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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Maddock, Sarah (1860–1955)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Sarah Maddock (1860-1955), cyclist, was born on 29 October 1860 at Wolumla, near Eden, New South Wales, daughter of James Porter, stockman, and his wife Mary, née Sullivan. Raised on a dairy farm and educated locally, she became a competent horsewoman. A childhood accident left her blind in one eye. On 22 February 1886 at St James' Church, Sydney, she married Ernest Alfred Maddock (d.1935), a solicitor's clerk, and by 1890 had three children.

Encouraged by her husband, who had begun cycling in England before migrating, Sarah Maddock began riding a bicycle in 1893, and after several months accompanied him on a 300-mile (483 km) ride from Sydney to Bega, averaging 60 miles (97 km) a day. Her trip was reported as the first long-distance ride by an Australian woman. Next year this achievement was eclipsed by a 574-mile (924 km) ride from Sydney to Melbourne, accomplished in nine days, their progress monitored by local bicycle clubs. Mrs Maddock rode a 30 lb (14 kg) Conqueror safety machine with dropped frame, gearbox and pneumatic tyres. The first woman to attempt such a feat, she was escorted into the city with her husband by members of the Melbourne Bicycle Club.

Despite poor roads, bushfires, tropical downpours and creeks which had to be forded, the Maddocks completed a 1600-mile (2575 km) round trip to Brisbane in 1895; she rode an imported New Rapid machine. The return, through New England, took 9½ days, averaging 80 miles (129 km) a day. The Sydney Bicycle Club, of which she had been made an honorary member, presented her with a gold medal.

At a time when woman cyclists provoked heated controversy, Sarah Maddock disarmed critics by her grace, style and 'sweet womanliness'. Described by one commentator as 'a graceful light-weight with a poetically pale visage', she was tall, slim and fine featured, with a quiet, reserved and self-effacing manner. Unlike some other female enthusiasts, she rejected 'rational dress', asserting that the most suitable costume for cycling was a skirt, worn with 'black satin under knickerbockers', which allowed it to 'fall gracefully into place after each stroke of the knee'. While recognizing the 'extreme folly and danger of riding tightly dressed about the waist', she advised that 'stays should by no means be discarded'.

Inspired by Sarah Maddock's example and reassured by journals and magazines as to the popularity of cycling among their counterparts in Europe and America, many women in Victoria and New South Wales took to their bicycles. A women's club was formed in Melbourne shortly after her visit and in February 1895 seven women met at Quong Tart's tea-rooms to form the Sydney Ladies' Bicycle Club with Mrs Maddock as captain. Next year she estimated that there were 1000 women cyclists in New South Wales. In 1897 she formed a second women's club, the Stanmore Wheelers. About forty women also joined her as members of the new and predominantly male Cyclists' Touring Union. Writing in its Cycling Gazette, Sarah Maddock assured readers that such associations encouraged 'platonic friendships', a sound basis for marriage.

Sarah Maddock's life did not follow her convictions. From 1914 she lived apart from her husband, devoting herself to her family and furthering her skills as a golfer, embroiderer and woodcarver. Active still, she died on 9 September 1955 at a daughter's home at Double Bay, Sydney, and was cremated with Anglican rites; her son and two daughters survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • F. G. C. H. Hanslow, Australian Cycling Annual, 1896 (Syd, 1897)
  • J. Fitzpatrick, The Bicycle and the Bush (Melb, 1980)
  • New South Wales Cycling Gazette, 19 Nov, 5 Dec 1896, 2 Jan, 10 Apr, 14 Aug 1897
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Dec 1935
  • private information.

Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Maddock, Sarah (1860–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 8 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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