A brief window in time
Amalie Frankenstein-Menz 1866-1948
Amalie Frankenstein was born circa 1866 near Allenstein, Prussia and died in Beechworth Asylum, Victoria on February 9, 1948. She was admitted to Beechworth Asylum on November 17, 1913.
Allenstein was a small bailiwick in East Prussia, which boasted its own castle and in 1822 it had a population of around 2000. The nearest large town was Konigsberg. Amelie and her father Max arrived in Melbourne in 1886 on board the Saler from Brennen. The Saler was the first ship to navigate through the Suez Canal. Then in 1892 Max’s wife, Rebekah and three other daughters arrived in the port of Melbourne on the Hohenstauffer. Very little is known of Amalie’s early life, but it would be reasonable to assume that life would have been difficult in Prussia following the events of 1863 to the 1870s. Large numbers of Prussian immigrants arrived in Australia at this time driven by the urge to find gold and also to escape from war-torn Europe. Schleswig-Holstein had been carved up once again and the Austro –Prussian and Franco –Prussian wars had decimated the economies of the small duchies.
Max Frankenstein worked as a hawker at the Melbourne and South Melbourne markets and his daughter’s Laura and Amalie worked as dressmakers and milliners.
Abel Menz was a native of Ulbretche, Suhlaria in Saxony and on migration to Australia he had settled in the Daylesford, Victoria. Abel had been a successful miner, businessman and hotelier and in 1983 he became a widow following the death of his wife Elizabeth Beuth, a native of Frankfurt en Main.
Abel desired to be married again. He had eleven children, the youngest Otto was thirteen. In the manner of the day, he placed an advertisement in The Argus newspaper. The advertisement was by Holt’s Matrimonial Agency. This was common practice in those times. All of Holt’s advisements carried a disclaimer by the Agency stating, “Marriages celebrated at Holt’s Matrimonial agency are all carried out by ordained Clergymen of the highest integrity not by Undertakers or ironmongers under the guise of clergymen….’ Holt’s Matrimonial Chambers 422 Queens Street Melbourne.
Both Laura and Amalie responded to Abel’s advertisement however, it was Amalie that won his fancy. And on June 9, 1896, they were married at her parents’ home, 64 Grattan Street Carlton. Amalie was 30 and Abel was in his 60th year. Abel and Amalie then returned to Hepburn, where Abel was the owner Hepburn Hotel (still operating today).
Family stories relate the young bride was not welcomed with open arms. Perhaps the reason was her age and the children considered her a ‘gold-digger’. Abel was Mayor of the Mt. Alexander Shire and a very wealthy man. Her age was probably a factor as Amalie was only three years older than Abel and Elizabeth’s oldest child.
There is little information about Abel and Amalie’s life together and the family stories are quite malicious. Stories abound of Amalie squandering Abel’s hard-earned fortune on going on a grand tour of Europe with her sister Laura. There is no foundation to this rumour, as there is no record of either Laura or Amalie leaving the country. In 1925 Laura signed a deposition stating she had not travelled outside the state of Victoria since her arrival in Australia. It would have been difficult, if not impossible for Amalie to have travelled overseas, as she became pregnant shortly after her marriage and went on to produce a child at regular intervals until Abel’s death on May 4, 1903.
In the best tradition of the Victorian Melodrama, it was hinted that not only did Amalie take the family lawyer as her lover, but that she did on several occasions try to murder her husband by poisoning him and by attempting to throw him down the stairs. The source of these stories was Abel’s daughter from his first marriage. It may have been bitterness on Lily’s part as father and daughter had fallen out over her choice of a husband and of her subsequent marriage to a penniless miner, By the time Abel had remarried Lily was widowed. Her husband had died tragically in a mining accident. She was penniless and struggling in dire poverty to raise five children under the age of six. They may have quarreled, but Able did not exclude Lily from his will. Perhaps Lily was jealous of the young wife and her new family.
One month following the birth of his son Norman, Abel died. His will which was probated on the first of July 1903 provided equally for the children of both marriages. Amalie together with his business partner, Michael Bedolla was appointed co-executors and joint guardians of any infant children.
It is now we see Abel’s children in their true light. Abel left an estate in excess of three thousand pounds, plus large amounts of business and land holdings. It would seem there was a great deal of friction between Amalie and her stepchildren who were all adults. This was due to Abel placing a clause in the will that would not allow the estate to be released until Amalie either died or remarried. He also provided for Elizabeth’s grave and headstone to be erected, (this was never done).
Researching this period has been problematic as it has been difficult to find facts that can be validated. There was much innuendo about her ‘carryings-on’ and dark hints that she was not a fit person to oversee the estate or care for her children.
What can be surmised is that Michael Bedolla failed in his duty as co-executor of the will and joint guardian of the children.
Research has shown that within three years the children were separated including the infant Norman and placed in separate orphanages. An interview in the 1980’s with the two daughters revealed they knew very little about their background apart from their father’s name and that they had a brother. The little information they had relating to their mother was all untrue. They had been told she had died in childbirth.
