Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mary Ann and Emma Jane Weston continued

Mary Ann's Story

My last post finished with my great great grandmother Emma Jane Weston and her sister Mary Ann arriving in Sydney Harbour on board the "Kate" at Christmas time in 1856 under the sponsorship of their uncle Alfred Weston.  Before I continue with the story of my great great grandmother Emma Jane Weston, I thought would write a little about her sister Mary Ann.

I presume that the two sisters would have been met by their uncle Alfred Weston who had arrived in Sydney in the previous year, or it is possible that they travelled by stage coach to Wollongong where their Uncle was living at the time. There was a great shortage of labour in the country, especially female servants and as the passenger list for the "Kate" lists Mary Ann and Emma's occupations as housemaids from London, it could be assumed that they sought work as domestic helpers.

The next record that I can trace for the two sisters is Emma's marriage to Thomas George Lee (1832-1906) on the 22 February 1858 at St Andrews Church in Braidwood, New South Wales.* Thomas's occupation was listed as a miner from the gold mining area of Major's Creek which was in the Braidwood district.

WC- William Pronger and Mary Ann Weston
Mary Ann was listed as one of the witnesses to the wedding, and as Emma was still under the age of 21, permission to marry was given by Robert Maddrell Esquire, Legal Guardian.  Robert Maddrell was one of the "landed gentry" in the Braidwood district who lived on "Mona" and "Bedervale".  It is  possible that Mary Ann and Emma had come to the gold mining district of Braidwood/Araluen with their Uncle Alfred Weston and had gained employment with the Maddell family as domestic servants. (Some wonderful pictures of the Maddrell Family and their home can be found on the National Library Website at this link, http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/3044367

Miners in Gold fields of Araluen, http://www.visitbraidwood.com.au/araluen
Six months later it was Mary Ann's turn to wed.  On the 19th August 1858** Mary Ann married William Pronger (1835-1917) a carpenter from Majors Creek.  Their wedding certificate states they were married in a temporary place of worship at Major's Creek under the rites of the Church of England. Mary Ann's uncle Alfred Weston is one of the witnesses at her wedding. Which leads me to believe the girls traveled with their uncle to the NSW mining district of Braidwood. Alfred Weston is listed in the Greville's Post Office Directory in 1872 as living in the mining town of Araluen and his occupation is listed as a miner

Life in the gold fields would have been a very different experience to that of their earlier life in London.  Majors Creek was one of the largest working mine fields in the 1850-1860's.  This short description from the blog "Major's Creek" gives a wonderful description of what life must have been like on the gold fields for Emma, Mary Ann and their husbands.

 "hundreds of men toiling away in the hot sun; panning, digging, pushing wheelbarrow. You hear the mix of accents: the broad drawl of the Australian born, the plums of English, Scot burrs, Irish lilts, European gutturals, languid American cadences and the staccato of Chinese.  

The hills are spotted with canvas tents and temporary structures of all shapes and sizes.  Clothes, in a rainbow of colours flutter in the breeze drying.

After sunset... the white canvas is replaced by the orange-red of camp fires.  The smell of cooking wafts up the valley.  As the evening deepens the loud voices, sounds of merriment and drunkenness escape from the windows of the lamp-lit hotels.  A male dominant place, stranger thrown together with diverse dreams, enjoying the euphoria of success and drowning the disappointment of failure."***
Floods in Main Street of Gympie 1870
Mary Ann and Emma continued living with their homes in the mining community of Majors Creek/Araluen, however, Mary Ann's husband William felt that it was time to move on and to seek his fortune in the newly discovered gold fields in Gympie, Queensland. 

Gold was discovered in Gympie by James Nash in 1867. I am not sure how William and Mary Ann travelled to Gympie, however the trip must have been long and fraught with many difficulties and dangers. I do not have the exact date that William and Mary Ann arrived in Gympie but I do know that in December 1868 William Pronger was appointed  by the Queensland Government to the position of the keeper of the Powder Magazine in Gympie**** He held this position until 1871 when he resigned to pursue other interests. *****.  In 1873 an article in The Queenslander advises that Pronger in partnership with Mr Rickett were operating a sugar refining mill and were turning out some good sugar. It seems that William Pronger was quite a pioneer and always looking for further opportunities.

Life would have been quite tough for Mary in this new gold mining town, in 1870 Gympie experiences severe flooding with many homes submerged. William and Mary did not have any children and from details on Mary's death certificate, Mary was in poor heath for some years. On the 7th July 1878, Mary passed away and the cause of death is listed as "ovarian dropsy" (in other words, from "ovarian cancer") which she had suffered from for over three years.  This could explain why she was not able to have any children.

On the 8th July 1878 William Pronger buried his young wife in the Church of England portion of the Gympie cemetery. 

William stayed in the Gympie district, becoming a successful business man.  He remarried in 1880 to Charlotte Elizabeth Drew they had a family of two daughters and three sons. Descendants of William and Charlotte still live in the Gympie district. 

As it is with many of our female ancestors, their story is told by researching their male relations and husbands.  Mary's story is a good example of this.  It is through her uncle Alfred Weston and her husband William Pronger's life stories, I have been able to piece together a little of her life story, from a house maid in London, to the gold fields in the southern highlands of New South Wales and then the journey of over 14,000 kms to the newly discovered mining outpost of Gympie, Queensland. I still have a lot of questions?  I wonder if she was able to see her sister Emma again after she left for Queensland? What kind of conditions did she live in when they first arrived in Gympie?  Was her home/tent flooded in the 1870 floods?  The list goes on and I guess these questions will probably never be answered.

       * New South Wales Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1486/1858
     ** New South Wales Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1499/1858
    *** Majors Creek, http://www.majorscreek.org.au/content/history , viewed 18/1/2013
  **** 1868 'THE GAZETTE.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 7 December, p. 3, viewed 29 January, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1323824
*****1871 'OFFICIAL NOTIFICATIONS.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 2 October, p. 3, viewed 29 January, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1320642


  1. Lovely story - thanks for sharing it. Sad that our women can only be found via their menfolk, but at least that's better than no records at all.

  2. So true,I must admit, I enjoy putting together the little bits and pieces and trying to build up their life story.

  3. Hi Diane, congratulations on your blog, I love your stories of our pioneering women! I have nominated you for a Liebster Blog Award. You can visit my blog page for the details. http://branchesofourfamily.wordpress.com/
    Cheers Susan