Higgins, James Jerome and Mary Ann
James Jerome Higgins was born around 1809 in Dublin and his wife, Mary Ann (née Winton) in 1807. They are on the passenger list of the Lady East that arrived in Sydney on 15 November 1833. They had travelled cabin class from Liverpool via Hobart as unassisted immigrants. He was listed as a merchant. Sources on ancestry.com suggest they were probably married in London before they set sail in 1833.
By September the following year Higgins had applied for six allotments in Berrima, adjacent lots on three of the sections surveyed around the Market Place. These allotments were offered at a nominal price of £2 per acre but subject to competitive bidding. In the event, he only purchased one lot, Section 2 Lot 6 for £21/17/2, all the others going for prices between £9 to £24. Possibly these prices were too high for him at the time as he opted to establish a store just north of the settlement of Bong Bong on 100 acres of land belonging to William Saddlier (Saddleir) a retired private of the 17th Regiment of Foot who had purchased the land with the £25 granted to ex-service personnel in 1832. Advertisements for Higgins’ store appear in June 1835.
J.J. HIGGINS RESPECTFULLY informs the Inhabitants at Sutton Forest, Bong Bong, and the surrounding District, that he has opened a GENERAL STORE at Sutton Forest, where he will have constantly on Sale, Spirits, Wine, Bottled Ale and Porter, Groceries, Haberdashery, Stationery, and Clothing of every description. J.J. Higgins pledges himself that his Goods shall be of the best quality, and his charges moderate, and solicits the patronage of the above Settlement
Sutton Forest, May 30, 1835.
And though Higgins was a ‘new chum’ he reacted decisively to an attack on his home:
About ten days previously to the attack on Mr. Vincent, Mr. Higgins, a respectable new-comer settled about a mile from the parsonage, on the road side, and who keeps a wholesale store, was sitting in his front room along with Mrs. Higgins when the female servant came in at the back door, with terror in her looks, and almost at the same moment, Mr. Higgins perceived the ends of two muskets. He sprang to the door and closed it, but not in time to exclude the barrels, for one of them was jammed in the door against the doorpost. He called for his pistols, keeping the door firm, and having cocked one of them with his chin (the other hand being on the door), he essayed to point it in the opening between the edge of the door and the doorpost, which opening was made by the barrel of the musket, which the robber still maintained. But when the latter felt or saw Mr. Higgins’ movement, he drew back his musket with a jerk, and the door instantly closed. The thief still insisted on the door being opened, but after a parley, he began to speak in a subdued tone, and went away.
By 1837 Higgins was confident enough to make a move back in Berrima, opening a second store there. Several adverts for this new store appear, one in 1837 showing the range of his goods:
J. J. HIGGINS respectfully informs the inhabitants of Berrima, and the surrounding neighbourhood, that having completed his new Store, in the above Township, he will open the same on the 25th instant, with a general assortment of goods of all descriptions, including Brandy, Rum, Gin, Ale, Porter, Slop Clothing, Ironmongery, Delph and Groceries, Horse and Cattle Medicines, &c. J.J. Higgins takes this opportunity of returning his grateful thanks for the very liberal support he has received for the last two years, at his present store, Sutton Forest, and begs to say that the same system that has gained him his present patronage will be strictly adhered to, and pledges himself that both the Stores will be constantly supplied with the best description of goods and at the lowest possible prices.
Sutton Forest, 9th September, 1837.
In 1839 he expanded further, buying the adjacent lot for £50, suggesting the original owner had erected some sort of building. An advertisement in January 1841 states that James Jerome Higgins ’has Removed to his spacious new premises adjoining his late store, and has laid in a well-assorted stock of Merchandise’ and goes on to refer to it as the Commercial Stores.
Whether this is the same building that now occupies this site, straddling the boundary of the two original lots, is not known. The present house is one of the most attractive in the township: single-storey, built of dressed stone with well-proportioned windows and doors and with a hipped roof. Photos reveal it did once have two parallel roofs and though this is a common construction method in early buildings it could also indicate two phases of building. Possibly this building was also his residence. Certainly the couple needed more space: by the end of 1841 they had two boys and three girls and went on to have eleven children in all, eight surviving their parents.
