William Patrick Cain (1866-1936) and Alice Corbett (1869-1960)

(Our great great grandparents)

William Patrick Cain was born in Melbourne in 1866, the second son of Patrick Cain and Elizabeth Skeggs. Alice Corbett was born in Ballarat in 1869, the daughter of James Corbett and Maria Lewis.

William and Alice married at the Wesleyan Parsonage in Carlton, Victoria on 5 September 1887. He was 21 years of age, and she 17 or 18 years of age. The marriage record says that Alice was 21 at the time of marriage, but this does not fit with other records. Possibly they lied about her age to avoid parental permission requirements. At the time of their marriage, William was a plumber from South Melbourne, and Alice was a “general servant” from Carlton.

William and Alice had ten children together:

In 1896 William and Alice relocated from Melbourne to Fremantle, Western Australia. There is a record for a William Cain travelling to Fremantle from Melbourne aboard the Innamincka II in October of that year. It is known that William secured a position as a foreman plumber with the railway service in Western Australia in September or October 1896. His wages were initially 10s. an day, rising later to 11s. a day. William continued working for the rail service until October 1898. The next year he took his former employer to court to claim a total of £11 5s. in unpaid travelling allowances, his entitlement to which was disputed by his former employer.

William and Alice lived in Fremantle until about 1898 when they moved to the Cottesloe area.

In October 1904 Alice brought a criminal action against an Elizabeth Smedley for defamation of character. A newspaper report provides details of the hearing on 14 October 1904:

…Elizabeth Smedley, a married woman, appeared to answer a charge of having on February 29 at Cottesloe, spoken and published certain defamatory matter about one Alice Cain (another married woman). The words alleged to have been uttered were that “She (Alice Cain) had a baby boy by a curly headed barber at South Melbourne before she was married.”

…The first witness placed in the box was Wm. P. Cain, husband of Alice Cain, who deposed that he was a plumber, residing at Cottesloe, and had been married over 17 years, and was the father of nine children, the eldest of whom was sixteen. He denied that there was any truth in the attack made on the character of his wife, having known her since she was a girl.

Alice Cain deposed that she remembered her husband receiving an anonymous letter which contained slanderous items, including that set out in the charge. She had heard from certain lady friends, and also from a Mr. Gray that Mrs. Smedley had made the remarks in question about the “curly headed barber at South Melbourne.”
[The Daily News (Perth), Saturday 15 October 1904, p. 9]

Smedley’s mother and two sisters, as well as Mr. Gray, corroborated the slanderous remarks in evidence to the court. The case was adjourned until the following Monday, at which time Alice Cain through her legal representative agreed not to proceed with the case provided she received “an unreserved apology from Mrs. Smedley”:

…After a brief conference with Mrs. Smedley, Mr. Alcock [Smedley’s legal representative] intimated that the course suggested would be pursued, and the jury were accordingly discharged. Mr. Commissioner Roe said he hoped the case would be a lesson to all the people who had been connected with it. There was not the slightest truth in the statement circulated about Mrs. Cain, and her reputation was absolutely unaffected by the evidence.
[The West Australian (Perth), Tuesday 18 October 1904, p.7]

The next day, however, Smedley sent this letter to the editor of The West Australian:

Sir. – With reference to the paragraph in to-day’s issue under the above heading, I wish to state that I did not make any apology, as your report would infer; and seeing that I had 12 witnesses in Court to prove that I never uttered the slander alleged, it was impossible that I could agree to do so. The proceedings were withdrawn at the suggestion of the plaintiff, each party paying their own costs. Trusting that you will in fairness to me give this letter the same publicity as the statement referred to. – Yours etc.,
Elizabeth Smedley.
The Defendant.
Cottesloe October 18
[The West Australian (Perth), Wednesday 19 October 1904, p.7]

In response to the letter The West Australian maintained that their 18 October report was “absolutely correct”. The Daily News of 18 October also published a report along similar lines to The West Australian under the headline “Mrs. Smedley Apologises”.

What effect all of this had on the Cain family can only be guessed. By June 1910 William and Alice’s marriage was effectively over and Alice proceeded against William for a legal separation, maintenance and custody of the seven surviving non-adult children. William did not appear to contest the proceedings, and an order was made granting Alice formal separation, custody of the children and £1 per week maintenance.

William tried to enlist during World War 1 but his enlistment application was rejected because 1. he was over age; 2. he had varicose veins; 3. he had defective teeth; 4. he had defective hearing. The description on his enlistment form says he had iron grey hair.

Both William and Alice continued to live in separate residences in Cottesloe, he until his death, and she until 1931, when she moved to nearby Peppermint Grove, at 21 Keane Street. By 1936 she was living in Mounts Bay Road, Perth; by 1949 she had moved to Clearview Avenue, Yokine; by 1954 she was living in William Street, Mt. Lawley; by 1958 she lived in Gugeri Street, Claremont.

William Cain died at Cottesloe aged 69 years on 4 June 1936, and was buried at the Karrakatta Cemetery. Alice Corbett died at Perth aged 91 years in 1960. They had lived together for 23 years, lived apart for 26 years, and Alice outlived William by 24 years.

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