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History of Rylstone as told to Aboriginal elder of Mudgee, Jim Birtles; from a document originally written by Peter McCloy with the assistance of Rylstone Local Historian Bill Staff.

 

Jim Birtles
Jim Birtles

 A few miles north of Rylstone, the Great Dividing Range swings eastward, enclosing the fertile, almost treeless flats of the Cudgegong River. Where these flats give way to the rugged mountain country surrounding Nullo Mountain, in the small valleys that lie beneath Mount Never Never and Mount Kelgoola, many early settlers made their homes.

Most of them would originally have found work on Dabee Station as sheep washers or shepherds. Longing for ownership of their own land, and finding the best land already settled, they moved eastward into the mountains. Thomas and Patience Harris, for example, after working for Charles Marsden in the Capertee Valley, and then for Robert Fitzgerald on Dabee, took up land near Mushroom Flat. Their close friends and neighbours were John and Marion Davis.

Marion Davis was Marion Stewart when she arrived on the Midlothian with her friends, the McLeans. The year after her arrival she met and married an ex-convict, John Davis, who had been working on Dabee. Legend has it that Marion, John Davis and John McLean rode on two horses to Bathurst for the ceremony. Certainly John McLean was a witness to their marriage on December 29, 1838.

A family story has it that John Davis was in fact, George Appleby, a London gentleman of good breeding who, somewhat under the influence, stole a coat at a function in England. Upon being tried and convicted, his shame was reputed to be such that he never again contacted his family, and when a convict named John Davis died on the voyage out, Appleby assumed his name. Another legend has it that Appleby murdered Davis prior to assuming his name.

Neither story, as romantic as they are, are borne out by records of the time. It is far more likely that Davis, in a manner common to emancipated convicts of the time, invented a somewhat flattering story to explain his presence in Australia.

The records to disclose the particulars of one John Davis, a native of Lincolnshire, who was tried and convicted on May 19, 1825 in London for stealing a coat. It was his second offence, and the penalty handed down was transportation to New South Wales for seven years. A waggoner by trade, Davis was 5’ 3 1/2 “ in height, with brown eyes and brown hair turning grey, and a small scar over his left eye. He arrived in Sydney Cove on the 430 ton sloop Midas on February 15, 1827 and was immediately assigned to a Colonel Stewart. Several other convicts on the same ship were assigned to William Lee, and may therefore have worked in the Rylstone district.

Our next record of John Davis is in the census of 1828, where we find him working for ‘Mr Smith, of Bathurst’. It may be speculated that this was in fact the Robert Smith who originally owned Brymair, an adjoining property in the Capertee Valley, and that this is how John Davis came to Rylstone. Brymair was later transferred to Charles Simeon Marsden, for whom Thomas and Patience Harris worked on their arrival in Australia in 1835. It may have been here that the Harrises, John Davis and Marion Stewart met and became friends; a friendship that led to intermarriage of their families, and to the occasional feud in later times.

They were a strange couple; she in her early twenties, he a 56-year-old ex-convict. In times when wives were hard to come by, John must have been exceptionally proud of his young Scottish bride.

Their first child, Catherine, was born on October 13, 1839 and was followed on March 11, 1841 by a son, John. Ministers of religion were scarce; the Davises waited until October 29, 1842 to have their children baptised. On this date, the Reverend Colin Stewart made the first of his regular visits to the area, and christened both children. He moved on too quickly—two days later Marion gave birth to a second daughter, Mary-Ann. The Rev Stewart christened her on his next visit to Calcoola, on April 24, 1844, and subsequently their second son, Henry. Born July 15th, 1844 and baptised December 19, 1844.

Two more children, William and Charles, were born in 1846 and 1848, but were not christened Presbyterians. John Davis was an Anglican, and they had been married in an Anglican church. Possibly an Anglican priest was available at the time, and christened the latter two children.

John died on July 2nd, 1848 and was buried on Dabee Station.

In 1958, a fallen headstone was resurrected on Dabee, on the northern bank of the creek that runs into the nearby Cudgegong River. It stands alone in a paddock, with a peaceful and beautiful view of the creek and Dabee homestead. It is made of sandstone, and time has weathered by original inscription. A marble plaque attached when the stone was re-erected reads:

Sacred to the memory of John Davis, who departed this life July 2, 1819, aged 67 years.

