Big John Payne

John Payne wasn’t called “Big John Payne” for nothing.

“Big” John Payne (1843-1910)

The man was 24 stone in the old money which is roughly equivalent to 152kg.  He had a special bathtub made for himself because he didn’t fit in any regular one.  I believe it is in the Upper Clarence Historical Society’s museum.

John Paynes bathtub

John Payne’s bathtub

John was born and grew up in the Hunter Valley where his ex-convict father and child-of-ex-convicts mother had been granted land.  Their house still stands near Wollombi at Payne’s Crossing.

He married Mary Ann Sophia Merrick, the granddaughter of four convicts when he was 21 and after a few years and two children they set off north in search of greener pastures or adventure.  Over the next decade and a bit they lived in different towns in New South Wales.  Mary Ann Sophia died in 1885 in her late forties of a mystery condition, recorded as “tetere grave” on her death certificate.

In the next stage of John’s life he moved to the northern rivers area of New South Wales, ran the Australian Hotel in Drake for a while and then opened his own hotel on the Tooloom goldfields in 1894.

The Tooloom Hotel with John Payne at the far left on the verandah

The Tooloom Hotel with John Payne at the far left on the verandah

Because John was such a big man, he could rest his arms on each side of the hallways as he walked through the building.

A hallway in the building which was once the Tooloom Hotel

A hallway in the building which was once the Tooloom Hotel

Tooloom Hotel

Tooloom Hotel

He also had interests in a number of goldmines and claims.  The best known of these ventures was the “Rise and Shine Gold Mining Company”. Family stories say that he and his son, Jack, salted the mine so that its wealth appeared greater than it actually was to attract investors.

In 1889 John returned to the Hunter Valley to marry Mary Eliza Macfarlane and brought her north with him.  There were no children of this marriage.

John Payne's grave

John Payne’s grave

Big John died in 1910 and is buried at Flagstone near Tooloom.

His widow ran the hotel for another ten years or so before she retired.

Mary Eliza Payne's send off from the Tooloom Hotel

Mary Eliza Payne’s send off from the Tooloom Hotel









People say that John’s ghost haunts the old Tooloom Hotel, now a private residence.  The more prosaic explanation is that it is the cedar which the walls are made out of creaking as the temperature changes.

8 thoughts on “Big John Payne

  1. Hello, do you know where this Flagstone near Tooloom is? is it a cemetery? or a property name, I am trying to find ancestors buried at Tooloom but seeing that John Payne is buried at Flagstone throws any previous documents into doubt. this page has been of great value to me as most of these people are my ancestors also. kevin.


  2. Hello, is it possible to get directions to big John Payne’s grave please, do you know if other Payne’s are buried near him?


    • Hi Kevin. Sorry I missed your earlier comment. I believe that Flagstone was part of property owned by the Payne family but is now owned by someone else and may not be named Flagstone. Big John requested that he be buried there and the grave diggers had to use blasting equipment to dig far enough down in the rocky ground. If you turn into Paddy’s Flat Road from Tooloom Road (assuming you’re coming from the Urbenville/Beuary end), it will be on your right. My almost 91 year old Mum’s memory is that it is close to the road but lower than the road although she thinks she may have heard that a later owner covered it up. Flagstone Creek will show up in a Google Maps search so it’s in that vicinity. I think he is buried alone. There are other graves at the Tooloom Cemetery which is long abandoned and would require crossing through private property to get there. There are not many headstones. If you keep going along Paddy’s Flat Road past the former Tooloom Hotel, the access is across the creek at Billy May’s Point. Somewhere I have a list of who is buried there. I’ll try to dig it out. If you wanted to visit it, perhaps get in touch with the Urbenville Historical Society who might be able to put you in touch with the landowners. Good luck.


      • Hello Jacqui, i have been to Tooloom cemetery on many occasions, i now know it well, i have also documented many of those who are buried there but have no headstone. there is about 9 headstones and currently about 41 people buried there. when i used to visit there back in the 1980s i thought there were more headstones then, i remember wondering why there was so many children’s graves, but today there are only 2 childs headstones.
        some time ago someone stole the railings from a chinese grave.
        i have ancestry links to about 16 of those buried at Tooloom.
        I would appreciate it very much if you could share with me your list of those buried at Tooloom, and i could share with you any i have documented that you are unaware of.
        i have been searching to find a William Slade, last known where abouts was Tooloom area, he has 2 sons buried there at Tooloom but he has Vanished.


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