Sir John Robertson, (1816–1891)

Sir John Robertson, (1816–1891)

Featured Image: Sir John Robertson and ‘Yarrandi’

By Bede Nairn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Featured Image: John Robertson (1816-1891), by unknown photographer

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/3840

Sir John Robertson (1816-1891), land reformer and politician, was born on 15 October 1816 at Bow near London, third son and fourth child of James Robertson (1781-1868), watchmaker and pastoralist, and his wife Anna Maria, née Ripley (1784-1868), who were married at Stepney, London, in 1809. James was a friend of Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane and on his advice migrated with his family to New South Wales, arriving in Sydney in the Providence on 8 January 1822. Appointed general superintendent of government clocks he also worked as a watchmaker and silversmith; with an 86-acre (35 ha) grant he moved from Castlereagh Street to Robertson’s Point (Cremorne) on Sydney Harbour and acquired property in the Hunter River district at ‘Yarrandi’ (See featured image).

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Scone Heritage Walk

Scone Heritage Walk

Heritage Walk

Featured Image: St Aubin’s Arms 1872

Kelly Street and Kelly’s Farm

Acknowledgment Scone & Upper Hunter Historical Society

Kelly Street, the main street of Scone, was originally known as the Great North Road. It was named after Richard Kelly, a sea captain. His first ship ‘Black Jack’ was shipwrecked and he was given another ship, ‘The Isabella,’ in compensation, but this ship was hi-jacked by mutineers and disappeared forever with its occupants from the face of the earth. In 1826 Governor Darling recompensed Kelly with a grant of 1920 acres of land. Kelly’s Farm ran east from Kingdon Ponds to the Segenhoe boundary and the track through his land eventually became the main street. We can assume the Wonnarua people were not consulted with the concept of ‘Terra nullius’ prevailing official policy? Richard Kelly was the first ‘colonial owner’ and held his land for just a few years before selling out to William Dumaresq, the first owner of the Saint Aubin’s property.

Governor Darling had married Elizabeth Dumaresq on 13 October 1817. Elizabeth may have been born in Macau although other reports say Staffordshire, England. Governor Ralph Darling was the 7th Governor of New South Wales in office from 19 December 1925 – 21 October 1831. He had earned a somewhat dubious reputation and was regarded as a ‘tyrant’ who tortured prisoners and banned theatrical entertainment. His departure for England was greeted by public rejoicing. Governor Darling extended the boundaries of the colony. Significantly from 1826 he initiated the construction of the convict-built Great North Road linking the Hawkesbury settlements around Sydney with those in the Hunter Valley including the St Heliers and St Aubins estates of his in-law relatives Henry and William Dumaresq. Captain Richard Kelly’s grant in 1826 was at a similar advantage.

Captain Richard Kelly was born in Parramatta on 30 March 1800 and died in Parramatta on 31 October 1878. He was buried in Waverley Cemetery on 1 November 1878. Both his parents were Irish convict immigrants. His father James Kelly was born in Dublin in 1775 and died at Morpeth NSW on 28 February 1833. James Kelly had been convicted of theft on 8 June 1791 at the Old Bailey and was transported arriving on the ‘Royal Admire’ on 7 October 1792. His mother Mary Langan (or Langon) was born in Dublin in 1774 and died in NSW on 15 November 1834 at the age of 60. Mary arrived as a convict from Cork on 27 May 1797 on the ‘Britannia’ with 45 other female convicts. Her trial was held in the City of Dublin in January 1796 and she was given a 7 year sentence. It was a hard journey and many of the convicts died as a result of the severe punishment inflicted on them. Mary Langan was put into a camp on the corner of George and Church Streets, Parramatta. James and Mary Kelly were married in 1800 producing three children: Richard b. 30 March 1800, Margaret b. 18 February 1802 and James b. 1804. Margaret died in infancy at Parramatta in 1805 and James died at Morpeth NSW on 30 November 1834 aged 30.

Beginning life as a ‘currency lad’ Richard Kelly had a successful career as a ship’s captain and lived to be 78. He clearly commanded some respect and was not without influence becoming the first ‘colonial’ owner of the 1920 acres around Scone per favour of the Governor Ralph Darling. The main street in Scone, originally part of Darling’s Great North Road still bears his name. When the new Scone Bypass is completed by about 2020 Kelly Street will no longer bear the through transport along the New England Highway (Great North Road) after almost 200 years?

Just around the corner from the Tourist Information Centre is the old railway station, a small brick structure dating from 1881.

