NSW Northern Rivers History: Cedar Getters on the Tweed & Brunswick Rivers

Cedar-getters on the Tweed River

                Although a timber exploratory voyage had been made to the Tweed River by William Scott in the Letitia in 1840, it was not until 1844 a party of sawyers arrived on the Tweed.

Tweed Valley

                William Scott was a cousin of Charles Steele, a cedar dealer and squatter on the Macleay River, who applied for a licence to cut cedar in the Moreton Bay district in 1840. It would appear Thomas Caffrey had business links with Charles Steele and was his agent on the Macleay, and  Clarence Rivers and later at Moreton Bay. Caffrey would buy the cedar from the sawyers , delivered to the ships, mostly owned by Steele and then transport the logs to the Sydney market.

                Although Caffrey was still shipping cedar out of Moreton Bay in 1844,  the easily accessible cedar at there had begun to run out, and  he decided to turn his attention to the untouched forests on the Tweed River. Accordingly he had a suitable whale or long boat made at Nerang Creek by a boat builder, James Beattie. On completion of the boat he sent a party to the Tweed River, which included Paddy Smith, Richard Keys, Jack Wright and three others.. When John Burgess of Moreton Bay heard that Caffrey had sent a party to the Tweed, he set out with his own small party of sawyers. However on arrival at the mouth of the Tweed River the Burgess party was surrounded by a large number of Aboriginals. Fortunately at that time a second party of Caffrey’s men arrived by ship, from Sydney, in time to rescue Burgess’ men. Most of the men had worked for Caffrey cutting cedar on the Manning and Macleay Rivers. This group included Hugh Feeney, John Collins, John Macomb, Robert Cox and others.

                In 1844 when Paddy Smith and his party arrived on the Tweed they set up camp on the Teranora Broadwater where cedars grew close to the water’s edge of the small creeks. The logs could be simple rafted to the main camp to be squared for shipping. This area was away from the main currents of the river and the ground immediately near the foreshore was above flood reach and there was a safe deep anchorage for the loading of cedar onto the ships. The Tweed River was more thickly covered by thick brush , than the Clarence and Richmond Rivers which didn’t allow the easy use of bullocks and there were little in the way of grasslands for near-by forage. The most essential equipment was the long or whale boat for the carrying of equipment and provisions. It was used as the means of transport when the men had to move up river, once the more accessible area around the camp had been exhausted.

                By the following year, the men had to move further up the river and creeks to gain the cedar. They came more frequently in contact with the Aboriginals. In the main it was a peaceful coexistence for the first year or so, although there were incidents, which began to sour the relationships It would appear that the more influential head men of the Tul-gi-gin Tribe wished to acquire the prized equipment of the sawyers such as axes, iron mallets and most importantly the whale boats. Stores such as flour, and the bags it came in, as well as ‘clothing’ in all manner was becoming a status symbol within the tribes.

                Many sawyers took stealing as a huge affront and thought the Aboriginals should be punished the same way as any  sawyer caught stealing from another sawyer, would be punished. Some sawyers employed Aboriginals to help haul their logs into the creeks to float them down to a main camp or to manhandle the squared log to a better site for collection. Payment was made with ’gifts’ of whatever the sawyer could spare in the way of clothes, stores and equipment. Some sawyers, believed that this arrangement could lead to problems over the value of payment when stores were low, and wouldn’t employ the Aboriginals. Some Aboriginals took this as a slur against them and plotted mischief. Other Aboriginals believed they could help themselves to the sawyers possessions under-cover of darkness or when the sawyers were away from camp. One sawyer, by the name of Jack Marcomb, a mate of Hugh Feeney and Jack Collin’s party took exception to the theft of goods and took matters into his own hands, and set out to find, and deal with the culprits. He later fell out with Feeney and Collins, as they felt he had taken matters too far, and ill-treated the Aboriginals, without due cause. Marcomb is thought to have then left the Tweed.

                In early 1845 Caffrey, is thought to have possibly made a trip to the Tweed, to see the progress and then made arrangements for the squared logs to be taken off.

                The Tweed bar like the river bars of the Macleay, Clarence and Richmond, was difficult, so all care had to be taken when bringing in the ships to be loaded.

                In 1845 Edward (Ned) Harper arrived at the Tweed from Nerang Creek to enter into the cedar- getting game. He was a loner and was one of the sawyers who employed aboriginal to find the cedar trees, carry water to his camp as well a other jobs he could not do on his own. In fact,  he later lived with some of the tribe and learned many facets of their culture. Many years later as an elderly man he was interviewed by a journalist from the Courier Mail. This interview is probably the most complete record we have of events on the Tweed in the early days of cedar- getting.

                In  1846 Hugh Feeney and his mate Jack Collins were killed by Aboriginals, although they had always been kind and friendly towards them. Ned Harper although not present at the time, heard the story from Aboriginals, who were involved. At the above mentioned interview records what he knew about the matter.[[1]]

This is what was reported in the Moreton Bay Courier, “Intelligence reached the settlement yesterday that Hugh Pheeny and a man named Collins, who were employed by Mr John Burgess in sawing timber on the Tweed, had been treacherously murdered by the natives about a month ago, for the sake of their rations. It appears that they were attacked while at work in the creek which connects the north and south arms of the river. The bodies were discovered by Thomas Gorsill, who immediately gave information to Mr Dollman, Mr Burgess’ superintendent. Mr Dollman and some of the sawyers subsequently went to the spot, and buried them. This dreadful transaction had created much confusion on the river. The blacks in this locality have been long known as the most ferocious wretches in the district, and it is deeply to be regretted that there is no means of bringing them to justice. The unfortunate men who have become their victims, were well known to many in Brisbane, as hard working peaceable individuals.[[1]]

                Although there were never the numbers involved in the cedar getting on the Tweed River as on the Richmond,  most of the men there were single. In 1846, John Benson, a sawyer from the Bellinger brought his wife and family to the Tweed and in 1849, William Bozier arrived there with his wife and daughter. John Boyd after deciding the Brunswick River presented too many dangers decided to establish himself on the Tweed.

Cedar-Getters on the Brunswick River

                Cedar cutters had been taking cedar from the Clarence River from 1838, the Richmond River from 1842 and the Tweed River from 1844, but it wasn’t until 1849 that cedar was shipped from the Brunswick River. Although it was known from 1840 that there was cedar on the Brunswick River the experience of Surveyor James Warner’s party showed the river bar, like all the north coast rivers, was shallow and very treacherous and so there appeared to be no reason to move to the Brunswick River.

Brunswick River

                However by 1849, the boom on the Richmond River was beginning to wane, and the river was being settled by an increasing number of people not interested in cedar, and with the arrival of government officials, the free unrestricted days were coming to an end.

                Steve King who had moved from the Clarence to the Richmond some seven years before, moved on again with other Cedar-getters to the Brunswick River, early in 1849. Young adventurers from Sydney such as John and Edward Boyd also moved onto the Brunswick.

                In early 1849, a series of gales swept the coast and several small craft were lost. Toward the end of March , the Louisa while sailing along the coast was hit by one of these gales and was swept ashore a few miles north of Cape Byron above the Brunswick River. No lives were lost but she became a complete wreck.

                By April sufficient timber had been felled on the Brunswick to ship to Sydney and the small schooner the  Midas under Captain Benaud was charted and left Sydney, with sundries on 21 April. The weather being fair, she sailed north and negotiated the bar safely. While she was in the river loading another gale swept the coast with terrible consequences. The schooner, Swift was washed ashore near the Louisa with the loss of several lives. The story of this wreck is told elsewhere, as is the story of other wrecks on the Tweed and Richmond,  which happened in this same gale.

                The Midas returned to Sydney on 21 May 1849 with cedar and the news of the terrible tragedy of the Swift. In August and September the Ops, under Captain Watts made two voyages, but when the Clara was stranded on the bar in early 1850, it would appear that the Brunswick camp was abandoned as the river bar was proving to be a major obstacle. Many sawyers, such as King returned to the Richmond, while others such as John Boyd went onto the Tweed River in 1849.

 

Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author.

An index and full references can be found in the publication.

NSW Northern Rivers History: The Cedar Cutters- On the Richmond River

Cedar-getters on the Richmond River

Under the leadership of Steve King, several sawyers including Joe Maguire, Daddy Stocker, Joe Shelley, and others, undertook to take a whaleboat overland by bullock team to the Richmond River in search of more cedar stands. They finally reached the banks of the Richmond near where Codrington stands and launched the whaleboat for an exploratory journey along the river. Delighted to find so much good cedar they soon returned to the Clarence to take their families and provisions by the Sally to the Richmond River.[[1]]  .These sawyers and families were quickly followed by others, not only from the Clarence but also from the Macleay, Nambucca, and Bellinger Rivers.

..Eight pairs of sawyers, with their large families, late in the employ of Mr. Small of the Nambucca, have determined to open the Richmond River, 140 miles to the northward of the Macleay, for the purpose of thereon cutting the finest specimens of cedar, hitherto produced in the colony. They have already proceeded in the Northumberland. Two or three vessels from Sydney have also proceeded thither.

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The first cedar camp on the Richmond River was set up on the river bank opposite Pelican Creek where Jimmy Pearce, Tommy  Chilcott, Cooper and others started work on a patch of cedar on the north arm of the river, this site was later known as the ’Old Camp’. At the height of the drought in 1843, the camp had to be shifted as the river became salty and the sawyers and their families were forced to move further up the river for freshwater. Having found a well-grassed plain where Aboriginals were camped they gave the place the aboriginal name ‘Gunurimbi’. Several other sawyer camps were made along the network of creeks that flowed into the Richmond River system. Some of the places along these creeks were named after the cedar getters and their families who lived there such as Steve King’s Plain and Chilcotts Grass.

It is difficult to judge the size of the cedar getters’ community along the river but the amount of cedar shipped out of the Richmond River from 1843 was proof of their industry and by 1845 it has been estimated that the 62500 feet of cedar shipped that year represented a large percentage of cedar cut in the colony.

Although the Richmond River was part of the district under the jurisdiction of Commissioner Oakes he didn’t visit the area. His successor, Commissioner appointed in 1841 did not make a full tour of his territory until April 1844. Between the 1st and 7th of that month, he visited some of the sawyers camps on the lower Richmond River but there is no mention of travelling up the network of creeks to check on other cedar camps.

The cedar trade on the Richmond River continued to develop throughout the 1840s as new camps were formed at Teven Creek, Duck Creek, Immigrant Creek, Bald Hill, and Cooper’s Creek. In the early days in some areas cedar could be felled directly into the creeks or pulled by bullocks to the water’s edge and floated down in rafts to the ships, to be sold. However, as it became necessary to move further up the mountains in the pursuit of the cedar a different method was needed. It was customary to brand the logs and stack them close to the banks of some streams high in the hills. A string of chains known as ‘stops’ was then strung across the mouths of the larger creeks. Then the men would return home to await the rains and the flood or ‘fresh’ in the creeks. The rising water would float and sweep the logs downstream and up against the chain ‘stops’ When the water had subsided the sawyers met at the ‘stops’ to sort their branded logs. Rafts were then made up and floated downriver to the waiting ships or cedar agents depots, to be sold.

We know that many of the cedar getters would have been single men but there is plenty of evidence that there were family men too, who had their wives and children with them. The Rev John McConnel the Church of England clergyman stationed at the Settlement on the Clarence River, visited the sawyers camps on the Richmond River in April and May 1844 when he baptised the children of, Thomas and Mary Brandon; William and Rebecca Woodward; Peter and Margaret Whittaker and Stephen and Sarah King.

The Rev McConnel again visited some of the cedar getters on the Richmond in the winter of 1846 when he baptised the daughter of George and Jane Cooper, and in March the following year when he baptised the children of Peter and Margaret Whittacker; John and Ann Smith; Joseph and Caroline Greenhalgh and William and Rebecca Harrison.  Due to ill health McConnel was forced to resign his appointment in 1848 and died later in the year.

