The influenza epidemic had already claimed many victims. Mary Ann had been unwell for some days, and her anxious husband and family felt so helpless as they watched over her. The fever increased, and her thoughts drifted back in time, back to her family home in Fox Row, Ogley Hay, Staffordshire. A letter had arrived for her, from her fiance, David so far away in Australia
“My dear, I am counting down the months now, to when you will join me here and we can be together. I have been able to secure a plot of land from the Colliery. It is below the escarpment at the other end of the Vale to the Mine. There is a well in the front of the block that is producing sweet water, and the creek flows by the lower fence. Jim has offered his spare time to help build our little cottage, which I hope will be ready for you to move into when you arrive. “
A smile flittered across Mary’s face, as she recalled her father finally giving his permission that upon reaching her 21st birthday she could leave her home and country to join David in Australia. He had asked for her hand in marriage over three years ago, prior to joining Mary’s brother, James on board the sailing ship, “La Hogue”. The young men travelled to Australia as Assisted Migrants, lured by tales of work available in the coal mining industry
At last it was time to leave her employment as a servant to one of the better off Birmingham merchants, and prepare to farewell her parents and siblings. As Mary was packing her metal trunk for the voyage, her mother handed her a farewell gift of a photo album of precious photos of the family. They both had tears in their eyes, as they hugged, knowing it was very likely that they would never see each other again. Her mother took comfort in the knowledge that Mary was to be accompanied by her old friend, Ann
“This is really happening,” she thought, with mixed feelings of excitement, sorrow and fear, as she boarded the ship “Northampton” in Plymouth. Early the following morning, Mary was up on deck, gazing at her last views of the southernmost coast of Cornwall. “I wonder what Australia is going to be like?” she pondered
It was early evening on Christmas Eve when the ship was towed into Neutral Bay. Mary had been leaning on the rails, eagerly taking in the views of the harbour. How different it all seemed to anything she knew and was familiar with. The weather had been hot and steamy and she was feeling the effects of the heat. However, now a gentle sea breeze was easing her discomfort.
She felt so excited now at the prospect of spending their first Christmas together with David, after three years apart. However, she was soon to be disappointed when the Captain advised that because of the Christmas public holiday, landing would be delayed.
It was her brother, James that she first saw in the crowd of people waiting to greet the passengers from the ship. Then, standing head and shoulders above him, there was David, who had just appeared from behind a pill
At last, she was on land again, and in the arms of her brother, and smiling shyly up to her fiancé.
David had arranged accommodation for Mary at a boarding house in the Rocks area, not far from where he and James were staying. The next couple of weeks passed in a whirl as David and James showed her the sights of Sydney Town, and made final arrangements for their wedding. On the morning of her wedding day, she carefully dressed in the pretty dark blue gingham frock that her Mother had helped her to make. She loved the pretty lace trim that her Aunt had given her to decorate the cuffs of the sleeves. The cameo brooch that her mother had given her for her 21st birthday looked perfect, pinned to the front of her lace-trimmed collar. Mary and Ann walked up to the nearby Wesleyan Parsonage in Prince Street, where David and James were waiting with the minister.
The following morning, the young couple travelled in a horse-drawn cab to the nearby Central Railway Station. They had left plenty of time to visit Lomer’s Photographic Studio, opposite the railway terminus. David had arranged for Mary to sit for a portrait to send to her mother.
The train was at the platform, when Mary and David arrived at the station. Her husband took her elbow and helped her up into the carriage. Waiting for the last leg of her long journey to begin, Mary gazed out of the window taking in the vision of the recently completed platform. She thought how fitting it was that her great journey had begun and ended in a steam train.