Eloquence at the Eisteddfod

     “Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
     But spare your country’s flag,” she said.

     A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
     Over the face of the leader came;

     The nobler nature within him stirred
     To life at that woman’s deed and word;

     “Who touches a hair of yon gray head
     Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.


            Barbara Frietchie
            by John Greenleaf Whittier

The voice of my grandmother fills my head, accompanied by visions of ‘soldier’ children marching around the kitchen table, broomsticks over their shoulders.

I’m not sure if this is an actual memory of my older brothers wielding the broomsticks, or if it is the memory of a story told. The story would have been of earlier times and the children, my Dad, my uncles, and their cousin.

Olive Willis 1896-1970

No matter which is true, it is still Nanna, Olive Willis, that I see. Her thin frame is rock-steady, and her strong, determined voice declares “Dies like a dog! March on!”, followed by the barely-whispered “he said.”
And it was Nanna who was Barbara Frietchie, the one who dared to stand at her window in the Maryland town of Frederick and wave the Union flag at ‘Stonewall’ Jackson and his Confederate troops.

Olive Willis Elocution Medals – the one on the right has B E for Boulder Eisteddfod
Olive Willis Elocution Medal detail
B.U.F.S. Elocution Competition
Olive Willis – BUFS (Boulder United Friendly Societies) Carnival 1908

Olive Ann Willis was born 17th March—St Paddy’s Day—1896. It was as a young teen in the town of Boulder, on the goldfields of Western Australia, that her talent as an elocutionist came to the fore. She won several gold medals for her efforts in Recitation at the Boulder eisteddfods and competitions.

Olive Willis – Boulder Eisteddfod 1910

You can read the whole poem of Barbra Frietchie here. There has been much debate whether Barbara Frietchie did actually do what Whittier wrote about – perhaps a blog post for one of her descendants.

I have more to add to this story. I was contacted by Olive’s niece who shared some more stories with me. Olly (as she was known) taught her sister Dulcie, 12 years her junior, some elocution.

Dulcie also won prizes at the eisteddfod. One time, Dulcie won 1st prize at a Christmas fete (fair) for her recitation of “Little Orphan Annie” by James Whitcomb Riley. Afterwards, she found her father at one of the local hotels. He was so pleased with the win, he lifted Dulcie up onto the bar, where she marched up and down the length of it while reciting the poem.

Christmas fete at Boulder 1912

Advertising (1908, April 8). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article96578106
The Boulder Eisteddfod. (1910, May 31). Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), p. 12. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33366858
The Boulder Eisteddfod. (1910, May 31). Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA :1896 – 1916), p. 14. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33366923

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Olive Ann Willis (1896-1970)
Parents: John Joseph Willis (1869-1926) and Emmeline Dulcinea Ann Grenfell (1874-1956) 
Spouse: Walter Henry Bennett (1896-1934)
Spouse’s Parents: James Bennett (1872-1914) and Isabella Purcell (1875-1936)
Surnames: Willis, Grenfell, Bennett, Purcell
Relationship to Shelley: Olive is Shelley’s grandmother

  1. Olive Ann Willis () (1896-1970)
  2. Father
  3. Shelley

This entry was posted in Bennett Ancestors, Shelley's Ancestors and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Eloquence at the Eisteddfod

  1. crissouli says:

    Congratulations! Your blog is included in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at


    Thank you, Chris

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gbites19 says:

    Love the genealogy snapshot. What a great idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Cyndy Richardson says:

    I was listening to cylinder recordings of speeches from the early 1900s last night and I was struck by how different the enunciation seemed to be from what I hear today. The memory of hearing your grandmother recite seems like quite a treasure. I love that the contests provided winners with the medals–long-lasting keepsakes instead of something that would soon be gone.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. McKall Ruell says:

    What a great post! Wonderfully written and great sources! I also agree that the Genealogy Snapshot is a brilliant idea!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. While I enjoyed this entire post, my favorite part was the image of young Dulcie marching up and down the length of the bar reciting “Little Orphan Annie”!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, I can see Olly reciting and Dulcie marching too. NIce post! And the Genealogy Snapshop is a great idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. sebell95 says:

    What a beautiful photo of your grandma “Olly”! It is always such a treat to find those newspaper tidbits about our ancestors. And I love your little ‘genealogy snapshot’ at the end – what a great idea!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Laura Hedgecock says:

    It’s so wonderful that you’re continuing her “voice,” albeit in a different medium. What a great tribute.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. heatherrojo says:

    Loved this blog post. It reminded me of my grandmother, who could recite dozens of poems by memory. I can still hear her voice when I read these poems – she had a lovely Yorkshire accent!

    Liked by 2 people

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