On International Women’s Day this is for the women of the Western District. The women who arrived in a new country, often as newlyweds with no other family, those who walked behind a plough planting seed, those who didn’t see their husbands from dawn to dusk or weeks at a time and the women who gave birth in a tent or shack sometimes without another woman present. It’s for the benevolent women, the pillars of the church, the businesswomen, the matriarchs, and in many cases their husband’s rock. It’s for those women who lost their husbands young, and were left to raise children and survive in a man’s world. For many of these women, their lives went by unheralded.
As it’s also Women’s History Month, this is the first post during March remembering some of the great pioneering women of the Western District. Firstly I will focus on those I’ve discovered through monthly Passing of the Pioneers posts. For many of those women, I’ve had to draw on their husband’s life story to get some idea of their own. For others we are lucky as something of their lives still remain, maybe a letter or a diary and we glean some idea of who they really were. Even in their obituaries, women were mostly known by their husband’s name, for example, Mrs John Little or Mrs James Berry. At least those who were given an obituary have something of them left behind, for others their lives passed silently and without celebration.
Hopefully, the women I have selected to celebrate this month are representative of those women whose stories have been lost. Also, because most women lived behind the names of their husbands, I’ve chosen to remember the women by their maiden names. Click on the underlined text through the post to read more information about a subject.
NICOL, Janet (c1822-1903) Also known as Janet Laurie and Janet Black
Janet was born in born in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1822, the daughter of Professor Andrew Nicol a linguist, university lecturer and head of a boys’ college. Janet, one of eight daughters, attended boarding school and like her father could speak several languages. In 1841, she married the Reverend Alexander Laurie and shortly after they sailed to Port Phillip aboard the appropriately named William Nicol, arriving in February 1842. Alexander was appointed the minister for the Portland Bay Presbyterian Church so they sailed for Portland Bay. On arrival at Portland, Janet was carried ashore and on the same day, she gave birth to her first child Alexander John Laurie. The Lauries couldn’t stay at any hotels because of quarantine restrictions so they camped under a shelter near the flour mill in the bitter cold, They soon settled in the town and another son Andrew was born the following year.
The year 1848 was tumultuous for Janet. Alexander was accused of spending time in the company of a young lady, even travelling away with her. The church frowned on his behaviour and Alex was removed from his role, not because of the shame he brought to his wife and children, but the shame he brought to the church. A report of his falling out appeared in the Geelong Advertiser of July 11, 1848. In 1850, Alexander started making the news in a different way when he took over the Portland Herald in Gawler Street. The Portland Guardian remarked,”Mr Laurie would have seemed to have abandoned the use of his church for the Herald and exchanged religion for politics”.
In 1854, Alexander died at the age of thirty-six, leaving Janet with four young children. She took over the running of the Portland Herald and after a short break, resumed publication every Friday with a promise the paper would be “renewed in strength and efficiency” and before long the subscribers to the paper grew.
Janet also set up an employment registry in 1856 operating it until 1861 from her home in Percy Street.
Janet finished up the Portland Herald in 1860 and she and the children went to Mount Gambier where she assisted two of her sons in setting up the Border Watch, a paper still published today. The paper was established in the name of second born son Andrew, then seventeen and the first edition published on April 26, 1861. The name for the paper came from Janet as there was a Border Watch newspaper on the border of Scotland and England. Given the close proximity of Mount Gambier to the South Australian/Victorian border, it was a perfect choice.
In the same year, Janet married widower Joshua Black of Cork Hill, Bridgewater. Joshua was a father to seven children and Janet must have been busy helping her sons with the paper and the duties of matrimony. Janet and Joshua had three children together, the first in 1862 when Janet was forty. By 1865, there were fifteen children aged from twenty-two to newborn. Joshua Black died in 1876 aged seventy-six. Janet continued on at Bridgewater and was involved in the community.
