LIVING TREES RESEARCH


BIOGRAPHY OF LILLIAN HURST FOSTER SWAN, 1876-1951
By Glenys J. Rasmussen, Great Granddaughter, January 2000©

bobandglenysr8@gmail.com


Whenever one thinks of graciousness, elegance, composure, and beauty, then one would naturally think of Lillian Hurst Foster for she embodied all these graces and more. A woman of culture and endurance, fragile perhaps to the human eye, yet under the natural loveliness (which by the way, radiated from within as well), one would see strength, a certain steeliness, a woman of gentleness and high ideals and an innate ability to instill into those around her the same characteristics and abilities.

Lillian Hurst Foster, taken in 1914

This then, brings us to the lady herself. She was born in Australia, to parents who had migrated to Australia, met and married in Sydney - her father, Henry William Foster, born in Lambeth, London in 1840 and her mother Emma Ann Lewin, born in Camberwell, London in 1840. They had married at Darlinghurst, an area within the city of Sydney on 2 July 1864. She was their 5th and last child, born 18 September 1876 at Darlinghurst and was the last daughter in a family of three girls and two boys. She was christened at St. Peter's Church, Woolloomooloo, by the Rev. G.H. Noreton. Her birth took the attention of the family, arriving, as babies are wont to do, at 3.53 in the morning! Her family at the time lived at 146 Victoria Street in Sydney. Her siblings were Emma Jeannetta, born 26 April 1865; Alice Maude born 6 March 1867; Henry Lewin born 28 Feb 1869; and Sydney Hercules born 5 July 1874.

Little is known of her mother and father, other than her father was employed as a compositor or printer and in 1879 he is listed as owner and partner of the firm of Foster and Fairfax, Printers and Publishers, 13 Bridge Street, Sydney. His partner was William Fairfax. Leila Decima Swan, Lillian's daughter and my grandmother, remembered her grandmother as a petite and enchanting lady, in every sense of the word. She remembered her grandfather as a kind and loving man, concerned for others and very much a part of his family. We can therefore, safely assume, that Lillian inherited her mother's charm and poise, while learning from her father other abilities to complement her personality.

Lillian married the 7th of April 1896 at Surrey Hills, NSW. Her husband, Robert Edwin Swan, was born in Murrurrundi, NSW as Robert Edwin Parks on 29 Mar 1873. The reason for the change in surname is unknown, but is attributed to Robert's father, Christopher Thomas Sparkes/Parks/Parkes/Swan. Perhaps he simply couldn't decide who he wanted to be, for with the birth of each of his children, he changed the spelling or pronunciation of his surname. When he died in 1887 he was known as Thomas Swan, which surname most of the children kept. Robert was a gentle and quiet man, who loved his family deeply. He was completely devoted to Lillian and was always very conscious of her every need. Robert and Lillian would become the parents of five children - although my grandmother believed there were twins born when she was about 10 years of age - she was not able to recall any details other than they died within minutes of their birth. Her parents never spoke of them.

Robert's thriving printing and publishing business gave them opportunity for education in both the classics as well as the three "r's". Lillian was determined her children would grow up with a clear knowledge of their potential and their responsibilities. She was also determined that each child would be given exposure to fine art, good books and graceful living. As her great granddaughter, I am grateful for that determination, for her daughter, Leila, always encouraged my love for reading, music and theatre.

Lillian's children were: Leila Decima born 18 August 1896, married 17 May 1922 to Alfred Trimmer, died 27 Mar 1968; Leslie Edwin born 17 May 1898, married Alice Lillian Benton on February 28, 1925. Alice died 20 November 1995, Les' death date is unknown; Robert Sidney Keith born 24 Feb 1903, married 5 May 1942 Gwendoline S. Reilly. Keith died 29 May 1970 and Gwen 24 Mar 1989; Muriel Dorothea born 26 Aug 1907 was the apple of her father's eye, and indeed, the favourite of the family. She would often be found sitting on his knee reading to him quietly. The bond between them was tangible and often, Leila wondered if perhaps her father knew that Muriel was not going to be with them long for she died the 2 March 1915 at the tender age of almost eight years. It took a terrible toll on the family, but especially on Father Swan. Lillian's strength showed itself most during this time as she held a grieving family together while her own heart wept at the loss of her beautiful daughter.

One more child came to the family, as a surprise and blessing, Leonard Allen was born 11 Feb 1916 and what a lively child he was. He was a boon as he filled in the gaps and holes and sad places left by Muriel's passing. He married 13 Apr 1942 Edna Grace (Judy) Johnson. He died 21 August 1998. Judy died 7 Jan 1967.

Lillian's steel was to be tested yet again, when her beloved Robert died at the age of just 53 years, on 25 April 1926. He had become ill, yet quietly bore the pain and uncertainty of the terrible cancer ravaging his body. Lillian knew him well, she tended to him in the dark hours and rejoiced with him in the sunshine hours. However, the cancer spread and inflicted his spine, causing immobility and severe pain with any kind of movement. It was at this time that the gentleness and tenderness of his "own Lilly" comforted him most of all. Leila was especially distraught at the death of her father. She adored him and felt without his presence to keep her perspective in a difficult marriage, she would collapse. Lillian's presence in her life gave her determination to continue. The family mourned the loss of father, brother and husband. They buried him at the Church of England cemetery at Waverly, NSW on the 26 April 1926. Lillian would continue on without him for another 25 years. Her love for him never wavered and she had a deep religious conviction that she would be with him once more.

Family of Robert and Lillian - Back Row L-R: Leila Decima, Lillian Hurst, Robert Sidney Keith. Sitting is Robert Edwin Swan with daughter Muriel on his lap. Missing is Leslie Edwin - perhaps he took the photo. Ca 1914.

There was still Leonard "Allen" at home to care for and raise. His older brothers took a keen interest in his upbringing and although some of their decisions would not have met with Lillian's decidedly conservative nature, she turned a blind eye and gave Allen the benefit of the doubt. She was grateful that his older sister also became involved in his youthful, energetic life, for she helped smooth out the rough edges and place him firmly back on track. The family was always very close and every holiday found them together, celebrating and enjoying themselves. It was always a wonderful experience for me to see the camarderie and honest joy they found in being together. When I was quite young, I remember going to Grandmother Swan's flat in North Bondi. She was dressed so beautifully in a long black dress, festooned with sequins and draping lace. She had on beautiful black pearls and I remember thinking how much like a queen she looked. She was so kind to me and I loved her immediately. She took me to the roof of her building so that I could look out over the beautiful harbour and beaches and lawns. There was no Opera House back then, and no real skyscrapers - just a red-roofed, beautiful city and the most incredible vista of the magnificent Sydney Harbour Bridge. We stood up there for what seemed to a little girl, a very long time, and it amazed me that she felt happy to be in my company - after all that was the era when children were to be "seen and not heard"! I recall that she brooked no nonense from one of her other young relatives, but even her sternness seemed so gentle and I basked in her attention. I don't recall ever seeing her again, and I am grateful for that one, wonderful memory. Funny, how a red brick building, about four stories high stays in one's mind and every time I see a building similar to hers, that memory races back and warms me all the way through. Thank you Great Grandmother Swan.

Lillian at the age of 20, shortly before her marriage.

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