Who Was Mary Farrell?

Who was Mary Farrell … and what was her life like before she was buried in the Boorowa cemetery?

This is where I enjoy playing the role of sleuth, like Hercule Poirot, one of my favourite fictional detectives.

Her name suggests she was an Irish Catholic — “Mary” is obviously a reference to the mother of Christ, while “Farrell” is a common Irish surname, which means “hero” and “man of courage”.

The words and pictures on Mary’s headstone support this. The three-leafed clovers also suggest Ireland, but not luck — otherwise there would be four — while the dove with the olive branch suggests peace, perhaps to “rest in peace” now that her life on Earth is over. Meanwhile, the epitaph “Of your charity pray for the soul of” was a popular Catholic inscription, which urged the living to intercede for the souls of the dead to speed their journey through Purgatory. This inscription, however, was most popular in the 100 years before Henry VIII split from the Catholic church in the 1530s. While no date of death appears in my photograph, the headstone style and Boorowa’s history suggests she died in the 1870s or 1880s — does this mean Mary was an old-fashioned girl?

What is certain is that Mary and/or her parents came to Australia in one of two ways: they were either convicts (possibly sent as political prisoners) or emigrated to escape the Potato Famine. Either way, she and her family would have been farm labourers, possibly working their way to owning their own farms or businesses. Of course, they were not alone — Boorowa is still known for its Irish heritage.

The amazing thing is what Mary would have worn while she worked the land and raised children: no stranger to the corset and bustle, her waist would have pinched in and her bottom padded out. If she couldn’t afford the real thing, she would have created imitations using petticoats and horse hair, both hidden below a tight blouse and floor-length skirt.

And to think people praise Ginger Rogers for “dancing backwards” in high heels!

No comments: