Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Christian Rowe Thornett

Christian Dixson was born in 1879, the daughter of Emma Elizabeth and Hugh Dixson (she was the sixth child and third daughter!).  She married Arthur John Rowe Thornett on 23 November 1902 at her parents’ home Abergeldie, in Summer Hill, Sydney.  They were married by her uncle, Rev Frederick Hibberd.  Christian was 23 and Arthur was 36 plus he had previously been married. And that is the last reference to Arthur… Not quite, the last reference was in the divorce records lodged by Christian in England in 1910.

Christian spent the next fifty years travelling extensively.  For many years her home was in Monte Carlo, but with war looming in the mid 1930s she relocated to Australia. 

She was a part of the ‘social set’ and her movements were often reported on.  In addition, she continued an interest in many of the charities supported by her mother, who died in April 1922. 
Some examples of these are:
  • In June 1922, Christian opened the Surry Hills Welfare Centre.
  • The Evening News (Sydney), on 7 September 1922, reported that Christian was the patron of the “Powder and Patches Ball” raising funds for the “Little Citizens Kindergarten, which is the charge of the Feminist Club”.
  • Christian officially opened the fete at the Trinity Grammar School, South Ashfield, in September 1925.
  • Christian and her sister, Emma Keep, entertained 120 members of the Dulwich Hill Scout Troop at a Christmas party in December 1929.
  • The Canberra Times, on Saturday 21 April 1934 noted that “The Excellencies the Governor General and Lady Isaacs entertained at Government house yesterday afternoon, delegates of the fifth Australian Cancer Conference.  Captain and Mrs Chester Wells and Mrs C Thornett are the guests of her Excellency Lady Isaacs at Government House, Canberra.” (Mrs Chester Wells was Christian’s sister, Marion). 
  • In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 20 August 1943, it was reported that Christian had lost a diamond platinum ring valued at £3,000 somewhere in the city.  It was found later in the day by the proprietress of Turkish baths, under a mat in a cubicle at the baths (Christian had visited during the afternoon!).
  • In October 1951 Christian paid for the carpeting of Christ Church, Kiama.  Later in the year she presented Sunday School prizes at the Church.

She was an avid collector – like her older brother William (who bequeathed his collections and funds to establish the Dixson Library).  In order to store all her items, she had specially constructed barns erected at her property near Kiama.  She had a special collection of fans which were donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

She died on 26 February 1972, aged 93.  She had no children, so she gave just over $150,000 to her friends and family and the remainder of her $1,068,528 estate was distributed to twelve different charities.  For example:

  • ·      The Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Trinity Grammar School received substantial sums of money;
  • ·      Funding was given to the University of NSW to establish a scholarship – the “Christian Rowe Thornett Scholarship” – for postgraduate studies in the development of agricultural science; and
  • ·      The Powerhouse Museum has a number of items donated by Christian. 

[Relationship to SNR = cousin of great-great grandmother]


  1. I am researching a display of items collected by Christian Rowe Thornett at the Powerhouse Museum. I would like to find a photograph of her. could you help?

  2. I am researching a display of items collected by Christian Rowe Thornett at the Powerhouse Museum. I would like to find a photograph of her. could you help?

  3. Hi Ann, I don't actually have a photo of Christian. I thought I saw one either in a newspaper or a NSW Library Publication, but I've just had a quick look in my records and I didn't keep a copy. I will have another look around and see if I can find one. Reb

  4. Thanks so much for your reply. Saw a great article from Australian Womens Weekly 19 July 1972 'Tobacco Heiress Left 96 Trunkloads of Treasure', but photo of Christian very small. Would love to hear back from you if anything surfaces. Ann

    1. Hi ,I have a beautiful Wing back chair once owned by Mrs Thornett.

  5. Ann,

    There are some more lovely stories and memories on Facebook. I'm also researching into 'Tabbagong' and have uncovered these interesting tales. The Facebook group is called 'Kiama remembers, a history of Kiama'. Below is a link to the page.


  6. Thanks, David. Lots of fascinating comments on Facebook. We never did come across a photo better than the one in Womens Weekly. The exhibition Reflections of Asia: Collectors and Collections featuring items from Madam Thornett's holdings opens at the Powerhouse Museum on 7 July. https://maas.museum/event/reflections-of-asia-collectors-and-collections/

    1. Thanks Ann I will share this with the Kiama group.