Friday, 26 September 2014

Summer 1889 - The Yuin Trace

In 1860 the life of Jerrabatgully was starting to consolidate around one man. But, even then, it was starting to spin out of control.

Michael Nowlan O’Connell was a bear of a man. 

Snowy haired, with a square-cut white beard, prosperous cheeks and piercing eyes. He was a hardworking and genial man fond of his adopted country. Unlike his brothers, he learnt his letters and was educated.  He wrote telling letters to the local papers and stood up to the quiet pervasive corruption of wealthy English immigrants.

It was in the time of Queen Elizabeth I that the Irish were forbidden to use the aristocratic prefix ‘O’ before their surnames. The prohibition was just one of a number of punishments meted out to the clans. Pat O’Connell called this the “the villainous times of Queen Elizabeth”, and always used his full name, although the press referred to him and his brothers as Connells.

Naming proscriptions on the Irish were to persist in England to the point of open revolution. However, they were increasingly disregarded in the colonies (Canada, South Africa, India New Zealand and the Australian colonies) from the 1850s. The reason for this is that the body of law containing the proscription was held to have not transferred to the colonies.

The proscription formed part of 'armorial law' - which today is restricted to the grant of coats of arms, but which formerly dealt with weighty issues of precedence, imperial honors, naming and other incidents of nobility. As the prefix "O' " was an indicia of nobility, the crown stripped its use from Irish nobles as an exercise of armorial law. However, the English Crown wished to restrict armorial law to the old country, unwilling for it to become subject to the parliaments of the colonies. So while the the rest of the laws of England were incorporated into the laws of the colonies (including the Colony of New South Wales on establishment), armorial law was a singular exception (and remains so - if you want a coat of arms, you have to go to London).

The only 'downside' to this policy was that armorial law could not be used to prohibit the use of certain names in the colonies. In New South Wales, the proscription relating to names was increasingly ignored by Irish settlers from the 1850s although English settlers refused to accept the change and, particularly, English editors refused to allow the use of the name in their papers.
By the 1860s, the NSW police force had quickly grown, with many of the recruits being Irish - and from about that time both the Irish police and Irish settlers publicly used the old Irish names without fear of recrimination. However, it remained a sore point - and the use of the truncated name was considered a slur and often led to fights.

While Colonial Secretary Henry Parkes relied heavily on Irish settlers, he was concerned that the O'Connells and Clarkes were early signs of the emergence of a Fenian conspiracy in the colony. He considered that the failure to apprehend the 'cattle thieves' in the 50s directly led to the serious threat to public order in the 60s and could have led to the establishment of an Irish Republic in South East Australia.

This came was to a head in 1867... but I will get to that in due course

Mick O’Connell , arrived in the colony of New South Wales on the ‘Aliquis’ in 1839, from Loughill, Co, Limerick, Ireland. He settled with his parents and their other nine children in Jerrabatgully on Stony Creek, a tributary of the Shoalhaven. They were not the only Irish to arrive in the district. A little north on Brick Kiln Creek near Ballalaba lived the Clarkes. It was said unkindly (but with some accuracy) that both families descended from a long line of Irish cattle thieves. Certainly the Clarkes and the O’Connells were both excellent horsemen and women and were superb with cattle.

Mick prospered. He built a store, a hotel (the Traveller's Rest at Stoney Creek), a post office and a black smithy in the Jerrabatgully. There was an attempt at tourism, with attempts to attract people to the Marble Arch and the Big Hole. A review of the area and Mick said:
"and we cannot imagine a more agreeable place for a day's gipsying ; — we recommend our friends to pay a visit. The best accommodation and a hearty welcome will be met with at the Traveller's Home at Stoney Creek, the jolly landlord of which hostelrie appears to think that he cannot do enough for the comfort of guests."

There is more to being an innkeep than simply pouring ale for when you cross the hearthstone of an Inn you move back into an ancient legal regime of strict liability. Some of the common law rules still attaching to Inns may seem quaint. If you are being pursued by wolves or rogues, an Innkeeper is obliged to give you shelter, at any time of day.

