Convict Histories

Thomas Mainwaring (alias John Buchanan) and James Henry (or Harcourt) Dixon – Convicts

By Irma Walter, 2020.

The lives of these two convicts are linked by the fact that they were both husbands of the same woman in Bunbury, Western Australia. She was Sarah Maria Brittain, daughter of James and Ann Brittain, who arrived from Colmworth in Bedfordshire as free settlers on the Burlington in 1863 with their six children, including Sarah, aged 10 years. Her father James was described as an agricultural labourer, who found employment around the Bunbury area.[1]

Sarah Brittain’s first marriage was to Bunbury tailor Thomas Mainwaring, who had been convicted back in England under the name of ‘John Buchanan’ and as a businessman was still using that name in WA. Their marriage however was recorded as between ‘Maria Britton and Thomas Mainwaring’ in 1869. They had four children, with three surviving infancy.

During a period of serious illness and having acquired some property, Thomas decided to secure his family’s future by having a will drawn up in the name of ‘Thomas Mainwaring, commonly known as John Buchanan’.[2] Thomas died in 1879 at the age of 40 in Bunbury, with his death officially recorded under the name of Mainwaring.[3] His convict records reveal other aliases used by him in England, a common ploy in those days by the criminal class as a way of avoiding the use of cumulative crimes as justification for transportation.

Sarah’s second marriage in 1881 or 1882 was to another former convict, James Henry Dixon, known also in Western Australia as ‘James Harcourt Dixon’. Together they had six children with four surviving infancy. Sarah and James parted acrimoniously in 1893.


THOMAS MAINWARING, alias JOHN BUCHANAN (c1837 – 1879) (Reg. No. 6513)

Thomas Mainwaring (alias John Buchanan), courtesy of Kim O’Connor.

John Buchanan, aged 24, and Samuel Buckley, aged 19, both tailors, were convicted at Birmingham of ‘coining’, or counterfeiting coins of the realm, considered a serious offence. They both had previous convictions and were each sentenced to 14 years’ penal servitude.[4] Buchanan was taken from Portsmouth Prison and arrived in Fremantle aboard the York on 31 December 1862. (His partner-in-crime Samuel Buckley didn’t arrive here until 1867.)

Buchanan’s convict registration number was 6513. His record shows that he once used the alias ‘Henry Humos Dayson’,[5] written in another record as ‘Humorsdorson‘.[6] In WA he was issued his ticket-of-leave on 25 December 1865.

John Buchanan and another former convict Jeremiah Pryor formed a partnership as tailors trading in Bunbury under the name J Buchanan & Co. Their shop was said to be at the corner of Prinsep and Victoria Streets.[7] By 1868 the dissolution of the partnership was advertised and Buchanan branched out on his own. He acquired a block of land known as P1, at the corner of Stirling and Victoria Streets, opposite the current Post Office. It is presumed that following the breakup of his partnership with Pryor he set up shop on part of this site. It was one of several blocks along Stirling Street originally set aside for allocation to Pensioner Guards. In 1877 it was advertised that he was granted title over this block:

TAKE NOTICE that John Buchanan of Bunbury Storekeeper as being entitled to an estate in fee simple in possession in the land hereinafter described has made application to bring under the operation of the above Act all that parcel of land situate in the town of Bunbury containing two roods and being a portion of Bunbury Town Lot PI bounded

On the S by 2½ chains of Stirling Street

On the W by 2 chains of Victoria Street

On the E by the West boundary of Bunbury Lot P2 measuring 2 chains and

On the N by Bunbury Lot 245 measuring 2½ chains.

And Further Take Notice that all persons claiming to have any right title estate or interest in the above land ARE HEREBY REQUIRED to lodge with the Registrar of Titles on or before the 28th day of December next a caveat forbidding the same from being brought under the Act.


Commissioner of Titles.

November 16, 1877.[8]

Sarah and Thomas Mainwaring had four children, named as follows –

  • Thomas Mainwaring, born 1870, died when one day old in Bunbury.
  • (George) Thomas Mainwaring was born in Bunbury in 1874. Later died aged 19 in a shooting accident in 1892 at Bunbury.[9]
  • Maude Agnes Mainwaring was born in 1876. She married policeman John Green in Bunbury in 1893. She died in 1954.
  • Herbert (Hubert) Edward Napoleon Mainwaring was born in 1878. Died in
  • 1927 in Perth.

Buchanan/Mainwaring appears to have had an unblemished record in Western Australia, apart from one instance in 1875 when he faced questioning in court over having assisted bankrupt Bunbury shopkeeper and ex-convict Henry William Isaiah Gillman in concealing some of the stock from his store.[10] A policeman gave evidence of having observed the two men carrying goods across Stephen Street late at night from Gillman’s store to Buchanan’s premises.[11] No charge against Buchanan eventuated as a result of this case.

Buchanan was kept busy in Bunbury developing his business, travelling regularly by ship to Perth to acquire stock. In 1872 he gave evidence at the Bunbury trial of John Nash, charged with arson, setting fire to FL Von Bibra’s paddock of hay.[12] In 1877 he signed a petition regarding discrimination against expirees.[13] The following year his name appeared amongst those who signed a petition of electors of the Wellington Electorate, urging their Representative on the Legislative Council, James Lee Steere, not to relinquish his seat.[14]

In 1878 Buchanan made the decision to sell his business and leave the colony. The reason for this is not known. Perhaps he had decided to take his family to the Eastern States, or even to England. It is known however that he was suffering ill health by that time:


Leaving the Colony, JOHN BUCHANAN, Storekeeper, of Bunbury, being about to leave this colony, requests all persons having any claims against him to send them in at once, and all persons indebted to him must settle their accounts on or before the 1st January, 1879. Accounts not paid by that date will be placed in the hands of a solicitor.

After the above date, customers must consider their accounts closed, and the balance of the Stock-in-trade with English Goods to arrive (shortly) must be cleared out at the very lowest price for CASH ONLY!

Household Furniture, &c., &c., will be sold by auction at a future date, notice of which will be given. Bunbury, Octr. 10, 1878.[15]

Whatever the reason, the family decided to remain in Bunbury. Early in 1879 John Buchanan passed away, his death registered as Thomas Mainwaring, aged 40, parents unknown, place of birth unknown.[16] The cause of his death was Consumption, a deadly lung disease now known as ‘TB’, or Tuberculosis.[17]

His wife Sarah, appointed as executrix of his Will, placed the following notice in various newspapers:

Estate of the late John Buchanan, of Bunbury, deceased.

ALL claims against the above Estate must be sent in to the undersigned on or before

1st June next, and all accounts due to the Estate must be paid, or satisfactorily arranged, before 30th June next, otherwise they will be placed in the hands of a solicitor for collection.



Bunbury, 19th April, 1879.[18]

The Will of Thomas Mainwaring (John Buchanan), drawn up on 27 March 1879 shortly before his death, reads as follows:

The Last Will and Testament

of Thomas Mainwaring commonly known as John Buchanan of Bunbury in the Colony of Western Australia made this 27th day of March 1879 at Bunbury. I give devise and bequeath to my wife Sarah Maria Mainwaring the whole of my personal estate whatsoever for her use and benefit and that of my children. I give and bequeath jointly and evenly to my Sons George Thomas Mainwaring and Herbert Edward Napoleon Mainwaring (with benefit of survivorship) the whole of Bunbury Building Lot P1, with all buildings now thereon or may hereafter be erected thereon possession of the same to be given to either or both of them free from all encumbrances when they shall have attained the age of twenty one years. I appoint my said wife as my sole executrix and I also appoint Messrs. Epraim [sic] M. Clarke and George R. Teede as Trustees for the Real Estate devised as above stated to my Sons and revoking all other Wills and Codicils.

I declare this to be my last Will and Testament ——-

Thomas Mainwaring ——

Signed by the within named Thomas Mainwaring and declared by him to be his last Will and Testament in the presence of us who in the presence of each other have hereunto subscribed our names as witnesses at Bunbury this 27th day of March 1879 …. (remainder indecipherable due to attachment)[19]

Sarah took her duties under her husband’s Will seriously. Its terms were to cause difficulties during her second marriage.


