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The story behind a sign - The Edith Mary 
The Edith Mary Prospecting Claim.jpg

The Edith Mary Prosepecting Claim.

by Dr Lyall Ford 

 

Thousands of Mackay residents, travellers and fossickers have driven to the site of the old gold mining township of Mount Britton 130km west of Mackay.

For the past 20 years they have passed a sign pointing to the Edith Mary – a gold mine – but how many have wondered when and why it acquired that name?

Part of the answer is that it was named in 1881, after a toddler named Edith Mary Reckitt, but there is an accompanying story of considerable hardship and disaster.

Edith Mary’s father, Albert Reckitt, was born at Boston in Lincolnshire on August 1, 1829,

a son of Thomas Reckitt.

Thomas had a younger brother, Isaac who founded the company of Reckitt & Sons,

which was to become Reckitt & Colman Ltd and later the Reckitt Benckiser Group.

The Reckitt name is well known to older people who used Reckitt’s Bag Blue as a

whitener in the rinsing water when doing the weekly wash.

Thomas and his wife Deborah had 14 children, born between 1810 and 1829, but only

four survived past 31 years of age. Albert was the youngest.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            Albert Reckitt pictured in the                                                                                                                                                                                                                1860s: Image: Below These                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Mountains (Dr Lyall Ford, 2001)

 

He became a brewer and, in September 1861, married Anna Maria Rees. A year later their first child, a daughter, was born.

They named her Edith Mary Reckitt, but she is not the subject of this story because she died within a year.

This unhappy event and the cold, damp, miserable English weather led to their decision to emigrate to Australia. By then Albert, had only one brother, Henry Burtt Reckitt, and two sisters, Lucy and Caroline Reckitt, still alive.

Anna was pregnant again when they left Liverpool on the Montmorency on April 15, 1863.

The 87-day journey to Moreton Bay was a nightmare for all the passengers. Fifteen children and infants died – five from measles early in the voyage and ten from colds, croup and catarrhal maladies in the wet cold weather between Africa and Tasmania.

On a happier note, six babies were born, including Anna’s. They named him Walter, presumably after one of Albert’s brothers who had died in 1847.

After enduring fearful gales along the east coast of Australia, the ship arrived at Moreton Bay on 18 July, but a dispute there caused a four-day delay.

The ship had been chartered to Hervey Bay to suit most of the passengers, but the Brisbane merchants wanted their goods unloaded first.

This delay greatly upset Albert and Anna because Walter had become sick, and they were desperate to get him ashore in Brisbane to receive medical treatment.

Eventually a coastal steamer took the Maryborough passengers north and the others were cleared to land.

The Reckitts, were processed by the immigration agent later that day, but it was too late for them because Walter died while they were waiting in the queue.

Albert and Anna would have been distraught at losing their second child just as they were landing in Queensland. They were childless again.

They soon moved to Maryborough and took up a selection of scrub land on the Mary River. Then, in October 1863, Anna realised she was pregnant again. Living conditions were quite primitive so they moved to Toowoomba hoping to avoid any further tragedies.

A baby girl arrived on May 31, 1864, and they gave her the same name as her departed sister, Edith Mary Reckitt. She thrived and in August 1865, Anna, became pregnant for the fourth time. They decided to remain in Toowoomba and purchased land there.

However, tragedy was to strike again.

A baby boy, Henry, was born on May 4, but he was not a healthy child and died soon after birth. For the third time Albert had to arrange a funeral for one of his children.

But an even bigger disaster awaited him. As a result of the birth, Anna became seriously ill and septicaemia set in. She developed a raging fever and died on June 2.

What else could go wrong? Albert had lost 10 of his 13 siblings, three of his four children and now his beloved wife.

The only shining light in his life was the healthy two-year-old, Edith Mary, but how could he raise her with no other family in Australia?

He corresponded with his two single sisters and his brother in England and made the hard decision to take the toddler back there.

After the long four-month journey he met and stayed with the sisters for some time but did not appreciate the cold climate.

He began to harbour desires to develop his farm in Australia. His sisters were happy to look after Edith Mary, so he returned to Maryborough alone.

He was able to reclaim his land but was unsuccessful at developing it so sold it in 1874.

In the meantime, he had learnt the new art of photography and by May 1875 he was a professional photographer in a studio at Cooktown during the Palmer River gold rush. It was there that he met his new photographic partner and dear friend John Henry Mills.

They established the firm of Reckitt & Mills and opened a studio at Mackay, relocating to Mount Britton when gold was discovered there in 1881.

Albert had remained in regular contact with Edith Mary and when he and Mr Mills discovered a reef that year, they named it the Edith Mary prospecting claim.

Mr Mills married Mary Ann Louisa Ricketts the next year and they raised six children at Mount Britton. Their third child was named Edith Mary Mills.

The name Edith Mary became known internationally when gold specimens from the mine were exhibited in the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. Reckitt & Mills won an award against specimens sent from throughout the Empire and were presented with a bronze medal and a magnificent certificate.

Albert became a substitute grandfather to the Mills children, who also kept in contact with Edith Mary in England.

Early in 1897, Albert returned there, thinking he may remain, but decided he could not stand the climate and came back to Mount Britton in October 1898, to spend his last days with his Australian family.

He died in March 1905, and Mr Mills buried him in the Mount Britton cemetery, where the headstone still stands today.

After he read the burial service, he leaned against a tree and cried. His younger children have said it was the only time they ever saw their father in tears.  

Edith Mary Reckitt married late in life and died in 1946, without issue, thereby leaving no descendants to remember her or Albert. It also seems that her death left her grandparents, Thomas and Deborah, with no known descendants despite them having had 14 children.

However, the Edith Mary mine is still operating and is keeping the memory of Edith Mary Reckitt, and her parents and grandparents, alive in the minds of those who know its history.

Albert Reckitt, Pictured in the 1860s. Picture, Below These Mountains (Dr. Lyall Ford, 200
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