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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lucas, Mary Ann (1826–1900)

by Vilma Page

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Mary Ann Lucas (c.1826-1900), community worker and temperance advocate, was born in Yorkshire, England, daughter of William Branfoot, gardener. She came to Sydney about 1846 and on 9 May 1848 at Chippendale Wesleyan Chapel married Robert Jeremiah Martin, a shopkeeper. They had two children before he died in 1853. Following her marriage to George Lucas (1813-1900), shingler, on 12 April 1853 at Pitt Street Free Presbyterian Church, she began her career as a community worker.

Born on 4 March 1813 in the Trafalgar Hotel, Sydney, son of William Lucas, publican, and his wife Sarah, despite his father's business, George had joined the Total Abstinence Society—the first in the colony—in 1835. He became a builder, reputedly one of the earliest to use slates as a building material. In 1867 he founded the Sons of Temperance and began a teetotal Brass Band. George and Mary's fourth child Ruth (1859-1953), born on 26 December 1859 in Sydney, also became a prominent temperance worker.

George had helped to convene an early anti-transportation meeting in Sydney, and was a supporter of (Sir) Henry Parkes whom, with his long, white hair and beard he was later said to resemble. Lucas was an advocate of Parkes's Public Schools Act (1866), in support of which Mary personally collected over 14,000 signatures. The family residence and business were in Francis Street, Hyde Park, where, in rented premises, Mary founded a night refuge for homeless men in 1867. She and George carried on this work at their own expense for two years until they handed over to a committee, although the refuge continued under their patronage until 1898, with both Mary and George active until 1893. In the same street, in a tent on adjacent vacant land, Mary started the first Band of Hope, to focus on temperance teaching to children.

On 18 March 1871 Mary was appointed matron and George superintendent of the Industrial School for Girls and Reformatory, which was relocated from Newcastle to Cockatoo Island and re-named Biloela to remove the convict taint. Adjacent to the Fitzroy Dry Dock and the institution for wayward boys—the ship Vernon—the site was badly chosen, having inadequate access and a lack of fresh water. Mrs Lucas introduced training schemes in laundry and domestic skills and dressmaking to assist the girls to become more employable. After-dinner activities included religious instruction, reading and draughts. From the age of 12 Ruth helped Mary to teach crochet and wool work; items were sold and the proceeds handed to the girls.

Although acknowledged to be kindly, George was unable to cope with the bawdy, unseemly behaviour of the girls and the lack of support from staff. An inquiry by the Public Charities Commission (1871-73) elicited strong criticism of the Lucas administration. Despite their good intentions and their pioneering and Christian philanthropic work, Mary and George requested a formal release from duties in December 1873. The reformatory continued until 1888, with a trained teacher in charge, and then reverted to a gaol.

In Sydney in September 1882 Mary attended the first meeting in New South Wales of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and was immediately elected to the executive. She subsequently held many offices, becoming secretary for unfermented wine and in 1896 Australasian superintendent, and remaining on the executive until her death. Ruth worked with her mother in the Band of Hope until 1888, when she became active in the worldwide W.C.T.U., devoting herself primarily to children. A member (later colonial superintendent) of the first committee for scientific temperance examination, she provided prize money and silver medals as well as certificates to those who did not gain a prize. In 1892 Ruth became joint editor of the official organ of the W.C.T.U. of New South Wales, White Ribbon Signal, to which she also contributed articles. She helped to increase membership, became renowned as a public speaker, organized the Sydney 'Y' Union (Young W.C.T.U.) and became its president. When in 1893 Jessie Ackermann was obliged to return to the United States of America, Ruth acted as her private secretary, confidently took charge of her work and became her representative in Australia.

George died in Sydney on 30 April 1900. A late photograph of Mary showed a portly, white-haired, Victorian matriarch. She died on 6 July 1900 at their home in George Street, Canterbury, and was buried with Congregational forms in Rookwood cemetery. A daughter and a son of her first marriage, and four sons and two daughters of her second, survived her.

Ruth did not marry; her image is that of a forthright and dedicated person. She later lived at Kurrajong and Neutral Bay. She died on 27 March 1953 in hospital at Ryde, and was buried in Woronora cemetery with Anglican rites. The aim of the Lucases, like that of the W.C.T.U. itself, was ever the suppression of intemperance and 'the social, intellectual, and moral elevation of the people'.

Select Bibliography

  • Golden Records: Pathfinders of Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of N.S.W. (Syd, 1926)
  • K. Daniels and M. Murnane (compilers), Uphill all the Way (Brisb, 1980)
  • J. S. Kerr, Cockatoo Island: Penal and Institutional Remains (Syd, 1984)
  • WCTU of New South Wales Jubilee Convention, 1882-1932 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • White Ribbon Signal Supplement: Report of World’s Biennial Convention, 1895 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1873-74, vol 6, p 133
  • Town and Country Journal, 31 Mar 1894, p 19
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 2 April 1894, p 5, 2 May 1900, p 9
  • Colonial Secretary, in correspondence, 1873, reel no 9526 (State Records New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Vilma Page, 'Lucas, Mary Ann (1826–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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