Chapter 20

Thomas came into the world on 5th October 1853, almost twenty years after Jane. After the birth Magdalen was extra-ordinarily tired, lost her milk after ten days, had dizzy spells and continued haemorrhaging which sapped her energy. For several weeks she allowed Jane to manage the household having no desire to take any responsibility and no interest in anything. Sleep was all that mattered, almost twenty-four hours a day at first.

There had been no word from Fred. Jane pretended that she expected him back soon but when her brother was born she and Mary moved back to Coraki Cottage to be on hand while her mother was not well. It was over a year since Fred's departure and although Jane had not accepted that her marriage was a failure, she felt more contented. Her life was full of useful satisfying activity and she took seriously her duties as a mother and teacher and temporarily as a housekeeper.

It was weeks before her mother even wanted to sit on the verandah and by then the Summer heat was so intense that she felt exhausted just sitting. She wished that there was some escape from going to bed to toss restlessly, getting up in the morning too tired to be bothered with anything, living through one day only to have to face the next. At first she only attended to Baby Thomas, until Elizabeth at twenty months insisted on attention from her mother, who regulated her day with feeding the baby, and putting the big baby down for her sleep, when Magdalen had a rest herself, bathing the little baby, feeding the big baby after her nap and so on.

After three or four months she gradually began to take up the household duties again, but quickly became fatigued and depressed. Jane had taken her mother's bell and each of the girls from Eliza to Little Magdalen had each to take a day when it was her duty to answer the bell and do any errands. It was a small silver bell which lay on a table in the dining room where Jane and Magdalen kept their sewing. The bell meant authority and the fact that Jane continued to use it, while she was willing to let her, made Magdalen feel uneasy. One of the home cures she used was finely ground charcoal from the fire mixed with water; but nothing seemed to help. Eleanor Clement recommended an infusion of native sarsaparilla for cooling and purifying the blood, but Magdalen felt no better. Her regular aperient only made her feel weaker.

William tried to interest her in affairs of the day. He told her about Doctor Dobie of 'Ramornie' on the Clarence who had been nominated by the Governor to be a member of the Legislative Council, which was now partly elected and still partly nominated. Dr Dobie attended the proceedings by which the Constitution of New South Wales was settled and the Legislature divided into an elective Assembly and a nominee Council. Although he had always been a bachelor he was now building a large handsome house of brick and cedar at 'Ramornie', which made most people in the district wonder if he had any undisclosed plans for marriage even at his age.

ramornieRamornie Station

Bill was away for a fortnight helping to clear the first racecourse at 'Tomki' and when it was finished he persuaded his father to let him attend the first meeting with the chestnut Charlie. John was glad to accompany the boy. Most of the people there were timber-getters and stockmen who all joined in the events with enthusiasm and had a jolly good time. The squatters had subscribed so liberally that the big event was worth £200 and the Maiden Plate £80. Bill was booked to ride a big grey called Whalebone for George Sparkes, manager of 'Wooroowoolgen', but at the last moment Sparkes decided that the boy was too small to manage the grey, and gave the mount to someone else. Bill was most upset and as nobody else wanted a very small jockey he entered his own hack, Charlie in the Hurry Scurry. It cost him 5/- to nominate leaving him 5/- for his board and lodging and for the next day's racing and he began to wonder if he had been very foolhardy. As the race started he felt nearly paralysed with excitement and anxiety, aware that his father would probably not approve. For this reason he had not consulted John and hoped that John would not tell his father, if he happened to recognise him.

He rode as came naturally to him, and won the race! Next, feeling very elated, he nominated for the Hack Race for which Whalebone was a competitor. He found he was required to wear colours which presented a problem. The Yabsleys had bright pink regatta shirts, and Bill asked if his would be allowed in the race. After some argument, Henry Barnes said "Let the boy start. His colour's strawberry." There were no more objections.

And once again Bill and Charlie won.

Full of his success, Bill went home with £30 in his pocket and great dreams in his head.
Proudly he announced his achievement, and Magdalen began to tell him how glad she was for him, but William said "This racing business is no good. Turn the horse out."

Magdalen's momentary interest was dashed. She knew that Bill must feel bitterly disappointed. Torn between her customary deference to her husband and her sympathy with her son, she withdrew from the situation and set it aside as a remote and trivial event.

There was also trouble with the Blacks at Evans Head and some had swum out to sea to escape their pursuers who had the advantage of the magic fire-sticks. Magdalen felt utterly disgusted at the news but her old lethargy quickly returned. It seemed as if life was pointless.

Unexpectedly Fred returned and demanded that Jane and Mary go with him to their hut. He had no money and was dirty and had been drinking. He shouted threats and blamed the Yabsleys for his predicament.

