2 May 2023

Riverina Rewind: A studio portrait and a tragic midnight ride

| Michelle Maddison
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Woman at chair

Margaret Augusta Johnston. Photo: Museum of the Riverina.

This week from the Museum of the Riverina’s collection, we have a formal studio portrait, dating to c. 1879.

The woman in the photograph was born on 12 August, 1821, to James McGarrity and Mary Keenan Megarrity in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.

Margaret emigrated to Australia as a young woman and on 29 June, 1841, married William Johnston at St Thomas’ Church of England, Mulgoa, NSW.

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Together, they had 13 children – twins Louis C and Marion (b. 1842), Thomas James (b. 1844), Fanny Louisa Rebecca (b. 1846), William Augustus (b. 1848), Andrew (b. 1851), Robert J. (b. 1853), Margaret Augusta (b. 1855), Eleanor ”Ellena” (b. 1867 and died that same year), Edward Charles (b. 1858), Janet E. (1860-61), Charles (b. 1861) and Henry Albert (b. 1863).

About 1874, the family settled in Brucedale, on the outskirts of Wagga, where William made his living farming.

Tragedy struck on 16 October, 1879, when William was around 60 and was found dead on the road from Wallacetown to the Junee railway station.

Junee farmer Abraham Lord was riding along the road when he found William lying on the ground on his side, and on closer examination found that he had died. He had sustained bruises to his body and head, and it was thought that he had been thrown from his horse.

A post in a nearby fence had been knocked almost out of the ground and William’s horse was found nearby on the same side of the fence.

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An inquest into his death was held the following day, with District Coroner Frederick Anslow Tompson hearing the evidence, which included a post-mortem examination by Dr Erasmus Wren.

It was determined that William had been riding along the road between Junee and Wallacetown in the dark when he struck a wire fence.

As it had no top rail, it was invisible to both the rider and his horse, and William was thrown to the ground where he landed head-first, fracturing his skull and dying instantly.

Sadly, Margaret was at that time in Sydney attending to a relative who was dangerously ill.

Margaret lived at Brucedale until her own death in 1901, when she died at the family residence at the ripe old age of 80.

On her death, The Wagga Wagga Advertiser wrote: ”She was well known and respected by a large circle of friends in the district.”

Margaret left behind a family of six sons and three daughters. She is buried at the Monumental Cemetery, Wagga.

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