Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Some History of the Parishes of Hartley, Kanimbla and Ganbenang By H.C. Dalziell

Kanimbla Valley
 Some History of the Parishes of
Hartley, Kanimbla and Ganbenang
By H.C. Dalziell

Presented to
Nepean & District Historical Society
Naturally, the first settlers secured land as near as possible to the main highway, provided it was suitable for their requirements. Those who acquired land in the back swamps concentrated on the production of dairy products and carried it up Centennial Glen to Blackheath; others took theirs by pack horse up the little zig-zag to Mount Victoria. At both places there was an unlimited demand for all foodstuffs from travellers going east and west. Those who secured land further out on the Cox River and beyond, and produced corn, hay and potatoes, had it carted to Jervis's store at Little Hartley, then the mecca of seller and buyer.

A few of those who settled on the land with larger areas made bacon, cheese and butter. Their butter was made in the summertime and salted in casks, and in winter was carted to the goldfields on the Turon and Hill End districts. Those farmers who grew wheat had it cut with a sickle and thrashed with a flail, then carted to Brown's Mill at Bowenfels, for gristing. When this mill was converted to the manufacture of woollen cloth, the nearest flour mill was Smith and Black’s at O’Connell. Those persons who employed convicts gave them wheat, which they ground in a small steel mill for their own use, and baked into a ‘damper’, in the evenings.

The cultivation land was fenced in with logs removed from the land to be ploughed; this was usually done with bullock teams. The roads were little more than clearings through the timber and were almost impassable for all but heavy teams, until they were placed under the control of a ‘road trust’, which consisted of three local residents having a defined length of road under their control, with a small annual government grant for maintenance and improvement.

To overcome the difficulty of small creeks and wet places, before the introduction of earthenware drain pipes, saplings, with the bark removed, were placed as close together as possible across the road; this was known as ‘corduroying’. The trust was forbidden to make a road within half-a-mile of their own residence. These trusts were dispensed with when the public works department undertook the whole management of roads and bridges.

With the opening of the railway in 1868, and the decreased demand for their products from road travellers, the majority of small settlers abandoned or sold their holdings and went west and acquired larger areas, or found employment on stations being developed on the western rivers.
Ganbenang 1895
Grants of land were made to persons considered worthy of recompense for services performed, or to those who were considered likely to put it to good use. Some leased their lands to tenant farmers, who produced foodstuffs or livestock that was most needed. A noticeable instance of this was the Kanimbla estate, an Aboriginal name derived from ‘kanim’, the head of one tribe, and ‘bula’, and the head of another, both of which roamed these valleys. [Kanimbla was the name of the local Aboriginal band of the Gundungurra tribe and apparently means camping or fighting ground]  This grant was made to James John Oxley and Nathaniel Norton in 1824. It contained 10,000 acres, which, on re-survey when brought under the real property act, proved to be 12,510 acres.

The major portion of this land was let to farmers, and in 1875 was bought by Ebenezer Vickery, who employed J.W. Berghofer as manager. Later, an area of 4,000 acres was bought from the executors of Dr. W. Redfern to whom it had been granted in 1824, but not put to any use by the original grantee. By the purchase of some small holdings the total area was brought up to 18,670 acres of freehold land, and at one period practically the whole of the Megalong Valley was held under lease, but this area was lost in the eighteen eighties when the government land was thrown open for selection.

The whole of the freehold land was fenced and sub-divided with wire fencing, it being the first property in this locality to use wire as fencing material. A new homestead was built of locally made bricks, on a stone foundation and roofed with flat iron, about two miles from the original Norton home, and adjacent to the Cox River Road. The bulk of land was ring barked and generally improved and stocked with cattle; later on sheep were introduced but were never used for breeding during Mr. Vickery’s ownership.

Wethers were bought in the western districts, shorn and then fattened for the Sydney market. The carrying capacity was approximately one thousand head of cattle and ten thousand sheep and the horses necessary for the working of the property. In the eighteen nineties the property was leased to H.G. Lomax, a western grazier, who stocked up with sheep.
J W Berghofer
 On completion of his tenure, J.W. Berghofer was employed as manager and had the property wire-netted. It was again leased, to Messrs. Oliver Bros. for a short term, and in 1919, E.G. Harvey of Wellington bought 16,200 acres of the freehold land, the balance being bought by adjoining holders. After Mr. Harvey's death the holding was subdivided and sold, with the exception of 8,500 acres, now held by his grandson, George Stoneman. Near the original Norton home there is a walnut tree, evidently planted by them, which produces good crops of nuts.

