The Real Fay

In 1914 Fay lived on Breaksea Island with her lighthouse keeper father. When I started writing Lighthouse Girl in 2005, very little was known about Fay’s life at that time. Now, seven years after the release of my book, Fay’s descendants have kindly shared the following details:

black and white photograph of the real Fay Howe

A photograph of the real Fay Howe – courtesy of Fay’s son, Don Watson

Fay was born in 1899 at Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse. She was the youngest child with one brother (Harold) and two sisters (Evelyn and Ada) born before her. The family moved back to Albany when Fay was six years old. Father Robert Howe was then stationed on the remote lighthouse on Breaksea Island. The three older children remained in Albany with relatives for their schooling while Robert, Hannah and Fay lived at Breaksea Island.
As Fay grew up she became proficient with a gun and was able to supplement the family meals with mutton birds and rabbits. Fay was also able to collect greens – stinging nettles as their main vegetable. Mother and Father Howe taught Fay to read, write, do arithmetic, crochet, sew, cook together with signalling with flags, semaphore, Morse code and telegraphy. She became very proficient in all aspects life and was a very capable and confident young person.
In 1913, when Fay was thirteen, her sister Ada gave birth to a child but died in childbirth (or from a lung disease soon after). The baby, Stanley was taken out to the island for Mother Howe to rear. Unfortunately Mother Howe died early 1914 and Fay was left to rear the child.

1914 shipping activity hyped up in Albany – the first AIF fleet formed to carry Army troops, horses and supplies to WWI. Lighthouse Girl book is born.

Soldiers sent postcards to Fay thanking her for relaying their messages to loved ones. Although these postcards were (as far as the family knows) inadvertently thrown away after Fay’s death, her son, Don Watson remembers sorting through dozens of these postcards when he was a child.

In 1915 James Watson was sent to Breaksea Island as a relief Lighthouse keeper when the other Keeper was transferred. Fay looked after both Keepers with cooking and washing duties. Fay and James fell in love and were married in December 1916. Their first child, Doreen was born in September 1917. Like many women of that era, Fay suffered the loss of children (Jimmy died at 18 months and Robert died at birth). Another daughter, Marjory was born in 1923 and son, Don followed in 1931. 

While living with James’ parents, Fay and James saved to buy a house in Duke St, East Fremantle, where Fay lived for most of her adult life. After James died in January 1946, money was very short. Fay turned her skills to dressmaking, then managed to obtain a position as Wardress at Fremantle Women’s Prison (around 1950). Fay passed away in mid 1968, just short of her 68th Birthday. At the time of her death, Fay left behind three married children and nine grandchildren.

Thank you to Fay’s descendants for providing details of her life after Breaksea Island.