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Ada Wilhelmina Zwar (E11)

  • Born: 9th November 1877 Broadford, Victoria, Australia
  • Parents:
    Michael and Agnes Zwar nee Zimmer
  • Lived:
    Victoria: at Broadford and Melbourne in Australia; and Johannesburg in South Africa
  • Died: 30th October 1958 in Moorabbin, Melbourne aged 80 years
  • Buried:

Detailed biography

The eleventh child and fifth daughter of Michael and Agnes Zwar.

The Youngest

Ada was the youngest and the only child to be born in the new house built on the Zwar farm at Broadford. The house later became called “The Ranch”.

Ada Wilhelmina Zwar arrived on 9th November 1877, the fifth daughter and the last of eleven children born to Michael and Agnes. Agnes was then 42 years old. Ada was born an auntie. Her sister Anna was married to George Bidstrup and they had two children before Ada was born. Ada was 23 years younger than her eldest brother Adolphus.

Ada was baptized by Rev. Andrew Toomath in the Broadford Church of England on 6th February 1878. Rev. Toomath became a great friend of the family and was remembered with affection long after he left the District. The same year Ada was baptized, her father Michael made his long hoped for visit back home to Saxony in Europe.


In 1884 Ada started school at Broadford State School No. 1125. Two years earlier her sister Emily had left home to marry Thomas Marchbank. Much of Ada’s later life would be spent with her sister Emily.
In 1885 Ada won a book called “The History of the Robins” as a prize for the second class.
 By the time she finished school, another sister Mary-Anne had died, and her brothers John, William and Adolphus were married. Henry had gone to the Beechworth tannery to work with Albert, so there were only Charles and Agnes at home with Ada and their parents.
 Ada was only 13 years old when her mother died. She went to live with her sister Emily and Thomas Marchbank at Wattle Grove, a dairy farm about three kilometres east of Broadford.

The Dressmaker

Ada trained as a dressmaker in Melbourne. She rode her bike to the railway station in Broadford and caught the train to Melbourne for her lessons. She led quite an active social life. At one stage Dr. Bernard Zwar courted her, and they went to South Australia to visit his family. However his father would not allow them to marry as they were first cousins, and the two remained good friends over the years.

Ada went to Tasmania with her friend Fanny Bidstrup for a holiday. On board ship Ada met Sam Crowl, from California Gully near Bendigo, and they became engaged before he left for America where he worked as a miner.


In 1904 Ada kept a diary for 3 months. She was 26 years old. The diary gives us a good insight into her life at this time.

Ada was usually occupied with her dressmaking. She often spent the whole day sewing. The diary mentions,

‘pants for Thomas Marchbank’, uniforms for her nursing sister Agnes, a blouse for Emily; making aprons, cutting out a dress for Grace, sewing a black satin apron, a green petticoat, and a lot of sewing for the Church of England Bazaars.


Ada was a strong and practicing Christian. She sang in the church choir, which usually practiced on Thursday nights, and played the organ for services when the regular organist could not attend. Unless it was too wet Ada attended services on Sunday morning and again in the evening. Her diary mentions when the sermons were good or boring! The church was often packed out at night. As well as sewing for the bazaars, Ada ran a stall selling flowers. In 1900 she received a book from the Sunday School, presumably for her work as a teacher.


On the farm Ada helped with the milking, the washing, ironing and cleaning, and sometimes went fishing with Emily and Thomas. When Thomas had his team of workmen home – up to twelve men who worked the threshing machine – Ada would become exhausted helping Emily cook and feed them all.

A Social Life

Every day, almost without exception, there were callers or visitors. Either one of the Zimmer boys from Epping (her cousins Charles, Nick and Abb) would come for a night, or local friends or relatives would call in. Otherwise she was out visiting herself. Sometimes they went for a drive, climbed the Sugarloaf Mountain, played cards, or sat and talked. Some evenings they saw slides on the magic lantern, sang songs round the piano, played music on the piano or violin, or gave recitations.


Trips to Melbourne were a highlight for Ada. She enjoyed shopping sprees, but not a visit to the dentist where she “made a dreadful noise, cried and laughed together” as the dentist drew two teeth without anaesthetic. On her next visit the dentist gave her an anaesthetic!
 In Melbourne she stayed with her brother Bill (and his wife Lucy) at Preston, visited friends, and was taken out to dinner by her cousin Dr. Bernard Zwar. She also enjoyed speaking ‘through the phone’ to Bernard and her other friends.


At home Ada regularly called at the Post Office. She corresponded with a number of friends but her greatest thrill came with letters and postcards from Samuel Crowl in America. Letters came every week. When she received two letters and a postcard on the same day she notes in her diary,

“(raised to seventh heaven in consequence)”.

On another day,

“Had three letters from America and four P. cards, feeling happy in consequence.”

A fortnight later the diary ends.

Marriage in South Africa

Meanwhile Sam Crowl left America to work in the gold mines at Johannesburg in South Africa. Ada travelled over to South Africa toward the end of 1905 and they were married in January 1906. Ada was 28 years old.

Return to Australia

Their first son, Lyall Zwar Crowl, was born at Germiston, a suburb of Johannesburg, in October. It is one of the rare cases of the name ‘Zwar’ being used as a Christian name. Soon work became scarce and Sam considered returning to America. Ada wrote home that she dreaded the thought of moving to America, so her sister Emily Marchbank quickly wrote back and invited them to come and run the dairy farm at Broadford as her husband Thomas was suffering from diabetes. In 1907 the Crowls returned to Australia together with John Crowl, a son of Sam from a prior marriage, and they lived with the Marchbanks at Wattle Grove.

Life in Broadford with her Sisters

Thomas Marchbank died the following year. Sam Crowl found it difficult to suddenly become a farmer at nearly 40 years of age. He had been a miner all his life. He had a chest condition akin to silicosis and also suffered severely in the hot weather. He held office in the local Labor party. His political views did not endear him to his National Country Party relatives.

Silver Leaf Tree

A second son, Gavan Michael Crowl was born in 1910 but it wasn’t long before Ada was a widow. Samuel Crowl died in 1912 (?).

A silver leaf (Leucodendron) tree grew on the right hand front of the house in front of Ada’s window. It was particularly cherished as it was a South African native tree.

Dairy Farm

Ada worked hard at dressmaking to provide for her sons, and helped her sister Emily Marchbank run the dairy farm. Their nursing sister Agnes would come and stay from time to time. When her nursing career ended Agnes moved in permanently with her two widowed sisters, and the three ladies worked to keep the farm going and to bring up Ada’s two boys Lyall and Gavan.

The Train

The railway line ran near their house. The three sisters knew which train their brother Albert would be travelling on from Beechworth to Melbourne where he used to sit as a member of Parliament. His sisters would stand outside their home and wave as the train passed, and Albert’s portly figure could be seen in the train doorway with his handkerchief fluttering a greeting. This regular event made their day.


Ada was called on to play the organ again in the Church of England. Even in her later years she still helped out, though reluctantly. She was “out of practice” and would suffer from ‘stage fright’. For a number of years the three sisters ran the flower stall at the church bazaars.

Home Life

At home Emily looked after the cows and the vegetable garden.
 Agnes tended the flower garden and the poultry. Ada was responsible for the housework.

As well as her sewing she prepared the meals and did the washing. In the late 1930’s Paul (Garry) Zwar called on them and sold them a “Zwar” washing machine. It proved to be very effective. (Garry Zwar was a second cousin from South Australia. Garry was the son of Bertha Zwar nee Becker and more closely related to me through the Beckers than the Zwars (K P Z). Garry later settled in Queensland and retired in Brisbane).

William Zwar Visits

Their brother Billy would visit them at unexpected and infrequent intervals from King Island. He would bring a kangaroo hide, beautifully tanned and skilfully cut into bootlaces. He would do some work round the farm such as burning off the back paddocks. Emily was always very sympathetic and considerate with Billy’s visits, though Ada became less so if the stay was a long one. She had to cook for him and do his washing.

A Good Shot

Ada would sometimes go with her sisters on a fishing excursion, but mainly for the outing. She was not as keen as the other two on fishing. Ada preferred the rabbiting expeditions. She was a particularly good shot with the rifle.

When they bought a car Ada did the driving, as Emily and Agnes did not learn to drive. Her two boys were growing up. Lyall left home to study in Melbourne in 1922, and four years later Gavan followed him.


Lyall returned home early in the thirties and developed a poultry farm at Wattle Grove. In 1936 he married and built a home about 250 metres south of the old house. The original home was removed to make way for the large freeway, which passes near Broadford today.

Her Final Years

Agnes died in 1948. When Emily died in 1951 she left the farm to Lyall and Gavan Crowl. Ada did not want to leave Wattle Grove. A Dutch couple who worked for Lyall lived in the house with her for a time to keep her company and to help with the housework.

Ada broke her hip in a fall in a shop in Broadford in 1946 when she was 69 years old. 
When Ada was 79 years old she moved in with her son Gavan and Betty at Moorabbin where they had an extra room built on for her. The following year she entered a rest home near Brighton, but suddenly the supervisor’s husband died and the inmates were moved to another rest home in Caulfield. Ada’s health continued to fail and she soon moved into a nursing home at Moorabbin where she passed away on 30th October 1958 aged 81 years. She had been a widow for 46 years after a marriage of only 6 years.

Ada possessed a strong personality. She was meticulous in her work. She didn’t let anyone influence her opinions.

Wattle Grove

The Wattle Grove property remains with Zwar descendants. On Lyall Crowl‘s death in 1966 his brother Gavan bought out his half of the property. In 1968 Gavan and Betty built a new home on the farm. The old house was bulldozed to make way for the freeway. As one passes by Broadford on the southbound lanes of the large freeway one would need to look straight up a few metres to see the spot where the old Marchbank home used to stand.

© Kevin P Zwar