JAMES HENRY (or ‘HARCOURT’) DIXON (1842 – 1926) (Reg. No. 7677)

A few years after the death of her first husband, Sarah Mainwaring re-married, this time to another convict named James Henry Dixon. He had been employed for a few months during 1876 by Sarah’s first husband, so was known to the family. Following the death of Buchanan in 1879 Sarah married James Dixon in 1881 or 1882.[20]

His Early History

Little is known of James Dixon’s early life, apart from the fact that his father was James Dixon, of 275 Euston Road, London.[21] The name of another family member given in the convict records was Julia Dixon, of 1 Bird Street, Oxford Street.[22] James was literate and was described as a 20-year-old clerk when he appeared on 24 November 1862 at the Central Criminal Court in London, along with Thomas Redshaw (20) and his sister Charlotte Redshaw (19). They were all charged with robbery with violence. When in court they were described as three well-dressed and respectable young people. Charlotte, said to be a prostitute, had enticed a postman William Beamish to walk home with her from the inn where they had been drinking. She took him down a dark lane where they talked together for a few minutes before two men suddenly arrived on the scene and began attacking him. Beamish fought back, but they eventually knocked him onto the ground and began kicking him in the head and face. The young woman joined in, attempting to grab his watch but its chain broke, leaving the watch in his grasp.

Beamish was almost unconscious and bleeding from one eye when they left with his watch chain and 1/6d from his pocket. He staggered to his feet and found two men who helped get him to hospital, where he was treated and remained for the next three weeks.

The next morning another prostitute who lived with Thomas Redshaw decided to go to the police after learning about the incident. Thomas was arrested and identified as one of the attackers. Dixon and his girl-friend Charlotte Redshaw quit their dwelling place but were picked up a couple of weeks later and all three were committed to Newgate awaiting trial.

The attack was described in court as a most atrocious act of cruelty, with Beamish unable to return to his former place of work. Redshaw and Dixon were sentenced to 20 years’ transportation, while Charlotte Redshaw, thought to have been a tool of the two men, was given a lesser sentence of four years’ in prison.[23]

Arrival in WA

James Henry Dixon was received from Chatham Prison along with his co-offender Thomas Redshaw, a harness-maker by trade, and taken on board the Clara in January 1864. On its second voyage to WA the ship arrived in Fremantle on 13 April 1864.

Dixon’s physical description was aged 22, single, 5’5½”, brown hair, hazel eyes, round face, a fresh complexion, medium stout, with no distinguishing marks.[24] His conduct was described as ‘bad’ in the Newgate Prison records, where in 1862 he cut a panel from his cell door and released another prisoner George Needham from his cell by breaking the door with his stool. Together they attacked the night-watchman with a view to making their escape.[25]

During his time in Fremantle Prison his uncooperative attitude earned him punishments such as ‘forfeiting his Sunday Dinner’ for disobedience in 1864, and in 1865 serving 21 days on bread and water for ‘concealing a pair of trowsers made from Government material’. Sent to Albany District, he was punished in 1866 for having 45lbs of pork and an opossum skin rug in his possession, and as a consequence was returned to Fremantle Prison.

Released on ticket-of-leave in 1869, James was sent to the Swan District, where he worked for short periods for different masters before being arrested for fraud in May that year. He had enticed another young man James Berrett into joining him on a hair-brained spree involving the cashing of forged cheques:

James Dixon, t.l., was charged with forging and uttering certain cheques, with intent to defraud; and James Berrett, c.p., was charged with aiding in the above offences. It was shown that these men had recently attracted the notice of the police in Perth and Fremantle, by driving about in a rather flash style in a gig through the streets, without any apparent business; and that finding themselves objects of much inconvenient attention, they had sought another scene for their performances, and had proceeded to the Williams River, where Dixon had, on a previous tour, induced Mr. W. Brown to lease or sublet a portion of ground, whereon to erect a villa, or box. Dixon, with a laudable thirst for the genteel, wished to have the benefit of Mr. Berrett’s taste and experience of the site, &c., of the proposed dwelling.

It was accordingly arranged that they should go to their destination via York, and do some business with the rustics on the way. They were to travel as master and valet (somewhat in the manner of Roderick Random and Strap). Mr. Lloyd, one of their victims, related, in a serio-comic way, how they arrived late at his hostelry on the York road, Dixon ordering the best of everything for himself and horse, and not forgetting his trusty and well-beloved valet, who, with becoming modesty, declined dining in the parlour with his master, and whose reverential greetings of his quasi-superior excited the admiration of mine host, who had seldom seen servants in the colonies so mindful of manners.

A cheque was given for the entertainment of himself and suite (the gig, horse, and valet aforesaid), by Mr. Dixon, who then proceeded on his travels. Being one who likes ‘mine ease in mine own,’ he availed himself of the kind promises held out on Mr. Gregory’s sign of ‘Best to the Traveller,’ and, with his faithful follower, enjoyed the best that establishment afforded, for which a cheque was duly proffered, and accepted with many thanks. Police constable Monaghan, whose original acuteness has probably been somewhat sharpened by duty in a convict colony, having seen these cheques, was satisfied that they were forgeries, and proceeded, in company with Mr. Gregory, to Guildford, when he arrested the prisoners, at Mr. Meagher’s Hotel. On Mr. Francisco denying having signed, or authorized any one to sign the cheque produced, J. Dixon admitted the justice of the charge, but endeavoured to prove that Berrett was an innocent. The Bench, thinking otherwise, sent both to trial at Quarter Sessions.[26]

The Jury after a short consultation found a verdict for Berrett—Not Guilty. There being another indictment against Berrett, both prisoners were remanded to their former custody. Dixon to be brought up for judgment tomorrow.[27]

James Dixon was sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude.[28] Following a re-trial in October 1869, Berrett was also sentenced to seven years.[29]

Dixon’s treatment under the WA penal system shows a considerable degree of leniency. Instead of serving a seven-year term he was out on ticket-of-leave in 1872, employed briefly by FB Timewell in Perth, followed by a short stint as a clerk for SH Parker. Ever resourceful, early in 1873 he was working as a cook at Champion Bay for a few months before setting up as a lodging-housekeeper in Perth. In September that year he returned to Champion Bay where he was again self-employed as a cook.

In a case similar to the one back in England that earned him 15 years’ transportation, Dixon couldn’t resist the opportunity in 1874 of following a drunken man from the Horse and Groom hotel, then attacking and robbing him. Due to a strong argument by defence lawyer Howell, a conviction was not recorded against Dixon and his companion Thomas Sylvester, but their ticket-of-leave status was revoked and they were returned to prison.[30]

From 1874 he spent time in the Swan District and Gingin before travelling down to the Sussex District looking for work. A few days later he found employment in the Wellington District with businessman Thomas Spencer before leaving that position and spending a few days in the Murray District looking for work. He soon returned to the Wellington District where he was employed as a general servant by James Guy Thomson of Brookhampton at the Preston.

Life in Bunbury from 1875

On release, Dixon settled more or less permanently in Bunbury. From 1875 he was employed in the Wellington District by various businessmen before branching out on his own account as a clerk. He also offered his services as a ‘law clerk’, though his qualifications were questionable, as he had been arrested in England at the age of twenty. In 1877 the Inquirer reported another lapse in behaviour and took the liberty of reminding readers of James Dixon’s less than salubrious past:

A crowded police court yesterday attested the Bunburyites’ love of law and law courts, James Dixon being the subject of interest on this occasion. Dixon is well known to the community at large. The hotel-keepers in the Eastern districts will doubtless remember being victimised a few years ago by the gentleman in question, travelling ‘in state’ on a tour of duty and pleasure combined, figuring as a ‘Deputy Assistant Commissary General,’ or some other wonderful title, attended by his ‘servant,’ generally known since that event as ‘Commissary Dixon,’ sometimes as ‘Comptroller Dixon.’

Since emerging from the privacy of the life that followed, Mr. Dixon has been content to walk in an humbler sphere; although on a late occasion he acted in court as ‘attorney’ for Dr. Sampson — Regina v. Sampson, — having no less a personage than the Resident Magistrate not only to oppose, but as a witness under the fire of his cross-examination.

Yesterday the different societies of these gentlemen were much reversed. Mr. Dixon as a prisoner at the bar (not a member of the Bar) being relegated to his old quarters in the Convict Establishment for the next four years, for having on Saturday last made too free with the goods and chattels of his whilom [former] bosom friend Williams, whose dwelling, in the absence of Williams, he entered, taking therefrom sundry boxes of cigars, cash, &c.; Dixon’s plea that it was done as a lark not being accepted. Today one could not but feel forcibly reminded of there being two ways of looking at things, a notice in the following words being posted up:—’Mr. James Dixon being about to leave the district, has instructed Mr. James Moore to sell by auction, &c, &c.!’[31]

Back in Fremantle Prison, Dixon’s good behaviour led to a review of his sentence and he was released on 18 March 1880. Later that month he was back in Bunbury in the employ of JE Hands as a warehouse man. It wasn’t long before he once more advertised his services as a clerk, then as an auctioneer and a storekeeper by 1882.

James Dixon’s prospects improved when he married Sarah Maria Mainwaring. She was the daughter of James and Ann Brittain and was the widow of another former convict, Thomas Mainwaring (also known as ‘John Buchanan’), a tailor and shopkeeper in Bunbury who died there in 1879. Mainwaring had left some property for his sons, with his widow Sarah appointed as Executrix and Ephraim M. Clarke and George R. Teede as Trustees of the real estate at Bunbury, Lot P1 at the corner of Victoria and Stirling Streets (opposite the current Post Office), until they reached maturity.[32]

Following his marriage to Sarah, Dixon quickly took over the business, which under John Buchanan had initially begun as a tailor’s shop but later became a general store. James Dixon had come a long way in just a few years. By 1883 he was regularly advertising a variety of goods for sale by auction, while expanding into other areas of business, including money-lending.:



J. H. DIXON, will sell by public auction at his Sale Room, Victoria House, Bunbury, on Thursday and Friday, March 15th and 16th, a large consignment of New Goods just arrived, comprising High Class Furniture, Iron Bedsteads. Clothing, Drapery, Hosiery, Boots and Shoes, Electroplated Ware, Hardware, Earthenware, Tinware, Brushware, Clocks, Watches, Fancy goods &c, &c.

Also a good strong 4-wheeled waggonette in excellent order, with set of double Harness complete. Also second-hand four post substantial Tent Bedsteads with spiral spring mattress.

Also will be offered at 3 o’clock p.m., on Thursday March 15th, one quarter acre section cleared and enclosed with a new paled fence situate at Careytown and fronting Vasse Road.

Also a complete Photographic Plant including Camera and stand; very rapid and sharp Lens. New Tent, good supply of Chemicals Cards Plates and albuminized Paper.

This genuine and absolute sale by public auction offers a splendid opportunity of securing extraordinary bargains on Thursday and Friday, March 15th and 16th.[33]









Has always on hand a large and varied assortment,

and a carefully selected stock of GENERAL MERCHANDIZE,

Wholesale & Retail, comprising the most attractive and choice productions of


and replete with Novelties and Specialities in endless variety,


of stylish, artistic, and elegant new goods unsurpassable for


Personal attention given to all orders, and best value guaranteed.

No trade marks to entrap the unwary.

All goods marked in plain figures.

Marketable produce bought or advanced on.

IN the Auctioneering branch of business, constituents can command special facilities for placing their consignments prominently and favourably before the public. Ten years with the eminent London firm of Debham and Bar, enables me to offer special qualifications to clients requiring my services in this capacity, and having an intimate knowledge of Land, Stock, and Station property, and a large connection amongst buyers and sellers. Parties favoring me with commissions may rely upon the exercise of these exceptional advantages in their interests.

Account Sales promptly rendered, and liberal cash advances made on goods warehoused for sale.

Commission, Financial, Custom, and Shipping Business effected with despatch, discretion, efficiency, and economy.

Having at very great expense imported an improved PRINTING PLANT, I am now prepared to execute all kinds of Letter Press, Copper Plate, and Lithographic Printing, with promptitude and at lowest rates.

English and Foreign Newspapers, Periodicals, Magazines, and Books received by every mail. Subscriptions received for the same. Terms (25 per cent below current prices) on application.

Every description of Law Business initiated and expedited, and Legal Documents prepared.

Mortgages and Loans negotiated at Low Rates of Interest on Freehold Security.

A few Eligible Building Blocks and Country Locations for sale privately; also Bunbury Jarrah Timber Company’s Shares, fully paid up. Executions and distresses paid out, and arranged on the shortest notice.

Speedy relief obtained for persons in debt or pecuniary difficulties.

No charge for consultation.



Victoria House, Bunbury.[34]

In December 1884 two ticket-of-leave men, Joseph Drabble and James Dixon, were charged in Bunbury with having broken the law by illegally registering a vote in the general election for the Member for Wellington. Harbouring the belief that the law was outdated, Dixon addressed the court, declaring the statute to be obsolete and discriminatory:

…I have voted at every Municipal election since I have been in Bunbury. I have officiated as scrutineer at Municipal elections; I have been an officer of the Bunbury Municipality within the last three years. My appointment was approved by the Governor and duly gazetted – Gazette produced; I have attended every public and political meeting that has been held in Bunbury for the last four years; have like-wise been a speaker at political meetings; have been solicited to vote at various elections, also this general election, and that by gentleman holding the commission of the peace.

Had received an invitation to the last political banquet as a guest, for the purpose of reporting speeches. When the Governor was here last year, Captain Coghlan brought His Excellency to me and told him I was a Ticket of leave holder; I had a short conversation with the Governor; I received an invitation from the committee of the Agricultural Society to attend the dinner and report the speeches. I reported the Governor’s speech amongst others; I sent the Governor a draft report; the Governor returned it with a letter; that speech was eminently political. My name was posted on the court house door for the statute time; I did not apply to have it placed there; in November 1881 I committed a breach of the Ticket of leave regulations by being an auditor to the Bunbury Municipal Council. The police moved in the matter and tried to upset that election, but could do nothing, nothing was done.

The pillory, stocks and ducking stool, are statute laws of England; they have never been repealed, but they are now obsolete as I contend the present Ticket of leave regulations are. I am under a contract to report all public and political meetings; never have been interfered with; never have been called to account. The defendant was here admitted to bail on his own recognizance, to appear after Joseph Drabble’s case had been heard. Joseph Drabble was charged with the same offence and pleaded guilty. The evidence as to voting being the same as above, J. W. Dixon was fined £3, Joseph Drabble was fined £1. The fines were paid at once and the men liberated.[35]

Dixon’s business prospered and by 1885 he had built fine new premises at the corner of Victoria and Stirling Streets on Lot P1, the site formerly owned by Sarah’s first husband Thomas Mainwaring (John Buchanan), and which under his Will was held in trust for her sons George Thomas and Herbert Edward Napoleon Mainwaring:[36]

Mr. Dixon has removed to larger and more commodious premises adjoining which he has erected a large Auction and Show Room having a superficial area of 960 feet and which will supply a long felt want in the Auction business.[37]

Sketch from the ‘Bunbury Herald’, 1 May 1893.

Bunbury was considered a conservative community but was prepared to accept reformed convicts into their midst, once they proved their worth in the community.

Sarah was busy caring for her growing family. With three surviving children from her first marriage, she went on to have six more children with James Dixon. Their names were –

  • Julian Harcourt Dixon, born 1882. Married May Louisa Williams in Fremantle, 1904.
  • Reginald Harcourt Dixon, born 1884. Married Henrietta Wansbrough in the Northam District in 1904.
  • Victoria Harcourt Dixon, born 1886. Married (1) John Raymond Kearey, 1903. Married (2) John Evans???
  • Conquest Harcourt Dixon, born 1888, died aged 3 months.
  • Christian Harcourt Dixon, born 1888, died aged 4 days.
  • Constance Harcourt Dixon, born 1889, married William Hawkes, 1906.

In 1886 JH Dixon was appointed as Bailiff to the Bunbury Local Court while James Moore was on leave.[38] He also regularly represented others in court cases, (acting from the office of solicitor W. Lovegrove), as in the cases of Coonan v. Hastie and Hands v. Tombs in August 1888.[39] This practice raised eyebrows in some quarters and later that year the question of whether James Dixon should be permitted to act as a solicitor in the Bunbury courts was raised in the Legislative Council:


Mr. HORGAN moved, “That in the opinion of the House it is desirable to ascertain —Whether the Resident Magistrate at Bunbury is in the habit of permitting a person of bad antecedents—named James Dixon—professing to act as Clerk to Mr. Lovegrove, Solicitor, Fremantle, to practise in the Local and Police Courts there in the same manner as a Solicitor. Whether such practice is not in direct opposition to the provisions of the various Acts relating to Solicitors. And whether the Government will issue instructions to the Resident Magistrate in question to discontinue the practice.”

The Hon. Sir M. FRASER said he had communicated with the Resident Magistrate at Bunbury, who had informed him that Dixon had been allowed by his predecessors to practice in the Local and Police Courts, but he (Mr. Cowan) had stopped him from practising in the Police Court, although he had allowed him to continue to practice in the Local Court, under the 27 Vict. No. 21, Sec. 30, as an agent. Mr. Cowan gave Mr. Dixon a very good character. The hon. gentleman also read a letter from Mr. Lovegrove to the effect that he had an office in Bunbury in Mr. Dixon’s charge.

The Hon. C. N. WARTON, thought it only just to say that Mr. Lovegrove’s letter was written before Mr. Cowan was telegraphed to, and that Mr. Cowan’s reply and the letter agreed, Mr. BURT did not think the Act ever intended that the practice should be put in the hands of a man who was not legally qualified. The motion, on being put, was negatived on the voices.[40]

By this time viewed as a successful businessman, James Dixon had the support of a number of influential people in Bunbury, attending various functions and public meetings. In 1889 his place in society was confirmed when his name appeared on the guest list at a dinner organised by the Wellington, Nelson and Murray Agricultural Society in honour of a visit to Bunbury by the Governor, Sir Frederick Broome. At the meeting Dixon spoke of the potential of the fledgling coal industry.[41]

Coal had been discovered in the area and in 1889 Dixon was nominated as Manager of the Mineral Prospecting Machinery Co., which intended operating in the Preston River Coal Pits and Nelson Tin Fields.[42] J Dixon of Victoria House, Bunbury, a listed shareholder of its offspring company, the Collie Commercial Coal Co., was appointed as their legal manager, negotiating mining terms with the WA Government on behalf of the group. The matter of who should receive the £1000 reward offered by the Government for the discovery of coal in the area was hotly disputed for years.[43]

In 1892 the people of Bunbury were shocked by the news that one of Sarah’s sons from her first marriage had died in an accident:


A gloom was spread over the whole town on Saturday evening when the news was received of the death, by accidental shooting, of the young man George T. Mainwaring, pupil teacher in the public school, son of Mrs. J. H. Dixon. The poor young fellow — only nineteen years of age — was universally respected for his quiet, unassuming manner. He was held in great esteem by the head-master of the school, and was almost idolised by the children. Seldom, if ever, has greater regret been evinced by our citizens, old and young.[44]

In 1893 Dixon had a falling out with his business partner, Fremantle solicitor W. Lovegrove:

Bunbury, May 11.

At the Bunbury Local Court, on Tuesday, the following case was heard: James H. Dixon v. W. Lovegrove, claim £23 15s. 2d., office rent and an I.O.U.; – defendant put in set-off of £36 0s. 3d.; the case lasted six hours and excited much interest. Dixon proved by his evidence that a partnership existed between Lovegrove and himself, terms equal profit and losses. Both plaintiff and defendant lost temper occasionally, and used hard terms towards each other. Judgment for plaintiff for £11 4s. 4d.[45]

A Broken Marriage

News of problems in Dixon’s private life surfaced in October 1893:

Bunbury, October 6.

At the local Police-court yesterday Mr. James Dixon charged two men, named Hughes and Cowan, with intimidation, the latter also with assault, and John Marshall for obstructing his servants in the execution of their duty. The cases occupied three hours and excited much interest, as being connected with the recent case in the Supreme Court in which Mrs. Dixon was concerned. The evidence showed that Mrs. Dixon employed Hughes and Cowan to prevent her husband from removing from the house anything belonging to the estate; that Dixon tried to remove the carriage and that the men prevented him; and that Marshall acted as the friend of Mrs. Dixon. Hughes and Cowan were each fined 1s. and costs. The charge against Marshall was dismissed. The Bench censured Mrs. Dixon, and said she should have allowed the property to be removed, and then taken action.[46]

A lengthy version of events, published in the Southern Times, reveals that the couple had parted company under acrimonious circumstances and that Sarah Dixon was determined to safeguard what she considered her son’s inheritance from his father Thomas Mainwaring. Concerned that Dixon was intending to take a carriage (or buggy) from a shed at the rear of her property, she enlisted the assistance of a couple of locals to prevent him from removing it. When Dixon arrived with two men and gave them instructions to take the carriage away, an argument led to a physical confrontation. A policeman who arrived on the scene attempted to diffuse the situation. During the resulting court case brought by Dixon against the two men, they stated that they were carrying out the wishes of Mrs Dixon in the belief that the carriage was her property. Another man named John Marshall, who had also been present during the dispute, stated that Mrs Dixon, who was not in the court, had told him that she had consulted the Resident Magistrate over the matter of ownership and believed that she had been advised to enlist help to prevent the seizure. He addressed the Resident Magistrate as follows:

…After Constable O’Connor and John Donovan had given evidence, Mr. Marshall, in defence, said, “I thought that Mrs. Dixon would have appeared in this case as a witness and was unaware until after the case came on that she was debarred from doing so. She would have been able to prove that in this matter I merely acted as her agent. O’Connor and Donovan in their evidence stated that Donovan had refused to take this carriage prior to my arrival and he was not in any way intimidated by me. It was in consequence of Mrs. Dixon asking me to look after her interest in this matter, and believing from documents shown to me by Mrs. Dixon that she had authority to prevent, if necessary, the effects of her late husband from being removed from the premises, and to take note of what things were removed by Mr. Dixon, and to act generally on her behalf, that I was present. Mrs. Dixon told me that she had seen you in the matter, and that you had advised her to get some person to act for her in this matter, and in consequence of her being the guardian-at-law of her infant son and his property, and that the premises were accordingly under her jurisdiction, and that a telegram had been received from her agent, that I took the action I did. I have not been paid in this matter, and since I had not spoken to Mrs. Dixon for 5 or 6 months prior to this matter my action has been of the most disinterested character. I did not go there with the intention of creating a disturbance. The words used by me were that I was appointed by Mrs. Dixon to act on her behalf and with your concurrence. My action throughout has been merely to try and protect the interests of this injured woman, who took this man out of the gutter and raised him to a position he had never occupied before.”

In giving his decision his Worship said that he had gone into the case most carefully in order to give it every justice. Now it seemed to him that the history of the case did not commence with the morning when the trap was to have been taken away. His name, his official designation as Resident Magistrate, had been very freely and improperly used in connection with this case. If he had taken such actions as were attributed to him he would not have been fit to occupy the responsible position he held. Mrs. Dixon came to him for advice about 11 o’clock one night and had she taken the advice he gave her the case would never have been before the Court that day. Mrs. Dixon was the cause of the whole of the proceedings that day. Mrs. Dixon came to his house at 11 o’clock one night with reference to goods being taken out of her house by her husband and asked what she was to do. She said that the police would be there to assist him. He replied “I know nothing at all about your goods or about any order from the Supreme Court. If Mr. Dixon comes to your house and takes away any goods he does it at his own peril and you will have your remedy at law. The police have been asked for by Mr. Dixon, himself, so that he may not get into trouble by committing any assault and also to prevent his wife or any other people assaulting him. The police will not be there to aid either your husband or yourself, but simply to keep the peace. But how much better would it be, Mrs. Dixon, if instead of having the police you could have some friend to come to a mutual arrangement with reference to the distribution of property. Don’t you attempt to commit any assault upon Mr. Dixon because I have been informed that both you and your daughter have threatened him with violence. Do not resist but if anything is removed from your house make a formal objection. You cannot take the law into your own hands but you have your remedy at law.”

Instead of taking his advice Mrs. Dixon had gone exactly contrary to it, and had made use of his name in an improper manner. She posed as an injured woman and got two men to come and assist her against her husband. After referring to the danger of such a practice he inflicted the penalty of 1s. each and costs upon Hughes and Cowan, the costs to be borne equally. He dismissed Mr. Marshall’s case. Mr Marshall said had he been aware that it was not with the R.M.’s advice and concurrence, he would most certainly not have interfered in the case.[47]

The decision that the blame for the whole affair lay with Sarah Dixon reflected the prevailing attitude over the rights of women with regard to property. The fact that Sarah was precluded from appearing in court may indicate that the Resident Magistrate, WH Timperley, who was presiding over the court case, preferred that the matter of her said conversation with him over the matter would not be addressed during the trial.

Soon afterwards, James Dixon advertised that he would not be responsible for any debts incurred by his wife Sarah Maria Dixon.[48] Sarah Dixon viewed this as an insult to her integrity and swiftly retaliated, at the same time putting her first husband’s premises up for rent, which may indicate her intention to evict her second husband from the property:


A LARGE SHOP with DWELLING HOUSE attached situated at the corner of Victoria and Stirling Streets. The house contains every convenience with Drawing, Dining and other rooms.



For full particulars apply to Mrs. DIXON, Victoria House, Bunbury.


I AM much obliged to Mr. DIXON for unnecessarily warning storekeepers against trusting me. It is as well, however, for me to notify that I will not be answerable for any debts contracted in my name by Mr. DIXON without my written authority.


Bunbury, September 23rd, 1893.[49]

The very public dispute between husband and wife in 1893 did not preclude James Dixon from being elected onto the Bunbury Town Council that year.[50] He was then appointed to the position of Bunbury Town Clerk and Health Inspector in 1894, following the resignation of George Teede.[51] In 1895 the matter of Dixon’s salary was raised, due to his excellent performance and the increasing workload. It was suggested that his salary be raised from £20 to £80 per annum, plus £20 as Health Inspector.[52]

In 1897 Dixon resigned from his position as Bunbury Town Clerk and Secretary to the Board of Health.[53] In 1898 he stood as a candidate for the Central Ward of the Bunbury Municipal Council, but was defeated by sitting member K. Eastman.[54]

Dixon continued as an auctioneer for some years and from 1896 he was operating as a Commission Agent from a smaller property in Stephen Street.[55] JJ Tuxford, occupied the Victoria House premises in Victoria Street from 1896, advertising as a merchant and importer of groceries, etc.[56] In 1899 he purchased Dixon’s entire stock of wines, beer and spirits.[57]

Later Life

Brunswick Road Board Members – 1905 (Call No. BA577/262)

Back Row: (L to R) – S Birch, R Christenson, WJ Sutton, TM Rodgers, J Logue.

Front Row: M Wickham, W Reading, A Clifton, DW Marriott, JH Dixon (Secretary).

James Dixon found his proper calling when employed in Local Government. On 30 April 1894 he took up the appointment as Secretary of the Wellington Road Board.[58] During the years 1894/ 95 the Board was broken up into Bunbury, Dardanup and Brunswick Road Boards. Dixon served each of them simultaneously as Secretary.

From November 1894 Dixon served as Town Clerk of the Bunbury Municipal Council.[59] He tendered his resignation from that position in October 1897.[60] He served the Brunswick Road Board from February 1895 until July 1906 and was later remembered by Chairman Wm. Reading as ‘one of the most tactful and conspicuously able secretaries any board need desire’.[61]

In 1895 at the inaugural meeting of the Dardanup Road Board JH Dixon was appointed as their first Secretary.[62] At the end of the year his salary, including petty cash, amounted to £5. 5s. 6d.

In 1900 he was commended for his role in organising a successful Roads Board Conference in Bunbury.[63] In 1903 at another such event in Kalgoorlie, Dixon earned praise for his “Guide to Roads Act”, which was submitted for the approval of the Executive, and received the cordial commendation of all those members present. It was felt that such an index would be exceedingly useful, especially to country members who have not the Act at their fingertips, and the Executive, to show its appreciation of Mr Dixon’s labour, decided to order a sufficient number of copies to enable them to distribute a single copy to each of the affiliated Boards.[64]

In 1907 Dixon was granted leave from his position as Secretary of the Dardanup Road Board in order to take a four-month trip to Europe.[65] He was welcomed back in May from his trip to the ‘Old Country’.

In 1911 James Henry Dixon was bequeathed the sum of £200 from the estate of Ellen Hands, widow of Bunbury.[66]

Early in 1912 it was reported that James Dixon was seriously ill following an operation for appendicitis, with complications from a heart condition.[67] For a while fears were held for his recovery. As a consequence he began to cut back on his activities. Following a long association with the Dardanup Road Board, he was finally forced to retire in January 1913 due to his deteriorating health, amid expressions of regret from Board members and an offer of extended leave. At a farewell dinner at the Bunbury Prince of Wales Hotel in July that year he was thanked for his many years of service and was presented with a generous cheque and an illuminated address by the Chairman:

To Mr J. H. Dixon, Secretary Dardanup Roads Board –

“Sir,— We, the members of the Dardanup Roads Board, On behalf of the ratepayers of the district, desire to express on the occasion of your severing your connection with this Board, our appreciation of the valuable services rendered by you to the Board and the ratepayers, during your long term of eighteen years as Secretary. Your methods of keeping the books and correspondence have at all times given universal satisfaction, while your valuable advice at the Board meetings has always been appreciated by the members and the absence of it will be a loss keenly felt in the future. We deeply regret that you have been compelled to retire from the services of the Board through ill-health, but we trust that with rest this will be restored to you, and you will be spared many years to enjoy the fruits of your labours. In bidding you farewell, be assured that you take with you our hearty good wishes for your future welfare.

Signed on behalf of the ratepayers of the Dardanup Roads Board district. H. Davies, Chairman.”

In failing health, he spent his later years residing at the Rose Hotel in Bunbury. In 1920 he quit the premises in Stephen Street which he had occupied for some years and used as his office address while fulfilling his role as Secretary of the Dardanup and Brunswick Road Boards:



received instructions from Mr. J. H. Dixon to sell the whole of his Goods in Warehouse, Stephen-street on Wednesday, October 27th at 2 o’clock – Absolutely without reserve.

Full details Saturday’s issue.

Chairs, alarm clocks & day clocks, tools, sleepy hollow chair, tables, letter press, cane lounge – hosiery (ladies), large quantity books, lamps, wash-stand (marble top), dressing table, side mirrors, stoves, stirrup irons, large bell, bookcase (glass front), 2 large trunks, fire grate, screen, host of sundries.

J. E. HANDS.[68]

On 2 February 1926 he took steps to transfer to his daughter Victoria Evans, married woman of 117 Kimberley Street, Perth, the title of a block of land situated at Lot 24 of Swan Location 308 … Section J Plan deposited No 1292, being the whole of the Land comprised in Certificate of Title Volume CXXV111 Folio 52.[69] This was confirmed by Probate Jurisdiction after James Dixon’s death on 14 May 1926. The piece of land was valued at £20.[70]

In May 1926 James Harcourt (Henry) Dixon’s death was announced as follows:


The many friends of Mr. J. Dixon will be very sorry to learn that he passed away at 7 o’clock this morning at St. Roch’s hospital. The deceased, who was 87 years of age, has spent a life time in Bunbury and leaves a widow and family.[71]


Mr. J. H. DIXON.

The remains of the late Mr. James Harcourt Dixon were laid to rest in the Anglican portion of the Bunbury cemetery on Saturday morning, Canon Adams conducting the service.

The mourners were Mrs. C. Hawkes and Mrs. Keary (daughters), Mr. N. Mainwaring (step-son), Miss Hawkes and Miss P. Keary (granddaughters), Mr. M. Keary (grand-son), Mr. C. D. Baker (nephew). The pall bearers were the Hon. E. Rose, Messrs. A. V. Parkes, A. R. Foreman, C. E. Jenour, J. White and J. B. Teede.

Wreaths were placed on the grave from Mrs. Passmore, Mrs. Illingworth, Miss J. Boylan, Miss K. Ferris, Miss Higgie, Mr. and Mrs. Evans.

The funeral arrangements were in the hands of Wm. Brittain and Son.[72]

His daughter Victoria Evans inserted a bereavement notice in the West Australian newspaper:

DIXON. — On May 14, at St. Roch’s Hospital, Bunbury, James Harcourt Dixon, dearly loved father of Mrs. W. Evans, 117 Kimberley-street, Leederville, much loved grand-father of Phyllis, Mervyn, Barbara. At the age of 85. Sweet rest — at last.[73]

A notice of Probate Jurisdiction stated that James Harcourt Dixon, late of Bunbury, left his estate in the hands of Sydney Howard Bath and Charles Evedon Jenour, both of Bunbury.[74]

It was divided between several family members – Victoria Evans, his daughter, and her daughters Phyllis Kearney, spinster, Marjorie Kearney, spinster, his son Julian Harcourt Dixon of Melbourne, Victoria, and Mervyn Teede, at that time also living in Melbourne. It was stated in the Will that Teede was to be forgiven the amount still owing on a loan taken out by him from James Dixon.[75]

In November 1926 a part of Dixon’s estate was offered for sale:

IN THE ESTATES OF JAMES H. DIXON, DECEASED. FOR SALE BY TENDER. Tenders are invited for the purchase of the undermentioned land belonging to the Estate of the above-named deceased. Lot 45, part of Leschenault Location 26, situate on the Vasse Road, Bunbury, containing twenty and seven-tenths perches on which is erected two semi-detached W.B. Cottages at present in the occupation of Messrs, Barber and Rushton. Tenders will close with the undersigned on the 20th November, 1926, at 12 o’clock noon. The highest or any tender not necessarily accepted. For further particulars apply to — BATH, EASTMAN & JENOUR. Solicitors. Bunbury.[76]


SARAH MARIA DIXON, née Brittain (1851 – 1936)

Sarah Maria Mainwaring, later Dixon,

courtesy of Kim O’Connor.

An account of Sarah Dixon’s life is worthy of attention, as it gives a rare insight into the life of a woman who lived through the transportation era of Western Australia as the wife of two convicts, supporting them in establishing businesses while raising a large family. Instead of living a life of penury after the failure of her second marriage, she asserted her rights in the courts to a share of their estates. At a time when the role of a woman was seen as predominantly that of a homemaker, Sarah directed her energies to various community projects, earning the esteem of the community through her efforts to make Bunbury a better place. Although assertive when it came to her rights, Sarah never lost her dignity in the face of difficulties.

Sarah Maria Brittain was born in Colmworth, Bedfordshire, and came to WA as one of six children of immigrant parents James and Ann Brittain on the Burlington in 1863. Her father was described as an Irish-born agricultural labourer, employed in WA at Australind, Bunbury and Boyanup.[77]

Following the breaking up of her second marriage in 1893, Sarah lived comfortably but frugally in Bunbury, apart from a brief period in Melbourne with her son Julian, followed by four years in Albany. She was diligent in overseeing the properties left by her first husband:


A COMMODIOUS SHOP, corner of Victoria and Stirling Streets, fitted up and in every respect suitable for a Grocery or Drapery Establishment.


Another Shop in Victoria Street containing all the requisites necessary for a tea room.

For further particulars apply to


Victoria Street,



TO LET, Victoria-street, Bunbury,

Very Nicely Furnished ROOMS, consisting of

KITCHEN, DINING and BEDROOM, suitable for a Family. Also several BEDROOMS suitable for young Ladies or Gentlemen.

These Rooms are only FIVE MINUTES walk from the Railway Station and close to the Post Office, and altogether the surroundings are very pretty.

For Particulars, apply to —



FOR SALE. — Block of Land and Dwelling House, opposite Dr. Joel’s, Stirling Street, 12 rooms. Price, inspection and particulars from MRS. S. M. DIXON, Stirling Street, Bunbury.[80]

Sarah suffered some difficult times during and after her second marriage, but was admired for her community spirit and dedication to worthy causes. She took care of her mother Mrs Ann Brittain up until the elderly lady’s death in 1912. A letter that she wrote in 1903 demonstrates her kindly nature:


Sir,— Will you allow me, through your paper, to thank all those kind friends who have so willingly given to me their flowers for the sick ones in the Bunbury hospital, and I trust those ladies will continue to show their sympathy in the same way. The flowers have many times brought blessing and joy to the suffering ones there. If any lady has any flowers and will let me know, I shall be delighted to go for them on Saturdays. — Yours, etc., S. M. DIXON.[81]

Sarah’s name frequently appeared in Bunbury obituaries as a donor of wreaths at funerals. She was living at her own residence in Stirling Street at the time of her daughter Constance’s wedding to William Hawkes of the Railway Department. A description of the wedding reception held there in 1906 commented on the quality of the lovely floral decorations.[82] The following article published in 1919 pays tribute to her dedication to her garden:

In a Bunbury Garden.

During the welcome to the touring Anzacs, Mrs Dixon, of Stirling Street, presented a number of beautiful buttonholes to the visitors, and the gift was greatly appreciated. Bunbury is fortunate in having a number of gardening enthusiasts, and well to the foremost must be placed the donor of these flowers. The comfortable looking cottage garden is an ornament to the town but to see the full effect of Mrs Dixon’s work one must visit what is known as the back yard. ‘The greater part of a woman’s life is spent, during the morning at least, in the back of the house. Why should she not have a pleasing outlook?’ said Mrs Dixon, in showing a ‘Herald’ representative through the place, and certainly the surroundings were pleasant. Every inch of the spacious yard was either under grass or flowers, and the necessary outbuildings were festooned with flowering-creepers.

The end of March is positively the worst time to see a South West garden, but the plucky proprietress has defied the dry spell and there was a mass of green foliage and a glorious blaze of flowers. The balsams were just losing their glory, but their place was taken by masses of cosmos and ever blooming asters, whilst sunflowers, hollyhocks and dahlias were growing in abundance. Autumn roses and carnations were in splendid bloom, and, where ever one looked, some fresh floral wonder seemed to disentangle itself from the rich undergrowth. There were not only flowers but aviaries containing rare species of the parrot kind, and a pond full of fat, lazy and contented looking gold fish swimming slowly alone under the aquatic plants and the cheerful chirp and bright song of innumerable canaries added still another pleasing feature. The scene was restful and refreshing and it seemed so simple to make that horrible eyesore of town life, the back yard, the beauty spot of the home.[83]

Following her separation from her second husband James Henry Dixon in 1893, Sarah found herself with little income to support herself and her children. Her surviving son from her first marriage, Herbert Napoleon Mainwaring, who had turned sixteen was still under her care when, under the newly introduced ‘Guardian of Infants Act’, she successfully took court action in 1894 to obtain a sum of £75 per annum for Herbert’s maintenance from his father’s estate. The property due to him at the age of 21 years under his father’s Will consisted of three dwelling houses and one warehouse, all situated in Bunbury and at that time was producing an annual rental of one hundred and thirty-four pounds.[84]

The property had several buildings on it, including three semi-detached houses, a shop on the corner which James Dixon had named Victoria House, and the warehouse he had built next to it facing Victoria Street. Sarah rented out rooms to various tenants. In 1897 the Bunbury Rates Book lists the following tenants of the Mainwaring Estate, the town Lot known as P1.

  • (Sarah) Maria Dixon, married, cottage facing Victoria Street,
  • Christie & Sons, Jewellers, a shop facing Victoria Street,
  • Rupert Kelly, a surveyor, in a cottage facing Victoria Street,
  • James Connor, a policeman in a cottage facing Stirling Street.[85]

Postcard – ‘Bunbury Looking East’, 1903/4, showing buildings on block P1 at corner of Victoria & Stirling Streets at centre of photo – two shop-fronts facing Victoria Street and dwellings on Stirling Street.

[Over the years other tenants were Mrs Beech who advertised comfortable lodgings at the corner of Stirling and Victoria Streets in 1914, and Mrs Wright, a dressmaker on Victoria Street. Another occupier was Ezywalkins Shoe Store from around 1911 up until 1928, when they moved further up Victoria Street and grocer HH Sherry took over the warehouse premises. Sherry demolished the building ten years later and built a large ‘Cash & Carry’ store in its place. The corner store housed D’Raine & Howson, Butchers, from 1937, and later Colin Sherry, Chemist.]

Just when the Lot known as P1 was sold is not known. In 1923 Sarah was still paying council rates for the property left in her first husband’s Will, designated as Lot P1, at the corner of Stirling and Victoria Streets in Bunbury.[86]]

In 1926, following years of poor health, Sarah’s estranged husband James Dixon passed away in Bunbury. Then in March 1927 her son Herbert (or ‘Hubert’) Edward Napoleon Mainwaring, a hairdresser of Wellington St, Perth and Garrett Road, Bayswater, died at the age of 49.[87]

In May 1927 Sarah Dixon’s case for provision under the Will of her late estranged husband James Dixon came to Court:



A case involving the estate of James Harcourt Dixon, late of Bunbury, was heard in the Supreme Court, the action being brought under the terms of the Guardianship of Infants Act, it being the first case of its kind in the State. The Testator left a will bequeathing his estate to various people, but made no provision for the widow, and in consequence she applied for the income. Constance Hawkes also made a similar application. The Court made an order that the petitioner, who is 77 years of age, and resides at Mount Lawley, should receive the income of the estate during her life, but the application of Mrs. Hawkes was dismissed, Trustees costs only to be allowed out of the estate in this application. Mr. C. E. Jenour represented the Trustees.[88]

Not one to dwell on her own problems, Sarah was a regular correspondent to various newspapers, her letters revealing her caring nature. In 1920 she sought contributions towards the purchase of a new horse, to replace the one owned by Mrs Wright of Australind which had dropped dead in the street, in order that the owner could resume her egg deliveries to Bunbury customers.[89] Sarah’s interests soon extended to Council affairs. She had an ongoing interest in the Old Bunbury Cemetery (now known as ‘Pioneer Park’). In 1908 she wrote to the local paper requesting that water be laid on to the Cemetery. In 1911 another of her letters was published:


To the Editor.

Sir,— Please allow me a small space in your valuable paper to ask if that person or persons who had the assurance to pull off the pailings [sic] from the fence enclosing some graves in the cemetery and took therefrom one grass hook, kept there for the purpose of cutting down wild oats, will be good enough to return same to the owner. I think it a great shame to think anyone in our little town should be guilty of such a mean act.

Thanking you,

Sir, in anticipation

Yours, etc.,


Bunbury, November 3, 1911.


To the Editor.

Dear Sir, — Will you please allow me a small space in your paper to make a few remarks about the condition of the Bunbury cemetery. This most sacred spot seems to belong to no one. For years I have been trying to find someone who will lay claim to it, but so far I have been unsuccessful. I was wondering if I were to start and build a house there, would the owners make an appearance, if so I should be pleased to meet him and have a little talk with him, to see what could be done to improve the neglected condition of the most sacred piece of ground where a large number of our best and most noble men and women who came to Western Australia in the early days, and have endured the hardships of those times and who have made this Colony what it is today. Surely someone cares for their dear departed souls, or are they forgotten?

Now there is not many of us that have not someone dear to us lying there. I have a dear old mother and Father, who came to this colony in 1863, they endured a lot of the hardships of those times. I was then only ten years of age, and the most we could get to eat then was damper and tea for breakfast and tea and damper for dinner with sugar as black as a crow, and for a light in the hut at night, a blackboy stick stuck in a bottle of whale oil, if you were lucky enough to get same. All this is what these poor souls had to put up with. Now they are gone, and it seems forgotten. Now what I want to know, is, if someone in this place will take this matter up and get busy and see what can be done toward making this poor neglected place from an eye-sore to a beauty-spot. I am not too financially situated, but I would willingly give my bit toward having this place made as it should be. I have others of my loved ones resting there. Should they have to rest in a wilderness like the cemetery? Surely it is the business of someone to see to this thing, the entrances at both ends are destroyed and cattle are roaming there also. Yours, etc.,

S. M. DIXON. Bunbury, October 9, 1923.[90]

Sarah also took an interest in the Bunbury District Hospital, which stood opposite where she lived in Stirling Street.[91] She was a regular visitor there, taking flowers to sick patients and advocating on their behalf:



In this morning’s mail comes yet a further complaint regarding the jungle and mire conditions of the approaches and grounds of our Government Hospital.

The letter reads as follows: — To the Editor.

Sir, — Please allow me space to ventilate a very apparent grievance in relation to the approaches to the Bunbury Government Hospital, and the paddocks on either side thereof. In the first place, I notice that some improvements are now being made and some of the trees and under growth being grubbed out, but not before time. I am, of course, given to understand that the proposed operations will show a very great improvement when finished, but I would like to suggest that a very vast alteration be made to the grounds. Talking of the road approach in particular, in Summer time there is nothing but a six-inch depth of white dust, while in the paddocks where water accumulates it is nothing but a quagmire and harbour for millions of mosquitoes. I have seen patients so badly bitten by mosquitoes that one could not put a pin between the bites!

I would now suggest that the whole of the trees be cut down, if not altogether, then at least level them with the fence. I would not suggest cutting down three or four of the big trees up close to the Hospital, because convalescent patients could put seats under these and pass away the time watching the sights and so on down Victoria Street. Of course, that would be impossible unless the drive trees were cut down or severely pruned. As I view it, sunlight is an intensely important factor in any hospital, but the Government Hospital will never get the full benefit of it until that jungle is done away with, that’s a certainty!

Another point is that it is always a good plan to see that the surroundings of any hospital are pleasant, and we don’t see other hospitals in Perth, Adelaide or Melbourne, which I have visited in such a state as this one. If the Government is too poor to do anything, perhaps the good people of the town would help, if appealed to on some concrete plan. I am not rich, but I would be prepared to do my bit if something was undertaken.

Yours, etc., S. M. DIXON, Bunbury, June 6 1924.[92]

The following year she wrote acknowledging that action was finally being taken by Council to remediate the situation at the hospital, but suggested that a busy bee could be formed in order to speed up the work.[93]

In 1926 she visited her son Julian Dixon in Melbourne and on her return to Bunbury she gave notice of her intention to go back there and advertised her furniture for sale.[94] She didn’t stay long, however, and was residing in Albany the following year, busy fund-raising for good causes through an exhibition of her crafts at the Albany Show.[95] On her return in 1931 to Bunbury after four years she posted a notice to her friends back in Albany, thanking them for their hospitality during her time there.[96] At that time she was living in Spencer Street in South Bunbury.[97]

In 1934 the state of the old Bunbury Cemetery once again caught Sarah’s attention:


Resident’s Appreciation of Our Criticism

S. M. Dixon, writes:

I was pleased to see references in “The Sunday Times” to the disgraceful state of the old Bunbury Cemetery. It was time someone called on the people of Bunbury to do something to turn an eyesore into a beauty spot. Many grand old people who rest there made the town what it is today. These people should not be allowed to rest in a wilderness. I have a dear father and mother resting there. They came to Western Australia in 1862 [sic] and went through all the hard times of those days. I also have other dear ones buried there. I have spent 66 years of my life in Bunbury, coming to the town when very young. I am now 85. During the war I worked for the Red Cross, and for 11 years worked for the Parkerville Home for Children, and went to Albany to nurse for the people on the group settlement. I hope “The Sunday Times” will continue to criticise the disgraceful state of the cemetery until the people of Bunbury are made so ashamed that something will be done to improve the last resting place of so many pioneers.[98]

She was still living in Spencer Street in 1935 when she complained about the danger facing pedestrians in the area, following a fatal accident.[99] Later that year she had an accident herself:

Mrs. S. M. Dixon, who has been an inmate of the Bunbury Hospital for four months with a broken ankle, writes expressing appreciation of treatment and kindness received at the hands of the matron, nurses and staff generally.[100]

Sarah’s mind was still active when a few months before her death she wrote a letter to the Bunbury Municipal Council, suggesting that the fence which had been removed from the old cemetery should be utilised to fence the old Picton Church.[101]

Sarah Maria Dixon passed away in the Bunbury hospital on 30 September 1936, at the ripe old age of 85 years, with loving tributes from her family:

DIXON.— On September 30, 1936, at Bunbury, Sarah Marie Dixon, the beloved mother of Maude (Mrs. J. Green), Julian, Victoria (Mrs W. Evans), Constance (Mrs. W. Hawkes); aged 85 years.