“Geraldton”; formerly ‘Belmore House’

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Just across the road from Elizabeth Park is ‘Geraldton’, formerly known as ‘Belmore House’. It is one of the oldest continuously occupied private residences in Scone. Original owner/builder Mathew Miller was an immigrant free settler in 1840 from Newton Stewart, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland and brought with him special skills as stonemason and brick maker. These traits he was able to put to very good use as one of the foremost builders in the emerging municipality of Scone to where he relocated soon after arriving in the colony. Mr Miller purchased 230 acres (some accounts say 320) of land from Mr William Dumaresq of the St Aubins Estate on 14 July 1856. It had formed part of the original land grant formerly owned by Captain Richard Kelly.

The initial four room cottage with a separate kitchen was constructed by Mathew Miller on its present site starting in about 1857. He named the residence ‘Belmore House’ in honour of the Governor of NSW the Earl of Belmore who would officiate at the arrival of the railway on 17 April 1871. The house cost £460 to build and was at first outside the town limits. Mr Miller and his family occupied ‘Belmore House’ until his demise on 13 March 1902 at age 85. The home then passed to his widow Mary Ellen Miller who Mathew Miller married for his second time in 1893. It was Mary Ellen’s third marriage. His unmarried daughter Sarah received some family goods and chattels.

Respected Solicitor James Abbott Kingsmill Shaw purchased ‘Belmore House’ in 1909 taking up residence in 1910. He renamed it ‘Geraldton’ in honour of his wife Isabel Geraldine Shaw the daughter of Hon. R. G. D. Fitzgerald MLC of Muswellbrook who served for 16 years in the Australian Upper House. Following J. A. K. Shaw’s death on 11 April 1920 Dr Oswald Barton, a son of the first Prime Minister Sir Edmund Barton, purchased ‘Geraldton’ in 1923 and practiced from consulting rooms he established in the house. There may have been an interim temporary resident Robert Stanley Elwin. In 1957 his son Dr David ‘Toby’ Barton and wife Janet moved to ‘Geraldton’ following a brief sojourn during which the historic homestead was with a caretaker. Toby also initially practiced medicine from home. On 8 October ‘Geraldton’ was included in the National Trust of Australia (New South Wales) Register of Historic Buildings “classified by the Trust as a building of considerable interest and its preservation is recommended”. Toby and Janet Barton sold ‘Geraldton’ to Muswellbrook solicitor John Connors and his spouse Di in 1987. Current owners Sarah and Bill Howey purchased ‘Geraldton’ from the Connors in 1993.

This booklet is not only about the history of the house and its progress but the special people who have occupied it. Every successor’s successor is custodian of the historic estate. Beautiful gardens surround the homestead and pervade the precinct. In 1856 Mathew Miller bought a hard dry paddock and built his first house there very quickly. The gardens have taken rather longer to develop. Both home and surrounds are perennial ‘works in progress’ and an internecine challenge. They are testament to the lasting legacy of the devoted spouses who accompanied their husbands on life’s journey. In Mathew Miller’s case there were two and one de facto. Included are anecdotal vignettes of the relatively few owner/occupiers during Geraldton’s time span exceeding 150 years. Many have made enduring contributions to the local community and bequeathed substantial impact on society in Scone and its surrounding district.

From Elizabeth Park walk southwards down Kelly St. To the left is the Belmore Hotel (1866), an attractive symmetrical building with side wings, stone quoins and iron columns supporting a timber verandah. At the intersection with St Aubins St is the Royal Hotel with a fine cast-iron lacework balcony. The oldest section of the present building dates from 1886 when the old Railway Inn was rebuilt as the Railway Hotel. It was partially rebuilt after a fire in 1924.

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William John Dumaresq (1793 – 1868)

William John Dumaresq (1793 – 1868)

Featured Image: William John Dumaresq (1793 – 1868)

Henry Dumaresq (1792 – 1838)

Henry Dumaresq (1792-1838), and William John Dumaresq (1793-1868), were sons of Colonel John Dumaresq of Bushel Hall, Shropshire, England, and his wife Anne, née Jones. Both went to the Royal Military College, Great Marlow, and served during the Peninsular War and in Canada, where William, a captain in the Royal Staff Corps, was engaged in the construction of the Ottawa Canal. Henry, who served with the 9th Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel 1818) was severely wounded at Waterloo, his gallantry being recorded by Sir Walter Scott in Paul’s Letters to His Kinsfolk (1816). While on service in Mauritius in 1818-25 he became military secretary to General (Sir) Ralph Darling, who married his sister Eliza. When Darling accepted office as governor of New South Wales, Henry was invited to become his private secretary and arrived in the Phillip Dundas in October 1825 to prepare accommodation for the governor’s party. Edward Dumaresq accompanied Darling as far as Van Diemen’s Land and William came with him to Sydney.

