Friday 13th March 1863.
"Bill is worrying me," observed Magdalen while she put his breakfast to keep hot. "He's getting very absent-minded about meal-times."
"You shouldn't keep his meals hot. He knows the rules."
"He could have been held up doing something he noticed which you didn't know about."
"Rubbish. The boy never does anything under his own initiative, not work anyway. Young people these days can't think for themselves. They have to be told everything."
"Well you know he's really not interested in the shipyard. Other things interest him more." Half to herself she wondered "He was always such an obedient boy, he was so different then. Maybe we were too strict with him, expected too much of him. Sometimes he seems to have the worries of the world on his shoulders, but I can never get anything out of him about what he's thinking."
"Young people these days don't think. He goes along with anything his friends do, especially the Cooks. Hasn't got a mind of his own."
"He'll have to start growing up if he plans to get married. Frances probably makes him feel important, that is why he's so eager to fit in with their ideas."
"Nowhere near mature enough to think of marriage. He'll never amount to anything if he lets himself be too influenced by them. Eliza of course was a different matter."
"That's what I mean. Eliza is so mature now and has settled down wonderfully, and as a child she was always up to mischief. Most of the children's pranks were thought up by Eliza, and she never did conform to anyone's idea of a lady. But she did think for herself and never felt she had to do what the others did; she was never afraid to be thought 'different', and she didn't keep her opinions to herself either."
William had finished his breakfast and was about to leave for the shipyard, when Harry came in to say that Bill's early morning chores had not been done, and that his horse was missing.
"He's up to something," was William's comment as he left. "I suppose he'll be late for work."
Magdalen was worried and mystified. She hoped he would be back for work as William did need him in spite of his disgruntled comments. Where could he be and why had he not said anything? Probably it was something he thought they would disapprove of, but he should still have had the courage to be honest about his activities. Or had he been unable to sleep and gone for an early morning ride, and had a mishap? It was most unlike him to get up any earlier than he had to. Of course at twenty he did not have to account for every movement.
Annie was also away, staying with friends at Casino. If she had been home she would probably have known what her brother was doing. She was the only one he really communicated with. When Magdalen needed to know about her son's intentions she asked Annie who was closest to him in age and affection. It was Annie who knew most about his association with the Cooks and had tried to persuade her parents to accept his friendship with Frances who was a sensible and likeable girl, rather pretty and sweet.
Harry rode around the near paddocks to be certain there had not been an accident. They decided that Bill, too good a horseman to have an accident had most likely gone somewhere on his own account. The morning wore on, Magdalen trying to tell herself to be sensible and not to worry. The mid-day meal was a little strained as William was half angry and half worried. During the meal, Annie arrived back from Casino with news that her brother was well and would not be back for a few days.
"What's he up to?" demanded William.
"He'll tell you when he comes back. He's doing something he wants to. He isn't a child."
"Why couldn't he tell us?" asked Magdalen.
"Would you listen?" asked Annie trembling at her own temerity. They had never answered their parents like that. Magdalen was stunned, but she had a sneaking recognition that Annie was right. William would not listen. He was too busy, he set very high standards for himself, and could not understand that this was not the only way. Magdalen had always backed up her husband, it was her duty to do so.
Annie would say no more. For several days there was no news. A week later the errant young man stood on the verandah and half behind him, rather embarrassed was Frances.
"Mother, Father, I have... " he began.
"Come on," said Frances taking his arm to give him and herself confidence. "Out with it."
"How are you Frances, my dear? Come in. We've been worried about William. Has he been at your place?"
"No we met at Casino," said Frances.
"I wish you had told me what you were doing," said Magdalen. "We were so worried."
"I knew you'd stop me," said William junior. "You see Frances and I are married."
"Stop you! Of course we would stop you." William senior raised his voice for the first time for many years. "You're a boy and not old enough to be married."
"Eliza was only eighteen."
"You aren't as old as she was at eighteen. And, as the husband, you have the responsibility in a marriage."
"You treat me like a child. You always tell me what to do as if I'm simple. I never get any credit, I never have a chance to do anything myself. Well you'll have to now. I'm a married man." He was shaking with emotion at this outburst, embarrassed in front of his wife whom he had tried so hard to impress.
