Read her story
Mary Anne Shepherdson, née Craike (1804-1858) and her schoolmaster husband, John Banks Shepherdson (1809-1897) emigrated to South Australia from Yorkshire in 1837, when John took up a two-year position as Director of Schools in Adelaide. Mary Anne was reluctant to leave England with four children under ten but came to terms with the prospect of two years abroad. In the end she never returned to England. John turned to farming in the Adelaide Hills and later pursued a high-profile legal career, while Mary Anne dedicated herself to their family, which included seven Australian-born children. Unlike John, who outlived her by 39 years, she left few traces in the historical record. She changed the spelling of her name to Marianne in about 1847 and died in 1858 at the age of 54. John remarried six months later.
Marianne Shepherdson was born Mary Anne Craike in Ovingham, Yorkshire in 1804. She was the eldest of the eight children of John Craike, corn miller, and his wife Suzannah. When Mary Anne was 24 years old she married 19-year-old John Banks Shepherdson of East Heslerton, near Scarborough.
John Shepherdson had an adventurous streak. At fifteen he confounded his parents’ expectations that he would train as a vicar by running away to sea. But he also had a more conservative, bookish side, which became evident when, after three months in Jamaica, he decided to return home and become a schoolmaster. After receiving an uncommonly thorough classical education from his uncle Jabez Banks (ironically, himself a vicar), John found a position at a Yorkshire village school, and was teaching there when he met and married Mary Anne.
After acquiring eight years of teaching experience (and four children), John hit upon an opportunity that would exercise both his adventurous spirit and his intellectual bent. As part of its campaign to attract settlers to its new colony, the South Australian Company advertised its intention to form a School Society in Adelaide, “for the purpose of building schools and educating the poor.” They needed a Director of Schools for South Australia, and in 1836, after some preparatory training at the British and Foreign School Society, John got the job on a two-year contract.
For her part, however, Mary Anne had profound misgivings about taking a risky voyage to a nascent colony on the other side of the world. On 26 November 1836, on what she thought would be the eve of her departure (although various delays pushed this back by more than six months), she shared her feelings in a letter to her brother and sisters:
I had come to London with a determination of proceeding no further if I could possibly avoid it. However, I found out that by doing this all our supplies [that is, supplies such as books and slates for South Australian schools] would be stopped. My husband would by no means consent to leave us behind, and when I looked at my family I know no other plan than to submit with patience, and trust to that being who has hitherto been my support. It is my intention, however, if we are spared, at the expiration of two years to return, as we have the liberty to do so.
The family eventually departed from Torquay on 18 May 1837 aboard the Hartley, a ship chartered by the South Australian Company to transport personnel and supplies to the colony. The Shepherdson family qualified for free passage as assisted immigrants. Mary Anne and John were accompanied by their children Jabez (8), George (6), Rachel (3) and John (1).
They arrived in Adelaide on 20 October 1837. Conditions were primitive, and there was a dire shortage of housing. On the bright side they were able to rent the accommodation of Colonial Secretary Robert Gouger while he was absent in England; on the downside, the accommodation was no more than a tent, and they were obliged to share it with the large family of fellow immigrant William Randell, which included seven children. At this time Mary Anne was herself five months pregnant.
After a few weeks things improved, but not much. Governor Hindmarsh arranged for the family to have the former rooms of the South Australian Company bank, in the parklands on North Terrace near Morphett Street (across the road from where Trinity Church now stands), but the two rooms provided were small and stuffy. John arranged to have two extra rooms added to the existing building – one for boys and one for girls – to accommodate his school, but the classes were quickly oversubscribed and the teaching area, which Shepherdson described as a “weather boarded tent,” was cramped and insufferably hot in summer, straining to accommodate nearly a hundred pupils. Shepherdson’s own health suffered under these conditions, and his five-pound weekly salary – which he augmented by teaching evening classes to adults – was little compensation. What he really needed was better financial support for his teaching, as the School Society was obliged to subsist on voluntary donations of sixpence a week per student. When funding for purpose-built classrooms was not forthcoming by the completion of his contract Shepherdson resigned his role, effective July 1840. By this time he and Mary Anne had two Australian-born daughters, making six children in all.
Surviving correspondence suggests that the family was preparing to return to England, but instead, in a move that was to prove pivotal in all their lives, Shepherdson took a position managing a cattle station at Echunga for the Joint Stock Cattle Company, a dairy enterprise established by prominent colonists. He had an existing relationship with the company, having acted as its secretary since its inception in 1838, in addition to his other responsibilities. He had also previously spent some time in the Hills, at one point climbing Mount Barker with William Randell (who was also connected with the Cattle Company), and he presumably would have found some relief in the cooler weather. Nevertheless, Shepherdson’s decision to turn to farming constituted a radical change of direction. By the end of 1840 he had taken up land grants between Mount Barker and Nairne to establish a farming property in his own right. No correspondence from Mary Anne survives from this period, but she must have known that, for better or worse, her future and that of her family was now destined to remain in Australia.