Rest after weariness.

Our Mother.[102]

An obituary paid tribute to Sarah’s community spirit:

MRS. SARAH DIXON – The death took place on Wednesday last of Mrs. Sarah Marie Dixon, at the age of 85 years. The late Mrs. Dixon was beloved by the residents of Bunbury generally and her kind and sympathetic understanding won for her many friends. She had resided in Bunbury for the last 75 years. She came here as a child of ten from Colmworth, Bedfordshire. She leaves three daughters and one son to mourn their loss. The funeral took place on Thursday last, leaving the private mortuary of Mr. Brittain & Son at 3.30 p.m., and the remains were laid to rest in the Anglican portion of the Bunbury cemetery, the Rev. Arnold Fryer performing the last rites. The pallbearers were Messrs. T. D. Maiden, F. Withers, A. Hayes, F. Underwood, H. Webster, R. Farnell.[103]

Sarah Maria Dixon was buried in the Bunbury Cemetery in Grant No1098. The plot was issued free of charge, perhaps in recognition of her ongoing interest and care for the Bunbury Cemeteries during her lifetime.[104]

Also on this website ‘Harvey Road Board Offices’.

[1] Rica Erickson, Dictionary of Western Australian 1829 – 1914, Vol. 3, Free 1850-1868, UWA Press 1979, p.71.

[2] JS Battye Library Collection, Private Archives Manuscript Note (MN28), No. 711A/34417, April 1, 1879.

[3] WA Birth, Deaths and Marriages Index at, Death Index, Reg. No. 10086/1879

[4] Bucks Herald, 21 December 1861.

[5] Convict Department, General Register for Nos. 6393 – 6932 (R22)

[6] Convict Department, Probational Prisoners Register for Nos. 5586 – 6999 (R7)

[7] Bunbury Herald, 16 July 1897.

[8] Inquirer, 28 November 1877.

[9] Bunbury Herald, 7 Dec. 1892.

[10] See Gillman’s story on the Harvey History Online website.

[11] Herald, 18 September 1875.

[12] Perth Gazette, 5 Jan 1872.

[13] Rica Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, p.374.

[14] Inquirer, 2 Jan 1878.

[15] Herald, 21 Dec 1878.

[16] WA Death Index, Reg. No. 10086.

[17] Death Certificate of Thomas Mainwaring.

[18] Inquirer, 23 April 1879.

[19] State Records Office of WA, AU WA S34- cons3403 1879/572.

[20] Note: There are two marriage dates recorded in the WA Birth, Deaths and Marriages Index at, Nos. 5162/1881 and 5279/1882.

[21] Convict Department Registers, General Register for Various Nos 1553 – 8146 (R31)

[22] Ibid, Distribution Book for Nos. 7608 – 8107.

[23] Usk Observer, 6 December 1862.

[24] Convict Department, General Register for Nos. 7632 – 8125 (R28)

[25] Convict Department Registers, Distribution Book for Nos. 7608 – 8107.

[26] Inquirer, 19 May 1869.

[27] Herald, 10 July 1869.

[28] Ibid, 10 July 1869.

[29] Perth Gazette, 15 October 1869.

[30] Herald, 4 July 1874.

[31] Inquirer, 8 August 1877.

[32] State Records Office of WA, AU WA S34- cons3403 1879/572.

[33] West Australian, 27 February 1883.

[34] West Australian, 23 January 1883.

[35] Herald, 13 December 1884.

[36]State Records Office of WA, AU WA S34- cons3403 1879/572.

[37] West Australian, 1 January 1885.

[38] West Australian, 24 April 1886.

[39] Southern Times, 28 August 1888.

[40] West Australian, 13 November 1888.

[41] Western Mail, 30 November 1889.

[42] Southern Times, 18 June 1889.

[43] Western Mail, 15 October 1898.

[44] Bunbury Herald, 7 December 1892.

[45] Inquirer, 19 May 1893

[46] Ibid, 13 October 1893.

[47] Southern Times, 5 October 1893.

[48] Bunbury Herald, 27 Sept. 1893.

[49] Southern Times, 14 October 1893.

[50] Inquirer, 24 November 1893.

[51] Southern Times, 3 November 1894.

[52] Ibid, 9 November 1895.

[53] Western Mail, 8 October 1897.

[54] Southern Times, 22 November 1898.

[55] Southern Times, 10 November 1896.

[56] Ibid, 17 December 1896.

[57] Bunbury Herald, 9 December 1899.

[58] Ibid, 2 May 1894.

[59] Bunbury Herald, 2 Nov 1894.

[60] Ibid, 3 October 1897.

[61] South Western Times, 16 May 1925.

[62] Bunbury Herald, 16 March 1895.

[63] Ibid, 27 September 1900.

[64] Southern Times, 7 May 1903.

[65] Ibid, 3 January 1907.

[66] Daily News, 10 August 1911.

[67] Southern Times, 29 February 1912.

[68] South Western Times, 23 October 1920.

[69]State Records Office of WA, AU WA S1915- cons5398 0058/1.

[70] State Records Office of WA, AU WA S34- cons3403 1926/608.

[71] Bunbury Herald, 14 May 1926.

[72] South Western Times, 20 May 1926.

[73] West Australian, 25 May 1926.

[74] Sunday Times, 31 October 1926.

[75] State Records Office of WA, AU WA S34- cons3403 1926/608.

[76] South Western Times, 6 November 1926.

[77] Rica Erickson, Dictionary of Western Australian 1829 – 1914, Vol. 3, Free 1850-1868, UWA Press 1979, p.71.

[78] Southern Times, 23 December 1899.

[79] Bunbury Herald, 25 May 1901.

[80] South Western Times, 1 March 1917.

[81] Bunbury Herald, 3 July 1903.

[82] Ibid, 8 October 1906.

[83] Bunbury Herald, 5 April 1919.

[84] State Records Office of WA, AU WA S577- cons3580 1893/M57

[85] Bunbury Rates Book, 1897.

[86] Bunbury Rates Book, 1923.

[87] West Australian, 25 March 1927.

[88] South Western Times, 21 May 1927.

[89] Southern Times, 25 November 1920.

[90] South Western Times, 11 October 1923.

[91] Note: The Bunbury District Hospital was on the site of the current Bunbury Library.

[92] South Western Times, 10 June 1924.

[93] Bunbury Herald, 15 June 1925.

[94] Bunbury Herald, 26 February 1926.

[95] Albany Despatch, 17 November 1927.

[96] Albany Advertiser, 13 April 1931.

[97] WA Electoral Rolls per

[98] Sunday Times, 15 July 1934.

[99] South Western Times, 9 May 1835.

[100] Ibid, 7 December 1935.

[101] Ibid, 22 April 1936.

[102] West Australian, 1 October 1936.

[103] South Western Times, 7 October 1936.

[104] Bunbury Cemetery Board Minutes, 28 February 1938.