Mary Browne, ex Panama
Mary Browne was aged 17 when she arrived in Sydney on the Panama. The Immigration Agent recorded that she was from “Ballyna” (Ballina), and that her parents, Thomas and Bridget, were both dead. Mary was a Roman Catholic, and could not read or write.
The Immigration Agent also recorded that Mary Browne’s sister, Bridget Browne, was already in the colony. Unfortunately, the name of Bridget Browne’s ship is not recorded on the Immigration Board List.
It is known that a Bridget Brown travelled on the first ship carrying Irish orphan girls from the Ballina workhouse in Mayo, the Lady Kennaway, which went to Melbourne. Parents’ names were not recorded on the ship’s arrival in Melbourne, but it is possible that this Bridget Brown was Mary’s sister.
The reality is, however, the two young women were sent to two different cities, nearly two years apart. As neither could read nor write, in all likelihood, if they were sisters, they probably never saw, nor heard from each other again.
The Irish Famine Orphan Database indicates that Mary Browne was initially indentured to Jermiah Donovan in Sydney, however she ended up in northern NSW, employed by a Scottish settler, Dr Colin Anderson, at Newstead Station, near Inverell, for a period of two years, at £7-8pa. Newstead Station holds an important place in Australian visual arts history as its shearing shed was the inspiration for artist Tom Roberts’ iconic painting The Golden Fleece (1894), originally called Shearing at Newstead.
Whilst at Newstead Station, Mary Browne met Richard Cooke, overseer at the Station. Richard was from Dundrum, County Tipperary and had arrived in Australia on the Anglia in February 1850. Mary Browne and Richard Cooke married in March 1853.
Mary and Richard Cooke had 11 children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Two children, Elizabeth and John, were born at Newstead Station. The family then moved to different properties where Richard was employed as overseer or superintendent, including Wellingrove, near Glen Innes in northern NSW, and Warkon, near Roma in Queensland. Four further children were born during this period: George, Ellen, William, and Jane. Unfortunately three of these children died: the eldest, Elizabeth, the youngest, Jane, and another unnamed male child.
The family finally settled in 1868 at Goombungee, near Toowoomba, in the Darling Downs region of Queensland, where, with Richard’s brother, William Cooke, they established a property, “Mossdale”. The Cookes truly were pioneer settlers; at this period there was very little settlement in the area. The couple’s final four children were born at Mossdale: Richard, Edward, Alice, and Lily. Despite the vagaries of the Queensland weather, with its droughts and floods, the Cookes were successful cattle graziers at Goombungee.
In April 1898, Mary Cooke died at Mossdale, aged 65. In her obituary she was referred to as a “pioneer of Queensland”. The impact of her sudden death was captured by her son, Richard, in a letter to his uncle in Canada:
“Our greatest loss of all occurred on the 1st April 1898 when our dear Mother died after two hours illness, it was a terrible blow, and four of us away from home at the time, word was sent us by a lad on horseback when she first took ill and after a hard ride in the dark we arrived too late to see her in life.”
Two years later, in 1900, Richard Cooke died, aged 73. He too was described as “one of the noble army of pioneer settlers”. Sons Richard and Edward continued to live and work at Mossdale until it was sold in 1911.
In June 2013 a Cooke family gathering was held at Goombungee. With no headstones marking the graves of Mary and Richard Cooke at Goombungee Cemetery, the family decided to erect memorial plaques to these pioneering ancestors. Today, almost 800 people claim ancestry from Mary Browne and Richard Cooke.
From the destitution of a workhouse in Ballina, County Mayo, during the Great Famine, to a cattle station in Queensland, Mary Browne is a symbolic representative of the Irish orphan girls who became the pioneering mothers of Australia. In the words of Mary (Browne) Cooke’s great-granddaughter, Jan Gallagher, “…she was well loved and thought highly of… Mary was one of the lucky ones who prospered in her life in Australia”.
The children of Mary & Richard Cooke at Richard Cooke's wake, 1900: (L to R) George Cooke, Edward Cooke, Alice Cooke, Josephine Menerey (later married Edward Cooke), Helen Cooke, Richard Cooke (with rifle) and William Cooke. John and Lily Cooke are not present. (Image: Rod Davis). Used with permission
Many thanks to Mary Browne's great-granddaughter, Jan Gallagher in Queensland, for her information for this page.
© Barbara Barclay (2015)