William Bellingham Cairnes and his family : Victorian Pioneer, Australia

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Category: Pioneer

12. Mary Matthews nee Browne 1821 -1903

Mary Matthews ne Browne,

Mary Matthews ne Browne,

Mary Matthews is my second great grandmother. She was born in Nottingham in 1821. The above photograph is the only one so far found, kindly sent to me by the Castlemaine Historical Society. It was sent to them by a Bev Swift in 1993. Mary was also her great great grandmother. Another unknown undiscovered second cousin of mine. There are so many.

Mary arrived in Australia, age 33, with her husband Robert, age 34, and her daughter Elizabeth Mary, age 12, in Adelaide, on October 27th, 1854, on the  ship Lord Raglan after 99 days at sea, having departed from Plymouth. A description of the journey and conditions can be found here. This ship was built in 1854 , so this may well have been its maiden voyage. It was later used to transport convicts to Western Australia in 1858.

(The spelling Mathews was used in earlier years and then becomes Matthews.)

On this voyage, The Lord Raglan carried:  passengers 223 English, 54 Irish adults, 65 English and 10 Irish children, 11 English and 1 Irish infant.

In the 1851 England census, they had been living at Ratcliffe on the Wreak, Leicestershire. Robert’s occupation was Farm Labourer. The census also said Robert had been born at Ratcliffe on the Wreak, Mary in Nottingham, and Elizabeth in Thrussington , which lies between Nottingham and Leicester.

Ratcliffe on The Wreak. Church of St Botolph

Ratcliffe on The Wreak. Church of St Botolph

So far there are no other family details for either Robert or Mary.

It can be assumed that both were literate as indicated by their future occupations.

I knew nothing of this woman, other than her only child, Elizabeth Mary, was my great grandmother. Whilst searching details  for Elizabeth I came across  http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/static/WomensPetition/pdfs/178.pdf , the 1891 Universal Suffrage Petition which had been signed by both my great grandmother and my 2nd great grandmother. The listing for Mary had been spelled incorrectly and I was able to submit a correction. It was a source of great pride to find that these two women had signed the petition. I hope both their husbands supported their wish for democratic rights.

It was also the first time I had known Mary was associated with Castlemaine Hospital. My first assumption was that she had been a nurse perhaps. This I was grateful for, as it meant that many of those many many children her daughter bore, there had been some sort of expertise on hand!

The family’s arrival in Adelaide, was in the winter of 1854 and they moved to Castlemaine soon thereafter, at the height of the Victorian Goldrush.

In 2013 it was brought to my attention that a book had recently been published about the history of 6 families in Castlemaine.

The Wealth Beneath Their Feet: a Family on the Castlemaine Goldfields
By  Prof Marjorie Theobald

Imagine my delight to find the introduction mentions that the house the author lives in was first owned by a Robert Matthews and his wife Mary. I hope Marjorie doesn’t mind me quoting from her introduction.

“On closer inspection we discovered that our home has been a work in progress since the 1850’s, from tent dwelling diggers to city retirees like ourselves, dedicated to the task of restoring these unassuming monuments to the towns past. The back section is is a genuine four roomed miners cottage, not the estate agents ‘miners cottage”, one of the oldest and best preserved in the town. It is now completely hidden from view by a fenestrated redbrick curtain wall built in the 1960’s. The original structure was built between 1859 and 1861 by English immigrants Robert Matthews, a miner, and his wife Mary ( nee Browne) who was the first Matron of the Castlemaine Hospital. I the Castlemaine rate-books for 1858 they are living on the site in a tent, though they were possibly there earlier as their 15 year old daughter Elizabeth married William Bellingham Cairnes in February 1857. By 1861 the rate entry shows that a cottage has been built on the site. survey in 1862, the site became section 147, allotments 3 and 4 and in December of that year Matthews purchased the land from the Crown at auction. As the first purchaser from the crown, Robert Matthews’ name remains on the parish map in perpetuity. Presumably he held the land on a miner’s right, ( why else would he build a substantial brick and stone cottage?) but chose to purchase the site at auction when it became available.”

