Chapter 26

A year after their marriage, Frances and Bill awaited the arrival of their first baby. Frances' father had selected a run called Forest Flat, eight miles from Coraki. A few weeks before the baby was due Bill took his wife there to stay with her mother. On Saturday 6th February 1864 he wrote in his diary:
Trimming planks for the 'Schoolboy'. Went down to Forest Flat finding Mrs Yabsley with a son about twelve hours old now called Arthur Henry. Good news for me.
Sunday 7th. Came up to Coraki from Forest Flat leaving Mrs Yabsley with a son.

In March he took his wife and child and their baggage up to 'Repentance' on a dray, and they placed the baby in the new cradle in the slab hut. The proud parents gazed in wonder at their tiny son and felt no regrets about their marriage now that the manner of it had been forgiven; at least the subject was never mentioned by William senior.

In April there was a great flood which had sent valuable casks of tallow and cedar logs out to sea. The river rose twenty-six feet in twenty-four hours, and a landslip at 'Tomki' had nearly carried the homestead away. James Stocks was visiting Coraki at the time and had to stay until the flood subsided. He had become a close friend of the family, and as he and Magdalen stood on the verandah with a lake all around, they teased each other about their respective cures for ailments. Magdalen admitted that she had been glad to accept his treatment for her arm which she had hurt when last she went to Casino.

"When there was no-one else I had to do whatever I could," she said. "It made us tough. All your new-fangled medicines didn't help me when I had a serious problem."
"There are better things all the time," insisted James.

By August the apprentices under William's direction were coppering the 'Schoolboy' to discourage barnacles from attaching themselves to her hull, laying blocks and shoring up ribbands ready for the launching. It had taken four years to build her and she was more than twice the size of the 'Coraki'.

Her builder was the acknowledged leader of the river. The launching of a ship of this size demonstrated this clearly, and everyone for miles came to witness the event. The vessel would bring more trade and help develop the district. William was proud of his achievement but was still basically an unassuming and modest man. A speech was called for and he did not shrink from the duty. He was wearing the suit which Eliza had insisted he buy for her wedding. Bill rang the bell for attention and his father began.

"It is touching to see what this ship means to the community. This has been a great year in spite of the flood which washed away so much cedar and tallow. I think it's a turning point in my life and for many of my employees. I've tried to employ everyone who came looking for an honest day's work. Not many have been turned away and I hope this situation will continue. I'm sure she'll bring prosperity to the district. I'll sail her myself for the first few trips to see how she handles. She'll be very fast you'll see."

It was a shock to him how quickly his words were to come true, as she slid down the ways. As had become their custom, Magdalen launched her with brandy amid the cheers of their friends, neighbours and workers. It was a long run from the shipyard and the vessel was going very fast when she hit the water sending a wave over the decks and wetting everyone. Magdalen had felt apprehensive about this large undertaking and was relieved to see the result of four years' work floating.

The onlookers enjoyed the little drama and teased William about his prediction of her speed. Then they went on with the celebration. Henry Barnes and his wife were there but they had felt it was too much to bring their four little ones from 'Dyraaba' so the children had stayed with the overseer's wife.

Magdalen asked Grace Barnes "What have you called your latest baby?"
"We call him Robert Richmond. That makes two of each for us. You must have that many grandchildren?"
"Actually seven. Jane has four daughters, Eliza has a son and two girls, Bill and Frances have a son. It's too far for Jane and William to come up for the launching but I know they're with us in spirit. It's good to see the Stocks, the Cooks and Robinsons and our old friends the Clements. Your husband knew Mr Clement as a builder, he built Lismore House. He still works as a builder at times, but has his own store in Ballina now. Come and meet them."

