Who Was Maisie?

From childhood I knew that my mother Vada and her sister Betty had a friend called Maisie Vreede, who did not live in Australia. When Betty died in 1997 I found among her belongings a photo of a man and woman with a happy child between them labelled “Pete and Ina Vreede with Maisie Vreede”, and a hand-written letter in a faded envelope, which my Aunt Betty had labelled “Ina to Lily”. Lily (Hunt) d’Archy was my maternal grandmother.

With the advent of the internet, I did some searching in the early 2000s and discovered a few entries in the Dutch Who’s Who (Wie Was Wie). Maisie’s father Pieter Vreede was born in Benkoelen, Indonesia in 1880 and her mother Clasina Petronella Maria Welter in 1884, in Gouda, the Netherlands. Maisie was born in Sydney in 1915.

Knowing Maisie’s parents’ full names (or so I assumed from the above document), I discovered Ina’s death in England in 1968. But almost all attempts to discover Maisie and/or a family were unsuccessful.

Searching for Maisie turned up a shipping record for a Maisie Corfe-Vreede who arrived in Fremantle in 1944, a ‘Netherlands Government Offical’ travelling from England. I was not certain whether this was my Maisie. There did not seem to be any Vreedes living in Fremantle or indeed Western Australia.

The photo and letter remained in the back of my china cabinet – and my mind – for years. In late 2022 I decided to make a new search. With so much more information available on-line, and the knowledge of Maisie’s birth date and her mother Ina’s full name, it was possible to locate several family trees. On Geni, to which I had just recently renewed a subscription, I struck gold, in the person of Paul Vreede who had Pieter and Ina in his tree, but no knowledge of Maisie.

Our mutual searching soon turned up more information. Maisie’s birth on 29 January 1915 in Sydney was in the NSW BMD records (Ref. 1385/1915) under the surname Corfe. Her mother was Ettie G Corfe and her father’s name was not given. A family tree on Ancestry revealed her mother’s full name was Ettie Gladys Corfe (no other information given) and Ettie’s husband was Hughie McKenzie McKay. In addition to Maisie they had another child who married Jessie M. Watkins and had seven children. But when I contacted the tree owner, he said he had no knowledge of Maisie at all. That is the only tree on the internet which includes Maisie, and it had little information about Ettie.

Other trees on Ancestry were more forthcoming. Ettie was born in 1894 in Waverley, Sydney and died in December 1959 in Coffs Harbour, NSW, the daughter of George H. Corfe (born in London in 1868) and Mary Ann Howes (also English). Ettie married Hughie in 1916 in Bellingen, NSW (close to Coffs Harbour). Did Hughie know about Maisie? Ettie and Hughie had a varying number of children. There was a Mrs M A Corfe in the Sands directory for 1893, listed at Bourke St. Sydney. She later died in Bellingen (near Coffs Harbour).

There are actually 65 public trees on Ancestry containing Ettie and Hughie Corfe. They vary in the amount of information given, particularly regarding the number of children (2-4, although one tree gives seven). There is also a Korfe family tree on Geneanet which lists Ettie, Hughie and three children (two sons, one daughter) but no Maisie. Ettie had at least five siblings. The related families seem to have always lived in the Coffs Harbour, NSW area after emigrating from England.

Paul discovered an official Dutch record dated 29 December 1925 which details a request by Maisie’s foster parents to have her name legally changed to Corfe-Vreede. So that solved one mystery. Maisie was adopted.


Paul and I have been able to track the Vreedes and Maisie over the years, at least to some extent.

But first, I was curious as to when and where my grandmother Lily (Hunt) d’Archy and Ina Vreede first meet. I had assumed it was in Sydney, where Maisie was born in 1915. But Lily did not live in Sydney until some years later.

Lily married Dick d’Archy in Toowoomba, Southern Queensland, Australia on 29 December 1908 in the grounds of Girton College, the girls’ school which Lily’s elder sister Fanny had founded. Lily’s mother Margaret (Morgan) Hunt and another sister Margaret Ann (Maggie) were also living at the school. At that time Dick d’Archy was the manager of ‘Chatsworth’ and later ‘Headingly’, both remote cattle stations in North-West Queensland. Their first child Nancy Elizabeth (known as Betty) was born in Toowoomba in 1910; presumably Lily wanted to be nearer to her mother Margaret (Morgan) Hunt who had had ten children. Their second, Lilian Vada (known as Vada) was born in 1913 in Cloncurry or on ‘Headingly’ in the district during the northern Queensland ‘Wet’ season when travel was virtually impossible. So Lily’s children were a little older than Maisie.

Chatsworth Station, about 1911. The baby is Betty.
Lily and Dick d’Archy with Vada and Betty in 1915

Dick d’Archy enlisted soon after World War I was declared, and his little family went back to the family home ‘Redmarley’ in Mackenzie St. Toowoomba. Lily’s sister Maggie, who had previously worked at Fanny’s school, married George Washington Griffiths in 1911 and it is possible that ownership of ‘Redmarley’ passed to the Griffiths, who were also living there at the time, although most of their (relatively short) married life was spent travelling the world. Also at ‘Redmarley’ at the time were Lily’s mother Margaret (Morgan) Hunt and Lily’s sister Fanny. The large old house was called ‘Redmarley’ after the Hunt family’s ancestral village in Worcestershire.

