Pioneer women – Mary Sampson.
The first of the pioneer women in my direct ancestry I wish to write about is Mary Sampson (Mrs Thomas Pye), my great, great grandmother.
Mary Sampson was born about 1818 in Country Tipperary, Ireland, the daughter of Patrick Sampson (her mother’s name is unknown). Mary Sampson was one of the Irish and English girls and women who were sponsored out to Melbourne under the Bounty Scheme by the firm Nicholas, James & Co on board the ship “Lysander”, which arrived in the Colony on 22 October 1841.
Mary was employed by Captain Sylvester John Brown and his wife, as a dairymaid at their dairy farm, “Iramoo”, situated some miles from the Brown’s homestead at Heidelberg, Victoria. Also working at the dairy was a convict, named Thomas Pye, 20 years her senior, and whom Mary married on 16 October 1843. At this time the Browns had lost heavily in the financial crisis and their seventeen year old son, Thomas Alexander Brown, attempted to resurrect the family’s fortunes by going west to become a squatter; taking with him the dairy herd and ‘store cattle’.
Mary and her husband were Brown’s first choice to take with him as his servants. They headed out on the long journey when Mary was newly pregnant with her first child. Mary was probably the only woman amongst the group of gentlemen taking their herds to the west. Mary did the cooking, cleaning and laundry and continued to help with the milking and butter-making on the journey. She and Tom slept under the bullock dray. When they reached their destination in the middle of winter, with “the wild weather of the western coast, with fierce gales from the south-east, and driving storms of sleet”…making “the roads knee-deep in mud, the creeks full, the nights long and cold”. Mary was now near her due-date, with only the dray for shelter and protection; the sod hut Thomas Pye had built was for his young gentleman employer – the servants slept outside until a slab hut was built.
At this newly settled squatting run there were only five people, Mary was the only female. Whether Mary gave birth on her own or whether she travelled to the neighbouring Dunmore homestead, about seven miles away, where the Dunmore partners had wives, is unknown, but her first son came into the world on 22 July, 1844.
Mary had traded with the indigenous tribes in the area and gave flour, beef and other items to the local lubras who were losing their traditional hunting grounds. The household also ‘adopted’ a local aboriginal boy, who “was a good deal spoiled and did pretty much as he liked, and vexed the soul of good Mrs Pye continually”.
During these troubled times with the aborigines attacking the whites and the stockmen and shepherds retaliating, there came a time when Thomas Pye was away from the homestead felling and splitting trees. Mary was anxious for his welfare and her own when alone and asked to be provided with a gun in order to frighten the natives if they should attack the hut, but she doubted they would considering the goodwill she had shown the lubras. However, it did come to pass that whilst Thomas Brown and the stockman where away from the station and Mary and Tom Pye were milking the cows that a large group of aborigines invaded the hut and began pillaging it. On spotting the natives Mary run to protect her baby who lay in his cradle inside. She jostled her way inside to see that the cradle had been turned upside down over her child. Her husband, following Mary, realised that it was better to humour the natives, and assist them in their stealing; rather than risk harm to his family. Tom Pye related “One fellow had my double gun, which was loaded; he did not know much about the ways of a gun, which was lucky for us. He held up the gun towards me, and pulled the trigger. The hammers were up, but there were no caps on. I had taken them off the night before. When the gun wouldn’t go off, he says, ‘no good, no good,’ and laughed and handed it to another fellow, who held it in one hand like a fire-stick”.
Mary was very upset about what was taken – “about a hundredweight of sugar, a quarter-chest of tea, a half-bag of flour, clothes, and, worse than all, two or three silver spoons, with the her initials on, which she looked on as something very precious”.
Tom rode to the neighbouring Dunmore station to enlist the help of the men there. They tracked the natives to their camp, and found most of the things that were worth taking back including Mary’s silver spoons.
When Thomas Pye received his Ticket-of-Leave the family were able to lease their own farm near Port Fairy. By 1849, Mary had four children under four years of age and one night as she was putting a child to bed, she gave the candle to an older child to hold, who let it fall against the bed-curtain which immediately ignited, and the fire soon caught the thatch; it was with difficulty that Mary could save her children, and in her endeavours to put the fire out had her hands dreadfully burned. The hut was completely burnt to the ground.
The Pyes were dogged by more tragedy when, two years later, their eight month old daughter, Susanna died. However, two more daughters were born into the family. By the early 1860s the family became tenant farmers near the village of Killarney where misfortune again struck, firstly with the tragic death of their 16 year old daughter, Johanna, in a riding accident, followed by the death of their 9 year old daughter Margaret from tuberculosis, and also the bankruptcy of their landlords’ firm which saw the proceeds of the Pyes wheat crop, totalling £750, used to pay their landlords’ creditors. The Pyes were forced into bankruptcy also and coupled with the grief of their daughters’ deaths found themselves again having to find a new home. Finally they were able to purchase 33 acres of land near the village of Kirkstall. Their home was a wooden three-roomed hut with a thatched roof.
When Mary Pye died on 11 July, 1880 at 62 years of age, her elderly husband was soon to follow her on 5 September, 1880. Mary had endured the hardships and tragedies of their lives but was Tom’s capable and loving companion for 36 years. Mary lived to see her three sons marry and the first thirteen (of 36) grandchildren born. She had arrived in the district in its earliest white settlement, experienced first-hand the effects that had on the aboriginal communities, and lived through the vagrancy of cropping, the loss of children, however she kept her resolve to keep going despite everything.
Mary Pye, a truly remarkable woman – like many other pioneer women of the times.
Quotes from “Old Melbourne Memories” by Thomas Alexander Browne (Rolf Boldrewood).