Mary (Minnie) Quinlan was born about 1860 to Patrick Quinlan, quarryman, and Mary Maloney, in County Clare, Ireland. It seems the family left Ireland for personal reasons, perhaps following Patrick's death, as she appears in official records in the 1861 Census in Liverpool, England when she was 3 years old. She is listed with her brother Patrick age 2, a baby of three months and her mother then 22, all of whom lived with her father's brother, Thomas Quinlan, a tailor aged 45.
Mary arrived in Australia as an assisted immigrant in the early 1880s. A shipping arrival record for 1884 shows a Mary Quinlan age 22, arriving in NSW on the S.S. Abergeldie. She travelled in the company of other Irish girls in their teens and twenties, girls with names like Kate and Sarah, Mary and Bridget; all listed as domestics, from the counties of Derry, Kerry, Tyrone, Tipperary, Donegal, Leitrim, Meath and Clare.
How and when Minnie arrived in Katoomba is unknown, she appears on the Katoomba electoral rolls from 1920 to 1949, as a spinster and occupier of a house in Parke Street. During this time she was described as ‘well-loved and well known to many for her work for the Red Cross’. On afternoons after Red Cross stalls were held, Minnie would prepare tea at her home for all of the ladies who had worked on the stalls.
Minnie was widely known as the Town Charlady, but would only do such work for the Congregational Church ministers, although herself of Roman Catholic denomination. Apparently she also cleaned the nearby Children’s Library and Craft Club in Davies Lane, established in 1942 and managed by her close friend Miss Ebbs.
In her latter years Minnie became an old age pensioner and lived on about ₤l.0.0 per week. Although a single woman living alone, she was never lonely; on most days she could be found on a seat outside the Katoomba Post Office where she would chat to passers by, both friends and strangers.
Minnie's death certificate shows she died of heart disease at the age of 88 years, with no known relatives, and was buried at Rookwood Cemetery in the rights of the Roman Catholic Church. Minnie’s will left all her worldly possessions to the Red Cross, whose President paid for her funeral. At the following meeting of the Katoomba Red Cross, a service was conducted by the Church of England Minister and attended by friends and clergy of all denominations.
The undertakers record from Wood Coffill in Katoomba shows that Minnie died on Thursday 24th February 1949 at her residence ‘Mayfair ’in Parke St, Katoomba, the informant was Mrs L.T.A. Hodgson. A requiem mass was held in St Canice’s Church, Katoomba, at 7 o’clock the following Saturday morning, from where the funeral, consisting of a hearse and 2 cars, left for Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney an hour later. Minnie’s headstone is inscribed “My Dear Friend”, probably from her close friend Miss Kathleen Ebbs, who composed her obituary.
The interesting thing is, that according to the burial record, she was interred in the reopened grave of her brother Michael Quinlan, who died 14th July 1928 aged 66. Michael was unmarried and resided in North Sydney after arriving from Co. Tipperary in Ireland only three years before his death; his occupation is given as watchman. Michael would appear to be the baby listed in the 1861 Liverpool census.
Oral Accounts courtesy of Paul Innes
A guest at the Carrington Hotel mentioned she remembered ‘an old woman who lived in a little hovel behind the Post Office.’ (Katoomba Street). ‘The woman was called Minnie, and there is now a plaque, with her name on it, located on a seat in front of the Post Office.’
It would date from about 1950 and was probably installed due to the efforts of Miss Ebbs.
A Katoomba resident called Ian Pattison took me on three walks up and down Katoomba Street, showing what shop was where, who owned what etc, circa 1930s-1950s. On one of the walks, Ian mentioned Minnie Quinlan’s name.
‘She used to clean shop windows, brass plaques on shop fronts etc, between 1920’s and 1950’s. She died around 1950 something. There’s a plaque for her on a wooden seat in Katoomba Street.’
In answer to an advert request in the Gazette, seeking any information about Minnie Quinlan,
a Katoomba resident, called Joyce Thompson telephoned me with her memories of Minnie.
“I knew Miss Quinlan when I was eleven years old. She lived in the area around Parke Street, Davies Lane, close to the Children’s Library. In 1941, my mother brought us up to Katoomba. Miss Ebbs ran the Children’s Library. Minnie Quinlan’s place was behind the Library. She was a small lady, white curly hair, dapper, so old. Miss Ebbs kept an eye on Miss Quinlan. She would tell us to be quiet outside the Library – ‘Keep the noise down’”.