In 1916 Pieter and Ina Vreede travelled from New Zealand to Melbourne and then to southern Queensland with a Mr. F. Vreede. From some newspaper items it seems clear that they must have known the Hunt family beforehand.

The Darling Downs Gazette on 7 February 1916 published a story under the heading Woman’s Ways – Le Beau Monde – What People are Doing. A similar but less lengthy article had also appeared in the same newspaper two days earlier which stated the Griffiths had met their guests in Brisbane and accompanied them to Toowoomba. Also that “Mr Vreede who with his wife is touring Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, is the Manager of Pangoongriedjo, one of the most extensive sugar plantations in Java.“

Typical of the overblown society reports of the time, the details were probably supplied to the social reporter by Maggie Griffiths.

So it would seem the Vreedes’ initial contact with the Hunt-d’Archy family was with Maggie rather than Lily. They probably met Maggie and her husband when the latter were touring the world following their marriage in 1911. So far no shipping records have been found which show both families on the same ship.

Maisie was born in 1915. But when was she adopted? She may or may not have been with the Vreedes when they visited Toowoomba. Children were not usually mentioned in the newspapers.

The Vreedes and Maisie must have gone back to the Java plantation for a time. A record shows that Pieter, Clasina and their “adopted daughter” Maisie sailed from Batavia (ie Java) to San Francisco on the SS “Grotius” in January 1919; their address was given as “Dutch East Indies”.

Perhaps that was just on the way to the Netherlands; a later 1919 passenger list shows the little Vreede family travelling with a nurse from New York on the “Noordam” to an address in The Hague care of a Mr. Doffegnies.

The family had their photographs taken in Amsterdam in 1919 (Maisie’s was entitled Maisie Katleen Corfe Vreede). If there was ever any doubt that I had the correct family, this was put to rest when I discovered a set of photographs from an Amsterdam studio. The same photo my aunt had! Maisie looks such a happy and well-loved child.


The Vreedes must have returned to Australia again, as there is a shipping record showing they travelled from Sydney to Tasmania in December 1922. Then back to Java on the “Houtman” departing Sydney 23 March 1923 (“Mr. and Mrs. P. Vreede and Miss Vreede”); and finally back to the UK as another record shows “Mr and Mrs P. Vreede and child” sailed from Sydney for London on the RMS “Orvieto” in January 1924. They continued on to the Netherlands that year as they are listed initially staying at a hotel in The Hague before moving into a house there.

A civil registry of The Hague for 1925 gives Maisie registered under the name Corfe and a note with the address saying she lived with P. Vreede (foster parent). As we know her parents applied to legally change her name later that year. Another record shows the family moved from The Hague to London in 1925.

Meanwhile Lily d’Archy plus her daughters Vada and Betty and her sisters Fanny Hunt and Maggie (Mrs Griffiths) arrived in London on the “Ormonde” in 1925 (George Griffiths had died in1924). They returned three years later; a record shows them arriving in Fremantle from Italy in January 1928. Did they meet the Vreedes in England, the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe? Almost certainly the two families must have spent time together, as evidenced by the long friendship between Maisie, Vada and Betty.

Vada and Betty at Chamonix (SE France) about 1926

Maisie travelled to the USA alone when she was aged 21 as a record shows her travelling back from New York to London, arriving on 6 April 1936. She gave her occupation as student and her address as 4 Queen Avenue, Cambridge. It is not yet known if she obtained a degree from that university.

Her adoptive father died in Belgium on 2 December 1936. Maisie visited him in Belgium, perhaps even lived with him for a time, as she signed his death certificate; there is a record of her returning to Amsterdam to an address at which her father was also registered.

Pieter left a will which apparently took eleven years to be resolved; Clasina received £640, which in 1947 would have had a purchasing power of about £27,800. No mention of Maisie.

Maisie must have sought refuge from the approaching world war in England – perhaps (as the 1944 shipping record indicates) she was working for the Dutch Government. In 1940 she was living in Flat 3, Saulsbury Court, Hartland Road, Harlesden, listed as “Miss M. Corfe”. (London City Directories). There was no sign of her mother.

Her mother travelled to Grenoble in France in 1941 where she lived for the duration of the 1939-1945 war, as evidenced by the letter she wrote to Lily. (Reproduced in full at the end of this story). Why was she there and not in England?

In that letter she thanked Lily for sending her Red Cross parcels via a Mrs Saunders in England. It would appear that Mrs Saunders took in Ina and possibly Maisie for a while as well. She had a grandiose address, “Ballards Mead” in Ballards Lane, Limpsfield, Surrey – an address which Maisie was later to use. The inference from the wording of Ina’s letter is that Lily d’Archy introduced Ina to Mrs Saunders. Perhaps Vada and Betty d’Archy and also Maisie were friends of Mrs. Saunders’ daughters.

