Cameron, Bessy (c. 1851–1895)

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Cameron, Bessy (c. 1851–1895)

Aboriginal teacher. Born in King George Sound, Western Australia, around 1851; died on January 12, 1895; attended Annesfield School, Albany; attended a model school in Sydney; married Donald Cameron, on November 4, 1868; children: four who survived.

Her father's connections enabled Bessy Cameron to receive a formal education and have a short teaching career, a rare opportunity for an Aboriginal. Because her father was a servant of Henry Camfield, a government official, Cameron was educated at the native institution opened by Henry's wife, Anne Camfield , to instruct Aboriginal children in the "ways of civilized life" and Christianity. An excellent student, Cameron was then sent to Sydney, where she was trained as a teacher and also became an accomplished pianist. She returned to Albany in 1866 as an assistant to Anne Camfield as well as the salaried church organist.

In 1867, Cameron was chosen to become a teacher at Ramahyuck mission where, in addition to attending classes, she performed housework. When she became involved with a European man who wanted to marry her, the missionaries, afraid of losing her, relocated her to Lake Tyers mission and arranged her marriage to Donald Cameron, a seemingly more suitable native man. The couple were then put in charge of the mission's boarding house, a demotion in Cameron's eyes that sapped her initiative; she made known her displeasure, began to neglect her duties, and turned to reading. Removed from the mission house, the couple found themselves on their own in the mission village. With her four children, Bessy Cameron spent the next years living off and on again at Lake Tyers and Ramahyuck, finding it difficult to support her family outside the mission environment. At one point, she left her husband, though they later reconciled. In 1887, Cameron suffered a miscarriage and was allowed to return to Ramahyuck because she was seriously ill; she then left and returned yet again. Her final years were spent trying to keep her younger children and her grandchildren from being taken from her to be brought up "white."

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Cameron, Bessy (c. 1851–1895)

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