Category: Settlers and Battlers

Catherine Coleman – Pioneer

Catherine Coleman – Pioneer

Catherine Cecilia Coleman wasn’t famous, but was typical of a generation of Australian settlers. She was born in Maitland, NSW in 1856, eldest of ten children. She married in 1871, at the age of 15, and had the first of her own children a couple of years later.

Her husband, John Douglas Coleman, was determined to make his mark in business, and in 1887 the young family packed up and moved north. Their new home would be the land of opportunity, Western Queensland, a wilderness only just then being opened up to cattle and sheep.

Arriving at Whittown (Isisford), near Longreach, the Barcoo River had broken its banks and was in full flood. Catherine’s quick-thinking brother Dan placed the young Catherine and her children in a large draper’s packing case and towed them across on a rope.

John moved them further west to the fledgling town of Forest Grove (Arrilalah), a natural stop for drovers and teamsters making their way up the Thomson River.

At Forest Grove John and Catherine built the mud-brick Club Hotel and a store, operating both for many years with the help of the resourceful Dan. The babies kept coming, and Catherine gave birth to ten children overall while mobs of cattle and sheep came up along the river bed, and dusty men in felt hats rode in to slake their thirst. Picnic races, held every few months, brought a colourful crowd of riders, punters and revellers in from stations and nearby towns.

Then, in September 1888, the dream ended. John fell ill, and did not recover. He died on the 26th of September, and was buried up behind the pub.

Catherine sold up and moved to Isisford, where she lived for 66 years. Her brother Dan also remained in the district. Even in her eighties Catherine was still slim and active, and could apparently read without glasses.

Catherine died in August 1944 at the age of 88. Only four of her ten children outlived her. At the time of her death she was survived by 30 grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren, and 12 great-great grandchildren. Most still lived in the Isisford district at that stage.

There is nothing left of the once thriving town of Arrilalah now but ruins, some signage placed by the Longreach Historical Society, and one gravestone.

 

Written and researched by Greg Barron.

Get the book, ‘Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History’ at http://ozbookstore.com/item/gallopingjones
Click here to view the sources for this story.

 

The Girder that Wouldn’t Fit

The Girder that Wouldn’t Fit

 

cooper

Things were tough in the NSW North Coast forests in 1907. All the cedar had been cut years earlier, prices for hardwoods had slumped, and the best way to make money was by shaping girders and sleepers.

Tamban Forest woodcutter Bob Cooper was lucky enough to snag an order for a huge 86 foot (26 m) girder from a Sydney construction company. Bob selected a giant ironbark tree, and skilfully felled it along the hill contour.

After trimming off the branches Bob used a string line blackened with charcoal as a straight-edge, and over days of back-breaking labour with a broad axe, finally squared the girder into the required 16 inch (400mm) square dimensions.

Promising a party for his friends and helpers on the basis of a forthcoming big cheque, Bob followed the girder as a bullock team dragged it down to Clybucca Creek, from which point it was punted up the Macleay River to Frederickton Wharf.

Moored at the wharf was the graceful three masted top-sail schooner, Alma Doepel, of one hundred and thirty one tons displacement. One look at the boat was enough to tell that the girder was far too big for the hold.

“No worries,” the captain said cheerfully, “we’ll get it aboard somehow.”

Bob had some business in Kempsey to attend to, but returned a couple of hours later to see that the Alma Doepel was still at the wharf, with no sign of the big girder.

“You got it in the hold?” Bob exclaimed. “How the hell did you do that?”

“Easy,” the captain told him. “We just cut it in half. Then it fitted nicely.”

History doesn’t record how Bob took that news. But apparently the party planned in celebration of a big cheque was cancelled.

(Interestingly, the Alma Doepel, originally built in Bellingen, survives today as a sail training ship, and is berthed at No 2 Victoria Dock Melbourne undergoing a refit.)

Written and Researched by Greg Barron.

Get the book, ‘Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History’ at http://ozbookstore.com/item/gallopingjones
Click here to view the sources for this story.

Collateral Damage

Collateral Damage

Glenrowan
The Glenrowan Inn. Credit: Victorian State Library

Following on from last week’s post about Kate Kelly, spare a thought for the Jones family, who owned the Glenrowan Hotel when the Kelly Gang decided to use it as the venue for a battle with police.

Ann Jones was the owner and publican. In the battle her pride and joy was burned to the ground. Her son John was shot and killed in the crossfire. Her daughter Jane also caught a stray bullet, but lingered on for two years before dying from her wounds.

Documents found at the Supreme Court stated, in Ann’s own words:

“Brave police! They lay in the gullies, and behind the trees, and shot bullets at the house, knowing that it was full of people. My poor innocent little children suffered most. When my dead little boy was hit he stood up, looked around, and then fell down. ‘Oh God,’ he cried, in such a piteous voice. ‘Mother, dear mother, I’m shot!’”