She died in 1903 aged eighty-one and was buried in the North Portland Cemetery in the same grave as Alexander Laurie. The Portland Guardian of 29 July 1903 reported that “the funeral procession was one of the largest, if not the largest seen in Portland.” Returning to Alexander in death was possibly something Janet would not have wanted. Her thirteen years with Alexander were not happy times. Aside from his adultery, it seems Janet also endured family violence. She was known throughout her life as having a hearing impairment, put down to the cold on her first night in Portland. Ann Grant and others in a paper, “Portland – The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”, tells of police records showing Janet had charged Alexander with assault and her deafness was in fact caused by a blow from him.
COLE, Elizabeth (c1845-1942). Also known as Elizabeth Dalziel.
Elizabeth Cole was seven when she sailed into Hobson’s Bay in December 1852 with her family aboard the Bombay, the same ship my ggg grandparents James Mortimer and Rosanna Buckland arrived on. Once in Port Phillip Bay, the ship was placed in quarantine because of a typhus fever outbreak on board. During the 111 day voyage, at least twenty-four of the 706 passengers died from various causes including typhus. After they disembarked, the family went to the diggings at Ballarat.
The family then went to Port Fairy and Elizabeth remembers the first bullock team of Walter Manifold and was soon driving bullocks herself and despite being only a teenager, gained a reputation as one of the finest bullock drivers around. From Port Fairy, her father purchased land at Yambuk.
Elizabeth was only seventeen when she married twenty-eight-year-old Alexander Dalziel on 31 July 1862 at Lethbridge where Alexander ran a boot store servicing the large canvas town set up for the men working on the Moorabool viaduct. They then went to Bannockburn before moving to Carpendeit near Cobden in 1885. In 1891, Elizabeth signed the Women’s Suffrage Petition. After Alexander died 1928 aged ninety-four, Elizabeth lived with her granddaughter at Cobden. At the time of her death at age ninety-six, Elizabeth had six sons, three daughters, forty-five grandchildren, sixty-five great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
HAZELDINE, Eliza (1857-1941) Also known as Eliza Lea.
Eliza Hazeldine was born at Portland in 1857 and started her working life as a teacher. Her first school was Portland North followed by Koroit, Corindhap, Coleraine, Queenscliff and Casterton. Her teaching career ended in 1890 when she married Job Lea. The couple’s first son was born the following year, the same year Eliza signed the Women’s Suffrage Petition. A second son was born on 22 March 1892. A month later on 22 April 1892, Job died of typhoid fever aged thirty, leaving Eliza with two children under two. She returned to her family in Portland before opening a drapery store at Condah Swamp. Eliza applied to run the first Post Office in the district and in 1899 her application was approved and the Post Office opened with the name Wallacedale.
Eliza played piano and organ and taught her boys with Charles showing great talent in acquiring three theory certificates from Trinity College, London. When the boys were older, they helped Eliza in the post office. She was also a generous community member, donating to various causes. In 1902, she started the fundraising for the purchase of a piano for the Wallacedale Hall donating £1. Although she was a devout Methodist, when the Wallacedale Presbyterian Church was built in 1913, Eliza donated the linoleum.
War broke in 1914 and on 22 January 1915, son Charles enlisted leaving for Egypt a month later. Charles served with the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade and found himself at Gallipoli where he was killed on 26 July 1915, six months after he left Australia. The loss of Charles brought great sorrow for Eliza and she placed an “In Memoriam” notice for Charles and her late husband Job each year until her death.
During the war, Eliza was a great contributor to the Red Cross. In 1919, Eliza returned to Portland where she died in 1941. Charitable to the end, Eliza left £100 to the Portland Hospital.
KITTSON, Rebecca (c1827-1929) Also known as Rebecca Lightbody.
