Burra, located about 160 km north of Adelaide, owes its place in history to the discovery of copper by two shepherds in 1845. Their lucky find has been credited with saving the economy of the struggling South Australian colony. Word soon got around and miners and allied labourers and tradesmen from around the flocked to what was then an isolated, lonely site, but which, by 1850, supported a population of 5000 people, most of whom settled in one or other of the small “satellite” townships. The initial mining boom gave way to declining yields and, after three decades, the Burra Monster Mine was closed. From that time Burra became (and still is) an important regional centre for surrounding farming communities. But, with its listing on the Register of the National Estate, Burra is more particularly recognised as a heritage tourist destination.

One of the heritage places of interest is the Redruth Gaol, completed in 1856 and the first prison built outside of metropolitan Adelaide. It served as a Gaol until 1894 and three years later, in November 1897, was proclaimed as the Redruth Girls’ Reformatory. It served as such until July 1922, during which time it operated under three matrons. The last of these was Edith Ruth Bubb, who arrived in Burra in July 1916 to take over the position of matron. Drawing on her previous experience, she set about her mission of reforming and ‘civilising’ her charges. However, her tenure was marred by controversy and incessant conflict with the authorities, and ultimately, when the Reformatory was shut down in 1922, she was out of a job. Following the institution’s closure in 1922, she stayed on at Burra and became the hostess of a stylish guest house, situated in Mount Pleasant Road. Much of her time was devoted to her patriotic and philanthropic interests. Edith Bubb was just shy of 58 when she left for Sydney to care for her eldest sister.

Edith Bubb’s story definitely caught my interest. But what my research into her background uncovered is that, while she made her mark in Burra’s history, her father, John Robert Bubb, and grandfather, Robert Watts Bubb, whose roots were in Gloucestershire, England, and who had emigrated to Sydney in 1839, were equally deserving of having their stories recorded.

“The Bubbs” is therefore divided into three sections –

Robert Watts Bubb

John Robert Bubb

Edith Bubb

Together with brief biographies of Bubb relatives and a Bubb Family Chart –

Supplementary Family Notes

Bubb Family Chart