright and happy home called Heaven which has mansions prepared for those who love Him. Oh may we all meet our darling mother at the Last Day at God’s right hand, for Christ’s sake, Amen."


James Garnett's mother Susannah Garnett. She was the daughter of William Atkinson of Otley.


James was very fond of Violet, who was the eldest child of his eldest child Tom. He would have noted the arrival of Geoffrey Syme in Clitheroe, even though he was a distant relation. But he would not have expected that it would have been more than a quick visit, and would not have dreamt that his eighteen-year-old grandchild would fall in love with an Australian.

The connection between Geoffrey Syme and Violet Garnett was remote. One starting point is the family of William Garnett, the eldest son of Jeremiah Garnett and his wife Martha Flesher. They lived in Otley, Wharfedale, Yorkshire.

William Garnett's house in Otley.
The paper mill at Otley
William Garnett, (1760-1832), became a paper manufacturer in Otley. He had bought a share in the mill in 1774 and was made a partner in 1779. He had married twice 1). Mary Rhodes of Otley, and 2). Eleanor Chadwick of Swinton Hall. He had eleven children by his first wife.
1. Anne. (1784-1872). Married John Beanlands of Bingley. They had five children and lived at Cottingley Grange.
2. Martha. (1785-18?). Married Joseph Johnson of Carr House, Askwith. They had nine children. Their son John William Johnson, Annabella Syme’s father, migrated to Australia. He and his wife and his four children arrived in Melbourne on 16th April 1853 on the ship Africa. Martha was Geoffrey Syme's great-grandmother.
3. Margaret. (1787-1864). Married Henry Cooper of Wentworth.
4. Rev. Richard (1789-1850). Married 1). Margaret Heathcote. She died in 1828. 2). Rayne Wreaks. Rayne is the mother of his 3 children. She died in 1866. He was a clergyman, a writer of militant sermons for the Protestant Guardian, and was an expert on 4th century church history.  In 1838 he became Assistant Keeper of the Printed Books at the British Museum and lived in London, beside the British Museum. His eldest son (Dr Richard Garnett C.B.) was given the same position.
5. William 1791-1858. Unmarried. Lived in Huddersfield. A bookseller, then became an agent for the Manchester Guardian
6. Jeremiah. (1793-1870). Married 1) Mary Anne Taylor. 2) Isabella Taylor. This is Jeremiah Garnett, the first printer, an editor and then part owner of the Manchester Guardian. He and his first wife had three daughters. He lived at Mount Broughton, Manchester.
7. Peter. (1795-1877). Married Mary Atkinson of Misall, near Otley. They lived in Otley. Her sister Susannah married Thomas Garnett of Low Moor. Peter succeeded his father at the paper mill in 1795. He had ten children. His seventh child, Thomas, who was Violet Garnett’s maternalgrandfather, became part owner of Gillies Garnett, silk dyers of Bingley, and lived at Oakwood Hall.

8. Mary. (1796-1850). Married Richard Booth. Two children.

9. Thomas.  (1799-1878). Married Susannah Atkinson of Misall, near Otley. He started working for his uncle Jeremiah Garnett at Garnett and Horsfall’s mill at Goitstock, near Bingley. The Horsfalls had started this mill in 1722. In 1799 Thomas was sent to their new cotton-spinning mill at Low Moor, which he eventually bought and changed its name to Thomas Garnett and Sons. He lived at the old house at Low Moor. He was Violet Garnett’s paternal great grandfather.
10. James (1800-1836). Unmarried. He joined the Foreign Legion.
11. Henry (1803). Died in infancy.

The Garnett crest in the stair window of the old house at Low Moor.

Gules, a lion rampant argent, ducally crowned or, within a bordure engrailed of the last.







Violet Garnett's father - Tom Garnett. 1857 - 1932
Violet Syme's father was Tom Garnett of Waddow Hall. She was the eldest of his ten children. The others were Harry, Marjorie, Greta, Eileen, Betty, Horatia, Tommy, Geoffrey and Decima.



Tom Garnett with his father James Garnett

Tom Garnett had been brought up at Waddow Hall, which lay on what was then the Yorkshire side of the River Ribble. He was educated at Shireburn School in Dorset. He was the eldest of James Garnett’s ten children. His mother, Emma Newstead of York, had nine children, and died in 1894. James second wife Emily Yates had one child.

