The Life of Mr. J. Gormly M.L.C.

1 February 1918 Cootamundra Herald (NSW : 1877 - 1954) Friday

Seventy-Eight Years Ago and Since.

Mr. James Gormley, M.L.C., may indeed be called an old colonist, having arrived with his parents in Sydney on the 20th January, 1840, just 78 years ago, and his earliest recollections are fall of interest.

In 1841-42, he says, there was a keen financial crisis in the colony, many of the banks suspending payment.

At this time, land, stock, and stations became a drag in the market, so that many of the large property owners who had incurred financial obligations became bankrupt.

In the early forties a ditty was often heard hummed in the streets of Sydney and in the other parts of the colony, describing how the sheriff, under a writ of the Supreme Court, had sold a sheep station and stock.

Two lines of the ditty ran as follow:-

He took them and sold them,

I'm sure 'twas a sin,

At six pence a head

and the station given in.

Money had become so scarce in consequence of the want of a profitable market for agricultural produce and stock that the owners of cattle and sheep found it expedient to boil down their fat stock and to export the tallow.

This depression continued until gold was found in large quantities in 1851.

Pioneering Days.

In the pioneering days most of the boys had to begin work at an early age in order to assist their parents.

In '44, when only 8 years of age, James Gormley was able to ride a horse and assist his father to drove cattle from the Illawarra district to the Murrumbidgee, where the family had settled, about 15 miles below Gundagai.

This was three years before the site of a township was marked out at Wagga, the first buildings being erected in 1847.

In '46 James Gormley's father joined one of his neighbours in sending a mob of cattle to Gippsland, where there was then a brisk demand for store cattle.

Young Gormley, although then only 10 years of age, was allowed by his father to assist to drive the cattle, which numbered about 700 head, to Gippsland.

The journey proved a most difficult one.

There was no track across the mountains and the peaks in many places were covered with snow.

During three weeks of that journey no single habitation was seen.

After crossing the Dividing Range the party followed down the McAllister River to near where the town of Sale now stands, and there the cattle were sold and delivered.


In 1840-47 there was a brisk demand in the: new province of South Australia, for young bullocks, to be used as workers to haul the copper ore from Capunda and Burra mines to the ports for shipment.

The Gormley family were residing on the main track down the Murrumbidgee, upon which numerous mobs of cattle found their way to South Australia.

Near the end of '46 young Gormley's father sold some of his cattle to Tom and Dan Tool, who then owned Tool's Creek Station, near Wagga.

The Tools were then collecting a big mob of young bullocks to take over to the copper mines in South Australia.

Anxious for another overland journey with stock, and all it means, James induced his parents to allow him to accompany the Tool brothers, both of whom were reliable men, with stock to South Australia.

This journey, which took place in the summer of '47, occupied six months.

It was during this trip, whilst travelling through the mallee scrub, away back for the Darling River frontage, that one night the cattle, which were very wild, were stampeded by a large tribe of hostile blacks.

They were so widely scattered that it took weeks to get them together again.

When the junction of the Darling and Murray Rivers was passed large tribes of hostile blacks were frequently met with.

As soon as it became known that a party of overlanders were approaching the tribes used their smoke signals, and collected together in large numbers to block the passage of the stock.

At night the bullocks could smell the blacks when they appro-ached the camps and would rush and scatter in all directions.

In the dense mallee scrub collecting the scattered stock was difficult and dangerous work, as the blacks were often in ambush watching to get a chance to spear the white men.

The party, however, overcame all difficulties and made a profitable sale of the bullocks.

In 1850 there was no rain of any value on the Murrumbidgee, and during the summer of '51 the drought continued, when nearly half of the stock on the river died for want of grass.

The drought broke in scattered thunderstorms in April and May, and the winter proved an excessively wet one.

The Finding of Gold.

Gold was found in the summer of 1851 at Lewis Ponds Creek, in the Bathurst district and as winter approached there was a general rush to the diggings.

Mr. James Gormley, the subject of these reminiscences, and his two elder brothers were amongst the first to rush the goldflelds, first to Summer Hill, near, the site of the early discovery, and afterwards to the Turon River where the three brothers worked in the bed of the river, undergoing great hardships and privations.

The winter of '51 on the Turon goldfields was no-ted for storms and floods.

The Gormley brothers, who had a claim in the bed of the river, were fre-quently flooded out, and the tools, pumps, and other plant swept away by the rush of water.

When the rich goldflelds of Mt. Alexander and Ballarat became widely famed for their richness, as they did in the summer of 1852, the Gormley brothers left the Turon and made their way over to the New El dorado.

