Romancing William and Harriet

Taking another stroll through the old cupboard doors, and wandering down the corridors of time, I wonder about my Great Grandparents’ love affair.  How did they meet?  How and where did their romance play out?   Was it across a crowded room that their blue eyes locked and thoughts of “you’re the one for me,” set off wedding bells in their respective heads?

When one sees loved ones in their twilight years, it is difficult to imagine them as young and vibrant beings.  Once age has lined their faces and turned their hair to ash, one can no longer see their blooming beauty of youth. So, once again, I hit the roads of history, turning from shelf to shelf, box to box, trying to find clues in cards and letters, straining my eyes and ears to read and listen between the lines.

I was told that they met after the Boer War, however, a dance card from a Ball in 1898 may hold the clue I so desperately seek.  Grandma once said, “When I first met Will, he loved to dance.  He was the life of the party, always the last to leave.”  This is substantiated by the hundreds of dance cards he kept behind his cupboard doors.  Each displays the dance program for the evening, leaving a space on each line for the names of the ladies who have accepted his invitation for that dance. When I stumbled upon the card from the Military Ball of 1898, and waltzed from line to line between the polkas, the gallops and Circasian Circles,  my eyes happened upon the letters M.D. handwritten in pencil beside more than one dance.  I am intrigued that William asked ‘M.D.’ to accompany him in the Grand Parade that commenced the frivolity; again for the first dance following supper and the medley that was the evening finale.  Judging by his written code, M stands for Miss or Mrs.  Perhaps Miss ‘D’ was the favoured partner of the Ball?  I am asking, ‘does the D stand for Deane?’

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I yearn to learn more about feisty little Harriet Deane, the young school teacher, and her handsome soldier beau.  What a picture they must have been,whirring up a storm to the notes of Strauss and more, on the dance floor.  If they met prior to William answering the call of Mother England to go to South Africa and fight the Boers, then she would have waited with baited breath for his safe return.  She knew the sacrifices one chooses to make when becoming a soldier’s wife.  She would have been relieved when his ship returned to Brisbane’s shores with him safely aboard. They were free to talk of a future without war.

There is another question that I must ask.  Religion was a curious institution back in the early years of the 20th century, especially for those of Irish descent.  William hailed from the Roman Catholic faith and Harriet was born into a house of Protestants.  William was true to his faith and yet according to more than one source, “you wouldn’t get Harriet into a church of any faith!” Often the Catholic church insisted that one converts to Catholicism in order to be married in their house.  Did Harriet, who apparently lived up to the typical redhead temperament, relent for the sake of her man?

I would like to think that little Miss Harriet Deane stood her ground, for the sake of her principles, when she agreed to marry her soldier beau in St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral in Brisbane on 15th October 1902.  Did the church manage to coerce her towards conversion, or did she march to the alter on a promise to bless any future children in the faith?  Either way, I do know that if she kept any such promises, my family history would have taken a different road than it did.  I would not exist, that is for certain.

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