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Crown Lands Acts 1861 (NSW)

Crown Lands Acts 1861 (NSW)

Featured Image: Extract of Crown Lands Act 1861

Mathew Barber Miller was a beneficiary of this policy which enabled him to purchase his ‘block’ of 230 acres from William Dumaresq.

The Crown Lands Acts 1861 (NSW) were introduced by the New South Wales Premier, John Robertson, in 1861 to reform land holdings and in particular to break the squatters’ domination of land tenure. Under his reforms unsurveyed land in an area which had been declared an agricultural reserve in designated unsettled areas could be selected and bought freehold in 40-to-320-acre (16–130 ha) lots of Crown land, wherever situated at £1 per acre (£2 9s 5d/ha), on a deposit of five shillings per acre (12s 4d/ha), the balance to be paid within three years, an interest-free loan of three-quarters of the price. Alternatively at the end of the three years, the balance could be treated as an indefinite interest-free loan, as long as five per cent interest was paid each year. Selectors were required to live on their land for three years and to make improvements worth £1 per acre. Speculation was prevented by requiring actual residence on the land. In return pastoralists were protected by granting them, at the conclusion of their present leases, annual leases in the settled districts and five yearly leases elsewhere, with a maximum area or carrying capacity, and an increase in rent by appraisement of the runs. The pastoralist retained the pre-emptive right to buy one twenty-fifth of his lease in addition to improved areas, and also possessed the pre-lease to three times the area of the freehold. In addition they were to continue to possess the right to request the survey and auctioning of large parcels of their lease. This meant that they could bid at short notice for such land while other potential bidders were unaware that the land was on the market. The work of Alexander Grant McLean, Surveyor General of New South Wales facilitated the introduction of these Land Acts.

Subsequently there were struggles between squatters and selectors, and the laws were circumvented by corruption and the acquisition of land by various schemes, such as the commissioning of selections to be passed eventually to squatters and the selection of key land such as land with access to water by squatters to maintain the viability of their pastoral leases. The Land Acts accelerated the alienation of crown land that had been acquired under the principle of terra nullius, and hence accelerated the dispossession of indigenous Australians. The land acts paralleled the demands for similar legislation amending the United States Pre-emption Act of 1841, culminating in the Homestead Act of 1862, and was succeeded by similar legislation in other Australian colonies in the 1860s and Canada’s Dominion Lands Act of 1872.

Henry Dangar

Henry Dangar

The first European in the area was the 29 year old Government surveyor Henry Dangar who, in 1824, passed by the area just west of the present town site. He crossed over the Liverpool Range but retreated when attacked by the Geawegal clan of the Wanaruah people west of the Murrurundi town site.

Dangar’s favourable report on the district led to an immediate land grab by wealthy settlers who had been issued warrants authorising them to take up land. One of the first to investigate the new area was Francis Little who was seeking land for himself and his uncle Dr William Bell Carlyle. Little established Invermein in 1825.

Mary Ann Sutton, known as Granny Sutton, was accredited with having introduced the Prickly Pear to Australia.  She brought a small plant from England when she came out as a housemaid to Francis Little of Invermein

Carlyle was issued the grant of Satur which is now a suburb on the western side of Scone.

William Dangar, Henry’s brother claimed Turanville and Dr Archibald Little settled for Cressfield.  John Bingle established Puen Buen and Thomas Potter Macqueen took up his land grant at Segenhoe in 1826-7.

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“Pinkerton’s Track”

“Pinkerton’s Track”

Featured Image: ‘Pinkerton’s Track’ aka ‘The Great Ring-in’. The actual map was drawn by Alex Badior,  a former school teacher at Moonan Flat. At the time he was living at ‘Glenrock Station’ before retiring to live in Cessnock.

All three Pinkerton Brothers (David, William, James) distributed mail along the ‘track’

(Reproduced by kind permission of Scone & Upper Hunter Historical Society and ‘Pioneers of a Great Valley’)

William Pinkerton arrived aboard the ship ‘Lloyds’ on 4 September 1856 and married Elizabeth Dunbar (born in Scone) in 1863 at St Luke’s. Elizabeth was the daughter of Samuel Dunbar who arrived with the Millers and his wife Elizabeth (nee Parsons) who lived at ‘Gum Flat’, Gundy. William was sponsored to Australia by William Dumaresq of St Aubins. William selected a ‘Conditional Purchase’ of 40 acres, near Gundy on 15 April 1862 and built ‘Gum Flat’, his family property. The farm was eventually resumed and ‘drowned’ when Glenbawn Dam was constructed. Like his brother David, William acquired the mail contract from Scone to Moonan Brook twice weekly between 1869 and 1875 ‘to be conveyed on horseback’ with a stop at Gundy from 1875. At this time Gundy was a thriving village with three churches, a school, Literary Institute, two general stores, post office, hotel, baker, butcher, blacksmith and wheelwright. It would have been self-sufficient. William and Ann produced at least 11 registered children and there may have been two others? Both William and Ann survived well into their 70s and are buried in the Church of England cemetery in Scone.

