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Mathieson, Sydney (1831–1919)

by Helen McIntyre and Valerie Privett

family store, n.d.

family store, n.d.

Sydney Mathieson née Anderson was born in Leith, Scotland, in 1831. She migrated to Australia in 1851, later marrying John Mathieson in South Melbourne in 1861. John had been born in Lanarkshire in approximately 1830.

John was the Snake Valley-Stanley Postmaster for 25 years from Sept 1858 until 1883 and was the first Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Snake Valley-Stanley. He was also the storekeeper and draper.

Upon their marriage, Sydney moved to Stanley in 1861. This was the same year that Snake Valley was re-named Stanley and gazetted as a town. The Mathieson’s may have thought that there were good prospects. Certainly, they loved the pretty highland township on the plateau.

John and Sydney had eight children. One of their daughters, Jeanie, died in infancy. A mail list of 1862 shows that a mail service operated between Beechworth and Stanley six days a week and the mail was conveyed on horseback at an average cost of 5 1/2d per mile. After John Mathieson’s death in 1885, Sydney operated the post office. A mail return for 1884 showed that a total of 11,440 letters were handled at Stanley.

The General Store was built by the Mathiesons. About the turn of the century, 1900, Sydney erected a large residence, named ‘Camille’, next to the General Store to replace an earlier house. One of the glories of the garden was a large deep pink rhododendron bush planted by ‘Mr Winter’. ‘Camille’, the General Store buildings and the gardens still exist today.

Sydney was the store-keeper and trader for local produce and supplies, manager of Stanley Post Office, the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, a ratepayer and mining lessee of back creek mining leases, as well as having an explosives license.

Sydney continued the General Store-Post Office businesses for 25 years. She also became the owner of the Birmingham Hotel and a number of other properties.

The General Store property included the Powder Magazine where explosives for gold-mining were stored. In 1886 storekeepers were licensed to sell explosives but Sydney Mathieson's order was queried by the Inspector of Explosives as excessive:— 5 x 25lb cases of dynamite, 5 x 25lb kegs of blasting powder, 2 x 25lb tins gun-powder.

While Sydney was the owner of the General Store and Post Office, she became an agent for the Beechworth State Savings Bank. Sydney was put in charge of the first telephone in Stanley in 1887. Her telephone office opened on 1 January 1888.

The Mathiesons were actively involved with the Stanley community, supporting the Irish Relief Fund, Scottish Cotton Operative Relief Fund, Young Mens' Anti-Bagatelle & Dice Association, Stanley Athenaeum library, school facilities and community concert and dance events. The Mathiesons were also involved with the Stanley Presbyterian church.

In 1908 Sydney's and John’s son Alexander died in Brisbane and in 1911, as reported in The Ovens and Murray Newspaper, 300 people gathered to farewell Sydney to Melbourne along with her daughters, Maggie (who had managed  the store with her mother) and Agnes, and her son Robert, at the Stanley Public Hall. Sydney’s farewell gift was a silver brush and comb. She had been 'advisor and counsellor to many old and young'.

Agnes was a teacher and a Stanley Athenaeum & Library committee member from 1902-1911 and was presented with 'a dressing case, suitably furnished' by two Stanley Primary School pupils, Lena Mason and Ivy Folster who thanked her for taking a kindly interest in their welfare. Mr Corbet, the principal, said Agnes was the most conscientious teacher he had met. Agnes also taught at Hurdle Flat.

During Sydney's many years residence in Stanley, she witnessed many changes in the way of life in the district. When Sydney died in Glen Iris, Victoria, in 1919, The Ovens and Murray Advertiser obituary described her as 'one of the most loveable and beautiful characters which this district has been blessed to have'. Others have described her as 'exceptionally courteous, noted for her profession as a store keeper, and had taken a very kindly interest in their town' and 'a very sterling friend, a model of industry … [and] perseverance'.

Select Bibliography

  • People Australia, 29 November 2019

Additional Resources

Citation details

Helen McIntyre and Valerie Privett, 'Mathieson, Sydney (1831–1919)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/mathieson-sydney-29986/text37186, accessed 7 December 2019.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

family store, n.d.

family store, n.d.

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Anderson, Sydney
Birth

1831
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland

Death

21 June 1919
Glen Iris, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

pneumonia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation