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.

Vanished

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.

 

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