Magdalen and William retired to bed a little later than usual, sharing their room with the four grandchildren who were present. Henry and Grace Barnes had the boys' room, and the boys would sleep in one of the sheds when they got tired, as would most of the other guests who stayed. Dancing was an activity which William had never learnt and he showed no inclination to begin at fifty-two. Magdalen lay in bed listening to the merriment and feeling a little envious and sad that their lives had been so occupied with work that there had been no time for any frivolity. She was wistful and was sure that she would have enjoyed dancing as much as any of the girls; Eliza who looked quite stunning, Annie the beauty of the family, young Magdalen and twelve-year old Lizzie, all of whom had new dresses for the occasion and had been making plans for weeks.

John Yabsley was there dancing with the unmarried girls who were in great demand, even the youngest. James Stocks and his wife were there. Harry was talking cricket with other young men who could not or were reluctant to find dancing partners. Young Magdalen at fifteen was trying to imitate the older girls, trying to look poised and behave like a lady. Charley, Lizzie and Tommy made no pretence at maturity. They ate more than was good for them and played until mid-night when they faded out and crawled into bed in a shed. Young Magdalen was determined not to give in especially while Thomas King was still there, but by three am she too could stay awake no longer and crept into bed with Lizzie.

William junior wrote in his diary:
August 26, 1864. Launched the' Schoolboy' and danced all night.
August 27 Playing at cricket.
August 28 Staying at Coraki. People going home.

John Yabsley also left, saying he needed a holiday, although it was not very long since he had returned from a few weeks in Sydney. The young ones suggested he must have a special interest in Sydney and John admitted he would probably call on a pretty little widow he had met. On being pressed he said her name was Eliza Flanders and she had come originally from Ireland and she was good company. More he would not say.

Upon his arrival in Sydney, Mrs Flanders used all her feminine wiles to persuade John 'to make an 'honest woman' of her, and he found himself agreeing to get married as soon as the banns could be read. The ceremony took place in the Christ Church in Sydney on 28th December. However married life was very difficult to the forty-year old man, he did not like Sydney, and he told her he wanted to go to Ballina, to set up his own boat-building enterprise. Life away from the bright lights did not appeal to the bride and a series of arguments followed.

* * *

During the next three months the 'Schoolboy' was fitted and rigged. Tommy was sent for spars, Bill had to get sheers for masts, others made the bowsprit, rudder, cabin and the quarterhouse. There was a maze of standing and running rigging to be attached to the three masts. Square sails at the top of the masts would provide extra speed in the right wind conditions, although it would be more risky and time-consuming to climb the rigging and go out on the yards to set and stow the sails. A fully square-rigged ship of the same size would need a crew of seven or eight. The 'Schoolboy' was a compromise. The sail-maker had been very busy to complete his task before the vessel's rigging could be finished.

At last she was ready and Magdalen and the younger children watched while she started down the river on her first trip. Father and son were both on board, making the journey of forty-five miles very slowly to see how the vessel handled. She was bar-bound for several days and the opportunity was taken to do some minor tasks. Finally she got out to Sydney and Bill returned to Coraki, glad not to be required to make the voyage as he suffered from seasickness. The barque 'Schoolboy' arrived in Sydney two days later, and her skipper knew he had been right. She was indeed very fast. However he decided on his return to move the mainmast four feet further aft. This involved removing the mast carlings, trimming winch carlings and stanchions, moving the pump further aft and recaulking the deck. John returned to Coraki and was employed on this task, saying nothing about his marriage.

On her next voyage she was loaded with 105,000 feet of timber bound for Melbourne. It was eighteen days before she got out. Such delays on the bar were to be expected but frustrating just the same. Captain George Richard Easton was the first pilot at Ballina, where he controlled the shipping at the Heads. No-one could cross in or out when the flag was down. As soon as the signal went up the vessels set their sails and were towed in or out, following the buoys which marked the sand banks. There were ships of all sizes arriving at Ballina waiting for the noisy droghers to tow them up-river. Bill Yeager's tug 'Keystone' known as 'Puffing Billy' was kept busy until the flag went down again. Bill said he had previously worked under Captain Easton as a seaman, before he started ferrying goods to and from schooners using his small pulling boat with a sail. It had helped him get ahead, knowing something of seamanship and now he was making a comfortable living with his drogher and had a profitable selection at Coraki. He planned to marry sixteen year old Mary Ann Webster soon. He was twenty-five.

