Notable People of Collingwood

Collingwood Notables Database

Margaretta Shelmerdine

c. 1855-1952

Hat manufacturer, philanthropist

Personal Photo 1
Margaretta in 1903

Margaretta Lockwood married Thomas Shelmerdine, a hat manufacturer from Cheshire who became a noted and innovative hat maker in Abbotsford. Prior to her marriage she lived with her parents in Williamstown. She was to become the matriarch of a large and successful hat making family, and a well-known figure in Abbotsford through her philanthropic activities connected to St Philip’s Anglican Church.

Despite marrying, in late 1880, a widower whose first wife had borne him three daughters, Margaretta was not required to perform the role of stepmother. Thomas’s elder daughter had remained in England when he arrived in Melbourne in 1876, his third child, born in Melbourne, died at the age of two, and in June 1880 Thomas sent his daughter Lillie back to England (she was comfortably ensconced in cabin class, and presumably had somebody to care for her, as she was only nine). However the first years of married life had their vicissitudes. Her first child born in April 1882 died in infancy. In July 1882 the couple sailed for England, where Margaretta would have made the acquaintance of her stepdaughters and enjoyed a change of scene, but at this time her father became seriously ill.  He died in November of that year. Arriving back in Melbourne in December after his death, Margaretta was not there to farewell him.

After their return from England he couple moved into Yarra House, an early riverside mansion which had been the home of pioneer John Dight. The house was substantial and sited in extensive grounds making the most of the view towards Dight’s Falls and Studley Park. Here Margaretta bore six children. Lillie, now grown up, came to visit in 1890. The business thrived, despite acrimonious industrial unrest. The boys were sent to Wesley and the family developed an acquaintance among Abbotsford residents such as their neighbours the Pitts, Charles Tolhurst their solicitor, the Butchers, and other worshippers at St Philip’s Anglican Church.

Thomas died of chronic alcoholism in 1899, leaving Margaretta in her early forties with a young family, the youngest, Doris, being only 5 years old. Margaretta was to live for more than 50 years as a widow. Financially she was comfortably off, with a substantial legacy of around £25,000 including the hat factory. She continued the business with assistance from her brother Thomas Lockwood until her eldest son Samuel was able to take over the management before the business was sold in June 1905. Her sons went on to establish their own successful hat making business.

Prior to Thomas’s death there was very little evidence of Margaretta’s public life other than attending a Mayoral Ball in 1891. But after his demise, she expanded her role outside the domestic sphere. From the early twentieth century she was an active participant in various social and charitable affairs such as fund-raising bazaars and fetes, facilitated by her large house and picturesque grounds. The family also acquired a ‘charming country residence’ – The Rest – at Healesville and there Margaretta entertained guests, especially St Philip’s stalwarts such as Joseph and Margaret Saddler, Sir Arthur Snowden, and his daughters Mrs Demaine and Mrs Rennick, both widows of similar age to Margaretta.  She hosted the engagement party of her son Samuel to Mademoiselle Lavoille at The Rest, while their wedding was celebrated at Yarra House.

As Doris grew up and completed her studies at Tintern in Hawthorn, she joined her mother in a round of social events as well as throwing herself into Red Cross work, accompanied by her young friends and fellow parishioners from the neighbourhood, such as Lily Whybrow, and Jessie and Dolly Pitt. Doris as the youngest child and only daughter appears to have been close to her mother. They holidayed together and Doris shared her mother’s devotion to St Philip’s. In 1918, mother and daughter vacated Yarra House in favour of Preston Shelmerdine and his new wife. They experimented briefly with the modern trend of flat dwelling, at Lister House in Collins Street, before moving in with son Stanley in Kew.

However, Margaretta continued a lifelong involvement with St Philip’s Church even after Yarra House was sold to Dunlop Rubber in 1925. If Margaretta felt any sadness about the sale, she must surely have been delighted when, in the same year, Doris married the vicar of St Philip’s. Margaretta’s funeral was held at St Philip’s in 1952. She had outlived her sons Edgar and Ernest, as well as most of her neighbourhood friends.

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
c. 1855
Spouse Name Date of Marriage Children
Thomas Shelmerdine (c.1845-1899) 23 October 1880, Williamstown Thomas 1882 (died in infancy), Samuel 1883, Ernest, Preston, Stanley, Edgar 1890, Doris 1894
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
Trenerry Crescent Abbotsford Demolished
Church Lodge
St Philip's Anglican, Abbotsford
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
11 August 1952 Kew Boroondara
Sources

Mercury; The Argus; Australasian; Sydney Morning Herald; Herald; Brisbane Courier; Bendigo Advertiser; Punch; Table Talk; Weekly Times; Graphic of Australia.

Online Image links

Garden fete at Yarra House 1903

Margaretta is seated next to the Rev McKie and is dressed in mourning for her mother who had died at Yarra House six months earlier.

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