Chapter 9

The next time that Magdalen went to Mr Price's store she found that he had employed a boot maker.

"Mrs Yabsley I would like you to meet Mr Ivory."
"I've just had a pair of boots made by Dr Dobie's man," said Magdalen. "But next time I'll come to you Mr Ivory."
"They call me 'Old Mick Ivory'. Pleased to meet you ma'am. I don't think I'll be short of work when word gets around. So long as I gets enough to buy me drop of spirits."

Mrs Bawden and young Tommy came in, and while the women selected their goods and chatted, Tommy watched the boot maker working. As he worked he told Tommy tales about Banshees and magical powers obtainable at dead of night after requisite incantations. Tommy was duly impressed.

"Can you come and have a cup of tea with me Mrs Bawden?" asked Magdalen.
"Thank you Mrs Yabsley. That would be nice."
"I believe you have taken up a run across the river yourselves. I hope we'll see more of you soon."
"My husband has gone into partnership with Mr Price as well. The contracts are being drawn up now. Dr Dobie has been a good employer but I'm very excited at the idea of our own place. But I'm not so keen at the thought of being near Bentley's store though. He sounds a wild intemperate young man. Have you met him?"
"No but we have heard the noisy sprees that timber-getters have had since he opened the store. I've been told they roll out a cask of rum knock a hole in it with an axe and bail the spirits out by the pannikin. Some of them get raving mad or hopelessly drunk. If anyone refuses to drink it ends up in a fight. You wouldn't want to be alone at anytime over there."
"I think it is just as well that Governor has now appointed a Commissioner for the district, Major Oakes. He should keep the timber-getters in order and check up on sly grog sellers. It's not as if it's Christmas or celebrating the timber cheques. This is going on all the time at Bentley's. I believe the Police Barracks is near 'Ramornie'?"
"Well, opposite 'Ramornie' up-river from the First Falls. There's a high bank you may have noticed where a small creek runs into the river through a rocky cleft. The Commissioner's house and office are to be built there. It's called Red Rock because of the red sandstone cliff opposite. The Police Barracks are a quarter of a mile up-river. But most people don't like the idea you know. They are used to looking after themselves and they think the police cause more trouble than they prevent. They're not likely to stop Bentley. He'll slip them something."

Magdalen had rekindled the fire and put on water for tea while they talked. She opened the bag of tea she had just bought. It had a rather strange smell, but, pre-occupied with the conversation she only noticed in passing. When the tea was brewed, she stopped and put her nose closer.

"Do you notice something Mrs Bawden? It smells most peculiar to me."
"Get Tommy to take it back. Tommy tell Mr Price it smells peculiar. And don't stop to listen to any more tales from the boot maker."
While Tommy was on the errand Magdalen went on "I've heard that Major Oakes is a man of sixty and has nine children."
"Yes. This is his second marriage and his wife is much younger. He's first wife and children died in India. He's been in New Zealand they say and has a flogger from there who has a bad reputation, and the usual ticket-of-leave men as Border Police. His chief business will be to hunt up timber-getters and take their licence fees. But I don't know that he's the right man. A younger man is needed. And someone who knows the bush. You know he and his party got lost down the river and had to kill some of their horses for food!"
"Mm he doesn't seem at all suitable. A younger man would certainly be better for the life... to brandish the strong arm of the law in a place like this. He'll have thousands of square miles to supervise, and rough country."
"It isn't only his age. You know Dr Dobie isn't so young either, but he is fairly fit and full of energy. When he's on the property he gets out and works like anybody else. He keeps order without being harsh. As a matter of fact I've never known him to punish anyone. He seems to bring out the best in people by trusting them and giving them encouragement, even the assigned servants. But this Commissioner won't even have the respect of his men if he can't find his way around!"

After ten minutes' absence Tommy came back with the news that Mr Price had opened a new tea chest and found it had the same smell.

"He says we'll have to use this until the next ship comes in. He says the heathen Chinese are gettin' their own back on the British by sendin' rotten smelly tea."

