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.
William was called to Grafton as a witness in a case. It was bothersome to him, but there was no choice about going. He expected to be away for several days and left directions for Fred, helped by some Blacks to complete work on the new dairy buildings. He planned to row to Rocky Mouth, walk to the Clarence Heads and pick up a vessel from there. However on arrival at the Heads he found nothing in sight, so borrowing a pulling boat from the pilot he rowed the fifty miles up-river to Grafton. The case did not come off, so he simply had to turn around and start back, rowing, walking, rowing. His strong limbs made light work of the task, but the whole episode had been a waste of time and he felt annoyed at the interruption to his work. He was usually philosophical, and believed that something should be gained from any experience. He had bought some books of interest, however he could think of nothing but the lost time. Rowing back towards Coraki he tried to put his mind to recalling all the changes that had taken place since he had first arrived at the Settlement. Grafton now had a population of three hundred, there were twenty proper houses and it had been proclaimed part of the settled area and given a dignified title. He thought he must tell Magdalen that 'Waterview' station had been sold to Thomas Ryan, whom they had known as the superintendent, and Francis Girard, the former owner had come to the Richmond River, and bought Lismore House from the Wilsons. Reverend Coles Child expected he would soon make another visit to his parishioners on The Richmond, and Little Magdalen, Charles and Mary could be christened. The minister had told William that he was enjoying his appointment, that he had even tried his hand at gold-prospecting, and pigeon-shooting, although he had not actually shot at anything, only blessed the arms and rowed the boat. William's thoughts came back to his present situation and the frustrated feeling returned.
He pulled around a bend and at last could see Coraki Cottage on the southern bank, and as he approached he could hear activity in the ship-yard. The boat slid into the landing place in the bank, and he shipped the oars neatly into the boat, and taking the rope, tied it to a post. Climbing the slope he came in sight of the ship-yard. A strange man of about twenty-seven, dressed in city clothes stood with Magdalen, Fred, Jane, Eliza and Billy. There was something vaguely familiar about him, the light reddish hair. Spot barked a welcome home to William and the group was suddenly aware of him.
"William," cried Magdalen. "We thought you'd be away longer. Look who's here."
"William," said the younger man offering his hand.
"It's Uncle John," cried Eliza unable to contain herself any longer. He' s just arrived from Sydney. Isn't he handsome?" She clung to his arm with obvious delight.
"Why John!" exclaimed William.
"You didn't know him did you Papa?" teased Eliza.
"It's nearly fifteen years since your father has seen him," explained Magdalen. "He was only twelve when your father set sail from Plymouth."
"I remember it so well," said John, who was taller than William and slighter in build, but in other ways similar. "It was on the 'Beagle' wasn't it?"
"Yes. How long have you been in the Colony?"
"A couple of months. How was your journey to Grafton?"
"Quite unproductive. The case didn't even come off. I should have been getting this finished. The owner's waiting."
"I can help you for a while. Quite a good business you have here. And a grand house. Mother and Father would be astonished to see how you have come up in the world. You're practically landed gentry here." He glanced toward the house and although the bungalow style seemed alien to him, he knew that it was suitable for the climate.
"The wide verandah helps keep the house cool. As well it's a good place for the young fry to play in rainy weather," explained Magdalen.
"My wife has ideas for vines around the posts and a grand lawn in front, to entertain guests."
"Uncle John isn't married so he'd like to meet some Australian ladies. Could we have a party for him, and invite everyone," begged Eliza.
"Eliza!" remonstrated Jane. "Don't talk so."
John laughed good-naturedly. "My dear Jane, don't be embarrassed. I'd love to meet the local young ladies. Do you play cricket here?"
"Not really," replied William. "Most of us have been far too busy to worry about recreation. You don't get far in this country without working hard."
"William works just as hard as any of the men he employs. He gets up first and rings the bell for everyone to get up. All of the children have tasks to do. Young Billy is only eight, nine next March, and he can do most things the men do, in a limited way. He's good at ciphering and helps with the books."
William's mind was already turning to the next task. "Hard work never hurt anyone. At least in The Colony if you work hard and don't speculate too wildly, you can rise above poverty. Many have become bankrupt from imprudent buying of stock."
"I don't expect to be buying stock," John hastened to say. "I've got no money, I'll stick with ship-building."
"Are you going to stay in the Colony?" asked Magdalen.
"I'll probably settle here for a while, it depends if I meet anyone interesting. I've no ties so far, I've managed to escape the altar."
"Don't you want to get married?" asked Jane.
"Jane's already eighteen," Eliza informed everyone. "She's been married for two years, and has a baby."
"All the girls her age are married," explained Magdalen. "They all marry young on The River. Anyway I think a picnic day would be a lovely idea to welcome John and I'm sure we could organise cricket for the men." She looked at William, but he was already adjusting some clamps on the boat he was repairing, and seemed to have forgotten their presence.
"We'll be going back to the house," said Magdalen.
"I'll stay and keep an eye on William," John said. "I suppose we can expect some refreshment soon?"
"No doubt William has not eaten for hours. But you can't possibly be hungry John after what you ate for luncheon. I suppose you are still used to a big mid-day meal? I dare say I'll find something. Listen for the bell." She and the girls went back to the house, Fred went back to the job on the dairy building. John and William stayed in the ship-yard.
After a silence William asked "What about Mother and Father then?"
"They were rather expecting that I'd be staying with them to look after them in their old age. But I'd had enough. They regard me as the Black Sheep of the family you know, and kept lecturing me. They kept reminding me that you were married and settled down with a regular supply of grandchildren for them. 'Getting on in the world' as they said. You're really doing much better for yourself than you've led them to believe. Anyway I've decided to copy you, at least in making my fortune in the Colony. But as for the stream of mouths to feed... I see Magdalen is expecting again, the eighth is it? Not for me?"
"What are your plans then?"
"No definite plans. I'll work for you here for a while and see what turns up."
"Mm," replied William cautiously. He had some misgiving about his younger brother who had all the charm William lacked, but who seemed to be wanting in moral fibre.
Except for a family resemblance, the two brothers could hardly be more different. William was short, thick-set, powerful, very calm and organised, who believed the Victorian motto that hard work and discipline developed character, whereas John, tall and fine-looking, gave little thought to anything more serious than food, clothes and girls.
* * *
"What's the news from Sydney?" asked Magdalen over tea.
"Talk is about the separation of Victoria, and the discovery of gold. People are abandoning their homes and businesses and rush off to make their fortunes."
Fred was most interested. "They say gold has been discovered at Bathurst, west of Sydney. It's exciting."
"Probably won't last," prophesied William. "There'll be a lot of disillusioned people."
"Gold is being found. Some are lucky," John told them. "If the news gets around the labouring classes will all be off to the Diggings, and you'll be left with no workers."
"I have no permanent workers so far except Fred. I've been considering accepting some apprentices. William King, a man we knew at the Heads wants me to take his son in a year or two. I use some of the Blacks from time to time on the run."
John said "I believe gold was discovered by an Anglican clergyman geologist back in '41, but according to Uncle Gilbert, Governor Gipps suppressed the news. He said 'Put it away Mr Clarke, or we shall all have our throats cut.' I've heard there's a labour shortage already around Sydney and prices are rising."
"If so there'll be less need for boiling down," said William.
"How is Uncle Gilbert?" put in Magdalen. "We heard that he had married a couple of years ago." The girls were most interested in Uncle Gilbert. Fred looked bored.
"Yes, to Isabella, youngest daughter of a minister from Ireland, the late Reverend Gore I believe. Attractive lady. Good family. A suitable match. They have a little daughter."
"I saw him briefly twice when I first arrived in New South Wales, and again after Eliza was born," said Magdalen. "That was over ten years ago and he was only twenty-two. He was Aide-de-Camp then but resigned soon afterwards to become a pioneer squatter in the Darling Downs for about four years. I don't think he was too successful. I'm glad he has settled down at last with a good wife."
William added "He knew nothing about practical things. Full of book-learning and second-hand information, but no experience. He was lucky to survive as long as he did."
"And Uncle William and Aunt Ann?" asked Magdalen.
"Gilbert knew nothing at all of their whereabouts. And I couldn't find out from anyone else. They have left the address Mother gave me. Gilbert said the farm had been sold after he went bankrupt. You didn't have any problems getting started?" he asked William.
Magdalen answered "William started with nothing at all but he looked ahead and made plans and would not get involved in any loans at high interest. That was what ruined many people. When prices fell they couldn't pay the interest and had to sell, but they couldn't sell because everyone was overstocked and there were no buyers."
"They say that the new Governor is not very interested in the Colony. He avoids mistakes by doing nothing. He introduced long leases for squatters and now sits back and watches the results of the monopoly. Every year that goes by with nothing done for the smaller settler, the more impossible it will be to devise a system fair to all."
"What did Gilbert do after his return to Sydney?" asked Magdalen to change the subject.
"He became Private Secretary to Governor Gipps for a while but I believe the Governor was recalled a year or so later and now Gilbert wants to make another attempt at pastoral life. He has apparently taken up a run near Armidale."
At this the children could contain themselves no longer. To have a relative who had been an Aide-de-Camp and Private Secretary to the Governor was exceedingly important to them. To think that he planned to live at Armidale, much closer than Sydney, was exciting. To have such a prestigious connection was momentous.
"How are you related?" asked Jane.
William was not so impressed and was unsure of the connection. "Mother was an Elliot before she married Father who was a tenant-farmer about four miles east of Plymouth. Mother's family were tenant farmers nearby. Gilbert is the son of Admiral the Honorable George Elliot, the second son of the Earl of Minto in Scotland. The Minto clan doesn't know we exist but Sir George as Admiral of the Fleet came down to the Naval Dockyards at Plymouth."
"William was presented to him as a first-rate craftsman. You had won prizes as an apprentice, Mother was always telling me," said John.
"Well Gilbert was already in the Colony and wrote his father such glowing accounts. When I met Sir George he suggested that I enlist in the Navy and sail on the 'Beagle' and visit Gilbert in Sydney. There was a great depression at the time and I accepted the offer. If he hadn't told me about it, I might never have come to the Colony. We could still be living in the tenements of Plymouth."
"What about the Earl of Minto?" asked Eliza.
John answered "At first they were Baronets about 1700. Then one of them was appointed Viceroy of Corsica and later Governor General of Bengal and on his return from India was created an Earl. He was Gilbert's grandfather. The Earl's brother Robert was a minister of Religion. We are descended from him."
"You know a lot more about it than I do," said William. "Mother and Gilbert are second cousins but of course he is much younger ."
"Maybe Uncle Gilbert could pay us a call?" suggested Eliza. "Papa could we write and ask him?"
"If he wants to establish himself he'll have to concentrate on his property and not be running around calling on relatives."
"Just the same we could invite him, if only to be friendly," Magdalen suggested.
"He probably won't spend all his time there. He has another property 'Holmwood' at Newtown near Sydney. That's where I saw him. If you are thinking of launching into a social life there are some matters of fashion you'd want to catch up on," said John.
"They say they're building ships of iron," said William who had not noticed the silence that followed John's remarks about their clothes.
Magdalen looked at the children. The little ones all wore clothes passed on from someone older. As one child out-grew clothing it was put aside for the next child of the same sex. Some things Billy had worn now fitted Harry, and some of Harry's were put aside for Charley. Jane and Billy had had no cast-offs, but their clothes had at times been remakes from their parents' half-worn-out garments. Jane now made all her own dresses, but it had never occurred to her to ask for anything finer than the Indian cloth which was suitable and practical in the Outback. Magdalen noticed Jane looking at her dress. John noticed too and stopped discussing iron ships with William to say "You don't want to be a plain Jane do you? Fred must order you some pretty cloth."
"Me too Papa?" asked Eliza.
"Most of our money goes into the run," explained William. "But the women can certainly get themselves some pretty things."
"We do very well," Magdalen assured him, but just the same she was suddenly aware that Eliza must have clothes suitable for a young lady, and she must encourage Jane to be more clothes conscious. "First things first. The run and the ship and the store are our livelihood. None of us have ever been cold or hungry. We always have shoes of some sort for our feet."
"Mama could we please have some new dresses for the picnic?" pleaded Eliza with unusual ardour.
"Of course, but we have very little in the store except plain cloth."
"I'll start as soon as I clear up the tea things," said Eliza collecting the plates and cups.
* * *
John made a large wooden rake which he pulled with a bullock to remove larger objects from the front of the house, between the house and the river. Then he organised the children to pick up sticks and stones from the area. He spent some time cutting the lush grass with the scythe, while the women-folk made other preparations.
Almost everyone along the river came to the picnic and the day was a huge success. Magdalen had worked very hard and William wondered if she had needed to make such elaborate arrangements. All the guests brought picnic baskets of chicken, ham, fruit, cakes, pies.
Such holidays were rare.
"We must have more of these," said the guests.
"Mr Yabsley has been a leader in the district, and well-respected, and I'm glad he's going to be a social leader as well. We need more society here."
"Oh, we're not really socially-minded," remarked Magdalen. Thinking of William as a leader of society made her smile. He was now sitting apart from the crowd with his friend Henry Barnes, discussing their ambitions and how they each intended to achieve them. Henry said he was concentrating on improving the herds. He advised William on matters of breeding, and William found his conversation worth listening to. The more frivolous chatter of the women and most of the men simply passed by the two men who were both similarly of stocky build and serious disposition. They discussed the implication of the fourteen-year leases that had been given to the squatters, and the lower qualification for voters. Men from the cities representing mercantile interests now sat in the Council, and they were pressing for legislation to reduce the power of the squatters who had opened up the Outback, and many of whom were now worried about losing their investments.
William did not hear the small talk any more than he heard the ticking of the clock once he had become accustomed to it. Henry however felt a little more social obligation. With the intention of moving over to another group he stood up and as a parting remark said, "It would be about seven years since you came through the scrub looking like a Beardie and asked the way to the Heads, as we called it then. No longer a Beardie, getting more 'Square', things have changed a bit, eh?"
"That's a fact. At times I hardly dared believe it was possible to do what I've been doing."
"You must have known where you were heading even if you didn't know the way to the Heads. You must've had a firm goal or you wouldn't have been so single-minded all these years."
"I suppose so in a general way. The idea of being ambitious above our station seemed indecent in the Old Country. But I did take what opportunities were offered."
"And some that weren't exactly being offered."
William wandered over to his shed and Henry joined Jane and Magdalen who were watching the game of cricket from the verandah of Coraki Cottage. Magdalen being pregnant was keeping in the background. Henry took Charles and Little Magdalen on his leg for a ride of 'Gowie Gowie Gumpy'. The children laughed and examined his muttonchop whiskers and broad waistcoat.
Billy and Eliza listened very attentively while John explained the rules of cricket at length to the men, most of whom were inclined not to take it too seriously. There were not enough players for two full teams so it was a game in which they took turns at the bat while everyone else fielded. The bat was a piece of wood roughly shaped, the ball was a string of cloth wound up tightly and glued together. Spot found the whole idea most amusing and had to be tied up. At first Fred could not be persuaded to join the game as he felt self-conscious but presently he took a position in the field.
Lunch was eaten on the newly cut and raked grass while the men discussed the finer points of their game as they saw it. Much to John's chagrin they still refused to be serious, but were overjoyed at the opportunity to get together, relax from work and have a jolly good time. They were particularly delighted that William and Magdalen now had a comfortable home and thriving business, because to them it represented the chance a man had in the Colony, a chance to make good without any assets except energy and foresight. And his expanding enterprise gave everyone a share of security and prosperity. The conversation turned to matters of greater everyday importance, such as the merits of breeds of
cattle and horses. Some of the younger boys took up the cricket bat while he men talked and rested.
Billy was among the keenest of the boys.
"Hurry up young man and grow up," suggested John, showing him how to hold the bat.
"What are you going to do when you grow up? Build ships like your Papa? Or raise cattle?" asked Henry Barnes who had taken up a position as wicket-keeper.
"I don't like sailing or ships, Mr Barnes. I get seasick. I'd rather work in the store, selling things. When I grow up I'm going to have the biggest store on the river."
"Then you'd better study hard at your figures so that you can add up the accounts. A merchant, eh? What about the ship-yard?"
"There's Harry and Charley to help in the ship-yard when they are bigger. Harry's nearly five, but he does keep getting things wrong, and Papa won't have him around."
This was quite a speech for Billy who was usually not so communicative. Billy found it easier to talk to his father's friend than to most people. Henry Barnes had been like an uncle for many years. Even Jane found herself at ease with him. He was intelligent, and genuinely interested but not patronising.
The men began to return to the game, still discussing items of interest as they went.
"They say it costs less to send a barrel of whale oil by ship to London than from Sydney a hundred miles inland," someone was saying.
"City people don't know what it costs to live in the Outback. They think we are living like kings"
"And a lot of city people think they should have a share of the fortunes we haven't made."
Fred took up the bat and faced the bowling of John. The game went on, while William and Henry and some other men of their age who did not see themselves as sportsmen, sat on the verandah, discussing politics. Doctor Dunmore Lang was standing for parliament against Clark Irving of 'Tomki', for the district of the Clarence River, which included the Richmond. There was talk of another colony in the north, which was proposed to be called Queensland. Some people thought that it should include the Clarence River District. Sydney seemed so much further away than Moreton Bay, and they were feeling most neglected. They needed more police protection and improvements to the river bars, but the Council in Sydney was not interested. Dr Lang who was renowned as a fiery apostle of the Presbyterian faith had brought Highland settlers to the Colony, which he regarded as a 'land of moral darkness'. He ardently supported separation.