‘Rosevale’, situated in-the southern end of Hartley Valley, was an original government grant made in 1823 to Jeremiah Grant and his wife Rose, hence the name. It contained an area of 1,000 acres and was used for farming and grazing cattle and houses. Grant was allotted assigned servants for improving the property, and in 1841 this land was bought by James Dalziell, who also bought some adjoining lands that had been previously granted to Dr. Redfern, the Rev. Samuel Marsden and John Grant; making an area of 5,000 acres freehold, he also held 2,000 acres of annual lease land. 

[Berghoffer's property 'Rosedale' on the Western road at Little Hartley, which he purchased in 1892, was originally named by him 'Rosenthal', meaning Valley of the Roses, in memory of the Berghoffer homestead in Hessia. This building was originally The Mount Victoria Inn, built by Mr Cummins of Bathurst in 1839.] 

In 1843 a new homestead was built with stone foundation, locally made bricks and shingle roof, to the design and under the supervision of David Lennox, who was Mr. Dalziell's brother-in-law, and who was brought out from Scotland to design and supervise the construction of stone bridges in Australia.

Lennox was recommended for the position by the Rev. Dr. Lang, the first Presbyterian minister to arrive in the colony in 1823. Mrs. Lennox died before he left Scotland and his two daughters were brought out to the colony when Mr. & Mrs. Dalziell decided to make their home in the new land, and settled first at Parramatta.

The property was used for mixed farming and grazing and eventually passed into the hands of a younger son, Alexander, after completing his education at King's School, Parramatta. It was he who first introduced sheep to the locality by the purchase of 300 merino ewes from John See of Bathurst. These sheep had to be guarded night and day on account of the large number of dingoes then roaming the country in search of fresh meat.

As the flock increased in numbers and the locality was cleared of dingoes, The sheep were divided into flocks in charge of shepherds; one lot in charge of John McAviney, and another in the care of Billy Lynch, a well-known half cast, who had left the police force where he had been employed as a black tracker.

After the property had been fenced in, the shepherds were dispensed with. Lynch went to live near the Gibraltar crossing of the Cox River, where his eldest son, Yogi, had selected land. This area was known to the Aboriginals as ‘Meglo’, which leans ‘a hand’, and derived from the formation of the land in that locality; this name has been corrupted by white people to "Megalong" [this is doubtful].

With further improvements and the increased number of stock, farming was dispensed with, except for home consumption, and the production of wool and fat stock concentrated on. Some small portions of the estate were sold and all the crown land has been selected. The major portion is still in the hands of the Dalziell family.

In the vicinity of the first homestead there are three pear trees, said to have been planted on the graves of assigned servants, still bearing heavy crops. There are also quince trees growing close by that still bear fruit, they were planted by the first owner.

Another well-known property is 'Liddleton’, situated astride the Cox River, adjacent to the town of Hartley, consisting of about 5,000 acres of freehold land and at one time a considerable area was held under annual lease. The first 2,500 acres were originally granted to John Maxwell in 1830, who was formerly connected with the military depots at Glenroy and Bathurst. He was supplied with a number of assigned servants to assist in improving the land, which was used for mixed farming and grazing.

This estate has changed hands several times. Western graziers, in need of relief country for their flocks and herds in times of drought, bought the property and, when rain fell in the west, they re-sold. It was at one time bought by Messrs. Wolseley & Caldwell and it was here that Mr. Wolseley was able to bring his shearing machine to perfection and have the sheep shorn that were running on the property, this was the first instance of machines being used for a general shearing.

In 1885 a demonstration of the machines in action was given in the Goldsborough wool store in Melbourne. The following year the machines were installed at Toganmain and Dunlop stations and also in some Queensland sheds. After forming a company to carry on the manufacture and distribution of the machines, Mr. Wolseley returned to England and engaged in the production of the Wolseley motor car. Later on, D.D. Pye acquired the property and carried out improvements by building a new homestead and wool shed, subdivided the area into smaller paddocks, cleared up fallen timber and planted about ten acres of apple orchard.

Among the smaller settlers was Patrick McAviney, at Chaplo, adjoining the Megalong Valley. He, like most others, was engaged in mixed farming, dairying and the raising of pigs. An elder son, Thomas, acquired land by selection, near the head waters of the Long Swamp, and engaged in the grazing of horses and cattle. After improving the land he transferred to sheep, with good results.

