Jessie Street National Women’s Library Ultimo Sydney Australia is a specialist library which collects preserves and promotes the literary and cultural heritage of Australian women. It is unique resource established in 1989 and named in honour of the well-known activist Jessie Street. The Library holds a large research collection covering every aspect of women’s issues, views and history; an extensive loan collection for members; an impressive collection of journals and an archival collection – source material on some of the most important features of women’s participation in the life of the nation. Part of the archives is a particularly interesting collection was donated to the Library by one of our long time members Marlene Ardetto.
A bundle of papers, found on top of a wardrobe which was being thrown out, belonged to Josephine Kearney, nee Downing, who was born in Glengariff, Ireland in 1876 and died in Sydney 1957. The collection comprises a small assortment of papers which when put together give some insights into the life of the remarkable Josephine Kearney nee Downing.
The papers include:
- Western Australian Certificate of title made out in the name of Josephine Downing, Spinster of Perth for a block of land containing twenty-seven perches being portion of Swan location 34 and being Lot 23 on deposited plan 2693 Perth Western Australia dated June 24th 1905
- A contract between Alexander Matheson &Co (agent for the vendor) and Josephine Downing, Spinster of Perth for the purchase of a block of land in Perth Western Australia at the cost of 8 pounds &10 shillings to be paid in ten monthly instalments of 15 shillings per month. Josephine Downing’s address as the purchaser is Post Office Kalgoorlie. The document is dated December 16th 1904
- 7 receipts from Alexander Matheson & Company document payment of a deposit of 1 Pound made on December 15th 1904 on the lot 23 Burswood. Subsequent payments of fifteen shillings were made in January 1905, February 1905, March 1905 and April 1905. An instalment of 1 Pound was made in May 1905 and a final payment of 3 Pounds and 10 shillings was made in June 1905
- A Certificate of Marriage dated November 19th 1905 states that John Rohan a catholic priest duly celebrated the marriage of William Kearney a farmer of Lansdale, bachelor and Josephine Downing, spinster, occupation domestic duties of Sydney at St Mary’s Cathedral Sydney. The bride groom’s birthplace is stated as Ballarat Victoria, his age is 34.He states he is the son of farmer Edward Kearney (deceased) and Margaret Maher (deceased). Josephine Downing aged 29 gives her birthplace as Glengariff Ireland and her parents are listed as farmer Patrick Downing (deceased) and Hannah Downing (née Connelly) as her mother. Witnesses were Charles Edward Thomas and Florence Edith Hansen
A black & white photo which has no identification on it shows a couple presumed to be Josephine Downing and William Kearney on their wedding day in November 1905 in formal wedding attire. In the photo a petite young woman (probably Josephine) is standing, probably to show off the very elaborate long white frilly dress with a most unusual hat perched upon upswept dark hair. A beautiful bouquet of flowers resting on a small table is held by the woman. The groom (probably William Kearney) is dressed in a formal dark suit with a wing collared shirt and small corsage of flowers at his lapel. He is seated on a highly decorated chair.
How, in 1904 when most women didn’t work, did Josephine Downing, a young single Irish woman living in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia managed to acquire enough money to put a deposit on a block of land and pay it off within six months remains a mystery. It was most unusual for women to be involved in the purchase of property at that time. The fact that these records were kept together with Josephine’s marriage certificate indicates that these records were highly valued by Josephine. The story behind the purchase of this land may never be known but these documents tell a story of the courage of a young woman in a foreign land determined to put down roots and to be part of the new country she was living in. It is interesting to note that within six months of the final payment on the property Josephine Downing had moved to live in Sydney and had married William Kearney a farmer from Ballarat Victoria.
These and many more sources are available at Jessie Street National Women’s Library, Australia. Check out their website at: http://nationalwomenslibrary.org/