Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Grover, Jessie (1843–1906)

by Michael Cannon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Jessie Grover (1843-1906), journalist and sericulturist, was born on 9 June 1843 in Melbourne, youngest of four children of William McGuire, innkeeper, and his wife Elizabeth Jane, née Price. William's father Peter John had been a marine sergeant transported to Van Diemen's Land for highway robbery. When William died in 1844 the freehold and licence of the Red Lion Inn in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, passed to his widow. She leased the inn in 1848, but continued to conduct a boarding-house. Jessie was sent to live with an uncle Patrick McGuire, who operated the Emu Inn and McGuire's punt (Shepparton) at the Goulburn River. It was probably there that she met Harry Ehret Grover, an Eton-educated Englishman, who had migrated in 1851 and had been a police trooper at Shepparton. Harry and Jessie married on 28 January 1869 in St James's Church of England, Melbourne.

In 1873 Jessie and her friend Mrs Sara Florentia Bladen-Neill decided that congenial work could be provided for women if a silk production industry was established. They formed the Victorian Ladies' Sericultural Co. Ltd, with Jessie as managing director. The company articles specified that 'No person but a woman shall be eligible as a Director'. Prominent Melbourne women took up most of the £4 shares. The government made a grant of 600 acres (242.8 ha) of hilly land at Harcourt, near the Mount Alexander diggings, where bluestone buildings were erected and thousands of mulberry trees planted. The surveyor had fixed on the wrong location, however, and the enterprise collapsed after several years of intensive effort.

Jessie's mother died in 1879, leaving most of her estate to her daughters. Jessie and Harry were now able to buy a large house at St Kilda and live mainly from their investments. Harry contributed humorous items to Melbourne Punch. Jessie was social editor of the Melbourne Bulletin in 1880-86, and Australian correspondent for the Queen (London). She covered events at Government House, garden parties, charity bazaars and a few scandals in a human and personal style, later to become the hallmark of her son Montague's mass-circulation newspapers. She wrote under various pseudonyms such as 'Gladys', 'Iris', 'Humming Bee' and 'Queen Bee'. A photograph of her in the 1880s showed her to be plump and forceful. Harry bought a racehorse, named it Jessie, but failed in an attempt to win the Melbourne Cup.

The Grovers lost most of their assets in the bank crash of 1893 and were forced to move into hotel rooms. Jessie spent much time in charitable work: cooking cheap food for penniless families living in shanties on the St Kilda foreshore and collecting clothing for them. She died of cancer on 17 March 1906 at St Kilda and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery, survived by her son. Several of his descendants continued the connection with journalism. The bluestone ruins of the silk enterprise have been nominated for inclusion in the Register of the National Estate.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Cannon (ed), Hold Page One (Main Ridge, Vic, 1993)
  • Age (Melbourne), 19 Nov 1873
  • Sun (Sydney), 13 Feb 1911, 2 Apr 1911, 27 Aug 1911
  • Montague Grover papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Michael Cannon, 'Grover, Jessie (1843–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/grover-jessie-12956/text23417, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • McGuire, Jessie
  • Gladys
  • Iris
  • Humming Bee
  • Queen Bee
Birth

9 June 1843
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

17 March 1906
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Occupation