Others to acquire land by selection in this locality were Dominic and Arthur McCauley and Henry England. In later years Peter O'Rielly selected land near the junction of Long Swamp and the Cox River. When his sons grew to manhood they went north to the McPherson ranges, and their property was sold and the rest of the family followed to the boys' home. It was here that Bernard made history by the discovery of the Stinson plane that crashed with such disastrous results in that locality. He afterwards wrote two interesting books, ‘Green Mountain’ and ‘Cullenbenbong’.

A flooded pumpkin patch, Ganbenang 1894
Another early pioneer was Patrick Keenan who selected land astride the Cullenbenbong   Creek and, with the addition of annual leases, had quite a sizable holding for the production of cattle, horses and pigs. On account of the lack of roads, all that was produced had to walk to market and most of the goods going in had to be taken by pack-horse,  unless some venturesome bullock driver could be induced to take the risk. His wife was regarded as the district’s most expert horsewoman. It was she who piloted Lord and Lady Carrington across the Cox River, then in half flood, when they rode from Katoomba across country to the Jenolan Caves. [via the Six foot Track, 1887]

Settlement gradually extended to the area then known as Marsden’s Swamp, where the Rev. Samuel Marsden had received a crown grant of 600 acres, but did not make any use of the land, eventually selling it in two blocks, one to John McPherson and the other to Alexander Dalziell, who cultivated the creek flats and used the other portions for grazing.

Settler's family at Ganbenang 1895
The First settlers to acquire land in this area, either by ticket of occupation or by selection, were Michael Ryan, Terence and Hugh Flanagan, Delaney, Michael and James Kelly, John O’Connor, John and Isaac Taylor, James Farrell, James McPherson and others with small holdings. All were engaged in agriculture, mainly maize and potatoes. The name of this locality was changed to ‘Ganbenang’, derived from the large number of gang-gang cockatoos in this district when the early settlers arrived.

There is an area of land on the eastern side of the Ganbenang creek, approximately three miles long by one mile wide, on which all the native trees have died, it is generally agreed the cause was from grubs eating the sapwood and, in turn, the gang-gangs eating the grubs; very few native trees have grown on this land since.

‘Duddawarra’,  an Aboriginal word meaning 'dirty water’ [actually Big bend in river, or camping place with good water] on the Cox River, was a crown grant to John Grant in about 1822. It was leased to the Commens  family who eventually bought the major portion of the land and put it under intensive cultivation. It was they who introduced ‘pise’ for home building to the locality and which was followed by other land holders, to their advantage. It has proved to be the most substantial, economical and comfortable home, if properly designed and constructed. This property is now owned by the fourth generation of the Commens  family. Others to settle in this locality were J.J. Hughes, who received a crown grant of two hundred acres at Buckamall.  Others who selected land were George Marriott, Denis O’Connor,  Robert Duff, James Simpson and James Carroll. 

Moyne  Farm, [called Tunumberee by the Aborigines] adjacent to the Cox River Road, was a crown grant made to John Grant in about 1819, and named after his home in Ireland. He built the present homestead and lived there a short while, eventually selling the property and securing land in the Lachlan Valley near Canowindra. The buyer was Thomas Delaney, senior, who increased the area by selection. After his death the property was taken over by his son, Thomas jnr, who further increased the holding by selection and purchase. For a number of years he supplied milk to Mount Victoria. His five brothers were well-known for their interest in butchering businesses in the district. On this property there was a small cemetery in which some of the pioneers are buried.

Adjacent to this property in Grant's creek the only gold in the Area under review was discovered but in such small quantities that the cost of recovery was greater than the return and had to be abandoned.

Boy on a horse, Ganbenang 1894
Hugh Brady selected approximately 600 acres astride the Cox River Road about one mile from its junction with the main highway. The area west of the road was bought by V. Parkes, son of Australia’s great statesman - Sir Henry Parkes. The land was divided into two blocks, one was bought by N.D. McKillop,  who established the Bonnie Blink apple orchard, the remaining land was bought by W.S. Cripps  who planted the Cranbrook orchard of 120 acres, which is the largest in the district. Orchards have been planted on the northern side of the main road and, by careful selection of suitable fruit from the various plantations, the Hartley growers association secured a first prize at the world-wide Wembly exhibition.

After the opening of the railway to Bowenfels in 1869, practically all the traffic to and from the west ceased to go through Hartley, causing the then flourishing township to collapse, both from a business and structural standpoint - most of the houses were of a very temporary nature. It was also a big loss to the man on the land, to be deprived of a ready market for his products. They concentrated on wool and livestock until the opening of the shale mine at Hartley Vale and the coal mines at Lithgow attracted sufficient population to warrant a revival of farming.

