Margaret Jones – The Welsh Lady from Canaan

Margaret Jones’ life was extraordinary. A lady from Rhosllannerchrugog, near Wrexham in north Wales, she became famous in the nineteenth century and was known as ‘The Welsh Lady from Canaan’.

Cover of The Welsh Lady from Canaan by Eirian Jones

This is the story of Margaret Jones, born in March 1842 in Rhosllannerchrugog to Ann and Owen Jones, a coal miner.

Rhosllannerchrugog was a coal-mining village at the time of Margaret’s childhood. A dirty and dreadful place, if the commissioners into the inquiry of the state of education in Wales in 1847 are to be believed. It was also a place which had employment, and therefore very attractive to impoverished agricultural workers of north Wales. The chapels thronged and life in Rhos was hard, and a struggle to survive.

A photograph of Margaret Jones taken by John Thomas c.1875 (by permission of the National Library of Wales)

Margaret only received three weeks of schooling in Rhosllannerchrugog, making her experiences and accomplishments later in life all the more impressive. At 14 years old, she went to work as a maid to a family in Llangollen and then in 1862 went to Birmingham. Her employer, the Rev. E B Frankel, worked on behalf of the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity amongst the Jews. It was this association that changed the course of Margaret’s life; transforming it from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

In her employment as a maid to the Frankel family, Margaret spent two years in Paris, learning French as well as English as she went, and then four years in Jerusalem. From 1870 onwards, she travelled the length and breadth of Wales lecturing about her experiences in Canaan.

Christ Church, Jerusalem c. 1860s
(Conrad Schick Library, Jerusalem)

She spent 10 years living in Wales, promoting her book and travelled all over the country sharing her experiences. Few women did this at the time, however another such lady was Sarah Jane Rees – also known by the poetic name Cranogwen. There were many men who were vehemently opposed to seeing women sharing their ideas with a large group of people in a public place, and were vocal in their displeasure.

She went to Morocco in 1879 to work for three years, accompanying Elizabeth Frankel (daughter of her previous employers) as she moved to the country after marriage, and teaching at a school for Jews. She then travelled around the United States for two years, before emigrating to Queensland, Australia in 1889 and marrying James Josey – a very wealthy man. She died in Queensland at 60 years of age in 1902.

The grave of Margaret Josey, the Welsh Lady from Canaan, in Ipswich (Bronwen Hall)

In her lifetime she was known as ‘The Welsh Lady from Canaan’ as she published a series of letter to her family from Paris, Jerusalem and Beirut in the book Llythyrau Cymraes o Wlad Canaan [The Letters of a Welsh Lady from Canaan] (1869). The result of more time spent overseas was the travel book Moroco, a’r hyn a welais yno [Morocco, and what I saw there], which was published in 1883.

Frontispage of the volume Morocco, a’r hyn a welais yno (National Library of Wales)

“Her life and accomplishments would have been quite remarkable in this day and age,” said author Eirian Jones, ” and I often had to remind myself that this was the story of a lady who lived over a hundred and fifty years ago.”

Eirian reading Margaret Jones’ diary at the State Library of Queensland in Brisbane

A Welsh version is available, Y Gymraes o Ganaan.

About the author

Eirian Jones was brought up in Mynydd Bach, Ceredigion. After a career as a teacher in Wales and England, including a period as head teacher of a primary school, she now works as an editor of English books. She was also an international tennis umpire and loves travelling!

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