Everyone in the Settlement had to use the tea which had been saturated with some peculiar oil, and it would be months before another shipment could be expected. It was believed to be one of the first trading tricks in retaliation for British aggression.

* * *

Two men came to the Settlement from a run on the Richmond River. William had met one of them the year before when he had arrived at the Settlement so when they came into Phillips' depot he was surprised and pleased. They were enquiring about supplies which should have been dispatched from Sydney six months before. Mr Phillips looked through his book, while William asked them about the Richmond River.

"We're very pleased with our run. As you know we took up a run on the head waters of the Clarence, and went back down south to bring up some stock. When we got back to the run, we found that someone else had taken it, and rather than argue, we looked for another place. We are more than satisfied except for our supplies."
"Well your stuff arrived here," said Mr Phillips looking at his book. "But I think it was dispatched to 'Tabulam' because that's what's in the book. 'Tabulam' is right up-river. Your original run I believe."
"We'll have to look there then."
"Come and stay with us in the mean time," invited William. "I am interested in your river. My hut is just over there, and I'll see you after work."

Strangers were always welcome in a community. They could be told local tales and jokes, and they had stories to tell, which would be new to local audiences. Hospitality was an invariable rule, but usually William did not go out of his way to invite guests.
When Magdalen opened the door she met the men whose names were George Stapleton and Henry Clay, and on hearing that William had sent them over, she invited them in for a mug of terrible tea.

"Last year it was flour. This year it is tea," she explained. "Flour got so expensive last year, ten times what it is now."
"Yes," said George Stapleton. "We ordered a tonne of flour with our supplies and had to pay £102 in Sydney at the time, and we don't even know where it is. Mr Phillips thinks it's probably at 'Tabulam'."
"I believe flour is now £12 a tonne. Several vessels went to Valparaiso, and now we have a glut. But how do you come to have lost a tonne of flour?"

They explained that they had applied for a licence, but had not returned with their stock within the six months allowed. Mr Pagan and Mr Evans were in occupation with their sheep. When they all understood the situation, they decided there was plenty of land and that argument and litigation were unnecessary. So they all set out on their horses to find a new run for Clay and Stapleton. During the day from the top of a high hill they could see completely unexplored country to the east, and some of the plains along what they took to be the Richmond River. Clay and Stapleton liked the country so they went back to drive their cattle from Pagan and Evans place to the Richmond River and took up the first run there. Then they had to find the track back to the Settlement for their supplies.

"So here we are and glad to accept your husband's hospitality for a night at least."

Mr Phillips let William leave work early. He came in, hung up his hat, and sat down with a pannikin of tea, weaker than he usually drank it and much sweeter.

"Tell me about the Richmond," he asked without preamble.
"As you know the headwaters of the Clarence River come from the north, before it turns east, then north-east to the ocean." He drew a map in the dirt floor to illustrate. "Our run is about 50 miles from here, but not so far from the headwaters of the Clarence. The countryside is much the same as our original run, but I think the river is more manageable. I find the Clarence a bit too broad more like a sea."
"The Clarence is terrifying at times, like a monster," said Magdalen, remembering the flood.
"And the timber?" asked William.
"Beautiful. Many of the trees are so huge they are unreal. I don't know anything about timber but I can see that it is equal to anything here. We would be glad to have some cleared to give room for our stock and a hut."

William thought about an area as yet untouched by the timber-getters. His imagination fired, he plied the visitors with endless questions.

* * *

Mr Phillips finished the 'Clarence' and sailed it for Sydney Town to be fitted out for whaling. Then he began to build another ship on the same stocks. William continued to work for him so as not to leave Magdalen alone. She was quickly becoming an experienced bushwoman, and could skin and clean possums and fish, bake bread in a camp oven, weave cabbage-tree hats, make and mend William's clothes. She had been quite well during this pregnancy and was sure she was carrying a strong healthy baby. The main problem was the heat. February was very hot and it was impossible to believe that autumn would ever come. The cutters got auge because of water lying in the swamps.