White men had not seen the area in 1819; it seems fairly certain that the date should read 1848, and that this tone marks the resting place of the Lincolnshire convict whose descendants settled so many of the properties in the area.

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Life was not easy for the small settlers. Originally they practiced a primitive form of subsistence farming, clearing a small area in a swampy valley beneath the tall mountains of the area. There they built a slab hut, rounded up a few of the cattle that strayed wild through the hills, and raised enough food to feed their growing families.

The wealthy squatters regarded them as a nuisance, and it is highly likely that they differed somewhat in their definition of ‘stray’ cattle. Their children were their farm labourers, expert bushmen and horsemen who regarded the sheep that inhabited the nearby river flats as noxious animals.

Gradually, as they accumulated stock and needed more land, they opened up more and more of the area. At the age of ten, John Davis junior is said to have been a shepherd on land the family settled at The Kerry’s, now part of a National Park surrounding Mount Kerry. No doubt, in his travels through the mountains he would have become aware of the Bylong Valley, then under the control of the Lees, Tindales, Edrops and Dales, but later to be settled b y John and Charles following the Land Acts of 1861.

Under these primitive conditions, healthy families were raised and family holdings increased. The settlers loved cattle and horses, and hated the squatters and sheep, but their major inheritance was a love of freedom, and they settled down to hard work to achieve it and keep it.

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Less than 11 years after her arrival in Australia, Marion Stewart was a 30-year-old widow with six children, a slab hut and a few acres of swampy ground effectively isolated her from civilisation. Today, we can only have admiration for the fortitude that mere survival demanded. No doubt she received much help from her neighbours, the Harrises.

On April 10, 1849, she married Abel Harris in the Church of St John the Baptist Mudgee. Abel was the eldest son of Thomas and Patience; her first husband had been 36 years her senior, her second was five years her junior.

Abel had seven sisters, and the family tree became rather complicated when Marion’s sons, John and Charles Davis, married two of them, Eliza and Dinah. Thus their mother became their step-aunt, and their step-father became their brother-in-law.

Marion and Abel had five children, Thomas, Jane, Effie, Emily and Alice. Abel died in an accident on April 21st, 1879, aged 54 years.

Twice widowed, Marion outlived him by 15 years. She died on August 18, 1894 and is buried beside Abel in Rylstone cemetery. Marion arrived in Australia as a Gaelic speaking dairy maid. She was evicted from the land of her forefathers, but outlived two husbands and gave her new country five sons and six daughters.

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Thomas and Patience Harris landed in Sydney in October, 1835. They came with 8 children, one of whom, Martha, just six months old when they disembarked, probably born on the journey out.

It is said that on their wedding day, Thomas and Patience were allowed to walk in the grounds of Lord Beckford Abbey, as Patience’s brother-in-law was the caretaker. Patience used often to reminisce that they had walked where King George never dared to enter. It is also believed that an aunt of Thomas was the mother of Captain Cook.

Upon their arrival, the couple were employed by Charles Simeon Marsden on his property Mamre, near the present day site of St Marys. Still under the employ of Marsden, they then moved to his properties Fristan Park and Brymair in the Capertee Valley and were then reputed to have moved to Dabee as sheep-washers, and finally, they moved east to Nevert Never near Calcoola.

Thomas and Patience had 12 children: Abel, George, William, Henry, Thomas, Elizabeth, Sophia, Eliza, Dinah, Jane, Mary and Martha.

Children of John Davis and Eliza Harris:
George Henry b.3/2/1861; m M.M.Dodd 25/4/1888; d.11/8/1925 aged 64.
Charles b.25/6/1862; m M.M.Leighton 6/4/1892; d 30/8/1927 aged 65
John b 18/4/1864; m A Wilton 15/2/1899; d 5/12/1907 aged 43
Emily b 16/12/1866; m John Walker 22/7/1901; d 11/9/1942 aged 75
Alfred b 10/10/1868; m M.A.Martin 12/6/1899’ d 4/3/1946 aged 77
Mary b 29/8/1870; d 27/10/1961 aged 91
Alice Maud b 10/8/1872; m John McCloy 8/7/1904; d 21/9/1953 aged 81
Richard b 31/12/1874; d 8/3/1946 aged 72
Isabella b 20/4/1877; d 13/6/1953 aged 76
Percy b 12/6/1880; m Jane; d 24/5/1936 aged 55

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