Late in 1849 the Rev Coles Child was appointed to the Clarence River District by the Church of England Bishop and undertook his duties with great gusto.  He visited the Richmond River in November and December 1849 where he undertook marriages and baptised many children. These included the children of sawyers.- John and Amelia Wilson; Mathias and Mary Lewis; John and Martha Wood; Thomas and Janetta Chilcott; Ephraim and Betsy Shaw; Emanuel and Mary Ann Davis; James and Ann Johnstone and Hillary and Elizabeth Bishop.

It should be mentioned that although there were cedar-getting families of the Roman Catholic persuasion on the Richmond River in the 1840s, they did not use the services of the Rev Coles Child to have their children baptised, as some Catholic families resident on the Clarence River did. They waited several years before a visiting priest from the Moreton Bay district visited the Richmond River, to have their children baptised or they made a voyage to Sydney.

The cedar getters on the Richmond River and their families were a law unto themselves with no interference from any government officials seeking licenses or attempting to confiscate their hard-won timber. Although there must have been many drunken brawls and fights, nothing of a too serious a nature happen until 1848 when a charge of murder was brought against a cedar getter named Francis Gilloghly. He was believed to have murdered his partner, Ike, on the river in June 1848. After some inquiry by the Grafton Bench Gilloghly was sent to Sydney to await trial.  However there was insufficient evidence, and he was discharged without trial in November 1848.

The timber trade continued to develop on the Richmond River, after 1850.

 

Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author.

An index and full references can be found in the publication.

 

 

Clarence River History: The Cedar Cutters- On the Clarence River

In a former blog, I wrote about the Cedar Cutters on the Macleay River and how the law had caught up with them and effectively stopped them cutting cedar on the banks of that river. They then moved northward onto the banks of the Clarence River.

Cedar-getters on the Clarence River

                Girard had sent the Taree back to the Macleay for cedar, but with his activities curtailed there, he sent the Eliza to Newcastle for coal, from where she returned on 18 April 1838.

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                By this time Thomas Small and Henry Gillett had already sailed their new vessel named Susan north to the Big River on a trial. The story was related by Gillett and Small many years later. When Susan approached the river mouth for the first time, they found that the bar was too rough to attempt a crossing. Having waited for a couple of days and finding conditions not improving they made a run to Moreton Bay for water. On the return voyage, they found they still could not enter because of the treacherous sandbar at the mouth. The Susan then returned to Sydney to collect a whale or longboat so that soundings could be taken of the bar, and also to collect further provisions.

                On the 1 May, the Susan having being registered and restocked headed for the Big River again. This time it was noted in the Sydney newspapers-

                ” The schooner, Susan, went out on Saturday, on a trip northwards whither she proceeds with a party of men (sawyers) for the purpose of cutting cedar from the banks of a river near Morton Bay, being the first vessel which has gone to that place.

                John Kellick immediately sent his small cutter, Elizabeth, after Susan and reported having met her waiting to cross the bar. The captain of the Elizabeth is believed to have been Daniel Keele.

                 Having sent out the whaleboat to sound the bar both ships passed over safely. Both ships slowly proceeded up the river. On reaching an island about sixty miles from the mouth of the river, the Elizabeth put down the anchor and named the adjacent island, ‘Elizabeth Island’ after the ship.  Consequently,  Captain Boyle of the Susan set down anchor near another island further up the river and named this island ‘Susan Island’ in honour of his ship.

                Elizabeth being smaller, and of shallow draft, explored further up the river, but the captain made a mistake when the river forked and travelled up what is now known as Orara thinking it was the main river, but it ended in swampy shallows. This branch of the river was known, as Dan Keele’s Mistake or The Mistake for quite a while locally, before it was officially named ‘Orara’. The Elizabeth having returned to the river junction, proceed up the main river as far it was navigable, and Kellick’s men set up a camp there.

                Small being satisfied with the river’s potential, returned to a section of the river closer to its mouth, but where it forked. The mouth of this river had black rocks exposed at low tide and was given the name of Rocky Mouth. It was near there Small made his sawyers camp.

                Meanwhile in Sydney, on the 9 May, Girard petitioned the government concerning the cedar from the Macleay which had been confiscated some months before. A few days later, on 11 May 1838 the Taree arrived with cedar from the Macleay.

                Girard immediately sent the Taree after the Susan, to the Big River.  The captain is believed to have been Daniel Whiteman, and Girard’s overseer, Robert Maddox was also on board. The Taree called at the Macleay River to collect Girard’s sawyers and by the time she arrived at the Big River bar, Susan and Elizabeth. had already entered the river. The Taree with the assistance of a sawyer named William Meadows, who took soundings of the bar, was able to enter the river safely. Robert Maddox proceeded to draw a map of his observations as the ship slowly sailed up the river. On this map the Maddox’s noted boats at anchorage in the deepwater opposite Rocky Mouth,  waiting to load cedar. One at least was the Susan and news of her exploration up the river and that of the Elizabeth was likely exchanged by the captains. The Taree continued her exploration of the river and Maddox noted the two islands already named, Elizabeth and Susan. Proceeding further up the river, a river was noted to join the main river, which was named Whiteman Creek for the captain. The Taree moved up as far as the head of navigation and set down sawyers near where Kellick’s men had already set up a camp.

                 Meanwhile, Susan had returned to Sydney with her first load of cedar which was reported thus:

                ” The schooner, Susan, lately built by Mr. Small, at Kissing Point, returned from a trip to the Big River on Monday last, with a cargo of cedar, The Susan is spoken of as being a good vessel and a fast sailor, her measurements is about 50 tons burthen.”

                There was a further report on the Big River in the newspaper:-

                Considerable interest is at the present moment felt by owners of the coasting craft, as to the intelligence received from the Big River, where the schooner Susan procured her cargo. This river is about 400 miles to the northward of Sydney Heads. Its navigation is spoken of as being safe for vessels of from 80 to 100 tons for 70 miles from its mouth, and the banks on either side are thickly covered with the finest cedar. Other accounts differ in some degree from the above, and state that the entrance to the river is impeded by a sand bar, with about 15 feet of water on it, after passing which a second bar or spit obstructs the passage, more dangerous than the former, on account of there being but 10 feet of water on it, and the bottom of rock. After passing this danger, the water up the river runs about 15 feet deep. Messrs Girard and Hayes have a party of sawyers engaged about 100 miles up the Big River…”

                Girard anxiously awaiting the return of the Taree, then sent his ship the Eliza under Captain James Butcher , to the Big River in early August 1838.

                Having loaded cedar at the Clarence River, the Taree ran aground, when attempting to cross the river bar in early October 1838. Unfortunately she became a total wreck, although there was no loss of life.

                Captain James Butcher was the master of the Abercrombie which arrived in Sydney from Plymouth on 1 September 1837. Mrs. Butcher was also onboard and a few days later, on 6 September, gave birth to a son, whom they named ‘James’ and was baptised 8 October 1837. The Abercrombie then made a voyage to Mauritius, via South Australia, leaving Sydney on 27 October. She returned on 3 July 1838, with sugar and other sundries,  having left Mauritius on 13 April. The ship is believed to have been sold in early July and on 16 July she left for Hobart, under her new master, Captain Crew. It would appear than Captain Butcher then went to work for Francis Girard. His first job was to take the Eliza to the Big River.

                Butcher also made a map of the Clarence River noting important features on it including several cedar camps, namely- ‘Kellick, Sorrell, Girard and Cheafy ‘A report of his observations concerning the river.  was published in the Sydney Monitor:-

                “We have been favoured by Captain Butcher late of the Abercrombie, with some account of the capabilities of the Big River, from which he has recently returned, having explored it to a distance of 120 miles from the sea. Captain Butcher describes the river as navigable for vessels drawing nine feet water as far as Susan Island, which is situated about 80 miles from the entrance. The banks of the river are thickly covered with timber, fit for building vessels of any description. At a place called Pine Reach, about five miles above Susan’s  Island, Capt. B. saw a great abundance of pine trees, greatly resembling the English pine, and well adapted for making spars or for similar purposes. Some of the trees Captain B. saw, could not have been less than seven feet in diameter. The land on the banks of the river is generally of the finest description, and behind, are extensive flats of fertile land, luxuriantly covered with grass, and fit for immediate operation of the plough. Above Susan’s island, the river is not navigable, in consequence of the interception of several falls, or rather bars, which obstruct the passage. The water is salt for some distance beyond Susan’s Island, excepting in the rainy season. The banks of the river are generally pretty steep, the adjoining flats consequently, do not seem to be subject to floods. About 38 miles from the entrance the river divides itself into two branches, the lesser one of which runs in an E.N.E. direction, and again unites itself to the mainstream after making a detour of about 18 miles. The island thus formed; is of considerable extent, and the soil rich and fertile in the extreme. Beyond Susan’s Island, the river is only navigable for boats. Had time allowed, Captain Butcher intended to have followed the channel to its source, which he imagines must be some 30 or 40 miles inland. As it was he was compelled to return without having completed his purpose.

                Considering the immense advantages that must accrue from the discovery so near us of extensive tracts of fertile land, adjoining a navigable stream, it certainly seems somewhat surprising that the Big River, and other smaller streams to the northward of Port Macquarie, are known to us only through the medium of drunken sawyers. We do not think the time or the labour of an intelligent surveyor, with one of the Revenue Cutters placed at his disposal for a couple of months, would be altogether lost, in exploring the various navigable streams to their source.

                Although there is no mention in the newspapers, there is no doubt that the Eliza brought cedar from the Clarence River, as well as the news and crew from the wrecked Taree.  Maddox would have made his report to Girard, and handed over his map. This map and that of Captain Butcher’s was later sent to the Surveyor General’s office, whether by Girard or another it is not known. Captain Butcher made no further voyages to the Clarence River, but he made several voyages to Tasmania as the master of Girard’s ships. He later became a pilot at Port Jackson, a post he held for two years before ill health caused his dismissal.

                Maddox remained in Sydney and James Williams became Girard’s overseer on the Clarence River. He first set up on the South Arm of the river not far from where Small’s moved to. This was known as William’s Flat and later Tyndale. William’s later moved to an area above Susan Island, which became known as Waterview.

                Meanwhile, Girard had purchased the Martha, a  brig, 122 tons,   from Messrs McGaa and Co for £1,400 and had her refitted for the cedar trade. On December 2, she left Sydney for the Macleay .

                Throughout 1839, cedar was regularly shipped from the Clarence River for Girard, Kellick, Caffrey, and Small as well as independent voyages by enterprising ship captains in the Martha, Eliza, Edward, Curlew, Currency Lass, Sir David Ogilby, Sally, Betsy, Susan, and the Elizabeth.

                The sawyers were a law unto themselves and although a few had brought their families to the Clarence with them, most of the sawyers were single. Many had been convicts who had served their time, but there were also runaways from Moreton Bay who were working as ‘mates’ to sawyers.

                Little was mentioned of the sawyers on the visit of Captain Perry nor the other passengers of the King William in May 1839. However, when the surveyors, William C B Wilson, and Christopher Moore Wilson arrived in April 1840, they immediately wrote to the Colonial Secretary complaining of the behaviour of the sawyers and the ship’s crews.

                It was not until later in 1840 that Commissioner Oakes was to finally arrive on the Clarence River. From the 20 August to the 27 August, Oakes wrote – ‘These seven days have been employed in searching for, seizing and branding cedar cut by unlicensed sawyers ‘ and the following week,’” Having had information that some runaways from Moreton Bay were at work in the scrubs adjacent to Dr. Dobie’s and Mr. Grose’s stations I proceeded with my party in search of these-visiting the different intervening stations ‘

5 September 1840 Not having completed the measurement of cedar seized, moved my tents and party a distance of about 35 miles up the river in order to be more convenient to sawyers scrubs. After completing this tour of runs, Oakes then proceeded to check all licenses to cut timber and promptly confiscated considerable quantities including that cut by William Phillips shipbuilding yard. Oakes left one of his Border Policemen, Dominic Gannon in charge of the confiscated cedar and headed back to the Macleay River.

                Soon after the departure of Oakes, the irate cedar-cutters led by Girard’s overseer, James Williams, seized from Trooper Dominic Gannon the confiscated timber and shipped it to Sydney in the John and the Scotia. Oakes was soon dispatched back to the Clarence on the reports of the stolen timber and other problems in the area reaching Sydney

                On 10 September 1840, Thomas Small wrote to the Colonial Secretary advising the sawyers he had working for him, namely, Sylvester Kean, Joseph Shelley, Stephen King, Patrick Daly, John Avery, James Dorman, James Pierce, and William Carr.

