It’s Women’s History Month and this is my second instalment of Wonderful Western District Women. As in Part 1, I share the stories of five women I’ve been taken with while writing Passing of the Pioneers over the past five years. In this post, all five women were in business in some capacity. One was also a teacher. All are very similar in the level of perseverance and determination they displayed, but each led very different lives. For example, two never married with one shunning the company of others and the other drawing people to her. As noted in one of their obituaries, they are “those splendid women, whose unselfish, unwearying zeal helped to make the Victoria of today”. Click on the underlined text for more information about a subject.
DONNELLY, Jane (c1834-1914) Also known as Jane Walsh and Jane Jenkins.
Jane Donnelly was born in Ireland around 1834 and arrived in Victoria in the early 1860s. She married William Walsh in 1865 and together they operated the Forester’s Hotel at Myamyn. Jane and William had three children before William died in 1877 aged forty-nine. It was the same year a fourth child was born. Jane continued to run the hotel although she did try to sell it. In 1881, the hotel was badly damaged by fire leading to Jane’s insolvency in 1881 with debts of £145.
In 1883, Jane married William Gordon Jenkins and they went to Portland to run the Victoria Hotel. The building was dilapidated and they were soon closed down. That appears to have been the end of Jane’s days in the hotel trade. In their later years, Jane and William moved to Hawkesdale to live with Jane’s daughter. Jane died at Hawkesdale in 1916 aged eighty. William died the following year.
STEWART, Christina (1825-1921) Also known as Christina McPherson.
Christina Stewart was born at Kingussie, Scotland around 1825 and travelled with her husband, Duncan McPherson, to Australia in November 1851 on board the Hooghly. While Duncan went off to the goldfields, Christina waited in Melbourne until they journeyed to Portland and then on to Strathdownie. In March 1857, Duncan purchased the Woodford Inn located just north of Dartmoor on the Glenelg River and a son Alexander was born in the same year. The inn was a busy place as it was at a crossing point on the river with a punt moored at the inn for that purpose. Christina had eight children and during her child-bearing years, rarely saw another white woman. She made friends with the local Aboriginal women, teaching them to make damper. If she had guests staying at the inn, the Aboriginals caught crayfish in the river for her. The McPhersons eventually moved to Hamilton, residing in Coleraine Road. Christina died there in 1921 aged ninety-six.
RYAN, Mary (c1834-1914)
When I wrote about Mary Ryan for Passing of the Pioneers, there was little known about her other than she ran a servants’ registry office in Hamilton and she died ten months after a fire burnt down her home. I also gathered from her short obituary, she was very independent. Mary never married and living a seemingly solitary life, save for the interactions through her business. When Mary died there was no-one to give the names of her parents, so her death record shows her parents as “unknown”. Since her Passing of the Pioneers appearance, more Hamilton Spectators have become available at Trove and I’ve been able to find out a little more about Mary.
The earliest newspaper reference I could find of Mary Ryan in Hamilton was in 1864 when she advertised her dressmaking services in the Hamilton Spectator and Grange District Advertiser. Her advertisement said she was “late of South Yarra” and she was operating from Thompson Street. Other women in Hamilton including a Mrs Owens were combining dressmaking with servant registry businesses so it was a natural progression for Mary to do the same. She began advertising both services in 1867 from a shop in Gray Street.
In September 1870, fire swept through several shops in Gray Street, destroying Mary’s shop. The report in the Hamilton Spectator said the occupants were able to get their valuables out. Mary appears to have rebuilt and on 8 March 1877 the land where her shop stood was sold, the Hamilton Spectator published the results of the sale.
Mary responded in the next edition.
Mary expanded into millinery and drapery. Only days after Mary placed this advertisement, she sold her shop on 13 July 1878, by auction but I wasn’t able to find a report of the sale in the paper.
Two years later, an incident highlighted the potential dangers for a woman living alone.
That wasn’t the only such incident. In October 1888, some local “larrikins” were in court charged with “rocking” Mary’s roof in Gray Street. They also verbally abused her, calling her by name, well aware of who she was. In her evidence, Mary stated her residence was opposite the Hamilton Mechanics Institute. In 1895, Mary moved her business to Cox Street and by 1905, she had moved to Brown Street near the Hamilton Railway Station. On 2 November 1910, Mary suffered another blow when fire swept through her shop and residence. Built of pine, the shop burnt quickly and only a small box of valuables was saved. Fortunately, Mary was away from home at the time.
Mary remained stubbornly independent in old age despite becoming very frail. She stayed in her home, but besides the hospital, it seems she really had nowhere else to go. In February 1914, a fire broke out in her home, accidentally started when Mary dropped a lit match on some papers on the floor.
