Chapter 1 1840
Chapter 7 1841
Chapter 12 1843
Chapter 14 1844
Chapter 15 1845
Chapter 16 1849
Chapter 19 1851
Chapter 20 1853
Chapter 21 1856
Chapter 22 1857
Chapter 23 1859
Chapter 24 1862
Chapter 25 1863
Chapter 26 1864
Chapter 27 1866
Chapter 28 1869
Chapter 29 1871
Chapter 30 1872
Chapter 31 1874-1880
Chapter 32 1880-1896
These pages were written by Dorothy Kinny, great great gran-daughter of Magdalen and William Yabsley.
It had rained it seemed without ceasing, for four weeks, and William's team had churned up a quagmire along all the routes he used to haul timber to the Heads.
"I think I'll leave it until the rain stops," he said.
"Will it ever stop?" wondered Magdalen.
"There are a couple of ideas I've had which I would like to try."
"Could you fix a couple of things for me? And young Billy needs a new pair of boots. And ..."
"Line up the tasks that are most urgent. Have you a piece of paper?"
"Somewhere. I'll see if I can find it. What now?"
"Just an idea. I'm going to make plans for another ship. A small ketch I think."
"I suppose you regret having left Woolport before you finished the 'Providence'."
"There'll be plenty more ships. You'll see. But first just a small one. Something I can get finished this time."
While William was drawing his plans, he sent for the latest books, which came with the supplies from Sydney, he talked to every captain who called at the Heads and examined every new idea carefully. He transferred his ideas to paper and re-examined the details until he was satisfied, working on the slab table in the living area of their two-roomed hut.
"When we get established, I am going to have a large work room and a huge ship shed to build my ships in, in all kinds of weather."
"That will be more convenient for both of us," said Magdalen who had to clear the table and help Jane with the washing up so that William could spread his books and sketches on the table. Then she put Eliza and Billy into the bed they shared in the corner of the living room, while Jane took out her lesson books. Magdalen sat on a stool to feed the baby, while Jane lit a fat lamp and set it in the centre of the table.
Magdalen regretted being unable to help more, but she encouraged Jane with her reading, her study of history, geography, ciphering and hand-writing. When a problem arose which Magdalen could not answer from her wide experience, William was called upon to help solve it. Jane worked from a volume of the "Popular Educator". She did very well for an eleven-year old who had only an hour or two a day to devote to study.
"By the time Eliza starts her schooling you'll know these books by heart Mama."
"Eliza already knows her ABC. She was copying the letters off the packing case on the floor, writing in the dirt, and she's only four. She can already count to twenty."
* * *
The weather cleared and the ship-building plans were set aside for several months, but William's thoughts ran continually on preparation and improvement. Being a methodical man, he was annoyed to find himself forgetting routine jobs because his mind was not on the day's tasks. While hauling timber he always had one eye out for the timber he wanted. This he put aside, and took it as part of his fees from the cutters. From time to time he took down his plans and made minor alterations. He was so impatient to begin he almost wished it would rain. With the next wet-weather period, he was ready to make a start on setting out his ketch. It was 60.4 x 14.9 x 9.7 feet.
He worked all day under a bark roof, setting out his moulds. After tea he went out again with a fat lamp to inspect and contemplate his work.
Magdalen put the little ones to bed, fed the baby, set Jane to do some exercises, and followed after William.
"How are you managing? Which is the front?"
"Front?" he grimaced. "Could you hold this lamp up here a moment while I adjust this? It will be launched stern first. It's the usual practice."
An hour later the lamp had almost burned out.
"I'll go and bring another," offered Magdalen. Jane had almost fallen asleep over her work.
"Put it away dear and go to bed. This ship is very important to your father and I want to help him."
During the wet weather Magdalen spent many hours in the evenings holding the fat lamp for William. Many people were interested in the undertaking including a young man called Frederick West who had begun an apprenticeship as a shipwright, and who was now working as a labourer for the cutters. He came regularly to inspect and comment on William's progress.
A schooner arrived from Sydney with mail for William from Uncle Gilbert. It was a single foolscap page, folded, and one end tucked into the other. It cost William 8d, of which the captain got half. Gilbert said that he had given up his squatting pursuits on the Darling Downs, and had now become Private Secretary to the Governor. While furniture was being moved from the old to the new Government House, a box had been stolen from him, containing a large sum of money and jewellery which was later recovered from the Police Barracks.
"Uncle Gilbert is lucky to be able to get such a good job with the Governor," said Magdalen. "The Governor must like him, and I know he believes the Governor is doing his best in a difficult position. Obviously he wasn't suited to life in the Outback. I'm glad he got his valuables back. City people are so dishonest, and I wonder how Aunt Ann is managing on a deserted wife's pension, and whether she is still at Stonequarry. And wish I knew how Mother is."
