Miss Denham (1879-1978)

Miss Denham belonged in Granny’s kitchen, just as much as Granny herself. Indeed, she held position at our dining table. We imagine her still, its linen laid, pushing the swing door to pass through the butler pantry and emerge in the kitchen. No one hides kitchen from dining anymore. Pity, for the reverse trip brought magic to the table.

No one clads their kitchen in enamel cream anymore. Nor do they decorate its breakfast nook with sweetly patterned, soothing, oilcloth for its bench pillow, harmoniously repeated on table top.  Pity, for that is where kids watched food prep, with building anticipation; time rewarded with tastes that those two elders snuck to them, beyond prying parental eyes. Even tidbits allowed for Siamese Tuffy.

Then, with a wee chime for adults to assemble at table through regular doors, their ample bibbed aprons found pantry hooks. They beckoned the children, with appetites still eager, to breach the butler door, and take their seats, to feast.  

Miss Denham never actually made it into Granddad’s Memoirs. More like a career folder, they were; Granny, herself, commanded but fifteen words. Now, Miss Denham was very much around at that time. Dad’s later Family History labelled her “Miss Denham” in a photo shoot at Granddad’s 80th birthday celebration. That was 1956.  She was 77 at the time. Dad also penned that “as children we had a wonderful nanny whom we called Miss Denham.” That passage related to a picture from about 1922 captioned “Picture of Bob with Miss Denham”. Thereafter, she was with us always for family events.


Did we, the next generation, notice that Miss Denham had a Scottish accent? Did we wonder on the close regard in which she was held? Did the table know her name?  The questions seem extraordinary in hindsight. But then, no one accords the measures of civility that were common then. Pity, for Miss Denham was a single lady, ably taking care of herself and others; worthy of every awe, while quietly being adored. Even at just plus twelve years, Ms. Denham was Granny’s senior.  She was Granddad’s junior, but no matter, ladies got respect. Miss Denham it was, to all.

MARY EMMA ELLA DENHAM (1879-1978) 

Her family in Scotland:  Miss Denham was born on June 17, 1879, in St. George Parish, Edinburgh to James Frederick Denham and Annie Mitchell.3 Her father, a grocer, was born in Scone, Perthshire, 1856, and his namesake son in 1897, Edinburgh. She had other siblings too: Sarah Christina, b. 1878, Anne, b 1881, Elizabeth Margaret, b 1883, Louisa Ellison b 1885.3 Their mother, born in Fifeshire, died in 1907.

In May of 1911, four of them emigrated to Victoria B.C., just in time for that year’s Canadian Census.4 They were Miss Denham, her sister Sarah Christina, brother James, and their father.  The census captured her as Emma Danham, a domestic, living apart from the other three. None were yet found at the address that would become of great consequence to us, but the stage was set.

  • While in Victoria in 1915, James Jr. filed an Attestation for Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force.5 A ghastly casualty notice in the local paper indicated that Infantry Pvt. J. F. Denham had been gassed in September 1917.6 He recovered. By 1921 he had immigrated to the US, to work as a printer, in Cranford, Union, NJ.7 He married and brought up his family there.
  • Sarah Christine married Francis Drake of Washington in 1922 and immigrated to Yakima.  8 She was in her forties at the time; there appears no issue from the union.
  • Their father died in 1937.  8 His obituary reflected only Miss Denham, James of New Jersey and Sarah Christina of Washington, as survivors.9

CEDAR HILL ROAD, VICTORIA, BC: on the other side of 2706, sits 2709

Crossing the road with apple pie: James’ Attestation showed the Denham family to be situated at 2709 Cedar Hill Road as early as 1915. It was the owned home of their father, a shopkeeper. Granny was still nursing wee William Buchanan at Lake Cowichan with Robert Mathias, yet four years out – just in expectation. It was Miss Denham who, with open arms, lamenting her siblings’ intent on deserting Victoria for other lands, welcomed Granny and her growing brood into this new down-island neighborhood. Miss Denham was already flourishing in domestic employment.

Best fortune accorded us a portion of her full life, this worthy, unassuming domestic. After all, she fulfilled one of life’s prime positions. We know, with the myriad of other families, similarly touched, her good influence travelled far and wide in lasting legacy. She still stood out in service in other ways, through local groups such as O.E.S. and the Historical Society.10 Miss Denham retired in 1958, never from us, and died in her 100th year.11 She had managed the same home for well over 60 years, including caring for her father there, in his decline.

Well done, Miss Denham. Billy and Bobby, Margaret Marie and John – all civilized under your watch. We too, the whole next generation, hold you gratefully in our dearest esteem.

