Hard Labour

Jeanette Campbell (nee McAllister) with her husband Hugh and her brood

Women as well as men faced hard physical work daily with few devices to limit their pain. Servants were not available, even for more affluent women who did the daily grind, assisted only by their daughters. Rural women worked on the farm as well as in the house and were distant from all amenities. They made  clothes and furnishings, butter, bread, and jam in additional to their other household chores. The face of Jeanette Campbell (nee McAllister) shows the toll on young women with large families. She was 36 years old and would have two more children after this photo was taken in 1901 on their Bryan’s Gap property near Tenterfield, New South Wales. Her children learnt music at home as well as Scottish highland dancing. Her role model, mother Jennett McAllister, widowed at 39, was remarkable for her time. She had nine children, ran the house and property, bought and sold produce and livestock, educated her children and was a competent horsewoman. Her surviving sons, renowned for their horsemanship learnt on the family property in the Mole Valley, went on to military careers.

Red Gold

Benjamin Edwards

Australian red cedar was abundant in the sub tropical rainforests of northern NSW. Used in grand homes as a building material and for colonial furniture, the beautiful timber was gold for the early Richmond River cedar cutters such as Benjamin Edwards. Having left the cotton mills of Bristol and worked as a stockman, Benjamin turned to the more lucrative cedar trade, earning enough to purchase the first block of land sold at Lismore in 1856 and later, land at Gundurimba. Findlay Duthie, master of the schooner ‘Gem’, transported cedar, possibly even timber cut by Benjamin, to Sydney and Melbourne from the Richmond River from 1855, one consignment amounting to 58 000 feet of cedar logs.  William Whitfield in command of ‘Scout’, carried timber from the Tweed, Richmond and Brunswick Rivers to the South Brisbane Sawmill in the late 1880s.

Aboriginal Encounters

Hornet Bank Homestead 1880

A shadow is cast over our family history through the discovery of some frontier encounters. While some incidents were positive, one displays ferocity and  a mentality lacking in compassion. All reflect the inevitable triumph of the invaders  and the dispossession and degradation of the aboriginal people. In the 1840s and 1850s, Thomas Adam is reputed to have had good relations with Awakabal aboriginals in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie district. They guarded his boat building equipment when he left the Warner’s Bay area to return to Newcastle and in Newcastle he sheltered them at his home on Bullock Island after sailors plied them with rum on blanket distribution days. In 1852 Benjamin Edwards was a stockman on ‘Wyangerie’ below the Tweed Ranges. Armed with a gun and ‘large mastiff dog’, his wife Louisa Edwards, in defence of her son, her own life and their home against an ‘attack by a mob of blacks’, left at least one aboriginal woman dead. Benjamin, in retaliation, ‘cleaned out the blacks’ camp on Lynch’s Creek with a stockwhip’. Locally, Louisa was cast as a heroine and her wound from a boomerang was seen as a badge of courage. On his trek north to the Dawson River Valley in Queensland, Archibald Campbell was armed and apprehensive of an aboriginal attack in the wake of the horrendous Hornet Bank Massacre of 1857. At Wyrallah, Frederick Scrivener dispensed flour to the aborigines from his general store and the family shared Christmas meals with local aborigines in the 1930s, albeit on the steps of their house. However in an advertisement for a Wyrallah Sports Day, inserted by Frederick in the ‘Northern Star’ in 1902, aboriginals were ‘debarred’ from competing. The children of John Adams played and wandered the district with aboriginal children at Alstonville but their mother Mary Ann Adams in fear of attack, reputedly kept a shotgun handy. Kindness to the Cambewarra aboriginals was shown by John Adams’ sister Jane Camps who sheltered an aboriginal man in her farm house during a storm and was later rewarded with a broom made from cabbage tree palms, ‘bound with supple vines’.

Establishing Schools

Alstonville School 1874

Advantaged by literacy and with an understanding of the value of education, our pioneering ancestors were prominent in supporting education in their communities.  In time, a number of their descendants became teachers. Thomas Adam as a patron helped to establish the first non-vested school in Newcastle in 1857 when there were only 62 in NSW. He was Secretary of the local school board from 1858 and shared personal responsibility for accumulated debts  when the first National School was completed in 1862. In 1872, John Adams and his neighbours petitioned for a National School at Alstonville. He cleared the land and with John Perry, contracted to build the school which was completed in 1874. Close by, Benjamin Edwards was a member of the Gundurimba local school board from 1874 and Frederick Scrivener was a trustee of the School of Arts site. In Mittagong, Hugh Childs, a local magistrate was also chairman of the school board and vice-president of the School of Arts. Jennett McAllister, like other pioneers in the family, successfully educated her own children on her isolated Mole River property.

Accidental Deaths

John Adams
Mary Ann Adams

Jane and Margaret, two sisters of William Whitfield drowned in the Derwent River at Workington, England in 1854 and 1856. John Rumble, working on constructing the  new railway line between Liverpool and Campbelltown, died in an horrific accident in 1858. A railway worker failed to signal an approaching train. Two trucks were derailed and with a load of sleepers, John fell to his death. Mary Ann Adams (nee McIntyre) fell into the kitchen fire while boiling water for tea at her Cambewarra home in 1870.  Her son John Adams was killed when a winch handle struck his head after a CSR barge fouled the line of the ferry he was operating on the Richmond River near the Broadwater Mill. Other accidents were prolific and even serious but not fatal.