A little while later a letter arrived from England telling Magdalen that her mother had died.
"If I could go home now there would be nothing left to go back to. She has never seen her grandchildren, and they will never see her, at least not in this world. I would have given a great deal to have seen her again." Neither time nor distance diminished her affection but she knew it would be folly to allow herself to get miserable. But in spite of her resolution she thought about her homeland, her mother and two aunts who had helped bring her up after her father had deserted them. Her children might be dressed in clothes made of bags, but they were never hungry or cold, and although they all had jobs to do, they were healthy outdoor activities. And conditions were certain to improve.
* * *
Another schooner arrived, having lost a mast in a storm. The captain had been directed to talk to William.
"I see you are a shipwright ," said the captain, examining the framework of William's ship. "Beautiful work. Doing it yourself?"
"I see you have lost your mast," said William.
"Yes. I hope you can oblige me. I shall be greatly in your debt."
"Take a few days. I'll have to find a suitable tree and haul it with the team. I'll take some measurements."
While hauling the spar out of the bush along the riverbank, the bullocks got into the water and two were drowned. The four remaining bullocks had to be unyoked and disentangled, and after a long delay he managed to haul the log back to his saw-pit, where it was smoothed and shaped and hoisted into place on the schooner. The dead bullocks could not be discarded. William had already hauled them out of the river, and quickly removed the skins for raw-hide. The ship's cook had used some of the meat.
"Can you manage with only four in the team?" asked the captain.
"No. I'll have to get a couple more from one of the stations. Mr Wilson was here at the Heads for about a year and he is now at a small station called Lismore. As you are going up-river I'll ask you to deliver a letter to him, and ask him if he has four young ones to sell."
"I'll certainly do that. I'm very happy with the work you've done for me and I'll recommend you to my friends."
Magdalen put in "Those two bullocks were the oldest in the team, weren't they? I think you said so when you bought them four years ago."
"Yes. I'd have to replace them in a few years anyway."
On his return some days later, the captain brought a message from Mr Wilson that William could collect the young bullocks in a week.
"Why don't you take young John Jarrett to help you with the young ones?" asked Magdalen. John's father Charles had arrived from the New England district to obtain cabbage-tree palms for hat-making. The trees grew mainly on the coast, but the hats were popular among all outdoor workers, as they were broad-brimmed to shelter from the sun, plaited from fibre extracted from the young leaves found in the crown of the cabbage palm. The leaves were dipped into boiling water three times at intervals of three days. A sharp point split the leaves into strips that were plaited four ways into a band, and sewn round and round with flax thread. Nearly ever-lasting. The young leaves from the heart of the crown were edible, hence the name 'cabbage'. Where other trees had been felled, the palms stood alone, straight and slim to a height of up to ninety feet, the height of the original forest.
Charles Jarrett agreed to do without John for a few days while William collected the bullocks. They set out to drive the team to Lismore, along tracks which had appeared since William and Magdalen had first arrived on the river. It took two days to drive the team, walking behind them. On the morning of the third day they were at Lismore. The young bullocks were brought in and yoked up with the old ones before breakfast.
"Would you allow one of your men to come with me as far as the Big Scrub to help us handle them? That's about six miles. By then they should be getting used to the yoke."
"Can't afford anyone," said Mr Wilson, walking into the house.
William and John stood in the yard, looking at the unbroken bullocks.
"I didn't expect that of Mr Wilson," murmured William.
The old male cook in the kitchen could see something was wrong. He called to them from the door.
"Come along in. At least I can give you some breakfast to give you strength before you tackle that task. I wouldn't be in your shoes for anything. Breaking in bullocks is a difficult job. I don't think he should 'ave sold you them young 'uns. They're 'alf wild."
It took William and John all day to get the bullocks to the Big Scrub. The young ones kept running round and round the old ones, and during the day one of them died from the heat. They pushed the others along the track until after dark and finally came to a creek where the bullocks rushed to get a drink, and the second was lost by drowning. The third got into trouble in the creek and William cut the coupling rope and then tied him to a tree with a vine. In the morning he was dead.
This left only one of the four young bullocks. After travelling all that day they reached home, pulling the dead bullocks on a slide for their skins, and having had nothing to eat for two days.
The sound of the whip had heralded their return, and Magdalen had already begun to prepare a meal.
"What a shame," she said when she heard the news. "I'm disappointed that Mr Wilson sold you wild animals."