In fact William Bellingham Cairnes married Elizabeth on February 9, 1856, when he was just shy of 25 and she had just turned 15. Looking at the photograph of Elizabeth below, taken just 4 years later, I can imagine she was a Castlemaine beauty of the time. It was a roughshod town and I would venture that Robert and Mary would have been glad to have her ‘spoken for’ at the earliest opportunity.  There may have been many a gentleman caller at their tent on Ten Foot Hill hoping for the wide eyed Elizabeth’s hand. And for such a young lass, moving about in a town full of lonely minors, getting wed would have brought peace to the family hearth. Marrying William Cairnes, at a time when those of different classes rarely married, would have been a huge jump in status, as many of William’s forebears were part of the Irish aristocracy. A step up, indeed, for the beautiful miner’s daughter.

1861. Earliest known photo of Elizabeth Matthews aged 19.

1861. Earliest known photo of Elizabeth Matthews aged 19. Inscription, written by WBC says : My darling wife Elizabeth Cairnes, when she was about 19 years old.


It is also registered in the rate-books that William  Cairnes was living behind the Matthews in a tent, and it is quite likely that they all lived on section 147 for some time. William and Elizabeth’s first born, William, was born  a year and a half later on August 24 1857. He was quite likely born in a tent, with his grandmother Mary as midwife.

Elizabeth continued to have a child on average every two years, until her last born, Thomas was born in 1884.

In order for Robert to be able to afford to build one of the first substantial miner’s cottages in Castlemaine, he must have done comparatively well at mining. There are no records so far found but it can be assumed they transitioned from the years of the goldrush in relative comfort. Their only son in law William, who came from a highly educated prosperous Northern Irish family, is found trading as an undertaker as early as 1856 as Cairnes and Goodall. He then went on to own his own Funeral Service Business, made coffins, owned an Ironmongery on Mostyn St and sold furniture. He must have contributed a large proportion to the family’s income too. Robert Matthews is also mentioned as being a Saddler. Further on, in 1875, when WBC moves his family and business to Echuca, Robert takes over the Undertaking business for sometime.

At some point the Matthews move to a property on Gingell St, and the Cairnes family move into a large space on Mostyn St where WBC also ran his business.

Earlier in 2013 I requested research by the Castlemaine Historical Society. Below is an extract from the report sent to me.

Mary Matthews and her career as Matron 1870-1891

Castlemaine Hospital, Victoria in the 1870's

Castlemaine Hospital, Victoria in the 1870’s

“A previous correspondent( Ed: Bev Swift)  to the Castlemaine Historical Society has provided some key information, including a photograph, that suggests Mary’s maiden name was Brown or Browne. She also provided a copy of a page from a booklet that mentions Mary.

There are numerous index entries for Matthews and it seems there were at least four Matthews families in the district. I have included all the index entries that are relevant to Robert and Mary Matthews . 

I have confirmed that Mrs Mary Mathews was Matron of the Castlemaine Hospital for 21 years from 1870 to 1892. Some references suggest she started as Matron in 1871 but the Mount Alexander Mail (MAM) newspaper extracts indicate that she was appointed matron 2nd June 1870

An item in the Mount Alexander Mail (2 June 1870) stated. “At the meeting of the Hospital Committee which takes place this evening amongst other business will be the dealing with applications for the Matronship of the institution. It would be well if the Corporation would adopt a system of training so that in rotation each Wardswoman may hope to attain the head position. We have not heard of a single applicant for the vacancy but no doubt many names will be submitted this evening. It is strange if the one who held hitherto a more subordinate position is not fit for the one step higher but these gradations do not seem to be recognised. A spirit of emulation excited in the direction suggested would necessarily prove beneficial to the Hospital.”

The next day the MAM said “Mrs Mathews was appointed Matron of a number of applicants” (MAM 3/6/1870).

Mary was not the first Matron at the hospital – that honour goes to a Miss Callaghan who served between 1866-1870. Mary however, was certainly a significant figure for a long period of time. The woman who followed Mary was the first registered nurse (Mrs Lloyd) to fill the matron’s position and so it seems that Mary was not a formally trained nurse.