                The following June Oakes was required to visit all camps and enterprises on the Clarence River to collect information for each householder’s census returns. Several sawyer camps are named and we know others were working as employees of settlers such as Thomas Small and are included in their returns.

                When Commissioner Oakes made a permanent headquarters on the Clarence River in 1841 and continued to prosecute the sawyers and confiscate their cedar, several decided to move onto the Richmond River to the north.

 

Extract from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author.

Index and full references can be found in the publication.

 

Clarence River History: The Cedar Cutters-Introduction

Cedar was first cut in New South Wales on the Hawkesbury in 1790 and it appears soon after the Hunter River was discovered, cedar was also cut from its banks. When the settlement was formed at Newcastle convicts were employed in cutting cedar for the government.

                 Cedar getting in the Illawarra District was established as soon as the first settlers arrived there and the trade was sufficiently developed by 1819 for the Government to regulate it. A General Order was published on 14 August 1819 which stated that several persons, both free and convict, had been for some time illegally residing in the district and ” there cutting sawing and selling large quantities of cedar and other timber, the property of the Crown”. In 1820 it became necessary to apply for permission to cut a specific quantity of timber and to state the number of men to be employed.

                Between 1820 and 1826 the industry developed considerably and a Government Order was issued recalling all permits granted to individuals to cut cedar on ‘unlocated land’. Those desiring to carry on the trade were to apply to the Colonial Secretary for the necessary authority. A duty of one half-penny per superficial foot was also imposed.

                When the settlement was established at Port Macquarie in 1821, the cedar on the banks of the Hastings River was soon exploited.

                By about 1828, the industry had moved north to the Manning River when settlement commenced on that river. From the Manning, the sawyers moved northwards to the Macleay or New River as it was known, in the 1830s. As the Macleay River was outside the ‘settled’ area very few of the sawyers were licensed and because of the demand for timber, the stakes were high. There was much thieving and re-branding of timber. They were a law unto themselves

                The Sydney Gazette of, 11 February 1836 referred to the Government Order which restricted the cutting of cedar on the North Coast and stated that the value of the land on the Macleay River in consequence of the indiscriminate removal of timber was undergoing rapid depreciation. The newspaper recommended that authority be given to the Superintendent at Port Macquarie to eject persons who had been ordered to cease cutting cedar on Crown Land.

                In the Government Gazette of, 2 April 1836, a notice appeared which informed interested parties that a licence permitting them to cut cedar for one year would be issued by the Collector of Internal Revenue on making application and paying the fee of one guinea. The extent and boundaries to be worked had to be described in the application.

                 There were three kinds of people engaged in the cedar trade. The first group was of generally merchants and traders who resided in Sydney and employed sawyers to cut for them. They had teams to shift the timber to the nearest port, and large boats to transport it to Sydney. When their own sawyers could not supply sufficient timber to meet the demand, they purchased from the second group. The second group consisted of men who were sawyers by trade, and who cut for sale to the group already mentioned, or to anyone else who would purchase from them. These men lived in the midst of the cedar grounds, sometimes with their families. A third group consisted of those employed in the cartage of the timber but were not otherwise interested in the timber trade. Ship’s captains often fell into this group.

Macleay River Today

Macleay River Today. Image from Google Images

Cedar-getters on the Macleay River

                In 1837 the government-appointed Commissioners to overseer the districts outside the nineteen counties on ‘Crown’ lands. Commissioner Oakes was appointed to the Port Macquarie district and the Macleay River was included in his area of jurisdiction. One of the duties of the Commissioner was to check that all sawyers were licensed to cut timber on Crown Land. Some sawyers on the Macleay were licensed but many were not.

                One of the leading timber merchants in Sydney was Francis Girard who by the mid-1830s had several sawyers working for him on the  Macleay River. He also owned several ships to carry the timber to Sydney. There was little change,  until the Government Order of 1836 which in fact restricted the cutting of timber on the Macleay.

                In 1836, Girard employed Robert Henry Maddox, as a clerk at his Steam Engine & Sawmill establishment at Darling Harbour.

                In early 1837, Maddox was sent as an overseer to Girard cedar depot on Macleay. However Maddox took ill and had to return to Sydney, so Girard’s brother in law, Patrick Hayes, was sent up to the Macleay River to appoint Whitebread as overseer.

The Macleay River bar presented major problems for getting the timber to Sydney-

                ” The Macleay River has been almost closed up by a furious drifting sand. There are only three feet of water on the bar, and the Eliza built for Mr. Girard and a number of other vessels are quite landlocked.”

                ” The Macleay River- News has reached Sydney by the steamer William the Fourth that this very important harbour for our small craft is completely locked at the present time we hear there about 10 vessels in it, and on account of so little water on the bar, they are unable to come out.

                Activities on the Macleay remained unnoticed until early October 1837 when one of Girard’s ships, the Taree arrived from the river. News of a riot there was published in the newspapers

                ” News of the Day… Four men, named Alexander Collins, Henry Byrne, James Searle, and James Millie, were charged before the Police on Friday last, with stealing a large quantity of cedar, under the following circumstances;- It appeared from the evidence of Mr. Girard, and his Superintendent, Mr. Hayes, that Mr. Girard. has property at the Macleay River, and is an extensive dealer in cedar. A person named Maddox was sent there as overseer, to protect the property. Maddox, however, became ill, and Mr. Hayes was sent down to supersede him; shortly after the arrival of that gentleman at the Macleay, he purchased for Mr. Girard about two hundred thousand feet of cedar from Messrs Rudder, Sullivan, Thompson, and others there; the chief quantity was purchased from Rudder. The cedar was brought to the beach and measured by Hayes, and a great portion of it branded by him for Mr. Girard. On the 17th of last month, Collins who is the captain of the Jane and Emma, cutter; Searle, who has lately become free, but formerly held a Ticket-of-Leave, and resided at the Macleay, and dealt in cedar; Millie, a seaman, and another person came to Mr. Hayes, and asked him if he had any freight for Sydney; Hayes offered him some at six shillings per hundred. They refused that, and said they would rather go back in ballast; but before they went away, they remarked they would have freight somehow or other. The next day Monday, Hayes accompanied by a Mr. Whitebread, was about to pull off to the vessel, to offer them an advanced freight, when he observed a number of boats pulling for the shore. From the number of persons in the boats, Hayes apprehended they were coming to steal cedar; he therefore returned and went for a loaded fowling-piece; by this time the boats had reached the shore, and twenty-five persons left them and came up to Hayes; several of them armed with muskets, and Hayes, on that account, fearing that bloodshed might ensue, threw away his piece. The party then went to where the cedar lay, the whole of the prisoners being in the assemblage. Searle said, pointing to the logs, this is mine, and this- in fact, it is all mine; they then fastened to the cedar, and returned to the boats, and towed away about a hundred and forty thousand feet to the vessels. The next day they returned and carried away about sixty thousand feet. Two vessels, belonging to Mr. Girard, were lying at the time within the bar, and Hayes proceeded on board one of them, the Taree, with a view of getting the Captain to put to sea and acquaint Mr. Girard and the Police  Authorities, of the transaction. The Captain, however, refused to do so for fear of injuring the vessel by trying to go over the bar. Hayes then went on board the other vessel, the Eliza, the captain of which immediately attempted to put out, but the vessel grounded on the bar, as did the vessels that had the stolen cedar on board, the Jane and Emma and the Speculator. The Taree afterward got over, and Mr. Hayes came in her to Sydney and took out warrants against the four prisoners, who were taken, Collins on board his vessel, which was found to contain cedar, which Hayes identified. Three other vessels afterward came into the harbour, one of them the Speculator was also found to contain some of the property.

                For the defence, it was contended on the part of Searle, that he had been possessed of some cedar at the Macleay, which had been stolen in his absence by Maddox, Mr. Girard’s foreman; he therefore returned and proceeded to claim his own property. The main ground of defence for the other prisoners, rested on this point, that none of the parties who had sold the cedar were possessed of land on which the cedar grew; and that, as the property in question had been cut from Government land, one person had as much right to it as another. It appeared, however, that Mr. Rudder, from whom Hayes purchased the greater portion of the cedar, had obtained a licence some time back from the Governor. It seems Rudder applied to the Government for leave to cut cedar, and the question was referred to a Committee to report upon; in the meantime, he was allowed to fell cedar on his understanding to take out a proper licence at whatever rate the Committee should decide upon. The Committee never came to any decision on the point, and Rudder continued to fell timber. They were all committed to take their trial but admitted to bail each of them in £80, and two securities in £40 each. Mr. David Chambers appeared for Mr. Girard and Messrs Ryan, Brenan, and Thurlow for the Prisoners.

                In anticipation of the arrival of more of his ships loaded with cedar, Girard placed the following advertisement

                CEDAR

By A Pollack

On Saturday, the 14th of October, at Eleven o’clock precisely, at Mr. F Girard’s, Darling Harbour.

Two Hundred Thousand feet of Cedar, in logs and Boards, divided in lots  to suitable purchasers. Terms made known at time of sale.

                The Eliza arrived Sydney on 13 October 1837 from Macleay River and was duly reported.

                ” The schooner, Eliza, the property of Mr. Girard has returned in safety from the Macleay River, with a fine cargo of cedar from the owner’s establishment. She was detained some time in consequence of grounding on the bar at the Macleay River while endeavouring to make her passage out, and in consequence, sustained some trifling damages to her rudder.

                However, by this time the law had intervened, and the following report appeared in the press:-   ” Sergeant Hoyle, the other day, received a search warrant to proceed to a wharf adjoining to that of the Commercial, to search for some of the cedar mentioned in one of our late papers, as being forcibly taken from the superintendent of Mr. Girard at the Macleay.  Hoyle accompanied by a gentleman of the firm of Mr. Girard and a party of constables went to the place in question, and discovered a large quantity of cedar, lying on the wharf; several of the logs were identified as the property of Mr Girard, and the police were about to remove them, when Mr. Sawyer the owner of the cutter which brought up the property, and Millie, the captain ( one of the party lately committed for forcibly taking it away) interfered and prevented the Police from removing it. A re-enforcement of constables was sent for, and the cedar taken to the wharf of Mr. Girard and Sawyer and Millie to the watch house. Mr. Brenan appeared the next day for the prisoners, who were discharged, on its being proved that they only objected to the removal of the cedar, on the ground that it was disputed property, and Sawyer had a claim to it, to the amount of sixty or seventy pounds, for freight.

                On Thursday Mr. Kerr the barrister, attended by Mr. Thurlow, applied to the Magistrates on the Bench at the Police Office, on the above subject. Mr. K wished the Bench to order the removal of the cedar from the yard of Mr. Girard, into the custody of the Police, on the ground that it was not reasonable to leave it in the charge of one of the parties claiming it, who might sell it before the case would come on, and use the proceeds for his own benefit. The Magistrates stated an order had been made on the subject which they could not receive, the property was quite safe and a constable placed over it.

                Girard having little cedar to sell was forced to place the following ad:-

POSTPONEMENT OF SALE

The Sale of cedar advertised by A Pollack, for tomorrow, at Mr. Girard’s Wharf, has been unavoidably postponed for a few days.

                At the Sydney Quarter Sessions in early January, Alexander Collins, James Searle, and James Millie were indicted with others unknown, for assaulting Patrick Hayes, at the Macleay River, on 18th September 1837. They were sentenced to short terms in gaol.

Macleay River

Headwaters of the Macleay. Image from Google Images

Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001,Grafton,published by author.

An index and full references can be found in the publication.