After the siege, the distraught Ann screamed abuse at the police, and was arrested for being a Kelly sympathiser.

“The police have said things about my character,” she said later. “Most of them never had any.”

 

Written and researched by Greg Barron

Click here to view the sources for this article.

 

 

Augusta Marion Gaunt

Augusta Marion Gaunt

Capture

 

Long before Charlie Gaunt rode the plains of Western Queensland and the Gulf Track across to the Kimberleys with the Duracks, his mother was a passenger on an immigrant ship, plying the seas from England to a new life in Australia.

The family sailed on the Royal Mail Steamship Africa, in late 1852, and for five months nine-year-old Augusta Marion Fuller made her family’s thinly partitioned space on the steerage deck her home. 450 immigrants were sandwiched into this converted cargo hold at the stern, with enough head space only for children to stand. The sun barely penetrated, and the air stank of close-packed, unwashed humanity.

Hundreds of people used two overflowing privies with queues all day and night, talking or arguing in Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and every dialect of England. All were desperate poor. The dangers and possibilities ahead were the main topics of conversation.

Augusta’s father, Adam Fuller, was a sick man. He needed a warm place to live. He was also a bankrupt. Augusta didn’t really know what it meant except that it had happened to him twice and that they had no money. She understood that Australia was their last chance for happiness.

All the time, day in, day out, the side-paddle churned and the Africa faced the big green ocean swells. Augusta sang nursery rhymes to the rhythms of the steam engines.

Augusta’s mother, Anna Maria, held the tiny hands of her daughters. ‘The Mate told me that we’ll reach Melbourne in just one more day,’ she said. ‘Your uncle George will be there to meet us. He’ll help us. Da will get well then. God won’t let him die.’

From then on they counted the hours and the miles, while Adam held on, falling lower and lower. He was still breathing, however, when the ship passed through Port Phillip heads and the Africa came alongside the Town Pier in Hobson’s Bay.

Augusta looked out from the rail, to another long pier that jutted into the bay to the north. There were building frames visible behind the beach near the Customs House. Further on was the vast slum of Canvas Town, a city of tents, the home of thousands of hopefuls on their way to and from the Goldfields.

Augusta had never seen her Uncle George but she scanned the crowd as they waited out on the concourse with their bags. Slowly the arrivals wandered off to their relatives or prepared to cross the sandy track to the settlement of Melbourne on the Yarra, on foot or by one of the many horse drawn vehicles for hire.

The unloading of the ships’ cargo started. Corpses were carried out first. One in twenty of those who had set out from Liverpool had already been buried at sea along the way.

Augusta and her family were spared the tragedy of death by only one day. The following afternoon, Adam Fuller died, and they had no choice but to move into the Houseless Immigrants home.

Anna Maria sent a desperate message to her brother George, who was supposed to have met them when they arrived. The following advertisement appeared in the Melbourne Argus on Saturday April 23, 1853.

GEORGE JOHNSON – Your sister MRS MARIA FULLER is very desirous of seeing you. Apply to Mr Barry, Storekeeper Flinders Lane, West.

That night when the destitute little family returned to their room, a big, sunburned man in his mid-twenties was waiting for them. Augusta watched as her mother ran into his arms. He was rugged looking and a little scary.

The man finally left Anna’s embrace, and looked down at the girls.

‘Hullo,’ he said. ‘I’m your Uncle George.’

He smelled of whisky. Augusta hid behind Amelia’s legs.


George was living in Ballarat, where the gold boom was in full cry. Augusta’s mother Anna was nothing if not resilient, and after a few years of living on the charity of her brother, she fell in love again. Henry William Cooper was the son of a coach builder from Dublin and owner of the Burrumbeet Hotel, on the shores of Lake Burrumbeet, near Ballarat.

Anna lied about her age to the celebrant, and most likely to her new husband as well. She was forty three years old by then, but the marriage certificate lists her age as just thirty-five. Partly, perhaps, for the vanity of her husband, who was thirty-seven at the time.

Augusta was twelve years old by then, almost certainly a flower girl. The ceremony took place on the north shore of Lake Burrumbeet, perhaps on one of those perfect spring days that Ballarat can produce when it feels like showing off.

George was there to give Anna away, and no doubt he did his best to drink the hotel dry at the reception afterwards. (The newspapers of the day were sprinkled with George’s minor run-ins with the law, mainly for drunk and disorderly behaviour and the odd fight.)

The wedding was a triumph, certainly much better than Anna’s taste in men deserved.

Within twelve months, however, Henry William Cooper was insolvent, and the Burrumbeet Hotel was sold for less than half of what he paid for it. In fact, a meeting of creditors was informed that Henry had paid three times the true value of the hotel in the first place.

Augusta and her sisters were again forced onto the charity of their family.

Continued next week.