Commissioner Oakes was making his presence felt in the community. William told Magdalen about Steve King, one of the timber-getters who had recently secured a timber lease and built a hut for himself and young family. He and three men worked together, good-natured fat Jimmy Pearce and Moreton Bay Harry and Moreton Bay Ned. Moreton Bay Harry was Harry Thorn and was recognised by Alf Lardner of 'Copmanhurst'. The Commissioner was told. Moreton Bay Harry could not apply for a licence because he was an escaped convict. To the settlers he had no other name. He did not tell them of his past and they pretended not to know.

Steve King had been born in Canterbury, Kent, and was a brass caster by trade, convicted of shop-breaking when he was seventeen, he was transported for seven years. For good behaviour he was assigned to the step-son of Thomas Small and had worked in the timber-yard at Kissing Point on the Parramatta River, and on Small's schooners until he became one of the trusted men. Only 5'2" he had a scarred freckled face, a broken and crooked left arm and a restless spirit. He had been one of the sawyers who arrived on the Big River with John Small on the 'Susan'.

The men worked hard together until one day Commissioner Oakes raided the camp. When a constable or soldier was seen a gun was fired three times, as quickly as it could be loaded and fired. Everyone hearing the signal repeated it in all directions, so when the Commissioner arrived, Moreton Bay Harry had fled. In reprisal Jimmy Pearce's licence was cancelled for harbouring and working with an escapee, and timber worth over £100 was confiscated.

"The Commissioner is given full discretion in everything and has no fixed codes or rules. His decisions vary and are often contradictory, but they are final."

From others too Magdalen heard that the good life for the timber-getters had gone. They resented the Commissioner's arbitrary decisions and they hated his flogger. The Commissioner had not brought law and order. He had brought terror and caused hostility. He could turn a man from his run by refusing to renew the licence. A man could work from daylight till dark, deal with the Blacks, scab, drought, floods... and then lose his run because of an indisputable decision by the Commissioner. His unpopularity was pre-destined, and sight of his Border Police in dark green uniforms and hessian boots, and braided caps, was not a welcome one.

* * *

The summer had been very wet but there was no more flooding. As there was no 29th February, Magdalen celebrated her birthday on 1st March. William sent her to Price's Store to buy some little luxuries for a celebration. Mr Price mentioned to her that he was going that evening to dine with his friends the Mylne Brothers at 'Eatonswill'.

"A man is always sure of a welcome and a good evening there. I came down from Guyra with them, you know, last June."
"Yes. I had heard. Half the population of the district and nearly all the stock arrived in that procession I'm told."
"Here you are Mrs Yabsley." Dr Dobie had negotiated with Mr Price to supply meat to the Settlement, and Magdalen had ordered a piece of roasting beef for the day. The meat had been hanging in a cool place at the back of the store. Mr Price put it in Magdalen's tin dish, and she covered it with a cloth. Some nuts, dried fruits and sweets completed her birthday treat. Her purchases in her basket she wished Mr Price a good evening at 'Eatonswill'.

"We'll drink to your health Mrs Yabsley."

That evening while Magdalen and William were quietly celebrating her birthday, Arthur Price rode eight miles along the southern bank of the river to the First Falls which was the only crossing. Carefully he guided his horse diagonally across the shingle bed through the fast current and came out nearly opposite 'Eatonswill'.

He rode around the yards, calling out to his friends, who were unsaddling their horses after the day's work, toiling as hard as their employees. He admired their horses and they greeted him warmly before they went indoors. They introduced him to their other brother Thomas who had joined them in their enterprise.

"Are you glad we talked you into coming with us to the Clarence, old boy?" asked James the eldest and most lively, but perhaps the least responsible.
"Indeed I am. Business is very good even with Mr Bentley across the river. His store doesn't take much trade from me. There is plenty of trade and Mr Bentley is too intemperate for a lot of people. Mr Bawden and I have entered into a partnership and we'll soon all be as comfortable as you fellows here."
"We plan to build ourselves a really grand house here soon with room to entertain properly. I'll show you the plans we are working on," said James.
"You must be doing very well then," said Arthur Price. "But prices are beginning to fall you know. There isn't as much credit as there was from the banks, which makes it difficult for me. My business depends on giving credit against the timber cheques and the wool cheques from the squatters on the Tableland. But first I have to get the goods to sell, and I can't get credit as easily."

