Mary (formerly Croxton, nee Roffe) Southwell
Born: 1826; Died: 1885; Married: Thomas
Mary Southwell (nee Roffe) was born on 1 December 1826 at Ewhurst in East Sussex. She was the second child in a family of ten for Edward Roffe and Sarah Gibb. When Mary was thirteen the Roffe family (seven children at that time) arrived in Sydney on 1 April 1839 on board the Argyle. The family settled for a time in the Cowpastures, where the Browns and Southwells also lived, and later spent time at Kirkham (1840), The Oaks (1843) and Sutton Forest (1848) before moving to Dalton.
Mary married Richard Croxton on 7 August 1845 at the Cobbitty Church of England and they made their home in the Cowpastures. They had two daughters. Ann was born at The Oaks, Camden in 1846 and Harriet was registered at Camden in 1849. However, tragedy struck when Richard died on 12 December 1850 aged 39 years, after being run over by a bullock dray at Bargo.
Now a widow, Mary had to provide for her two small daughters, Ann and Harriet. To do this she cooked meals and made shirts for working men. Each day she made a shirt, all by hand, often working by candle light far into the night. On 19 April 1853, Mary married her second husband, Thomas Southwell at the Methodist Church in Gunning. At twenty six years of age, she was thirteen years younger than Thomas. Mary’s two little daughters became members of the Southwell family. Under the loving care of Mary the whole household continued to maintain the happy spirit, the industry and the religious observances for which the Southwell family was noted.
Like Thomas, Mary was a devout Wesleyan. When the Roffe family migrated to Australia, their religion was recorded as 'Methodist'. The Roffes may have known the Southwells at Cobbitty and they could have worshipped together there. The Southwells also regularly travelled to Dalton by buggy to visit Thomas’ close friend 'Old Tom' Brown. Both families attended Methodist services at Dalton, as did the Roffe family.
In 1857 Mary’s younger sister, Eliza Roffe, married Thomas Southwell’s eldest son, Thomas, known as 'Tommy Two Sticks'. Mary became her sister’s mother-in-law. Over the years Mary and Thomas were blessed with nine children of their own, five daughters and four sons were added to Thomas’s first family of eight, and Mary’s own two daughters. Medical advice was not available for the birth of any of the children. Mrs Judy Webb acted very often as midwife, and was proud of the fact that she had never lost a case.
In August 1858 Thomas and Mary were joined at Parkwood by Thomas’ younger brother John Southwell and his wife, Lucy (nee Gasson) and their five children (at that time). Thomas and Mary went to Sydney in the wagon to meet them. We may well imagine the excitement of the reunion, and the joy Mary must have felt at the prospect of having another woman living at Parkwood. While in Sydney the first household chairs were purchased, and the women sat in them, in the wagon, on the homeward journey.
In 1863 a new brick house with two attics was built at Parkwood. It consisted of a parlor, dining room, the parson’s room, and their own bedroom; upstairs was the school room, and the larger room was the girls’ bedroom. The ceilings were rather low in the attics, so low in fact that the growing girls were not able to stand erect, and had to sit on the foot of their beds when combing their long tresses.
We don’t know of the family taking part in any sport, the family seemed fully occupied with keeping the Sabbath and working the remaining six days. However, the women were never idle. They had various types of fancy work, one in particular was tatting, as well as drawn thread work, crewel work, arrasene work, macramé and huckaback, patchwork quilts and coloured samplers. They knitted too, but not with wool; knitting cotton was used, taking the form of lace which was sewn on dressing table covers and washstand sets. Many dainty and attractive pieces of white and coloured work were made to adorn their living rooms and bedrooms.
Mary and her daughters were kept busy sewing clothes for themselves and the men of the family. Material had to be hand sewn, often done by candle light at night. Much later the hand sewing machine came. The fabrics were purchased when Thomas, a teamster, was in Sydney after he had delivered local produce there. Fabrics included rolls of galatea (a strong cotton fabric) for his sons’ shirts, strong hide lace for boots for his sons and daughters, rolls of calico at two pence per yard for underclothes and rolls of dress print for the females of the household. While each particular roll lasted, Mary and their daughters all had frocks made of the same material. Their hoods were made to match their dresses and their aprons were of holland material, so there was little variety in their clothes, but they had to be strong and durable. More refined materials such as lawn, cashmere, nun’s veiling, dimity, laces and embroidery began to appear and these materials were much more pleasing to the ladies.
Mary was a most efficient and capable woman. There was only the large open fireplace in which to cook. The bread and many other tasty foods were cooked in the camp oven. Hanging over the fire were three-legged iron pots, for boiling various foods. Their food was plain and wholesome, but as the men worked so hard, the meals had to be substantial. There were many recipes peculiar to the Southwells. The Dry Pudding was a general favourite. It was made from 1 lb flour, 3/4 lb brown sugar, 1/2 lb suet – finely chopped or grated, 1 dessertspoon ground ginger and a pinch of salt. The suet was rubbed into the dry ingredients, tied very tightly in a cloth and boiled for three or four hours. This pudding is very palatable either hot or cold. Other foods included hasty pudding, skilly (a thin porridge or soup – usually oatmeal and water flavoured with meat), dumplings, suet and plum puddings, pumpkin and mince pies. Fleed cakes were made from the kidney fat of the pig. This fleed was gradually worked into the pastry which was then thrashed with the rolling pin several times; in this way the fine fleed would be worked into the dough. When this was rolled out, cut into shapes and baked, it rose so well that it had the appearance and taste of very fine puff pastry.
Mary laid the foundation stone for the new Wesleyan Chapel at Parkwood in December 1880. The Queanbeyan Age on 11 December 1880 reported that Mrs Southwell, who was very suitably attired for the notable day in black silk taffeta, gently tapped the stone into place on the right hand corner of the building and declared it “well and truly laid to the Glory of God”. Mary became a widow for the second time, after Thomas died at Parkwood on 31 May 1881. He was 68. Four years later, at the age of 58 years, Mary died on 28 April 1885 while on a holiday at Dalton with her youngest daughter, Beatrice (Kilby). The cause of her death was given as inflammation of the bowels, which would now be called appendicitis. She died in great pain. Her remains were taken to the old Weetangera Cemetery and she was buried beside her husband, Thomas.
Mary must have been a very remarkable woman. After being widowed, she married Thomas and took on a ready-made family of eight, plus her own two daughters. This must have been very daunting. Mary and Thomas added a further nine children to their family, giving them a total of nineteen children. Being mother to so many is no mean feat. Mary must have been a woman of courage. She would have had a hard life and experienced many trials while living in our harsh Australian environment, often while Thomas was away with his bullock team. However, it seems the family led a happy and contented life surrounded by their many friends. Mary’s strong faith showed through as she actively supported Thomas in the early days of the Wesleyan church in the district.
[compiled by Jim and Pam Grace, Southwell Family Society]
- Southwell Family Society, Stories from Parkwood, Canberra, 2013
- Gillespie, L. L., The Southwell Family, Canberra, 1988