18.  Mary Higham (1819-1883), merchant


Mary Higham arrived in Fremantle with her husband, John, and their two children aboard the Sabrina in 1853. They saw the move as an opportunity to improve their lot. They opened a small bakery and confectionery store, and Mary had four more children in the next five years. 

John died when he was 40 and Mary was left to support six children. This she did brilliantly. With the help of a teenage son, she started a clothing and furnishing emporium, M. Higham and Sons, at the corner of High and Market Streets. She operated the emporium and the bakery, achieving a degree of success that was unusual for a woman at that time. She won considerable respect from the men but was barred from a number of their political, business and social organisations. Her son, Edward, had to stand in for her. 

After expanding the emporium (she won the contract to provide shingles for the Lunatic Asylum) her company diversified – in the manner of Fremantle’s dominant merchants – into pastoral activity, pearling and shipping. Mary Higham resigned from running the company in 1881, handing it over to her son, John, two years before she died.