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Jane Swain Adams (1851–1934)

by Rica Erickson

This article was published:

Jane Swain Adams (1851-1934), farmer, was born on 28 February 1851 at Toodyay, Western Australia, second of four children of Charles Glass, a Scottish-born farmer and later an innkeeper, and his wife Jane Mary, née Cameron. On 6 November 1868 in Wicklow Hills schoolroom, Toodyay, with Presbyterian forms young Jane married Charles Frederick Adams. A cobbler by trade, he was working as a shepherd in arid country over a hundred miles (160 km) to the east, at Yarragin. Here her first child was born in April 1869. In the next twenty-two years she gave birth to eleven more.

In 1875 the family moved ten miles (16 km) away to Mangowine, where they built a stone and mud brick home with a roof of reeds across gimlet pole rafters. A friendly relationship was established with local Aborigines; Jane trusted the women as nursemaids, to help with housework and tend the vegetable garden. Twice yearly in summer Charles took the wagon, loaded with wool and sandalwood, to Guildford or Toodyay and traded for stores. About every second year Jane went too, to visit her mother. In 1881 Charles became a special police constable, and was often away on patrol or shifting sheep, leaving Jane alone with her children. Water was a dominant concern, only being found at soaks at the bases of granite outcrops. Once, with two children, she walked to Yarragin for water; another time she sent the two eldest girls with a washtub to Yarragin to fetch it. Adams purchased a 100-acre (40 ha) block at Barbalin, to secure water rights.

In 1887 Jane began recording weather data for the government meteorological office, a task she continued until her death. The rush to the Yilgarn goldfield in 1888 ended her isolation. Charles built an inn at the homestead to cater for prospectors trekking past. It was licensed in 1889. Jane provided food and lodgings until 1893 when a new railway line from Northam to Southern Cross bypassed Mangowine and the inn closed. Charles died of a heart attack in 1895. With nine children still at home, Jane managed the property: running sheep, growing vegetables for the family and the railway workers, and cropping the wheat-fields. Having survived typhoid in 1896, next year she won a tender for the mail run, with her 15-year-old son Charles as the mailman.

After 1900 land in the vicinity was opened up and inexperienced farmers struggling to survive looked to Granny Adams for help and advice. Nearby Nungarin grew into a township. Her sons Charles and Thomas served in World War I, Charles dying in France in 1917. In 1929 Jane was guest of honour at ceremonies opening the Barbalin Water Scheme, for which her block had been resumed. She died on 9 November 1934 at Mangowine and was buried in Nungarin cemetery with Congregational rites. Four daughters and two sons survived her. Memorial gates in her honour were erected at Nungarin and in 1968 Mangowine homestead became a National Trust property.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Popham (ed), Reflections: Profiles of 150 Women Who Have Helped Make Western Australia’s History (Perth, 1978)
  • R. Erickson, ‘Jane Adams of Mangowine’, Early Days, vol 7, part 6, 1974, p 7.

Citation details

Rica Erickson, 'Adams, Jane Swain (1851–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Glass, Jane

28 February, 1851
Toodyay, Western Australia, Australia


9 November, 1934 (aged 83)
Mangowine, Western Australia, Australia

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