Perhaps the reason my great-grandfather, Jack Payne, was so strict with his daughters when it came to keeping company with young men, was what had happened to his sister, Katey Ann. In 1884, 16-year-old Katey Ann took strychnine when her parents refused to consent to her marriage to one Henry Tee. Stories passed down through the family indicated that two sisters had committed suicide but I have found no evidence of this.

Payne Family Bible

Payne Family Bible

However I don’t know what became of the next sister in the family, Laura Suzette Payne .  She seemed to vanish from the face of the earth.  In 1885 at the ripe old age of 14, she married William O’Connor.  Perhaps Laura’s parents didn’t want to risk losing another daughter so consented to the marriage. Perhaps Laura was pregnant.  Laura’s mother, Mary Ann Sophia (nee Merrick) died in June 1885, the same year Laura married and the year after Katey Ann died. Laura might have been feeling a bit confused when she agreed to marry William O’Connor.

William O’Connor died of opium poisoning in the Moree hospital in 1900 but I have not managed to find any trace of Laura after her marriage.  The two were obviously not living together at the time of Henry’s death.

Death William O'Connor


There was also a story that Laura may have joined a travelling circus or performing troupe but I have found no evidence of that either.  Family stories can be a bit unreliable.

I’ve disproved at least three passed-down-through-the-generations family stories since I started genealogy research.  I’ve also uncovered a member of parliament, two bigamists and an ancestor who was convicted of conspiracy.  Oh and then there are the seven convicts.


Lock up your daughters

When my grandparents, Hugh Mulcahy and Ettie Payne, announced their intention to marry, Ettie’s father accused her of marrying an old man for his money. Hugh was 10 years younger than his father-in-law and 17 years older than his bride.  Despite her father’s misgivings, they enjoyed a long and happy marriage.

Ettie (Payne) Mulcahy

Ettie (Payne) Mulcahy (1893-1987)

Mary Ann (Payne) Bodley

Mary Ann (Payne) Bodley (1890-1974)











Ettie and her sisters were kept on a tight leash by their father when it came to their interactions with men.  That was not unusual for the times but there were suggestions that some of the girls in the family may have married the first man who came along in order to escape their father’s rules and personality.

Eliza Jane (Payne) Connell (1891-1952)

Eliza Jane (Payne) Connell (1891-1952)

One of Ettie’s younger sisters made an unhappy marriage and one day left the district with another man.  Her children came home from school and found her gone.  They never saw her again.  A niece was sure that she saw her several years later in Newcastle but didn’t approach her. Whenever Ettie went anywhere away from her home district she was always looking at the people around her, just in case she saw Grace.

Breaking news

My mum has been reading my blogs and correcting and adding to a few stories.  So here’s the update on Ettie and her sisters. They were indeed kept on a tight leash by their father.

The eldest sister, Mary Ann, frustrated by not being allowed to see the young man she liked, ran off with him.  Mary Ann’s father went after them and brought her back. Mary Ann was probably already pregnant by then so her father, Jack, allowed them to/insisted that they get married.

After that, Jack decided to send the next two daughters, Jane and Ettie, away to work.  Both had suitors and it seems that Jack was trying to put some distance between them and the suitors.  They were both employed at “Gordonbrook” Station, Jane as a housemaid and Ettie as a nursery maid.  They were required to send their earnings home to their parents but after a while Jane refused to, bought herself a wedding dress and eloped with Peter Connell.

Meanwhile Ettie’s suitor, Hugh Mulcahy, had sent her a ring, got her father’s permission and set up house for her, covering every detail down to the milk jugs, and married her.  It was her mother, not her father, who accused her of marrying an old man for his money.

Some fifteen years later Jack decided that he needed to get his two youngest daughters married and more or less arranged their marriages.  Grace didn’t want to marry Bill Turner.  Jack got Bill Mulcahy drunk on overproof rum and got him to agree to marry Ivy.  Both marriages were disastrous.

Ivy (Payne) Mulcahy (1900-1998) and William Mulcahy (1903-1979)

Ivy (Payne) Mulcahy (1900-1998) and William Mulcahy (1903-1979)

Grace Payne (1909-1976) and William Turner (1906 -?)

Grace Payne (1909-1976) and William Turner (1906 -?)

