The contract surveyors had been working for about two years, mapping the southern side of the river and marking it into square miles which were to be sold, the current price being 12/- an acre or nearly £400 a square mile. Suddenly word came that the Governor had put them off as he had imported staff surveyors, for economic reasons.
Magdalen felt sorry for the Wilson Brothers. William Wilson had made his home on the top of Wilson's Hill which was called 'Youloumba', a place of safety from floods in the aboriginal language. They had a small boy. Christopher Wilson had arrived a little after his brother, and his wife was now expecting, and they had selected land at nearby Christopher Creek. It was stunning that their contract was cancelled like that, with quite a lot of money still owing for surveying they had completed.
Two assistant surveyors, just arrived from England, were sent to the Clarence River. They sat down at the Settlement with six convicts as labourers, drawing rations, and did not know how to begin in this strange country where the humid sub-tropical climate sapped the energy. They had no idea how to work with convicts who were so different in their attitudes from employed men back home. They were told of the depredations of the Aborigines, and were regarded as 'New Chums' and fair game for all sorts of tricks, and local jests. One of these was to encourage them to smell the 'nosegay plant', which they said had a delightful scent when rubbed to the nose. It was in fact the giant stinging tree and the result was that both men completely lost the skin from their noses. This trick had first been played by Richard Craig during the procession from Guyra, in retaliation against a man who never stopped playing practical jokes on others. It had become a regular way of treating the despised breed of 'new chums'.
Without proper equipment, or suitable boots, the surveyors were idle for month after month. The people who had hoped to buy the square-mile blocks surveyed by the Wilson Brothers waited in vain. The stations continued with vaguely fluctuating boundaries; anthills, clumps of trees, notches in trees, stumps, rocks. The squatters paid their licence fees but were in fear of displeasing the Commissioner of Crown Lands, who could refuse to renew without any reason.
William was impatient to buy land of his own, and be beyond the control of the Commissioner.
"Blocks of land are a good inducement for men to buy land instead of rum. A man could buy a block when he got his wages if he was thrifty and industrious. I could buy a block soon if it were for sale."
"It is so wasteful, what is happening," Magdalen agreed. "The regulations favour the highest class who are often given grants of land for nothing anyway. And the labouring classes spend thousands of pounds in the public house or wherever they can get rum, when they could be buying land."
A storekeeper named Joseph Sharp started a small business in a sawyer's hut in the Settlement where he introduced bottles of porter of a good quality and at a reasonable price, which made him and his store very popular. Many rum drinkers were converted to porter. He wanted to acquire the Bawden holding on the north side, and build a wharf and a store and planned to open an accommodation house.
"We've got a store on the northern side," said William. "So I think we'll move across and I'll start my ship. It's no use waiting for the surveyors to be finished here. I'd be waiting for ever."
"It doesn't seem right that we have to wait so long. Most people are still living in bark huts while they wait for something to happen, even the squatters. We might as well move if you think it's best."
"I plainly can't begin to build a ship here in sight of the whole Settlement."
"But the Commissioner has begun to build a house and office at the Red Rock. And apparently the Mylne Brothers have been prepared to take the risk, because I hear they have begun their homestead at 'Eatonswill', all weatherboards and lining boards of cedar, pit-sawn on the place, and the floor boards of silky oak. Mrs Bawden said the verandah is seventy-five feet long, and there is an enormous hall down the centre."
"It's different for those with money and influence, they're not likely to be put off their runs, but it is a risk. One day we'll have a grand house Marley, you'll see. Maybe not as large as Mylne's."
"Oh yes," said Magdalen disbelievingly. To change the subject from something she found a little uncomfortable she said "Mrs Bawden tells me that young Tommy goes up to Red Rock every Saturday as coxswain in the boat with two men to see that the rations are correctly delivered to the Police Barracks from 'Ramornie'. Smart young man. He'll get on."
"Well I think I've got a reliable man to manage the team, so I can take some time to put up a hut across the river and make a start on my schooner. We'll only be half a mile away as the crow flies."
