Chapter 28

It was almost thirty years since Magdalen had left England. In thirty years her only break in the routine had been during her confinements. Now William planned a holiday in Sydney for the two of them. Even young Tommy had been to Sydney with Thomas King, and Magdalen felt that she was really out-of-touch with the world.

"It'll do you good Mother," everyone assured her. "It's time you had a holiday. We'll manage very well you'll see."
"I don't think I'll feel very comfortable in the Big City after all these years in the bush, where I know everybody for miles around," she objected.
"You managed when you first arrived from England," William reminded her.
"I had to," she said. "There was no choice once I left home. And what about the Quadrille party Lizzie wants?"
"They can organise that themselves," said William.

Magdalen would gladly have stayed at home, but her family would not hear of it. In fact Lizzie seemed quite keen to be left to organise the party. The family promised that their mother would be carried onto the ship if necessary, with a few things thrown into a basket.

"It worries me these days, the thought of what I would have to pack, and the fear of forgetting something."
"Just make a list," said Lizzie. "I'll help you. "
"And if you forget something, buy another in Sydney. I couldn't say that when we were packing to leave the Settlement," said William.
"I hear Sydney has grown so much, so full of all sorts of people, it isn't safe."
"It never was. And you won't be alone for a minute. Now go and make your list," said William and there was no more discussion.

The keel of the new vessel, 130 feet long had been laid in the ship-shed. The construction was put into the hands of William junior and Thomas King for three or four weeks. He moved back to Coraki and took down most of 'Repentance House'. When his parents returned he would build on one of the properties he had selected, which included 'Triangle' which had been chosen for Arthur when he was only three. Now that he was four, Arthur would attend school at Coraki and help swell the number of pupils.

When she and William were leaving, Magdalen felt there had been a conspiracy within the family to get them away. There was also a feeling that she had forgotten to explain something important about the running of the house, and at the same time a feeling that she was no longer needed.

The girls began to prepare the party. Young Magdalen, Lizzie, Annie and Frances made pies, pastry and sweets. They made jellies with as little water and as much inglass as possible, wrapped them in wet cloths and set them in the coolest corner of the floor.

The girls all had new crinolines for the occasion. The loft of the Ship Shed was decorated and local musicians brought in for the Quadrille party. Among their friends were many Scots including the McKinnons of Coraki and others who taught them some Scottish dances. The McDougalls had relatives visiting from Fernmount, two girls who were friendly with Jane's daughters, so of course they were invited too. Grace and Mary McDougall made an immediate impression with Charley and Thomas Yabsley.

All the young people were there. The oldest people were John Yabsley and James Stocks, who made announcements for them. William and Frances took their responsibility very seriously, making sure that everybody behaved as their parents would have wished, while ensuring that nobody was left out of the fun. Annie was in great demand by the older guests, and Lizzie by all the apprentices, especially Oliver Jones, who was considered to be the most talented of the apprentices. Magdalen and Thomas King were together most of the evening. Harry, Charley and Tommy were less lucky, but were able to get a number of dances with Grace and Mary McDougall.

When the jellies were turned out of their moulds, they fell in spite of the precautions, so did the blancmange, but nobody complained. There was plenty of food, and the young people did justice to it.

coraki ship shed

coraki ship shedTwo aspects of the Ship Shed, later converted into a hundred and fifty feet by fifty feet and would have covered a quarter acre building-block. (by courtesy of Richmond River Historical Society)
coraki ship shedThe yard at the rear of the Ship Shed. Note the masts of a ship (centre right) and the flag near Coraki Cottage (centre left). (by courtesy of Richmond River Historical Society)

The next day there were games and contests for those who were able to stay overnight or who lived nearby. The food that was left when the guests had gone home, was taken to the Blacks' camp to be distributed.

The event was pronounced a huge success by all and Lizzie was given most of the credit.

