Mary Ann's Last Trip

Mary Ann's Last Trip

Mary Ann's Last Trip

Mary Ann's Last Trip -

Mary Ann (Ryles) Griffin died when the Empress of Ireland sank in the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada on 29 May 1914.

This raised a number of questions:

  • Why did she embark on an 'unaccompanied' round-the-world trip, even though she had a 13 year old daughter and other older children at home?
  • Why wasn't her name on the passenger list? (Perhaps not so strange, a number of others weren't either.)
  • How did her family know she'd died? OK, she had probably written a note or postcard home telling them she was on the Empress of Ireland.
  • Why didn't the SA newspapers pick up the fact that a second South Australian had died in the disaster?

It now appears that she was accompanied on the trip, by William John Richardson, and was booked on the Empress of Ireland as his wife. Richardson was apparently estranged from his wife Ellen who died in 1942 (not on the Empress of Ireland).

Richardson's travel was as follows:

  • Adelaide to Sydney by rail Wednesday 4 Mar 1914.
  • Sydney to Vancouver on Makura, 9 Mar 1914 via Auckland (14th), Suva (17th) and Honolulu (25th), arriving Victoria and Vancouver, BC on 1 Apr 1914.
  • 8 weeks in Canada and USA (presumably).
  • Board Empress of Ireland, 28 May 1914.
  • The tickets for Mr. & Mrs. W. J. Richardson were bought in Vancouver BC, leading to the misleading impression - possibly deliberate - that they were from Vancouver.

We have no record of Mary Ann's travel, except that there is a Mrs. Griffin on the Makura. There's no Richardson listed among the passengers, but as reported in the Register on 27 July 1914 (from a Cook's Travel representative): "It is recorded that on March 9 Mr. Richardson engaged a berth by the Makura from Sydney to Vancouver only.".

William John Richardson was a brickmaker, builder and landlord who lived in Hindmarsh, less that a mile from the Griffins in Brompton. He was also councillor for the Brompton ward around 1908 and secretary of the Master Brickmakers' Association, and Mary Ann's late husband was also a brickmaker in the area. Mary Ann must have known him. Socially and financially, they were a match - both had estates worth several thousand pounds after their deaths. Both were seemingly very respectable people. (It's quite possible that Mary Ann had dealings with Richardson in winding up her husband's brickmaking business after his death in 1905, and/or selling off various plots of land consequently.)

It's evident that several people in Adelaide - including relatives of the pair - must have known what had happened, even if they didn't know about the liaison prior to the trip. Her descendants were told she died on the Empress of Ireland, but that's about all. Those relatives who knew were presumably mortified, and kept it very quiet.

The fact of her death was known early - probate was granted on 17 Aug 1914, about 11 weeks after her death. One feels that providing evidence for establishing probate would have been difficult without the details of the matter being known.

The following article is taken from Some of the facts are disputable, but it appears to be largely correct.

William John Richardson 1855 - 1914

Submitted by Nicki Cobb

William Richardson was born about 1855 in the colony of South Australia. He was an enigmatic figure and his early life is somewhat of a mystery, for there are no records of his birth in South Australia or his migration to that state. Our first knowledge of him dates from March 2, 1882, when he married Ellen Margaret Murray, an 18-year-old South Australian. Family folklore says he was a very pious man, so religious that he would not even let his cart drivers water their horses outside a pub as this was sinful.

William must have had a keen business sense, for he owned a variety of enterprises including a brick factory, numerous rental houses and other properties. At the time of his death, his estate was valued at over £20,000, which would have made him a millionaire by today's standards. He was also interested in local politics, and became a council member and alderman for Hindmarsh.

The couple had six children, of which five lived to adulthood. Their first son, Murray Cecil Richardson, was born in 1883 and died in 1953. A year later a second son, my great-grandfather Walter Leonard Oswald Richardson was born; he was followed by two daughters, both born in 1886: Gladys (d. 1895) and Dora (d. 1939). Gordon William Richardson, the next son, was born in 1890 and was killed in action in France in 1916. Dick Bruce Richardson, the last son, was born in 1894 and died in 1956. Like Gordon, Dick enlisted in the Australian infantry and saw service at Gallipoli in Turkey. His war experiences turned him into an alcoholic on his return to Australia.

After Dick's birth in 1894, William and Ellen Margaret became estranged. She was a heavy drinker whom he used to lock out of the house as he did not approve of her drinking. Despite this, she lived to the ripe old age of 78 in a home that he provided for her. At the time of William's death on the Empress of Ireland, they were still legally married.

At some point, William appears to have taken a mistress, although this is hard to reconcile with his fervent religion. In any case, at the age of 59 William decided to embark on a world tour with his companion. The couple--traveling as Mr. and Mrs. Richardson--sailed across the Pacific to Vancouver, British Columbia. There, William booked two 2nd-class tickets for the RMS Empress of Ireland, following which he and his companion traveled eastward by train to Montreal. In Montreal, they caught the Empress Train which brought passengers to Quebec City, where they boarded the Empress of Ireland, bound for Europe.

William John Richardson and his companion did not survive the sinking of the Empress and their bodies were never recovered. As to the identity of the "Mrs. Richardson" accompanying William, we finally know who she was. Historian Geoff Whitfield who has been working on the passengers and crews list of the Empress of Ireland for many, many years, came upon new information on the mysterious Mrs. Richardson, her name was Mary Ann Griffin.