"Maybe so. But we're not exactly crows."
Eliza was a happy healthy baby, friendly to everyone. Jane on the other hand did not make friends easily. She was not used to the ways of the bush-bred children and could not do the things they did. She was not robust enough to climb trees, could not swim well, and did not like rough games. There were no girls of her age, so she spent most of her time with her mother, sewing, helping prepare meals, fetching kindling and water, making soap and candles, reading her few books over and over, minding Baby Eliza, tending the animals. She did everything carefully, but she was often lonely and pensive.
Around the door of the hut was an area kept swept of leaves and hardened by use, as a place for Jane and Eliza to play. Jane was forbidden to go into the long grass especially when she was barefoot, for fear of snakes.
Times were hard and there were not many stands of timber left close by. William decided that this was the time to begin the next stage of his plans. He put up another hut, on the northern bank, similar to the first hut on the southern bank of the river, of four posts partly driven into the ground, with saplings for wall plates and the partition wall. Twenty-five sheets of bark formed the walls and roof, the door and shutters. It took two working days to erect, then several days to build the stone chimney which stood at one end. Most of the goods were carried across by Tom the Boatman. The bullock team went up to the First Falls to make the crossing. While Magdalen and Jane settled in, William began to cut timber which he would use to build his ship. At times Mr Phillips pressed him into service for a few days or weeks, but William's mind was constantly occupied with his design. He was eager to start setting out, but first the timber had to be felled, some of it sawn into planks and then seasoned.
The hired man did some cutting himself and some hauling for William. The arrangement proved to be satisfactory to all concerned. During the day there was the sound of sawing as the long planks were prepared and set out to season, at night there was the sound of cattle bells as the beasts grazed nearby.
"Papa," Jane wanted to know "How do you know it will be a schooner?"
"It will have a mainmast about the middle and a foremast in front. She'll carry a lot of sail including a jib sail, several stay sails, a foresail and a mainsail. The shape of the hull should offer the least resistance when moving through the water and should not make too big a bow wave, while at the same time allowing plenty of cargo space."
Jane listened seriously even though she did not understand everything. "What are you making first Papa?"
"I have to make a row of wooden blocks called keel blocks down the centre to support the bottom of the hull. Then I'll make curved supports called bilge cradles to support the sides of the hull. All that has to be done before I start the ship."
William still had ample credit for his previous years of work, and with some of this he bought a good supply of non-perishable goods and tools, because of the uncertainty of the economic situation. His team brought in enough money to keep them going, even when he was paying wages to a man to work the team while he worked elsewhere.
Many people who had borrowed deeply found that they could not repay the heavy interest, which had not seemed difficult in the good years. Clay and Stapleton came to grief and their property 'Cassino' had to be sold. Joseph Sharp, the new storekeeper seemed to have a sound financial backing, but nobody could feel confident. There were many changes. Mr Durno who had started the first house of accommodation in the district, at Christopher Creek, called 'The Clarence River Settler's Arms', took over Price's store, after the stock was all sold. Still Mrs Bawden could get no settlement of the property, and depended on her young son and her good friends.
"Poor Mary," said Magdalen. "I wish there was more we could do. And it is such a shame about Mr Clay and Mr Stapleton. After all their effort and problems, it seems a tragedy. I wonder how Uncle William and Uncle Gilbert have fared in the crisis."
"They are foolish if they have taken too much credit I don't owe anything except at the store and that is well covered by the cheque I should get for the last lot of logs."
"You know it's very hard for a woman to manage without cash. They have to keep a record of what they buy, and that's hard if they can't read or write, I know. They have to trust the storekeeper. At least I know enough to check the entries."
"I know. And some women just can't resist things they see, fancy clothes and food and toys and trinkets for the children."
"Those luxuries aren't often available. But there's always porter or rum and the men can't resist that. I think the storekeepers are partly at fault for selling to people they know can't afford it, but I suppose when their own livelihood depends on it, they can't be blamed."