* * *

In Sydney, William and Magdalen landed at Market Wharf, where Magdalen had first met Captain Freeburn, and had set off into the Wilderness, so ignorant and naive. How had she dared? Walking up and down the same streets she tried to recall how she had felt on her first arrival, and recapture her emotions, but they were elusive. Government House was no longer on the site where she had met Gilbert Elliot. The Quay was busier, Fort Denison had been built on Pinchgut, the port was a forest of masts and spars with many funnels as well, and Magdalen was enthralled with the harbour. A new Post Office in the Renaissance style was being built, and the new Government House was finished away from the business area. There were more stores and business houses, and fewer cottages and domestic animals in the streets.

circular quay

After a few days Magdalen found she could confidently explore the shops and parks while William was discussing contracts, as she got her bearings more easily than she had expected. At first her thoughts kept returning to Coraki, and she wondered how they were coping, and whether her garden was being watered, but as days went by she became more relaxed and enjoyed the change of scene. Most importantly the holiday gave William and Magdalen a chance to get to know each other all over again, away from the eternal routine of Coraki. They had been taking each other for granted and now found a deeper companionship with each other. For the first time for many years there was time to talk. It would have been unreasonable to expect William to chat about trivial matters. A conversation with him would always be about something important such as his new ship which would have engines as well as sails. He explained how the propeller or screw moves a steam ship through the water. Magdalen made an honest effort to show an intelligent interest.

"The screw is attached to a long shaft that juts from the stern of the ship. The engine turns the shaft which turns the screw. Each propeller has about four curved blades that suck in water ahead of them and force it out behind. This stream of water presses against the water and drives the ship forward."

When they returned to Coraki there was so much to talk about. Reverend Edward Holland the Presbyterian minister from Port Macquarie, had been invited by Reverend Thom to visit Coraki as they were both strongly interested in sugar-growing as a suitable prospect for the settlers. He had demonstrated sugar-making in the Big Shed and a sample of the pale brown products was sent to the Sydney Morning Herald. William junior had constructed a small centrifuge which had done its work well.

"I've kept a careful diary," Lizzie assured her parents, bringing out the document to give details of events during their absence. "Our party was enormous fun. We danced all night"
Magdalen told them "We spent a lot of time just walking along the water front looking at ships and designs and also looking in the shops. You should see some of the goods. I've never dreamed of some of the things. We even bought a sewing machine. I hope you girls can learn to handle it"
"I've made a study of some ships' engines for the 'Examiner'. I've put in an order. It'll be ready about July."

William went to the Ship Shed to see the progress on the 'Examiner'. The keel had been laid the previous October. Moulds of the ship had been made on the floor. Some of the stern moulds were not completely to William's liking, and he indicated that he wanted various sections altered. Soon after his return from Sydney, he employed a sail-maker, Antonio Lenos, who was called John, and installed him in the loft, where he began to produce the sails for the 'Examiner'. On his skill would depend the ultimate speed and efficiency of the vessel.

In July William junior set out on the 'Schoolboy' to collect the engines and boiler for the new ship. They would only be used in the rivers and in emergencies. But the 'Schoolboy' was barbound at Ballina for a week, and William had already got tired of waiting, and had returned to Coraki by skiff and on foot, and a few days later started for the Clarence Heads. After seventeen days he actually left for Sydney, and on arrival he took the engines and boiler on board the 'Schoolboy'.

Back in Coraki sheerlegs were rigged to get the boiler ashore, and William senior examined his acquisition. It was a proud moment. The 'Examiner' would be even better than the 'Schoolboy'.

Soon afterwards Captain Magee left the 'Schoolboy' and William had to go to sea again as a captain until he could engage someone else. Now that he had so many commitments, he preferred to leave the sailing to a reliable captain, so that he could concentrate on training the apprentices and supervising the construction of the next ship. And of course Magdalen was always uneasy when he was away. There were so many accidents, especially on the bar.

In September Coraki had a visit from the Girard family, whom Magdalen and William had known as owners of 'Waterview' at the Settlement. Francis Girard, nicknamed the Frenchman had died, and his widow had bought 'Lismore' station from William Wilson. Magdalen was sitting on the lawn with her daughters, Mrs Girard and Reverend John Thom, discussing matters connected with the church and local events.

"I always encourage anyone who thought of planting sugar-cane," said John Thom. "I'm sure it will prosper."

Young Alfred Girard came up and persuaded the minister to row him across the river. The two walked down the steep bank to the boat and were soon in mid-stream. Suddenly the boat hit an eddy on the river and the occupants were thrown into the water crying for help, as the onlookers raced to the river bank. The minister grabbed the boy and manoeuvred him toward the rope of the boat, which Alfred was able to grasp. The minister, encumbered with heavy shoes and clerical garb, was hampered in his attempts to grasp something as well, and within minutes he disappeared under the swirling water. Lizzie had already raced along the bank to another wharf further down-river, and got into the boat which was moored there. Within a few moments she had overtaken the upturned boat as it bobbed along and was able to bring Alfred safely ashore. Meantime the men had been alerted and rowed after the minister without success. They could do no more than recover the body when it was washed against the bank at a bend of the river.

