We have been camped on the Turon River, near Sofala NSW, which is an old gold town of the colonial era of early Australia. Settled amongst the she-oak trees it is wonderfully peaceful and you can’t help but think of the golden era, where men panned here for the wealth of the earth in their thousands and history was etched into the banks of these rivers.
The wallabies and roo’s pass us by each day and the birds move between the trees. The song of the bush is beautiful. There are wild blackberries here and wild tobacco, a remnant of the gold mining days. Plants that the diggers often nurtured to provide the sweet things in life that were difficult to live without. Wild goats roam the bush and goanna’s stalk quietly like a visitor from pre-history.
One of my Great, Great Grandmothers walked these trails 150yrs ago, the same trails that I now step. She looked out over a much busier place than the one I see for when she was here, the banks of the Turon were alive with men and families seeking their fortune.
It has changed little in many ways, platypus still paddle around the shallow ponds and roo’s still pass us by. The river is very dry now, some say from the mines which have dampened springs, other say the drought. Hopefully that will change.
If she was to write me a letter from another time, but within the shadows of the same place I am now, this might be just what she might write to tell me.
On the Gold Fields – 1852
My daughter Ann was born on a Nugget of Gold a few days ago, we now have two daughters but I will tell you off little Ellen in just a time. My husband Timothy has worked the gold fields of Turon on the Meroo near Mudgee and at Skipton as well, since our marriage more than a year ago. I was a child when I married, but now I am truly a woman for I have seen things that only a woman should know.
I am now 18yrs old and the man I married is a strong and wild currency lad, as different from the sterling boys who visit this country from England, as this land is different from the rolling hills and dales of Scotland where I was born, or even the cold winds of England.
I love the wildness about him; that he is free spirited and not like the men of other countries, though my father would have preferred I choose other than he. But life for my family is hard, farming and homesteading on the Williams River north of Sydney Town while the men break new ground from virgin land. This land is still as wild and as free as my husband. This too I love.
Life on the new gold fields is also hard, many are old lags and the living is rough but Timothy knows how to deal with these men. Mostly they are ticketed men, old convicts who have found the freedoms of the bush and the glories to be found in the gold fields. People from all over the world have come to this place looking for gold, the fields are a babble of languages but all are after the same purpose.
I first met Timothy when I was barely 9 or 10yrs old, I was only four when my folk bought me to this country and I have never really known anything different. He was a young man of just 16 when he came to his Grandmother at Bona Vista in the Williams River, this in the Hunter Valley below Dungog and even then he had fire in his eyes.
Timothy had been born to this land but he had never really known the gentle touch of a mother, nor the love she would have had for him. She was the same age as I when she married, just 17yrs old when she died giving birth to her son. But I now have survived this same trial. You see Timothy was mostly raised in an orphanage, his father was a shepherd in the Big River Country on the high wilderness plateau of Van Diemen’s Land and he was unable to care for him.
His Grandmother works for Master Phillips who owns the now grand estate of Bona Vista known also as Paterson in the Hunter Valley. She was a free woman who met the Phillips family when she travelled out from our motherland Scotland some thirty years ago, though her history is a dark shadow and now she is a servant. We do not talk of these things for they were dark and difficult times for the new penal settlement of Sydney Town. Her family is of the Ogilvie clan and are well known also in the settlement towns around the district.
It was for only the reason that my father thought the family emigrants and not convicts that I think he allowed the friendship between us. This and that Timothy was well known to the Mackay’s of Melbee Station on the Williams River where he worked. But I know that he was convict born, his parents were both convicts in Van Diemans Land and this we do not talk about either.
Tim worked at Melbee Station, also a grand holding on the Williams River and he has worked there for ten years or more while he grew to become a man. Most of the workers were convict boys but it was good work and he was a free man. He was paid for the work he did and it taught him how to farm the land but his heart is not in farming.
Because he is a free man he lived close with the family and was company for Angus their son, they are friends those two and the Mackay’s are a well respected family in the district. Angus was sweet on my older sister Jane and they married around the time Timothy, my husband, arrived in the district as a young man. Because I was of an age to help Jane at Melbee when her babies arrived, I came to know Timothy well.
When they discovered gold on the Meroo, which is the worlds end, all Timothy and Angus could think about was finding their fortunes on the gold fields like so many men who flocked to the fields. Gold was easily won then but not so much now and life can be very harsh on the fields. So it was that we were married and travelled west over the mountains to the goldfields to make our fortune. I think I would have gone with Timothy even if we had not married and this too made the choice easier for my father.
At first it was a grand adventure on the Turon fields, there were so many men panning for the gold and making a living if not a fortune. In 1852, in the first year of our marriage the Turon River flooded and it was a desperate time for the miners. The waters that swept down the Turon River trapped many and men died, then disease arrived onto the gold fields. Dysentery was rife and the miners fled the fields, finding gold in drier fields nearby in places like Wattle Flat and Tambaroora with some going on to the new Victorian fields.
Timothy’s father, with his ticket of freedom, worked to win gold on the Victorian gold fields, those near Balarat and Beaufort. He lived there with his second wife Peggy and it too was a rough and difficult life. Our first child Ann was born on the Skipton gold fields and we by then had the care of young Ellen whose parents had died on the fields.
Born on a nugget of gold was our little Ann, in what was an otherwise terrible and trying year. My husband Timothy was never so happy as to hold his young daughter. We were the only family he understood and we had the fortune in the nugget that had arrived when she had, secreted away. These things were our future; our children and the fortune this gold would bring us.
We are returning to Melbee near Dungog soon, when I am more able to travel, as Angus’s father Angus Mackay Snr is afoot on the trail of gold. He has offered Timothy work once more on Melbee and it is time for us to go home.
This is my story and it is but a beginning…
Martha Roy 1838-1908
You can read Angus Mackay’s account of ‘A Pedestrian Walk Through the Goldfields’ as an on-line/downloadable resource. Published in 1852
This tale is a fictional account woven amid facts.
Timothy Roy was to return to the goldfields many times. At times with his young family and at others with his sons as they grew to men, always seeking the family fortunes. Some of the large family eventually settled in Sydney by the 1880’s others at Krambach and Nabiac in the Hunger Valley and still others who broke away to pioneer in the wilderness of NSW. Many were true wild colonial sons and daughters of another era. These are the stories of young Australia.
Angus Mackay (McKay)
“NOTHING IS HERE FOR TEARS, NOTHING TO WAIL
OR KNOCK THE BREAST, NO WEAKNESS
DISPRAISE OR BLAME, NOTHING BUT WELL AND FAIR
AND WHAT MAY QUIET US IN A DEATH SO NOBLE.”