Magdalen had become accustomed to doing without and using whatever would do. For a rolling pin she had a bottle, for a toasting fork a piece of twisted wire. An old billy can with holes in the bottom became a colander, and her only sharp knife was made from the broken blade of one of William's old handsaws, with two pieces of flat wood tied on with thong, for a handle. When a bow broke, William used a forked stick tied to the yoke with rawhide until he could mend the bow. They agreed with the current saying that if it were not for greenhide and stringybark, the Colony would not survive.
Mary Bawden had broken her scissors, which were old and rusty, so she used her late husband's shears to trim young Tommy's hair. Scissors were very precious. Joseph Sharp had none in his store. Plenty of porter but no scissors. Mary kept the two halves hoping one day to get them mended. Some of the women were horrified, not so much at Tommy's ragged haircut, as the belief that shears belonged to a man's world, and the loss of her husband had forced her to walk in the ways of a man. After all, men had one less rib than women, and they breathed and thought differently. The men said it was too dangerous for a woman to use shears, but no-one could suggest what else she could do, except remarry at the first opportunity which suited her. A woman should not be alone. There were a hundred men who were looking for wives. Recently Joseph Sharp had made a move to acquire the Bawden holding at 'Penberthy', and people wondered what she would do if matters were settled.
Thomas Hewitt from 'Stonehenge' near Tenterfield, arrived after finding a new and better track from the Tableland. He had found that the Blacks around 'Stonehenge' were powerful and hostile, he was fifty miles from the nearest neighbour, and the rugged country offered perfect hiding for marauders. So he had set out with a compass and a blackboy to mark a better route than Craig's Line from Guyra. His route was to prove very useful. And he was glad to settle on the Clarence with his wife and baby son, buying Bentley's wharf and store, where the cedar-getters had held their orgies. Thomas Hewitt was of stocky build with a full beard and rode a good cob and looked like a typical English farmer. He planned to receive wool from New England by his new route, and to accommodate his customers in a public house he planned to build. The area became known as Woolport.
His wife's family also came to the river, after reports from Thomas, and Mary Bawden was delighted to recognise someone who had been kind to them when they were coming down from Guyra with the flocks. She reminded Alexandrina Cowan, Thomas Hewitt's mother-in-law, of the milk and butter she had brought to their camp, two years ago.
"Did I?" said Mrs Cowan. "Well I certainly remember the great cavalcade of flocks that set out down Craig's Line."
"We're glad your son-in-law has bought Bentley's store. There have been dreadful orgies here," said Mary.
"What a lot of changes there've been since I arrived," said Magdalen. "Being able to buy butter from Small's is one of the biggest advances. There are so many people now it doesn't feel like the Outback. Or perhaps I've just got used to it. I find I hardly ever think about Home any more except to wonder how my mother and aunts are."
The change that stirred people most was the death of Commissioner Oakes and the appointment of a dashing young bachelor of twenty-three. Governor Gipps also divided the district, as it really was too large for one man, even a fit young bushman. Commissioner Oliver Fry arrived with a reputation for bravery in the capture of a bushranger. He was a dandy, his hair flowing in pot hooks and held a place with Macasser Oil, a man of generosity and energy, but also impetuous.
When Eliza was too big for the cradle, William made her a small bed with legs driven into the ground like their own and Jane's. She was now twelve months old, walking unsteadily but with determination, playing happily with pebbles in the dirt of the dooryard, watched over diligently by Jane. Magdalen tended her small garden, her household and animals with Jane's help. William's clothes were patched until it was impossible to see what had been the original garment, Jane's dresses were cut down for Eliza. The best parts of Magdalen's worn-out dresses were cut down for Jane. Nothing was wasted. Every scrap of cloth or metal was put aside until a use was found for it. Even the nails were withdrawn from the cradle. All metal scraps were melted down and fashioned into nails. They developed a genius for improvisation and were proud of the fact that they managed better than most others.
