Originally Published 27 June 2014:
Other people who are relevant to these pages during the 1840’s and onwards include the ex naval Lieutenant Peter Belches and the former East India Company men John Laurence Morley and Thomas Lyell Symers. We’re also interested in what Captain John Hassell and his wife Ellen got up to, what developments George Cheyne was able to forge and the arrival of John McKail, Hugh & John McKenzie and Thomas Meadows Gillam. Also, the ever shifting fortunes of the ship’s carpenter James Dunn.
Above: This pencil and wash sketch of Albany dated February 1854 shows the village status of the town at that time. The jetty in the foreground, commenced by McKail and Dunn in the Spring of 1837, was 75 yards long and located where the Marina and Boatshed Markets are today. McKail had blocks at the foot of the jetty and along Stirling Terrace just east of the London Hotel where (probably) he and James Dunn lived during that time. The sketch is unattributed.
James Dunn looks to have arrived as a lone passenger on the James Pattison aged 21, having just completed a seven year Shipright’s apprenticeship. There is no surviving passenger list from that voyage but Dunn appears to be the only known permanent Albany resident who didn’t have a cabin. There isn’t much known about his early life other than being the son of a blacksmith from Woodburn, in Kent. Dunn must have found demand for his skills, was perhaps even hired while aboard, as he quickly involved himself in the construction of the infant town.
The James Pattison arrived in June 1834, six or seven months after Sir Richard Spencer took up his appointment as Albany’s second Resident Magistrate. One of Spencer’s tasks was to establish a police force, largely because of the growing prevalence of American whaling ships and the practice of letting off their crews for time ashore. The whaling patronage served the hotel and liquor business best but the spill-over necessitated a lock-up and some kind of person-in-charge. Spencer set about getting the gaol built, probably using Dunn’s services, and on Stirling’s authority appointed Alexander Cheyne the grand title of Superintendent of the Mounted Police Corps at Albany. Captain Alexander Cheyne was soon disenchanted though and lured away by the promise of better in Van Diemen’s Land or New South Wales.
Around this time Dunn partnered up with 26-year-old Scotsman John McKail who had been expelled from Perth after a series of offences reflecting his early nature, which included shooting Gogalee, the adolescent son of Yellagonga, after suspecting Aborigines from a nearby camp were going through his possessions. Narrail, the son of Yagan was also clubbed to death at the time. This was during the period following Stirling’s ‘Put Down’ at Pinjarra and there was much tension along the Swan River. From the Timeline Of Aboriginal History of Western Australia;
March 1835: Stirling attempts a reconciliation, realising things had gone too far. To prevent a payback killing from Yellagonga, or from his son Nandra, who was grieving over the death of his brother, Stirling ordered the immediate arrest of McKail. Yellagonga was invited to witness his trial. Stirling then acted to seal a peace treaty with the Perth Noongar, distributing fifty loaves of bread, after the celebration of a peace “kening” (= Noongar, “corroboree“) McKail was eventually let free on a legal technicality. Francis Armstrong secured the peace by ensuring that McKail repaid Yellagonga with food and blankets. McKail was then banished from Perth, and moved to Albany, where he became a well known local settler. The case established an unfortunate precedent, as henceforth an Aborigine’s testament was not accepted unless supported by white testimony.
Some detail behind that incident and more about McKail’s notorious six-year period at the Swan River and later time at Albany can be found in Cecily McKail’s, ‘Reflections on the McKail History‘, which may still be available for sale through Cecily McKail-Millar’s family history website.
I might say it’s a little disturbing to have discovered this information about John McKail in the Aboriginal arena first. When I went in search of it elsewhere nothing showed up in the Albany files. It’s as if the occurrence of this very significant incident had been erased from McKail’s personal history. An 1930 posthumous article from the Albany Advertiser about John McKail can be found here. This eulogy employs a sort of reputational engineering that should be undone, that should be exposed in the on-going and continuous process of revising our history. I’m not saying McKail was a bad man turned good, I’m saying he did something of negative historical consequence that needs to be attached to his name. Along with McKail’s, there are many other personal stories crying out for inclusion here but it’s impossible to give them the space they deserve. As we march on in this blog series I’ll be disclosing more hidden, disguised, buried and omitted information relating to the not-so-gentlemanly deeds of certain settlers.