While she wasn’t injured in the fire, it may have taken a toll as she passed away eight months later. Her age was given as eighty.
SLOAN, Susan (c1844-1918)
Susan Sloan was born in Glasgow, Scotland and after arriving in Portland in 1855, she went to Ararat where she married Thomas Sloan the following year. Thomas ran a soda water manufacturing factory. In 1867, Susan returned to Portland with Thomas and they built the White Horse Brewery and a bakery in Gawler Street. Trade was tough and they moved inland in 1873 to Hamilton where they saw greater opportunities. Thomas purchased the North Hamilton Brewery from his brothers James and Robert. In 1882, Thomas had a timber building constructed in Cox Street for a cordial factory.
Grace Sloan, a daughter of Susan and Thomas suffered consumption since 1893, and on doctor’s advice, she left Hamilton for a drier climate with friends in N.S.W. She departed on her journey but only reached Melbourne before her conditioned worsened and she telegraphed Susan to go to Melbourne. Grace improved so Susan returned home. A week or so later, Susan heard Grace had died in a Melbourne Hospital on 20 July 1895 aged twenty-one. A memorial service was held at Hamilton’s Christ Church, where Grace had sung with the choir. The following year Susan had a close call herself.
In 1903, the Hamilton Spectator reported Susan had sold the North Hamilton Brewery to Mr J.B.Webb. He didn’t do much with it and in 1904, the Sloans revitalised it with new equipment. They did the same at the cordial factory where they could produce up to sixty dozen bottles per hour. Susan advertised prior to Christmas 1908, citing her fifty-two years in the business.
Thomas died in May 1910 and Susan continued to run the business until her death, after which time family members continued operations. The Sloan’s cottage Whinhill in Pope Street, Hamilton still stands today.
WADMORE, Sarah Jane (1859-1941)
Sarah Wadmore was the youngest daughter of Cape Bridgewater pioneers James Wadmore and Mary Driscoll. She was born in 1859 and only a month after her birth, James Wadmore drowned after he was washed off rocks while fishing on the west coast of Cape Bridgewater.
By the age of fifteen, Sarah was helping her brothers on their mother’s farm. Mr and Mrs Joseph Voysey from the local state school saw something special in her and offered to train Sarah as a teacher. In 1880, Sarah became head teacher at the new Kentbruck school. Prior to that she was living at Bacchus Marsh and teaching at the school of Mr and Mrs Voysey. From Kentbruck, Sarah was headteacher at the Tahara State School for twelve years, her last teaching appointment. In 1905, Sarah and her sister Anne moved to Annesley in Julia Street, Portland to operate a private boarding house.
One of their first “guests” at Annesley was Rosalie Brewer, the only child of the previous owner, Dr Brewer. Rosalie was confined to bed at Annesley for over twenty years until her death on 2 March 1926 at the age of fifty-seven. Sarah, then sixty-seven, along with her sister, gave Rosalie the love and care a mother would, nursing her through those years. Sarah’s mother Mary also moved into Annesley from her home at Cape Bridgewater and she died there in 1908.
Inspired by the pioneering life of her mother and others at Cape Bridgewater, Sarah had a great interest in the history of Portland and its pioneers. It was always her ambition to publish the history of Portland’s women and in 1934, with the approaching centenary of the arrival of the Henty Bros, Sarah and two other local’s, Mrs Marion Hedditch and Mr E. Davis of the Portland Observer produced a booklet entitled Portland Pioneer Women’s Book of Remembrance for the event. As Secretary of the Portland Pioneer Women’s Association, she was also the main force behind the Pioneer Women’s statue near the Shire Offices at Portland. Also in 1934, Sarah contributed to a supplement for the Portland Guardian for the centenary of the arrival of the Hentys at Portland Bay called Lone furrows on sea and land, or, Historical Portland. For the publication, Sarah wrote of the Reminiscences of a Pioneer State School Teacher
Sarah had a busy life. Many fundraisers, Pioneer Women’s Association meetings and even art exhibitions were held at Annesley. At one stage, she travelled to England visiting Sussex the birthplace of the Henty brothers. She was interested in the Scout movement and donated a flag to the Portland Scouts. Sarah was also active in the St Stephens Anglican Church community and the church was conveniently located across the road from her home.
A wonderful life closed on New Year’s Day 1941 when Sarah died at Annesley at the age of aged eighty-one. Sarah’s obituary closed with, “It may be truly said of Miss Wadmore that she shares largely in the honour of those splendid women, whose unselfish, unwearying zeal helped to make the Victoria of today”.