Clarence River History: Sea and Land Exploration- Allan Cunningham & Henry Rous

Allan Cunningham               

In 1825, Governor Darling, a military man, commended for distinguished service in Mauritius where he had been acting Governor found his new appointment in the Colony of New South Wales, far more complicated than his previous appointment. He was soon in disfavour with the Colonial Office in London especially when the financial crash of 1825 reduced the price of colonial exports and caused a severe depression in New South Wales.  The price of wool was to drop from 3s 6d in 1825, to a little more than 1s a pound by 1828, and the flow of capital from England, which had made expansion into wool possible, dried up, and many of the large sheep graziers became insolvent. At the same time a severe drought had hit the colony in late 1826 when crops and pastures were ruined and sheep died by the hundreds. Governor Darling then turned to explorers Captain Sturt and Allan Cunningham to look for new country and rivers to the tablelands north and northwest of the Great Dividing Range.

Allan_Cunningham07

From Google Images retrieved 20 April 2020

In April 1827, Allan Cunningham, a botanist and explorer was dispatched by Governor Darling to again explore the interior including some of those areas seen by Oxley nearly ten years before. His party was guided up the Liverpool Ranges by Peter MacIntyre, in whose honour Cunningham named the MacIntyre River.. After  fording the Severn  he noted open forest with good grass . By the 8 July he had rejoined his tracks at what is now Warialda and returned along the same track to his point of origin at Segenhoe, on the Hunter River.

In the Sydney Gazette of 29 August 1827, mention is made of the discovery of a wreck on the beach some fifty miles below Trial Bay by four runaways from Moreton Bay who had obviously had travelled overland. Again they evidently crossed the Tweed, Richmond and Clarence Rivers as they travelled south. Soon afterwards in September 1827, the colonial sloop, Aligator, under Captain Barcus, was sent to investigate a report of another wreck said to have been sighted on the beach between Cape Byron and the Solitary Islands. The captain’s report of this voyage, including the examination of  the mouths of several rivers, appeared in the Sydney Gazette of 22 August 1829. This record is not sufficiently clear to enable us to determine whether the Clarence and Richmond Rivers were visited, but it is highly unlikely.

Henry Rous

On 17 February 1827,  H M Frigate Rainbow of 530 tons, 28 guns and a crew of 160 and 13 officers arrived in Port Jackson after a two months voyage from Tincomalee ( British Naval Base in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka). She was under the command of Captain Henry John Rous, the second son of the Earl of Stradbroke. After a term in India the Rainbow was posted to the Australian ‘station’ to relieve the HM Fly at the end of 1826. The Fly left Sydney on 26 February for Madras via Hobart Town.

After three weeks in the colony the Rainbow under Rous departed to take the Rev Samuel Marsden to visit the missionaries in New Zealand, returning some weeks later. On the 13 June, Archdeacon Thomas Scott proceeded on an official inspection of the convict settlements at Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Moreton Bay. Governor Darling was to accompany the party northwards and named Stradbroke Island in Moreton Bay and Dunwich after Captain Rous’ father, Earl of Stradbroke and Viscount Dunwich.

Henry John Rous

From Google Images retrieved 20 April 2020

The rich, dark green shores with mountains in the distance must have given encouragement to Governor Darling after Cunningham’s observations of the country that lay inland of these coastal regions. Perhaps he believed it was time for an extensive and closer look at the country along the shoreline.

Soon after its return to Sydney the Rainbow left for the East India station on 29 July 1827 and over the next several months visited many eastern ports on a tour of duty which included Malacca, Calcutta and Madras. She returned to Sydney on 1 May 1828. For the following two months the Rainbow was laid up in dry dock while extensive repairs were made to her copper sheathing.

Meanwhile Allan Cunningham had returned to Sydney from his inland exploration. He made his report to Governor Darling, after whom he named the extensive ‘Downs’ he had discovered in the north. Cunningham was anxious to explore this region from the eastern side, that is from Moreton Bay, and made preparations to proceed in the Government barque, the Lucy Ann to Moreton Bay.

On 14 August the Rainbow left Sydney again under the command of Rous. The ship’s Master was William Johns. As the Rainbow sailed north, close to land, little of interest happened on the voyage until the fifth day when the Rainbow passed the Solitary Islands, Rous noted’ an opening in the land’. This was examined by the master, William Johns, in a boat. It proved to be an entrance to a small river, which we now know to be the Sandon River.

At daylight the following day’ the mouth of a large river’ was sited ‘apparently running in a N.N.W direction’ The pinnace was ‘ sent to sound for an entrance’ but without success ‘from the surf breaking on the bar’.

On the sixth day still standing in shore the Rainbow anchored at Byron Bay.

Next morning she moved on and in the afternoon ‘she arrived at the entrance of a large river, falling into the sea south of Point Danger’. The following morning a party left to explore the river and stayed ashore nearly two days. The master, William Johns was busy sounding the bay and the crew found a spring north of the point, where the Rainbow was anchored and filled the water casks with fresh water. Rous must have been much encouraged with what he found, and determined to make a detailed report to the Governor and so made an extensive search of the lower reaches of the river. During the four days the Rainbow was anchored the master, Johns reported that nine runaways from Moreton Bay had given themselves up and were taken on board in a most desperate state. Completely unaware that this river had already been discovered by Oxley in 1823, and named the “Tweed”, Rous named the river the “Clarence”, after the Duke of Clarence, the then Lord High Admiral of the Navy. This was to cause much confusion in later years. He was disappointed that the inner bay was filled with sand banks at low tide was ,thus ‘making passage up stream to the coastal plains very difficult’.

On 26 August, the Rainbowweighted anchor and made sail running along the shore’ on a southerly course. The weather was ‘fine with fresh breezes’ and in “the afternoon the Rainbow anchored in eight fathoms of water at the mouth of a river six league south of ‘Cape Byron’ at Latitude  28° 53′ S and Longitude 153°E.” He named the river the ‘Richmond’,  after Charles, Duke of Richmond of the Lennox family. The headland north of the entrance was given the name “Lennox Heads”. Men in the ship’s ‘gigs’, or small boats, immediately started to sound the bar, returning late in the evening as a storm approached. The Rainbow was forced to ride out the storm which blew during the night, but by morning it had cleared, and Rous and party set out early to examine the river. They crossed the bar’ where the surf breaks between two sandbars’ and found themselves in a wide bay two miles in extent. Detailing men to chart the waters of the north creek, Rous party moved upstream along the main river. Some three miles beyond the Broadwater they met a swamp area and turned back but Rous noted that the river ‘had not shoaled its depth and the width was half a mile’ which would indicate a large river. However in his report he noted ’not a hill could be discovered of any size’ the abundance of timber and the presence of aboriginal huts. He indicated that the country to the northward, appeared to have suffered as much from drought as the southern districts of the colony.

After completing the examination of the Richmond River the Rainbow returned to anchor under Cape Byron and the master, William Johns, was instructed to chart the bay for a safe anchorage necessary if ships’ awaiting to cross the Richmond River bar in rough weather’. Johns noted on his map all the safe anchor ages for vessels of all sizes as well as landing places were indicated. Before the ship left for its voyage south, the ships company  small arms and twenty two guns were fired. The Rainbow then returned to Sydney where Rous reported his findings to Governor Darling.

 

Meanwhile Allan Cunningham with Captain Logan, Commandant of Moreton Bay, had set out from Moreton Bay to explore the land he had sighted the year before on his inland exploration of the Darling Downs. The party moved inland and on the 3 August, climbed Mount Lindsay and overlooked the valleys and mountain ranges to the south and east. Cunningham’s sketch map shows Wilson’s Peake east of Mt Lindsay but no other features of this northern district of New South Wales. were noted. So in 1828, still very little was known of the area, inland.     .

Although Captain Henry Rous made voyages north in 1827 and 1828 and discovered the ‘Richmond’, which he named, and rediscovered  Oxley’s ‘Tweed River,’ which he named the ‘Clarence’, there still had been no discovery of the ‘Big River’, we now know as the Clarence River.

 

Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001,Grafton,published by author.
An index and full references can be found in the publication.

 

Clarence River History: Land Exploration- Convict Explorers & Richard Craig

Convict Explorers

From the beginning, convicts escaped from Moreton Bay Penal Settlement and many-headed southwards towards civilization. Although not recognized as such, they were explorers just the same. The first successful of these, to arrive at Port Macquarie, appear to have been a party of four who escaped in late 1825. The Commandant at Port Macquarie, Captain Gillman, wrote to the Colonial Secretary on 18 November 1825.

I have to inform you that four Crown Prisoners (as per margin) who state themselves to be deserters from the settlement at Moreton Bay have arrived here. They assert that they have been five weeks on the journey, which they made nearly the whole way within a few miles of the sea-beach; they mention they crossed two very large rivers, besides many smaller ones; and over very large plains many miles in length; thus they give an account of their excursion; however, my opinion is, that they have made their escape in a boat, I have therefore sent a black constable with a soldier as far north as Trial Bay in hope of being able to secure the boat if they made their escape in this way as I suppose.”

Another letter of the 25 November 1825, conveyed the information that one of the convicts admitted that the party [in total about 14 persons] had seized a boat at Moreton Bay and that they had been at sea for a number of days before beaching the boat some distance above Port Macquarie. Nine of the escapees deserted inland at this stage and the remainder pushed on to Port Macquarie. A further report of this party in the Sydney Gazette of 1 December, gave further details of their claims and description of the land between Moreton Bay and Port Macquarie, but as they completed most of their journey by boat it is unlikely they saw the Tweed, Richmond, and Clarence Rivers.

In the following year, another report appeared in Sydney newspapers concerning an escapee from Moreton Bay, one William Smith. The report stated-

A runaway from Moreton Bay arrived lately at Newcastle. He performed the journey by land in nine weeks. He stopped four days in the neighborhood of Port Macquarie to refresh and brought away a companion from thither. They were stripped of their clothing by the natives, and in a most miserable plight arrived at Port Stephen’s where the assistant pilot of Newcastle discovered them. He brought them into Newcastle. We have not heard how they have been disposed of.

He describes the country between Moreton Bay and Port Macquarie ‘to be beautiful beyond description. A gentle undulation of hill and dale extends for many miles. Vast plains, well-watered and thickly wooded are to be found in abundance. He counts fourteen rivers over which he crossed on his journey.”

Smith was returned to Moreton Bay and was probably a source of comfort and knowledge to the later escapees from Moreton Bay.

Richard Craig       

It is important that we give a full study to Richard Craig and that of his father William. William Craig was born near Strokes town in County Roscommon, Ireland about 1773. It is believed he married and had at least one child, Richard born about 1811 in the neighbouring county of Longford, a few kilometres away. The country thereabouts is unsuitable for agriculture being low and marshy, but is very useful for the grazing of cattle and sheep and is, in fact, renowned for this. William Craig was a farmer and butcher living in this area. Nothing further is known of the family until 1820 when, William, probably a widower, was tried at the Lent Assizes at Cavan for sheep stealing. He was sentenced to seven years transportation to New South Wales. Although unusual, his son Richard, aged about eight years, was to accompany his father on board the Prince Regent, which sailed on 19 September 1820, and arrived in Sydney, 9 January 1821.

William Craig remained in Government employ for a short time after his arrival and is listed as such in the 1822 Convict Muster. On 8 October 1822, he was assigned to Bernard Fitzpatrick at Prospect. It is probably here that William and Richard experienced handling stock in the Australian bush and had contact with Aboriginals.

On 25 August 1823, William Craig married Jane Mitchell,  another convict, at St Matthew’s Church, Windsor. Some eighteen months later William was convicted by circumstantial evidence to be involved in cattle stealing and was sentenced to the penal settlement at Port Macquarie, for three years. Richard, now aged about 12 years of age accompanied him. Young Richard, already well versed in looking after stock in the bush and possibly acquainted with native ways would not have found the Port Macquarie experience difficult. In fact, he was now a young man and probably enjoyed the companionship of the local Aborigines and certainly learned much of their language and bush skills which would be of great help to him some years later.

While William and Richard Craig were at Port Macquarie, William’s wife, Jane, still residing near Windsor, was arrested and sentenced to the female factory for six months. When William was returned to Sydney in March 1827, he applied for his wife to be released early, however, her conduct was such that she was not allowed to return to William then, and it is doubtful that she ever did so. On his application for Jane, William refers to his farm ‘ up country’. Later he indicated that he raised cattle there for the Sydney Market. He and Richard certainly brought cattle to Sydney for sale, but it was suspected they were stolen cattle, although there was never sufficient evidence to bring them to court. This all changed in July 1828 when both Richard and William were arrested and convicted of cattle stealing.

