Discovery and Early Pastoral Settlement of New England (part 3)
Discovery and Early Pastoral Settlement of New England.
PIONEERS OF UPPER HUNTER PLAY LEADING PART.
BLACKS AND BUSHRANGERS TROUBLESOME.
THE OLD NEW ENGLAND-PORT MACQUARIE ROAD.
(From a paper, written by Mr. J. F. Campbell, L.S., and read before a recent meeting of members of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Sydney).
Thus the Port Macquarie correspondent of the “Sydney Herald,” of April 10, 1841: “We have great satisfaction in being able to announce the capture of the seven bushrangers who absconded from the New England road party on the 5th inst. They were taken at New England within a short distance of the station occupied by Todd and Fenwick, and it would seem only just in time to prevent them adding the crime of plunder and perhaps murder to their former offence. They had proceeded thus far without committing any mischief, and were lying in ambush awaiting the departure of Todd and Fenwick’s shepherds from the station, when it was their intention to seize and bind these two gentlemen and possess themselves of what firearms they could find, and such provisions as they stood in need of. Happily, however, a native black who went forward a short distance in advance of the constables, discovered them, and giving a private and pre-concerted signal afforded the constables an opportunity of taking the proper measures for securing, them, and in a very short space of time they were handcuffed and on their way to Port Macquarie.”
As for Wilson and his gang, these highway robbers in the early forties added considerably to the inconvenience of travelling and of rural life in the districts where they operated. From time to time solitary travellers passing between the Hunter Valley and New England were waylaid by Wilson and submitted to rough handling if unwilling to “stand and deliver.” Becoming hard pressed by the police on the Liverpool Plains, these bushrangers sought refuge on the tableland, where they usually roamed, until their capture in 1846. Wilson and his lieutenant, “Long Tom,” were executed at Newcastle. A few days after the execution, according to Sir William Barton, the judge in the case, a free pardon and £300 had been received in the colony for Wilson, and he also stated that Wilson was the son of a baronet, well-known in London society.
The bellicose attitude of the aborigines on the tableland, as elsewhere, began when their localities became overrun by the stock of the squatters. The blacks naturally resented, the intrusion of the whites with their flocks and herds, and both parties soon commenced a war of extermination. Fearing the firearms of the intruders, the natives devoted their attention to the slaughter of the stock, and, when opportunity presented, of the shepherds and herdsmen as well. In retaliation, the conquering whites, while making application to the Government for assistance, which they scarcely expected, ensured the granting of such relief in other ways. The following are excerpts from the “Sydney Herald,” between 1836 and 1842:–
“We hear that numerous, outrages have been commenced by the aborigines in the newly discovered country north-east of Liverpool Plains.” . . .
“Two men belonging to John and Francis Allman were murdered at Yarrowitch, and their sheep taken away.” . . .
“We have been informed that the blacks of New England drove off 1400 sheep, the property of Mr Windeyer, but they were all recovered with the exception of 50 or 60, which the savages had slaughtered.” . . .
“Poor Kelso has lost 600 or 700 sheep again by those infernal blacks who have nearly ruined him.” . . .
“The blacks to the number of 500, have been about Peter McIntyre’s Byron Plains station for the last five weeks. Last week they commenced driving off the cattle, 400 head of which are missing. They also attacked a shepherd, who saved his life by killing one at the first shot, after being wounded in the head by a spear.” . . .
“Letters have been received in town stating that the blacks had attacked the station of Robert Ramsay Mackenzie (Salisbury), murdered a shepherd, driven off 1300 sheep, and burned down two huts. The district is without police, Mr. Commissioner Macdonald and his party having been ordered by the Governor to proceed to Moreton Bay.”
