Blanche Best -(nee Jeffrey 1884-1933)

We were just looking for the first fish and chip shop in East Fremantle when we came across the amazing story of the owner of that shop at 88 Canning Road, Richmond (between East Street & Angwin Rd and opposite the Tram stop). Blanche Best was an amazing woman- not only did she raise nine children but she was also the Proprietor of the tearooms at the Hydrodrome, South Beach in 1931 and during 1933 managed two shops; one in Cottesloe and one in East Fremantle. This building was demolished to make way for the Stirling Bridge. See photograph of row of shops that incorporated her Fish and Chip shop before demolition.

I would love Blanche to be part of the streetsofeastfreo. I have such an attachment to her and her courage to leave a disastrous marriage and be entrepreneurial in the middle of the Great Depression. Best wishes- Julia Sprengel.”

Blanche Jeffrey was born in October 1884 at Durham, England. Her parents Arthur Jeffrey and Mary Jane Alderson were 18 and 16 when she was born. In 1901 Blanche is recorded in the UK Census as living with her father (named as a caretaker at a Boarding School in Sunderland) and working, at the age of 16 - as a music teacher- earning enough money to support herself on her ‘own account’. 

She travelled to Fremantle in April 1904 at the age of 19 with her family; both parents and her  three sisters; Lilian, Sarah and Jane. Her father Arthur was a vaudeville entrepreneur: his first venture was to present a Pierrot show at an outdoor entertainment venue in Napier Street, Cottesloe:

1904 Mr Arthur Jeffrey, who has recently arrived from the old country, it is stated, with the highest credentials for this class of entertainment. Mr. Jeffrey states he has secured from the local authorities an ideal spot for his purpose, and that his patrons can, in plain sight of the sea, breathe the pure air and enjoy a wholesome form of amusement... (reference)

Well before Rolf Harris made a similar act popular in the 1970s- Arthur was known as a ‘lightning oil painter’ who not only painted scenery/posters for theatre productions but did a popular comedy sketch where he painted two landscapes in oils in ten minutes- and then presented the artworks in ornate gilt frames to the audience every night. (reference)

In May 1905 Arthur advertised himself as a Sub-Lessee and Director at the Cremorne Garden Theatre in Perth, where he advertised the Medora-Jeffrey Pierrot’s troupe (comedians and entertainers) (reference) but he also managed vaudeville shows at the Empire Theatre in July (reference). Sisters Blanche and Lilian Jeffrey also appeared in the Medoras-Jeffrey Pierrots stage shows; performing songs, humorous duets, dances, and instrumental selections... (reference)

In 1905 both sisters married. Lilian Jeffrey married Wilfred Stanley Robinson. They had two daughters before a baby boy, who died in 1910. Wilfred left Lilian, worked as a grocer in Donnybrook in 1912 and later enlisted in the AIF in South Australia in Dec 1914 (see link to a letter written by his second ‘wife’, Olive Robinson, in Echuca (page 10 of 77), 1942) (reference) When her husband left her Lilian lived with Blanche and John in Jolimont until 1917, when she moved to West Perth. She moved back to England in 1918.

1909 SUNDAY ENTERTAINMENTS. To the Editor. Sir, I see that church ministers are again crying out against Sunday entertainments. Whilst I myself am not in favour of the usual Sunday programmes, I think that it would only be a fair thing if the churches refrained from giving secular entertainments on week nights as it appears to me that the Church is entering into competition with the showman. A perusal of your advertising columns shows that one denomination is running a "bio"' show, whilst another sect have a big theatrical display pending in the Theatre Royal. I have every sympathy with religions effort, but every man to his trade. Yours, ARTHUR JEFFREY, Cottesloe, August 30. (reference)

Arthur and Mary Jane Jeffrey returned to the UK around 1912 (see photo), where Arthur died in 1937 and Mary Jane in 1950.

In 1905 Blanche married John Martin Best (1876-1939), a London engineer who had arrived in Perth in 1904. They made a family home at 23 Jersey-st, Jolimont.

Blanche was the mother of nine children:

  1. Edith Lilian (born 1906 in Subiaco),  m Sydney PV Harrison in 1928, 

  2. Hilda Dorothy Winifred (born in Subiaco in 1907), m 1938 Howard G Rawle, 1950 John Martin  Warren

  3. ‘Eva’ Evelyn Bertha Sarah (born in Subiaco in 1909), m Albert Felix Mollett in 1930  

  4. Mavis Florence Blanche (born in Subiaco in 1911), m Robert Samuel Girdlestone in 1939

  5. Audrey Louise Jane Allen (born in Subiaco in 1912), m Arthur Hodge in 1932

  6. Olive Irene (born in Subiaco in 1914),  m Henry Arnold Cross in 1933

  7. Elsie Gwenneth (born in Subiaco in 1916)

  8. John ‘Jack’  (born in Subiaco in 1918), m Grace Ness in 1936

  9. Mary Jeffrey (born in Subiaco in 1920), m L Flood in 1940, m Patrick Madden in 1959

1908 Birthday Cake Recipe-Cream half a lb. of best butter, with the same weight of sugar; add five well-beaten eggs; then add gradually ten ounces of sifted flour. Mix in the mixture one pound of fruit, (currants and raisins) ... Mrs. Blanche Best, 23 Jersey-st., Jolimont. (reference)

1911 The complaint of Mrs Blanche Best, of Jolimont, anent "Pluto" and his goats. One of the Plutonian goats trespassed on Mrs Best's property and started prospecting around a bed of peas. Our aggrieved correspondent caught the animal, intending to impound it, but "Pluto" came over with a carving-knife in-hand and set the prisoner free, uttering, Mrs Best asserts, abusive and threatening language the while. The lady promptly summoned for ‘’trespass and insulting words" but although the trespass was as clear as daylight, and tho complainant had corroborative evidence, the magistrates (Russell and Glick, JP's) dismissed both cases… "Pluto's goats,'' remarks our correspondent, "are an everlasting nuisance, and the man himself is the terror of the neighborhood. The women of Jolimont are mortally afraid of him. They would run a mile sooner than cross him."(reference)

1914 Blanche’s sister Sarah died at the age of 24, in Kellerberrin, of appendicitis. She left two small children and a heartbroken husband who put memorial notices in the paper for years. 

