This week’s Sepia Saturday theme is inspired by the theories of the Danish author Herman Bang (1857 – 1912), one of the leaders of the “quiet existences” literary movement, which sought to give more attention to “ignored people living boring and apparently unimportant lives”. One of my forebears, known in the family as the remittance man – the term meaning an emigrant, banished to a distant British possession to live on money sent from home – seems a suitable candidate.

Our ‘remittance man’ was my 3rd great grandfather Gordon Mainwaring (1817 – 1872) who arrived in the colony of South Australia in 1840.

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 12.22.38 pm

Photograph of Gordon Mainwaring from Cavenagh-Mainwaring, Christine ” Whitmore Hall : from 1066 to Waltzing Matilda”. Adelaide Peacock Publications, 2013. page 103.

As the third son of Rowland Mainwaring (1783 – 1862), Gordon Mainwaring was not expected to inherit the family estate, ‘Whitmore’ in Staffordshire.

But it appears that he was thought to need a career, and from 1832 to 1834 Mainwaring was enrolled as cadet at Addiscombe in Surrey, a military seminary for the British East India Company. In 1835 he joined the 53rd Bengal Native Infantry Company of the Honourable East India Company Service.

Mainwaring resigned his commission in 1839 after less than five years. In 1840 he left Calcutta and sailed for Adelaide, arriving in South Australia as a passenger on the Eamont on 9 April 1840, less than four years after the proclamation of the new colony.

Three years later, in 1843, Mainwaring married Mary Hickey (1819-1890), who in 1840 had emigrated to South Australia on the Birman from Cork in Ireland with her sister and brother and her brother’s wife and small child. (Her brother died on the voyage out and her sister-in-law seems to have returned to Ireland.)

Gordon and Mary had seven children:

  • Ellen (1845 – 1920)
  • Emily (1848 – 1863)
  • Charles Henry (1850 – 1889)
  • Alice (1852 – 1878)
  • Walter Coyney (1855 – 1888)
  • Julia (1857 – 1935)
  • Frederick Rowland (1859 – 1891)

In 1925 the Adelaide Register published extracts from a diary that Mainwaring kept in 1851. By that time he had become a farmer, with a small property at Gilles Plains, 15 kilometers north of Adelaide.

The 1851 diary records the Mainwaring family’s visit to Mary’s sister. A.T. Saunders, a South Australian historian, who annotated the diary in 1925 explains that Mary’s sister Julia (1817-1884) was married to William Morris, the head keeper of the lunatic asylum.

Mainwaring’s diary gives us a glimpse of Gordon’s quiet life in 1851. He chopped wood for sale, grew vegetables and fruit, helped his wife with the housework and socialised locally. I find Gordon’s record of his quiet life interesting and no less important than any other life.

Mainwaring 1851 diary a

Diary of 1851 published by the Adelaide “Register” 23 March 1925. Introduction and month of January.

Mainwaring 1851 diary b

February and March 1851. On 24 February Gordon Mainwaring, his wife Mary and the children visited Mary’s sister, Mrs Morris, wife of William Morris, then head keeper of the lunatic asylum.

Mainwaring 1851 diary c

March to May. Selling firewood through Mr Kerr.

Mainwaring dairy 1851 d


Mainwaring diary 1851 e

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