Governor Charles FitzRoy’s ‘First Lady’ following the death of his wife in 1847 was his daughter Mary, Mrs Keith Stewart.
Lady FitzRoy had died in a carriage accident, and Mary almost met the same fate. The incident occurred while she was being driven through the streets of inner Sydney in 1853. She was accompanied by her brother George, the Governor’s Private Secretary;
About 3 p.m. this day week, His Excellency the Governor General’s carriage, containing the Hon. Mrs Keith Stewart, and G. Fitzroy, Esq., Private Secretary, was turning the corner of George Street into Hunter Street, when, opposite Mr Nixon’s shop a few doors from Skinner’s Hotel, the off-side horse fell through the earth into the badly covered drain. The inmates of the carriage were in a state of great peril, as the high-mettled horses plunged violently. especially the one which had fallen through, but Mr Fitzroy succeeded in placing the lady in safety on the pavement. (Goulburn Herald August 20 1853)
The driver was uninjured, but a passerby who helped extricate the panic stricken horse suffered a badly cut hand.
There were parallels with Lady FitzRoy’s accident. Note the phrase. ‘high mettled horses‘ in the above newspaper extract. Those three words say so much about the years of FitzRoy’s governorship.
The Governor’s grandfather was Augustus FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton. In New South Wales FitzRoy emulated the English aristocracy, maintaining Government House at Parramatta as his sporting country estate. The stables were a central part of activities. He had a racecourse built in the extensive Domain and also enjoyed hunting with hounds. Naturally this lifestyle came with risks.
On May 1 1847 his son George was dismounting after a hunt when his spirited horse shied. He was thrown off, breaking both bones in his right leg. Fortunately there was help at hand from a doctor who was staying at Government House.
Outside the Parramatta estate the Governor loved the ‘show’ of his vice-regal carriage being driven by a team of highly bred horses. He often took the reins himself on journeys to Sydney.
It is so interesting to look back on the death of Lady FitzRoy at Parramatta. The following extract is from an excellent article on the subject by Jim Badger. It was published in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society in 2001.
The team FitzRoy had commanded to be put to his coach that day were spirited young animals of highbred, hot-blooded stock, as one might expect to find in the stables of a nobleman, rather than more placid carriage horses. Although they were broken in, they could hardly be considered the ideal team for a peaceful drive. No sagacious whip who valued his neck would ever consider driving a team in which there were no tried and trusted animals harnessed alongside the young horses of unknown temperament. Yet this is precisely what FitzRoy was about to attempt.
As Governor FitzRoy was still settling himself into the driver’s seat the horses bolted and careered down the hill. He was completely unable to check them. They galloped on until the carriage overturned and Lady FitzRoy was thrown out, dashing her head against a tree near the entrance gates. Aide-De-Camp Charles Masters was also killed. George had been following his parents’ carriage in a gig, and witnessed the death of his mother. He was chief mourner at the funeral, as the Governor was too stricken by grief and guilt to attend.
Six years on, the news of his beloved daughter being involved in a carriage accident must have shaken the Governor to the core. Whether it prompted him to use older and calmer horses is another matter.
Skinner’s Hotel still stands, but is now retail and office space. Although it is surrounded by skyscrapers it will never be demolished as it is heritage listed. Mr Nixon’s tailor’s shop has long gone.
Those interested in learning more about FitzRoy’s term of office might enjoy a biography by Lyn Fergusson titled FitzRoy; Beyond the Rumours.