The rule has been invoked to hold an Innkeeper liable when he ignored a call for help or shut up early with rooms still vacant. An Innkeeper is obliged to take all comers, local or foreign, and offer succor. The offer of tea with a jug of milk (still, perhaps more welcome than kidney of a horse and liver of a cat) distinguishes Innkeepers from other providers of accommodation partly from habit but also law. An Innkeeper must welcome and keep safe your horses, carriages and other goods. This liability is strict – and cannot be contracted away – although some jurisdictions allow an Innkeeper to reduce liability by providing a lock box or complying with some other requirement (remember that long list on the back of your last inn?).

While he moved closer to the law, his brothers together with the Clarke brothers took a different path. They started stealing small numbers of cattle, just enough to fill their own larders. It was just as easy to steal large numbers of cattle – but they quickly ran into the problem of what to do with the herds. Some they drove down to the coast and sold to butchers there. Some they sent south, to follow the hidden paths into Gippsland. Others they took to camps high in the hills to butcher themselves and sell to miners in Major’s Creek.

Some of their exploits had a touch of high art. They ‘borrowed’ a herd running south of Braidwood, drove them down to a small coastal down far to the south east. They attended the local horse race meeting and sold the cattle in the public market place for a decent profit. While the purchaser was being entertained elsewhere, the gang restole the cattle to return them to their original paddocks.

They would have got away with it, but for the effort of a First People law man - Sir Watkin Wynne.

While Mick’s brothers became outlaws and bushrangers, he pursued a different path. One by one the outlaws were shot or captured and hung. While he was arrested, he beat charges of being involved in the infamy, although he ended up with a prison term of seven years hard labor for respecting familial ties and “aiding an outlaw”

While Mick established the beginnings of a small village, he was unsuccessful in a life-long dream of establishing a modern road from Braidwood to Cooma. That road was based on one of the Yuin Trace, and would have changed the modern history of this region. One of his letters reads:

To the Editor of the Braidwood Dispatch


My attention has been called to the Braidwood Dispatch of the 14th instant, by which I observe that miners and others proceeding to Kiandra by the Clyde are recommended to take the Braidwood and Queanbeyan route by a line of road through Gourack Ranges - said line, according to the Dispatch, being better than " tramping from Nelligen over the mountains and bogs winch intervene between Monga and Jingera."

Now, Mr. Editor, in justice to the mining and trading public, I feel bound to lay the true state of the case before them through your columns.

My knowledge of every inch of the country through which the line of road (at present under survey by Mr. Rowland) passes cannot be denied even by the Editor of the Dispatch, or any resident of the Braidwood district.

The line chosen by Mr. Rowland, and approved of by the Government, is not only the best that could be found, but it is also forty-five miles shorter in distance than that proposed through Braidwood. It does not present a single engineering difficulty, nor does it pass through a bog or swamp, and the only mountain (so called) -Ballallaba-is crossed at Parker's Gap, across which I have often, with my team of bullocks and dray, taken thirty cwt., although no line was then formed. It is besides a much better road - in fact by building ten or twelve culverts, there are sixty miles of the line at present fit for any amount of traffic, and the remaining forty-five miles could, with a few men, be made fit for temporary traffic in a few weeks.

I would also remind miners and others proceeding to the Snowy, that when they reach Monga they cannot lose the track by following the surveyor's marks, which are quite visible, every tree being blazed.

Nor are the above the only advantages secured by Mr. Rowland's line via Monga, &c, for it must be borne in mind that the road will pass along the tableland within a few miles of the productive gold-fields of the Araluen, connecting with itself the present trucks into the valley. It will also pass through or close to the important gold-fields of Bell's Creek, Bell's-Paddock, Strike-a-light Flat, Jemicumbene, Major's Creek, Long Flat, &c.

I could write much more on this subject, - but trust that the above plain statement of facts will at once satisfy the mercantile and mining community that the Major's Creek and Jingera line of road, via the Clyde, to Kiandra, far surpasses, from every point of view, any other line from the metropolis, whether through Braidwood or by Twofold Bay (Ulladulla), and must force itself on the immediate attention of the Government and the Sydney merchants, as being of the utmost importance to the mining, 'agricultural, and commercial interests of New South Wales.

M. N. O'CONNELL, Innkeeper and Postmaster Oranmeir, Braidwood, 20th July.

Mick’s elegant proposal was based on an old North-South part of the Yuin Trace.