The local settlers mostly supported Clark Irving because Henry Barnes spoke so highly of him. One of the last guests to arrive was William's old friend William Clement, who was now a shipping clerk for Joseph Eyles at Bullinah, and was also continuing his building activities by remodelling a two-storey hotel. He was an excellent book-keeper and organiser, and at the same time enjoyed the creative occupation of building. He was now talking about the problems of the river bar, while his wife Eleanor talked to Magdalen about the changes in Bullinah in recent years. They exchanged recipes and home cures and compared the development of their children, as they took a stroll, accompanied by Spot.
"Harry and Annie give me more trouble than all the rest put together," sighed Magdalen. "Henry is accident-prone, Annie is too quiet."
"My mother used to say that her fifth child was the most difficult. The older children were not old enough to be much help at the time the fifth one was born."
"There could be something in that. With Charley I had so much more help, and had more time to give the baby. And he's so much more placid than Harry and Annie."
The ladies returned to the house to prepare the evening meal, after which the guests played proverbs and charades. Settlers from nearby left in time to be home before dark, some having to row ten or more miles along the Richmond or its tributaries. Henry Barnes and William and Eleanor Clement stayed for the weekend.
"This has really been a good idea," said Henry to Magdalen. "You should also join some of the other social activities on the river. People need each other."
"I sometimes wonder if William does," said Magdalen. "He seems so self-sufficient."
"Of course he does, Mrs Yabsley. But he has been so pre-occupied with providing for all of you, he has forgotten about the lighter side of life."
"In some ways he's busier now than he ever was. He's so tied down with the property and the 'Pelican' and often does hours of book-work in the evenings. He's up at five every morning. We all have to get up, even Young Billy. Only the little ones can stay in bed until daylight." William, John and Fred joined the group, overhearing the end of Magdalen's comment.
"Discipline is good for young people," said William. "I've no use for anyone who can't put in a good day's work." John and Fred were not so sure about the value of discipline. John did not class himself as a member of the family when it came to work. He had breakfast with the little ones about seven and began work at seven-thirty. Nobody at Coraki Cottage expected him to stay long, so they didn't object. But Fred was expected to be up with the early bell and he resented John coming down later each day.
"Why don't you employ more men and work shorter hours?" asked John.
"A labourer costs me twenty pounds a year plus rations, which is ten pounds of meat and ten pounds of flour a week. And I would just get them knowing my ways and they would leave."
"Some people say the labouring class is getting too independent," said William Clement. "They only work if they are asked as a kind of favour, and they leave if they don't like the employer or the conditions."
"And what do you intend to do Mr Yabsley?" Henry asked John.
"I'm not a five o'clock man myself," admitted John. "I'm a bachelor and have no ties so there's no point in me slaving away. I'm thinking of going to Bullinah so that I could still be close enough to Coraki to visit and join in the social activities."
"And far enough away to please yourself," laughed Henry.
"You're not married yourself," Magdalen said to Henry. "But you obviously love children."
He said "There are so few girls. Do you know Grace Hindmarsh? Now if she were a bit older I'd be courting her. She's about fifteen but she really made an impression on me when I called at Travellers Rest on business."
"I remember hearing about the birth of her sister Susan a year or two after we arrived at the Settlement."
Fred put in rather bitterly "They seem sweet and innocent until they get married, then they change."
* * *
The next morning the children organised a game in imitation of the men. Being short of players, Billy was willing to allow his sisters to join in. He knew Jane would not be interested, but expected that Eliza would be. Annie and Harry were a bit young but were needed for numbers. The Clement children also joined in. The girls wore sunbonnets and Magdalen insisted that the boys wore rag hats out in the open sunshine. They hated them but complied. Spot ran up and down barking excitedly.
During the game Harry chased a ball and fell on the uneven ground. He lay for a while groaning, so Eliza went over to pick him up.
"My arm hurts," he whimpered.
"Go and rest for a while and it'll get better," Eliza assured him, throwing the ball back to the bowler.
Harry retired to the verandah and spent the rest of the morning feeling miserable. By afternoon he was still favouring the arm so Eliza told her mother who examined the boy. She measured his arms and found one a little swollen. She felt it gently and bound it up carefully.
"Keep him quiet," she told the other children. "He must not move his arm until it heals. I think it's broken. Trust Harry. I was talking to Mrs Clement only yesterday about him always being in some sort of trouble. What next?"