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The unusual story of Frances and Harold from Bendigo

He was a successful Bendigo businessman, decorated WW1 veteran who later owned patents related to barbed wire. She was a rarity – a woman with a career and one of just 40 women to be registered as a pharmacist in Australia when she passed her exams in 1912.

Frances Alice Moore and Harold Athelstane Abbott were quite the couple when they married in 1925 at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Melbourne, aged 35 and 36 respectively. It was a first (and only) marriage for both at a time when their cohort married in the early 20’s, with the wife relinquishing her career (if she had one) and confined herself to home duties and child rearing.

They never had children of their own, but as might be expected of the large families they each came from, had many nieces and nephews – a number who still live in the region today. The couple also left behind one of Bendigo’s most significant charitable trusts – the Frances and Harold Abbott Foundation. Harold outlived his wife (Frances died in 1961), and unusually, insisted her name precede his in the Foundation established via his Will when he died in 1979.

Born in 1889 in Strathfieldsaye, Harold was the third of eight children (two sisters, and one of brothers) of Richard Hartley Smith Abbott, a merchant and farmer, and Mary Hannah Gibbs. His parents were both Bendigo born and bred – and married in the town as well. Harold’s father was not born an Abbott – this name is the result of his grandmother (Richard’s mother) marrying after the death of Richard’s father a month before Richard was born.  Richard went on to become a Mayor of Bendigo and member of the Legislative Council (Victoria) for the Northern Electorate, and a Senator for Victoria – as well as father to the eight children (including Harold).

After an education which extended past secondary level at the Bendigo School of Mines, Harold enlisted and saw active service during WW1 as a member of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in France under regimental number 9507 – first as a Wheeler, then as a Bombardier, then as an Acting Sergeant – undertaking most of his active service as a member of the 17th Battery of the 6th Field Artillery Brigade.  Harold was wounded several times and twice, the injuries were serious enough for his family to be notified back in Australia that he had been wounded in action. 

Two of Frances’ three brothers were not so fortunate; they were killed as a result of active service in that same war. One left behind a widow and young children when he was killed in 1917, while the other died in 1918 shortly after the armistice was signed, aged just 21. Frances, was born the second of five children to Edmund Notley Moore (who was the Clerk of Courts in Shepparton at the time of her birth) and Josephine Fox in Shepparton in 1890, was left at the close of the war with her sister and one remaining brother.

Interestingly, Frances’ grandfather (Josephine’s father) was an early medical practitioner who arrived in Victoria in 1853, which may have been the source of inspiration for her career choice. As an officer of the court, her father (Edmund) was involved in a number of high-profile cases, including in 1880 taking the depositions of the many witnesses for the preliminary trial of the Kelly gang in Beechworth.

Frances herself was educated at Girton Grammar School (then known as Girton College, or the Bendigo Church of England Girls’ Grammar School) and reports in the local paper, the Bendigo Advertiser, mention her playing piano and violin in school concerts and events. However, her talents and aptitude for science and maths must have been strong because Frances went on to study pharmacy (it is likely she studied at least in part in Bendigo because her father was the police magistrate in Bendigo in this period).

It was an unusual decision for a woman of her era and Frances was a trailblazer in a developing profession Frances achieved her registration as a pharmaceutical chemist (pharmacist) when she was 22.  As one of only 40 women on the register, she was among just 4.6% of the total number on the register in January 1913 – which was 876 at a time when Australia’s total population was around 4.5 million people. In fact, the first woman to be registered as a pharmacist in Australia had only occurred in 1880 – and by 1898 only seven were registered.

Once registered, Frances practised as a pharmacist in Bendigo from 1913 to 1917 and from 1918 to 1951 (33 years), the Pharmaceutical Register of Victoria describes the address for Frances as “Children’s Hospital, Carlton” suggesting that Frances practised at that hospital or otherwise maintained links with that hospital although it is unknown if she worked there in any permanent capacity.

By 1919, as Frances was consolidating her practice in Bendigo and moving her sights further afield, Harold returned to Australia and was discharged from military service in that year. He re-established himself in Bendigo and pursuing business and entrepreneurial activities and, along with his family, owned and operated the Abbott Supply Company, still in operation today.

But he was also an inventor. During the 1930’s he was granted patents in Australia for various inventions relating to barbed wire. When WWII was underway in 1940, he turned inventor again – creating the anti-tank wire known as “Barblok” which was adopted by the Australian Government for the Australian Army.

Meanwhile, Frances continued in her profession – records show that she maintained her registration as a pharmacist until at least 1951, by which time she was 61 years old, and Harold was appointed variously to the Board of Directors of the Sandhurst Mutual Permanent Investments and Building Society, and was for a period the Chairman of Directors of Sandhurst Trustees – part of which (the estate and trusts business) was acquired by Equity Trustees in 2017.

Frances died in 1961 in Bendigo, aged 71 years, and Harold in 1979, also in Bendigo, aged 89 years. But their memory lives on in the Frances and Harold Abbott Foundation, currently valued at $3.5 million and distributing around $120,000 annually to the community of Bendigo and the surrounding Loddon Mallee region – the place they built their home, and in which their partnership thrived.

Find out more about The Francis and Harold Abbott Foundation.