Drownings and boating accidents were no rarity to river settlers. Each accident increased Magdalen's fear of the water. Every time that William or one of the children was absent on the river, she could not relax until they had returned safely, although she would have been ashamed to admit how obsessed she was becoming.

* * *

Sir John Robertson, now the Premier of New South Wales came to the northern rivers on his second visit, enjoying the hospitality of the squatters as he travelled. At Casino he gave one of his hot speeches, condemning the men who had worked for twenty or thirty years developing the district.

"I don't like his attitude at all," declared William. "He has done nothing for us, but he's willing to accept our hospitality. I know the working man should be able to buy land too, but why the long delay in sorting it out and then come cutting up our runs after we've spent so much developing them? I wouldn't vote for Robertson if he stood for this electorate again."
"Who are you men voting for?" asked Magdalen.
"I believe we have only one nomination so far," said Harry who had recently become eligible to vote. "It's Thomas Bawden from Grafton."
"Thomas Bawden?" asked Magdalen. "Fancy that! We knew him as a young lad at the Settlement. He is now Henry Barnes' brother-in-law. They both married a Miss Hindmarsh. I knew his mother well, and his father before he was drowned. I'd vote for him too if I was a man."

Thomas Bawden was now a J.P., the first president of the Clarence River Agricultural and Horticultural Association, the treasurer of the hospital and the Mayor of Grafton. He was elected unopposed as the Member for the Clarence and Richmond Rivers, and most of the people were happy to have someone who really knew and understood the problems of the district although there were rumours that he was not personally popular as he always came out best in any deal.

In January William was glad to hand over the 'Schoolboy' to Captain Martin, so that he could give all his attention to the 'Examiner' which he hoped to launch later in the year. She would be the most splendid ship built on the river, one hundred and thirty feet in keel, one hundred and fifty feet overall, twenty-eight feet beam and nine feet hold, built shallow to suit the rivers. A hundred and twenty thousand feet of timber would fit in her hold, and she would carry two thousand seven hundred yards of canvas. Her lines were very graceful although more attention was paid to strength than ornamentation, built of ironbark, box and blackbutt with two auxiliary engines each of sixty horsepower for use in rivers, harbours and calms. It would be a two hundred and sixty-five ton, three masted steam barque.

With everything under one roof in the Ship Shed there were no longer delays due to rain, except in March when there were such major floods that the workers were called upon to help rescue people from the rooftops. Fields of maize were buried under six feet of water and those cattle which could not find high ground were drowned. A lot of cedar was carried out to sea and hundreds of snakes floated down-river on the logs. The McKinnon family said they had shot 181 in one afternoon. While many families lived huddled under their roofs, the men rowed around the properties taking the stock to the hills. The Widow Girard and her two remaining sons lost hundreds of cattle in the flood.

"Poor Mrs Girard," said Magdalen on hearing the news. "Losing her husband and also half of 'Lismore' station to Free Selectors and now so much stock. It doesn't seem fair. The floods seem to me to be getting worse every year."
"I think that taking the timber from the creeks lets the water come down faster to the river and makes it worse for us," said William. "I'm sure the surge coming down the North Arm was greater this year. And since the Big Scrub is getting cut a lot more soil is getting washed down and is silting up the river, especially the bar, and cannot get away."
"Well I'm glad of the Big Shed. Even if the water ever came up to the house we would always be able to live in the loft and be dry and comfortable. I was quite frightened when the surge came down today. It washed right over the garden several inches deep before it found its way back to the swamps and levelled out"
"We're better off than many," agreed William. "All that low swampy country back from the river here, and along the river banks further down, where the water lies for weeks. More so since the timber was felled. Clearing the land brought in farmers and tradesmen which makes the district more prosperous and is good for business. But it has its drawbacks."
"You're still shipping out timber as much as ever. Where does it all come from? There seems an endless supply. When the new ship is launched you'll be looking for more and more. Is it available?"
"Away from the rivers and creeks the Big Scrub has hardly been touched. Up on the mountainside there is nothing but an impenetrable mass of timber."
"I suppose by the time our grandchildren grow up it will probably be a different matter. I'm sorry they won't see the forests as we saw them when we arrived."
"There'll always be areas too steep to bring the timber down. Waterfalls dropping into deep ravines where no bullock team could ever go."
"At least that might mean that some areas will be left where it is cool, protected from the blazing sun, for our grandchildren to see. I wonder how Jane is. I expect the baby will arrive soon. Another girl I dare say. And Frances is due any day now too. Imagine twenty grandchildren!"
"And only four boys so far. Jane and Frances should both have sons."