So, McKail also had ship carpentry skills but was moneyed to some extent and after a period became a merchant and financier. He arrived, by the looks, in 1836 and was soon fined for selling alcohol without a licence. He refused to pay and was gaoled (Garden; pg 54). When released he was living with James Dunn in a cottage east of the London (Chusan) Hotel on Stirling Terrace. The two men applied for and were granted the contract to build the first jetty at Albany which was located below the Lawley Park area today because of its proximity to a fresh water stream used for watering arriving ships. Also, because it was close to the commissariat store, the barracks, hospital and gaol, all of which suited the town’s leading citizen Sir Richard Spencer, but which the townsfolk such as T.B. Sherratt who had invested in York and Parade Streets east of there found hard to stomach. It was October 1837 when Patrick and Mary Taylor arrived post-wedding on the Champion and Dunn’s hand was lost in the exploding canon incident when the two men set to fire it in announcement of the ship’s arrival. The accident prevented Dunn from ever returning to work as a carpenter and the next year Spencer appointed him Constable and Town Gaoler to replace the unceremoniously outed John Mason. Some detail of this is available at the West Australian Police Historical Society’s web page, Early Policing at Albany. Both Dunn and McKail went on to do much more in and around Albany but while McKail’s history climbed from the dubious upwards, James Dunn’s accident was the first episode in a lowering trajectory. (McKail became Post Master and school teacher before going into business, later becoming the first Member of Parliament for Albany.)
I say lowered because James Dunn was active in a civil sense throughout his life. He was industrious and committed and the town, it appears, liked him, but there are a few cloudy episodes involving women and children outside of his marriage which cast doubt over his fidelity and the subsequent behavior of his sons makes it difficult to completely dispel those aspersions. His position as gaoler wasn’t easy and he may not have been that good at it. He lasted until 1849, after being downgraded around 1840 and then again in 1844 when a mass escape occurred under his watch. During this time (October 1843) he married Elizabeth Henderson, a domestic servant who had come to Albany to work (possibly for the Spencers). Elizabeth’s parents were indentured to the Forrest’s who had settled at Australind. The Dunns began their family with the arrival of sons William, in February 1847, and John, in October 1848. The couple had ten children in all, two of them not surviving childhood. In 1849 Dunn built a stone cottage. Marian Brockway, who compiled a history on the Dunn boys, The Dunns of Cocanarup, says James Dunn quarried the stone and carted it by wheelbarrow to the house site on the Albany (Perth) Road himself.
Thomas Meadows Gillam was a shipright too, he is thought to have come to Albany either from Hobart Town on the Jane or on the Buffalo, along with the Spencer family, in 1833. It isn’t clear. What he did between 1833 and the initial arrival of Captain Thomas Lyell Symers in 1835, isn’t known either but Gillam was commissioned by Symers to construct him a fifty ton schooner on the Kalgan River where Symers must have decided he would buy land. The schooner was to become a whaler. It’s possible, even likely, Gillam and Dunn worked together on this project, a job which may also have included McKail. Dunn also involved himself with Symers in a ship building project which Symers commenced in 1844. The story of the Fairy is another forgettable episode for both men, and for the town at large really, but because the ship, which was never registered and never launched, was allowed rot in full view of the town on a sandbar deep inside Princess Royal Harbor, it became the stuff of legend. You can read the sorry story of the Fairy at the Western Australian Museum’s, Shipwreck Database.
Between 1839 and 1841Thomas Gillam and John McKail married two of three sisters by the name of Jenkins; Henrietta and Elizabeth respectively. The Jenkins sisters were children to indentured servants of the Spencers. The third and youngest Jenkins sister, Emma, married Thomas Sherratt, the last of Thomas Brooker Sherratt’s children to be born in Surrey before they all arrived on the James Pattison. You may begin to see now, the little clique we are dealing with and the intrigue only grows the longer you stay with it. Not that Albany could offer much by way of anonymity in those days. In 1843 the population was only 213 (male 141, female 72). Six years later, at the end of 1849, it was still only 428 (306 males and 122 females); the male to female ratio stretching from two-to-one out to three-to-one in the process.