Early in May 1828, William Craig rented a house from Joshua Holt in Castlereagh Street, Sydney, to open a butcher shop. He told Holt, that he had fat cattle at the Coal River, and had sent his son Richard, to collect them for slaughter. Previously Craig also told  Holt, he had some cattle at Burragarang. Holt became suspicious that Craig had more cattle than he could honestly come by, and was sending his son Richard to steal cattle, and ordered Craig to vacate the premises. Soon afterward a series of suspicious circumstances led to the arrest of Richard and William Craig, and they were indicted for ‘cattle stealing and receiving’, the property of Richard Jones. A number of people were called as witnesses at the trial. Thomas Smith, a servant of Richard Jones was bringing some cattle from the Hunter River towards Sydney and met Richard Craig at Joseph Smith’s at Putty. Craig offered his services to help bring the cattle as far as Richmond, which he did. However, during the night he made away with some of the beasts and brought them to Sydney for slaughter.

. One of the major players in the conviction of the men, was Chief Constable Jilks, a point worth remembering for subsequent events some eight years later. Richard was sentenced to death, but it was commuted to 7 years of hard labour in chains at Moreton Bay. This was William Craig’s second colonial offense, and so he was sentenced to 14 years at Norfolk Island. William died at Norfolk Island on 24 December 1836 from diarrhea, aged 66 years. The Commandants remark noted on his death record, that he was of ‘Good Character, quiet and inoffensive’.

On 10 January 1829, Richard Craig was placed on board the City of Edinburgh and sent to Moreton Bay. Like many prisoners, he tried to escape his confinement. His first attempt was in March 1829, but he was returned within two weeks. His second bid for freedom was on 19 September 1829, but he was brought in on 13 October 1829. It was most likely, he was then placed under close confinement for some time. His third and final escape was on 17 December 1830. This time he was more successful and made his way south towards Port Macquarie.

View of Port Macquarie c 1825. August Earle-State Library of New South Wales

View of Port Macquarie by August Earle,c1825 from State Library of New South Wales
https://www2.sl.nsw.gov.au/archive/events/exhibitions/2012/macquarie/07_touring/image08.html

Many hundreds of kilometres away at the Government Stockyards at Wellington Valley, near Bathurst, preparations were being made for another journey across the wilderness to Port Macquarie. John Maxwell was the Superintendent of Government Stock there and was winding down activities at that establishment. The disposal of the Colonial Government farms was initiated in 1830 and all Government farms except those at Emu Plains and Moreton Bay were advertised for lease, including that at Wellington Valley. The cattle there were to be sent northwards to the Port Macquarie penal establishment.

On 10 November 1830 Maxwell wrote to the Colonial Secretary.

“Arrangements will be made by the beginning of January for the cattle ordered to be sent to Port Macquarie”,

then on the 16th of December 1830.

” I have also to acquaint you that a team has been sent to Sydney for the stores for the use of the party intended to proceed to Port Macquarie with one hundred head of fat cattle, and as soon as I conceive the rivers are sufficiently low, to enable the party to undertake the journey, the cattle will be forwarded”

In reply to a letter from the Colonial Secretary’s Office at the end of March 1831 he wrote,

” Your letter…. desiring to be informed if the 6 men sent to Port Macquarie, are wanted for any special purpose here… I do not conceive it necessary to return them here.It would seem by this remark, that the party had already begun their journey. 

To put this daring journey from the Bathurst District, though the Liverpool Plains to Port Macquarie into perspective it should be noted that Oxley had tried to reach Port Macquarie via the Liverpool Plains in 1818. Henry Dangar, an outstanding bushman of his time had lost all his horses in trying to get to Port Macquarie from New England in 1825, and his exhausted party arrived on foot. No one else is known to have made the journey by 1831. Although there certainly were men and stock on the Liverpool Plains, these were few and far between. Mitchell had not made his trip down the Namoi River and any maps of the colony were certainly wildly distorted and useless. It would seem it was a particularly difficult excursion and we should not be surprised at the letter the Commandant of Port Macquarie wrote to the Colonial Secretary at the end of May, advising him of the arrival of the party, but without the stock.

27 May 1831

“An Overseer (Oliver) and five men report having left Wellington Valley with 107 head of cattle and 6 horses on 3rd February 1831 and were directed in an N.E. course – six weeks provisions –  have suffered great privations – left cattle 74 and 4 horses on 17th instant about 50 miles beyond the New River”.

The Colonial Secretary’s reply of 14 June-

” … acknowledging… your letter… reporting the arrival of Overseer Oliver and five men forwarded with cattle from Wellington Valley to Port Macquarie, but they had been compelled to leave the surviving animals on the route until the party could refresh and return for them.

I am directed by His Excellency to request that these men when recovered from fatigue, maybe despatched in search of the cattle…”

Meanwhile, it would seem the Commandant was of the same mind as an entry in his diary records,

13 June 1831

” Crown prisoner Overseer Oliver and a party of 4 men went to the interior for the fat oxen etc. left by them in the bush coming from Wellington Valley.”

4 July 1831

” Overseer Oliver and the four men, crown prisoners, who went for the cattle left in the bush on their way from Wellington Valley, returned and report they cannot proceed in the direction sent, the mountains perpendicular and the ravines being utterly impassable.

31 July 1831

Overseer Oliver and party who went in pursuit of the cattle have returned without them”

While all this drama was going on at Port Macquarie, Richard Craig, the runaway from Moreton Bay was slowing making his way down the coast. He spent several months on the journey and spent some considerable time in the company of Sheik Brown who was also a runaway from Morton Bay and was living with the at ‘the Big River’. With the aid of Brown and the Aborigines, he made his way south to the Trial Bay area, where it is believed he met with Aborigines he had known from his earlier years. He gave himself up to the authorities at Port Macquarie on the 4 August 1831.

The Commandant at Port Macquarie recorded in his diary-

4 August 1831

“Richard Craig, a Moreton Bay bushranger, brought in by the free servant of Mr. Partridge’s to whom he gave himself up”.

No doubt the Commandant closely questioned Craig about his sojourn in the bush and probably learned of his earlier time in the district and his friendship with the Aboriginals. He was clearly impressed with his ability to converse naturally with them and recognized in Craig the possible solution of his most pressing problem of that time, and that was retrieving the missing cattle. The Commandant’s diary reveals an interesting sequence of events- 

“13 August 1831

…. four men who were in search of the cattle from Wellington opposing the Overseer in the execution of his duty and insolent to him. Remanded. 

15 August 1831

The four crown prisoners remanded on 13th brought up and were sentenced severely each to one month Iron Gang.

Nothing more could be done about the cattle until the men had completed their sentences.

Meanwhile, Craig was not the only Moreton Bay runaway taken at this time at Port Macquarie, as the following entries in the diary show-

7 September 1831

‘Two runaways from Morton Bay taken by Mr. Partridge’s servant (Thomas Baker) on North Shore’.

12 September 1831

Two Morton Bay runaways apprehended by the natives at Trial Bay, one made his escape from the blacks,’ (but later brought in by Minni Minni’) and one was taken by the assigned servant of Mr. Reed’s on the North Shore…”

By now the cattle party convicts had completed their month on the iron gang and the Commandant was ready to send them out again, but with caution.

13 September 1831

” The cattle party in charge of Overseer Oliver cautioned by the Commandant to their conduct while on their trip to the interior.”

The party was soon provisioned and made ready but this time there was an extra member in the party.

15 September 1831

” Overseer Oliver and the cattle party (five in Number) with Craig, the Moreton Bay runaway as a guide departed for the interior in search of the cattle”.

It was more than two months before a further report of the party is recorded.

25 November 1831

“Overseer Oliver and one of the cattle party returned reports,’ his success in bringing 57 oxen and 2 horses to Point Plomer, party dreadfully exhausted being so long without flour. Reports that white people ( several in number)  are living in the bush, including two white women, and are farming between here and Moreton Bay.’

5 December 1831

‘ Oliver and party returned to the settlement, the cattle taken to Rolland’s Plains”.

Meanwhile, the Commandant at Port Macquarie had written to the Colonial Secretary concerning Craig and his reply was as follows.

” with respect to the Moreton Bay runaway named in the margin, (Richard Craig)  employed by you as a guide to the party sent in search of the strayed cattle from Wellington Valley in consequence of his perfect knowledge of the native language. I am directed by his excellency the Governor to acquaint you that there will be no objections to his detention and assignment of this man at Port Macquarie, instead of returning him whence he came”

As there was little assignment of prisoners to private and military service, at this time Craig was left at the stock establishment at Rolland’s Plains, where he did his job well.

The Commandant reported in his diary-

28 March 1832

” reported by Overseer Brunker, 4 feet water in his house at Rolland’s Plains, the flats completely covered. Government pigs and cattle saved by the perseverance of crown prisoner Creig. sic. (Craig) .

Over the next few months, the Commandant at Port Macquarie reconsidered the information Craig had given him concerning the ‘Big River’ in the north towards Moreton Bay, and also the knowledge of the ‘ Big River’ to the west (also known as the Page).”

 

Perhaps he thought they may have been the same river system extending over a very large area. This was a puzzle he wanted to solve. Having made his considerations, he did two things.

Firstly he sent Craig on an exploration journey into the interior and secondly he sent for Sheik Brown whom Craig had talked about at the Big River, towards Moreton Bay. This is revealed by the diary.

“28 July 1832

Crown prisoner Craig equipped for transport from Port Macquarie to Liverpool Plains to trace down the main arm of a river, known by the name of the Big River, to the sea coast.

18 August 1832

William Dalton one of the absentees from Moreton Bay, sent in the direction of the Big River, to bring to the settlement Black Jack, a runaway prisoner from Moreton Bay, who has been with the native blacks for these last three years and upwards’.

24 August 1832

Crown prisoner Craig returned- reached one of the stations belonging to the Agricultural Company Port Stephen’s- could not proceed to Liverpool Plains for the want of provisions.

27 August 1832

Crown prisoner Dalton, one of the Moreton Bay absentees sent after Black Jack a runaway from Moreton Bay came in and reports he has been with him and he is coming to give himself up to the Resident Magistrate.’

29 August 1832

Black Jack a runaway from Morton Bay  came in and gave himself up states he has been in the bush 3 years 4 months and chiefly resided at the Big River and its neighbourhood.’

30 August 1832

Black Jack interrogated relative to the Big River gives a very promising statement of the navigation of the river, which abounds with fish-the land excellent-abundance of emu, kangaroo and wildfowl are in all directions of this river. Fine oak, gum and other trees of use, for various purposes, are growing here.”

Black Jack Sheik

Sheik Brown, a ‘man of colour’, originally from Bombay, was sentenced for Life at the Middlesex Court on 7 April 1824. He arrived in Sydney in 1825 onboard Asia (5). In 1828 he was sent to Moreton Bay from where he soon absconded. He traveled southwards and then settled with the Aboriginals at the ‘Big River’ for several years before voluntarily giving himself up at Port Macquarie in August 1832.

Much of his later life is told in the correspondence between the Colonial Secretary’s Office and the Commandant at Port Macquarie.

“4 February 1833

Sir,  It having been represented by the Commandant of Moreton Bay that the prisoner named in the margin (Sheik Brown per Asia), is a runaway from that settlement, is now employed as a servant at Port Macquarie.

I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to request your report on the matter and that Brown if actually at Port Macquarie may be apprehended and returned to Moreton Bay by the first opportunity.

A few days later the Resident Magistrate wrote to the Colonial Secretary.

15 February 1833

‘Sir,     I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 4th instant and in reply I beg to state that Black Jack, alias Jack Brown, alias Sheik Brown was duly reported of having voluntary surrendered himself at this settlement as a runaway from Moreton Bay after having been three years and three months in the bush between this and Moreton Bay upon a promise on my part that I would intercede with his Excellency the Governor, to allow of his remaining here instead of returning to that settlement and in consequence I addressed the Private Secretary on 8 September last, upon the subject, and therein  stated that in consequence of the prisoner being an unfortunate black from Bombay and unaccustomed to mess with Europeans I had taken him on loan into my own service which I trusted would meet with his Excellency’s approbation, since then the said Sheik Brown absconded from this on 16th ultimo and returned to his former haunt where it is likely he will remain from being befriended by the aboriginals. Signed Benjamin Sullivan- Resident Magistrate.

