A Very Different Life II
I’ve had the complete audacity and taken a great liberty in posting the following vignettes on my website ‘blog’. It’s written by a very special lady. I think I’ll let her tell her story? It’s easier to beg forgiveness than to plead for permission!
Featured Image: The ‘Widden Valley’ which Jennifer Ellis knows so very well
By Jenifer Ellis
A Very Different Life (2)
By Jenifer Ellis.
After Thunderbolt’s death in 1870, at Uralla, in the New England Ranges, at the hands of the troopers (the local police), peace and quiet returned to my valley.
It was fertile country with broard acres of farmland situated between the lofty peaks of the Great Dividing Range. The valley became noted as the nursery of champion racehorses, and early Melbourne Cup winners, such as Lord Cardigan, Posinatus and Spearfelt were born and bred on its fertile pastures. Another racehorse of note which came from the valley in the early days was Oakleigh, winner of the Caulfield Cup in 1887, whilst the stallions Lochiel and Grafton were the champion sires of many of the important winners in the latter part of the 1800s.
However, during the 1920s and 1930s the peace of the valley was compromised once more when yet another “Bushranger” took up residence in my valley. This time it was a lady, by the name of Jessie Hickman, who lived a solitary existence in a crude hut at the end of my valley.
Strictly speaking Jessie was not a “bushranger” at all, as she didn’t rob travellers on the road. From an early age she had been apprenticed to a travelling circus where she learnt rough and trick riding and she became an expert horsewoman, who used her skill on horseback .to steal horses and cattle. She stole the cattle and horses from the Western side of the Great Dividing Range, and brought them down the mountains and into a set of stockyards which she had constructed near her hut at the end of my valley. From there Jessie drove the animals on horseback to the cattle sales at the nearest Hunter Valley town, where she made a tidy profit by selling these stolen animals. She once offered one of her horses for sale to my husband’s father. Although it was a superior animal, my father in law declined her offer, as he was well aware of her reputation as a horse and cattle thief!
Jessie was arrested by the police on two or three occasions. She came up before the magistrates and served a couple of stretches in Long Bay Gaol.
Eventually she became more and more eccentric, and for her own protection she was committed to protective custody at an institution in Newcastle. Jessie fretted for her former wild and free bush life, and she died there in the early 1930s. She was buried in an unmarked, pauper’s grave in the Sandgate Cemetery. However, a few years ago, a lady of my acquaintance became aware that she was Jessie’s granddaughter. In 1911 Jessie had given birth to a son, who was given up for adoption, as Jessie realised that life in the wild country was no place for a small child. My friend, Jessie’s granddaughter, has paid for a small plaque in the cemetery, marking Jessie’s grave. After much research she has also written a book, detailing the story of Jessie’s life. My friend herself died a couple of years ago, but not before she had put the record straight and had told the story about her colourful, adventuring grandmother.
My valley is known by a few people for its proximity to one of nature’s arboreal wonders, the small stand of the recently discovered Wollemi Pine. Although not a true pine tree, but rather of the genus Araucarian, these trees were widespread in both hemispheres during Jurassic and Crestaceous periods, but up until they were stumbled upon in a canyon in wilderness terrain by a bush-walking member of the NSW National Parks, they were thought to be extinct and only existeds as 200 million year old fossils. Although I have never seen them, it give me a thrill to think that about thirty specimens of these ” dinasaur” trees were living very near to my valley. Perhaps Jessie had taken note of them when she passed by on her perilous journey with the stolen cattle and horses!