In celebration of Women’s History Month, March 2022
Harriet Harris (nee Gidley) was born in 1836 in Devon, England and immigrated to Adelaide, Australia with her family aged 13 years arriving in 1851 on the ship “Prince Regent”. She married Samuel Garland there in 1863. Sadly Harriet was widowed with a young child the following year when Samuel was tragically killed at age 34 years, in an accident. They had only been married 15 months.
In 1866, Harriet went on to marry Englishman, James Harris, and they journeyed from Adelaide to Peak Downs, Queensland. The couple ran a hotel there where it is said that Harriet was a good business manager and decision-maker. When the hotel was sold, Harriet established three drapery stores – in Charters Towers, Gympie and Maryborough.
In 1877, Mrs Harris first commenced her drapery, millinery & women’s fashion business next to Messrs Bytheway and Sons stores in Lower Mary Street. Later, the business “H. Harris & Co / H. Harris & Sons” moved a few more doors to equivalent 25-29 Mary Street, the building known as “London House”. She lived on Nash Street behind the store.
Harriet had nine children in her lifetime, but sadly only three lived to full adulthood. Such was the times of harsh survival rates for medical episodes and diseases. Her two surviving sons, George and John Henry were arranged to apprentice in Brisbane draperies, to train up to each manage on of Harriet’s shops whilst Harriet ran her Gympie store. She did this whilst caring for her ailing husband, James Harris. George didn’t enjoy the trade and didn’t continue. John Henry and family came to live with Harriet in Gympie from 1909 to Harriet’s death in 1913.
Marie Clifton-Basset (2003) wrote on the life on her descendant, Harriet Harris:
“Harriet did not conform to the pattern of the Victorian married woman – she was not a delicate, feminine creature, dependent on her husband for support. Even in the Australian context, where middle-class women were becoming more robust and active because of the climate and the pioneering nature of their lives, she did not conform to the norm – she did not interest herself solely in family and social events, but combined a successful business life with running a home and raising a family. She did not bring up her children in the strict Victorian manner, but indulged them (perhaps she did so to try to compensate for the long hours she devoted to her business). Her life ran counter to the almost universal belief that a woman’s place was in the home – yet she won the respect of the entire community. She showed that woman could be capable, independent and successful, and her success must have helped to erode the myth that women were helpless creatures who needed a man for support.”
Advertorial, The Gympie Times, Supplement, Saturday 1 July 1899, page 3:
Gympie Family History Society Inc. (2003). Harriet Gidley & The Harris Family. The Researcher, April 2003, pp. 10-13.
Clifton-Bassett, M. (2003). Family History of Harriet Harris.