Margaret Ruby Hughes

Tapestry series no. 18

Contributed by Eleanor Hughes

Ruby Hughes is the great grandmother of our children Kerrin, Nicola and Kimberley Hughes. I write this short tapestry of her life so that my children my one day recognise some significant threads in their own lives. Ruby was born at Freshwater Point on the west Tamar in Tasmania. Ruby was the eldest daughter of a second marriage. Her mother was Hannah Davis and her father William Jones.

In her diary which she wrote later in her life, Ruby remembers her first impressions of Freshwater point, the sheep property owned by her father. The property supported the family – a manager and his wife who helped in the house, a groom, two maids and a governess. Ruby would visit the manager’s wife in their cottage and ‘remembers their old Welsh dresser with its gay China of brightly coloured fruit on each cup and plate.’

Ruby longed to learn and even at the age of three would write letters to her favourite Aunt Rosetta in Launceston. When Ruby was seven her father became seriously ill and later the family had to leave Freshwater Point and move to Launceston. Ruby loved the homestead and on the day they were leaving she hid in a haystack and could not be found for two hours.

Ruby attended school and passed her Junior Public Exams with 5 credits and 4 passes. Ruby wrote ‘I wanted very much to train as a teacher but my father, now an invalid, had different ideas, the old fashioned idea was that girls should stay home until they were married and help their mother. I had different ideas, I took a position as a governess.’ …at the age of only 14 Ruby was governess to four children for two years. At 16 Ruby returned to her old school as monitor but still her father did not want her to go on with her education. At that time the headmistress of the school became engaged and asked Ruby to continue with the school. Ruby ran the private school for the next ten years and so ‘with my limited knowledge, I was able to gather together an average attendance of 30 scholars and teach them up to what at that time was termed the 7th Royal reader. This proved very profitable and was a very happy 10 years for me.’

Ruby was very involved in her local church and described the unusual way in which she met her future husband. It happened like this… during the service the minister read a letter from Francis Hughes of Maldon in Victoria who was asking for accommodation in a Baptist home for his sister and himself for three weeks. Ruby carried the news home to her mother thinking it would be nice to have some young friends to stay for Christmas holidays. Ruby’s home was chosen and on Christmas Day the party arrived. Ruby developed a special friendship with Francis and the following year was invited to visit his family in Maldon. She returned home engaged and for the next three years carried on with the school until she was married in November 1909 and moved with Frank to Maldon.

On the first anniversary of their marriage their first son Davis was born. Frank completed his certificate as Battery Manager. However, the South German Mining Company where he worked was closing down. It was Ruby who did the asking for jobs and letter writing for Frank and she was able to secure him a job at a Timber Mill of Forrester, near Scottsdale, in Tasmania. They built a small house there in the middle of the bush with the timber mill in the foreground. Davis was just on three and now Jim was a baby. At first Ruby thought the place ‘impossible’ but they soon had five rooms and a veranda 12 feet wide with a swing for baby Jim. There was matting on the floor and sweet peas growing to the top of the veranda railing. It was at this home a young girl Enid would come to visit Ruby as her father was the mill manager at the camp. Enid became wife of Joseph Lyons, Prime minister of Australia and later she became the first female member of an Australian parliament.

The Hughes eventually moved to Devonport where the family now included Davis, Jim, Tom, Leah Ann, Gwen and Philip. Ruby’s strong Christian faith and character, her keen thirst for learning, and her love of plants and gardens are just some of the qualities she bequeathed to her family.