About the middle of the year Magdalen found that she was again pregnant. Such an event was accepted as inevitable. Babies came at regular intervals. The thought presented no special hardship. Eliza's baby clothes were there, all carefully put aside. They always had good food on their plates and a roof over their heads and enough clothes to be comfortable in a warm climate. Along the Clarence there was food for the trapping or catching and it was hard to remember that others were homeless and destitute.
Joseph Sharp a quarrelsome man acquired the Bawden Holding, and John Edye Manning who had been handling the probate was suspended because of his own insolvency. As the financial situation became worse William spent more time hauling timber, in order to keep a steady income, and less time on the ship. The keel had been laid, and a start made on the frame or ribs which gave the schooner its shape. His timber-getter's licence did not entitle him to build anything permanent, cultivate the soil or pursue any other industry. His ship-building enterprise was a little down-river from Hewitt's and Sharp's premises, and the tracks leading from Woolport to Tenterfield via Travellers Rest, where teams had found a suitable site for camping. Travellers Rest had become a favourite spot where teamsters congregated for company and protection. The site had been improved by building fireplaces and amenities. Grass grew well, manured by cattle, so there was always plenty of feed. It was an obvious site for a store to supply teamsters, and Walter Hindmarsh seeing the advantage had built a house of accommodation. He and his wife Elizabeth had come from Port Macquarie with their three small daughters Grace, Ann and Jean. Their next daughter Susan was born at Fairfield, near Tenterfield.
Magdalen considered having her next baby at home but William insisted that she again go to Stonequarry for her confinement, believing she would have more rest and attention. In the meantime he had to make a new bullock yoke. He cut a piece of casurina about seven inches in diameter and five feet long, and bored auger holes an inch in diameter to take bows and pin. With an adze he cut out the centre hollow for the start pin, and hollows underneath to fit the animals. It was then thrown in water for a month to wash out the sap, and when dry it was smoothed with a drawknife.
The thick scrub on the river bank screened the shipbuilding activities from the river, and like many other people struggling to make a living any way they could, William did not advertise his undertaking. The new Commissioner did not show any great diligence about administering his duties; unless matters were brought to his attention he turned a blind eye to many things, especially trouble with the Blacks. He made a cursory investigation, wrote a brief report and forgot about any situation which he could not solve.
One squatter had fewer sheep than when he started, although he had not sold any or boiled them down for tallow. Presumably they were stolen by the Aborigines. Oliver Fry did nothing about it. Most settlers went about the work of earning a living without calling upon his services.
"We won't bother him with our problems if he doesn't bother us," was the general feeling.
The baby was due in the Autumn. Magdalen did not leave until February, confident that like all her other babies it would go full term, so she had little fear of a premature birth. In any case if the baby came early it had as much chance of survival in one place as any other. The chances would be slim. She left Jane to look after William's needs, back in their original hut at the Settlement, where Sarah would be available to help. Only little Eliza went with her.
The Depression was more marked in Sydney than in the bush. There were a lot of vacant premises and 'For Sale' notices. The plight of the people in the cities had seemed remote and unreal until she came face to face with it. Many people were ruined; bankers, traders, squatters. There was no money, no credit, no trade, nothing but failure. Being bankrupt was no disgrace, no distinction. At least a person could start again. The Sheriff's Officer was said to be the only active man in the community. Goods cost less than half of what they had been three years before when Magdalen had arrived in New South Wales. Mutton was a penny a pound, sheep which in 1839 had cost 35/- now sold for 6d.
There was depression of a different kind in the house at Stonequarry, as Uncle William had deserted his family, having been declared bankrupt. The property would be sold. In the meantime Aunt Ann and the children struggled to keep the small farm producing food for themselves. Magdalen could see no hope for them and felt disheartened.
The next baby was a boy and Magdalen knew that he must be William junior. As soon as she could manage to travel, she took her two little ones home and declared flatly that she would have her next baby at home, wherever that might be. The journey was too exhausting and too depressing. Magdalen showed William his son.