James Pinkerton had married Mary MacCallum on 8 August 1844 at Barakell in Ireland and they had a family of nine children when they arrived in Australia in the early 1860s. James’ exact arrival date is unknown but Mary and the children arrived on the ‘Fairlie’ on 29 April 1863. James had come ahead of them and they settled in the Gundy district. James built a small cottage before acquiring ‘Tanborough’ on the Hunter River east of the village of Gundy under the ‘Conditional Purchase’ system which became the family home. Like his younger siblings before him James acquired the mail contract from Scone to Moonan Brook in 1868. James was a renowned horseman and once at age 64 won a ‘challenge race’ between Moonan Brook and Scone when he may have substituted one pie bald mount for another fresh one? A ‘ring in’ at the races began very early! Both James (84 at Gundy) and Mary (90 at Moonan Flat) lived to a great age. Both are buried in the Gundy General Cemetery. James and Mary had eleven children. The Pinkerton dynasty is an expansive one in the Upper Hunter Valley and many direct descendants still call the district home.

The Denison Diggings

The Denison Diggings

Featured Image: ‘The Denison Diggings’ Map drawn by Mrs Hazel Cox of Ganmain

It appears to me that the discovery of gold near present day Moonan in the early 1860s had a profound impact on the township of Scone. The latter was the main supply depot at a distance of c. 35 miles. It was a ‘hard ride’! I present the following reports extracted from Trove.


See: 06 Nov 1855 – THE DENISON DIGGINGS. – Trove (

WHILST quartz-crushing is almost daily opening up and developing the auriferous treasures of Victoria, the recent discovery, in New South Wales, of an extensive gold field in the Northern District, on the head waters of the Hunter, gives promise of effecting a highly beneficial change in this colony, by providing a fresh source of labour, and increased wealth, which will necessarily result in a healthy impetus to trading transactions.

Messrs. Ward and Simpson, the discoverers, state that whilst crossing the country, in the locality of this new gold field, where attention was attracted by a quartz vein, and on breaking up some of the quartz they perceived that gold was dispersed through it. They also noticed other well-known indications of the presence of gold, such as the prevalence of tilted quartz, trap, and granite, which induced them to prospect the locality.

Accordingly, on the 6th of September last, with such implements as they could procure from a neighbouring sheep station, they set to work and procured some ounces of pure gold. In no part of their prospect did Messrs. Ward and Simpson sink deeper than eighteen inches, and they have taken as much as six pennyweights in small nuggets from one dishful of earth.

They also procured two pieces of half an ounce each “crevicing”. The extent of the district throughout which gold was obtained is 35 miles from north to south, and 20 miles from east to west. The lead of gold was found to run nearly north and south from Gulf Creek to the Hanging Rock, and it is the opinion of the discoverers that these diggings will answer either winter or summer, as there are many dry gullies containing gold and creeks from which the water can be carried off by means of bark shoots. This discovery has created some excitement, particularly in the immediate locality. The distance of the Denison diggings from Sydney is about ____________ miles.

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About The Wonnarua

About The Wonnarua

Featured Image: Aboriginal Tribes in the Hunter Valley

We acknowledge the Wannarua people as the traditional owners of the land in the Upper Hunter. The Wonnarua people are united by a common language, strong ties of kinship and have survived as skilled hunter–fisher–gatherers in family groups or clans scattered along the inland area of the Upper Hunter Valley. Their traditional territory spreads from the Upper Hunter River near Maitland west to the Great Dividing Range towards Wollombi. The local Dartbrook-based tribe was the ‘Tullong’ with the ‘Murrawin’ on Pages Creek.

Meaning people of the hills and plains the Wonnarua were bounded to the south by the Darkinjung, to the north–west by the Nganyaywana, to the north–east by the Awabakal, and to the south–east by the Worimi peoples. The Wonnarua also had trade and ceremonial links with the Kamilaroi people. Their creation spirit is Baiami, also known as Koin, is the creator of all things and the Keeper of the Valley.

