Skip to content


Nobody cares about Mary Higgins, nobody gives a damn – she doesn’t have ‘the name.’

We’re an anal breed: we just want to follow the name: Triffitt after Triffitt after Triffitt – a bleak Yorkshire trudge back through recorded time. Sometimes we forget the women, the ones who had to submit to the pant and thrust of yet another randy husband, the ones who had to carry the children, give birth, nurture and nourish their brood. Cast in the role of reproductive receptacle they did their duty, lived invisible lives in the shadows of their husbands, some buried under a deluge of children, some growing old alone. Some didn’t grow old at all.

They were as much part of our Colonial heritage as their men, sometimes more so – their stories much more interesting – but they don’t have that name. Historians seem to think of them as some kind of vacant receptacle for the sacred sperm, little more than a pit-stop on the way to a dynasty. Perhaps, in this case, that’s preferable.

Our Ms. Higgins was a rather ‘colorful’ character – that sweet Tasmanian euphemism for ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’. She’s a difficult woman to like, scarcely the kind of gal you’d choose for an ancestor.

All the more reason to start with Mary. It’s time to bring her savage star back into the light. The combined Triffitt / Triffett / Triffit / Triffet / Trivet / Triford’s of the Southern Hemisphere need to know just who their original Mama really was.

Finding Mary took quite a while.

For a very long time, the life and times of Mary Higgins began with her first conviction in 1784. Nobody knew anything before her sudden appearance in the records of the Old Bailey. There was no record of a birth under that name anywhere in England. Computers changed all that. The first mention of Mary Higgins in history came to light in the trial of her sister, a lass called Nora Whiston. Clearly, one of them had changed her family name. It wasn’t Nora.

In that same trial, there is note made of a third sister and that their family came to London around 1744. The task was to find a Whiston family, not from London, with three sisters, one called Nora and one called Mary born between **** and ****. Hours of bum-numbing research trolling the church records of every county in England produced the very family, a surname, a location and a history. Computers again. A search for Whiston led to Weston – and Weston led to a little town called Walsall.





Leave a Comment
  1. Caren Williams (Mrs.) / May 1 2012 9:47 am

    Hi Nigel, I admire all your research obviously lots and lots of hours! I also appreciate your sharing your hard earned research. I am descended from James and Mary through their son Thomas & Mary Scattergood. Then Mary (Jnr.) and John Alsop/Allsop, then Susannah and William Clark(e). Their son Frederick who married Bertha Eva Marie Mayne to my Grandfather Edward LANGLEY Clarke. The other line is from Isaac Williams and Rachel Hoddy, RH who also travelled on the LadyJulianna.
    I enjoyed your take on Mary Higgins, but equally she displayed many the charateristics of an abused child…so she could be viewed as a victim, as we don’t know what her partner was like as a man/provider for their children. Two of her children died, she survived a whipping on Norfolk Island.
    Also, I have often seen younger siblings offering up an older/younger sibling if they feel they are in trouble? But, you have taken the trouble and written the story and a fiesty individual sounds more positive than a ‘victim’. Thank you, Caren Williams

    • thedogster / May 1 2012 11:11 am

      Hi Caren, well, that’s an interesting angle… I must confess I haven’t for a millisecond thought of Mary Higgins as a victim – quite the contrary. That said, just because it hadn’t occurred to me, doesn’t mean it’s not a perfectly valid approach. I’ve attached all the court records, so you can judge any ‘spin’ for yourself.

      I always have to be careful not to attach 21st Century ways of thinking to 19th Century events – the mindset is utterly different. I realised, with Mary, that I couldn’t understand her in isolation – so, like a fool, researched all her friends – the women she spent nearly forty years with, as neighbours. You can snoop around in BACK RIVER GALS for some juicy stories. All those women were next door neighbours and friends. Victim is not a word that comes to mind. lol. Take a look at Betty King [literally living next door] .

      Of course, everybody in this site is a victim one way or another – of the times, of ignorance, of the brutish society [upstairs and down] they all lived in, of attitudes to women… Then, as now, the true measure of a person is in how they deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Those Back River women were heroes, not victims, I suspect. Which is why you’ll note that all the stories in the Back River site are about women. History is always written by men, for men, about men. Time to redress that balance.

      If I err on the side of feisty, rather than downtrodden… hero, rather than victim… well, maybe that’s my 21st. Century bias coming through. For that I don’t apologise.

      I’m delighted to know you find the site useful and have battled through my tawdry prose. A kind word here and there does wonders for my soul. I shall give your comments more thought.

      • Caren Williams / May 1 2012 12:10 pm

        Hi Nigel, thank you for your speedy reply! My cousin Andrew, recently discovered through many years of family search just told me of your site-I am due to attend my monthly Kelmscott Genealogy Group, thinking for the first time I would have no research to share when thanks to your site/research I not only have managed to go back another generation, I have printed out a copy of your Back River Gals to show! I will read the other ‘gals’. Kind regards, Caren

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: