The Herstory of Rebecca Bond: Widowing On
The rigours and temptations of colonial life resulted in many widows. With no state welfare system, they had to do whatever it took to support themselves and their sometimes numerous children. Such a one was Rebecca Bond.
She was born in Melbourne in 1843, and in 1862 when aged 19 she married George Bond. Their first child was born the next year and they joined the gold-rush to Queenstown. At Arthurs Point George was involved in constructing a toll bridge (1 shilling for a pedestrian, 2 shillings and 6 pence for a horse and load.)
In 1867 they sold the bridge and set up the Empire Hotel at Cardrona. But troubles were brewing. George became involved in some unsuccessful gold-mining ventures. In 1869 much of the hotel burnt down. It was not insured, but somehow they were able to rebuild it.
Simultaneously, the birth of twins brought the number of children to five, and two more children were born in the next three years. How did she manage a hotel as well? Especially when George became his own best customer in the bar. She certainly had her hands full!
Problems compounded due to George’s drinking and financial troubles. In 1876 he spent a few days in Clyde hospital, perhaps to dry out. Then he discharged himself, went to a hotel in Cromwell and disappeared. His body was found several days later in the Clutha River downstream at Roxburgh.
When a vivid report in the Dunstan Times implied that he had committed suicide when drunk, Rebecca responded vehemently, writing to the newspaper to protest at the report’s ‘illiberality and recklessness for the feelings of his family.’
Widowed: Thus, at the age of 32, Rebecca was a widow with a hotel and seven children.
There were no buyers for the hotel as Cardrona was by then in decline. In 1880 she had to walk away. Undaunted, she moved to Arrowtown and took up the lease of the Ballarat Hotel. Here she and the children were able to lead a settled life.
Her ability was such that in 1885 she was appointed by Mary Malaghan (a businesswoman and widow of Michael Malaghan) to manage her handsome new hotel in Queenstown on the corner of Rees and Beach Streets. This was the Mountaineer Hotel, and we can still admire its façade which was has been preserved. At this time, all the hotels in Queenstown were run by widows, as were many elsewhere in the district.
Rebecca established the Mountaineer’s reputation as a well-run hotel for tourists, and she remained there until 1893 when she moved to the Crescent Hotel in Invercargill for a further ten years of hotel management.
By widowing on, she had overcome adversary and built a successful life.
Sources: Lake Wakatip Mail and Dunstan Times accessed from www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz
Family file in the Lakes District Museum
Article by Julia Bradshaw in Queenstown Courier Issue 62, 1999, available at www.queenstownhistoricalsociety.org.nz
Credit for photos: Lakes District Museum
For more information visit: www.queenstownhistoricalsociety.org.nz.