On their way they called at Gundagai and spent some time with their parents.

Only the very old residents of Australia will recall the great flood which occurred on the 25th June, 1852.

It swept down the valley of the Murrumbidgee, carrying death and destruction in its wake.

In the then flourishing town of Gundagai nearly the whole of the houses were swept away and nearly 100 of the residents drowned. And this flood is indelibly im-pressed upon Mr. Gormley's memory.

Among those who perished were the whole of the Gormley family, with the exception of James (the author of these reminiscences) and his elder brother, Thomas.

They had a swim for a very long distance, when they were fortunate enough to find a big tree, in the branches of which they took refuge.

They remained there the whole of one very frosty night and the greater part of the next day.

Undeterred by the bitter experience the two brothers continued their journey to the Victorian gold fields and searched for the precious metal at Bendigo, Ballarat, Forest Creek, and the Ovens.

Diggers and Police.

To tell in detail all the adventures of James and his brother on the goldfields would be to give a history of these two fields during their most turbulent times.

A state of revolt existed amongst the diggers, brought about by the high handed tyranny of the goldfleld commissioners and other Government officials.

One very exciting, incident will suffice. At Reid's Creek, on the Ovens diggings, a squad of police who had been chasing diggers who had no licenses, were captured by the infuriated miners.

During the trouble a miner was accidentally shot dead.

The excited crowd jumped to the conclusion that a police-man had wilfully shot the miner.

A rope was procured, a noose placed over the head of the unfortunate policeman and the limb of a nearby tree was about to be used as a gallows.

The Gormley brothers who, were aware that the shot was quite accidental, came up just in the nick of time.

As the infuriated diggers were just about to pull up the policeman Thomas Gormley. cut the rope just in time to save the man's life.

Mr. James Gormley returned to the Murrumbidgee in 1853 and was not, therefore, a spectator of the famous Eureka Stockade riot on the Ballarat goldfields in 1854.

He settled in Wagga that year, and is still a resident of that flourishing and progressive Riverina township.

For over 80 years he has taken a leading part in all movements having for their object the advancement of the town and district and the institutions connected there with.

Horse Racing

All sportsmen know that for the last 60 years Wagga has been a great racing centre.

With a true Irishman's love of sport Mr. Gormley utilised the fast horses he had to promote and encourage race meetings.

As far back as 1864 the sportsmen of Wagga and district subscribed no less a sum than 1000 as the prize money for a champion race.

Other money was provided and sufficient funds made for a three days' meeting.

On that occasion the three miles' championship was won by Mr. P. J. Keighran's Mormon, which had previously won a championship race in Tasmania.

It was soon after the meeting that the Murrumbidgee Turf Club was established. It is still in existence and flourishing.

In those early days it was established an annual race meeting, extending over three days, and gave substantial prizes.

In many cases these prizes were oven greater than those given by the Australian Jockey Club.

Being about midway between Sydney and Melbourne, Wagga attracted the good horses from both cities and some stern contests were witnessed.

Mr. James Gormley was a great admirer of racing, and was one of the first and principal promoters of the sport in that centre, and in the early days he used to ride his own horses on the flat and in steeplechases.

He won many prizes. In the boom days of racing in Wagga, the principal prize was 1000 and a gold cup.

Mr. Gormley acted as starter, judge, and honorary handicapper, and in 1885 he donated a gold cup, valued at 120, as a prize to be added to the principal race.

Probably no other race attracted quite so much attention as the 10 mile event, which was run on the Wagga course in November, 1868, the prize being a sweepstakes of 5 sovs., with 300 added money.

There were 13 starters, William Yeomans, who was then considered the best jockey in Australia, winning on H. J. Bowler's Australian. Richard Grosvenor, who rode his own horse, Comet, came second, and W. Bowmen, or Bowen, on M'Allister's Riverina, was third.

Three years before Riverina ran third in the Melbourne Cup.

The time of this great race (welterweights) was 23min 34 secs., which shows that the pace was fast and furious throughout.

Camel, the horse that Mr. Gormley selected out of his stud to run in this long race, was fast, but fractious and very difficult to manage.

During the first three miles he led the field by two-thirds of a mile and notwithstanding this mad rush lie was very close to the first three at the finish.

This particular horse won Mr. Gormley 24 races, including the Gundagai Cup, a race of two and a half miles.

Yeomans, who rode the winner, received a great ovation when he weighed in and was rewarded with the prize.