Friday, November 3, 2017

The Story of John Best - Remaining Parts

The story of John Best has been an enjoyable genealogical journey for me.  I know I haven't posted any updates to John Best's story in a while. That's because I've converted his story into a book (hardcopy).

After Michael's execution, the remaining years of John's life will be described in my self-published book "The Road to Hollow Tree."  This book will expand on the detail already provided in my blog (The Story of John Best Parts 1 to 8), but it also covers the remainder of John's life and examines some of the other people in his life in a little more detail.

Preparing for publication caused me to review my research carefully.  I decided to quote my sources in my book, so the reader can independently check them if they wish.

I hope to release the book before the end of 2017.  It will be a very limited print run.  That's because I imagine only descendants of John Best (and perhaps descendants of his mates John Bell, Patrick Montgomery, George White and Bryan Bennett) might be interested in reading.

Go back to read The Story of John Best - Part 8 (opens in a separate tab)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Story of John Best - Part 8

In late 1829, Thomas Wells was finally released from the Debtors Gaol. However, all his assets, including the Allanvale estate in August, had been sold off to others. Wells relocated to Launceston, where he was offered work as an accountant. So ended the connection between Thomas Wells, John Best, George White and Bryan Bennett. It must be said that Thomas Wells’ selection of these Minerva men (and John Bell) as his assigned servants had been providential, as each man was afforded the opportunity to work, free of chains or gaol house, immediately upon their arrival in Van Diemen’s Land. Assignment to Wells allowed each man to improve his lot (e.g. via the ‘thirds rule’ of flock increase). I believe Wells was very supportive of the request by Best, White and Bennett for their families to be brought here from Ireland. Many ‘masters’ ill-treated their assigned servants and often received trouble in return. Not Thomas Wells. He was very fair to his servants. John Best, George White and Bryan Bennett were each able to establish themselves with a place for their respective families to live, long term, thanks to Thomas Wells.

However, in the summer of 1829-30, approaching the peak of the Black War, John and Mary Best were confronted by an event as significant to their family as John’s transportation was back in 1817. To give a flavour of Best family life at that time, the following events were recorded in newspaper of the time and happened in the weeks prior to the confronting event:

  • on 27 December 1829, about 50 natives appeared, passing the 20-acre paddock near Allanvale in the Macquarie District, proceeding northwards. "They were closely pursued by soldiers, who, however, could not come up with them before they found cover at the head of the valley, in a more heavily timbered spot, continuing to a scrub, which, by affording that concealment and protection the Natives delight in, temporarily baffled the pursuers."
  • on 1 January 1830, William Smith while in the employ of Mr Triffitt (jr.) was killed by natives near the River Ouse,
  • on about 2 January 1830, John Best’s eldest son, Michael, sheared some sheep for Mr Richard Garner, a free settler who had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land per 'Woodlark' on 8 July 1823 and had settled at Cockatoo Valley sometime shortly before 1828. Garner’s property was near Michael Best’s 100 acre block and also, of course, near the Best family at Hollow Tree, and
  • during the month of January 1830, Richard Garner slept over at the Best family’s hut on several occasions, as ‘natives were in the neighbourhood’. Mr Garner was on very friendly terms with the Best family.

On Wednesday, 20 January 1830, Michael Best left Hollow Tree to drive some sheep to Hobart Town market. Michael met Bryan Bennett on the way to Hobart and they travelled together. After completing their respective tasks in Hobart, they left together on the Friday night (22 January 1830) and headed to Bryan Bennett's house (Stonefield) on the Hamilton road, just west of New Norfolk. The trio arrived at New Norfolk at 11.00am. It was a very hot summer day and Bennett suffered in the heat, so they stopped for lunch and a drink. They left after lunch, then stopped at Mr Bastian’s Blue Anchor Inn on the Hamilton road (in present day Lawitta), where Michael had more alcohol. George White and John Hagan joined Michael and Bryan Bennett, possibly at the Blue Anchor Inn. The four men reached Bryan Bennett’s house between 3.00 pm and 4.00 pm on the Saturday. That evening, Michael drank some rum at Bennett's house. Michael went out with George White and John Hagen that evening. The men returned to Bennett's house later that night and went to bed about 10.00pm. It seems likely the trio went drinking and possibly conducted a deal to acquire some bottles and/or a keg of alcohol. On Sunday morning, Michael went from Bennett’s house to New Norfolk with John Hagen, where they drank a gill of brandy at the Blue Anchor Inn. They returned to Bennett’s house at about 10.00 or 11.00am. Michael was quite intoxicated and created a ruckus in the Bennett household, by talking loudly to himself and making a complete fool of himself. George White was asked to remove Michael from the house, which he did. Michael returned later, much subdued, ate dinner with a glass of rum, then departed at 8.00 or 9.00 pm that Sunday evening.

On Monday the 25th of January 1830, Michael made his way in a cart to George White’s hut at Shamrock Valley farm, arriving about dawn. He unloaded some things from the cart, possibly a keg of liquor, and asked George White’s assigned servant, James Weldon, to bring him some bottles. Possibly Michael decanted the keg of liquor into those bottles. A short time later, Weldon saw Michael running as fast as he could, with a handkerchief tied around his head, until Michael disappeared amongst the trees. 