Rebecca was born at Fermanagh County, Ireland and arrived at Melbourne with her parents James Kittson and Katherine Trotter in 1841 aboard the Westminster. Rebecca remained in Melbourne while her father went ahead to Cape Bridgewater to settle, joining her family in 1842. On 22 January 1852, Rebecca, described as the “fair Lady of the Lake” married Wesleyan minister Reverend William Lightbody at Geelong. Rebecca and William rode on horseback from Bridgewater to Geelong, the location of the nearest minister, married and rode home again.
William was the itinerant minister for Port Fairy, Warrnambool and Portland and they spent time at each of the parsonages, raising a family of four sons and two daughters. In March 1879, William visited a property he owned at Drik Drik and fell ill there. He made it back as far as Mount Richmond where a doctor was called. He was then transported home and appeared to be on the mend. Having business to do in Portland, he asked his son to drive him into town but William died on the way.
On Rebecca’s 100th birthday, Reverend Toi of the Portland Methodist Church presented Rebecca with 100 shillings, one for every year of her life. On her 101st birthday, a celebration was held and Rebecca proved she still had her wits about her.
A colonist of eighty-eight years, Rebecca was a month from her 102nd birthday when she died at Portland in 1929.
READ, Rachel Forward (1815-1904). Also known as Rachel Hedditch.
Rachel Forward Read was born in Dorsetshire, England and married Richard Charlton Hedditch in 1837. The following year they planned to travel to Australia but the ship, The Eden was stuck in the then frozen Thames River and the voyage was delayed. They eventually arrived in Adelaide in 1838. In 1841, they left for Tasmania but heard favourable reports about Portland Bay and the Henty’s settlement so they made their way there, but not before their son Charlton was born. Rebecca and Richard were appointed to run the Portland Church of England school where Rachel taught the infant classes. They then took up a pastoral lease at Bridgewater in 1845 and Rachel opened the first post office there in 1864, operating it for thirty-five years. The Hedditch property was known as Lal Lal Homestead. The Book of Remembrance of the Pioneer Women of the Portland Bay District includes a letter Rachel wrote home to her mother on Christmas Day 1848. She was thirty-three and life was very difficult. It shows the depth of her faith and how she appreciated the isolation of Bridgewater for raising the children away from the bad influences in the town.
“…last Sunday after dinner I was considering whether it would be wrong to devote part of the Sabbath in writing to you, and coming to the conclusion that under present circumstances it not, I rose to take a sheet of paper from my portfolio, when I felt quiet unwell, and continued worse, until about ten o’clock, when I gave birth to a little girl – stillborn – an event which I had long dreaded, for my hands were always full. I also expected to suffer from the heat, for it is usually very hot here…but it has been cooler this summer…How apt we are to murmur and despair, forgetting our Heavenly Father does all things for our good. Although I felt amiss – a kind of loss of the infant – yet I cannot help feeling very thankful that it please God to order it as it was.
“But although we are not doing better in this country we have better health; and I think the children are better for being away from the others’ and children out her are generally brought up badly. Times are very bad indeed. Almost the whole dependence of this district is on wool growing and tallow, and on account of the disturbed state of Europe the wool at home has fallen in value more than half. Tallow is very, also, and it has caused such a depression of business here that it is almost impossible to dispose of anything.”
Our fences were all burnt, but we have a garden fenced and a half-acre paddock. We have also a comfortable three-roomed cottage and a kitchen and dairy, besides fowl house and yard,…We have both fat cattle and milking cows for sale, but nobody is inclined to purchase. Butchers will not give more than eight shillings a hundred weight for fat beef and a fine cow with calf at side will not fetch more than £3. There were good milking cows with calves sold by action last week at about 30 shillings per head. Butter is now down to 1 shilling per pound. If things do not get better I do not know what shall become of us all. Our prospects are not worse than that of many others. Indeed, I think we live at less expense than most families here.
The troubles did not end. In 1854, daughter Emily died at the age of seven and in 1863, son Charlton died aged twenty-three. Richard died in 1894 and Rachel lived on for a further ten years. She was buried at the Cape Bridgewater Cemetery.
You’ll find more Wonderful Western District Women on the link – Part 2