Last month, a builder renovating Katharine Susannah Prichard’s writing cabin found this telegram which had been hidden for decades. It’s a wondrous thing for Katharine’s Place to yield a document relating to Katharine all these years later. The telegram is addressed to Mrs Throssell—Katharine’s married name—of Greenmount, with M[idland] J[u]nct[io]n the nearest post office for receiving telegrams. ‘Beatrice getting on splendidly’, it reads, signed ‘Patten’. Beatrice Bridge (1892-1976) was Katharine’s youngest sibling, with a gap of nine years between her and Katharine and two brothers in between. When Katharine left suddenly to work in London in 1910, Beatrice was still at school. The sisters didn’t see each other again until 1915 when Katharine stayed with Beatrice at the plantation she ran with her new husband, Patten, in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
The sisters were close despite their differences in politics and very different lifestyles. Katharine looked after Beatrice’s two children when they were sent to Perth to attend boarding school in the 1920s and 1930s. In about 1934, Beatrice and Patten retired to a hobby farm they named ‘Kirinaran’ in Frankston on the outskirts of Melbourne. Over the following decades, Kirinaran was to be a second home for Katharine ‘a rambling old weatherboard house with endless rooms and corridors’ with spectacular views over the bay and crammed with Ceylon memorabilia, including a python skin hanging on the wall. Katharine would stay with them whenever she was in Melbourne, and argue about politics with the conservative Patten. The date has fallen off the telegram, so it’s hard to know just when it was sent, but probably after Beatrice had moved back to Melbourne.
Beatrice had an important part in Katharine’s life, though no letters between them have survived that I’m aware of, meaning the detail of their relationship is largely lost. There is one moment between them that I think about a lot. Katharine had just turned thirty-three when she visited Beatrice in Ceylon and there’s both loneliness and sisterly love in a poem she wrote called “Ceylon 1915: A Thought For Bee”.
The fallen flowers of jessamine lay on
the steps before your door, dear,
That night we came uphill through the
You went into the dark house of your love.
I stayed in the twilight—at sight
Of the flowers thrown there on your threshold
As before a shrine.
‘a rambling old’: Simon Bridge to KSP Writers Centre, email, 21 November 2005.
“Ceylon 1915”: Papers of KSP, National Library of Australia, MS6201/5.
- More about Katharine on Nathan’s blog at https://nathanhobby.com.