Little was heard of Sheik Brown for some time. However, on 15 May 1834, a letter from the Colonial Secretary’s Office refers as follows-

‘ The prisoner named in the margin (Sheik Brown, Asia (5)), a runaway from Morton Bay, the subject of my letter to you of 25 March 1833… having been apprehended at Hunter River is returned to that settlement by the present opportunity”that is, by the government cutter,

Governor Phillip. After spending some time at Moreton Bay Brown was returned to Sydney where he received a Ticket of Leave, from the Parramatta Bench in 1842. Later it was altered to Moreton Bay where he remained until the completion of sentence.

 

Richard Craig remained in the Port Macquarie District under assignment. It is believed some of this time he was on the Upper Macleay taking care of stock for settlers who were opening up the area. On the Monthly Returns of Crown Prisoners for March 1834, he is noted as-

Richard Craig, Prince Regent, from assigned service.

On 30 July 1830, a proclamation announced that the Port Macquarie settlement was to be thrown open for private settlement although the convict settlement was to remain.

The Crown land in the Port Macquarie District in the 1830 to 1831 period, was received by the grantees, on what was termed as the ‘Governor’s Promise’. They occupied the land, and after seven years from the date of the authority to take possession, quit rent became payable until redeemed. These grants were under Governor Darling, who was the last Governor to dispose of land in this way. After 1831 Crown Land was sold by auction after having been surveyed and advertised in the Government Gazette.

At the end of March 1832, the Government Agricultural Establishment at Port Macquarie was closed and the convicts were assigned as labourers to free settlers. Craig after carrying out work at Rolland’s Plains and the exploration journey was reassigned.

In June 1832, Captain Smyth, the last military commandant, departed and was replaced by Benjamin Sullivan, the first resident Police Magistrate.

In 1835 the resident Magistrate of Port Macquarie, Benjamin Sullivan published his proposals for the development of the area around Port Macquarie and reported to the Governor his concerns of the movement of the squatters into the districts outside the ‘limits of location.’

His proposal and information he had gleaned about the country to the north and west was published in the newspaper ‘The Colonist’ in 1835- Included was reports made by various convicts-

“Richard Craig, per Prince Regent in 1820 states- that he left Moreton Bay in 1830, and proceeded to Point Danger, continued along the coast and crossed several rivers till he came to the mouth of the Big River, which had an entrance resembling this, having a point on the North Shore, and having a high cliff on the south; at low water, the river is about as wide as this (referring to Hastings at Port Macquarie), at high water that getting inside the Head, it forms an estuary with two sandbanks in it, the channels running around and between them. Into this estuary two branches empty themselves, the one running due west about three-quarters of a mile, divided at its mouth, the other half a mile wide, running North-west; the entrance of the harbour is deep, and there was no appearance of breakers or bar. He met there another runaway from Moreton Bay, who informed him he had seen the boats of H M S Rainbow, go up the Western River to a great distance. That about forty miles from its mouth, he met with delightful plains, far superior to any about here; and as he passed along the mountains to them, he could see on the opposite side of the river, and on the north-west, others extending as far as the eye could reach. On the mountains he met with trees very lofty and thick in the bark, differing from any he had seen elsewhere. On the south side of the entrance to the harbour, there is good ground for a Township, with plenty of good water.”

 

” Sheik, alias Jack Brown, a Mussulman, states, that he has been absent from Moreton Bay three years and four months, having principally stopped at the large river, called by the natives, Brimbo, and by some Berin. That the river is very wide at the mouth; that during the neap tides at half-ebb, it has nine feet water, and at low water, six feet, and during the spring tides at high water, from fifteen to sixteen feet; the ebb tide runs strong; he has been up the southern branch in a canoe, carried by the tide; in going up the northern branch afterward, he entered a large lake, about a hundred miles round, from which he again continued going up the river to the southward and westward six days, at the rate of from twenty to thirty miles a day, the country around appeared to be flat, with an abundance of all kinds of fish in the rivers. All the rivers appear to unite. Half a day’s journey up the western branch, he came to a branch like a canal, which runs into the southern lake, a ship of seventy-four guns can go up the northern branch in four tides, at seven knots per hour. It took him ten days and a half to go from the entrance to the farthest extremity of this river in his canoe. He saw the Rainbow at anchor at the Big River. The land is beautiful all about the river. Half a day’s journey up the northern river, there is plenty of pine. He saw a whaleboat near the Black Rock River, and another about two miles distance, buried in the sand. Between Trial Bay and Smoky Cape, a schooner lies wrecked and appears to have been there some time. During the summer, plenty of sea salt can be collected off the rocks; plenty of stone to be had for building.”

The Governor realized it was an impossible task to confine the squatters within further boundaries and in 1836 an Act was passed admitting the right to graze stock, after payment of a license fee, on lands lying beyond the limits of location. The Act made squatting on lands legally and respectable and from that time on many large holdings on the New England and the Macleay River were taken up. To overseer, the seven districts beyond the boundaries of location, Commissioners of Crown Lands were appointed. One of these appointees was Henry Oakes, whose district No 7, included the County of Gloucester, Port Macquarie and the area of all waters falling towards the east coast (up to Morton Bay). Major Oakes played a major part in the settlement of the northern rivers, particularly the Clarence and Richmond, and we will learn much more of him in later chapters.

To return to the story of Richard Craig. Although Craig may have lived a fairly free life in “assignment” at Port Macquarie District, he was discharged from the Convict establishment on 30 September 1835 as a ‘free’ man. He then made his way to Sydney. However since his years spent away from civilization, some things had changed. For example on completion of their sentence, ‘free’ convicts in Sydney needed to apply and be granted a ‘Certificate of Freedom’, which was to be carried at all times to ‘prove’ his or her status. Constables were paid a bounty for the apprehension of absconders. Both these were important facts known to ‘free’ men in Sydney. Another important fact as far as Craig was concerned the Chief Constable of Sydney was still George Jilks, who was so instrumental in Craig’s conviction in 1828.

When Craig made it to Sydney, he stayed at the Three Crown Inn, at the corner of Cumberland Street and Charlotte Place, which was kept by Charles James Bullivant. Also staying at the Three Crowns was one Richard Payne, who had come to Sydney as a convict in 1819 onboard the Malabar, but by this time was free by servitude. Payne was a contemporary of Thomas Ryan, who at the time was the Chief Clerk to the Superintendent of Convicts at Hyde Park.

Thomas Ryan had also been a convict and had come out on the Pilot in 1817. He had been a clerk in the Colonial Office for many years before being appointed Chief Clerk on 1 January 1828. Bullivant asked Payne to negotiate the voluntary surrender of Craig stating that he had valuable information to convey to the Government. After Payne had spoken to Craig concerning the information about the Big River, Payne went to see Thomas Ryan and obtained a pass for Craig to proceed to the barracks free from arrest by the constables. On reaching Hyde Park, Thomas Ryan recognized Craig at once, having what we would term now, a photographic memory. He had been in that office when Craig and his father had been convicted in July 1828. Craig’s business was told and he was given a pass to undertake employment during the day and to return to the barracks for muster in the evening until his free status could be confirmed from records.

There is no doubt Thomas Ryan would have passed this information onto his brother-in-law Francis Girard, a well-known businessman and timber merchant on the Macleay River. However, his part in the settlement of the Clarence River will be told later.

It has also been claimed that the Government cutter Prince George was dispatched by the Governor to the Big River, to check Craig’s story, however, there is no record of a special visit of that ship for that purpose. On 22 September 1836, the vessel departed Sydney in quest of the wreck and crew of the brig Stirling Castle and returned on 14 October 1836. It is possible Girard had made inquiries through his shipping connections for Shoal Bay to be checked. Another possibility is that the Betsy which arrived from Morton Bay on 24 November 1836, could also have been used to convey news of the entrance of the Big River.

After his return to Sydney we loose sight of Craig for some months but believe he was hiring himself out as a labourer in certain establishments, including working at the timber yard of Thomas Small. He later claimed to have overheard a conversation between his employers concerning the employment of the ship they were building for the cedar trade. There was already a  decline of available timber on the Illawarra and Hastings River districts, and an incident in September 1837 on the Macleay or New River, had made Small and Gillett reluctant to try these areas, so they were interested in Craig’s information on the ‘Big River’ further north. As the ship was near completion Henry Gillett wrote to the Colonial Secretary’s Office seeking permission ” to cut cedar on unlocated Crown Lands about ninety miles beyond the Macleay River on the Big River.”

When the ship named “Susan’ after Thomas Small’s daughter, was completed and rigged she set out on a journey of discovery in early April 1838.

Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author. This publication is fully referenced and indexed.

Clarence River History: Sea and Land Exploration- John Oxley

John Oxley   

John Oxley, a Yorkshire man, was appointed Surveyor-General of New South Wales and in  1818 undertook an exploration journey into the interior to explore the Macquarie and Castlereagh Rivers, then crossed over the Warrumbungles onto the Liverpool Plains. After traveling northwards in a large arc the party passed along what was later named the New England He finally returned to the coast near what is now Port Macquarie. His party underwent much hardship in getting off the plateau, and down to the coastal plain. His report helped to facilitate the opening of Port Macquarie as a penal settlement to replace Newcastle.

John Oxley

John Oxley  (1784-1828) image through Google images from from State Library of New South Wales 10 April 2020

In 1823 Governor Brisbane commissioned Lieut. John Oxley to sail northward along the east coast for the purpose, of finding a suitable site, for the establishment of another penal settlement. Port Macquarie which had been established in 1821, was considered not secure enough. Oxley set sail in the Mermaid on 23 October 1823.

Accompanying him was Lieut. Robert Stirling an officer of the Buffs (3rd Regiment of Foot) who had arrived in the colony earlier that year. He had experience in cartography, and his skills would have been invaluable to the expedition. His military experience concerning convicts would have made him sensitive to proposed penal settlement sites.

Also on board was John Fitzgerald Uniacke who had some knowledge of Australian flora and fauna species as well as rocks and minerals. Uniacke was born in 1798, the son of a member of the Irish House of Commons, and his wife, Annette, who was the daughter of John Beresford, the first Commissioner of Customs in Dublin. Soon after the voyage with Oxley Uniacke was appointed Superintendent of Distilleries, and in 1824 was appointed Sheriff and Provost Master of New South Wales. He died on 3 January 1825, aged 26 years, from fever. Uniacke’s most unique contribution to the exploration of the north coast of New South Wales was his published report of the voyage he made with Oxley.

On Tuesday, October 21, 1823, Mr. Oxley, Lieut. Sterling ..and I embarked on board the colonial cutter Mermaid with Charles Penson, as Master.

Early of the morning of Saturday-(October) 25 th we came to anchor off Port Macquarie’…..

………..    we left Port Macquarie with much regret….we met the boat at the rocks, where we landed, and with some difficulty, on account of the surf, reached the cutter at two o’clock Monday 27th October. The wind being fair we immediately got underway and continued our course northward [ NB- passed the mouth of the Clarence and Richmond Rivers ]- till Friday afternoon, when the wind shifted and came on to blow so hard, that we determined to run inshore and look out for anchorage; this we found under the lee of a small island off Point Danger, about a mile from the land. While running down for this place, we perceived the mouth of a large river about a mile and a half to the northward; and next morning at daylight the master was despatched in the whaleboat to ascertain the possibility of taking the vessel into it…

Stirling and Uniacke landed on the island… where they secured food in the way of birds, their eggs and turtles….and located an old wreck, the origins of which they speculated. They then returned to the ship where the master reported on his boat trip into the river. “He had examined the entrance and found two fathoms on the bar at low water, with deep water and secure anchorage further in. As the river appeared to run from the southwards, and parallel with the shore for some distance, it was agreed that the mate should go after breakfast with a boat into the river, until opposite to where the vessel lay, when we were to join him by land and proceed to the examination of the upper part of the river.