"I'll know better next time. I should have waited until I could get in touch with Henry Barnes at 'Tomki'. One young bullock is no good. I'll have to manage with four."
"How can you do that?"
"I'll only haul short lengths, suitable for the smaller vessels. I'll lose some trade."
A few days later the remaining young one broke the coupling rope and was so wild he could not be yarded. Several men living at the Heads volunteered to help him bring him in, taking it in turns to follow him all day. Just after dark he went into the yard with the old bullocks.
"I've had enough of that wild animal," said William. "It would be too hard to match him for the team. He wouldn't be compatible with anything I could buy elsewhere, and there would be unevenness of movement. Chains get broken that way."
William slaughtered the bullock, and while the meat was hanging, William cut the hide off the hind legs near the thigh, and at the fetlock, turned the skin down and pulled it off like a glove. He drew up the small end with a thong to form the toe of a boot. He put the skins on his own legs and hooked them to his belt. He smoothed them and oiled them and kept them on his legs for three days and nights until they were dry, and the shape of his legs. Then he cut them off at the knee. A perfect fit!
The Governor had proclaimed that the Blacks had equal right of protection of the law. Instead of fading discreetly into the wilderness, many Blacks became aggressive, and hostile about their hunting grounds and sacred tribal places. There were attacks on stations in reprisal, cattle and sheep were speared, flour and sugar stolen, with the result that many squatters shot the Blacks.
There had been constant warfare between the Brunswick River Blacks and tribes of East Bullinah. The traditional battleground was Seven Mile Beach, between Lennox Head and Broken Head. William made it plain that he respected the rights of the Blacks and there was no friction on his property. The native name for the Heads was Bullinah 'mouth of a river where oysters are plentiful', and so it came to be known. They knew where to find the best oysters, and William learned about their food and a lot of other bushcraft. In turn he found that the natives could be taught to make cedar rafts and to handle bullocks.
"I love the oysters but don't ask me to eat flying foxes," said Magdalen.
"You might be glad to try them if you were hungry enough, we can learn a lot from the Blacks," said William.
William was now a landowner and as such had risen above the employed class. Distinctions were not observed so strictly in remote places because everybody needed everybody else. But the men who might have been his workmates two or three years ago were now his employees from time to time, and as such treated him as a superior. He was a man of property and some standing which meant that some deference was due to him. But the respect he received in an outpost of civilisation was not due so much to his position as to his personal qualities. When he gave an opinion, it was always worth listening to, and everyone recognised this.
Their daily lives were little different. They were all up at daybreak, washed, dressed and had breakfast together, Jane helping Eliza and Billy. If Baby Ann was being co-operative she slept until six-thirty or seven o'clock. If not Magdalen fed her while Jane served the porridge. Meanwhile William had fed and watered the bullocks and Jessie, Bessie and George. At seven William started his days' work, hauling timber or repairing ships until dark, six o'clock in the winter, seven in the summer. After tea Magdalen set Jane to lessons, put the two little ones to bed, fed the baby, then went out to help William with his ketch.
Henry Barnes had no young bullocks suitable for a team, but William was able to buy two from Tuckombil station and this time got them home safely. The bullocks' bows had to be straightened and re-shaped to another neck, before William could introduce them into his team. He was becoming quite an experienced blacksmith. The second pair of bullocks had now been trained as leaders, the new pair was put in after them.
By now all the good grazing land had been taken along the river and there were twenty-one stations. Only the Big Scrub on the north bank was left to the cedar-getters. On the south side, near the site of their first hut on the Richmond was a run called 'Brook' Station taken up by James Kenworthy on the advice of Ward Stephens who owned several runs in the district. James Kenworthy died and William was very interested in the station if it came on the market, because of its situation at the junction of the two arms of the Richmond.
Ward Stephens was an interesting man. He had founded the 'Herald' in 1831 and had sold out nine years later. He was insolvent during the depression but later drove sheep from the Tableland to the Richmond. He and his neighbour were in dispute about the possession of a large plain which had come to be known as Disputed Plains and were threatening litigation. Stephens allowed his sheep to run on the plain and his neighbour claimed that his cattle could not use the plain because they could not feed after sheep. Leycester even removed forcibly a shepherd and his wife and family from a hut which he said was on his property, and burnt the hut to the ground. Stephens maintained that he had taken up 'Runnymede' back in '42 and that the boundaries of land applied for included the plain, the only other squatters in the area being Clay and Stapleton on 'Cassino' now 'Tomki'.
William King with his family landed in Sydney in 1844, and was engaged by Ward Stephens to work on 'Runnymede' station. The journey from Woolport took two weeks on a dray. When they got to the Richmond near 'Tomki', a large gum tree had to be felled across the river for the women and children to cross.