Thomas Meadows Gillam is associated with the construction and ownership of the Heritage Registered Pyrmont House on Serpentine Road. Documentary evidence supporting the house’s historic significance gives some insight to the Gillam family of Albany/Porongurups/Cranbrook begun by Thomas Meadows.
In 1859, John McKail looks to have taken up a lease for the entire Porongurups Range, this was subsequently modified but in 1867 he was officially granted two sites. The western Porongurup grant was called Pilgi Pilgi, which he later leased to the Ponton Brothers, convict expirees from Northern Ireland. The site on the eastern flank he called Bolganup. McKail doesn’t look to have ever lived at the Porongurups. In the end he leased Bolganup to his wife’s sister’s family, the Gillams, who eventually sold it on to the Faulkner family who still own and run it as an Historic Guest House today. The Gillams and Dunns became neighbours at the Porongurups from 1860 as James Dunn took a 40 acre plot at that time which he called Woodburn after his English home town in Kent. The Dunn and Gillam children grew older alongside side each other in a fairly remote place, the result being intermarriage between various of the brothers and sisters.
Another noticeable aspect of the people involved in this history, which I may have already commented on, is the prevalence of Scotsmen among them. James Dunn’s wife, Elizabeth Henderson, was Scottish as well. For anyone interested, there was a doctorate thesis completed by Leigh Beaton in 2004 which looked closely at the Scots grouping in Western Australia, much of which centered around the Albany contingent. Westralian Scots; Scottish Settlement and Identity in Western Australia, Arrivals 1829-1850 by Leigh S.L. Beaton, B.A. was presented to Murdoch University and is still available online to read or download. Albany’s early history is heavily influenced by James Stirling’s Scottish settlers.
Thomas Lyell Symers (a Scot) was a larger than life character and I could (should) write a whole lot more about him but between the ADB link and the below newspaper account from 1968 there’s fair flavor to be got. He was physically big, had big progressive ideas, was aggressive in their determination and apparently fond of a drink too. A loud outspoken character wholly unafraid of the world and what it could throw at him, his efforts were never-ceasing but yet his financial rewards were met more than once with severe set back and his ultimate wealth did not match his reputation. Symers’ life was more about what happened than how much he made. Thomas Lyell brought his wife and her brother from Madras in India along with a group of Indian hillsmen laborers (Coolies – effectively Asian slaves). He had three sons and a daughter, all born at Albany. The family lived near the Taylors and also called their locality Candyup. Stewart (b 1846) and Clarissa (b 1852) Symers were friends of the Taylor children. Thomas Lyell was perennially at sea and Mary (nee Johnstone), his wife, paid many visits to her dear neighbor and friend Mary Taylor right up until she died (ultimately from a buggy accident which occurred while visiting the Taylors at Glen Candy) in 1875.
Symers was quick to buy lots around Albany (three on Chauncy’s 1851 plan carry his name) when he finally decided to make the place his home and he bought farmland too, taking a leaf from another of the ship owners to settle in Albany, Captain John Hassell. Hassell, we know, bought up the Moorilup grants at the head of the Kalgan River, combined them and called them Kendenup – often spelled at that time Kindenup (about which an excellent centenary article was written by Robert Stephens in 1940) where he built a large family home. Hassell also accumulated land at Jerramungup, Hay River, Kojonup and Many Peaks. Symers leapt at the Kojonup oppportunity ahead of Hassell, along with Peter Belches and one or two others. They were already pasturing there in 1840 when Edward John Eyre came through and collectively lost more than a thousand animals to the dreaded Poison Bush. The bush, which is (was- mostly eradicated now) only poisonous when sprouting new shoots, effectively destroyed Symers’ prize imported sheep stock as well as stock he contracted to graze for others and represents another of his significant losses.
The revelation of Poison Bush to prospective settlers placed an inestimable delay on the development of Albany as a regional centre and resulted in the virtual abandonment of Kojonup during the 1840’s.