 

Meanwhile, Oxley and  Uniacke had returned to the wreck on the island, but making no more of it they then turned their attention to the mainland. and landed,…to proceed with the examination of the river; the part of it where we found the boat, extended over a large flat, being in many places above a mile broad, interspersed with numerous low mangrove islands, and very shallow, except in the channel, where we found from nine to two fathoms water.

The country on either side was very hilly and richly wooded, and the view altogether beautiful beyond description. Having wandered out of the channel, we with some difficulty proceeded about four miles, when the river assumed a different appearance, being contracted to a quarter of a mile in width, with five fathoms water all across; the banks also wore a different aspect, being free from mangroves; the soil seemed rich, and the timber evidently improved in size and quality. The scenery here exceeded anything I had previously seen in Australia- extending for miles along a deep rich valley, clothed with magnificent trees, the beautiful uniformity of which was only interrupted by the turns and windings of the river… while in the background, Mount Warning ..reared its barren and singularly shaped peak…

It was…. agreed that the mate and crew should remain with the boat in the river, where we had joined them, … and that Mr. Oxley and I should return on board to sleep, and come back with Mr. Stirling at daylight.

However (next morning) just as we were preparing to land, the wind suddenly shifted to the S.W; and as it seemed likely to continue steadily at that point, Mr. Oxley thought it impudent to lose the advantage of it, and therefore deferred exploring the river till our return. The signal was accordingly made for the boat to return on board, and all hands were employed in getting the vessel underway…..

We… gave the name of the ‘Tweed’ to the river. The latitude of our anchorage is 28° 8’S and its longitude 153° 31’ 30” E…

The next day, Thursday, November 6th… we came to anchor in Port Curtis

The Tweed River had now been discovered, but the Richmond and Clarence Rivers continued to hold their secret.

Oxley and his party returned to Sydney on the 13 December 1823. Due to Oxley’s favourable reports on the Moreton Bay area, a penal settlement was set up there in the following year, under the Commandant Captain Henry Miller. The settlement was named Brisbane in honour of the Governor.

 

Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author. This publication is fully referenced and indexed.

Clarence River History: Sea Exploration – Flinders & Bingle

Eleven years after the first European settlers arrived on our shores, with the First Fleet, the Governor had a problem. The area of settlement was becoming overcrowded and was not as productive as it had been.

Governor Hunter needed to find other areas to settle. He sent explorers out by land and by sea. One was Matthew Flinders.

MFlinders

Matthew Flinders. Unknown artist, 1801. Miniature watercolour on a locket kept by Ann Flinders. Copy of original Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (ZML MIN 52)

From <http://museum.wa.gov.au/exhibitions/voyages/about/flinders.html>

 

Matthew Flinders

“In 1799, Governor Hunter, commissioned Matthew Flinders, of the Government sloop, Norfolk, of 25 tons, to sail northwards and examine the coast” with as much accuracy as the limited time of six weeks would permit”. Flinders with a crew of nine, including his brother, Samuel, a Midshipman on the Reliance and Bongaree, a Port Jackson aborigine as a native interpreter, left Sydney on 8 July and sailed northwards. Flinder’s Journal recorded the following- “The small projections that opened out as we sailed along, often presented the delusive appearance of openings behind them; and we were the more inclined to entertain these hopes, as Capt. Cook passed along this part of the coast at night. At half-past two, a small island opened off from a low rocky point, behind which there is a small river running to the S.W.  but the breakers seem to extend mostly across the entrance. If there is any passage it lies to the south side of the island.

At half-past three, a peaked hill standing four or five miles inland and more conspicuous than usual bore true west. Before five, we stood in for what appeared to be an opening, and about dusk were in the entrance of a wide shoal bay. Our soundings were from five to three and a half fathoms on the south side of the entrance, and the breakers extending from the low north point more than halfway across showed that it was the deepest side. In standing inward the water shoaled to ten feet; upon which we wore, and on hauling close to the South head, deepened to four fathoms. Soon after we anchored in two and a half fathoms, on a hard, sandy bottom; the extreme of the south head bearing E.by.N. and the breakers from the north side N.E.; between these, we were exposed to the sea winds.

Flinders gave his reasons for entering the bay- The objects that induced me to come into this bay were that we might have daylight to run along the remaining part of the coast which Captain Cook had passed in the night, and to ascertain a place of safety to run for, should the wind come dead on the coast, on our return. The leak was also a part of the inducement; for if this place turns out to be a place of consequence enough to be worth expending a few days in its examination and a convenient place offer itself for laying the Sloop on shore, I intended to get it stopped in the meantime. During the night the ebb tide ran near two knots past the Sloop.

FRIDAY, 12th  At daylight in the morning I went up on the South Head of the entrance and took bearings of the few remarkable objects that presented themselves.”

Flinders was very precise in his descriptions “The Bay appeared from thence to be a large extent of shoal water, with channels somewhat deeper in different parts of it. The principal one seemed to be that in which the Sloop lay, which ran West along the Southside of the Bay till it turned round the west end of the middle shoal. This shoal is mostly dry at low water. We afterward went up this channel in the boat, and round the shoal; but although the tide ran very rapidly, there were scarcely three fathoms anywhere; and in going towards some branches in the north part of the bay, were obliged to get out and drag the little boat over the sands into another channel. The north point of the entrance into this bay is only a projecting spit of sandy ground; for the water turns sharp round the point and runs to the Northward nearly parallel with the coastline. Along this shore is a deeper channel, but the swell from the sea seems to prevent the tide from making a clear passage out, for the channel becomes shoaled as it approaches the entrance. The tide having fallen so much as to preclude our return by the way we came, we were obliged to try this passage thro’ it was at the risk of swamping the boat; for the ebb tide ran with increasing rapidity in this shoal water and meeting the sea swell and southerly wind, the water broke at times all across the north point to the middle shoal and made such a jumble that the oar could scarcely be used. In one minute, however, the danger was past; for the velocity of the tide was such, as to carry the boat windward against the obstacles. It was only necessary for us to keep the boat end on to sea, to prevent from filling.

Having returned to the Sloop, I took the sextant and artificial horizon onshore to the South Head to observe for the latitude.  The sun being more than half an hour distant from the meridian … gave me time to examine three Native’s huts that stood at a little distance; they were of a circular form about eight feet in diameter. The frame were made of the stronger tendrils of vine, crossing each other in all directions and bound together with strong wiry grass at the principal intersections. The covering was of bark of soft texture resembling the bark what is called Tea Tree at Port Jackson, and so completely laid on as to keep out both wind and rain; the entrance is by a small avenue projecting from the periphery of the circle and does not go directly into the hut, but turns sufficiently to prevent the rain from beating in. The height of the under of the roof is about four and a half to five feet and those I entered had collected a coat of soot from the fires that had been made in the middle of the huts. Those who have been in an oven will have a tolerable exact idea of these habitations, but the sides of these were nearer to the perpendicular than those of ovens usually are. One of the three huts was a double one, the form containing two recesses with but one entrance, intended most probably for kindred families. This hut contained room for ten or fifteen people”. Bongaree, who was with me, admitted that they were much superior to any native houses that he had seen before. He brought away a small hand basket made from some kind of leaf which would contain five or six pints of water and was nearly such as I have seen used at Coupang in the island Timor for carrying the toddy about in.

The meridian altitude of the Sun gave the latitude of the entrance into the bay, 29º 26’28” South.

 

Having given the most important details Flinders then mentions several of his observations. There were many white Cockatoos and Parroquets about this bay, as also crows, whose notes were much more short and hasty than any ever heard. Numbers of Pelicans frequent the shoals and some Gulls and Red bills. The Palm-nut tree grows here, which is the third kind of palm mentioned by Capt. Cook as being produced in New South Wales…

As this bay seemed to deserve but a little examination, I did not think it worth staying any longer in it and therefore got under weigh at one o’clock, the tide being then rising by the shore, altho’ the stream was still running out.

There was but ten feet in some parts of the entrance, and the wind dying away, we were obliged to get the sweeps out to prevent the S.E. swell from setting the Sloop amongst the breakers that lay off from the north side. At four o’clock the South head bore S.W.by.W. and W.by.N., behind which there may be another entrance into the shoal behind one or other of these heads.

I can give no particular mark that will point out the situation of Shoal Bay, but its latitude and the somewhat remarkably peaked hill that lays about four leagues to the southward of it. Was any vessel ever likely to visit it, it would be necessary to remark that either of the two heads above mentioned might be mistaken for the South head of the bay.

Saturday 13th -We had a moderate breeze all night from the S.W. and at ten o’clock… Cape Byron bore N 67º W. three miles, and at the same time…, the peak of Mouth Warning was just topping over it. Captain Cook observes that it bears N.W.by.W. from the Cape; the bearings, therefore, given in his voyage, are reduced from the magnetic to the true bearings.

 

At noon the latitude was 28º 32′ 12″ south, being but 4′ south of the Log. Mount Warning bore W 8º N and Cape Byron S 16 º W 7 or 8 miles. Towards the evening, as we brought the Mount to bear more to the Southward, it put on a cockscomb like appearance. We had hauled more off the shore soon afternoon, to pass without the reef laying off Point Danger; the wind being from the eastward. At ten in the evening the meridian altitude ….gave our situation to the northward of the reef, and finding no bottom either at eight o’clock or at ten with forty-five fathoms, we edged more away towards the land, and at daylight kept well in, finding the land to be at a considerable distance, and so Flinders moved on northward.”

 

John Bingle

Many years later in 1822, Governor Brisbane commissioned Captain John Bingle of the colonial cutter, Sally to survey the coast of New South Wales to the northward of Sydney, so far as latitude 25 degrees south The voyage took from 31 December to 24 March 1822. Although the Log Book of the Sally has been found in recent years, in private hands it would appear Bingle followed in the footsteps of Flinders and made no new discoveries. There is no mention of Shoal Bay or the rivers to the north.

 

Extracts from “ European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001, Grafton, published by author. This publication is fully referenced and indexed.

Clarence River History: Sea and Land Exploration-Introduction

This is a story of European settlement of the Clarence River District in northern New South Wales. A story of people and events of more than one hundred and eighty years ago. Most long forgotten or shadows in the mist of time.

I have always had a certain passion for history although my forefathers were not early pioneers of the Clarence River District.

Although this area had been original settled some thousands of years of years before  by the aboriginal peoples of the Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl nations, this is the story of European settlement. The story of discovery through sea voyages as well as land exploration, and then the story of each group as they arrived. I have spent much time locating people from all walks of life and told their story. I have tried to show where they came from, when and why they settled here.

For more than two hundred  years the eastern side of the Australian continent escaped the notice of the marine explorers and traders whose ships sailed from Europe, around the Cape of Good Hope ,to China and the East Indies. The marine maps which existed showed only the western and northern coastline of the Great Southland or New Holland, as the Dutch called it.

BHC2628

Captain James Cook(1728-1779). Nathaniel Dance. BHC2628

It continued to remain a mystery until 1770 when an Englishman, James Cook, in the Endeavour, discovered the east coast. After landing at Botany Bay he resumed his voyage slowly up the coastline, surveying briefly as he went and naming outstanding landmarks.

Cook's_landing_at_Botany_Bay

Cook’s landing at Botany Bay in 1770. Lithograph by unknown artist, first published in the Town and Country Journal New South Wales, 21 December 1872Unknown authorhttp://www.nla.gov.au/apps/cdview?pi=nla.pic-an7890396&referercode=cat

 

Although he missed the entrances to the rivers now known as the Clarence and Richmond, it is not surprising as he passed this section of the coastline at night. On Tuesday 15 May he noted a rocky headland which he named ‘Cape Byron’, for Vice Admiral John Byron.

Continuing northward, the following day he almost ran aground, but sighted breakers in time to alter course and sail out to sea. He named the rocky point, ‘Point Danger’, and a high mountain peak some miles inland, ‘Mt Warning’. No mention is made of the river, now known as the Tweed.

He proceeded up the coast under going many trials. When finally  the Endeavour passed through the Torres Straits, Cook took possession of the East Coast of the great continent in the name of George III., naming it New South Wales.

