My original story of Sydney born Mary Drummond (nee Gallagher) was a sad one (*there is a link to it at the end of this piece). The doctor she married in May 1887 turned out to be a complete charlatan. He had stolen another man’s medical diplomas and identity. In October 1888, when he was about to be found out, he absconded, taking Mary’s £6,000 inheritance with him. He was caught in Colombo, dropping dead on the spot before facing justice. Mary’s money was repaid, but she had been betrayed and humiliated.
Insatiable curiosity made me wonder whatever became of the young widow. When I stumbled upon the answer I was amazed.
By 1893 Mary and her mother were residing in Old Government House at Parramatta. This was not quite as glamorous as it sounds, as it was then operating as a boarding house, albeit for ‘the gentry’.
It was here Mary met her mother’s young physician, Irish born Dr James Kearney. There was an immediate attraction between the pair, but not surprisingly Mary was wary of making a mistake with a second doctor. Besides, she was a good deal older than this one. For the next five or six years she travelled abroad. However, it appears that she and James Kearney kept in touch. Tellingly, Mary spent time staying with the doctor’s mother in Ireland.
When she returned in late 1898 Mrs Mary Drummond and Dr. James Kearney became formally engaged. They had kept this news very quiet;
Parramatta district will be surprised to hear today of the marriage of Dr. James Kearney, our popular and esteemed townsman. There had been several false alarms with regard to the doctor’s matrimonial prospects and intentions…..All classes – perhaps more particularly the poor whom he has befriended – will wish the doctor and his bride a long life in double harness, and a happy one. (Cumberland Argus July 19 1899)
Mary was described in the same article as ‘…a young, highly accomplished and very fascinating lady.‘ Now aged 44, she would have been delighted with the generous description ‘young‘ 😎
The honeymoon was spent at the grand, Menzies Hotel in Melbourne.
At 31, Dr Kearney had been the most eligible bachelor in Parramatta, if not the whole of Sydney. He had studied at Trinity College and the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin, graduating in 1889 with distinction. He emigrated to Australia in 1890, establishing a successful practice in George St. Parramatta, then moving to Phillip St., close to the hospital he was to become so involved with.
In 1897 he had bought a palatial property called St John’s Lodge in Macquarie Street, presumably with the absent Mary in mind as its mistress.
The following photo was taken the year they were married. I wonder if that is Mary standing outside? If so, it’s the only image I have managed to find of her.
My word, what a coup the marriage was for a middle aged widow! Young ladies half Mary’s age were heartbroken. The Cumberland Argus had a field day;
There was an exceptional run on The Argus this week to read the report of the wedding of the popular Parramatta medico, Dr James Kearney. We hear that the doctor and his bride have received heaps of telegrams at Menzies Hotel, Melbourne, congratulating them on the happy event and wishing them all sorts of good luck. As soon as the Argus contents bill went up ladies flocked into our office wholesale to know if the ‘sad’ news was really true. Some of the more acutely disappointed ones declared that it was simply a ruse to sell The Argus, as if we we could be so desperately wicked as that. They do say that the ladies intend to swarm the doctor when he comes home and pelt him with their hardest old shoes. (Cumberland Argus July 22 1899).
BENEVOLENCE, AND MARRIED BLISS FOR MARY
St Johns Lodge became the setting for garden parties hosted by Dr, and Mrs Kearney in aid of the hospital.
The grounds of St. John’s Lodge were made gay with bunting; and on the lawn a very pretty scene presented itself. A temporary platform had been erected at the southern end of the grounds, and a line of very pretty stalls (including a tea-room in the summer house, and fancy and flower stalls) ran along the eastern boundary of the lawn. At 3pm Dr and Mrs Kearney received their many friends on the lawn. (Argus, May 3 1902)
James and Mary must have felt like Lord and Lady of the manor, although the doctor was incredibly busy, dedicated to his work and patients.
The couple worked hard in organizing another fund raiser, the annual hospital ball, one of Parramatta’s major social events; Mary’s gown in 1901 was described as, ‘A rich white satin with an over-dress of silver sequin net‘.
Throughout his career the welfare of nurses was of particular interest to Dr Kearney. In 1925 he officially opened Kearney House, a purpose built nurses’ home in the grounds of the hospital.
And so life went on for the Kearneys, with the hospital always at the centre of their lives. The doctor also opened rooms in Sydney’s Macquarie Street, the Australian equivalent of London’s Harley Street. But sadly, nothing lasts forever.
It is doubtful if in the history of Parramatta – certainly not in the memory of any of the residents of today – has such widespread sorrow and genuine regret in the community as that which pervaded the entire County of Cumberland when it became known early on Wednesday morning, 17th inst., that the beloved, genial and beneficent Dr James Kearney, of Macquarie Street Parramatta, had passed to his eternal reward. He was apparently in excellent health and spirits on Tuesday, and seemed assured of many more years of life…He held a foremost place among the distinguished surgeons and physicians of the metropolis. (The Catholic Press, October 25 1934)
The couple had not been blessed with children. It was said that for Dr Kearney, Parramatta District Hospital was his ‘baby.’ The affectionate caricature below was published in 1932, when he was pushing hard to have a new children’s ward built.
The children’s ward was completed in 1934 just months before Dr Kearney’s death. Unfortunately he missed the official opening, but it was a wonderful legacy.
On the day of his funeral businesses closed, the streets were lined with school children and the cortège was over a mile long. There were countless tributes to his skill as a surgeon, his generosity and his dedication to the community.
Losing her husband so suddenly must have been a huge loss for Mary.
Massive, ornamental entrance doors were installed at the hospital in the doctor’s memory, and a fountain was erected outside. Today, only the brass plaque from the fountain remains, attached to a wishing well.
Twelve months after the doctor’s death St John’s Lodge was demolished and replaced by The Astra picture theatre. Mary went to live in Sydney, at exclusive Double Bay.
Oddly enough James Kearney died intestate. His estate was valued at £48,424, a great deal of money at the time. As his widow, Mary automatically inherited everything. She died on July 12 1940, aged 85. In her own will, apart from moderate bequests to relatives and friends, she left everything to charity.
So there we have it. Despite the debacle of her first marriage Mary had taken a chance with another doctor; thankfully a genuine one, and a truly exceptional man. 💛
NOTE – In turn, The Astra theatre was demolished. The more things change, the more collective memory fades. However, Mary’s story is preserved in official records and within Trove, that wonderful archive of Australian newspapers.
The first part of this story is called The Strange Case of Dr Drummond.
FOR MORE ON THE HISTORY OF PARRAMATTA’S HOSPITALS, CLICK HERE