In the eighteen eighties and nineties, pastoral products were bringing very low prices, mainly on account of the western stations being stocked to capacity, and the advent of the rabbit plague in that area. The export of frozen meat to European countries was then only in the experimental stage. Fat cattle were being sold for from £4 to £6 per head and fat sheep were worth from 5/- to 8/- each, according to the amount of wool they carried.

Old store sheep were on offer at 1/- each; best combing wool was selling at from 6d to 8d per lb. There was always a good demand for all classes of horses, especially heavy draughts, coach and Indian remounts. There was a gradual rise in the price of fat stock, until the peak was reached after good rains had fallen over the state. Quoting from the, ‘Stock and Station Journal’, dated 20th June, 1920, ‘Sheep were sold the previous day at Flemington fat stock sales at from £3 to £4 each, with extra prime at £5 and fat cattle to £25.13.0 each’.

In 1831 free grants of land were abolished and the upset price of all crown land fixed at 12/- per acre, until 1843, when the capital value of all rural areas was raised to £1 per acre, and remained at that price under the Free Selection Act introduced in 1861. This act permitted a person to acquire a minimum of 40 acres conditional purchase and 120 acres con­ditional lease, or up to 1280 acres with residential and improvement conditions. These lands were, generally, second class and were held previously by large holders under annual lease and in most cases, were selected by sons of small farmers, thereby increasing the joint holding and permitted the grazing of stock in addition to farming.

During 1902 the whole state was under the spell of one of the most severe droughts known, when hundreds of thousands of stock in pastoral areas died from lack of feed and water. Hordes of rabbits came into the valleys from the west, eating everything edible, and in the summer of 1904-5 the whole of the southern portion was swept by bush fires, reducing the carrying capacity of the land to practically nil. Some of the land has not yet recovered.
Rabbit shooting, Megalong Valley
The problem of getting rid of the rabbits was one of the most difficult the landholder had ever undertaken; all modern methods were used to exterminate them, but with little success. Mr. Vickery had a freezing plant erected at Kanimbla and exported the carcasses overseas. It employed a large number of men trapping the rabbits but had little effect in reducing their numbers. Property owners were forced to realise that wire-netting their boundaries and having all rabbits dug out within their areas was the one and only solution of the menace.

Until near the end of the last century the ruling rate of wages paid to stockmen and other rural workers was 15/- per week, with food and accommodation provided for single men; married men received £1 with rations, which consisted of 10 lbs. of flour, 10 lbs. of meat, 2 lbs. of sugar, 1 lb. of tea, with hut provided and, generally, a cow to milk. Their hours were, in most cases, from daylight to dark and usually six days per week. Shearers were paid 17/6 per 100 sheep, with food and accommodation provided, or £1 per 100 without food.

Dolls'  tea party, Ganbenang 1895
As in all early settlements the women of this area nobly played their part in pioneering the bush lands. The rearing of their families under the most primitive conditions was a problem they cheerfully undertook. Fortunately, there was a strong bond of friendship between the settlers in most cases, and they did not hesitate about going to the assistance of a neighbour in distress. Invariably all were good horsewomen and thought little of carrying their youngest child on horseback when going to render assistance to anyone in difficulties. Few were fortunate enough to have a wheeled vehicle to transport their children needing medical attention, if such was available.

Dr. Rygate was practising his profession in South Bowenfels about 1855. During the construction of the Zig-­zag in 1869, Dr. Flatau was the government medical officer to those employed on the work; he was also available to any local resident needing his services. After the completion of the railway to Bowenfels, Dr. Tualli started practice in Hartley, but did not stay long before transferring to Mount Victoria.

Another problem was the education of their children. It generally fell to the lot of the mothers to give their children instruction in educational and religious matters, as far as they were capable and until they were old enough to send away to a boarding school. In about 1880 a half-time school was estab­lished at Duddawarra and Ganbenang in charge of C. Neave. The buildings were erected by the parents of split slabs with a thatched roof. Five years later the government built schools at each centre, that at Ganbenang was put in charge of Hassan Mylecharane and that at Duddawarra under the control of Miss. G. Poyitt.

Brother and sister, Ganbenang 1895
The settlers' wives generally spent their evenings in the making and mending of the family clothing, which had to be done with a needle and, when time permitted, they also plaited hats from rushes that grew in the creeks; these were known as "cabbage-tree" hats and were in general use until the introduction of felt made from possum fur. The light was supplied from homemade tallow candles, until the introduction of kerosene. The camp oven was in general use for baking bread and roasting meat.

