Meeting Mary in
A pilgrimage and a connection in a cemetery.
On a wet and blustery early summer's day in November, the
The atmosphere suited me; I was on a pilgrimage to pay my respects to Mary Higham. I soon found her memorial. Without being ostentatious, it had a Victorian dignity to it.
It stood among a small thicket of later family tombstones. A modern sign explained some of her history and described her as 'Mary Higham 1819 to 1883 Merchant'. I think she would have liked that simple word 'Merchant' it quietly reveals a great deal about this remarkable woman. There was also a photograph. She is wearing a bonnet graced with flowers and lace. She is round-faced with small spectacles. The eyes are kind but there is a determined set to her mouth, I got a feeling of steel.
When Mary was born in Northamptonshire, George III was king of
On Monday 13 June 1853, Mary, now 35, arrived in
The new colony was thriving and Mary imported the things the new colonists wanted. She sold silk dresses and spades; tweeds and galvanised tubs; ribbons and rakes; stationery and saucepans; iron bedsteads and buckets. She took in lodgers. While her two sons grew up to go into politics, Mary was barred from such a career by her sex. She avoided exclusion from the Chamber of Commerce by setting it up herself. Mary's business grew; she diversified into land, pearl fishing and even mining. The business she was to pass on to her sons was substantial. Mary was still working until a few days before she died aged 65 in 1883.
Only two of her grandchildren were born before she died.
The second of them was Edward.
She would have known and no doubt loved him for the first year or so of
his life. Edward grew up and re-migrated
A newspaper once described Mary as "a person of remarkable energy and decision of character". I stood for a few moments at the grave of this extraordinary woman and tried to share our one common memory. I wished my great great grandmother goodbye and walked back through the cemetery to the bus stop. The sun came out.