Magdalen was the first to regain her composure. "Well it's all done then, is it son?"
"Yes. We were married at Mr Moore's residence and then rode to Myrtle Creek for a few days."
"And was Annie part of this?"
"Annie and Mr Stocks were our witnesses."
"Well then what have you in mind? You must go and tell Mr and Mrs Cook. They'll be frantically worried."
"They knew about it. They'll be here on Sunday to visit."
"Where will you live? How can you support a wife and family?" William senior spoke for the first time.
Frances spoke at last. "There's no family yet, and we'll live with my parents."
"I'd rather be independent even in a labourer's hut," said her husband. "And I could work for Father for wages."
"I can't afford wages. I'm trying to buy the land, remember?" his father responded.
"We'll manage," put, in Magdalen soothingly. "Three children married," she said half to herself, thinking of Jane with three daughters and Eliza with her third baby due soon. "I'm sorry you had to do it this way. It's a shame you couldn't talk to us about your plans. But it's done now, so we must make the best of it. Frances will you help me plan some refreshments for your parents? Bill go to the village and tell everyone your news and tell them we'll have a celebration."
William senior would not be placated about the marriage. He was put out that his son had not consulted him, and had upset his plans to buy the station. Naturally the boys were to have the run, but in his own time, not to suit the children. By no means a stubborn man, he was normally most philosophical about accepting things he could not change, but on this occasion he was hurt by the knowledge that his eldest son had so ignored him. He knew he would have forbidden the marriage had he been asked, not that he had anything against Frances. He also knew that he had asked no-one if he could marry Magdalen. There was a niggling appreciation of the fact that he had never taken time to listen to the boy. He was always so busy. He counted on his sons being available to help him achieve his ambitions and had dismissed his son's reticence as a modern fad of young people these days. He didn't want to see it any other way. A guilty feeling nagged him, and he could not come to terms with it, unable to acknowledge it openly, and unable to dismiss it altogether.
* * *
That evening, to demonstrate his maturity, William junior began a diary in imitation of his father. His first entry was:
Friday 13. At one o'clock in the morning in the middle of the night, started for Casino on horseback by way of Deep Creek Bridge on the Casino-Grafton road. Arrived at the home of Mr Stocks of Casino in good time and so it was that I William Yabsley did wilfully take Miss Frances Cook and protect her for the term of her natural life. Mr James Stocks and Miss Ann Yabsley witnessed the whole transaction at Mr Moore's private residence at Casino. I was married after a seven years' courtship - having pulled in a boat about five thousand miles for pleasure between Coraki and Blackwall generally starting from Coraki after six o'clock on Saturday and returning in time to go to work on Monday morning - scorning wind and weather.
After all this folly I gave myself, willing to promise, at the age of 20 years, never to do so again. After the ceremony, returned to the home of Mrs Stocks, then started for Myrtle Creek having to swim our horses above Mrs Meaney's. Stayed in Myrtle Creek for a few days, then returned home by way of Bungawalbyn Creek, and crossing the swamps at Ring Tree Crossing. Arrived at Coraki on 21/3/1863 and started to work building the 'Schoolboy'.
* * *
The 'Schoolboy' was the name they gave to the new ship, because everybody working on it was required to attend the school in the evenings. By now the apprentice boys were advanced enough to join the senior class, so Magdalen gave lessons in the afternoon to the children of settlers and anyone else who wanted to come, including some Aborigines. Attendance was very spasmodic as the pupils were often needed by their parents to help at home.
The following Sunday William senior was busy and would not come to be sociable to Mr and Mrs Cook until he was finished. Eliza and her husband lived near the Cooks so they came up together in the boat. It was quite a family gathering and they sat on the verandah catching up on news, helping William and Frances make plans and watching little Johnny and Elizabeth Robinson play on the lawn. The young people liked Frances and were pleased to welcome her into the family. The young girls looked forward to more little nieces and nephews. They found the little Robinsons to be so entertaining. Elizabeth Yabsley aged eleven was especially pleased that the occasion brought her niece Elizabeth aged eighteen months.