Frances did have a son and they called him Frank. Jane had another daughter, Edith, a baby every year for the last four years as well as the four older girls.

* * *

examiner ship corakiExaminer
Click here for a larger photo

Soon afterwards was the greatest event that Coraki had ever seen. The Ship Shed was well up on the river bank and needed a long steep channel to be dug for the slip way for the launching of the 'Examiner'. While this was being done Magdalen made her own preparations to feed all the people who were expected at the launching.

The day came at last and in spite of the inclement weather people began to arrive early. Among the visitors were forty or fifty who came down from Lismore on the 'Keystone', but they were late and missed the preliminary ceremonies. At one o'clock Magdalen performed the christening ceremony after a morning of constant heavy showers which had a most damping effect. As the bows of the vessel received the contents of a bottle of pale brandy, the sun came out suddenly lifting everybody's spirits as they warmly wished "Success to the 'Examiner'". But almost immediately the rain began again as the men removed the chocks. As one witness reported "This important item in the programme having been duly and gracefully performed by Mrs Yabsley, all impediments to the ship's progress were speedily removed and the proper means adopted to start her. However she proved a little obstinate at first and perhaps it was as well she did, for had she gone off at that moment, no doubt some fifty persons would have missed a sight which they have travelled far to see."

The rain poured down as William and the men swung a couple of temporary rams and two hours later half a dozen well-directed strokes overcame the problem. Once again the sun broke through and the 'Examiner' edged along the tramway steadily to the sound of loud vivats and then more rapidly down the long steep run to the river. She gathered momentum and by the time she reached the water she was going so fast, she shot across like an arrow. A cable had been attached from the vessel to a strong post on shore and this should have turned her around to lie parallel with the river. The cheers had given way to exclamations of horror as the ship raced down and dived into the water. Magdalen gasped, her heart in her mouth as she pictured her going straight to the bottom. But as she floated, bobbing on the turbulent river, she breathed a huge sigh of relief and once again joined in the cheers.

"The cable must have stretched more than I allowed," said William. "It was a new cable. I knew it would stretch but not that much. Is there any damage?"
"Some. But a couple of days will fix it. The 'Examiner' is built to withstand more than that," reported the men who rowed out to inspect her. "She hit a stump near the other bank and it has broken some planks near the stern."
"That's a mere trifle," said William who had repaired many a storm-battered vessel. "Well let's get on with the celebration. It's marvellous to see so many well-wishers here, especially on a Monday. Someone said there are two hundred people here, in spite of the inclement weather. You are all invited to join us in some refreshment which my good wife has prepared."

Many of the visitors had been at Coraki all day and looking at the threatening sky they hurried away soon after the eventful launch. The others gathered on the verandah which ran the full length of Coraki Cottage, and enjoyed the food which Magdalen and the girls had set out on long trestles. The guests were full of compliments for her kindness and hospitality in providing such an abundance of substantial and inviting food.

It was too wet for any outdoor activities, so the evening was spent in dancing and singing. Early the next morning most of the visitors went home, but some of their close friends stayed to enjoy another night's amusement. There were mountains of food to serve and all the women helped. Magdalen left nothing undone which she thought might contribute to the comfort of the guests and the festivity of the occasion.
 
The next ship was now ready to be rigged, the sails having been already made in the loft by John Lenos. Within a few days William rigged sheerlegs to take the boiler on board. Then combings were built around the boiler and the masts, the quarter-house and other fittings added. The copper sheathing had not been quite finished. A thousand sheets had been put on using 76,000 nails, another three hundred sheets were required to complete the job. Copper fastenings were used throughout.

By September she was finished and all hands went down-river in the 'Examiner' under steam, for an outing and to test the engines. By November she was ready for her first trip and quickly became the most popular passenger and cargo vessel on the river. Undoubtedly she was the pride of the district and of William who sailed her himself until he could engage someone he trusted.