The banks of the Ribble opposite to Waddow Hall
The weir near Waddow Hall

Waddow was the home of his father James Garnett. Originally it had been bought by his great uncle Jeremiah Garnett, who lived at Roe Field, near Low Moor. Jeremiah, who died in 1855, had intended Waddow for his own son, but the younger Jeremiah died just two years after his father. The death of the older Jeremiah precipitated a lot of family arguments. Particularly difficult was his daughter Henrietta, who was a pillar of St. Paul’s Church, Low Moor and continued to live at Roe Field. James Garnett, who was Thomas’ second son, moved to Waddow, leaving his elder brother William at the original house near the mill. On Thomas Garnett's death William became head of the firm.

Low Moor Mills centenary medal, 1799 - 1899

This cotton-spinning mill had been large and prosperous since the end of the 18th century. It specialised in spinning plain cloth and was one of the biggest mills in the district. For a long time the firm had its own ships to bring the cotton from America to Liverpool, and much of the cotton was grown on land the firm owned in Virginia. Difficulty in getting the raw cotton caused great financial problems during the blockages of the harbours during the American Civil War. The head office was in Manchester, and the firm did a lot of business in the Far East, especially in India and even in Australia.

Mill at Low Moor
Plan of the Mill
The diversion of the River Ribble to the Mill.
This Centenary celebration invitation was sent to William and Marian Garnett. William was the fourth son of James Garnett.

In 1882 Tom Garnett married his cousin Edith Fanny Garnett of Oakwood Hall, the eldest child of Thomas Garnett and his wife Fanny Riley.

Tom and Edith Fanny Garnett at the time of their engagement. 1882.

Tom had a wide range of interests and responsibilities. His public career began in the early 1880’s. He became a partner in the family tommayor firm of Thomas Garnett and Sons, a Town Councillor of the Borough of Clitheroe, and a Borough Magistrate. He was tominrobesMayor of Clitheroe from 1893-1897, Chairman of the Conservative Club of Clitheroe, a Warden of the parish church of St. Mary’s, Clitheroe, a member of the Committee of the parish school, a governor of Clitheroe Grammar School, and he was a member of the Cotton Manufacturers Association of Great Britain from 1892-1900. He was also Chairman of Clitheroe’s Organizing Committee for the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 and again for her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and he was Chairman of the Committee for the celebrations for the wedding of Princess May of Teck and the Prince of Wales in 1893. He was a Freemason, possibly belonging to Limestone Rock Lodge 369 and to another lodge, quite probably a Royal Arch lodge. He was handsome and he looks splendid in a photograph that shows him wearing his Masonic apron and regalia. He also looks splendid in another photograph where he is wearing a short velvet coat, knee breeches, silk stockings and buckled shoes and the elaborate gold chain of his office as Mayor of Clitheroe.tomhorse

He had two great passions; reading and hunting. He hunted whenever he could, and was very scholarly, even though he had no degree to prove it.  It is strange that he did not go up to Oxford but went straight into the family firm. He was very studious, discriminating in his reading (his particular interest was English literature), and he collected an excellent library. He passed on this love of books to his daughter Violet.


Thomas Garnett

Tom Garnett’s wife, Edith Fanny Garnett, was the eldest daughter of Thomas Garnett of Oakwood, who was the fifth son of Peter Garnett of Otley.Her mother, who was also called Edith Fanny, was the seventh child of Joshua Healey Riley and Martha Addison. Joshua was a banker, sometimes described as a fundholder, who lived and worked in Germany for many years. All his children were born in Germany, either in Berlin or Magdeburg. Fanny was born in Berlin in 1843. She was educated in Germany, but before her marriage to Thomas Garnett in 1862 she was living at Manningham, Bradford, with her widowed grandmother, Elizabeth Addison.