Two houses for sale in Ballards lane in 2022 – for over £3 million each

The 1939 Register for England shows Mrs Saunders was born in1894 and at the time of the Register was aged 45 and had five unrelated people living with her – including a nursery governess and a cook. Ina was not in this Register; nor was Maisie, who we know was living in Harlesden close to London.

According to the memoirs of Winston Churchill’s youngest daughter Mary Soames, Mrs. Margaret Saunders was a “rich widow” whose two daughters Betty and Eve were great friends of Mary. (Below is an extract from the book).


In May 1944 Miss Maisie Kathleen Vreede was on the “Nestor” in Fremantle, Australia, in First class, having boarded at Liverpool and due to embark at Melbourne; she gave her address as Ballards Mead, Limpsfield, Surrey and her occupation as Netherlands government Official. Her Australian address was c/- the Commonwealth Bank, Melbourne. Another list gives British passengers embarking on the “Nestor” and this time Maisie is “Corfe-Vreede, Maisie K, Miss”, aged 29. She was alone.

Maisie returned to England the following year on the “Rangitata” departing from Sydney and arriving in Southampton on 26 August 1945. She was aged 30, single, occupation civil servant, and her address in England was given as Ballards Road, Limpsfield, Surrey. According to English voting registers, she was registered at that address for the next ten years, implying that she had obtained British citizenship. Maisie was most likely reunited with her mother in England.

Did Maisie ever search for her birth mother? Maisie was born in Sydney in 1915, but shortly after that her mother moved to the far north coast of NSW, where she married in 1916 and lived the rest of her life in or near Coffs Harbour.

Earlier, while in Amsterdam, Maisie passed a diploma exam for teaching English before a central jury in Utrecht, and may have pursued further studies in England.


The letter which Ina wrote to my grandmother Lily from Avenue d’Eylius (d’Elysee?) was dated 27 Dec 1944 and was written in Grenoble, France It starts with:
“I was quite prepared for the blackest Xmas of my life when on the rmorning of the 25th arrived a card from Maisie. I had been for a long time without any news from her; her last Red Cross message told me that she had left for Australia… I came to Grenoble in July 1941 and have never left it… In August we lived through the emotions of the Liberation..”

Ina also wrote from Grenoble: “Do you still have tea in Australia? We are deprived of everything but rather nasty bread and some, getting very old, potatoes. Millk, butter chees, jam, sugar, eggs, one forgets that they exist. Of course with lots of money there are quite a few things to be had, black market flourishes in France, but I am poor now, my reserves have dried up and what the Consulate gives just keeps one going.”

Curiously, Ina must have come into some money later – in July 1953 aged 69, she was listed as a cabin passenger on the “Queen Mary” heading to New York from Southampton, London. She gave her last address in the UK as 24 St. Mary Ave, London (almost next door to the present day “The Gherkin”!) and said England was the country in which she intended to live permanently in the future.

Maisie was not on that voyage. One wonders if Ina travelled with someone. Pieter’s long delayed bequest of £640 had arrived six years earlier in 1947.

Ina returned to England a year later. “Clasina Vreede-Welter aged 69, no occupation”, departed New York and arrived in Southampton in 1954. She gave her proposed address as “Over the Way”, Westerham, Kent. There is a pub there called the “Real Ale Way”. She never returned to the Netherlands.

Clasina Petronella Maria Vreede-Welter (Ina) passed away on 2 December 1968 in NW Surrey; her address at the time was The Cambridge Hotel, Camberley. The Probate Calendar for 1969 lists her under Welter – Clasina Petronella Maria Vreede-Welter of the Cambridge Hotel Camberley Surrey Died 2 December 1968 Administration Winchester 13 October. £ 554.”

The Cambridge Hotel, Camberley

Meanwhile Maisie was working in Europe, mainly Switzerland. She was listed as the author of a radio play broadcast in 1950, and many others at other times:

At the time of her retirement in about 1975 she was an English teacher in a college in Basel.

Also https://www.helveticarchives.ch/detail.aspx?ID=393548. It says: “Englischlehrerin Basel” (English teacher Basel) “Rücktr” (short for ‘Rücktritt’ , meaning ‘retirement’) and then a reference to p 15 of the Basler Nachrichten newspaper of 25 March 1975 where presumably the announcement was made. (Not online accessible).

Maisie does not appear to have married or have children. An announcement in 1946 about an impending marriage on 11 July that year listed “Ballards Mead” Limpsfield as one of her addresses. Sadly, it was soon followed by another announcement postponing /cancelling the first.

To date (October 2022) Maisie’s death cannot be found in England, the Netherlands, other European countries or Australia. It is not known if she ever sought out her birth mother, who died in 1959 in Coffs Harbour, just five days after her husband.

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Paul Vreede for his great help in locating various records and also for translating many Dutch documents.

(c) Nancy Vada Gibb
Christchurch NZ 2022

Following: the letter from Ina Vreede-Welter to Lily d’Archy, who would have been living in Rose Bay, Sydney at yet another “Redmarley” by the time she received it.

(c) Nancy Vada Gibb Christchurch NZ 2022

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