COPYRIGHT STATEMENT

Notes, Sources and Copyrights

1 The “Memoirs of Mathias Hemmingsen – Victoria B.C.” is a 25-page volume dictated to his daughter Margaret Henrietta circa 1956. It is unedited and unpublished, and graciously provided by Mathias’ grandson, Matt via the Matt Hemmingsen Family Collection. The work is protected here and published at copyright © marleewein.com 2018-2019. All rights reserved.

2 The Hemmingsen Family Collection including “John O Hemmingsen/Mary Margaret Hemmingsen (Dickson)” authored 1999 by John Oliver Hemmingsen. All materials posthumously published here are copyright © Marilee Wein 2018-2019. All rights reserved.  The collection also holds related material such as the newspaper articles, pictures, etc.

3 ScotlandsPeople https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/ Statutory Registers Births: James Frederick Denham 1856 394/39 and 1897 685/2 747. Denham: Sarah Christina 1878 685/1 43; Mary Emma Ella 1879 685/1 1041; Anne 1881 685/2 67; Elizabeth Margaret 685/36 and Louisa Ellison 685/2 236.

4 Canadian Passenger Lists 1865-1935 for James Denham Quebec, Quebec 1911 May, aboard the Laurentic from Liverpool. Accessed at ancestry.com May 28, 2020 11:24 AM

5. WWI CEF files 1914-1918 from Library and Archives, Canada for James Frederick Denham. Accessed at Ancestry.com.

6. “Canadian Casualties” The Daily Colonist, Victoria B.C. Friday, September 7, 1917 Page 2. Accessed May 28, 2020 12:19 PM Note: address given was 2709 Cedar Hill Road, Victoria.

7 US CENSUS 1930 at Cranford, Union, New Jersey for James F. Denham. Accessed at Ancestry.com as provided by NARA.

8 Royal BC Museum. BC Archives at royalbcmuseum.bc.ca: Death Registration Number:1937-09-533271BC Archives Mfilm Number:B13160 James Frederick Denham at 81; Marriage Registration 1922-09-242724BC Archives Mfilm Number:B13743 Vital Stat Images(s):004400873_00242.jpg Sarah Christina Denham and Death Registration Number:1978-09-011515 for Mary Emma Ella Denholm Vital Stat Image :004479388_01370.jpg

9 British Columbia, Victoria Times Birth, Marriage and Death Notices 1901-1939 [1936-1939] for Denham. Accessed at Familysearch.org. Note also son in Cranford NJ. Daughter in Yakama WA

10 Obituary “Mary Emma Ella Denholm … died July 29” The Daily Colonist 1978-08-06.

11 Canada, Voters Lists 1935-1980 for BC, Victoria, E. Denham at 2709 Cedar Hill Road for 1957 and 1958. Accessed at Ancestry.com. Source Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Voters Lists, Federal Elections, 1935-1980

21 thoughts on “Miss Denham (1879-1978)

  1. I was always curious about Miss Denham, but when I asked questions I always got the most unsatisfactory answers. Were there no clues? And then, the annual Scottish Currant bun – so hard that even George the Seagull wouldn’t eat it on the lawn.

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  2. Vividly descriptive and beautifully written story of Miss Denham – a lovely tribute. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  3. What an amazing memoir of Miss Denham! My husband’s grandparents came from the Scone area in Perthshire, so I can imagine her accent overlain with a Canadian twang, perhaps?

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    1. I’d actually love to hear your accent, having lived all over. I often wonder, though, on those ancestors with retained accents. Were they always late comers? Scottish Granddad came at 30 – could hardly understand him, but he was a man of few words, so, maybe not enough practice. Nana came in her teens and my recall, and treasure today, was more of her Scottish-word usage, rather than any accent. Miss Denham was 31.

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      1. That’s usually what the men say…😉 I had to put in a written complaint about a male nurse who acted like an idiot when he heard my accent. He told me that he and his wife had given each other a ‘pass’ if they met someone with a Scottish accent…

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      2. He was banished from my presence…but not fired. Now I only see my psychiatrist. That’s why I made a complaint because I am in essence a vulnerable adult, and another patient might have been tempted or confused.

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      3. I think it is fascinating that there are so many dialects in Scotland – such a small place. The impassable terrain in places perhaps made it easier to evolve a separate accent.

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    1. Love your question, Sharifah. Granddad was a logger. Granny came from mining. Calorie requiring labor on which historic menu was “meat n potatoes”. Lots of plainly prepared veggies and practically no French, Italian or Asian cuisine. That persisted when they became managers and owners. They a were fit lot though, for when no accident intervened, they typically lived to spry 90s. Dessert was not a daily happening. That said, our favorite dish coming from Miss Denham’s kitchen was fine roast beef, gravy and the yummiest Yorkshire puddings.

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