Chapter 24

As soon as the 'Coraki' was established as a coastal trader, William began to make plans for a much larger vessel. His first ship 'Providence' which he had begun at the Settlement was sixty tons, the 'Pelican' had been forty-eight tons, the 'Coraki' was eighty tons. The new ship would be a one hundred and eighty ton barque big enough to sail as far as Melbourne, even Hobart if required. Magdalen wondered if he were being too ambitious and worried if he could finance such an undertaking and how much would be sacrificed for the venture especially as times were very uncertain. Selectors were moving in and many settlers lost their land. But there was general progress. The Grafton Steam Navigation Co. extended its operation to the Richmond River and bought the wooden screw steamer 'Waimea' for the run.

* * *

Bill, Harry, Charley and some apprentice boys started out in the 'Quicksilver' to cut crooks and ribs near Casino, out of the heads of cedar trees previously felled for logs. There were large numbers of heads lying along the banks of the Richmond. Most of this timber was wasted as only the best parts of the trees were taken, the heads being unsaleable. When all the trees in an area were felled, the heads were sometimes burnt if the squatter wanted more grazing land.

The boys cut the crooks and rolled them into the river, made them into rafts and floated them alongside the boat. They worked their way downstream towing the raft. Charley who was ten stayed on board and had a lively time. It was his job to do the cooking in an oil drum for a stove. The menu was invariably corn beef and fritters or fritters and corn beef. After three weeks the boys were mighty glad to get back home for a change of food.

Bill was proud to be in charge of the undertaking. His father had given him explicit instructions but he felt no real confidence in his son. The lad was smart enough and had been thoroughly taught but showed little interest in doing a first class job especially anything to do with ship-building. He had always been an obedient boy, quiet of course, but reliable and he knew that his father would stand no nonsense and accept no shoddy work. He had always been dependable at least when he was being watched. He did a good job without any enthusiasm. But lately the boy had become headstrong. Stubborn lad! William was inclined to blame his association with the Cook family. He felt a little uneasy because there was no effective means of checking on his son while he was away on the 'Quicksilver' and he felt uncomfortable about his lack of trust.

"That's a failing of youth these days. They take no pride in their work."

On his return with the crooks and ribs Bill had an air of defiance, almost daring his father to find fault. William was relieved and in fact a little surprised that Bill had organised everything very well, but could find no words to say so. It was left to Magdalen to comment.

"Well done son. We're very proud of you."
"Any news of the cricket tomorrow?" was his response. He had enjoyed the weeks of freedom and was not looking forward to having to take orders again.
"Yes. I believe everything is organised," his father said. "What news is there from Casino?"
"Charley has the mail and papers. There's talk of a bridge to be built at Casino instead of the punt."
"Will you build it?" Tommy asked his father.
"No. Not at all. This will be a large metal bridge and engineers build it. Been talk about a bridge for years," he said as he opened the mail and glanced at the newspapers.

In the evening, lessons began again for the boys after the three weeks' break. William indicated to Bill that he should read an article he pointed to in a paper. It was about the controversy in England which arose after the publication of the 'Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin. During his voyage to Australia William had heard the crew of the 'Beagle' talking about the previous voyage surveying little-known parts of the world, charting the coast of South America and visiting the Galapagos Islands, which were of special interest to one young man on the ship who had made a great collection of specimens and had taken copious notes about his observations. He had discovered fossils and many unknown plants and animals. Twenty years later he had published a controversial theory which had upset many people and made others question a lot of long-accepted ideas. William was not particularly concerned with the argument, only the connection with the ship on which he had lived for two years.

"I don't know enough about it either way, but I believe the man was sincere."
"Perhaps misguided," said Magdalen, and dismissed the matter for the more pressing task of ordering stores.
"Commander Wickham was interested in his ideas. There must be some logical explanation," said William.
"Your ship is quite famous, getting into all the newspapers," said Annie. She was more informed about biology than her parents and would have liked to be able to read more about the theories. William did not pursue the subject and went on to read about Jack Robertson's proposed scheme to make a fairer distribution of land. Robertson was opposed to Lang's promise of free land to incoming migrants brought out from Scotland, as he felt that working men already in the Colony should have the first opportunity to settle where they chose, even though the land had not yet been surveyed. On principle he opposed every petition of the graziers including that for a bridge at Casino and work on the river bar.

"It seems rather short-sighted to me, opposing everything just because landholders support it," said William. "And if he's not careful we'll be inundated with people who know nothing about farming, just after a bit of land."

Landholders everywhere were reading about 'monopoly' or 'unlock the land'. Squatters had covered the face of Australia and Free Selectors were depicted as cockatoos sitting on the fence posts and looking over the lands and making themselves heard.

"How many landholders do you think there are on the river?" asked Magdalen between mathematics lessons to the young children.
William answered "Henry Barnes was telling me there are twenty-three runs of an acre or more. Most of them have been here for ten or twenty years, living in the roughest conditions until they can buy the land. Henry was one of the first."