Whistler’s Bones: A Novel of the Australian Frontier by Greg Barron is out now. You can find out more about it here,  purchase a paperback copy here, or buy the ebook version here.

John Moore Gaunt and the St Kilda Years

John Moore Gaunt and the St Kilda Years

This Marker is all that remains of John Moore Gaunt's Grave
This broken brass marker is all that’s left of John Moore Gaunt’s grave in the old Bendigo Cemetery. NB: The number is not a date, it’s a marker number, often the only way of finding old graves.

Continuing on the series of background articles to Whistler’s Bones, this one covers the arrival of Charlie’s father in Australia, the meeting of his parents, and Charlie’s early years.

This is a long post, but if you’ve read Whistler’s Bones, or intend to, it will give you some extra background.


Charlie Gaunt’s father was called John Moore Gaunt, the son of a Leeds barrister and alderman. John arrived on the Tippoo Saib in 1852, twenty one years old, and full of ambition and charm. He was part of the first wave of goldfields immigrants, fired-up by stories of men picking nuggets off the surface at Mount Alexander and Ballarat.

By the time John reached the fields the plum claims were already pegged, but there were millions of tonnes of alluvial gravel still to be panned. He must have had some success with the sluice box, for in 1853 he purchased 40 acres of land at Yarram Yarram, near Mornington, in partnership with his brother. This he disposed of in the next few years, but then, in 1857, he took up a parcel of seventy acres. John, it seems, never set eyes on the block, but the land was leased out, with an annual rent of £20.

By 1856 John was living in Park Street, St Kilda, working for the Victorian government. Four years later, his big break came. He was appointed to the post of acting Gold Receiver in the town of Inglewood.

Life in Inglewood suited John, and he made a life-long friend, a young doctor, around his own age, called Henry Hayton Radcliffe. Together they joined the Aurora Lodge of the Freemasons, a fraternity of Anglican businessmen organised into lodges: the members of which advance through a series of guilds. The lodges offered networking opportunities similar to modern day Lions and Rotary Clubs.

Augusta Fuller and her sister Charlotte were by then eligible young women, living in the area. Augusta was in her late teens, Charlotte her early twenties.

John Gaunt was playing cricket for the Inglewood XI one fine Saturday, making a sensible thirty-six runs before tea. At the break mutual friends presented him to Augusta.

‘I enjoyed watching you bat,’ she said.

‘If I’d known such a presentable lady was watching I would have bashed out a century.’

After tea John returned to the crease and was clean bowled first ball!

John Gaunt was fifteen years older than Augusta, and must have made her heart skip a few beats. After all, in 1862 he had been added to the roll of Magistrates for the State of Victoria. He appeared to offer stability and financial well-being, qualities that must have been irresistible to Augusta.

The wedding followed three months later, on the second of December 1863. The Reverend William Chalmers conducted the ceremony. Anna Maria gave her daughter away and John’s mate and brother-in-law Henry was best man.

The future seemed bright. John and Augusta were essentially compatible. Both from strong Church of England families, with intelligent, professional forbears, they were committed to their family and looked forward to raising children together.

John and Augusta’s eldest son, William, was born in Inglewood, near Bendigo, yet the rising star of John’s career was faltering. He formally resigned from the roll of magistrates in the Colony of Victoria. No reason was recorded, and he was soon being shunted between lesser roles.

The family moved to Melbourne, and were living in Argyle Street, St Kilda, on December the 6th, 1865, when the couple gave birth to a second male child. They named him Charles Edward Gaunt.

John Gaunt had a dry and cutting Yorkshireman’s sense of humour, and had always been keen on a drink or two. Increasing overindulgence meant that cracks soon appeared in his life, both personally and professionally. He was posted to Bairnsdale, Gippsland, first as an acting Lands Officer, then as Clerk of Courts, but his fondness for whisky made it difficult for him to carry out his duties to the satisfaction of his superiors. It was also tough on his family, for he was a hard man, prone to bouts of violence.

John and Augusta’s first daughter, Harriet, died after just four weeks and four days of life. The cause was listed on her birth certificate as ‘Debility from Birth.’ Watching her waste away must have taken a heavy emotional toll.

Tired of the constant shifts, the family soon elected to stay put while John went off for yet another relieving or short term position. These years were spent in rented houses in St Kilda and Prahran, Melbourne – Fitzroy Street, Robe Street, Octavia Street, and Punt Road, Prahan.

St Kilda was still in the second phase of its development. The rough port town, and the seaside coffee shop suburb were still in the future.

As historian John Butler Cooper noted of the city at in the 1860s and 70s:

“St Kilda was a conservative, homely and very English place … the prevailing sentiment was English, for most of the fathers, and mothers had been emigrants. They formed the backbone of the community of St Kilda, and gave the place its character.”

