Leafing Through History

Mary White’s Passion for Crafty Carving

Adorned with carvings of long-necked birds and twisted foliage, this wooden rack was customised by Frances Mary White (1882-1848 – known as Mary), the eldest daughter of Margaret and Francis White of Saumarez Homestead, Armidale.

Mary was a skilled chip work carver in the Arts and Crafts style, having learned the art at Ascham boarding school in Sydney in the late 1890s. She carved large furniture pieces at Saumarez and exhibited them at district shows as well as the First Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work in Melbourne in 1907. This example of her carving ability remains alongside her woodworking tools and patterns at Saumarez Homestead, now a historic property cared for by the National Trust of Australia (NSW).

Prior to carving, the original rack may have been selected from the catalogue of a Sydney department store, like David Jones. Catalogues were useful to the family as they lessened dependence on local merchants and provided detailed information on manufactured goods from Australia and overseas. With goods arriving via the railway and post office, the Whites of Saumarez could purchase anything they might require for the farm or household.

Local newspapers, like The Armidale Chronicle, The Armidale Express, and New England General Advertiser, may have spent time nestled in this very rack. It certainly held gardening literature as Mary was known to have inherited a passion for gardening from her mother, Maggie. Mary’s copies of Garden Magazine, The Garden and Homemaker of Australia, and Good Gardening survive to this day at the homestead.