Lake Macquarie History

Wyee Pioneer - Mary Ann Smith

Mary Ann Smith 1805-1891

Born in 1805 at Stockport Manchester, Mary Ann was convicted of petty theft in 1829 and sentenced to transportation for seven years. She arrived in Sydney on the ship "Kains " accompanied by her young son, John. Mary Ann was assigned to Robert Henderson where she met James Freeman. They married on 11 Nov 1831 in Sydney. She died on 15th July 1891 at Swansea.

There was a brief obituary published in the Newcastle Herald that said she was the oldest early settler in the area at that time.


I have, to record (writes our correspondent at Swansea, Lake Macquarie) the death of the oldest resident in this district, viz., Mrs. MaryAnn Freeman, at the ripe age of 86. The old lady retained all her faculties to the last. She was one of those busy, wiry little women, who could never remain a moment in idleness, but be continually employed in making and mending for her grand and great grandchildren. Mrs. Freeman came to the colony sixty-five years ago. Soon after arrival she married James Freeman, had many ups and downs in those early days, and at last herself and husband settled down at a place then known as "Cabbage Tree" (now the residence of Mr. E. J. Hargraves, son of E. H. Hargraves, the first gold discoverer in Australia). Mr. and Mrs. Freeman remained at "Norahville," where they kept a dairy farm for over twenty years, rearing a family of six daughters and one son. The late Mr. John Taaffe, of Swansea (who died six years this month), better known all over the district as "Jack the Native," married the eldest; and Mr. Thomas Boyd, at present pilot at Lake Macquarie Heads, the second. There are alive forty-two grandchildren, and forty great - grandchildren. During the old people's residence at Cabbage Tree they had several visits from bushrangers ... For the last ten years the old lady has resided with her eldest daughter, Mrs. E. Taaefe, at Swansea, where she has had every care and attention which loving hands could bestow in her declining years. The remains were buried to-day, in the Church of England burying ground, Belmont Cemetery, the last rites of the Church of England (of which the old lady was a member) having been performed by the Rev. G. M. Brown, incumbent of Belmont parish. There was a large attendance of relatives and friends, including grand and great grand children. And thus another connecting link of the past has gone.

The following story appeared in the Newcastle Morning Herald on Sat 26 Jul 1947. It carries some quite humourous anecdotes of this pioneer and her life and times.

FREEMAN, Mary Ann nee SMITH by "Billjerim"

Pioneer's Wife

For a typical pioneer's wife, take Granma Freeman. You may ask, "What has she to do with the early history of Swansea? " and my reply is that there are at least 200 of her descendants living in the town now, and that there has been no period in the district's development in which that part of herself which was passed on to her children has not had some power in forming the place's character. I asked an aunt what she remembered of Granma Freeman. "Why," she replied, "she was the prettiest little English lady you ever saw. Like a little doll, with her beautiful gophered caps that she wore all the time, and her silver-topped walking stick. She smoked a tiny clay pipe, and every night before she went to bed father, or Mr. Blight, or Billy Mischevious, mixed her a hot toddy of rum. She was a wonderful seamstress. She would sit on the front verandah all day making such tiny stitches. I loved her! "

Then I went to an older aunt and got another angle altogether. "She was a proper old tyrant! After grandfather died she stayed with all her relatives in turn, and we hated our turn to come! You know, the hardest part of the early times for the women was the washing. There were so many clothes. Mother was easy on us, but that hard old devil of a woman stood beside the bench every washing day with her pipe and her walking-stick and rapped our fingers with her stick for every mark we left in the linen. My fingers ache now when I remember that stick on a winter morning!"

Even her daughter Eliza admitted she was a hard woman, and a driver." I mind the winter days when the rushes around Budgewoi Lake were full of swans nests, and mother would send me sick or well to gather them. I remember well standing up to my thighs in the bitter water with a nagging pain in my vitals." So there was Eliza, on her long thin, untiring legs, in the dark winter water, gathering the ugly green eggs, and learning to take it rather than go back to where her mother instructed the woman convicts on the station where her husband worked.

Perhaps the firmness she generated in dealing with the convict women crystallised when her husband and "Young Jim," the six foot son who died with a full set of teeth at 90, went off to the goldfields and she had to manage the farm they were then living on, with only her girls to help. All the old women were caustic about the men's habit of dashing off to the goldfields and cedar stands, and land-hunting while the women kept the home fires burning.

Vigil Against Blacks

There were times when they were grateful enough for the protection of their men. I had this story from Eliza, who was a very young girl when it happened. There was a camp of black women across the hill. Their men were on hunting expedition, and during the day they had moved to this spot, closer to the whites than was usual when they had the protection of their own men. The older Freemans knew they were afraid, as it was at such a time, when the women were left unguarded, that parties of wandering bucks raided the camp to carry off the women. The five girls were working assiduously at stitching or plaiting by the light of candles, when suddenly there was a scratching on the door, a small, muted scratching. Father blew out the candles, went softly to the door and opened it a few inches. Five girls came in like kangaroo dogs, Eliza said, through that amazing small crack, twisting their naked bodies sinuously. Without a word they went to the dark corner beyond the fireplace and crouched, their terror permeating the air of the room, the whites of their eyes showing in the gloom as they rolled them in fear. Then from outside come the sounds of stealthy movement, and to those within the inescapable assurance of being watched from outside. Father took down his muzzle-loader and began loading it, threatening, in his loudest tones destruction against the intruder. There was a sound of stealthy feet, and the party in the hut waited silently. It was a night-long vigil, with the bucks approaching, peering, waiting, the girls trembling and terrified. The Father sat constantly within view of the fire with the big gun across his knees. In the morning the intruders were gone, and the tribe's own men returned before eventing. Of such incidents were the lives of pioneering women made. They learnt to be tough and "take it" or they died early.

The strangest thing about Granma Freeman's training of her girls was that, although she was particular they should learn all the arts of housekeeping and pioneering, she was very determined that they should waste no time in unprofitable pursuit of knowledge. She could read and write but refused to teach her children "because too much education would unfit them for their station in life." The Roman Catholic priest who came to the place was shocked to find the five girls unable to sign their own names, and offered to teach them. His offer was refused and only after long and tactful persuasion was he allowed to leave lettering cards from which the girls taught themselves to read. Later Eliza read widely, and all wrote fluently.

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