As evening approached Mr Cook and the Robinsons left to go home and Frances went with them to collect her things and give her husband time to sort out some accommodation. Mrs Cook stayed at Coraki on a visit so that she and Magdalen could get to know each other a little. The newly-weds parted reluctantly. They each had a lot to do, things which William and Magdalen suggested should have been done before the marriage took place. The men and boys would begin work on a slab hut after work the next evening. William would not allow work on the ship to be held up. A pine kiln for steaming planks was almost finished and he was anxious to have it ready as soon as possible.
The steam kiln was being completed by one of the apprentices, Thomas King whose family now lived at Coraki and had come to Coraki Cottage to help celebrate the wedding. Tom's sister Ann had travelled to Grafton on her father's dray, carrying her wedding dress over her arm, some years before when Reverend O'Connell was the minister and had been too ill to come to the Richmond to perform the ceremony.
"It was so much harder then," said Mrs King to Mrs Cook and Magdalen, reminiscing about the event. "Poor Ann. She was really only a child at the time and having to go all the way to Grafton to her wedding. I remember you let Jane come to the wedding feast. She was about the same age as Ann."
"Jane was married not long afterwards," said Magdalen. "By the time she and Fred West got married, the Reverend O'Connell had died and Reverend Coles Child was appointed." She turned to Mrs Cook. "We knew Mr and Mrs King when we lived at Ballina. They had a lot of spirit. Young Ann and her husband Tom Hollingworth then went to Kyogle where Tom was a shoemaker I believe."
"Yes," said Mrs King. "Tom often had to walk to Lismore with orders. Then he decided to go shearing on the Tableland and came back some months later and entered into a partnership with John Jones in the timber trade at Pelican Tree. They live here at Coraki now. Their house was burnt down a while back but Tom rebuilt it, with some help."
"Coraki is becoming quite a village," observed Mrs Cook, "Especially since Free Selection. By the way how is Jane and her husband?"
Magdalen had failed to tell anyone but the closest friends that Jane was living in a de-facto relationship. Most people believed that Fred had died years ago and they were not corrected. Those who suspected otherwise did not embarrass Magdalen by their comments.
"Jane is well. She is expecting another baby this year. They are hoping to take up a selection on the Bellinger River. She writes often but I do miss her. I've never seen Emma and Ann."
Unknown to anybody, Fred West had also taken up an irregular arrangement with an English girl, whom he brought to the Colony. Shortly afterwards he died of pneumonia, and his relatives at Rocky Mouth casually informed William that Jane was now a widow. Word was immediately sent to The Macleay River, where the relationship was quickly formalised with twelve-year old Mary as an attendant at a quiet ceremony. Magdalen felt that at last things were beginning to come right for Jane.
* * *
At Coraki Bill Yeager had also taken up a selection, and had the first steam drogher on the river replacing his whale boat in which he had transported goods to and from ships. He called his paddle-steamer the 'Keystone'. It was only eleven tons and six horsepower, but she pulled ships much larger than herself, also goods and passengers up and down the river at five miles an hour. The droghers were very important to the settlers because of the dangerous bar. Larger ships with a greater draught could not cross unaided and had difficulty negotiating the bends of the river.
William was glad of this progress and Magdalen admired the young man and his enterprising character. He was building a store and warehouse for trans-shipping goods on his large selection. When he gave a pleasure trip to all the people of Coraki, it was a day of great rejoicing. Although some of the older people threw up their hands at the noise and smoke and prophesied that the 'Keystone' would blow up, most of them were pleased and ignored the gloomy warnings.
The story was told of one selector who made a plough out of wood. As they had no horse, he and his wife pulled it after dark so that the neighbours would not see them. They had nothing but their own strength and courage.
Many settlers built huts near the river, and moored a boat near the doorstep, and the women and children rowed to the village for supplies.
