Mary Stewart (nee FitzRoy) was the only daughter of Governor Charles FitzRoy. She was living in England with her husband Keith Stewart when her mother, Lady FitzRoy, was killed in a tragic carriage accident at Government House, Parramatta in December 1847. At this point the Stewarts had four young daughters; Mary, Edith, Blanche and Louisa.
The Stewart family arrived in New South Wales in August 1849 to support the grieving Governor. It had been a terrifying voyage. After leaving the Cape their ship, The Lady Clarke, lost several rudders in gale force winds and high seas. The troubles lasted for three weeks, and at one point Mrs Stewart and the children were washed out of their beds when a huge wave burst into their cabin. The Captain reported that Mrs Stewart remained calm and handled the whole situation with great courage. (see link at the end of this piece for the full story)
At 26, Mary became her father’s First Lady, and a charming hostess at the vice-regal residences. She stood in for her late mother at official events, which included turning the first sod for the NSW railways in 1850.
It was during her sojourn in Sydney that gold was discovered (1851), transforming the colony.
GOLDEN GIFTS FOR MRS STEWART
By December 1853 the Governor’s term was drawing to a close and the Stewart family prepared to return to England. The ladies of New South Wales expressed their affection for Mary and their appreciation for all she had done by presenting her with an amazing farewell gift;
A very beautiful set of jewellery, consisting of massive golden amulets, a large dress brooch, and finger ring, the whole contained in an elegant tortoiseshell case, had been presented to the Hon. Mrs Keith Stewart, on her departure from Sydney for England. (The Banner Dec, 30 1853)
Oh my goodness, what a jaw-dropping sight it would have been. The ring was set with pearls from Moreton Bay and of course the gold was from the diggings out west. Even the case was Australian made. The jewellery had been made by a Mr Alfred Lorking, of George Street. He had also engraved a gold shield for the case with the arms of the colony and the inscription; ‘Presented to the Honourable Mrs Keith Stewart, by the ladies of New South Wales, as a token of their esteem and regard.‘
Whenever I read of such wonderful objects I wonder what happened to them, and hope that one day they might make their way back to this country. We do have what are known as Mrs Macquarie’s earrings, made from even earlier Australian gold (circa 1815). They were sent home as a gift for her niece, Mary Maclaine. Mind you, it took until 1968 for them to make their way back from Scotland via Canada.
We do have a good idea of Mr Lorking’s work, which was very distinctive. Here is one of his gold and seed pearl pieces;
From the same piece in The Banner;
The brooch is a well-conceived design of open work, the centre piece being a digger, surrounded by his mining implements, and the extreme points being supplied by a circlet of vine leaves.
A similar, but smaller piece (not by Lorking) is also held in Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. These golden ‘digger’ pieces became very popular
GOVERNOR FITZROY’S GRAND DAUGHTER
Mrs Stewart’s eldest daughter Mary was about seven years old when the family arrived. What an experience this new life must have been for her.
In August 1899 Mary, now Mrs Reginald Marshall, returned to New South Wales on a visit. She spent an entire day at Old Government House, then a genteel boarding house. She chatted with the landlady, Mrs Abrahams while on a tour of the house, remembering family life and vice-regal occasions held in the various rooms. However, one of her most precious memories was of an incident in the courtyard. She said that Mr Green (the Gold Commissioner) came riding in from the diggings one day and threw her a nugget of gold. She kept her treasure and as an adult had it fashioned into a brooch. It’s highly likely that she and Mrs Abrahams also talked of her mother’s tortoiseshell case of golden and pearl jewels.
FOR AN ACCOUNT OF THE STEWART FAMILY’S HARROWING VOYAGE TO NSW, CLICK HERE.