Category: Outback Ruins

The JC

The JC

In the late 1860s pastoralist and adventurer John Costello rode west from his holdings on Kyabra Creek, exploring the Channel Country out to the Diamantina. One night he camped beside a small creek, where he stripped back the bark of a bauhinia tree and carved his initials, JC.

That tree became a popular stopping place for travellers, and when an enterprising hotelier built a mud-brick pub on the site, he called it the JC Hotel. The government surveyor was sent in to lay out a town, but he refused to call the new town JC because it wasn’t proper. He named the place Canterbury instead, but to locals the name never changed.

In the mid-1880s the pub was being run by two men in partnership: Manners and Dalton. Not only did they spruce the place up, but apparently Mrs Dalton was a popular figure behind the bar. A visitor in 1885 reported that nearly thirty men sat down to eat breakfast at the hotel.

The owner of nearby Waverney Station, a man by the name of Gibbs, built a store next to the pub. It was apparently “fully stocked with all the requirements of a country store.” A post office was opened in 1891, and ran for a couple of years before being downgraded to a receiving office.

In 1893 the pub was being run by George and Elizabeth Geiger. Their son, also named George, was not quite two and a half, playing in the yard when he wandered off. One story goes that he had a pet lamb, and when it was taken by a dingo, he followed.

Every available adult, including some capable trackers, were enlisted to find young George, but the flock of goats kept by the family had obliterated his tracks, and the mulga scrub made it hard to see more than a few yards. They found him in the end, much too late, and the dingos had finished him off. His grave still stands in the small cemetery there.

The pub was the venue for regular dances, and an annual race meeting. Most importantly it gave travellers a friendly place to stop between Windorah and Bedourie. The beer flowed for another half century before the manager of Waverney bought it for a pittance and shut it down. He was sick of his stockmen spending their free time there and riding home drunk.

Story, research and photographs by Greg Barron.
More Australian history stories in the book available from:
ozbookstore.com/item/gallopingjones

Mary Watson of Lizard Island

Mary Watson of Lizard Island

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The ruins of a stone cottage, once the home of pioneer Mary Watson, lie crumbling up behind the beach at Watson’s Bay on Lizard Island, three hundred kilometres north of Cairns.

Mary was born in Cornwall, and her family settled in Maryborough, Queensland, when she was seventeen. Both educated and musical, Mary easily won a position in Brisbane as a governess.

Mary’s employer, Mr Bouel, decided that her talents were wasted teaching children. He took her to Cooktown to play piano in a hotel he owned there, and in that wild frontier town she grew up fast.

Belting out popular tunes on the piano at the bar, Mary couldn’t help but notice when a handsome, fit man called Robert Watson swaggered in one night. Mary learned that he, in partnership with his mate Percy Fuller, ran a beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fishing operation on Lizard Island.

Seduced, perhaps, by tales of one of the world’s most beautiful islands, Mary married Bob a few weeks later, and packed for the journey north.

By 1880, still just twenty years old, Mary was running an island household and a small farm with the help of some Chinese labourers. She kept a record of the trials and triumphs of her life in a journal, which survives to this day.

Within a few months Mary was pregnant, and she returned to Cooktown where she gave birth to her son Thomas. Once she felt confident of her abilities in raising the child she headed back to Lizard Island and the love of her life.

Bob, Percy and another man headed off to a distant island on a fishing trip. They had not noticed a fleet of canoes crossing the thirty-five kilometre stretch of water from the mainland.

With most of the white men absent, the local Dingaal people, who had fished and hunted on the island for millennia, attacked. Ah Leong, one of the Chinese workers, was killed, and another seriously wounded.

Mary, her baby Thomas, and the wounded man, Ah Sam, put to sea in a cut-down iron water tank. They drifted in terrible heat for eight days before washing up on an uninhabited island in the Howick Group.

The final entry in Mary’s journal reads: “No water. Nearly dead with thirst.” Their bodies were found three months later, and transported to Cooktown for burial.

Taking their cue from an outraged public, the local constabulary inflicted a terrible revenge on the Dingaal people. A sad end to a heart-wrenching tale.

 

Story and Pictures by Greg Barron.

Get the book, ‘Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History’ at ozbookstore.com

Click here to view the sources for this story.

 

 

The JC

The JC

In the late 1860s pastoralist and adventurer John Costello rode west from his holdings on Kyabra Creek, exploring the Channel Country out to the Diamantina. One night he camped beside a small creek, where he stripped back the bark of a bauhinia tree and carved his initials, JC.

