By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
Mary Thomas: Founding Mother, The life and times of a South
By Beth Duncan (Wakefield Press, $34.95, softcover, 303 pages)
Mary Thomas was a phenomenon for her time when she emigrated with her husband, Robert, and five children from London to the embryonic colony of South Australia in 1836.
At the age of 49 Mary appeared to have no qualms about swapping her secure lifestyle for a tent in the sandhills of Holdfast Bay.
A published author, she and her husband, a well-established law stationer and publisher in London, chose to forego their life of comfort in London and uproot themselves. It is with tenacity and perseverance that they made a successful transition, which was not without its many trials and tribulations.
This is a precious portrait of a colonial family that intelligently connects a family’s variable fortunes with the disagreements and conflicts, economic difficulties and setbacks that the colony faced during its early years.
She emigrated in the belief that she would spend some years in the colony and “obtain a competence” sufficient for retirement in England, but this dream remained unfilled.
Destiny had other plans: it was almost as if against her will, Mary became an esteemed South Australian pioneer.
The book also documents how the family established the colony’s first free press.
Their eldest son, Robert George, an architect, designed many of Adelaide’s public buildings including the law courts, treasury, churches and a hospital.
The biography, meticulously researched, runs smoothly as it also uncovers the in-house subtleties of the family and the declining marriage.
This is certainly Mary’s story, but more importantly she shares “much of it with all women who reached South Australia during the first years of settlement”.
It not only records the battle for survival by the colony and the Thomas household, but also their recovery to become an influential South Australian family.
Edition 406, 22 April 2014
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.