Research has also revealed that three years after Abel’s death, Amalie is revealed living in Hawke Street South Melbourne. At one time she resided in Hall Street in Moonee Ponds.
From The Argus Tuesday 27, 1909, Amalie Menz, of Hall-street, Moonee Ponds, widow. Causes of insolvency–Pressure of creditors, illness, failure of a tenant to pay rent due, and loss incurred through fire. Liabilities. £251/14/1; assets, £5358/; surplus, £283/13/11. Mr. L. A. Cleve-land, assignee.
The next we hear of Amelia is via the records of The Master in Lunacy. These reveal an ‘Emily Manse’ was admitted to Kew Asylum on September 12, 1911. The records are later amended to read Amalie Menz. She had been admitted to Kew on the recommendations of Doctors Herbert Wollard and D M Embleton of the Melbourne Hospital and her admittance was requested by J M McFayden nurse at the Melbourne hospital.
The admittance records state that the patient was suffering from voices in the head and was of sober habits and unaffected by alcoholism,
She was according to the documents 4’111/2 inches (149cms) tall and weighed 8 stone 4 lb (52 kilos). The records are quite detailed. They describe a scar on her right leg and mention the terminal and middle joints of her left index finger are missing. In addition, there was bad scarring on her right thumb and scars on her right index finger. The admission notes also record that on admission she was dirty, neglected and verminous, (the scars and loss of joints were not uncommon amongst seamstresses and milliners).
The notes detail that ‘she has been eccentric for years and that she is suffering from delusions as well as voices in the head. She appeared to be in possession of £7,000:00 which the nurses were trying to take away from her and that they were trying to poison her.’ She was aged 45 at this time.
There is no record of any person visiting her at Kew Asylum and on May 28th 1912, there is a note on file that any mail Amalie may try to send to Mrs Franks (her sister, the name has been anglicised) or Mrs Jensen (her other sister) were not to be sent on but to be destroyed.
Amalie’s incarceration in Kew ended in 1913 when she was transferred to Beechworth. During her two years at Kew, there were only 12 entries in the ward book and some of these are as little as five words.
One month after her admittance to Kew, October 1911, Abel’s elder sons moved to have both executors removed from authority and to be granted executors of their father’s estate. Twelve months following this submission, October 1912, The Honourable Mr Justice Hood ordered this be done. However despite a notice being served on the Master in Lunacy, Amalie was not represented at this hearing and neither were her children who had been placed in care. Nor was any document lodged giving notice of her mental capacity. The Honourable Mr Justice Hood then reversed his decision and ordered that the wishes of the deceased be upheld and the management of the trust was given into the hands of the Public Trustees; with the final distribution to be withheld until after Amelie’s death. No mention is made of the children of the marriage. (we now know these children had been separated and adopted).
As the records of the Beechworth Asylum from the period 1913, and including 1948( at the time of writing this original document in 1991) are sealed under the Victorian Parliamentary Privacy Act and it was not possible to fill in the details a Amalie’s final years (a new project to be explored). It was possible, however, to access the Coroner’s Inquest details following her death on February 9 1948.
The proceeding before the Coroner stated; ‘Amalie Menz met with her death from cardio vascular degeneration … She was admitted to the hospital for the insane at Kew on 12 September 1911 on warrants now produced. She was suffering from non-systematised delusional insanity and was transferred to the hospital for the insane at Beechworth on 17 November 1913. She gradually became demented. On 25 July 1947 she tripped on carpet and sustained an injury to her right leg and was transferred to the hospital ward…where she remained weak. She died at 8.00p.m on 9 February 1948.’ Other notations at the Inquest note that although she had not been visited by family, the Church of England Chaplain had attended her an a nurse had been with her when she died.’
She died not knowing what had happened to her children and her children knew nothing of her or their family. By the time of her death, excessive administration fees by the Public Trustees had severely eroded the substantial fortune left by Abel Menz and it is uncertain if her children received any benefit from their father’s estate or if indeed any attempt were made to find them, (later confirmed this to be true).
The Victorian Gazette, Number 539, May 19, 1948, page 3304, under NOTICE administration of estate records resides the following;
MENZ Amalie, sometimes known as Emily Manse late of Beechworth, widow died 9th February 1948 intestate… C J Gardiner Public Trustee.
She and her children had been abandoned. Judged insane, Amalie Frankenstein – Menz was dead to the outside world from the moment she entered Kew asylum in 1911.
Whatever her faults real or imagined, whatever her crimes real or imagined, she paid a price that was beyond imagining. To be incarcerated for 37 years, with no formal committal hearing and no apparent review was cruel and unjust. It shows both sides of her family in less than a positive light and a disregard for common decency and humanity.
This work is © to Linda Morse and may not be reproduced in any form electronic or otherwise without the permission of the author.
Part of this work was originally published by Linda Morse in The Victorian Genealogy Magazine Ancestor Spring Winter ed. 1991 pps.15-16