* * *
Eliza came to Coraki to have her next baby, while her mother-in-law minded the other two children. Her baby daughter was named Eliza. Jane and William Kinny were planning to move to the Bellinger River, and Jane was again pregnant. William Kinny's fellow countryman, William Thomas Barker of Dumfries, Scotland, the doctor at Casino, had died from alcoholism, leaving James Stocks the chemist to dispense medicines to the best of his ability. Magdalen felt little need of patent medicines, being used to home remedies for most things, and Dr Barker had not been able to help her during the difficult years of her change-of-life, so she believed it would make no difference to her. However many settlers were keen to have another doctor.
* * *
Clark Irving was still absent in England when nominations were due for the next elections. Before he left he had called for many improvements, and some of these had been carried out. The road to Grafton had been shortened by a turn-off, when the township of Lawrence had been surveyed, but it was too rough for anything but pack horses and bullock drays. The new overseer at 'Tomki' was sure that Clark Irving was coming back, and Henry Barnes supported his nomination. Mr Irving wrote that he was glad he was nominated and sent a prize to the Grafton Volunteer Brigade, and books for the School of Arts. But during his absence negotiations for the bridge at Casino lapsed.
Magdalen was not able to reconcile William to the marriage of their eldest son. Three months after the wedding she had gone to Casino herself to select a property for him, which was called 'Repentance'. William did not object but would do nothing himself. In July William junior, proud to be independent, put up a small hut, eager to show how mature he was and how he could take care of his wife. He worked hard to satisfy the requirements for selection and to earn the money for the payments.
The Acting Land Agent was Charles Hugh Fawcett, a slim courteous Irishman who had been on the Richmond for twenty years, having arrived soon after William and Magdalen. He had bought a station which he named Fairy Mount, later Kyogle, and in the early days he had used open vats for tallow-making when there was no sale for beef. He was known as a progressive, squatter who tried to get improvements for the settlers, having recently become the Police Magistrate for the Richmond River.
"We should put Mr Fawcett into Parliament to speak for us," said William junior after one of their visits to Casino. "I think he would achieve something. I find him very helpful and courteous. He makes me want to do the right thing to qualify as a selector."
"You'd better do the right thing," Frances teased him. "I don't want to lose the selection. You see there'll be a baby next year." They were both delighted at the prospect and the excited father-to-be began to make a cedar cradle similar to the one his father had made for Eliza as a baby twenty years before.
* * *
Magdalen felt a closeness to Jane even though they were separated geographically. She was especially glad that Jane was now married to an intelligent and caring man. When they were trying to get established, Jane had had to go without so much and had been such a support to her mother, in many ways unchild-like and too serious, that she surely deserved a rewarding marriage. Jane wrote that she had another daughter and had called her Frances after her new sister-in-law. There
were few settlers as yet and no facilities. The Richmond River with its shipping and stores was civilised by comparison.
"I could never cope with four children in the wilderness," said Eliza. "Poor Jane."
"The back is made for burden," quoted Magdalen. "Jane will thrive on the challenge, like your father. And Mary's a great help I'm sure, like Jane was to me at the time when I had you, Bill and Annie all little, at Ballina."
Some of the apprentices who felt a great lack of unmarried girls on the river, suggested that Jane could keep on having girls and send them back to Coraki in a few years. The apprentices that William took were all highly recommended and could be expected to make worthy husbands for any of the local girls when they grew up. The best families on the river were anxious to have their sons taught ship-building at Coraki, because of William's reputation as an honest man and a first-rate tradesman, who really understood his work, who had an inventive mind and kept up with all the latest ideas, adapting them to his own needs if they were practical. He was always a craftsman at heart, and spent hours considering how to solve technical problems, making seemingly impossible repairs to damaged ships, tinkering in the blacksmith's shop, or devising some labour-saving scheme. He was presented with many tasks requiring ingenuity, as every storm-battered ship in the district was brought to him for repair. At present he was toying with ideas for derricks and auxiliary engines to speed up loading and unloading.
* * *
One day Magdalen decided to go for a walk around the run and watch the men at work. William had told her about his ingenious branding apparatus of which he was very proud. He showed her how a calf was secured in a slip-bail at one end of a revolving stand. Then two pegs were drawn out, and the whole apparatus turned over, so that the calf was laid on its side with its head fixed. The men proceeded to brand, ear-mark and cut the animal in a few seconds.