Symers greatest loss was another ship, the stolen Ville de Bordeaux, in which he bought a share. The Ville de Bordeaux was a French whaler the captain of which wrongly represented himself as sole owner of in ports around the South Seas. The captain then sold the boat, illegally as it turns out, in Sydney for £3200 then hightailed it to Calcutta, apparently, with his Australian actress lover.The ship was very quickly on-sold for over £9000 and it was this ownership which Symers was implicated in. When Symers pulled in to Adelaide to buy more livestock sometime later the ship and its loaded cargo were seized and Symers lost the lot. It was soon after this he involved himself in the construction of the never to be launched Fairy. This December 1841 article which appeared in the Perth Inquirer gives an account.
It would be interesting to find out what happened to Symers’ Indian laborers and to the ten or twelve others that were brought out by John Laurence Morley around the same time. Did they integrate with the Albany working class and are there descendants of theirs living in the town today? Or did they put in their ten or so years of service and to a man return to their home country? Did any of them integrate with the Aboriginal community and is there any memory if so?
In 1840 Captain Hassell returned from a trip to the eastern colonies in a charted ship called the China. This was after he had bought Cheyne’s and Morley’s Moorilup grants. He had aboard the China 800 sheep, 12 cattle and 10 horses intended to stock the land. John Morley who was Harbour Master at the time and Hugh Seymour Spencer probably acting as Customs Officer rowed out to meet the ship and upon completing their tasks made back to the harbor shore. Unfortunately, their little boat overturned and both were drowned. Morley was 38 years old, married and had an eighteen month old daughter. At the time he was in the middle of building a brick house for his family at the harbor entrance. Hugh Seymour Spencer was Sir Richard’s eldest child, he was 25 and unmarried. His younger brother Horatio had been killed just four months earlier working on Edward Spencer’s farm (inherited from his father who had only passed away in August, three months prior to that) when a large overhanging branch fell on the house he and William McKath were in. The tragedies left an understandably indelible stamp on the remaining Spencer family.
Opposite: Morley’s part constructed family home at Point King was abandoned by his Coolie laborers after his untimely death on March 6, 1840. Point King Light House (above) was built around 20 years later, in 1858, near or on the same site. Photo courtesy of Wikipeadia ‘Port of Albany’ webpage.
Morley’s brick house was left incomplete until the end of the decade when the Reverend John Ramsden Wollaston arrived. Wollaston, who we know a little about already, especially in regard to his relationship with the Bussells, didn’t suffer that kind of tragedy but he did have a wayward son in Edward, the effects of which didn’t sit comfortably with his work. Wollaston was a soldier to my mind, he did what his God and Church asked him to do and he did it till it killed him. He died in May 1856 soon after returning from a long horseback ride around his Archdeaconry which covered the Avon Valley, Swan River, Bunbury and the Vasse, as well as Albany and its hinterland He was dutiful more than anything and I say this because he attracted criticism for his pessimism. Although he was fully committed and worked constantly to achieve something, it seems he had to fight against strains of futility, inclinations that little was to come from anything he did; that the colony was too big, too agriculturally poor, too socially and religiously mixed and too under populated to ever be able to match his hopes. He had belief but lacked confidence and that pessimism is what pervades The Gun, story six in my OUTDONE collection, which features him.
One thing that brought joy to Wollaston’s Albany appointment was the arrival of another son, Dr Henry Newton Wollaston, when he was given the position of Government Medical Officer at King Georges Sound in 1850. Dr Henry bought Morley’s incomplete structure, had it broken down, removed from Point King and reconstructed as Wollaston House on Lot 61 of Chauncy’s 1851 Town Plan; the corner of Duke and Parade Streets.Wollaston House is also on the Heritage Register.
Two years after Morley drowned the ex-naval lieutenant Peter Belches, who had somewhat ironically given up his position as Harbour Master to Morley in order to take up the skipper’s role on the colonial schooner, Champion, married Mary Catherine Bricknell, Morley’s widow. Very interesting. Its clear Belches preferred a relationship and family to the idea of remaining a bachelor the rest of his days, as he moved fairly quickly in on the widowed former Mrs Morley. Belches was 46 at this point and it was going on eight years since the James Pattisonhad arrived at the Sound. Mary Catherine Morley (nee Bricknell) had only just begun her 30’s, was alone with her daughter but, attractive to Belches as well, I’m sure, at least in possession of her deceased husband’s not inconsiderable assets.
