Sunday, 12 March 2017
Looking into the water of the Macquarie River, as I wander along the reedy bank, my reflection stares back at me. I see a thin old lady dressed in white. My mind takes flight away from this town of Ross … back to Hobart when I first left the Female Prison with my mother in 1853.
Five years old is all I was when mother grabbed me up and twirled me around, exclaiming: “Free at last”.
We danced down the road to my new father David who was there to take us home. David and mother had married a month ago when she was on leave. But this was my first time out in the world. I couldn’t speak I was so anxious yet jittery with excitement.
I was born in the ‘Female Factory’ in Hobart in 1848 and that was my home. A rough and cruel place - where many babies died. Mother always said I was blessed and that’s how we survived.
Mother had another baby when I was two but they took her away and never brought her back. I believe she died. No-one ever spoke of her again.
For one year we lived in the old part of Hobart Town known as Wapping. There were lots of ex-convicts and sailors living there close to the bustling markets and wharf.
Then we moved to the east coast of Tasmania. Oh how I loved the clean wild air, the grassy green paddocks and the beautiful blue sea. We could see the large ships, traders and fishing boats passing by.
My father David was very good to me and I think loved me as his own. I was never brave enough to ask mother who my real father was – it was a taboo subject. I always believed it was David though. He was a good provider for us and for my new little brother and sisters. He worked as a gaoler at our local Swansea prison. Funny how things turn out, him having been a convict himself.
It’s the convict carvings on the sides of the bridge that I want to see. I must be careful on the bank here. The edges are slippery and I feel my shoes sinking a little in the mud from the recent rains. I follow the ducks, holding my dress up to keep it clean.
Now where was I ? Ah yes, Swansea - that’s where I met William J. How I loved him. I was eighteen when we married in 1866 and soon after had our little girl Sophia. It was a hard time for me. I struggled with nerves whilst ‘with child’ as I recalled the screams of the mothers and the deaths of the babies at the ‘Factory’. But I was lucky I had William J fussing around. Like me, my baby Sophia was blessed too.
A year later though William J went down with the fever. I prayed he would survive but my prayers were not answered. My darling died that year. My heart was broken. I missed him so much and didn’t know how we would cope. I have never cried as much as I did when I lost my first William.
But time did move on, as people say, and things did change.
I met my second William, a real gentleman - He loved me dearly and promised to look after me forever. Mother was concerned as he was more than thirty years older than me, but I felt so cherished I knew he would make a good husband and father.
Poor William had been through a lot himself and knew what sorrow was. He told me he had been married twice before and both marriages ended sadly. Before he came out to Van Diemen’s Land his first wife Jane had died with childbirth fever. Just a few weeks after giving birth to their only child, young Will.
Like many villagers in England William struggled. Things went badly for him when his father-in-law, Jane’s father, accused William of stealing a bale of wool. William claimed it was for money owed to him from when he and Jane married. You wouldn’t really think that family would do that to you.
But he was convicted and got seven years in Van Diemen’s Land. He hated leaving his young son William behind with his Grandmother (William’s mother).
William was then a convict just like my mother.
After serving his time and getting his conditional pardon, William paid for his son Will, to leave England and come out to Tasmania. Young Will was a strong lad for thirteen years and worked hard helping his father.
With eighty pounds borrowed from his cousin in Swansea, William built a big stone house. He resumed his trade as a shoemaker, running the business from home. There were always plenty of boots and shoes to mend for the other settlers. Over the years William taught Will the cobbler’s trade too.
William’s married his second wife, Christiana. They lost their first baby daughter and then Christiana died in childbirth with their next one.
In the meanwhile his cousin had foreclosed on him and William and Will were now homeless and penniless. Poor William thought he was cursed for life. He was banished from Hobart after being found drunk and disorderly. Trying to 'drown his sorrows', he told me.
He returned permanently this time to Swansea and acquired a little land further out of town, enough to build a small stone cottage and put in some fruit trees.
I always said it was grief and sorrow that brought us together, when we met and William courted me. We married two weeks before my twentieth birthday on 15th October 1868 at William’s house with our children present. My Sophia was two and Will, seventeen.
William and I had seven more children – Tam, Selina, Susan and then Eric. Poor little Eric died tragically, before he turned three. He climbed the picket fence and became stuck. None of us knew till it was too late. I blamed myself … I should have been watching him. I was very pregnant with Ruth at the time and she was born shortly after. Then came Frank and lastly Gladys.
They were mainly happy years with the children. I loved the evenings when I could do my needlework and listen to William reading and reciting ‘Robbie Burns’ poems to the children.
Of course, all of them now grown up, married and with their own children.
Mother and father were a great help over the years. I wasn’t ready for it when mother died. Eighty-two years old she was. She lived a longer life than she ever thought possible. We shared a special bond from our early life in the ‘Factory’ in Hobart.
It was 1900 when William became ill. Nothing seemed to help him. I was grief-stricken when he died that year, five years after mother. Thirty-two years together we had. I missed him terribly. In anguish I buried him with our little boy Eric in the Swansea Cemetery.
Another five years passed and father died … the last of the old family … so many memories.
Now, I have reached the Ross Bridge and I look down from the stairs to see the fanciful carvings. The water is churning.
No reflection there - the thin old lady has gone.
Daily Telegraph (Launceston), Tuesday 17 January 1922, p.5
Inquest at Ross
…The Coroner’s finding was that Maria Jane Graham met her death by drowning, but the evidence did not disclose whether by her own act or accidental.