Mystery of the little kidnapped girl who lived in Bundaberg

Mary Harwood (not pictured) was only young when she was taken from her family and eventually taken to Australia.
Mary Harwood (not pictured) was only young when she was taken from her family and eventually taken to Australia. alkir

IT SOUNDS like a movie script.

In the 1800s, a young girl is kidnapped and brought to Australia as a servant.

That girl - Mary Caroline Harwood - would come to live in Bundaberg and during the Second World War penned a letter from her Barolin Rd home detailing the events of her past.

Mrs Harwood's story began in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England where she was born in the 1870s.

As a little girl, she remembered her mother telling her to go out and play. It would be the last time she would see her family.

In her June 30, 1942 letter, Mrs Harwood wrote to a Miss Peckover at a banking house in Cambridgeshire, believing that her family may have done business with them.

"The people whom I wish to know where I am, may have banking business with your banking house or has had, and it's possible that you do know their present address and can let them know my address," her letter read.


An old photo of Wisbech, England.
An old photo of Wisbech, England.

In her handwritten letter, Mrs Harwood goes on to describe the chilling moment she was kidnapped at the age of four or five between 1878 and 1879.

"A big, cross-eyed boy came and dragged me away," she said.

"I did not go freely with him, I ran away trying to get home to mama, but jumping over the gutter to the path, I slipped and fell - then he caught me and picked me up.

"But before he got me across the road toward the canal, I, in my efforts to try to prevent this, I threw myself down and with my left hand pushed on the road trying to stop him from taking me away."

Mrs Harwood goes on to say that she resisted and tried to hold on until her hand was torn and bleeding.

"I cried for mama, mama, and pleaded to be let go," she writes.

"He seemed to then listen to my pleading, but wouldn't let me go."


A page of the letter where Mary Harwood details being kidnapped.
A page of the letter where Mary Harwood details being kidnapped. Crystal Jones

The boy, Richard Britton, took her over a sluice bridge then along a canal to his mother's home.

Richard's family had at some time lived nearby Mrs Harwood's family.

Mrs Harwood remembered one day before the kidnapping when she had been sitting on a chair looking at a newspaper, and told Richard's mother, who was visiting, that she didn't like her.

Mrs Harwood's mother reprimanded her daughter, but later, when carrying her to bed, stopped on the stairs to give her a kiss goodnight.

"I shall never forget that loving kiss," she said.


Randall Thomas Davidson is said to have visited Gin Gin looking for a woman lost as a child.
Randall Thomas Davidson is said to have visited Gin Gin looking for a woman lost as a child.

In another twist linking the mystery to the region, according to Mrs Harwood, an archbishop, believed to be Randall Davidson, visited Gin Gin in the early 1900s.

"His grace was looking for a lady that was lost in childhood," Mrs Harwood wrote.

It's not known if he was looking for Mrs Harwood, but it would seem their paths never crossed.

Mrs Harwood went on to mention the "crafty, evil trickery", "dishonourable actions" and "brutism" of a Willie Britton, who she accused of drugging people's drinks with strychnine with the purposes of "adultery".

The 1871 census for Wisbech lists a family with Richard and Mora as parents of three children - Richard, John and William, who may be the Willie Britton Mrs Harwood mentions.

"His visitors, if not very careful, might be doped in tea or in other drinks. In this, he will try to escape by trying to get someone else to pass the drink to his intended victim," she wrote.


An old postcard from the town Mary Harwood went missing.
An old postcard from the town Mary Harwood went missing.

Mrs Harwood's letter ended up in the possession of a distant relative of Victorian woman Trillia Robinson, who has tried to research Mrs Harwood's past with little luck.

Ms Robinson sought records for the Brittons and Mrs Harwood's arrival in Australia but the mystery only deepened.

In 1978, the State Library of South Australia said they had no record of the family's arrival, only three people who came over with the last name Brittain, but no mention of a Mary.

The library referred Ms Robinson's query to Queensland.

Then Queensland state archivist PD Wilson told Ms Robinson an entry for a Will Britton accompanied by a young girl named Mary was found, showing their arrival in Maryborough in 1888.

William, 16, was listed as a farm labourer, while Mary, 14, was listed as a domestic servant.

No one knows if Mrs Harwood ever found her family, but Ms Robinson is hopeful someone in Bundaberg may be able to add another piece to the puzzle.

"Maybe there's someone out there who remembers a little, white-haired old lady called Mary," she said.

Barolin St or Rd?

The mystery of Mary Harwood may have opened up another mystery in the region - the naming of Barolin St and Barolin Rd.

According to Bundaberg Library, minutes from an old street name register make mention of Barolin St, but not of Barolin Rd:

"Minutes of Meeting held on 19th June, 1958. It was further Resolved on the Motion of Ald. Salter, seconded by Ald. Milliken, that in order to save confusion caused by part of this street being known as "Fresh Water Elliott Road", that Barolin Street be known in future throughout its length to the City Boundary, as Barolin Street."

Trove lists Barolin Rd in newspaper articles up until 1954 (as far as Trove goes) but perhaps 1958 is when the street became official.

There's no confirmation if Barolin Rd and Barolin St were one and the same.

Can you shed light on the mystery?


Topics:  bundaberg editors picks kidnap

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Sharing cultures through food

DIG IN: Lockyer Valley Community Centre volunteers at the Harmony Day food tasting

Community centre hosts Harmony Day event

Gordon reflects on farming life in the Lockyer

LOOKING BACK: Laidley's Gordon Niebling says he has loved his farming life and living in the Lockyer Valley.

The self-proclaimed 'Jack of all trades”, Gordon Niebling.

Clare Atkinson Journalism Scholarship needs your support

IN HONOUR: Brightview's Lesley Atkinson is urging the public to help continue the Clare Atkinson Memorial Scholarship.

Help continue Clare Atkinson's legacy and the future of journalism.

Local Partners