The Sad Demise of Frances Stevens c1863-1916


Thanks to Elizabeth O’Neal from Little Bytes of Life for hosting the April 2016 Genealogy Blog Party.

Here is my contribution, focusing on a relative I would like to introduce. When I think of parties I think of fun and excitement, sadly my second Great-Grandmother Frances Elms (nee Stevens) had a life far removed from frivolity and happiness so she was someone I thought I would like to bring to the party to show her that her life wasn’t in vain.


Who is the ancestor you will meet?

Please meet my second Great-Grandmother, Frances Elms (nee Stevens) who was believed to have been born 1863 in West Maitland, New South Wales, Australia. I am yet to prove evidence of her birth or that her parents were Charles Stevens and Frances Hopkins. She first married John Sidney in 1882 but was noted as a widow on her marriage certificate to Robert Elms in 1884, aged just 21 years of age.[1]

I first became aware of the sad plight of her when I was looking for information on my Elms family on Trove, the online site for free Australian historical newspapers, I found the following article from The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser dated 15 November 1889[2].



Frances was committed to Gladesville Mental Asylum in NSW, Australia soon after this article appeared and would stay institutionalised until the day she died on 6 May 1916 in another hospital, Kenmore Mental Asylum in Goulburn, NSW, Australia.


Frances Elms – Death Certificate – 6 May 1916[3]

I found it most upsetting that her death certificate could not provide any family information of her children, her husband or her parents.


What question(s) do you need him/her to answer?

I have hit a brick wall with Frances. I dearly would love to be able to talk to her, to find out about her early family life and who her parents were and to find out what happened to her three daughters Florence (my Great Grandmother), Emily, and Lily who was the babe in arms mentioned in the article when she was sent to the asylum.


Is there a problem you can help your ancestor solve?

Reading the rest of the newspaper reports, I wondered whether it was post-natal depression that she was suffering or if there was a more sinister reason that her husband contributed to her being committed. Sadly his days also ended in an Asylum. Perhaps together we could have sought the treatment that Frances needed and she would have had a different life.


Will you reveal your true identity to your ancestor?  If so, how will your visit impact the future?

Absolutely! I would dearly love to show her that her life wasn’t in vain.


Will you bring your ancestor to the future to meet his/her descendants?  What will be the outcome, if you do?

I would love to reunite her with her daughters. Another poignant moment in my research of Florence Kenyon (nee Elms), my Great Grandmother came when I received her marriage certificate from 1903 and it was noted that both her parents were deceased. A red herring at the time, but with further research I was able to prove that her parents were indeed Frances Elms who died years later in 1916 and Robert Elms who died in Gladesville Mental Asylum on the 8 July 1908 and that the Master of Lunacy had written a letter to the now Mrs Kenyon demanding her contact him to settle the outstanding account owing for her father’s institutionalisation. Did Frances’ daughters know their parents were still alive or was Florence so ashamed that she deliberately marked them as deceased on marrying Percy Herbert Kenyon?


[1] NSW, Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Marriage Certificate, 116/1884, Robert Elms and Frances Sidney.
[2] Article:  Armidale Police Court, The Armidale Express and New England General Advertiser, 15 November 1889 , TROVE, National Library of Australia:
[3] NSW, Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Death Certificate, 9385/1916, Frances Elms
This entry was posted in Australian genealogy, family history, genealogy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Sad Demise of Frances Stevens c1863-1916

  1. emptybranches says:

    Frances certainly had a sad life, leaving little of a trail back to her family. It is also a sad state of affairs that treatment today for mental health issues might not land one in an asylum, but it often also doesn’t lead to proper treatment either.

  2. Nicole says:

    How sad – definitely sounds like postpartum depression – that little tidbit at the end of the article about how the 5 month old baby wasn’t wanted really shows that. The Finding Your Roots episode with Mia Farrow had a similar story about her grandmother being committed to an asylum in Australia by her husband when her son was 14 months old. The researchers discovered that it was most likely due to postpartum depression. Mia’s father never knew his mother was committed. She died there. He had been told that his mother died in childbirth. You can see Mia’s father’s mother’s info here:

  3. Nicole says:

    p.s. I love that you say her life wasn’t in vain. Although it was difficult, you and other of her descendants show that her painful life was worthwhile!

    • Thank you for your kind comments Nicole. I am in the process to finding out as much as I can about Frances and her family but there are a lot of brick walls, unfortunately. I am awaiting permission from the Department of Health to access her file from the Kenmore Asylum. I’m sure it will make for fascinating although harrowing reading.

  4. dnoellee says:

    Poor Frances. I just want to hug her. Thanks for bringing her to the party.

  5. Karen says:

    What a sad story – and sadder yet that the details of her family are lost, at least for now.

  6. Pingback: Favorite Reads of the Week: 30 April 2016 – Family Locket

  7. What a crushing set of circumstances for Frances and her family. I long for you to have that time machine to be able to visit and comfort her. How cruel if this was indeed a case of a husband removing an inconveniently ill wife, or post-partum depression that had no diagnosis and treatment. I hope you find more out about her and I applaud the research you’ve done so far. Excellent blog party post.

    • Thank you for your lovely message. Yes, I definitely plan to find out as much as I can about Frances and her husband Robert. What I’ve read about him so far, makes for fascinating reading and I am highly suspicious that it was convenient for him to ‘assist’ in her removal. The fact that he also found himself living his last days in an asylum is twisted karma.

  8. Nancy says:

    I feel so sorry for ancestors who suffered in ways for which there was no help during their lifetime, especially knowing that these days they might be able to be helped. I agree that it could have been post-natal depression but I also wonder if someone really did come to her home while her husband was away and threaten her. I hope you’re eventually able to find more information about her, somehow.

    • True Nancy. I did wonder that myself but it also seems that Robert was a little bit of a scoundrel so I guess we’ll never know. Unfortunately her statement was taken as the ramblings of a mad woman.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s