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.
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’.
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.
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.