Murray and Murrumbidgee Exploration and Settlement - I

19 September 1906 The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser

By James Gormley..

The contents of this article chiefly relate to events that have come under my own observation, as far as my memory carries me back, now over 66 years, and to what I have heard from early explorers and old pioneers.

Near the end of 1844 I was able to ride a horse and assisted to drive stock from the Illawarra district to the Murrumbidgee, when my father settled near Gundagai. At that time Gundagai was the only town on the Murrumbidgee, it being on the overland track from Sydney to Port Phillip.

Sometime before this a punt had been established as a means of crossing the river.

The first settlers to reach this far were Ben Warby (sic), who formed a station on the north side of the river, opposite the junction of the Tumut, and the Stuckey family.

Peter Stuckey settled at Willie Ploma, close to where South Gundagai railway station now stands, in 1829; while his brother Henry took up his residence near the, junction of Adelong Creek with the Murrumbidgee.

This was the furthest point of settlement when Captain Sturt went down the river in December (sic), 1829.

In 1844 there were 10 or 12 wooden houses in Gundagai. Major Joseph Andrews, a retired military officer, erected the first public-house, which he conducted in a most orderly way, always refusing to supply drunken men with liquor.

He afterwards bought Kimo station, where he was residing when I first went on the Murrumbidgee.

Dr. Robert Davison, who in 1840-41 kept a chemist's shop in Wollongong, was the first to open a general store at Gundagai in 1842, and it was probably then the only general store between Yass and Melbourne.

Before I .went to the Murrumbidgee, I was residing near Henry Angel, in the Illawarra district, and went to school with his sons.

He was one of the men who went overland from Appin to Port Phillip and back in 1824, with Hamilton Hume and Captain Hovell.

Hume As A Leader.

When I first knew Angel in the Illawarra district, and often afterwards, I have heard him relate incidents that occurred on that memorable journey; and of the hardships and privations he and his companions had to endure.

He was constant in his praise of Hume as a leader and as a bushman. He said Hume could not be excelled. Angel was one of the most reliable, honest, industrious men I have ever met.

He was abstemious, persevering, and full of resource, and had a constitution that work, privation, and hard-ship could not breakdown.

He led an active life until he was 90 years old.

I can well understand what an assistance such a man must have been to Hume, in the many difficulties that had to be overcome in that expedition, which I consider the most successful ever carried out in Australia, considering the scant outfit available for such a stupendous undertaking.

Of the eight persons who formed that expedition I knew five, with four of whom I was well acquainted - Hume, An-gel, James Fitzpatrick, and Thomas Boyd. I had only a slight acquaintance with Captain Hovell. With Hume as leader, and three such men as Angel, Fitzpatrick, and Boyd, the expedition was bound to succeed, if per-severance and energy could secure that result.

In 1855 I knew James Fitzpatrick to take a flock of fat wethers from his station, Cucumble, to Beeehworth without any assistance.

Such a feat I have never seen any other men perform. When he sold the sheep on the Ovens goldfield at a high price he returned to his home with the proceeds of the sale, about £1500 in cash, in his pocket.

Journey For A Knife.

The least said about Hovell as an explorer the better, for in that capacity he was looked on as a failure by Boyd, Fitzpatrick, and Angel.

These three men always spoke of Hamilton Hume as an excellent bushman and a most capable leader.

One incident related will give some indication of Hume's bushcraft and energy.

"One night on the journey, Hume discovered that he had mislaid his pocket-knife, the only article he had to cut his food with, as well as to use for various other purposes.

The loss at the time would cause him considerable inconvenience.

He came to the conclusion that he had left the knife at the camp on the previous night, 10 miles hack.

He started in search of the article, walked the 20 miles during the night, and was back with his companions (having found the knife where he expected) by daylight next morning."

In 1844 Angel rented his farm, which was situated near Wollongong, and started for the Lower Murrumbidgee, where he took up and stocked Wardry station.

I remember when we started; he had horse and bullock teams and supplies estimated, to last for 12 months, as at Wardry he would be 220 miles from the nearest store.