"Let me show Mama," begged ten-year old Tommy. With help from Mundoon, he quickly had the next calf in the device and ready to be branded.
"What a marvellous idea. Saves the poor creatures all that struggling, trying to get away."
"Have you had a good look at the gates?" asked William. He steered her to the gates to the cattle yards, a single and double gate of sawn and framed box, nine feet high and thirteen feet wide. "All the catches and gatehooks are recessed in the posts so that the cattle can't get torn as they rush by. All bloodwood. White ants can't touch it."
"Your fences are the best thing on the run," said Magdalen. "Mainly because they keep your cattle out of my garden. It used to be a losing battle."
Magdalen continued her walk and William went back to the cattle yard. His business was building up. At times there was station work, ship-repairs, work in the store, as well as loading and unloading the 'Coraki' and building the 'Schoolboy'. When men came looking for work, William was able to employ them, and few were turned away. When rafts of timber came down the river, the logs were drawn up the bank by bullock teams to the covered saw-pits. The logs were squared and sawn into planks and then loaded onto vessels which stopped at William's wharf. Sheds and store-houses were built, paddocks fenced, areas ploughed and maize planted. There were now three hundred head of cattle grazing in the lightly timbered country at the back of the homestead. This employed many casual labourers from time to time. Everywhere she went Magdalen met someone she had never seen before.
The slaughterhouse was empty except for a boy who was cleaning. He showed Magdalen the yard where the cattle were herded. It was paved and drained so that it could be kept clean more easily. The building for killing and curing was a hundred feet long. There was a hole in a wall just large enough for a man or boy to place a loaded gun. The carcass was hung ready to be cut according to their requirements, or cured for later use.
As Magdalen walked back to the house she thought of the important work of the ship, and the training of the lads. Young William had helped draft the 'Schoolboy' and had spent most of the previous year planking the hull. One gum tree, ninety feet high he had felled and hauled from Tatham, with a team of twenty-eight bullocks.
And as well there were the improvements which had to be made to each block selected. Harry now had a farm called London. A log over a creek had been given the name 'London Bridge' by the children and the name had stuck. The boys spent a lot of time camping and working on the selections, hauling fences, putting up huts and ploughing. William junior made additions to the small hut he had put up at 'Repentance', sawing stuff for the new rooms, including shingles and floorboards. Many of the settlers cut down rare trees, waited for them to dry, then put a fire through, but William and Magdalen would not let their sons burn the timber; they had too much admiration for the beautiful trees, and appreciation of its value to allow it to be destroyed. Where land needed to be cleared, the timber was felled properly and hauled to the depot, by bullock team if necessary. Unsaleable timber was stacked for firewood. Outside his cottage at 'Repentance' Bill had a good supply of firewood and logs for future fences. Charles Fawcett, the land agent applauded this attitude. Forestry was his hobby and he hated to see timber wasted.
Thinking about the trees which had covered the hillsides when they had first come to the Richmond River twenty years ago, Magdalen wondered how much more timber could be cut. Mr Fawcett knew so much more about it and he deplored the situation. There were four timber mills, two at Wardell, one at Wyrallah and one at Lismore. Every second man on the river had some connection with timber, he was either a dealer, a sawyer, a rafter or a mill worker. Timber was put into the river around Casino to float down to Coraki where the water was deep enough for big vessels, Sometimes dozens of bullock teams were to be seen in the streets of Casino. In wet weather each fresh team cut its own track in order to have only its own bog and not its neighbour's as well. What a mess it was for miles around and in dry weather the paddocks were hot and bare and dusty without any shade in sight.
"I think some of the settlers have been short-sighted in cutting down all the trees," she thought. She had heard Mr Fawcett say that the timber industry needed to be regulated because the trees took so long to grow and vast areas had been cleared in twenty years. It seemed a depressingly difficult problem. At times there were five or six ocean-going vessels at the wharves at Coraki where they loaded the timber as well as other cargo and passengers. As Magdalen came back within sight of Coraki Cottage, still surrounded by trees, the shipyard, the half dozen masts visible above the river bank, she dismissed the matter as beyond her, and put her mind to the evening meal, a question which had an easy solution.