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Women of the Mount

by: Florence Charles and Craige Proctor
published by: Mortlake and District Historical Society Inc


The Western District of Victoria was settled in the 1830s and some of the earliest immigrant settlers were ‘men of substance’, squatters who took up vast tracts of land, often becoming wealthy and some serving as colonial parliamentarians. Most of these men’s lives are well documented in various sources.

However, the lives of their wives, sisters, daughters and mothers have never been documented in any significant way. Women of the Mount attempts to record and collate for the first time the lives of forty of these women who settled in the Mount Shadwell district in the vicinity of what would become Mortlake.

The book covers the period 1839 to 1864 – the first twenty-five years after European settlement of the district. Up until the mid-1850s there were few if any towns in the area and so the women led isolated lives, the earliest women settlers not seeing another immigrant woman for several years.

A number of these pioneer women had come directly from the UK – mostly from Scotland – while some had been born in Van Diemen’s Land and subsequently come to the Western District with their husbands. One of the women, Jemima Vans Robertson, had spent many years in India where she had married and been widowed and at the age of 52 arrived in Victoria, took up a vast pastoral run near Mortlake and made the district her home for the next thirty years. At her death she controlled even more tracts of pastoral land and by today’s standards would have been a multi-millionaire.

One of the women profiled, Anne Ware, became the ancestress of the Murdoch dynasty. Another, Jane Mackinnon, was the first wife of Lauchlan Mackinnon who became the owner of The Argus newspaper. Lavinia Gibson would leave the district and settle with her husband at Glenample, Port Campbell and in 1878 personally tended to Eva Carmichael, one of two survivors of the Loch Ard shipwreck.

Also featured are the wife of a shoemaker, humble farmers’ wives, a blacksmith’s four daughters – whose many descendants still live in the district - the wife of a Van Diemen’s Land convict who also the daughter of Melbourne’s first mayor, Henry Condell, and a minister’s wife who had arrived in Melbourne in 1837, the daughter of Melbourne’s first Presbyterian minister.

The original parish marriage and baptism registers for Mortlake have enabled the authors to list some fifty other women who married or had children in the district from the late 1840s onwards. Many were domestic servants or governesses for the wealthier families referred to in the profiles. Some have vanished from history; others lived to vast ages and became the matriarchs of district families.

While the focus of the profiles in Women of the Mount is very much the women and the lives they led – so far as it is possible to reconstruct these – an attempt has been made to record the early development of most of the pastoral runs around Mortlake, some of which still exist and several of which are still owned by descendants of the pioneers profiled.

RRP: $35 (also available on CD)

Contact: mortlakedhs@yahoo.com.au

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