"Fine fellow," said William. "Be a good boat-builder one day."
He had carefully repolished the cedar cradle, and had replaced the nails which he had drawn out, with pine splinters. As Magdalen placed Baby William in it she felt a great surge of relief at being home.
William read about the Depression in the newspaper which Magdalen had brought with her. There was also an article about a movement trying to have Gipps recalled. It was led by William Charles Wentworth who had achieved a place in the Administration and seemed to have forgotten the people in whose name he had won. He had tried to buy the south island of New Zealand at a penny for a hundred acres. Gipps had prevented him and they had become bitter enemies.
"Gipps seems to be doing his best in an impossible situation. Whatever he does will be wrong," William said.
"He warned about over-spending but he was ignored."
"You remember Richard Craig who discovered the Clarence? He is now the superintendent at 'Eatonswill' and highly respected and trusted. Quite an achievement for an escaped convict, eh? You remember he married Ann Baker? Well Mrs Craig had a son, and James Mylne has been pressing for a minister to come and baptise all the babies and marry some of the parents."
"Good thing. But some of the timber-getters may not want to get married from what I hear. They prefer to marry and divorce themselves 'over the broomstick'. But there'll be plenty who'll be glad to have legal marriages. And we can have Eliza and Baby William baptised."
"When is Jessie due to drop her calf?" asked William.
"Jessie? What has she got to do with it? A month or so."
"Will you be ready to do some real pioneering then?" asked William in a joking tone, which warned Magdalen that he had something very serious in mind.
"What exactly have I been doing until now?"
"There was a settlement here when you arrived. I mean further north to the Big Scrub. Young William will be about four months old by the time the wet season is over. Some of the cutters said we should not go alone, and four of the men I know, have agreed to come with us. We have to take everything we might need for a year or two."
For a long time Magdalen had known that they would one day move on. Ever since Commissioner Oakes had arrived with his arbitrary and sometimes eccentric methods of administering justice, William had been restless. Oliver Fry had been more capable than his predecessor but just as arbitrary and unpopular. He had punished a man whose children had planted corn on Crown Land. Without a squatter's licence William could have his half-finished ship confiscated. The hull was nearly ready for launching, so William sold it to the first man who gave him a reasonable offer. The buyer recognised its potential, but would have liked William to complete it for him. However William had a plan of his own. The land which the Wilson Brothers had surveyed had never been put up for sale, and the Government surveyors had left after five months without doing anything. The only thing to do was find a piece of unoccupied land and establish himself on it. He would apply for land on the Richmond River, north of the Heads, and pay the annual lease of £10. This still did not give him complete security as the Commissioner could refuse to renew at any time, if he ever came so far north.
Everywhere the squatters were agitating for Security of Tenure. They had come to look upon the lands they occupied as their own. Governor Gipps feared that if graziers gained too much land there would not be enough left for agriculture when the Colony became more thickly populated. The people wanted to curb the despotic powers of the Governor, and by the first Electoral Act, a Legislative Council was to be elected. Few people had the right to vote, and all the Colony beyond Location was unrepresented. The settlers on the Clarence River and beyond had little faith and little interest in the coming elections. They were concerned with daily living and few people had time to give much thought to the future. Few people prospered. The Mylne Brothers seemed very optimistic. Mr Grose had become insolvent and his property was to be taken over by the Mylnes.
"Would you rather stay here for a while with the children until I get established? When Steve King went to the Richmond, the men went first with the dray, then came back for the women who went by a chartered schooner."
"No. When I get organised I would rather we all go together. It took me long enough to find you here! Mr King had to leave in a hurry didn't he? Because of the trouble with the Commissioner and Moreton Bay Harry. I remember the men going off with a whaleboat perched on top of a dray. It was a sight!"
"Yes. They explored the Richmond River in the whale boat, and came back for the women. They said the timber there is better than here if that is possible. And a lot further from interference from Commissioner Fry, who's getting too big for his boots."