Michael made his way, on foot, for 3 ½ kilometres in a north-eastward direction, until he reached the house of Richard Garner. Garner was alone in a hut located about 50 metres away from his house. At about 9.40 am, Michael entered the hut and, in a drunken rage, picked up a butcher’s knife lying on a table and used it to murder Richard Garner. This was a crime of real anger, as Michael stabbed Garner 3 times in the neck and 4 times just below the collar bone after an intense struggle. Garner's left hand also had defensive cuts on it. Michael subsequently violently punched Garner's assigned convict, Samuel Lee, on the chin when Lee arrived with some bullocks. Lee went and fetched Garner’s other assigned servant, William Smith, who was working elsewhere on the property. Both men returned and upon entering the hut, discovered their master, murdered. Lee and Smith went and fetched two sawyers (Langridge and Dilley) from nearby and attempted to capture Michael. Smith had a gun with him (probably protection in case of native attack) and threatened to use it, which ultimately proved enough to help subdue Michael. Constable Roadknight was then fetched from Hamilton by Mr Dilley and brought to the scene. Roadknight transported Michael by cart along Thousand Acre Lane to the Hamilton Watch House. During that ride, Roadhouse interrogated Michael. After a time, Michael first tried to pass blame onto Samuel Lee, but then seemed to resign himself to his guilt, perhaps as the effects of alcohol began to wear off.

Someone would have gone to the Best family home at Hollow Tree to relay the dreadful news. John and Mary Best must have found the news shocking, almost too incredible to believe. Richard Garner was a good friend of John and Mary Best. One, or both, would have travelled by bullock-drawn cart to the Hamilton Watch House as soon as possible. John probably had an opportunity to talk to Michael on the Tuesday (26th of January). John must have felt so helpless – trying to understand why his son had done what he did, Michael’s guilt becoming all too apparent to John. Michael probably claimed he had no idea what happened, that he must have somehow lost his mind. As any loving parent would, John left the Watch House and began to make arrangements to sell Michael’s sheep. The proceeds would help to cover the cost of mounting a legal defence. The sheep were sent away to a sale yard.

Michael was taken back to the murder scene on the following Wednesday (27th January), where a Coronial Inquest was conducted. Richard Garner still lay where he had been felled. The summer heat had contributed to rapid onset of decomposition. Dr Robert Officer was in attendance. After Dr Officer and the constables had finished their examination of the scene and questioned Michael about various aspects, the Coronial Inquest outcome was determined – Michael was to be committed to trial for the wilful murder of Richard Garner and transferred to Hobart Gaol. Richard Garner, aged 30, had no relatives in Van Diemen’s Land. His body was probably wrapped in cloth and removed by cart, probably to Hamilton, and burial occurred on Thursday 28th January. Immediately after the Inquest, William Roadknight, on behalf of the Crown, seized Michael’s property – his 100 acres of land at Cockatoo Valley and the 160 sheep that had been sent to the sale yard. John Best must have been dismayed to learn that Michael’s sheep had been seized, as there then seemed little hope of paying the costs of Michael’s defence. Joseph Tice Gellibrand was appointed to Michael’s defence and applied to the Chief Justice to compel the giving up of the sheep to cover various defence costs, such as calling in various witnesses. In support of this application, Gellibrand drafted an affidavit for John Best to sign that pleaded for the release of Michael’s sheep to defray court costs and mounted an argument that Michael was insane and unable to give the necessary directions for his defence. The Attorney-General, after consulting with the Solicitor-General, agreed to the application, on condition that Michael should go to trial immediately. Mr. Gellibrand agreed and thus Michael’s sheep funded his defence in Court.

In Hobart Gaol, Michael was constantly attended by Catholic Reverend Philip Conolly. Michael was held in one of the solitary cells which opened onto the gaol yard.

The trial was held on Monday 8th February 1830 in the Supreme Court of Van Diemen’s Land in Hobart. The trial took 15 hours, with numerous witnesses called, including Bryan and Mary Bennett. At 12.30 am on Tuesday morning, 9th February, Michael was found guilty and sentenced to death.

On Thursday 11 February 1830, the Hobart Gaol was readied for the execution. Michael ‘scarcely spoke a word when brought out into the Dress room where his arms were pinioned, keeping his eye as directed by the clergymen on the usual passages of the Catholic homily adapted to his case. He appeared sunk in apathy, and walked up the fatal ladder with a seeming insensibility of the awful step he was about to take into eternity.’ John Best's eldest son, Michael, was hanged on Thursday 11 February 1830 in Hobart Gaol.