"Better than our trip up," said Magdalen when she heard about the new arrivals. "We took six weeks in rain nearly all the way. They must have taken a better route through 'Travellers Rest'. I expect they were able to stay at Mr Hindmarsh' accommodation house. Pity they aren't closer. Young Ann King is about Jane's age."
One day the Blacks on 'Runnymede' began to roll stones down the hill, hitting the little hut in which the Kings lived. Friendly Blacks told the others that the King family was kindly to them and so they had no more trouble. Later another family was living in the same hut, when the children saw bushes moving. The men were away, but the woman dressed herself in her husband's clothing and showed her gun in front of the hut which deterred the Blacks.
On another occasion flour was stolen from a depot at Ward Stephens' 'Virginia' station, where the schooners left the supplies for settlers further up-river, and the caretaker was murdered. Two months later two other station hands who had always been friendly to the Blacks were killed, and more flour was stolen. This was near the junction of the Richmond and the North Arm, near the property 'Brook' station which William was interested in. So a muster of angry and worried settlers followed the Blacks and raided their camp at dawn. The arm of one of the white victims was found in a gin's dilly bag, and the settlers were so incensed that the hundred men in the tribe were driven to a cliff by the sea, and shot without mercy.
In 1845 a shepherd was murdered on a mountain station and a hundred sheep taken away. In reprisal the whites went to Boyd River and shot men, women and children. Richard Craig of the Clarence River, heard the story from the Aborigines, who had befriended him after his escape from Moreton Bay. Although he had become the superintendent of 'Eatonswill', he was illiterate, and Ward Stephens had offered to write an indignant letter to the Governor.
Most of the squatters brought sheep to the Richmond but soon found that the pastures and climate were not suitable, and the flocks contracted fluke, foot rot and catarrh. William had never considered sheep. He had thought of building up his cattle herd, and all stock was very cheap during the depression years. But when he found that his run was unsuitable for stock he realised he must depend on ship-building and timber. To justify the expense of £10 a year for the lease he must produce a vessel. In the meantime there were six mouths to feed, and a most unreliable contact with Settled Areas. They learned to be almost completely self-sufficient. Jane, at twelve could be depended on to make butter and cheese, cook, sew, wash, mind the children, or any other domestic task. She showed reluctance to handle the animals, and Eliza at five showed interest and compatibility with all living things. She was a curly-headed moppet with sparkling eyes, as full of fun as Jane was serious. Young Billy, now three was quiet and obedient, and Annie was a very placid baby, now beginning to walk. She slept with Eliza and Billy. Jane had a narrow bed of her own.
Magdalen thought back to her own childhood when it was quite common for children to work all day in mines. Jane had enough leisure to pursue her studies. She was now more proficient at many subjects than either of her parents, and generally supervised Eliza's lessons. Jane became irritable when Eliza would not sit still and concentrate.
Jane dear, she is only five and may not be as studious as you are," remonstrated Magdalen. "Just be patient and don't worry. Keep praising her and don't be too critical."
"I can't praise her if she won't work," complained Jane. "She makes up the most fantastic stories instead of reading the words."
"An imagination is a good thing. She is good at telling young Billy exciting stories and has a good memory. She will learn to read in time."
"Billy takes things more serious than Eliza."
"That is just as well. Your father expects great things of him. One day your father will have a prosperous business and he'll need a sensible and reliable son to help him. That's not important for girls."
"I should have been a boy. Then I could help Papa."
"Your father would be very glad if he had a boy your age, but I'm glad you're a girl, and you mustn't think about being a boy."
She did not say anything but she suspected that there would be another baby in the New Year. Not a good time of the year to be carrying a baby in this humid climate. While carrying the last two babies, who had both been born in Autumn, she had got so exhausted during the hot months. This one would arrive at the peak of the Summer heat, and the nights would be so hot and uncomfortable, and she knew that during the last three months of her pregnancy her legs ached and she found it difficult to sleep. This time it would be worse.
William was not surprised to learn that another baby was coming. When one baby was weaned it was normal to expect that another would soon be on the way. He said "I hope it's a boy then," and gave it no more thought. He was still working on his ketch, progressing slowly but surely. Magdalen hoped it would be finished before the weary last months of her pregnancy, but the weather remained fine and William only worked on it in the evenings. So the New Year came and the ship was far from completed. Magdalen got up each morning, unrested and reluctantly faced the day's chores. The days and weeks dragged.