Higgins’ standing in the community is confirmed by the fact that in 1843 he was elected as one of six men to sit on the District Council, a position he held for many years. Also by his being one of three persons holding land in trust for the erection of an Anglican church or chapel. The other Trustees were Henry Molesworth Oxley and William John Cordeaux, both notable landowners in the district. Throughout the 1840s and early 1850s his name appears regularly in the press relating to the functioning of the township: as a steward and treasurer of the Berrima Races, as treasurer of the Berrima Benevolent Society, as a leader in the push for an Anglican Church, as a member of the local School Board and from 1853 as coroner.
Higgins continued to prosper financially. In 1838 he became the postmaster securing a steady government salary and in 1840 he took out an auctioneer’s licence offering to ‘be ready at any time to proceed to any part of the Southern Districts to effect Sales of Sheep, Cattle, Horses, Houses, Land, &c. &c. .When he resigned as postmaster in 1848, the writer in the Goulburn Herald roundly praised him for his services.
He was also acquiring land. His will, written in 1853, two years before he died shows he had purchased the 100 acres at Bong Bong from William Saddlier, had bought another two substantial pieces of land locally and owned acreages in the vicinity of Port Macquarie.
James Jerome Higgins continued living in Berrima until his death in 1855 at the age of 45. Where he is buried is not known.
Regrettably we know little of Mary Ann. She was a witness in the case of notorious accused murderer John Lynch in 1842 when she recalled selling goods to the accused. There is also anecdotal evidence of her teaching some of the township’s children. We know she continued running their store after her husband’s death and was still in Berrima in 1857 when she was permitted a licence to sell spirits. But at some point she left Berrima to join her daughter, also Mary Ann, in Victoria. Family records show Mary Ann had married Francis Jenkins, son of Berrima resident John Jenkins and twenty years her senior, who owned the Buckingbong Station in the Riverina south-east of Narrendera. Daughter Mary Ann died in childbirth in January 1877 aged 36 whilst at Auburn Villa, Hawthorne Victoria, her mother, then aged 69, having predeceased her by one month. Both are buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew, Victoria.
The couple had thirteen children
- James Jerome Higgins born 1827(?) death unknown and possibly before they came to Australia
- Eugene Winton Higgins born 7 December 1834
- Clarice (Clara?) Higgins born 5 March 1836
- Emily Mary Higgins born 6 July 1837
- Marcus Higgins born March 1839
- Mary Anne Higgins born 1840/41
- Margaret Higgins born 8 November 1841
- Caroline Higgins born January 1843
- James Jerome Higgins born October 1844
- Augusta Louisa Higgins born November 1845
- John Edward born June 1848
- Frances Grace Higgins born12 April 1851
- Walter Darwin Higgins born 1852
 One letter in the BDH&FHS archives refutes this, suggesting he was from Skelton Grange in Yorks of Huguenot decent, the original family name being Huygens, but nothing has been found to substantiate this.
 BDH&FHS archives
 Lots 5&6 Section 1, Lots 5&6 Section 2 and Lots 3&4 Section 6. Sydney Gazette, 25 September 1834
 William Sadlier is listed on the 1841 District of Berrima Census (no 74) his property known as Springfield (purchase Memorial no 188 Series No 13928, Box No 5 Roll No 1440
 Sydney Monitor, 13 June 1835 and Sydney Herald, 1 June 1835
 Sydney Monitor, 19 December 1835
 Sydney Herald, 28 September 1837
 Australasian Chronicle. 28 January 1841
 Australian Chronicle 3 March 1840
 Goulburn Herald, Saturday 8 July 1848
 Family history records on ancestry.com
 Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February 1855
 Australasian Chronicle, 26 March 1842
 NSW Government Gazette, 14 July 1857