Prior to railway communication, the principal line of traffic to and from the tableland followed the route of the G.N. Road, via Tamworth, but the 250 miles of partly formed roadway to the shipping ports about Newcastle consumed so much time in the transit of wool goods, etc., that efforts were made to reach the coast by a nearer route. In the meantime the settlers at Port Macquarie, being aware of the importance of the New England trade, if diverted to their port, began to make, strenuous efforts to render Oxley’s route from the tableland trafficable for wool teams. This historic road was brought under public notice in 1838, when it was announced in the Sydney Press that a movement was being made at Port Macquarie to get the road to New England made trafficable. The following interesting references to the old Port Macquarie New England road found place in the “Sydney Herald” from 1840 to 1842:–
“By a letter received from Port Macquarie, we learn that the new road to New England is now open for horsemen, and travellers can proceed from the town of Port Macquarie to the station of R. R. Mackenzie.” . . .
“Several gentlemen connected with New England (Messrs. Kelso, Turner, McLean, and Steele) have lately visited Port Macquarie by the new line of road in order to judge of the practicability of land carriage for the present year’s clip to this port of shipment, but at present this desirable object cannot be effected. Major Innes, for his station at Yarrows, purposes to bring down the present year’s clip by means of a sledge.” . .
“Mr Gray, P.M., of Port Macquarie recommended the line of road laid out by Surveyor Rolfe. Forty men are now at work, and thirty convicts are to be sent by the order of the Governor.” . . .
“The new road is in such a rapid state of forwardness that several teams of wool belonging to Major Innes have already travelled the road.”
Tho following interesting proclamation, touching the same road, appeared in the “Government Gazette” of September 9, 1842:—
“To the New England settlers and all concerned. — Notice is hereby given that the road to New England from Port Macquarie, made by the settlers of these districts is now open and ready for drays conveying wool or other produce or supplies to and from Port Macquarie.
(Signed) William Gray, Police Magistrate.”
Next year — on the 10th February to be precise – “Sydney Herald” made the following announcement:
“Twelve drays laden with wool came down the New England line the other day, and it is said there are no less than twenty four more on the road. Forty-five men are still at work on the road. The drays were only ten days on the road which must have been a saving of nearly three weeks, as drays are commonly a month on the road from New England to Maitland.”
About this time, the slump in the value of wool and depreciation of stock generally began to paralyse the pastoral industry, and the anticipated volume of trade with the Port becoming unrealisable, the interest hitherto taken in the formation of the road practically ceased for a time.
The next route of primal importance to pastoral settlement in the early days, of which we have definite knowledge, was the “Peel line.” This route, which led indirectly to the tableland, was established by survey in 1832 by the Australian Agricultural Company as a means of communication between their coast and inland grants, to which reference has already been made. This line of road was surveyed by way of Hungry Hill spur and Nowendoc, northerly to the junction of the main Range, with the easterly trend of the Hawes-Vernon country boundary. From this junction routes were measured either way along the main range, the Peel line running south-westerly, via the Callaghan Swamps and the Nundle spur to the Peel River, and the route northerly following the range towards Walcha, evidently connecting Oxley’s trail. Along the Peel line was conveyed the requirements of the inland grants, and in return the produce of those grants for shipment at Port Stephens. The mode of conveyance at the commencement of operations was usually by packsaddle, but as the road-forming progressed vehicular traffic became more general. Regarding this road, the company’s report of February 2, 1836, states that the distance from the nearest point of the Port Stephens location to Liverpool Plains is about eighty miles, and the country intervening offers, facilities for the formation of a road, which is now in progress.” The Peel line between Callaghan Swamps and the Port Stephens road on the east, also the branch road northerly along the main range, have long been abandoned, and are now scarcely distinguishable; but the Nundle spur and its northerly trend by way of Ingleba, are still in use although largely suspended by the railway.
About the time when the Peel line was receiving its final survey adjustments by Surveyor H. Dangar (1832), E. G. Cory was engaged in exploratory work along the Great Northern route between the Australian Agricultural Company’s Peel River grant and the Armidale region, but he apparently left no diary records of his movements.
(To be continued).