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Harriette Adelaide McCathie (1840–1912)

by Jennifer MacCulloch

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Harriette Adelaide McCathie (1840?-1912), retailer, was born in Dublin, daughter of J. Colgan, landed proprietor, of Mayfield, County Kildare, and his wife Alicia. In Dublin on 4 June 1857, she married John Seybourne (d.1860), a draper, and bore him two children. On 20 March 1861 she married Christopher Bailey (d.1906); they migrated to New Zealand arriving at Auckland in the Ganges on 12 October 1863. They had four children. He farmed near Auckland where their son, the actor Albert Edward (Bert) Bailey was born in 1868. By 1871 Harriette was living in Sydney. Divorced by Bailey, she married a Scottish accountant David Henderson McCathie on 11 September 1879 at the Redfern Registry Office. McCathie worked for John Vicars, tweed manufacturer, and died on 13 October 1882, survived by their three children and leaving an estate valued for probate at £400.

Next year Mrs McCathie bought a house at Ashfield, where the family remained for some ten years. After working as a milliner at Farmer & Co. Ltd, in September 1886 she obtained a mortgage, probably using the money to found her business—by 1888 Mrs McCathie's Hat Shop, in King Street, Sydney, was a substantial concern.

Of medium height and build, with dark hair pulled back austerely from her stern face with its hooked nose, this astute and hard-working woman built up a thriving retail outlet. She possessed considerable fashion flair (she reputedly always wore a bonnet) and shrewd judgement on matters of business and investment. In the 1890s the stock lines were increased from millinery alone to women's clothing, necessitating several extensions to the premises. When no further alterations could be accommodated, the store, now a general drapery as well as ladies' outfitter, was relocated in 1905 in spacious premises in Pitt Street, next to the Strand Arcade. Mrs McCathie Ltd was registered as a limited company on 13 July that year. She retired from active participation in the firm; however, the carefully worded memorandum of the company and her share-ownership ensured her continued power, if not control.

The company after 1905 was headed by her son David McCathie and son-in-law Ernest Edward Brown. Mrs McCathie lived in a separate residence on the Browns' estate, The Highlands, at Gordon. She was remembered by a descendant as being 'a very severe grandmother'.

Mrs McCathie died on 11 April 1912 at St Kilda, Melbourne, while on a visit to her daughter Florence Manisty; she was buried in the Presbyterian section of Gore Hill cemetery, Sydney, her grave bearing the simple inscription 'Our Mother'. The Pitt Street emporium, 'the busiest shop in Sydney', was draped in crepe and closed for trading. Her estate was valued for probate at over £50,000. Alone and without means, she had achieved financial and social success for herself and her children in a climate ungenerous to women.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Oct 1882, 13, 15 Apr 1912
  • Evening News (Sydney), 12 Apr 1912
  • Sun (Sydney), 12 Apr 1912
  • Daily Telegraph, 13, 15 Apr 1912.

Citation details

Jennifer MacCulloch, 'McCathie, Harriette Adelaide (1840–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bailey, Harriette
  • Colgan, Harriette
  • Seybourne, Harriette

Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


11 April, 1912 (aged ~ 72)
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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