Mary Harriett Griffith (1849 – 1930), a philanthropist, was born in Portishead, Somerset, England in 1849 to Rev. Edward Griffith, an Independent minister, and his wife Mary née Walker. Her family arrived in Queensland in 1854, when she was four years of age, with her father taking up a position at the Congregational Church in Ipswich. In addition to her many charitable, religious and philanthropic endeavours, Mary published a tribute to her family, Memorials of the Rev Edward Griffith, in 1892. She never married and died at New Farm, Brisbane on 27 July 1930.
Mary was the older sister of Sir Samuel Griffith, Queensland Attorney General, Chief Justice and Premier but, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, ‘disapproved of the worldly ways of her brother’. The family lived at Ipswich and then Maitland, New South Wales, before returning to Brisbane where her father was minister of the Wharf Street Congregational Church for thirty years. Mary was educated by an aunt, as well as attending a school run by the Misses Rhodes in Herbert Street, Spring Hill.
Mary became very involved in church work and taught Sunday School for fifty years. Her administrative ability was recognised by the church when she was made a deaconess and elected to the local governing body of the London Missionary Society.
Mary was also a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Brisbane Benevolent Society, served on the ladies’ management committee of the Hospital for Sick Children, and was president of the Young Women’s Christian Association of Brisbane. In addition, she was active in many other organisations including the Red Cross Society, Queensland Women’s Electoral League, National Council of Women, Brisbane City Mission, Travellers’ Aid Society, and Lady Musgrave Lodge, which provided accommodation for nurses and single female immigrants.
Mary’s service to these many organisations was honoured in 1911 when she became Lady of Grace of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, conferred on her by the Governor of Queensland. The decoration consists of an eight-pointed Maltese cross of white enamel on silver or gold. The main entrance doors to the Young Women’s Christian Association were officially opened and dedicated in memory of Mary Griffith in May 1931.
She never married by lived with her parents at New Farm, caring for them until their deaths in 1891 and 1892. Thirty years later, in 1922, Mary Griffith moved to the Aged Christian Women’s Home, which she had helped to establish. She died there on 27 July 1930 at the age of 81 and was buried at the Toowong cemetery.
Jan Richardson, ‘Mary Harriett Griffith (1849 – 1930)’, Harry Gentle Resource Centre, Griffith University, 2023, https://harrygentle.griffith.edu.au/life-stories/mary-harriett-griffith/.
Miss M. H. Griffith, L.G., Telegraph [Brisbane], 7 Jan 1928, p. 11.
Miss Griffith, The Week [Brisbane], 1 Aug 1930, p. 17.
Memorial to late Miss Griffith, L.G., Daily Standard [Brisbane], 7 May 1931, p. 11.