Tasmanian Family History Society Hobart header

Recollections of my Great-grandmother Florence McQuinn

By Barbara Wilson

TFHS Inc. Member No. 7762

The suddenness of her husband, Jacob John Wallace McQuinn’s death in Sydney in 1901 at the age of forty seven years, and assuming the mantle of widowhood, would have been a shock to my great grandmother Florence Evelyn McQuinn nee Abbott. Seven years before they had buried their third child, Jack Eric Reginald Searle McQuinn, when only four months old, at the Waverley Cemetery. Now isolated in Sydney with her three children, the urge to return to Tasmania would have been foremost in her thoughts. The sea journey from Sydney to Launceston took several days but the relief of being reunited with her closest relatives was sure to have been all embracing.

Abbott’s cordial factory and family home in Patterson Street would have presented a safe haven and place to adjust to her new status. This at a time when there was no safety net of a social security pension or superannuation. I can only assume that Gran and the children stayed with her parents – William Henry and Mary Elizabeth Abbott at least initially.

When her younger brother Hal sailed to Europe in 1906 his letters home often included a note to Flo and his nieces and nephews. In 1922 there is a poignant photograph of Gran, carrying a baby and holding the hand of another small girl on the steps of a church; the inscription indicates that it was the christening day of Ethel Shirley Abbott, daughter of Hal, her mother having died three weeks after giving birth.

Henry Charles Abbott, as Chairman of Directors of Abbotts Pty Ltd from September 1922, moved from his own home “Creenahoe” back to the family home in Patterson Street shortly after his wife’s sudden death. It is probable that Gran, whose children were now married, stepped in to assist with the care of her two very young nieces as evidenced by other photographs taken in those years

I would like to imagine that knowing his children were well cared for gave him the freedom to focus on business. His M.B.E. for Philanthropy recognised his generosity in particular to the Boy Scout and Girl Guide Movements. He funded buildings in Launceston for these organisations; namely the Harry Abbott Scout Hall in St George’s Square, and the H C Abbott Guide Hall and Margaret McIntyre House in Park Street.

This is of course many years before I knew Gran - the elegantly, beautiful young woman photographed at her wedding in 1889, aged twenty five. To me as a child, she epitomised the tall, regal matriarch, dressed in long skirt and high necked blouse, highlighted by a small bar brooch at the centre of the collar. I treasure one of those brooches, a fine gold bar with small cameo in the centre and three tiny seed pearls on each side. Other family photographs include her extended family and her sons in their World War I army uniform. Jacob and Florence McQuinn
Jacob and Florence McQuinn, married 13 May 1889 Launceston

Visits were rare, made more difficult by Gran moving to Warburton to live with her only daughter and family who were practicing Seventh Day Adventists; the town being home to Sanatorium Foods and the Health Sanitorium which were part of the Church structure.

My strongest memory is of a stay at Warburton in September school holidays in the mid 1950s with my sister Judith. There was firstly the excitement of going by train unaccompanied by an adult from Spencer Street Station. The smell of coal, noise of the smoke belching steam engine and the long journey through the inner suburbs into the hills of the Yarra Valley are clearly etched in my memory.

Saturday was devoted to Church services and in the evening gathering around the pianola everyone joining in the singing of appropriate songs for the Sabbath. Gran, now in her early 90s, was profoundly deaf and we were fascinated by her use of an ‘ear trumpet’ as we yelled into it to be heard. Sunday activity was a different matter as the whole family took a drive up to Mt Donna Buang to see the snow, a source of great excitement for two city girls.

Other evenings and on the dreary afternoons we would play board games and noughts and crosses. Gran was a terrible cheat. If she wasn’t winning she would add extra squares onto the noughts and crosses pattern until she was the victor.

I recall the wretched feeling of homesickness, nose pressed to the window looking out at the endless rain and mist in the valley below. Two weeks was a long time to be away from home. We also had an issue that must have caused some consternation though we were not aware of it. Seventh Day Adventists are generally vegetarians and I still wonder how Judith and I had the courage to go to the local butcher and buy some sausages; meat was part of our meals from that point.

When Gran died aged 95 in 1959, the loss of the family head was palpable. The link with Jacob McQuinn was broken and any history of his family she may have known passed with her. Florence McQuinn and family 1918
Florence McQuinn and family 1918



McQuinn Family photographs, Private Collection, David McQuinn, Adelaide, Sth Australia

Letters from Hal 1906, Private Collection, Barry Abbott, Hobart, Tasmania

History of Abbotts Pty Ltd, Private Collection Barry Abbott, Hobart Tasmania

Personal recollections, Barbara Wilson, Wallan, Victoria.

Related family names:

McQuinn Abbott

For more information:

Tasmanian Ancestry Vol 37 No 1, June 2016 The Abbott Family, Brewers, Cordial Manufacturers and Clerics

You can use this contact form to send an email message to Barbara Wilson

Your first name*:   Your last name*: 

Your email:*        Phone number: 

Your message*:

©TFHS Inc. All rights reserved
Site last updated December 2022