Family events became shared milestones. When Charlie was six years old the house next door to theirs in Octavia Street caught fire in the early hours of the morning, burning to the ground while the boys, their father and the fire brigade worked tirelessly to prevent the blaze spreading. All the Gaunt family’s outbuildings were lost, including presumably, the outside dunny, but the rented house was saved.

In those days Prahran was mainly open paddock, and wandering cows were the cause of many an argument. The Gaunt family kept at least some livestock, for in August 1868, John Moore Gaunt was fined five shillings for having an ‘errant’ goat.

Every Sunday, the family dressed up and walked to the All Saints Church in Chapel Street, East St Kilda. Faced with Tasmanian bluestone, it was the largest parish church south of the equator, able to squeeze in 1400 worshippers. Weekly services were run by the founding father, Reverend John Herbert Gregory, who had given up a career in law to take Holy Orders.

The children attended the schoolhouse attached to the church, and for secondary schooling a Grammar School opened in 1871 on the corner of Chapel Street and Dandenong Road. Fees were high – up to three guineas per term for day students, but the family managed.

Two more girls were born. Marion arrived in 1871 and Ellen in 1874. Both were baptised at St Kilda by the Reverend Gregory. The church was a constant, steadying influence, as was a large extended family. John’s brother, James Richardson Gaunt, who had immigrated a few years after John, visited often. He had a much more adventurous spirit than John, and even played a small part in the Eureka Rebellion on the Ballarat goldfields.

Augusta’s mother Maria was living in Mair St, Ballarat, and would also have been a regular house guest. George remained a loveable ruffian, in and out of trouble in the same area.

The Gaunt family’s closest friendship was still, however, with Augusta’s sister Charlotte, and her husband, Henry Radcliffe. Their years in Inglewood together had made them close, sharing the excitements of childbirths, and the sadness of Charlotte losing her daughter Ella at just nine months, while the men chased success in their fledgling careers.

Change was coming, however, very little of it for the better.

John’s drinking went through cycles of wild excess followed by sober periods that might last for months or even years.

Just one dram, Aggie. That’s all I’ll have …

James Richardson Gaunt moved to Queensland, setting himself up as a businessman in partnership with a man called Henry Britcher, in Adavale, west of Charleville. Henry Britcher’s brother George would later feature tragically in one of Charlie’s adventures.

John publicly forswore booze, and declared himself a teetotaller in 1877. There were reports that he had joined the Good Templar Crusaders.  This ‘new leaf’ brought results, and John’s final government appointment was to Sandhurst, as Bendigo was then known, to perform the duties of Paymaster and Receiver.

The family settled into a house rented from the All Saints Parish, on Rowan Street, within walking distance of the Government offices where John worked, and also the Masonic Hall. The children thrived in the new town. William and Charlie attended the Church of England school run by the fiery Reverend Croxton next to their parish church, named All Saints just like the one at home in St Kilda.

All Saints Sandhurst was a gothic edifice of yellow sandstone blocks, squat and sacred-looking. It had narrow arched windows fitted with stained glass images of the saints in dull colours.

On Sundays John, Augusta, William and Charlie sat together in the hard pews of the church, while the girls scampered off to Sunday school. John was a bloated and increasingly tragic figure, now suffering from dropsy, his puffy limbs and neck the subject of laughter and jokes behind his back.

Twelve months later, in 1879, his dropsy worsening, and entering the final stages of alcoholism, John Gaunt was dismissed from government service for ‘gross neglect of duty.’  At around the same time, John’s father back in Yorkshire died, and he expected a large inheritance.

The Bendigo Advertiser reported in May 1879 that J.M. Gaunt was the recipient of a considerable sum of money from his father’s will and that he had announced his intention, should his health permit, to travel by sea to England at the first opportunity. John was, according to this report, suffering from ‘colonial fever’ and needed a sea voyage to clear it from his system.

John died a year later, at the age of fifty, principally from cirrhosis of the liver. He was buried in the old Bendigo cemetery, and no trace of a headstone remains. It seems certain that by then his old employers had turned their back on him, and there was no government funeral.

With two pounds and five shillings of rent overdue, and John’s money tied up until the will could be probated, the church wardens of All Saints Parish acted quickly. With full legal backing, they ejected the family from the Rowan Street house, forcing a fire sale of furniture and effects; everything the family had collected over the years.

Augusta and her four children found themselves out on the street. Marion was nine years old, Ellen only six.

Charlotte and Henry (also the executor of John’s will) came to the rescue, and the broken family planned a move to Ballarat, at least until some money from John’s will became available to them.

The family was not destitute. John’s estate included ownership of the seventy-acre block at Mornington he had bought with his brother, (which would later cause a serious feud and numerous court cases). He also had fifty-one pounds to his credit in his account at the Commercial Bank when he died, presumably the remains of his inheritance. Yet, he had racked up a number of debts. Crabbe and Kirby, solicitors, executors of the will, placed a notice in the Bendigo Advertiser calling for particulars of all claims against the estate of John Gaunt to be made by August, 1880.  These small debts totalled some seventy-two pounds.