The First People created permanent walk-ways, the Yuin Trace, through the forests bordering on the high plains from the mountains to the West, the Brindabellas and Tidbinbillas, through to the Eastern coastal areas. For tens of thousands of years, the paths making up the Trace were protected by Law, remembered in Dreamings, described in maps drawn on rock and sand, and kept clear through regular burning and use.

The paths were later recorded on the silks used by early European surveyors to draw their fine maps, along with the names of waterways and other features, including vegetation and mountains. Much of the Trace was early designated as a road reserve, and with some exceptions, remain out of private ownership.

Early European settlers used the Trace for travel. Through the mountains, it was often the only viable path. The Trace bisects rivers and streams at fords, reasonably safe for crossing save when the waterways were fed by flooding rains.

Eventually, gravel and tarred roadways were constructed on the ancient path. Today, we travel these paths, seeing many of the same vistas as all those who came before us, for tens of thousands of years.

Some of the more wealthy graziers attempted to dissuade public use of these new public roads across their holdings, some corruptly exerting political pressure with friends in Sydney to install numerous public gates along the road (requiring users to dismount to open and close the gates) and then providing alternative roadways with no gates over land with little farming value (land frequently flooded or across hill tops). Others persuaded authorities to build new roads that benefitted private interests rather than those championed by more practical men, like Mick O’Connell

In the late 1880’s, public indignation was spurred on by the wealthy owners of Foxlow Station installing five gates across the public road through the property. When the gates were declared public gates, a petition with 200 names on it protested the change. A local correspondent to the Queanbeyan Age complained: “A daily mail will run shortly, and the mailman has to get down every time, which should not be; besides, it is extremely awkward for those who have spirited horses, as there is now, and likely to be, great traffic from Bungendore to the Flat.” Public indignation did not secure a better outcome – the public road was so inconvenient to use, it was eventually shut, and an alternative track provided up into the hills to the East.

Large landholders, who provided most taxation revenue for public works, also resisted funding improvements to roads, and especially bridges, which were very expensive and were prone to being washed away.

In mid-January, 1889, heavy summer rain fell in the hills around the old volcano Palerang, swelling the Yandiguinula Creek into a raging river. The Yuin Trace crossed the Yandiguinula Creek at a number of places, and locals knew to avoid attempting crossing. When in flood, the watercourse can quadruple in size, flowing with great pace, creating swirling eddies and carrying within its water tree branches and other debris.

On the 26th of January, on a Sunday, the young blacksmith Alexander Ross was travelling the road in the company of one of the brothers Sharpe. Ross was 20 years old and hailed from over the other side of the mountains, past Harold Cross at the top of the range, from the Jerrabatgully. With no family, Ross had been befriended by Mick O’Connell who we met above - innkeeper, postmaster and one of the last surviving male relatives of the Irish Bushrangers that had roamed through the Braidwood area some 20 years before.

Without being aware of the danger, he entered the water on his horse, and his horse was immediately swept downstream. For a while, Ross was able to cling to debris in the centre of the swollen creek, but help in the form of the two White brothers came too late. They later told the inquest that they thought they might have been able to save him, had they arrived a little earlier. His body was found a mile and a half down the creek.

The Coronial Inquest was convened at the old stone Victoria Hotel at Hoskingstown. Mr T Parr, esq, rode from Queanbeyan to hear the inquest. The proprietor of the Victoria Hotel, Mrs Walsh, made arrangements for the body and was later thanked for her care by Mick O’Connell.

At the Inquest, the local jury was in no doubt who was responsible, and wanted to censure government officials for the lack of bridge building. Mr Parr talked them out of that approach, suggesting instead that the Department of Public Works would look at the question of a bridge more sympathetically.

Reluctantly, the jury found that the drowning was accidental. After the inquest, Sharpe took the young blacksmith’s body back over the mountains to Majors Creek and burial. Mick Connell published a brief memorial in the local paper, thanking all those who attended the funeral. When the dust had settled and the floods subsided, the Department of Works bent to the will of rich local landowners and declared there was no money for a bridge.

Still, questions might be asked about the young man who died. Who was his mother, was she connected to the Clarkes, the O’Connells or the Long Tailor – the bushrangers and their associates – before he came into Mick O’Connell’s family.

Summer 1887 - Walgett

<Return to the Start of the Story

Peter Quinton
 September 2014

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