Aboriginals came up to this locality from Burragorang by the Black Dog track for seasonal work in the summertime, such as shearing and harvesting. One, Billy Russell, was regarded as an expert with the boomerang. The natives always returned to the warmer climate of Burragorang for the winter. On the highest point of Tinker's Hill, adjacent to the road leading through these valleys, there is an Aboriginal burial ground. The last two natives buried there were George Miranda and his wife Black Bet.

The end.

Printed and published by Blue Mountains Historical Society

Note - this is an original source document and may contain a number of inaccuracies. Minor corrections to spelling and expression have been made. Explanatory notes in square brackets are by the Local Studies Librarian, based on more recent research. 

All images are from the Local Studies collection.

Blue Mountains City Library, 2014. revised 2017.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Murder at St Hilda’s, Stella Catherine Reynolds

St Hilda's in the 1940s
photo: Blue Mountains City Library

St Hilda’s Church of England was designed by prominent 20th century architect John Burcham Clamp, a partner of Walter Burley Griffin, and built by a Mr. Johnson of Leura. It replaces the first Anglican church built in 1885. This was known as the School Church of St Hilda and was built through the activity of the Rev. Simons, the incumbent at Blackheath. The first clergyman was the Rev. Power. The present building was dedicated by J C Wright, Archbishop of Sydney, on 16th September 1914.  

At about 4.00 pm on Sunday 10th May 1959, John (Jock) Reynolds, a 36 year old cook from the Gearin Hotel, accompanied by his baby son, entered the grounds of St Hilda’s Church.  Over 300 people had gathered in the church hall at the rear, part of the estimated one million Australians who heard a direct radio and landline broadcast of the Billy Graham crusade attended by 150,000 people at the Sydney Showground that afternoon.  Jock Reynolds confronted his wife Stella, who was preparing tea in the church hall at the rear, and started making accusations against her, then in his own words, “blew up” and attacked her with a large kitchen knife.

A woman’s screams were heard by the church warden Mr Robert Ashall, 56, who went to investigate. He was met by a woman staggering outside in the laneway, bleeding from stab wounds to the  abdomen. Inside lying on the floor was Stella Reynolds bleeding profusely from a deep stab wound to the chest, she would be pronounced dead on arrival at Katoomba Hospital a short time later. 
The lane way at St. Hilda's where Patricia Holcroft was found bleeding
from stab wounds and the hall at the rear where Stella Reynolds died.
photo: John Merriman

The woman in the lane was her friend, Mrs. Patricia Holcroft 29, of Railway Pde, Leura, who was injured attempting to protect Stella; she would recover after a four hour emergency operation at Katoomba Hospital. A third woman, Mrs. Helen Gifford, 47 of Canowindra, Stella’s sister, received deep cuts to the arms and hands while trying to protect her sister. The dead woman’s eighteen month old son was found unhurt in the hall. Captain Dixon of the Salvation Army later recovered a blood stained boning knife from the church garden.  
The headstone in Katoomba cemetery
In response to earlier complaints about his behaviour from his wife, Reynolds had told Police, “She is hanging about with a dago at Blackheath and I will continue to persecute her,” and later said in a statement to police, “I had to kill her, I placed her on a pedestal but she killed my love. I was taught to kill in five seconds in the war. I’d do it again. I feel 15 years younger. I’ve got no more worries. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”  

John Reynolds was committed for trial at Central Criminal Court on 11 November 1959 and was found not guilty of murder on the grounds of insanity. Mr Justice Moffitt then directed that he be kept in strict custody during the Governor’s pleasure, he served time in Long Bay gaol and was later deported to Ireland.
John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
2014 Blue Mountains City Library 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Murder in the Megalong Valley, Patrick McAveney

Patrick McAveney's grave in Hartley Cemetery, centre
photo: John Merriman

Inscription reads :
Patrick McAveney
Died 28th February 1873
Age 69 Years

Patrick was murdered by his wife Ann, as described below. The deposition was indeed taken by Edmund Barton, the man who would become our first Prime Minister, who at this time, as a lowly circuit judge, was just starting out in his legal career.


Patrick and Ann McAveney migrated to Australia on the ‘Forth’ in 1841. Sailing from Plymouth on 23rd May and arriving in Sydney on 28th August, having touched no ports on the journey. The ‘Forth’, of 528 tons carried 262 passengers on arrival, four having died on the voyage. There was a school on board which had an attendance of about 30, presumably both children and adults. 

Patrick was born in Dromanay, County Fermanagh, Ireland, son of Owen McAveney and his wife Mary, and was 35 on his arrival in Sydney. His occupation was listed as ‘farm labourer’ and his religion Roman Catholic. He could both read and write and his ‘bodily health and strength’ were noted as very good. 

