Y is for Young Love

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Robert William Chapman by unknown photographer 1931 State Library of South Australia

I strongly suspected but now have confirmation that the men in my family were not the most stable, reliable, wealthy or long lived spouses for their unfortunate wives.  One successful union, however,  was that of Eva Maud Hall and Robert William Chapman.

Eva’s brother Walter (my grandfather) was working at the Newport Workshops in 1888 when he may have come across a smart, young university graduate who was working for a contractor on railway construction work.  How Robert met Eva will always remain a mystery.  She was 20 years old and the daughter of the drapers George and Sarah Hall of Williamstown.  The wedding took place in that same town on 14 Feb 1889 after which the couple moved to Adelaide and Robert became an assistant lecturer in Mathematics and Physics at Adelaide University.

The couple had eight children but little more is known about Eva except that she was a university wife and became the first president of the Wives Club.  According to her obituary she was largely responsible for the interest of the club in the Mareeba Babies’ Hospital.

I give full marks to Eva for her choice of husband.  Although born in England, Robert’s parents were from Melbourne.  His father, Charles was a currier, a specialist in the leather processing industry.  In 1876 the family returned to Melbourne where Robert attended Wesley College and the University of Melbourne.  It was between university studies and his appointment at Adelaide University that he met Eva.

The achievements of Robert Chapman are too numerous to list here.  He was responsible for promoting the professionalism of engineering and held the post of Professor of Engineering and Professor of Mathematics at Adelaide University alternately between 1907 and 1937.  He also taught mathematics at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries and instigated joint courses  between the two institutions.

His interests were varied.  He researched the structure of timber, metals and concrete.  Tidal behaviour and astronomy were other passions.  He consulted with the South Australian Government on bridges, roads, jetties, railways and breakwaters.  He wrote many books on these subjects.

This  description of him makes me think he might have been a good husband and life partner.

He had a faculty, amounting almost to genius, of being able to recognise the fundamental essentials in almost any problem.  This along with the great gift of humility, made him an excellent teacher and endeared him to his students.

By Philip Fargher  This entry was first published in S.A.’s Greats: The men and women of the North Terrace plaques, edited by John Healey (Adelaide: Historical Society of South Australia Inc., 2001).

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Photo of Robert Chapman by Walter Scott-Barry 1937 State Library of South Australia

To top it all, the year after Robert retired, in 1938,  he was knighted, so Eva became Lady Eva Chapman.  Talk about a knight in shining armour!

Of course life is never all smooth sailing and tragedy struck in World War 1 when their son Lieutenant Charles G Chapman of the Royal Engineers was killed in Mesopotamia at the relief of Kut.  The other two serving sons survived the war and all were gathered to celebrate the Golden Wedding at the Oriental Hotel in Adelaide in February of 1939.

According to the Adelaide Advertiser 18 Feb 1939 the sons at that time were Chief Engineer of the South Australian Railways,  Deputy Engineer for the Adelaide Corporation, Engineering Surveyor on the Goolwa Barrage, a Dentist in Clare and the owner of a “hydraulic sluicing claim” on the Bulolo, New Guinea.  The two daughters of course are not even named, but take on their husband’s names and have no role other than wives!

Eva was 73 when her husband died at the age of 75.  Four years later she too passed on, after a life which appears to have been fulfilling and rewarding.  In a time where women’s lives revolved around the nature of the man they married, Eva was one lucky woman.

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