Angel died at Wagga when he was over 90, leaving a considerable amount of property, which he had accumulated by thrift and industry, to a numerous family.

There is now a host of Angels in the Wagga district,, Who seem to be chips of the old block. James Fitzpatrick took up Cucumble station, which is situated between Cootamundra and Gundagai, where he resided for many years, and became a wealthy man.

Besides this property he bought Glenlee estate, near Campbelltown, where he resided during the last years of' his life.

He, like Angel, was an honest, industrious, energetic man. Thomas Boyd was not so successful, from a pecuniary point of view.

He settled at Tumut, where he reared a large family, and all who knew him respected him for his sterling qualities.

Opening Up The Murrumbidgee.

 In 1883,when I went to Albury, to attend the demonstration and banquet held to commemorate the connection of the New South Wales and Victorian railway systems, was the last time I saw Boyd.

Some of his friends at Tumut had brought the old man to the demonstration, and he had the satisfaction of seeing a train cross the river that he had swum, with Hamilton Hume, 59 years years before.

Boyd died at Tumut in 1887.

The history of Hamilton Hume's life is too well known to need further reference from me.

When Hume started for Port Phillip in 1824, his station near Lake George was the farthest out-post, but other hardy pioneers soon went further on. Henry and Neil O'Brien settled on Yass Plains.

Henry was one of the most enterprising pastoralists of his time. Soon after he settled at Douro, near Yass, be formed a sheep station at Jugiong, which was probably the first sheep station on the Murrumbidgee River.

He built a shepherd's hut on a knoll overlooking the stream.

The place chosen was well situated for defence against the aboriginals, which was the reason (I heard O'Brien ex plain to my father) that he had selected the spot.

The old hut was standing when I went to the Murrumbidgee in 1844.

After a few years O'Brien still further extended his holdings.

He took a large herd of cattle down the Lachlan, but, not finding a suit-able place for his stock on that river, he crossed the plains and took up Groongal and Benerembah on the Lower Murrumbidgee.

Groongal had a frontage of 14 miles, and. Benerembah of seven miles to the river.

Both stations extended 26 miles back.

O'Brien was always in the front rank in pastoral pursuits, and was the first to practically demonstrate that at the prices then ruling for fat stock it would pay to boil them down and export the tallow.

In the years from 1842 to the time when gold was discovered in 1851, I have seen fat bullocks that, when dressed after slaughter, would weigh l0cwt, sold for less than thirty shillings each; and fat sheep sold at proportion-ally low rates.

A Plucky Pioneer.

Another enterprising pioneer who settled next to O'Brien on the Murrumbidgee was Frank Taaffe, who took up and stocked Muttama station, which, was one of the largest holdings in the Murrumbidgee district.

In the early days of squatting Taaffe was one or the first to take a mob of his surplus cattle to the new district of Port Phillip for sale.

He had just completed the sale and delivery of his stock in 1838, when the news arrived in Melbourne, where he then was, about the massacre of Faithful's men on the Broken River, near where the town of Benalla now stands.

Nine out of 14 of the party were killed. Several tribes in the Port Phillip district made hostile demonstrations at this time against the white settlers.

The administrator of the Government in Melbourne had only about 20 police to protect the people, who were scattered over a wide province.

He sent des-patches to headquarters at Sydney, urging that some of the military forces be sent over, but communication with Sydney was slow and uncertain in those days, so the scare passed over before assistance could be procured.

Luckily the settlers proved equal to protecting themselves Taaffe started back alone to his station, when the blacks were in their fiercest mood against the white settlers, and seemed determined to drive the new-comers back.

Had he kept to the only track that had then been made he would have had to pass the scene of the re-cent massacres.

He kept wide of the road, and making a straight course through the forest he shortened the distance.

Although the nights were cold, he could not run the risk of lighting a fire, as the blacks were keenly on the alert.

He kept on travelling most of the nights as well as the days, and had to swim his horse over all the rivers on the way, including the Murray and Murrumbidgee.

He reached his home at Muttama, a distance of 300 miles from Port Phillip, in less than four days, a most remarkable feat of endurance for both man and horse.

