Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Mary Emily Way - my 2x great-grandmother…

Mary Emily Way (1851-1935) is my 2x great-grandmother on my mothers side of the family. The following is a story I wrote, based on the known facts of her life, for the ‘Writing the Family Saga’ unit at University of Tasmania last year.  Today is her son Charles David Gardner's 145th birthday.

Mary Emily cradled her newborn son and looked across at her husband, the man who would be father to this baby. They had married just two weeks ago, a mutually acceptable arrangement. She needed a ring on her finger and a name for her child, while he needed a housekeeper. Little Charles David would grow up in a respectable home, thanks to this man.

Mary thought nostalgically of her Irish mammy; how she wished she was here now to help and advise her in her new role as a mother!

Seven months previously, twenty year old Mary Way had arrived in Greymouth alone and pregnant, after crossing the Tasman Sea from Melbourne on the S.S. Gleaner. It had been a big step, moving from the familiarity of home to establish a new life in a strange place. But Mam had done the same, and made a good life for herself and her family. Mary hoped things would work out well for her too.

Her mother, Margaret Bridget Maloney, was a farmer’s daughter from Limerick. Faced with starvation in famine-stricken Ireland, she had left for London at much the same age as Mary was now. There she had met and married Henry David Way, a bootmaker from Oxfordshire. Mary had been born within a year, and shortly afterwards the little family had taken advantage of assisted passage to Van Diemen’s Land. Five more children were born in Hobart, before the family relocated to Melbourne in 1870. Life had not been without its troubles though; her youngest baby had died aged two and her eldest son at fifteen from an epileptic seizure. Now she had effectively lost Mary as well.

We don’t know the circumstances under which Mary left her family in 1871, or why she chose Greymouth as her destination. Was she pursuing the father of her child? Possibly she intended to stay with relatives of her father, living in New Zealand. She may have been banished in disgrace, a bad example to her younger siblings. Whatever the reason, her exile was permanent, and she never returned to Melbourne.

Greymouth in the 1870’s was a frontier town. The cold, wet and windswept harbour at the mouth of the Grey River was the point from which timber and coal was shipped. The discovery of gold brought an influx of those seeking to make their fortune. Charles Gardner was one of those men, and worked hard to provide for his young wife and child. The rough work and harsh conditions took their toll and his health suffered. The winter of 1878 proved too much, and despite Mary’s careful nursing over the long winter months, the miner succumbed to exposure, leaving Mary a widow and six year old Charles again fatherless.

Greymouth Harbour, New Zealand, 1885
sketch by Mr. Pentlelow, 
published 21 October 1885 in Australasian Sketcher by Alfred Martin Ebsworth     
                                          State Library of Victoria http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/258211                         

Mary did what many women thrown upon their own resources did – she found herself a new husband. Six months after Charles’s death, Mary Emily Gardner and Arthur William Tew were married in the Greymouth Registry Office. In such a small community it is likely they had known each other for some time, and even possible that Arthur, a clerk, had handled Charles’s affairs.

Young Charles grew up in Greymouth with his mother and stepfather, joined by a baby sister Clara in 1882. At fifteen, greener pastures beckoned him. In a move reminiscent of those of his mother and grandmother before him, he left Greymouth to travel alone to Melbourne, where he eventually established a successful blacksmith business.

Charles Gardner's blacksmith premises in Bentleigh, Victoria c1903 
from private family collection.

As she stood on the dock fare-welling her son, Mary must have wondered at the irony of the situation. She had left Melbourne, perhaps turned out by her family, to make a life for this boy, and now here he was, leaving her behind and returning to what she had left. She worried about what awaited him in Melbourne and how he might be received. We know that Charles did connect with his mother’s family, as his uncle and aunt, John and Jessie Way, were the witnesses at his marriage in 1894.

Life in Greymouth went on for Mary. She was widowed for the second time at Christmas 1901 when Arthur died of heart disease. Six months later her daughter Clara, nineteen and unmarried, gave birth to a baby girl named Emily. Ever practical, Mary passed the baby off as her own “change of life” baby. In an ironic twist, Mary once again found herself facing life as a single mother, thirty years after first being in that situation.
©Katrina Vincent 2016
Charles David Gardner


  1. It is a great story, albeit a sad one, yet full of courage and determination. I'm glad you posted it.

  2. Such a poignant and cleverly told tale!

    1. Thank you Mary, I'm pleased you liked it.



    Thank you, Chris

  4. Wow...talk about perseverance. She just kept getting back up didn't she no matter what life threw at her.

  5. She certainly did, Alex. Thanks for your comment.