"I know I must go with him," said Jane. "Perhaps he has missed us, and will make an effort to change." She tried to tell herself that things would be different, but within days the arguments had started again. Jane was not argumentative, but Fred would not leave her alone. He followed her around full of resentment and feelings of inferiority and despondence. If Jane tried to reason with him he complained of her 'smartness' and if she tried to ignore him he became even more bitter. A few days later she had another black eye and her father went to their hut and commanded Jane and Mary to go with him.

"You can't take my daughter," shouted Fred.
"Your hut is on my property," shouted William.
"I'll go back and work for Billy Wright." Fred left with threats of revenge.

William took Jane and Mary back to Coraki Cottage fearing that Fred might do something irrational. Mary was not allowed out of sight of the house and was watched constantly. Magdalen felt depressed for Jane and Mary. The future seemed very bleak for them. Life was so unfair. People worked so hard as William had done to build the 'Pelican' and they lost everything. Living seemed purposeless and futile, especially since there was agitation in the cities against the land-holders. There was a cry of 'Down with the squatters who monopolise the land'. Pessimistically Magdalen thought they were going to lose everything.

The population was increasing and men needed more places to settle. Dr Dobie said that 'the squatters by their energy and the expenditure of their capital had done more than any class of individual in the Colony to bring the Wasteland into existence.' At the same time the squatters in the north needed an adequate labour force and police protection and they began to agitate for a new Colony which they planned to control.

"They want it easy," said William. "We had only our own backs for labour and the police protection was worse than useless." He was busy devising a sledge to cross the swampy ground around the run and tried to interest Magdalen in the plans he was drawing.

"It'll be about twelve feet long and four feet six wide and come to a point at the front like a flat-bottomed boat and be pulled by bullocks hooked on to an eye. I'm thinking about trying to add two pairs of truck wheels so that it can also be pulled across dry ground."

Magdalen was glad that William could become involved in such an enterprise which helped him keep optimistic. He now had to depend on ship-repairs, the store and cedar trade. Ship-repairs were always unreliable. After storms there were often plenty, at other times none. Supplies for the store came intermittently and on other men's ships. William had to pay higher prices and wait his turn. His interests were not the priority as they had been on the 'Pelican' and delivery times could not be depended upon. Only William Kinny could be completely trusted and even he had other commitments. Especially between February and April vessels could seldom cross out over the bar, due to heavy rain and south-east winds. If they came into the river, they were often unable to get out again for weeks or months. Captain George Easton was appointed pilot at the Heads and he watched the colour of the shoals and deeps and guided shipping through the treacherous waters. Trade and business were very precarious at Coraki.

Regularly now William was getting up at three a.m. to do the book-keeping until six a.m. when he began pit-sawing, hauling, blacksmithing, slaughtering until dark. In the evening he once again supervised most of the lessons for Bill. Jane taught Eliza, Annie, Harry and Thomas King who was eleven, the same age as Bill and whose father had persuaded William to take the boy as an apprentice. The older children each read a verse of scripture from the family Bible for an hour, then they practised ciphering and hand-writing, while Magdalen occupied the little ones until bed-time showing them simple letters and at the same time improving her own literacy. William often spent some time in the evening making shoes and boots for the family. Now he could think of the 'Pelican' and be sad that all that beautiful craftsmanship lay at the bottom of the sea; and he could also accept the fact that he had learned a great deal from her construction, and it was not all loss.

* * *

One day Magdalen was sitting on the verandah sewing, when she heard William send Harry and Spot to the ridge to catch Paleface who always ran there, to run Charlie in, so that the Blacks could round up the bullocks.

"Can I come?" asked Charley.
"No. You're too little," called Harry.
"I'm not. I'm four," said Charley who had recently had a birthday celebration. He followed Harry who kept telling him to go back. Magdalen heard no more and dozed off. Two hours later Jane noticed that Charley was missing, and raised the alarm. Eliza searched the house, the shipyard, store, dairy and other buildings, but there was no Charley. William and Bill had not seen any sign of him. Magdalen recalled that he had wanted to go with Harry. Little Magdalen began to cry, sensing the general anxiety. Harry then returned home with Spot. He said he had not seen Charley since leaving that morning. He had walked through the ferns which would have been above Charley's head, then across a treeless grassy area where he had found Paleface. Then he collected Charlie Horse and brought both horses back to the men who went across the plain for the bullocks. Unaware of the drama which was developing, he had come home.

"Why not send for the Blacks?" suggested Magdalen, now much alarmed but still incapable of real activity. "Eliza run and tell you father that Charley is still missing, and Harry is back and ask what he thinks."

