Last Thursday (8 March) was International Women's Day and the prompt for the week was Strong Woman. Strong women abound in Australian pioneer history. I suspect that just to survive the convict system and setting up a new life in a strange land required moral and physical strength, determination and a sense of adventure. The person I have chosen for this post, however, is my great, great, great grandmother, Mary Hyde.
This is the only picture that we have of Mary and she was obviously a considerable age when she sat for the photographer.
Mary was sixteen when she was arrested for stealing clothes from her employer in November 1795. She had to wait until the Warwickshire Assizes were held on 21 March 1796 to learn that she was sentenced to seven years transportation in Australia. It was not until January 1798 that the ship, Britannia II, left Portsmouth for Sydney Cove, arriving on 18 July 1798. When 19 year old Mary arrived, the colony was ten years old. She had been in prison on land and sea for more than two and a half years.
Shortly after arriving in Sydney, Mary met a young ship's officer, John Black (also 19), who had travelled to the colony aboard the Indispensable in August. They began living together whenever he was in port. In 1799 John leased some land not far from Martin Place where they kept a few animals. Mary and John had two children, John born in May 1799 and Mary Ann born October 1801. Mary received an absolute pardon from Governor King in September 1801. John had also leased some land from Simeon Lord on which he set up a liquor store. John continued to go to sea from time to time so Mary was left looking after the two children and possibly keeping an eye on her husband's liquor project. Mary and John appear to have been managing reasonably well until, in May 1802, John's ship disappeared at sea. Mary was now alone with two small children to care for.
By 1805 Mary had formed a relationship with former convict, Simeon Lord, who was on his way to becoming a successful businessman and landowner. The following year their daughter, Sarah was born. By the time Mary and Simeon decided to marry on 27 October 1814 at St Phillip's Church, Sydney, they had five children. Edward was born the week before the wedding. They then had five more children, making a total of ten. Add to these children Mary's son and daughter, plus Joanna, an orphan who became Simeon's ward, and there were thirteen children to care for. Fortunately they lived in a large house and no doubt were assigned convicts or hired help to look after them.
Mary also supported Simeon in his business interests for when Simeon died in 1840 Mary continued to manage the factories and mill at Botany where she and her family now lived. Mary was still managing the business concerns, no doubt with assistance from family, in 1855. She was 76 when the government decided to reclaim some of the land, including the stream that supplied the mill with water. Mary considered the compensation offered unacceptable so she sued the government for adequate compensation. Many appeals later the Privy Council in England ordered that Mary should be suitably compensated for the loss of her land and business. Mary was now eighty.
On 1 December 1864 Mary died at the family home at Botany, however when the will was read there was a surprise. Although Mary had allocated property and assets to all her children, which was to be expected, Mary stipulated that the portion given to each of her daughters was to remain their property. It was not to become the property of the daughter's husband. Mary was ahead of her time in making this decision. Unfortunately such actions were not possible in the 1860s.
Convict, mother and businesswoman, Mary can be considered a strong woman, not only for the life that she lived and survived but also for her belief that women should be entitled to equal ownership of property and possessions with men.
Towards the end of her life Mary used a bell ear trumpet to improve her hearing. This item is now part of the collection at the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney). There are also other items at the museum relating to Mary and Simeon.