Michael's execution - would have been much like this

The motive behind Michael’s terrible act of violence is unclear. After his apprehension, suspicion centred on Richard Garner having accidentally become aware of Michael being involved in some suspicious sheep transactions and subsequently threatening to expose Michael to the authorities. Michael had been drinking alcohol frequently over the week before the murder (probably longer). He may have been living in fear of how to deal with the problem of having to face a very serious criminal charge. Michael had undoubtedly been drinking heavily on the morning of the murder, given his strange behaviour at Richard Garner’s hut. He clearly searched Mr Garner’s house looking for something – perhaps he expected to find a letter or a receipt that would expose his supposed suspicious sheep transactions in Garner’s safe box, a damning document Garner was perhaps ready to hand to the authorities. By breaking into the safe box, yet not stealing anything, strongly suggests that Michael was guilty of some previous wrongdoing.

Go forward to read The Story of John Best - Remaining Parts  (opens in a separate tab)

Go back to read The Story of John Best - Part 7 (opens in a separate tab)

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Story of John Best - Part 7

During the 1820s, the Best family lived an antipodean version of their Irish agricultural life. Agricultural activities dominated their lives. By 1823, their livelihood revolved around sheep flocks and the sale of Thomas Wells’ meat and grain that they and others had produced for him. Sales occurred mainly at the Hobart Town Market. Under the ‘thirds’ rule, John had been able to develop his own flock of sheep. He may have found the time to grow his own wheat and barley at Hollow Tree and he had a garden of vegetables and fruit trees for family consumption. But to survive, John would almost certainly have had to obtain a lot of occasional work. 

The Hollow Tree district was gradually growing, as new settlers received land grants and brought with them their families and received assigned convicts as domestic servants or labourers. The resident Irish ticket of leave convicts maintained a social and commercial network, many developing bonds that remained strong well after their conditional pardons were issued. That network did not exclude English convicts. In fact, it seemed to be a network that evolved along certain commonalities such as a convict past, perhaps a shared transport ship but especially the poverty that afflicted those in and coming out of the convict system. That poverty provide the driver for mutual support. Irish, English, Welsh and Scottish convicts socialised freely, bartered goods and services, loaned goods on trust and so developed common bonds that were perhaps less likely in their homelands.

Sheep stealing was rampant in Van Diemen’s Land during the 1820s. Thomas Wells had his share of troubles in the early part of the decade. In February 1822, Robert Oldham stole 150 of Well’s sheep. Shepherds John Bell (
Minerva) and Bryan Carroll (Admiral Cockburn) came under scrutiny. It seems Bell was never under any suspicion. Carroll, on the other hand, was found guilty of gross neglect of duty by absconding, which created the opportunity for Oldham to steal the sheep. Carroll later received 50 lashes. Oldham was caught, tried, sentenced to death and subsequently hanged on the 14th of April 1823. Then on the night of 22 April 1823, Mr Wells had 200 sheep stolen (largely breeding ewes and 9 merinos specially imported). Thomas Keane and Thomas Butler were later charged and tried in July 1824. Keane was found guilty and a gang of sheep stealers exposed as a result of the investigations. Wells recovered some of his sheep but incurred search costs of about 500 pounds. Keane appears to have been hanged, the usual fate of sheep stealers at that time. As a shepherd, John Best had to be alert to ensure sheep under his oversight were at all times accounted for. 

But all through the 1820s, the Best family would have lived with the fear of attack by natives. The newspapers of the time reported incidents, clashes, attacks, many fatal, on the slowly increasing numbers of British people settling the New Country. The newspapers also reveal why the attacks by the natives became more frequent and violent. It became increasingly common during the 1820s for groups of natives to steal food and other provisions from the huts of settlers. These incidents were sometimes defused by diplomacy, but as the decade wore on, the Field Police and/or the Military Police would pursue the natives to drive them away from the locality. The natives, on being pushed into another district, found themselves again in need of food. Few of their traditional grounds remained available to freely find natural food sources. So they raided the settler’s huts, often stealing food, sometimes burning the huts. Settlers were sometimes killed. The Police would chase after them and kill any they could, but definitely drive them off. The survivors would start the same process again – need food – find settler’s huts – take food – kill settler if settler stands in the way – run from pursuers – start process over again in another valley. Displacement from their land and denial of access to traditional hunting and foraging grounds understandably fomented a deep hatred of the white people among the natives. And so the Black War played out. It was in this environment that the Best children grew up. 

As was common, the children became workers at an early age; the boys probably helped their father with agricultural pursuits and Ellen probably helped her mother with domestic and community activities.

In September 1827, Patrick Montgomery (Minerva) died at age 52, only five years after his wife (Ann) and his children had arrived from Ireland as part of the group that included Mary Best, Bridget White, Mary Bennett and their respective children.

During the late 1820s, Ellen Best met John Doran, 5 years her senior and also of Irish descent. Doran had a property he called ‘Sweetwater’, 5 miles on the Hobart side of New Norfolk. Towards the end of the 1820’s they probably became betrothed. Also, Michael,  John and Mary’s eldest son, became betrothed to one of Bryan and Mary Bennett's daughters, although it's unclear which daughter.  Possibly Bridget, as she was the eldest and only four years younger than Michael, but it could also have been Ann (six years younger than Michael).