Belches caught my eye earlier on too because of a single quote I’d read somewhere which seemed to suggest he had taken a fancy to Mary Bussell (or the other way around) while on the voyage out. I said in the last post I’d elaborate on the relationship which appeared to form between Mary Bussell and Peter Belches on the James Pattison ahead of Mary’s other relationship with Patrick Taylor. So, here we go. . .
Belches (1796-1890) was another Scot who sailed with Captain Stirling on the Success from Sydney to the Swan River on that exploratory mission of 1827. Point Belches on the South Perth Esplanade is named after him. The Success called in at King George’s Sound on its way back from that visit to pick up Major Edmund Lockyer and return him to Sydney, whereupon Lockyer furnished his resignation and began the second half of his life as a less than successful layman. Belches returned to England in 1831 and went onto ‘Half-Pay’, the privilege of a Navy Officer no longer on active service. When Stirling went back to try and win support for his failing Swan River Colony in 1832 he persuaded Belches, then in his middle thirties and still single, to come out and join him; the promise of a tidy little sinecure thrown in to the bargain. Belches got off the James Pattison at the Sound and immediately took up the Stirling sanctioned position of Harbour Master, commencing an approximate fifteen year stint using his status, experience, relative wealth and arrogance to try and build a fortune from the limited opportunities the remote little settlement afforded.
I don’t know what happened between himself and Mary Bussell once the ship landed. We know the James Pattison was held up for three months in Albany during the winter of 1834 before eventually reaching Fremantle on Tuesday, August 19th. Belches must have wasted no time finding somewhere to live and settling in. Mary, her mother and Patrick sailed on to Fremantle where the Bussells transferred to Augusta and Patrick wandered about before inadvertently ending up in Van Diemen’s Land, so all three parties went their separate ways and it was almost two and a half years later before Patrick finally made his proposal.
In story four of the OUTDONE collection, When Patrick Taylor Met Charles Darwin, I have it that Patrick is love-struck from the moment he lands at King George’s Sound, which I still think he might have been but at the time of writing I hadn’t read Dr R.C. Fairbairn’s submission to the Western Australian Historical Society, Diary of Mary Bussell’s Voyage in The “James Pattison”; at least not in full. Dr Fairbairn was son of Robert Fairbairn, a prominent legal professional and first generation son of the Swan River colony who married Fanny Taylor, Patrick and Mary’s youngest daughter. His submission to the WAHS Early Days Journal, Vol 8, 1946, was an edited account of the voyage lifted selectively from Mary’s own hand written diary which is now, I think, part of theFairbairn Collection bought at auction by the State Library from the Fairbairn Estate in August 2012. All very important and official sounding, isn’t it? Anyway, the Western Australian Historical Society very kindly photocopied the relevant pages from that 1946 publication and mailed them all the way to Dublin for me, and for that I’m grateful.
Dr Fairbairn was probably quite deliberate in portraying 30-year-old Mary’s voyage as one where she confidently spends time on the poop deck with most of the men sailing cabin class. She doesn’t do it to the exclusion of the women and children, but she does entertain the company of the obviously willing single men, just two of which were the 27-year-old ‘Mr Taylor’ and 37-year-old ‘Mr Belches’. The following cropped excerpts show what Mary was thinking about Belches. The first entry, dated February 18th, comes nine days into the sailing. . .
Above: Mary Bussell Ship Diary, Monday, 18 Feb 1834
Above: Mary Bussell Ship Diary, Saturday, 22 Feb 1834
Above: Mary Bussell Ship Diary, Monday, 24 Feb 1834
Above: Mary Bussell Ship Diary, Tuesday, 4 March 1834
Above: Mary Bussell Ship Diary, Tuesday, 4 March 1834
Above: Mary Bussell Ship Diary, Friday 5 April 1834
Above: Mary Bussell Ship Diary, Saturday, 12 April 1834
Above: Mary Bussell Ship Diary, Tuesday 25 April 1834
Quite the intellectual, wasn’t she? I really like the tone of her writing, it’s intelligent and assured, if a little practiced. It gives a genuine flavor of the period. Writing was a fundamental component of the era for people of that social dominion and I get the feeling the practice of it affected the deliberate or formal nature of their being, rather than the other way round. In both speech and writing articulation was admired and they were very good at it; writing would certainly have helped. Mary was an avid reader and her diaries and letters reflect that. Very little was written by her that wasn’t done so with a nod to the invisible eye. It was as if everything she set down had to be delivered in such a way as who ever might read it could see no weakness and hold nothing against her. She presents as the invisible author, an impeccable character in her own first person narrative. Was she a true writer like that, properly addressing her audience whoever they were, or was it that the Bussells were a religious family and the eyes of God were always watching?
