On 27 May 1933, Isabella Duncan turned 90. From family and friends in the state, she received messages of congratulations. Born in the north of England in 1843, Isabella arrived in Western Australia in 1851 with her parents, Francis and Mary Ann Pearson. She was eight years old. The family immigrated because Francis was offered a job to erect the smelting works at the Geraldine Mine on the Murchison River.
The eldest of five children, Isabella could not remember much about her home town in England but could remember that before the family left, they travelled to London. For two weeks, they remained in London until they boarded the ship ‘Morning Star’ for Western Australia.
They were at sea for four months before they arrived at Fremantle. In November, they picked up some men who were also working on the mine, and then sailed for Champion Bay. Dropping anchor, they found there was little to no accommodation at Geraldton. To get to the Murchison, they travelled seventy miles by bullock teams. Isabella recalled, “We children did not mind that. We thought it was a picnic. It was a very nice time of the year and there were plenty of flowers about.”
Once they arrived at the Murchison, they found a stone house ready for their use. It had a thatched roof, but no fireplace. They did all their cooking outside. As required of him, Isabella’s father erected the smelting works, and the lead was smelted. From the Murchison River, men carted it to Port Gregory to load it onto ships.
With the work at the Geraldine Mine complete, the family moved to Lynton. At Lynton, they lived in a tent until a house was built. Isabella’s father established a store and sold goods to men who passed by. There was not a lot there except for the depot for the convicts. Later, Captain Sandford went to live there and built a mansion. He brought with him a pack of hounds for hunting, which Isabella described as savage brutes.
During much of her childhood, Isabella’s Mum taught her. There was a school at Port Gregory for the Pensioner Guards’ families, so for a little while, she went there. Eventually, her family moved again, this time to Greenough in 1862. At Greenough, in 1863, her father built and ran the Hampton Arms Inn.
Isabella was likely already living at Greenough when her family moved. In 1857, at Champion Bay, she married Thomas Duncan, and they went to live at Greenough in a two-roomed cottage with a thatched roof. Over the years, they kept about fifty or sixty cows and made butter and cheese from the milk. Isabella noted, “We made beautiful butter. At that time the Wannerooka mine was employing a lot of men and we used to send a lot of butter up there. We used to send it in barrels and kegs. We also made good cheese. When it was too hot to make butter we made cheese.”
Among her many memories, she recalled a time in 1859 when she and Thomas went to Dongara for a holiday at Mr Lockier Burges’s home. They travelled on horseback and spent several days there. On the way back, they rode past Allanooka and rested their horses. While there, they saw a man galloping in the distance. Curious as to what was going on, they rode to meet him. When questioned as to where he was going, he responded, “I am going into Champion Bay to let them know there have been some pirates come into Dongarra.” The pirates were actually escaped convicts from Fremantle, and after stealing from the man at Dongara, they sailed as far as Shark Bay.
Isabella and Thomas had eight children. In 1878, Thomas died when their youngest was only a few months old. Isabella stayed at Greenough and continued living “a quiet life, with plenty to do.” After she had an accident in 1930, she went to live at Rosella Hospital. It was there that a reporter from the Geraldton Guardian and Express interviewed her in honour of her milestone birthday.
She has grown old gracefully, with the love of her children and the children of the younger generations, and the affection of a host of friends, who have grateful recollections of her many kindnesses when she was able to take an active part in life, and delighted to share the joys and sorrows of her neighbours and friends on the Greenough.
- 1933 ‘NINETY YEARS’, Geraldton Guardian and Express (WA : 1929 – 1947), 27 May, p. 4. , viewed 12 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article67234713
- 1933 ‘NINETY YEARS’, The Irwin Index (Mingenew, WA : 1926 – 1956), 3 June, p. 4. , viewed 17 Sep 2021, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article251886412
- State Library of Western Australia; Mrs Pearson, aged 84, the first white woman to arrive at Geraldton; Kretchmar, William Herman, 1856-1945; 1897; Call Number: 4372B/39C