G3 5 Mary Sullivan (nee Phillipps)

This article is about Mary Sullivan (nee Phillipps), born in Cornwall in 1850, who migrated to South Australia with her parents in 1854. The story covers her life predominantly in Victoria as the wife of John Sullivan, and mother of 7 Sullivan children who reached adulthood, and as the Sullivan family matriarch at Dunbulbulane.

G3 JP/MARY SULLIVAN (nee PHILLIPPS) (1850 - 1922)

Mary Phillipps was born in Camborne Cornwall on 28/11/1850 to parents John Phillipps and Mary Anna Grose Phillipps (nee Wearne), their first child.

The family, including a younger brother Edwin, left Cornwall for South Australia, arriving at Port Adelaide on board the "Time and Truth" on 08/05/1854. Unfortunately young Edwin died on the voyage and was buried at sea.

The Phillipps family moved straight to Burra (Kooringa) where John worked in the copper mine, but left for the Victorian goldfields after about 2 years around the end of 1855. A sister, Hannah Maria Phillipps had been born at Kooringa in 1855.

Within a few years father John Phillipps had ceased mining, and became a cooper, trading in Barkly St, Ballarat.

In 1872 daughter Mary Phillipps married John Sullivan, her cousin on her mother's side. The article on John Sullivan (G3 TS/John Sullivan) describes their life and growing family up until his death in 1890, just a few years after they had moved to the farm at Dunbulbulane. Mary would have been about 40 at the time.

The remainder of this article covers Mary Sullivan's remaining years at Dunbulbulane

The Sullivan Community at Dunbulbalane

The Sullivans farmed at Dunbulbalane for about 40 years from around 1884 to 1924, when all the land was sold off as a condition of Mary Sullivan’s will. The family tree extract shows the Sullivan at Dunbulbalane.


In 1892 the Shire of Yarrawonga rate book shows Mary Sullivan owning lots of 23 and 320 acres. By 1822 the Shire of Tungamah rate book shows that Mary Sullivan by then owned allotments 4,11,13,14,15,16,17,18,and 19 totalling 1291 acres, providing work for most of her family. Not only a farmer's widow, but an astute businesswoman! (1)

The history of the family’s life at Dunbulbalane is drawn from Electoral Rolls, extracts from the local newspaper the Numurkah Leader, Numurkah Historical Society, Victorian  Birth and Death records, World War 1 service records and Sands Directory records. Also include are relevant first hand memories by descendants. Numurkah Leader references can now be found on "Trove."

The area around Dunbunbulane including Invergordon, Marungi and Drumanure, was close knit. Three of the Sullivan boys married local girls. Typical is an early story handed down by Vincent Watters, Mary Sullivan's grandson." Now when Bert (Albert) and Jack (Edwin) came, Gran did not have enough milk for both so Jack was sent out to Guymers for 5 months ( The land was in the Tungamah Shire) and Mrs Guymer breast fed him along with one of her own. The Guymers and the Sullivans used to go to Numurkah in the wagon and when Mr Guymer drove the horses, the kids had great fun, but when Granpa Sullivan drove, he used to come down on them and be no fun." (2)

Family, farm, faith and community life in the earlier years is captured by the Mary's 13 year old son Edwin Sullivan in a letter to the children’s editor of the Numurkah Leader of 6th January 1899:

I saw in the Numurkah Leader that there is a children’s column. There are a lot of children writing to you, and I thought I would write. I would like to be one of your nephews. We have three cats, and a dog whose name is Jane. I have been home from school all week. I am in the sixth class, and so is my brother and sister. I have two sisters and four brothers. I am one of the twins. I went to the Numurkah Show and enjoyed myself very much. I saw the Professor and all the poisonous snakes he had. I knew I wouldn’t let the snakes crawl around my neck, because I would have been frightened they would bite me. We have a little foal and its name is “Duke”. It is very quiet. I went to Ballarat once, and I saw the Juvenile Exhibition. There were such a lot of things to look at and admire in it. I have a mother but no father, as he died when I was just five years old. I saw his grave in the New Cemetery in Ballarat. I go to the Wesleyan Sunday School at Dunbulbalane, and I got a prize from there. I will conclude with love to all. I remain yours truly,