Fanny Garnett holding Edith Fanny Garnett

Violet's grandmother was christened Edith Fanny but she was usually called Fanny. Her mother was also called Edith Fanny, but she was known as Edith. This Edith Fanny married Tom Garnett of Waddow in 1882. The Oakwood Garnetts were much loved by their eldest grandchild Violet. She spent most of her holidays with  them.
Fanny Riley as child
Fanny Riley aged 16
Violet and her cousin Geoffrey Horsfall with their Great-Aunt Elizabeth Atkinson. The sister of Susannah Garnett, the wife of Thomas Garnett of Low Moor.
Geoffrey Syme's father - David Syme 1827 - 1908

Probably all that David Syme and Tom Garnett had in common was their love of reading, their fascination with history and their own scholarly natures. They were both scholarly, though neither had a university degree to prove it. Tom was much younger and the more charming and sociable of the two, but he, unlike David Syme, was not at all interested in the acquisition of power.

David Syme’s childhood was very different to Tom’s. He was the youngest son of an austere schoolmaster, brought up in the small Scottish town of North Berwick, not far from Edinburgh.  In two of his notebooks, written in the last years of his life, he is scathing about his father and the unhappiness of his strict Presbyterian childhood. He was never a Freemason. This is surprising, though it seems logical when one thinks how little spare time he had and how unlikely it was - even in his youth - that he would have wanted to begin a Masonic career as an obedient brother amongst a group of his contemporaries. Possibly, before he joined his older brother Ebenezer at The Age, at the time when he was working in the Western District of Victoria, his job as a contractor in charge of a group of surveyors might have been considered unsuitable for a member of a local lodge.

David's elder brother George Syme
Ebenezer Syme

It is hard to imagine David Syme in working clothes, yet he must have worn them in California, during his earliest years in Australia, and perhaps on his farm Killara. Like Tom Garnett he was always extremely well dressed. Photographs usually show him wearing a frock coat, a shirt with a high stiff collar and a tie fastened with a small diamond tie pin.

David Syme's tie pin

Had David Syme been a quiet farmer living on one of his properties, either in the Yarra Valley or near Macedon, he might have been considered to be on the same social level as a Western District squatter. It is hard to establish exactly what his social level was, especially in his earlier years in Melbourne, As a journalist he was not a member of an acceptable profession. Journalism was a trade. He was not, nor did he try to be, a member of the Melbourne Club. The club situation was easily rectified in 1868 by the creation of the Athenaeum Club. He invested in it and was one of its earliest members. This club first opened at 26 Collins Street, Melbourne, then, in 1891, it  moved to 202-292 Collins Street, near the Royal Arcade and very close to The Age office. It became more or less his home in the city, where he had lunch with a small circle of friends.

His father, George Syme, had tried to be a Presbyterian minister, failed, then became a schoolteacher in North Berwick. The reason for his failure is unknown. It could have been because of his stern and unyielding character, though this was not uncommon in 19th century Presbyterian ministers. He might have had a theological or moral argument with an ecclesiastical superior, or perhaps he was just not good at giving long extempore sermons.

In his first years in Australia David Syme was probably considered to belong to the lower-middle rather than the upper-middle class. Nevertheless he came from an austere, studious and hard-working family and all his older brothers were sent to the University in Edinburgh and became successful men. The only reason he, the youngest son, did not go to the same university was the fact that when his father died the family did not have sufficient money to pay his fees.

His political attitudes – so firmly expressed after he came to The Age - would not have made him popular with the small restrictive social groups in mid to late 19th century Melbourne. The upper classes preferred to read The Argus, rather than The Age, even though The Age was generally provocative and middle-of-the-road rather than a labour paper. He became respected, even feared, but he was always liked by his friends. He was often at Government House. His manner could be very formal and off-putting. Parties were not really a pleasure for him, probably because he was basically shy and lacked small talk.

Annabella Syme

The link between David Syme and Tom Garnett was through David’s wife, Annabella Johnson. Her uncle, one of Martha Johnson’s sons, Richard Garnett Johnson, had lived at Low Moor for a long time and was an engineer at the mill. He died in 1883 and judging by some of the comments in letters and diaries, he does not seem to have been very popular in Clitheroe. Richard’s twin brother, Peter Garnett Johnson, lived in St. Petersburg. He was a construction engineer, involved in the building of railways and mills. The three Johnson brothers always kept in touch with each other. Peter’s descendents lived in Russian until the Revolution, when some came to England and others went to Finland.