Sometimes in the afternoon Jane took the children to play in the sand near the bay and Magdalen could have a rest. But if she did she often fell into an exhausted sleep and only woke when she heard the chatter of the children, so that her evening chores were not done, the evening meal was late and she felt half dopey. So she mostly tried to relax while she sewed without allowing herself to fall asleep. Occasionally she went with the children to their favourite beach within the Heads, where she sat in the shade and sewed. Jane would then sit with her, as she really hated the sand, and could not swim. Eliza could swim like a fish and Billy was good for his age. Ann loved the water, paddling at the edge and playing on the sand. All three were suntanned. Only Jane kept her hat on and her arms covered and stayed in the shade as much as possible.
They watched the pelicans soaring for several minutes without any movement of their huge wings, and enjoyed the comical appearance when they came to rest on the water. They looked so peaceful floating on the calm waters of the bay.
Often there were other families nearby and occasionally everyone got together at the end of the day's work. One of settlers who frequently joined them was young Fred West whose family had come to the river to live. Fred always asked about William's ketch and Magdalen wished that he were as willing to help as his interest seemed to indicate.
The children of the timber-getters had been taught to have respect for 'their betters' and apart from the very young children they observed the convention that William was a land-owner and they were not. People here seemed more class conscious than at the Settlement.
Among their closest friends at the time were the Clements. William Clement had been born near London, twenty-seven years before and was a carpenter and builder by trade. He came to the Colony the year after Magdalen, and now had brought his wife Eleanor and two small children to the Heads. He was intelligent, well-educated, well-informed and well-read. A close friendship was formed between the two Williams at once. The Clement Family lived in a hut near the Yabsleys. The owner of 'Tomki', Clark Irving wanted a house built on his property and his overseer Henry Barnes took William's advice and employed William Clement to build the house. He left his family at the Heads with William and Magdalen to help in case of need, while he completed the contract. Clark Irving was well satisfied, and other commissions soon followed including the building of Lismore House for Jane and William Wilson.
On his return to the Heads William Clement told about the boiling down works which Clark Irving had built at 'Tomki'. An engineer had been brought out from Scotland to install steam vats where 'Tomki' and neighbouring cattle were boiled down to make tallow when there was a surplus. The opening ceremony had been a gala occasion, and the people felt a security in the prospect of being able to sell tallow for £2 or £3 cwt in London. This brought a minimum price of 5/- a head for stock which was otherwise unsaleable, and prices stabilised. The excess stock was boiled in large iron vats, and the fat extracted and packed in wooden casks, pressed down with a heavy weight and shipped to England for soap-and candle-making. Meat residue was fed to pigs.
After tea in the evening the two families sat on the beach, watching the schooners and the dangerous flat-bottomed scows and the derricks loading logs on to the vessels. Magdalen was most fascinated by the pelicans, their awkwardness on land, their gracefulness in the air and their swiftness in fishing with their outsize beaks. Their nests were to be found along the shores and on the islands. One pair had built its nest nearby, a few leaves in the sand, and the female had laid two eggs. The settlers had been careful not to disturb them, and the birds seemed curious and friendly. The chicks had been naked, pink and grotesque, but after three weeks had grown to six times the original size and looked more like the adults.
The Yabsley and Clement children loved to watch the parent birds feed their young by opening their pouched beaks so that the baby birds could put their heads right inside to get the partly digested food.
* * *
In the Summer heat, before the next Wet, attended by Mrs Clement, Magdalen gave birth to her next baby, a boy as hoped.
"I'd like to call him after my brother Henry," said William. Magdalen acquiesced, relieved that her time had come at last and she was entitled to a few days rest after the confinement. Jane undertook most of the household duties and managed very well.
"Summer babies are such a trial," sighed Magdalen, and William was surprised to hear the complaint. "Eliza was born in Spring and it was so much easier. It's a pity we can't choose when to have our babies."
"That would be no good," said William. "If people could choose, some might choose not to have any, and then where would we be?"
It was a foolish thought and against nature, but Magdalen could not help feeling that it would be good to be able to organise the arrival of babies, as they did with animals. She rocked Baby Henry in his cradle which William had made for Eliza six years ago. He was a fretful baby, the most restless of all her children. Magdalen felt so weary and had trouble feeding him. She loved him of course and was ashamed of the half-wish that she did not have this baby at this time.
William brought her some beautiful orchids which he had found in the Big Scrub.
"The forest is so dense that it seems unlikely it will ever be cleared for ordinary grazing or farming. The sawyers have to cut every inch of the way to the trees they want to fell. When you're well enough we'll have to make an excursion into the Big Scrub to see the wildlife."
"I'll look forward to that," said Magdalen trying to get Baby Henry to sleep.