The Bumford Hospital Index has several entries for Mary Mathews (see following index entries). One entry indicates that she resigned due to “failing health”. On her retirement two articles appeared in the Mount Alexander Mail newspaper. On 1st Sep 1891 an ‘Item of News’ said “The officers and servants of the Hospital, in acknowledgment of the kindly feeling always shown to them by Mrs Mathews, the late matron, have been for some time past engaged in raising subscriptions from friends of that lady. They have decided to present Mrs Matthews with the result of their labours tonight at the Hospital board-room.”

On 2nd Sept 1891 an article in the MAM was headed “Presentation at the Hospital” A copy is attached.

Mary’s husband, Robert Mathews, died 1st June 1896. His residence at that time was Gingell St Castlemaine. The old Castlemaine Hospital was also in Gingell St, near the intersection with Thomas Street. In the rates index another Robert Matthews is recorded as owning land at Ten Foot Hill at the south end of Castlemaine in 1869 (Section 147 allotment 4). I cannot be 100% certain that this is your man but at face value it appears to be him. However, a news item in the MAM (13 November 1876) indicates that a Mr. Matthews of Ten Foot Hill was leaving town – the allotment number is the same as recorded in the 1869 rate record.

We know that your Robert Matthews died in Gingell St Castlemaine so perhaps there were two people named R. Matthews and both were miners?? The map above shows the location of the Gingell st property – red arrow points to Allotment 14 Section 115 which was the residence of Mary and Robert Matthews.”

Robert  and Mary Matthews in fact moved from the Ten Foot Hill miners cottage to Gingell St and remained there till Roberts death on May 29, 1896.

News Item: 30 May 1896

Items of News. There died at Gingell street yesterday morning an old and respected pioneer in the person of Mr. Matthews, who had been ailing for a long time. Deceased who was 76 years of age leaves a widow, who for a lengthy period was the much-esteemed matron of the Castlemaine Hospital. The remains of the deceased are to be interred at Campbells Creek tomorrow afternoon.

27 March 1902  Castlemaine Item of News. Old Age Pensions Mary Matthews Refused on the ground that she had £50 in cash.

In 1903 Mary moved to Yarrawonga to live with her only daughter Elizabeth and her family. 

5 May 1903  Items of News.

News was received in Castlemaine yesterday of the death of Mrs.MaryMatthews, at the residence of her son-in-law, Mr. W.B. Cairnes, Yarrawonga at the age of 82 years. The deceased was very well known & respected by the older inhabitants of the town, she having filled the position of matron at the Castlemaine Hospital for 21 years, resigning in 1892. She was very popular with all classes and it was only when her health began to fail that she handed in her resignation to the Committee who accepted with sincere regret. In order to show their appreciation ofher valuable services to the institution and the Committee inaugurated a public testimonial, with the result that £60 was handed to her at a social held in the boardroom. The remains of the deceased lady were brought to Castlemaine last night,and were taken to the Hospital. The funeral will take place this afternoon and the remains will be interred in the Campbells Creek Cemetery, In the same grave as those of her husband, who died here almost 7 years ago.

Mary’s life in Australia had been a successful, and respected one in the small community of Castlemaine. From arriving and living in a tent to well regarded Matron. Her dear daughter married well and gave her 15 grandchildren, and a son in law who was prosperous and clearly loved his wife to the end.

Elizabeth followed her mother at the somewhat premature age of 67, only six years later.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Helen Mabel  Dind . (nee Steel) Passed away peacefully on 27 August 2014, aged 100. She was the last of W B Cairnes grandchildren, a contemporary of my father. 

I was privileged to be at her 100th birthday in 2013 and glad to have been welcomed by her large and loving family.


7. W B Cairnes and Elizabeth Matthew’s Children in Chronological Order

6. Past Belongings : a digital collection of historical belongings to share

5. Endings 1909 to 1923

4. The Yarrawonga Years 1884 to 1909

2. The Castlemaine Years 1854 to 1873