The real salvation was a life insurance policy valued at three hundred and fifty pounds; John’s gift to the family he had let down so badly. Overall, Augusta and the children received just under four hundred, enough to buy a cheap house, but not enough to invest at interest and survive on.

But that money was a long time coming. Augusta tried desperately to hold the family together. The boys, however – William and Charlie – had other ideas.

William, like his grandfather on his mother’s side, planned for a career in medicine. With a favourable response to an application to study at Edinburgh University, Scotland, he booked his passage to the United Kingdom.

Charlie, barely fifteen years old, spent his share of his father’s money on a horse and saddle. He taught himself to ride on barren goldfields hills and over long hours in the saddle he discovered that he liked horses and they liked him.

And that, pretty much, is where Whistler’s Bones starts off.


Lo Res Cover

Whistler’s Bones: A Novel of the Australian Frontier by Greg Barron is out now. You can find out more about it here,  purchase a paperback copy here, or buy the ebook version here.

 

Catherine Coleman – Pioneer

Catherine Coleman – Pioneer

I’m curious whether anyone who read this story when it was originally posted, and who has also read Whistler’s Bones, noticed the reference on page 75 to Catherine Coleman. Charlie Gaunt and Catherine must surely have met when the Durack droving teams passed through Forest Grove in 1883.


Club Hotel
Forest Grove 1880s (John Oxley Library)

Catherine Cecilia Coleman wasn’t famous, but was typical of a generation of Australian settlers. She was born in Maitland, NSW in 1856, eldest of ten children. She married in 1871, at the age of 15, and had the first of her own children a couple of years later.

Her husband, John Douglas Coleman, was determined to make his mark in business, and in 1887 the young family packed up and moved north. Their new home would be the land of opportunity, Western Queensland, a wilderness only just then being opened up to cattle and sheep.

Arriving at Whittown (Isisford), near Longreach, the Barcoo River had broken its banks and was in full flood. Catherine’s quick-thinking brother Dan placed the young Catherine and her children in a large draper’s packing case and towed them across on a rope.

John moved them further west to the fledgling town of Forest Grove (Arrilalah), a natural stop for drovers and teamsters making their way up the Thomson River.

At Forest Grove John and Catherine built the mud-brick Club Hotel and a store, operating both for many years with the help of the resourceful Dan. The babies kept coming, and Catherine gave birth to ten children overall while mobs of cattle and sheep came up along the river bed, and dusty men in felt hats rode in to slake their thirst. Picnic races, held every few months, brought a colourful crowd of riders, punters and revellers in from stations and nearby towns.

Billiard Saloon and chemist agency at Arrilalah in the Longreach district
Billiard Saloon and chemist agency at Forest Grove (John Oxley Library)

Then, in September 1888, the dream ended. John fell ill, and did not recover. He died on the 26th of September, and was buried up behind the pub.

Catherine sold up and moved to Isisford, where she lived for 66 years. Her brother Dan also remained in the district. Even in her eighties Catherine was still slim and active, and could apparently read without glasses.

Catherine died in August 1944 at the age of 88. Only four of her ten children outlived her. At the time of her death she was survived by 30 grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren, and 12 great-great grandchildren. Most still lived in the Isisford district at that stage.

There is nothing left of the once thriving town of Arrilalah now but ruins, some signage placed by the Longreach Historical Society, and one gravestone.

ccoleman
The Longreach Leader 26 August 1944

 

This story also appears in the book: Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History. Read more about it here.

“Captain” Joe Bradshaw

“Captain” Joe Bradshaw

Bradshaw's Tomb
Bradshaw’s Tomb on the Victoria River Photo: Lewis Collection

“Captain” Joe Bradshaw was one of the most adventurous of the early Northern Australian pastoralists.

He was born in Melbourne in 1855 with cattle and farming in his blood. His father owned several properties in Victoria, including Bolwarra and Bacchus Marsh Stations.

An explorer by nature, by his early twenties, “Captain” Joe Bradshaw was plying the waters of Northern Australia in a schooner named Twins. He was particularly interested in the Kimberley district, finding excellent pastoral lands along the Prince Regent River, where he took up a score of 50 000 acre blocks. Naming the station Marigui, he set out to build the property into a pastoral showpiece.

Trips “back south” to raise money for his enterprises were interspersed with problems, such as the WA government hiking fees to such a level as to make new cattle enterprises uneconomic, and his first choice of stock – sheep – proving to be unsuited to the conditions. He also once returned to the then bustling town of Wyndham to find that it had been ravaged by a cyclone.

Joe’s cousin, Aeneus Gunn, was one of a number of friends and family who arrived to manage stations and businesses on Joe’s behalf. The future wife of Aeneus, Jeannie Gunn, much later wrote the Australian classic, We of the Never Never.

