Mary Hyde - Life - Widow

Widow

When her husband Simeon Lord died in 1840, Mary had a mourning brooch made containing her husband's woven hair in a gold setting with a border of half-pearls. Simeon, the legal holder of the couple's wealth, had died an “immensely wealthy man”. Under the terms of the will, Mary, a woman, was made executor of the estate. Lord's estate was divided between his wife and 8 children, the youngest of who was 18. Mary became one of the wealthiest women in the colony. Hyde then lived about another 24 years as a widow, and continued to reside in the family home until her death.

After her husband's death, in addition to managing large livestock and landholdings, Mary continued the manufacturing business in the factory at Botany. She employed many local people in the milling and dressing of cloth, and in the making of hats, stockings, leather, shoes, candles and harnesses, until the business had to be closed due to the flooding of part of her Botany property and the loss of the stream which drove the mill.

Beginning in 1855, in litigation worthy of her late husband, Mary sued the Commissioners of the City of Sydney. In July 1855, by notification in the Government Gazette of Colonial Act of the 17 Vic, No. 33, entitled "An Act for supplying the City of Sydney, and portions of the Suburbs thereof, with Water", approximately 75 acres (300,000 m2) were resumed for a reserve for a water supply for Sydney. The land resumed including land owned by Mary on which stood her woollen mill. Compensation was offered, but the amount offered was disputed as unreasonable. Under the Colonial Act, questions of disputed compensation are tried in the form of an action brought against the Commissioners. In order to gain reasonable compensation for this resumption the then 76-year-old Mary took the Commissioners of the City of Sydney to the Supreme Court of New South Wales. "For thirty one and a half acres, with a mill, a dwelling-house, some outbuildings, and water privileges, Mrs. Mary Lord claimed £30,000." In December 1855, in the third and last action taken by residents whose land had been resumed, she partially won her case.

The two cases that were heard before Mary's case, and which had established Mary's right to compensation for the deprivation of her land, buildings, and enough water to provide the motive power to run her mill, were Darvall V. The City Commissioners that was heard by Mr. Justice Dickinson in October 1855, and Edward Lord V. The City Commissioners that was heard by Mr. Justice Dickinson in November 1855. For the loss of 12 acres (49,000 m2) and buildings the jury returned a verdict for Darvall of damages of £3200; and contingent damages of £800 in the event of the plaintiff establishing at law his claim to the use of water. Mr. Justice Dickinson ruled that plaintiff, having no mill that was deprived of its motive power, was not entitled to damages to the use of the water, but that this could only be decided by a decision by the full court, on appeal. For the loss of 11 acres (45,000 m2) and buildings and the motive power of water to his mill, the jury returned a verdict for Edward Lord of damages for £11,000; and contingent damages of £4,000 for the loss of water for other purposes than those of his mill, namely, for possible wool washing, and other purposes. Mr. Justice Dickinson ruled that the use of the water for possible wool washing was incompatible with the terms of the original land grant, but that this could only be decided by a decision by the full court, on appeal.

Held over two days, Mary's case included the special jury of twelve travelling from the court house to Botany to view the land that had been resumed. Unquestioned was Mary's right to compensation for the deprivation of her land, buildings, and enough water to provide the motive power to run her mill. The jury assessed the damages for these at £11,460. What was still in question was her right for damages for the deprivation of water for other purposes like the use of her machinery. The jury, under instructions from the judge Mr. Justice Dickinson, assessed contingent damages for the loss of additional water usage at another £7,200 - but only if Mary had been entitled to the undisturbed use of the water that, previous to the resumption by the Commissioners of the City of Sydney, had been flowing from the land further upstream owned by her son Edward Lord. As in the previous cases, whether Mary had been entitled to the undisturbed use of the water was something that Mr. Justice Dickinson ruled could only be decided by a decision by the full court, on appeal.

The amount of damages of £11,460 awarded to Hyde were reduced after further action by the Commissioners. They did not question the amount of damages on the land and buildings that had been awarded against them, but they did question the amount of damages on the water for the motive power for the mill. The Supreme Court directed a new trial unless Mary agreed to reduce the amount of the damages that she had been awarded, to which she consented. The fight was not yet over, however, as there was still the issue of the contingent damages of £7,200 to which she believed she was entitled.

Showing her pertinacity, Mary appealed her case to the Privy Council in England, the final court of appeal then available to a British subject living in the Colony of New South Wales. The judgment of the Lords of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on the appeal of Mary Lord v. Commissioners for the City of Sydney was delivered on 12 February 1859, after Mary had turned 80 years of age. News of the verdict took over two months to reach Australia, but Mary had been awarded the final £7,200 and her costs. Lord Kingsdown (Judge of the Admiralty Court), Lord Justice Knight Bruce, Sir Edward Ryan, and Sir John Taylor Coleridge had decided, despite contrary arguments from the defendants, that Mary had been entitled to the undisturbed use of the water on her land that had been resumed, and that she was entitled to the extra £7,200 compensation. Her total compensation as a result of the court actions was now over £15,600.

Historical research would need to be done to establish if Mary has an even more important place in Australian history. Due to the prohibitive circumstances under which Australian women were living legally and socially, and that for anyone living in Australia prior to or during the Victorian era it was expensive and geographically difficult to appeal a case in England, Mary is perhaps the first, and possibly only, female and/or female convict, to have taken a legal case from New South Wales to the Privy Council.

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