Ann, daughter of Hugh and Mary Flanagan, aged 33, also a Roman Catholic could read but not write. Her occupation is listed as ‘farm servant - dairy maid’. They brought with them their three sons, Thomas aged 14 (who could read), John 12 and Michael 10. Patrick, on 1st October 1851, purchased 50 acres of land on Pulpit Hill Swamp for £50. 

It is likely that the McAveneys settled in Megalong before buying this land and were probably the only residents in the northern part of the valley. They ran cattle, and if tradition is correct, Patrick was a teamster at some time. Although well liked by his neighbours, he had the reputation of being tight-fisted, and was reputed to have insisted on payment in gold coin which he then carefully stashed out of the reach of his wife Ann. Two such caches have been unearthed, one by Donald Boyd whilst setting a rabbit trap in a hollow log, reputedly 25 sovereigns - and another of 100 sovereigns in a treacle tin hidden in a stump which was discovered by a man from Katoomba, visiting friends who were camped there rabbiting during the depression. 


"I, Ann McAveney voluntarily of my own free will and without promise or threat make the following statement. 
8th March. 1873 
I got disgusted with my husband for the cool way in which he treated me. I thought I would show him the way in which he ought to treat a wife. He used always to treat me coolly. I commenced to arrange matters with him on last Friday night week the 28th February. I killed Patrick McAveney with a tomahawk. I struck him with a tomahawk across the head in bed whilst he was sleeping. I struck him two blows whilst in bed. The blankets were round his head. After striking him with the tomahawk I went out of the house. 

When I returned I found him sitting in a chair by the fire. I struck him again and again, five or six blows. I put all the cuts on his head with the tomahawk. I struck him with a stick on the head. After killing my husband I sat by the fire until I was sure he was dead. I then went to the little room and sat on the sofa. I came out again and looked at him and found he was dead. I got a blanket and some calico and covered him over. I went round the table and laid my hand on his foot. I then knew he was dead. I washed the tomahawk with which I killed him and threw it down in the weeds. 

I was very cautious that the blood should not spurt on to me. I have got no cloths (sic) with the blood on them. My brown dress and apron I had on me when I killed my husband. I took no money from him. I then began to think what could I do to make it appear that robbers had been at the house. Then I concocted the story which I reported to the police that two men with blackened faces robbed and murdered my husband. 
I went to the box and threw the clothes about the house, also the matches and lollies. 
The reason that I killed my husband was on account of his general unkindness and ill treatment of me whilst in a sickly state of health and never treating me as a wife. I told him about three weeks before the murder that I would not treat a dog as he treated me. 

Fourth day of March, 1873. 
Anne X  her (McAveney) mark 
Ann McAveney further states that there was a bank deposit receipt for £50, fifty pounds, which my husband had lodged in the bank, but I cannot say which bank, which receipt I since burnt in fear that should lead to conviction of having committed the murder. 
Tenth day of March, 1873. 

Deposition witnessed at Hartley by Edmund Barton JP "

Ann was tried at the Bathurst Circuit Court on 25th April 1873, found guilty of willful murder and sentenced to death. This sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and she died on 28th September 1883, of natural causes, in the infirmary of Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney.

Ref. Historic Megalong Valley, Mary Shaw 2008 

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
2014 Blue Mountains City Library

Monday, March 31, 2014

Murder on Victoria Pass, Caroline Collits

A man and woman with a sulky and driver pose in the afternoon light on Mitchell's viaduct,
also known as the second bridge, on Victoria Pass.
Note the massive convict-built masonry walls and buttresses of the causeway across the gully.
Image by Katoomba photographer Harry Phillips, from about 1910.
Blue Mountains City Library Local Studies Collection. 
The improved line of road to bypass the steep tracks at Mt York was surveyed by Thomas Livingston Mitchell in 1830 and named by him Victoria Pass. In February 1832 there were nearly 400 convicts working on the Pass and its spectacular stone causeways. It was opened on 23rd October 1832 by Gov. Bourke.

In 1836 Charles Darwin travelled to Bathurst and called it 'worthy of any line of road in England'.

Except for a brief period between 1912 to 1920, when early automobiles preferred the easier grade of Berghofer's Pass, Victoria Pass has remained the principal route of access to the west.

This section of road is the setting for the 1891 Henry Lawson poem,

 The Ghost at the Second Bridge
YOU’D call the man a senseless fool,—
    A blockhead or an ass,
Who’d dare to say he saw the ghost
    Of Mount Victoria Pass;

But I believe the ghost is there,
    For, if my eyes are right,
I saw it once upon a ne’er-
    To-be-forgotten night...

