Remembering three Launceston watchmaker widows

Reflecting on International Women’s Day, celebrated every year on 8 March, inspired the latest Hands of Time blog. We remember and honour three remarkable Launceston watchmaker widows: Hannah Abbott, Martha Allen, and Lucy Vaughan. Following their husbands’ deaths, the three women were instrumental in continuing clock and watchmaking businesses in Launceston.

Having personally experienced gender stereotypes in business over the past 30 years, I can only imagine the challenges they would have faced in an era when women in management were not the norm. Their enterprising spirit and courage are truly admirable.

Hannah Abbott
Hannah Marshall, daughter of shoemaker John Marshall and his wife Elizabeth of Terling, Essex, England, emigrated at 13 with her parents and six siblings in 1855. They arrived in Tasmania as Bounty Immigrants on the ship Whirlwind on 13 March 1855. The arrival record noted Hannah as a nursemaid, the family’s religion as Independent, and Baptist Minister Henry Dowling as their sponsor. On 1 July 1863, Hannah married watchmaker William Abbott, the third son of Hobart clock and watchmaker Francis Abbott. Before their marriage, William had already established himself in a watchmaking business in Launceston. Hannah and William had at least seven children between 1863 and 1879; during these years, Hannah lost significant family members: her parents and her sister Ann, and in May 1871, a daughter aged one day old, with the cause of death recorded as ‘weakness.’

After the death of her husband from lung disease on 15 July 1887 at his Brisbane Street residence, Hannah Abbott, now about 45 years old, took on the responsibility of continuing their 30-year-old business. With her son Arthur by her side, she bravely advertised their commitment to the trade. Hannah’s dedication to the business and her community is a testament to her strength; she lived for 36 more years and died at 10 Lord Street, Launceston, on 11 August 1923. Arthur Abbott continued the watchmaking, jewellery, and silversmith business at 79 Brisbane Street and later relocated to Crabtree’s Corner on the corner of St John and York Streets, Launceston.

Advertisement heading – Hannah Abbott, Daily Telegraph 24 December 1889.

Martha Allen
Born on 20 May 1845 at Franklin Village, Launceston, Martha Millington was the daughter of farmer William Millington and his wife May Ann (formerly Jex). On 3 June 1866, she married London clock and watchmaker William Henry Allen at the Registrar’s Office in Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria. By this time, William had been working in the watchmaking business in Charles Street, Launceston, for about two years. William and Martha had at least five children in the 1860s and 1870s and moved the business to Brisbane Street in 1869.

An old injury from a clock weight falling on his head had a tragic outcome for William; he died in October 1877 from a brain abscess at his residence in High St, Launceston. Martha, aged in her early 40s and a mother of five, with the youngest only six months old, announced she had employed a first-class workman from Melbourne and would continue the business. Over the following decade, Martha employed more staff, altered and improved the business premises, added optical services, and travelled regularly to Melbourne to select stock. In the late 1880s, she employed watchmaker and jeweller Foster Coulson from New South Wales, who managed the business for a few months following her death at 51 on 14 October 1896 at George Street, Launceston. William and Martha’s son, Albert William Jex Allen, followed in the trade and opened a business in Ulverstone. The Allen enterprise spanned over three decades and employed many skilled tradespeople, including Josiah Marriott, Foster Walter Coulson, Edward Alfred Joyce, John Malachi Proctor, and Thomas Henry Wathen.

Martha Allen advertisement,
The Examiner (Launceston) 3 November 1877.

Lucy Vaughan
Born in about 1846 in Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, to perfumer and hairdresser George Pearce and his wife Susanna, Lucy Pearce connected with the watchmaking world when she married 21-year-old watchmaker Frederick Vaughan on 13 April 1865 at St James, Bristol, Gloucestershire. Six years later, they emigrated to Australia with three young children and arrived in Melbourne on 17 August 1871. Their family grew with the addition of at least ten more children, all born in Victoria, where they initially settled. Twenty years after their arrival, Frederick and Lucy moved to Launceston and purchased watchmaker and jeweller Powell Evan’s business on Brisbane Street. The enterprise moved to 112 Elizabeth Street two years later before settling at 104 Charles Street, a residence and workplace, in 1896. Frederick died from heart failure in his 60th year on 3 January 1907 at 104 Charles Street. Lucy Vaughan, now in her early 60s, employed a skilled workman and managed the business for the next thirteen years. In 1920, she sold to jeweller and clockmaker Wilfred H Fletcher and at some stage moved to Victoria, where she died at her daughter’s home in Horsham on 26 February 1936.

Marriage record, Frederick Vaughan & Lucy Pearce, 13 April 1865.
Ref: Ancestry.

The three women became watchmaker widows, business managers, and employers and were all mothers. Their input into Launceston’s business community provided employment and essential services for its citizens.
Hats off to Hannah, Martha, and Lucy!

© Sallie Mulligan, March 2024.