Beechworth district women actively supported the suffrage campaign in late colonial Victoria, with more than 170 residents from Beechworth, Stanley, Murmungee and Wooragee adding their names to the Great Petition of 1891.
Margaret Trim, Hannah Gaylard and the Thomson sisters were among the petition signatories, as Beechworth Arts Council’s Cath O’Connor found during her extensive research of the campaign’s local significance.
Margaret was born the daughter of James Hulme and Janet (née Comb) in 1842. Her husband, William, who she married in 1866, established the Ovens Bakery with his brother Edward. William was a councillor of the United Shire of Beechworth 1896-1905 and president 1902-1903. Margaret and William had six sons and three daughters. Margaret was active with various charities in the district and had planted one of the memorial oaks in Wallace Park. She was also vice-president of the Beechworth Ladies’ Benevolent Society. In recognition of her services for local charities she was awarded life governorship of Ovens District Hospital and Ovens Benevolent Asylum. She died, aged 66, ‘at her husband’s residence’ on June 22,1908, and is buried in Beechworth cemetery’s Church of England Section at A982. Her signature on the Great Petition 1891 is shown on page 343 at line 32.
Eliza was born to Jane and Frank Mercer in Kilmore, County Cavan, Ireland, on September 10, 1846. She was one of 10 children and the family lived in poor circumstances. A number of the children emigrated for a better life – some to America and some to Australia. Eliza Mercer sailed to Australia with her older brother on the ship ‘Red Jacket’, disembarking in Melbourne in 1866. The pair headed to Beechworth to reunite with an uncle who was a policeman in the town. Family stories tell of their carriage being held up by a ‘highwayman’ on the way to Beechworth. Two of Eliza’s sisters – Mary and Margaret – came to Australia in 1863 and another sister, Louisa (Carson) and her family later emigrated, too. Eliza married Henry Williams Gaylard on February 16, 1871. They lived in Allotment 2, Hellish Street, in Newtown. Henry was the manager of Fletcher’s Gold Mine. Eliza and Henry had eight children: Fanny (married Samuel Maddock); Mary (married Robert Witherow); Samuel (married Florrie Knight); Jane (died aged 17 in 1893); Margaret (died aged in 1903); Eliza (married Ernest Matthews); Frank (unmarried), and Gertrude (married Thomas Sinclair). Eliza was 44 when she signed ‘Great Petition’. She is listed in the 1903 Federal Electoral Roll with an occupation classed as ‘home duties’. She was 78 when she died in 1925. She is buried in the Gaylard family grave in Beechworth cemetery’s Methodist section at A295 of Beechworth Cemetery. Her signature on the Great Petition 1891 is shown on page 343 at line 27 – seven lines above Margaret Trim’s signature.
Helen and Eliza Thomson
Helen Smith Thomson and Eliza Livingstone Thomson were the seventh and tenth, respectively, of the 11 children of Jane Rae and William Thomson. Helen and Eliza emigrated to Australia with their mother in 1875, where Jane Thomson – widowed a year earlier in Liverpool in the United Kingdom – had bought a farm at Murmungee which she called ‘Liddesdale’. Helen was born in Liverpool in 1862 and Eliza in 1866. They never married.
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