See the link below for the whole poem. 
The Ghost of Victoria Pass 
"It was not until 1813, twenty-five years after the colony was founded, that a primitive road was hacked through the dense bush and rugged sandstone ridges, opening the western plains to settlement.
Convicts laboured and lost their lives building that road, moving thousands of tonnes of rock with picks and shovels and constructing stone bridges as strong and dependable today as they were nearly 200 years ago. The steepest section of the road wound up and over Mount York, but the danger of accident was so great that an alternate route (only slightly less precipitous) was opened and Victoria Pass came into being in 1832. Modern travellers speeding along the smooth black ribbon that is the Great Western Highway give little thought to the perils, physical and otherwise, that lurked at Victoria Pass. In earlier times it was quite a feat to climb to the top and ascend the other side without mishap or delay and, if travelling at night, there was the added risk of encountering the Ghost of Victoria Pass, which haunted the second bridge on the eastern side.
Travellers reported that their horses would become restless as they approached the bridge, then the figure of a young woman dressed entirely in black would suddenly appear in front of them. Some reported that her long, dark hair streamed out in the wind and that her arms were raised in a suppliant gesture. Some said that her eyes shone in the dark like a tiger's and a few said that she was headless. As suddenly as she appeared the spectre would disappear, leaving travellers anxious to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the scene of their harrowing experience. 
History can put a name to this ghost. She was born Caroline James, and at the time of her death she was Mrs William Collits. Caroline came from a shady and unstable family; her father ran a sly grog shop and her drunken mother had hanged herself. Despite this unsavoury background Caroline married into a respectable family: the Collits, proprietors of the inn at Hartley Vale. Unfortunately for Caroline, the Collits who took a fancy to her was the black sheep of the family, William, described by his father as a 'spendthrift idiot'. William Collits and Caroline James were married in 1840, but their marriage was anything but blissful. Caroline's younger sister was married to a thug named John Walsh, who was Caroline's as well as her sister's lover before and after their marriages. When her new husband turned out to be a poor substitute for Walsh, Caroline left him and moved in with her accommodating sister and brother-in-law in a menage-a-trois. 
There was talk of reconciliation between Caroline and William in the New Year of 1842. They met, along with Walsh, for a drink in Joseph Jagger's tavern near Hartley, but soon after leaving the tavern Walsh attacked William. Caroline came to her husband's aid by holding Walsh's arms and screaming to William to run for his life - which he unhesitatingly did. 
At about 6 am the next morning the postman delivering mail to Hartley came upon the battered body of Caroline Collits beside the road on Victoria Pass, about five kilometres from Jagger's tavern. Her skull had been smashed with a large stone which lay, stained with her blood, nearby. John Walsh was arrested for her murder but pleaded innocence, accusing not William Collits as you might imagine but Joseph Jagger, the tavern keeper, of committing the heinous crime. The jury at Walsh's trial did not believe him. He was convicted and hanged at Bathurst on 3 May 1842. 
William Collits remarried seven months after Caroline's murder and lived a long and happy life. His family achieved posthumous fame in the 1930s when they and their inn became the subject (with much alteration of fact) of the first successful musical comedy entirely written and produced in Australia on an Australian subject - 'Collits Inn', starring Gladys Moncrieff and George Wallace. Needless to say, the black sheep's branch of the family and this gruesome episode do not figure in the plot. 
Poor Caroline achieved fame of an entirely different kind - destined to spend an eternity of cold and windy nights haunting the bridge at Victoria Pass, spooking horses and terrifying innocent travellers. Some comfort may have come to her in the 1880s when Henry Lawson and his father came to live in the nearby village of Mount Victoria and the young poet wrote a sixteen verse poem about her entitled The Ghost at the Second Bridge'. Some say that Caroline Collits put a curse on the village of Mount Victoria, but its current prosperity belies that. No one has seen the Ghost of Victoria Pass for many years, which is hardly surprising. The road has been upgraded and widened so many times that the old bridges are barely visible, and if Caroline was still inclined to put in an appearance on the roadside at night, dressed from head to toe in black, it's doubtful if the occupants of the cars hurtling by would even notice her." 
From: The Ghost Guide to Australia by Richard Davis. Bantam, 1988.
Below is a contemporary newspaper account from 1842, the original spellings have been retained. 

