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