Mary Higham (1819-1883) arrived in Fremantle with her husband John Henry Higham and their two children Edward Henry and John Joseph (Jack) aboard the Sabrina in 1853. They saw the move as an opportunity to improve their lot. They opened a small bakery and confectionery store, and Mary had four more children in the next five years.
John died when he was 40 and Mary was left to support six children. This she did brilliantly. With the help of a teenage son, she started a clothing and furnishing emporium, M. Higham and Sons, at the corner of High and Market Streets. She operated the emporium and the bakery, achieving a degree of success that was unusual for a woman at that time. She won considerable respect from the men but was barred from a number of their political, business and social organisations. Her son, Edward, had to stand in for her.
After expanding the emporium (she won the contract to provide shingles for the Lunatic Asylum) her company diversified – in the manner of Fremantle’s dominant merchants – into pastoral activity, pearling and shipping. Mary Higham resigned from running the company in 1881, handing it over to her son, John [Joseph], two years before she died. MCB [Ron Davidson]. Photo from article by Geoffrey Higham in Fremantle Studies vol. 4.
The Higham family arrived in the colony in 1853 and established a business that grew to be one of the largest in the town. The eldest son, Edward Henry, represented Fremantle in the Legislative Assembly, as did his brother, John Joseph, who for many years controlled the old firm of M. Higham and Sons. Both were public spirited members of the community. Another son, Harry [James William], became a wealthy pastoralist, [in the Ashburton district in the NW of WA] and was reported to have left an estate worth upwards of £250,000. Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council: 104, 106.
There is a memorial to Mary Higham in Fremantle Cemetery at Congregational D 255, tho her remains may still be in the former Skinner St Cemetery. MCB. Her husband John Henry Higham's 1858 gravestone is preserved on the Heritage Trail in Fremantle Cemetery.
Brown, Patricia M 1996, The Merchant Princes of Fremantle: The Rise and Decline of a Colonial Elite 1870-1900, UWAP.
Higham, Geoffrey J. 1994, A Most Industrious Tradeswoman: Mary Higham, Nineteenth Century Merchant of Fremantle, Gayton Squirrel Trust, Winthrop WA.
Higham, Geoffrey 2005, 'A person of remarkable energy', Fremantle Studies, 4: 8-21.
Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council: 104, 106.
NLA entry for her bio
The top text above is from MCB's Heritage Walk Trail (probably written by Ron Davidson), as is the bottom photograph, which is also in Wikipedia, and FHC. The photograph of J.J. Higham is from FHC.
Garry Gillard | New: 2 January, 2015 | Now: 22 February, 2018