A small general store has served Esperance and the surrounding area for eighty three years; it will be forever associated with the warm personality and friendly nature of Mrs Polly Charlotte Daw, who, with her husband James, founded it as the first shop supplying the necessities of life to that large area’s first settlers.
Polly Charlotte Cozins was born in Staffordshire, England, in 1854. With her parents, the Reverend and Mrs Samuel Cozins, she migrated to South Australia, where she was trained as a pianist and singer, and received an excellent education.
She married Francis James Daw in 1873, and happy years were spent sharing their deep interest in music and horses at their first home at Modbury. Tragedy struck when the child born there died in infancy.
They ventured into business at Tea Tree Gully, and there their first son was born; they spent a few years at Crystal Brook and later settled more permanently at Maitland, where they developed a farm and orchard as well as a shop. Polly’s home became the focal point for the musical interests of the district.
It was in 1894 that James and Polly took their courage in their hands, and set out for Esperance in Western Australia, taking with them their large family (now increased by six sons and five daughters), all their possessions and the timber for their new home. James had inspected the area the year before, and considered that it had good possibilities for settlement.
Friends had arranged to drive the family to a beach where a boat was to pick them up; it is not difficult to imagine how Polly must have felt when, after leaving the security of their comfortable home in Maitland, her family watched and waited on the beach all night for the boat, which did not come. In the morning, they returned, disappointed, to Maitland to await another boat.
There were to be many more setbacks before finally they reached their goal.
They settled in the premises of Esperance’s first shop, and immediately life in the district started to improve.
Schooling took a leap ahead because Polly wanted her children to be well educated, and engaged a governess from South Australia, who later took over the running of the local school, ably assisted by Polly’s eldest daughter, Gertrude.
She also was concerned about the founding of the Church of England in Esperance, so she and the governess, Miss Provest, worked unremittingly to this end; the organ in the church when it was built was bought largely through their efforts. It must have been a joy for Polly when, in 1897, two of her daughters had a double wedding the new church.
She and James, in addition to conducting their general store business, worked hard to establish an orchard on the banks of the Dalyup River; twelve hundred vines, five acres of apricots and seven acres of nectarines were planted in anticipation of a great demand when the proposed Goldfields railway was built. But it never was.
When Polly died in 1934, she left behind a memory and an example of integrity and friendly service to the community of Esperance, and a large family who were talented, musical and well respected, who mostly stayed in the district and contributed greatly to its welfare
She also left sheet music of songs she composed – mostly songs of praise for Esperance.
Compiled by Wendy Plunkett