Joe’s love affair with the Victoria River district began with a trip up that mighty river in a steamer called Red Gauntlet. The trip was ostensibly to drop a Government exploration party upriver, but Joe was impressed with the beauty of the mountains with their sheer cliffs, and the Mitchell grass plains. In partnership with his older brother Fred, Joe took up 20 000 square miles encompassing almost all the land between the Victoria and Fitzmaurice Rivers, and all the way west to the sea.

On a trip “down south” Joe fell in love with a young woman called Mary Guy, and married her on a trip to Melbourne in 1891. During 1893 Mary delivered two children, William Guy and Jas, both dying in infancy.

More disaster followed when Joe’s brother and business partner Fred was travelling from the Victoria River to Port Darwin in his oil-powered launch, the Bolwarra, with two friends and a Russian engineer. They called in at Port Keats near the mouth of the Daly where their Aboriginal “boys” deserted. A new crew were persuaded to join them, but that night, while the white men slept, anchored off Point Cook, they were bashed to death with clubs.

An expedition led by a policeman called Kelly found the launch drifting, damaged and bloody, and most of the bodies on the shore nearby. They were buried on a sandy beach, but for Joe Bradshaw this wasn’t a fitting resting place for the older brother he loved.

Joe had a number of coffins made, and travelled by lugger to the site. Bodies of the other members of the party were presumably repatriated to Darwin, but Joe had special plans for Fred. He carried his brother’s body back to the big river. The cliff top Joe chose was too solid to dig a hole, so Fred was laid to rest under a cairn on a high cliff, now known as Bradshaw’s Tomb, overlooking one of Australia’s most beautiful river valleys.

Bradshaw's Tomb 2
Fred’s coffin being prepared for burial on “Bradshaw’s Tomb.” Photo credit National Library of Australia

Even then, despite a diagnosis of diabetes, and Mary returning “South” to supervise their son’s education, Joe did not slow down. He was pivotal in the formation of a company called the Eastern and African Cold Storage Supply Company.

This company managed, through lobbying and powerful friends, to obtain leases and other arrangements to use the eastern half of Arnhem Land as their private domain. Before long, the area was running up to 17 000 head of cattle in the face of determined resistance from local Traditional Owners. Like previous attempts to use this area for pastoral purposes, Arafura Station was ultimately a failure. (See the Jack and Kate story here for more on this)

In 1916 Joe sustained a wound in his foot, which soon turned septic. Lying incapacitated in Darwin Hospital, Joe’s last wish was that he be buried next to his brother, under a cairn of stone on the hill called Bradshaw’s Tomb on the Victoria River.

According to an obituary:

“There are many worse men in the world than the late “Captain” Joe Bradshaw. Whilst he had his faults and weaknesses, he was a kindly and courteous gentleman at heart, absolutely “straight” in all his dealings with hls fellow men.”

Joe Bradshaw was a one-of-a-kind. Coming from a background of wealth, he had the funds to treat Northern Australia as a playground, notwithstanding the isolation and hardship he must have endured at times. He was a long-time member of the Royal Geographical Society of London and is credited with being the first white man to view the Gwion Gwion style of indigenous art, which was named after him for many years. Yet, for all that, brutal deeds were done in his name, and at heart Joe Bradshaw was ultimately concerned with making money and empire building.

Joe’s wish to be buried beside his brother on that Victoria River cliff top remains unfulfilled. His grave can be found at the Darwin Pioneer cemetery at Palmerston, south of Darwin. Mary outlived her husband by 26 years, passing away in 1942 at Kew, Victoria. Bradshaw Station is now a Royal Australian Air Force Testing Range.


Written and Researched by Greg Barron. His first book of true Australian stories is available in all good bookstores and online from ozbookstore.com

Jack and Kate

Jack and Kate

Arafura Swamp
Arafura Swamp (Photo: Territory Library)

John Warrington Rogers was the eldest son of a politician and QC from Tasmania and Victoria. Young “Jack” as he was called, was sent “home” to England to attend an expensive private school, but he wanted no truck with balls and banquets. As soon as he returned to Australia, he saddled a horse and rode off for the outback, setting in train a fifty-year story of bush life, cattle station management, a real-life love affair, and a series of tragedies.

In Queensland Jack soon proved himself as a top cattleman. Not surprisingly, as he was a strongly built man – six feet tall, and was taught to ride not long after he could walk. He loved horses, wide open spaces and adventure in equal measure, cutting his teeth in tough Western Queensland stock camps.

Meanwhile, his younger brothers followed carefully planned careers in law and the military. Jack’s brother Cyril was a Lance Corporal in the Imperial Light Infantry, fighting in the Boer War. He was killed in action at the Battle of Spion Kop at just twenty-one years of age.

