Marion Curedale’s mugshot, Courtesy of the State Records Office WA

Marion Curedale’s mugshot, Courtesy of the State Records Office WA

Who Was Marion Curedale?

Mary Ann Herdman was born in East Stonehouse, Devon, England, in 1844. She was one of six children born to William, a gunner in the Royal Artillery, and his Irish wife Ellen.

After 22 years of exemplary service William, suffering chronic rheumatism, left the army and, in October 1851, came to WA aboard the convict ship Minden, as an Enrolled Pensioner Guard. Here, the family’s name was recorded as Hardman.

After a few years, William entered into partnership with George Curedale, a Lancashire-born cotton manufacturer who arrived in WA in January 1858 on the convict transport Nile, having been convicted of forging and uttering. William operated in Perth; George in Rocky Bay (Mosman Park today). Together they leased the rights to quarry stone from the north side of the Swan River; beautiful limestone from which many fine Perth homes and buildings were built.

By 1862 William had set up a shop on central St George’s Terrace selling lime, wood, and the stone from his partnership with George Curedale. They then established a well-frequented passenger and cartage service between Perth and Fremantle. They were doing well.

In July 1862 George Curedale (36) married William’s daughter, Mary Ann (19), and the first of their children was born in 1865.

Theirs was an affectionate marriage and George and Marion, as she was then called, had 25 children in all, though only seven survived to adulthood.

Aside from the stone lease, George had a fruit and green-grocery shop in Fremantle. In 1881 he bought 82 acres of land three miles from the centre of Fremantle (towards Beaconsfield today), and with imported vines, established a fledgling vineyard on what is, today, Curedale Street.

In April 1887 George, who had been complaining of heart trouble, sold his vineyard to George Davies. George allowed the family to stay, for the time being.

But just after lunch on 15 August George (61) came into their cottage, kissed Marion, climbed into the loft and quietly died.

Marion (43) was soon evicted. Records show at that time she had up to nine surviving children, ranging in age from one to 22. She applied for support from the Colonial Secretary’s Office but seven months later, on 19 March 1888, a small line in The Daily News heralded Marion’s inexorable descent: “This morning Marion Curedale, charged as a loose and idle character, was dismissed with a caution.”

Three days later she stole a bottle of brandy from the Emerald Isle Hotel and spent a month in prison. Within a year she was sleeping in the old cemetery, a crime that saw her imprisoned for another three months.

Soon, her name appeared regularly, as she repeatedly appeared before the courts with multiple charges of stealing, vagrancy, disorderly conduct, habitual drunkenness, obscene language, and even for being a rogue and a vagabond. She was sent to prison for periods for between 24 hours and six months with hard labour each time, newspapers beginning to refer her as “disreputable-looking”, “a degenerate”, “wretched looking old woman”, even though she was just 53, then.

“Marion Curedale was charged with being an idle and disorderly person, and having no visible lawful means of support. The accused said that she had a home to live in, not a very grand one, but one that suited her. According to the evidence ... the accused had made her home frequently during the past six months out in the open, and was seldom in a sober condition ... A sentence of six months' imprisonment, with hard labor, was imposed.”

The Inquirer and Commercial News, 19 February 1897

What happened to the youngest of her children isn’t known but for Marion, the Salvation Army stepped in, briefly but unsuccessfully. By 1908 she had a long rap sheet and was ridiculed in the courts which knew her so well:

“A ‘lydy’ named Marion Curedale ‘toed the mark' at the Fremantle Police Court this week for the 38th time on a charge of drunkenness. As a reformative measure Marion was given 24 hours and advised to return to the Home of the Good Shepherd from whence she had come. She seems to be a ‘lydy’ who needs shepherding.”

Truth, 5 December 1908

And on Christmas Eve, 1909, Marion (65) met a violent end when she was butchered by her companion Thomas Thomas (30), after a night of drunken debauchery on the yacht Banshee.