Gold is running in my veins

The mists rose slowly out of the valleys, as first the Clarence, and then its tributary, the Timbarra or Rocky River, were discovered by the cedar-getters and squatters.  While the squatters were still busy establishing their empires, the magic cry of “Gold, gold!”, echoed down the valleys, and almost overnight the scene changed.  Mining camps and townships sprang up on lonely parts of the runs, and roads became alive with hopeful diggers.  This is the scene of our story. (Wilkinson, 1980)

"On the Timbarra" by Tom Roberts from the NSW Art Gallery

“On the Timbarra” by Tom Roberts from the NSW Art Gallery

My mother was born in northern New South Wales.  The various branches of her family tree met there because the country began to open up for timber-getting, farming and grazing in the 1830s as settlement gradually spread away from the areas first settled by the British around what is now Sydney.  Then in 1857 gold was discovered at Boonoo Boonoo (pronounced Bunna Bunnoo by the locals) and in 1858 at Timbarra, in 1859 at Tooloom and Pretty Gully.  The early history of the area is covered in Isabel Wilkinson’s brilliantly detailed but sadly unindexed book, “Forgotten Country” published in 1980.  More recently (2009) Brett Stubbs has published “The Gold Digger’s Arms.  Pubs of the Upper Clarence River district, New South Wales”, a useful and interesting read about (unsurprisingly) pubs, their owners and lessees and their local area history.

Payne ancestors

Mum’s Payne ancestors were convicts who received land grants in the Hunter region once they had served their sentences.

"Big" John Payne (1843-1910)

“Big” John Payne (1843-1910)

John Payne and his wife, Mary Ann Sophia (nee Merrick) left the Hunter around 1870 and worked their way through New South Wales with children born in Inverell in 1871, Tingha in 1874, Pallamallawa in 1876 and 1878, Bininguy in 1880 and Narrabri in 1884.

Mary Ann Sophia died in Narrabri in 1885.  Their oldest son, John Edward (Jack) was settled in the Upper Clarence by the time of his marriage in 1889.  Gold was still being discovered and in fact there was a new boom in the early 1890s.  The Paynes capitalised on this boom by opening the Tooloom Hotel in 1894.

Tooloom Hotel

Tooloom Hotel, 1910 or earlier

“It was said that ‘neither money nor brains have been spared’ in the building of the hotel there; ‘a building quite fit for [Tenterfield] stands up quite grandly over the Tooloom River, and the hospitality to be found there is indiputable’.” (Stubbs, 2009, p.27)

Wherever the Payne family was living in 1889, it was obviously not the spacious establishment of the Tooloom Hotel for the story goes that when “Big” John Payne (so called because he weighed 23 stone) married for the second time in September 1889 and brought his new bride home, his son and daughter-in-law, married only two months themselves, were required to vacate the only double bed in the house.

Smith and Merchant ancestors

There are some mysteries surrounding George Smith but he was born in Buckinghamshire and arrived in Australia in 1857, maybe in the wake of the gold rush. He married Eliza Jane Merchant whose family switched from laying railways in England to digging for gold on the other side of the world.  Their daughter, Mary Ann (Annie), married Jack Payne.

McLean and Mulcahy ancestors

Donald McLean and his wife Ann Matheson arrived in Australia in 1837.  The highland clearances and economic changes in Scotland had impacted their families on Skye and in Inverness and the newly married couple joined the wave of immigration to Australia, America and Canada.  Their daughter, Mary, married John Mulcahy the son of Irish immigrants who had also travelled north from the Hunter region.  Farming opportunities and gold brought these families to the north of the colony.

The branches meet

The Tooloom gold diggings was the place where in 1893 a 17-year-old Hugh Mulcahy (son of John Mulcahy and Mary McLean) heard the news that Jack Payne’s wife, Annie (nee Smith), had given birth to a daughter.  No doubt he congratulated the proud father but can’t have known that he would one day marry that daughter. The 35-year-old Hugh married the 18-year-old Ettie in 1911, and they were my grandparents.

Hugh and Ettie (Payne) Mulcahy and family, 1949

Hugh and Ettie (Payne) Mulcahy and family, 1949

Losing pieces of your heart

Annie Payne (nee Smith) gave birth to at least 15 children.

Mary Ann Payne (nee Smith) (1871-1962)

Mary Ann Payne (nee Smith) (1871-1962)

She was just 18 when the first was born and 44 when the last child whose birth was registered was born.