During the 1820s, the Best’s received new neighbours. Firstly, Joseph Bradbury, his mother Sarah and his sister, also Sarah, separately acquired several blocks bordering John’s 55 acres. The Bradbury family had arrived in Hobart on 8 November 1822 per brig Minerva. It’s unclear when they settled at Hollow Tree, although an 1824 map engraving by Charles Thomson, based on a survey by Thomas Scott, Assistant Surveyor General, showed the name Bradbury at the location of Joseph’s 2,000 acre block at Hollow Tree. The Byrne family were also living adjacent to the Best property on a 60 acre block originally granted to James Holland. It’s unclear when the Byrne’s took up residence. James Byrne appears to have received his 60 acres as a grant (originally James Holland’s grant) and he purchased an additional 50 acres to enlarge his holding following a Crown Land sale held in July 1828. In 1829, Henry Boden Torlesse acquired a large block (2,560 acres) between the Best’s block and the McCarthy’s block, calling his land 'Rathmore', however he and his wife lived at nearby 'Montacute', managing that property for William Langdon until his arrival from England (in 1834). Torlesse probably placed an overseer to manage his stock on Rathmore property and only a stock keeper’s hut would have been built on it until Torlesse and family took up residence several years later.

By 1827, Michael Best, aged about 20 – had his own block of land, although he continued to live with his family at Hollow Tree. He must have had enough sheep by 1827 to buy the 100 acre block in Cockatoo Valley. The land, however, was incredibly stony with a skeletal soil not suitable to much more than light grazing by sheep. Michael built a hut at Cockatoo Valley Creek.

Go forward to read The Story of John Best - Part 8 (opens in a separate tab)

Go back to read The Story of John Best - Part 6 (opens in a separate tab)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

98 Years Later

In October 1917, my grandfather - Bert Rowland - was mustard gassed at Ypres in Belgium.  He was evacuated to England where he recuperated at the County Middlesex War Hospital at Napsbury (in St Albans, Hertfordshire) and subsequently at the 3rd Auxilliary War Hospital at Dartford, in Middlesex. By December 1917, he had sufficiently recovered to be discharged and was afforded some furlough before a return to the Western Front.

While on furlough, Bert travelled to Dalton-in-Furness, in Westmorland (now Cumbria), England, the birthplace of his girlfriend Meg (later to become his wife).  Meg had left Dalton-in-Furness at age 3, when her family migrated to Tasmania.

In Dalton, Bert stayed with Meg's aunt (Hannah Crellin nee Hornby) and uncle, Thomas Henry Crellin. Bert enjoyed his stay in Dalton enormously, being well looked after by Meg's aunt, uncle and nephews. He wrote to Meg how he had one of the best times he had ever had. He wrote this on the back of a postcard dated 30 December 1917.  On the front of the post card was a photo of Tudor Square in the heart of Dalton-in-Furness.

In May 2015, I managed to visit Dalton-in-Furness for the first time.  My visit was 99 years, more or less, after my grandfather made his one and only visit.

Below is the front photo of my grandfather's postcard.  And below that is my photo of the same spot 99 years later.

Tudor Square, Dalton-in-Furness - 1917
Tudor Square, Dalton-in-Furness - 17 May 2015

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Song of the Day

Time for a musical interlude.  Do you remember this one?

Classic Paul Kelly.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Story of John Best – Part 6

[updated 2 June 2016]

28th of March 1822 – families were reunited on the Hobart shore!

The Best, White, Bennett and Montgomery families. 22 individuals in all. Children of Ireland. Van Diemonians now. George White was recovered but carrying scars on his back, remnants of 50 lashes meted out for stealing 2 sheep 7 months earlier. But they would have been a happy band as they exchanged farewells with the Montgomery family. Patrick Montgomery had been assigned to Mr Peters on his arrival in 1818, Peters lived close to Hobart and so Patrick's family stayed in the town. But for the others came the loading of the new arrivals’ small belongings onto the bullock-drawn carts. And then the long haul out of town by the dirt track. Much news would have been exchanged on the long, slow journey to Mr Wells’ farm at Newtown. Perhaps a first night stopover there. Then on to New Norfolk, where the Bennett family moved off towards Brighton. The White and Best families kept travelling further west, to the vicinity of Allenvale, where the White family bade farewell. And then north-west to Hollow Tree for the Best family.

At Hollow Tree, a family may have awaited the Bests arrival: Patrick and Mary McCarthy and their children John (age 4), James (age 3) and Mary (age 1). With the arrival of John’s family, Hollow Tree could boast at least two families of Irish origin. The McCarthy’s had settled near Hollow Tree some time shortly before John had arrived as Mr Wells’ shepherd. Patrick had received a 50 acre grant of land near Hollow Tree.  The McCarthy's had spent a number of years at New Norfolk after Patrick received his conditional pardon, but apparently relocated to Hollow Tree around 1820.

