Read her story
Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ McNeil (1864-1892) was born at Ballarat into the family of educated Scottish immigrants Neil and Elizabeth McNeil. Lizzie married English-born doctor Leonard Watkins Bickle (1857-1921) at Gawler and they settled in Mount Barker.
Lizzie died of consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) in 1892 at the age of 28, leaving two children. Her husband eventually moved from Mount Barker and remarried, but before he left he gave the town a tract of land. It is still used – as he had wished – as a green recreational space.
Neil McNeil (1824-1916), a 40-year-old road and railway contractor, sailed from Scotland to Victoria aboard the S Curling in 1860. His wife Elizabeth (née Urquart, 1830-1924) and three young children joined him the following year, sailing on the Marco Polo, and the family settled at Ballarat, where six more children, including Elizabeth (‘Lizzie’) were born over the next twelve years. McNeil made roads in the Ballarat district, then built railway lines in Victoria and South Australia. When working on the Hamley Bridge to Balaclava line he moved his family to Gawler, where the children grew up.
Seven of the nine McNeil children survived to adulthood, and they tended to be high achievers. Neil McNeil junior became a prominent businessman who played significant roles in the development of railways across Australia, and in Western Australia’s timber industry. Alexander McNeil became general manager of Millar’s Timber and Trading Company, WA; Andrew McNeil became a doctor based in Coolgardie; John McNeil studied Arts at universities in Melbourne and Scotland, was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, and became a well-known evangelist in WA and Queensland. Christina married into the prominent Martin family in Gawler, where she and her husband Felix were pillars of the community for many years. Two of Lizzie’s nephews (sons of John and Margaret) became Rhodes Scholars.
As for Lizzie, at the age of 21 she married recently-arrived young English doctor Leonard Watkins Bickle (1857-1921), member of the Royal College of Surgeons, who had gone to Gawler in a locum capacity while looking for a place to establish his Australian practice. They settled in Mt Barker, and built ‘St Leonards,’ named after Bickle’s birthplace in Sussex, a two-storey home with consulting rooms and stables/morgue that still stands at 7 Druids Ave. They had three children, a boy and two girls, but lost their middle child Dorothy to meningitis in 1889, when she was two. A year later, after the birth of baby Kathleen, Lizzie was afflicted with ‘consumption’ (pulmonary tuberculosis). She died in 1892 at the age of 28.
In the second half of the nineteenth century some 150,000 deaths in Australia were attributable to tuberculosis. According to researcher Michael Willem de Looper, tuberculosis was responsible for ten percent of Australian mortality in the second half of the nineteenth century. Unlike the gastro-intestinal illnesses and other communicable diseases that carried off so many young children, tuberculosis was most fatal for those in the prime of life. Although men were more frequently afflicted than women, Lizzie’s was a fairly typical case.
Leonard Bickle’s sister Edith assisted him at home after his wife’s death. He left his Mount Barker practice in 1896 and later remarried. In 1898 he gifted to Mount Barker an area of land adjacent to Dunn Park as “a recreation ground worthy of the town,” that would make available “a pleasant shaded walk along the creek.” The donated land still provides protected green space for the public.