After reading the entire article I came away thinking she was captured by Belches, at least until they reached the Cape. They were still two months out from King George’s Sound when Dr Fairbairn, or perhaps the editors at the Early Days Journal, decided there was enough in the article to be getting on with. Either way, Belches clearly competed for her attention, if not her affection and I wonder what transpired which wasn’t written.
Above: Peter Belches – not
Belches became acquainted with Captain Alexander Cheyne while aboard the James Pattison and with his brother George, when he settled at Albany. After marrying Morley’s widow the couple had five children, one of which, Richard (known as Dick) featured in the Taylor family history during the 1860’s. Belches teamed up with George Cheyne around 1840 trying his luck buying and selling land in partnership and the two also cut Sandalwood and prospected for gold at the Stirling Ranges. Belches was a trustee of St John’s church in Albany and features in story six of the OUTDONE collection,The Gun. There are no images of him that I could find so I rummaged around on the internet till one that I thought fitted my impression of him presented itself. The image to the left is the one I chose. I don’t know who it is, or the time frame of the shot, but the man, although dressed in American-style period clothing, seemed to fit the bill.
George Cheyne prospered well during the first half of the 1840’s when the American whaling fleet was at its invasive peak, going from strength to strength out at Cape Riche. Members of his own family which he had encouraged to come out, as we learned before, couldn’t find it in them to stay at the lonely Sound and left. In their absence Cheyne turned to his wife’s family, the Melvilles, and began asking there. First to arrive was Andrew Moir, son of Grace Cheyne’s sister Elizabeth, in 1842. Subsequently Andrew Muir, son of Margaret Melville, who was the eldest sister of Grace, arrived with his wife and family in 1844. Alexander and George Moir, with their parents John and Elizabeth and sisters Isabella and Elizabeth, arrived in 1850. The arrival of William Henry Graham in 1852 completed the Cheyne inheritance. (The eldest Moir nephew, John, came at the instigation of his brother Alexander in 1859). Graham was not related to the Moirs and Muirs, but rather the grandson of Cheyne’s sister Cecelia Wilkinson.
Cheyne had been keen for Alexander Moir to understudy the merchandising interests in Albany, while Andrew and George Moir took care of the pastoral interests at Cape Riche and in the Pallinup River watershed.
The last of the entries in this post goes to another Scottish family, The McKenzies, who arrived into Albany on the family ship The Brothers, which they had sailed from New Foundland right down the guts of the Atlantic and across into the Indian Ocean from there. They pulled in to the Sound en-route to New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land (possibly even New Zealand) because the old man, Captain Hugh McKenzie Senior (an old Caithness Legionaire) was dying. The ship had ten McKenzie familes aboard, those of the sons and daughters of the old captain. The families stayed in Albany until the old man died in Jan 1841 and then Hugh sailed them east, sold the ship in Hobart and came back to Albany with another vessel (I think) and enough money to buy into the hotel business, go into sea transport and start bay whaling. Hugh’s brother John stayed behind as well, I think because they were married to sisters and the two couples had decided to stay together regardless, but also because they found a strong Scottish community in place at the Sound and in it they saw opportunity.
Working out the McKenzies gets confusing because there are multiple generations of a broad family who each used the names John and Hugh, but John McKenzie, son of Captain Hugh, owned and ran the Ship Inn located at the foot of the old Town Jetty, the 75 yard one McKail and Dunn built where the Marina is today. The Ship Inn was in business from as early as 1837 and was a major feature of the social life of the town at that time. Certainly it was frequented by the visiting whaling and sealing crews during their heaviest period of endeavor which ran from 1839 to 1845. Overall, the McKenzies prospered and multiplied, most notably those of the publican and whaler John. More about them in future posts related to story eight in the OUTDONE collection; Empty.