Dinner was a leisurely meal, with well-cooked fresh fish, plenty of wine and stimulating conversation. Presently they got back to the subject of bank credit.

"A storekeeper uses his judgment of a man and his word, whereas the banks depend on a signed paper and a date."
"There's an element of risk for both I suppose. I believe it takes at least £1000 to start a sheep station and most people borrow that at a high rate of interest, unless they are lucky enough to have the capital. If the sheep get scab and they get no return for a year or so, they still have to pay the interest," said John the serious one.
Arthur Price said "It seems to me that cattle would be better for a man of limited means. They don't need to be shorn which must be costly, and they don't need as many men to shepherd them. They go to market on the hoof and take their hides with them. And if necessary they can be used for draught."
"Yes I'm satisfied to stick to cattle and horses. We have ordered a really handsome chestnut mare called 'Splendor'. I'm impatient to see her."
"I believe Dr Dobie ordered twenty brood mares and a sire, but only fifteen survived the journey down Craig's Line from Guyra."
"I'm sure there must be a better way down, more suitable for stock and drays. Craig's Line was all right for Blacks with nothing to carry. There are now seventeen stations on the Clarence as well as the two shipyards, two stores and two cedar depots, and there are runs up on the Tableland wanting to bring down wool, so it's time something was done."
"The Commissioner could do some exploration if he weren't so useless. The Governor should have kept him at Port Macquarie. We need a bushman if we have to have police," said Arthur.
"I believe he has been up to inspect Clay and Stapleton's run on the Richmond. They've got a weatherboard house, huts and a piggery, so they are well established already. By the way did you know they found their supplies at 'Copmanhurst'?"
"One of the many difficulties for the squatter and the store-keeper," said Arthur remembering the long search the two men had for the goods they had ordered. The thought of the meat which Magdalen had ordered for her birthday suddenly came into his mind.
"Here's to Mrs Yabsley who is celebrating her birthday tonight," toasted Arthur Price.

* * *

It was late when Arthur Price took his leave. He was tired but his mind was full of plans and ideas for changes he proposed to make now that he had gone into partnership with Mr Bawden. Together they could do so much to improve the business even if credit was tighter.

Suddenly he felt his horse stumble on the crossing, and it was swept off its legs. Arthur tried frantically to free himself from the stirrups in the darkness, struggling in the strong current, knowing that his only chance was to be swept to deep water below the crossing, and to swim ashore. The terrified horse was thrashing about in panic as its rider fought to free his left foot.

The next morning the shop remained unopened. His horse grazed nearby, still saddled.

As soon as the alarm was raised, a search party set out in boats. His body was recovered from the river. There was the imprint of a horse's hoof on his forehead.

It seemed impossible to Magdalen to believe that the friendly storekeeper whom they had learned to trust and respect would never again serve the members of the little community. But worse was to come.

The Commissioner chose to punish one of his policemen for misconduct by having him flogged, tied to a tree near Price's Store, even though the Police Barracks were well up-river from the Settlement. The victim was given twenty-five lashes by the flogger with inhuman relish, while the wretched policeman cried out with every painful stroke. The people in the Settlement tried to shut out the sound of it. Those who had gathered to see, although they hated the police, were chilled with horror at the brutality, and regretted their curiosity, but could not find the power to leave the scene. This was the first flogging on the Clarence but indeed not the last. At 'Ramornie' a shepherd's hut was robbed. The Commissioner made up a large party of men on foot and on horses, and surrounded the nearby Blacks' camp at daybreak. They shot indiscriminately men women and children. Some Blacks took to the river and were shot as they swam. Their bodies floated down past the Settlement and the horrified faces of the settlers.

A few days later it was found that the hut had been robbed by a hut-keeper, a lad named Lynch. He was a most incorrigible young rogue, a ticket-of-leave man. He was sentenced to fifty lashes, but after twenty-five Dr Dobie, who was at 'Ramornie' at the time, begged for him to be let off. Lynch was the only person in Dr Dobie's employ who was ever flogged.