The 1903 Electoral Roll shows that 13 years after John Sullivan’s death, at Dunbulbalane Mary aged 53 is in charge of home duties, Horace Rundle and Charles Frederick are farming there, with Clarice, Edwin and Albert too young to vote. Lucy May age 26 has married Albert Arthur Watters in 1902 and they have settled into farm life at Drumanure, a little south west of Dunbulbalane, where her first child is born in 1903. Arthur Herbert age 24 has gone labouring at Beech Forest 40 kms south of Colac in the company of a Francis James Salter, selector, whom daughter Clarice Sullivan aged 22 subsequently marries in 1905.

In 1908 Arthur Herbert Sullivan aged 29 marries Mary Ellen Alexander in Ballarat, and they too return to the Dunbulbalane area. Family history (4)  is that “Mary Ellen’s sister worked as a maid with the Sullivans, and Arthur asked her if she had any sisters and so she introduced Arthur to Mary Ellen and Bingo!” Family history is also that mother Mary was displeased with Arthur marrying 'below stairs'. (2)

The 1909 Electoral Roll shows Mary aged 59 is till in charge of home duties at Dunbulbalane, with Horace Rundle, Edwin and Albert now farming there. Arthur Herbert is now farming probably on land Mary has acquired on the other side of Broken Creek, listed as Invergordon. Whilst Arthur’s wife Mary Ellen is listed at Dunbulbalane, possibly with their first child Edna May, the Sands directory says she was at Invergordon. In fact the Sands directory shows both Mary and Horace Rundle at Invergordon between 1913 and 1916 with Arthur Herbert.

The Roll shows Charles Frederick Sullivan age 28 has left Dunbulbalane and is at the Teachers Training College in Carlton, where that same year he married Ellen Salter in Marungi. Lucy May Watters is still at Drumanure with her farmer husband Albert. Clarice and Francis Salter’s first child is born in Dunbulbalane, although the electoral roll lists them as having relocated to Melbourne with the Salters.

 There are only a few records of family memories from this time and these include:

"Shepparton – the heart of the GoulburnValley was our large town and the country around there was very fertile for we would quite often be able to pick a crop of mushrooms fresh and lovely fried, on toast or made into sauce to accompany some kind of meat. Buttercups and bluebells and daisies grew in abundance out in the paddock as well. It must have been rather like I imagine the English country side to be – I have never had the good fortune to go to England. In the stone fruit season, early October to the end of February we would take a trip to Shepparton and buy various types of fruit by the case. In those days there was a plentiful supply of fruit." (3)

"He (Vincent Watters)said that the Sullivans always had vineyards. Since the family were tee totallers they must have been selling off the harvest to some wine producer" (2)

We (VW and sister Nita) decided that the house had six rooms toard the road away from the big open porch, while the other way was the kitchen. Many local girls worked there frome time to time. (2)

"(VW)At the old homestead there used to be 2 gates out of the house yard and as there was a big dam of water straight out from one gate- it was known as the dam gate! Now Gran Sullivan objected to such a name so the gate was shifted and the fence opening fenced across." (2)

"My parents were devout Christians so church and Sunday School were very much a part of my life. We lived fairly comfortably at that time on my Father’s parent’s property, (a vineyard also wheat and sheep farming) in a weatherboard house about 1 mile from my grandmother. (3)

Present day photos of the original farm block on the corner of Gribben and Union Rds show almost no evidence of what was there a century before. 

 IMG 3990   IMG 3991                 





2013 Photos by R Sullivan

In 1914 Edwin Sullivan married Mary Jane Sanders. The Electoral Roll is again helpful, showing mother Mary Sullivan who by now is 64 and whose health has started to decline, not being on the electoral roll as Mary, but possibly as "May", given that there are now two other Marys in the extended family. So between the “two farms” at Dunbulbalane and Invergordon are Albert and Edwin, and Edwin’s new wife Mary Jane, with Arthur Herbert and wife Mary Ellen are probably at Invergordon with Horace Rundle. Mary Ellen was apparently capable in bush nursing, and as Mary’s health declined Mary Ellen became increasingly indispensable.

