Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mary Braidwood Mowle (1827–1857)

by Patricia Clarke

This article was published:

Mary Braidwood Mowle (1827-1857), diarist, was born on 3 August 1827 at Durham, England, first child of Scottish-born naval surgeon Thomas Braidwood Wilson and his wife Jane, née Thompson. Mary arrived in Sydney on 24 June 1836 in the Strathfieldsaye, in which her father made his ninth and final voyage as surgeon superintendent in convict ships. Her mother died following childbirth in 1838. On her father's land grant at Braidwood Mary was brought up as the daughter of a large landowner. When she visited Sydney, she was regarded as the 'nicest' girl in society circles.

Mary Wilson's circumstances changed dramatically in the drought and depression of the early 1840s when her father was declared bankrupt. On 11 November 1843 he committed suicide while mentally deranged. Left a penniless orphan at 16, she went to live with her father's brother George Wilson at Mount Seymour, Oatlands, Van Diemen's Land. On 12 May 1845 at Oatlands she married with Anglican rites Stewart Marjoribanks Mowle, a protégé of (Sir) Terence Murray of Yarralumla, New South Wales. The Mowles lived at first at Murray's outstation at Mannus, near Tumbarumba, then at a farm known as Klensendorlffe's on the Limestone Plains (Canberra), where Mowle combined unsuccessful farming on his own behalf with employment as overseer for Murray. At the end of 1850, with three children, Mary began a diary, which she kept for five months, and which presented a wide-ranging picture of rural family life in mid-nineteenth century Australia. Her life veered from the extremes of being short of food for her children to attending the best social events in the district, the balls and race meetings that had been part of her youth. Keeping the diary was an emotional consolation as important as playing the piano, which she described as her 'chief solace'.

In 1852 Stewart Mowle was appointed sub-collector of customs at Eden and there on 1 January 1853 she began a new diary. It provided the most intimate glimpse that has survived of life in the mid-nineteenth century in a small but important seaport. She detailed ships' movements, the arrival and departure of south coast and Monaro families, and whaling operations at Twofold Bay, as well as the day-to-day work involved in raising and educating a young family, the hazards of childbirth and childhood illnesses and the social interchanges in a small community.

The Mowles left Eden in 1855 when Stewart was transferred to the Customs House, Sydney. Mary's sixth child was born on 31 August 1857. Two weeks later at Balmain, on 15 September, Mary died from the complications of childbirth. Her husband, two sons and three daughters survived her. She was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Devonshire Street cemetery, Sydney.

Mary's diaries have particular interest in having been written by a woman who—in remarkably direct language—expressed feelings of fury and frustration, but also of pride and resilience. The originals are held in the National Library of Australia, Canberra, and copies in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Clarke, A Colonial Woman: The Life and Times of Mary Braidwood Mowle 1827-1857 (Syd, 1986), and for bibliography.

Citation details

Patricia Clarke, 'Mowle, Mary Braidwood (1827–1857)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 17 April 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
  • Wilson, Mary

3 August, 1827
Durham, Durham, England


15 September, 1857 (aged 30)
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

childbirth complications

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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