The family’s property, ‘Craike Farm,’ was located approximately where the Bald Hills freeway interchange now sits. The family stayed there for seven years, but it was a difficult time for small farmers and they struggled to make a living, cutting and threshing their wheat crop by hand. Mary Anne gave birth to five more children at the farm, including one boy who died in infancy.
By 1847 Shepherdson had evidently decided that public administration would be a safer bet than agricultural pursuits. While retaining ownership of his land, he took up dual civil appointments in Mount Barker and moved into town. His first job was as the town’s inaugural Postmaster, which involved running a post office from a portion of the family’s refurbished residence at the Corner of Gawler and Mann Streets (now a cosmetics clinic); he resigned this position in 1854. His second appointment, as Clerk of the town’s Bench of Magistrates, turned out to be the beginning of a long career in legal and civil service, the highlight of which was the publication of his landmark tome, The Practice of the Local Courts of South Australia, fully 471 pages long, and published in Mount Barker in 1858.
Beginning with his employment as Director of Schools, Shepherdson’s career frequently surfaces in historical record, especially in official correspondence. His name appears on a prominent brass plaque on North Terrace that was erected in 1936 to mark the site of South Australia’s first school. With Mary Anne it is a different story. She bore her eleven children and supported her husband’s ambitions in almost complete historical obscurity, apart from the single letter previously cited. We know she was educated, literate, god-fearing and possibly musical (the family had a piano and an organ at home, and John played the organ for the Wesleyan Church), but we are left with only rare glimpses of her personality. For example, we know that in about 1847, when the family moved from the farm to the town, she chose to change the spelling of her name from Mary Anne to Marianne. One can only guess at her reasons, but it was a curious moment of self-assertion that faintly recalls the personal resolve displayed in her letter of 1836.
Marianne’s private narrative also becomes visible in her relationship with her challenging second son, George (1831-1918). In 1836, when George was just six years old, she informed her relatives with a hint of exasperation that “Jabez is improving very much but George is a real Yorkshire Boy.” At the age of fifteen, George accidentally shot dead a neighouring child (eleven-year-old Alice Milligan) while fooling around with a gun on the family farm. He was not charged, but the incident must have weighed heavily on all concerned. Then in 1850, when he was nineteen, George was arrested for forging and uttering a cheque worth forty pounds. His co-accused, James Cowley, was the operator of a Light Square brothel (although he too was only nineteen years old).
According to author Eric Spehr in his Biography of John Banks Shepherdson, the Shepherdson family responded to George’s latest crisis by doing everything in their power to get his sentence remitted. John tried unsuccessfully to intervene on his behalf; Jabez organised a petition for clemency that was signed by over a hundred signatories in Mount Barker. But it was Marianne who personally conveyed the petition, along with a letter from senior Magistrate Captain Davison J.P., to the Governor’s office.
Their efforts were in vain: both young men were sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land for ten years. The conditions under which they served their time would have been identical to those endured by convicts sent from Britain, other colonies within Australia, and (surprisingly enough) New Zealand. At their sentencing, the judge acknowledged “the respectable connexions of the prisoner Shepherdson, and the anguish which the sentence his duty compelled him to pass would entail upon them.” But worse was to come. In May 1854 George was arrested in Adelaide and charged with having returned from transportation before the expiration of his term, for which he received a sentence of five years hard labour.
Marianne died in 1858 before she had the chance to see George regain his freedom, and without ever returning to England. As with most women, the papers did not favour her with an obituary. Her death notice read:
SHEPHERDSON, MARIANNE, on 29th December at Mount Barker, having just completed her 54th year, from the rupture of a blood vessel, Marianne, beloved wife of Mr. J.B. Shepherdson, for many years Clerk of the Bench. Her end was peace.
George Shepherdson, the “Yorkshire Boy,” ultimately lived to the age of 87. According to his obituary in Mount Gambier’s Border Watch in 1918, he tried his hand at the goldfields in the 1860s before settling at Kyneton, Victoria, where he was “universally respected.” In later life he stayed in contact with his siblings in Mount Gambier. At his demise he was survived by three children from his second marriage.
As for John Banks Shepherdson, six months after Marianne’s demise he married 39-year-old Sarah Kellaway Green, the daughter of Weymouth sea captain Peter Green. In 1861 Shepherdson was appointed Special and Stipendiary Magistrate for Yorke Peninsula. The couple moved to Kadina and then to Wallaroo, where they lived at ‘Weymouth House’ for the rest of their lives, apart from a twelve-month sabbatical to England taken in 1875. John died in 1897 and Sarah in 1902. They are buried together at Wallaroo Cemetery.
Marianne was the only member of her immediate family who was buried at Mount Barker. Her gravestone – retaining the slight misspelling of her surname as ‘Sheperdson’ – was restored by her Australian descendants in 2005.