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Heidelberg’s Busy Bee Signature Quilt, 1895-96

Square A14

Quilt square A14


Vera Dorothy Bennell

Alternative transcription: Earlier transcriptions proposed "Mrs Dorothy Bennett" and "Vera Dorothy Burrell".


The person represented here is Vera Dorothy Bennell (1895-1978), a member of the intertwined Bennell and Donaldson families who contributed many squares to the quilt. Her maternal great-uncles, John and James T Donaldson, were staunch and generous members of the Heidelberg Scots Church while her father’s first cousins, Samuel, Joshua and Benjamin Bennell, were well-known Melbourne builders. Joshua Bennell was responsible for the construction of the new Scots Church in Burgundy Street, 1900-1901.

Further information

Vera Dorothy Bennell was born on 4 November 1895 in Launceston, Tasmania. Her mother was May Margaret Cameron (1856-1930) from Cranbourne, Victoria and her father was Robert James Bennell (1844-1925) of Launceston, Tasmania. Her parents were married by Rev. Duncan Fraser [Central] in Ivanhoe (at Wellington House, residence of the bride’s uncle, James T Donaldson) on 29 June 1892. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Vera’s maternal grandmother was Margaret Donaldson (1821-1895), daughter of James Bruce Donaldson (1787-1856) and Isabella Davidson (1792-1872) who arrived in Melbourne in 1841 and settled at Kangaroo Ground. They were soon joined by other Scottish families and a prosperous settlement developed, centered on the Presbyterian church, school, hotel and store. Margaret Donaldson married Alexander Cameron (1814-1881), at her parents’ house, Kangaroo Hall, on 31 March 1848 7. and the couple went on to have eight children. May Margaret Cameron was their third daughter. Sadly, Margaret died three months before her granddaughter Vera was born. For further information about the Donaldson family who are pivotal to the whole story of the Busy Bee quilt, visit the [Central] square.

Vera’s maternal grandfather, Alexander Cameron, was born in 1814 in Kilmonivaig, Inverness-shire. He arrived in Sydney in 1838. He subsequently made his way to the Port Phillip settlement and presumably out to Kangaroo Ground, joining other Scots families farming there. After marrying Margaret Donaldson in 1848, he took up land at Cranbourne in 1851 and there the couple established a farm, Mayfield, grazing cattle and growing fodder. 8, 9, 10. (We note that EH Cameron [E12] was born in Kilmonivaig in 1831 and migrated to Melbourne in 1853. Further research is required to link the two men; it is possible that Alexander was Ewen Cameron’s uncle.)

Vera’s father, Robert James Bennell, had been born in Launceston, the son of James Bennell (1809-1878) and Hepzibah Beaumont (1813-1882). His parents had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1832, joining James’ older brother John Bennell (1800-1866) 6. and his family. Both James and John were builders and several of their sons followed in the family tradition. Following the death of his first wife, Mary Ann Wallace (1805-1839), John Bennell and his three surviving children, including son Samuel [E2], moved to Melbourne where John married his second wife, Mary Jane Ward (1826-1863), in 1841; the couple went on to have a large family, which included Benjamin Bennell [K10] and Joshua Bennell (builder of the new Scots Church, as mentioned above).

Samuel Bennell’s daughter, Mary Ann (1864-1934), married John Anstruther Davidson Donaldson (1864-1961) [A10], youngest son of John A Donaldson (1827-1905) and his wife Anstruther Davidson (1827-1864) of Bellevue, Ivanhoe, and cousin to May Margaret Cameron née Donaldson. Perhaps it was Mary Ann who encouraged Vera’s parents to purchase a square on behalf of their new infant daughter? (Mary Ann and JAD Donaldson’s own daughter, Muriel, is probably the person represented at [B14].)

Vera Bennell grew up in Launceston and married an Irishman, Frank Lemuel Secomb, in 1923. They had three children and lived in Melbourne before moving to Adelaide. Vera died there in 1978, a few months after her husband of 55 years had passed away. 11, 12, 13.


  1. Ancestry.com Australia, Birth index, 1788-1922, ‘Vera Dorothy Bennell registration no. 596’, viewed online 01.06. 21.

  2. May Margaret Cameron: BDMV 8051/1856; 3157/1892.

  3. ‘Marriages Bennell-Cameron’, Examiner (Launceston), Tuesday 26 July 1892, p.1.

  4. ‘Deaths May Margaret Bennell’, Examiner (Launceston), Thursday 7 August 1930, p.1.

  5. Ancestry.com.au ‘Robert James Bennell’, Samuel Nichols Family Tree, viewed online 01.06.21.

  6. Ancestry.com.au ‘John Bennell’, Mathieson Family Tree, viewed online 01.06.21.

  7. ‘Married by Special Licence…’, Melbourne Argus, Tuesday 4 April 1848, p.2.

  8. Ancestry.com.au ‘Alexander Cameron’, Hall Family Tree, viewed online 01.06.21.

  9. Ancestry.com.au ‘0370, 372 Alexander Cameron, late of Mayfield, Cranbourne’, Cemetery Records and Headstone Transcriptions St Kilda Cemetery 1859-1987. Viewed 30.05.2021

  10. Heritage Victoria ‘Cameron Homestead’, http://images.heritage.vic.gov.au/attachment/73304, viewed 01.06.21.

  11. ‘Marriages Secomb-Bennell’, Examiner (Launceston) Tuesday 1 May 1923, p.1.

  12. Ancestry.com.au ‘Vera Dorothy Bennell’, Secomb Family Tree, viewed online 01.06.21.

  13. Ancestry.com.au ‘Frank Lemeul Secomb’, Stidson Family Tree, viewed online 01.06.21.

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