War, however, seemed a long way off when Jack was stringing cattle along the Georgina River. There he met Catherine Matilda McCaw, the eldest daughter of James McCaw, of Urandangi, Queensland. Nineteen years younger than Jack, Catherine was known universally as Kate, blue eyed and full of life.

Jack invited her to a dance in Boulia. Kate replied that she’d rather just get on with it, and why didn’t he just ask her to marry him straight off?

Kate proudly took her father’s arm as he led her down the aisle in Camooweal. It was 1901, the year Australia became a nation. The few members of the Rogers family who made the trek lent a fashionable air to the proceedings, with their dark suits and the latest dresses.

When Jack headed to the Territory, and up into Arnhem Land, to manage Joe Bradshaw’s newly formed Arafura Station, he couldn’t have had a better woman beside him. Kate Rodgers had grown up in the bush. She was a born horsewoman, great with a rifle, and an expert at managing stockmen of all personalities and backgrounds.

The Northern Territory Times and Gazette reported, on their arrival, that Kate was “generally regarded as a better cattle manager than Jack.” And Jack made no secret of his plan to appoint her as head stockman.

Glenville Pike, in his book, Frontier Territory, described Kate as:

An expert in the stock camp or on horseback, she was also a crack shot with rifle or revolver. Old timers have told of Kate Rogers’s everyday life — dashing through the timber and long grass on a galloping horse, skirts flying and with stock whip thundering, horse and rider moving as one, as she wheeled a mob of wild long horned cattle.

Arafura Station was no picnic, operating on a scarcely believable ten thousand square miles of what is now East Arnhem Land. Wetland cattle management was difficult in the Dry Season, impossible in the Wet. The station homestead was located on the Glyde River, not far from the present day settlement of Ramingining. Mosquitoes, cattle-spearing locals, humidity, heat, crocodiles, and rain all counted against the station’s success.

The homestead came under determined attack several times. On one occasion two of the Chinese gardeners were speared, and Kate was forced to barricade herself inside, armed with her ‘73 Winchester. She was supported by the station cook, firing an ancient blunderbuss, holding out until Jack and the men came home.

Their son John (also nicknamed Jack) was born in 1902, but Kate didn’t let him slow her down – she’d carry him in a sling around her neck while she got on with station duties.

Like Florida Station, operating on pretty much the same area some twenty years earlier, Arafura Station was ultimately abandoned, and the remaining cattle transferred to another Bradshaw property. The country was just too harsh and too remote, and the Traditional Owners, justifiably, fought hard to keep the whites and their cattle out.

Paddy's Lagoon Territory Storieshttphdl.handle.net1007039462
Paddy’s Lagoon (Photo: Territory Library)

The first chapter of their lives was closed. But the impact of this remarkable couple on the Northern Territory pastoral industry was only just beginning. Undeterred, Jack reformed Paddy’s Lagoon Station, bordered by the Roper and Wilton Rivers. This was drier, more forgiving country, with some excellent pasture. While they were there Kate gave birth to a daughter, but unfortunately she passed away on the same day. The small grave did not remain alone for long: Jack’s brother Harry, who came to stay with them after the collapse of his business interests, died of typhoid fever there in 1909.

Jack was a talented cattleman and sharp businessman, always with an eye for opportunities. He reformed Paddy’s Lagoon into Urapunga Station, then set up Maryfield in partnership with a man named Farrar.

Kate continued to run the station cattle yards, horse paddocks and drove “fats” to market. On at least one occasion, while Jack was busy running the station, Kate left her infant with a nanny, and, with a plant of horses and half a dozen men, drove a mob of bullocks to Camooweal.

For many years she was assisted by a capable Aboriginal woman known as Princess Polly. Kate’s son John could ride before he learned to read or write.

Kate was not only as capable as any man in the yards, but she was also a sympathetic woman who formed a genuine love for the Aboriginal people of the north.

Kate and workers
Kate with staff in 1917 (Photo: Sydney Mail)

While living with Jack at Hodgson Downs Station, which he was managing, she worked with Archbishop Gilbert White on the formation of the Roper River Mission. This was not merely a paternalistic gesture. The Indigenous people of the region were shattered and cowed from years of violent confrontation: leprosy was common, with a weekly truck shipping sufferers up to a colony at Channel Island. Addiction to opium, imported and sold by the Chinese, was also a problem, more usually back near the railway line and mining areas. The mission was an attempt to protect and consolidate the people of the Roper Valley before it was too late.

Possibly under the influence of Jack’s father, young John was eventually sent off to private school in Melbourne. And with only five mail deliveries on the station each year, contact with their son was rare. In 1914, at the height of the wet season, Jack was away when Kate received a telegram from “down south” stating that their son was seriously ill, and asking for his parents’ permission for the doctors to operate.

