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Annie Brice (c. 1849–1931)

by Michelle Jacquelin-Furr

This article was published:

Annie Brice, on far right, Christina Smith in centre, c.1869

Annie Brice, on far right, Christina Smith in centre, c.1869

State Library of South Australia, b20313111

Annie Brice (c. 1849–1931), also known as Nancy Bruce and Hannah Brice, was a determined Boandik (Bunganditj/Bungandidj^) woman who defended her own rights, as well as those of her children. She was born in around 1849 at an Aboriginal camp near Penola station, South Australia, second child of Natunda, a Boandik woman from Berrin (Mount Gambier), and English-born William Brice. William had been sent to Van Diemen’s Land as a convict. Upon obtaining his ticket-of-leave he worked as a whaler off Kangaroo Island before gaining work at Penola station. Annie was born on Pinejunga land and, following the customs of the Boandik people, she belonged to her mother’s group, the Kumite; the red-tailed black cockatoo was her totem. Her sister was Lucy (b. c. 1846) and her half-brother was Tommy.

The rate of colonisation in Australia’s south-east increased during the 1840s, resulting in the rapid uptake of land by squatters and the implementation of new rules and laws that affected Aboriginal peoples. Traditional ways of living and caring for country and family, and beliefs and spirituality, were challenged. Annie’s early life was difficult. Her mother left her at the Pinejunga camp when she was young and she had minimal contact with her father. The station owner, Alexander Cameron, and his wife, Margaret, cared for Annie and a number of other Aboriginal children at the station. Margaret sponsored Annie’s baptism on 1 July 1856. As there are no records of her sponsoring other Aboriginal children, it is likely that Annie was regarded as special.

In 1860 the Camerons’ niece, Mary MacKillop, arrived at the station to assume the role of governess to the Camerons’ children. She may have been taken aback by Annie’s appearance when they first met. The eleven-year-old had possum fat smeared over her body (a common practice of the Boandik people to protect them from biting insects, the sun, and weather) and her hair was lice-ridden. MacKillop washed Annie and combed the lice from her hair, and they soon forged a close relationship. Later she taught Annie to read and write. Annie spent time at the schoolhouse at St Joseph’s Church, Penola, and interacted with the nuns there. On 13 January 1867 she was confirmed at St Joseph’s by Bishop Laurence Bonaventure Sheil. Her importance as a role model for other Aboriginal children was affirmed in April when MacKillop wrote to Father Julian Tenison-Woods about an Aboriginal woman she knew who wanted her daughter to be ‘brought up as a Catholic and taught to read and write’ like Annie (quoted in Rymill 2017, 5.69). In August MacKillop became Sister Mary of the Cross, leaving Penola and Annie behind.

A fiercely religious young woman with a strong work ethic, Brice was a domestic servant for Dr Wehl at Mount Gambier and assisted at a school for Aboriginal children run by Christina Smith during the late 1860s. Her first child, Joseph, was born in 1869. His father, Winfred Pollitt, police-trooper and keeper of the Penola gaol, never acknowledged his son. Assertive and strong willed, Brice represented herself at the Penola Court on 9 December 1869, seeking three weeks unpaid wages from her employer, Thomas Artaud. Although the case was rejected due to insufficient evidence, Brice showed herself to be someone who understood her rights and was prepared to fight for justice. Two days later she was back in court, accused of ‘wilfully and maliciously destroying four trees and two beds of melons on the premises of Mr Artaud in Robe Street’ (Border Watch 1869, 3); she was released without charge.

While working as a domestic servant at McDonald’s Royal Oak Hotel, Penola, in 1871, Brice, who was ‘tall and very beautiful’ (quoted in Jacquelin-Furr 2017, 12), became involved with the barman, Thomas Burt, and her second child, Walter, was born in September that year. She sued Burt for maintenance but the case was dismissed. In the weeks that followed, Joseph was taken from her and placed in the Destitute Asylum, Adelaide. Probably because Brice was Aboriginal and Joseph was illegitimate, the register of admissions listed his ‘mother [as] a prostitute’ (quoted in Jacquelin-Furr 2017, 25). She never saw him again.

From 1872 to 1876 Brice worked as a general servant for Susan Barratt, proprietor of the Temperance Hotel and Boarding House, Mount Gambier. Barratt later described her as ‘honest, clean and a hard worker’ (quoted in Jacquelin-Furr 2017, 19). During that time she had two daughters, Mary Jane (b. c. 1873) and Minnie (b. c. 1875). Unable to care for three children under four, she assigned Minnie to the care of a wealthy white couple.

Brice met Mauritian-born labourer Emile Francois Jacquelin in 1876 and they married on 4 May 1879 at their residence at Mount Gambier. In July Emile wrote to the Crown Lands Office to enquire whether his wife was ‘entitled to a lease of land from [the] Government’ (quoted in Jacquelin-Furr 2017, 15). Brice selected a parcel of land at Millicent and glowing character references were obtained from Barratt, Smith, and others, but to no avail. The Jacquelins had three children: Lucy (b. c. 1877), Annie (b. c. 1879), and Emil (b. c. 1881). When Emile died in 1881, Brice faced extreme hardship. Charged with neglecting to send her older children to school in 1882, she claimed that their earnings were her only means of support. A government report confirmed that to be deprived of her children’s help would mean starvation for the family.

Two more children—Elizabeth (b. c. 1883) and Agnes (b. c. 1885)—were born to Brice before she met her second husband, George Holmes, in 1887; they married in 1894. Fifteen years her junior, the Englishman provided a home for all Brice’s children and fathered Jack (b. c. 1887), Ethel (b. c. 1888), Ada (b. c. 1890), and George (b. c. 1894). Survived by her husband and at least seven of her thirteen children, Brice died on 9 June 1931 at Mount Gambier and was buried at the cemetery there. She is remembered as a proud Aboriginal woman—a fighter who stood up for herself, her children, and their families.


Michelle Jacquelin-Furr is Boandik and is a descendant of Annie Brice who is one of the apical ancestors of the Limestone Coast, South Australia. She consulted with other family in writing this article.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Border Watch (Mount Gambier). ‘Magistrates Court.’ 15 December 1869, 3
  • Jacquelin-Furr, Michelle. Annie’s Mob: The Story of the Brice/Holmes/Jacquelin Families. Mount Gambier, SA: Michelle Jacquelin-Furr, 2017
  • Jacquelin-Furr, Michelle. Annie’s Story: Growing Up Strong on Boandik Country. Mount Gambier, SA: Michelle Jacquelin-Furr, 2018
  • Rymill, Peter. Penola and Coonawarra: From Foundation to Federation. Coonawarra, SA: Peter Rymill, 2017

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Michelle Jacquelin-Furr, 'Brice, Annie (c. 1849–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2019, accessed online 23 April 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Annie Brice, on far right, Christina Smith in centre, c.1869

Annie Brice, on far right, Christina Smith in centre, c.1869

State Library of South Australia, b20313111

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bruce, Nancy
  • Brice, Hannah
  • Jacquelin, Annie
  • Holmes, Annie

c. 1849
Penola, South Australia, Australia


9 June, 1931 (aged ~ 82)
Mount Gambier, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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