John Best would probably have welcomed his family into a bush style hut common at the time. Perhaps built with help from Patrick McCarthy, it would have been constructed of logs and perhaps roofed with turf. Perhaps surrounded by a fire wood pile, a fenced vegetable garden and the signs of a shepherd’s work, such as old wool shearings and a dog or two. What did the family make of this, I wonder? And the sheer distance from other settlements? I suspect Mary Best was more than a little anxious about their future in such a remote spot.

The natives had not caused any trouble to the few settlers of the district and there was an abundance of high-protein food. By 1820, mutton had become the dominant meat for British people in VDL, by virtue of its abundance. As James Boyce explains in Van Diemen’s Land ‘Virtually unlimited mutton became a right of workers, convict and free, in the grassy woodlands until well into the 1830s.’ In 1822, there was generally little fencing of grazing lands except for stock holding yards, so the land was available for herding as well as game hunting. So activities in 1822 at Hollow Tree for the Best family would have concentrated around establishing the basis for their subsistence. 

Over the next year, a ‘mini-rush’ of new arrivals occurred. On the 6th of August 1822, James Byrne (an Irish convict who had escaped from Port Jackson, only to be discovered and detained in Hobart) and Eleanor Simpkin (an English convict) were married at St David's Church, Hobart, by the Rev R. Knopwood. Mr and Mrs Byrne and their four-year old illegitimate son (James) settled at Hollow Tree next door to the Best family.  I don’t exactly know when that occurred, but they were there during the 1820s. They are even shown on an early land map as living on land at Hollow Tree without authority(as ‘Burn’ not ‘Byrne’)! I suspect the Byrnes had been given poor land survey information and settled slightly away from the block they were entitled to occupy.

Andrew Downie (a free settler from Scotland) arrived in Hobart per the Skelton. He immediately took up the job of Head Shepherd for Thomas Wells at Allenvale and presumably became John Best’s boss! John Bell apparently also remained as a head shepherd, as Bell himself later wrote that he was head shepherd from 1819 to 1824.  And in January 1823, John Sherwin and his family (English free settlers) arrived in Hobart and took up a grant of land on the River Clyde (Sherwood) near present day Bothwell. Nearby, John Riseley and his wife (English settlers) had settled on land just westward of present-day Hamilton (Kimbolton Park) during 1821.

On the 27th of January 1823, John Best purchased, from Thomas Wells, the 55 acre block at Hollow Tree on which he and his family had been living. This is quite remarkable, as convicts were supposedly not able to purchase land in their own right until they had received their conditional pardon. John had not received his pardon, yet he was able to pay 40 wether lambs to Mr Wells to buy the 55 acres (approximately). To me, this shows the intent by Wells (probably influenced by similar approach of Lt Governor Sorrell) to rehabilitate worthy convicts. I also think that John Best had rapidly become simply a working man rather than a convict in the eyes of his new community. In any event, on 27 January 1823, Andrew Downie, on behalf of Thomas Wells, issued John a receipt documenting the exchange of the land at Hollow Tree for 40 lambs.

The 1823 muster shows that Thomas Wells now had 28 assigned men in his service, including Best, White and now also Bryan Bennett. By June 1823, Mary Best and the children had been in Van Diemen’s Land for a year. When not working as a shepherd, John busied himself with improving his 55 acre block. He added brush fencing around one paddock, put in a ditch to improve drainage toward the Dew Rivulet and he built a stone house. We know this because John Sherwin later (1842) mentioned this when providing John with a written deposition necessary when John had to renew his land claim. Interestingly, there are no signs of buildings on the block of land today except for a pile of stones that may be the remains of the Best home. And this pile of stones lies exactly where the early maps suggest the home may have stood.

John Best's block (still reflecting John Barnes' name, even though Barnes sold it to Wells shortly after receiving it as a grant). James Holland's block is the one James and Ellen Byrne acquired during the 1820s. 

By December 1823, Thomas Wells was in deep financial trouble. Creditors appointed trustees to receive claims against his' estate and Thomas Wells was placed into debtors’ gaol (i.e. he was put in Hobart Gaol for going bankrupt). Despite this, Best, Bennett, White and the other assigned men continued their work under the general guidance of Andrew Downie, Thomas Wells (from his prison cell) and perhaps Mrs Wells. Joint efforts began to help Wells trade his way back to freedom.  However, the men and their families were probably forced to become more self-reliant. John Best had his ticket of leave, so he was probably viewed more like a freelance worker than a convict. John was able to take on work from others, subject to Mr Wells’ permission – I suspect a ‘global approval’ from Mr Wells to take on additional work may have informally applied for some time already.

In late 1823 or early 1824, John’s neighbours – Patrick and Mary McCarthy – had a child; a girl they called Eleanor (or mostly just Ellen). They travelled to the Roman Catholic Church in Hobart town for a baptism ceremony on 23 March 1824, where John Best is recorded as being Ellen’s ‘sponsoribus’ (godparent). Tragically, later in 1824, Patrick McCarthy was speared by a native when he, Mary and their infant child were returning home through the bush near Hollow Tree. Mary escaped with baby Ellen in her arms. And so began the troubled times now referred to as the Black War.

Go forward to read The Story of John Best - Part 7

Go back to read The Story of John Best - Part 5.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Elwood High School - Looking Back

Hi all

Irene Jablonka has a web site dedicated to capturing/recording stories of ex-students from their days at Melbourne's Elwood High School.

It's a great idea ... if you attended EHS, you can contribute your recollections, large or small.  It could gradually become a library of memories for other ex-students .. and ex-teachers ... !

But it needs contributions. Here is the hyperlink:

You can search for the site by keywords Looking Back at Elwood High School Days on Google.
You may also be interested in Looking Back at Elwood Central Days (again, search in Google to navigate to this web page).

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Story of John Best - Part 5

John Best’s first 18 months in Van Diemen’s Land must have been a huge change from his life in Ireland. He was serving a sentence for a crime, but not in a jail as he’d experienced in Trim or Dublin. Here, his jail was this new land, this island, with few British souls and natives that knew how to disappear, almost melt, into the bush. John had work. Lots of it. He had a master, or employer, in Mr Thomas Wells, who was obligated to provide basics for his assigned convicts. John had a reliable supply of food from Mr Wells - tea and sugar in abundance - and meat was available in the way of wild game - kangaroo, wallaby, ducks. And John was entitled to ownership of a third of the natural increase in Mr Wells' flock size under ‘the thirds’ rule. Only recently a desperately poor peasant stockman in County Westmeath, he was now earning a living, with the bonus of accumulating stock  to create his own herd. The historian, James Boyce, gives us an idea of how John and fellow convict stockkeepers must have lived during these times:
“The custodian (convict stockkeeper) took the animals to the leased or granted land or, more commonly, to unallocated grasslands, where he watched over the animals, doing the necessary deals to minimise losses from bushrangers and Aborigines while making extra money for flour, tea, sugar, tobacco and rum by selling kangaroo skins.” 
But they must have also been crushingly lonely times for John Best, tending and continually counting Mr Wells’ flock of sheep in the grasslands around the Little Dew Rivulet and the Upper Derwent River. John would have known it was possible to apply for his wife and family to immigrate to Van Diemen’s Land. Convicts, who had been in the colony for a period and who did not commit further offences were eligible to apply to have their families brought out at the expense of the Crown. Applications had to show that convicts would be able to support their families upon their arrival and not incur any further expense to the Government. In general, families were not permitted to reunite in Australia unless the convict applying had a Ticket of Leave which allowed convicts to work for themselves, to provide a means of supporting their families.
In Ireland, Mary Best would have been eking out a very tough existence. Wives in her circumstances were often supported to some extent by their church parish. It’s unclear whether John submitted an application for his family to join him or whether Mary applied to the authorities for her and the four children to join John. Either way, the application must have been submitted sometime around mid to late-1820, based on the travel times for mail to and from Hobart (about 6 months one-way). The application was successful. The White family (George White), the Bennett family (Brian Bennett) and the Montgomery family (Patrick Montgomery) were also successful with applications to reunite in Van Diemen’s Land. The husbands were all Minerva men. There must – surely – have been exchanges of correspondence between the men in VDL and their wives in Ireland. The convicts must have been able to assure their wives (the parishes and the authorities as well) they had sufficient means to support them. The applications appear to have been submitted jointly, suggesting either a connection at the parish level in Ireland or a networking among the Minerva convicts in VDL.
On about the 10th of July 1821, Mary Best and Bridget White, with their children, departed Kinnegad for Dublin. They may have met with Mary Bennett and Ann Montgomery and their respective children in Dublin. The women and children boarded the Brig Park in Dublin, a brig that carried 80 convict women and some children. The Brig Park arrived at Cork on 13 July 1821, where the convict transport John Bull was waiting at the docks. None of the convict women or children were permitted to transfer from the Brig Park to the John Bull until all their clothes were washed. Then berths were allocated to the convict women following a recommendation to good behaviour. Transfer of the convict women to the John Bull occurred on 14 July 1821. Blankets and pillows were distributed before the convict women were locked up for the night. Transfer of the 22 free women and children to the John Bull took place on 16 July 1821. This included our group of 18 free immigrants:
  • Mary Best and her children: Michael, Eleanor, Thomas and Joseph;
  • Bridget White and her children: Catherine, Dennis and Eleanor;
  • Mary Bennett and her children: Bridget, Ann, Rose and Bartholomew; and
  • Ann Montgomery and her children: William, Patrick and Archibald.
The John Bull sailed out of Cork on 25 July 1821, stopping briefly at St Iago (Cape Verde Islands off west Africa) before eventually arriving at Port Jackson on 18 December 1821. During the voyage, Joseph Best had spent several weeks in ship’s hospital suffering an unknown ailment. He recovered. Patrick Montgomery had fallen overboard in rough weather off the NSW south coast. He was safely recovered! After the John Bull had moored at Sydney Cove, our group of immigrants was transferred by boat to Parramatta, “... a water passage of about 20 miles ...” where they were accommodated at the 'public expense', probably at the newly completed Parramatta Female Factory.
Parramatta Female Factory, circa 1826
They spent summer and early autumn of 1822 in Parramatta. What a complete change that environment would have been for them! Hot! They were forced to wait in Parramatta until a ship could take them to Hobart. Finally, they were given passage to Hobart aboard the Royal George, which was authorized to be rationed appropriately to cater for the needs of the 18 immigrants.
 The Royal George left Sydney 19 March 1822 and arrived in Hobart Town on 28 March 1822. Here, at last, John and his family were reunited.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Story of John Best - Part 4

John Best’s first night on land for half a year must have been a bit strange for him. If you’ve ever spent weeks aboard a ship on the open ocean, you’ll know that your first night’s sleep on land is odd, because you compensate for wave motion even though there is no motion. You know why there's no wave motion, but your senses just expect there to be - it seems weird!

When dawn broke on that cold June morning in 1818, John and his fellow convicts would have been introduced to the farm workings immediately. They would have been told that every Sunday was muster, a day they had to clean up for – if they were not presentable, severe punishment could be meted out by the authorities. Muster often coincided with attending church. John and his fellow convicts were all Catholics and the only Catholic church at that time was in Hobart town. Initially, muster was likely to have been in the tiny village of Newtown. On occasions, the convicts may have been allowed to attend their church in Hobart.

On the 4th of August 1818, Lesley Ferguson was absent from muster. For this misdemeanour, he was given one week on the government gang. In essence, he was sentenced to a week of physical labour in the government’s service. Perhaps constructing a road, or clearing rubbish in Hobart Town. Ferguson apparently got his back up at being treated in such manner. A short while after his release from the government gang, he was caught entering into the parlour of a Captain Barclay with felonious intent (i.e. break and enter). He was sentenced to receive 50 lashes and labour in irons for 1 month. Thomas Wells must surely have returned Ferguson to the government, wishing nothing further to do with him. Ferguson’s convict record shows that he continued a life of misbehaviour and crime until his record stops at 1829. He was still a young man, so perhaps he died.

For the rest of 1818, John Best and his fellow convicts (John Bell and George White) helped operate the Newtown farm for Messrs Wells and Brodribb. The farm grew grain and carried dairy cattle. Perhaps John was involved in sowing wheat on the farm.

In October 1818, the local newspaper reported “On Friendly Farms in this neighbourhood, ninety springs or stalks were counted and ascertained to proceed from one grain of wheat; and will doubtless produce ninety full ears. The ground in question was sown with five pecks of seed to the acre, and has a most abundant promise.” The same month, Wells and Brodribb took out a public notice in the paper warning people to cease moving stock through, or allowing their stock to stray on, Friendly Farms land. The notice advised that the new main road recently constructed (largely by convicts off the Lady Castlereagh and the Minerva) was to be used. The several older tracks on Friendly Farms would be obstructed by felling timber over them. No doubt John and company were put to work on this task!

On the 7th of January 1819, all male convicts in the Hobart area were issued with new clothing (slops), consisting of ... “One Duck or Linen Frock, One Linen Shirt, One Pair of Duck Trowsers, and One Pair of Shoes.” Six months between changes of clothes was pretty good at that time for Van Diemen’s Land – many of the earlier convicts, settlers and even military men had resorted to making their own garments from kangaroo furs!

Also, in 1819, Thomas Wells acquired more land. He was granted a large estate upstream from New Norfolk, about 3.5 km north of present day Gretna. Wells called this property ‘Allenvale’.  I suspect Wells then despatched John Best, John Bell and George White at different times, or in pairs, to move his growing flock of sheep from Friendly Farms to Allenvale and surrounds. This would have been scary work for the shepherds, as the country at the back of New Norfolk had been the hiding place of various convicts turned rogue, known then as ‘banditti’. Wells would have provided the men with a gun and instructions to build themselves a hut, or huts, so they could stay on the Allenvale land and oversee the flock. 

I believe that a hut was built at Hollow Tree, about 12 km north of Allenvale, in which John Best was based. I believe this because, later, Thomas Wells purchased a 55 acre block of land from a Mr John Barnes at Hollow Tree - title to that block later passed from Wells to .... John Best (see below).

A notice in the press published many years later (1841) shows that John Best acquired a block of land from his 'master' Thomas Wells.
Another hut may have built west of, but closer to, Allen Vale, in which George White was based. And perhaps John Bell was based in another hut – possibly north-east of Allen Vale. The men used these huts as a base/shelter while overseeing the flocks. This was only a temporary arrangement – at first.
In mid-September 1819, Thomas Wells sought another convict to help work his farms.  He was allocated Bryant (or Brian) Carroll, who had arrived in Hobart on the Admiral Cockburn on 16 September 1819. This would certainly have allowed Wells to send shepherds to the Allenvale district in pairs.

The 1819 annual muster recorded that John Best had ‘no offences’ during 1818 or 1819. John was a convict who kept out of trouble.