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Alan Brideoake: Lest we forget – portrait of a POW

Alan Brideoake: Lest we forget – portrait of a POW

Featured Image: Alan Brideoake at his home in Stafford Street

Alan Brideoake told me some fascinating tales of his encounters with elephants and their Thai handlers (‘Mahouts’) while incarcerated by the Japanese on the horrendous Thai/Burma railway construction. He actually gave me his copy of the book ‘Elephant Bill’ written by Lt Colonel Bill Williams of Burma which I treasure. I have written elsewhere about ‘Elephant Bill’s’ veterinarian son Dr Treve Williams who lived in Scone and later became chairman of the Australian Jockey Club.

One anecdote Alan told me was the violent death of a brutal Japanese overseer. Following some severe beatings an elephant picked him up by his trunk and smashed him against a tree. ‘Bad elephant’ Alan inquired of the Mahout? ‘No bad elephant’ replied the Mahout with a knowing look; ‘only bad man’!

Dale Hilly            April 25 2013 – 12:28PM

There are stories from his time as a prisoner of war that Allan Brideoake will never tell.

“It would be too horrid,” Mr Brideoake said.

He was one of over 22,000 Australians who were POWs of the Japanese in south-east Asia during WWll. Over 8000 died in captivity.

He was also one of 9500 Australian POWs who worked on the construction of the Burma-Thailand Railway, where 2646 Australians died in captivity.

It is well documented that they lived in atrocious conditions, fed meagre rations and were forced to work 12 to 18 hours without stopping. Many died from diseases such as dysentery and cholera but also starvation and beatings.

For a long time Mr Brideoake never talked about his World War ll experiences at all.

“They told us ‘Get home, don’t talk about it, get back to work’,” he said.

His father was a WWI digger wounded in France and Somme where he was gassed and blinded in one eye. He knew terrible things happened in war.

Mr Brideoake was 26 on his first Anzac Day at Weethalle after he returned from Japan and he hasn’t missed one since. For a while he was involved in the RSL organising the ANZAC day ceremonies.

He married Ruth who had written to him while he was in the services, had children and then grandchildren.

He bred Kelpies for fifty years, was a keen fan of sheep dog trials and rodeo.

For four decades he went to the Sydney Anzac Day march to “catch up with mates”.

His wife, Ruth, who was a member of the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service would come along and sometimes march. After the service they would have lunch on a boat on the harbour with his POW mates.

Over the years the marching turned to riding in jeeps.

“We used to get together and have a good time,” he said of his fellow POWs.

“It is a special day – you think of your mates.”

Over the last decade he told his family about some of his war-time experiences and he has even addressed Scone school students.

He tells of being six foot and weighing less than eight stone, being crowded onto a boat to Japan and not showering for seventy days.

“I suppose we all smelt a bit,” he said with a laugh.

“I never said anything until about ten years ago, but I wouldn’t tell everything,” Mr Brideoake said. “People never understood the POWs – they will never understand.

“We were closer than brothers.

“We would get into gangs of about ten and look after each other.

“Malaria, cholera, tropical ulcers that lead to amputations…. When your friend needed help you hopped in because you knew your time would come.

“There would be an extra spoonful of rice from each of us – nine spoonfuls of rice doesn’t sound much but it was the difference of life and death for a sick man.”

For the last five years Mr Brideoake has taken part in Anzac Day events in Scone.

Today he will assemble with other veterans at 10.45am for the march. These days, at 93, he and some other veterans will be on gophers.

“Afterwards we’ll adjourn to the club where the RSL have lunch for us,” he said.

Mr Brideoake said Anzac Day had not changed much except for the greater presence of children.

“It’s good to see all the littlies,” he said.

If you see Mr Brideoake and his mates on their gophers today, give them a wave and a big cheer, for this is their day.

Portrait of a POW

Allan Brideoake enlisted aged 20 in 1940, a member of the 2/19th (Riverina) Battalion which he said suffered more casualties than any that left Australia in WWll.

In January 1941 he sailed on the Queen Mary 1 to Asia.

February 15, 1942 he was captured in the fall of Singapore fighting on the mainland of Malaya.

He was held in Changi and then worked on the Burma Thailand Railway for two years,

Shipped to Japan on the ship Byoke Maru and worked in coal mines three miles under the sea.

He was in a POW camp near the Japanese city of Nagasaki when two atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, ending the war.

After three and a half years as a prisoner of war he and his mates were released to return home. The plane wheel didn’t come down as they circled above Australia, he was put in quarantine and his medical records and pay books were misplaced.

He was glad to be home.