"There has already been too much suffering caused by this incident. The Dead cannot be brought back, and I don't believe a flogging will improve the man's character. I have tried very hard to be understanding but I cannot get through to him. I'm having him sent back to the Government."

* * *

Monday had regularly been harmless Old Mick Ivory's day for a spree. The Monday following Arthur Price's accident, he sat outside the closed store playing melancholy tunes on a gum leaf, drinking to "whet his whistle" and telling his miseries to the stump of a stinging tree. It ended up with a row because the tree did not answer. He hit the tree, which was very soft, but his weak old knuckles still came off second best. He collapsed in a pathetic little heap and wept.

News went around that there was trouble with the Blacks on 'Tabulum' property, eighty miles up-river from the Settlement, now occupied by Pagan and Evans. One day while the men were getting goods across the river, the Blacks stole some blankets that were outside a hut. When Mr Pagan and the men returned they realised the blankets were missing and Mr Pagan called upon two men to go in pursuit. They immediately started on the tracks. They followed with their muskets but with only the ammunition which was in the guns. Coming over the hill they found that they were within sight of the Blacks' camp. Mr Pagan fired the one shot he had and then taking the gun off one of his men he fired it too. At such a distance 'Brown Bess' was not very effective except to cause terror. The party retreated but a native who was hidden behind a tree, threw a boomerang killing Mr Pagan. The two men left their employer to his fate, and when they reached the hut, the whole party of eight men gathered all the sheep into one flock, and barricaded themselves in the hut.

Next day one of the men volunteered to go to Red Rock, eighty miles away for the police. He reached 'Copmanhurst' on the evening of the second day, and the manager Mr Lardner went with Mr Walker of 'Newbold' to the Red Rock and 'Eatonswill' and arranged for Messrs Mylne and the Police to meet them at 'Copmanhurst' before going on to 'Tabulum'. At Red Rock he found that one policeman had no gun and another was casting bullets.

That night on another station they found that a man had been killed and it was thought that the murders were connected. The party reached 'Tabulum' the next night where they found the seven men barricaded in the hut and were told that the Blacks were just over the hill in large numbers, evidently intending to fight. The seven men should have been able to drive off five hundred Blacks if necessary.

The next forenoon they went in search of the Blacks, and found that they had quietly decamped on the evening of the murder and appeared to have camped that night on the opposite side of the river without lighting any fires. From there they divided into two parties, one going up the Rocky River and the other going down the Clarence. The latter group was followed and was soon seen making camp. The party held a council of war. Commissioner Oakes and his son left the party, so the remaining men divided into two groups, one to drive the Blacks up the valley, and the other to intercept them. Several Blacks were shot and the New Zealand flogger tomahawked everyone he could reach, young or old. Nothing of Pagan's was found in the camp.

Three men went to follow up the tracks of the other party of Blacks. On the second morning upon rounding a cliff on the Rocky River, they found they were between two parties of Blacks. The policeman dashed through the camp firing with a double-barrelled gun, while the other two men raced back and reported that the policeman had been killed. The next day to everyone's astonishment, he returned to the station with Pagan's hat. Such was the dread of firearms among the natives.

The people of the Settlement were stunned and terrified when the story was told. Some people said that the Governor's policy of Appeasement and his belief that the Blacks were the innocent victims of white aggression, had forced people to take the law into their own hands to defend their property. Others said that there was now less law and order since they had a Commissioner and police.

The Commissioner McDonald was sent from New England to enquire into this raid upon the Blacks, but William and others did not believe that he would come to any conclusion or offer any solution.

"It's their usual custom not to examine anybody who really knows anything about the slaughter," he said. "We aren't likely to hear any more of it."
"It's a sickening business, and I don't know how we can get everyone to be more rational and less emotional and impulsive," said William Bawden.

Magdalen moved away from the men discussing the problems of the Settlement. She could not admit to William, but she now felt that she must escape from all the horrors of this barbaric place. She would gladly go to Stonequarry.


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