Charles Frederick Sullivan, teacher, and wife Ellen (nee Salter) and two young children (see below) are now living with the remaining Salters, father Mark and Clara Mabel, at 38 Wellington Rd Flemington. Francis James Salter and wife Clarice have relocated interstate to Horse Creek, Maranoa, Queensland with their two young children.

In 1915 Edwin and Mary Jane’s first child, daughter Renie, is born at Numurkah but dies the same year. Albert Wearne Sullivan leaves Dunbulbalane and at the age of 30 enlists on 15/7/1915.

In 1916 Charles Frederick Sullivan aged almost 35 , school teacher in Melbourne, with two young children, enlists on 19/2/1916. Clarice Salter returns from Queensland to Melbourne (Wellington Rd) for the birth of their second son

Around this time Mary's health is declining with the onset of the Hereditary Spastic Paraplaegia.

A family memory from this time is that of Ann Margaret Dill: "I remember her distinctly as a stern little old lady always sitting up in bed knitting, reading etc as she was unable to move about and my mother Mary, seems to have been the person who gave her her daily bath and changed her bed linen and in general saw to her personal needs." (3)

 "Hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP) refers to a group of inherited disorders that are characterized by progressive weakness and spasticity (stiffness) of the legs. Early in the disease course, there may be mild gait difficulties and stiffness. These symptoms typically slowly progress so that eventually individuals with HSP may require the assistance of a cane, walker, or wheelchair. Though the primary features of "pure" HSP are progressive lower limb spasticity and weakness, complicated forms may be accompanied by other symptoms. These additional impaired vision due to cataracts and problems with the optic nerve and retina of the eye, ataxia (lack of muscle coordination), epilepsy, cognitive impairment, peripheral neuropathy, and deafness.

HSP has several forms of inheritance.  Not all children in a family will necessarily develop symptoms, although they may be carriers of the abnormal gene.  Symptoms may begin in childhood or adulthood, depending on the particular HSP gene involved.

The prognosis for individuals with HSP varies Some individuals are very disabled and others have only mild disability. The majority of individuals with uncomplicated HSP have a normal life expectancy." (4)

"As Grandma Sullivan became more crippled she used to stay in the dining room where the fire place was. I remember Horace cut a hole in the east wall and fitted a door with top half glass to let the morning sun in." (2)

In 1918 Charles Frederick Sullivan died in Gaza of malaria. Albert Wearne Sullivan was discharged from the army after being wounded twice and returned to Dunbulbalane.

After the War the Sullivan community at Dunbulbalane seems to peak with Horace Rundle, Albert, Edwin with wife Mary Jane and two small children at Dunbulbalane, with May (Mary?) sharing home duties. Arthur Herbert is still at Invergordon with wife Mary Ellen and their seven children. Surprisingly Clarice Salter has returned to the area from Melbourne and has joined them at Invergordon with her three children.

Old Time Religion  

The Dunbulbalane Wesleyan Methodist Church built in 1876 which the family attended was located on Broken Creek just down from the eastern end of Gribben Rd. In 1893 the Church Members Roll records Mary Sullivan (married), Horace Sullivan and Lucy Sullivan (both single). (5) 

Mother Mary probably maintained a firm hand on religious upbringing, as a subsequent report in the Numurkah Leader of 24/11/1899 notes the establishment of a "Juvenile Rechabites Tent" at Dubulbalane, for boys aged 8 to 14 (The Rechabites pledged abstinence) in which both Edwin and Albert were participants.

