Lasting legacy

Mary Ann Brockwell was a remarkable woman who, after her death in 1891, had her last will contested by the Nova Scotian court system. She appears in Elsie Churchill Tolson’s book The Captain, the Colonel and Me.

First, let me share some intriguing information about the unusual adventure she experienced when, in the mid 1850s, her younger sister, Katherine, married George Fleet a very rich man who then owned most
of the land in Bedford.
After this happened, Mary left her well established birthplace in England and traveled, with the newlyweds, on a sailing ship, to the new home they had had built in far away rural Nova Scotia.
Very little is known about how the Fleets and Mary adjusted to such a challenging existence, but we do know the couple’s time in Bedford wasn’t very long.
It seems George had made his will in England in 1859 and only 12 years later, he died in Bedford. Katherine’s life ended only two years later.
What proved to be a significant issue in George’s life in Bedford occurred during his early years there when he had donated land and gave financial assistance to local people who wanted to build an Anglican church and a cemetery.
Ironically, some time after he did this, it seems he left the Anglican Church and joined a Plymouth Brethren church nearby.
This decision antagonized the Anglican Church he attended and they banned him from their premises. After his death, they even refused to have his body buried in their cemetery.
This blatant “unchristian–like” behaviour outraged Mary. Because she inherited his sizable estate, she was determined to make sure both his wife’s and his mortal remains were eventually removed from an abandoned gravesite to the new cemetery she established in 1881.
It became known as the Brockwell Bedford Community Cemetery and its mandate was to restrict no one.
bedford_maryWhen Mary learned thousands of orphans from Ireland and Britain were then being brought to North America, often badly abused, she adopted two girls.
Nothing is known about the girls she adopted, but stories exist that their new mother was known to be eccentric. Her home certainly reflected her often-peculiar traits.
For example, she allowed her hens to roam freely around her kitchen and outside her front door. She had a nanny goat tethered to ensure she had a constant supply of fresh milk.
Her daughters’ clothing also mirrored her utilitarian beliefs. And during the summer, every day, the poor dears had to bath in a nearby, very cold brook.
Their diet was also described as being basically healthy. But one thing that never crossed their lips was sugar, which was strictly taboo.
Nevertheless, Mary made sure her girls were well educated and she was known to always be kind to them.
No one will ever know when she decided to, in her will, leave her home and property in Bedford for the site of a home for the education of female orphans. In most cases, without any formal education, these orphans ended up as domestics, or on the streets.
Tragically, it is a real mystery why this never happened. What is known is that many months after her death, her will was contested in a Nova Scotian court room by a representative of the established Anglican church.
One assumes, Mary’s will was represented by a lawyer but because she was a dead woman most people had never heard of, the church officials’ intervention won the day.
Bedford never became the home of The Mary Brockwell School for Girls, is troubling.
Instead, in its place became the St Paul’s School for Girls in Halifax.
Candidly, during my childhood, I went to school with girls who lived there.
It is a real shame that the remarkable Mary Brockwell’s final wishes were never appropriately honoured.

This article was published in the January 2016 issue of Bedford Magazine. Bedford Magazine invites reader comments and encourages respectful discussion; we reserve the right to remove spam and libellous or abusive comments.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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