Magdalen hoped that he would now concentrate on ship-repairs, the store, the run and the timber trade. Surely he would not want to start on something even larger. The 'Schoolboy' and the 'Examiner' should satisfy his ambition.

* * *

A journalist from the 'Town and Country Journal' made a trip down the river and wrote an article called 'Jottings by the Way' in which he described Coraki, in particular the huge Ship Shed, the sheds over the saw pits, the blacksmiths and other shops, the store, the breaking-in yard, the gates to the run, the slaughterhouse. William was referred to as 'The Father of Coraki'.

"Listen to this," cried Lizzie when the family read the article about themselves. "'Mrs Yabsley has raised a well-trained family of useful sons and daughters, and in all the substantial workmanlike buildings we see around, the sons have had their full share in the execution.' That's us. "

The journalist went on to describe the Big Shed and the loft where 'the plans, sections and details of the ships and boats are drawn at full size by father and sons. Up here are tools, models and machinery, and here sits a solitary sail-maker, John Lenos by name.'
"Won't he be surprised to read about himself in a newspaper," said Tommy. "Go on Lizzie. What else?"

Lizzie read about William's ingenious branding apparatus, the breaking-in yard, the huge gates to the cattle yard, the sledge, pulled by bullocks, for carrying heavy loads over boggy ground, the fenced paved and drained killing yard and the 'picturesque and commodious house of the founder of Coraki, high on the river bank with a neat garden and green in front.'

"Listen to this. 'Mrs Yabsley tells me she contended at first with the cattle which should have this garden, but from its trim appearance now, it would seem as if she had beaten the bullocks'."
"I'm glad he mentioned that," said Magdalen.

The following week the journalist commented on the way the river made fresh mouths at the ocean, 'frightening small vessels, and detaining them against their own wills and much more against their owners'. Few of the larger vessels could cross the bar without assistance because of their draught. The importance of tugs to the shipping industry had increased and pulling boats were no longer good enough. So that he would not be obliged to rely on the droghers available, William decided to build a tug of his own. Seven schooners had been wrecked on the bar in nine months.

The keel for the new vessel was trimmed, and moulds made, before William junior started for Sydney with his family on the 'Examiner' for a holiday, visiting and pleasuring, sight-seeing and sporting. They took Arthur and Louisa to look at Fort Street School, to Botany Water Works and Morts Dock. They were away for a month, and the children had their first glimpse of city life. Frances' sister went with them and the three younger children stayed at Coraki with Magdalen for a holiday with Grandmama.

During the same month a letter came from Jane who had been expecting another baby. This was her ninth child and after eight girls nobody dared hope for a boy.

She wrote that she and the new baby were well. She had been attended at the birth by Freda McLennon, daughter of their neighbours who had come from Germany. Freda Marx wedding to Alex McLennon was the first on the river. Mary who was twenty that month was keeping company with James Marx.

She went on "Our house looks lovely. It is mostly cedar. We have got some quartz stones to edge the gardens which are most attractive. The store is doing very well, and carries a wide range of goods. The girls and I do a lot of work in the store, as William has so much to do outdoors. He has been very successful with sugar. Ours is the whitest on the river, a lovely pale brown.
There is another store besides ours in Fernmount, as well as a Methodist church and a Provisional school of twenty-two pupils, a boot store, Post Office, blacksmith's shop, two public houses and billiard saloons. You can see how quickly the village has grown. There is a lot of rivalry with Boat Harbour now called Bellingen. There is only one game on the river and that is cricket. Our girls often go to watch the matches which are played at Fernmount. 'Up the river' plays 'Down the river'. One match was organised with only two men a side. You'll have to get Charley and Tommy to come down and visit Grace and Mary McDougall and play some cricket
We are petitioning for a pilot for the Bellinger Heads. Sometimes conditions at the bar are so bad that there is no outlet for the farmers' produce. Mostly shipping now comes up as far as Fernmount. Cedar logs are floated down to the river flats opposite our store. I wish you could see the river and mountains here. It is so beautiful and I am very happy especially now that I have my little son, William Charles Henry.
I can hardly believe it but the midwife assures me it is a boy!
Your loving daughter and sister Jane"

"What a tease to let us think she had another girl, until the very end," said Elizabeth who had read the letter aloud.

Bellinger river fernmountBellinger River at Fernmount (by courtesy of E. Kinny, Kogarah)

 

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