Newspaper records showed Horace Sullivan became a regular lay preacher in the local Methodist circuit, with family hstory noting Albert also was an occasional lay preacher and Arthur a Sunday School teacher. Another family story notes "The people at Dunbulbalane church used to call Uncle Horace the Walking Encyclopaedia No 1 and Uncle Bert Walking Encyclopaedia No2." (2)

And again from Ann MArgaret Dill : "Dad was the Sunday school superintendent and also a Lay preacher and so the family when ever possible attended all the church activities. (3)

The End of the Sullivan Community at Dunbulbulane

In 1922 Mary Sullivan died at age 71 on 02/08/1922 at Dunbulbalane. (V10700). Cause of death was chronic ailments pulmonary and arthritis from which she had suffered for about 10 years, with gradual asthenia. The arthritis and asthenia diagnosis probably indicates Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP) from which the family suffered. Doubtless the burden over 30 years of both family and farming responsibility had also taken its toll. Athur Sullivan of Invergordon, son, was the informant and was present at her death. Mary was buried in the Wunghnu cemetery, and as her death notice in the Numurkah Leader records “a patient sufferer gone to rest” 

Her doctor was a doctor Harbison, who had been the family doctor for at least ten years. A family member writes "Dr Harbison was a very dapper little man with a neatly trimmed beard and had a good manner with children." (2)

And  "Gran I remember was pretty old in a wheelchair. I remember being asked by the Nicholson’s, the Funeral Diriector, to take hold of the sixth handle of the coffin! So no marble cross,no monument! Gran's grave is number 56 next to it is grave 54 in the name of Mary Phillipps.(2)  Mary Phillipps was Mary Sullivan's aunt on her father's side, and she had died at Invergordon in 1911 aged 85. Cause of death was asthenia, with Dr Harbison also her doctor.Mary Ann Phillipps was John Phillipps unmarried sister and had been living with him as shown in the Ballarat Electoral roll more or less since his wife Mary Anna Grose Phillipps died in 1901.

Mary Sullivan's will (6) made in 1915 required executor Horace Rundle Phillips Sullivan and executrix Lucy May Watters to cash in all her estate real and personal, to divide the residue into 10 equal parts, of which one part each went to Lucy and Clarice, and the remaining 8 parts to her five sons, one of whom (Charles Frederick) had unfortunately predeceased her after writing the will. The effect of Mary’s will was that the “farm” is broken up and sold off. All those earning their livelihood as farmers were now forced off their land, albeit with cash in their pockets. Whether she was trying to get her boys to stand on their own two feet or just to ensure an equitable division of assets is unclear, but the probable unintended consequence was that the Dunbulbulane Sullivan family life and community was shattered.   

The Numurkah Leader's clearing sale advertisements of 1923 and 1924 illustrate the collapse of the Dunbulbalane Sullivan Community after some 40 years, and how significant it was:

  • In January 1923 the sale by auction of 520 acres of first class land to the account of the estate of Mrs M Sullivan.
  • In February 1923 Mr A H Sullivan engaged in an unreserved clearing sale of Farm Plant etc at Marungi
  • In February 1924 an unreserved clearing sale of farm plant, stock etc to finalise the affairs of the late Mrs M Sullivan. The offering included 16 horses, 31 cattle, a range of farm machinery, blacksmith’s equipment and household furniture
  • On the same day in 1924 the lease by auction of 291 acres of land in Dunbulbalane to the account of A W Sullivan 
  • And also on the same day in 1924 the lease by auction of 237 acres of land in Dunbulbalane adjoining the above to the account of Mr H R P Sullivan

  So with both daughters married, and the four surviving sons thrown off their landholdings, what became of the family? Their stories can be found in section G4 - The First Australian Generation.


(1)   Shire rate assessment records courtesy of Katandra and District History Group.

(2)    Correspondence between grandson Vincent Watters and Mrs C Griffin.

(3)    Correspondence between grand-daughter Ann Margaret Dill "Memoirs of Ann Margaret Dill" and Mrs C Griffin.

(4)    National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke       http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/hereditary_spastic_paraplegia/hereditary_spastic_paraplegia.htm

(5)   Katamatite and District Churches Past & Present, Ada Rudd, ISBN 0 646 16406 6 

(6)    Copy of will available from R Sullivan or Mrs C Griffin