Apparently there was another baby born after that but it was either stillborn or lived only for a short time. They didn’t bother registering the birth or death and her husband, Jack, buried it.  When you lived in an area somewhat remote from the authorities sometimes it was just easier to do things yourself.  If the neighbours did ask or notice, they weren’t likely to report you because they were in the same situation.

Of Jack and Annie’s 16 children, five died as babies or children and two in young adulthood.

In the terrible year of 1913 my great-grandparents lost four children: six-year-old Violet in April, 14-year-old Bertram and 19-year-old William in May, and three-month-old Percival in October.  An inquiry into the deaths and a post-mortem on the body of William found the first three deaths to be caused by meningitis.  A fourth Payne child and a grandchild also contracted the disease but survived. No photos of the deceased children survive (if they ever existed) but the inquest reported that William was “a splendid stamp of a young man and crack shot”.

"Tenterfield Star", May 1913

“Tenterfield Star”, May 1913

"Tenterfield Star", May 1913

“Tenterfield Star”, May 1913

The newspaper report on the inquest does seem to indicate that Jack was questioned as to whether he had sought medical advice.

In later years when more was known about sanitation, a daughter of Jack and Annie attributed the spread of the disease amongst the family to poor hygiene.  There was of course no plumbing or sewerage on gold diggings dwellings.

We live in an age when parents invest considerable time, money and emotion into their (probably few) children.  Did parents in days gone by allow themselves to be as attached to their children?  Wouldn’t you hold a part of yourself back from getting too attached to a baby who might not survive its first year?  The author Elizabeth Stone said that to have a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.  Annie’s heart must have been damaged beyond words after losing so many children.

Jack and Annie (Smith) Payne with their first three daughters and a couple of photobombers, c1893

Jack and Annie (Smith) Payne with their first three daughters and a couple of photobombers, c1893

Not fit to be seen

“How dare you come here in that condition and disgrace me in front of my guests!” Jack Payne took a last look at his pregnant daughter, Ettie, and strode back into the house.

John Edward (Jack) Payne (1866 - 1956)

John Edward (Jack) Payne (1866 – 1956)

Attitudes to pregnancy

In 1915 many parents turned their backs on daughters who were pregnant and unmarried. It was viewed as a disgrace. Perhaps Jack didn’t know or chose not to remember that his own mother had a child born out of wedlock before she married Jack’s father. Sometimes in communities in the bush where “churches were few and men of religion were scanty”, it seems to have been considered acceptable for the marriage to begin in practice before the ceremony was performed.

Hugh Mulcahy and Ettie Payne on their wedding day in 1911

Hugh Mulcahy and Ettie Payne on their wedding day in 1911

But Ettie was married, had been for four years and even her first child had been conceived and born after her marriage. She and her husband, Hugh, were heading to Killarney to wait for the birth of their third child and Hugh wasn’t about to let his wife labour without medical help available. They were travelling on horseback, each carrying a child but on the return journey there would be three children so Ettie had arranged with her mother to leave the older children there. Now Ettie’s father was turning the little family away.

It’s true that while the average woman in the early 1900s would spend more of her life pregnant than her modern counterparts do, pregnancy was not openly discussed. Women would often just stay home once they began to show. A child’s first inkling that he or she was gaining a new sibling was often once the baby had been born.

Jack Payne

Jack Payne was certainly a man of contradictions and inconsistencies, and not much in the way of sympathy – the sort of man who in years to come would look at three adult grandsons assembled in front of him and invite two of them in for a drink, the sort of man who while his wife, Annie, by then we’ll into her forties had been labouring for three days to deliver a baby, only called a doctor when Hugh said he would otherwise call the police. Maybe that was all that could be expected from someone of pure convict heritage.

Jack and Annie Payne with two of their sons in later years.

Jack and Annie Payne with two of their sons in later years.

I don’t know who these guests were that Jack was so worried about offending and I don’t know what Annie was doing while they were there because she was also pregnant and therefore by Jack’s standards not fit to be seen…


Corrections courtesy of my mother after she read this post.  Ettie and Hugh were travelling to Killarney by sulky for the birth of the baby.  Leaving the older children with their grandparents had nothing to do with carrying the children on horseback.  That story was about Ettie’s birth.  Ettie’s grandmother, Eliza Jane Smith (nee Merchant) was the local midwife so Ettie’s mother had travelled home to her mother for the birth of her first two children.  She didn’t travel for Ettie’s birth because of the difficulties with transportation.