Dr Dunmore Lang also bemoaned the lack of progress on the bars when he arrive bringing Reverend John Thom on a visit to the district. He talked to people about his belief that the Clarence and Richmond Rivers should be part of Queensland. Many people felt that they were neglected by the government in Sydney, especially while Clark Irving was absent in England.

The Reverend Thom had come from New Zealand to look at the Richmond River. He accepted an appointment to Coraki as their first Presbyterian minister. For some months the people met together to worship under an ancient spreading fig tree in fine weather or on the verandah of the Yabsley homestead in bad weather. Most Protestants attended the services including William and Magdalen and the children. Frances had always very strictly kept the Sabbath and she and Bill came down to the services whenever possible. One of the staunchest supporters of the church was Donald Forbes McKinnon, a former teacher from the Isle of Mull who had come to the Richmond with five sons. His eldest son, Lachlan was an experienced seaman and William employed him on his ships at times.

The McKinnons helped William put up a modest hut which they called the 'Manse', about a chain from the river bank, near Coraki Cottage. The minister was a man of energy and enthusiasm. Parish matters fully occupied his time so Magdalen often sent him his dinner, knowing he would otherwise overlook such matters. The people quickly became attached to him.

Donald McKinnon and many others had taken up selections at Coraki which was now a thriving village. Most of the free river bank was taken up. Corn was not as successful on the river as had been hoped and Rev Thom brought sugar cane cuttings to Coraki where a public meeting was held to promote the growth and manufacture of sugar. Many of the settlers whose attempts at agriculture failed, came to William looking for work and he employed them when he could. He told Lachlan McKinnon that he could have a permanent job as a seaman if he chose to give up farming.

Magdalen could now take walks in the village and was treated with deference and friendliness by the women. None of them presumed upon her good nature. They were the wives of selectors and tradespeople, she was the wife of a landowner, the recognised leader of the district. The people enjoyed having a local gentry and the fact that Mr and Mrs Yabsley had no social ambitions did not mean that the villagers would be done out of their pleasure. Eliza and Frances found it easier than Magdalen to be fashion leaders and to take a leading part in society. Because it was expected of her Magdalen joined the activities telling herself that the younger children would benefit from wider contacts and would have more chance of finding suitable marriage partners.

Society rejected the idea that her elite should marry common people. A man of property could not leave enough to all his children to enable all of them to live appropriately after his death or retirement, so it was logical that they should marry people of at least equal standing to give them a reasonable chance of maintaining that standard or preferably making some progress. In the Old Country the increasing population was trying to hold a share of a fixed amount of land. In Australia there was still plenty of land for those with the capital or the skill to obtain and keep it. It was the duty of parents to see that their children had the opportunity of securing what they needed to maintain their lifestyle. So although her recently changed position in a village society rather than the Outback, did not easily fit Magdalen's unpretentious attitudes and pioneering back-ground she adapted herself as well as she could. Only when people were too pompous she refused to be involved, and she could never bring herself to throw good things away. When told by a neighbour that she should not soil her hands her reply was "Bah".

William had his own way of providing for the future of his family and the continued prosperity of the village which largely depended on him for its existence. For each of the boys, selections had been made, even for Tommy who was only thirteen. Huts had to be built and improvements made to each selection. Time had to be devoted to these tasks as well as everything else. Deposits were paid on their blocks and regular interest paid until profits were such that the full amount could be paid and they held the selections freehold. William still insisted that the best way for the boys to provide for the future was to continue studying and improving their knowledge as well as their assets.

A few months later news came that Clark Irving had died of pneumonia on the eve of his return to the Colony. He had speculated in Spanish railways and was nearly bankrupt. Mrs Irving and the younger children would return to the River with only their land left. One by one the outstations would have to be sold, but they were determined to hold on to 'Tomki'. It worried Magdalen to think if anything happened to William, where would the money be found that they owed on their selections?


annie yabsleyAnnie (by courtesy of Richmond River Historical Society)

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