Flocks of sheep had arrived to graze on the grassed valleys of Allenvale and environs. The indigenous people were faced with a new competitor using their resources. For generations, the Big River (Lairmairrener) people had periodically burnt the valleys to promote grass growth and eliminate trees. As a result, the valley grasslands would feed greater numbers of kangaroos, wallabies and bird life. The valleys were literally larders! Another way of looking at is - the valleys were indigenous farms, it’s just that they didn’t look, nor work, like a British farm. The first white men to arrive in the area had been the transient banditti. With them came a reign of terror and abuse.  But some British residents of the grassy woodlands, like Edward White who lived near the Great Western Tiers for three years, were not armed. Settlers taking up land grants after 1818 also recorded peaceful exchanges in their journals and letters. James Boyce describes this period immediately before 1820 as a time when, despite sporadic violence, "... access to Aboriginal hunting grounds had been achieved without outright conquest.  This was a period of uneasy co-existence ...".

But it was inevitable that the Big River people would come into conflict with the shepherds, stock men and landowners. In December of 1819, James Triffitt (senior) lost 300 of his flock of 1,000 sheep; the 300 had been beaten to death at the hands of the Big River people on west bank of Clyde River (Mr Triffitt was residing in New Norfolk at the time and the sheep were possibly left untended by their shepherds).

Go forward to read The Story of John Best - Part 5

Go back to read The Story of John Best - Part 3

Monday, April 15, 2013

St Kilda Comes to Canberra

13 April 2013 saw St Kilda Football Club play a game in Canberra for premiership points.  They played against the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Manuka (recently re-named Star Track Oval for sponsorship purposes).

The game was a day-night match - played under lights. A beautiful autumn evening, with no breeze and a temperature of around 24 degrees C.

The game began with the daylight fading and the lights already on.

Ball up to start proceedings
Clint Jones and Toby Greene stare each down at the start of the game.
St Kilda kicked an early goal through Stevie Milne to set a trend for the rest of the game. It was quickly followed by another goal to Nick Riewoldt. The Saints had 5 goals 4 behinds on the scoreboard at quarter time - the Giants did not score at all.

The Giants collected their first goal early in the second quarter, then another.  I thought then that we were going to have a game on our hands.  But the Saints were dominant.  They beat their opponents to the ball and moved it around the ground more thoughtfully.  By half-time, the scoreline was Saints 10.8 to the Giants 5.1.

Half-time scores
The crowd mood was somewhat quiet - seems more were Giants supporters than St Kilda fans. But there were many St Kilda fans.

The scene at half-time.
St Kilda went on to kick 5 more goals in the third quarter and a further six goals in the final quarter.

The final scores.
Some of the Saints players who kicked goals were:

David Armitage - 4 goals (man of the match award)

Stephen Milne - 3 goals

Ahmed Saad - 3 goals
Nick Riewoldt - 3 goals
Beau Maister - 2 goals

Sam Gilbert - 1 goal
After the siren:
Handshakes all round.  Good to see the sportsmanship.

Nathan Wright sees the impact of the Giant's big loss on Toby Greene's face.

As the players left the field to recover, the crowd emptied out of Star Track Stadium.  Many headed to Manuka for a meal or a drink. The evening remained balmy.  A good night for all (except the Giants and their fans, but hey, tough luck guys!).  The Saints finally started their winning form.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Last Day of Summer

While watching a US television soap/drama (Revenge) the other night, I heard a character say something like "... you'll be gone by the end of summer".

The setting for the show is, I think, the Hamptons, or somewhere on the US north-east coast where the uber-wealthy people spend their holiday time.

I was left wondering - what did the character mean by "the end of summer"?  Summer in the US officially ends on 31 August.  But I was left with the impression that the character was referring to perhaps the end of the holiday season.  I was a touch confused.  I put it down to the (small) cultural divide between Americans and Australians.

But here in Canberra, there is absolutely no doubt about when the end of summer is.  We almost celebrate it with dancing in the cul-de-sacs.  Almost. It's today - the last day of February.  From now on, the sting of the searing sun will steadily weaken.  The stinking hot days and sleep depriving hot nights are all but over.  Of course, Mother Nature may yet taunt us with one or two more 30C degree plus days.  I remember a March day in the mid-eighties where it reached 38C.  But Canberrans rejoice on this day, because tomorrow the best season of the year begins - autumn. 

Today is also a day of note, because it's my youngest son's birthday.  Happy birthday Adam!

A summer sight that we hopefully won't see for a long time to come.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Statues - London and Canberra

While on a visit to Floriade last spring, I snapped this statue.


This is the first public statue in Canberra that I can think of (other than a war memorial type statue) that’s appealing for its realism. I really like this statue. But a question kept cropping up in my mind ... ‘who is it meant to be?’ Now, I’m NOT that ignorant that I didn't immediately recognise old Ming, but if you were an international visitor to Canberra, would you know who it was?

This is how London displays their statues (see below). They use pedestals to tell you who the statue represents, and sometimes even a bit about them.  The ACT Government could learn a thing or two from London.

Don't get me wrong - I really like the Ming statue and hope one day that Tuggeranong will be adorned with something of similar style and quality - perhaps a statue of the ACT's own Chris Peters (complete with marble pedestal)?


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