Ellen Skipworth – 1860-1955

Ellen Skipworth (nee Brennan)

Publican of Dardanup’s only three Wayside Inns

By Jenny Golding
Updated: 4 November 2022

Ellen, daughter of early Colony settlers, Irish-born couple Peter Brennan and Patience (Maguire) Brennan, was twenty-one years of age when she and Irish-born Michael Coonan married in 1881 in Dardanup, destined to raise eight children in the little Inn in which she honed her business skills.

Michael and Ellen and Michael’s brother Thomas and Annie Maguire, daughter of James and Elizabeth Maguire, were married in a double wedding at the Catholic Church, now the Thomas Little Hall.

Ellen Brennan had been born in Wonnerup but her parents were residents in Dardanup before her mother’s death in 1863. Her father died in 1890.

One of Ellen’s close friends was Annie’s sister, Mary Jane Maguire, born in 1859, eventually becoming a teacher, wife to William O’Neill, mother and trusted mid-wife in Dardanup. Mary Jane’s grand-daughter, Eileen Rodgers, spoke of her mother and Ellen Coonan, as young women, riding horses from Dardanup to Augusta. No mean feat when roads were tracks and the bush was relatively unknown. Each woman was to make her mark in Dardanup.

Dardanup’s original 1850s Wayside Inn on what is now Venn Road. Painting by Leslie Knight, Bishop of Bunbury.

Marriage to Michael meant that Ellen and her husband lived in the Irish-style Wayside Inn on Venn Road, built by Michael and his father on their property to provide refreshment and lodging to travellers along the road, then the main road between Bunbury and Dardanup. She and Michael raised eight children there as well as managing a premises with a liquor licence.

Children, Joseph Thomas (1882), Mary Laura (1883), Vincent Patrick (1885), William Michael (1887), Marcus John (1888), Mary Alice (1890), Charlotte Kathleen (1892) and Michael Joseph (1893) were born to the hard-working and forward-thinking couple.

Timber felling in the Ferguson and Wellington Mills and the coming of the railway, a Railway Station and timber yards to Dardanup saw Michael and Ellen take the opportunity to move their family and licence to premises they built in 1895 on land they had the fore-sight to buy opposite the Station on the corner of Charlotte and Doolan Streets.

It was Ellen who organised the grand opening of the jarrah-clad new Wayside Inn, roofed in corrugated iron, highly praised in the Bunbury Herald: (Saturday 9 March 1895).

“The sitting and dining rooms have a cosy and inviting appearance. Mrs Coonan, who is in sole charge of the inn ……. received her guests in her usual cordial manner and at 11am a most sumptuous luncheon was provided, which we have seldom seen surpassed either in the edibles placed before the guests or in the tasteful adornment of the tables”.

Bunbury Herald, Saturday 9 March 1895

In February 1895 Michael Coonan had advertised the original Inn in Venn Road and eighty acres of “good agricultural land” for sale or to let. He had been suffering partial paralysis and died just months after the opening of the timber inn in Charlotte St, which he had been unable to attend. He is laid to rest in what is now the historic Catholic Cemetery in the town.

Michael Coonan (photo from Geni – 1/11/22)

The farm did not sell in Michael’s lifetime and Ellen put it into the hands of a Bunbury auctioneer. A notice on Saturday 10 August 1895 in the Bunbury Herald read: For Sale by Public Auction at T. Jeffrey’s Auction Mart on Saturday, August 24th, at 3 o’clock (if not sold previously, which will be notified) —Splendid Little Farm at Dardanup, the property of the late Michael Coonan, all cleared and fenced, large houses, fruit tree and other improvements. A bargain. Easy terms.

The Wayside Inn licence for the Charlotte Street premises lapsed because of Michael Coonan’s death but the Wine and beer Licence was transferred to Ellen. She applied for the Wayside Inn licence and her application was supported by a newspaper-printed testimony signed by Messrs. James Maquire, Frank Johnston, Forbes Fee, James Cleary and Thomas Larkin stating that “Ellen Coonan, of Dardanup, is a person of good fame and reputation and fit and proper to be licenced to sell Wine, Beer and other fermented Liquors (as the case may be)”.
Her children ranged in age down from thirteen years to two years.

Albert Skipworth

Ellen married Albert Edward Skipworth, who had come to Dardanup from South Australia, in 1897. Two daughters were born, Ellen Myrtle in 1899 and Dorothy Stella in 1900. A busy mother.

The family moved to a house close-by and she leased the Inn to Mr Henry Thomas Belcher for five years from March 1901. He sub-let. On the night of December 28 1904 the sub-lessee family in the Inn woke to a fire which burnt the building to the ground. Fortunately, no-one was hurt.

In order to retain her licence Ellen had to rebuild as soon as possible. She built the brick and iron hotel, so popular to this day on the Charlotte Street site, opening in 1905. She and Albert eventually returned to run the hotel.

Dardanup Hotel on 16 November 1916, the day of the first sale in the newly built cattle yards at Dardanup

As did so many of Dardanup’s young men, four of Ellen’s sons volunteered in World War I and fought overseas. Tragically, only two sons returned.

William Michael Coonan, aged 26, Marcus John Coonan, mill-hand aged 21 years, and Michael Joseph Coonan all enlisted on 17 November 1914 in the Light Horse and embarked from Fremantle on the “Surada” on 17 February 1915. William was killed in action on 29 August 1915 at Gallipoli and has no known grave.

Joseph Thomas Coonan, barman and aged 33 years, enlisted on 22 June 1916 in the 28th Australian Infantry Battalion and left Fremantle on the “Suffolk” on 13 October 1916. He was killed in action in Belgium, on 4 October 1917 and he too lies in an unmarked grave.

Marcus and Michael returned home.

Heart-broken with her loss, Ellen wrote to the Officer-in-Charge Base records on the 8 January 1923:

“Sir,
Enclosed find Receipt for One War Medal and One Victory Medal in connection with 5830 Pte J. T. Coonan 28th. Battalion.
I would like to mention that I suppose I am entitled to Medals for the service of my other lost son William Michael Coonan No 674 Enlisted in this State with the 10th A.L.H. served on Gallipoli was killed in Action on August 29 1915. Yours faithfully, Ellen Skipworth”.

It would have been with such sadness that Ellen Skipworth received £263 from her son, given to her in his will.

Resourceful Ellen gave her energies, her life to raising her large family and in serving her community as a respected Publican in a time when owning and managing a hotel did not mean a married woman would hold a licence in her own name.

She is the link to all three Inns in Dardanup; the Irish Inn on Venn Road, the timber Wayside Inn which burned and the brick building held dear in historic Dardanup and named by locals simply as “the Dardy”.  Ellen’s “Dardy”.

Albert Skipworth died in 1950. Ellen died in 1955.


References:

  • Shire of Dardanup Local Heritage Survey 2016
  • Army Records World War I
  • WA Births, Deaths and Marriages Records
  • Gwen Wells’ notes
  • Eileen Rogers’ recollections

Newspapers:

  • Southern Times (Bunbury 1888-1910):   Thursday 6 June 1895 P3; Tuesday 7 December 1897 P3; 12 January 1905 P5.
  • Bunbury Herald (WA:1892-1919): Saturday 9 March 1895 P2: Saturday 16 March 1895 P3; Saturday 1 June 1895; Saturday 8 June 1895 P3; Saturday 24 August 1895 P5; Saturday 7 December 1895 P3.
  • For sale by public auction, Bunbury Herald (WA 1892-1919) Saturday 10 August 1895 P2
  • The West Australian: 30 December 1904

Image sources: