Cathy Davies. New South Wales Regional Meeting.
Joseph and Hannah May, their five sons and six daughters and Joseph’s brother, Henry (described as ‘of weak intellect’) migrated to South Australia on the ‘Anna Robertson’ in 1839. Joseph, Hannah & Henry were aged in their 50s. Joseph had been a chemist in England.
A contemporary described them thus: “They were a Quaker family of the olden time, and had brought with them from the old country the language, manners and principles and to some extent the dress of the early Friends, and here they began their colonial life, farming, gardening and dairying, all putting their shoulders to the wheel, even the little girls helping. And what a life it was. The work was all new to them, for they were town, not country people.”
Many accounts exist in letters & journals written by various family members of how valued and central to their lives, Meeting for Worship was. The Mount Barker Meeting House is placed central in the embroidery. The Mays were prime movers in the building of the Mount Barker Meeting House and formed the core of the Meeting.
The embroidery shows a bride and groom at the gateway to the Meeting House. Four from the May family were married in the Meeting House. The first wedding in 1855 was of Elizabeth May to William Sanders. The names of all of Joseph and Hannah May’s children appear below the wedding scene.
The May family was instrumental in ensuring the survival of Quakers in South Australia, especially as each child (except Thomas) married another member of the Society of Friends.
At this time there was no structure for applying for membership, so if a couple wished to marry and one of them were not already a member of the Society of Friends the non-Quaker was not able to become a Quaker. The Quaker partner was disowned for ‘marrying-out’ by their meeting of origin in England. The first acceptance into membership in South Australia was not until 1850. Disownment was drastic and cruel, particularly in Australia where there were insufficient young marriageable Quakers. The Society of Friends became at risk of dying out. This Quaker law was changed in 1858 by London Yearly Meeting.
The Aboriginal domestic scene, the May home “Fairfield’ and Acts 17:26 which was quoted by William May after helping in a traditional Aboriginal funeral ceremony, depicts the harmony and mutual respect held one for the other.
After seven years of living in temporary accommodation on the farm, “Fairfield” was built to house the large family. The welcoming May family at “Fairfield” became known as a gathering place for Friends from overseas as well as for Friends visiting from other Australian Meetings.
Great to see the May Tapestry. Joseph and Hannah May are my great great great grandparents. Where is the tapestry held? I would love to see it if it is available for public viewing.
All our panels are kept with one of the people who embroidered it, on the assumption that if many 100s of hours have been spent on it that person will care for it more than if kept in a building with all the other finished panels. I thought I would telephone you to explain this but you are not in the Quaker address book so couldn’t do so. Could you email me with your details including your address and I will get hold of the person who holds the May panel and give her your information.
Hi Cathy, I am also related to Joseph and Hannah May (great great grandfather) I would also love to be able to see this work. Regards Bruce Robinson email firstname.lastname@example.org
I also am a descendant of Joseph and Hannah May (3X great grandparents).
There is to be a public exhibition of all of the completed panels at the Moonah Arts Centre in Tasmania from August 2nd to 24th, 2019. Check with Moonah site at http://wwwmoonahartscentre.org.au
I hope that you will be able to attend
Hi Bruce, I tried your email but it didnt work. Would love to get it contact regarding our family tree. I’m hoping this works. Please contact me at email@example.com
I wondering if you may be able to help me? I am trying to trace Margaret, who was the second wife of Tilney Cotton. I am also very interested in reading more on the History of Quakers in South Australia.
Hello, I am doing some research on the May Family and would love to know the address of their home, of ‘Fairfield’ and of the Mount Barker Meeting House. If anyone knows of the street address of these places, could you please reply. Thank you in advance.