Read his story
William Calaby’s paternal great-grandparents emigrated from Norfolk in 1839 and farmed in the Mount Barker area. William died of appendicitis at the age of twenty in 1902, before surgical appendectomies became widely available.
William Calaby’s family (also spelt Callaby) were early immigrants to South Australia. William’s great-grandfather, labourer Henry Callaby (1799-1869), and his wife Phoebe (née Smith, 1804-1881) emigrated from Norfolk in 1839, accompanied by their six children aged between one and thirteen years. Their eldest, who was to become William’s grandfather, was Thomas Robert Calaby (1826-1910).
Thomas established a crop and dairy farm at Bugle Ranges with his wife Janet (1827-1918). Janet was the second daughter of well-known Mount Barker Springs farmer John Frame; her family had come from Glasgow aboard the Ariadne in 1839, when Janet was twelve years old. Thomas and Janet had six children, but their marriage broke down in 1875, after which Janet continued farming and dairying in her own name, with notable success. She was particularly famous for the quality of her prize-winning butter.
The first of Thomas and Janet’s five sons was Thomas Henry Calaby (1850-1922), a “tall, bearded gentleman” who was a farmer and butcher by trade. He married Jane Miller (1850 -1911), who had emigrated with her parents from Orkney, Scotland, as a baby in 1851. They had four children: two girls and two boys, including William. They lived first at ‘Glen Lea,’ Bugle Ranges (a property on Long Valley Rd now used as a hospitality venue), and later at ‘Maryfield’ at Mt Barker Springs with William’s maternal grandmother, Eliza Ann Hall (see Eliza Ann Hall/Jane Sinclair/ Betsy Miller History Post).
In 1902, when William was twenty years of age, he contracted appendicitis. In the absence of surgery or antibiotics, appendicitis had a death rate of over fifty percent. For a ruptured appendix the prognosis was poorer still. Although the first surgical appendectomy was carried out in Australia in 1893, for the next decade such operations were rarely performed outside the United States. Antibiotics were not widely available to treat bacterial infections until the 1940s, so Australians who contracted appendicitis in the nineteenth century were largely at the mercy of their disease.
In 1902 the coronation of Edward VII, scheduled for 26 June, was postponed when he contracted a life-threatening bout of appendicitis. Although reluctant, the prince was eventually persuaded to accept surgery. He rapidly recovered, and was crowned on 9 August. As a direct result, the performance of appendectomies increased across the British territories, including in Australia.
Back in Mt Barker, William Calaby was less fortunate than the king: he died of his appendicitis without the benefit of an operation at the end of October 1902. The Courier commented that “The deceased was three months short of being 21 and, being a healthy, vigorous young man, would have been one of the last selected as likely to be cut off within such a short time.” There was a large crowd at the funeral, and “the floral tributes were numerous and beautiful.”
Although William’s two sisters, Florence and Janet, both lived into their eighties, both boys suffered premature deaths. Twelve years after William’s appendicitis, Albert Thomas Leslie Calaby, the youngest child, died of pneumonia at Broken Hill, aged 26.
The small memorial located to the left of William’s grave is for his cousin, Jenny Lind Cuming. The younger daughter of Phoebe Smith Calaby and William Henry Cuming of ‘Commonella’ near Strathalbyn, Jenny was born in 1899 but only lived for a year. Her sister, Joyce Torrens Cuming, who was older by two years, lived to be ninety-seven. She became a schoolteacher at Fowlers Bay and married John Backshall, whose first wife had died in childbirth. They had three daughters, two of whom survived infancy. When Joyce died at Ceduna in 1994 she left a legacy of eight grandchildren, fourteen great-grandchildren and twelve great-great grandchildren.
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