Early Settlement of Gundagai and Tumut No. 4. The Pioneers

19 February 1924 The Gundagai Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser

By George Clout

" They cleared the way these heroes 

For the march of future years, 

That march was civilisation   

And they were its pioneers." 


A weird story is told of a peculiar individual who was a denizen of our mountain country at an early period. He was known as 'Cast Anchor Jack.'

Who he was appeared to be a mystery.

Those who had the opportunity of speaking to him, and they were very few, he would say I came from such and such a place, and when I got here I cast anchor, meaning of course that he had camped.

It was this expression that gave him his name.

When he struck a favored spot he would make a kind of a home there, and sow seeds of vegetables, etc. 

He was evidently a seafaring man from the expression he made use of. 

His appearance as described to the present writer, by one who had seen him, viz. Mr. Robert McAlister, was the reverse of attractive.

His hair bung over his shoulders in great rolls.

It was never cut nor never combed, but was all matted together in such a way as to give him a hideous appearance.

What become of him never was known.

It is more than likely that his bones are bleaching in some of the deep ravines of our mountain country. 

I may here be permitted to refer to another case of a peculiar individual in the Hill country who disappeared from view, but at a more recent date.

I allude to an individual called 'George the poet.'

He was a man whom one could see at a glance had been well brought up and educated, and who had a habit of interspersing his conversation with impromptu poetry in a most peculiar way.

He lived at or near Tomorroma and on one occasion on making across the bush from one point to another he disappeared from view arid was never again heard of. What became of him has ever remained a mystery. 

To return again to the question of settlement. In Dr. Lang's history of Australia we are told that at this period cattle of good breed could be purchased at 20/- and 30/ per head, sheep at 15/-, and horses at from 10 to 30.

It was, there-for, not a difficult matter to stock a fairly large tract of land with a moderate amount of capital - a few years later stock were double the price.

It was the practice when they got over-stocked to send a portion of their flocks and herds under the charge of an overseer and stock man further afield, where a lease of as much land as they required could be obtained from the Government at a nominal rental.

Everything seemed to be in their favor.

Fine, open country, could be found splendidly grassed.

No expense for clearing.

To Mr. George Ibbotson, of Tumut, the present writer is deeply indebted for much information relating to that far back period.

He came to the district an infant and is now a nonagenarian.

During the whole of his long life he has been a live wire among the people of Tumut.

His father was in the employ of Mr. George Shelley, and it is under stood that he was the first to employ himself in garden work growing potatoes, etc.

They lived in the neighbourhood of what used to be known as Shelley's garden on the Little River. George Ibbotson had an acquaintance with all the early employees of Mr. Shelley, and he relates how one of them, Joe Thomson, was drowned in the Tumut river, not far from the junction, and was buried on the bank of the Little River not far from the garden above referred to. 

There was also buried there an assigned servant of Mr. Shelley who had then recently died. 

Another of his acquaintances was a Londoner named Kerry, who was a perfect expert with a gun, as evidenced by the havoc he made amongst the wild turkeys and ducks which were in such profusion in that locality at that early period.

George Ibbotson also, in company with Mr. Thomas Percival, or as he was more familiarly known Bango Tom, erected a stock yard for Shelley on Tumut Plains.

Percival was very widely known in this district at a later period, and his descendants are legion.

The late Mr. T. McAlister, to whom reference has previously been made, was also in the employ of Mr. Shelley after leaving Darbalara, and while in that employ had a pretty close call from the blacks on the Gilmore Creek, who at that time were both numerous and savage.

McAlister for a time occupied a tenement at the junction of the Gilmore and Wilson's Creeks, and it was while living there that the occurrence took place.

He and Tom Boyd, of the Hume expedition fame, were in the bush together, probably rounding up cattle, and were for a time having a rest, when their dogs gave a sudden alarm and they made the discovery that the black friends were upon them.

They knew that their lives were at stake, and in their sudden rush for safety one of their horses broke away, but they had no time to remedy it, there was nothing for it but run, and under forest they contrived to elude their pursuers until they reached a point of safety.

They attributed their fortunate escape entirely to the vigilance of their dogs. McAlister afterwards lived at or near the old gardens on the Little River.

It was then that he secured the Wereboldera run from Guise Bros.

This little run was situated on the western bank of the river from Jones' bridge downwards, and there he lived for many years and eventually died there.

One of his sons, Mr. Robert McAlister, who is now up wards of 80 years of age, is still with us.

The highway from Sydney to Tumut in the early period of settlement came through Darbalara, and the original crossing place of the Murrumbidgee was at Sandy Falls.

Sixty years ago traces of the old roads were still in existence to the present writer's knowledge.

The cuttings through the spurs of the ridges abutting on to the river were numerous, especially near where the Brungle bridge now stands.

Tradition tells us that this work was carried out under the old chain gang system, which was one of the dark blots of our early history.

Be this as it may, Darbalara was a station of some note at that time even, as it was a centre from which the surrounding country east, west and south was explored and occupied.

In proof of this Dr. Lang may be quoted:-

"I travelled   from Port Philip to Sydney in 1845, and stopped for a few days in Gundagai to perform service on the intervening Sabbath.

During my stay I went up to Darbillerha (note tbe spelling) at the junction of the Tumut and Murrumbidgee rivers, and from thence I went up the Adjungbilly Creek to the station of Captain McDonald, with whom I was acquainted, as he had for years belonged to my congregation in Sydney.

He was a captain in the 17th regiment, but sold out when the regiment went to India.

And with his large family, had settled here, like one of the old patriarchs, in the midst of bis flocks and herds in the Tumut mountains.

The climate was healthy and Captain McDonald and bis family were quite reconciled to their situation, living in peace and plenty, and rural simplicity.

From Darbillerha I crossed the Tumut at it ford near its mouth, the water being up to the saddle girths.

And along the Murrumbidgee I found a succession of small plains, some of which were occupied and in partial cultivation by small settlers, while the. Beautiful belting of swamp oaks skirted the river all along"

The Captain McDonald here referred to was a very early occupant of the land.

A well-known locality near the Federal Territory is Captain's Flat. 

Capt. McDonald was the first settler there, hence the name.

One of his daughters was married to De Salis, who succeeded Warby at Darbalara

Captain McDonald died on his station at Bongongo, on the Adjungbilly Creek, and was buried there, his resting place in that locality being fenced in and marked by a tombstone.

W. K. Smith was the purchaser of Bongongo station in 1853.

His sons, W. B. Smith and Arthur Smith, held the properties of both Darbalara and Bongongo for many years within the memory of many now living.