John Payne wasn’t called “Big John Payne” for nothing.
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 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.
Because John was such a big man, he could rest his arms on each side of the hallways as he walked through the building.
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.
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.
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.