Burial register ID: 16017
Surname: BAILES
First name: MARY
Middle names:
Gender: Female
Age: 87 Years
Cause of death: Unknown
Burial type:
Date of death: 17-Feb-1939
Date of burial: 20-Feb-1939

Block: 32
Plot: 39

Bio contributor: Amanda Kennedy

Mary Bailes (1851-1939)

Mary Bailes (née Thomson) was born in Whithorn, Scotland. She started working as a domestic when she was 12, and by 20 she had risen to be a cook in the home of a London businessman. When she was 23 she married Jack Bailes, a printer. A year later, in 1875, they sailed with their infant daughter Maggie to Dunedin. The young couple tried to farm on the Otago Peninsula but were unsuccessful. Then they settled in North-East Valley. Things looked rosy for a while. They saved enough to build a cottage, then leased pastures for cows and ran a milk-delivery service. But this didn’t last. Jack had begun to drink a lot and often spent all the money they made on alcohol. In Victorian New Zealand there was a lot of alcoholism, especially among men.

By 1885 Mary had borne seven children, but two had died in infancy, which devastated her. Moreover, Jack had many debts, so he decided to sell the dairy, house and household goods to repay them. Then he left the family and went to Australia.

Mary now had six living children and had to support the family alone. Usually, if a woman had been abandoned she could get some aid from charities, because without a male breadwinner it was recognised that she would struggle to support her children alone. Women’s work, in factories or as a servant, was paid badly, much less than men in similar work. But Mary was refused charitable aid because the appeal board couldn’t believe that her husband wasn’t supporting her. So she put her sewing skills to good use. She became a seamstress and sewed long hours. She rented a cottage in York Place to be nearer her customers. Her daughter Esther had to leave school to help her struggling mother. She worked for up to 12 hours a day for two shillings and sixpence a week, a very small amount. Her other daughter, Ethel, apprenticed to two dressmakers for no pay and she also did piecework at a stocking factory.

Jack returned from Australia and tried to help, but was unable to get his business ideas off the ground. Mary, however, was able to stop sewing when she became the manager of a shop and refreshment rooms, and by 1903 she had saved enough money to build ‘Fairview’ cottage, ‘a home of our own’ at last, in North-East Valley. Then Mary saw a new opportunity when a 12-room building in St David Street was available for rent. She signed the lease and made it into a boarding house for out-of-town mothers. She gained a reputation for giving good service and value, and her business flourished. Most working women at the turn of the century were employed as domestic servants, in factories, or in shops, but a few owned their own small businesses, like Mary. Usually they worked as music teachers or dressmakers, or kept lodging-houses, tearooms or shops.

Mary’s two daughters got married, and she must have been relieved that their husbands turned out to be ‘good providers’. This happiness for her family was overshadowed by the death of her son Tom in World War One, and Ethel’s death in the 1918 influenza epidemic. Mary reunited with Jack, who had overcome his alcoholism and eventually became a Presbyterian elder. They lived together in a cottage in Ravensbourne for 17 years before Jack died in 1938. Mary died a year later.

— Mary Bailes’ life-story is told by her daughter in the book Scottish Mother, 1975

— Other recorded burials at this site:
John BAILES d. 1879,
Eliza BAILES d. 1885,
and John BAILES d. 1938 (husband of Mary).

— See: Southern People: A Dictionary of Otago Southland Biography

There are 4 Interments in this grave:

Surname First names Age Date of death Date of burial
BAILES ELIZA MARY 2 Years 20-Jan-1885 21-Jan-1885
BAILES JOHN EDWARD ISAAC 8 Months 21-Nov-1879 23-Nov-1879
BAILES JOHN PHILIP 86 Years 07-Feb-1938 08-Feb-1938
BAILES MARY 87 Years 17-Feb-1939 20-Feb-1939