Women’s History Month – My Four Great Grandmothers

28 March 2016

As March is Women’s History Month, I am focusing on my four great grandmother’s (although there is now some doubt about one of them, but that is a story for a later date). There was a lot of social media activity around International Women’s Day on 8 March but I have left my post for the end of the month. Women’s History Month was first launch in Australia in 2000 and there is a timeline of significant events for women mostly around the issue of suffrage and women in Parliament. There are other interesting categories on the Australian Women’s History Forum website and some inspiring women’s stories and places.

Now my four great grandmothers never did anything out of the ordinary except look after their families and of course, without that I would not be here writing about their lives. Three of them were born in Australia, two in Queensland and one in South Australia who migrated to Queensland with her family in the 1860s. The fourth was born in Northamptonshire, England. By some miracle there are photos of all four women. My family has not been a good keeper of family photos and other memorabilia. These are their stories.

Elizabeth Price is on the left, her husband Thomas is on the right and the woman in the middle is unknown I would love to know who she was!

Elizabeth Price and her husband Thomas – the woman in the middle is unknown. I would love to know who she was!

Elizabeth Pollard was born in 1857 in Croughton, Northamptonshire and after the death of her father, Elizabeth’s mother remarried and the family all took his surname Judge. It took me many years to solve the red herring/brick wall this change of name created – read the story here. It was as Elizabeth Judge that she married Thomas Price from Wednesbury, Staffordshire in 1878. Shortly after their marriage the newly weds emigrated to Sydney on board the Samuel Plimsoll. Together they had 10 children in various places in New South Wales and Queensland. They eventually settled in Charters Towers.

Elizabeth was widowed in 1918 and moved with the family to Townsville and later Brisbane where she died in 1944. My mother was 10 years old and she remembers her grandmother always wore dresses with big pockets, with lollies in them for Mum when she got home from school. At the end of her life Elizabeth was blind and living with her daughter Alice and my mother. Of her 10 children, eight predeceased her with two dying as infants. A well traveled woman who knew a lot of heartbreak.


Herbert and Dorcas White and family ca 1912

Herbert and Dorcas White and family ca 1912

Dorcas Trevaskis was born in 1866 in Moonta, South Australia and shortly after her birth her parents traveled to Copperfield in Queensland where her brother John was born in 1868. With them were her three siblings from her father’s first marriage. While in Copperfield her father James Henry Trevaskis disappeared – read about that brick wall here. Her mother Elizabeth Trevaskis (nee Rosewarne) married George Guy and had another three children. This blended family then moved to Charters Towers where Dorcas eventually met and married Herbert William White. They had eight children and Dorcas was widowed in 1924. She moved to Brisbane to live with one of her daughters and died there in 1935. Her eldest son was tragically killed in 1900, one son never married and the other only had two daughters so there was no male grandchild to carry on the White surname. Another woman who traveled widely and knew the pain of losing a husband and child.

Mary Finn sketch 1903

Mary Finn was born in 1886 at Petrie’s Creek (now Nambour) in Queensland and her parents were Irish immigrants from County Wicklow. Mary was the fourth of 10 children all born in south east Queensland or northern New South Wales. Another family who moved around, probably looking for work or just a place to call home. We know from personal letters in a land selection file that her father John Finn broke his leg badly and that it never healed properly. This probably impacted on his ability to find work and it was certainly the reason behind them giving up their land selection in Nambour.

Mary’s mother Sarah died in 1902 when Mary was just 13 years old. Her older sister Rose Anna was 16 years old and one assumes that they started to look after the younger children. The youngest was only two years old so life would have been difficult for Mary and her siblings after the death of their mother. Her father John Finn also seems to have had trouble and his later years were spent separated from his family and in and out of asylums and hospitals. Mary married James Carnegie when she was 20 years old and together they had 10 children. Her life with James was more stable and she was widowed in 1954, and died in 1963 survived by all 10 of their children.

Elizabeth Gunderson nee Johnston

Elizabeth Gunderson nee Johnston

Elizabeth Johnston, my father’s grandmother, was born in 1879 at South Pine, near Brisbane in Queensland. She was the daughter of Irish immigrants who met and married in Brisbane in 1864. Elizabeth was the seventh of nine children and again the family moved around. Prior to her birth the family had been living in Stanthorpe where her father Adam Johnston was working as a tin miner. It was a troubled marriage and eventually her parents separated, and her father spent some time in gaol. Elizabeth married Hans Martin Gunderson in 1908 and had five children, one of whom died aged four years. She was widowed in 1927 and died in 1936. I believe that she never traveled outside of Brisbane. This is the line that I now have some doubts about (after 39 years of research) and hopefully further delving will either confirm or dispel the doubts.

But for the moment these are my four grandmothers – two had difficult childhoods, one a difficult marriage, three knew the pain of losing one or more children, all survived their husbands and had to adjust to life as a widow. None were wealthy or worked outside of the family home and they all moved around, some further than others. Their lasting legacy is their descendants and I am proud to be one of them and keeping their stories from slipping into the mists of time.

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