The Earle Sisters: a digital exhibition


Bessie Mabel Earle was born on 16 October 1874 in Adelaide, South Australia. She was the eldest of six children born to William and Jane Earle.

Bessie and her younger sister Olive, lived for a time during their childhood with their uncle by marriage, William Benjamnin Rounsevell, a businessman and pastoralist (ABD). Living with William and participating in discussions, enabled Bessie and Olive to gain a good grasp of politics and the issues facing women in the 19th Century.

Bessie married Henry Wills Rischbieth in 1898.  They came to WA the following year. Henry Rischbieth was a wool merchant and the founder of Henry Wills & Co, one of WA’s major companies during the Gold Boom period. Around

1903, they built a grand house at 5 View Street in Peppermint Grove and named it ‘Unalla’. The couple had no children of their own but Bessie was extremely close to her sister Olive.

While visiting her sister, Olive met William Evans and ultimately the couple married and settled not far from Bessie and Henry, They bought a block of land and built Glan-yr-Afon at 60 The Esplanade in Peppermint Grove. Olive and William had six Children; William Jnr, Rachel (later Dame Rachel Cleland DBE), twins Margaret and Barbara, David and Mary.

Many may be familiar with the pioneering work attributed to Bessie, however Olive was also considered a strong woman. In addition to providing a loving caring home for her six children she still managed to find time to be actively involved in the community, ultimately becoming State President of the Women’s Service Guild of Western Australia in 1935 and Trustee of The Cottesloe Infant Health Association.

Henry & Bessie

Henry and Bessie married in 1898 and came to WA the following year. Henry was a wool merchant and the founder of Henry Wills & Co, one of WA’s major companies during the Gold Boom period. Around 1903, they built a grand house in View Street, Peppermint Grove and named it ‘Unalla’. The building was designed by prominent architect Charles Oldham and is a two storey brick, timber and tile mansion, in Federation Queen Anne style.  It sits on a large and prominent comer site at the intersection of View and Forrest Streets.

The original mansion had an impressive sweeping drive.  It once had a 98ft well, a fern-house, tennis court, stables and other outhouses.  The main building housed an outstanding collection of seventeenth and eighteenth century English furniture.

The images here depict the beauty and finery during Henry and Bessie’s life at Unalla.

Henry and Bessie Rischbieth lived a comfortable happy life at Unalla in Peppermint Grove.  The couple did not have any children however Bessie was very close to the children of her sister, Olive who loved close by. The closeness of the Rischbieth and Evans families is evident when after his death, Henry bequeathed a large sum of money to Olive for the advancement of her children.

 Without the demands of motherhood Bessie was free to travel and campaign for women’s rights at conferences and demonstrations all over the world. When Henry died in 1925 after an illness, he ensured Bessie was well provided for. Although one might find the restrictions placed on the inheritance of when Bessie received the money and how it was to be spent rather than trust that she is capable of managing the money herself seems in stark contrast to her goals as a women’s activist.  This did however, enable her to continue their charitable work and campaigning. She became co-founder of the British Commonwealth League of Women in 1925.

Bessie was reported to be a strong-minded, beautiful woman who dressed elegantly and possessed many artistic talents such as embroidery, copper-beating and other crafts even exhibiting with the West Australian Society of Arts.

A truly remarkable women who was not afraid to speak out for those without a voice.

William & Olive

Olive came to Perth for the first time in 1901 to visit her sister Bessie Rischbieth. There she met William Evans, whom she married in 1905. They bought a large block of land and built Glan-yr-Afon, a fitting name, as it means ‘Banks of the River’. After living temporarily along the Freshwater Bay waterfront. The house, situated on the corner of The Esplanade and Keane Street still stands, and now extended has become a gracious home.

Glan-yr-Afon was a family home being a single storey bungalow of rendered brick, timber and tile built in the Federation Arts and Crafts style. Here Olive and William lived for the rest of their lives, raising six children, Rachel, William, Barbara, Margaret, David and Mary. It was their home for over 60 years.

Olive and William were loving parents, devoted to family life. They gave their children the opportunity to live an idyllic childhood with the river as their playground, all set in a semi-rural environment.  The family owned domestic numbers of livestock which occasionally grazed the nearby parkland, now known as Manners Hill Park. The original double block size enabled them to   house their horses, cows and poultry behind the home. The children rode horses in and around the river and used them to commute to school.

Olive Evans was a stalwart of the community. Affectionately known as ‘ Grannie’ she was always ready to lend a helping hand, from caring for children in need, to hosting the Red Cross Sewing Circle at her home during World War I.

In addition to being a devoted mother and grandmother, Olive, with her sister Bessie Rischbieth, was a founding member and State President of the Women’s Service Guild of Western Australia. The relationship between the two sisters was close. They shared a vision that the opportunities of life should be open to everyone. In many ways, both within and beyond the family circle, Olive was seen as muse and mentor of her more publicly prominent sister, Bessie.

The Evans family have been active and valued members of the Peppermint Grove Community for over a century and, as early pioneers of the area, have not only contributed to the development of the suburb but have also made great contributions to Australia as a nation.

A truly remarkable, wise woman with a charitable heart and compassionate nature.

Suffrage refers to a person’s right to vote in a political election.

Before women were given the vote, many men believed that women did not wish to vote and were not intelligent enough to have a valid opinion. Many believed that women should focus on raising children and doing housework. This meant that men alone decided on the policies that affected women.

The women’s suffrage movement was particularly strong in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.

Many activists were arrested, unlawfully detained for weeks and some resorted to hunger strikes in an effort to be heard. Many were force-fed via tubes down their nostrils, beaten and publicly humiliated by police and male observers.

In Australia, the suffrage movement started around the time of Federation in 1901. 

Community groups formed throughout Australia, such as the Women’s Suffrage League, Australian Federation of Women’s Societies and The Women’s Service Guilds of WA in which Bessie Rischbieth and Olive Evans were active.

In 1894, South Australian women gained the right to vote. At the same time, they became the first women in the world to be able to stand as candidates in state elections.

With Australia a newly federated country, the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 allowed non-Indigenous women in all states to vote and stand as candidates in federal elections.

In the following federal election, four women stood as candidates but almost 20 years passed before a female candidate was elected.

In 1921, Edith Cowan became the first woman member of an Australian parliament when she was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia.

It wasn’t until 1962 that Indigenous Australian women were granted the right to vote.

Ref: National Library of Australia

Deeds not Words March USA

For the story of women’s suffrage in live-sketch animation, as told by historian David Hunt, please click on the link below.

Thank you to all those who took the time to express how pleased they were with this exhibition. We hope you enjoy the digital version.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s