That tree became a popular stopping place for travellers, and when an enterprising hotelier built a mud-brick pub on the site, he called it the JC Hotel. The government surveyor was sent in to lay out a town, but he refused to call the new town JC because it wasn’t proper. He named the place Canterbury instead, but to locals the name never changed.

In the mid-1880s the pub was being run by two men in partnership: Manners and Dalton. Not only did they spruce the place up, but apparently Mrs Dalton was a popular figure behind the bar. A visitor in 1885 reported that nearly thirty men sat down to eat breakfast at the hotel.

The owner of nearby Waverney Station, a man by the name of Gibbs, built a store next to the pub. It was apparently “fully stocked with all the requirements of a country store.” A post office was opened in 1891, and ran for a couple of years before being downgraded to a receiving office.

In 1893 the pub was being run by George and Elizabeth Geiger. Their son, also named George, was not quite two and a half, playing in the yard when he wandered off. One story goes that he had a pet lamb, and when it was taken by a dingo, he followed.

Every available adult, including some capable trackers, were enlisted to find young George, but the flock of goats kept by the family had obliterated his tracks, and the mulga scrub made it hard to see more than a few yards. They found him in the end, much too late, and the dingos had finished him off. His grave still stands in the small cemetery there.

The pub was the venue for regular dances, and an annual race meeting. Most importantly it gave travellers a friendly place to stop between Windorah and Bedourie. The beer flowed for another half century before the manager of Waverney bought it for a pittance and shut it down. He was sick of his stockmen spending their free time there and riding home drunk.

Story, research and photographs by Greg Barron.
More Australian history stories in the book available from:
ozbookstore.com/item/gallopingjones

The Paddle Steamer Providence

( Twin fireboxes, once attached to the Providence’s boiler, still lie on the banks of the Darling near Kinchega Station. )

The year was 1872, and for twelve months the 78-foot-long wooden paddle steamer Providence, under the leadership of Captain John Davis, sat on a waterhole north of Menindee waiting for the Darling River to rise. Drought had tightened its grip across western NSW and dried the river to a series of pools. Not even a rowboat could get through.

Finally, rain fell upriver, far away on the Balonne, the Macintyre, the Gwydir and the Namoi. As the river rose the Providence and her crew ambled downstream again, stopping at Menindee to load 200 wool bales and for a much-needed night on the town. The journey was paused for a night of riotous drinking and celebration at Maiden’s Hotel.

The next morning, the crew, much the worse for wear, stoked up the firebox again, but neglected to check that the boiler had water. Around ten miles downstream, on a bend near Kinchega Station, the pressure reached catastrophic levels.

To say that the boiler exploded is an understatement. It tore the ship apart in a storm of flying metal fragments. The captain, engineer and stoker were all killed. The cook was blown into a treetop, and survived long enough to be rescued before dying of his injuries. Another young man had both legs broken and though Menindee’s Dr Cotter tried desperately to save him, he also died. Henry Trevorah, a miner from Adelaide who had joined the boat at Menindee, was one of the few survivors.

A first-hand account, posted by a crew member of another paddle steamer from Kinchega Station in the days after the tragedy, gave the following account:

“We had been wooding last night between 6 and 7 o’clock, and had just got under steam again when the captain called my attention to the large quantities of painted boards that were floating down, remarking that he supposed a collision had taken place between two of the boats. The Ariel was just ahead of us, and the Providence was expected down. We picked up a cabin window, a door, and a large quantity of boards, also a swag containing some clothing, a little money, and a pin. We. steamed on for about a couple of hours, and when we arrived at (Kinchega Station), were at once greeted with the shocking intelligence that the boiler of the Providence had burst and blown the vessel to pieces.

“Four of the hands on board were missing, while four others were saved — one, however, with a splintered leg and a gash in his arm, from which, the doctor is doubtful whether he will recover. This morning after breakfast we walked up to the scene of the disaster, about a mile from the station. The scene you must imagine, for I cannot describe. The banks were strewn with boards and debris of all kinds; while high up in the neighbouring trees were lodged pieces of timber, bedding and rugs, firewood, etc. A bag of flour was thrown over the tops of trees, and landed about 70 yards from the bank of the river, while a sledge hammer and several heavy pieces of casting were carried to an incredible distance. The wreck is lying in the middle of the river with her stern down stream. The appearance she presents is of being broken in two, the after part lying on top of the bow, one portion of the fore part being visible.”

Greg Barron 2020

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