It was Australia’s entry into WWI that saw a young widow, Myra Taylor, brace herself as she stood at North Head on a windy night in 1915. There she tested her rayless, light-throwing device to see if it might benefit the Allies.
She hoped its reach was impressive, but there was no way for her to measure the distance. The unnamed light had no tell-tale beam to betray its source.
Reports soon reached Mrs Taylor that the light had confused the crew aboard a ship some 700 miles – 1,127 kilometres – out to sea. The alarmed captain had contacted the lighthouse keeper at South Head to ascertain what was happening. He was none the wiser.
Myra Taylor (later Farrell) was a Mosman resident who became one of Australia’s most prolific inventors.
Speculation grew, but the kerfuffle abruptly ended when the Department of Defence, newly thrown into the world war arena and interested in the device, simply confiscated the plans and prototype.
Unbelievably, the disappointment was just a blip for Mrs Taylor, who was busy filing patents for inventions to ease soldiers’ daily discomfort, give medics a superior way to bind wounds, and a new method of mitigating frontline injury and death.
The blatant confiscation, or theft, of her work would become a theme for Mrs Taylor, but this was not her most significant stumbling block. She was dismissed as a barely educated, weird little woman who tinkered away in a shed filled with chemicals and all manner of things from which she produced the stuff of dreams. Literally.
Myra’s “Rayless Light” invention was said to have travelled 700 miles in 1915. It was rejected by the Australian Defence Department.
Sleep on it.
As a child, Myra Taylor was markedly different from her peers. Never knowing it had a name, she had a rare neurological condition called somnambulant writing. It allowed her to focus on an idea as she slipped into sleep and had an invention developed or problem solved by morning.
While still asleep, she’d get out of bed and feverishly record her ideas on anything suitable, including walls and bedsheets. Her scrawling included complex maths solutions, technical drawings, specifications, and detailed prototype plans. Add to this a shopping list, and she was done.
However, by morning she needed a mirror to decipher the lot. She had written the words backwards, starting her notes from the right-hand side of the surface.
“Rifle, shell, and machine-gun proof.”
Mrs Taylor’s next invention attracted even more attention. Her Defence Fence had survived the lengthy assessment process, from thousands of culled entries, following the department’s public shout-out for ideas.
The Defence Fence consisted of two steel shields with sturdy, coiled springs wedged and welded between them. The department pronounced it “rifle, shell, and machine-gun proof”. Despite the lofty endorsement and resultant media, it was confiscated.
It seemed the ‘M J Taylor’ on the application was female, seen as an odd duck, at least in the eyes of the war cabinet.
Myra had more luck with her “stitch-less button”, known as the press-stud today, and her “stitch-less hook and eye”, which allowed soldiers to rapidly don and doff the now pull-apart fronts of their khakis. So, the department was happy with Mrs Taylor’s inventions as long as she stayed in her lane and did not veer into engineering traffic.
Myra Taylor-Farrell, photographed here in later life, was seen as an “odd duck” by many, despite inventing scores of life-changing gadgets that are used today.
Maria Julia Welsh was born in County Cork, Ireland, to a clergyman, Marcus, and the daughter of an Australian engineer, Harriett, though some reports cite Mrs Welsh as the engineer.
Her father met and married her Australian mother in New Zealand; the newlyweds returned to Ireland, later losing their house to arson. Not long after, the family took an arduous trip by ship to Adelaide in 1880 when Myra was two years old.
Myra emigrated to Australia from Ireland in 1880, with her family settling in Broken Hill.
Following disembarkation, the Welshes quickly learned that silver had been discovered at Broken Hill. The Welshes, bringing religion to the area, set up camp in the mining town. They opened St Peter’s School in nearby Silverton, where six Welsh children were eventually educated.
At age 10, Myra startled her mother with her first invention, the self-locking safety pin.
Seeing her mother’s reaction, Myra joyfully pronounced: “I can do something that you cannot do!” Sadly, no one thought to patent the ingenious device, the forerunner to those in household drawers today. Later, in what must have been an arresting Deja Vu moment for Myra, her five-year-old also presented her mother with a prototype. The little girl was unhappy that her dolls never looked comfortable, no matter how she laid them out.
Death sentence rejected.
As a young woman, and likely due to the family’s proximity to the mines, Myra contracted lead poisoning. She slowly became bedbound and gravely ill after the poison had reached her lungs. Her parents took her to a specialist in Adelaide, whose prognosis was dire.
But Myra rejected the assessment, developing an inhalation system – a type of nebuliser – still seen in hospitals today. Her plan included an apparatus to clarify seven secret ingredients that, when combined in various prescriptions, forced into tablet form, and then burned, its fumes would clear the mucus, kill bacteria, and clean and heal the lungs.
An advertisement for Myra’s Membrosus Treatment, which became hugely popular as a treatment for Tuberculosis in the 1920’s.
Within a week, she was able to dress. Within three years, she was pronounced cured. Myra’s generosity and devotion to humanity were evident as she began her regular train trips to Victoria Hospital and Sanatorium in the Blue Mountains to treat desperately ill patients with her Membrosus Inhalation Treatment. For years she was inundated with letters from grateful patients.
At the time, she could not have known that her device was yet to become even more personal.
The dying Scotsman.
1905 was a big year for Myra Welsh. She had registered one patent, designed new devices, or improved others’ inventions, and had met a young Scotsman, William Taylor. Her soon-to-be fiancé was already showing signs of tuberculosis, or consumption, as it was called.
Doctors gave Mr Taylor three months to live not long after the pair met. Resurrecting her treatment, Miss Welsh began intensively nursing him. He had shown significant improvement within a year, and they were married.
2 Cowles Rd. Myra’s first home in Mosman. She later moved to Prince Albert St.
The Taylors lived at 2 Cowles Road, Mosman, and had two children, Lavie Curtis and William Paterson Welsh. During Mr Taylor’s illness, a three-month-old Lavie contracted the disease. Her mother altered the baby’s prescription, then administered the discrete formulas to both patients. Later, X-rays showed no sign Lavie had ever been so afflicted.
Mr Taylor died in 1912, seven years after they met. His wife had gifted him two children and much more time. By now, it had been mainly Mrs Taylor’s patents, licences, and royalties that had kept the family financially stable.
After her husband’s death, the Taylors moved to Perth, Bondi, Paddington, and then back to Mosman, settling at 27 Prince Albert Street.
The music man.
In 1919, Mrs Taylor, aged 41, married William George Farrell – an accomplished musician and director of the Empress Orchestra in the city. The couple had a son the following year: the much-lauded, child-prodigy violinist George Welsh Farrell, who at age 14 made his debut at a Sydney Town Hall concert in 1935, launching an impressive career.
Myra’s son, George Welsh Farrell, was a music prodigy who made his solo Violin debut at Sydney Town Hall aged just 14.
Twenty-four patents by 1915.
With WWI still raging, the female workforce ballooned as women took on roles such as munitions factory workers, farmers, administrators, firefighters, tram conductors, and more.
Spurred on by the suffragette movement and emboldened in their new male-dominated roles, women began loudly demanding more practical undergarments. They were fed up with being strapped into cage-like, never-laundered corsets with multiple, bone or steel rod panel supports at the back, front and sides.