"LIBRARY CENTRE AT KATOOMBA
After the Minister for Education, Mr. Evatt, had opened the Katoomba Boys' and Girls' Library and Crafts Club on Saturday afternoon, children stayed to read books beside the library fire. The club, which is the eighth centre of the Children's Library Movement, is built from six disused garages, which have been converted into one central library, opening into two craft rooms on either side. It features murals designed by Dahl Collings and Elaine Haxton. Those present at the opening included the president of the local auxiliary, Dr. E. Dark, and Mrs. Eleanor Dark; the Mayor of Katoomba, Alderman Freelander, and the organising secretary of the Children's Library Movement, Mrs. Mary Matheson."
SMH Monday 27 July, 1942
"A TRIBUTE LATE MINNIE QUINLAN
We have lost Minnie, our friend - how deep a loss!
Sweetness, graciousness and utter kindness, balanced with sincerity, courage, and an inner strength, lifted Minnie above class and creed: She belonged to everyone.
How intimately she belonged to the Boys and Girls’ Library - such a motherly soul she was to us all! Daily she inquired our needs: always she shared any small luxury that came her way. She had so little, but she gave so much. Ofttimes she said, with a heavenly smile, 'All I’ve got is yours.'
So quick to respond with gratitude for any trifle we did for her; humbly we were always in her debt. When she was not able to make return in material goods, then have we seen her puzzled brow lift in relief, 'I know what I can do: I’ll remember you in my prayers.'
How proud she was of her long record of years of service! To menial work she endowed dignity and honour.
With reverence we bow to so great a soul.
Ah! not learning of books is the ideal of our Boys and Girls’ Library; rather it is the inspiration of that sweet spirit radiated by our beloved friend - the spirit that comes to bless the world with happiness and with peace. (K.E.)" [Miss Kathleen Ebbs]
Blue Mountains Advertiser Friday, March 11, 1949
"A Memorial to Minnie Quinlan
The annual meeting of the Katoomba Boys and Girls’ Library Auxiliary was attended by a large number of interested residents. The Mayoress (Mrs. F. Walford) presided.
Mrs. Gill gave the meeting a resume of the Auxiliary’s activities over the past year, and paid tribute to the amount of work performed by enthusiastic workers. Later in the evening she was elected president.
An interesting address was given by Mr. Parker who stressed the importance of such libraries to the community. He spoke of the happiness that resulted from reading.
A tribute was paid to the late Minnie Quinlan by Miss Ebbs. Miss Quinlan had given her long life to the service of others and had been loved by all with whom she came into contact.
Mrs. McMahon, President of Quota Club presented the Library with a cheque from the Ladies Golf Club."
Blue Mountains Advertiser, March 18th 1949
1928’. Provenance: Miss M Fawcett, Katoomba. Minnie Quinlan’s house is marked with an X , the building in the foreground is the garage block that later became the Children's Library.
Rookwood Cemetery Record
First Name: Mary
Last Name: Quinlan
Death Date: 24 February 1949
Inscription: My Dear Friend
Plot: Section 9 ROW 27
Plot Number: 3476
Denomination/nationality: Catholic Mortuary 2 & 3
Images from the Local Studies Collection, from top
1. Minnie's seat outside the Katoomba Post Office, the original seat was replaced in 2010. (photo John Merriman)
2. The original plaque mounted on the new seat. (photo John Merriman)
3. Opening of the Katoomba Children's Library and Craft Club 1942, Minnie and Miss Ebbs may appear in this photo.
4. Minnie's house under snow.
Acknowledgement: Paul Innes who collected the oral history accounts.
Note: Kathleen Irene Ebbs was the daughter of Thomas Arthur Rowley Ebbs (b.1870, Kiama; d.1955, Manly) clergyman, and Alice Beryl Ebbs (d.1966, Sydney). She was born in Raywood, Victoria, in 1902 and travelled to the U.K. for a trip in 1955, when she is listed as a passenger from London to Sydney. The 1930 electoral roll for Manly shows her occupation as Teacher, living with her parents at The Rectory, Darley Rd. She lived in Manly until 1937 before moving to Ficus St. Katoomba where she appears in the 1943 roll - occupation Librarian; in 1949 she lived in Beecroft, occupation Librarian, then returned to Ficus St Katoomba, Librarian; in 1954 Beecroft, Librarian; then Wahroonga and Turramurra until 1980; her death notice appeared in January 1989, late of Castle Hill.
John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian 2012