Although Cook gave a glowing report of the land, it was many years before England showed any interest at all in the place. After the successful revolt of the American Colonies from English rule, a major problem arose with the transportation of convicts, which had formerly been sent to the American Colonies. New South Wales was then chosen as a site for a new convict colony, and in 1787, Arthur Phillip and his Fleet set sail for the distant shore, finally arriving in January 1788. Port Jackson was chosen for the site of the settlement, although the convict settlement was referred to as ‘Botany Bay’ for a number of years. From small beginning the settlement grew.

 

Extracts from ” European Settlement in the Clarence River District before 1850″, by Nola Mackey, 2001,Grafton,published by author.

Solferino- “Dago”-A Tale of Old Solferino

In the late 19th Century many country newspapers were not only providing news and advertisements for the local community but adding literary articles for the education and entertainment of their readers. These stories were often extracted from other national and overseas newspapers.

Sometimes these stories can add a little colour to our local and family histories.

 

Below we have a story by Kyrle Bellow in the “Wide World Magazine”, which was reported to have taken place at Solferino a gold mining town on the Upper Clarence. See former blogs “Solferino on the Clarence” and “Solferino in Lombardy Italy”.

 

“Australia again! Well, what does it matter how many years had passed?

Sandy McGee  (the coach driver), a bit greyer, a little more furrowed round the eyes, petted and hustled and swore and drove the four-horse team along the deep-rutted bush track between Grafton and Solferino. We were alone; I on the box-seat beside him.

 

Sandy and I coached that track once before alone together, but we were going the other way then, and I was pretty well broken up then and showed the red raw of healing scars I shall always carry with me. We crossed the old ford on the Clarence again, with the green island a few yards from the bank, and the broad, flat shelf of rock in the middle with a deep drop into a dozen feet of water a few inches off the near wheels, into which my mate and I went – packhorse and all- the first time we ever attempted it. By the way, we built the first punt that ever carried a dray across it in flood time- a good punt; it floats today –  and we were driving quietly through old paddocks on Yulgilbar – Ogilvie’s, the very gum trees of which were familiar.

We ringbarked many an acre of those same paddocks, my mate and I, at a price that never paid us; but that doesn’t matter now. Presently we came to a dip where the track led through heavy timber down a gorge at the foot of the ranges in which the Solferino diggings lay.

 

” You remember Dago?” said Sandy, pointing with his whip to a little grass-grown heap of mullock about a dozen yards from the track on our right. “Do I remember Dago?” Yes, I remember Dago well. My hand went involuntarily to a heavy scar on my chin. “That’s Dago, Sandy,” said I pointing to it.

 

” Well -that’s Dago- over there,” nodded Sandy, with his head.

I looked ’round at the mullock heap, and as I turned my companion flicked at a blowfly on the off leader’s rump, who suddenly jumping forward, jerked the old rattletrap of a coach half across the track.

 

“Whoa, mare! Whoa! Yes! (as we swung into line again at a gallop), ‘that’s Dago! Whoa, can’t yer?”But they’d all four got the fidgets, and we flew along the next few hundred yards as if the devil were after us.

 

So that was Dago! It set me thinking- wandering back to New South Wales when I was a lad- a lad on the tramp for gold. Gold I couldn’t win in coined sovereigns at home, but with hope in my heart and the dreams of youth I set out from my ship to dig for it from the hard earth of a strange land.

 

And Sandy told me his memories as we drove through the silent bush. I told Sandy mine in return, and some of the terrible minutes of our lives came back to us both out of the past, and we lived them over again.

 

I have had other memorable minutes, but I don’t remember so much being crammed into one of them as into that one which flashed back through our minds when Sandy said, “You remember Dago?”

 

“Yes I remember the city of Grafton, which now revels in a bishop, a cathedral, and other appliances of civilization, when it was only a straggling bush settlement consisting of one accommodation house, perhaps, perhaps a dozen weatherboard shanties, a forge, and a few tents dotted about at irregular distances from one another on either side of one long, straight, grass-grown street.

 

But Grafton was looked upon in those days as quite a ‘place’ – for it boasted an annual race meeting, and a wharf – once a fortnight the steamer from Sydney used to call – an occurrence of the greatest importance to the entire population, who gathered regularly at the waterside to witness it.

 

Grafton was the receiving place on the Clarence River for produce coming off the stations to the north; and it suddenly sprang into importance through being the nearest port of debarkation for the new gold rush that broke out at Solferino – a point in the Yulgilbar ranges, seventy-five miles away.

 

It was on a scorching hot day in the (Eighteen)  Seventies that I and my mate, a young Scotchman who had passed for the army, (and who while waiting for his commission had come out to Australia in the same ship with myself), first set eyes on the place.

 

We landed, and the same evening left for the diggings by the one long straggling street which gradually dwindled away into a track, and so on lost itself in the depths of the primeval bush.

 

We steered northward by the compass. Besides ourselves there was our dog, a shambling long-legged kangaroo hound, we called “Jack” and one pack-horse – a raw-boned whaler christened, “Rosinate”.

 

Somehow or other we soon lost the blazed tree-line – the only indication of a way to the goldfields; but after many hardships and mishaps we recovered the track, made Solferino at last, pitched camp, and then settled down to life of ‘the diggings’ among some hundreds of others attached there by the more or less exaggerated reports of the rich ‘finds’ on the reefs. I still possess my Miners Right, which I treasure as a relic of past days. There was little or no gold at Solferino, however the work ,being nearly all reefing; and we at once started out to prospect, soon stumbling on a blow-up of gold- bearing quartz, and following it down to a reef which we duly registered as ‘The Don Juan’. There were six of us in it; my mate, the Army Officer ; Sam Deverean, an Irishman and a barrister: Abbott, a smart young man who had been in the police; Harry Allen , a Royal Academy Music man from London, who played divinely on the fiddle and the concertina; ‘Dago’, a Spaniard; and myself. We picked up ‘Dago’ because we wanted an extra man to make up the six necessary to enable us to apply for a twelve-acre claim, and Dago was loafing around doing nothing. He was a rather sullen chap – dark, handsome, with black moustache, very white teeth, and a trick of showing them when he smiled, which wasn’t often. He talked a little English of a sort, not unsparsely sprinkled with deities and ‘big-big-D’s’ and he camped by himself about a quarter of a mile below the claim, on a bend of the Yulgilbar Creek, where he had put up a long humpy, thatched with sheets of stringy bark. I strolled down there one Sunday, but he didn’t make me welcome, so I never went near him again. Dago, my mate, and I worked in the same shift – two of us down the whole and one on top to wind up.

 

Dago and I had a difference of opinion one night; about a girl of course! It was Christmas, and they had been having a jamboree in the camp and some dancing. The girl – there were only two altogether on the reefs – gave me a dance, and Dago didn’t like it. So we quarrelled; Dago and I, and he gave me some of his special brand of ‘English’. I slipped into him and hurt him. In the middle of my forehead there is a scar – you can see it now – where the haft of Dago’s knife caught me in a scrimmage. There were some words but our mates separated us, and we went our ways. But Dago was never friends after that and I hated being down the hole with him. Weeks went by, and I had forgotten all about it. I thought Dago had too – but he hadn’t, and this is what happened.

Solferino-Goldmining Village

Solferino- J W Lindt,  Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Call number: PXA 1128 IE number: IE3250201

 

We had sunk on the reef about 100 feet, when we came to water, which made so fast that we couldn’t work at the bottom of the shaft at all. There was nothing for it but to build a floor about 30 feet up from the bottom, and work at that level until the shaft below us was filled up. Then we would all turn to and bale out the water. So we got on.

The floor was simply made of young saplings with the bark left on, laid loosely on a couple of cross pieces, one at each end of the shaft, which measured the usual 6 feet by 3 feet.

 

The country we were going through was as hard as iron, and we could do nothing with it with the drills and hammers, so we started blasting. It is necessary, in order to understand properly what follows, for me to describe our work and the way we did it.

 

At the top of the shaft was a windlass, by which one of us hauled up iron buckets from below, whilst the other two filled them with stone and mullock as it was broken out. The buckets simple hooked on to an iron hook, which in turn was spliced on to the end of a manila rope working around the windlass barrel.

 

It was our custom when the bucket was full and hooked on, to shake the rope. Then, whoever was at the windlass immediately wound up, and when the bucket reached the top emptied the contents into a ‘paddock’ and then sent it down below again.

 

In the shaft we were obliged to blast, as I said before. This was done by drilling holes in the rock, which were then loaded with the blasting powder, and the fuse inserted, and then the whole tamped down and fired. The firing was done by lighting a bit of candle, over the flame of which we bent the fuse. While the casing of the fuse was burning through, whoever fired the shot would have plenty of time to put his foot in the hook, shake the rope and be hoisted up out of danger. Then off would go the blast, and when the smoke cleared away we went down the hole again and sent up the rock broken out by the shot.

 

After we put in the sapling floor over the waterhole, we began to drive along the face of the reef, and worked in about a foot when my gold mining days were almost brought to a sudden stop.

 

My mate, the Army man, had injured his hand, and knocked off work for a spell to get well. So Dago and I had the shift for ourselves. It was my turn down the hole, and I had succeeded after great labour in putting in two shots about 18 inches deep, one each side of the shaft where we were driving. The labour of this was terrific, as, being single-handed, I had to swing my hammer – an eight pounder- with one hand and turn my drill with the other. However I got through, loaded up the two holds, bent my fuse over two pieces of candle which I lit, and then shook the rope as the signal to hoist away. Just as I put my foot in the hook however, I noticed one of the fuses had buckled up with the heat and turned out of the candle flame, so I stooped down to bend it straight again. The casing of the other fuse blazed away merrily, and I knew that in a few seconds the fuse itself would catch. There was no time to lose. I turned to grasp the rope, but it was gone.

 

Looking up the shaft, I saw it disappearing high above my head. I shouted to Dago, but he didn’t seem to hear me. The hiss of the fuses, which I had timed for half a minute, attracted me – fascinated me. I remembered looking helplessly at them, and thinking I could perhaps drag them out. I tried; but no. I had tamped them in so tight that they wouldn’t budge. My God! What was I to do? There were about twenty seconds between me and eternity!

 

I heard nothing but the infernal hissing of the fuses; and it seemed to get louder and louder.

 

Suddenly, an idea struck me. If I could climb up the shaft I might get above the worst of the blast. I put my back against one face and my feet against the other and tried to work up that way.

It answered at first. I had got a few feet above the level of the drive, when I slipped, and came down with a thud on the floor of the shaft. I heard the sapling crack, but the noise was almost drowned by the hissing of the fuses. As I scrambled to my feet, a sapling broke under me, and my leg went through the floor. With an inspiration, I thought of the well beneath.

Still that awful hissing!

 

I knew I had only a few seconds now between me and utter annihilation. I tore away at the saplings like a madman. My God! How hard they had been jammed down! I saw the water below: the bright light from the top of the shaft was reflected in it. Was it my fancy, or did I see Dago’s face reflected there, or was it my own? The water was about 10 feet down. There was no time to hesitate. The only chance of safety lay that way. I made one wild plunge, and as I fell I heard the splitting, hurling, thundering roar of the blasts as they both went off just above me; then I knew no more. They told me that it was a few days afterwards when I woke up.

I was lying in my humpy, conscious of great pain. My head was all bound up; my left arm was strapped to a piece of wood and felt awful.

Dago’s girl was sitting on a wood heap in the big chimney of the humpy, heating something over the fire. 

She came up presently beside me, and saw I was awake.

Dimly the remembrance of something happening in the mine dawned on me.

 “What has happened?” I murmured feebly.

She bent over me, “Hush, you mustn’t talk.”

“Where’s Dago?” I wondered. I must have said it aloud, for she answered,

 “Gone!”

 “Where?”

 “God knows!” the tears welled up in her eyes.

Then it got dark again.”

 

Reference:_The Grafton Argus, Friday 12 May 1899, p4 accessed on Trove, National Library of Australia by Nola Mackey 22 October 2019 at
http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/234783865

 

 

PS- Alexander McGee married Emily Hornby in 1870. The marriage was registered in Grafton. A daughter Emily was born in 1872 and a son Ernest James McGee was born in 1875. These births were also registered in Grafton.