In 1931 Blanche was listed on the electoral roll as proprietress of the Hydrodrome tearooms in South Beach. She opened her ‘fried fish and pastry’ business at Canning Highway c. 1932. (reference). The Hydrodrome was built in 1916 as an annexe to the No. 8 Australian General Hospital at the Southern end of Fremantle Oval. After WWI, the Fremantle Council purchased, demolished and rebuilt it on South Beach. The Hydrodrome was opened in January 1923 and was part of the attraction of the very popular South Beach. (see photograph)

1931 Feb A shop at the Hydrodrome, South Fremantle, occupied by Mrs. Blanche Best; was broken into on Monday night, and a quantity of cigarettes and chocolates, valued at about £10, was stolen. Entrance was gained through a small door at the side of the shop. Detective Blight is investigating the occurrence. (reference) The tearoom conducted by Mrs. Blanche Best at the Hydrodrome, Fremantle, was broken into between midnight and 8 o'clock yesterday...(reference)

Blanche separated from her husband and, in 1931, was recorded as living on the corner of Battle St and the Perth-Fremantle Road (now Stirling Hwy), Buckland Hill (reference) and the financial hardship of the Depression began to have a negative effect on her business.

6 July 1931 “I will not be Responsible for any debts incurred by my wife, Blanche Best, from this date J.M Best” (reference)

Aug 1931 IN THE SUPREME COURT OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA- WILLIAM EARLY HAYES versus JOHN MARTIN BEST and BLANCHE BEST. On Monday, August 24, 1931, at 2.30 p.m.the Sheriff will cause to be sold by, Public Lic Auction at No. 40 Beaufort-street. Perth, opposite the Police Court Buildings, all the defendant's right, title and interest in one piano Richard Deicken, Berlin, 2 H.B. Chairs. Pedestal, 2 Jardinieres, one Bedroom Suite of 4 pieces, Jarrah Occasional Table... (reference)

1932 Bob McCormick, baker, and Blanche Best, a shopkeeper, were each fined £2 for having failed to furnish income tax returns. Mr. F. Arthur prosecuted on behalf of the Taxation Department.(reference)

Tragically Blanche took her own life on the evening of Dec 28 1933.

1934. An inquest was held at the Fremantle Courthouse yesterday concerning the death of Mrs. Blanche Best (49) who was found dead at her shop at 88 Canning-road, East Fremantle, with her head in the oven of a gas stove, on December 28. Mr. A. McLeod, J.P. was Acting-Coroner and Sergeant Robinson examined the witnesses. Dr Alan Bean gave the opinion that deceased died from asphyxiation. There were also signs of poisoning by carbon monoxide, one of the main constituents of coal gas. Thomas Bennett said that he called at the back of the shop at 9 a.m. on December 28 to deliver ice. He entered by the back door and put the ice in the chest. He noticed a smell of gas and opened the door into the kitchen. He saw the deceased lying on the floor with her head in the oven and a tablecloth over the back of her head. The gas was turned fully on. William George Woodlands said he was working for the deceased as cook and traveller for her fried fish and pastry business before her death. On December 27  he noticed that there was a shortage of money in a glass dish in the shop, which held money for the State charities consultation tickets. He asked deceased for an explanation and she answered, 'I used it for the shop at Cottesloe Beach' referring to another shop which she conducted. At this point Miss Hilda Best, daughter of the deceased, rose in the body of the court, saying, 'I protest to that absolutely. It is not speaking the truth.' The deceased, witness continued, told him to go to the Cottesloe Beach shop to collect the money and added, 'If you do not get it, I will make a hole in the water.' He left the shop. He returned later in the evening and found the door closed. He knocked but could not attract attention. Constable Treloar said he found the body in the position described by the witness Bennett. The deceased appeared to have been dead for some hours. He found three letters (produced) on a table beside the body. There were also a number of State charities consultation tickets and a handbag containing £2/7/2. The Acting-Coroner found that the deceased took her life while temporarily of unsound mind. (reference)

1935 In everlasting memory of my dear Mother, Blanche Best, who was called to eternal rest on December 28, 1933.
All we have willed, or hoped, or dreamed of good shall exist;
Not its semblance, but itself; no beauty, nor good, nor power.
Whose voice has gone forth, but each survives for the melodist
When Eternity affirms the conception of an hour.
Oh, for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is stilled.
Inserted by her ever loving daughter Hilda (Highgate). (reference)

Blanche’s husband John Martin Best died in 1939, aged 63. He had 12 grandchildren. (reference)

1940 After John's death- the entire house and contents of the Jolimont house were sold by auction. Detailed listing of contents here: (reference)

We would like to acknowledge the support of Julia Sprengel who has kindly allowed us to use her family photographs. Research by Shannon Lovelady, Reece Harley and Jo Darbyshire for the MoP, July 2019

Blanche Best with son Jack in 1921, colourised by M of P