Knowing full well that every creek and river between home and Katherine, including the mighty Roper, was in flood, Kate was determined to reach the telegraph station there. With a couple of loyal horsemen, and fully-laden packhorses for the journey, Kate set out on a journey to save her son.

That trip to Katherine must have been a nightmare: fighting humid heat and mosquitoes, fording swollen rivers and driving the packhorses through driving rain and bogs. Two weeks of travel later, they swam their horses across the flooded Katherine River at the Springvale Crossing (now known as the Low Level). By then, almost a month had passed since the original message was sent.

Waiting for Kate at the post office, however, was a new telegram telling her that the doctors had operated regardless and that young John had fully recovered. It was a wasted trip, but Kate’s smile must have been a mile wide as she took the opportunity to buy stores and meet old friends.

Before long, John’s schooling was over, and there was no question of a fancy career for him. It was the station life he wanted, and the small family were soon together again.

As the new decade, the 1920s arrived, Jack sold Maryfield Station and, flush with cash, announced a family holiday. Jack, Kate and John steamed south on SS Bambra. What was meant to be a pleasant interlude, however, turned into a tragedy.

While in Victoria, Kate grew sick with pneumonia. Jack was at her side to the end, praying for her not to die, wondering how the hell he could possibly live without her.

The incredible Kate Rogers, who had faced down charging bulls, uncountable lonely nights on the track, and wild Top End cyclones, fell to a microscopic bug in her lungs. She died in Brighton, Victoria at the age of 45, and is buried in the cemetery there.

Kate’s obituary in Darwin’s Northern Standard newspaper read:

(Kate Rogers) was a woman of exceptional ability, and she will be remembered in the outback parts of the Territory for her skill and courage in everything pertaining to the management of the station, and for her generosity and great kindness of heart.

Heartbroken, Jack returned to the north with his son, operating Roper Valley Station and Urapunga before selling the latter station. For a while his heart went out of it, but he had to think of his son’s future.

Lonely Grave on Roper Valley
Typical of bush graves, this one stands on Roper Valley Station (NT Library)

In 1925 Jack and John were among the first NT pastoralists to ship live bullocks to Indonesia and the Philippines. Jack was also, by nature of his importance to the Roper area, appointed as a Justice of the Peace by the Government Resident.

As he neared seventy years of age Jack was still a fearless horseman and consummate bushman. In 1927, he was droving one hundred head of fat bullocks, single handed, to the butcher supplying crews laying the railway line from Katherine to Daly Waters.

Jack’s horse tripped and fell, trapping him underneath and breaking bones in his leg, thigh and hip. The cattle wandered off, leaving him alone, an old man, with crippling injuries. Yet, Jack’s unerring sense of direction told him the nearest place of safety: the Presbyterian Inland Mission at Maranboy.

For five days he crawled towards his destination, fighting off the dingoes and kite hawks that waited for him to fall. Somehow, through determination and strength of mind, he got there, and a Dr Kirklands was dispatched by train to treat him. Unfortunately the injuries left him partially crippled, but he was still vital and thirsting for life.

Official obituaries don’t mention this fact. But Jack found love again, from a local Roper woman. In around 1930, well advanced in years, Jack became a father for the third time. His girl child was healthy and vital, and must have been a comfort in his sunset years.

In 1931 Jack purchased Urapunga Station for the second time, a brave move for a seventy-four year old. His holdings were then around three thousand square miles on both sides of the Roper River. But the Great Depression was sucking the life out of every enterprise, in every nation. Cattle prices dropped to uneconomic levels.

Close to bankruptcy, in 1934, Jack sold Roper Valley Station to the Royallison Pastoral Company for a fraction of its value. He was finished, riding away with just a horse and the clothes on his back. How that must have hurt after being the boss man for so long! He farewelled young John, who had his pick of job offers on other stations, and went to the Mataranka Hotel to drown his sorrows.

In 1935, at the age of 78, still at Mataranka, Jack borrowed a rifle, and shot himself in the head. The wound was not immediately fatal, and that tough old man took sixteen hours to die. Dr Clyde Fenton, the Territory’s first flying doctor, arrived in time to issue the death certificate.

Jack’s obituary in the Northern Standard Newspaper stated:

The passing of John Warrington Rogers at Mataranka on Tuesday morning last at the age of 74 (sic) removes from the ranks of the northern pastoralists one of nature’s gentlemen with a history of fine achievements in the development of the Northern Territory.

Sadly, this tragedy of Jack and Kate had one more act to play.

Their son John was mustering on Victoria River Downs Station in 1943 when his horse fell and rolled on him, leaving him with severe head injuries. He died three days later.

Jack’s daughter, who I won’t name for cultural reasons, became an elder of her people, living at a Roper community. She died in 2008 and is survived by her many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.


Written and Researched by Greg Barron, this story features in the book, Galloping Jones and other True Stories from Australia’s History. You can buy it here or in good bookstores.

 

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