William and Bill came into the house immediately, and Bill was sent to the Blacks' camp on the ridge for help. Before he had gone far, he saw some Blacks approaching, one of them carrying the four-year-old in his arms. Bill raced back to the family with the news and William went to meet them. The boy was semi-conscious and bright red in the face.

"Me go find bullocks. Find little fella. Him roasted by sun," said Jacky. The Blacks had a special feeling for Charley, the first white child born in the district and they were all distressed at his mishap.
"Him lying on grass. Sun too much hot for little white fella."

William carried him gently into the house. Magdalen sponged him while Jane began to prepare some broth and Eliza brought the medicine box. They looked at the Condy's crystals, snakebite outfit, a little wooden tube with a scarifier at one end, Epsom's salts. Nothing seemed appropriate except perhaps the painkiller, which they were inclined to believe was a hundred times worse than any pain.

"He's coming round," said William. "Give him a sip to drink and let him rest."

As a reward to the Blacks, William took them to the store and told them to choose what they would like. Having made selections they still stayed near the cottage until Magdalen sent word that Charley was eating a little broth.

All the rest of the day Magdalen stayed by Charley's side sponging him and feeding him, and during the night she sat until he was sleeping peacefully and seemed to have recuperated. When she stood up to make him more comfortable, she collapsed and William had to carry her to bed, while Eliza was woken to take a turn sitting with Charley.

The incident was used the next day to emphasise to Mary the dangers of going out of sight of the house without an adult. William held Harry responsible and said that he had not behaved sensibly when he knew Charley might follow.

"You're seven and should know better. You should've made sure he wasn't following. You never seem to think."

Magdalen thought that William was too harsh with Harry. It seemed that she and William could not talk to each other about anything, especially about her indisposition. William was never very much aware of people's feelings. When Magdalen had collapsed at Charley's bed-side, William had said she was being foolish. Ruled by logic and reasoning he did not understand emotion. Feeling uncomfortable about the whole episode he became defensive and was critical of Harry and Magdalen. Although concerned for Magdalen's health he did not know how to express his concern. He was pre-occupied with financial worries and knew nothing of women's affairs and health problems and when Magdalen was withdrawn or upset he did not know how to approach her. So he waited for her to recover from her depression and for her to be ready to communicate again. The estrangement strengthened and in a period of difficulty they recoiled from each other.

The squatters of the district around 'Tomki' wanted a doctor and guaranteed a living to Doctor W. T. Barker from Dumfries in Scotland, the same hometown as Captain Kinny. He was reputed to be a competent musician and a heavy drinker. Magdalen was persuaded by her friends and family to pay him a visit and as soon as he could spare the time William rowed her up-river. However the doctor was already drinking hard. He told them he was fond of his toddy.

"A barrel of rum is not so good as a barrel of whisky but a barrel of rum is not so bad."

There was nothing he could do for Magdalen. Time was the cure for her problem. That was little consolation. Her pessimism bordered on despair.

* * *

While William's affairs suffered a set-back, his friend Henry Barnes began to prosper. It began when Dr Dobie suddenly sold his property to Fred Bundock and sailed for England. People speculated that there had been a disappointment for Dr Dobie. Fred Bundock asked Henry Barnes to become a partner. Mr Bundock married and moved to the Clarence property, leaving Henry the management of' 'Stratheden' and 'Dyraaba' on the Richmond. Clark Irving owner of 'Tomki' which Henry had managed until now, applied to buy 320 acres of his property near the crossing, but was refused and received no compensation for his improvements there. The area was considered the most suitable site for a town, and would soon be surveyed by Frederick Peppercorne who had been sent to the Richmond River to select reserves for future villages along the river.

Henry Barnes was more than happy with his new position. Now he could really test his own ideas and ability.

* * *

Fred called at Coraki from time to time apparently hoping for a reconciliation with Jane. He was a stranger to his daughter and seemed unable to break the ice with her. Sometimes he brought her gifts but often chose things inappropriate for her age. Magdalen thought that maybe he realised that Jane had been a good wife, in spite of all the derogatory things he said to her. However Jane was not going to be persuaded to live with him again. He was too irrational and it was impossible for him to keep to the facts in any argument. It had taken a long time but Jane now acknowledged that the marriage had been a mistake.

Fred refused to support his daughter if she and Jane did not come back to live with him. He talked of going to various places to make his fortune. Rocky Mouth held no attraction now as the Wests were embarrassed at his behaviour and continually reproached him. On an impulse he was on the next vessel leaving the river.

What was to become of Jane and Mary?


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