THREE WOMEN OF WILLIAMSTOWN

[Ada Ackerly]

Well-Read Ada Ackerly Tells of Three Exceptional Women.

Historian, Ada Ackerly chose the stories of three women associated with Williamstown who left a legacy to society.

Isabella Dalgarno from Scotland was a vocal temperance crusader. She sailed the seas with her master mariner husband Joseph firstly on the "Arab" and later the "Lochnagar." They were very efficient at organising cargo for the ship's voyages and they first arrived in Port Phillip in 1840.

Isabella, dressed in black and carrying a black furled umbrella, spoke in the streets on temperance. She would confront inebriates, reminding them of their responsibilities, whilst prodding them with her umbrella. Such were her powers of persuasion men were known to sign the pledge immediately.

Members of the constabulary earned 2 shillings and 6 pence for each drunk brought in but when Mrs. Dalgarno was in town the number of drunks dropped alarmingly. On one occasion the police plied her husband with alcohol and Isabella was publicly ridiculed for his behaviour.

Undeterred, she continued her public speaking. In 1844, inebriated men were sent to her lectures. At one meeting held in the Scot's Church School Room, audience members smashed school property. When brought to court, they were let off because the judge said they were 'not responsible because their base passions had been inflamed by the sight of a woman on the speaking platform.'

In the 1850s the Dalgarnos bought land in Williamstown and later a street was named after them. They were hard workers and with like-minded friends set up a free school in the Congregational Church Hall in Stevedore Street, North Williamstown. The school in an iron prefab building continued until State education began in 1872.

Also with friends they helped organise a seaman's bethel on a floating hulk - the "Emily." They worked tirelessly to set this up in 1856, and it evolved into the 'Sailor's Rest'. It gave sailors a place to leave their kit, get decent meals and socialise in an alcohol free enviroment. Over time it developed into the 'Mission to Seafarers'.

After Isabella died in 1878 aged 73 years, Jopseph continued the temperance cause but without the passion. Their efforts over the years would have saved many from ruin. Joseph died in 1895 aged 88 years and they are buried at Williamstown Cemetery.

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There were 5 prison hulks in Hobson's Bay in the 1850s and on one of these Bella Guerin was born in 1858. Her father was a warder and the family lived in a little hut on deck.

Bella's mother encouraged the gentlemen prisoners to teach Bella and her brother Marco and in 1878 Bella matriculated at Melbourne University. However it was not until 1881 before women were given the right to continue studying - anything except medicine - that Bella graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1883 and a Master of Arts two years later.

She was the first woman in Australia to graduate from a university and she used her skills as a teacher and lecturer. She worked at first at Loreto Convent in Ballarat and then at the Ballarat School of Mines.

In 1883 she had caught the attention of Mr. Henry Halloran, a former New South Wales Undersecretary in the Colonial Secretary's Department. A retired gentleman and a respected poet, he was keen on education for women. He encouraged Bella to submit literary articles to the "Sydney Quarterly Magazine" and Bella visited Henry and his wife in Sydney, N.S.W.

In 1891, Bella married the now widowed Henry Halloran and moved to Sydney to live. Henry, who was 80 years old, died two years later leaving Bella and an eight month old son. He had not left her provided for and as his children refused to give her assistance she returned to Melbourne.

She worked at various teaching jobs and at the same time educated her son for university entrance. At age 18 years he started medicine and Bella married again. This husband, George Lavender, was 20 years her junior and the marriage was not to last.

Bella became a lucid, eloquent and witty speaker. She was interested in equal moral standards for men and women. She was a supporter of women's suffrage and their right to vote. She criticised the Catholic Church with its tenet of original sin, which distinguished between legitimate and illegitimate births. She campaigned for support for unmarried mothers. She became Vice-President of the 'Women's Political Association' and when she became increasingly socialistic, lost all her positions in the Labour Party.

By 1923 she had moved to Adelaide, South Australia to be near her son, Dr. Henry Halloran. When her brother Marco, an engineer, realised she had cancer, he encouraged her to receive the last rites from the Catholic Church before her death. She died aged 65 years.

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Ada Ackerly's third lady is Amy Williams. Born in 1866, she moved to Williamstown from Geelong when she was small and was elegible to start school at 6 years, however, as in similar families on low incomes, she was removed from school to earn money.

She did ultimately learn to read and write and at the age of 90 years, she wrote her memoirs. In particular the story of her early life is a wonderful social document as she describes her situation when, at the age of 9 years, she was employed to do washing, ironing, house cleaning and child minding for a neighbouring family. She names her friends, her husband, sail maker George Ferguson Morwick and what sounds like a successful business he set up during the depression of the 1890s making life belts. She made sandwiches for children from the Kildonan Homes who were taken on yachting holidays by her husband and friends. They also helped set up some people in business.

Ada Morwick, who died aged 92 years, gave her story to her story to her family who looked after it. Eventually a granddaughter transcribed the story, added photos and presented a copy to the Williamstown Historican Society. Ada Ackerly is keen that we all write our own story, as we know it better than anyone else.

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( The above is a report on Ada Ackerly's address at the General Meeting on 10 May 2014 )

( Contributed by Jan Hanslow, PPPG Member No. 1057 )


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