The squatter had the first choice to buy land he was occupying apart from village reserves. He could make the adjoining land unusable by 'peacocking'. Or he could hire dummies to buy parts of his run on the understanding that he could buy it back later at an arranged price. In order to protect their investments at a minimum cost they planned to select all the best blocks, leaving the remainder useless to new-corners without a water supply. But many of the squatters were losing large portions of their runs as they were surveyed, others were impoverished by buying up large portions of their runs. There was an epidemic of pleuro-pneumonia among the cattle, and a slump in prices, several great floods and much unemployment as the alluvial goldfields gave out. Jack Robertson's new land laws helped working men to settle on the land and take up farming, but only some of the land was suitable for agriculture, and the gullible selectors bought land without any knowledge of farming and little or no capital. They could take up land in the unsettled district paying a deposit of 5/- an acre and 5% interest, on condition that they lived on the selection and made improvements to it. The squatter could buy any part of the land he held on leasehold at the same price, £1 an acre full price, unless his land was surveyed as a village reserve.

The Big Scrub had never been suitable for grazing as the vegetation was so thick that it was considered useless for ordinary productions. Along the creeks the best trees had been cut and gradually the timber-getters worked their way towards the heart of the rainforest. Now enough areas were partially cleared for selectors to start farming on the rich basalt soil. In cultivated areas many creatures began to disappear and cockatoos, lorikeets and paddymelons began to increase. Where cows were introduced they ate the young saplings so the felled timber was never replaced. There was no conflict between the squatters and settlers in the Big Scrub. But when the settlers began to move up the river, living on corn and pumpkins while they established themselves, there was serious concern. They began to arrive from Grafton by bullock dray or by ship, often selecting the first land they came to. Some of them had no intention of farming and had no means of improving the land, but wanted a plot of earth. They could postpone paying the remaining 15/- indefinitely by paying 5% interest. They built huts as a sign of habitation and left a few items to convince outsiders that they were 'in residence' while working elsewhere. With insufficient supervision the early selections did not lead to closer settlement, only to resentment.

yabsley bullocks big scrub richmondYabsley bullocks in the Big Scrub (by courtesy of W. King, Mullumbimby)

William as astute as ever thought over his plans carefully. He could select parts of his run for each of the boys and help them with improvements as required until all of 'Brook' station was freehold, except for the area set aside for the village of Coraki. He did not suffer the same set-backs as others did from the pleuro-pneumonia and floods and the slump in prices, because his interests were diversified. Whatever was most profitable at the time was what he concentrated on.

Henry Barnes also continued to be successful because of his keen mind and thorough knowledge of his job. Some of his horses were sold to the Queensland police and his fat cattle fetched ten guineas in Sydney. The reputation of his Shield Brand grew and 'Dyraaba' bulls were in great demand. His prize-winning animals travelled 'haltered and blanketed like cattle in England' as he said. His family also continued to grow successfully; there were now three children, Sara, Agnes and Henry Sparke.

Others were less fortunate. The price of beef fell to levels as low as those in the Depression of the 40's. Production of beef exceeded consumption. Bullocks were £2 a head, about what they were worth in the boiling down vats.

Eliza and John Robinson were back from Grafton and Magdalen and William met their first little grandson, young Johnny. They had almost forgotten the delights of holding a tiny baby. Eliza placed him un-ceremoniously in his grandfather's lap and William clucked and talked baby talk as he had never done with his own children.

Eliza and Jane were both pregnant again, there would soon be five grandchildren. During the year the sisters each had a daughter. Eliza named her baby Elizabeth, and Jane named hers Ann, after two of the Yabsley girls who had in turn been named for their father's sisters in Devon. When the Anglican Minister Arthur Selwyn paid his next six-monthly visit to the Richmond River, there were two grandchildren to christen. Eliza and John were not often at Coraki, John went wherever work was available and Eliza seemed to enjoy moving around and seemed to cope with her small family. Jane and William Kinny remained at Macleay River and Magdalen was confident that looking after two small children and a hut were no novelty to Jane, and Mary now ten would be a great help. In Magdalen's imagination Jane was living very much like she and William had at the Settlement, struggling and saving and improvising.

On the Richmond they were beginning to see good progress in some respects. The first school on the river was built at Casino. Books were hard to get, the children when they attended were usually barefoot. By 1862 a public school was being built at Lismore.

"We'll have a schoolroom here in a few years," promised William.
"That would really be so much more convenient," said Magdalen as she cleared the evening meal away quickly so that lesson books could be taken out by the children and the apprentices. By now even young Tommy had joined the advanced classes, and Magdalen was left with only a few apprentices for basic lessons, from which they proceeded to the Bible and the 'Popular Educator' with William. Items from the newspapers also provided reading matter. It kept everyone in touch with local and remote events. They read about other signs of progress in the district, the new hospital in Grafton and the telegraph lines from Tenterfield to Grafton. Clark Irving had been busy in pressing for improvements, but nothing was done to the river bars. Mr Irving had decided to make his home on the Richmond River, but firstly he wanted to attend to some family matters in England. He intended to stay only six months but time went on and he remained away. Some of his friends overseas seemed interested in investing in the undeveloped district. A thoroughbred cow 'Drawing Room Rose' worth 220 guineas arrived at 'Tomki' from England and there was much interest in her and much comment about the cost. When would Mr Irving himself return? His absence lengthened.

 

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