Eirian digs deep to tell tale

Author Eirian Jones (centre), with Margaret's great-niece, Bronwen Hall (left), and Audrey Dillon, comes to Ipswich to launch her book, The Welsh Lady from Canaan.
Author Eirian Jones (centre), with Margaret's great-niece, Bronwen Hall (left), and Audrey Dillon, comes to Ipswich to launch her book, The Welsh Lady from Canaan. Rob Williams

WELSH migrant Margaret Jones received only three weeks of schooling during her childhood.

Many lessons, however, were learnt on her travels as an adult, which eventually led to married life in Ipswich.

Author Eirian Jones, also from Wales, devoted four years to researching and writing about the gutsy 19th century woman who spent years on missionary work in Jerusalem and Morocco.

Last week Eirian visited the grave of her subject in the Ipswich Cemetery.

Margaret's letters talk of locust plagues, cholera epidemics and death threats, and form the basis of Eirian's book, The Welsh Lady from Canaan.

"Margaret Jones was born in March 1842 in Rhosllannerchrugog, north Wales," Ms Jones said.

"It's been a joy to research her fascinating life.

"I came to Australia to thank in person the people who helped me piece her story together."

In modern terms, the land of Canaan, in the Middle East, extends from Lebanon southward to Egypt and eastward to the Jordan Valley.

"Margaret published two Welsh language books and spent time living on five continents," Ms Jones said.

"We get a vivid picture of Margaret's personality from her letters. It's clear she wasn't sheltered."

Health problems forced Margaret to return to Britain in 1869 at the age of 26.

"Her father decided to publish her letters in a book to pay for her treatment," Ms Jones said.

Several thousand of these books were sold.

"She became a travelling lecturer and visited all parts of Wales," Ms Jones said

"Margaret's fame was growing by the week."

At 37, she again had the yearning for travel and took off to Morocco where she worked for three years.

"Margaret often writes bluntly and cares little about what people think," Ms Jones said.

"She is very interested in the treatment of slaves.

"Many women were raped by their new masters."

Margaret records that six to eight pounds would buy a female slave in good condition.

"Margaret emigrated to Queensland in 1889 and lived in Ipswich," Ms Jones said. "Her half-sister, Mary Anne, had already emigrated.

"Margaret worked for Central Congregational Church and, six months into her job, she had had enough of saving souls."

She met her future husband James Josey, an Englishman who had been exiled in Australia for 15 years.

"He started a business sawing wood at Pine Mountain," Ms Jones said.

"James became a very rich man. He built Eden Station (where Springfield now stands), which sadly no longer exists.

"He was known as the father of Redbank Plains."

Margaret spent 10 years as a "good wife" before dying in 1902 at 60 years of age.

"She was buried at Ipswich Cemetery and James died three months later," Ms Jones said.

Ipswich Genealogical Society vice president Audrey Dillon said women in Margaret's time rarely travelled alone, as she did.

"Their life was so controlled. Women were seen and not heard," she said.

The downloadable e-book version of The Welsh Lady from Canaan is available on amazon.com.

Topics:  books reading wales

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