Jennifer (JC-S)'s Reviews > A Colonial Woman: The Life and Times of Mary Braidwood Mowle

A Colonial Woman by Patricia Clarke
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‘The life and times of Mary Braidwood Mowle’

Mary Braidwood Mowle (3 August 1827 - 15 September 1857) was born in Durham, UK. She was the first child of Thomas Braidwood Wilson, a Scottish-born naval surgeon and his wife Jane (née Thompson). Mary arrived in Sydney, on 24 June 1836, on the Strathfieldsaye. This was her father’s final voyage as a surgeon superintendent in convict ships. Mary’s mother Jane died following childbirth in 1838. Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson had a land grant at Braidwood, and Mary was bought up as the daughter of a large landowner. When she visited Sydney, she was regarded as the ‘nicest’ girl in society circles.

‘Fortune played havoc with her short life.’

In the early 1940s, Mary’s circumstances changed dramatically. As a consequence of the drought and depression of the early 1940s, Thomas Braidwood Wilson was declared bankrupt. On 11 November 1843 he committed suicide. Mary was left a penniless orphan at 16, and went to live with her uncle, George Wilson, at Mt Seymour near Oatlands in the midlands of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). Mary married Stewart Marjoribanks Mowle on 12 May 1845 at Oatlands. Stewart Mowle was a protégé of (Sir) Terence Murray of Yarralumla, New South Wales (now the Governor-General’s residence in the ACT), and the Mowles first lived at Murray’s outstation at Mannus, near Tumbarumba. The Mowles then lived at a farm known as Klensendorlffe’s on the Limestone Plains (now Canberra, ACT).

Mary’s diaries covers the period from 30 December 1850 to 2 June 1851 (when she lived on the Limestone Plains), and 1 January 1853 to 20 January 1854 and 11 May 1854 to 16 March 1855 when she lived at Eden on the south coast of New South Wales. During the period she lived in Eden, she spent some time with family at Mt Seymour.

‘The last months of 1854 and the beginning of 1855 were probably the happiest and most carefree the Mowles ever enjoyed.’

In 1855, the Mowles left Eden when Stewart was transferred to the Customs House in Sydney. Mary’s sixth child, a son, was born on 31 August 1857. Two weeks later, Mary died from complications of childbirth. She was survived by her husband, two sons and three daughters. Mary was aged 30.

Ms Clarke has provided an historical context for Mary’s diary entries, which provides a sense of the broader times and of the people referred to. Ms Clark also alerts the reader to the fact that the diaries are not complete: some pages have been removed, and some entries are incomplete.

I enjoyed reading this book: learning that Dr Thomas Baidwood Wilson was responsible for the first successful importation of bees (landed on 28 January 1831), which he presented to the Botanic Gardens in Hobart. I also enjoyed reading about people and places that are now part of the history of the region of Australia in which I live. Mary’s short life saw many variations: from attending the best social functions in the district to being short of food for her children. She also includes a wealth of information about day to day life: raising and educating her family, the dangers of childhood illness and of childbirth, the social exchanges in small communities. Her account of life at Eden, which includes the movements of ships into and out of the port and of whaling operations provides a fascinating account of life in the mid-nineteenth century.

The originals of Mary’s diaries are held in the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Reading Progress

June 29, 2015 – Started Reading
June 29, 2015 – Shelved
June 29, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
June 29, 2015 – Shelved as: australian-womens-writers-challenge
July 2, 2015 – Finished Reading

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