"MOST of our readers are aware that there is a man named John Walsh, a freed man, at present lying under sentence of death, in Bathurst Gaol, for the murder of Caroline Collitt, on Mount Victoria, on the 3rd of January last. 
The case was tried before Mr. Justice Stephen, at the last Bathurst Assizes, when, after a lengthened trial, the Jury retired for about twenty minutes, and returned a verdict of guilty against the prisoner, when his Honor passed sentence of death on him, which is to be carried into effect at Bathurst, on Tuesday, the 3rd of May. The perpetration of this crime appears to have been marked with circumstances of peculiar atrocity, such as we believe have seldom been met with in the annals of crime ; and as the history of the case is fraught with unanswerable arguments in favour of the cause of temperance, we have collected the most material of them in the following brief sketch.
Caroline Collitt, the person who was murdered, was, at the time of her death, about seventeen years of age ; she had been married about eighteen months to a man named Collitt, who was possessed at the time of their marriage of a considerable number of cattle, but is generally regarded as a person of weak  mind. About twelve months after her marriage, her mother, who was a notorious drunkard, hanged herself in her own house, her husband being in the house at the same time, but so much in liquor, that he could not prevent her from destroying herself. He was taken up on suspicion of being a party to her death ; but after lying about six months in gaol, was discharged.
About six months before the mother's untimely end, a younger sister of Caroline Collitt  married John Walsh, the convict at present under sentence of death in Bathurst Gaol, and, it appears, continued to live with him up till the time of her sister's murder; but she, as well as her sister Caroline, since the trial, have been ascertained to have been very loose characters, which is fully established by the fact, that both before and after Walsh had married the younger sister, Caroline cohabited with him, and had in fact been for a considerable time living with him, under the same roof with her sister, and in a state of separation from her own husband (Collitt). It has also been ascertained, that just before she lost her life, she was on terms of intimacy with her husband, and intended to go and live with him again.
John Walsh appears to be a native of Ireland, from which he was transported to this Colony in 1833, for seven years; he is about thirty years of age. Since his arrival he has been twice tried for murder, once before Sir James Dowling, in the year 1830, for the murder of a person named Crate, but was acquitted. He was again tried, before Mr. Justice Stephen, in 1839, on a charge of having murdered a woman and her son—a little boy. In this case he was also acquitted, on account of the character of the principal witness against him, coupled with the ingenious line of defence which he set up, and which bore a great similarity to that adopted by him on the late trial at Bathurst for the murder of his sister-in-law (Caroline Collitt). In the former case, it was established, by evidence, that the residence of the woman had been robbed of a keg of rum and some tobacco, and that she and her son had been beaten to death with a stick, which was found near their bodies, at a short distance from their hut. 

Soon after the murder, the prisoner took a native black with him to help him to remove the plunder from the place where they found it concealed in the neighbourhood, at the same time telling him that he had been told by some bushrangers where the property was concealed,—that they had done the robbery and committed the murder, but were afraid of being taken if they went to remove it. Some clothing was subsequently found concealed, which had marks of blood on it; and he accounted for the clothing which he had on when taken, by alleging that the bush- rangers had given it to him, in order that he might enable them to disguise themselves so as to affect their escape out of the district.   So, in the case of Caroline Collitt, he pre- tended that four or five men had set upon him and the deceased, and after compelling him to quit her, and taking his clothes, they had murdered her.
In the case of Collitt's murder, it was proved, that she, her husband, and Walsh, were all in company on the evening of the murder, and had been drinking in a public house kept by one Jaggars, at the foot of Mount Victoria ; that although they were sober when they went there, he had been drinking previously, and while there, he took two glasses of randy, which intoxicated him, while the man Collitt drank one, but his wife had only some lemon syrup.  
After leaving Jaggars' house, without any provocation he knocked Collitt down, whose life was saved by his wife seizing hold of Walsh, and allowing her husband to escape.   This was the last time she was seen alive, and the last words she was heard to utter were addressed to her husband, “Run, he has got a stone, and will murder you.”  
About a mile from the place where the husband fled for his life, her body was found early on the following morning, the face and head covered with blood and bruises, and a frightful wound in the temple, which had penetrated to the brain. This had evidently been inflicted by a large sharp jugged stone, one corner of which fitted into the wound, and was clotted with blood and hair. 
We have heard, that, after Walsh was condemned, when Mr. Justice Stephen was inspecting the gaol in which he is confined, he recalled to his Honor's memory the circumstances of his trial before him in 1839. "
THE MOUNT VICTORIA MURDER. (1842, April 27). The Sydney Herald (NSW : 1831 - 1842), p. 2. Retrieved March 25, 2014, from 


John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian
2014 Blue Mountains City Library

The Plucky Rescuer – the story of Hindman Street, Katoomba

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