The horse he rode was a fine type of lean thoroughbred, a wiry bay, standing fully 16 bands high, and, from his appearance, fit to run for a Melbourne Cup.

When Taaffe reached home he emancipated the horse, which was never worked afterwards.

The last I saw of this remarkable animal was 13 years after, in 1851 (the year gold was discovered), when he could gallop about the paddock where he grazed.

In a letter, dated October 1, 1905, that I received from the late David Reid, who died only in May last, aged 85, and who assisted in burying the body of one of Faithful's party, slain by the aboriginals in 1838, the following passage occurs about Taaffe:-

“Mr. Taaffe was a true type of the old Irish gentleman, manly and out-spoken.

I well remember his defence of Hume at Geelong at the dinner given to old Hovell, who was taking to himself all the credit of the expedition of 1824 in regard to the overland trip to Port Phillip.

Taaffe did not mince his words, but gave honour where honour was due.”

A Great Bushman.

David Reid was a most experienced and capable bushman himself.

He always spoke of Hamilton Hume as being the greatest bushman of the time when he undertook the work of exploration.

Few were capable of judging Hume's work as an explorer better than he.

The banquet given at Geelong to Captain Hovell, which David Reid mentions, was one of the chief causes of the bitterness that Hume felt against Hovell in the last years of his life.

No doubt Hovell desired to take credit for being the leader of the expedition, to which he had no just claim, so this was resented by all of Hume's friends, who were very numerous.

Few could judge better than Taaffe of the part Hume took in the first great overland journey, and I have heard him mention on many occasions that Hovell, instead of assisting Hume to over-come the difficulties met with on the journey had caused discontent amongst some of the men, and that he was continually trying to persuade Hume and his companions to turn back.

Taaffe always asserted that Hume was the best bushman he had met. Taaffe and my father were old friends in Ireland, where they had gone to school together.

When we came to Australia they often met, and I have heard Taaffe relate many of the occurrences of his first days on the Murrumbidgee, and of his overland journeys to Port Phillip.

Amongst other reminiscences I heard him relate the difficulty he had to get a mob of cattle over the river at Gundagai, his being one of the first mobs to cross there.

The river was in flood, and there was no punt or boat. When the cattle were got over he and his stockmen had to swim across the rapidly-flowing stream after them on horseback.

One of the men narrowly escaped drowning, for he was unhorsed in the middle of the stream.

Early Settlers.

David Reid, who was practically the last of the old pioneers of the southern districts, had a most varied and eventful career.

In 1838 he left his father's station on the Monaro with 500 cattle and two years' supplies of provisions in his drays, and set out for the new district of Port Phillip.

He went by Yass, and crossed the Murrumbidgee at Gundagai, passed Tarcutta (where T. H. Mate had settled the year before), and crossed the Hume at the Albury crossing-place.

He took up stations on the Ovens, at Wangaratta.

He afterwards extended his holdings to Spring and Reid's creeks, then on to Yackendandah. Beechworth and all the Ovens goldfields were discovered on his runs.

In 1848 he erected a flourmill to be worked by water-power on one of the streams on his station.

At that time it was the only mill between Yass and Kilmore, as the steam flourmill put up by the late Hon. Edward Flood and Thomas Hanley at Gundagai was not completed, till two years afterwards.

I was gold-mining on Reid's runs in 1852-53, and know that the discovery of gold made his stations almost valueless to him and reduced him from a rich to a comparatively poor man.

Yet he was the friend of settlement to the last days of his life.

The last time we met was in March of the present year, when we attended the conference in favour of closer settlement at Corowa.

He drove 22 miles to the conference that morning, and moved a resolution in favour of closer settlement. That day we had a long talk about the massacre of Faithful's men and the part he took in burying one of the bodies, which after the massacre had remained unburied for several months.

Few men have lived to see such beneficial progress made in Australia as did David Reid, and few, if any, have done more to advance their country.

He died in May last, aged 85 years, respected and regretted by all who knew him.

When shall we see his like again?