Gold Diggers

Thomas Holmes suffered from gold fever. Taking his young family from Hexham, NSW to California in 1849 proved a trial and a disappointment. On his return, he soon headed for the new goldfields in Victoria  with no more luck, unlike James Whitfield who arrived from Workington, England in 1857 and made a small fortune. It provided the nucleus of his future wealth from his Workington enterprises. Cephus Scrivener made enough money from the Victorian diggings to travel round the world in style but gold fever took him to Thames, New Zealand and cost him the life of his wife and first son.

Men at Work

Albert Adams & workers, Condong Sugar Mill
The McCallum Coach Factory Mittagong



Pride is evident in these early 20th C   photos taken in the workplace in rural NSW and at Botany in Sydney

The Chegwyn tannery at Botany
Charles Scrivener Fire Captain Murwillumbah
Charles Scrivener, blacksmith Murwillumbah

Moving the Goods

Sailing ships, railway and vehicular traffic at Newcastle NSW

At the core of any economic system is the transfer of goods and availability of labour. Our ancestors played their part in developing colonial Australia where great distances and difficult terrain limited apparent boundless opportunities. Duthie, Whitfield and Montgomery ancestors sailed and piloted ships which carried goods to Australia and in the coastal trade. Some constructed vessels in Newcastle and Port Melbourne and several ran vehicular ferries on major rivers. In the vital railway industry, Childs, Rumble, Adam, Boyd, Adams, Whitfield, Campbell and Scrivener  men laid the iron rails, drove the locomotives, were engineers in railway workshops, carriage builders, guards, signallers, station masters and worked in the Enfield and Darling Harbour goods yards as well as locomotive construction (such as 3801) at Everleigh in Sydney. The McCallums built the drays and other horse drawn vehicles that connected people with the railways and ports. Campbells and McAllisters were carriers in the horse drawn transport era in Queensland and northern NSW. Men of the McCallum, Scrivener and Campbell families, shod horses and manufactured goods and vital components for vehicles. All contributed to the national as well as their local economies.

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.

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.


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.

Trades & Sales

Scrivener & Edwards – Forbears in England & Wales and Descendants in Sydney, on the Richmond River & Beyond

This book about the Scrivener and Edwards families was published in 2011 and is now available for sale. ISBN 978-0-9578150-6-3. Please contact Liz if you are interested in buying a copy.

Edward Scrivener, born in London to a family involved in the drapery trade, started his own business in George Street Sydney in 1849 when he was 19 years old. His son Frederick worked as a storekeeper on the Richmond River and married Louisa, the daughter of a cedar cutter, Benjamin Edwards, descended from a Wiltshire family of butchers, shoemakers and cloth workers. Many Scrivener and Edwards descendants remain in the Richmond River area.