John William Johnson b. 1809.
Richard Garnett Johnson b. 1816
Peter Garnett Johnson b. 1816
John Wiliam Johnson was Annabella's father.

Geoffrey Syme’s mother, Annabella Johnson, was born in Bradford in 1837. She was only about six or seven when she came to Melbourne and was twenty at the time of her marriage to David Syme in 1858. They were married at St. James’ Cathedral, and in their marriage licence they are both described as members of the United Church of England and Ireland. He was thirty and still a contractor. He did not as yet describe himself as a journalist. They had nine children, Herbert, Francis, Caroline, Arthur, Lucie, Gabrielle, Geoffrey, Olive and Oswald. Caroline and Gabrielle died in infancy.

Geoffrey Syme b. March 1873
Geoffrey, Olive and Oswald 1882

John William Johnson had made a lot of money since his arrival in Australia. He made it through investment in The Steam and Navigation Company and The Union Mortgage and Agency Company, which became the Australian Estates Company Ltd. He also had some connection with mining at Broken Hill.  In addition he speculated in land, notably around Kew and St. Kilda, and was the Australian agent for Thomas Garnett and Sons mill at Low Moor.

Apparently Annabella was very fond of her father and her brother Francis. Francis married Ebenezer Syme's daughter. John WIlliam died of asthma at his home Studley Hall, Kew, in 1894. It seems rather odd that Annabella instructed her son Geoffrey not to bother to see his relations in Ripon because they were Roman Catholics. Her own grandmother, Annabella Peacock, was a Roman Catholic, and two or three of her Peacock and Gordon relations were priests. It was not considered a problem for him to meet the Clitheroe Garnetts because they were all Church of England; some were High Church and some were very Low Church indeed.

Annabella seems to have been a perfect wife for David Syme. She loved him and she was practical and efficient. Most importantly, she left him free of all household responsibilities. She had money of her own and enjoyed keeping accounts. It is hard to assess her character very fairly because its predominating feature seems to be bossiness. Apparently she enjoyed planning and organizing the lives of other people, and was absolutely sure that what she said or did was right. She enjoyed being on committees. She probably meant well in what she did, but she was insensitive. She would not have understood that there might be a point of view other than her own.

David Syme
Annabella Syme

Her daughter-in-law Violet Syme was terrified of her. Her wedding present to her son Geoffrey was a house, Conisboro, which was next to Blythswood. It had been completely renovated, painted and furnished by a Mr Anderson, under the close supervision of Annabella. Violet hated it. She had not expected to live in a big or grand house in Melbourne, but she hated the browns, crimsons and fawns of the paintwork, the linoleum, the patterned carpet and the cane furniture. She was unable to change anything, partly because she had no money to do so (her dowry was very small) and partly because she had to pretend to be grateful. She was not good at pretending that she liked the house or the visits by her mother-in-law. It was unfortunate that her mother-in-law both could and would drop into see her unannounced, coming in unexpectedly through the gate that led from Blythswood into the Conisboro garden.  Annabella’s present was given with the greatest goodwill, and her visits were meant kindly, for she wanted to teach her eighteen-year-old daughter-in-law how to run a household and look after her new baby. Her lessons were not well received. Violet had been brought up quite simply in a big family, but there had always been a cook and housemaids to do the housework. Annabella had provided her with a cook and a housemaid, and she wanted to learn how to run her own house, but she just didn’t like the way she was instructed, especially when her mother-in-law’s views differed from those of her own mother.

Violet Syme and Martha Johnson, Annabella Syme’s niece, at Blythswood in June 1902. Martha was the – probably unpaid - housekeeper at Blythswood.

Another problem was the gap in age between her parents and parents-in-law. Her parents were so much younger and more gregarious and fun-loving than David and Annabella Syme. Annabella was about twenty-four years older than her own mother, and Violet was younger than all but one of her six Australian sisters-in-law. She found it extremely difficult to adjust to being so far away from her parents and brothers and sisters and the rest of the big, very united Garnett family. Geoffrey Syme must have found it hard to be diplomatic and please both his wife and his mother.

Violet Syme with her eldest child Marjorie. 1902.
Violet Syme holding her youngest child, Veronica. 1928.
Copyright © 2012 Dr Veronica Condon. All rights reserved.