Grandmother Dobson

Granny was the youngest of eleven brothers and sisters, the children of Thomas Lempriere, and was born at Port Arthur. Thomas Lempriere was a British Army Officer, who later entered the diplomatic service. Then he came to the young colony of Tasmania. He hated Port Arthur, and asked to be sent to some other place, a request that was eventually granted. He died at Aden when travelling to England, and his tomb is in Aden cemetery. His wife died early also, and Granny was brought up by her eldest brother and his wife. The Lempiere motto is Eagles do not bring forth doves. All who knew Granny would understand that. But she was not all eagle - she was devout, loving and compassionate. Nevertheless there was no doubt about her energy and fighting qualities. It was a family joke that she was the President of nearly everything! The Victoria League; Alliance Françoise; National Council of Women and so on, in fact she was President of both the Tasmanian and the Australian Branch; and a Vice-President of the world body. She also became the Australian Chief Commissioner of the Girl Guides. There was nothing she would not tackle.

For all the good works and they were many, our grandmother was a formidable woman. Even the Duke of Clarence, when Prince of Wales, had to suffer a rebuke when he made an uncalled for remark to her at a ball at Government House Hobart. Kaiser Wilhelm II was also surprised by her at a function at Potsdam. No woman had ever dared to object to anything he said until Granny spoke her mind. I do not know what subject he raised, but his opinion did not agree with Granny's ideas, and she had no hesitation in telling him so! How The all Highest felt I do not know, but I gathered that he behaved impeccably like the gentlemen he was. One feels that after the fawning German women, he enjoyed a woman who would really talk to him, especially a subject of his formidable uncle, Edward VII. [anecdote about Kaiser and Queen Victoria omitted here]

Granny had a fascinating scrapbook of cartoons in which she figured. In one of them she was chasing Sir George Reid in Sydney, singing 'I'll have Georgy Porgy on a sour apple tree' but I cannot recall what her row with him was about. The Sydney Bulletin was the perpetrator of a very choice cartoon. At the time Granny was campaigning for a sewerage system in all cities. During her visit to Sydney she gave a picnic for prominent people somewhere on the shore of the Parramatta River. The cartoon showed the party reclining on the grass with a night-cart standing by. Each bucket bore the label of some choice food, and the carton was captioned Mrs Dobson's Picnic.

Granny was a great traveller. She had been to every continent and numerous countries. She crossed from Japan, took the Tran Siberian Rail to Moscow, and trained on to St Petersburg. She also visited Alaska. Sometimes her journeys were in connection with some organisation - the National Council of Women was one - and sometimes for other reasons, family and so on. Granny could make herself understood in several languages, but in German she was fluent.

On one visit to England she received news that Grandpa was very ill in a hospital in New Zealand, and that the doctors had decided he would not recover. Granny took every shortcut to reach him. There was no air travel in those days. He was still alive when she arrived. She took charge, brushed the nurses aside and tended him day and night until she had pulled him through. When he was out of danger, the doctor in charge told her it was she who had saved his life. She was a fitting mate for the old battler.

In spite of her political and social activities, and running various societies she found time to make good use of her abilities as an actress and musician of high amateur status. Hobart in spite of having the oldest theatre in Australia still in use, was off the beaten track, and players and singers seldom made the trek south to Hobart. Granny and Mr A G Webster, who founded the well known firm bearing his name, put on a play in which they both appeared and for which they drilled the other players. Granny told me that Mr Webster had the most expressive face she had known and that in comedy scenes she often found it hard to stop herself from laughing. But her greatest achievement was in staging some of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. She coached all the singers in her drawing room both in their singing and acting.

Our amazing grandmother was a very good chess player. When playing against young people, or any poor player, she would start without her queen, a big handicap indeed. On board ship she played a lot, and was never beaten. On one voyage after calling at Naples, the Captain told her that a friend of his, who had just joined the ship, was a very keen chess player, and would she be kind enough to give him a game. They had a good tussle and he won. Only then did the Captain reveal that she had been playing against one of the European champions. There was laughter in which Granny joined and she was congratulated on the fight she had put up.

Granny was so talented that she had successes in two other fields - panting and cooking. Conrad Martens was delighted when she showed him many of her watercolours and he said he would give her a dozen of his in exchange for a dozen of hers. What higher praise could anyone expect than that? Six of the dozen he gave her were signed. The other six were not, and it is supposed that two or three of these were by his most advanced pupils.

As to the cooking Granny had a way of coaxing the well known chefs around Europe into giving her the recipes of dishes and sauces she had linked when dining in restaurants. As she was a good cook from a young age she easily learned to translate the recipes into the finished articles and she taught her own cooks (each cook that she had) to handle the job properly. At one point she failed to find a good enough cook in Hobart and asked my mother to find one in Sydney and bring her down when we made our annual visit, which was nearly due. This woman was good, too good, for she realised the value of Granny's recipe book; and when she left her place a few years later, it was found to be missing, but it was so difficult to prove that she had stolen it so nothing was done.

One of the Governors of Tasmania was without a wife, and he felt he needed a hostess when he gave a ball or any other public functional Government House, so he asked Granny to act as hostess on those occasions which she did.

When the Duke of York, who became George V later on, visited the Australian colonies, his study at Government House was furnished from Elboden Place, as it was then named. You will remember that in the drawing room, there was a lovely Italian walnut writing table with brass fittings. This was Granny's own, and was one of the pieces loaned for the Duke's study.

Granny had an autograph book of most of the famous people who visited Australia. Mark Twain asked Granny where he could obtain some leg irons that were plentiful at one time at Port Arthur. This she managed to do. In her autograph book he wrote, as far as I remember - Dear Mrs Dobson, Thank you for the leg irons of my dear departed grandfather.