Education Counts

Frederick Scrivener

Employment 0ptions for children of the working class  or even skilled tradesmen, plagued by economic downturns or financial failure, were limited until after World War Two. Even with means, education was rudimentary, especially in rural areas. Just a few in ‘the canopy’ were educated at city high schools and had better opportunites. Frederick Scrivener, benefiting from his education at Fort Street in the 1860s, was able to contribute to his local community near Lismore. John Archibald McCallum attended Sydney Boys High School and Sydney Teachers’ College (1912), gained a BA degree at Sydney University (1921), won a university medal in history, became a lecturer and broadcaster then moved to a political career as a writer, State President of the ALP (1931), foundation member of the Liberal Party (1944) and Senator for NSW (1950). Ted Whitfield, son of John McCallum’s cousin John McCallum Whitfield did his Leaving Certificate at Canterbury Boys’ High School where John McCallum was a teacher, studied Arts and Law at Sydney University  in the 1930s and pursued a notable public service career as a barrister, member of the Public Service Board, Industrial Registrar and Commissioner for Water Conservation and Irrigation.

Firsts and Fame

Colonial families prided themselves on their often unproven claims to be ‘first’.  Thomas Adam claimed that he was the first to navigate the entrance to Lake Macquarie in his pursuit of trading timber cut near Dora Creek. Born in 1861, his youngest son Andrew Adam was the first white child to be born at Carrington, Newcastle, then named Bullock Island.  Thomas was the first to purchase land there which crossed the island and can be seen in the 1974 photo at an angle to modern streets. In 1858 Thomas Adam was appointed by the Executive Council as a patron of the first non-vested National School in Newcastle. He was also elected to the first Municipal Council in Newcastle and  Adamstown was named after him in 1869 after he purchased 54 acres of Crown Land there. Another claim to fame was Jeanette McAllister and Hugh Campbell’s wedding in 1886, the first to be held in the newly built Tenterfield Presbyterian Church.

Hugh & Jeanette 1886
The wedding, Tenterfield Presbyterian Church 1886


Jack Chegwyn and W.A. Brown, Combined NSW Cricket Clubs’ Team versus GPS XI, Sydney Cricket Ground 1934
Inevitably, given Australians’ love of the game, their are some enthusiastic and notable cricketers in the ranks. Jack Chegwyn had a  proud record, making 11 943 runs and 20 centuries for Randwick and the NSW team and was for a time  Randwick’s first grade captain. He is also renowned for his voluntary work in cricket promotion and discovering talent such as Doug Walters in 1962. Bruce Francis  made his Test debut against England at Manchester in 1972. He went on to be a hard hitting opening bat for Essex, the County from which his Rumble ancestors migrated in 1857.  He was a key mover in the establishment of World Series Cricket in 1977 and the rebel Australian tour to South Africa in 1984-1985. The Rainbow family achieved fame in the Fairfield district. William Rainbow was a prominent athlete in his early days and practised cricket with Charles Bannerman who played in the first test match in 1882. William and four of his five sons played with distinction in the Wetherill Park A Grade team  winning many a match. The family also produced tennis players who have excelled over generations. David Childs, a keen first grade cricketer and cousin of the Rainbow boys passed on his skills to his grandson Bryan Preen who went on to play first grade cricket. Many other individuals in the Adam, Bowden, Adams, Campbell, Edwards and Scrivener families enthusiastically played with their local sides from pioneering days in rural districts though not always with distinction. Ted Whitfield was one who played in a city team, winning a trophy or two in the 1930s.


William Whitfield’s 1894 promissory note

Australian immigrants have generally been enterprising but opportunities were always associated with risks which led to economic failure and all the attendant consequences. Some ancestors survived more than one insolvency but others were ruined for life. Insolvency in 1845 did not hinder Thomas Adam‘s building interests in Newcastle and while a subsequent bankruptcy in 1874 through investment in tin mining near Tingha was a setback, he started a profitable saw milling venture at Raymond Terrace.  John Adams was far less fortunate. Being a pioneer of the Alstonville district meant that despite successful clearing of the Big Scrub on his property, sugar growing was in its infancy and processing was primitive and costly. Bankruptcy in 1876 cost him his conditional land purchase. The family fortunes never recovered and a second bankruptcy in 1899 was the last straw. Edward Scrivener, initially a successful draper in George Street Sydney succumbed to economic failure in 1865 and 1869. He never operated his own business again but unlike John Adams’ sons, Edward’s son Frederick Scrivener became a comparatively wealthy man after he moved north to the Richmond River as a storekeeper. Hugh Childs, as a railway construction contractor on the Southern Line, was so mortified that he could not pay his workers in 1863 that he encouraged his sons to become railway employees rather than entrepreneurs. It was advice that sustained the family through the bad times of the 1890s and 1930s Depression. William Whitfield, already a broken man through losing his Pilotage Certificate, escaped his creditors in 1894 by returning to England after the failure of his investment in a Parkes hotel. He died in Hull just six weeks later. His family was left to fend for themselves.

Future Posts

Thanks for visiting The Canopy. I’ll be using this site to post brief updates on new research I’ve done in addition to short highlights from my previously published books and other bits and pieces of family history.

The ‘Publications’ section at the top contains all the books I’ve previously published. These can also be found under the family name categories on the Home Page. I have a wealth of research and photos for our ancestry – if you’d like to see all the families I’ve researched, select ‘Surnames I’ve researched‘, also at the top of the Home Page.

If you’re researching these same families, please get in touch with me via my contact page.

Related family names will be added soon. They will include the married names of female ancestors and descendants.